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  • Writer's pictureOntario Métis Facts

Métis Fishing at Sault Ste. Marie

Subsistence and commercial fishing are enduring cornerstones of the Métis way of life and economy in Sault Ste. Marie, that were grounded in the community’s Métis River Lots and in the lands and waters within their traditional territory.

Numerous records from both historical and contemporary times refer to Métis fishing at Sault Ste. Marie and the surrounding areas.

As early as 1824, the HBC post manager at Sault Ste. Marie recognized a distinct Métis fishing economy, recording that, “The halfbreeds begin to come now of their own accord with fish.”

The 1859 Report of the Fishery Overseer for the Division of Lakes Huron and Superior also highlighted Métis commercial fishing alongside that of other harvesters, including First Nations:

“The half-breeds depend upon fish, from September till sugar-making… the half-breeds and Indians with nets and spears take large quantities for the American boats… Spearing [with torchlight] and trolling are carried out carried on to the great extent by the Indians and half-breeds on all parts of these lakes.”

As historian Arthur Ray—who was an expert witness on Métis economic history in the Powley, Belhumeur, and Goodon cases—also notes, these Métis practices in the Upper Great Lakes were similar to those in other Métis communities, including those in present day Manitoba:

“There were some important parallels between the economic life of Saint-Laurent, which was located on the southeastern shore of Lake Manitoba, and that of Sault Ste. Marie. Both communities depended heavily on fisheries, small-scale farming, and a range of other complementary activities. At Saint-Laurent in the 1850s, four extended families—the Chartrands, Pangmans, Lavallees and Sayers (whose family had roots in Sault Ste. Marie)—resided in the community most of the year combining winter commercial and subsistence fishing with trading.”

Fishing remains an important part of Métis culture at Sault Ste. Marie.

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