Establishment of Metis Hivernements (Wintering Camps) in Present Day Saskatchewan


In the nineteenth century Métis from the Red River began establishing temporary settlements in present-day Saskatchewan. Camps were positioned in the Qu’Appelle Valley, Cypress Hills, and Chapelle (near Willow Bunch, Saskatchewan). By the 1860s, additional seasonal encampments were erected at Prairie Ronde (near Dundurn, SK), Grosse-Butte (near Humbolt, SK) and Petite-Ville (Near Fish Creek, SK). These "hivernant" communities were a Métis response to the changing economic and social conditions in the western interior. They were also a important element in the development of plains Métis identity in the later half of the 19th century. The camps were a response to the westward retreat of the buffalo herds and the changing nature of the fur trade economy. As the buffalo herds kept moving westward, it was no longer possible to live on the Red River Settlement and hunt at the same time, as it required hundreds of kilometers of travel before any buffalo were in sight. An increasing amount of plains Métis families began spending their winters in small temporary communities, west of the Red River, where they could easily hunt the buffalo. The wintering sites varied in size from a few families to large camps with thousands of inhabitants. The Métis settled in sufficient numbers to protect themselves against attacks by rival native bands, and where water and wood were easily accessible, near to where the buffalo were expected to be during the winter months. The social and material components of the hivernant camps were similar regardless of size or locality. As the buffalo populations began to dwindle in the late 1870's/1880's, these hivernant communities lost their economic function. Some communities such as St-Laurent and Batoche made the transition to agriculture, while many others simply disappeared.



Although the wintering camps had only a short existence, they constituted a critical historical experience that saw plains Métis households come together as communities. These hivernements or winter camps were forerunners to permanent Métis settlements established later in the nineteenth century.  Some of the temporary camps which developed into permanent communities such as St-Laurent and Batoche  played important roles in Métis history. The fact that these hivernements camps acted as temporary communities aided in the development and preservation of Métis culture and language, Michif. Although the wintering camps played a part in the development of Métis culture and language, both these cultural practices pre-dated the camps. The development of Métis language, culture, identity and nationhood paved the way for the creation of Métis political and social structures, as well as the Métis fight to recognition of land title and political independence.