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 with Rob Miskosky


Several coyotes, a large wolf, a small black bear, beavers, muskrats and a cougar lay strewn across the floor, each waiting their turn on the skinning gambrel. Or in the case of the bear, beavers and muskrats, the skinning table or trapper’s knee. The cougar had a noticeable road rash near its shoulder blades, the result of being road-killed. Fish and wildlife officers, many of whom attended, had brought it along for skinning.

“Skinning demonstrations were always well attended at Rendezvous.”

The bleachers overlooking the collection of dead animals were full of spectators; some in cowboy hats and boots, others in ball caps and camo, while some wore beaded leather befitting the mountain man era. But just as many wore street clothes suiting the warm summer weather. The diversity of the audience was astounding but their interests obviously common.

Such is the makeup of trappers and those interested in trapping and the fur trade, as several hundred folks gathered to take in the Alberta Trappers’ Association Rendezvous, an event held annually in Alberta in a different part of the province each year. Last year saw Grimshaw play host, this year it was Drayton Valley, next year it will be Lac La Biche.

And Drayton Valley was doing a fine job, as people from across the country had made the journey to take part in the annual gathering.

“The Chest Wader, Beaver On Your Back Race
was a huge hit at Rendezvous.”
Trapping is an emotional pursuit, despised by a few, strange in the minds of many, but addictive to those who have fallen to its calling. And when it gets in your blood, it’s there to stay. All you had to do was listen to the trappers themselves, as they greeted each other with handshakes and pats on the backs, each asking the other how they’d made out on their traplines the previous winter. It sounded as though the deep snow had hampered many but fur catches had been good for the most part. “Even a bad year trapping is better than not trapping at all,” they all agreed. 

Much like Rendezvous’ of old, where trappers, traders, natives and mountain men gathered each year at a preordained location to sell their furs and hides, replenish their supplies and to celebrate their past season, today’s Rendezvous are similar indeed. While trappers and mountain men no longer sell their raw furs and hides at Rendezvous, there is still plenty to see, touch and feel, and the supplies are still there for purchase. 

Competitions are a huge hit with the crowd and include everything from speed skinning to fire starting to a race through a muck-filled pond with contestants carrying a large beaver on their backs. And youngsters were everywhere and with their own competitions too, with the highlight being the youth muskrat skinning competition that saw a large attendance and fierce competition.

But the speed skinning competition, as it always is, was the crowning competition and once again, the crowd was left roaring its approval as some astonishing times were recorded. A coyote skinned in a mere 2 minutes, 46 seconds, a beaver in 1 minute, 56 seconds, and three muskrats in 2 minutes, 11 seconds. Some of the best skinners in the world showed off their skills much to the delight of the exuberant crowd.

Since 1778, when explorer Peter Pond traveled into the Canadian North opening up the Athabasca region, and then ten years later after setting up a new post called Fort Chipewyan for the North West Company on Lake Athabasca, fur trapping has always been a part of life in Alberta. And today, trapping is a strong tradition that continues on in all regions of the province and is celebrated each year at Rendezvous by trappers, their families and friends, as well as any who wish to attend. Rendezvous welcomes all.

The gathering wrapped up with a live auction, banquet and dance to a full house. Ten-year president, Gordy Klassen, who announced his retirement from the position, started the president’s speech with his traditional wolf howl. The room howled back, as they always do, only this time there was sadness in their howls. The popular president will indeed be missed.

Rendezvous is more than just an event; it is a cultural gathering and a celebration of the fur trade in Alberta that everybody should attend at least once.

See you next year in Lac la Biche!

For previous Outdoor Pursuits click here.

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