Keeping tradition alive: Alberta man learns how to build Métis Red River carts

·2 min read
Red River carts can travel an average of 40 kilometres per day and even cross water. (Monty Kruger/CBC - image credit)
Red River carts can travel an average of 40 kilometres per day and even cross water. (Monty Kruger/CBC - image credit)

Red River carts have long been an important part of Métis culture, and one man from the town of Rocky Mountain House, Alta. is helping to make sure the art of building them does not disappear.

George Moritz says it was his wife, Gladys Bigelow, who inspired him to learn how to build Red River carts, which were invented by the Métis.

"The Red River cart provided lots for [the Métis people], essential shelter at night and protection and safety," said Bigelow, who is Métis.

"They slept under them and they covered them with hide or whatever they had at the time."

Monty Kruger/CBC
Monty Kruger/CBC

What's unique about the carts is that they're made entirely from wood — no metal nails or screws holding them together.

Moritz says it takes roughly a month to make one cart.

The wheels are close to one-and-a-half metres tall with 10-inch hubs made of birch, while the spokes are made of pine.

"If you look at it closely, it has a six degree dish. It just gives the carriage stabilization on the prairies," Moritz said.

Travelling across land and water

Bernie Ouellette, president of the Métis Nation Local 845, says another unique aspect of the carts is the sound of wood rubbing against wood when the cart is moving. Each cart may have a distinctive sound.

"They used to say that you could tell my cousin was coming because I could tell the sound of his cart," Ouellette said.

The carts can travel an average of 40 kilometres in one day, according to Ouellette. They can even cross water.

"The wheels would pop off and they could put them underneath and float on top."

Bigelow said she very much supports the Red River carts making a return and the Métis people learning about its history.

"In about 10, 15 years I'd like to see these carts in historical sites," she said.

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