One of the most well-known salt-making Métis was the Monkman family. As early as 1818, James Joseph Monkman established himself as a salt-maker and began manufacturing salt at the brine springs at Swan Lake, Duck Bay and finally at the Red Deer Peninsula on Lake Winnipegosis.His small production was for local use only. As the population on the Red River increased, and more inland forts were built, salt was in greater demand. By the 1870s, “old Joe Monkman,” assisted by his sons John and Joseph, was producing 1000 bushels of salt per year.
From about 1847, however, the manufacture of salt decreased except for a small quantity made by local indigenous families for their own use. For a brief time from 1894-1896, an attempt was made to revive the industry by the Northern Salt Works who operated two miles north west of present day Winnipegosis. With the advent of the railway, salt could be obtained from the east much cheaper and more easily. The expanding fishing industry on Lake Winnipeg and an ever increasing population necessitated and abundant and steady supply of salt at a reasonable cost.
Monkman’s Salt Works, north of the town of Winnipegosis produced a small amount of salt from evaportion of brine from springs. The salt was used locally for preserving meat and fish.
According to a report by H.Y. Hind, a government official, Monkman’s Salt Works was in a barren area of about ten acres near Red Deer Point. The trees nearby were spruce, aspen, and willow, with some birch and a few stunted trees.
The wells were five feet deep, and were dug wherever a small bubbling spring was observed. Since the springs frequently changed their position, a change in the position of the wells was required. There were twenty-five wells, situated about four hundred yards from the lakeshore. . He also made salt at Swan River and Duck River, and his wells were later worked by his sons.
At the location of the Works there were two small log houses and three evaporating furnaces. The kettles in which the brine was boiled were made in England. They were made of iron and were five feet long two feet broad, and one foot deep. The tanks were set on two walls of stone which formed a furnace, at one end of which there was a chimney.
The process was very simple. The water from the wells was dipped with a pail and poured into the kettle, and the salt scooped out as it formed. After the salt was allowed to drain well, it was packaged in birch bark “roggins”, as Professor Hind called them, for transportation to Red River. There it was sold for 12 shillings a bushel (or 100 lbs. of flour, or for fish, or pemmican).
Thirty gallons of salt water produced one bushel of salt. Two bushels of salt could be produced in one day. There were nine kettles at the Works. Fuel for the furnaces was obtained from the spruce and poplar tress growing nearby.
- Sources: Henry Youle Hind, Narrative on the Canadian Red River Exploring Expedition of 1857 and on the Assiniboine and Saskatchewan Exploring Expedition of 1858. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1971