Sam family known as expert trappers, prospectors

Matthew Sam and his wife Rosie organize the winter catch from their trapline on April 26, 1916. In that haul they had dozens of animals including beaver, lynx, muskrat, otter and mink. (Lakes District Museum Society photo)

Trapping was one of this area’s primary economic drivers in the first half of the 20th Century, and few were better at it than Matthew Sam and his wife.

This photo, taken April 26, 1916 by early settler Robert Hatch, shows the Sams with a portion of their winter’s catch. The caption on the reverse, written from one trapper to another in fine script, reads:

“The Mathew (sic) Sam’s family. This is that shipment of fur Bob was telling you about, over $300 worth, just one month’s work. It contains 24 beaver, 3 lynx, 4 muskrats, one otter, and mink and weasels I don’t know how many.

“You and Bob have the same chance. Will you take it or not?”

The Sams lived at the west end of Francois Lake. Matthew, who worked on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway right of way, married wife Rosie in 1907 at Hagwilget. They were inseparable, working side by side on the trap line and prospecting trips for more than a half century.

The two were responsible for the discovery of three local mines, and Matthew praised his wife’s ability to spot a potential mineral claim. “She’s a good prospecting woman,” he would tell visitors with pride.

The Sams were well known and respected throughout the region, having helped many of the area’s first white settlers. When the Oknianski brothers (Mike, Cain, and Julius) arrived at Francois Lake in 1912 – tired and nearly starving after packing all their worldly possessions in from Prince Rupert – they were welcomed by Matthew and Rosie, who gave them food and shelter. Decades later, the Oknianskis still credited the couple with saving their lives.

In 1972, when Matthew was 86 and Rosie 84, they were still running a trapline together.

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