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Trails and Trail Blazing

Historical transportation using established trails relied on paths that were taken and developed over a considerable period of time, using the paths of least resistance, and allowing for easy dispersal of native populations across a given territory. Along these trails were the many villages, camps, maple groves, wild rice lakes, and hunting and fishing areas that allowed for yearly survival in an often harsh environment.

Trails across the prairies were often marked with rocks arranged in various shapes on the ground, or through stacks of rocks (cairs) that showed the way. Through forested landscapes, trails often followed water courses, ridgelines, and highlands that offered firmer ground. Besides being near water during the summer months, the trails along rivers were useful in winter, as most fur bearing animals and game animals would concentrate near these areas – making for easier access by hunters during snow-covered months.

Sometimes it was necessary to make new trails, or to create side trails that branched off from many of the major trails. These side trails were developed for access to remote hunting areas, or as means of reaching alternative areas when travel conditions may have been impeded by flooding, fire, or resource scarcity. Such trails were frequently marked by “blazing”, whereby certain trees were slashed (or chopped) at various intervals by those who made them and those who used them as they passed along. In such blazing, the white inner wood of the trees would be exposed to serve as a marker to future persons following the same trail. Blazing was also used to indicate where a trail turned off or changed direction. After many years, blaze marks could appear high up in a tree due to tree growth, or could appear as a natural defect in the tree bark.

In addition to directional marking, blazing might include more intricate forms. Often, a person passing along a trail might carve a representation of their clan doodem to indicate their passing. Blazing was also used to demarcate trapping areas or sugaring areas. Someone who discovered a good, unclaimed sugar maple stand might blaze a series of trees with an ax, leaving a distinctive ownership mark to declare their extended family's ownership rights to the grove. No one would think of violating these rights.

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