“They found one man, his wife, and two sons and one daughter. They had two boys there also and one girl that didn’t belong to him, seven kids altogether[...]The man who was nearly starving told my father that there had been lots of them in the group that fall. The ones that were starving were hunting way up inland – 200 miles. They told my father that even when they hunted together, none of them would bring anything to eat[...]So my father brought them to his place. The man was older than my father. His face was very thin, so poor, very poor-looking people. And they way he was before they found him was poorer than that. When they found a person that was starving, they just gave him a little fish to eat at first. When my father found these people he didn’t feed them very much, a little flour that was left, he fed them a little bannock first” (Preston, 2002:58)."
Harsh winters and decreasing numbers of food and fur bearing animals compelled many Cree families to settle at or near trading posts. James Watt, the post manager at Rupert House, wrote in 1929 that “the fear of starvation prevents the coast Indians from going far inland” (Morantz, 2002:113). Watt and his wife Maud are reported to ration their supplies so as to share them with the Cree established in the community. Alarmed by the situation the Watts began to consider formal conservations measures. Cree hunting practices have always included measures for beaver husbanding by tapping only a certain number per lodge or leaving several beaver lodges untouched in their respective hunting territory. Inspired by these practices the Watts established a beaver sanctuary in 1932 by ‘purchasing’ a beaver lodge from Robert Stephens and Andrew Whiskeychan, essentially paying them 60$ to mark the lodge as Watt’s and not kill the beaver there. HBC turned down Watt’s initial request for financial backing of the reserve, thus Maud made a month-long journey to Quebec City to negotiate a land lease with the deputy minister of colonization. A fifteen-year lease for a 7000 square miles of territory between the Eastmain and Rupert rivers and 20 miles inland beyond Nemiskau post was granted to Maud Watt in 1932. A year later HBC agreed to take on the lease ($10/year). The success of the Rupert House sanctuary quickly spread and other communities asked for similar measures in their territory. In all, three beaver reserves were created: the Rupert House in 1932; the Nottaway in 1938; and the Old Factory in 1941. In all, Cree hunters, such as John Blackned from Waskaganish, volunteered to manage the reserves as game wardens, they kept track of the beaver populations and reported on trapping within their respective territories. The initiative had great success. For example on Rupert House territory there were 38 lodges and 162 beavers in 1933, by 1937 approximately 1545 beavers and 309 lodges were reported (Morantz, 2002; Feit, 2005).