1968 Rocher River: The Decline of a Northern Trapping Settlement

By 1968 the once bustling hunting and trapping community of Rocher River (see map) was all but dead. What began in the 1920s as a small Hudson’s Bay Company trading post – a subsidiary of the larger HBC post at Fort Resolution – had, by the mid-1950s, grown to include two stores, a school and population of almost a hundred and fifty.

The community (on the east bank of the Taltson River approximately 4 kilometers upstream from the shores of Great Slave Lake) was the centre of one of the Northwest Territories’ richest trapping and hunting areas. The Taltson River winds along the eastern edge of the Slave River Delta and residents of Rocher River had easy access not only to the rich bounty of the Delta but also to the nearby lakes and streams of the high shield country to the east and south east.

During the mid and late 1800s the area east of Fort Resolution became the home of the Tatsonotine Dene, the Aboriginal group known for their use of copper knives and often referred to as “Yellowknife Indians”, “Red Knife Indians” or “Copper Indians”. The Tatsonotine Dene were driven from their traditional lands north of Great Slave Lake by hostilities with the Tłicho Dene. Moving to the south side of Great Slave Lake not only provided distance from  their traditional enemy but gave them easier access to the trading post at Fort Resolution. The Taltson River, where many Tatsonotine took up residence, is named for these people.

After the Second World War the Federal government built a two-classroom school – with a six-room teacher’s residence on the second floor – at Rocher River. The community then saw considerable growth as Tatsonotine Dene moved in from the bush so their children could attend school.

The beginning of the end came in 1958 when the school and teacher’s residence burned down and the government decided not to rebuild. Children were forced to attend school in Fort Resolution, Fort Smith, Hay River or Yellowknife and many families moved away from Rocher River. A further blow came in 1963 when the Hudson’s Bay Company store closed. Later that decade construction of the Taltson River damn flooded many trap lines and gave further reason for the few remaining residents of Rocher River to move to another community.

Former residents of Rocher River can be found living throughout the north with some still maintaining seasonal dwellings at Rocher River.