Highway #11 - Silver Trail, Km. 10

Devil’s Elbow

Photo from Devil’s Elbow

Devil's Elbow - Welcome to Nacho Nyak Dun traditional territory

Every spring, pregnant cow moose come to give birth and raise their young in the protected waters and dense willows in the valley before you. To protect this special place and the wildlife who depend on it, area residents decided to take action. Nacho Nyak Dun citizens volunteered to stop harvesting cow moose in the region. The Devil’s Elbow and nearby wetlands were proposed as a Habitat Protection Area by the Mayo District Renewable Resource Council.

This rest area and trail were built by combined community effort to raise awareness and appreciation for this critical habitat. Once a management plan is set in place, no new developments will affect the calving moose.

Following the game

For thousands of years, northern people have seasonally travelled great distances to harvest edible plants and hunt. This section of the Stewart River valley is excellent habitat for moose and birds. The Northern Tutchone-speaking people who traditionally travelled through this area used willow basket traps in the river to catch migrating salmon and hunted moose and smaller animals with snares and bone spears. Trails along the Stewart River valley led to major salmon spawning rivers like the McQuesten and small lakes where ducks and other waterfowl nested. A steep trail over Hungry Mountain leads to Ethel Lake where there was a dependable stock of fish. The relative abundance of game here attracted the Northern Tutchone people during spring and fall migrations of birds, summer and fall migrations of salmon and during the spring moose calving and fall rut.

Travel by Land and Water

Small family groups, using dogs with packs to help them haul their goods, walked the early trails along the Stewart River valley. These trails became wagon roads and one became the Silver Trail Highway that you are travelling today. First Nation families travelled down river on rafts and later used poling boats on the Stewart River.

The discovery of silver in the Mayo mining district created a transportation and wood cutting industry on the Stewart River. Paddlewheelers churned up river to Mayo where stockpiles of lead/zinc/silver ore waited for transport down to Stewart Island, and transfer to the large Yukon River steamers. Most steamers had wood-burning boilers and there were many camps along the Stewart River where large stacks of firewood waited for pickup. Cutting wood paid good money and First Nation families incorporated wood camp employment into their yearly activities.

More than one local man found employment on the boats, putting a superior knowledge of the river to practical use. The Stewart River was shallow for much of the summer and shallow-draft sternwheelers had to manoeuvre heavy barges stacked with bags of ore concentrate along the winding river dotted with gravel bars. Devil’s Elbow was named by the riverboat captains and pilots who had to “jack-knife” their boats and barges to make their way around the bend.

As you travel along the Silver Trail Highway, imagine those who have come before you - on foot with pack dogs, by wagon, skin boat or steamer. The past is part of the adventure.

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