Métis Innovations

The Métis are an incredibly adaptive and resourceful people, who adapted European technology to make life more efficient and effective on the harsh prairies. Major Métis innovations included the York boat and the Red River cart, as well as many other creations that assisted prairie living.

The York boat replaced the freighter canoe as the major carrier of goods over water during the fur trade era. These boats were faster, used less manpower, and carried larger loads than the freighter canoes they replaced.


The York boat was a modification of the fishing boats used by the inhabitants of the Orkney Islands. Almost 13 meters long, a York boat could carry almost six tons of cargo. The standard crew on a York boat included 18 men, 16 of whom were rowers. The two others crew included a helmsman, who called out the rowing instructions, and someone to steer using the rudder. The boat also included a large sail that was used when winds were favourable. The York boat was an optimal size, in that it could both carry a large capacity of cargo, yet was still portable. The portability of the York boats meant it could be portaged from one body of water to another or around rapids or other obstacles.


The other major Métis innovation in the field of transportation was the Red River cart. The invention of the Red River cart resolved a practical challenge: how to transport large amounts and heavy weights of buffalo meat and furs over the prairie landscape, that was strewn with bumps, creeks and rivers.

Red River carts were constructed of wood bound together with wet rawhide which, when dry, became iron-hard. The wheels of the cart were of large diameter so they would roll easily over impediments. The wheels were also broad and rounded so they would not cut too deeply into the soil and become inefficient to move. Over the axel of the cart a box was mounted to be filled with the large volume of meat, furs, and other goods for transport. The wheels of the cart were readily removed when rivers had to be forged; allowing the cart to act as a barge.

From the front of the cart extended two poles and a leather harness, so that the cart could be equipped with an ox or other traction animal. With this pulling power, large loads could be moved. Often loads approached a thousand pounds were transported distances of up to twenty miles daily.

Beyond these two major innovations, the Métis created many others during their period of the prairie. One example is their fancy saddles and horse riding techniques. Métis saddles were renowned for the colourful beadwork decoration. As expert horsemen, the Métis taught their horses fancy, dance-like steps, that today are incorporated in the famous R.C.M.P. musical ride.

With a similar flair for the artistic, Métis created variations on the theme of hair-braiding introduced to them by the Europeans. This hairstyle was adopted from the Métis by Indians.

The Métis also created valuable innovations on standard log building construction techniques, producing their own styles of notches and framing techniques. Together these innovations were so distinctive that they were labeled the Red River style of construction.