The northern frontier is buckling, giving way to the onslaughts of man, money and machine. There are all-year roads into the bush now and snowmobiles are pushing the sled dogs into early dotage.
Trapper's cabins are lying empty and the trap lines are falling into disuse. Norman Sinclair, a well-heeled Cree Indian who runs a store in The Pas, says it's because there isn't enough fur left.
But the tracks and signs still are everyhere in the bush - wolf and rabbit, moose, muscrat, beaver, weasel, lynx, fox, otter. Cynics say the government is driving the man away from the trails, that handouts are everywhere in welfare and reparations to the native Indians, so why should a man work?
Others say it is the roads, which replace timeworn trails and close old world as they open new ones.
From The Pas, 500 miles north of Winnipeg, a new gravel road is opening soon to Moose Lake, rising up on clay shoulders from the muck of swampy muskeg. Someone already is talking about starting a moose farm there, raising the huge wild beasts like cattle.
Nothing stays the same, and yet some things linger.
Irving Constant was crowned king trapper in The Pas last weekend, the man who proved for the second straight year that he can do things the hard, old way better then anyone else in Northern Manitoba. He can run nine miles across the plains on snowshoes in an hour, toss a 12-foot spruce log like a toy, snap the skin off a musdrat in seconds, pack a quarter-ton of flour on his back and walk across the street with it.
And Constant can sing a song of the bush, the land of 100,000 lakes, of Russian poplar, white birch and spruce.
On Saturday night, the final night of the king trapper competition he stood at center ice in the battered old hockey arena before a sellout crowd at townspeople. He cupped his hands to his lips and made Canada goose sounds more perfect than any goose could duplicate.
He gabbled like feeding geese in a field, a deep gravelly sound that does not jibe with the human larynx. Goose hunters on Maryland's Eastern Shore, armed with store-bought gadgets to call flocks in, have heard that gabble and offered to pay anything to match it. But it's not something you buy.
Then Constant honked, not the wooden, flat harronk of the manufacturer's call but a gentle, sliding animal sound that started deep and slid through octaves more flundly than a Hank Williams yodel, ending in a clear, brilliant falsetto. It was downright eerie.
For this feat the crowd gave Constant a pleasant round of applause and the judges awarded him $35 first prize and points toward the king trapper title.
Said Sam Waller, who at 84 runs and owns the town museum, "It comes natural to him."
Waller taught school on the Indian reserves in the Northwest Territories for 36 years. He remembers one spring day when the stillness of the classroom was broken by a shrill cry.
"It was a goose," said Waller. "But there was no goose there. I found the boy who did it and asked him why. 'It just came to me,' he said."
So many things "just come" in this rock-hard, frozen hand. In a paperback History of The Pas there are pictures of great northern pike taken from the Saskatchewan River a block from downtown. The fish are bigger than the men holding them. "A good great northern pike," says the caption.
Hunters in The Pas go after grouse, the waries game bird known in the States, with 11 rifles, or even pistols.
"You might see 20 or more grouse in one tree. We just pick them off, one by one until we have enough. No point in buggering them up with bird shot," said Don Manych, who owns the conncrete plant.
These, along with the ducks and geese that blacken the autumn sky, the caribou and moose, the squirrels and rabbit multitudes, are nature's rebates to the men and women who survive the bitter seven-month winters of The Pas.
These gifts nourished the Cree and the Chippewyan and the trappers who settled here hundreds of years ago.
But today's King trapper runs a trailer park and traps only for fun. Now there are television realy towers, hydroelectric power, government handouts, whiskey, snowmobiles, industrial parks and highways in the little city of 7,500. People throw their empty cigarette packs by the roadside; dog teams are toys for winter games.
It's a hard land still, but the frontier no more.