Times were tough in this area when food had to be hunted or gathered, clothing had to be made by hand, and disease was rampant and treated only with primitive methods. Plenty of people were starving in the late 1880s due to a variety of influences.
There was a shortage of game after the fur trade had been ramped up for several years. Even small species like rabbits, a staple food for local Beaver people, were in decline. Berries may have been harvested by visiting groups that branched out with the aid of dogsleds, or there might have been a poor crop; in any case, dried saskatoons and wild cranberries weren’t much sustenance in the middle of winter without some meat to go with them. In the winters of 1887 and 1888 native women and children were taken to Lesser Slave Lake to be fed by the Hudson Bay Company, but that barely alleviated the problem.
Then an anonymous donor in England gave 100 pounds of canned meat to Alfred Garrioch at the Dunvegan Mission. He mixed it into a soup with cabbage, rice, flour, and potatoes from the Mission garden and served it to all who came. Garrioch recorded the donation and the establishment of the first soup kitchen in the Peace Country in a letter dated 1888. He did not record how the anonymous donor might have known that the people of the Dunvegan region were in such trouble.