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Voyages from Montreal Through the Continent of North America
A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE FUR TRADE FROM CANADA TO THE NORTH-WEST.
The fur trade, from the earliest settlement of Canada, was considered of the first importance to that colony. The country was then so populous, that, in the vicinity of the establishments, the animals whose skins were precious, in a commercial view, soon became very scarce, if not altogether extinct. They were, it is true, hunted at former periods, but merely for food and clothing. The Indians, therefore, to procure the necessary supply, were encouraged to penetrate into the country, and were generally accompanied by some of the Canadians, who found means to induce the remotest tribes of natives to bring the skins which were most in demand, to their settlements, in the way of trade.
It is not necessary for me to examine the cause, but experience proves that it requires much less time for a civilized people to deviate into the manners and customs of savage life, than for savages to rise into a state of civilisation. Such was the event with those who thus accompanied the natives on their hunting and trading excursions; for they became so attached to the Indian mode of life, that they lost all relish for their former habits and native homes. Hence they derived the title of Coureurs des Bois, became a kind of pedlars, and were extremely useful to the merchants engaged in the fur trade; who gave them the necessary credit to proceed on their commercial undertakings. Three or four of these people would join their stock, put their property into a birch-bark canoe, which they worked themselves, and either accompanied the natives in their excursions, or went at once to the country where they knew they were to hunt. At length, these voyages extended to twelve or fifteen months, when they returned with rich cargoes of furs, and followed by great numbers of the natives. During the short time requisite to settle their accounts with the merchants, and procure fresh credit, they generally contrived to squander away all their gains, when they returned to renew their favourite mode of life: their views being answered, and their labour sufficiently rewarded, by indulging themselves in extravagance and dissipation, during the short space of one month in twelve or fifteen.
This indifference about amassing property, and the pleasure of living free from all restraint, soon brought on a licentiousness of manners which could not long escape the vigilant observation of the missionaries, who had much reason to complain of their being a disgrace to the Christian religion; by not only swerving from its duties themselves, but by thus bringing it into disrepute with those of the natives who had become converts to it; and, consequently, obstructing the great object to which those pious men had devoted their lives. They therefore exerted their influence to procure the suppression of these people, and accordingly, no one was allowed to go up the country to traffic with the Indians, without a license from the government.
At first these permissions were, of course, granted only to those whose character was such as could give no alarm to the zeal of the missionaries: but they were afterwards bestowed as rewards for services, on officers, and their widows; and they, who were not willing or able to make use of them (which may be supposed to be always the case with those of the latter description), were allowed to sell them to the merchants, who necessarily employed the Coureurs des bois, in quality of their agents; and these people, as may be imagined, gave sufficient cause for the renewal of former complaints; so that the remedy proved, in fact, worse than the disease.
At length, military posts were established at the confluence of the different large lakes of Canada, which, in a great measure checked the evil consequences that followed from the improper conduct of these foresters, and, at the same time, protected the trade. Besides, a number of able and respectable men, retired from the army, prosecuted the trade in person, under their respective licences, with great order and regularity, and extended it to such a distance, as, in those days, was considered to be an astonishing effort of commercial enterprize. These persons and the missionaries having combined their views at the same time, secured the respect of the natives, and the obedience of the people necessarily employed in the laborious parts of this undertaking. These gentlemen denominated themselves commanders, and not traders, though they were entitled to both those characters: and, as for the missionaries, if sufferings and hardships in the prosecution of the great work which they had undertaken, deserved applause and admiration, they had an undoubted claim to be admired and applauded: they spared no labour and avoided no danger in the execution of their important office; and it is to be seriously lamented, that their pious endeavours did not meet with the success which they deserved: for there is hardly a trace to be found beyond the cultivated parts, of their meritorious functions.
The cause of this failure must be attributed to a want of due consideration in the mode employed by the missionaries, to propagate the religion of which they were the zealous ministers. They habituated themselves to the savage life, and naturalized themselves to the savage manners, and, by thus becoming dependent, as it were, on the natives, they acquired their contempt rather than their veneration. If they had been as well acquainted with human nature, as they were with the articles of their faith, they would have known that the uncultivated mind of an Indian must be disposed by much preparatory method and instruction to receive the revealed truths of Christianity, to act under its sanctions, and be impelled to good by the hope of its reward, or turned from evil by the fear of its punishments. They should have begun their work by teaching some of those useful arts which are the inlets of knowledge, and lead the mind by degrees to objects of higher comprehension. Agriculture, so formed to fix and combine society, and so preparatory to objects of superior consideration, should have been the first thing introduced among a savage people: it attaches the wandering tribe to that spot where it adds so much to their comforts; while it gives them a sense of property, and of lasting possession, instead of the uncertain hopes of the chase, and the fugitive produce of uncultivated wilds. Such were the means by which the forests of Paraguay were converted into a scene of abundant cultivation, and its savage inhabitants introduced to all the advantages of a civilised life.
The Canadian missionaries should have been contented to improve the morals of their own countrymen, so that by meliorating their character and conduct, they would have given a striking example of the effect of religion in promoting the comforts of life to the surrounding savages; and might by degrees have extended its benign influence to the remotest regions of that country, which was the object, and intended to be the scene, of their evangelical labours. But by bearing the light of the Gospel at once to the distance of two thousand five hundred miles from the civilised part of the colonies, it was soon obscured by the cloud of ignorance that darkened the human mind in those distant regions.
The whole of their long route I have often travelled, and the recollection of such a people as the missionaries having been there, was confined to a few superannuated Canadians, who had not left that country since the cession to the English, in 1763, and who particularly mentioned the death of some, and the distressing situation of them all. But if these religious men did not attain the objects of their persevering piety, they were, during their mission, of great service to the commanders who engaged in those distant expeditions, and spread the fur trade as far West as the banks of the Saskatchiwine river, in 53. North latitude, and longitude 102. West.
At an early period of their intercourse with the savages, a custom was introduced of a very excellent tendency, but is now unfortunately discontinued, of not selling any spirituous liquor to the natives. This admirable regulation was for some time observed, with all the respect due to the religion by which it was sanctioned, and whose severest censures followed the violation of it. A painful penance could alone restore the offender to the suspended rites of the sacrament. The casuistry of trade, however, discovered a way to gratify the Indians with their favourite cordial without incurring the ecclesiastical penalties, by giving, instead of selling it to them.
But notwithstanding all the restrictions with which commerce was oppressed under the French government, the fur trade was extended to the immense distance which has been already stated; and surmounted many most discouraging difficulties, which will be hereafter noticed; while, at the same time, no exertions were made from Hudson's Bay to obtain even a share of the trade of a country, which according to the charter of that company, belonged to it, and, from its proximity, is so much more accessible to the mercantile adventurer.
Of these trading commanders, I understood, that two attempted to penetrate to the Pacific Ocean, but the utmost extent of their journey I could never learn; which may be attributed, indeed, to a failure of the undertaking.
For some time after the conquest of Canada, this trade was suspended, which must have been very advantageous to the Hudson's-Bay Company, as all the inhabitants to the westward of Lake Superior were obliged to go to them for such articles as their habitual use had rendered necessary. Some of the Canadians who had lived long with them, and were become attached to a savage life, accompanied them thither annually, till mercantile adventurers again appeared from their own country, after an interval of several years, owing, as I suppose, to an ignorance of the country in the conquerors, and their want of commercial confidence in the conquered. There were, indeed, other discouragements, such as the immense length of the journey necessary to reach the limits beyond which this commerce must begin; the risk of property; the expenses attending such a long transport; and an ignorance of the language of those who, from their experience, must be necessarily employed as the intermediate agents between them and the natives. But, notwithstanding these difficulties, the trade, by degrees, began to spread over the different parts to which it had been carried by the French, though at a great risk of the lives, as well as the property of their new possessors, for the natives had been taught by their former allies to entertain hostile dispositions towards the English, from their having been in alliance with their natural enemies the Iroquois; and there were not wanting a sufficient number of discontented, disappointed people, to keep alive such a notion; so that for a long time they were considered and treated as objects of hostility. To prove this disposition of the Indians, we have only to refer to the conduct of Pontiac, at Detroit, and the surprise and taking of Michilimakinac, about this period.
Hence it arose, that it was so late as the year 1766, before which, the trade I mean to consider, commenced from Michilimakinac. The first who attempted it were satisfied to go the length of the river Camenistiquia, about thirty miles to the Eastward of the Grande Portage, where the French had a principal establishment, and was the line of their communication with the interior country. It was once destroyed by fire. Here they went and returned successful in the following spring to Michilimakinac. Their success induced them to renew their journey, and incited others to follow their example. Some of them remained at Camenistiquia, while others proceeded to and beyond the Grande Portage, which, since that time has become the principal entrepot of that trade, and is situated in a bay, in latitude 48. North, and longitude 90. West. After passing the usual season there, they went back to Michilimakinac as before, and encouraged by the trade, returned in increased numbers. One of these, Thomas Curry, with a spirit of enterprize superior to that of his contemporaries, determined to penetrate to the furthest limits of the French discoveries in that country; or at least till the frost should stop him. For this purpose he procured guides and interpreters, who were acquainted with the country, and with four canoes arrived at Fort Bourbon, which was one of their posts, at the West end of the Cedar Lake, on the waters of the Saskatchiwine. His risk and toil were well recompensed, for he came back the following spring with his canoes filled with fine furs, with which he proceeded to Canada, and was satisfied never again to return to the Indian country.
From this period, people began to spread over every part of the country, particularly where the French had established settlements.
Mr. James Finlay was the first who followed Mr. Curry's example, and with the same number of canoes, arrived, in the course of the next. season, at Nipawee, the last of the French settlements on the bank of the Saskatchiwine river, in latitude nearly 43 1/2. North, and longitude 103. West: he found the good fortune, as he followed, in every respect, the example, of his predecessor.
As may be supposed, there were now people enough ready to replace them, and the trade was pursued with such avidity, and irregularity, that in a few years it became the reverse of what it ought to have been. An animated competition prevailed, and the contending parties carried the trade beyond the French limits, though with no benefit to themselves or neighbours, the Hudson's-Bay Company; who in the year 1774, and not till then, thought proper to move from home to the East bank of Sturgeon Lake, in latitude 53. 56. North, and longitude 102. 15. West, and became more jealous of their fellow subjects; and, perhaps, with more cause, than they had been of those of France. From this period, to the present time, they have been following the Canadians to their different establishments, while, on the contrary, there is not a solitary instance that the Canadians have followed them; and there are many trading posts which they have not yet attained. This, however, will no longer be a mystery, when the nature and policy of the Hudson's Bay. Company is compared with that which has been pursued by their rivals in this trade. — But to return to my subject.
This competition, which has been already mentioned, gave a fatal blow to the trade from Canada, and, with other incidental causes, in my opinion, contributed to its ruin. This trade was carried on in a very distant country, out of the reach of legal restraint, and where there was a free scope given to any ways or means in attaining advantage. The consequence was not only the loss of commercial benefit to the persons engaged in it, but of the good opinion of the natives, and the respect of their men, who were inclined to follow their example; so that with drinking, carousing, and quarrelling with the Indians along their route, and among themselves, they seldom reached their winter quarters; and if they did, it was generally by dragging their property upon sledges, as the navigation was closed up by the frost. When at length they were arrived, the object of each was to injure his rival traders in the opinion of the natives as much as was in their power, by misrepresentation and presents, for which the agents employed were peculiarly calculated. They considered the command of their employer as binding on them, and however wrong or irregular the transaction, the responsibility rested with the principal who directed them. This is Indian law. Thus did they waste their credit and their property with the natives, till the first was past redemption, and the last was nearly exhausted; so that towards the spring in each year, the rival parties found it absolutely necessary to join, and make one common stock of what remained, for the purpose of trading with the natives, who could entertain no respect for persons who had conducted themselves with so much irregularity and deceit. The winter, therefore, was one continued scene of disagreements and quarrels. If any one had the precaution or good sense to keep clear of these proceedings, he derived a proportionable advantage from his good conduct, and frequently proved a peacemaker between the parties. To such an height had they carried this licentious conduct, that they were in a continual state of alarm, and were even frequently stopped to pay tribute on their route into the country; though they had adopted the plan of travelling together in parties of thirty or forty canoes, and keeping their men armed; which sometimes, indeed, proved necessary for their defence.
Thus was the trade carried on for several years, and consequently becoming worse and worse, so that the partners, who met them at the Grande Portage, naturally complained of their ill success. But specious reasons were always ready to prove that it arose from circumstances which they could not at that time control; and encouragements were held forth to hope that a change would soon take place, which would make ample amends for past disappointments.
It was about this time, that Mr. Joseph Frobisher, one of the gentlemen engaged in the trade, determined to penetrate into the country yet unexplored, to the North and Westward, and, in the spring of the year 1775, met the Indians from that quarter on their way to Fort Churchill, at Portage de Traits, so named from that circumstance, on the banks of the Missinipi, or Churchill river, latitude 55. 25. North, longitude 103 1/2. West. It was indeed, with some difficulty that he could induce them to trade with him, but he at length procured as many furs as his canoes could carry. In this perilous expedition he sustained every kind of hardship incident to a journey through a wild and savage country, where his subsistence depended on what the woods and the waters produced. These difficulties, nevertheless, did not discourage him from returning in the following year, when he was equally successful. He then sent his brother to explore the country still further West, who penetrated as far as the lake of Isle a la Crosse, in latitude 55. 26. North, and longitude 108. West.
He, however, never after wintered among the Indians, though he retained a large interest in the trade, and a principal share in the direction of it till the year 1798, when he retired to enjoy the fruits of his labours; and, by his hospitality, became known to every respectable stranger who visited Canada.
The success of this gentleman induced others to follow his example, and in the spring of the year 1778, some of the traders on the Saskatchiwine river, finding they had a quantity of goods to spare, agreed to put them into a joint stock, and gave the charge and management of them to Mr. Peter Pond, who, in four canoes, was directed to enter the English River, so called by Mr. Frobisher, to follow his track, and proceed still further; if possible, to Athabasca, a country hitherto unknown but from Indian report. In this enterprise he at length succeeded and pitched his tent on the banks of the Elk river, by him erroneously called the Athabasca river, about forty miles from the Lake of the Hills, into which it empties itself.
Here he passed the winter of 1778-9; saw a vast concourse of the Knisteneaux and Chepewyan tribes, who used to carry their furs annually to Churchill; the latter by the barren grounds, where they suffered innumerable hardships, and were sometimes even starved to death. The former followed the coarse of the lakes and rivers, through a country that abounded in animals, and where there was plenty of fish: but though they did not suffer from want of food, the intolerable fatigue of such a journey could not be easily repaid to an Indian: they were, therefore, highly gratified by seeing people come to their country to relieve them from such long, toilsome, and dangerous journeys; and were immediately reconciled to give an advanced price for the articles necessary to their comfort and convenience. Mr. Pond's reception and success was accordingly beyond his expectation; and he procured twice as many furs as his canoes would carry. They also supplied him with as much provision as he required during his residence among them, and sufficient for his homeward voyage. Such of the furs as he could not embark, he secured in one of his winter huts, and they were found the following season, in the same state in which he left them.
These, however, were but partial advantages, and could not prevent the people of Canada from seeing the improper conduct of some of their associates, which rendered it dangerous to remain any longer among the natives. Most of them who passed the winter at the Saskatchiwine, got to the Eagle hills, where, in the spring of the year 1780, a few days previous to their intended departure, a large band of Indians being engaged in drinking about their houses, one of the traders, to ease himself of the troublesome importunities of a native, gave him a dose of laudanum in a glass of grog, which effectually prevented him from giving further trouble to any one, by setting him asleep for ever. This accident produced a fray, in which one of the traders, and several of the men were killed, while the rest had no other means to save themselves but by a precipitate flight, abandoning a considerable quantity of goods, and near half the furs which they had collected during the winter and the spring.
About the same time, two of the establishments on the Assiniboin river, were attacked with less justice, when several white men, and a great number of Indians were killed. In short, it appeared, that the natives had formed a resolution to extirpate the traders; and, without entering into any further reasonings on the subject, it appears to be incontrovertible, that the irregularity pursued in carrying on the trade has brought it into its present forlorn situation; and nothing but the greatest calamity that could have befallen the natives, saved the traders from destruction: this was the small-pox, which spread its destructive and desolating power, as the fire consumes the dry grass of the field. The fatal infection spread around with a baneful rapidity which no flight could escape, and with a fatal effect that nothing could resist. It destroyed with its pestilential breath whole families and tribes; and the horrid scene presented to those who had the melancholy and afflicting opportunity of beholding it, a combination of the dead, the dying, and such as to avoid the horrid fate of their friends around them, prepared to disappoint the plague of its prey, by terminating their own existence.
The habits and lives of these devoted people, which provided not to-day for the wants of to-morrow, must have heightened the pains of such au affliction, by leaving them not only without remedy, but even without alleviation. Naught was left them but to submit in agony and despair.
To aggravate the picture, if aggravation were possible, may be added, the putrid carcases which the wolves, with a furious voracity, dragged forth from the huts, or which were mangled within them by the dogs, whose hunger was satisfied with the disfigured remains of their masters. Nor was it uncommon for the father of a family, whom the infection had not reached, to call them around him, to represent the cruel sufferings and horrid fate of their relations, from the influence of some evil spirit who was preparing to extirpate their race; and to incite them to baffle death, with all its horrors, by their own poniards. At the same time, if their hearts failed them in this necessary act, he was himself ready to perform the deed of mercy with his own hand, as the last act of his affection, and instantly to follow them to the common place of rest and refuge from human evil.
It was never satisfactorily ascertained by what means this malignant disorder was introduced, but it was generally supposed to be from the Missisouri, by a war party.
The consequence of this melancholy event to the traders must be self-evident; the means of disposing of their goods were cut off; and no furs were obtained, but such as had been gathered from the habitations of the deceased Indians, which could not be very considerable: nor did they look from the losses of the present year, with any encouraging expectations to those which were to come. The only fortunate people consisted of a party who had again penetrated to the Northward and Westward in 1780, at some distance up the Missinipi, or English river, to Lake la Rouge. Two unfortunate circumstances, however, happened to them; which are as follow:
Mr. Wadin, a Swiss gentleman, of strict probity and known sobriety, had gone there in the year 1779, and remained during the summer of 1780. His partners and others, engaged in an opposite interest, when at the Grande Portage, agreed to send a quantity of goods on their joint account, which was accepted, and Mr. Pond was proposed by them to be their representative to act in conjunction with Mr. Wadin. Two men, of more opposite characters, could not, perhaps, have been found. In short, from various causes, their situations became very uncomfortable to each other, and mutual was the natural consequence: without entering, therefore, into a minute history of these transactions, it will be sufficient to observe, that, about the end of the year 1780, or the beginning of 1781, Mr. Wadin had received Mr. Pond and one of his own clerks to dinner; and, in the course of the night, the former was shot through the lower part of the thigh, when it was said that he expired from the loss of blood, and was buried next morning at eight o'clock. Mr. Pond, and the clerk, were tried for this murder at Montreal, and acquitted: nevertheless, their innocence was not so apparent as to extinguish the original suspicion.
The other circumstance was this. In the spring of the year, Mr. Pond sent the above-mentioned clerk to meet the Indians from the Northward, who used to go annually to Hudson's Bay; when he easily persuaded them to trade with him, and return back, that they might not take the contagion which had depopulated the country to the Eastward of them: but most unfortunately they caught it here, and carried it with them, to the destruction of themselves and the neighbouring tribes.
The country being thus depopulated, the traders and their friends from Canada, who, from various causes already mentioned, were very much reduced in number, became confined to two parties, who began seriously to think of making permanent establishments on the Missinipi river, and at Athabasca; for which purpose, in 1781-2, they selected their best canoe-men, being ignorant that the small-pox penetrated that way. The most expeditious party got only in time to the Portage la Loche, or Mithy-Ouinigam, which divides the waters of the Missinipi from those that fall into the Elk river, to despatch one canoe strong-handed, and light-loaded, to that country; but, on their arrival there, they found, in every direction, the ravages of the small-pox; so that, from the great diminution of the natives, they returned in the spring with no more than seven packages of beaver. The strong woods and mountainous countries afforded a refuge to those who fled from the contagion of the plains; but they were so alarmed at the surrounding destruction, that they avoided the traders, and were dispirited from hunting, except for their subsistence. The traders, however, who returned into the country in the year 1782-3, found the inhabitants in some sort of tranquillity, and more numerous than they had reason to expect, so that their success was proportionably better.
During the winter of 1783-4, the merchants of Canada, engaged in this trade, formed a junction of interests, under the name of the North-West Company, and divided it into sixteen shares, without depositing any capital; each party furnishing a proportion or quota of such articles as were necessary to carry on the trade: the respective parties agreeing to satisfy the friends they had in the country, who were not provided for, according to this agreement, out of the proportions which they held. The management of the whole was accordingly entrusted to Messrs. Benjamin and Joseph Frobisher, and Mr. Simon M'Tavish, two distinct houses, who had the greatest interest and influence in the country, and for which they were to receive a stipulated commission in all transactions.
In the spring, two of those gentlemen went to the Grande Portage with their credentials, which were confirmed and ratified by all the parties having an option, except Mr. Peter Pond, who was not satisfied with the share allotted him. Accordingly he, and another gentleman, Mr. Peter Pangman, who had a right to be a partner, but for whom no provision had been made, came to Canada, with a determination to return to the country, if they could find any persons to join them, and give their scheme a proper support.
The traders in the country, and merchants at Montreal, thus entered into a co-partner-ship, which, by these means, was consolidated and directed by able men, who, from the powers with which they were entrusted, would carry on the trade to the utmost extent it would bear. The traders in the country, therefore, having every reason to expect that their past and future labours would be recompensed, forgot all their former animosities, and engaged with the utmost spirit and activity, to forward the general interest; so that, in the following year, they met their agents at the Grande Portage, with their canoes laden with rich furs from the different parts of that immense tract of country. But this satisfaction was not to be enjoyed without some interruption; and they were mortified to find that Mr. Pangman had prevailed on Messrs. Gregory and Macleod to join him, and give him their support in the business, though deserted by Mr. Pond, who accepted the terms offered by his former associates.
In the counting-house of Mr. Gregory I had been five years; and at this period had left him, with a small adventure of goods, with which he had entrusted me, to seek my fortune at Detroit. He, without any solicitation on my part, had procured an insertion in the agreement, that I should be admitted a partner in this business, on condition that I would proceed to the Indian country in the following spring, 1785. His partner came to Detroit to make me such a proposition. I readily assented to it, and immediately proceeded to the Grande Portage, where I joined my associates.
We now found that independent of the natural difficulties of the undertaking, we should have to encounter every other which they, who were already in possession of the trade of the country, could throw in our way, and which their circumstances enabled them to do. Nor did they doubt, from their own superior experience, as well as that of their clerks and men, with their local knowledge of the country and its inhabitants, that they should soon compel us to leave the country to them. The event, however, did not justify their expectations; for, after the severest struggle ever known in that part of the world, and suffering every oppression which a jealous and rival spirit could instigate; after the murder of one of our partners, the laming of another, and the narrow escape of one of our clerks, who received a bullet through his powder horn, in the execution of his duty, they were compelled to allow us a share of the trade. As we had already incurred a loss, this union was, in every respect, a desirable event to us, and was concluded in the month of July, 1787.
This commercial establishment was now founded on a more solid basis than any hitherto known in the country; and it not only continued in full force, vigour, and prosperity, in spite of all interference from Canada, but maintained at least an equal share of advantage with the Hudson's-Bay Company, notwithstanding the superiority of their local situation. The following account of this self-erected concern will manifest the cause of its success.
It assumed the title of the North-West Company, and was no more than an association of commercial men, agreeing among themselves to carry on the fur trade, unconnected with any other business, though many of the parties engaged had extensive concerns altogether foreign to it. It may be said to have been supported entirely upon credit; for, whether the capital belonged to the proprietor, or was borrowed, it equally bore interest, for which the association was annually accountable. It consisted of twenty shares, unequally divided among the persons concerned. Of these, a certain proportion was held by the people who managed the business in Canada, and were styled agents for the Company. Their duty was to import the necessary goods from England, store them at their own expense at Montreal, get them made up into articles suited to the trade, pack and forward them, and supply the cash that might be wanting for the outfits, for which they received, independent of the profit on their shares, a commission on the amount of the accounts, which they were obliged to make out annually, and keep the adventure of each year distinct. Two of them went annually to the Grande Portage, to manage and transact the business there, and on the communication at Detroit, Michilimakinac, St. Mary's, and at Montreal, where they received, stored, packed up, and shipped the company's furs for England, on which they had also a small commission. The remaining shares were held by the proprietors, who were obliged to winter and manage the business of the concern with the Indians, and their respective clerks, etc. They were not supposed to be under any obligation to furnish capital, or even credit. If they obtained any capital by the trade, it was to remain in the hands of the agents; for which they were allowed interest. Some of them, from their long services and influence, held double shares, and were allowed to retire from the business at any period of the existing concern, with one of those shares, naming any young man in the company's service to succeed him in the other. Seniority and merit were, however, considered as affording a claim to the succession, which, nevertheless, could not be disposed of without the concurrence of the majority of the concern; who, at the same time, relieved the seceding person from any responsibility respecting the share that he transferred, and accounted for it according to the annual value or rate of the property; so that the seller could have no advantage, but that of getting the share of stock which he retained realised, and receiving for the transferred share what was fairly determined to be the worth of it. The former was also discharged from all duty, and became a dormant partner. Thus, all the young men who were not provided for at the beginning of the contract, succeeded in succession to the character and advantages of partners. They entered into the Company's service for five or seven years, under such expectations, and their reasonable prospects were seldom disappointed: there were, indeed, instances when they succeeded to shares, before their apprenticeship was expired, and it frequently happened, that they were provided for while they were in a state of articled clerkship. Shares were transferable only to the concern at large, as no person could be admitted as a partner who had not served his time to the trade. The dormant partner indeed might dispose of his interest to any one he chose, but if the transaction was not acknowledged by his associates, the purchaser could only be considered as his agent or attorney. Every share had a vote, and two-thirds formed a majority. This regular and equitable mode of providing for the clerks of the company, excited a spirit of emulation in the discharge of their various duties, and in fact, made every agent a principal, who perceived his own prosperity to be immediately connected with that of his employers. Indeed, without such a spirit, such a trade could not have become so extended and advantageous, as it has been and now is.
In 1788, the gross amount of the adventure for the year did not exceed forty thousand pounds,1 but by the exertion, enterprise, and industry of the proprietors, it was brought, in eleven years, to triple that amount and upwards; yielding proportionate profits, and surpassing, in short, any thing known in America.
Such, therefore, being the prosperous state of the company, it, very naturally, tempted others to interfere with the concern in a manner by no means beneficial to the company, and commonly ruinous to the undertakers.
In 1798 the concern underwent a new form, the shares were increased to forty-six, new partners being admitted, and others retiring. This period was the termination of the company, which was not renewed by all the parties concerned in it, the majority continuing to act upon the old stock, and under the old firm; the others beginning a new one; and it now remains to be decided, whether two parties, under the same regulations and by the same exertions, though unequal in number, can continue to carry on the business to a successful issue. The contrary opinion has been held, which if verified, will make it the interest of the parties again to coalesce; for neither is deficient in capital to support their obstinacy in a losing trade, as it is not to be supposed that either will yield on any other terms than perpetual participation.
It will not be superfluous in this place, to explain the general mode of carrying on the fur trade.
The agents are obliged to order the necessary goods from England in the month of October, eighteen months before they can leave Montreal; that is, they are not shipped from London until the spring following, when they arrive in Canada in the summer. In the course of the following winter they are made up into such articles as are required for the savages; they are then packed into parcels of ninety pounds weight each, but cannot be sent from Montreal until the May following; so that they do not get to market until the ensuing winter, when they are exchanged for furs, which come to Montreal the next fall, and from thence are shipped, chiefly to London, where they are not sold or paid for before the succeeding spring, or even as late as June; which is forty-two months after the goods were ordered in Canada; thirty-six after they had been shipped from England, and twenty-four after they had been forwarded from Montreal; so that the merchant, allowing that he has twelve months' credit, does not receive a return to pay for those goods, and the necessary expenses attending them, which is about equal to the value of the goods themselves, till two years after they are considered as cash, which makes this a very heavy business. There is even a small proportion of it that requires twelve months longer to bring round the payment, going to the immense distance it is carried, and from the shortness of the seasons, which prevents the furs, even after they are collected, from coming out of the country for that period.2
The articles necessary for this trade, are coarse woollen cloths of different kinds; milled blankets of different sizes; arms and ammunition; twist and carrot tobacco; Manchester goods; linens, and coarse sheetings; thread, lines, and twine; common hardware; cutlery and ironmongery of several descriptions; kettles of brass and copper, and sheet-iron; silk and cotton handkerchiefs, hats, shoes, and hose; calicoes and printed cottons, etc., etc., etc. Spirituous liquors and provisions are purchased in Canada. These, and the expense of transport to and from the Indian country, including wages to clerks, interpreters, guides, and canoe-men, with the expense of making up the goods for the market, form about half the annual amount against the adventure.
This expenditure in Canada ultimately tends to the encouragement of British manufactory, for those who are employed in the different branches of this business, are enabled by their gains to purchase such British articles as they must otherwise forego.
produce of the year of which I am now speaking, consisted of the
following furs and peltries
Of these were diverted from the British market, being sent through the United States to China, 13,364 skins, fine beaver, weighing 19,283 pounds; 1,250 fine otters, and 1,724 kitt foxes. They would have found their way to the China market at any rate, but this deviation from the British channel arose from the following circumstance:
An adventure of this kind was undertaken by a respectable house in London, half concerned with the North-West Company, in the year 1792. The furs were of the best kind, and suitable to the market; and the adventurers continued this connexion for five successive years, to the annual amount of forty thousand pounds. At the winding up of the concern of 1792, 1793, 1794, 1795, in the year 1797 (the adventure of 1796 not being included, as the furs were not sent to China, but disposed of in London), the North-West Company experienced a loss of upwards of £40,000 (their half), which was principally owing to the difficulty of getting home the produce procured in return for the furs from China, in the East India Company's ships, together with the duty payable, and the various restrictions of that company. Whereas, from America there are no impediments; they get immediately to market, and the produce of them is brought back, and perhaps sold in the course of twelve months. From such advantages, the furs of Canada will no doubt find their way to China by America, which would not be the case if British subjects had the same privileges that are allowed to foreigners, as London would then be found the best and safest market.
But to return to our principal subject. We shall now proceed to consider the number of men employed in the concern: viz., fifty clerks, seventy-one interpreters and clerks, one thousand one hundred and twenty canoe-men, and thirty-five guides. Of these, five clerks, eighteen guides, and three hundred and fifty canoe-men, were employed for the summer season in going from Montreal to the Grande Portage, in canoes, part of whom proceeded from thence to Rainy Lake, as will be hereafter explained, and are called Pork-eaters, or Goers and Comers. These were hired in Canada or Montreal, and were absent from the 1st of May till the latter end of September. For this trip the guides had from eight hundred to a thousand livres, and a suitable equipment; the foreman and steersman from four to six hundred livres; the middle-men from two hundred and fifty to three hundred and fifty livres, with an equipment of one blanket, one shirt, and one pair of trowsers; and were maintained during that period at the expense of their employers. Independent of their wages, they were allowed to traffic, and many of them earned to the amount of their wages. About one-third of these went to winter, and had more than double the above wages and equipment. All the winterers were hired by the year, and sometimes for three years; and of the clerks many were apprentices, who were generally engaged for five or seven years, for which they had only one hundred pounds, provision and clothing. Such of them who could not be provided for as partners, at the expiration of this time, were allowed from one hundred pounds to three hundred pounds per annum, with all necessaries, till provision was made for them. Those who acted in the two-fold capacity of clerk and interpreter, or were so denominated, had no other expectation than the payment of wages to the amount of from one thousand to four thousand livres per annum, with clothing and provisions. The guides, who are a very useful set of men, acted also in the additional capacity of interpreters, and had a stated quantity of goods, considered as sufficient for their wants, their wages being from one to three thousand livres. The canoe-men are of two descriptions, foremen and steersmen, and middlemen. The two first were allowed annually one thousand two hundred, and the latter eight hundred, livres each. The first class had what is called an equipment, consisting of two blankets, two shirts, two pair of trowsers, two handkerchiefs, fourteen pounds of carrot tobacco, and some trifling articles. The latter had ten pounds of tobacco, and all the other articles: those are called North Men, or Winterers; and to the last class of people were attached upwards of seven hundred Indian women and children, victualled at the expence of the company.
The first class of people are hired in Montreal five months before they set out, and receive their equipments, and one-third of their wages in advance; and an adequate idea of the labour they undergo, may be formed from the following account of the country through which they pass, and their manner of proceeding.
The necessary number of canoes being purchased, at about three hundred livres each, the goods formed into packages, and the lakes and rivers free of ice, which they usually are in the beginning of May, they are then despatched from La Chine, eight miles above Montreal, with eight or ten men in each canoe, and their baggage; and sixty-five packages of goods, six hundred weight of biscuit, two hundred weight of pork, three bushels of pease, for the men's provision; two oil-cloths to cover the goods, a sail, etc., an axe, a towing-line, a kettle, and a sponge to bail out the water, with a quantity of gum, bark, and watape, to repair the vessel. An European on seeing one of these slender vessels thus laden, heaped up, and sunk with her gunwale within six inches of the water, would think his fate inevitable in such a boat, when he reflected on the nature of her voyage; but the Canadians are so expert that few accidents happen.
Leaving La Chine, they proceed to St. Ann's, within two miles of the Western extremity of the island of Montreal, the lake of the two mountains being in sight, which may be termed the commencement of the Utawas river. At the rapid of St. Ann they are obliged to take out part, if not the whole of their lading. It is from this spot that the Canadians consider they take their departure, as it possesses the last church on the island, which is dedicated to the tutelar saint of voyages.
The lake of the two mountains is about twenty miles long, but not more than three wide, and surrounded by cultivated fields, except the Seignory belonging to the clergy, though nominally in possession of the two tribes of Iroquois and Algonquins, whose village is situated on a delightful point of land under the hills, which, by the title of mountains, give a name to the lake. Near the extremity of the point their church is built, which divides the village in two parts, forming a regular angle along the water side. On the East is the station of the Algonquins, and on the West, one of the Iroquois, consisting in all of about five hundred warriors. Each party has its missionary, and divine worship is performed according to the rites of the Roman Catholic religion, in their respective languages in the same church: and so assiduous have their pastors been, that these people have been instructed in reading and writing in their own language, and are better instructed than the Canadian inhabitants of the country of the lower ranks: but notwithstanding these advantages, and though the establishment is nearly coeval with the colonisation of the country, they do not advance towards a state of civilisation, but retain their ancient habits, language, and customs, and are becoming every day more depraved, indigent, and insignificant. The country around them, though very capable of cultivation, presents only a few miserable patches of ground, sown by the women with maize and vegetables. During the winter season, they leave their habitations, and pious pastors, to follow the chase, according to the custom of their forefathers. Such is, indeed, the state of all the villages near the cultivated parts of Canada. But we shall now leave them to proceed on our voyage.
At the end of the lake the water contracts into the Utawas river, which, after a course of fifteen miles, is interrupted by a succession of rapids and cascades for upwards of ten miles, at the foot of which the Canadian Seignories terminate; and all above them were waste land, till the conclusion of the American war, when they were surveyed by order of government, and granted to the officers and men of the eighty-fourth regiment, when reduced; but principally to the former, and consequently little inhabited, though very capable of cultivation.
The voyagers are frequently obliged to unload their canoes, and carry the goods upon their backs, or rather suspended in slings from their heads. Each man's ordinary load is two packages, though some carry three. Here the canoe is towed by a strong line. There are some places where the ground will not admit of their carrying the whole; they then make two trips, that is, leave half their lading, and go and land it at the distance required; and then return for that which was left. In this distance are three carrying-places, the length of which depends in a great measure upon the state of the water, whether higher or lower; from the last of these the river is about a mile and a half wide, and has a regular current for about sixty miles, when it ends at the first Portage de Chaudiere, where the body of water falls twenty-five feet, over cragged, excavated rocks, in a most wild, romantic manner. At a small distance below, is the river Rideau on the left, falling over a perpendicular rock, near forty feet high, in one sheet, assuming the appearance of a curtain; and from which circumstance it derives its name. To this extent the lands have been surveyed, as before observed, and are very fit for culture. Many loyalists are settled upon the river Rideau, and have, I am told, thriving plantations. Some American families preferring the British territory, have also established themselves along a river on the opposite side, where the soil is excellent. Nor do I think the period is far distant, when the lands will become settled from this vicinity to Montreal.
Over this portage, which is six hundred and forty-three paces long, the canoe and all the lading is carried. The rock is so steep and difficult of access, that it requires twelve men to take the canoe out of the water: it is then carried by six men, two at each end on the same side, and two under the opposite gunwale in the middle. From hence to the next is but a short distance, in which they make two trips to the second Portage de Chaudiere, which is seven hundred paces, to carry the loading alone. From hence to the next and last Chaudiere, or Portage des Chenes, is about six miles, with a very strong current, where the goods are carried seven hundred and forty paces; the canoe being towed up by the line, when the water is not very high. We now enter Lac des Chaudieres, which is computed to be thirty miles in length. Though it is called a lake, there is a strong draught downwards, and its breadth is from two to four miles. At the end of this is the Portage des Chats, over which the canoe and lading are carried two hundred and seventy-four paces; and very difficult it is for the former. The river is here barred by a ridge of black rock, rising in pinnacles and covered with wood, which, from the small quantity of soil that nourishes it, is low and stinted. The river finds its way over and through these rocks, in numerous channels, falling fifteen feet and upwards. From hence two trips are made through a serpentine channel, formed by the rocks, for several miles, when the current slackens, and is accordingly called the Lac des Chats. To the channels of the grand Calumet, which are computed to be at the distance of eighteen miles, the current recovers its strength, and proceeds to the Portage Dufort, which is two hundred and forty-five paces long; over which the canoe and baggage are transported. From hence the current becomes more rapid, and requires two trips to the Decharge des Sables,3 where the goods are carried one hundred and thirty-five paces, and the canoe towed. Then follows the Mountain Portage, where the canoe and lading are also carried three hundred and eighty-five paces; then to the Decharge of the Derige, where the goods are carried two hundred and fifty paces; and thence to the grand Calumet. This is the longest carrying-place in this river, and is about two thousand and thirty-five paces. It is a high hill or mountain. From the upper part of this Portage the current is steady, and is only a branch of the Utawas river, which joins the main channel, that keeps a more Southern course, at the distance of twelve computed leagues. Six leagues further it forms Lake Coulonge, which is about four leagues in length; from thence it proceeds through the channels of the Allumettes to the decharge, where part of the lading is taken out, and carried three hundred and forty-two paces. Then succeeds the Portage des Allumettes, which is but twenty-five paces, over a rock difficult of access, and at a very short distance from Decharge. From Portage de Chenes to this spot, is a fine deer-hunting country, and the land in many places very fit for cultivation. From hence the river spreads wide, and is full of islands, with some current for seven leagues, to the beginning of Riviere Creuse, or Deep River, which runs in the form of a canal, about a mile and a half wide, for about thirty-six miles; bounded upon the North by very high rocks, with low land on the South, and sandy; it is intercepted again by falls and cataracts, so that the Portages of the two Joachins almost join. The first is nine hundred and twenty-six paces, the next seven hundred and twenty, and both very bad roads. From hence is a steady current of nine miles to the river du Moine, where there has generally been a trading house; the stream then becomes strong for four leagues, when a rapid succeeds, which requires two trips. A little way onward is the Decharge, and close to it, the Portage of the Roche Capitaine, seven hundred and ninety-seven paces in length. From hence two trips are made through a narrow channel of the Roche Capitaine, made by an island four miles in length. A strong current now succeeds, for about six leagues to the Portage of the two rivers, which is about .eight hundred and twenty paces; from thence it is three leagues to the Decharge of the Trou, which is three hundred paces. Near adjoining is the rapid of Levellier; from whence, including the rapids of Matawoen, where there is no carrying-place, it is about thirty-six miles to the forks of the same name; in latitude 46. 45. North, and longitude 78. 45. West, and is at the computed distance of four hundred miles from Montreal. At this place the Petite Riviere falls into the Utawas. The latter river comes from a North-Westerly direction, forming several lakes in its course. The principal of them is Lake Temescamang, where there has always been a trading post, which may be said to continue, by a succession of rivers and lakes, upwards of fifty leagues from the Forks, passing near the waters of the Lake Abbitiby, in latitude 48 1/2, which is received by the Moose River, that empties itself into James's Bay.
The Petite Riviere takes a South-West direction, is full of rapids and cataracts to its source, and is not more than fifteen leagues in length, in the course of which are the following interruptions — The Portage of Plein Champ, three hundred and nineteen paces; the Decharge of the Rose, one hundred and forty-five paces; the Decharge' of Campion, one hundred and eighty-four paces; the Portage of the Grosse Roche, one hundred and fifty paces; the Portage of Paresseux, four hundred and two paces; the Portage of Prairie, two hundred and eighty-seven paces; the Portage of La Cave, one hundred paces; Portage of Talon, two hundred and seventy-five paces; which, for its length, is the worst on the communication; Portage Pin de Musique, four hundred and fifty-six paces; next to this, is mauvais de Musique, where many men have been crushed to death by the canoes, and others have received irrecoverable injuries. The last in this river is the Turtle Portage, eighty-three paces, on entering the lake of that name, where, indeed, the river may be said to take its source. At the first vase from whence to the great river, the country has the appearance of having been over-run by fire, and consists, in general, of huge rocky hills. The distance of this portage which is the height of land, between the waters of the St. Laurance and the Utawas, is one thousand five hundred and thirteen paces to a small canal in a plain, that is just sufficient to carry the loaded canoe about one mile to the next vase, which is seven hundred and twenty-five paces. It would be twice this distance, but the narrow creek is dammed in the beaver fashion, to float the canoes to this barrier, through which they pass, when the river is just sufficient to bear them through a swamp of two miles to the last vase, of one thousand and twenty-four paces in length. Though the river is increased in this part, some care is necessary to avoid rocks and stumps of trees. In about six miles is the lake Nepisingui, which is computed to be twelve leagues long, though the route of the canoes is something more: it is about fifteen miles wide in the widest part, and bound with rocks. Its inhabitants consist of the remainder of a numerous converted tribe, called Nepisinguis of the Algonquin nation. Out of it flows the Riviere des Francois, over rocks of a considerable height. In a bay to the East of this, the road leads over the Portage of the Chaudiere des François, five hundred and forty-four paces, to still water. It must have acquired the name of Kettle, from a great number of holes in the solid rock of a cylindrical form, and not unlike that culinary utensil. They are observable in many parts along strong bodies of water, and where, at certain seasons, and distinct periods, it is well known the water inundates; at the bottom of them are generally found a number of small stones and pebbles. This circumstance justifies the conclusion, that at some former period these rocks formed the bed of a branch of the discharge of this lake, although some of them are upwards of ten feet above the present level of the water at its greatest height. They are, indeed, to be seen along every great river throughout this wide extended country. The French river is very irregular, both as to its breadth and form, and is so interspersed with islands, that in the whole course of it the banks are seldom visible. Of its various channels, that which is generally followed by the canoes is obstructed by the following Portages, viz., des Pins, fifty-two paces; Feausille, thirty-six paces; Parisienne, one hundred paces; Recolet, forty-five paces; and the Petite Feusille, twenty-five paces. In several parts there are guts or channels, where the water flows with great velocity, which are not more than twice the breadth of a canoe. The distance to Lake Huron is estimated at twenty-five leagues, which this river enters in the latitude 45. 53. North, that is, at the point of land three or four miles within the lake. There is hardly a foot of soil to be seen from one end of the Fench river to the other, its banks consisting of hills of entire rock. The coast of the lake is the same, but lower, backed at some distance by high lands. The course runs through numerous islands to the North of West to the river Tessalon, computed to be about fifty leagues from the French river, and which I found to be in latitude 46. 12. 21. North; and from thence crossing, from island to island, the arm of the lake that receives the water of Lake Superior (which continues the same course), the route changes to the South of West ten leagues to the Detour, passing the end of the island of St. Joseph, within six miles of the former place. On that island there has been a military establishment since the upper posts were given up to the Americans in the year 1794; and is the Westernmost military position which we have in this country. It is a place of no trade, and the greater part, if not the whole of the Indians come here for no other purpose but to receive the presents which our government annually allows them. They are from the American territory (except about thirty families, who are the inhabitants of the lake from the French river, and of the Algonquin nation) and trade in their peltries, as they used formerly to do at Michilimakinac, but principally with British subjects. The Americans pay them very little attention, and tell them that they keep possession of their country by right of conquest: that, as their brothers, they will be friends with them while they deserve it; and that their traders will bring them every kind of goods they require, which they may procure by their industry.
Our commanders treat them in a very different manner, and, under the character of the representative of their father (which parental title the natives give to his present Majesty, the common father of all his people) present them with such things as the actual state of their stores will allow.
How far this conduct, if continued, may, at a future exigency, keep these people in our interest, if they are even worthy of it, is not an object of my present consideration: at the same time, I cannot avoid expressing my perfect conviction, that it would not be of the least advantage to our present or future commerce in that country, or to the people themselves; as it only tends to keep many of them in a state of idleness about our military establishments. The ammunition which they receive is employed to kill game, in order to procure rum in return, though their families may be in a starving condition: hence it is, that, in consequence of slothful and dissolute lives, their numbers are in a very perceptible state of diminution.
From the Detour to the island of Michilimakinac, at the conference of the Lakes Huron and Michigan, in latitude 45. 54. North is about forty miles. To keep the direct course to Lake Superior, the North shore from the river Tessalon should be followed; crossing to the North-West end of St. Joseph, and passing between it and the adjacent islands, which makes a distance of fifty miles to the fall of St. Mary, at the foot of which, upon the South shore, there is a village, formerly a place of great resort for the inhabitants of Lake Superior, and consequently of considerable trade: it is now, however, dwindled to nothing, and reduced to about thirty families, of the Algonquin nation, who are one half of the year starving, and the other half intoxicated, and ten or twelve Canadians, who have been in the Indian country from an early period of life, and intermarried with the natives, who have brought them families. Their inducements to settle there, was the great quantity of white fish that are to be taken in and about the falls, with very little trouble, particularly in the autumn, when that fish leave the lakes, and comes to the running and shallow waters to spawn. These, when salt can be procured, are pickled just as the frost sets in, and prove very good food with potatoes, which they have of late cultivated with success. The natives live chiefly on this fish, which they hang up by the tails, and preserve throughout the winter, or at least as long as they last; for whatever quantity they may have taken, it is never known that their economy is such as to make them last through the winter, which renders their situation very distressing; for if they had activity sufficient to pursue the labours of the chase, the woods are become so barren of game as to afford them no great prospect of relief. In the spring of the year, they and the other inhabitants make a quantity of sugar from the maple tree, which they exchange with the traders for necessary articles, or carry it to Michilimakinac, where they expect a better price. One of these traders was agent for the North-West Company, receiving, storing, and forwarding such articles as come by the way of the lakes upon their vessels: for it is to be observed, that a quantity of their goods are sent by that route from Montreal in boats to Kingston, at the entrance of Lake Ontario, and from thence in vessels to Niagara, then over land ten miles to a water communication, by boats, to Lake Erie, where they are again received into vessels, and carried over that lake up the river Detroit, through the lake and river Sinclair to Lake Huron, and from thence to the Falls of St. Mary's, when they are again landed and carried for a mile above the falls, and shipped over Lake Superior to the Grande Portage. This is found to be a less expensive method than by canoes, but attended with more risk, and requiring more time, than one short season of this country will admit; for the goods are always sent from Montreal the preceding fall; and besides, the company get their provisions from Detroit, as flour and Indian corn; as also considerable supplies from Michilimakinac of maple sugar, tallow, gum, etc., etc.
For the purpose of conveying all these things, they have two vessels upon the Lakes Erie and Huron, and one on Lake Superior, of from fifty to seventy tons burden. This being, therefore, the depot for transports, the Montreal canoes, on their arrival, were forwarded over Lake Superior, with only five men in each; the others were sent to Michilimakinac for additional canoes, which were required to prosecute the trade, and then taking a lading there, or at St. Mary's, and follow the others. At length they all arrive at the Grande Portage, which is one hundred and sixty leagues from St. Mary's, coast-ways, and situated on a pleasant bay on the North side of the lake, in latitude 48. North, and longitude 90. West from Greenwich, where the compass has not above five degrees East variation.
At the entrance of the bay is an island which screens the harbour from every wind except the South. The shallowness of the water, however, renders it necessary for the vessel to anchor near a mile from the shore, where there is not more than fourteen feet water. This lake justifies the name that has been given to it; the Falls of St. Mary, which is its Northern extremity, being in latitude 46. 31. North, and in longitude 84. West, where there is no variation of the compass whatever, while its Southern extremity, at the river St. Louis, is in latitude 46. 45. North, and longitude 92. 10. West: its greatest breadth is one hundred and twenty miles, and its circumference, including its various bays, is not less than one thousand two hundred miles. Along its North shore is the safest navigation, as it is a continued mountainous embankment of rock, from three hundred to one thousand five hundred feet in height. There are numerous coves and sandy bays to land, which are frequently sheltered by islands from the swell of the lake. This is particularly the case at the distance of one hundred miles to the Eastward of the Grande Portage, and is called the Pays Plat.
This seems to have been caused by some convulsion of nature, for many of the islands display a composition of lava, intermixed with round stones of the size of a pigeon's egg. The surrounding rock is generally hard, and of a dark blue-grey, though it frequently has the appearance of iron and copper. The South side of the lake, from Point Shagoimigo East, is almost a continual straight line of sandy beach, interspersed with rocky precipices of lime-stones, sometimes rising to a hundred feet in height, without a bay. The embankments from that point Westward are, in general, of strong clay, mixed with stones, which renders the navigation irksome and dangerous. On the same side, at the river Tonnagan, is found a quantity of virgin copper. The Americans, soon after they got possession of that country, sent an engineer thither; and I should not be surprised to hear of their employing people to work the mine. Indeed, it might be well worthy the attention of the British subjects to work the mines on the North coast, though they are not supposed to be so rich as those on the South.
Lake Superior is the largest and most magnificent body of fresh water in the world: it is clear and pellucid, of great depth, and abounding in a great variety of fish, which are the most excellent of their kind. There are trouts of three kinds, weighing from five to fifty pounds, sturgeon, pickerel, pike, red and white carp, black bass, herrings, etc., etc., and the last, and best of all, the Ticamang, or white fish, which weighs from four to sixteen pounds, and is of a superior quality in these waters.
This lake may be denominated the grand reservoir of the River St. Laurence, as no considerable rivers discharge themselves into it. The principal ones are, the St. Louis, the Nipigon, the Pic, and the Michipicoten. Indeed, the extent of country from which any of them flow, or take their course, in any. direction, cannot admit of it, in consequence of the ridge of land that separates them from the rivers that empty themselves into Hudson's-Bay, the gulf of Mexico, and the waters that fall in Lake Michigan, which afterward become a part of the St. Laurence.
This vast collection of water is often covered with fog, particularly when the wind is from the East, which, driving against the high barren rocks on the North and West shore, dissolves in torrents of rain. It is very generally said, that the storms on this lake are denoted by a swell on the preceding day; but this circumstance did not appear from my observation to be a regular phenomenon, as the swells more regularly subsided without any subsequent wind.
Along the surrounding rocks of this immense lake, evident marks appear of the decrease of its water, by the lines observable along them. The space, however, between the highest and the lowest, is not so great as in the smaller lakes, as it does not amount to more than six feet, the former being very faint.
The inhabitants that are found along the coast of this water, are all of the Algonquin nation, the whole of which do not exceed 150 families.4
These people live chiefly on fish; indeed, from what has been said of the country, it cannot be expected to abound in animals, as it is totally destitute of that shelter, which is so necessary to them. The rocks appear to have been over-run by fire, and the stinted timber which once grew there, is frequently seen lying along the surface of them: but it is not easy to be reconciled, that anything should grow where there is so little appearance of soil. Between the fallen trees there are briars, with hurtleberry and gooseberry bushes, raspberries, etc., which invite the bears in greater or lesser numbers, as they are a favourite food of that animal: beyond these rocky banks are found a few moose and fallow deer. The waters alone are abundantly inhabited.
Avery curious phenomenon was observed some years ago at the Grande Portage, for which no obvious cause could be assigned. The water withdrew with great precipitation, leaving the ground dry that had never before been visible, the fall being equal to four perpendicular feet, and rushing back with great velocity above the common mark. It continued thus falling and rising for several hours, gradually decreasing till it stopped at its usual height. There is frequently an irregular influx and deflux, which does not exceed ten inches, and is attributed to the wind.
The bottom of the bay, which forms an amphitheatre, is cleared of wood and inclosed; and on the left corner of it, beneath an hill, three or four hundred feet in height, and crowned by others of a still greater altitude, is the fort, picketed in with cedar pallisadoes, and inclosing houses built with wood and covered with shingles. They are calculated for every convenience of trade, as well as to accommodate the proprietors and clerks during their short residence there. The north men live under tents: but the more frugal pork-eater lodges beneath his canoe. The soil immediately bordering on the lake has not proved very propitious, as nothing but potatoes have been found to answer the trouble of cultivation. This circumstance is probably owing to the cold damp fogs of the lake, and the moisture of the ground from the springs that issue from beneath the hills. There are meadows in the vicinity that yield abundance of hay for the cattle; but, as to agriculture, it has not hitherto been an object of serious consideration.
I shall now leave these geographical notices, to give some further account of the people from Montreal. — When they are arrived at the Grande Portage, which is near nine miles over, each of them has to carry eight packages of such goods and provisions as are necessary for the interior country. This is a labour which cattle cannot conveniently perform in summer, as both horses and oxen were tried by the company without success. They are only useful for light, bulky articles; or for transporting upon sledges, during the winter, whatever goods may remain there, especially provision, of which it is usual to have a year's stock on hand.
Having finished this toilsome part of their duty, if more goods are necessary to be transported, they are allowed a Spanish dollar for each package: and so inured are they to this kind of labour, that I have known some of them set off with two packages of ninety pounds each, and return with two others of the same weight, in the course of six hours, being a distance of eighteen miles over hills and mountains. This necessary part of the business being over, if the season be early they have some respite, but this depends upon the time the North men begin to arrive from their winter quarters, which they commonly do early in July. At this period, it is necessary to select from the pork-eaters, a number of men, among whom are the recruits, or winterers, sufficient to man the North canoes necessary to carry, to the river of the rainy lake, the goods and provision requisite for the Athabasca country; as the people of that country (owing to the shortness of the season and length of the road, can come no further), are equipped there, and exchange ladings with the people of whom we are speaking, and both return from whence they came. This voyage is performed in the course of a month, and they are allowed proportionable wages for their services.
The North men being arrived at the Grande Portage, are regaled with bread, pork, butter, liquor, and tobacco, and such as have not entered into agreements during the winter, which is customary, are contracted with, to return and perform the voyage for one, two, or three years; their accounts are also settled, and such as choose to send any of their earnings to Canada, receive drafts to transmit to their relations or friends; and as soon as they can be got ready, which requires no more than a fortnight, they are again despatched to their respective departments. It is, indeed, very creditable to them as servants, that though they are sometimes assembled to the number of twelve hundred men, indulging themselves in the free use of liquor, and quarrelling with each other, they always show the greatest respect to their employers, who are comparatively but few in number, and beyond the aid of any legal power to enforce due obedience. In short, a degree of subordination can only be maintained by the good opinion these men entertain of their employers, which has been uniformly the case, since the trade has been formed and conducted on a regular system.
The people being despatched to their respective winter-quarters, the agents from Montreal, assisted by their clerks, prepare to return there, by getting the furs across the portage, and re-making them into packages of one hundred pounds weight each, to send them to Montreal; where they commonly arrive in the month of September.
The mode of living at the Grande Portage is as follows: The proprietors, clerks, guides, and interpreters, mess together, to the number of sometimes an hundred, at several tables, in one large hall, the provision consisting of bread, salt pork, beef, hams, fish, and venison, butter, peas, Indian corn, potatoes, tea, spirits, wine, etc., and plenty of milk, for which purpose several mulch cows are constantly kept. The mechanics have rations of such provision, but the canoe-men, both from the North and Montreal, have no other allowance here, or in the voyage, than Indian corn and melted fat. The corn for this purpose is prepared before it leaves Detroit, by boiling it in a strong alkali, which takes off the outer husk: it is then well washed, and carefully dried upon stages, when it is fit for use. One quart of this is boiled for two hours, over a moderate fire, in a gallon of water; to which, when it has boiled a small time, are added two ounces of melted suet; this causes the corn to split, and in the time mentioned makes a pretty thick pudding. If to this is added a little salt, (but not before it is boiled, as it would interrupt the operation) it makes a wholesome, palatable food, and easy of digestion. This quantity is fully sufficient for a man's subsistence during twenty-four hours; though it is not sufficiently heartening to sustain the strength necessary for a state of active labour. The Americans call this dish hominy.5
The trade from the Grande Portage is, in some particulars, carried on in a different manner with that from Montreal. The canoes used in the latter transport are now too large for the former, and some of about half the size are procured from the natives, and are navigated by four, five, or six men, according to the distance which they have to go. They carry a lading of about thirty-five packages, on an average; of these twenty-three are for the purpose of trade, and the rest are employed for provisions, stores, and baggage. In each of these canoes are a foreman and steersman; the one to be always on the look-out, and direct the passage of the vessel, and the other to attend the helm. They also carry her, whenever that office is necessary. The foreman has the command, and the middle-men obey both; the latter earn only two-thirds of the wages which are paid the two former. Independent of these, a conductor or pilot is appointed to every four or six of these canoes, whom they are all obliged to obey; and is, or at least is intended to be, a person of superior experience, for which he is proportionably paid.
In these canoes, thus loaded, they embark at the North side of the portage, on the river Au Tourt, which is very inconsiderable; and after about two miles of a Westerly course, is obstructed by the Partridge Portage, six hundred paces long. In the spring this makes a considerable fall, when the water is high, over a perpendicular rock of one hundred and twenty feet. From thence the river continues to be shallow, and requires great care to prevent the bottom of the canoe from being injured by sharp rocks, for a distance of three miles and an half to the Priarie, or Meadow, when half the lading is taken out, and carried by part of the crew, while two of them are conducting the canoe among the rocks, with the remainder, to the Carreboeuf Portage, three miles and a half more, when they unload, and come back two miles, and embark what was left for the other hands to carry, which they also land with the former; all of which is carried six hundred and eighty paces, and the canoe led up against the rapid. From hence the water is better calculated to carry canoes, and leads by a winding course to the North of West three miles to the Outard Portage, over which the canoe, and every thing in her, is carried for two thousand four hundred paces. At the further end is a very high hill to descend, over which hangs a rock upwards of seven hundred feet high. Then succeeds the Outard Lake, about six miles long, lying in a North-West course, and about two miles wide in the broadest place.
After passing a very small rivulet, they come to the Elk Portage, over which the canoe and lading are again carried one thousand one hundred and twenty paces; when they enter the lake of the same name, which is an handsome piece of water, running North-West about four miles, and not more than one mile and an half wide.6 They then land at the Portage de Cerise, over which, and in the face of a considerable hill, the canoe and cargo are again transported for one thousand and fifty paces. This is only separated from the second Portage de Cerise, by a mud-pond (where there is plenty of water lilies), of a quarter of a mile in length; and this is again separated by a similar pond, from the last Portage de Cerise, which is four hundred and ten paces. Here the same operation is to be performed for three hundred and eighty paces. They next enter on the Mountain Lake, running North-West by West six miles long, and about two miles in its greatest breadth. In the centre of this lake, and to the right is the Old Road, by which I never passed, but an adequate notion may be formed of it from the road I am going to describe, and which is universally preferred. This is first, the small new portage over which everything is carried for six hundred and twenty-six paces, over hills and gullies; the whole is then embarked on a narrow line of water, that meanders South-West about two miles and an half. It is necessary to unload here, for the length of the canoe, and then proceed West half a mile, to the new Grande Portage, which is three thousand one hundred paces in length, and over very rough ground, which requires the utmost exertions of the men, and frequently lames them: from hence they approach the Rose Lake, the portage of that name being opposite to the junction of the road from the Mountain Lake. They then embark on the Rose Lake, about one mile from the East end of it, and steer West by South, in an oblique course, across it two miles, then North-West passing the Petite Peche to the Marten Portage three miles. In this part of the lake the bottom is mud and slime, with about three or four feet of water over it; and here I frequently struck a canoe pole of twelve feet long, without meeting any other obstruction than if the whole were water: it has, however, a peculiar suction or attractive power, so that it is difficult to paddle a canoe over it. There is a small space along the South shore, where the water is deep, and this effect is not felt. In proportion to the distance from this part, the suction becomes more powerful: I have, indeed, been told that loaded canoes have been in danger of being swallowed up, and have only owed their preservation to other canoes, which were lighter. I have, myself, found it very difficult to get away from this attractive power, with six men, and great exertion, though we did not appear to be in any danger of sinking.
Over against this is a very high, rocky ridge, on the South side, called Marten Portage, which is but twenty paces long, and separated from the Perche Portage, which is four hundred and eighty paces, by a mud-pond, covered with white lilies. From hence the course is on the lake of the same name, West-South-West three miles to the height of land, where the waters of the Dove or Pigeon River terminate, and which is one of the sources of the great St. Laurence in this direction. Having carried the canoe and lading over it, six hundred and seventy-nine paces, they embark on the lake of Hauteur de Terre, which is in the shape of an horseshoe.7 It is entered near the curve, and left at the extremity of the Western limb, through a very shallow channel, where the canoe passes half loaded for thirty paces with the current, which conducts these waters till they discharge themselves, through the succeeding lakes and rivers, and disembogues itself, by the river Nelson, into Hudson's-Bay. The first of these is Lac de Pierre's a fusil, running West-South-West seven miles long, and two wide, and making an angle at North-West one mile more, becomes a river for half a mile, tumbling over a rock, and forming a fall and portage, called the Escalier, of fifty-five paces; but from hence it is neither lake or river, but possesses the character of both, and runs between large rocks, which cause a current or rapid for about two miles and an half, West-North-West, to the portage of the Cheval du Bois. Here the canoe and contents are carried three hundred and eighty paces, between rocks; and within a quarter of a mile is the Portage des Gros Pins, which is six hundred and forty paces over a high ridge. The opposite side of it is washed by a small lake three mile round; and the course is through the East end or side of it, three quarters of a mile North-East, where there is a rapid. An irregular meandering channel, between rocky banks, then succeeds, for seven miles and an half, to the Maraboeuf Lake, which extends North four miles, and is three-quarters of a mile wide, terminating by a rapid and decharge of one hundred and eighty paces, the rock of Saginaga being in sight, which causes a fall of about seven feet, and a portage of fifty-five paces.
Lake Saginaga takes its name from its numerous islands. Its greatest length from East to West is about fourteen miles, with very irregular inlets, is nowhere more than three miles wide, and terminates at the small portage of Le Roche, of forty-three paces. From thence is a rocky, stony passage of one mile, to Priarie Portage, which is very improperly named, as there is no ground about it that answers to that description, except a small spot at the embarking place at the West end: to the East is an entire bog; and it is with great difficulty that the lading can be landed upon stages, formed by driving piles into the mud, and spreading branches of trees over them. The portage rises on a stony ridge, over which the canoe and cargo must be carried for six hundred and eleven paces. This is succeeded by an embarkation on a small bay, where the bottom is the same as has been described in the West end of Rose Lake, and it is with great difficulty that a laden canoe is worked over it, but it does not comprehend more than a distance of two hundred yards. From hence the progress continues through irregular channels, bounded by rocks, in a Westerly course for about five miles, to the little Portage des Couteaux, of one hundred and sixty-five paces, and the Lac des Couteaux, running about South-West by West twelve miles, and from a quarter to two miles wide. A deep bay runs East three miles from the West end, where it is discharged by a rapid river, and after running two miles West, it again becomes still water. In this river are two carrying-places, the one fifteen, and the other one hundred and ninety paces. From this to the Portage des Carpes is one mile North-West, leaving a narrow lake on the East that runs parallel with the Lac des Couteaux, half its length, where there is a carrying-place, which is used when the water in the river last mentioned is too low. The Portage des Carpes is three hundred and ninety paces, from whence the water spreads irregularly between rocks, five miles North-West and South-East to the Portage of Lac Bois Blanc, which is one hundred and eighty paces. Then follows the lake of that name, but I think improperly so called, as the natives name it the Lac Passeau Minac Sagaigan, or lake of Dry Berries.
Before the small-pox ravaged this country, and completed, what the Nodowasis, in their warfare, had gone far to accomplish, the destruction of its inhabitants, the population was very numerous: this was also a favourite part, where they made their canoes, etc., the lake abounding in fish, the country round it being plentifully supplied with various kinds of game, and the rocky ridges, that form the boundaries of the water, covered with a variety of berries.
When the French were in possession of this country, they had several trading establishments on the islands and banks of this lake. Since that period, the few people remaining, who were of the Algonquin nation, could hardly find subsistence; game having become so scarce, that they depended principally for food upon fish and wild rice, which grows spontaneously in these parts.
This lake is irregular in its form, and its utmost extent from East to West is fifteen miles; a point of land, called Point au Pin, jutting into it, divides it in two parts: it then makes a second angle at the West end, to the lesser Portage de Bois Blanc, two hundred paces in length. This channel is not wide, and is intercepted by several rapids in the course of a mile: it runs West-North-West to the Portage des Pins, over which the canoe and lading is again carried four hundred paces. From hence the channel is also intercepted by very dangerous rapids, for two miles Westerly, to the point of Pointe du Bois, which is two hundred and eighty paces. Then succeeds the portage of La Croche, one mile more, where the carrying-place is eighty paces, and is followed by an embarkation on that lake, which takes its name from its figure. It extends eighteen miles, in a meandering form, and in a westerly direction; it is in general very narrow, and at about two-thirds of its length becomes very contracted, with a strong current.
Within three miles of the last Portage is a remarkable rock, with a smooth face, but split and cracked in different parts, which hang over the water. Into one of its horizontal chasms a great number of arrows have been shot, which is said to have been done by a war party of the Nadowasis or Sieux, who had done much mischief in this country, and left these weapons as a warning to the Chebois or natives, that, notwithstanding its lakes, rivers, and rocks, it was not inaccessible to their enemies.
Lake Croche is terminated by the Portage de Rideau, four hundred paces long, and derives its name from the appearance of the water, falling over a rock of upwards of thirty feet. Several rapids succeed, with intervals of still water, for about three miles to the Flacon portage, which is very difficult, is four hundred paces long, and leads to the Lake of La Croix, so named from its shape. It runs about North-West eighteen miles to the Beaver Dam, and then sinks into a deep bay nearly East. The course to the Portage is West by North for sixteen miles more from the Beaver Dam, and into the East bay is a road which was frequented by the French, and followed through lakes and rivers until they came to Lake Superior by the river Caministiquia, thirty miles East of the Grande Portage.
Portage la Croix is six hundred paces long: to the next portage is a quarter of a mile, and its length is forty paces; the river winding four miles to Vermillion Lake, which runs six or seven miles North-North-West, and by a narrow strait communicates with Lake Namaycan, which takes its name from a particular place at the foot of a fall, where the natives spear sturgeon: Its course is about North-North-West and South-South-East, with a bay running East, that gives it the form of a triangle: its length is about sixteen miles to the Nouvelle Portage.
The discharge of the lake is from a bay on the left, and the portage one hundred eighty paces, to which succeeds a very small river, from whence there is but a short distance to the next Nouvelle Portage, three hundred and twenty paces long. It is then necessary to embark on a swamp, or overflowed country, where wild rice grows in great abundance. There is a channel or small river in the centre of this swamp, which is kept with difficulty, and runs South and North one mile and a half. With deepening water, the course continues North-North-West one mile to the Chaudiere Portage, which is caused by the discharge of the waters running on the left of the road from Lake Namaycan, which used to be the common route, but that which I have described is the safest as well as shortest. From hence there is some current though the water is wide spread, and its course about North by West three miles and an half to the Lac de la Pluie, which lies nearly East and West; from thence about fifteen miles is a narrow strait that divides the lake into two unequal parts, from whence to its discharge is a distance of twenty-four miles. There is a deep bay running North-West on the right, that is not included, and is remarkable for furnishing the natives with a kind of soft, red stone, of which they make their pipes; it also affords an excellent fishery both in the summer and winter; and from it is an easy, safe, and short road to the Lac du Bois, (which I shall mention presently) for the Indians to pass in their small canoes, through a small lake and on a small river, whose banks furnish abundance of wild rice. The discharge of this lake is called Lac de la Pluie River, at whose entrance there is a rapid below, which is a fine bay, where there had been an extensive picketed fort and building when possessed by the French: the site of it is at present a beautiful meadow, surrounded with groves of oaks. From hence there is a strong current for two miles, where the water falls over a rock twenty feet, and, from the consequent. turbulence of the water, the carrying-place, which is three hundred and twenty paces long, derives the name of Chaudiere. Two miles onward is the present trading establishment, situated on an high bank on the North side of the river, in 48. 37. North latitude.
Here the people from Montreal come to meet those who arrive from the Athabasca country, as has been already described, and exchange lading with them. This is also the residence of the first chief, or Sachem, of all the Algonquin tribes, inhabiting the different parts of this country. He is by distinction called Nectam, which implies personal preeminence. Here also the elders meet in council to treat of peace or war.
This is one of the finest rivers in the North-West, and runs a course West and East one hundred and twenty computed miles; but in taking its course and distance minutely I make it only eighty. Its banks are covered with a rich soil, particularly to the North, which, in many parts, are clothed with fine open groves of oak, with the maple, the pine, and the cedar. The Southern bank is not so elevated, and displays the maple, the white birch, and the cedar, with the spruce, the alder, and various underwood. Its waters abound in fish, particularly the sturgeon, which the natives both spear and take with drag-nets. But notwithstanding the promise of this soil, the Indians do not attend to its cultivation, though they are not ignorant of the common process, and are fond of the Indian corn, when they can get it from us.
Though the soil at the fort is a stiff clay, there is a garden, which, unassisted as it is by manure, or any particular attention, is tolerably productive.
We now proceed to mention the Lac du Bois, into which this river discharges itself in latitude 49. North, and was formerly famous for the richness of its banks and waters, which abounded with whatever was necessary to a savage life. The French had several settlements in and about it; but it might be almost concluded, that some fatal circumstance had destroyed the game, as war and the small-pox had diminished the inhabitants, it having been very unproductive in animals since the British subjects have been engaged in travelling through it; though it now appears to be recovering its pristine state. The few Indians who inhabit it might live very comfortably, if they were not so immoderately fond of spirituous liquors.
This lake is also rendered remarkable, in consequence of the Americans having named it as the spot, from which a line of boundary, between them and British America, was to run West, until it struck the Mississippi: which, however, can never happen, as the North-West part of the Lac du Bois is in latitude 49. 37. North, and longitude 94.31. West, and the Northernmost branch of the source of the Mississippi is in latitude 47. 38. North, and longitude 95. 6. West, ascertained by Mr. Thomson, astronomer to the North-West Company, who was sent expressly for that purpose in the spring of 1798. He, in the same year, determined the Northern bend of the Mississoury to be in latitude 47. 32. North, and longitude 101. 25. West; and, according to the Indian accounts, it runs to the south of West, so that if the Mississoury were even to be considered as the Mississippi, no Western line could strike it.
It does not appear to me to be clearly determined what course the Line is to take, or from what part of Lake Superior it strikes through the country to the Lac du Bois: were it to follow the principal waters to their source, it ought to keep through Lake Superior to the River St. Louis, and follow that river to its source; close to which is the source of the waters falling into the river of Lac la Pluie, which is a common route of the Indians to the Lac du Bois; the St. Louis passes within a short distance of a branch of the Mississippi, where it becomes navigable for canoes. This will appear more evident from consulting the map: and if the navigation of the Mississippi is considered as of any consequence by this country, from that part of the globe, such is the nearest way to get at it.
But to return to our narrative. The Lac du Bois is, as far as I could learn, nearly round, and the canoe course through the centre of it among a cluster of islands, some of which are so extensive that they may be taken for the mainland. The reduced course would be nearly South and North. But following the navigating course, I make the distance seventy-five miles, though in a direct line it would fall very short of that length. At about two-thirds of it there is a small carrying-place, when the water is low. The carrying-place out of the Lake is on the island, and named Portage du Rat, in latitude 49. 37. North, and longitude 94. 15. West; it is about fifty paces long. The lake discharges itself at both ends of this island, and forms the River Winipic, which is a large body of water, interspersed with numerous islands, causing various channels and interruptions of portages and rapids. In some parts it has the appearance of lakes, with steady currents; I estimate its winding course to the Dalles eight miles; to the Grand Decharge twenty-five miles and an half, which is a long carrying-place for the goods; from thence to the little Decharge one mile and an half; to the Terre Jaune Portage two miles and an half; then to its galet seventy yards; two miles and three quarters to the Terre Blanche, near which is a fall of from four to five feet; three miles and an half to Portage de L'Isle, where there is a trading-post, and, about eleven miles, on the north shore, a trading establishment, which is the road in boats, to Albany River, and from thence to Hudson's-Bay. There is also a communication with Lake Superior, through what is called the Nipigan country, which enters that Lake about thirty-five leagues East of the Grande Portage. In short, the country is so broken by lakes and rivers, that people may find their way in canoes in any direction they please. It is now four miles to Portage de L'Isle, which is but short, though several canoes have been lost in attempting to run the rapid. From thence it is twenty-six miles to Jacob's Falls, which are about fifteen feet high; and six miles and an half to the woody point; forty yards from which is another Portage. They both form an high fall, but not perpendicular. From thence to another galet, or rock Portage, is about two miles, which is one continual rapid and cascade; and about two miles further is the Chute a l'Esclave, which is upward of thirty feet. The Portage is long, through a point covered with wood: it is six miles and an half more to the barrier, and ten miles to the Grand Rapid. From thence, on the North side, is a safe road, when the waters are high, through small rivers and lakes, to the Lake du Bonnet, called the Pinnawas, from the man who discovered it: to the White River, so called from its being, for a considerable length, a succession of falls and cataracts, is twelve miles. Here are seven portages, in so short a space, that the whole of them are discernible at the same moment. From this to Lake du Bonnet is fifteen miles more, and four miles across it to the rapid. Here the Pinnawas Road joins, and from thence it is two miles to the Galet du Lac du Bonnet; from this to the Galet du Bonnet one mile and an half; thence to the Portage of the same name is three miles. This portage is near half a league in length, and derives its name from the custom the Indians have of crowning stones, laid in a circle on the highest rock in the portage, with wreaths of herbage and branches. There have been examples of men taking seven packages of ninety pounds each, at one end of the portage, and putting them down at the other without stopping.
To this another small portage immediately succeeds, over a rock producing a fall. From thence to the fall of Terre Blanche is two miles and an half; to the first portage Des Eaux qui Remuent is three miles; to the next, of the same name, is but a few yards distant; to the third and last, which is a Decharge, is three miles and an half; and from this to the last Portage of the river, one mile and an half; and to the establishment, or provision house, is two miles and an half. Here also the French had their principal inland depot, and got their canoes made.
It is here that the present traders, going to great distances, and where provision is difficult to procure, receive a supply to carry them to the Rainy Lake, or Lake Superior. From the establishment to the entrance of Lake Winipic, is four miles and an half, latitude 50. 37. North.
The country, soil, produce, and climate, from Lake Superior to this place, bear a general resemblance, with a predominance of rock and water: the former is of the granite kind. Where there is any soil it is well covered with wood, such as oak, elm, ash of different kinds, maple of two kinds, pines of various descriptions, among which are what I call the cypress, with the hickory, ironwood, laird, poplar, cedar, black and white birch, etc., etc. Vast quantities of wild rice are seen throughout the country, which the natives collect in the month of August for their winter stores.8 To the North of fifty degrees it is hardly known, or at least does not come to maturity.
Lake Winipic is the great reservoir of several large rivers, and discharges itself by the River Nelson into Hudson's Bay. The first in rotation, next to that I have just described, is the Assiniboin, or Red River, which at the distance of forty miles coastwise, disembogues on the south west side of the Lake Winipic. It alternately receives those two denominations from its dividing, at the distance of about thirty miles from the lake, into two large branches. The Eastern branch, called the Red River, runs in a Southern direction to near the head waters of the Mississippi. On this are two trading establishments. The country on either side is but partially supplied with wood, and consists of plains covered with herds of the buffalo and elk, especially on the Western side. On the Eastern side are lakes and rivers, and the whole country is well wooded, level, abounding in beaver, bears, moose-deer, fallow deer, etc., etc. The natives, who are of the Algonquin tribe, are not very numerous, and are considered as the natives of Lake Superior. This country being near the Mississippi, is also inhabited by the Nadowasis, who are the natural enemies of the former; the head of the water being the war-line, they are in a continual state of hostility; and though the Algonquins are equally brave, the others generally out-number them; it is very probable, therefore, that if the latter continue to venture out of the woods, which form their only protection, they will soon be extirpated. There is not, perhaps, a finer country in the world for the residence of uncivilised man, than that which occupies the space between this river and Lake Superior. It abounds in every thing necessary to the wants and comforts of such a people. Fish, venison, and fowl, with wild rice, are in great plenty; while, at the same time, their subsistence requires that bodily exercise so necessary to health and vigour. This great extent of country was formerly very populous, but from the information I received, the aggregate of its inhabitants does not exceed three hundred warriors; and, among the few whom I saw, it appeared to me that the widows were more numerous than the men. The raccoon is a native of this country, but is seldom found to the Northward of it.
The other branch is called after the tribe of the Nadowasis, who here go by the name of Assiniboins, and are the principal inhabitants of it. It runs from the North-North-West, and in the latitude of 51. 15. West, and longitude 103. 20., rising in the same mountains as the river Dauphin, of which I shall speak in due order. They must have separated from their nation at a time beyond our knowledge, and live in peace with the Algonquins and Knisteneaux.
The country between this and the Red River, is almost a continual plain to the Mississoury. The soil is sand and gravel, with a slight intermixture of earth, and produces a short grass. Trees are very rare; nor are there on the banks of the river sufficient, except in particular spots, to build houses and supply fire-wood for the trading establishments, of which there are four principal ones. Both these rivers are navigable for canoes to their source, without a fall; though in some parts there are rapids, caused by occasional beds of limestone, and gravel; but in general they have a sandy bottom.
The Assiniboins, and some of the Fall, or Big-bellied Indians, are the principal inhabitants of this country, and border on the river, occupying the centre part of it; that next Lake Winipic, and about its source, being the station of the Algonquins and Knisteneaux, who have chosen it in preference to their own country. They do not exceed five hundred families. They are not beaver hunters, which accounts for their allowing the division just mentioned, as the lower and upper parts of this river have those animals, which are not found in the intermediate district. They confine themselves to hunting the buffalo, and trapping wolves, which cover the country. What they do not want of the former for raiment and food, they sometimes make into pemmican, or pounded meat, while they melt the fat, and prepare the skins in their hair, for winter. The wolves they never eat, but produce a tallow from their fat, and prepare their skins; all which they bring to exchange for arms and ammunition, rum, tobacco, knives, and various baubles, with those who go to traffic in their country.
The Algonquins, and the Knisteneaux, on the contrary, attend to the fur-hunting, so that they acquire the additional articles of cloth, blankets, etc., but their passion for rum often puts it out of their power to supply themselves with real necessaries.
The next river of magnitude is the river Dauphin, which empties itself at the head of St. Martin's Bay, on the West side of the Lake Winipic, latitude nearly M. 15. North, taking its source in the same mountains as the last-mentioned river, as well as the Swan and Red-Deer rivers, the latter passing through the lake of the same name, as well as the former, and both continuing their course through the Manitoba Lake, which, from thence, runs parallel with Lake Winipic, to within nine miles of the Red River, and by what is called the river Dauphin, disembogues its waters, as already described, into that lake. These rivers are very rapid, and interrupted by falls, etc., the bed being generally rocky. All this country, to the South branch of the Saskatchiwine, abounds in beaver, moose-deer, fallow-deer, elks, bears, buffaloes, etc. The soil is good, and wherever any attempts have been made to raise the esculent plants, etc., it has been found productive.
On these waters are three principal forts for trade. Fort Dauphin, which was established by the French before the conquest. Red-Deer River, and Swan-River Forts, with occasional detached posts from these. The inhabitants are the Knisteneaux, from the North of Lake Winipic; and Algonquins from the country between the Red River and Lake Superior; and some from the Rainy Lake: but as they are not fixed inhabitants, their number cannot be determined: they do not, however, at any time exceed two hundred warriors. In general they are good hunters. There is no other considerable river except the Saskatchiwine, which I shall mention presently, that empties itself into the Lake Winipic.
Those on the North side are inconsiderable, owing to the comparative vicinity of the high land that separates the waters coming this way, from those discharging into Hudson's Bay. The course of the lake is about West-North-West and South-South-East, and the East end of it is in 50. 37. North. It contracts at about a quarter of its length to a strait, in latitude 51. 45., and is no more than two miles broad, where the South shore is gained through islands, and crossing various bays to the discharge of the Saskatchiwine, in latitude 53. 15. This lake, in common with those of this country, is bounded on the North with banks of black and grey rock, and on the South by a low level country, occasionally interrupted with a ridge or bank of lime-stones, lying in stratas, and rising to the perpendicular height of from twenty to forty feet; these are covered with a small quantity of earth, forming a level surface, which bears timber, but of a moderate growth, and declines to a swamp. Where the banks are low, it is evident in many places that the waters are withdrawn, and never rise to those heights which were formerly washed by them.
The inhabitants who are found along this lake are of the Knisteneaux and Algonquin tribes, and but few in number, though game is not scarce, and there is fish in great abundance. The black bass is found there, and no further West; and beyond it no maple trees are seen, either hard or soft.
On entering the Saskatchiwine, in the course of a few miles, the great rapid interrupts the passage. It is about three miles long. Through the greatest part of it the canoe is towed, half or full laden, according to the state of the waters: the canoe and its contents are then carried one thousand one hundred paces. The channel here is near a mile wide, the waters tumbling over ridges of rocks that traverse the river. The South bank is very high, rising upwards of fifty feet, of the same rock as seen on the South side of the Lake Winipic, and the North is not more than a third of that height. There is an excellent sturgeon-fishery at the foot of this cascade, and vast numbers of pelicans, cormorants, etc., frequent it, where they watch to seize the fish that may be killed or. disabled by the force of the waters.
About two miles from this Portage the navigation is again interrupted by the Portage of the Roche Rouge, which is an hundred yards long; and a mile and an half from thence the river is barred by a range of islands, forming rapids between them; and through these it is the same distance to the rapid of Lake Travers, which is four miles right across, and eight miles in length. Then succeeds the Grande Decharge, and several rapids, for four miles to the Cedar Lake, which is entered through a small channel on the left, formed by an island, as going round it would occasion loss of time. In this distance banks of rocks (such as have already been described) appear at intervals on either side; the rest of the country is low. This is the case along the South bank of the lake and the islands, while the North side, which is very uncommon, is level throughout. This lake runs first West four miles, then as much more West-South-West, across a deep bay on the right, then six miles to the Point de Lievre, and across another bay again on the right; then North-West eight miles, across a still deeper bay on the right; and seven miles parallel with the North coast, North North-West through islands, five miles more to Fort Bourbon,9 situated on a small island, dividing this from Mud Lake.
The Cedar Lake is from four to twelve miles wide, exclusive of the bays. Its banks are covered with wood, and abound in game, and its waters produce plenty of fish, particularly the sturgeon. The Mud Lake, and the neighbourhood of the Fort Bourbon, abound with geese, ducks, swans, etc., and was formerly remarkable for a vast number of martens, of which it cannot now boast but a very small proportion.
The Mud Lake must have formerly been a part of the Cedar Lake, but the immense quantity of earth and sand, brought down by the Saskatchiwine, has filled up this part of it for a circumference whose diameter is at least fifteen or twenty miles: part of which space is still covered with a few feet of water, but the greatest proportion is shaded with large trees, such as the bard, the swamp-ash, and the willow. This land consists of many islands, which consequently form various channels, several of which are occasionally dry, and bearing young wood. It is, indeed, more than probable that this river will, in the course of time, convert the whole of the Cedar Lake into a forest. To the North-West the cedar is not to be found.
From this lake the Saskatchiwine may be considered as navigable to near its source in the rocky mountains, for canoes, and without a carrying-place, making a great bend to Cumberland House, on Sturgeon Lake. From the confluence of its North and South branches its course is Westerly; spreading itself, it receives several tributary streams, and encompasses a large tract of country, which is level, particularly along the South branch, but is little known. Beaver, and other animals, whose furs are valuable, are amongst the inhabitants of the North-West branch, and the plains are covered with buffaloes, wolves, and small foxes; particularly about the South branch, which, however, has of late claimed some attention, as it is now understood, that where the plains terminate towards the rocky mountain, there is a space of hilly country clothed with wood, and inhabited also by animals of the fur kind. This has been actually determined to be the case towards the head of the North branch, where the trade has been carried to about the latitude 54. North, and longitude 114. 30. West. The bed and banks of the latter, in some few places, discover a stratum of free-stone; but, in general, they are composed of earth and sand. The plains are sand and gravel, covered with fine grass, and mixed with a small quantity of vegetable earth. This is particularly observable along the North branch, the West side of which is covered with wood.
There are on this river five principal factories for the convenience of trade with the natives. Nepawi House, South-branch House, Fort-George House, Fort-Augustus House, and Upper Establishment. There have been many others, which, from various causes, have been changed for these, while there are occasionally others depending on each of them.
The inhabitants, from the information I could obtain, are as follow:
At Nepawi and South-Branch House, about thirty tents of Knisteneaux, or ninety warriors; and sixty tents of Stone Indians, or Assiniboins, who are their neighbours, and are equal to two hundred men: their hunting ground extends upwards to about the Eagle Hills. Next to them are those who trade at Forts George and Augustus, and are about eighty tents or upwards of Knisteneaux: on either side of the river, their number may be two hundred. In the same country are one hundred and forty tents of Stone Indians : not quite half of them inhabit the West woody country; the others never leave the plains, and their numbers cannot be less than four hundred and fifty men. At the Southern Head-waters of the North-branch dwells a tribe called Sarsees, consisting of about thirty-five tents, or one hundred and twenty men. Opposite to those Eastward, on the head-waters of the South Branch, are the Picaneaux, to the number of from twelve to fifteen hundred men. Next to them, on the same water, are the Blood-Indians, of the same nation as the last, to the number of about fifty tents, or two hundred and fifty men. From them downwards extend the Black-Feet Indians, of the same nation as the two last tribes: their number may be eight hundred men. Next to them, and who extend to the confluence of the South and North branch, are the Fall, or Big-bellied Indians, who may amount to about six hundred warriors.
Of all these different tribes, those who inhabit the broken country on the North-West side, and the source of the North branch, are beaver-hunters; the others deal in provisions, wolf, buffalo, and fox skins; and many people on the South branch do not trouble themselves to come near the trading establishments. Those who do, choose such establishments as are next to their country. The Stone-Indians here, are the same people as the Stone-Indians, or Assiniboins, who inhabit the river of that name already described, and both are detached tribes from the Nadowasis, who inhabit the Western side of the Mississippi, and lower part of the Mississoury. The Fall, or Big-bellied Indians, are from the South-Eastward also, and of a people who inhabit the plains from the North bend of the last mentioned river, latitude 47. 32. North, longitude 101. 25. West, to the South bend of the Assiniboin River, to the number of seven hundred men. Some of them occasionally come to the latter river to exchange dressed buffalo robes and bad wolf-skins for articles of no great value.
The Picaneaux, Black-Feet, and Blood-Indians, are a distinct people, speak a language of their own, and, I have reason to think, are travelling North-West, as well as the others just mentioned: nor have I heard of any Indians with whose language that which they speak has any affinity. — They are the people who deal in horses, and take them upon the war-parties towards Mexico; from which, it is evident, that the country to the South-East of them consists of plains, as those animals could not well be conducted through an hilly and woody country, intersected by waters.
The Sarsees, who are but few in number, appear from their language, to come on the contrary from the North-West, and are of the same people as the Rocky-Mountain Indians described in my second journal, who are a tribe of the Chepewyans; and, as for the Knisteneaux, there is no question of their having been, and continuing to be, invaders of this country, from the Eastward. Formerly, they struck terror into all the other tribes whom they met; but now they have lost the respect that was paid them; as those whom they formerly considered as barbarians are now their allies, and consequently become better acquainted with them, and have acquired the use of fire-arms. The former are still proud without power, and affect to consider the others as their inferiors: those consequently are extremely jealous of them, and, depending upon their own superiority in numbers, will not submit tamely to their insults; so that the consequences often prove fatal, and the Knisteneaux are thereby decreasing both in power and number; spirituous liquors also tend to their diminution, as they are instigated thereby to engage in quarrels which frequently have the most disastrous termination among themselves.
The Stone-Indians must not be considered in the same point of view respecting the Knisteneaux, for they have been generally obliged, from various causes, to court their alliance. They, however, are not without their disagreements, and it is sometimes very difficult to compose their differences. These quarrels occasionally take place with the traders, and sometimes have a tragical conclusion. They generally originate in consequence of stealing women and horses: they have great numbers of the latter throughout their plains, which are brought, as has been observed, from the Spanish settlements in Mexico; and many of them have been seen even in the back parts of this country, branded with the initials of their original owners' names. Those horses are distinctly employed as beasts of burden, and to chase the buffalo. The former are not considered as being of much value, as they may be purchased for a gun, which costs no more than twenty-one shillings in Great Britain. Many of the hunters cannot be purchased with ten, the comparative value of which exceeds the property of any native.
Of these useful animals no care whatever is taken, as when they are no longer employed, they are turned loose winter and summer to provide for themselves. Here, it is to be observed, that the country, in general, on the West and North side of this great river, is broken by the lakes and rivers with small intervening plains, where the soil is good, and the grass grows to some length. To these the male buffaloes resort for the winter, and if it be very severe, the females also are obliged to leave the plains.
But to return to the route by which the progress West and North is made through this continent. We leave the Saskatchiwine10 by entering the river which forms the discharge of the Sturgeon Lake, on whose East bank is situated Cumberland house, in latitude 53. 56. North, longitude 102. 15. The distance between the entrance and Cumberland house is estimated at twenty miles. It is very evident that the mud which is carried down by the Saskatchiwine River, has formed the land that lies between it and the lake, for the distance of upwards of twenty miles in the line of the river, which is inundated during one half of the summer, though covered with wood. This lake forms an irregular horseshoe, one side of which runs to the North-West, and bears the name of Pine-Island Lake, and the other, known by the name already mentioned, runs to the East of North, and is the largest: its length is about twenty-seven miles, and its greatest breadth about six miles. The North side of the latter is the same kind of rock as that described in Lake Winipic, on the West shore. In latitude 54. 16. North, the Sturgeon-Weir River discharges itself into this lake, and its bed appears to be of the same kind of rock, and is almost a continual rapid. Its direct course is about West by North, and with its windings, is about thirty miles. It takes its waters into the Beaver Lake the South-West side of which consists of the same rock lying in thin stratas: the route then proceeds from island to island for about twelve miles, and along the North shore, for four miles more, the whole being a North-West course to the entrance of a river, in latitude 54. 32. North. The lake, for this distance, is about four or five miles wide, and abounds with fish common to the country. The part of it upon the right of that which has been described, appears more considerable. The islands are rocky, and the lake itself surrounded by rocks. The communication from hence to the Bouleau Lake, alternately narrows into rivers and spreads into small lakes. The interruptions are, the Pente Portage, which is succeeded by the Grand Rapid, where there is a Decharge, the Carp Portage, the Bouleau Portage in latitude 54. 50. North, including a distance, together with the windings, of thirty-four miles, in a Westerly direction. The Lake de Bouleau then follows. This lake might with greater propriety be denominated a canal, as it is not more than a mile in breadth. Its course is rather to the East of North for twelve miles to Portage de L'Isle. From thence there is still water to Portage d'Epinettes, except an adjoining rapid. The distance is not more than four miles Westerly. After crossing this Portage, it is not more than two miles to Lake Miron, which is in latitude 55. 7. North. Its length is about twelve miles, and its breadth irregular, from two to ten miles. It is only separated from Lake du Chitique, or Pelican Lake, by a short, narrow, and small strait. That lake is not more than seven miles long, and its course about North-West. The Lake des Bois then succeeds, the passage to which is through small lakes, separated by falls and rapids. The first is a Decharge: then follow the three galets, in immediate succession. From hence Lake des Bois runs about twenty-one miles. Its course is South-South-East, and North-North-West, and is full of islands. The passage continues through an intricate, narrow, winding, and shallow channel for eight miles. The interruptions in this distance are frequent, but depend much on the state of the waters. Having passed them, it is necessary to cross the Portage de Traite, or, as it is called by the Indians, Athiquisipichigan Ouinigam, or the Portage of the Stretched Frog Skin, to the Missinipi. The waters already described discharge themselves into Lake Winipic, and augment those of the river Nelson. These which we are now entering are called the Missinipi, or great Churchill River.
All the country to the South and East of this, within the line of the progress that has been described, is interspersed by lakes, hills, and rivers, and is full or animals, of the fur-kind, as well as the moose-deer. Its inhabitants are the Knisteneaux Indians, who are called by the servants of the Hudson's Ray Company, at York, their home-guards.
The traders from Canada succeeded for several years in getting the largest proportion of their furs, till the year 1793, when the servants of that company thought proper to send people amongst them, (and why they did not do it before is best known to themselves), for the purpose of trade, and securing their credits, which the Indians were apt to forget. From the short distance they had to come, and the quantity of goods they supplied, the trade has, in a great measure, reverted to them, as the merchants from Canada could not meet them upon equal terms. What added to the loss of the latter, was the murder of one of their traders by the Indians, about this period. Of these people not above eighty men have been known to the traders from Canada, but they consist of a much greater number.
The Portage de Traite, as has been already hinted, received its name from Mr. Joseph Frobisher, who penetrated into this part of the country from Canada, as early as the years 1774 and 1775, where he met with the Indians in the spring, on their way to Churchill, according to annual custom, with their canoes full of valuable furs. They traded with him for as many of them as his canoes could carry, and in consequence of this transaction, the Portage received and has since retained its present appellation. He also denominated these waters the English River. The Missinipi is the name which it received from the Knisteneaux, when they first came to this country, and either destroyed or drove back the natives, whom they held in great contempt, on many accounts, but particularly for their ignorance in hunting the beaver, as well as in preparing, stretching, and drying the skins of those animals. And as a sign of their derision, they stretched the skin of a frog, and hung it up at the Portage. This was, at that time, the utmost extent of their conquest or war-faring progress West, and is in latitude 55. 25. North, and longitude 103. 45. West. The river here, which bears the appearance of a lake, takes its name from the Portage, and is full of islands. It runs from East to West about sixteen miles, and is from four to five miles broad. Then succeed falls and cascades which form what is called the grand rapid. From thence there is a succession of small lakes and rivers, interrupted by rapids and falls, viz., the Portage de Bareel, the Portage de L'Isle, and that of the Rapid River. The course is twenty miles from East-South-East to North-North-West. The Rapid-River Lake then runs West five miles, and is of an oval form. The rapid river is the discharge of Lake la Rouge, where there has been an establishment for trade from the year 1782. Since the small-pox ravaged these parts, there have been but few inhabitants; these are of the Knisteneaux tribe, and do not exceed thirty men. The direct navigation continues to be through rivers and canals, interrupted by rapids; and the distance to the first Decharge is four miles, in a Westerly direction. Then follows Lake de la Montagne, which runs South-South-West three miles and an half, then North six miles, through narrow channels, formed by islands, and continues North-North-West five miles, to the portage of the same name, which is no sooner crossed, than another appears in sight, leading to the Otter Lake, from whence it is nine miles Westerly to the Otter Portage, in latitude 55. 39. Between this and the Portage du Diable, are several rapids, and the distance three miles and an half. Then succeeds the lake of the same name, running from South-East to North-West, five miles, and West four miles and a half.
There is then a succession of small lakes, rapids, and falls, producing the Portage des Ecors, Portage du Galet, and Portage des Morts, the whole comprehending a distance of six miles, to the lake of the latter name. On the left side is a point covered with human bones, the relics of the small-pox; which circumstance gave the Portage and the lake this melancholy denomination. Its course is South-West fifteen miles, while its breadth does not exceed three miles. From thence a rapid river leads to Portage de Hallier, which is followed by Lake de L'Isle d'Ours: it is, however, improperly called a lake, as it contains frequent impediments amongst its islands, from rapids. There is a very dangerous one about the centre of it, which is named the Rapid qui ne park point, or that never speaks, from its silent whirlpool-motion. In some of the whirlpools the suction is so powerful, that they are carefully avoided. At some distance from the silent rapid is a narrow strait, where the Indians have painted red figures on the face of a rock, and where it was their custom formerly to make an offering of some of the articles which they had with them, in their way to and from Churchill. The course of this lake, which is very meandering, may be estimated be considered as a most extraordinary circumstance, that the Chepewyans go North-West from hence to the barren grounds, which are their own country, without the assistance of canoes; as it is well known that in every other part which has been described, from Cumberland House, the country is broken on either side of the direction to a great extent: so that a traveller could not go at right angles with any of the waters already mentioned, without meeting with others in every eight or ten miles. This will also be found to be very much the case in proceeding to Portage la Loche.
The last mentioned rapid is upwards of three miles long, North-West by West; there is, however, no carrying, as the line and poles are sufficient to drag and set the canoes against the current. Lake Croche is then crossed in a Westerly direction of six miles, though its whole length may be twice that distance: after which it contracts to a river that runs Westerly for ten miles, when it forms a bend, which is left to the South, and entering a portion of its waters called the Grass River, whose meandering course is about six miles, but in a direct line not more than half that length, where it receives its waters from the great river, which then runs Westerly eleven miles before it forms the Knee Lake, whose direction is to the North of West. It is full of islands for eighteen miles, and its greatest apparent breadth is not more than five miles. The portage of the same name is several hundred yards long, and over large stones. Its latitude is 55. 50. and longitude 106. 30. Two miles further North is the commencement of the Croche Rapid, which is a succession of cascades for about three miles, making a bend due South to the Lake du Primeau, whose course is various, and through islands, to the distance of about fifteen miles. The banks of this lake are low, stony, and marshy, whose grass and rushes afford shelter and food to great numbers of wild fowl. At its Western extremity is Portage la Puise, from whence the river takes a meandering course, widening and contracting at intervals, and is much interrupted by rapids. After. a Westerly course of twenty miles, it reaches Portage Pellet. From hence, in the course of seven miles, are three rapids, to which succeeds the Shagoina Lake, which may be eighteen miles in circumference. Then Shagoina strait and rapid lead into the Lake of Isle a la Crosse, in which the course is South twenty miles, and South-South-West fourteen miles, to the Point au Sable; opposite to which is the discharge of the Beaver-River, bearing South six miles: the lake in the distance run, does not exceed twelve miles in its greatest breadth. It now turns West-South-West, the Isle a la Crosse being on the South, and the main land on the North; and it clears the one and the other in the distance of three miles, the water presenting an open horizon to right and left; that on the left formed by a deep narrow bay, about ten leagues in depth; and that to the right by what is called la Riviere Creuse, or Deep River, being a canal of still water, which is here four miles wide. On following the last course, Isle a la Crosse Fort appears on a low isthmus, at the distance of five miles, and is in latitude 55. 25. North, and longitude 107. 48. West.
This lake and fort take their names from the island just mentioned, which, as has been already observed, received its denomination from the game of the cross, which forms a principal amusement among the natives.
The situation of this lake, the abundance of the finest fish in the world to be found in its waters, the richness of its surrounding banks and forests, in moose and fallow deer, with the vast numbers of the smaller tribes of animals, whose skins are precious, and the numerous flocks of wild fowl that frequent it in the spring and fall, make it a most desirable spot for the constant residence of some, and the occasional rendezvous of others of the inhabitants of the country, particularly of the Knisteneaux.
Who the original people were that were driven from it, when conquered by the Knisteneaux, is not now known, as not a single vestige remains of them. The latter, and the Chepewyans, are the only people that have been known here; and it is evident that the last-mentioned consider themselves as strangers, and seldom remain longer than three or four years, without visiting their relations and friends in the barren grounds, which they term their native country. They were for some time treated by the Knisteneaux as enemies; who now allow them to hunt to the North of the track which has been described, from Fort du Traite upwards, but when they occasionally meet them, they insist on contributions, and frequently punish resistance with their arms. This is sometimes done at the forts, or places of trade, but then it appears to be a voluntary gift. A treat of rum is expected on the occasion, which the Chepewyans on no other account ever purchase; and those only who have had frequent intercourse with the Knisteneaux have any inclination to drink it.
When the Europeans first penetrated into this country, in 1777, the people of both tribes were numerous, but the small-pox was fatal to them all, so that there does not exist of the one, at present, more than forty resident families; and the other has been from about thirty to two hundred families. These numbers are applicable to the constant and less ambitious inhabitants, who are satisfied with the quiet possession of a country affording, without risk or much trouble, every thing necessary to their comfort; for since traders have spread themselves over it, it is no more the rendezvous of the errant Knisteneaux, part of whom used annually to return thither from the country of the Beaver River, which they had explored to its source in their war and hunting excursions, and as far as the Saskatchiwine, where they sometimes met people of their own nation, who had prosecuted similar conquests up that river. In that country they found abundance of fish and animals, such as have been already described, with the addition of the buffaloes, who range in the partial patches of meadow scattered along the rivers and lakes. From thence they returned in the spring to their friends whom they had left; and, at the same time met with others who had penetrated with the same designs into the Athabasca country, which will be described hereafter.
The spring was the period of this joyful meeting, when their time was occupied in feasting, dancing, and other pastimes, which were occasionally suspended for sacrifice, and religious solemnity: while the narratives of their travels, and the history of their wars, amused and animated the festival. The time of rejoicing was but short, and was soon interrupted by the necessary preparations for their annual journey to Churchill, to exchange their furs for such European articles as were now become necessary to them. The shortness of the seasons, and the great length of their way requiring the utmost despatch, the most active men of the tribe, with their youngest women, and a few of their children undertook the voyage, under the direction of some of their chiefs, following the waters already described, to their discharge at Churchill Factory, which are called, as has already been observed, the Missinipi, or Great Waters. There they remained no longer than was sufficient to barter their commodities, with a supernumerary day or two to gratify themselves with the indulgence of spirituous liquors. At the same time the inconsiderable quantity they could purchase to carry away with them, for a regale with their friends, was held sacred, and reserved to heighten the enjoyment of their return home, when the amusements, festivity, and religious solemnities of the spring were repeated. The usual time appropriated to these convivialities being completed, they separated, to pursue their different objects; and if they were determined to go to war, they made the necessary arrangements for their future operations.
But we must now renew the progress of the route. It is not more than two miles from Isle a la Crosse Fort, to a point of land which forms a cheek of that part of the lake called the Riviere Creuse, which preserves the breadth already mentioned for upwards of twenty miles; then contracts to about two, for the distance of ten miles more, when it opens to Lake Clear, which is very wide, and commands an open horizon, keeping the West shore for six miles. The whole of the distance mentioned is about North-West, when, by a narrow, crooked channel, turning to the South of West, the entry is made into Lake du Boeuf, which is contracted near the middle, by a projecting sandy point; independent of which it may be described as from six to twelve miles in breadth, thirty-six miles long, and in a North-West direction. At the North-West end, in latitude 56. 8. it receives the waters of the river la Loche, which, in the fall of the year, is very shallow, and navigated with difficulty even by half-laden canoes. Its water is not sufficient to form strong rapids, though from its rocky bottom the canoes are frequently in considerable danger. Including its meanders, the course of this river may be computed at twenty-four miles, and receives its first waters from the lake of the same name, which is about twenty miles long, and six wide; into which a small river flows, sufficient to bear loaded canoes, for about a mile and an half, where the navigation ceases; and the canoes, with their lading, are carried over the Portage la Loche for thirteen miles.
This portage is the ridge that divides the waters which discharge themselves into Hudson's Bay, from those that flow into the Northern ocean, and is in the latitude 56. 20. and longitude 109. 15. West. It runs South-West until it loses its local height between the Saskatchiwine and Elk Rivers; close on the bank of the former, in latitude 53. 36. North, and longitude 113. 45. West, it may be traced in an Easterly direction toward latitude 58. 12. North, and longitude 1034. West, when it appears to take its course due North, and may probably reach the Frozen Seas.
From Lake le Souris, the banks of the rivers and lakes display a smaller portion of solid rock. The land is low and stony, intermixed with a light, sandy soil, and clothed with wood. That of the Beaver River is of a more productive quality: but no part of it has ever been cultivated by the natives or Europeans, except a small garden at the Isle a la Crosse, which well repaid the labour bestowed upon it.
The Portage la Loche is of a level surface, in some parts abounding with stones, but in general it is an entire sand, and covered with the cypress, the pine, the spruce fir, and other trees natural to its soil. Within three miles of the North-West termination, there is a small round lake, whose diameter does not exceed a mile, and which affords a trifling respite to the labour of carrying. Within a mile of the termination of the Portage is a very steep precipice, whose ascent and descent appears to be equally impracticable in any way, as it consists of a succession of eight hills, some of which are almost perpendicular; nevertheless, the Canadians contrive to surmount all these difficulties, even with their canoes and lading.
This precipice, which rises upwards of a thousand feet above the plain beneath it, commands a most extensive, romantic, and ravishing prospect. From thence the eye looks down on the course of the little river, by some called the Swan river, and by others, the Clear-Water and Pelican river, beautifully meandering for upwards of thirty miles. The valley, which is at once refreshed and adorned by it, is about three miles in breadth, and is confined by two lofty ridges of equal height, displaying a most beautiful intermixture of wood and lawn, and stretching on till the blue mist obscures the prospect. Some parts of the inclining heights are covered with stately forests, relieved by promontories of the finest verdure, where the elk and buffalo find pasture. These are contrasted by spots where fire has destroyed the woods, and left a dreary void behind it. Nor, when I beheld this wonderful display of uncultivated nature, was the moving scenery of human occupation wanting to complete the picture. From this elevated situation, I beheld my people, diminished, as it were, to half their size, employed in pitching their tents in a charming meadow, and among the canoes, which, being turned upon their sides, presented their reddened bottoms in contrast with the surrounding verdure. At the same time, the process of gumming them produced numerous small spires of smoke, which, as they rose, enlivened the scene, and at length blended with the larger columns that ascended from the fires where the suppers were preparing. It was in the month of September when I enjoyed a scene, of which I do not presume to give an adequate description; and as it was the rutting season of the elk, the whistling of that animal was heard in all the variety which the echoes could afford it.
This river, which waters and reflects such enchanting scenery, runs, including its windings, upwards of eighty miles, when it discharges itself in the Elk River, according to the denomination of the natives, but commonly called by the white people, the Athabasca River, in latitude 56. 42. North.
At a small distance from Portage la Loche, several carrying-places interrupt the navigation of the river; about the middle of which are some mineral springs, whose margins are covered with sulphureous incrustations. At the junction or fork, the Elk River is about three quarters of a mile in breadth, and runs in a steady current, sometimes contracting, but never increasing its channel, till, after receiving several small streams, it discharges itself into the Lake of the Hills, in latitude 58. 36. North. At about twenty-four miles from the Fork, are some bituminous fountains, into which a pole of twenty feet long may be inserted without the least resistance. The bitumen is in a fluid state, and when mixed with gum, or the resinous substance collected from the spruce fir, serves to gum the canoes. In its heated state it emits a smell like that of sea-coal. The banks of the river, which are there very elevated, discover veins of the same bituminous quality. At a small distance from the Fork, houses have been erected for the convenience of trading with a party of the Knisteneaux, who visit the adjacent country for the purpose of hunting.
At the distance of about forty miles from the lake, is the Old Establishment, which has been already mentioned, as formed by Mr. Pond in the year 1778-9, and which was the only one in this part of the world, till the year 1785. In the year 1788 it was transferred to the Lake of the Hills, and formed on a point on its Southern side, at about eight miles from the discharge of the river. It was named Fort Chepewyan, and is in latitude 58. 38. North, longitude 110. 26. West, and much better situated for trade and fishing as the people here have recourse to water for their support.
This being the place which I made my headquarters for eight years, and from whence I took my departure, on both my expeditions, I shall give some account of it, with the manner of carrying on the trade there, and other circumstances connected with it.
The laden canoes which leave Lake la Pluie about the first of August, do not arrive here till the latter end of September, or the beginning of October, when a necessary proportion of them is despatched up the Peace River to trade with the Beaver and Rocky-Mountain Indians. Others are sent to the Slave River and Lake, or beyond them, and traffic with the inhabitants of that country. A small part of them, if not left at the Fork of the Elk River, return thither for the Knisteneaux, while the rest of the people and merchandise remain here, to carry on trade with the Chepewyans.
Here have I arrived with ninety or an hundred men without any provision for their sustenance; for whatever quantity might have been obtained from the natives during the summer, it could not be more than sufficient for the people despatched to their different posts; and even if there were a casual superfluity, it was absolutely necessary to preserve it untouched, for the demands of the spring. The whole dependence, therefore, of those who remained, was on the lake, and fishing implements for the means of our support. The nets are sixty fathom in length, when set, and contain fifteen meshes of five inches in depth. The manner of using them is as follows: A small stone and wooden buoy are fastened to the side-line opposite to each other, at about the distance of two fathoms; when the net is carefully thrown into the water, the stone sinks it to the bottom, while the buoy keeps it at its full extent, and it is secured in its situation by a stone at either end. The nets are visited every day, and taken out every other day to be cleaned and dried. This is a very ready operation when the waters are not frozen, but when the frost has set in, and the ice has acquired its greatest thickness, which is sometimes as much as five feet, holes are cut in it at the distance of thirty feet from each other, to the full length of the net; one of them is larger than the rest, being generally about four feet square, and is called the basin: by means of them, and poles of a proportionable length, the nets are placed in and drawn out of the water. The setting of hooks and lines is so simple an employment as to render a description unnecessary. The white fish are the principal object of pursuit: they spawn in the fall of the year, and, at about the setting in of the hard frost, crowd in shoals to the shallow water, when as many as possible are taken, in order that a portion of them may be laid by in the frost to provide against the scarcity of winter; as, during that season, the fish of every description decrease in the lakes, if they do not altogether disappear. Some have supposed that during this period they are stationary, or assume an inactive state. If there should be any intervals of warm weather during the fall, it is necessary to suspend the fish by the tail, though they are not so good as those which are altogether preserved by the frost. In this state they remain to the beginning of April, when they have been found as sweet as when they were caught.11
Thus do these voyagers live, year after year, entirely upon fish, without even the quickening flavour of salt, or the variety of any farinaceous root or vegetable. Salt, however, if their habits had not rendered it unnecessary, might be obtained in this country to the Westward of the Peace River, where it loses its name in that of the Slave River, from the numerous salt-ponds and springs to be found there, which will supply in any quantity, in a state of concretion, and perfectly white and clean. When the Indians pass that way they bring a small quantity to the fort, with other articles of traffic.
During a short period of the spring and fall, great numbers of wild fowl frequent this country, which prove a very gratifying food after such a long privation of flesh-meat. It is remarkable, however, that the Canadians who frequent the Peace, Saskatchiwine, and Assiniboin rivers, and live altogether on venison, have a less healthy appearance than those whose sustenance is obtained from the waters. At the same time the scurvy is wholly unknown among them.
In the fall of the year the natives meet the traders at the forts, where they barter the furs or provisions which they may have procured: they then obtain credit, and proceed to hunt the beavers, and do not return till the beginning of the year; when they are again fitted out in the same manner and come back the latter end of March, or the beginning of April. They are now unwilling to repair to the beaver hunt until the waters are clear of ice, that they may kill them with fire-arms, which the Chepewyans are averse to employ. The major part of the latter return to the barren grounds, and live during the summer with their relations and friends in the enjoyment of that plenty which is derived from numerous herds of deer. But those of that tribe who are most partial to these deserts, cannot remain there in winter, and they are obliged, with the deer, to take shelter in the woods during that rigorous season, when they contrive to kill a few beavers, and send them by young men, to exchange for iron utensils and ammunition.
Till the year 1782, the people of Athabasca sent or carried their furs regularly to Fort Churchill, Hudson's Bay; and some of them have, since that time, repaired thither, notwithstanding they could have provided themselves with all the necessaries which they required. The difference of the price set on goods here and at the factory, made it an object with the Chepewyans to undertake a journey of five or six months, in the course of which they were reduced to the most painful extremities, and often lost their lives from hunger and fatigue. At present, however, this traffic is in a great measure discontinued, as they were obliged to expend in the course of their journey, that very ammunition which was its most alluring object.______________________
1 This might be properly called the stock of the company, as it included, with the expenditure of the year, the amount of the property unexpended, which had been appropriated for the adventure of that year, and was carried on to the account of the following adventure.
2 This will be better illustrated by the following statement: — We will suppose the goods for 1798: The orders for the goods are sent to this country 25th October, 1796; they are shipped from London March, 1797; they arrive in Montreal June, 1797; they are made up in the course of that summer and winter; they are sent from Montreal May, 1798; they arrive in the Indian country, and are exchanged for furs the following winter, 1798-99; which furs come to Montreal September, 1799; and are shipped for London, where they are sold in March and April, and paid for in May or June, 1800.
3 The place where the goods alone are carried, is called a Decharge, and that where goods and canoes are both transported overland, is denominated a Portage.
4 In the year 1668, when the first missionaries visited the South of this lake, they found the country full of inhabitants. They relate, that about this time a band of the Nepisingues, who were converted, emigrated to the Nipigon country, which is to the North of Lake Superior. Few of their descendants are now remaining, and not a trace of the religion communicated to them is to be discovered.
5 Corn Is the cheapest provision that can be procured, though from the expense of transport, the bushel costs about twenty shillings sterling, at the Grande Portage. A man's daily allowance does not exceed ten-pence.
6 Here is a most excellent fishery for white fish, which are exquisite.
7 The route which we have been travelling hitherto leads along the high rocky land or bank of Lake Superior on the left. The face of the country offers a wild scene of huge hills and rocks, separated by stony valleys, lakes and ponds. Wherever there is the least soil, it is well covered with trees.
8 The fruits are, strawberries, hurtleberries, plums, and cherries, hazelnuts, gooseberries, currants, raspberries, poires, etc.
9 This was also a principal post of the French. who gave it its name.
10 It may be proper to observe, that the French had two settlements upon the Saskatchiwine, long before, and at the conquest of Canada; the first at the Pasquia, near Carrot River, and the other at Nipawi, where they had agricultural instruments and wheel carriages, marks of both being found about those establishments, where the soil is excellent.
11 This fishery requires the most unremitting attention, as the voyaging Canadians are equally indolent, extravagant, and improvident, when left to themselves, and rival the savages in a neglect of the morrow.