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Voyages from Montreal Through the Continent of North America
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Wednesday, 3. — We embarked at nine in the morning, at Fort Chepewyan, on the South side of the Lake of the Hills, in latitude 58. 40. North, and longitude 110. 30. West from Greenwich, and compass has sixteen degrees variation East, in a canoe made of birch bark. The crew consisted of four Canadians, two of whom were attended by their wives, and a German; we were accompanied also by an Indian, who had acquired the title of English Chief, and his two wives, in a small canoe, with two young Indians; his followers in another small canoe. These men were engaged to serve us in the twofold capacity of interpreters and hunters. This chief has been a principal leader of his countrymen who were in the habit of carrying furs to Churchill Factory, Hudson's Bay, and till of late very much attached to the interest of that company. These circumstances procured him the appellation of the English Chief.
We were also accompanied by a canoe that I had equipped for the purpose of trade, and given the charge of it to M. Le Roux, one of the Company's clerks. In this I was obliged to ship part of our provision; which, with the clothing necessary for us on the voyage, a proper assortment of the articles of merchandise as presents, to ensure us a friendly reception among the Indians, and the ammunition and arms requisite for defence, as well as a supply for our hunters, were more than our own canoe could carry, but by the time we should part company, there was every reason to suppose that our expenditure would make sufficient room for the whole.
We proceeded twenty-one miles to the West, and then took a course of nine miles to North-North-West, when we entered the river, or one of the branches of the lake, of which there are several. We then steered North five miles, when our course changed for two miles to North-North-East, and here at seven in the evening we landed and pitched our tents. One of the hunters killed a goose, and a couple of ducks: at the same time the canoe was taken out of the water, to be gummed, which necessary business was effectually performed.
Thursday, 4. — We embarked at four this morning, and proceeded North-North-East half a mile, North one mile and a half, West two miles, North-West two miles, West-North-West one mile and a half, North-North-West half a mile, and West-North-West two miles, when this branch loses itself in the Peace River. It is remarkable, that the currents of these various branches of the lake, when the Peace River is high, as in May and August, run into the lake, which, in the other months of the year returns its waters to them; whence, to this place, the branch is not more than two hundred yards wide, nor less than an hundred and twenty. The banks are rather low, except in one place, where an huge rock rises above them. The low land is covered with wood, such as white birch, pines of different kinds, with the poplar, three kinds of willow, and the hard.
The Peace River is upwards of a mile broad at this spot, and its current is stronger than that of the channel which communicates with the lake. It here, indeed, assumes the name of the Slave River.1 The course of this day was as follows: — North-West two miles, North-North-West, through islands, six miles, North four miles and a half, North by East two miles, West by North six miles, North one mile, North-East by East two miles, North one mile. We now descended a rapid, and proceeded North-West seven miles and a half, North-West nine miles, North by West six miles, North-West by West one mile and a half, North-West by North half a mile, North-North-West six miles, North one mile, North-West by West four miles, North-North-East one mile. Here we arrived at the mouth of the Dog River, where we landed, and unloaded our canoes, at half past seven in the evening, on the East side, and close by the rapids. At this station the river is near two leagues in breadth.
Friday, 5. — At three o'clock in the morning we embarked, but unloaded our canoes at the first rapid. When we had reloaded, we entered a small channel, which is formed by the islands, and, in about half an hour, we came to the carrying-place It is three hundred and eighty paces in length, and very commodious, except at the further end of it. We found some difficulty in reloading at this spot, from the large quantity of ice which had not yet thawed. From hence to the next carrying-place, called the Portage d'Embarras, is about six miles, and is occasioned by the drift wood filling up the small channel, which is one thousand and twenty paces in length; from hence to the next is one mile and a half, while the distance to that which succeeds, does not exceed one hundred and fifty yards. It is about the same length as the last; and from hence to the carrying-place called the Mountain, is about four miles further; when we entered the great river. The smaller one, or the channel, affords by far the best passage, as it is without hazard of any kind; though I believe a shorter course would be found on the outside of the islands, and without so many carrying-places. That called the Mountain is three hundred and thirty-five paces in length; from thence to the next, named the Pelican, there is about a mile of dangerous rapids. The landing is very steep, and close to the fall. The length of this carrying-place is eight hundred and twenty paces.
The whole of the party were now employed in taking the baggage and the canoe up the hill. One of the Indian canoes went down the fall, and was dashed to pieces. The woman who had the management of it, by quitting it in time, preserved her life, though she lost the little property it contained.
The course from the place we quitted in the morning is about North-West, and comprehends a distance of fifteen miles. From hence to the next and last carrying-place, is about nine miles; in which distance there are three rapids: course North-West by West. The carrying path is very bad, and five hundred and thirty-five paces in length. Our canoes being lightened, passed on the outside of the opposite island, which rendered the carrying of the baggage very short indeed, being not more than the length of a canoe. In the year 1786, five men were drowned, and two canoes and some packages lost, in the rapids on the other side of the river, which occasioned this place to be called the Portage des Noyes. They were proceeding to the Slave Lake, in the fall of that year, under the direction of Mr. Cuthbert Grant. We proceeded from hence six miles, and encamped on Point de Roche, at half past five in the afternoon. The men and Indians were very much fatigued; but the hunters had provided seven geese, a beaver, and four ducks.
Saturday, 6. — We embarked at half past two in the morning, and steered North-West by North twenty-one miles, North-West by West five miles, West-North-West four miles, West six miles, doubled a point North-North-East one mile, East five miles, North two miles, North-West by North one mile and a half, West-North-West three miles, North-East by East two miles; doubled a point one mile and a half, West by North nine miles, North-West by West six miles,. North-North-West five miles; here we landed at six o'clock in the evening, unloaded, and encamped. Nets were also set in a small adjacent river. We had an head wind during the greater part of the day and the weather was become so cold that the Indians were obliged to make use of their mittens. In this day's progress we killed seven geese and six ducks.
Sunday, 7. — At half past three we renewed our voyage, and proceeded West-North-West one mile, round au island one mile, North-West two miles and a half, South by West three miles, West-South-West one mile, South-West by South half a mile, North-West three miles, West-North-West three miles and a half, North seven miles and a half, North-West by North four miles, North two miles and a half, North-West by North two miles. The rain, which had prevailed for some time, now came on with such violence, that we were obliged to land and unload, to prevent the goods and baggage from getting wet; the weather, however, soon cleared up, so that we reloaded the canoe, and got under way. We now continued our course North ten miles, West one mile and a half, and North one mile and a half, when the rain came on again, and rendered it absolutely necessary for us to get on shore for the night, at about half past three. We had a strong North-North-East wind throughout the day, which greatly impeded us; M. Le Roux, however, with his party, passed on in search of a landing place more agreeable to them. The Indians killed a couple of geese, and as many ducks. The rain continued through the remaining part of the day.
Monday, 8. — The night was very boisterous, and the rain did not cease till two in the afternoon of this day; but as the wind did not abate of its violence, we were prevented from proceeding till the morrow.
Tuesday, 9. — We embarked at half past two in the morning, the weather being calm and foggy. Soon after our two young men joined us, whom we had not seen for two days; but during their absence they had killed four beavers and ten geese. After a course of one mile North-West by North, we observed an opening on the right, which we took for a fork of the river, but it proved to be a lake. We returned and steered South-West by West one mile and a half, West-South-West one mile and a half, West one mile, when we entered a very small branch of the river on the East bank; at the mouth of which I was informed there had been a carrying-place, owing to the quantity of drift wood, which then filled up the passage, but has since been carried away. The course of this river is meandering, and tends to the North, and in about ten miles falls into the Slave Lake, where we arrived at nine in the morning, when we found a great change in the weather, as it was become extremely cold. The lake was entirely covered with ice, and did not seem in any degree to have given way, but near the shore. The gnats and mosquitoes, which were very troublesome during our passage along the river, did not venture to accompany us to this colder region.
The banks of the river both above and below the rapids, were on both sides covered with the various kinds of wood common to this country, particularly the Western side; the land being lower and consisting of a rich black soil. This artificial ground is carried down by the stream, and. rests upon drift wood, so as to be eight or ten feet deep. The eastern banks are more elevated, and the soil a yellow clay mixed with gravel; so that the trees are neither so large or numerous as on the opposite shore. The ground was not thawed above fourteen inches in depth; notwithstanding the leaf was at its full growth; while along the lake there was scarcely any appearance of verdure.
The Indians informed me, that, at a very small distance from either bank of the river, are very extensive plains, frequented by large herds of buffaloes; while the moose and reindeer keep in the woods that border on it. The beavers, which are in great numbers, build their habitations in the small lakes and rivers, as, in the larger streams, the ice carries every thing along with it, during the spring. The mud-banks in the river are covered with wild fowl; and we this morning killed two swans, ten geese, and one beaver, without suffering the delay of an hour; so that we might have soon filled the canoe with them, if that had been our object.
From the small river we steered East, along the inside of a long sand-bank, covered with drift wood and enlivened by a few willows, which stretches on as far as the houses erected by Messrs. Grant and Le Roux, in 1786. We often ran aground, as for five successive miles the depth of the water nowhere exceeded three feet. There we found our people, who had arrived early in the morning, and whom we had not seen since the preceding Sunday. We now unloaded the canoe, and pitched our tents, as there was every appearance that we should be obliged to remain here for some time. I then ordered the nets to be set, as it was absolutely necessary that the stores provided for our future voyage should remain untouched. The fish we now caught were carp, poisson inconnu, white fish, and trout.
Wednesday, 10. — It rained during the greatest part of the preceding night, and the weather did not clear up till the afternoon of this day. This circumstance had very much weakened the ice, and I sent two of the Indians on an hunting party to a lake at the distance of nine miles, which, they informed me, was frequented by animals of various kinds. Our fishery this day was not so abundant as it had been on the preceding afternoon.
Thursday, 11. — The weather was fine and clear with a strong westerly wind. The women were employed in gathering berries of different sorts, of which there are a great plenty; and I accompanied one of my people to a small adjacent island, where we picked up some dozens of swan, geese, and duck-eggs; we also killed a couple of ducks and a goose.
In the evening the Indians returned, without having see any of the larger animals. A swan and a grey crane were the only fruits of their expedition. We caught no other fish but a small quantity of pike, which is too common to be a favourite food with the people of the country. The ice moved a little to the eastward.
Friday, 12. — The weather continued the same as yesterday, and the mosquitoes began to visit us in great numbers. The ice moved again in the same direction, and I ascended an hill, but could not perceive that it was broken in the middle of the lake. The hunters killed a goose and three ducks.
Saturday, 13. — The weather was cloudy, and the wind changeable till about sunset, when it settled in the North. It drove back the ice which was now very much broken along the shore, and covered our nets. One of the hunters who had been at the Slave River the preceding evening, returned with three beavers and fourteen geese. He was accompanied by three families of Indians, who left Athabasca the same day as myself: they did not bring me any fowl; and they pleaded in excuse, that they had travelled with so much expedition, as to prevent them from procuring sufficient provisions for themselves. By a meridian line, I found the variation of the compass to be about twenty degrees East.
Sunday, 14. — The weather was clear and the wind remained in the same quarter. The ice was much broken, and driven to the side of the lake, so that we were apprehensive for the loss of our nets, as they could not, at present, be extricated. At sunset there was an appearance of a violent gust of wind from the southward, as the sky became on a sudden, in that quarter, of a very dusky blue colour, and the lightning was very frequent. But instead of wind there came on a very heavy rain, which promised to diminish the quantity of broken ice.
Monday, 15. — In the morning, the bay still continued to be so full of ice, that we could not get at our nets. About noon, the wind veered to the Westward, and not only uncovered the nets, but cleared a passage to the opposite islands. When we raised the nets we found them very much shattered, and but few fish taken. We now struck our tents, and embarked at sunset, when we made the traverse, which was about eight miles North-East by North, in about two hours. At half-past eleven P. M. we landed on a small island and proceed to gum the canoe. At this time the atmosphere was sufficiently clear to admit of reading or writing without the aid of artificial light. We had not seen a star since the second day after we left Athabasca. About twelve o'clock, the moon made its appearance above the tops of the trees, the lower horn being in a state of eclipse, which continued for about six minutes, in a cloudless sky.
I took soundings three times in the course of the traverse, when I found six fathoms water, with a muddy bottom.
Tuesday, 16. — We were prevented from embarking this morning by a very strong wind from the North, and the vast quantity of floating ice. Some trout were caught with the hook and line, but the net was not so successful. I had an observation which gave 61. 28. North latitude.
The wind becoming moderate, we embarked about one, taking a North-West course, through islands of ten miles, in which we took in a considerable quantity of water. After-making several traverses, we landed at five P. M., and having pitched our tents, the hooks, lines, and nets were immediately set. During the course of the day there was occasional thunder.
Wednesday, 17. — We proceeded, and taking up our nets as we passed, we found no more than seventeen fish, and were stopped within a mile by the ice. The Indians, however, brought us back to a point where our fishery was very successful. They proceeded also on a hunting party, as well as to discover a passage among the islands; but at three in the afternoon they returned without having succeeded in either object. We were, however, in expectation, that, as the wind blew very strong, it would force a passage. About sunset, the weather became overcast, with thunder, lightning, and rain.
Thursday, 18. — The nets were taken up at four this morning with abundance of fish, and we steered North-West four miles, where the ice again prevented our progress. A South-East wind drove it among the islands, in such a manner as to impede our passage, and we could perceive at some distance ahead, that it was but little broken. We now set our nets in four fathom water. Two of our hunters had killed a rein-deer and its fawn. They had met with two Indian families, and in the evening, a man belonging to one of them, paid us a visit; he informed me, that the ice had not stirred on the side of the island opposite to us. These people live entirely on fish, and were waiting to cross the lake as soon as it should be clear of ice.
Friday, 19. — This morning our nets were unproductive, as they yielded us no more than six fish, which were of a very bad kind. In the forenoon, the Indians proceeded to the large island opposite to us, in search of game. The weather was cloudy, and the wind changeable; at the same time, we were pestered by mosquitoes, though, in a great measure, surrounded with ice.
Saturday, 20. — We took up our nets, but without any fish. It rained very hard during the night and this morning: nevertheless, M. Le Roux and his people went back to the point which we had quitted on the 18th, but I did not think it prudent to move As I was watching for a passage through the ice, I promised to send for them when I could obtain it. It rained at intervals till about five o'clock; when we loaded our canoe, and steered for the large island, West six miles. When we came to the point of it, we found a great quantity of ice; we, however, set our nets, and soon caught plenty of fish. In our way thither we met our hunters, but they had taken nothing. I took soundings at an hundred yards from the island, when we were in twenty-one fathom water. Here we found abundance of cranberries and small spring onions. I now despatched two men for M. Le Roux, and his people.
Sunday, 21. — A Southerly wind blew through the night, and drove the ice to the Northward. The two men whom I had sent to M. Le Roux, returned at eight this morning; they parted with him at a small distance from us, but the wind blew so hard, that he was obliged to put to shore. Having a glimpse of the sun, when it was twelve by my watch, I found the latitude 61. 34. North latitude. At two in the afternoon, M. Le Roux and his people arrived. At five, the ice being almost all driven past to the Northward, we accordingly embarked, and steered West fifteen miles, through much broken ice, and on the outside of the islands, though it appeared to be very solid to the North-East. I sounded three times in this distance, and found it seventy-five, forty-four, and sixty fathom water. We pitched our tents on one of a cluster of small islands that were within three miles of the main land, which we could not reach in consequence of the ice.
We saw some rein-deer on one of these islands, and our hunters went in pursuit of them, when they killed five large and two small ones, which was easily accomplished, as the animals had no shelter to which they could run for protection. They had, without doubt, crossed the ice to this spot, and the thaw coming on had detained them there, and made them an easy prey to the pursuer. This island was accordingly named Isle de Carreboeuf.
I sat up the whole of this night to observe the setting and rising of the sun. That orb was beneath the horizon four hours twenty-two minutes, and rose North 20. East by compass. It, however, froze so hard, that, during the sun's disappearance, the water was covered with ice half a quarter of an inch thick.
Monday, 22. — We embarked at half past three in the morning, and rounding the outside of the islands, steered North-West thirteen miles along the ice, edging in for the main land, the wind West, then West two miles; but it blew so hard as to oblige us to land on an island at half past nine, from whence we could just distinguish land to the South-East, at the distance of about twelve leagues; though we could not determine whether it was a continuation of the islands, or the shores of the lake.2 I took an observation at noon, which gave me 61. 53. North, the variation of the compass being, at the same time, about two points. M. Le Roux's people having provided two bags of pemmican3 to be left in the island against their return; it was called Isle a la Cache.
The wind being moderated, we proceeded again at half past two in the afternoon, and steering West by North among the islands, made a course of eighteen miles. We encamped at eight o'clock on a small island, and since eight in the morning had not passed any ice. Though the weather was far frog being warm, we were tormented, and our rest interrupted, by the host of mosquitoes that accompanied us.______________________
1 The Slave Indians, having been driven from their original country by their enemies, the Knisteneaux, along the borders of this part of the river, it received that title, though it by no means involves the idea of servitude, but was given to these fugitives as a term of reproach, that denoted more than common savageness.
2 Sometimes the land looms, so that there may be a great deception as to the distance; and I think this was the case at present.
3 Fresh dried in the sun, and afterwards pounded for the convenience of carriage.