Let us continue our journey west with the Columbia Express, beginning with a description of the route between Knee Lake and Norway House, from the book Exploring the Fur Trade Routes of North America, by Barbara Huck et al.
Heading west from Knee Lake: "Ahead lay Knee Lake and Oxford Lake..... Above Oxford, the brigades passed through a scenic gorge (better appreciated going down than up) they called Hills Gates before reaching Robinson Falls and its accompanying portage. This "carrying place," as the HBC men called it, is more than 1.5 kilometers long -- only the portage at Grand Rapids is longer on the route to Cumberland. Both eventually boasted tramways with flatcars to transport the York boats and their heavy loads past the falls or rapids.
"From Robinson Lake the upper Hayes leads via Painted Stone Portage to the Echimamish river (in Cree, "the River-that-Flows-Both-Ways"). Here two streams originate in a flat, marshy meadow. One flows east and the other west and in the early years of the fur trade a succession of beaver dams kept the water level in this wetland sufficiently deep to float canoes. Then the beaver were trapped out and the men were obliged to build the necessary dams. Fortunately the beavers are back, building again in just the right places. The westward flowing portion of the Echamamish leads to the upper Nelson River, Playgreen Lake and the modern community of Norway House.
"Where many other large rivers in Manitoba, including the Nelson, have been dammed over the past 40 years, the Hayes is undeveloped. As Hap Wilson and Stephanie Aykroyd wrote in their excellent book of maps, Wilderness Rivers of Manitoba, "Past history combined with the thrill of whitewater and an ever-changing scenery makes the Hayes an excellent choice for the discriminating paddler.""
From the same book, "While most canoeists on the Hayes choose to travel downstream from Norway House to York Factory, experienced canoeists Douglas and Wilfred Keam from Norway House undertook the much more arduous upstream journey in 1999. The trip from York Factory to The Forks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers took 52 days and the pair was joined by other paddlers and canoes along the way."
So, as you will see, it is a long uphill slog -- and apparently neverending, as even once the fur traders reached Norway House, they still had the long river journey up the Saskatchewan River to Edmonton House.
It was a lot easier for the Saskatchewan Brigades (and York Factory Express) to get to York Factory, than to return home.
Journal of a Voyage Across the Continent of North America in 1826, by Aemilius Simpson, R.N.:
Sunday 23rd [July] Commenced fine clear weather, wind S.E. We remained in our encampment until the arrival of our sternmost boats at 7.30 am. when we continued our ascent of Knee Lake, at 9.20 we arrived at the Magnetic Island, mentioned by Franklin. I estimate it to be 27 miles from the lower entrance of the lake, it is in Latitude 55 degrees and at the upper termination of the Knee, on a close approach to this small island, which was hardly above the surface of the lake, I found the compass became greatly agitated, veering about with great rapidity, until at last it became stationary, the south point being fixed in the direction of the Island, and although I applied a key, it had not the effect of withdrawing it from that direction, but as we left the island, it gradually resumed its true direction, but on passing point of another islet, a few hundred yards beyond it, the compass again became similarly affixed, from which circumstance I would infer that [the rocks] possessing this quality extends for some distance, in a S.E. and S.W direction. At 3.24 pm we completed the ascent of Knee Lake, which I estimate to be 47 miles, averaging a [?] direction, except in the Knee, where it runs [..]. We commenced our ascent of the Trout River, which having done for 1 1/2 miles, we arrived at the Trout Falls, one of the most dangerous rapids or falls on the line of communication. We encampt at the head of these falls, two of our boats having fallen again in the rear. These falls with the surrounding scenery afforded as fine subject for the [artist] but the heightening of the landscape by the silver tints of the moons rays shooting [on] the opposite shore and playing upon the agitatic [agitated?] surface of these [word] Falls made me regret that they were not similarly presented to him, as they were to me this evening, which [made] much of their natural grandeur.
Monday 24th. Commenced fine clear weather, we remained in our encampment until 5.30 am waiting for the arrival of our sternmost boats, when we continued our ascent of the Trout River, a very rapid stream five miles of it being a constant chain of rapids and falls. At 9.35 we got above the Knife Portage and having hauled by line above a number of rapids at a quarter past noon we arrived at comparatively still water, enabling us to proceed with greater expedition, at 3 pm we arrived at Oxford House, a small trading post on Holey Lake. The Trout River being by my estimation a distance of 14 miles from its bottom to Oxford House, 9 miles of that a succession of rapids, its direction [words omitted]. Our crews received a supply of pemmican at this post, and we resumed our Journey at 4.30 pm and having ascending Holey Lake 15 miles between [words] we encamped at 9pm on an island.
Tuesday 25th. Fine clear weather, a breeze from the S.W. We embarked at 4.30 am and continue our ascent of Holey Lake, at 10.45 entering the Wipinapanis, making the estimated distance of Holey Lake 33 1/2 miles, [words] leading among clusters of islands. Having ascended the Wipinapanis about 2 miles we arrived at the lower portage in this River, and here met a canoe and boat from the New Caledonia district, with returns for York Factory. On making this portage we continue our ascent of this stream, making 2 portages and hauling four rapids within a distance of two miles, on arrived above these rapids we passed thro' Windy Lake and entered the Rabbit [River?], where we encampt having travelled during the day, a distance of 32 miles. We experience great heat during the day.
Wednesday 26th. Fine weather, at 2.30 embarked and continued our ascent of the Rabbit [River]. We arrived at the Lower Portage of Hills Gates at 1/4 before 6 am in hauling these [long] rapids one of our boats filled, having broke her sheer in the rapids and not having made a sufficient discharge of her cargo, which should never be considered in hauling dangerous rapids, which the crews are apt to do to save themselves trouble in transporting the goods. The scenery about this portage presents one of the [most] singular pictures of the fair of nature, which seldom fails to impress the contemplative men with feelings of [word] and wonder. [Words omitted] Capt. Franklin in speaking of this place supposes that [the] action of water in time produced this extraordinary chasm through which the river now [makes] its course. I should rather ascribe it to the force of one of those mysterious convulsions to which our earth has been subjected. Having made this portage, we continue our ascent of the Hill River, hauling a succession of rapids and making the Upper Portage of Hills Gates, which we completed at 3 pm. We now arrived in comparatively still water, [and] at 6.15 pm arrived at the White Fall or Robertson's Portage, having travelled a distance during the day of 25 miles.
Thursday 27th. Commenced gloomy threatening rain. The crews from daylight were employed transporting the cargoes and boats across this portage, which is a most laborious operation, being across a mile of considerable elevation and a distance of 3/4 mile and is performed entirely by main strength, our crews despising the aid of [word] they are not even furnished with a tackle, which if judiciously applied render great assistance, a chain of gales on our right as we ascend forms this serious obstruction. [Words omitted] We embarked and continued our route by a small stream, coming from a chain of swampy lakes which produce the white fish in great abundance and perfection, I understand. The country along our track is [covered] with a growth of pines and poplars and [another tree] shewing themselves above the swamps are projecting [bluffs] of rock which form a curious contrast. At 5.45 pm having made the portage across the Painted Stone a massive ridge of rocks forming a barrier between the [course] of the Hayes River and the Echamamish, we continued our route of the latter, a shifting stream, taking its course through a marsh. We fortunately found no obstruction from want of water and continue our route for 7 miles, when we encamped upon a [ridge] of rocks at 8.15 pm having come a distance of 23 1/2 miles from the [Painted Stone] Portage. The weather during the day was close and gloomy. Thermometer at noon 78 degrees.
Friday 28th. Commenced close gloomy weather, thermometer 70 degrees. At 3 am embarked and continue our route down the Echiamamis without meeting any obstruction from want of water, which is a rare occurrence in this season. I understand on arriving at the dam erected by Mr. Kemp for the purpose of elevating this stream, we found the sluice gate carried away and the work otherwise considerably injured. At noon we entered Hairy Lake and were opposed by a breeze from the S.W. The weather was extremely warm [words omitted]. Having completed our descent of Hairy Lake which is a small sheet of water of about 5 miles S.W. we commenced our descent of the stream called the Black Water, which is I suppose merely a continuance of the Echamamish, on descending five miles we entered the Sea River. The oppressive heat of the day was followed by a severe thunder storm accompanied by very heavy rain and hail storms of an immense size, obliged in the latter shelter for about an hour under care of a small island, when we again continue our ascent of the Sea River and Carpenters Lake, opposedly strong rapids, and at 8.30 arrived at the Rapids formed by the falling of Play Green Lake into Carpenters Lake [and] Channel, we encamped upon the ledge of rock on the right for the night, our [men] unloaded the boats and hauled them above the rapids.
Saturday 29th. Commenced close weather with drizzling rain, with a breeze from the S.E., rendering in great assistance in our progress to Norway House. We embarked from the Sea Carrying Place and pursued our route by the lower Play Green Lake, little Jack River and Upper Play Green Lake, in many parts the intricate channels and winding courses, but principally S.W. a distance of 40 miles which brought us to Norway House at 3 pm, having taken sixteen days to perform the journey from York Factory, which I estimate to be a travelling distance of 395 1/2 miles. It is certainly a long time for so short a distance [words omitted].
York Factory Express Journal, 1827, by Edward Ermatinger:
23rd [July] Rained all last night and continued at intervals during the day. Cleared the Portage by 5 am. Proceeded in the Knee Lake pulling against a head wind (S.E.). In the afternoon overtake Mr. Nolin with 2 boats for Red River. Men's provisions reduced to Peas and water. Encamped on an Island a short distance beyond the Knee about 9 pm.
24th. Showers of rain during the day. Started about 2 am. -- rejoined Mr. Leith at the Trout Fall, encamped at 10 pm. at the last strong rapid in Trout River, having made on it 1 portage and 3 lightening places.
25th. Fine weather. Started at 3 am. -- arrived at Oxford House about 8 o'clock. Thence proceeded thro' the Holy Lake sailing most of the day with a side wind. Got our cargoes over the first portage in the Weepin-a-panis and encamped about 1/2 past 8 pm. Slight rain.
26th, Thursday. In the evening we had a tremendous shower of rain with much thunder and lightening. Men began to get up the boats about 1/2 past 2 am. Made another portage in the Weepin-a-panis -- passed through a lake, then a grassy River and another Lake and cleared the first portage in Hell's Gate or Hill's Gate. Encamped at the 2nd Hauling Place.
27th. Slight showers of rain.. Cleared the 2nd Portage in Hell's Gate. Passed thro' a small Lake and arrived at the White Falls about 9 am. Got over our boats and cargoes by 8 o'clock -- loaded the boats and encamped.
28th. Fine weather. Started at 1/2 past 1 am. arrived at the Painted Stone about 8. Found the upper end of the Itchenemanines [Echamamish] rather shoal. Encamped near the end of the River at 10 pm.
29th. Rain in the morning. Started about 3 am. Proceeded with the oars to the Sea River portage which having cleared hoisted the sail and sailed to Jack River House (the 'new' Norway House) where we arrived about 9 pm.
30th. Wet weather. Left Jack River House before noon and sailed to Norway House. Here we found 2 Red River boats Messrs. Ross and Heron. Started again in the evening and encamped at the next point.
It sounds as if the Jack River House was now Norway House, and the old Norway House was in the process of being abandoned. In his next year's journal  Edward Ermatinger does not mention the old Norway House at all.
So from this point, we will travel past the "new" Norway House and pause at the abandoned fort -- that is, if our express men pause.
As you will see, at this point they have before them the often dangerous crossing of Lake Winnipeg.
You will see why, when you read James Douglas' journal entry.
In 1832, clerk Alexander Caulfield Anderson faced the same rough crossing.
From The Pathfinder:
"On Sunday, August 5, Anderson was back at Norway House [from York Factory]. He now travelled in a Hudson's Bay York boat -- a plank boat, pointed at both ends, that was bigger and heavier than a canoe and rowed by men with oars instead of paddles. These were the boats that had carried the Saskatchewan men all the way from Edmonton House in the spring, and these boats would carry them the thousand miles home. The eight boats of the Saskatchewan brigade set off early the next day, and the Norway House journals report that it rained heavily on the morning of their departure.
"The brigade route lay across the top of Lake Winnipeg, where dangerous winds from the south could push the boats into the limestone cliffs that lined the shore of the lake. A gentleman later reported that "much risk was run in the crossing of Lake Winnipeg." In spite of the hazards presented by winds and waves, the brigaders made their way safely to the Saskatchewan River....."
I found the report on the rough crossing in the Edmonton House post journals.
Sometimes you have to discover what happened by reading the post journals of forts one thousand miles away!
But let us continue...
Diary of a Journey from Fort Vancouver in 1835, by James Douglas:
Mony. 27. Passed Knee Lake under sail, the Trout Falls, and encamped at the Upper Knife Handing Place. Cold, cloudy weather. Wind, north.
Tues. 28. Reached Oxford at 2 o'clock. Encamped at the upper end of the Lake.
Wedy. 29. Encamped at Hill's Gates.
Thursdy. 30. Robertson's Portage.
Friy. 31. Barren [?].
Saturday August 1st. Head of Tea River.
Suny. 2. Reached Norway House.
Mony. 3. Left Norway House; encamped on Play Green Lake.
Tuesy. 4. Reached the old Fort, beyond which we could not proceed on account of a boisterous wind which renders any further progress in the present state of the Lake, intensely dangerous. Mossy Point which is about 6 miles distant rises abruptly from the water's edge, and during stormy weather the heavy swell breaks angrily against its steep ascent, and renders it at such times quite inaccessible. The coast for 27 miles beyond Mossy Point partakes of the same inaccessible character & forms but one continued unbroken line of abrupt ascent, undistinguished either by bays or rivers wherein a secure harbour might be found in case of boisterous weather, whence it becomes a matter of necessity never to attempt this part of the lake particularly with loaded craft except when nearly in a calm and tranquil state.
Wedy. 5 Augt. The wind (crossed off: having) abated (crossed off: considerably we recommenced our journey) for a short time this morning, but freshened again immediately afterwards which rendered a move impracticable.
Journal of a Trip from Vancouver to York Factory, Spring, 1847, by Thomas Lowe:
Thurs. 29th [July] [in Knee Lake] Raining at intervals during the day. Got to the Trout Falls after breakfast, and made a portage of the boats and cargo at that place. Made portages likewise at the Lower and Upper Knife Landing Place, and encamped at the head of the latter. On account of the low state of the water, had also to take the pieces out at a rapid a short distance above the Trout Falls.
Friday 30th. Fine weather. Reached Oxford House before noon, and only stopped there to take s supply of Pemican and flour for the boats' crews, as there was a fine breeze blowing which carried us to the end of the lake before night. Encamped at the mouth of the Waipinapanis River.
Saturday 31st. Fine weather. Ascended the Waipinapis and made the three portages in this river called Lower Waipinapanis, John More's Island, and Crooked Rapid. In the morning Mr. O'Brien passed us in a canoe to overtake Mr. Rowand, who is with the boats ahead of us. In the afternoon crossed the Lac de Bois Blanc with a fair wind, and then came to White Water, in which we made a party at Lower Hells Gates, at the upper of which we encamped.
Sunday, August 1st. Exceedingly warm weather. Made a portage at Upper Hell's Gates in the morning, and reached Robertson's about noon. Got all the pieces across before night, but the boats remain at the other end of the Portage.
Monday 2nd. The boats were hauled across this morning on wheels, and we breakfasted before starting. Had a head wind all day, and only got the length of the height of Land or Painted Stone, where a very long Portage had to be made on account of the low state of the water in the Echimamis or Black River, and it was late at night before the boats were loaded. Another warm day.
Tuesday 3rd August. As we were starting from the Height of Land this morning, a light boat with 14 Indians met us, who were sent down from Norway House to assist in bringing up the Saskatchewan Brigade. We got 6 of them between our 4 boats, and the other 8 were sent on to be distributed amongst the 5 boats which are behind us. This has been an exceedingly warm day. Besides the two regular portages at the Beaver Dams, we had to make a third at a place near the Half Way Creek. In several places also the men had to take to the line, and haul the boats through the mud. Encamped a short distance beyond Half Way Creek.
Wednesday 4th. Warm. Had a good breeze to carry us through the remainder of Black River and Hairy Lake. Got to the Sea Carrying Place in the afternoon, a little above which we met the Revd Mr. Mason in a canoe on his way to YF. Encamped within 8 miles of Norway House.
Thursday 5th. Fine warm weather. Arrived at Norway House this morning at 8 o'clock, and found that Mr. Rowand and Mr. O'Brien had reached this yesterday morning with 2 boats.
Friday 6th. Weather still warm and fine. In the morning the other 5 Saskatchewan boats arrived here, and in the afternoon Mr. Hodgson likewise arrived from YF with the three English River boats. A thunder storm in the evening.
Saturday 7th. Warm pleasant weather. Started from Norway House this morning at 9 o'clock with the Saskatchewan Brigade, consisting of 11 boats in charge of Mr. O'Brien. As the wind was ahead we could not enter Lake Winnipeg, and encamped on an Island at the end of Play Green Lake.
Sunday 8th. Warm weather. Started early this morning but only reached Norway Point, where we remained the rest of the day, as the wind was strong ahead. A very severe thunder storm at night.
This year, Thomas Lowe will have a little difficulty in crossing the top of Lake Winnipeg.
Did you notice that in this journal that Thomas Lowe's men portaged the boats on wheels?
This is one of the two places, mentioned in Barbara Huck's book Exploring the Fur Trade Routes of North America, where the HBC men built "tramways with flatcars to transport the York boats and their heavy loads past the falls or rapids."
Journal from Vancouver to York Factory with Express, Spring 1848, by Thomas Lowe:
Tuesday 25th [July] Showery all day, and a head wind. Arrived at the Trout Falls in the evening, and got the pieces across the Portage.
Wednesday 26th. Hauled the boat up the Falls the first thing in the morning, and went only as far as the Decharge de Bouleau, where we breakfasted, and encamped, as it kept blowing and raining all day.
Thursday 27th. About 7 o'clock this morning the two Cumberland Boats came up, and we started in company with them. They had been detained a whole day repairing one of the boats, which had been very much damaged in the Upper Rapid in Jack River. In course of the day made Portages at the Lower & Upper Knife Handling Places, and arrived at Oxford House about 5 pm. Took supper there, and started at 6 1/2. Had a fine fair wind, and sailed all night. Got to the entrance of the Waipumapamis River at 2 o'clock in the morning.
Friday 28th. Very warm. Made Portages at the Lower Waipimapamus, John Moore's Island, and Crooked Rapid, before breakfast. Pulled through Winy Lake in the afternoon, and in the evening made a portage at Lower Hell's Gates, and having proceeded some distance beyond, encamped.
Saturday 29th. Fine warm weather. Made a portage at Upper Hell's Gates and breakfasted at Robertson's. Got the pieces across in the afternoon, and when the two Cumberland Boats arrived in the evening, had the boat hauled across. Encamped there.
Sunday 30th. Started from Robertson's Portage this morning, and go to the Height of Land at 9 am. where we breakfasted, and in the afternoon made a portage at the Sea Carrying Place. Got to within 10 miles of Norway House. A very heavy thunder storm after we encamped.
Tuesday August 1st. Clear weather this morning, and a fine fair wind. Arrived at Norway House under sail about 8 am.
Wednesday 2nd. Fine weather. This morning before breakfast the two Cumberland boats arrived. Went over in a small canoe with Mr. Beardmore this forenoon to Rossville.
Thursday 3rd. Showery. This morning Mr. Deschambt. started ahead with the two Cumb. Boats, and in the forenoon the 8 Saskatchewan boats arrived. After dinner we started with a fair wind, and encamped at Norway Point. C.F. Nicol Finlayson joins the Brigade there, being appointed to Carlton, and is a passenger in Mr. Rowand's boat. Mr. Beardmore embarks with me in the Columbia boat as he crosses the Mountains. We got three additional men at Norway House for the Columbia, being now 26 new hands in all. The 12 Otter packs brought up from YF were left at NH, but we have embarked 20 in place of them. Only half the number of Otters are to be sent across this season. [Probably these otters were skins to be sent to the Russians, on the Northwest coast.]
Friday 4th. Fine warm weather, but a strong head wind in the Lake, so that we have remained in our campement all day. In the evening Mr. Samuel McKenzie arrived with the 3 English River boats, and encamped alongside of us. A thunderstorm at night.
Journal of the Columbia Express Party, 1849, by John Charles:
30th, Monday [July]. Came to the foot of Trout Falls.
31st Tuesday. Made "Trout Fall Portage" and three others. Encamped in sight of Oxford House.
August 1st, Wednesday. Put ashore at Oxford House where having procured some white fish, we breakfasted. Left it under full sail. Made one portage and camped a little below a strong rapid called "Rapide de Croche".
2nd, Thursday. We came up to day to the Head of Lower Hills Gate, where the Columbia boat in being hauled up, full cargo, sustained some injury, but which was before night, repaired.
3rd, Friday. Arrived at Robinson Portage about 11 am. Before night all the boats together with part of the cargoes were taken over to the other end. Warm weather.
4th, Saturday. About 10 am. we left "Robinsons" having taken breakfast before starting. Were about three hours on a rock, drying, washing and resting. Camped a few miles from the "Height of Land."
5th, Sunday. Made the "Height of Land" portage before breakfast. Arrived at the Dams about two or three hours before sunset, and camped on a rock, half an hours pull above the last launching place.
6th, Monday. Pulled through Swampy Lake, where we had the good fortune to trade some fish from two canoes of Indians. Put ashore for the night a little way below the last Portage or Rapids. Raining almost all day.
7th, Tuesday. Took breakfast on an island immediately above the "Demiere Rapide on Monton." The wind being favorable we hoisted our sails and arrived at Norway House about 10 minutes before dinner. After dinner I got all the letters and small bundles for the Columbia packed up in the express box. Fine weather.
8th, Wednesday. The Columbia boat was repaired this morning. An additional cargo for the Saskatchewan District was divided between the 11 boats for that district. The wind being still favorable we used all speed to start by 10 am. Reached the point immediately above Old Norway House before sunset. Passengers in boats, viz. Messrs. Rowand and Harriott, Mr. and Mrs. Christie and Messrs Spencer, and Simpson for the Saskatchewan, Messrs Young, Griffin, Gladman, Logan, young Fraser, Frederick Lewes and myself for Columbia and New Caledonia.
19th, Thursday. The wind blowing so strong from off land and the boats being so heavily loaded it was considered most prudent not to venture out in the Lake.
10th, Friday. Not able to leave to day also owing to a heavy gale blowing from the sea.
One more stage of the express journey toward home is finished; but once across Lake Winnipeg these men still had a little under a thousand miles to travel to reach Edmonton House.
They were always in a hurry and everyone was eager to reach home.
But for the Columbia men, they had to cross the Rocky Mountains before the snow fell.
Sometimes they didn't make it in time.
As you can see from some of the journals, sometimes new men joined the Saskatchewan brigade at Norway House.
These men came from Lachine or Red River, or elsewhere to the south, and they travelled with the brigade to their new assignments.
In 1832, Alexander Caulfield Anderson travelled this historic route west to join the Columbia express -- though he met them at Norway House on their way to York Factory, rather than on their way west.
But apparently, there are times when those coming from Lachine did not make it to Norway House in time to catch the boats downriver, and they joined them later.
So I will fit in the details of this journey to Norway House in my next post, and after that continue west toward Edmonton House, and home.