Friday, November 23, 2012

From Norway House, across the top of Lake Winnipeg

At this point we will rejoin the Saskatchewan brigade and Columbia express, on its journey home across the top of Lake Winnipeg.
As you saw on their downriver journey, for some this was a fierce crossing.
No safe canoe course lay across Lake Winnipeg in any direction! It is still the worst lake in Canada for small craft.
The reasons are many.
The lake was (and is) surprisingly shallow -- in many places only ten or twelve feet deep.
It is 280 miles long with a maximum width of 65 miles.
The strong prairie winds which  often blew across or up this lake quickly created steep-fronted, choppy waves with whitecaps.
Small boats are still driven off the lake by two o'clock pm when the wind rises; for the most part the voyageurs made early camp and got up at 3am. to cross the lake when the winds were quiet.
Fur trade journals are filled with stories of waiting for days for the wind to subside, of being swamped or dashed against the rocks or of battling sudden storms and losing men and supplies.
The north basin, larger and deeper than the south, was particularly deadly because of the high clay banks that lined the north end of the lake.
A south wind -- not uncommon -- created wind-driven tides that piled the water up the cliffs, inundating the narrow north shore.
A brigade caught crossing this treacherous seventy mile stretch had no safe place to land.

So, knowing this about Lake Winnipeg, let us see how our various journal writers survived the crossing.
Remember, that in 1832, when Anderson crossed the lake, "much risk was run in the crossing of Lake Winnipeg."

Journal of a Voyage across the Continent of North America in 1826 by Aemilius Simpson, R.N.:
Sunday 30th [July] During the night we had a heavy fall of rain, and thunderstorm against which our tents proved but a very indifferent shelter, many coming down and exposing their inmates to a complete wetting. The scanty supply of provisions has reduced our crews to the alternative of eating dogs, which however is considered a [word] Article of food by some of the old Voyageurs. The gentlemen participate in the general scarcity, and are reduced to a very scanty diet. Mr. Ferrier proceeded for Montreal with retired servants, and J..., having three canoes, and Mr. MacDonnel for Timmicamairy in a light Canoe.... Our arrangements at this place being completed, we resumed our journey at 5 pm and proceeded to an encampment on Norway Point.
Monday 31st. Commenced calm and cloudy at 4.45 am. We embarked and pursued our route along the N.W. shores of Lake Winnipeg, which for the [first] thirty miles is composed of steep cliffs of clay. We were favored with a fair [wind] for a great part of our days run, sometimes blowing strong accompanied by rain, which induced us to keep close in with the shore, thereby increasing our distance considerably. At 3.15 we [awaited] the arrival of our sternmost boats, under the lee of MacIntosh's Island, the one mentioned by Franklin as lying off the [point] forming the separation between Limestone Bay and the Main Lake. At 4 we pursued our journey again to the S.W. keeping close along the shore. At 8.30 we entered a snug cove about a mile to the [west] of the 2nd Rocky Point, where we encampt for the night, having come during the day a distance of 60 miles.
August 1826 -- Tuesday 1st. Commenced heavy shower at 2 am. Embarked and pursued our journey along the shore of Lake Winnipeg in a S.S.W. direction, at 4.30 we got a firm breeze from the N.W. with clear weather, to which we made sail, and having come about 20 miles from our encampment we entered the Saskatchewan River at 7.30 am. and continued our ascent of it for about 2 miles, we arrived at the foot of the Grand Rapids. After Breakfast I walked to the W end of the Rapids, which from the Entrance of the River I estimate to be 6 miles, forming a great bend between South and North and founded by steep cliffs of gravel and lime stone, with the elevation of about 80 feet [words omitted]. We found at the head of the rapids Mr. Prudens with the [boats] of the Saskatchewan brigade, and also three boats under Mr. Clous[t]on for the Athabasca Department. A great number of Indian were encampt here actively engaged in the sturgeon fishery, from whom we obtained a very seasonable supply of wild fruits, the strawberry, Poyer (poier?), ... which formed a very agreeable repast. A few nights previous to our arrival here a fatal event took place. the Indians while sitting in their fort, were killed by a flash of lightening; there relations craved rum to console them under this heavy dispensation. Our crews have been employed in transporting the cargo and boats across the portage. We had throughout the day fine and pleasant weather.
Wednesday 2nd. Very warm and clear weather. thermometer at noon 80 degrees..... Our crews from daylight were employed transporting the boats and [goods] across the portage, which is a most laborious operation, having to drag them up a steep bank of [word] and then to launch them across the portage a distance of 1800 yards and whose extreme height was determined by my mountain barometer to be 67 feet. At 3.30 pm this difficult [portage] being completed we embarked and continued our ascent of the Saskatchewan by tracking and poling against a very strong current, and with our utmost efforts, did not advance above a league. At 9.20 pm we encampt for the night, just below the Red Rock. Several Indians having accompanied our brigade our [party] this evening presented a grotesque group.

York Factory Express Journal, 1827, by Edward Ermatinger:
31st [July]. Weather being moderate started after sunrise and rowed to the Mossy Point -- here finding that wind was likely to be too much for us we about ship to regain our last Encampment. However afterwards thinking that it had calmed we put about again when about half back then the wind veered a little to the S.W. We were enabled to hoist sail but we soon perceived that a storm was coming on and had only time to run our boats ashore and get out the cargoes when it began to blow a gale with thunder and lightening and heavy showers of rain. The place where we were forced to put ashore is a very bad landing and never approached but in cases of danger -- here we were fortunate enough to find Tom Firth with two Saskatchewan boats who was forced ashore yesterday by bad weather. His people were useful in assisting us to land our cargoes which was done with little damage. One Boat however got two planks knocked out by the violence of the waves before she could be hauled up and 16 of her timbers broken.
August, 1st. Fine weather. Wind westerly blowing hard. People employed drying some of our wet things and repairing the boat broken yesterday. Remained here for this night.
2nd. Fine weather. Wind being more moderate loaded the boats and got under weigh about 8 am. Rowed along the shores of the Lake till 6 pm and then hoisted sail and proceeded with a fresh breeze till night.
3rd, Friday. Sailed all night and arrived at the Grand Rapid at 9 am. Got the Boats up to the Portage and carried the cargoes half way over. Traded some fresh and dried sturgeon from freemen and Indians.
4th. Fine weather. Had our boats and cargoes over the portage and were ready to start about 4 am. However Larance's Boat by mischance got loose just as they were going to load her and was precipitated down the Rapid. Fortunately an eddy brought her up before she got far down and in a short time she was brought back safe. As we were about to embark one of our Columbia young hands (Desaire) was missing and it was thought he had deserted, people were sent off in pursuit. In a short time he came running to the boats in great consternation -- it seems he had laid himself down in some part of the Portage and fell asleep which held him longer than he intended. While we were sending for him another man (E. Pepin) actually did desert and we only succeeded in finding him late at night. This fellow added the crime of theft to desertion -- for it appears during the time we were occupied on the Portage he had concealed a small bale containing the property of two of his companions and when found he was already rigged out in their clothing. As a punishment he was tied for the night. About 6 pm. 4 of the Boats were sent off and ourselves with two remained near the portage for the double purpose of recovering our man and trading some more sturgeon.
5th. We had a good deal rain during the day with thunder and lightening. Started between 3 and 4 am. At the Red Rock carried half cargoes and after working up a very bad part of the River full of strong Rapids we came up with our other 4 Boats at midnight encamped at the entrance of the Cedar Lake.

Journal of a Voyage from Norway House to Fort Vancouver, Columbia River, by George Traill Allen, A/B/40/Al5.2A, BCA:
Wednesday, 27th, 1831 [July?] I sailed from Norway House at 3 o'clock am. for the Columbia River in the same boat with Mr. [James] Douglas, clerk, and in company with Chief Factors McIntosh and [Duncan] Finlayson, and Messrs Grant and [Pierre] Pambrun, clerks, nine boats and about eighty men. A fine fair breeze soon brought us to Lake Winnipeg, which is considered about 300 miles in length. At the entrance we put ashore to breakfast and wait for Governor Simpson who soon arrived in a light canoe accompanied by Chief Factor [John] Rowand. The Governor after remaining half an hour on shore bade us all adieu and proceeded on his voyage to Red River. Mr. Rowand now joined his boats and added another guest to our mess. Having breakfasted, we found that the breeze had become too strong for our heavily laden boats to face the Lake and were obliged to lay to during the remainder of the day.
Thursday 28th. We started at 3 am. and having pulled with the oars about 10 miles against the head wind and along steep banks where it was impossible to land boats or cargo, the breeze now became a strong gale and forced us to rear about and drive before it as far back as we had advanced. About noon the gale seemed to abate and we again ventured to face the lake, but had soon cause to regret the attempt. The wind continued to increase till 4 pm. when it became a regular gale and we were obliged to run the boats on shore at the great risk of their cargoes.
Friday 29th. We started about 3 this morning and being favored with a fine breeze we made great progress; got out of Lake Winnipeg and entered the river Saskatchewan where we encamped for the night along side four boats for Athabasca under charge of Richard McLeod Esquire. As nothing worthy of notice occurred until Tuesday 18th of August, I pass on to that date.

The Return Journey from York Factory, 1835, by James Douglas:
Thursday 6th [August]. Fine weather. The wind having abated considerably we recommenced our journey and proceeded on quietly throughout the day; with the help of (crossed off: wind and sail) oar reached the Little Island where we encamped.
Friday 7. A favourable change of wind this morning induced us to make an early start. We had not proceeded far when it fell calm. In a short time it commenced blowing from another quarter making it not quite so favourable to our progress. The breeze having gradually freshened the waves swelled up to a very menacing size and rushed forward with impetuous force towards the rock bound coast, threatening destruction to every object which they encountered. Forced to run for a very commodious harbour where we passed the day.
Sat. 8. Left our harbour of yesterday with a favourable wind which carried us very swiftly forward in the direction of the river. Reached the foot of the Grand rapid at 12 o'clock. Encamped with all the cargoes rendered at the lower end of carrying place. this morning fell in with Dr. King, the fellow traveller of Captain Back, returning from the expedition undertaken for the purpose of succouring Captain Ross. He informed us that the result of the expedition had not been satisfactory either in a geographical or scientific point of view. Leaving Fort Reliance with the commencement of spring, they proceeded in a North Westerly direction through the Chusadawa, Lake of Heaven, and a chain of small lakes where they constructed a boat for their ascent to the coast. On arrival at the Great Fish River their descent was very rapid. This river is very broad and deep. Falls and rapids of a dangerous character were found in every part of it. In its course it intersects one or two lakes and discharges in the ocean 70 miles West of Chesterfield's Inlet. After exploring a short distance of coast, and experiencing much detention from floating ice they commenced their return to Fort Reliance where they remained during last winter with abundance of provisions.
Sat. 8th, August. Dr. King states that the Great Fish river abounds with fish and geese. The banks of the river were covered with rein deer, and numerous herds of musk ox, an animal generally found in low valleys water by a rivulet where they can indulge their propensity for mud & filth. Captain Back has called in question the correctness of Ross' survey. He is of opinion that the neck of land which this navigator has named Boothia is the Island of North Somerset. King differs again from Back and supports his opinion by very plausible reasoning. The result of so many conflicting opinions tending rather to subvert each other than to illustrate the proposed objects is not calculated to satisfy the public.No word from the Northern Lakes to the coast.
Monday 10th. Left the Grand Rapid at 10 o'clock and encamped at the Grand Discharge. The limestone banks still are seen covered with a white clay soil.

Journal of a Trip from Vancouver to York Factory, Spring 1847, by Thomas Lowe, in charge of party:
Monday 9th [August]. Took advantage of a slight change of wind this morning, and got about 10 miles beyond Mossy Point, but were then obliged to run ashore, and unload the boats. Here we were windbound the remainder.
Tuesday 10th. Left our encampment again this morning with a fine breeze of wind, which sometimes died away and freshened again in course of the day, so that with pulling and sailing we managed to come within about 20 miles of the Grand Rapid before night. Put ashore for supper, and pulled about 10 miles afterward.
Wednesday 11th. Fine weather, but strong head wind, so that we have been windbound all day on a large Island about 10 miles distant from the Grand Rapid.
Thursday 12th. Raining at intervals during the day. Took advantage of a slight change of wind this morning to start fro the Island where we were windbound yesterday, and succeeded in getting over to the entrance of the Saskatchewan before noon. The water in the River is low, and the boats will have to make 3 trips over the shallows before reaching the portage at the foot of the Grand Rapid. Most of the boats made two of these trips this evening, and the remainder will be brought up tomorrow.
Friday 13th. Raining towards evening. this morning the remainder of the pieces were brought up & in course of the day all the cargoes were carried to the upper end of the Portage. Five of the boats were likewise brought up by water, although it is customary when the River is in its proper state to take them across the Portage.
Saturday 14th. The other 6 boats were brought up by water this morning, and we started from the Grand Rapid after breakfast, but as the wind was strong ahead, and we had to put ashore more than once on account of very heavy rains, we only got as far as the head of the Red Stone Rapid.

Journal from Vancouver to York Factory with Express, Spring 1848, by Thomas Lowe:
Saturday 5th [August]. Fine weather, but wind still ahead. About 6 o'clock in the evening the wind changed and we started under sail. Pulled & sailed during the night.
Sunday 6th. Showery. Pull most part of the morning and breakfasted at McIntosh's Island. Sailed all day afterwards, pulling occasionally when it lulled, and reached the mouth of the Saskatchewan about 10 o'clock at night.
Monday 7th. Cloudy, but very little rain. Had all the boats up to the lower end of the Portage at the Grand Rapid before noon, after having made two trips for the Pieces. Most of the pieces have been brought across the Portage tonight.
Tuesday 8th. This morning had the remainder of the Pieces brought across the Portage, and in the forenoon the boats, so that we were able to make a start from the Portage in the evening. Encamped about a mile above. In the afternoon the Revd. Mr. Rundle met us at the Grand Rapids. He is on his way from the Saskatchewan to Norway House in a small bateaux with 3 Indians.
Wednesday 9th. Cloudy, and some showers. The Saskatchewan is at present unusually high, and the current strong. An unfortunate accident happened this morning in hauling one of the boats round a strong point below the Rocher Rouges [Red Stone]. The boat sheered round, and the men having been hauled into the water, one of them (a young Canadian named Xavier Gilveste) was drowned. He came up from Canada this season, and was going to the Columbia. His body was not found, as the current swept him into the middle of the River. Breakfasted at the head of the Rocher Rouge, and got up to the entrance of Cross Lake afterwards, but as there was a strong head wind blowing we were windbound there.

Journal of the Columbia Express Party, 1849, by John Charles:
11th, Saturday [August]. Started this morning at 4 am., with a favorable breeze, but which before noon settled down to a calm. We did not put ashore until we arrived at McIntosh's Island which was at half past seven in the evening. About 4 pm. we saw two boats full manned about two miles to our left, supposed to be Sir John Richardson and party on their way to Norway House.
12th, Sunday. Reached the Grand Rapid under full sail at half past twelve am [I think pm is meant]. All the boats with the exception of two made two trips of half cargo each, from the foot of the Rapid to the upper landing place, before dark. Had a heavy shower of rain towards evening. Traded a few sturgeon from Indians pitched at this place.
13th, Monday. All the pieces and two of the boats were taken over to the other end of the Portage. Beautiful warm weather.
14th, Tuesday. We all left the Grand Rapid at about half past twelve am. [pm would be meant?] poling up the whole way to our encampment which was immediately above Roche Rouge and where the main lines as well as the poles were put in use. Fine weather.

We have got all these brigade men safely across Lake Winnipeg and through the Grand Rapid to Red Stone Rapid, or beyond.
Some have stopped at the Grand Descharge which is west of the Grand Rapid; others have made it all the way to Lac Bourbon or Cedar Lake.
In one of his essays Alexander Caulfield Anderson described the Grand Rapids they passed, and the Cole Rapids which were still to come.
Here is what he had to say:
From Lake Winnipeg "Hence to Edmonton on the Saskatchewan there are no impediments to the navigation of any moment, save the Coles' Rapids, near the confluence of the north and south branches [of the Saskatchewan], some twelve miles in length, which are navigable with care and skill, and the Grand Rapid near the mouth, where the river bursts through the ridge of limestone which forms the north-western boundary of Lake Winnipeg."

In a few of these journals we have seen mention of various persons who were obviously not fur traders, but Arctic explorers.
Numerous books have been written about Rear-Admiral Sir John Franklin, born in 1786. This Arctic explorer disappeared in the Arctic where he died in 1847, near -- but not aboard -- his abandoned ice-bound ship Terror. 
His entire crew also died -- from starvation and cold, tuberculosis, lead poisoning, and scurvey.
But of course these fur trade journals that mention him and his partners are written before 1847, and Franklin's fatal expedition.
Captain George Back is mentioned in James Douglas' journal. Back served under Franklin in the first expedition in 1818, and is obviously still part of the various expeditions.
It appears that at the time Douglas was speaking to Back, Back was involved in some explorations with Sir John Ross, another explorer.
In 1829 Ross would disappear, and Back would set out in search of him.
Fortunately for John Ross he did not die in the Arctic; in May 1834 George Back learned that Ross was back in England.

Dr. Richard King, also mentioned in above Douglas journal, was a naturalist and ethnologist and served with George Back on one of his expeditions.
Interestingly enough, in Richard King's biography on dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, we have a paragraph which directly addresses the complaint that James Douglas made, of King's disagreement with Back and Ross:
"King considered the completion of the survey of the northern coast of North America to be the great geographical problem of the time, one that would help to settle the practicability of a northwest passage. In 1836 he proposed to solve the problem of Boothia Isthmus, a feature placed by John Ross on his map of the area on the basis of Eskimo report only. If the isthmus existed, then King thought -- rightly, as it turned out -- that the land north of it, named North Somerset (now Somerset Island) by Ross, was a part of the northern coast, and that Boothia Peninsula, rather than Melville Peninsula, was the most northeastern point of the continent."

I have taken a week or so off and have spent that time reading microfilms in the library.
I did however forget that I had this post written, and I forgot to put it online.
My apologies for that forgetfulness -- but I have discovered some new and interesting things which I can later add to this blog.
One of them will be Chief Factor John Ballenden's report on his 1852 crossing of the mountain portage to the Columbia River.
That is yet to come of course; we have yet to reach the first fur trade post on the Saskatchewan River.

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