Saturday, January 5, 2013

From Assiniboine to Jasper House, by the Athabasca River

You will notice that everyone in these following journals mentions their first view of the mighty Rocky Mountains.
Alexander Caulfield Anderson also remembers his first sighting, and wrote of it in the years that followed -- I will take what he had to say from his unpublished manuscript "British Columbia," in the British Columbia Archives.
Before this he has been speaking of his mid-winter Leather Pass journey in 1835 --
"I have introduced this account to illustrate the facility of passing the mountains by the route in question, partly; and partly because it enables me to refer to the subject to which I have already alluded in a preceding page.
"I mean to the fact that, for some anomalous reason, large tracts of valley remain bare, or almost bare, of snow during the winter, nothwithstanding that the country around is deeply covered.
"Thus in ascending the Athabasca, on reaching what is called the "Vue de la Montage," where the first grand outline of the Rocky Mountains bursts upon the view, the snow suddenly ceases, and so continues, along the country bordering on the river, fifty miles to Jasper's.
"This was our experience of 1835; and I believe it to be generally characteristic of other winters.
"Around Jasper's the snow never accumulates during the winter.
"There is constant grass, and the large herds of horses formerly kept there roamed over an extensive valley some thirty miles or more in length, from Autumn to spring and from Spring to autumn, in all the plenitude of pasture..."

What he says is true -- the warm Chinook wind from the west affects the weather in this part of the world and melts the snow.
It is the same Chinook wind that Calgary enjoys -- it just doesn't travel west as far as Edmonton.
Chinook wind -- I think I have told you before that it was my great-great-grandfather, James Birnie (who appears in Aemilius Simpson's journal) that gave the name of "Chinook" to the warm west wind that blew from the coast, probably while he was at Spokane House.
Do I know if this is true? I do not. But this interesting little fact appears in a descendant's biography/family history in Oregon Historical Society archives.

Journal of a Voyage across the Continent of North America in 1826 by Aemilius Simpson, R. N.:
Monday 25th [September]. The course of the river is very winding... the current is very rapid, we advanced against it solely by the poles & travel about 3 miles per hour. The scenery very much resembles that on the Saskatchewan as we approach Edmonton, beyond a margin of low land, high cliffs take their rise. The [surface] of the country [is] wooded, consisting of varieties of pine, the birch, and poplar. On first embarking we passed an island extending a considerable distance below & above the post -- the channel forming it is small & full of drift wood at its entry & the same same which we crossed on our horses, coming to Assiniboine but a dense fog, preventing my getting a good view on embarking. The motion of the canoe, in consequence of the constant use of the poles, renders my compass almost useless.... A sharp frost with clear weather during the night, but a thick fog came on in the morning which continued until 11 am. Our arrangements being completed we embarked at 9 am. & pursued our route up the Athabasca River, our brigade being distributed into three canoes very deeply laden as we are to make comparatively quick progress to what we did in the boats ascending the Saskatchewan. And our Canadian crews appearing well pleased with the change they are much more [pleased], and understand the management of the birch canoes much better than the boats. To the passengers, however, the change I think offers no advantage, the heavy lading reduces our room to very small bounds. Noon, fine clear weather. At 4 pm. came up with a small canoe which we had dispatched the previous Saturday with Baptiste, an old Iroquois & 3 other hands to make their way in company with the boat sent on the same day -- but she proved so leaky that they have not [often] been able to make further progress. It being necessary to repair this canoe we encampt at 5 pm. The evening clear & frosty.
Tuesday 26th. A sharp frost during the night. A thick fog in the morning which continues until 9 am...
Wednesday 27th. A frost during the night followed by a thick fog in the morning which continued until 7 am. We embarked at 5 am. & continued our ascent of the Athabasca.
Thursday 28th. A light frost am. Clear weather in the morning being free from fog. One of our canoes, Mr. Douglas, not having come up with us since the accident of yesterday we continued in our encampment to wait her arrival which she did at 10 am...
Friday 29th. A frost during the night with a slight fog in the morning followed by fine pleasant weather during the day.  [Our brigade] not having met with any accidents have made a good days distance, having come about 10 leagues. We encampt at 6 pm. We heard a musket fired a short distance above us which we concluded was Linton from Mr. [James] Birnie's boat to acquaint us with their situation.
[So my great-great-grandfather, James Birnie, took the first boat up the river -- the one that was accompanied by the leaky canoe that fell behind, and George Linton, who was later murdered on the Fraser River south of Fort George, was with him]
Saturday 30th. Frost with fine clear weather. Embarked at 5 am. At 7 we came up with Mr. Birnie's boat, altho' she had left Assiniboine two days before us. [This proves] thus the superiority of the Birch canoe over any other [kind] of craft for this kind of navigation. Noon fine. In hauling above a rapid Mr. Douglas' canoe got broke, the frequent accidents to his canoe proceed I suppose from the [lack] of skill in his steersman & bowsman. We encampt at [time] with the boat in company.
October, Sunday 1st. Fine clear weather, soft haze from the south. A party was dispatched by land for Jasper's House, consisting of Messrs. Birnie, Linton & Sinclair, with one man, two boys & a guide, .. at 4.50 this am. We passed the junction of Baptists River, a considerable stream on the opposite side of the Assinaboine, a remarkable & steep cliff bound it. The face of the country presents a dense forest consisting of [trees] of the pine principally. We encampt at 5.30 pm.
Monday, 2nd. Fine and soft weather. We met a grizzly bear this morning on the bank of the river, he very deliberately stood & looked at us in our canoe as if intending to choose one of us for his prey, but Mr. MacMillan wounding him he scampered off to the [woods]. He was followed for some distance but without success as he made his escape good. Our breakfast situation of this morning was a very romantic one, the opposite shore being a very high cliff composed of a fine quality of [granite?] about 300 feet high. Washed at its base by a rapid...
Tuesday, 3rd. A light fog in the morning, but pleasant weather throughout the day. We embarked & continued our ascent until 9 when we arrived at the camp of a party of Strong Wood Assiniboine, we put ashore to breakfast and got a supply of Moose Deer meat from these hospitable Indians. The boat having fallen far in the rear we waited here until 2 pm. The Indians appeared well pleased to have our society, and their appearance was certainly better calculated to [impress] a stranger in their favour than most I have yet seen in the country. They were neatly dressed, their robes of leather being clean and fantastically ornamented & their persons generally bespoke a cleanliness of habit...
Wednesday 4th. Commenced gloomy with rain. We waited the arrival of the boat until 8 am, when we embarked, but had only proceeded a short distance to the first rapids... when two of our canoes came in contact which damaged us so much that we were immediately obliged to put on shore to repair. That being finished & having breakfasted we pursued our journey & got above the Cross Rapids when the river became comparatively still. Noon, showers. One of our canoes having got broke by striking a stone we encampt at 5 pm. which enabled to boat to come up with us in the evening.
Thursday 5th. This morning thick fog which cleared up at 9 am. As we came in sight of the Rocky Mountains in the SW, their lofty summits towering up to the vaulted heavens seemed to be defiant to the efforts of man to [cross] their eminences.... The weather throughout the day has been pleasant, a cool breeze blowing off the mountains. Our crews have pushed hard today, taking only four rests during the day's labour and as we no longer waited for the boat we soon left her out of sight behind. We encampt at 6.15 pm, it being dark.
Friday 6th. A very fine clear morning at the dawn, the distant view of the mountains had a very fine effect, their lefty and rug'd summits circumscribing the distant horizon, and their dark blue tent forming a firm contrast with the rich azure sky. We embarked at 5 am. and continued our ascent of the Athabasca. At noon our canoe got broke by striking a hidden rock, obliging us to put on shore immediately to repair, which occupied us until 1 pm, when we again pursued our journey and arrived at Jasper's House at 3 pm, having taken twelve days to perform the journey from Assinaboine House, a distance by estimation of 285 miles, the course of the river being particularly winding, with a very strong current & frequent rapids occurring.... We found our land party here, who had arrived only this morning. They report the track by land to be most difficult and laborious, leading through extensive forests, they frequently lost themselves & the great quantity of burnt wood strewed over the face of the country in many places was a formidable obstruction. We found Mr. Drummond here, a gentleman connected with the Polar expedition, whose remarks in this quarter are directed to the acquirement of botanical specimens which he considered a more likely situation to afford a supply of these than the [barren] shores of the Polar seas. He proposes crossing the mountains with our brigade, a trip that is likely to reward him well for his labour. There are forty horses collected here for the purpose of transporting our brigade across the mountains.

Now that I have introduced George Linton in this story, let me complete the story -- with information from Bruce Watson's Lives Lived West of the Divide:
Linton was born in London and joined the fur trade of the North West Company in 1818.
Between 1823-1830 he worked for the HBC in the Athabasca district at Edmonton, Fort Assiniboine and Lesser Slave Lake.
In 1831 he was transferred to the Columbia district (and so this year might only have been travelling west with the brigade as far as Jasper's -- we will have to see).
Governor Simpson described him this way: "A stout strong square built fellow who would have made a very good figure in the Prize Ring being an excellent bruiser, has a good deal of the Manner of a man accustomed to live by his Wits, and I suspect is out of a bad nest. A low Knowing Kind of fellow who is neither a good Clerk nor Trader -- has no prospects of advancement."
Linton worked at Fort George, New Caledonia, until the late fall of 1835 when he and his family were transferred to Fort Alexandria -- he just missed meeting Alexander Caulfield Anderson at Fort George in late 1835, in fact.
Early in November, George Linton and Westayap Campbell and families set out for his new posting in their canoes.
Both families disappeared (Linton's dog returned to Fort George, I believe) and were believed drowned, but a different story emerged in 1838 when a Native woman, who had fled her own village after her husband's death, arrived at Fort George seeking protection.
The Lintons and Campbells set up camp near a Native village, where Campbell purchased a dog for which he had not paid enough, in the dog owners' opinions.
So Campbell killed the dog and put it in his canoe.
In retaliation, the Natives shot Campbell and then Linton, while Linton was attempting to pull his gun to defend himself -- the fur traders' wives and children were then systemically murdered with guns and knives and their bodies thrown into the mighty Fraser River.
Finally the Natives damaged the canoes, so that any fur traders travelling downriver to discovered what had happened to Linton, would believe he had died by accidental drowning.

Journal of a Voyage from York Factory to Fort Vancouver, Columbia River, 1827, by Edward Ermatinger:
20th [September]. Fine weather. Our canoes being ready we embarked at 1/2 past 9 am. with the lading as follows:
Boat No. 1: 9 packs leather, 1 barrel biscuit, 2 cassettes pp. 1 cassette paper trunk, 2 kegs tea and sugar, 1 portmandeau, 2 case and basket...
Boat No. 2: 8 packs leather, 3 cassettes, 1 bag flour, 1 keg sugar, 1 bag ball, 1 roll tobacco [rest omitted]
[For those of you who are searching for your ancestors, I am including a list of passengers and crews.]
Passengers: Dr. Todd and Mr. Ermatinger, Mr. Geo. McDougall and wife, Family of A.R. McLeod, and A. Ogies (2 women, 4 children), Michael Klyne and family (wife and 4-5 children).
Crews: Michel Otatame, Pierre Karagangate, L. Ogsin, H. Lacharite, P. Gilbot, P. Therrien, A. Eno, Jos. Lapierre, J. B. Jollibois, J. B. Obichon, X.. Seguin, Loyer, Jos. Roquebrune, P. Desaire, F. LaFrance, L. Leblanc, P. Bouche, F. Lepine, J. Simpson, Bouisseau, Baptiste Iroquois, Jas. Lacharite, A. Ogre, Beaeau, A. Rondeau, Beauchamps, Louis Shargashatsh, Fallardeau, E. Pepin, Picard, Nipisingue.]
Of the foregoing cargoes -- 28 packs of Leather are for New Caledonia and 25 pcs. for Jasper's House outfit. Detained 1 hour pitching canoes. Encamped at 7 pm.
21st, Thursday. Fine weather. Embarked at 5 am and encamped at 7 after mounting a very strong and long Rapid in which Bouche's canoe got broken.
22nd. Rained last night, day overcast. Bouche's canoe having been repaired we started after 6 am having previously exchanged his steersman (Lepine) who finds himself unable to perform his duty in that capacity, his eyesight being bad. At breakfast time we found that the same canoe required more repairs and were consequently delayed four hours more for that purpose -- 2 of the other canoes were also gummed. Afterwards proceeded opposite to McLeod's Branch and encamped at 1/2 past 6 pm. River hitherto very Rapidous.
23rd. Continued raining all last night and ceased this morning at 1/4 past 5. Gummed 3 canoes at breakfast time which delayed us an hour, and afterwards one of the same required gumming again which causes another delay. Encamped 1/4 past 6 pm. Loyer and Picard were off hunting this morning but saw nothing. Jollibois falls sick with a swelling in his throat.
25th, Tuesday. Fine weather. Started at 1/2 past 5 am. Gummed our canoes twice. Encamped at 6 pm. Ascended many strong rapids today. Jollibois still unwell, unable to do duty.
26th. Rain this morning prevented from starting till near 7 o'clock. We then proceeded till 9 when we came up to a camp of Stone Indians (Assiniboine) where we took breakfast and traded with them a little dried provisions. During our stay here one of our canoes regummed. Resumed our journey at 11 am. Shortly after another canoe having got a slight break in one of the rapids, put ashore to gum. Indeed we find all our canoes too much laden to proceed without getting damaged in such strong rapids as we have passed today, and they have so often rubbed on the rocks in them that we were obliged to put ashore at 1/2 past 5 pm. and have them gummed afresh. Passed Riviere a Baptists about 1/2 past 1 o'clock. Picard and Nipisingue, two of the Rocky Mountain freemen, took leave of us this morning -- the former to hunt his way down and the latter to proceed to Jasper's. Altho' these two men disembarked out of one canoe, we find that she goes better with the remaining six than she did before with eight.
27th. Fine day. One of our men (Lafrance) having been seized last night with a violent cholic we could not start as usual. However, about 8 o'clock we made an attempt to continue our voyage, but were soon obliged to put ashore again, the man's illness having much increased. The Doctor gave him a triple dose that took no effect. About 2 pm we were enabled to pursue our voyage. During our stay here several packs which had got wet were opened and dried. Encamped a little after 6 pm having ascended several very strong rapids. Some of the canoes could not mount under the poles and the man had to drag them up. Lafrance still very unwell. Jollibois getting better.
28th, Friday. Fine weather. Started at 1/2 past 5 am. At breakfast time two of our canoes required gumming. We afterwards ascended a chain of rapids to the head of Rapids des Morts where, as our canoes required gumming again, we encamped at 5 pm. At 8 of these rapids which are very strong, three of the canoes were handed up -- only one has been able to ascend under the poles which is owing to the dexterity of the Boutes. Lafrance and Jollibois are on the recovery.
29th. Fine day. Started at 1/2 past 5 am and continued our voyage till past 5 when we camped, just below the Grand Basford, on account of bad weather, it having begun to rain. The river has been less difficult today than heretofore. We had our first view of the Rocky Mountains about noon and should have seen them sooner but for the cloudy weather. Our two men have both recovered and are on duty.
30th. Tolerable weather till evening when it began to rain and afterwards to hail. We started a little after 5 and encamped about 1/2 way up the last string of rapids about 6 pm. Loyer left us this morning to go to the fort.
October, 1st. Overcast. Started before 6 am and having got up a number of Shoal Rapids full of large stones, we arrived at Jasper's House about 10 o'clock. The remainder of the day was occupied remaking packs Leather, gumming the canoes, &c &c. Out of the packs rendered this summer at this place we find about one to be useless. We found on arrival here 3 men from the Columbia with a letter from J[ohn] W[arren] Dease, Esqr., dated from the West end of the Portage, Oct. 25th.

Journal of a Voyage from Norway House to Fort Vancouver, Columbia River, 1831, by George Traill Allen:
Wednesday, 14th [September]. We set off in the canoes. Two gentlemen and nine men in each, and during our voyage which continued thirteen days we encountered many hardships and delays. The river, so shallow and full of sand banks, or as the Canadian call them battures, as to break our frail bark canoes five or six times a day and force us ashore to kindle fires and repair them.
September 23rd. Today we came in sight of the Rocky Mountains and at sunset we had a splendid view of them, their summits towering to the skies and covered with snow. The view of these majestic mountains endowed the scene which had for some days back produced nothing for the eye to rest upon but thick and almost impenetrable woods.
Sunday 25th. On the evening of this day we arrived at Klynes House, a small fort situated in a most romantic valley surrounded on all sides by mountains of immense height, where wild sheep are to be found in considerable abundance. There are two descriptions of these animals -- white and Grey. The flesh of the latter is excellent, but that of the former smells and tastes strongly of murk. We received here a supply of fresh provisions and had an opportunity of drying packages, most of which had got wet in the canoes crossing the numerous rivers that lay in our way.

Thanks to some of our writers who have given us a lot of information about this river journey west,   we have filled six or seven pages -- enough!
I will reserve the following three journals for the next posting -- which might make that a shorter post than I normally make.
But I will finish this posting with another short quote -- a footnote in his prize-winning essay of 1872, The Dominion at the West [you can probably find this in its entirety online].
Miette is the name of the river close to the Jasper's House post, and it was named for the man who Anderson now speaks of; Jasper Klyne is mentioned in a few of the above journals:

"Some of these names are destined to be perpetuated, and in any future account of the Province it might be well to notice them.
"Miette, for example, known in his time as the "Bon-Homme Miette," whose name this river bears, was an old voyageur of the North West Company, who first ascended the stream on a trapping-tour.
"There is a conspicuous rock near Jasper's House -- forming, as it were, with the opposite hills, the portal of the pass -- which likewise bears his name.
"Jasper Klyne was a post-master of the Hudson's Bay Company, long in charge of the little outpost (now abandoned) called after him.
"A Swiss, I believe, of DeMeuron's Corps, brought out to Red River by Lord Selkirk, in 1814 or thereabout."

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