HotFreeBooks.com
Through the Mackenzie Basin - A Narrative of the Athabasca and Peace River Treaty Expedition of 1899
by Charles Mair
Previous Part     1  2  3
Home - Random Browse

On the afternoon of the 4th we rounded Point Providence, the soil exposures sandy, the timber dense but slender, and early next morning reached the Quatre Fourches, which was at that time flowing into Lake Athabasca. It is simply a waterway of some thirty miles in length, which connects Peace River with the lake, and resembles, in size and colour, Red River in Manitoba. It is one of "the rivers that turn"—so called from their reversing their current at different stages of water. A small stream of this kind connects the South Saskatchewan with the Qu'Appelle, and another, a navigable river, the Lower Saskatchewan with Cumberland Lake. The Quatre Fourches is thus both an inlet and an outlet, but not of the lake in a right sense. The real outlet is the Rocher River, which joins the Peace River at the intersection of latitude 59 with the 111.30th degree of longitude, beyond which the united streams are called the Great Slave River.

The Quatre Fourches—"The Four Forks"—gets its name from the junction of a channel which connects a small lake called the Mamawee with the south-west angle of Lake Athabasca, Fort Chipewyan being situated on an opposite shore upon an arm of the lake, here about six miles wide. The stream is sluggish, and is thickly wooded to the water's edge, with here and there an exposure of red granite. It is a very beautiful stream, and it was a pleasure to get out of the great river and its oppressive vastness into the familiar-looking, homely water, its eastern rocks and exquisite curves and bends. Rounding a point, we came upon a camp of Chipewyans drying fish and making birch-bark canoes, all of them fat, dirty, like ourselves, and happy; and, passing on, at dusk we reached the outlet and the lake.

It was blowing hard, but we decided to cross to the fort, where a light had been run up for our guidance, and which, by vigorous rowing, we reached by midnight. Here Mr. Laird was waiting to receive us, the other Commissioners having departed for Fort McMurray and Wahpooskow.

Next morning we saw the lake to better advantage. It is called by the Chipewyans Kaytaylaytooway, namely, "The Lake of the Marsh," corresponding to the Athapuskow of the Crees, corrupted into the Rabasca of the French voyageurs, and meaning "The Lake of the Reeds." At one time, it may be mentioned, it was also known as "The Lake of the Hills," and its great tributary, the Athabasca, was the Elk River; but these names have not survived.



Chapter VIII

Fort Chipewyan To Fort McMurray.

Chipewyan, it may be remarked, is not a Dene word. It is the name which was given by the Crees to that branch of the race when they first came in contact with them, owing to their wearing a peculiar coat, or tunic, which was pointed both before and behind; now disused by them, but still worn by the Esquimaux, and, until recent years, by the Yukon Indians. Though somewhat similar in sound, it has no connection, it is asserted, with the word Chippeway, or Ojibway. For all that, the words are perhaps closely akin. The writer for the accurate use in this narrative of words in the Cree tongue is under obligation to experts. When preparing his notes to his drama of "Tecumseh" he was indebted to his friend, Mr. Thomas McKay, of Prince Albert, Sask., a master of the Cree language, for the exact origin and derivation of the words Chippeway and Ojibway. Both are corruptions of O-cheepo-way, cheepo meaning "tapering," and way "sound," or "voice." The name was begot of the Ojibway's peculiar manner of lowering the voice at the end of a sentence. As "wyan" means a skin, it is not improbable that the word Chipewyan means tapering or "pointed" skin, referring, of course, to the peculiar garb of the Athapuskow Indians when the Crees first met with them.

The sites of old posts are to be found all over this region; but Chipewyan in the beginning of the last century was the great supply and trading-post of the North-West Company. From Sir John Franklin's Journal (1820) it would appear that the Hudson's Bay Company had begun, and, for some reason not given, had ceased trading on Lake Athabasca, as he says "Fort Wedderburne was a small post built on Coal Island—now called Potato Island-about A.D. 1815, when the Hudson's Bay Company recommenced trading in this part of the country." He often visited this island post, then in charge of a Mr. Robertson, and, in June, engaged there for his memorable journey his bowmen, steersmen and middlemen, and an interpreter, his other men being furnished by the rival company. Fort Chipewyan was in charge at that time of Messrs. Keith and Black, of the North-West Company, a noticeable feature of the post being a tower built, Franklin says, about the year 1812, "to watch Indians who had evil designs."

The site was well chosen, being sheltered from storms from the lake side by a great bulwark of wooded and rocky islands. The largest is Potato Island, just opposite, its outliers being the Calf and English Islands—the Lapeta, Echeranaway and Theyaodene of the Chipewyans; the Petac, Moostoos and Akayasoo of the Crees.

Fort Chipewyan stands upon a rising ground fronting a sort of bay formed by these islands, and at the time of our visit consisted of a trading-store, several large warehouses and the master's residence, etc., all of solid timber, erected in the days of Chief-factor MacFarlane, who ruled here for many years.

[Mr. MacFarlane's career in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company is typical of the varied life and movements of its old-time adventurous traders. He entered the service in 1852, his first winter being spent as a clerk at Pembina (now Emerson), and also as trader in charge at the Long Creek outpost. From here he was transferred to Fort Rae, and afterwards to Fort Good Hope, Mackenzie River, where he remained six years. His next post was Fort Anderson, on the Begh-ula, or Anderson River, in the Barren Grounds, which he held for five years, much of his scientific work being done during excursions from this point. Afterwards he became trader and accountant at Fort Simpson, and was for two years in charge of the Mackenzie River district. This was succeeded by a six months' residence at Fort Chipewyan, where, subsequently, for fifteen years he had charge of the district. For two years he had control of the Caledonia district, in British Columbia, but removed to Fort Cumberland, Sask., where he remained for five years. Other removals followed until he finally retired from the service, and, returning to Winnipeg, has lived there ever since.]

But old as the fort is, it has no relics—not even a venerable cabin. In the store were a couple of not very ancient flint-locks, and, upstairs, rummaging through some dusty shelves, I came across one volume of the Edinburgh, or second, edition of Burns in gray paper boards—a terrible temptation, which was nobly resisted. Though there was once a valuable library here, with many books now rare and costly, yet all had disappeared.

East of the fort are shelving masses of red granite, completely covered by a dark orange lichen, which gives them an added warmth and richness; and on the highest part stood a square lead sun-dial, which, at first sight, I thought had surely been set up by Franklin or Richardson, but which I was told was very modern indeed, and put up, if I am not mistaken, by Mr. Ogilvie, D.L.S. To the west of the fort is the Church of England Mission, and, farther up, the Roman Catholic establishment, the headquarters of our esteemed fellow-voyager, Bishop Grouard. [The first Roman Catholic Mission in Athabasca was formed by Bishop Farrand the year after Bishop Tache's visit to Fort Chipewyan, about A.D. 1849, he being then a missionary priest. Bishop Farrand established other missions on Peace River, and went as far north as Fort Resolution, on Great Slave Lake. He died in 1890, and was succeeded by our guest, Bishop Grouard, O.M.I., Eveque d'Ibora, the present occupant of the See of Athabasca and Mackenzie River. This prelate was born at Le Mans, in France, and was educated there, but finished his education in Quebec. He was ordained by Bishop Tache, near Montreal, in 1862, and was sent at once to Chipewyan, where he learnt the difficult language of the natives in a year. He has worked at many points, and perhaps no man in all the North, with the exception of Archdeacon Macdonald, or the late Anglican Bishop Bompas, has or had as accurate a knowledge of the great Dene race, with its numerous subdivisions of Chipewyans, Beavers, Yellow Knives, Dog Ribs, Slaves, Nahanies, Rabbit Skins, Loucheaux, or Squint Eyes (so named from the prevalence of strabismus amongst them), and of other tribes. All these were at one time not only at war with the Crees, but with each other, with the exception of the Slaves, who were always a tame and meek-spirited race, and were often subjected to and treated like dogs by the others. Indeed they were called by the Crees, Awughkanuk, meaning "cattle."] In line with the fort buildings, and facing the lake, stood a row of whitewashed cottages, all giving the place, with its environs, deeply indented shore and rugged spits of red granite, the quaint appearance of some secluded fishing village on the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

In sight, but above the bay, was the trading-post of Colin Fraser, whose father, the McCrimmon of the North-West, was Sir George Simpson's piper. The late Chief-factor Camsell, of Fort Simpson, and myself paddled up to it, and were most hospitably entertained by Mr. Fraser and his agreeable family. His father's bagpipes, still in excellent order, were speedily brought out, and it was interesting to handle them, for they had heralded the approach of the autocratic little Governor to many an inland post from Hudson's Bay to Fraser River, over seventy years before.

Several days were spent at the fort taking declarations, but, unlike Vermilion or Dunvegan, there were few large families here, the applicants being mainly young people. The agricultural resources of this region of rocks are certainly meagre compared with those of Peace River. Potatoes, where there is any available soil, grow to a good size; barley was nearly ripe when we were there, and wheat ripens, too. But, of course, it is not a farming region, nor are fish plentiful at the west end of the lake, the Athabasca River, which enters there, giving for over twenty miles eastward a muddy hue to the water. The rest of the lake is crystal clear, and whitefish are plentiful, also lake trout, which are caught up to thirty, and even forty, pounds' weight.

The distance from Fort Chipewyan to Fond du Lac is about 185 miles, but the lake extends over 75 miles farther eastward in a narrow arm, giving a total length of about 300 miles, the greatest width being about 50 miles. The whole eastern portion of the lake is a desolate scene of primitive rock and scrub pine, with many quartz exposures, which are probably mineralized, but with no land, not even for a garden. The scenery, however, from Black Bay to Fond du Lac is very beautiful, consisting largely of islands as diversified and as numerous as the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence. These extremely solitary spots should be, one would think, the breeding-grounds of the pelican, though it is said this bird really breeds on islands in the Great Slave River. If disturbed by man it is reputed to destroy its young and desert the place at once.

The Barren Ground reindeer migrate to the east end of this lake in October, and return in March or April, but this is not certain. Sometimes they unaccountably forsake their old migratory routes, causing great suffering, in consequence, to the Indians. Moose frequent the region, too, but are not numerous, whilst land game, such as prairie chickens, ptarmigan, and a grouse resembling the "fool-hen," is rather plentiful.

The Indians of Fond du Lac are healthy, though somewhat uncleanly in their habits, and fond of dress, which is that of the white man, their women being particularly well dressed.

As an agricultural country the region has no value whatever; but its mineral resources, when developed, may prove to be rich and profitable. Mining projects were already afoot in the country, but far to the north on Great Slave Lake.

What was known as the "Helpman Party" was formed in England by Captain Alene, who died of pneumonia in December, 1898, three days after his arrival at Edmonton. The party consisted of a number of retired army officers, including Viscount Avonmore, with a considerable capital, $50,000 of which was expended. They brought some of their outfit from England, but completed it at Edmonton, and thence went overland late in the spring. But sleighing being about over, they got to Lesser Slave Lake with great difficulty, and there the party broke up, Mr. Helpman and others returning to England, whilst Messrs. Jeffries and Hall Wright, Captain Hall, and Mr. Simpson went on to Peace River Crossing. From there they descended to Smith's Portage, on the Great Slave River, and wintered at Fort Resolution, on Great Slave Lake.

In the following spring they were joined by Mr. McKinlay, the Hudson's Bay Company's agent at the Portage, and he, accompanied by Messrs. Holroyd and Holt, who had joined the party at Smith's Landing, and by Mr. Simpson, went off on a prospecting tour through the north-east portion of Great Slave Lake, staking, en route, a number of claims, some of which were valuable, others worthless. The untruthful statements, however, of one of the party, who represented even the worst of the claims as of fabulous value, brought the whole enterprise into disrepute. The members of the party mentioned returned to England ostensibly to raise capital to develop their claims, but nothing came of it, not because minerals of great value do not exist there, but on account of remoteness and the difficulties of transport.

In 1898 another party was formed in Chicago, called "The Yukon Valley Prospecting and Mining Company," its chief promoters being a Mr. Willis and a Mr. Wollums of that city. The capital stock was put at a quarter of a million dollars, twenty-five thousand dollars being paid up. These organizers interested thirty-three other men in the enterprise, the agreement being that these should go to Dawson at the expense of the stockholders, and locate mining claims there, a half-interest in all of which was to be transferred to the company. These men proceeded to Calgary, and outfitted for Dawson, which they wished to reach by ascending the Peace River. At Calgary they were fortunate in procuring as leader a gentleman of large experience in the North, W. J. McLean, Esq., a retired Chief-factor of the Hudson's Bay Company, who pointed out the difficulties of such a route, and recommended, instead, a possible one via Great Slave Lake and the Mackenzie River to Fort Simpson, and thence up the Liard River to the height of land at or near Francis Lake, and so down the Pelly River and on to Dawson.

In February the party, led by him, left Edmonton with 160 ponies, sleds and sleighs, loaded with supplies, and proceeded, by an extremely difficult forest trail, to Lesser Slave Lake. They had no feed for the horses, save what they drew, and, of course, they reached the lake completely exhausted. Here, by Mr. McLean's advice, they sold the horses, and with the proceeds hired local freighters to carry them and their supplies to Peace River Crossing, where boats were built in which the party, with the exception of one of the organizers, Mr. Willis, who had returned in high dudgeon to Chicago, set out for Great Slave Lake. Before getting to Fort Resolution, Mr. McLean got private information from a former servant of his at that post, which led to an expedition to the north-east end of the lake, where he made valuable finds of copper and other minerals. Another trip was made, and additional claims were taken, and on Mr. McLean's return with a lot of samples of ore, he with another prospector, came out, and proceeded to Chicago. His samples were tested there and in Winnipeg, and yielded in copper from 11 to 32 per cent.; and the galena 60 ozs. of silver to the ton. Other minerals, such as sulphur, coal, asphalt, petroleum, iron and salt were discovered, all of great promise, and his opinion is that when transport is extended to that region, it will prove to be a great storehouse of mineral wealth.

The other members of the party had at various times and places separated, some going here and some there; but all eventually left the country, and the company died a natural death. But Mr. McLean is not only a firm believer in the mineral wealth of the North, but in its resources otherwise. There are extensive areas of large timber, and the lakes swarm with fish. The soil on the Liard River is excellent, and he tells me that not only wheat but Indian corn will ripen there, as he himself grew both successfully when in charge of that district.

The mining enterprises referred to fell through, but I have described them at some length since they are very interesting as being the first attempts at prospecting with a view to development in those remote regions. Failure, of course, at such a distance from transport and supplies, was inevitable. But some of the prospectors, Captain Hall and others who came out with ourselves, seemed to have no doubt that much of the country they explored is rich in minerals. Indeed, should the ancient repute of the Coppermine River be justified by exploration, perhaps the most extensive lodes on the continent will yet be discovered there.

If the Hudson's Bay route were developed, a short line of rail from the western end of Chesterfield Inlet would tap the mining regions prospected, and develop many great resources at present dormant. The very moss of the Barren Lands may yet prove to be of value, and be shipped to England as a fertilizer. I have been told by a gentleman who has travelled in Alaska that an enterprising American there is preparing to collect and ship moss to Oregon, where it will be fermented and used as a fertilizer in the dairy industry.

To return to Lake Athabasca. It seemed at one time to have been the rallying-place of the great Tine or Dene race, to which, with the exception of the Crees, the Loucheaux, perhaps, and the Esquimaux, all the Indians of the entire country belong. It is said to have been a traditional and central point, such as Onondaga Lake was to the Iroquois.

It is noticeable that, in the nomenclature of the various Indians of the continent, the names by which they were known amongst themselves generally meant men, "original men," or people; e.g., the Lenni Lenape of the Delawares, with its equivalent, the Anishinape of the Saulteaux, and the Naheowuk of the Crees. It is also the meaning of the word Dene, the generic name of a race as widely sundered, if not as widely spread, as the Algonquin itself.

The Chipewyan of Lake Athabasca speaks the same tongue as the Apache of Arizona, the Navajo of Sonora, the Hoopa of Oregon, and the Sarcee of Alberta. The word Apache has the same root-meaning as the word Dene though that fierce race was also called locally the Shisindins, namely, "The Forest People," doubtless from its original habitat in this region.

Owing to the agglutinative character of the aboriginal languages, numbering over four hundred, some philologists are inclined to attribute them all to a common origin, the Basque tongue being one of the two or three in Europe which have a like peculiarity. In the languages of the American Indians one syllable is piled upon another, each with a distinct root-significance, so that a single word will often contain the meaning of an ordinary English sentence. This polysynthetic character undoubtedly does point to a common origin, just as the Indo-European tongues trace back to Sanskrit. But whether this is indicative of the ancient unity of the American races, whose languages differed in so many other respects, and whose characteristics were so divergent, is another question.

One interesting impression, begot of our environment, was that we were now emphatically in what might be called "Mackenzie's country." In his "General History of the Fur-Trade," published in London in 1801, Sir Alexander tells us that, after spending five years in Mr. Gregory's office in Montreal, he went to Detroit to trade, and afterwards, in 1785, to the Grand Portage (Fort William).

The first traders, he tells us, had penetrated to the Athabasca, via Methy Portage, as early as 1791, and in 1783-4 the merchants of Lower Canada united under the name of The North-West Company, the two Frobishers—Joseph Frobisher had traded on the Churchill River as early as 1775 and Simon McTavish being managers. The Company, he says, "was consolidated in July, 1787," and became very powerful in more ways than one, employing, at the time he wrote, over 1,400 men, including 1,120 canoemen. "It took four years from the time the good, were ordered until the furs were sold;" but, of course, the profits, compared with the capital invested, were very great, until the strife deepened between the Montrealers. and the Hudson's Bay Company, whose first inland post was only established at Sturgeon River, Cumberland Lake, in 1774, by the adventurous, if not over-valiant, Samuel Hearne. The rivalries of these two companies nearly ruined both, until they got rid of them by uniting in 1821, when the Nor'-Westers became as vigorous defenders of King Charles's Charter as they had before been its defiers and defamers.

Fort Chipewyan was established, Mackenzie says, by Mr. Pond, in 1788, the year after his own arrival at the Athabasca, where, by the way, in the fall of 1787, he describes Mr. Pond's garden at his post on that river as being "as fine a kitchen garden as he ever saw in Canada." Fort Chipewyan, however, though not established by Mackenzie, was his headquarters for eight years. From here he set out in June, 1789, on his canoe voyage to the Arctic Ocean, and from here in October, 1792, he started on his voyage up the Peace River on his way to the Pacific coast, which he reached the following year.

In his history he states: "When the white traders first ventured into this country both tribes were numerous, but smallpox destroyed them." And, speaking of the region at large, he, perhaps, throws an incidental side-light upon the Blackfoot question. "Who the original people were," he says, "that were driven from it when conquered by the Kinisteneaux (the Crees) is not now known, as not a single vestige remains of them. The latter and the Chipewyans are the only people that have been known here, and it is evident that the last mentioned consider themselves as strangers, and seldom remain longer than three or four years without visiting their friends and relatives in the Barren Grounds, which they term their native country."

[It is a reasonable conjecture that these "original people," driven from Athabasca in remote days, were the Blackfeet Indians and their kindred, who possibly had their base at that time, as in subsequent days, at the forks and on both branches of the Saskatchewan. The tradition was authentic in Dr. (afterwards Sir John) Richardson's time. Writing on the Saskatchewan eighty-eight years ago he places the Eascabs, "called by the Crees the Assinipoytuk, or Stone Indians, west of the Crees, between them and the Blackfeet." The Assiniboines are an offshoot of the great Sioux, or Dakota, race called by their congeners the Hohas, or "Rebels." They separated from their nation at a remote period owing to a quarrel, so the tradition runs, between children, and which was taken up by their parents. Migrating northward the Eascabs, as the Assiniboines called themselves, were gladly received and welcomed as allies by the Crees, with whom, as Dr. Richardson says, "they attacked and drove to the westward the former inhabitants of the banks of the Saskatchewan." "The nations," he continues, "driven westward by the Easeabs and Crees are termed by the latter Yatchee-thinyoowuc, translated Slave Indians, but properly 'Strangers.'" This word Yatchee is, of course, the Iyaghchi of the Crees in their name for Lesser Slave River and Lake. Richardson describes them as inhabiting the country round Fort Augustus and the foot of the Rockies, and "so numerous now as to be a terror to the Assiniboines themselves." They are divided, he says, into five nations, of whom the Fall Indians, so called from their former residence at Cole's Falls, near the Forks of the Saskatchewan, were the most numerous, consisting of 500 tents, the Piegans of 400, the Blackfeet of 350, the Bloods of 300, and the Sarcees of 150, the latter tribe being a branch of the Chipewyans which, having migrated like their congeners, the Apaches, from the north, joined the Crees as allies, just as the Assiniboines did from the south.]

Besides Mackenzie's, another name, renowned in the tragic annals of science, is inseparably connected with this region, viz., that of Franklin, who has already been incidentally referred to. Others recur to one, but these two great names are engrained, so to speak, in the North, and cannot be lightly passed over in any descriptive work. The two explorers were friends, or, at any rate, acquaintances; and, before leaving England, Franklin had a long conversation in London with Mackenzie, who died shortly afterwards. The record of his "Journey to the Shores of the Polar Ocean," accompanied by Doctor Richardson and Midshipmen Back and Hood, in the years 1819-20-21 and '22, practically began at York Factory in August of the former year. The rival companies were still at war, and in making the portage at the Grand Rapids of the Saskatchewan, with a party of Hudson's Bay Company traders, "they advanced," he says, "armed, and with great caution." When he returned on the 14th July, 1822, to York, the warring companies had united, and he and his friends were met there by Governor Simpson, Mr. McTavish, and all the united partners, after a voyage by water and land of over 5,500 miles. Franklin spent part of the winter at Cumberland post, which had been founded to counteract the rivalry of Montreal. "Before that time," he says, "the natives took their furs to Hudson's Bay, or sold to the French Canadian traders, who," he adds, "visited this part of the country as early as 1697." If so, the credit for the discovery of the Saskatchewan has been wrongly given to the Chevalier, as he was called, a son of Varenne, Sieur de la Varendrye.

Franklin left Cumberland in January, 1820, by dog train for Chipewyan, via Fort Carlton and Green Lake. Fort Carlton was the great food supply post, then and long afterwards, of the Hudson's Bay Company, buffalo and wapiti being very abundant. The North-West Company's fort, called La Montee, was three miles beyond Carlton, and harbored seventy French Canadians and sixty women and children, who consumed seven hundred pounds of meat daily, the ration being eight pounds. This post was at that time in charge of Mr. Hallett, a forebear, if I mistake not, of my old friend, William Hallett, leader of the English Plain Hunt, and a distinguished loyalist in the rebellion of 1869.

Franklin and Back left Fort Carlton on the 8th February, and reached Green Lake on the 17th. The North-West Company's post at the lake was managed by Dugald Cameron, and that of the Hudson's Bay Company by a Mr. MacFarlane, and, having been equipped at both posts with carioles, sledges and provisions, they left "under a fusillade from the half-breed women." From the end of the lake they followed for a short distance a small river, then "crossed the woods to Beaver River, and proceeding along it, passed the mouths of two rivers, the latter of which, they were told, was a channel by which the Indians go to Lesser Slave Lake." On the 11th of March they reached Methy Lake—so called from an unwholesome fish of the burbot species found there, only the liver of which is fit to eat—crossed the Methy portage on the 13th, and, amidst a chaos of vast ravines and the wildest of scenery, descended the next day to the Clearwater River. Thence they followed the Indian trail on the north bank, passing a noted scene, "a romantic defile of limestone rocks like Gothic ruins," and, crossing a small stream, found pure sulphur deposited by springs and smelling very strongly. On the 17th they got to the junction of the Clearwater with the Athabasca, where Port McMurray now stands, and next day reached the Pierre an Calumet post, in charge of a Mr. Stewart, who had twice crossed the mountains to the Pacific coast. The place got its name from a soft stone found there, of which the Indians made their pipes.

Franklin notes the "sulphurous springs" and "bituminous salt" in this region, also the statement of Mr. Stewart, who had a good thermometer, "that the lowest temperature he had ever witnessed in many years, either at the Athabasca or Great Slave Lake, was 45 degrees below zero," a statement worth recording here.

On the 26th of March the party arrived at Fort Chipewyan, the distance travelled from Cumberland House being 857 miles. He notes that at the time of his arrival the fort was very bare of both buffalo and moose meat, owing, it was said, to the trade rivalry, and that where some eight hundred packs of fur used to be shipped from that point, only one-half of that number was now sent. Liquor was largely used by both companies in trade, and scenes of riot and violence ensued upon the arrival of the Indians at the fort in spring, and whom he describes otherwise as "reserved and selfish, unhospitable and beggars, but honest and affectionate to children." They painted round the eyes, the cheek-bones and the forehead, and all the race, except the Dog Ribs and the Beavers, believed that their forefathers came from the East. The Northern Indians, Franklin says, suppose that they originally sprang from a dog, and about A.D. 1815 they destroyed all their dogs, and compelled their women to take their place. Their chiefs seemed to have no power save over their own families, and their conjurers were supported by voluntary contributions of provisions. These are some of the chief characteristics Franklin notes of the Indians who frequented Fort Chipewyan, at which point he spent several months. One extraordinary circumstance, however, remains to be mentioned. It is that of a young Chipewyan who lost his wife in her first pregnancy. He applied the child to his left breast, from which a flow of milk took place. "The breast," he adds, "became of an unusual size." Here he and Back, afterwards Admiral Back, were joined by Dr. Richardson and Mr. Hood, who had come from Cumberland House by the difficult Churchill River route, and on July 18th, at noon, the whole party left the fort on their tragic expedition, the party, aside from those named, consisting of John Hepburn, seaman, an interpreter and fifteen voyageurs, including, unfortunately, an Iroquois Indian, called Michel Teroahante. At two p.m. they entered Great Slave River, here three-quarters of a mile wide, and, passing Red Deer Islands and Dog River, encountered the rapids, overcome by seven or eight portages, from the Casette to the Portage of the Drowned, all varying in length from seventy to eight hundred yards.

On the 21st they landed at the mouth of Salt River to lay in a supply of salt for their journey, the deposits lying twenty-two miles up by stream. These natural pans, or salt plains, he describes—and the description answers for to-day—as "bounded on the north and west by a ridge between six and seven hundred feet high." Several salt springs issue at its foot, and spread over the plain, which is of tenacious clay, and, evaporating in summer, crystallize in the form of cubes. The poisson inconnu, a species of salmon which ascends from the Arctic Ocean, is not found, he says, above this stream. A few miles below it, however, a buffalo plunged into the river before them, which they killed, and those animals still frequent the region.

On the 25th of July they passed through the channel of the Scaffold to Great Slave Lake, and, landing at Moose Deer Island, found thereon the rival forts, of course, within striking distance of each other, and in charge, as usual, of rival Scotsmen. At Great Slave Lake I must part company with Franklin's Journal, since our own negotiations only extended to its south shores. But who that has read it can ever forget the awful return journey of the party from the Arctic coast, through the Barren Lands, to their own winter quarters, which they so aptly named Fort Resolution? In the tales of human suffering from hunger there are few more terrible than this. All the gruesome features of prolonged starvation were present; the murder of Mr. Hood and two of the voyageurs by the Iroquois; his bringing to the camp a portion of human flesh, which he declared to be that of a wolf; his death at the Doctor's hands; the dog-like diet of old skins, bones, leather pants, moccasins, tripe de roche; the death of Peltier and Semandre from want, and the final relief of the party by Akaitcho's Indians, and their admirable conduct. And all those horrors experienced over five hundred miles beyond Fort Chipewyan, itself thousands of miles beyond civilization! Did the noble Franklin's last sufferings exceed even these? Perhaps; but they are unrecorded.

To return to our muttons. Some marked changes had taken place, and for the better, in Chipewyan characteristics since Franklin's day; not surprising, indeed, after eighty years of contact with educated, or reputable, white men; for miscreants, like the old American frontiersmen, were not known in the country, and if they had been, would soon have been run out. There was now no paint or "strouds" to be seen, and the blanket was confined to the bed. In fact, the Indians and half-breeds of Athabasca Lake did not seem to differ in any way from those of the Middle and Upper Peace River, save that the former were all hunters and fishermen, pure and simple, there being little or no agriculture. It was impossible to study the manners and customs of the aborigines, since we had no time to observe them closely. They have their legends and traditions and remnants of ceremonies, much of which is upon record, and they cherish, especially, some very curious beliefs. One, in particular, we were told, obtained amongst them, namely, that the mastodon still exists in the fastnesses of the Upper Mackenzie. They describe it as a monster many times larger than the buffalo, and they dread going into the parts it is supposed to haunt. This singular opinion may be the survival of a very old tradition regarding that animal, but is more likely due to the presence of its remains in the shape of tusks and bones found here and there throughout the Mackenzie River district and the Yukon.

[A similar belief, it is said, exists amongst the Indians of the Yukon. The remains of the primeval elephant are exceedingly abundant in the tundras of Siberia, and a considerable trade in mammoth ivory has been carried on between that region and England for many years. It is supposed that the Asian elephant advanced far to the North during the interglacial period and perished in the recurrent glacial epoch. Its American congener, the mastodon, found its way from Asia to this continent during the Drift period, when, it is believed, land communication existed in what is now Bering's Strait, and perished in a like manner. It was not a sudden but a gradual extinction in their native habitats, due to natural causes, such as encroaching ice and other material changes in the animals' environment. This, I believe, is the accepted scientific opinion of to-day. But the fact that these animals are at times exposed entire by the falling away of ice-cliffs or ledges, their flesh being quite fresh and fit food for dogs, and even men, opens up a very interesting field of inquiry and conjecture. In the bowels of a mammoth recently revealed in North-Eastern Siberia vegetable food was found, probably tropical, at all events unknown to the botany of to-day. The foregoing facts seem to be at variance with the doctrine of Uniformity, or with anything like a slow process. The entombment of these animals must have been very sudden, and due, one would naturally think, to a tremendous cataclysm followed by immediate freezing, else their flesh would have become tainted. A recent English writer predicts another deluge owing to the constant accumulation of ice at the Antarctic Pole, which for untold ages has been attracting and freezing the waters of the Northern Hemisphere. A lowering process, he says, has thus been going on in the ocean levels to the north through immeasurable time, its record being the ancient water-marks now high up on the mountain sides of British Columbia and elsewhere. It is certainly not unthinkable that, if subject to such a displacement of its centre of gravity, our planet at some inconceivably remote period capsized, so that what were before the Tropics became the Poles, and that such a catastrophe is not only possible but is certain to happen again. As a conjecture it may be unscientific; but how many of the accepted theories of science have ceased to be! As a matter of fact, she has been very busy burying her dead, particularly of late years, and her theory of the extinction of the primeval elephant may yet prove to be one of them.]

On the 9th the steamer Grahame arrived from Smith's Landing, bringing with her about 120 baffled Klondikers, returning to the United States, there being still some sixty more, they said, down the Mackenzie River, who intended to make their way out, if possible, before winter. They had a solitary woman with them who had discarded a duffer husband, and who looked very self-reliant, indeed, being girt about with bowie-knife and revolver, but otherwise not alarming.

It was certainly a motley crowd, and some of its members by no means honest. Chief-factor Camsell, who had just come from Fort Simpson, told me they had stolen from every house where they had a chance, and mentioned, amongst other things, a particularly ungrateful theft of a whip-saw from a native's cabin shortly after an Indian had, with much pains, overtaken them with a similar one, which they had lost on the trail. Their departure, therefore, was not lamented, and the natives were glad to get rid of them.

We ourselves boarded the steamer for Fort McMurray on the 11th, but, owing to bad weather, did not get off till midday, and even then the lake was so rough that we had to anchor for a while in the lee of an island. Colin Fraser had started ahead of us with his big scow and cargo of furs, valued at $15,000, and kept ahead with his fine crew of ten expert trackers. When the weather calmed we steamed across to the entrance of one of the various channels connecting the Athabasca River with the lake, and soon found ourselves skirting the most extensive marshes and feeding-grounds for game in all Canada; a delta renowned throughout the North for its abundance of waterfowl, far surpassing the St. Clair flats, or any other region in the East.

Next morning, upon rounding a point, three full-grown moose were seen ahead, swimming across the river. An exciting, and even hazardous, scene ensued on board, the whole Klondike crowd firing, almost at random, hundreds of shots without effect. Two of the noble brutes kept on, and reached the shore, disappearing in the woods; but the third, a three year-old bull moose, foolishly turned, and lost its life in consequence. It was hauled on deck, bled and flayed, and was a welcome addition to the steamer's table.

That night a concert was improvised on deck, in which the music-hall element came to the front. But one speedily tired of the "Banks of the Wabash," and other ditties; in fact, we were burning to get to Fort McMurray, where we expected letters and papers from the outer world and home, and nothing else could satisfy us. By evening we had passed Burnt Point, also Poplar Point, where the body of an unfortunate, called Patterson, who had been drowned in one of the rapids above, was recovered in spring by some Indians, the body being completely enclosed in a transparent coffin of ice. On the following day we passed Little Red River, and next morning reached the fort, where, to our infinite joy, we received the longed-for letters and papers—our first correspondence from the far East.

Fort McMurray consisted of a tumble-down cabin and trading-store on the top of a high and steep bank, which had yet been flooded at times, the people seeking shelter on an immense hill which overlooked it. Above an island close by is the discharge of the Clearwater River, the old canoe route by which the supplies for the district used to come, via Isle a la Crosse. At McMurray we left the steamer and took to our own boats, our Commission occupying one, and Mr. Laird and party the other. The trackers got into harness at once, and made very good time for some miles, the current not being too swift just here for fast traveling.



Chapter IX

The Athabasca River Region.

We were now traversing perhaps the most interesting region in all the North. In the neighbourhood of McMurray there are several tar-wells, so called, and there, if a hole is scraped in the bank, it slowly fills in with tar mingled with sand. This is separated by boiling, and is used, in its native state, for gumming canoes and boats. Farther up are immense towering banks, the tar oozing at every pore, and underlaid by great overlapping dykes of disintegrated limestone, alternating with lofty clay exposures, crowned with poplar, spruce and pine. On the 15th we were still following the right bank, and, anon, past giant clay escarpments along it, everywhere streaked with oozing tar, and smelling like an old ship.

These tar cliffs are here hundreds of feet high, of a bold and impressive grandeur, and crowned with firs which seem dwarfed to the passer-by. The impregnated clay appears to be constantly falling off the almost sheer face of the slate-brown cliffs, in great sheets, which plunge into the river's edge in broken masses. The opposite river bank is much more depressed, and is clothed with dense forest.

The tar, whatever it may be otherwise, is a fuel, and burned in our camp-fires like coal. That this region is stored with a substance of great economic value is beyond all doubt, and, when the hour of development comes, it will, I believe, prove to be one of the wonders of Northern Canada. We were all deeply impressed by this scene of Nature's chemistry, and realized what a vast storehouse of not only hidden but exposed resources we possess in this enormous country. What is unseen can only be conjectured; but what is seen would make any region famous. We now came once more to outcrops of limestone in regular layers, with disintegrated masses overlying them, or sandwiched between their solid courses. A lovely niche, at one point, was scooped out of the rock, over the coping of which poured a thin sheet of water, evidently impregnated with mineral, and staining the rock down which it poured with variegated tints of bronze, beautified by the morning sun.

With characteristic grandeur the bends of the river "shouldered" into each other, giving the expanses the appearance of lakelets; and after a succession of these we came to the first rapid, "The Mountain"—Watchikwe Powistic—so called from a peak at its head, which towered to a great height above the neighbouring banks. The rapid extends diagonally across the river in a low cascade, with a curve inward towards the left shore. It was decided to unload and make the portage, and a very ticklish one it was. The boats, of course, had to be hauled up stream by the trackers, and grasping their line I got safely over, and was thankful. How the trackers managed to hold on was to me a mystery; but the steep and slippery bank was mere child's play to them. The right bank, from its break and downward, bears a very thick growth of alders, and here we found the wild onion, and a plant resembling spearmint.

In the evening we reached the next rapid, called the Cascades—Nepe Kabatekik—"Where the water falls," and camping there, we had a symposium in our tent, which I could not enjoy, having headache and heartburn, a nasty combination. The 16th was the hottest day of the season—a hard one on the trackers, who now pulled along walls of solid limestone, perpendicular or stepped, or wrought into elaborate cornices, as if by the art of some giant stonecutter. At one place we came to a lovely little rideau, and on the opposite shore were two curious caves, scooped out of the rock, and supported by Egyptian-like columns wrought by the age-action of water.

Towards evening we reached the Crooked Rapid—Kahwakak o Powestik—and here the portage path followed on the summit of the limestone rampart, which the viscous gumbo-slides made almost impassable in rainy weather, and indeed very dangerous, forming, at the time we passed, pits of mud and broken masses of half-hard clay, along the very verge of the wall of rock, likely at any moment to give way and precipitate one into the raging torrent below. At other parts the path was jammed out to the wall-edge, to be stepped round with a gulp in the throat. But these and other features of a like interesting character, though a lively experience to the tenderfoot, were of no account whatever to those wonderful trackers. At one of the worst spots I was hesitating as to how and where I should step next, when a carrier, returning for his load, seeing my fix, humped his back with a laugh and gave me a lift over.

We camped for the night below a point where the river makes a sharp bend, parallel with its course. This we surmounted in the morning, following a rounded wall of limestone, for all the world like a decayed rampart of some ancient city. A wide floor of rock at its base made beautiful walking to a place where the lofty escarpment showed exposures of limestone underlying an enormous mass of dark sandstone, topped by tar-clay. It is a portentous cliff, bearing a curiously Eastern look, as if some great pyramid had been riven vertically, and the exposed surface scarred and scooped by the weather into a multitude of antic hollows, grotesque projections, and unimaginable shapes. Here, also, the knives of passers-by had carved numerous autographs, marring the majestic cliff with their ludicrous incongruity. Are we not all sinners in this way? "John Jones," cut into a fantastic buttress which would fittingly adorn a wizard's temple, may be a poor exhibit of human vanity; but, after all, the real John Jones is more imperishable than the rock, which seems scaling, anyway, from the top, and may, by and by, carry the inscriptions with it. It was hard to tear one's self away from such a wonderful structure as this, the most striking feature of its kind on the whole river.

Farther on, escarped banks, consisting of boulders and pebbles imbedded in tenacious clay, rose to a great height, their tops clothed with rich moss, and wooded with a close growth of pine, the hollows being full of delicious raspberries, now dead ripe.

By and by we encountered the Long Rapids—Kaukinwauk Powestik—and, some hours afterwards, entered the Middle Rapid—Tuwao Powestik—the worst we had yet come to, full of boulders and sharp rocks, with a strong current. Very dexterous management was required here on the part of steersman and bowman; a snapt line or a moment's neglect, and a swing to broadside would have followed, and spelled ruin.

It was evening before this rapid was surmounted, and all hands, dog-tired with the long day's pull, were glad to camp at the foot of the Boiler Rapid, the next in our ascent, and so called from the wrecking of a scow containing a boiler for one of the Hudson's Bay Company's steamers. It was the most uncomfortable of camps, the night being close, and filled with the small and bloodthirsty Athabasca mosquito, by all odds the most vicious of its kind. This rapid is strewn with boulders which show above water, making it a very "nice" and toilsome thing to steer and track a boat safely over it, but the tracking path itself is stony and firm, a fortunate thing at such a place. There are no exposures of rock at the foot of this rapid; but along its upper part runs a ledge of asphalt-like rock as smooth as a street pavement, with an outer edge as neatly rounded as if done with a chisel. This was the finest bit of tracking path on the river, excepting, perhaps, the great pavement beneath the cliff at the Long Rapids.

In this region the river scenery changes to a succession of cut-banks, exposed in all directions, and in almost all situations. Immense towering hills of sand, or clay, are cut down vertically, some facing the river, others at right angles to it, and others inland, and almost inclosed by projecting shoulders of the wooded heights. These cut-banks carry layers of stone here and there, and are specked with boulders, and in some places massed into projecting crests, which threaten destruction to the passer-by. Otherwise the scenery is desolate, mountainous always, and wooded, but with much burnt timber, which gives a dreary look to the region. The cut-banks are unique, however, and would make the fortune of an Eastern river, though here little noticed on account of their number.

It was now the 18th, and the weather was intensely hot, foreboding change and the August freshet. We had camped about eight miles below the Burnt Rapid, and the men were very tired, having been in the water pretty much since morning. Directly opposite our camp was a colossal cliff of clay, around which, looking upward, the river bent sharply to the south-west, very striking as seen beneath an almost full moon breaking from a pile of snowy clouds, whilst dark and threatening masses gathered to the north. The early, foggy morning revealed the freshet. The river, which had risen during the night, and had forced the trackers from their beds to higher ground, was littered from bank to bank with floating trees, logs and stumps, lifted from many a drift up stream, and borne down by the furious current. At one of the short breathing spells the water rose two inches in twenty minutes, and the tracking became exceedingly bad, the men floundering to their waists in water, or footing it insecurely on steep and slippery ledges along the water's marge. About mid-day the anticipated change took place in the weather. Thick clouds closed in with a driving rain and a high raw wind, presaging the end of summer.

It was now, of course, very bad going, and camp was made, in the heavy rain, on a high flat about two miles below the Burnt Rapid. Though a tough spot to get up to, the flat proved to be a prime place for our camp, with plenty of dead fallen and standing timber, and soon four or five "long fires" were blazing, a substantial supper discussed, and comfort succeeded misery. The next day (Sunday) was much enjoyed as a day of rest, the half-breeds at their beloved games, the officials writing letters. The weather was variable; the clouds broke and gathered by turns, with slight rain towards evening, and then it cleared. As a night camp it was picturesque, the full moon in the south gleaming over the turbid water, and the boatmen lounging around the files like so many brigands.

Next morning we surmounted the Brule Rapid—Pusitao Powestik—short but powerful, with a sharp pointed rock at its head, very troublesome to get around. Above this rapid the bank consists of a solid, vertical rampart of red sandstone, its base and top and every crack and crevice clothed with a rich vegetation—a most beautiful and striking scene, forming a gigantic amphitheatre, concentred by the seeming closing-in of the left bank at Point Brule upon the long straight line of sandstone wall on the right. Nothing finer, indeed, could be imagined in all this remarkable river's remarkable scenery than this impressive view, not from jutting peaks, for the sky-line of the banks runs parallel with the water, but from the antique grandeur of their sweep and apparent junction.

That afternoon we rounded Point Brule, a high, bold cliff of sandstone with three "lop-sticks" upon its top. The Indian's lop-stick, called by the Cree piskootenusk, is a sort of living talisman which he connects in some mysterious way with his own fate, and which he will often go many miles out of his direct course to visit. Even white men fall in with the fetish, and one of the three we saw was called "Lambert's lop-stick." I myself had one made for me by Gros Oreilles, the Saulteau Chief, nearly forty years ago, in the forest east of Pointe du Chene, in what is now Manitoba. They are made by stripping a tall spruce tree of a deep ring of branches, leaving the top and bottom ones intact. The tree seems to thrive all the same, and is a very noticeable, and not infrequent, object throughout the whole Thickwood Indian country.

Just opposite the cliff referred to, the Little Buffalo, a swift creek, enters between two bold shoulders of hills, and on its western side are the wonderful gas springs. The "amphitheatre," sweeps around to, and is cloven by, that stream, its elevation on the west side being lofty, and deeply grooved from its summit downward, the whole locality at the time of our visit being covered with raspberry bushes loaded with fruit.

The gas escapes from a hole in the ground near the water's edge in a pillar of flame about thirty inches high, and which has been burning time out of mind. It also bubbles, or, rather, foams up, for several yards in the river, rising at low water even as far out as mid-stream. There is a level plateau at the springs, several acres in extent, backed by a range of hills, and if a stake is driven anywhere into this, and withdrawn, the gas, it is said, follows at once. They are but another unique feature of this astonishing stream.

For a long distance the upper prairie level exposes good soil, always clay loam, and there can be little doubt that there is much fertile land in this district. That night we slept, or tried to sleep, in the boat, and made a very early start on a raw, cloudy morning, the tracking being mainly in the water. We now passed great cliffs of sandstone, some almost shrouded in the woods, and came upon many peculiar circular stones, as large as, and much resembling, mill-stones. Towards evening we passed Pointe la Biche, and met Mr. Connor, a trader, with two loaded York boats, going north, and whom we silently blessed, for he brought additional mail for ourselves. What can equal the delight in the wilderness of hearing from home! It was impossible to make Grand Rapids, and we camped where we were, the night cold and raw, but enlivened by the reading and re-reading of letters and newspapers.

Next morning, crossing the right bank of the river, and leaving the boat, we walked to the foot of Grand Rapids. Our path, if it could be called such, lay over a toilsome jumble of huge, sharp-edged rocks, overhung by a beetling cliff of reddish-yellow sandstone, much of which seemed on the point of falling. This whole bank, like so much of this part of the river, is planted, almost at regular intervals, with the great circular rocks already referred to. These globular or circular masses are a curious feature of this region. They have been shaped, no doubt, by the action of eddying water, yet are so numerous, and so much alike, as to bespeak some abnormally uniform conditions in the past.

The Grand Rapids—Kitchi Powestik—the most formidable on the river, are divided by a narrow, wooded island, over a quarter of a mile in length, upon which the Hudson's Bay Company have a wooden tramway, the cars being pushed along by hand. Towards the foot of the island is a smaller one near the left shore, and here is the larger cascade, a very violent rapid, with a fall from the crest to the foot of the island of thirty feet, more or less. The narrower passage is to the right of the island, and is called the "Free Traders' Channel." The river, in full freshet, was very muddy-looking, detracting much from the beauty of the rapids.

The Hudson's Bay Company have storehouses at each end of the tramway, but for their own use only. Free traders have to portage their supplies over a very rough path beneath the cliffs. Both banks of the river are of sandstone, capped on the left by a wall of cream-coloured rock, seventy or eighty feet in height, at a guess. A creek comes in from the west which has cloven the sandstone bank almost to the water's edge; and running along the top of these sandstone formations are, everywhere, thick layers of coal, which is also found, in a great bed, on the opposite shore, and about three miles back from the river. The coal had been used by a trapper there, and is a good burner and heater, leaving little ash or clinker. These coal beds seem to extend in all directions, on both sides of the river, and underlie a very large extent of country. The inland country for some eight or ten miles had been examined by Sergeant Anderson, of the Mounted Police post here, who described it as consisting of wide ridges, or tables, of first-rate soil, divided by shallow muskegs; a good farming locality, with abundance of large, merchantable spruce timber. Moose were plentiful in the region, and it was a capital one for marten, one white trapper, the winter before our visit, having secured over a hundred skins.

On the 25th we left our comfortable spruce beds and "long fires," and tracked on to House River, which we reached at nine a.m. Here there is a low-lying, desolate-looking, but memorable, "Point," neighboured by a concave sweep of bank. The House is a small tributary from the east, but very long, rising far inland; and here begins the pack-trail to Fort McMurray, about one hundred miles in length, and which might easily be converted into a waggon-road, as also another which runs to Lac la Biche. Both trails run through a good farming country, and the former waggon-road would avoid all the dangers and laborious rapids whose wearisome ascent has been described.

The Point itself is tragic ground, showing now but a few deserted cabins and some Indian graves—one of which had a white paling around it, the others being covered with gray cotton—which looked like little tents in the distance. These were the graves of an Indian and his wife and four children, who had pitched through from Lac la Biche to hunt, and who all died together of diphtheria in this lonely spot. But here, too, many years ago, a priest was murdered and eaten by a weeghteko, an Iroquois from Caughnawaga. The lunatic afterwards took an Indian girl into the depths of the forest, and, after cohabiting with her for some time, killed and devoured her. Upon the fact becoming known, and being pursued by her tribe, he fled to the scene of his horrible banquet, and there took his own life. Having rowed across the river for better tracking, as we crawled painfully along, the melancholy Point with its lonely graves, deserted cabins and cannibal legend receded into eerie distance and wrapped itself once more in congenial solitude.

The men continued tracking until ten a.m. much of the time wading along banks heavily overhung with alders, or along high, sheer walls of rock, up to the armpits in the swift current. The country passed through was one giant mass of forest, pine and poplar, resting generally upon loamy clay—a good agricultural country in the main, similar to many parts of Ontario when a wilderness.

We camped at the Joli Fou Rapids, having only made about fifteen miles. It was a beautiful spot, a pebbly shore, with fine open forest behind, evidently a favourite camping-place in winter. Next morning the trackers, having recrossed for better footing, got into a swale of the worst kind, which hampered them greatly, as the swift river was now at its height and covered with gnarled driftwood.

The foliage here and there showed signs of change, some poplars yellowing already along the immediate banks, and the familiar scent of autumn was in the air. In a word, the change so familiar in Manitoba in August had taken place here, to be followed by a balmy September and the fine fall weather of the North, said to surpass that of the East in mildness by day, though perhaps sharper by night. We were now but a few miles from the last obstruction, the Pelican Rapids, and pushed on in the morning along banks of a coal-like blackness, loose and friable, with thin cracks and fissures running in all directions, the forest behind being the usual mixture of spruce and poplar. By midday we were at the rapids, by no means formidable, but with a ticklish place or two, and got to Pelican Portage in the evening, where were several shanties and a Hudson's Bay freighting station. Here, too, is a well which was sunk for petroleum, but which struck gas instead, blowing up the borer. It was then spouting with a great noise like the blowing-off of steam, and, situated at such a distance from the shaft at the Landing and from the Point Brule spiracle described, indicated, throughout the district, available resources of light, heat and power so vast as almost to beggar imagining.

Mr. Ross having obtained on the 14th the adhesion of the Crees to the Treaty at Wahpooskow, it was now decided that the Scrip Commission should make the canoe trip to that lake, whilst Mr. Laird and party would go on to Athabasca Landing on their way home. Accordingly Matcheese—"The Teaser"—a noted Indian runner, was dispatched with our letters to the Landing, 120 miles up the river. This Indian, it was said, had once run from the Landing to Edmonton, ninety-five miles, in a single day, and had been known to carry 500 pounds over a portage in one load. I myself saw him shoulder 350 pounds of our outfit and start off with it over a rough path. He was slightly built, and could not have weighed much over nine stone, but was what he looked to be, a bundle of iron muscles and nerves.

On the 29th Mr. Laird and party bade us good-bye, and an hour later we set out on our interesting canoe trip to the Wahpooskow, a journey which led us into the heart of the interior, and proved to be one of the most agreeable of our experiences.



Chapter X

The Trip To Wahpooskow.

Our route lay first up the Pelican River, the Chachakew of the Crees, and then from the "divide" down the Wahpooskow watershed to the lake. We had six canoemen, and our journey began by "packing" our outfit over a four-mile portage, commencing with a tremendously long and steep hill, and ending on a beautiful bank of the Pelican, a fine brown stream about one hundred feet wide, where we found our canoes awaiting us, capital "Peterboroughs," in good order. Here also were a number of bark canoes, carrying the outfit of Mr. Ladoucere, a half-breed trader going up to Wahpooskow. Mr. Prudhomme and myself occupied one canoe, and with two experienced canoemen, Auger at the stern and Cardinal at the bow, we kept well up with the procession.

Where the channels are shallow, poles are used, which the men handled very dexterously, nicking in and out amongst the rocks and rapids in the neatest way; but in the main the propulsion was by our paddles, a delight to me, having been bred to canoeing from boyhood. We stopped for luncheon at a lovely "place of trees" overhanging a deep, dark, alluring pool, where we knew there were fish, but had no time to make a cast. So far the banks of the Pelican were of a moderate height, and the adjacent country evidently dry—a good soil, and berries very plentiful. Presently, between banks overhung with long grass, birch and alder, we entered a succession of the sweetest little rapids and riffles imaginable, the brown water dancing amongst the stones and boulders to its own music, and the rich rose-pink, cone-like tops of the water-vervain, now in bloom, dancing with it.

Our camp that night was a delightful one, amongst slender birch and spruce and pine, the ground covered with blueberries, partridge berries, and cranberries in abundance. The berries of the wolf-willow were also red-ripe, alluring, but bitter to the taste. It was really a romantic scene. Ladoucere had made his camp in a small glade opposite our own, the bend of the river being in front of us. The tall pines cast their long reflections on the water, our great fires gleamed athwart them, illuminating the under foliage of the birches with magical light, whilst the half-breeds, grouped around and silhouetted by the fires, formed a unique picture which lingers in the memory. We slept like tops that night beneath the stars, on a soft bed of berry bushes, and never woke until a thin morning rain sprinkling in our faces fetched us to our feet.

A good bacon breakfast and then to our paddles, the river-bends as graceful as ever, but with fewer rapids. At every turn we came upon luxuriant hay meadows, with generally heavy woods opposite them, the river showing the same easy and accessible shore, whilst now and then giant hoof-prints, a broken marge, and miry grass showed where a moose had recently sprawled up the bank. Nothing, indeed, could surpass the rich colour-tone of this delightful stream—an exquisite opaqueness even under the clouds; but, interfused with sunshine, like that rare and translucent brown spread by the pencil of a master.

As we were paddling along, the willows on shore suddenly parted, and an Indian runner appeared on the bank, who hailed us and, handing over a sack of mail with letters and papers for us all, sped off as suddenly as he came.

It was now the last day of August, raw and drizzly, and having paddled about ten miles through a like country, we came in sight of the Pelican Mountains to the west, and, later on, to a fork of the river called Muskeg Creek, above which our stream narrowed to about eighteen feet, but still deep and fringed with the same extensive hay meadows, and covered here and there with pond lilies, a few yellow ones still in bloom. By and by we reached Muskeg Portage, nearly a mile in length. The path lay at first through dry muskegs covered with blueberries, Labrador tea, and a dwarfed growth of birch, spruce, tamarac, and jackpine, but presently entered and ended in a fine upland wood, full of pea-vines, vetches and wild rose. This is characteristic of the country, muskegs and areas of rich soil alternating in all directions. The portage completed, we took to our canoes again, the stream of the same width, but very crooked, and still bordered by extensive and exceedingly rich hay meadows, which we were satisfied would yield four or five tons to the acre. Small haystacks were scattered along the route, being put up for ponies which haul supplies in winter from Pelican Landing to Wahpooskow.

The country passed through showed good soil wherever we penetrated the hay margin, with, of course, here and there the customary muskegs. The stream now narrowed into a passage deep but barely wide enough for our canoes, our course lying always through tall and luxuriant hay. At last we reached Pelican Lake, a pretty large sheet of water, about three miles across, the body of the lake extending to the south-west and north-east. We crossed it under sail and, landing at the "three mile portage," found a half-breed there with a cart and ponies, which took our outfit over in a couple of trips to Sandy Lake. A very strong headwind blowing, we camped there for the night.

This lake is the height of land, its waters discharging by the Wahpooskow River, whose northern part, miscalled the Loon, falls into the Peace River below Fort Vermilion. The lake is an almost perfect circle, ten or twelve miles in diameter, the water full of fibrous growths, with patches of green scum afloat all over it. Nevertheless, it abounds in pike, dory, and tullabees, the latter a close congener of the whitefish, but finer in flavour and very fat. Indeed, the best fed dogs we had seen were those summering here. The lake, where we struck it, was literally covered with pin-tail ducks and teal; but it is not a good moose country, and consequently the food supply of the natives is mainly fish.

We descried a few half-breed cabins and clearings on the opposite shore, carved out of the dense forest which girdles the lake, and topographically the country seemed to be of a moderate elevation, and well suited for settlement. The wind having gone down, we crossed the lake on the 2nd of September to what is here called Sandy Creek, a very crooked stream, its thick, sluggish current bordered by willows and encumbered with reeds and flags, and, farther on, made a two-mile portage, where at a very bad landing we were joined by the boats, and presently paddled into a great circular pond, covered with float-weed, a very paradise of ducks, which were here in myriads.

Its continuation, called "The Narrows," now flowed in a troubled channel, crossed in all directions by jutting boulders, full of tortuous snies, to be groped along dexterously with the poles, but dropped at last into better water, ending at a portage, where we dined. This portage led to the farmhouse of a Mr. Houle, a native of Red River, who had left St. Vital fifty-eight years before, and was now settled at a beautiful spot on the right bank of the river, and had horses, cows and other cattle, a garden, and raised wheat and other grain, which he said did well, and was evidently prosperous. After a regale of milk we embarked for the first Wahpooskow lake, which we reached in the afternoon.

This is a fine and comparatively clear sheet of water, much frequented by the natives. The day was beautiful, and with a fair wind and sails up we passed point after point sprinkled with the cabins and tepees of the Indians and half-breeds. It was perfectly charming to sweep up to and past these primitive lodgings, with a spanking breeze, and the dancing waves seething around our bows. Small patches of potatoes met the eye at every house, making our mouths water with expectation, for we had now been a long time without them, and it is only then that one realizes their value. In the far distance we discerned the Roman Catholic Mission church, the primitive building showing up boldly in the offing, whilst our canoemen, now nearing their own home, broke into an Indian chant, and were in high spirits. They expected a big feast that night, and so did we! I had been a bit under the weather, with flagging appetite, but felt again the grip of healthy hunger.

We were now in close contact with the most innocently wild, secluded, and apparently happy state of things imaginable—a real Utopia, such as Sir Thomas More dreamt not of, being actually here, with no trace of abortive politics or irritating ordinance. Here was contentment in the savage wilderness—communion with Nature in all her unstained purity and beauty. One thought of the many men of mind who had moralized on this primitive life, and, tired of towns, of "the weariness, the fever and the fret" of civilization, had abandoned all and found rest and peace in the bosom of Mother Nature.

The lake now narrowed into a deep but crooked stream, fringed, as usual, by tall reeds and rushes and clumps of flowering water-lilies. A four-mile paddle brought us to a long stretch of deep lake, the second Wahpooskow, lined on the north by a lovely shore, dotted with cabins, the central tall buildings upon the summit of the rising ground being those of the English "Church Mission Society," in charge of the Reverend Charles R. Weaver. Here we were at last at the inland end of our journey, at Wahpooskow—this, not the "Wabiscow" of the maps, being the right spelling and pronunciation of the word, which means in English "The Grassy Narrows."

The other Missions of this venerable Society in Athabasca, it may be mentioned, were at the time as follows: Athabasca Landing, the residence of Bishop Young; Lesser Slave Lake, White Fish Lake, Smoky River, Spirit River, Fort Vermilion, and Fort Chipewyan, in charge, respectively, of the Reverend Messrs. Holmes, White, Currie, Robinson, Scott, and Warwick. The Roman Catholic Mission, already mentioned, had been established three years before our coming by the Reverend J. B. Giroux, at Stony Point, near the outlet of the first lake, the other Oblat Missions in Athabasca—I do not vouch for my accuracy—being Athabasca Landing, Lesser Slave Lake, the residence of Bishop Clut and clergy and of the Sisters of Providence; White Fish Lake, Smoky River, Dunvegan, and St. John, served, respectively, by Fathers Leferriere, Lesserec, and Letreste; Fort Vermilion by Father Joussard, and Fort Chipewyan by Bishop Grouard and the Grey Nuns.

Mr. Weaver, the missionary at Wahpooskow, is an Englishman, his wife being a Canadian from London, Ontario. By untiring labour he had got his mission into very creditable shape. When it is remembered that everything had to be brought in by bark canoes or dog-train, and that all lumber had to be cut by hand, it seemed to be a monument of industry. Before qualifying himself for missionary work he had studied farming in Ontario, and the results of his knowledge were manifest in his poultry, pigs and cows; in his garden, full of all the most useful vegetables, including Indian corn, and his wheat, which was then in stock, perfectly ripe and untouched by frost. This he fed, of course, to his pigs and poultry, as it could not be ground; but it ripened, he told me, as surely as in Manitoba. Some of the natives roundabout had begun raising stock and doing a little grain growing, and it was pleasant to hear the lowing of cattle and the music of the cow-bells, recalling home and the kindly neighbourhood of husbandry and farm.

The settlement was then some twenty years old, and numbered about sixty souls. The total number of Indians and half-breeds in the locality was unknown, but nearly two hundred Indians received head-money, and all were not paid, and the half-breeds seemed quite as numerous. About a quarter of the whole number of Indians were said to be pagans, and the remainder Protestants and Roman Catholics in fair proportion. In the latter denomination, Father Giroux told me, the proportion of Indians and half-breeds, including those of the first lake, was about equal. The latter, he said, raised potatoes, but little else, and lived like the Indians, by fishing and hunting, especially by the former, as they had to go far now for fur and large game.

The Hudson's Bay Company had built a post near Mr. Weaver's Mission, and there was a free-trader also close by, named Johnston, whose brother, a fine-looking native missionary, assisted at an interesting service we attended in the Mission church, conducted in Cree and English, the voices in the Cree hymns being very soft and sweet. Mr. Ladoucere was also near with his trading-stock, so that business, it was feared, would be overdone. But we issued an unexpectedly large number of scrip certificates here, and the price being run up by competition, a great deal of trade followed.

Wahpooskow is certainly a wonderful region for fish, particularly the whitefish and its cousin-german, the tullabee. They are not got freely in winter in the first lake, but are taken in large numbers in the second, where they throng at that season. But in the fall the take is very great in both lakes, and stages were seen in all directions where the fish are hung up by their tails, very tempting to the hungry dogs, but beyond their reach until the crows attack them. The former keep a watchful eye on this process, and when the crows have eaten off the tails, which they invariably attack first, the dogs seize the fish as they drop. When this performance becomes serious, however, the fish are generally removed to stores.

One night, after an excellent dinner at Mr. Weaver's, that grateful rarity with us, we adjourned to a ball or "break-down," given in our honour by the local community. It took place in a building put up by a Mr. George, an English catechist of the Mission; a solid structure of logs of some length, the roof poles being visible above the peeled beams. On one of these five or six candles were alight, fastened to it by simply sticking them into some melted tallow. There were two fiddlers and a crowd of half-breeds, of elders, youths, girls and matrons, the latter squatting on the floor with their babes in moss-bags, dividing the delights of the evening between nursing and dancing, both of which were conducted with the utmost propriety. Indeed, it was interesting to see so many pretty women and well-behaved men brought together in this out-of-the-world place. The dances were the customary reels, and, of course, the Red River Jig. I was sorry, however, to notice a so-called improvement upon this historic dance; that is to say, they doubled the numbers engaged in it, and called it "The Wahpooskow Jig." It seemed a dangerous innovation; and the introduction later on of a cotillon with the usual dreary and mechanical calls filled one with additional forebodings. We almost heard "the first low wash of waves where soon shall flow a human sea." But aside from such newfangled features, there was nothing to criticise. The fiddling was good, and the dancing was good, showing the usual expertness, in which performance the women stooped their shoulders gracefully, and bent their brows modestly upon the floor, whilst the men vied with each other in the admirable and complicated variety of their steps. In fact, it was an evening very agreeably spent, and not the less so from its primitive environment. After joining in a reel of eight, we left the scene with reluctance, the memorable Jig suddenly striking on our ears as we wended our way in the darkness to our camp.

As regards farming land in the region, for a long way inland Mr. Weaver and others described it as of the like good quality as at the Mission, but with much muskeg. It is difficult to estimate the extent of the latter, for, being more noticeable than good land, the tendency is to overestimate. Its proportion to arable land is generally put at about 50 per cent., which may be over or under the truth, for only actual township or topographic surveys can determine it.

The country drained by the lower river, the Loon, as it is improperly called in our maps, navigable for canoes all the way to where it enters the Peace, was described as an extensive and very uniform plateau, sloping gently to the north. To the south the Pelican Mountains formed a noble background to the view from the Mission, which is indeed charming in all directions.

At the mouth of the river, and facing the Mission, a long point stretches out, dividing the lake into two deep arms, the Mission being situated upon another point around which the lake sweeps to the north. The scene recalls the view from the Hudson's Bay Company's post at Lesser Slave Lake, but excels it in the larger extent of water, broken into by scores of bayous, or pools, bordered by an intensely green water-weed of uniform height, and smooth-topt as a well-clipt lawn. Behind these are hay meadows, a continuation of the long line of them we had passed coming up.

Upon the whole, we considered this an inviting region for any farmer who is not afraid to tackle the forest. But whether a railway would pass this way at first seemed to us doubtful. The head of Lesser Slave Lake lies far to the south-west, and there it is most likely to pass on its way to the Peace. What could be supplied, however, is a waggon-road from Wahpooskow to Athabasca Landing, instead of the present dog-trail, which passes many deep ravines, and makes a long detour by Sandy Lake. Such a road should pass by the east end of the first Wahpooskow Lake, thence to Rock Island Lake, and on by Calling Lake to the Landing, a distance of about one hundred miles. Such a road, whilst saving 125 miles of travel by the present route, would cut down the cost of transport by fully one-half.

Wahpooskow had its superstitions and some doubtful customs. For instance, an Indian called Nepapinase—"A Wandering Bolt of Night-Lightning"—lost his son when Mr. Ross was there taking adhesion to the Treaty, and spread the report that he had brought "bad medicine." Polygamy was practised, and even polyandry was said to exist; but we had no time to verify this gossip, and no right to interfere if we had.

On the 6th, a lovely fall morning, we bade good-bye to Wahpooskow, its primitive people, and its simple but ample pleasures. Autumn was upon us. Foliage, excepting in the deep woods, was changing fast, the hues largely copper and russet; hard body-tints, yet beautiful. There were no maples here, as in the East, to add a glorious crimson to the scene; this was given by shrubs, not by trees. The tints were certainly, in the larger growths, less delicate here than there; the poplar's chrome was darker, the willow's mottled chrome more sere. But there was the exquisite pale canary of the birch, the blood-red and yellow of the wild rose, which glows in both hues, the rich crimson of the red willow, with its foil of ivory berries, and the ruddy copper of the high-bush cranberry. These, with many other of the berry bearers and the wild-flowers, yielded their rich hues; so that the great pigments of autumn, crimson, brown and yellow, were everywhere to be seen, beneath a deep blue sky strewn with snowy clouds.

We were now on the return to Pelican Landing, with but few incidents to note by the way, aside from those already recorded. But having occasion to take a declaration at a cabin on our passage along the first lake, we had an opportunity of visiting a hitherto unobserved stratum of Wahpooskow's society.

The path to the cabin and its tepees led up a steep bank, beaten as hard as nails and as slippery as glass; nevertheless, by clutching the weeds which bordered it, mainly nettles, we got on top at last, where an interesting scene met the eye.

This was a half-breed family, the head of which, a shrivelled old fellow, was busy making a paddle with his crooked knife, the materials of a birch-bark canoe lying beside him—and most beautifully they make the canoe in this region. His wife was standing close by, a smudged hag of most sinister aspect; also a son and his wife. On stages, and on the shrubs around, were strewn nets, ragged blankets, frowsy shawls, and a huddle of other shreds and patches; and, everywhere else, a horde of hungry dogs snarling and pouncing upon each other like wolves. Filth here was supreme, and the mise en scene characteristic of a very low and very rare type of Wahpooskow life indeed—a type butted and bounded by the word "fish." An attempt was made to photograph the group, but the old fellow turned aside, and the old woman hobbled into the recesses of a tepee, where we heard her muttering such execrations in Cree as were possible to that innocent tongue. The hands of the woman at the cabin door were a miracle of grime and scrofula. Her sluttish locks, together with two children, hung around her; one of the latter chewing a muddy carrot up into the leaves, an ungainly little imp; the other was a girl of singularly beautiful features and of perfect form, her large luminous eyes of richest brown reflecting the sunlight from their depths like mirrors—a little angel clad in dirt. Why other wild things should be delicately clean, the birds, the fishes she lived on, and she be bred amidst running sores and vermin, was one of the mysteries I pondered over when we took to our canoes. For such a pair of eyes, for those exquisite features, some scraggy denizen of Vanity Fair would have given a king's ransom. Yet here was a thing of beauty, dropped by a vile freak of Nature into an appalling environment of filth and ignorance; a creature destined, no doubt, to spring into mature womanhood, and lapse, in time, into a counterpart of the bleared Hecate who mumbled her Cree philippics in the neighbouring wigwam.

On our return trip some detours were made, one of which was to the habitation of another half-breed family at the foot of Sandy Lake, themselves and everything about them orderly, clean and neat; the very opposites of the curious household we had visited the day before. They had a great kettle of fish on the fire, which we bought, and had our dinner there; being especially pleased to note that their dogs were not starved, but were fat and well handled. At the east side of the lake we were delayed trying to catch ponies to make the portage, failing which we got over otherwise by dark, and camped again on the Pelican River. That night there was a keen frost, and ice formed along shore, but the weather was delightfully crisp and clear, and we reached Pelican Landing on the 9th, finding there our old scow and the trackers, with our friend Cyr in command, and Marchand, our congenial cook, awaiting us.

On the 11th we set off for Athabasca Landing, accompanied by a little fleet of trippers' and traders' canoes, and passed during the day immense banks of shale, the tracking being very bad and the water still high. We noted much good timber standing on heavy soil, and on the 14th passed a curious hump-like hill, cut-faced, with a reddish and yellow cinder-like look, as if it had been calcined by underlying fires. Near it was an exposure of deep coloured ochre, and, farther on, enormous black cut-banks, also suggestive of coal.

The Calling River—"Kitoosepe"—was one of our points of distribution, and upon reaching it we found the river benches covered with tepees, and a crowd of half-breeds from Calling Lake awaiting us. After the declarations and scrip payments were concluded, we took stock of the surroundings, which consisted, so far as numbers went, mainly of dogs. Nearly all of them looked very miserable, and one starveling bitch, with a litter of pups, seemed to live upon air. It was pitiful to see the forlorn brutes so cruelly abused; but it has been the fate of this poor mongrel friend of humanity from the first. The canine gentry fare better than many a man, but the outcasts of the slums and camps feel the stroke of bitter fortune, yet, with prodigious heart, never cease to love the oppressor.

There was an adjunct of the half-breed camp, however, more interesting than the dogs, namely, Marie Rose Gladu, a half-sister of the Catherine Bisson we met at Lesser Slave Lake, but who declared herself to be older than she by five years. From evidence received she proved to be very old, certainly over a hundred, and perhaps the oldest woman in Northern Canada. She was born at Lesser Slave Lake, and remembered the wars of her people with the Blackfeet, and the "dancing" of captured scalps. She remembered the buffalo as plentiful at Calling Lake; that it was then a mixed country, and that their supplies in those old days were brought in by way of Isle a la Cross, Beaver River, and Lac la Biche, as well as by Methy Portage, a statement which I have heard disputed, but which is quite credible for all that. She remembered the old fort at the south-east end of Lesser Slave Lake, and Waupistagwon, "The White Head," as she called him, namely, Mr. Shaw of the famous finger-nail. Her father, whose name was Nekehwapiskun—"My wigwam is white"—was a fur company's Chief, and, in his youth, a noted hunter of Rabisca (Chipewyan), whence he came to Lesser Slave Lake. Her own Cree name, unmusical for a wonder, was Ochenaskumagan— "Having passed many Birthdays." Her hair was gray and black rather than iron-gray, her eyes sunken but bright, her nose well formed, her mouth unshrunken but rather projecting, her cheeks and brow a mass of wrinkles, and her hands, strange to say, not shrivelled, but soft and delicate as a girl's. The body, however, was nothing but bones and integument; but, unlike her half-sister, she could walk without assistance. After our long talk through an interpreter she readily consented to be photographed with me, and, seating ourselves on the grass together, she grasped my hand and disposed herself in a jaunty way so as to look her very best. Indeed, she must have been a pretty girl in her youth, and, old as she was, had some of the arts of girlhood in her yet.

At this point the issue of certificates for scrip practically ended, the total number distributed being 1,843, only 48 of which were for land.

Leaving Calling River before noon, we passed Riviere la Biche towards evening, and camped about four miles above it on the same side of the river. We were not far from the Landing, and therefore near the end of our long and toilsome yet delightful journey. It was pleasant and unexpected, too, to find our last camp but one amongst the best. The ground was a flat lying against the river, wooded with stately spruce and birch, and perfectly clear of underbrush. It was covered with a plentiful growth of a curious fern-like plant which fell at a touch. The great river flowed in front, and an almost full moon shone divinely across it, and sent shafts of sidelong light into the forest. The huge camp-fires of the trackers and canoemen, the roughly garbed groups around them, the canoes themselves, the whole scene, in fact, recalled some genre sketch by our half-forgotten colourist, Jacobi. Our own fire was made at the foot of a giant spruce, and must have been a surprise to that beautiful creature, evidently brimful of life. Indeed, I watched the flames busy at its base with a feeling of pain, for it is difficult not to believe that those grand productions of Nature, highly organized after their kind, have their own sensations, and enjoy life.

The 17th fell on a Sunday, a delicious morning of mist and sunshine and calm, befitting the day. But we were eager for letters from home, and therefore determined to push on. Perhaps it was less desecrating to travel on such a morning than to lie in camp. One felt the penetrating power of Nature more deeply than in the apathy or indolent ease of a Sunday lounge. Still there were those who had to smart for it—the trackers. But the Mecca of the Landing being so near, and its stimulating delights looming largely in the haze of their imagination, they were as eager to go on as ourselves.

The left bank of the river now exhibited, for a long distance, a wilderness swept by fire, but covered with "rampikes" and fallen timber. The other side seemed to have partially escaped destruction. The tracking was good, and we passed the "Twenty Mile Rock" before dinner, camping about fifteen miles from the Landing. Next morning we passed through a like burnt country on both sides, giving the region a desolate and forlorn look, which placed it in sinister contrast with the same river to the north.

Farther up, the right bank rose bare to the sky-line with a mere sprinkling of small aspens, indicating what the appearance of the "rampike" country would be if again set ablaze, and converted from a burnt-wood region to a bare one. The banks revealed a clay soil, in some places mixed boulders, but evidently there was good land lying back from the river.

In the morning bets were made as to the hour of arrival at the Landing. Mr. P. said four p.m., the writer five, the Major six, and Mr. C. eight. At three p.m. we rounded the last point but one, and reached the wharf at six-thirty, the Major taking the pool.

We had now nothing before us but the journey to Edmonton. At night a couple of dances took place in adjacent boarding-houses, which banished sleep until a great uproar arose, ending in the partisans of one house cleaning out the occupants of the other, thus reducing things to silence. We knew then that we had returned to earth. We had dropped, as it were, from another planet, and would soon, too soon, be treading the flinty city streets, and, divorced from Nature, become once more the bond-slaves of civilization.



Conclusion.

I have thought it most convenient to the reader to unite with the text, as it passes in description from place to place, what knowledge of the agricultural and other resources of the country was obtainable at the time. The reader is probably weary of description by this time; but, should he make a similar journey, I am convinced he would not weary of the reality. Travellers, however, differ strangely in perception. Some are observers, with imagination to brighten and judgment to weigh, and, if need be, correct, first impressions; whilst others, with vacant eye, or out of harmony with novel and perhaps irksome surroundings, see, or profess to see, nothing. The readiness, for instance, of the Eastern "fling" at Western Canada thirty years ago is still remembered, and it is easy to transfer it to the North.

Those who lament the meagreness of our records of the fur-trade and primitive social life in Ontario, for example, before the advent of the U. E. Loyalists, can find their almost exact counterpart in Athabasca to-day. For what that Province was then, viz., a wilderness, Athabasca is now; and it is safe to predict that what Ontario is to-day Athabasca will become in time. Indeed, Northern Canada is the analogue of Eastern Canada in more likenesses than one.

That the country is great and possessed of almost unique resources is beyond doubt; but that it has serious drawbacks, particularly in its lack of railway connection with the outer world, is also true. And one thing must be borne in mind, namely, that, when the limited areas of prairie within its borders are taken up, the settler must face the forest with the axe.

THE END

Previous Part     1  2  3
Home - Random Browse