Voyages From Montreal Through The Continent Of North America To The Frozen And Pacific Oceans In 1789 And 1793 With An Account Of The Rise And State Of The Fur Trade

A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE FUR TRADE FROM CANADA TO THE NORTH-WEST.

The fur trade, from the earliest settlement of Canada, was considered of
the first importance to that colony. The country was then so populous,
that, in the vicinity of the establishments, the animals whose skins
were precious, in a commercial view, soon became very scarce, if not
altogether extinct. They were, it is true, hunted at former periods,
but merely for food and clothing. The Indians, therefore, to procure
the necessary supply, were encouraged, to penetrate into the country,
and were generally accompanied by some of the Canadians, who found means
to induce the remotest tribes of natives to bring the skins which were
most in demand, to their settlements, in the way of trade.

It is not necessary for me to examine the cause, but experience proves
that it requires much less time for a civilized people to deviate into
the manners and customs of savage life, than for savages to rise into a
state of civilization. Such was the event with those who thus
accompanied the natives on their hunting and trading excursions; for
they became so attached to the Indian mode of life, that they lost all
relish for their former habits and native homes. Hence they derived the
title of _Coureurs des Bois_, became a kind of pedlars, and were
extremely useful to the merchants engaged in the fur trade; who gave
them the necessary credit to proceed on their commercial undertakings.
Three or four of these people would join their stock, put their property
into a birch-bark canoe, which they worked themselves, and either
accompanied the natives in their excursions, or went at once to the
country where they knew they were to hunt. At length, these voyages
extended to twelve or fifteen months, when they returned with rich
cargoes of furs, and followed by great numbers of the natives. During
the short time requisite to settle their accounts with the merchants,
and procure fresh credit, they generally contrived to squander away all
their gains, when they returned to renew their favourite mode of life:
their views being answered, and their labour sufficiently rewarded, by
indulging themselves in extravagance and dissipation, during the short
space of one month in twelve or fifteen.

This indifference about amassing property, and the pleasure of living
free from all restraint, soon brought on a licentiousness of manners
which could not long escape the vigilant observation of the
missionaries, who had much reason to complain of their being a disgrace
to the Christian religion; by not only swerving from its duties
themselves, but by thus bringing it into disrepute with those of the
natives who had become converts to it; and, consequently, obstructing
the great object to which those pious men had devoted their lives. They
therefore exerted their influence to procure the suppression of these
people, and accordingly, no one was allowed to go up the country to
traffic with the Indians, without a license from the government.

At first these permissions were, of course, granted only to those whose
character was such as could give no alarm to the zeal of the
missionaries: but they were afterwards bestowed as rewards for services,
on officers, and their widows; and they, who were not willing or able to
make use of them (which may be supposed to be always the case with those
of the latter description), were allowed to sell them to the merchants,
who necessarily employed the Coureurs des bois, in quality of their
agents; and these people, as may be imagined, gave sufficient cause for
the renewal of former complaints; so that the remedy proved, in fact,
worse than the disease.

At length, military posts were established at the confluence of the
different large lakes of Canada, which, in a great measure checked the
evil consequences that followed from the improper conduct of these
foresters, and, at the same time, protected the trade. Besides, a
number of able and respectable men, retired from the army, prosecuted
the trade in person, under their respective licences, with great order
and regularity, and extended it to such a distance, as, in those days,
was considered to be an astonishing effort of commercial enterprize.
These persons and the missionaries having combined their views at the
same time, secured the respect of the natives, and the obedience of the
people necessarily employed in the laborious parts of this undertaking.
These gentlemen denominated themselves commanders, and not traders,
though they were entitled to both those characters: and, as for the
missionaries, if sufferings and hardships in the prosecution of the
great work which they had undertaken, deserved applause and admiration,
they had an undoubted claim to be admired and applauded: they spared no
labour and avoided no danger in the execution of their important office;
and it is to be seriously lamented, that their pious endeavours did not
meet with the success which they deserved: for there is hardly a trace
to be found beyond the cultivated parts, of their meritorious functions.

The cause of this failure must be attributed to a want of due
consideration in the mode employed by the missionaries, to propagate the
religion of which they were the zealous ministers. They habituated
themselves to the savage life, and naturalized themselves to the savage
manners, and, by thus becoming dependent, as it were, on the natives,
they acquired their contempt rather than their veneration. If they had
been as well acquainted with human nature, as they were with the
articles of their faith, they would have known that the uncultivated
mind of an Indian must be disposed by much preparatory method and
instruction to receive the revealed truths of Christianity, to act under
its sanctions, and be impelled to good by the hope of its reward, or
turned from evil by the fear of its punishments. They should have begun
their work by teaching some of those useful arts which are the inlets of
knowledge, and lead the mind by degrees to objects of higher
comprehension. Agriculture, so formed to fix and combine society, and
so preparatory to objects of superior consideration, should have been
the first thing introduced among a savage people: it attaches the
wandering tribe to that spot where it adds so much to their comforts;
while it gives them a sense of property, and of lasting possession,
instead of the uncertain hopes of the chase, and the fugitive produce of
uncultivated wilds. Such were the means by which the forests of
Paraguay were converted into a scene of abundant cultivation, and its
savage inhabitants introduced to all the advantages of a civilized life.

The Canadian missionaries should have been contented to improve the
morals of their own countrymen, so that by meliorating their character
and conduct, they would have given a striking example of the effect of
religion in promoting the comforts of life to the surrounding savages;
and might by degrees have extended its benign influence to the remotest
regions of that country, which was the object, and intended to be the
scene, of their evangelical labours. But by bearing the light of the
Gospel at once to the distance of two thousand five hundred miles from
the civilized part of the colonies, it was soon obscured by the cloud of
ignorance that darkened the human mind in those distant regions.

The whole of their long route I have often travelled, and the
recollection of such a people as the missionaries having been there, was
confined to a few superannuated Canadians, who had not left that country
since the cession to the English, in 1763, and who particularly
mentioned the death of some, and the distressing situation of them all.
But if these religious men did not attain the objects of their
persevering piety, they were, during their mission, of great service to
the commanders who engaged in those distant expeditions, and spread the
fur trade as far West as the banks of the Saskatchiwine river, in
53. North latitude, and longitude 102. West.

At an early period of their intercourse with the savages, a custom was
introduced of a very excellent tendency, but is now unfortunately
discontinued, of not selling any spirituous liquor to the natives. This
admirable regulation was for some time observed, with all the respect
due to the religion by which it was sanctioned, and whose severest
censures followed the violation of it. A painful penance could alone
restore the offender to the suspended rites of the sacrament. The
casuistry of trade, however, discovered a way to gratify the Indians
with their favourite cordial without incurring the ecclesiastical
penalties, by giving, instead of selling it to them.

But notwithstanding all the restrictions with which commerce was
oppressed under the French government, the fur trade was extended to the
immense distance which has been already stated; and surmounted many most
discouraging difficulties, which will be hereafter noticed; while, at
the same time, no exertions were made from Hudson’s Bay to obtain even a
share of the trade of a country, which according to the charter of that
company, belonged to it, and, from its proximity, is so much more
accessible to the mercantile adventurer.

Of these trading commanders, I understood, that two attempted to
penetrate to the Pacific Ocean, but the utmost extent of their journey I
could never learn; which may be attributed, indeed, to a failure of the
undertaking.

For some time after the conquest of Canada, this trade was suspended,
which must have been very advantageous to the Hudson’s-Bay Company, as
all the inhabitants to the westward of Lake Superior were obliged to go
to them for such articles as their habitual use had rendered necessary.
Some of the Canadians who had lived long with them, and were become
attached to a savage life, accompanied them thither annually, till
mercantile adventurers again appeared from their own country, after an
interval of several years, owing, as I suppose, to an ignorance of the
country in the conquerors, and their want of commercial confidence in
the conquered. There were, indeed, other discouragements, such as the
immense length of the journey necessary to reach the limits beyond which
this commerce must begin; the risk of property; the expenses attending
such a long transport; and an ignorance of the language of those who,
from their experience, must be necessarily employed as the intermediate
agents between them and the natives. But, notwithstanding these
difficulties, the trade, by degrees, began to spread over the different
parts to which it had been carried by the French, though at a great risk
of the lives, as well as the property of their new possessors, for the
natives had been taught by their former allies to entertain hostile
dispositions towards the English, from their having been in alliance
with their natural enemies the Iroquois; and there were not wanting a
sufficient number of discontented, disappointed people, to keep alive
such a notion; so that for a long time they were considered and treated
as objects of hostility. To prove this disposition of the Indians, we
have only to refer to the conduct of Pontiac, at Detroit, and the
surprise and taking of Michilimakinac, about this period.

Hence it arose, that it was so late as the year 1766, before which, the
trade I mean to consider, commenced from Michilimakinac. The first who
attempted it were satisfied to go the length of the river Camenistiquia,
about thirty miles to the Eastward of the Grande Portage, where the
French had a principal establishment, and was the line of their
communication with the interior country. It was once destroyed by fire.
Here they went and returned successful in the following spring to
Michilimakinac. Their success induced them to renew their journey, and
incited others to follow their example. Some of them remained at
Camenistiquia, while others proceeded to and beyond the Grande Portage,
which, since that time has become the principal entrepot of that trade,
and is situated in a bay, in latitude 48. North, and longitude 90. West.
After passing the usual season there, they went back to Michilimakinac
as before, and encouraged by the trade, returned in increased numbers.
One of these, Thomas Curry, with a spirit of enterprize superior to that
of his contemporaries, determined to penetrate to the furthest limits of
the French discoveries in that country; or at least till the frost
should stop him. For this purpose he procured guides and interpreters,
who were acquainted with the country, and with four canoes arrived at
Fort Bourbon, which was one of their posts, at the West end of the Cedar
Lake, on the waters of the Saskatchiwine. His risk and toil were well
recompensed, for he came back the following spring with his canoes
filled with fine furs, with which he proceeded to Canada, and was
satisfied never again to return to the Indian country.

From this period, people began to spread over every part of the country,
particularly where the French had established settlements.

Mr. James Finlay was the first who followed Mr. Curry’s example, and
with the same number of canoes, arrived, in the course of the next
season, at Nipawee, the last of the French settlements on the bank of
the Saskatchiwine river, in latitude nearly 43½. North, and longitude
103. West: he found the good fortune, as he followed, in every respect,
the example, of his predecessor.

As may be supposed, there were now people enough ready to replace them,
and the trade was pursued with such avidity, and irregularity, that in a
few years it became the reverse of what it ought to have been. An
animated competition prevailed, and the contending parties carried the
trade beyond the French limits, though with no benefit to themselves or
neighbours, the Hudson’s-Bay Company; who in the year 1774, and not till
then, thought proper to move from home to the East bank of Sturgeon
Lake, in latitude 53. 56. North, and longitude 102. 15. West, and became
more jealous of their fellow subjects; and, perhaps, with more cause,
than they had been of those of France. From this period, to the present
time, they have been following the Canadians to their different
establishments, while, on the contrary, there is not a solitary instance
that the Canadians have followed them; and there are many trading posts
which they have not yet attained. This, however, will no longer be a
mystery, when the nature and policy of the Hudson’s-Bay Company is
compared with that, which has been pursued by their rivals in this
trade.–But to return to my subject.

This competition, which has been already mentioned, gave a fatal blow to
the trade from Canada, and, with other incidental causes, in my opinion,
contributed to its ruin. This trade was carried on in a very distant
country, out of the reach of legal restraint, and where there was a free
scope given to any ways or means in attaining advantage. The
consequence was not only the loss of commercial benefit to the persons
engaged in it, but of the good opinion of the natives, and the respect
of their men, who were inclined to follow their example; so that with
drinking, carousing, and quarrelling with the Indians along their route,
and among themselves, they seldom reached their winter quarters; and if
they did, it was generally by dragging their property upon sledges, as
the navigation was closed up by the frost. When at length they were
arrived, the object of each was to injure his rival traders in the
opinion of the natives as much as was in their power, by
misrepresentation and presents, for which the agents employed were
peculiarly calculated. They considered the command of their employer as
binding on them, and however wrong or irregular the transaction, the
responsibility rested with the principal who directed them. This is
Indian law. Thus did they waste their credit and their property with
the natives, till the first was past redemption, and the last was nearly
exhausted; so that towards the spring in each year, the rival parties
found it absolutely necessary to join, and make one common stock of what
remained, for the purpose of trading with the natives, who could
entertain no respect for persons who had conducted themselves with so
much irregularity and deceit. The winter, therefore, was one continued
scene of disagreements and quarrels, If any one had the precaution or
good sense to keep clear of these proceedings, he derived a
proportionable advantage from his good conduct, and frequently proved a
peacemaker between the parties. To such an height had they carried this
licentious conduct, that they were in a continual state of alarm, and
were even frequently stopped to pay tribute on their route into the
country; though they had adopted the plan of travelling together in
parties of thirty or forty canoes, and keeping their men armed; which
sometimes, indeed, proved necessary for their defence.

Thus was the trade carried on for several years, and consequently
becoming worse and worse, so that the partners, who met them at the
Grande Portage, naturally complained of their ill success. But specious
reasons were always ready to prove that it arose from circumstances
which they could not at that time control; and encouragements were held
forth to hope that a change would soon take place, which would make
ample amends for past disappointments.

It was about this time, that Mr. Joseph Frobisher, one of the gentlemen
engaged in the trade, determined to penetrate into the country yet
unexplored, to the North and Westward, and, in the spring of the year
1775, met the Indians from that quarter on their way to Fort Churchill,
at Portage de Traite, so named from that circumstance, on the banks of
the Missinipi, or Churchill river, latitude 55. 25. North, longitude
103½. West. It was indeed, with some difficulty that he could induce
them to trade with him, but he at length procured as many furs as his
canoes could carry. In this perilous expedition he sustained every kind
of hardship incident to a journey through a wild and savage country,
where his subsistence depended on what the woods and the waters
produced. These difficulties, nevertheless, did not discourage him from
returning in the following year, when he was equally successful. He
then sent his brother to explore the country still further West, who
penetrated as far as the lake of Isle a la Crosse, in latitude
55. 26. North, and longitude 108. West.

He, however, never after wintered among the Indians, though he retained
a large interest in the trade, and a principal share in the direction of
it till the year 1798, when he retired to enjoy the fruits of his
labours; and, by his hospitality, became known to every respectable
stranger who visited Canada.

The success of this gentleman induced others to follow his example, and
in the spring of the year 1778, some of the traders on the Saskatchiwine
river, finding they had a quantity of goods to spare, agreed to put them
into a joint stock, and gave the charge and management of them to
Mr. Peter Pond, who, in four canoes, was directed to enter the English
River, so called by Mr. Frobisher, to follow his track, and proceed
still further; if possible, to Athabasca, a country hitherto unknown but
from Indian report. In this enterprise he at length succeeded and
pitched his tent on the banks of the Elk river, by him erroneously
called the Athabasca river, about forty miles from the Lake of the
Hills, into which it empties itself.

Here he passed the winter of 1778-9; saw a vast concourse of the
Knisteneaux and Chepewyan tribes, who used to carry their furs annually
to Churchill; the latter by the barren grounds, where they suffered
innumerable hardships, and were sometimes even starved to death. The
former followed the course of the lakes and rivers, through a country
that abounded in animals, and where there was plenty of fish: but though
they did not suffer from want of food, the intolerable fatigue of such a
journey could not be easily repaid to an Indian: they were, therefore,
highly gratified by seeing people come to their country to relieve them
from such long, toilsome, and dangerous journeys; and were immediately
reconciled to give an advanced price for the articles necessary to their
comfort and convenience. Mr. Pond’s reception and success was
accordingly beyond his expectation; and he procured twice as many furs
as his canoes would carry. They also supplied him with as much
provision as he required during his residence among them, and sufficient
for his homeward voyage. Such of the furs as he could not embark, he
secured in one of his winter huts, and they were found the following
season, in the same state in which he left them.

These, however, were but partial advantages, and could not prevent the
people of Canada from seeing the improper conduct of some of their
associates, which rendered it dangerous to remain any longer among the
natives. Most of them who passed the winter at the Saskatchiwine, got
to the Eagle hills, where, in the spring of the year 1780, a few days
previous to their intended departure, a large band of Indians being
engaged in drinking about their houses, one of the traders, to ease
himself of the troublesome importunities of a native, gave him a dose of
laudanum in a glass of grog, which effectually prevented him from giving
further trouble to any one, by setting him asleep for ever. This
accident produced a fray, in which one of the traders, and several of
the men were killed, while the rest had no other means to save
themselves but by a precipitate flight, abandoning a considerable
quantity of goods, and near half the furs which they had collected
during the winter and the spring.

About the same time, two of the establishments on the Assiniboin river,
were attacked with less justice, when several white men, and a great
number of Indians were killed. In short, it appeared, that the natives
had formed a resolution to extirpate the traders; and, without entering
into any further reasonings on the subject, it appears to be
incontrovertible, that the irregularity pursued in carrying on the trade
has brought it into its present forlorn situation; and nothing but the
greatest calamity that could have befallen the natives, saved the
traders from destruction: this was the small-pox, which spread its
destructive and desolating power, as the fire consumes the dry grass of
the field. The fatal infection spread around with a baneful rapidity
which no flight could escape, and with a fatal effect that nothing could
resist. It destroyed with its pestilential breath whole families and
tribes; and the horrid scene presented to those who had the melancholy
and afflicting opportunity of beholding it, a combination of the dead,
the dying, and such as to avoid the horrid fate of their friends around
them, prepared to disappoint the plague of its prey, by terminating their
own existence.

The habits and lives of these devoted people, which provided not to-day
for the wants of to-morrow, must have heightened the pains of such an
affliction, by leaving them not only without remedy, but even without
alleviation. Naught was left them but to submit in agony and despair.

To aggravate the picture, if aggravation were possible, may be added,
the putrid carcases which the wolves, with a furious voracity, dragged
forth from the huts, or which were mangled within them by the dogs,
whose hunger was satisfied with the disfigured remains of their masters.
Nor was it uncommon for the father of a family, whom the infection had
not reached, to call them around him to represent the cruel sufferings
and horrid fate of their relations, from the influence of some evil
spirit who was preparing to extirpate their race; and to incite them to
baffle death, with all its horrors, by their own poniards. At the same
time, if their hearts failed them in this necessary act, he was himself
ready to perform the deed of mercy with his own hand, as the last act of
his affection, and instantly to follow them to the common place of rest
and refuge from human evil.

It was never satisfactorily ascertained by what means this malignant
disorder was introduced, but it was generally supposed to be from the
Missisouri, by a war party.

The consequence of this melancholy event to the traders must be
self-evident; the means of disposing of their goods were cut off; and no
furs were obtained, but such as had been gathered from the habitations
of the deceased Indians, which could not be very considerable: nor did
they look from the losses of the present year, with any encouraging
expectations to those which were to come. The only fortunate people
consisted of a party who had again penetrated to the Northward and
Westward in 1780, at some distance up the Missinipi, or English river,
to Lake la Ronge. Two unfortunate circumstances, however, happened to
them; which are as follow:

Mr. Wadin, a Swiss gentleman, of strict probity and known sobriety, had
gone there in the year 1779, and remained during the summer of 1780.
His partners and others, engaged in an opposite interest, when at the
Grande Portage, agreed to send a quantity of goods on their joint
account, which was accepted, and Mr. Pond was proposed by them to be
their representative to act in conjunction with Mr. Wadin. Two men, of
more opposite characters, could not, perhaps, have been found. In
short, from various causes, their situations became very uncomfortable
to each other, and mutual ill-will was the natural consequence: without
entering, therefore, into a minute history of these transactions, it
will be sufficient to observe, that, about the end of the year 1780, or
the beginning of 1781, Mr. Wadin had received Mr. Pond and one of his
own clerks to dinner; and, in the course of the night, the former was
shot through the lower part of the thigh, when it was said that he
expired from the loss of blood, and was buried next morning at eight
o’clock. Mr. Pond, and the clerk, were tried for this murder at
Montreal, and acquitted: nevertheless, their innocence was not so
apparent as to extinguish the original suspicion.

The other circumstance was this. In the spring of the year, Mr. Pond
sent the abovementioned clerk to meet the Indians from the Northward,
who used to go annually to Hudson’s Bay; when he easily persuaded them
to trade with him, and return back, that they might not take the
contagion which had depopulated the country to the Eastward of them: but
most unfortunately they caught it here, and carried it with them, to the
destruction of themselves and the neighbouring tribes.

The country being thus depopulated, the traders and their friends from
Canada, who, from various causes already mentioned, were very much
reduced in number, became confined to two parties, who began seriously
to think of making permanent establishments on the Missinipi river, and
at Athabasca; for which purpose, in 1781-2, they selected their best
canoe-men, being ignorant that the small-pox penetrated that way. The
most expeditious party got only in time to the Portage la Loche, or
Mithy-Ouinigam, which divides the waters of the Missinipi from those
that fall into the Elk river, to despatch one canoe strong-handed, and
light-loaded, to that country; but, on their arrival there, they found,
in every direction, the ravages of the small-pox; so that, from the
great diminution of the natives, they returned in the spring with no
more than seven packages of beaver. The strong woods and mountainous
countries afforded a refuge to those who fled from the contagion of the
plains; but they were so alarmed at the surrounding destruction, that
they avoided the traders, and were dispirited from hunting, except for
their subsistence. The traders, however, who returned into the country
in the year 1782-3, found the inhabitants in some sort of tranquillity,
and more numerous than they had reason to expect, so that their success
was proportionably better.

During the winter of 1783-4, the merchants of Canada, engaged in this
trade, formed a junction of interests, under the name of the North-West
Company, and divided it into sixteen shares, without depositing any
capital; each party furnishing a proportion or quota of such articles as
were necessary to carry on the trade: the respective parties agreeing to
satisfy the friends they had in the country, who were not provided for,
according to this agreement, out of the proportions which they held.
The management of the whole was accordingly entrusted to
Messrs. Benjamin and Joseph Frobisher, and Mr. Simon M’Tavish, two
distinct houses, who had the greatest interest and influence in the
country, and for which they were to receive a stipulated commission in
all transactions.

In the spring, two of those gentlemen went to the Grande Portage with
their credentials, which were confirmed and ratified by all the parties
having an option, except Mr. Peter Pond, who was not satisfied with the
share allotted him. Accordingly he, and another gentleman, Mr. Peter
Pangman, who had a right to be a partner, but for whom no provision had
been made, came to Canada, with a determination to return to the
country, if they could find any persons to join them, and give their
scheme a proper support.

The traders in the country, and merchants at Montreal, thus entered into
a co-partnership, which, by these means, was consolidated and directed
by able men, who, from the powers with which they were entrusted, would
carry on the trade to the utmost extent it would bear. The traders in
the country, therefore, having every reason to expect that their past
and future labours would be recompensed, forgot all their former
animosities, and engaged with the utmost spirit and activity, to forward
the general interest; so that, in the following year, they met their
agents at the Grande Portage, with their canoes laden with rich furs
from the different parts of that immense tract of country. But this
satisfaction was not to be enjoyed without some interruption; and they
were mortified to find that Mr. Pangman had prevailed on Messrs. Gregory
and Macleod to join him, and give him their support in the business,
though deserted by Mr. Pond, who accepted the terms offered by his
former associates.

In the counting-house of Mr. Gregory I had been five years; and at this
period had left him, with a small adventure of goods, with which he had
entrusted me, to seek my fortune at Detroit. He, without any
solicitation on my part, had procured an insertion in the agreement,
that I should be admitted a partner in this business, on condition that
I would proceed to the Indian country in the following spring, 1785.
His partner came to Detroit to make me such a proposition. I readily
assented to it, and immediately proceeded to the Grande Portage, where I
joined my associates.

We now found that independent of the natural difficulties of the
undertaking, we should have to encounter every other which they, who
were already in possession of the trade of the country, could throw in
our way, and which their circumstances enabled them to do. Nor did they
doubt, from their own superior experience, as well as that of their
clerks and men, with their local knowledge of the country and its
inhabitants, that they should soon compel us to leave the country to
them. The event, however, did not justify their expectations; for,
after the severest struggle ever known in that part of the world, and
suffering every oppression which a jealous and rival spirit could
instigate; after the murder of one of our partners, the laming of
another, and the narrow escape of one of our clerks, who received a
bullet through his powder horn, in the execution of his duty, they were
compelled to allow us a share of the trade. As we had already incurred
a loss, this union was, in every respect, a desirable event to us, and
was concluded in the month of July, 1787.

This commercial establishment was now founded on a more solid basis than
any hitherto known in the country; and it not only continued in full
force, vigour, and prosperity, in spite of all interference from Canada,
but maintained at least an equal share of advantage with the
Hudson’s-Bay Company, notwithstanding the superiority of their local
situation. The following account of this self-erected concern will
manifest the cause of its success.

It assumed the title of the North-West Company, and was no more than an
association of commercial men, agreeing among themselves to carry on the
fur trade, unconnected with any other business, though many of the
parties engaged had extensive concerns altogether foreign to it. It may
be said to have been supported entirely upon credit; for, whether the
capital belonged to the proprietor, or was borrowed, it equally bore
interest, for which the association was annually accountable. It
consisted of twenty shares, unequally divided among the persons
concerned. Of these, a certain proportion was held by the people who
managed the business in Canada, and were styled agents for the Company.
Their duty was to import the necessary goods from England, store them at
their own expense at Montreal, get them made up into articles suited to
the trade, pack and forward them, and supply the cash that might be
wanting for the outfits, for which they received, independent of the
profit on their shares, a commission on the amount of the accounts,
which they were obliged to make out annually, and keep the adventure of
each year distinct. Two of them went annually to the Grande Portage, to
manage and transact the business there, and on the communication at
Detroit, Michilimakinac, St. Mary’s, and at Montreal, where they
received, stored, packed up, and shipped the company’s furs for England,
on which they had also a small commission. The remaining shares were
held by the proprietors, who were obliged to winter and manage the
business of the concern with the Indians, and their respective clerks,
etc. They were not supposed to be under any obligation to furnish
capital, or even credit. If they obtained any capital by the trade, it
was to remain in the hands of the agents; for which they were allowed
interest. Some of them, from their long services and influence, held
double shares, and were allowed to retire from the business at any
period of the existing concern, with one of those shares, naming any
young man in the company’s service to succeed him in the other.
Seniority and merit were, however, considered as affording a claim to
the succession, which, nevertheless, could not be disposed of without
the concurrence of the majority of the concern; who, at the same time,
relieved the seceding person from any responsibility respecting the
share that he transferred, and accounted for it according to the annual
value or rate of the property; so that the seller could have no
advantage, but that of getting the share of stock which he retained
realised, and receiving for the transferred share what was fairly
determined to be the worth of it. The former was also discharged from
all duty, and became a dormant partner. Thus, all the young men who
were not provided for at the beginning of the contract, succeeded in
succession to the character and advantages of partners. They entered
into the Company’s service for five or seven years, under such
expectations, and their reasonable prospects were seldom disappointed:
there were, indeed, instances when they succeeded to shares, before
their apprenticeship was expired, and it frequently happened, that they
were provided for while they were in a state of articled clerkship.
Shares were transferable only to the concern at large, as no person
could be admitted as a partner who had not served his time to the trade.
The dormant partner indeed might dispose of his interest to any one he
chose, but if the transaction was not acknowledged by his associates,
the purchaser could only be considered as his agent or attorney. Every
share had a vote, and two-thirds formed a majority. This regular and
equitable mode of providing for the clerks of the company, excited a
spirit of emulation in the discharge of their various duties, and in
fact, made every agent a principal, who perceived his own prosperity to
be immediately connected with that of his employers. Indeed, without
such a spirit, such a trade could not have become so extended and
advantageous, as it has been and now is.

In 1788, the gross amount of the adventure for the year did not exceed
forty thousand pounds,[1] but by the exertion, enterprise, and industry
of the proprietors, it was brought, in eleven years, to triple that
amount and upwards; yielding proportionate profits, and surpassing, in
short, any thing known in America.

Such, therefore, being the prosperous state of the company, it, very
naturally, tempted others to interfere with the concern in a manner by
no means beneficial to the company, and commonly ruinous to the
undertakers.

In 1798 the concern underwent a new form, the shares were increased to
forty-six, new partners being admitted, and others retiring. This
period was the termination of the company, which was not renewed by all
the parties concerned in it, the majority continuing to act upon the old
stock, and under the old firm; the others beginning a new one; and it
now remains to be decided, whether two parties, under the same
regulations and by the same exertions, though unequal in number, can
continue to carry on the business to a successful issue. The contrary
opinion has been held, which if verified, will make it the interest of
the parties again to coalesce; for neither is deficient in capital to
support their obstinacy in a losing trade, as it is not to be supposed
that either will yield on any other terms than perpetual participation.

It will not be superfluous in this place, to explain the general mode of
carrying on the fur trade.

The agents are obliged to order the necessary goods from England in the
month of October, eighteen months before they can leave Montreal; that
is, they are not shipped from London until the spring following, when
they arrive in Canada in the summer. In the course of the following
winter they are made up into such articles as are required for the
savages; they are then packed into parcels of ninety pounds weight each,
but cannot be sent from Montreal until the May following; so that they
do not get to market until the ensuing winter, when they are exchanged
for furs, which come to Montreal the next fall, and from thence are
shipped, chiefly to London, where they are not sold or paid for before
the succeeding spring, or even as late as June; which is forty-two
months after the goods were ordered in Canada; thirty-six after they had
been shipped from England, and twenty-four after they had been forwarded
from Montreal; so that the merchant, allowing that he has twelve months’
credit, does not receive a return to pay for those goods, and the
necessary expenses attending them, which is about equal to the value of
the goods themselves, till two years after they are considered as cash,
which makes this a very heavy business. There is even a small
proportion of it that requires twelve months longer to bring round the
payment, going to, the immense distance it is carried, and from the
shortness of the seasons, which prevents the furs, even after they are
collected, from coming out of the country for that period.[2]

The articles necessary for this trade, are coarse woollen cloths of
different kinds; milled blankets of different sizes; arms and
ammunition; twist and carrot tobacco; Manchester goods; linens, and
coarse sheetings; thread, lines, and twine; common hardware; cutlery and
ironmongery of several descriptions; kettles of brass and copper, and
sheet-iron; silk and cotton handkerchiefs, hats, shoes, and hose;
calicoes and printed cottons, etc., etc., etc. Spirituous liquors and
provisions are purchased in Canada. These, and the expense of transport
to and from the Indian country, including wages to clerks, interpreters,
guides, and canoe-men, with the expense of making up the goods for the
market, form about half the annual amount against the adventure.

This expenditure in Canada ultimately tends to the encouragement of
British manufactory, for those who are employed in the different
branches of this business, are enabled by their gains to purchase such
British articles as they must otherwise forego.

The produce of the year of which I am now speaking, consisted of the
END 1 following furs and peltries:

106,000 Beaver skins, 6,000 Lynx skins,
2,100 Bear skins, 600 Wolverine skins,
1,500 Fox skins, 1,650 Fisher skins,
4,000 Kitt Fox skins 100 Rackoon skins,
4,600 Otter skins, 8,800 Wolf skins,
17,000 Musquash skins, 700 Elk skins,
32,000 Marten skins, 750 Deer skins,
1,800 Mink skins, 1,200 Deer skins dressed,
500 Buffalo robes, and quantity of castorum.

Of these were diverted from the British market, being sent through the
United States to China, 13,364 skins, fine beaver, weighing 19,283
pounds; 1,250 fine otters, and 1,724 kitt foxes. They would have found
their way to the China market at any rate, but this deviation from the
British channel arose from the following circumstance:

An adventure of this kind was undertaken by a respectable house in
London, half concerned with the North-West Company, in the year 1792.
The furs were of the best kind, and suitable to the market; and the
adventurers continued this connexion for five successive years, to the
annual amount of forty thousand pounds. At the winding up of the
concern of 1792, 1793, 1794, 1795, in the year 1797 (the adventure of
1796 not being included, as the furs were not sent to China, but
disposed of in London), the North-West Company experienced a loss of
upwards of £40,000 (their half), which was principally owing to
the difficulty of getting home the produce procured in return for the
furs from China, in the East India Company’s ships, together with the
duty payable, and the various restrictions of that company. Whereas,
from America there are no impediments; they get immediately to market,
and the produce of them is brought back, and perhaps sold in the course
of twelve months. From such advantages, the furs of Canada will no
doubt find their way to China by America, which would not be the case if
British subjects had the same privileges that are allowed to foreigners,
as London would then be found the best and safest market.

But to return to our principal subject. We shall now proceed to
consider the number of men employed in the concern: viz., fifty clerks,
seventy-one interpreters and clerks, one thousand one hundred and twenty
canoe-men, and thirty-five guides. Of these, five clerks, eighteen
guides, and three hundred and fifty canoe-men, were employed for the
summer season in going from Montreal to the Grande Portage, in canoes,
part of whom proceeded from thence to Rainy Lake, as will be hereafter
explained, and are called Pork-eaters, or Goers and Comers. These were
hired in Canada or Montreal, and were absent from the 1st of May till
the latter end of September. For this trip the guides had from eight
hundred to a thousand livres, and, a suitable equipment; the foreman and
steersman from four to six hundred livres; the middle-men from two
hundred and fifty to three hundred and fifty livres, with an equipment
of one blanket, one shirt, and one pair of trowsers; and were maintained
during that period at the expense of their employers. Independent of
their wages, they were allowed to traffic, and many of them earned to
the amount of their wages. About one-third of these went to winter, and
had more than double the above wages and equipment. All the winterers
were hired by the year, and sometimes for three years; and of the clerks
many were apprentices, who were generally engaged for five or seven
years, for which they had only one hundred pounds, provision and
clothing. Such of them who could not be provided for as partners, at
the expiration of this time, were allowed from one hundred pounds to
three hundred pounds per annum, with all necessaries, till provision was
made for them. Those who acted in the two-fold capacity of clerk and
interpreter, or were so denominated, had no other expectation than the
payment of wages to the amount of from one thousand to four thousand
livres per annum, with clothing and provisions. The guides, who are a
very useful set of men, acted also in the additional capacity of
interpreters, and had a stated quantity of goods, considered as
sufficient for their wants, their wages being from one to three thousand
livres. The canoe-men are of two descriptions, foremen and steersmen,
and middlemen. The two first were allowed annually one thousand two
hundred, and the latter eight hundred, livres each. The first class had
what is called an equipment, consisting of two blankets, two shirts, two
pair of trowsers, two handkerchiefs, fourteen pounds of carrot tobacco,
and some trifling articles. The latter had ten pounds of tobacco, and
all the other articles: those are called North Men, or Winterers; and to
the last class of people were attached upwards of seven hundred Indian
women and children, victualled at the expence of the company.

The first class of people are hired in Montreal five months before they
set out, and receive their equipments, and one-third of their wages in
advance; and an adequate idea of the labour they undergo, may be formed
from the following account of the country through which they pass, and
their manner of proceeding.

The necessary number of canoes being purchased, at about three hundred
livres each, the goods formed into packages, and the lakes and rivers
free of ice, which they usually are in the beginning of May, they are
then despatched from La Chine, eight miles above Montreal, with eight or
ten men in each canoe, and their baggage; and sixty-five packages of
goods, six hundred weight of biscuit, two hundred weight of pork, three
bushels of pease, for the men’s provision; two oil-cloths to cover the
goods, a sail, etc., an axe, a towing-line, a kettle, and a sponge to
bail out the water, with a quantity of gum, bark, and watape, to repair
the vessel. An European on seeing one of these slender vessels thus
laden, heaped up, and sunk with her gunwale within six inches of the
water, would think his fate inevitable in such a boat, when he reflected
on the nature of her voyage; but the Canadians are so expert that few
accidents happen.

Leaving La Chine, they proceed to St. Ann’s, within two miles of the
Western extremity of the island of Montreal, the lake of the two
mountains being in sight, which may be termed the commencement of the
Utawas river. At the rapid of St. Ann they are obliged to take out
part, if not the whole of their lading. It is from this spot that the
Canadians consider they take their departure, as it possesses the last
church on the island, which is dedicated to the tutelar saint of
voyages.

The lake of the two mountains is about twenty miles long, but not more
than three wide, and surrounded by cultivated fields, except the
Seignory belonging to the clergy, though nominally in possession of the
two tribes of Iroquois and Algonquins, whose village is situated on a
delightful point of land under the hills, which, by the title of
mountains, give a name to the lake. Near the extremity of the point
their church is built, which divides the village in two parts, forming a
regular angle along the water side. On the East is the station of the
Algonquins, and on the West, one of the Iroquois, consisting in all of
about five hundred warriors. Each party has its missionary, and divine
worship is performed according to the rites of the Roman Catholic
religion, in their respective languages in the same church: and so
assiduous have their pastors been, that these people have been
instructed in reading and writing in their own language, and are better
instructed than the Canadian inhabitants of the country of the lower
ranks: but notwithstanding these advantages, and though the
establishment is nearly coeval with the colonization of the country,
they do not advance towards a state of civilization, but retain their
ancient habits, language, and customs, and are becoming every day more
depraved, indigent, and insignificant. The country around them, though
very capable of cultivation, presents only a few miserable patches of
ground, sown by the women with maize and vegetables. During the winter
season, they leave their habitations, and pious pastors, to follow the
chase, according to the custom of their forefathers. Such is, indeed,
the state of all the villages near the cultivated parts of Canada. But
we shall now leave them to proceed on our voyage.

At the end of the lake the water contracts into the Utawas river, which,
after a course of fifteen miles, is interrupted by a succession of
rapids and cascades for upwards of ten miles, at the foot of which the
Canadian Seignories terminate; and all above them were waste land, till
the conclusion of the American war, when they were surveyed by order of
government, and granted to the officers and men of the eighty-fourth
regiment, when reduced; but principally to the former, and consequently
little inhabited, though very capable of cultivation.

The voyagers are frequently obliged to unload their canoes, and carry
the goods upon their backs, or rather suspended in slings from their
heads. Each man’s ordinary load is two packages, though some carry
three. Here the canoe is towed by a strong line. There are some places
where the ground will not admit of their carrying the whole; they then
make two trips, that is, leave half their lading, and go and land it at
the distance required; and then return for that which was left. In this
distance are three carrying-places, the length of which depends in a
great measure upon the state of the water, whether higher or lower; from
the last of these the river is about a mile and a half wide, and has a
regular current for about sixty miles, when it ends at the first Portage
de Chaudiere, where the body of water falls twenty-five feet, over
cragged, excavated rocks, in a most wild, romantic manner. At a small
distance below, is the river Rideau on the left, falling over a
perpendicular rock, near forty feet high, in one sheet, assuming the
appearance of a curtain; and from which circumstance it derives its
name. To this extent the lands have been surveyed, as before observed,
and are very fit for culture. Many loyalists are settled upon the river
Rideau, and have, I am told, thriving plantations. Some American
families preferring the British territory, have also established
themselves along a river on the opposite side, where the soil is
excellent. Nor do I think the period is far distant, when the lands
will become settled from this vicinity to Montreal.

Over this portage, which is six hundred and forty-three paces long, the
canoe and all the lading is carried. The rock is so steep and difficult
of access, that it requires twelve men to take the canoe out of the
water: it is then carried by six men, two at each end on the same side,
and two under the opposite gunwale in the middle. From hence to the
next is but a short distance, in which they make two trips to the second
Portage de Chaudiere, which is seven hundred paces, to carry the loading
alone. From hence to the next and last Chaudiere, or Portage des
Chenes, is about six miles, with a very strong current, where the goods
are carried seven hundred and forty paces; the canoe being towed up by
the line, when the water is not very high. We now enter Lac des
Chaudieres, which is computed to be thirty miles in length. Though it
is called a lake, there is a strong draught downwards, and its breadth
is from two to four miles. At the end of this is the Portage des Chats,
over which the canoe and lading are carried two hundred and seventy-four
paces; and very difficult it is for the former. The river is here
barred by a ridge of black rock, rising in pinnacles and covered with
wood, which, from the small quantity of soil that nourishes it, is low
and stinted. The river finds its way over and through these rocks, in
numerous channels, falling fifteen feet and upwards. From hence two
trips are made through a serpentine channel, formed by the rocks, for
several miles, when the current slackens, and is accordingly called the
Lac des Chats. To the channels of the grand Calumet, which are computed
to be at the distance of eighteen miles, the current recovers its
strength, and proceeds to the Portage Dufort, which is two hundred and
forty-five paces long; over which the canoe and baggage are transported.
From hence the current becomes more rapid, and requires two trips to the
Decharge des Sables,[3] where the goods are carried one hundred and
thirty-five paces, and the canoe towed. Then follows the Mountain
Portage, where the canoe and lading are also carried three hundred and
eighty-five paces; then to the Decharge of the Derige, where the goods
are carried two hundred and fifty paces; and thence to the grand
Calumet. This is the longest carrying-place in this river, and is about
two thousand and thirty-five paces. It is a high hill or mountain.
From the upper part of this Portage the current is steady, and is only a
branch of the Utawas river, which joins the main channel, that keeps a
more Southern course, at the distance of twelve computed leagues. Six
leagues further it forms Lake Coulonge, which is about four leagues in
length; from thence it proceeds through the channels of the Allumettes
to the decharge, where part of the lading is taken out, and carried
three hundred and forty-two paces. Then succeeds the Portage des
Allumettes, which is but twenty-five paces, over a rock difficult of
access, and at a very short distance from Decharge. From Portage de
Chenes to this spot, is a fine deer-hunting country, and the land in
many places very fit for cultivation. From hence the river spreads
wide, and is full of islands, with some current for seven leagues, to
the beginning of _Riviere Creuse_, or Deep River, which runs in the form
of a canal, about a mile and a half wide, for about thirty-six miles;
bounded upon the North by very high rocks, with low land on the South,
and sandy; it is intercepted again by falls and cataracts, so that the
Portages of the two Joachins almost join. The first is nine hundred and
twenty-six paces, the next seven hundred and twenty, and both very bad
roads. From hence is a steady current of nine miles to the river du
Moine, where there has generally been a trading house; the stream then
becomes strong for four leagues, when a rapid succeeds, which requires
two trips. A little way onward is the Decharge, and close to it, the
Portage of the Roche Capitaine, seven hundred and ninety-seven paces in
length. From hence two trips are made through a narrow channel of the
Roche Capitaine, made by an island four miles in length. A strong
current now succeeds, for about six leagues to the Portage of the two
rivers, which is about eight hundred and twenty paces; from thence it is
three leagues to the Decharge of the Trou, which is three hundred paces.
Near adjoining is the rapid of Levellier; from whence, including the
rapids of Matawoen, where there is no carrying-place, it is about
thirty-six miles to the forks of the same name; in latitude
46. 45. North, and longitude 78. 45. West, and is at the computed
distance of four hundred miles from Montreal. At this place the Petite
Riviere falls into the Utawas. The latter river comes from a
North-Westerly direction, forming several lakes in its course. The
principal of them is Lake Temescamang, where there has always been a
trading post, which may be said to continue, by a succession of rivers
and lakes, upwards of fifty leagues from the Forks, passing near the
waters of the Lake Abbitiby, in latitude 48½, which is received by
the Moose River, that empties itself into James Bay.

The Petite Riviere takes a South-West direction, is full of rapids and
cataracts to its source, and is not more than fifteen leagues in length,
in the course of which are the following interruptions–The Portage of
Plein Champ, three hundred and nineteen paces; the Decharge of the Rose,
one hundred and forty-five paces; the Decharge of Campion, one hundred
and eighty-four paces; the Portage of the Grosse Roche, one hundred and
fifty paces; the Portage of Paresseux, four hundred and two paces; the
Portage of Prairie, two hundred and eighty-seven paces; the Portage of
La Cave, one hundred paces; Portage of Talon, two hundred and
seventy-five paces; which, for its length, is the worst on the
communication; Portage Pin de Musique, four hundred and fifty-six paces;
next to this, is mauvais de Musique, where many men have been crushed to
death by the canoes, and others have received irrecoverable injuries.
The last in this river is the Turtle Portage, eighty-three paces, on
entering the lake of that name, where, indeed, the river may be said to
take its source. At the first vase from whence to the great river, the
country has the appearance of having been over-run by fire, and
consists, in general, of huge rocky hills. The distance of this portage
which is the height of land, between the waters of the St. Laurence and
the Utawas, is one thousand five hundred and thirteen paces to a small
canal in a plain, that is just sufficient to carry the loaded canoe
about one mile to the next vase, which is seven hundred and twenty-five
paces. It would be twice this distance, but the narrow creek is dammed
in the beaver fashion, to float the canoes to this barrier, through
which they pass, when the river is just sufficient to bear them through
a swamp of two miles to the last vase, of one thousand and twenty-four
paces in length. Though the river is increased in this part, some care
is necessary to avoid rocks and stumps of trees. In about six miles is
the lake Nepisingui, which is computed to be twelve leagues long, though
the route of the canoes is something more: it is about fifteen miles
wide in the widest part, and bound with rocks. Its inhabitants consist
of the remainder of a numerous converted tribe, called Nepisinguis of
the Algonquin nation. Out of it flows the Riviere des François, over
rocks of a considerable height. In a bay to the East of this, the road
leads over the Portage of the Chaudiere des François, five hundred and
forty-four paces, to still water. It must have acquired the name of
Kettle, from a great number of holes in the solid rock of a cylindrical
form, and not unlike that culinary utensil. They are observable in many
parts along strong bodies of water, and where, at certain seasons, and
distinct periods, it is well known the water inundates; at the bottom of
them are generally found a number of small stones and pebbles. This
circumstance justifies the conclusion, that at some former period these
rocks formed the bed of a branch of the discharge of this lake, although
some of them are upwards of ten feet above the present level of the
water at its greatest height. They are, indeed, to be seen along every
great river throughout this wide extended country. The French river is
very irregular, both as to its breadth and form, and is so interspersed
with islands, that in the whole course of it the banks are seldom
visible. Of its various channels, that which is generally followed by
the canoes is obstructed by the following Portages, viz., des Pins,
fifty-two paces; Feausille, thirty-six paces; Parisienne, one hundred
paces; Recolet, forty-five paces; and the Petite Feausille, twenty-five
paces. In several parts there are guts or channels, where the water
flows with great velocity, which are not more than twice the breadth of
a canoe. The distance to Lake Huron is estimated at twenty-five
leagues, which this river enters in the latitude 45. 53. North, that is,
at the point of land three or four miles within the lake. There is
hardly a foot of soil to be seen from one end of the French river to the
other, its banks consisting of hills of entire rock. The coast of the
lake is the same, but lower, backed at some distance by high lands. The
course runs through numerous islands to the North of West to the river
Tessalon, computed to be about fifty leagues from the French river, and
which I found to be in latitude 46. 12. 21. North; and from thence
crossing, from island to island, the arm of the lake that receives the
water of Lake Superior (which continues the same course), the route
changes to the South of West ten leagues to the Detour, passing the end
of the island of St. Joseph, within six miles of the former place. On
that island there has been a military establishment since the upper
posts were given up to the Americans in the year 1794; and is the
Westernmost military position which we have in this country. It is a
place of no trade, and the greater part, if not the whole of the Indians
come here for no other purpose but to receive the presents which our
government annually allows them. They are from the American territory
(except about thirty families, who are the inhabitants of the lake from
the French river, and of the Algonquin nation) and trade in their
peltries, as they used formerly to do at Michilimakinac, but principally
with British subjects. The Americans pay them very little attention,
and tell them that they keep possession of their country by right of
conquest: that, as their brothers, they will be friends with them while
they deserve it; and that their traders will bring them every kind of
goods they require, which they may procure by their industry.

Our commanders treat them in a very different manner, and, under the
character of the representative of their father (which parental title
the natives give to his present Majesty, the common father of all his
people) present them with such things as the actual state of their
stores will allow.

How far this conduct, if continued, may, at a future exigency, keep
these people in our interest, if they are even worthy of it, is not an
object of my present consideration: at the same time, I cannot avoid
expressing my perfect conviction, that it would not be of the least
advantage to our present or future commerce in that country, or to the
people themselves; as it only tends to keep many of them in a state of
idleness about our military establishments. The ammunition which they
receive is employed to kill game, in order to procure rum in return,
though their families may be in a starving condition: hence it is, that,
in consequence of slothful and dissolute lives, their numbers are in a
very perceptible state of diminution.

From the Detour to the island of Michilimakinac, at the conference of
the Lakes Huron and Michigan, in latitude 45. 54. North is about forty
miles. To keep the direct course to Lake Superior, the North shore from
the river Tessalon should be followed; crossing to the North-West end of
St. Joseph, and passing between it and the adjacent islands, which makes
a distance of fifty miles to the fall of St. Mary, at the foot of which,
upon the South shore, there is a village, formerly a place of great
resort for the inhabitants of Lake Superior, and consequently of
considerable trade: it is now, however, dwindled to nothing, and reduced
to about thirty families, of the Algonquin, nation, who are one half of
the year starving, and the other half intoxicated, and ten or twelve
Canadians, who have been in the Indian country from an early period of
life, and intermarried with the natives, who have brought them families.
Their inducements to settle there, was the great quantity of white fish
that are to be taken in and about the falls, with very little trouble,
particularly in the autumn, when that fish leave the lakes, and comes to
the running and shallow waters to spawn. These, when salt can be
procured, are pickled just as the frost sets in, and prove very good
food with potatoes, which they have of late cultivated with success.
The natives live chiefly on this fish, which they hang up by the tails,
and preserve throughout the winter, or at least as long as they last;
for whatever quantity they may have taken, it is never known that their
economy is such as to make them last through the winter, which renders
their situation very distressing; for if they had activity sufficient to
pursue the labours of the chase, the woods are become so barren of game
as to afford them no great prospect of relief. In the spring of the
year, they and the other inhabitants make a quantity of sugar from the
maple tree, which they exchange with the traders for necessary articles,
or carry it to Michilimakinac, where they expect a better price. One of
these traders was agent for the North-West Company, receiving, storing,
and forwarding such articles as come by the way of the lakes upon their
vessels: for it is to be observed, that a quantity of their goods are
sent by that route from Montreal in boats to Kingston, at the entrance
of Lake Ontario, and from thence in vessels to Niagara, then over land
ten miles to a water communication by boats, to Lake Erie, where they
are again received into vessels, and carried over that lake up the river
Detroit, through the lake and river Sinclair to Lake Huron, and from
thence to the Falls of St. Mary’s, when they are again landed and
carried for a mile above the falls, and shipped over Lake Superior to
the Grande Portage. This is found to be a less expensive method than by
canoes, but attended with more risk, and requiring more time, than one
short season of this country will admit; for the goods are always sent
from Montreal the preceding fall; and besides, the company get their
provisions from Detroit, as flour and Indian corn; as also considerable
supplies from Michilimakinac of maple sugar, tallow, gum, etc., etc.

For the purpose of conveying all these things, they have two vessels
upon the Lakes Erie and Huron, and one on Lake Superior, of from fifty
to seventy tons burden. This being, therefore, the depot for
transports, the Montreal canoes, on their arrival, were forwarded over
Lake Superior, with only five men in each; the others were sent to
Michilimakinac for additional canoes, which were required to prosecute
the trade, and then taking a lading there, or at St. Mary’s, and follow
the others. At length they all arrive at the Grande Portage which is
one hundred and sixty leagues from St. Mary’s, coastways, and situated
on a pleasant bay on the North side of the lake, in latitude 48. North,
and longitude 90. West from Greenwich, where the compass has not above
five degrees East variation.

At the entrance of the bay is an island which screens the harbour from
every wind except the South. The shallowness of the water, however,
renders it necessary for the vessel to anchor near a mile from the
shore, where there is not more than fourteen feet water. This lake
justifies the name that has been given to it; the Falls of St. Mary,
which is its Northern extremity, being in latitude 46. 31. North, and in
longitude 84. West, where there is no variation of the compass
whatever, while its Southern extremity, at the river St. Louis, is in
latitude 46. 45. North, and longitude 92. 10. West: its greatest
breadth is one hundred and twenty miles, and its circumference,
including its various bays, is not less than one thousand two hundred
miles. Along its North shore is the safest navigation, as it is a
continued mountainous embankment of rock, from three hundred to one
thousand five hundred feet in height. There are numerous coves and
sandy bays to land, which are frequently sheltered by islands from the
swell of the lake. This is particularly the case at the distance of one
hundred miles to the Eastward of the Grande Portage, and is called the
Pays Plat.

This seems to have been caused by some convulsion of nature, for many of
the islands display a composition of lava, intermixed with round stones
of the size of a pigeon’s egg. The surrounding rock is generally hard,
and of a dark blue-grey, though it frequently has the appearance of iron
and copper. The South side of the lake, from Point Shagoimigo East, is
almost a continual straight line of sandy beach, interspersed with rocky
precipices of lime-stones, sometimes rising to a hundred feet in height,
without a bay. The embankments from that point Westward are, in
general, of strong clay, mixed with stones, which renders the navigation
irksome and dangerous. On the same side, at the river Tonnagan, is
found a quantity of virgin copper. The Americans, soon after they got
possession of that country, sent an engineer thither; and I should not
be surprised to hear of their employing people to work the mine.
Indeed, it might be well worthy the attention of the British subjects to
work the mines on the North coast, though they are not supposed to be so
rich as those on the South.

Lake Superior is the largest and most magnificent body of fresh water in
the world: it is clear and pellucid, of great depth, and abounding in a
great variety of fish, which are the most excellent of their kind.
There are trouts of three kinds, weighing from five to fifty pounds,
sturgeon, pickerel, pike, red and white carp, black bass, herrings,
etc., etc., and the last, and best of all, the Ticamang, or white fish,
which weighs from four to sixteen pounds, and is of a superior quality
in these waters.

This lake may be denominated the grand reservoir of the River
St. Laurence, as no considerable rivers discharge themselves into it.
The principal ones are, the St. Louis, the Nipigon, the Pic, and the
Michipicoten. Indeed, the extent of country from which any of them
flow, or take their course, in any direction, cannot admit of it, in
consequence of the ridge of land that separates them from the rivers
that empty themselves into Hudson’s-Bay, the gulf of Mexico, and the
waters that fall in Lake Michigan, which afterward become a part of the
St. Laurence.

This vast collection of water is often covered with fog, particularly
when the wind is from the East, which, driving against the high barren
rocks on the North and West shore, dissolves in torrents of rain. It is
very generally said, that the storms on this lake are denoted by a swell
on the preceding day; but this circumstance did not appear from my
observation to be a regular phenomenon, as the swells more regularly
subsided without any subsequent wind.

Along the surrounding rocks of this immense lake, evident marks appear
of the decrease of its water, by the lines observable along them. The
space, however, between the highest and the lowest, is not so great as
in the smaller lakes, as it does not amount to more than six feet, the
former being very faint.

The inhabitants that are found along the coast of this water, are all of
the Algonquin nation, the whole of which do not exceed 150 families.[4]

These people live chiefly on fish; indeed, from what has been said of
the country, it cannot be expected to abound in animals, as it is
totally destitute of that shelter, which is so necessary to them. The
rocks appear to have been over-run by fire, and the stinted timber which
once grew there, is frequently seen lying along the surface of them: but
it is not easy to be reconciled, that anything should grow where there
is so little appearance of soil. Between the fallen trees there are
briars, with hurtleberry and gooseberry bushes, raspberries, etc., which
invite the bears in greater or lesser numbers, as they are a favourite
food of that animal: beyond these rocky banks are found a few moose and
fallow deer. The waters alone are abundantly inhabited.

A very curious phenomenon was observed some years ago at the Grande
Portage, for which no obvious cause could be assigned. The water
withdrew with great precipitation, leaving the ground dry that had never
before been visible, the fall being equal to four perpendicular feet,
and rushing back with great velocity above the common mark. It
continued thus falling and rising for several hours, gradually
decreasing till it stopped at its usual height. There is frequently an
irregular influx and deflux, which does not exceed ten inches, and is
attributed to the wind.

The bottom of the bay, which forms an amphitheatre, is cleared of wood
and inclosed; and on the left corner of it, beneath an hill, three or
four hundred feet in height, and crowned by others of a still greater
altitude, is the fort, picketed in with cedar pallisadoes, and inclosing
houses built with wood and covered with shingles. They are calculated
for every convenience of trade, as well as to accommodate the
proprietors and clerks during their short residence there. The north
men live under tents: but the more frugal pork-eater lodges beneath his
canoe. The soil immediately bordering on the lake has not proved very
propitious, as nothing but potatoes have been found to answer the
trouble of cultivation. This circumstance is probably owing to the cold
damp fogs of the lake, and the moisture of the ground from the springs
that issue from beneath the hills. There are meadows in the vicinity
that yield abundance of hay for the cattle; but, as to agriculture, it
has not hitherto been an object of serious consideration.

I shall now leave these geographical notices, to give some further
account of the people from Montreal.–When they are arrived at the
Grande Portage, which is near nine miles over, each of them has to carry
eight packages of such goods and provisions as are necessary for the
interior country. This is a labour which cattle cannot conveniently
perform in summer, as both horses and oxen were tried by the company
without success. They are only useful for light, bulky articles; or for
transporting upon sledges, during the winter, whatever goods may remain
there, especially provision, of which it is usual to have a year’s stock
on hand.

Having finished this toilsome part of their duty, if more goods are
necessary to be transported, they are allowed a Spanish dollar for each
package: and so inured are they to this kind of labour, that I have
known some of them set off with two packages of ninety pounds each, and
return with two others of the same weight, in the course of six hours,
being a distance of eighteen miles over hills and mountains. This
necessary part of the business being over, if the season be early they
have some respite, but this depends upon the time the North men begin to
arrive from their winter quarters, which they commonly do early in July.
At this period, it is necessary to select from the pork-eaters, a number
of men, among whom are the recruits, or winterers, sufficient to man the
North canoes necessary to carry, to the river of the rainy lake, the
goods and provision requisite for the Athabasca country; as the people
of that country (owing to the shortness of the season and length of the
road, can come no further), are equipped there, and exchange ladings
with the people of whom we are speaking, and both return from whence
they came. This voyage is performed in the course of a month, and they
are allowed proportionable wages for their services.

The North men being arrived at the Grande Portage, are regaled with
bread, pork, butter, liquor, and tobacco, and such as have not entered
into agreements during the winter, which is customary, are contracted
with, to return and perform the voyage for one, two, or three years;
their accounts are also settled, and such as choose to send any of their
earnings to Canada, receive drafts to transmit to their relations or
friends; and as soon as they can be got ready, which requires no more
than a fortnight, they are again despatched to their respective
departments. It is, indeed, very creditable to them as servants, that
though they are sometimes assembled to the number of twelve hundred men,
indulging themselves in the free use of liquor, and quarrelling with
each other, they always show the greatest respect to their employers,
who are comparatively but few in number, and beyond the aid of any legal
power to enforce due obedience. In short, a degree of subordination can
only be maintained by the good opinion these men entertain of their
employers, which has been uniformly the case, since the trade has been
formed and conducted on a regular system.

The people being despatched to their respective winter-quarters, the
agents from Montreal, assisted by their clerks, prepare to return there,
by getting the furs across the portage, and re-making them into packages
of one hundred pounds weight each, to send them to Montreal; where they
commonly arrive in the month of September.

The mode of living at the Grande Portage is as follows: The proprietors,
clerks, guides, and interpreters, mess together, to the number of
sometimes an hundred, at several tables, in one large hall, the
provision consisting of bread, salt pork, beef, hams, fish, and venison,
butter, peas, Indian corn, potatoes, tea, spirits, wine, etc., and
plenty of milk, for which purpose several milch cows are constantly
kept. The mechanics have rations of such provision, but the canoe-men,
both from the North and Montreal, have no other allowance here, or in
the voyage, than Indian corn and melted fat. The corn for this purpose
is prepared before it leaves Detroit, by boiling it in a strong alkali,
which takes off the outer husk: it is then well washed, and carefully
dried upon stages, when it is fit for use. One quart of this is boiled
for two hours, over a moderate fire, in a gallon of water; to which,
when it has boiled a small time, are added two ounces of melted suet;
this causes the corn to split, and in the time mentioned makes a pretty
thick pudding. If to this is added a little salt, (but not before it is
boiled, as it would interrupt the operation) it makes a wholesome,
palatable food, and easy of digestion. This quantity is fully
sufficient for a man’s subsistence during twenty-four hours; though it
is not sufficiently heartening to sustain the strength necessary for a
state of active labour. The Americans call this dish hominy.[5]

The trade from the Grande Portage is, in some particulars, carried on in
a different manner with that from Montreal. The canoes used in the
latter transport are now too large for the former, and some of about
half the size are procured from the natives, and are navigated by four,
five, or six men, according to the distance which they have to go. They
carry a lading of about thirty-five packages, on an average; of these
twenty-three are for the purpose of trade, and the rest are employed for
provisions, stores, and baggage. In each of these canoes are a foreman
and steersman; the one to be always on the look-out, and direct the
passage of the vessel, and the other to attend the helm. They also
carry her, whenever that office is necessary. The foreman has the
command, and the middle-men obey both; the latter earn only two-thirds
of the wages which are paid the two former. Independent of these, a
conductor or pilot is appointed to every four or six of these canoes,
whom they are all obliged to obey; and is, or at least is intended to
be, a person of superior experience, for which he is proportionably
paid.

In these canoes, thus loaded, they embark at the North side of the
portage, on the river Au Tourt, which is very inconsiderable; and after
about two miles of a Westerly course, is obstructed by the Partridge
Portage, six hundred paces long. In the spring this makes a
considerable fall, when the water is high, over a perpendicular rock of
one hundred and twenty feet. From, thence the river continues to be
shallow, and requires great care to prevent the bottom of the canoe from
being injured by sharp rocks, for a distance of three miles and an half
to the Priarie, or Meadow, when half the lading is taken out, and
carried by part of the crew, while two of them are conducting the canoe
among the rocks, with the remainder, to the Carreboeuf Portage, three
miles and a half more, when they unload, and come back two miles, and
embark what was left for the other hands to carry, which they also land
with the former; all of which is carried six hundred and eighty paces,
and the canoe led up against the rapid. From hence the water is better
calculated to carry canoes, and leads by a winding course to the North
of West three miles to the Outard Portage, over which the canoe, and
every thing in her, is carried for two thousand four hundred paces. At
the further end is a very high hill to descend, over which hangs a rock
upwards of seven hundred feet high. Then succeeds the Outard Lake,
about six miles long, lying in a North-West course, and about two miles
wide in the broadest place.

After passing a very small rivulet, they come to the Elk Portage, over
which the canoe and lading are again carried one thousand one hundred
and twenty paces; when they enter the lake of the same name, which is an
handsome piece of water, running North-West about four miles, and not
more than one mile and an half wide.[6] They then land at the Portage de
Cerise, over which, and in the face of a considerable hill, the canoe
and cargo are again transported for one thousand and fifty paces. This
is only separated from the second Portage de Cerise, by a mud-pond
(where there is plenty of water lilies), of a quarter of a mile in
length; and this is again separated by a similar pond, from the last
Portage de Cerise, which is four hundred and ten paces. Here the same
operation is to be performed for three hundred and eighty paces. They
next enter on the Mountain Lake, running North-West by West six miles
long, and about two miles in its greatest breadth. In the centre of
this lake, and to the right is the Old Road, by which I never passed,
but an adequate notion may be formed of it from the road I am going to
describe, and which is universally preferred. This is first, the small
new portage over which everything is carried for six hundred and
twenty-six paces, over hills and gullies; the whole is then embarked on
a narrow line of water, that meanders South-West about two miles and an
half. It is necessary to unload here, for the length of the canoe, and
then proceed West half a mile, to the new Grande Portage, which is three
thousand one hundred paces in length, and over very rough ground, which
requires the utmost exertions of the men, and frequently lames them:
from hence they approach the Rose Lake, the portage of that name being
opposite to the junction of the road from the Mountain Lake. They then
embark on the Rose Lake, about one mile from the East end of it, and
steer West by South, in an oblique course, across it two miles, then
North-West passing the Petite Peche to the Marten Portage three miles.
In this part of the lake the bottom is mud and slime, with about three
or four feet of water over it; and here I frequently struck a canoe pole
of twelve feet long, without meeting any other obstruction than if the
whole were water: it has, however, a peculiar suction or attractive
power, so that it is difficult to paddle a canoe over it. There is a
small space along the South shore, where the water is deep, and this
effect is not felt. In proportion to the distance from this part, the
suction becomes more powerful: I have, indeed, been told that loaded
canoes have been in danger of being swallowed up, and have only owed
their preservation to other canoes, which were lighter. I have, myself,
found it very difficult to get away from this attractive power, with six
men, and great exertion, though we did not appear to be in any danger of
sinking.

Over against this is a very high, rocky ridge, on the South side, called
Marten Portage, which is but twenty paces long, and separated from the
Perche Portage, which is four hundred and eighty paces, by a mud pond,
covered with white lilies. From hence the course is on the lake of the
same name, West-South-West three miles to the height of land, where the
waters of the Dove or Pigeon River terminate, and which is one of the
sources of the great St. Laurence in this direction. Having carried the
canoe and lading over it, six hundred and seventy-nine paces, they
embark on the lake of Hauteur de Terre, which is in the shape of an
horseshoe.[7] It is entered near the curve, and left at the extremity of
the Western limb, through a very shallow channel, where the canoe passes
half loaded for thirty paces with the current, which conducts these
waters till they discharge themselves, through the succeeding lakes and
rivers, and disembogues itself, by the river Nelson, into Hudson’s Bay.
The first of these is Lac de pierres a fusil, running West-South-West
seven miles long, and two wide, and making an angle at North-West one
mile more, becomes a river for half a mile, tumbling over a rock, and
forming a fall and portage, called the Escalier, of fifty-five paces;
but from hence it is neither lake or river, but possesses the character
of both, and runs between large rocks, which cause a current or rapid
for about two miles and an half, West-North-West, to the portage of the
Cheval du Bois. Here the canoe and contents are carried three hundred
and eighty paces, between rocks; and within a quarter of a mile is the
Portage des Gros Pins, which is six hundred and forty paces over a high
ridge. The opposite side of it is washed by a small lake three mile
round; and the course is through the East end or side of it, three
quarters of a mile North-East, where there is a rapid. An irregular
meandering channel, between rocky banks, then succeeds, for seven miles
and an half, to the Maraboeuf Lake, which extends North four miles, and
is three-quarters of a mile wide, terminating by a rapid and decharge of
one hundred and eighty paces, the rock of Saginaga being in sight, which
causes a fall of about seven feet, and a portage of fifty-five paces.

Lake Saginaga takes its name from its numerous islands. Its greatest
length from East to West is about fourteen miles, with very irregular
inlets, is nowhere more than three miles wide, and terminates at the
small portage of Le Roche, of forty-three paces. From thence is a
rocky, stony passage of one mile, to Priarie Portage, which is very
improperly named, as there is no ground about it that answers to that
description, except a small spot at the embarking place at the West end:
to the East is an entire bog; and it is with great difficulty that the
lading can be landed upon stages, formed by driving piles into the mud,
and spreading branches of trees over them. The portage rises on a stony
ridge, over which the canoe and cargo must be carried for six hundred
and eleven paces. This is succeeded by an embarkation on a small bay,
where the bottom is the same as has been described in the West end of
Rose Lake, and it is with great difficulty that a laden canoe is worked
over it, but it does not comprehend more than a distance of two hundred
yards. From hence the progress continues through irregular channels,
bounded by rocks, in a Westerly course for about five miles, to the
little Portage des Couteaux, of one hundred and sixty-five paces, and
the Lac des Couteaux, running about South-West by West twelve miles, and
from a quarter to two miles wide. A deep bay runs East three miles from
the West end, where it is discharged by a rapid river, and after running
two miles West, it again becomes still water. In this river are two
carrying-places, the one fifteen, and the other one hundred and ninety
paces. From this to the Portage des Carpes is one mile North-West,
leaving a narrow lake on the East that runs parallel with the Lac des
Couteaux, half its length, where there is a carrying-place, which is
used when the water in the river last mentioned is too low. The Portage
des Carpes is three hundred and ninety paces, from whence the water
spreads irregularly between rocks, five miles North-West and South-East
to the Portage of Lac Bois Blanc, which is one hundred and eighty paces.
Then follows the lake of that name, but I think improperly so called, as
the natives name it the Lac Passeau Minac Sagaigan, or lake of Dry
Berries.

Before the small-pox ravaged this country, and completed, what the
Nodowasis, in their warfare, had gone far to accomplish, the destruction
of its inhabitants, the population was very numerous: this was also a
favourite part, where they made their canoes, etc., the lake abounding
in fish, the country round it being plentifully supplied with various
kinds of game, and the rocky ridges, that form the boundaries of the
water, covered with a variety of berries.

When the French were in possession of this country, they had several
trading establishments on the islands and banks of this lake. Since
that period, the few people remaining, who were of the Algonquin nation,
could hardly find subsistence; game having become so scarce, that they
depended principally for food upon fish and wild rice, which grows
spontaneously in these parts.

This lake is irregular in its form, and its utmost extent from East to
West is fifteen miles; a point of land, called Point au Pin, jutting
into it, divides it in two parts: it then makes a second angle at the
West end, to the lesser Portage de Bois Blanc, two hundred paces in
length. This channel is not wide, and is intercepted by several rapids
in the course of a mile: it runs West-North West to the Portage des
Pins, over which the canoe and lading is again carried four hundred
paces. From hence the channel is also intercepted by very dangerous
rapids, for two miles Westerly, to the point of Pointe du Bois, which is
two hundred and eighty paces. Then succeeds the portage of La Croche,
one mile more, where the carrying-place is eighty paces, and is followed
by an embarkation on that lake, which takes its name from its figure.
It extends eighteen miles, in a meandering form, and in a westerly
direction; it is in general very narrow, and at about two-thirds of its
length becomes very contracted, with a strong current.

Within three miles of the last Portage is a remarkable rock, with a
smooth face, but split and cracked in different parts, which hang over
the water. Into one of its horizontal chasms a great number of arrows
have been shot, which is said to have been done by a war party of the
Nadowasis or Sieux, who had done much mischief in this country, and left
these weapons as a warning to the Chebois or natives, that,
notwithstanding its lakes, rivers, and rocks, it was not inaccessible to
their enemies.

Lake Croche is terminated by the Portage de Rideau, four hundred paces
long, and derives its name from the appearance of the water, falling
over a rock of upwards of thirty feet. Several rapids succeed, with
intervals of still water, for about three miles to the Flacon portage,
which is very difficult, is four hundred paces long, and leads to the
Lake of La Croix, so named from its shape. It runs about North-West
eighteen miles to the Beaver Dam, and then sinks into a deep bay nearly
East. The course to the Portage is West by North for sixteen miles more
from the Beaver Dam, and into the East bay is a road which was
frequented by the French, and followed through lakes and rivers until
they came to Lake Superior by the river Caministiquia, thirty miles East
of the Grande Portage.

Portage la Croix is six hundred paces long: to the next portage is a
quarter of a mile, and its length is forty paces; the river winding four
miles to Vermillion Lake, which runs six or seven miles
North-North-West, and by a narrow strait communicates with Lake
Namaycan, which takes its name from a particular place at the foot of a
fall, where the natives spear sturgeon: Its course is about
North-North-West and South-South-East, with a bay running East, that
gives it the form of a triangle: its length is about sixteen miles to
the Nouvelle Portage.

The discharge of the lake is from a bay on the left, and the portage one
hundred eighty paces, to which succeeds a very small river, from whence
there is but a short distance to the next Nouvelle Portage, three
hundred and twenty paces long. It is then necessary to embark on a
swamp, or overflowed country, where wild rice grows in great abundance.
There is a channel or small river in the centre of this swamp, which is
kept with difficulty, and runs South and North one mile and a half.
With deepening water, the course continues North-North-West one mile to
the Chaudiere Portage, which is caused by the discharge of the waters
running on the left of the road from Lake Namaycan, which used to be the
common route, but that which I have described is the safest as well as
shortest. From hence there is some current though the water is wide
spread, and its course about North by West three miles and an half to
the Lac de la Pluie, which lies nearly East and West; from thence about
fifteen miles is a narrow strait that divides the lake into two unequal
parts, from whence to its discharge is a distance of twenty-four miles.
There is a deep bay running North-West on the right, that is not
included, and is remarkable for furnishing the natives with a kind of
soft, red stone, of which they make their pipes; it also affords an
excellent fishery both in the summer and winter; and from it is an easy,
safe, and short road to the Lac du Bois, (which I shall mention
presently) for the Indians to pass in their small canoes, through a
small lake and on a small river, whose banks furnish abundance of wild
rice. The discharge of this lake is called Lac de la Pluie River, at
whose entrance there is a rapid, below which is a fine bay, where there
had been an extensive picketed fort and building when possessed by the
French: the site of it is at present a beautiful meadow, surrounded with
groves of oaks. From hence there is a strong current for two miles,
where the water falls over a rock twenty feet, and, from the consequent
turbulence of the water, the carrying-place, which is three hundred and
twenty paces long, derives the name of Chaudiere. Two miles onward is
the present trading establishment, situated on an high bank on the North
side of the river, in 48. 37. North latitude.

Here the people from Montreal come to meet those who arrive from the
Athabasca country, as has been already described, and exchange lading
with them. This is also the residence of the first chief, or Sachem, of
all the Algonquin tribes, inhabiting the different parts of this
country. He is by distinction called Nectam, which implies personal
preeminence. Here also the elders meet in council to treat of peace or
war.

This is one of the finest rivers in the North-West, and runs a course
West and East one hundred and twenty computed miles; but in taking its
course and distance minutely I make it only eighty. Its banks are
covered with a rich soil, particularly to the North, which, in many
parts, are clothed with fine open groves of oak, with the maple, the
pine, and the cedar. The Southern bank is not so elevated, and displays
the maple, the white birch, and the cedar, with the spruce, the alder,
and various underwood. Its waters abound in fish, particularly the
sturgeon, which the natives both spear and take with drag-nets. But
notwithstanding the promise of this soil, the Indians do not attend to
its cultivation, though they are not ignorant of the common process, and
are fond of the Indian corn, when they can get it from us.

Though the soil at the fort is a stiff clay, there is a garden, which,
unassisted as it is by manure, or any particular attention, is tolerably
productive.

We now proceed to mention the Lac du Bois, into which this river
discharges itself in latitude 49. North, and was formerly famous for the
richness of its banks and waters, which abounded with whatever was
necessary to a savage life. The French had several settlements in and
about it; but it might be almost concluded, that some fatal circumstance
had destroyed the game, as war and the small-pox had diminished the
inhabitants, it having been very unproductive in animals since the
British subjects have been engaged in travelling through it; though it
now appears to be recovering its pristine state. The few Indians who
inhabit it might live very comfortably, if they were not so immoderately
fond of spirituous liquors.

This lake is also rendered remarkable, in consequence of the Americans
having named it as the spot, from which a line of boundary, between them
and British America, was to run West, until it struck the Mississippi:
which, however, can never happen, as the North-West part of the Lac du
Bois is in latitude 49. 37. North, and longitude 94.31. West, and the
Northernmost branch of the source of the Mississippi is in latitude
47. 38. North, and longitude 95. 6. West, ascertained by Mr. Thomson,
astronomer to the North-West Company, who was sent expressly for that
purpose in the spring of 1798. He, in the same year, determined the
Northern bend of the Mississoury to be in latitude 47. 32. North, and
longitude 101. 25. West; and, according to the Indian accounts, it runs
to the south of West, so that if the Mississoury were even to be
considered as the Mississippi, no Western line could strike it.

It does not appear to me to be clearly determined what course the Line
is to take, or from what part of Lake Superior it strikes through the
country to the Lac du Bois: were it to follow the principal waters to
their source, it ought to keep through Lake Superior to the River
St. Louis, and follow that river to its source; close to which is the
source of the waters falling into the river of Lac la Pluie, which is a
common route of the Indians to the Lac du Bois; the St. Louis passes
within a short distance of a branch of the Mississippi, where it becomes
navigable for canoes. This will appear more evident from consulting the
map: and if the navigation of the Mississippi is considered as of any
consequence by this country, from that part of the globe, such is the
nearest way to get at it.

But to return to our narrative. The Lac du Bois is, as far as I could
learn, nearly round, and the canoe course through the centre of it among
a cluster of islands, some of which are so extensive that they may be
taken for the mainland. The reduced course would be nearly South and
North. But following the navigating course, I make the distance
seventy-five miles, though in a direct line it would fall very short of
that length. At about two-thirds of it there is a small carrying-place,
when the water is low. The carrying-place out of the Lake is on the
island and named Portage du Rat, in latitude 49. 37. North, and
longitude 94. 15. West; it is about fifty paces long. The lake
discharges itself at both ends of this island, and forms the River
Winipic, which is a large body of water, interspersed with numerous
islands, causing various channels and interruptions of portages and
rapids. In some parts it has the appearance of lakes, with steady
currents; I estimate its winding course to the Dalles eight miles; to
the Grand Decharge twenty-five miles and an half, which is a long
carrying-place for the goods; from thence to the little Decharge one
mile and an half; to the Terre Jaune Portage two miles and an half; then
to its galet seventy yards; two miles and three quarters to the Terre
Blanche, near which is a fall of from four to five feet; three miles and
an half to Portage de L’Isle, where there is a trading-post, and, about
eleven miles, on the north shore, a trading establishment, which is the
road in boats, to Albany River, and from thence to Hudson’s-Bay. There
is also a communication with Lake Superior, through what is called the
Nipigan country, which enters that Lake about thirty-five leagues East
of the Grande Portage. In short, the country is so broken by lakes and
rivers, that people may find their way in canoes in any direction they
please. It is now four miles to Portage de L’Isle, which is but short,
though several canoes have been lost in attempting to run the rapid.
From thence it is twenty-six miles to Jacob’s Falls, which are about
fifteen feet high; and six miles and an half to the woody point; forty
yards from which is another Portage. They both form an high fall, but
not perpendicular. From thence to another galet, or rock Portage, is
about two miles, which is one continual rapid and cascade; and about two
miles further is the Chute a l’Esclave, which is upward of thirty feet.
The Portage is long, through a point covered with wood: it is six miles
and an half more to the barrier, and ten miles to the Grand Rapid. From
thence, on the North side, is a safe road, when the waters are high,
through small rivers and lakes, to the Lake du Bonnet, called the
Pinnawas, from the man who discovered it: to the White River, so called
from its being, for a considerable length, a succession of falls and
cataracts, is twelve miles. Here are seven portages, in so short a
space, that the whole of them are discernible at the same moment. From
this to Lake du Bonnet is fifteen miles more, and four miles across it
to the rapid. Here the Pinnawas Road joins, and from thence it is two
miles to the Galet du Lac du Bonnet; from this to the Galet du Bonnet
one mile and an half; thence to the Portage of the same name is three
miles. This portage is near half a league in length, and derives its
name from the custom the Indians have of crowning stones, laid in a
circle on the highest rock in the portage, with wreaths of herbage and
branches. There have been examples of men taking seven packages of
ninety pounds each, at one end of the portage, and putting them down at
the other without stopping.

To this another small portage immediately succeeds, over a rock
producing a fall. From thence to the fall of Terre Blanche is two miles
and an half; to the first portage Des Eaux qui Remuent is three miles;
to the next, of the same name, is but a few yards distant; to the third
and last, which is a Decharge, is three miles and an half; and from this
to the last Portage of the river, one mile and an half; and to the
establishment, or provision house, is two miles and an half. Here also
the French had their principal inland depot, and got their canoes made.
It is here that the present traders, going to great distances, and where
provision is difficult to procure, receive a supply to carry them to the
Rainy Lake, or Lake Superior. From the establishment to the entrance of
Lake Winipic, is four miles and an half, latitude 50. 37. North.

The country, soil, produce, and climate, from Lake Superior to this
place, bear a general resemblance, with a predominance of rock and
water: the former is of the granite kind. Where there is any soil it is
well covered with wood, such as oak, elm, ash of different kinds, maple
of two kinds, pines of various descriptions, among which are what I call
the cypress, with the hickory, ironwood, laird, poplar, cedar, black and
white birch, etc., etc. Vast quantities of wild rice are seen
throughout the country, which the natives collect in the month of August
for their winter stores.[8] To the North of fifty degrees it is hardly
known, or at least does not come to maturity.

Lake Winipic is the great reservoir of several large rivers, and
discharges itself by the River Nelson into Hudson’s Bay. The first in
rotation, next to that I have just described, is the Assiniboin, or Red
River, which at the distance of forty miles coastwise, disembogues on
the south west side of the Lake Winipic. It alternately receives those
two denominations from its dividing, at the distance of about thirty
miles from the lake, into two large branches; The Eastern branch, called
the Red River, runs in a Southern direction to near the head waters of
the Mississippi. On this are two trading establishments. The country
on either side is but partially supplied with wood, and consists of
plains covered with herds of the buffalo and elk, especially on the
Western side. On the Eastern side are lakes and rivers, and the whole
country is well wooded, level, abounding in beaver, bears, moose-deer,
fallow deer, etc., etc. The natives, who are of the Algonquin tribe,
are not very numerous, and are considered as the natives of Lake
Superior. This country being near the Mississippi, is also inhabited by
the Nadowasis, who are the natural enemies of the former; the head of
the water being the war-line, they are in a continual state of
hostility; and though the Algonquins are equally brave, the others
generally out-number them; it is very probable, therefore, that if the
latter continue to venture out of the woods, which form their only
protection, they will soon be extirpated. There is not, perhaps, a
finer country in the world for the residence of uncivilised man, than
that which occupies the space between this river and Lake Superior. It
abounds in every thing necessary to the wants and comforts of such a
people. Fish, venison, and fowl, with wild rice, are in great plenty;
while, at the same time, their subsistence requires that bodily exercise
so necessary to health and vigour.

This great extent of country was formerly very populous, but from the
information I received, the aggregate of its inhabitants does not exceed
three hundred warriors; and, among the few whom I saw, it appeared to me
that the widows were more numerous than the men. The raccoon is a
native of this country, but is seldom found to the Northward of it.

The other branch is called after the tribe of the Nadowasis, who here go
by the name of Assiniboins, and are the principal inhabitants of it. It
runs from the North-North-West, and in the latitude of 51. 15. West, and
longitude 103. 20., rising in the same mountains as the river Dauphin,
of which I shall speak in due order. They must have separated from
their nation at a time beyond our knowledge, and live in peace with the
Algonquins and Knisteneaux.

The country between this and the Red River, is almost a continual plain
to the Mississoury. The soil is sand and gravel, with a slight
intermixture of earth, and produces a short grass. Trees are very rare;
nor are there on the banks of the river sufficient, except in particular
spots, to build houses and supply fire-wood for the trading
establishments, of which there are four principal ones. Both these
rivers are navigable for canoes to their source, without a fall; though
in some parts there are rapids, caused by occasional beds of limestone,
and gravel; but in general they have a sandy bottom.

The Assiniboins, and some of the Fall or Big-bellied Indians, are the
principal inhabitants of this country, and border on the river,
occupying the centre part of it; that next Lake Winipic, and about its
source, being the station of the Algonquins and Knisteneaux, who have
chosen it in preference to their own country. They do not exceed five
hundred families. They are not beaver hunters, which accounts for their
allowing the division just mentioned, as the lower and upper parts of
this river have those animals, which are not found in the intermediate
district. They confine themselves to hunting the buffalo, and trapping
wolves, which cover the country. What they do not want of the former
for raiment and food, they sometimes make into pemmican, or pounded
meat, while they melt the fat, and prepare the skins in their hair, for
winter. The wolves they never eat, but produce a tallow from their fat,
and prepare their skins; all which they bring to exchange for arms and
ammunition, rum, tobacco, knives, and various baubles, with those who go
to traffic in their country.

The Algonquins, and the Knisteneaux, on the contrary, attend to the
fur-hunting, so that they acquire the additional articles of cloth,
blankets, etc., but their passion for rum often puts it out of their
power to supply themselves with real necessaries.

The next river of magnitude is the river Dauphin, which empties itself
at the head of St. Martin’s Bay, on the West side of the Lake Winipic,
latitude nearly 52. 15. North, taking its source in the same mountains
as the last-mentioned river, as well as the Swan and Red-Deer rivers,
the latter passing through the lake of the same name, as well as the
former, and both continuing their course through the Manitoba Lake,
which, from thence, runs parallel with Lake Winipic, to within nine
miles of the Red River, and by what is called the river Dauphin,
disembogues its waters, as already described, into that lake. These
rivers are very rapid, and interrupted by falls, etc., the bed being
generally rocky. All this country, to the South branch of the
Saskatchiwine, abounds in beaver, moose-deer, fallow-deer, elks, bears,
buffaloes, etc. The soil is good, and wherever any attempts have been
made to raise the esculent plants, etc., it has been found productive.

On these waters are three principal forts for trade. Fort Dauphin,
which was established by the French before the conquest. Red-Deer
River, and Swan-River Forts, with occasional detached posts from these.
The inhabitants are the Knisteneaux, from the North of Lake Winipic; and
Algonquins from the country between the Red River and Lake Superior; and
some from the Rainy Lake: but as they are not fixed inhabitants, their
number cannot be determined: they do not, however, at any time exceed
two hundred warriors. In general they are good hunters. There is no
other considerable river except the Saskatchiwine, which I shall mention
presently, that empties itself into the Lake Winipic.

Those on the North side are inconsiderable, owing to the comparative
vicinity of the high land that separates the waters coming this way,
from those discharging into Hudson’s Bay. The course of the lake is
about West-North-West and South-South-East, and the East end of it is in
50. 37. North. It contracts at about a quarter of its length to a
strait, in latitude 51. 45., and is no more than two miles broad, where
the South shore is gained through islands, and crossing various bays to
the discharge of the Saskatchiwine, in latitude 53. 15. This lake, in
common with those of this country, is bounded on the North with banks of
black and grey rock, and on the South by a low level country,
occasionally interrupted with a ridge or bank of lime-stones, lying in
stratas, and rising to the perpendicular height of from twenty to forty
feet; these are covered with a small quantity of earth, forming a level
surface, which bears timber, but of a moderate growth, and declines to a
swamp. Where the banks are low, it is evident in many places that the
waters are withdrawn, and never rise to those heights which were
formerly washed by them.

The inhabitants who are found along this lake are of the Knisteneaux and
Algonquin tribes, and but few in number, though game is not scarce, and
there is fish in great abundance. The black bass is found there, and no
further West; and beyond it no maple trees are seen, either hard or
soft.

On entering the Saskatchiwine, in the course of a few miles, the great
rapid interrupts the passage. It is about three miles long. Through
the greatest part of it the canoe is towed, half or full laden,
according to the state of the waters: the canoe and its contents are
then carried one thousand one hundred paces. The channel here is near a
mile wide, the waters tumbling over ridges of rocks that traverse the
river. The South bank is very high, rising upwards of fifty feet, of
the same rock as seen on the South side of the Lake Winipic, and the
North is not more than a third of that height. There is an excellent
sturgeon-fishery at the foot of this cascade, and vast numbers of
pelicans, cormorants, etc., frequent it, where they watch to seize the
fish that may be killed or disabled by the force of the waters.

About two miles from this Portage the navigation is again interrupted by
the Portage of the Roche Rouge, which is an hundred yards long; and a
mile and an half from thence the river is barred by a range of islands,
forming rapids between them; and through these it is the same distance
to the rapid of Lake Travers, which is four miles right across, and
eight miles in length. Then succeeds the Grande Decharge, and several
rapids, for four miles to the Cedar Lake, which is entered through a
small channel on the left, formed by an island, as going round it would
occasion loss of time. In this distance banks of rocks (such as have
already been described) appear at intervals on, either side; the rest of
the country is low. This is the case along the South bank of the lake
and the islands, while the North side, which is very uncommon, is level
throughout. This lake runs first West four miles, then as much more
West-South-West, across a deep bay on the right, then six miles to the
Point de Lievre, and across another bay again on the right; then
North-West eight miles, across a still deeper hay on the right; and
seven miles parallel with the North coast, North-North-West through
islands, five miles more to Fort Bourbon,[9] situated on a small island,
dividing this from Mud Lake.

The Cedar Lake is from four to twelve miles wide, exclusive, of the
bays. Its banks are covered with wood, and abound in game, and its
waters produce plenty of fish, particularly the sturgeon. The Mud Lake,
and the neighbourhood of the Fort Bourbon, abound with geese, ducks,
swans, etc., and was formerly remarkable for a vast number of martens,
of which it cannot now boast but a very small proportion.

The Mud Lake must have formerly been a part of the Cedar Lake, but the
immense quantity of earth and sand, brought down by the Saskatchiwine,
has filled up this part of it for a circumference whose diameter is at
least fifteen or twenty miles: part of which space is still covered with
a few feet of water, but the greatest proportion is shaded with large
trees, such as the liard, the swamp-ash, and the willow. This land
consists of many islands, which consequently form various channels,
several of which are occasionally dry, and bearing young wood. It is,
indeed, more than probable that this river will, in the course of time,
convert the whole of the Cedar Lake into a forest. To the North-West
the cedar is not to be found.

From this lake the Saskatchiwine may be considered as navigable to near
its source in the rocky mountains, for canoes, and without a
carrying-place, making a great bend to Cumberland House, on Sturgeon
Lake. From the confluence of its North and South branches its course is
Westerly; spreading itself, it receives several tributary streams, and
encompasses a large tract of country, which is level, particularly along
the South branch, but is little known. Beaver, and other animals, whose
furs are valuable, are amongst the inhabitants of the North-West branch,
and the plains are covered with buffaloes, wolves, and small foxes;
particularly about the South branch, which, however, has of late claimed
some attention, as it is now understood, that where the plains terminate
towards the rocky mountain, there is a space of hilly country clothed
with wood, and inhabited also by animals of the fur kind. This has been
actually determined to be the case towards the head of the North branch,
where the trade has been carried to about the latitude 54. North, and
longitude 114. 30. West. The bed and banks of the latter, in some few
places, discover a stratum of free-stone; but, in general, they are
composed of earth and sand. The plains are sand and gravel, covered
with fine grass, and mixed with a small quantity of vegetable earth,
This is particularly observable along the North branch, the West side of
which is covered with wood.

There are on this river five principal factories for the convenience of
trade with the natives. Nepawi House, South-branch House, Fort-George
House, Fort-Augustus House, and Upper Establishment. There have been
many others, which, from various causes, have been changed for these,
while there are occasionally others depending on each of them.

The inhabitants, from the information I could obtain, are as follow:

At Nepawi and South-Branch House, about thirty tents of Knisteneaux, or
ninety warriors; and sixty tents of Stone Indians, or Assiniboins, who
are their neighbours, and are equal to two hundred men: their hunting
ground extends upwards to about the Eagle Hills. Next to them are those
who trade at Forts George and Augustus, and are about eighty tents or
upwards of Knisteneaux: on either side of the river, their number may be
two hundred. In the same country are one hundred and forty tents of
Stone Indians: not quite half of them inhabit the West woody country;
the others never leave the plains, and their numbers cannot be less than
four hundred and fifty men. At the Southern Head-waters of the
North-branch dwells a tribe called Sarsees, consisting of about
thirty-five tents, or one hundred and twenty men. Opposite to those
Eastward, on the head-waters of the South Branch, are the Picaneaux, to
the number of from twelve to fifteen hundred men. Next to them, on the
same water, are the Blood-Indians, of the same nation as the last, to
the number of about fifty tents, or two hundred and fifty men. From
them downwards extend the Black-Feet Indians, of the same nation as the
two last tribes: their number may be eight hundred men. Next to them,
and who extend to the confluence of the South and North branch, are the
Fall, or Big-bellied Indians, who may amount to about six hundred
warriors.

Of all these different tribes, those who inhabit the broken country on
the North-West side, and the source of the North branch, are
beaver-hunters; the others deal in provisions, wolf, buffalo, and fox
skins; and many people on the South branch do not trouble themselves to
come near the trading establishments. Those who do, choose such
establishments as are next to their country. The Stone-Indians here,
are the same people as the Stone-Indians, or Assiniboins, who inhabit
the river of that name already described, and both are detached tribes
from the Nadowasis, who inhabit the Western side of the Mississippi, and
lower part of the Missisoury. The Fall, or Big-bellied Indians, are
from the South-Eastward also, and of a people who inhabit the plains
from the North bend of the last mentioned river, latitude 47.
32. North, longitude 101. 25. West, to the South bend of the Assiniboin
River, to the number of seven hundred men. Some of them occasionally
come to the latter river to exchange dressed buffalo robes and bad
wolf-skins for articles of no great value.

The Picaneaux, Black-Feet, and Blood-Indians, are a distinct people,
speak a language of their own, and, I have reason to think, are
travelling North-West, as well as the others just mentioned: nor have I
heard of any Indians with whose language that which they speak has any
affinity.–They are the people who deal in horses, and take them upon
the war-parties towards Mexico; from which, it is evident, that the
country to the South-East of them consists of plains, as those animals
could not well be conducted through an hilly and woody country,
intersected by waters.

The Sarsees, who are but few in number, appear from their language, to
come on the contrary from the North-West, and are of the same people as
the Rocky-Mountain Indians described in my second journal, who are a
tribe of the Chepewyans; and, as for the Knisteneaux, there is no
question of their having been, and continuing to be, invaders of this
country, from the Eastward. Formerly, they struck terror into all the
other tribes whom they met; but now they have lost the respect that was
paid them; as those whom they formerly considered as barbarians are now
their allies, and consequently become better acquainted with them, and
have acquired the use of fire-arms. The former are still proud without
power, and affect to consider the others as their inferiors: those
consequently are extremely jealous of them, and, depending upon their
own superiority in numbers, will not submit tamely to their insults; so
that the consequences often prove fatal, and the Knisteneaux are thereby
decreasing both in power and number; spirituous liquors also tend to
their diminution, as they are instigated thereby to engage in quarrels
which frequently have the most disastrous termination among themselves.

The Stone-Indians must not be considered in the same point of view
respecting the Knisteneaux, for they have been generally obliged, from
various causes, to court their alliance. They, however, are not without
their disagreements, and it is sometimes very difficult to compose their
differences. These quarrels occasionally take place with the traders,
and sometimes have a tragical conclusion. They generally originate in
consequence of stealing women and horses: they have great numbers of the
latter throughout their plains, which are brought, as has been observed,
from the Spanish settlements in Mexico; and many of them have been seen
even in the back parts of this country, branded with the initials of
their original owners’ names. Those horses are distinctly employed as
beasts of burden, and to chase the buffalo. The former are not
considered as being of much value, as they may be purchased for a gun,
which costs no more than twenty-one shillings in Great Britain. Many of
the hunters cannot be purchased with ten, the comparative value of which
exceeds the property of any native.

Of these useful animals no care whatever is taken, as when they are no
longer employed, they are turned loose winter and summer to provide for
themselves. Here, it is to be observed, that the country, in general,
on the West and North side of this great river, is broken by the lakes
and rivers with small intervening plains, where the soil is good, and
the grass grows to some length. To these the male buffaloes resort for
the winter, and if it be very severe, the females also are obliged to
leave the plains.

But to return to the route by which the progress West and North is made
through this continent.

We leave the Saskatchiwine[10] by entering the river which forms the
discharge of the Sturgeon Lake, on whose East bank is situated
Cumberland house, in latitude 53. 56. North, longitude 102. 15. The
distance between the entrance and Cumberland house is estimated at
twenty miles.

It is very evident that the mud which is carried down by the
Saskatchiwine River, has formed the land that lies between it and the
lake, for the distance of upwards of twenty miles in the line of the
river, which is inundated during one half of the summer, though covered
with wood. This lake forms an irregular horse-shoe, one side of which
runs to the North-West, and bears the name of Pine-Island Lake, and the
other, known by the name already mentioned, runs to the East of North,
and is the largest: its length is about twenty-seven miles, and its
greatest breadth about six miles. The North side of the latter is the
same kind of rock as that described in Lake Winipic, on the West shore.
In latitude 54. 16. North, the Sturgeon-Weir River discharges itself
into this lake, and its bed appears to be of the same kind of rock, and
is almost a continual rapid. Its direct course is about West by North,
and with its windings, is about thirty miles. It takes its waters into
the Beaver Lake the South-West side of which consists of the same rock
lying in thin stratas: the route then proceeds from island to island for
about twelve miles, and along the North shore, for four miles more, the
whole being a North-West course to the entrance of a river, in latitude
54. 32. North. The lake, for this distance, is about four or five miles
wide, and abounds with fish common to the country. The part of it upon
the right of that which has been described, appears more considerable.
The islands are rocky, and the lake itself surrounded by rocks. The
communication from hence to the Bouleau Lake, alternately narrows into
rivers and spreads into small lakes. The interruptions are, the Pente
Portage, which is succeeded by the Grand Rapid, where there is a
Decharge, the Carp Portage, the Bouleau Portage in latitude
54. 50. North, including a distance, together with the windings, of
thirty-four miles, in a Westerly direction. The Lake de Bouleau then
follows. This lake might with greater propriety be denominated a canal,
as it is not more than a mile in breadth. Its course is rather to the
East of North for twelve miles to Portage de L’Isle. From thence there
is still water to Portage d’Epinettes, except an adjoining rapid. The
distance is not more than four miles Westerly. After crossing this
Portage, it is not more than two miles to Lake Miron, which is in
latitude 55. 7. North. Its length is about twelve miles, and its
breadth irregular, from two to ten miles. It is only separated from
Lake du Chitique, or Pelican Lake, by a short, narrow, and small strait.
That lake is not more than seven miles long, and its course about
North-West. The Lake des Bois then succeeds, the passage to which is
through small lakes, separated by falls and rapids. The first is a
Decharge: then follow the three galets, in immediate succession. From
hence Lake des Bois runs about twenty-one miles. Its course is
South-South-East, and North-North-West, and is full of islands. The
passage continues through an intricate, narrow, winding, and shallow
channel for eight miles. The interruptions in this distance are
frequent, but depend much on the state of the waters. Having passed
them, it is necessary to cross the Portage de Traite, or, as it is
called by the Indians, Athiquisipichigan Ouinigam, or the Portage of the
Stretched Frog Skin, to the Missinipi. The waters already described
discharge themselves into Lake Winipic, and augment those of the river
Nelson. These which we are now entering are called the Missinipi, or
great Churchill River.

All the country to the South and East of this, within the line of the
progress that has been described, is interspersed by lakes, hills, and
rivers, and is full or animals, of the fur-kind, as well as the
moose-deer. Its inhabitants are the Knisteneaux Indians, who are called
by the servants of the Hudson’s Bay Company, at York, their home-guards.

The traders from Canada succeeded for several years in getting the
largest proportion of their furs, till the year 1793, when the servants
of that company thought proper to send people amongst them, (and why
they did not do it before is best known to themselves), for the purpose
of trade, and securing their credits, which the Indians were apt to
forget. From the short distance they had to come, and the quantity of
goods they supplied, the trade has, in a great measure, reverted to
them, as the merchants from Canada could not meet them upon equal terms.
What added to the loss of the latter, was the murder of one of their
traders by the Indians, about this period. Of these people not above
eighty men have been known to the traders from Canada, but they consist
of a much greater number.

The Portage de Traite, as has been already hinted, received its name
from Mr. Joseph Frobisher, who penetrated into this part of the country
from Canada, as early as the years 1774 and 1775, where he met with the
Indians in the spring, on their way to Churchill, according to annual
custom, with their canoes full of valuable furs. They traded with him
for as many of them as his canoes could carry, and in consequence of
this transaction, the Portage received and has since retained its
present appellation. He also denominated these waters the English
River. The Missinipi is the name which it received from the
Knisteneaux, when they first came to this country, and either destroyed
or drove back the natives, whom they held in great contempt, on many
accounts, but particularly for their ignorance in hunting the beaver, as
well as in preparing, stretching, and drying the skins of those animals.
And as a sign of their derision, they stretched the skin of a frog, and
hung it up at the Portage. This was, at that time, the utmost extent of
their conquest or war-faring progress West, and is in latitude 55.
25. North, and longitude 103. 45. West. The river here, which bears the
appearance of a lake, takes its name from the Portage, and is full of
islands. It runs from East to West about sixteen miles, and is from
four to five miles broad. Then succeed falls and cascades which form
what is called the grand rapid. From thence there is a succession of
small lakes and rivers, interrupted by rapids and falls, viz., the
Portage de Bareel, the Portage de L’Isle, and that of the Rapid River.
The course is twenty miles from East-South-East to North-North-West.
The Rapid-River Lake then runs West five miles, and is of an oval form.
The rapid river is the discharge of Lake la Ronge, where there has been
an establishment for trade from the year 1782. Since the small-pox
ravaged these parts, there have been but few inhabitants; these are of
the Knisteneaux tribe, and do not exceed thirty men. The direct
navigation continues to be through rivers and canals, interrupted by
rapids; and the distance to the first Decharge is four miles, in a
Westerly direction. Then follows Lake de la Montagne, which runs
South-South-West three miles and an half, then North six miles, through
narrow channels, formed by islands, and continues North-North-West five
miles, to the portage of the same name, which is no sooner crossed, than
another appears in sight, leading to the Otter Lake, from whence it is
nine miles Westerly to the Otter Portage, in latitude 55. 39. Between
this and the Portage du Diable, are several rapids, and the distance
three miles and an half. Then succeeds the lake of the same name,
running from South-East to North-West, five miles, and West four miles
and an half.

There is then a succession of small lakes, rapids, and falls, producing
the Portage des Ecors, Portage du Galet, and Portage des Morts, the
whole comprehending a distance of six miles, to the lake of the latter
name. On the left side is a point covered with human bones, the relics
of the small-pox; which circumstance gave the Portage and the lake this
melancholy denomination. Its course is South-West fifteen miles, while
its breadth does not exceed three miles. From thence a rapid river
leads to Portage de Hallier, which is followed by Lake de Isle d’Ours:
it is, however, improperly called a lake, as it contains frequent
impediments amongst its islands, from rapids. There is a very dangerous
one about the centre of it, which is named the Rapid qui ne parle point,
or that never speaks, from its silent whirlpool-motion. In some of the
whirlpools the suction is so powerful, that they are carefully avoided.
At some distance from the silent rapid is a narrow strait, where the
Indians have painted red figures on the face of a rock, and where it was
their custom formerly to make an offering of some of the articles which
they had with them, in their way to and from Churchill. The course of
this lake, which is very meandering, may be estimated at thirty-eight
miles, and is terminated by the Portage du Canot Tourner, from the
danger to which those are subject who venture to run this rapid. From
thence a river of one mile and an half North-West course leads to the
Portage de Bouleau, and in about half a mile to Portage des Epingles, so
called from the sharpness of its stones. Then follows the Lake des
Souris, the direction across which is amongst islands, North-West by
West six miles. In this traverse is an island, which is remarkable for
a very large stone, in the form of a bear, on which the natives have
painted the head and snout of that animal; and here they also were
formerly accustomed to offer sacrifices. This lake is separated only by
a narrow strait from the Lake du Serpent, which runs North-North-West
seven miles, to a narrow channel, that connects it with another lake,
bearing the same name, and running the same course for eleven miles,
when the rapid of the same denomination is entered on the West side of
the lake. It is to be remarked here, that for about three or four miles
on the North-West side of this lake, there is an high bank of clay and
sand, clothed with cypress trees, a circumstance which is not observable
on any lakes hitherto mentioned, as they are bounded, particularly on
the North, by black and grey rocks. It may also be considered as a most
extraordinary circumstance, that the Chepewyans go North-West from hence
to the barren grounds, which are their own country, without the
assistance of canoes; as it is well known that in every other part which
has been described, from Cumberland House, the country is broken on
either side of the direction to a great extent: so that a traveller
could not go at right angles with any of the waters already mentioned,
without meeting with others in every eight or ten miles. This will also
be found to be very much the case in proceeding to Portage la Loche.

The last mentioned rapid is upwards of three miles long, North-West by
West; there is, however, no carrying, as the line and poles are
sufficient to drag and set the canoes against the current. Lake Croche
is then crossed in a Westerly direction of six miles, though its whole
length may be twice that distance: after which it contracts to a river
that runs Westerly for ten miles, when it forms a bend, which is left to
the South, and entering a portion of its waters called the Grass River,
whose meandering course is about six miles, but in a direct line not
more than half that length, where it receives its waters from the great
river, which then runs Westerly eleven miles before it forms the Knee
Lake, whose direction is to the North of West. It is full of islands
for eighteen miles, and its greatest apparent breadth is not more than
five miles. The portage of the same name is several hundred yards long,
and over large stones. Its latitude is 55. 50. and longitude 106. 30.
Two miles further North is the commencement of the Croche Rapid, which
is a succession of cascades for about three miles, making a bend due
South to the Lake du Primeau, whose course is various, and through
islands, to the distance of about fifteen miles. The banks of this lake
are low, stony, and marshy, whose grass and rushes afford shelter and
food to great numbers of wild fowl. At its Western extremity is Portage
la Puise, from whence the river takes a meandering course, widening and
contracting at intervals, and is much interrupted by rapids. After a
Westerly course of twenty miles, it reaches Portage Pellet. From hence,
in the course of seven miles, are three rapids, to which succeeds the
Shagoina Lake, which may be eighteen miles in circumference. Then
Shagoina strait and rapid lead into the Lake of Isle a la Crosse, in
which the course is South twenty miles, and South-South-West fourteen
miles, to the Point au Sable; opposite to which is the discharge of the
Beaver-River, bearing South six miles: the lake in the distance run,
does not exceed twelve miles in its greatest breadth. It now turns
West-South-West, the Isle a la Crosse being on the South, and the main
land on the North; and it clears the one and the other in the distance
of three miles, the water presenting an open horizon to right and left;
that on the left formed by a deep narrow bay, about ten leagues in
depth; and that to the right by what is called la Riviere Creuse, or
Deep River, being a canal of still water, which is here four miles wide.
On following the last course, Isle a la Crosse Fort appears on a low
isthmus, at the distance of five miles, and is in latitude
55. 25. North, and longitude 107. 48. West.

This lake and fort take their names from the island just mentioned,
which, as has been already observed, received its denomination from the
game of the cross, which forms a principal amusement among the natives.

The situation of this lake, the abundance of the finest fish in the
world to be found in its waters, the richness of its surrounding banks
and forests, in moose and fallow deer, with the vast numbers of the
smaller tribes of animals, whose skins are precious, and the numerous
flocks of wild fowl that frequent it in the spring and fall, make it a
most desirable spot for the constant residence of some, and the
occasional rendezvous of others of the inhabitants of the country,
particularly of the Knisteneaux.

Who the original people were that were driven from it, when conquered by
the Knisteneaux, is not now known, as not a single vestige remains of
them. The latter, and the Chepewyans, 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 relations and friends in the barren
grounds, which they term their native country. They were for some time
treated by the Knisteneaux as enemies; who now allow them to hunt to the
North of the track which has been described, from Fort du Traite
upwards, but when they occasionally meet them, they insist on
contributions, and frequently punish resistance with their arms. This
is sometimes done at the forts, or places of trade, but then it appears
to be a voluntary gift. A treat of rum is expected on the occasion,
which the Chepewyans on no other account ever purchase; and those only
who have had frequent intercourse with the Knisteneaux have any
inclination to drink it.

When the Europeans first penetrated into this country, in 1777, the
people of both tribes were numerous, but the small-pox was fatal to them
all, so that there does not exist of the one, at present, more than
forty resident families; and the other has been from about thirty to two
hundred families. These numbers are applicable to the constant and less
ambitious inhabitants, who are satisfied with the quiet possession of a
country affording, without risk or much trouble, every thing necessary
to their comfort; for since traders have spread themselves over it, it
is no more the rendezvous of the errant Knisteneaux, part of whom used
annually to return thither from the country of the Beaver River, which
they had explored to its source in their war and hunting excursions, and
as far as the Saskatchiwine, where they sometimes met people of their
own nation, who had prosecuted similar conquests up that river. In that
country they found abundance of fish and animals, such as have been
already described, with the addition of the buffaloes, who range in the
partial patches of meadow scattered along the rivers and lakes. From
thence they returned in the spring to their friends whom they had left;
and, at the same time met with others who had penetrated with the same
designs into the Athabasca country, which will be described hereafter.

The spring was the period of this joyful meeting, when their time was
occupied in feasting, dancing, and other pastimes, which were
occasionally suspended for sacrifice, and religious solemnity: while the
narratives of their travels, and the history of their wars, amused and
animated the festival. The time of rejoicing was but short, and was
soon interrupted by the necessary preparations for their annual journey
to Churchill, to exchange their furs for such European articles as were
now become necessary to them. The shortness of the seasons, and the
great length of their way requiring the utmost despatch, the most active
men of the tribe, with their youngest women, and a few of their children
undertook the voyage, under the direction of some of their chiefs,
following the waters already described, to their discharge at Churchill
Factory, which are called, as has already been observed, the Missinipi,
or Great Waters. There they remained no longer than was sufficient to
barter their commodities, with a supernumerary day or two to gratify
themselves with the indulgence of spirituous liquors. At the same time
the inconsiderable quantity they could purchase to carry away with them,
for a regale with their friends, was held sacred, and reserved to
heighten the enjoyment of their return home, when the amusements,
festivity, and religious solemnities of the spring were repeated. The
usual time appropriated to these convivialities being completed, they
separated, to pursue their different objects; and if they were
determined to go to war, they made the necessary arrangements for their
future operations.

But we must now renew the progress of the route. It is not more than
two miles from Isle a la Crosse Fort, to a point of land which forms a
cheek of that part of the lake called the Riviere Creuse, which
preserves the breadth already mentioned for upwards of twenty miles;
then contracts to about two, for the distance of ten miles more, when it
opens to Lake Clear, which is very wide, and commands an open horizon,
keeping the West shore for six miles. The whole of the distance
mentioned is about North-West, when, by a narrow, crooked channel,
turning to the South of West, the entry is made into Lake du Boeuf,
which is contracted near the middle, by a projecting sandy point;
independent of which it may be described as from six to twelve miles in
breadth, thirty-six miles long, and in a North-West direction. At the
North-West end, in latitude 56. 8. it receives the waters of the river
la Loche, which, in the fall of the year, is very shallow, and navigated
with difficulty even by half-laden canoes. Its water is not sufficient
to form strong rapids, though from its rocky bottom the canoes are
frequently in considerable danger. Including its meanders, the course
of this river may be computed at twenty-four miles, and receives its
first waters from the lake of the same name, which is about twenty miles
long, and six wide; into which a small river flows, sufficient to bear
loaded canoes, for about a mile and an half, where the navigation
ceases; and the canoes, with their lading, are carried over the Portage
la Loche for thirteen miles.

This portage is the ridge that divides the waters which discharge
themselves into Hudson’s Bay, from those that flow into the Northern
ocean, and is in the latitude 56. 20. and longitude 109. 15. West. It
runs South-West until it loses its local height between the
Saskatchiwine and Elk Rivers; close on the bank of the former, in
latitude 53. 36. North, and longitude 113. 45. West, it may be traced
in an Easterly direction toward latitude 58. 12. North, and longitude
103½. West, when it appears to take its course due North, and may
probably reach the Frozen Seas.

From Lake le Souris, the banks of the rivers and lakes display a smaller
portion of solid rock. The land is low and stony, intermixed with a
light, sandy soil, and clothed with wood. That of the Beaver River is
of a more productive quality: but no part of it has ever been cultivated
by the natives or Europeans, except a small garden at the Isle a la
Crosse, which well repaid the labour bestowed upon it.

The Portage la Loche is of a level surface, in some parts abounding with
stones, but in general it is an entire sand, and covered with the
cypress, the pine, the spruce fir, and other trees natural to its soil.
Within three miles of the North-West termination, there is a small round
lake, whose diameter does not exceed a mile, and which affords a
trifling respite to the labour of carrying. Within a mile of the
termination of the Portage is a very steep precipice, whose ascent and
descent appears to be equally impracticable in any way, as it consists
of a succession of eight hills, some of which are almost perpendicular;
nevertheless, the Canadians contrive to surmount all these difficulties,
even with their canoes and lading.

This precipice, which rises upwards of a thousand feet above the plain
beneath it, commands a most extensive, romantic, and ravishing prospect.
From thence the eye looks down on the course of the little river, by
some called the Swan river, and by others, the Clear-Water and Pelican
river, beautifully meandering for upwards of thirty miles. The valley,
which is at once refreshed and adorned by it, is about three miles in
breadth, and is confined by two lofty ridges of equal height, displaying
a most beautiful intermixture of wood and lawn, and stretching on till
the blue mist obscures the prospect. Some parts of the inclining
heights are covered with stately forests, relieved by promontories of
the finest verdure, where the elk and buffalo find pasture. These are
contrasted by spots where fire has destroyed the woods, and left a
dreary void behind it. Nor, when I beheld this wonderful display of
uncultivated nature, was the moving scenery of human occupation wanting
to complete the picture. From this elevated situation, I beheld my
people, diminished, as it were, to half their size, employed in pitching
their tents in a charming meadow, and among the canoes, which, being
turned upon their sides, presented their reddened bottoms in contrast
with the surrounding verdure. At the same time, the process of gumming
them produced numerous small spires of smoke, which, as they rose,
enlivened the scene, and at length blended with the larger columns that
ascended from the fires where the suppers were preparing. It was in the
month of September when I enjoyed a scene, of which I do not presume to
give an adequate description; and as it was the rutting season of the
elk, the whistling of that animal was heard in all the variety which the
echoes could afford it.

This river, which waters and reflects such enchanting scenery, runs,
including its windings, upwards of eighty miles, when it discharges
itself in the Elk River, according to the denomination of the natives,
but commonly called by the white people, the Athabasca River, in
latitude 56. 42. North.

At a small distance from Portage la Loche, several carrying-places
interrupt the navigation of the river; about the middle of which are
some mineral springs, whose margins are covered with sulphureous
incrustations. At the junction or fork, the Elk River is about three
quarters of a mile in breadth, and runs in a steady current, sometimes
contracting, but never increasing its channel, till, after receiving
several small streams, it discharges itself into the Lake of the Hills,
in latitude 58. 36. North. At about twenty-four miles from the Fork,
are some bituminous fountains, into which a pole of twenty feet long may
be inserted without the least resistance. The bitumen is in a fluid
state, and when mixed with gum, or the resinous substance collected from
the spruce fir, serves to gum the canoes. In its heated state it emits
a smell like that of sea-coal. The banks of the river, which are there
very elevated, discover veins of the same bituminous quality. At a
small distance from the Fork, houses have been erected for the
convenience of trading with a party of the Knisteneaux, who visit the
adjacent country for the purpose of hunting.

At the distance of about forty miles from the lake, is the Old
Establishment, which has been already mentioned, as formed by Mr. Pond
in the year 1778-9, and which was the only one in this part of the
world, till the year 1785. In the year 1788 it was transferred to the
Lake of the Hills, and formed on a point on its Southern side, at about
eight miles from the discharge of the river. It was named Fort
Chepewyan, and is in latitude 58. 38. North, longitude 110. 26. West,
and much better situated for trade and fishing as the people here have
recourse to water for their support.

This being the place which I made my headquarters for eight years, and
from whence I took my departure, on both my expeditions, I shall give
some account of it, with the manner of carrying on the trade there, and
other circumstances connected with it.

The laden canoes which leave Lake la Pluie about the first of August, do
not arrive here till the latter end of September, or the beginning of
October, when a necessary proportion of them is despatched up the Peace
River to trade with the Beaver and Rocky-Mountain Indians. Others are
sent to the Slave River and Lake, or beyond them, and traffic with the
inhabitants of that country. A small part of them, if not left at the
Fork of the Elk River, return thither for the Knisteneaux, while the
rest of the people and merchandise remain here, to carry on trade with
the Chepewyans.

Here have I arrived with ninety or an hundred men without any provision
for their sustenance; for whatever quantity might have been obtained
from the natives during the summer, it could not be more than sufficient
for the people despatched to their different posts; and even if there
were a casual superfluity, it was absolutely necessary to preserve it
untouched, for the demands of the spring. The whole dependence,
therefore, of those who remained, was on the lake, and fishing
implements for the means of our support. The nets are sixty fathom in
length, when set, and contain fifteen meshes of five inches in depth.
The manner of using them is as follows: A small stone and wooden buoy
are fastened to the side-line opposite to each other, at about the
distance of two fathoms; when the net is carefully thrown into the
water, the stone sinks it to the bottom, while the buoy keeps it at its
full extent, and it is secured in its situation by a stone at either
end. The nets are visited every day, and taken out every other day to
be cleaned and dried. This is a very ready operation when the waters
are not frozen, but when the frost has set in, and the ice has acquired
its greatest thickness, which is sometimes as much as five feet, holes
are cut in it at the distance of thirty feet from each other, to the
full length of the net; one of them is larger than the rest, being
generally about four feet square, and is called the basin: by means of
them, and poles of a proportionable length, the nets are placed in and
drawn out of the water. The setting of hooks and lines is so simple an
employment as to render a description unnecessary. The white fish are
the principal object of pursuit: they spawn in the fall of the year,
and, at about the setting in of the hard frost, crowd in shoals to the
shallow water, when as many as possible are taken, in order that a
portion of them may be laid by in the frost to provide against the
scarcity of winter; as, during that season, the fish of every
description decrease in the lakes, if they do not altogether disappear.
Some have supposed that during this period they are stationary, or
assume an inactive state. If there should be any intervals of warm
weather during the fall, it is necessary to suspend the fish by the
tail, though they are not so good as those which are altogether
preserved by the frost. In this state they remain to the beginning of
April, when they have been found as sweet as when they were caught.[11]

Thus do these voyagers live, year after year, entirely upon fish,
without even the quickening flavour of salt, or the variety of any
farinaceous root or vegetable. Salt, however, if their habits had not
rendered it unnecessary, might be obtained in this country to the
Westward of the Peace River, where it loses its name in that of the
Slave River, from the numerous salt-ponds and springs to be found there,
which will supply in any quantity, in a state of concretion, and
perfectly white and clean. When the Indians pass that way they bring a
small quantity to the fort, with other articles of traffic.

During a short period of the spring and fall, great numbers of wild fowl
frequent this country, which prove a very gratifying food after such a
long privation of flesh-meat. It is remarkable, however, that the
Canadians who frequent the Peace, Saskatchiwine, and Assiniboin rivers,
and live altogether on venison, have a less healthy appearance than
those whose sustenance is obtained from the waters. At the same time
the scurvy is wholly unknown among them.

In the fall of the year the natives meet the traders at the forts, where
they barter the furs or provisions which they may have procured; they
then obtain credit, and proceed to hunt the beavers, and do not return
till the beginning of the year; when they are again fitted out in the
same manner and come back the latter end of March, or the beginning of
April; They are now unwilling to repair to the beaver hunt until the
waters, are clear of ice, that they may kill them with fire-arms, which
the Chepewyans are averse to employ. The major part of the latter
return to the barren grounds, and live during the summer with their
relations and friends in the enjoyment of that plenty which is derived
from numerous herds of deer. But those of that tribe who are most
partial to these deserts, cannot remain there in winter, and they are
obliged, with the deer, to take shelter in the woods during that
rigorous season, when they contrive to kill a few beavers, and send them
by young men, to exchange for iron utensils and ammunition.

Till the year 1782, the people of Athabasca sent or carried their furs
regularly to Fort Churchill, Hudson’s Bay; and some of them have, since
that time, repaired thither, notwithstanding they could have provided
themselves with all the necessaries which they required. The difference
of the price set on goods here and at the factory, made it an object
with the Chepewyans to undertake a journey of five or six months, in the
course of which they were reduced to the most painful extremities, and
often lost their lives from hunger and fatigue, At present, however,
this traffic is in a great measure discontinued, as they were obliged to
expend in the course of their journey, that very ammunition which was
its most alluring object.

[1] This might be properly called the stock of the company, as it
included, with the expenditure of the year, the amount of the property
unexpended, which had been appropriated for the adventure of that year,
and was carried on to the account of the following adventure.

[2] This will be better illustrated by the following statement:–We
will suppose the goods for 1798: The orders for the goods are sent to
this country 25th October, 1796; they are shipped from London March,
1797; they arrive in Montreal June, 1797; they are made up in the course
of that summer and winter; they are sent from Montreal May, 1798; they
arrive in the Indian country, and are exchanged for furs the following
winter, 1798-99; which furs come to Montreal September, 1799; and are
shipped for London; where they are sold in March and April, and paid for
in May or June, 1800.

[3] The place where the goods alone are carried, is called a _Decharge_,
and that where goods and canoes are both transported overland, is
denominated a _Portage_.

[4] In the year 1668, when the first missionaries visited the South of
this lake, they found the country full of inhabitants. They relate,
that about this time a band of the Nepisingues, who were converted,
emigrated to the Nipigon country, which is to the North of Lake
Superior. Few of their descendants are now remaining, and not a trace
of the religion communicated to them is to be discovered.

[5] Corn is the cheapest provision that can be procured, though from the
expense of transport, the bushel costs about twenty shillings sterling,
at the Grande Portage. A man’s daily allowance does not exceed
ten-pence.

[6] Here is a most excellent fishery for white fish, which are
exquisite.

[7] The route which we have been travelling hitherto, leads along the
high rocky land or bank of Lake Superior on the left. The face of the
country offers a wild scene of huge hills and rocks, separated by stony
valleys, lakes and ponds. Wherever there is the least soil, it is well
covered with trees.

[8] The fruits are, strawberries, hurtleberries, plums, and cherries,
hazelnuts, gooseberries, currents, raspberries, poires, etc.

[9] This was also a principal post of the French, who gave it its name.

[10] It may be proper to observe, that the French had two settlements
upon the Saskatchiwine, long before, and at the conquest of Canada; the
first at the Pasquia, near Carrot River, and the other at Nipawi, where
they had agricultural instruments and wheel carriages, marks of both
being found about those establishments, where the soil is excellent.

[11] This fishery requires the most unremitting attention, as the
voyaging Canadians are equally indolent, extravagant, and improvident,
when left to themselves, and rival the savages in a neglect of the
morrow.