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



JUNE, 1789.

_Wednesday, 3._–We embarked at nine in the morning, at
Fort Chepewyan, on the South side of the Lake of the Hills, in latitude
58. 40. North, and longitude 110. 30. West from Greenwich, and compass
has sixteen degrees variation East, in a canoe made of birch bark. The
crew consisted of four Canadians, two of whom were attended by their
wives, and a German; we were accompanied also by an Indian, who had
acquired the title of English Chief, and his two wives, in a small
canoe, with two young Indians; his followers in another small canoe.
These men were engaged to serve us in the twofold capacity of
interpreters and hunters. This chief has been a principal leader of his
countrymen who were in the habit of carrying furs to Churchill Factory,
Hudson’s Bay, and till of late very much attached to the interest of
that company. These circumstances procured him the appellation of the
English Chief.

We were also accompanied by a canoe that I had equipped for the purpose
of trade, and given the charge of it to M. Le Roux, one of the Company’s
clerks. In this I was obliged to ship part of our provision; which,
with the clothing necessary for us on the voyage, a proper assortment of
the articles of merchandise as presents, to ensure us a friendly
reception among the Indians, and the ammunition and arms requisite for
defence, as well as a supply for our hunters, were more than our own
canoe could carry, but by the time we should part company, there was
every reason to suppose that our expenditure would make sufficient room
for the whole.

We proceeded twenty-one miles to the West, and then took a course of
nine miles to North-North-West, when we entered the river, or one of the
branches of the lake, of which there are several. We then steered North
five miles, when our course changed for two miles to North-North-East,
and here at seven in the evening we landed and pitched our tents. One
of the hunters killed a goose, and a couple of ducks: at the same time
the canoe was taken out of the water, to be gummed, which necessary
business was effectually performed.

_Thursday, 4._–We embarked at four this morning, and proceeded
North-North-East half a mile, North one mile and a half, West two miles,
North-West two miles, West-North-West one mile and a half,
North-North-West half a mile, and West-North-West two miles, when this
branch loses itself in the Peace River. It is remarkable, that the
currents of these various branches of the lake, when the Peace River is
high, as in May and August, run into the lake, which, in the other
months of the year returns its waters to them; whence, to this place,
the branch is not more than two hundred yards wide, nor less than an
hundred and twenty. The banks are rather low, except in one place,
where an huge rock rises above them, The low land is covered with wood,
such as white birch, pines of different kinds, with the poplar, three
kinds of willow, and the liard.

The Peace River is upwards of a mile broad at this spot, and its current
is stronger than that of the channel which communicates with the lake.
It here, indeed, assumes the name of the Slave River.[1] The course of
this day was as follows:–North-West two miles, North-North-West,
through islands, six miles, North four miles and a half, North by East
two miles, West by North six miles, North one mile, North-East by East
two miles, North one mile. We now descended a rapid, and proceeded
North-West seven miles and a half, North-West nine miles, North by West
six miles, North-West by West one mile and a half, North-West by North
half a mile, North-North-West six miles, North one mile, North-West by
West four miles, North-North-East one mile. Here we arrived at the
mouth of the Dog River, where we landed, and unloaded our canoes, at
half past seven in the evening, on the East side, and close by the
rapids. At this station the river is near two leagues in breadth.

_Friday, 5._–At three o’clock in the morning we embarked, but
unloaded our canoes at the first rapid. When we had reloaded, we
entered a small channel, which is formed by the islands, and, in about
half an hour, we came to the carrying-place It is three hundred and
eighty paces in length, and very commodious, except at the further end
of it. We found some difficulty in reloading at this spot, from the
large quantity of ice which had not yet thawed. From hence to the next
carrying-place, called the _Portage d’Embarras_, is about six miles, and
is occasioned by the drift wood filling up the small channel, which is
one thousand and twenty paces in length; from hence to the next is one
mile and a half, while the distance to that which succeeds, does not
exceed one hundred and fifty yards. It is about the same length as the
last; and from hence to the carrying-place called the Mountain, is about
four miles further; when we entered the great river. The smaller one,
or the channel, affords by far the best passage, as it is without hazard
of any kind; though I believe a shorter course would be found on the
outside of the islands, and without so many carrying-places. That
called the Mountain is three hundred and thirty-five paces in length;
from thence to the next, named the Pelican, there is about a mile of
dangerous rapids. The landing is very steep, and close to the fall.
The length of this carrying-place is eight hundred and twenty paces.

The whole of the party were now employed in taking the baggage and the
canoe up the hill. One of the Indian canoes went down the fall, and was
dashed to pieces. The woman who had the management of it, by quitting
it in time, preserved her life, though she lost the little property it

The course from the place we quitted in the morning is about North-West,
and comprehends a distance of fifteen miles. From hence to the next and
last carrying-place, is about nine miles; in which distance there are
three rapids: course North-West by West. The carrying path is very bad,
and five hundred and thirty-five paces in length. Our canoes being
lightened, passed on the outside of the opposite island, which rendered
the carrying of the baggage very short indeed, being not more than the
length of a canoe. In the year 1786, five men were drowned, and two
canoes and some packages lost, in the rapids on the other side of the
river, which occasioned this place to be called the _Portage des Noyes_.
They were proceeding to the Slave Lake, in the fall of that year, under
the direction of Mr. Cuthbert Grant. We proceeded from hence six miles,
and encamped on Point de Roche, at half past five in the afternoon. The
men and Indians were very much fatigued; but the hunters had provided
seven geese, a beaver, and four ducks.

_Saturday, 6._–We embarked at half past two in the morning, and
steered North-West by North twenty-one miles, North-West by West five
miles, West-North-West four miles, West six miles, doubled a point
North-North-East one mile, East five miles, North two miles, North-West
by North one mile and a half, West-North-West three miles, North-East by
East two miles; doubled a point one mile and a half, West by North nine
miles, North-West by West six miles, North-North-West five miles; here
we landed at six o’clock in the evening, unloaded, and encamped. Nets
were also set in a small adjacent river. We had an head wind during the
greater part of the day and the weather was become so cold that the
Indians were obliged to make use of their mittens. In this day’s
progress we killed seven geese and six ducks.

_Sunday, 7._–At half past three we renewed our voyage, and proceeded
West-North-West one mile, round an island one mile, North-West two miles
and a half, South by West three miles, West-South-West one mile,
South-West by South half a mile, North-West three miles, West-North-West
three miles and a half, North seven miles and a half, North-West by
North four miles, North two miles and a half, North-West by North two
miles. The rain, which had prevailed for some time, now came on with
such violence, that we were obliged to land and unload, to prevent the
goods and baggage from getting wet; the weather, however, soon cleared
up, so that we reloaded the canoe, and got under way. We now continued
our course North ten miles, West one mile and a half, and North one mile
and a half, when the rain came on again, and rendered it absolutely
necessary for us to get on shore for the night, at about half past
three. We had a strong North-North-East wind throughout the day, which
greatly impeded us; M. Le Roux, however, with his party, passed on in
search of a landing place more agreeable to them. The Indians killed a
couple of geese, and as many ducks. The rain continued through the
remaining part of the day.

_Monday, 8._–The night was very boisterous, and the rain did not
cease till two in the afternoon of this day; but as the wind did not
abate of its violence, we were prevented from proceeding till the

_Tuesday, 9._–We embarked at half past two in the morning, the
weather being calm and foggy. Soon after our two young men joined us,
whom we had not seen for two days; but during their absence they had
killed four beavers and ten geese. After a course of one mile
North-West by North, we observed an opening on the right, which we took
for a fork of the river, but it proved to be a lake. We returned and
steered South-West by West one mile and a half, West-South-West one mile
and a half, West one mile, when we entered a very small branch of the
river on the East bank; at the mouth of which I was informed there had
been a carrying-place, owing to the quantity of drift wood, which then
filled up the passage, but has since been carried away. The course of
this river is meandering, and tends to the North, and in about ten miles
falls into the Slave Lake, where we arrived at nine in the morning, when
we found a great change in the weather, as it was become extremely cold.
The lake was entirely covered with ice, and did not seem in any degree
to have given way, but near the shore. The gnats and mosquitoes, which
were very troublesome during our passage along the river, did not
venture to accompany us to this colder region.

The banks of the river both above and below the rapids, were on both
sides covered with the various kinds of wood common to this country,
particularly the Western side; the land being lower and consisting of a
rich black soil. This artificial ground is carried down by the stream,
and rests upon drift wood, so as to be eight or ten feet deep. The
eastern banks are more elevated, and the soil a yellow clay mixed with
gravel; so that the trees are neither so large or numerous as on the
opposite shore. The ground was not thawed above fourteen inches in
depth; notwithstanding the leaf was at its full growth; while along the
lake there was scarcely any appearance of verdure.

The Indians informed me, that, at a very small distance from either bank
of the river, are very extensive plains, frequented by large herds of
buffaloes; while the moose and rein-deer keep in the woods that border
on it. The beavers, which are in great numbers, build their habitations
in the small lakes and rivers, as, in the larger streams, the ice
carries every thing along with it, during the spring. The mud-banks in
the river are covered with wild fowl; and we this morning killed two
swans, ten geese, and one beaver, without suffering the delay of an
hour; so that we might have soon filled the canoe with them, if that had
been our object.

From the small river we steered East, along the inside of a long
sand-bank, covered with drift wood and enlivened by a few willows, which
stretches on as far as the houses erected by Messrs. Grant and Le Roux,
in 1786. We often ran aground, as for five successive miles the depth
of the water nowhere exceeded three feet. There we found our people,
who had arrived early in the morning, and whom we had not seen since the
preceding Sunday. We now unloaded the canoe, and pitched our tents, as
there was every appearance that we should be obliged to remain here for
some time. I then ordered the nets to be set, as it was absolutely
necessary that the stores provided for our future voyage should remain
untouched. The fish we now caught were carp, poisson inconnu, white
fish, and trout.

_Wednesday, 10._–It rained during the greatest part of the preceding
night, and the weather did not clear up till the afternoon of this day.
This circumstance had very much weakened the ice, and I sent two of the
Indians on an hunting party to a lake at the distance of nine miles,
which, they informed me, was frequented by animals of various kinds.
Our fishery this day was not so abundant as it had been on the preceding

_Thursday, 11._–The weather was fine and clear with a strong westerly
wind. The women were employed in gathering berries of different sorts,
of which there are a great plenty; and I accompanied one of my people to
a small adjacent island, where we picked up some dozens of swan, geese,
and duck-eggs; we also killed a couple of ducks and a goose.

In the evening the Indians returned, without having seen any of the
larger animals. A swan and a grey crane were the only fruits of their
expedition. We caught no other fish but a small quantity of pike, which
is too common to be a favourite food with the people of the country, The
ice moved a little to the eastward.

_Friday, 12._–The weather continued the same as yesterday, and the
mosquitoes began to visit us in great numbers. The ice moved again in
the same direction, and I ascended an hill, but could not perceive that
it was broken in the middle of the lake. The hunters killed a goose and
three ducks.

_Saturday, 13._–The weather was cloudy, and the wind changeable
till about sunset, when it settled in the North. It drove back the ice
which was now very much broken along the shore, and covered our nets.
One of the hunters who had been at the Slave River the preceding
evening, returned with three beavers and fourteen geese. He was
accompanied by three families of Indians, who left Athabasca the same
day as myself: they did not bring me any fowl; and they pleaded in
excuse, that they had travelled with so much expedition, as to prevent
them from procuring sufficient provisions for themselves. By a meridian
line, I found the variation of the compass to be about twenty degrees

_Sunday, 14._–The weather was clear and the wind remained in the same
quarter. The ice was much broken, and driven to the side of the lake,
so that we were apprehensive for the loss of our nets, as they could
not, at present, be extricated. At sunset there was an appearance of a
violent gust of wind from the southward, as the sky became on a sudden,
in that quarter, of a very dusky blue colour, and the lightning was very
frequent. But instead of wind there came on a very heavy rain, which
promised to diminish the quantity of broken ice.

_Monday, 15._–In the morning, the bay still continued to be so full
of ice, that we could not get at our nets. About noon, the wind veered
to the Westward, and not only uncovered the nets, but cleared a passage
to the opposite islands. When we raised the nets we found them very
much shattered, and but few fish taken. We now struck our tents, and
embarked at sunset, when we made the traverse, which was about eight
miles North-East by North, in about two hours. At half-past eleven
P. M. we landed on a small island and proceeded to gum the canoe. At
this time the atmosphere was sufficiently clear to admit of reading or
writing without the aid of artificial light. We had not seen a star
since the second day after we left Athabasca. About twelve o’clock, the
moon made its appearance above the tops of the trees, the lower horn
being in a state of eclipse, which continued for about six minutes, in a
cloudless sky.

I took soundings three times in the course of the traverse, when I found
six fathoms water, with a muddy bottom.

_Tuesday, 16._–We were prevented from embarking this morning by
a very strong wind from the North, and the vast quantity of floating
ice. Some trout were caught with the hook and line, but the net was not
so successful. I had an observation which gave 61. 28. North latitude.

The wind becoming moderate, we embarked about one, taking a North-West
course, through islands of ten miles, in which we took in a considerable
quantity of water. After making several traverses, we landed at five
P. M., and having pitched our tents, the hooks, lines, and nets were
immediately set. During the course of the day there was occasional

_Wednesday, 17._–We proceeded, and taking up our nets as we passed,
we found no more than seventeen fish, and were stopped within a mile by
the ice. The Indians, however, brought us back to a point where our
fishery was very successful. They proceeded also on a hunting party, as
well as to discover a passage among the islands; but at three in the
afternoon they returned without having succeeded in either object. We
were, however, in expectation, that, as the wind blew very strong, it
would force a passage. About sunset, the weather became overcast, with
thunder, lightning, and rain.

_Thursday, 18._–The nets were taken up at four this morning with
abundance of fish, and we steered North-West four miles, where the ice
again prevented our progress. A South-East wind drove it among the
islands, in such a manner as to impede our passage, and we could
perceive at some distance ahead, that it was but little broken. We now
set our nets in four fathom water. Two of our hunters had killed a
rein-deer and its fawn. They had met with two Indian families, and in
the evening, a man belonging to one of them, paid us a visit; he
informed me, that the ice had not, stirred on the side of the island
opposite to us. These people live entirely on fish, and were waiting to
cross the lake as soon as it should be clear of ice.

_Friday, 19._–This morning our nets were unproductive, as they
yielded us no more than six fish, which were of a very bad kind. In the
forenoon, the Indians proceeded to the large island opposite to us, in
search of game. The weather was cloudy, and the wind changeable; at the
same time, we were pestered by mosquitoes, though, in a great measure,
surrounded with ice.

_Saturday, 20._–We took up our nets, but without any fish. It rained
very hard during the night and this morning: nevertheless, M. Le Roux
and his people went back to the point which we had quitted on the 18th,
but I did not think it prudent to move. As I was watching for a passage
through the ice, I promised to send for them when I could obtain it. It
rained at intervals till about five o’clock; when we loaded our canoe,
and steered for the large island, West six miles. When we came to the
point of it, we found a great quantity of ice; we, however, set our
nets, and soon caught plenty of fish. In our way thither we met our
hunters, but they had taken nothing. I took soundings at an hundred
yards from the island, when we were in twenty-one fathom water. Here we
found abundance of cranberries and small spring onions. I now
despatched two men for M. Le Roux, and his people.

_Sunday, 21._–A Southerly wind blew through the night, and drove the
ice to the Northward. The two men whom I had sent to M. Le Roux,
returned at eight this morning; they parted with him at a small distance
from us, but the wind blew so hard, that he was obliged to put to shore.
Having a glimpse of the sun, when it was twelve by my watch, I found the
latitude 61. 34. North latitude. At two in the afternoon, M. Le Roux and
his people arrived. At five, the ice being almost all driven past to
the Northward, we accordingly embarked, and steered West fifteen miles,
through much broken ice, and on the outside of the islands, though it
appeared to be very solid to the North-East. I sounded three times in
this distance, and found it seventy-five, forty-four, and sixty fathom
water. We pitched our tents on one of a cluster of small islands that
were within three miles of the main land, which we could not reach in
consequence of the ice.

We saw some rein-deer on one of these islands, and our hunters went in
pursuit of them, when they killed five large and two small ones, which
was easily accomplished, as the animals had no shelter to which they
could run for protection. They had, without doubt, crossed the ice to
this spot, and the thaw coming on had detained them there, and made them
an easy prey to the pursuer. This island was accordingly named Isle de

I sat up the whole of this night to observe the setting and rising of
the sun. That orb was beneath the horizon four hours twenty-two
minutes, and rose North 20. East by compass. It, however, froze so
hard, that, during the sun’s disappearance, the water was covered with
ice half a quarter of an inch thick.

_Monday, 22._–We embarked at half past three in the morning, and
rounding the outside of the islands, steered North-West thirteen miles
along the ice, edging in for the main land, the wind West, then West two
miles; but it blew so hard as to oblige us to land on an island at half
past nine, from whence we could just distinguish land to the South-East,
at the distance of about twelve leagues; though we could not determine
whether it was a continuation of the islands, or the shores of the
lake.[2] I took an observation at noon, which gave me 61. 53. North,
the variation of the compass being, at the same time, about two points.
M. Le Roux’s people having provided two bags of _pemmican_.[3] to be
left in the island against their return; it was called _Isle a la

The wind being moderated, we proceeded again at half past two in the
afternoon, and steering West by North among the islands, made as course
of eighteen miles. We encamped at eight o’clock on a small island, and
since eight in the morning had not passed any ice. Though the weather
was far from being warm, we were tormented, and our rest interrupted, by
the host of mosquitoes that accompanied us.

[1] The Slave Indians, having been driven from their original country by
their enemies, the Knisteneaux, along the borders of this part of the
river, it received that title, though it by no means involves the idea
of servitude, but was given to these fugitives as a term of reproach,
that denoted more than common savageness.

[2] Sometimes the land looms, so that there may be a great deception as
to the distance; and I think this was the case at present.

[3] Flesh dried in the sun, and afterwards pounded for the convenience
of carriage.