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they discover its retreats. On the present occasion there was no want of
water, the principal impediment we experienced being from the narrowness
of the channel, which permitted the willows of each bank to meet over our
heads and obstruct the men at the oars. After proceeding down the stream
for some time we came to a recently-constructed beaver dam through which
an opening was made sufficient to admit the boat to pass. We were assured
that the breach would be closed by the industrious creature in a single
night. We encamped about eight miles from the source of the river, having
come during the day seventeen miles and a half.

On the 4th we embarked amidst a heavy rain and pursued our route down the
Echemamis. In many parts of the morass by which the river is nourished
and through which it flows, is intersected by ridges of rock which cross
the channel and require the boat to be lifted over them. In the afternoon
we passed through a shallow piece of water overgrown with bulrushes and
hence named Hairy Lake; and in the evening encamped on the banks of
Blackwater Creek, by which this lake empties itself into Sea River;
having come during the day twenty miles and three-quarters.

On the morning of the 5th we entered Sea River, one of the many branches
of Nelson River. It is about four hundred yards wide and its waters are
of a muddy white colour. After ascending the stream for an hour or two
and passing through Carpenter's Lake, which is merely an expansion of the
river to about a mile in breadth, we came to the Sea River Portage where
the boat was launched across a smooth rock to avoid a fall of four or
five feet.

PLAY GREEN LAKES.

Reembarking at the upper end of the portage we ran before a fresh gale
through the remainder of Sea River, the lower part of Play Green Lake
and, entering Little Jack River, landed and pitched our tents. Here there
is a small log hut, the residence of a fisherman who supplies Norway
House with trout and sturgeon. He gave us a few of these fish which
afforded an acceptable supper. Our voyage this day was thirty-four miles.

October 6.

Little Jack River is the name given to a channel that winds among several
large islands which separate Upper and Lower Play Green Lakes. At the
lower end of this channel Big Jack River, a stream of considerable
magnitude, falls into the lake. Play Green is a translation of the
appellation given to that lake by two bands of Indians who met and held a
festival on an island situated near its centre. After leaving our
encampment we sailed through Upper Play Green Lake and arrived at Norway
Point in the forenoon.

LAKE WINNIPEG.

The waters of Lake Winnipeg and of the rivers that run into it, the
Saskatchewan in particular, are rendered turbid by the suspension of a
large quantity of white clay. Play Green Lake and Nelson River, being the
discharges of the Winnipeg, are equally opaque, a circumstance that
renders the sunken rocks, so frequent in these waters, very dangerous to
boats in a fresh breeze. Owing to this one of the boats that accompanied
us, sailing at the rate of seven miles an hour, struck upon one of these
rocks. Its mast was carried away by the shock but fortunately no other
damage sustained. The Indians ascribe the muddiness of these lakes to an
adventure of one of their deities, a mischievous fellow, a sort of Robin
Puck, whom they hold in very little esteem. This deity, who is named
Weesakootchaht, possesses considerable power but makes a capricious use
of it and delights in tormenting the poor Indians. He is not however
invincible and was foiled in one of his attempts by the artifice of an
old woman who succeeded in taking him captive. She called in all the
women of the tribe to aid in his punishment, and he escaped from their
hands in a condition so filthy that it required all the waters of the
Great Lake to wash him clean; and ever since that period it has been
entitled to the appellation of Winnipeg, or Muddy water.

Norway Point forms the extremity of a narrow peninsula which separates
Play Green and Winnipeg Lakes. Buildings were first erected here by a
party of Norwegians who were driven away from the colony at Red River by
the commotions which took place some time ago. It is now a trading post
belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company. On landing at Norway House we met
with Lord Selkirk's colonists who had started from York Factory the day
before us. These poor people were exceedingly pleased at meeting with us
again in this wild country; having accompanied them across the Atlantic
they viewed us in the light of old acquaintances. This post was under the
charge of Mr. James Sutherland, to whom I am indebted for replacing a
minutehand on the chronometer which was broken at the White Fall, and I
had afterwards the satisfaction of finding that it went with
extraordinary regularity.

The morning of the 7th October was beautifully clear and the observations
we obtained place Norway House in latitude 53 degrees 41 minutes 38
seconds North, and longitude 98 degrees 1 minute 24 seconds West; the
variation of the magnetic needle 14 degrees 12 minutes 41 seconds East,
and its dip 83 degrees 40 minutes 10 seconds. Though our route from York
Factory has rather inclined to the South-West the dip, it will be
perceived, has gradually increased. The difference produced by reversing
the face of the instrument was 7 degrees 39 minutes. There was too much
wind to admit of our observing with any degree of accuracy the quantity
of the magnetic force.

We left Norway House soon after noon and, the wind being favourable,
sailed along the northern shore of Lake Winnipeg the whole of the ensuing
night; and on the morning of the 8th landed on a narrow ridge of sand
which, running out twenty miles to the westward, separates Limestone Bay
from the body of the Lake. When the wind blows hard from the southward it
is customary to carry boats across this isthmus and to pull up under its
lee. From Norwegian Point to Limestone Bay the shore consists of high
clay cliffs against which the waves beat with violence during strong
southerly winds. When the wind blows from the land and the waters of the
lake are low a narrow sandy beach is uncovered and affords a
landing-place for boats. The shores of Limestone Bay are covered with
small fragments of calcareous stones. During the night the Aurora
Borealis was quick in its motions and various and vivid in its colours.
After breakfasting we reembarked and continued our voyage until three
P.M., when a strong westerly wind arising we were obliged to shelter
ourselves on a small island which lies near the extremity of the
above-mentioned peninsula. This island is formed of a collection of small
rolled pieces of limestone and was remembered by some of our boatman to
have been formerly covered with water. For the last ten or twelve years
the waters of the lake have been low, but our information did not enable
us to judge whether the decrease was merely casual, or going on
continually, or periodical. The distance of this island from Norway House
is thirty-eight miles and a half.

RIVER SASKATCHEWAN.

The westerly winds detained us all the morning of the 9th but at two P.M.
the wind chopped round to the eastward; we immediately embarked and the
breeze afterwards freshening we reached the mouth of the Saskatchewan at
midnight having run thirty-two miles.

Sunday, October 10.

The whole of this day was occupied in getting the boats from the mouth of
the river to the foot of the grand rapid, a distance of two miles. There
are several rapids in this short distance during which the river varies
its breadth from five hundred yards to half a mile. Its channel is stony.
At the grand rapid the Saskatchewan forms a sudden bend from south to
east and works its way through a narrow channel deeply worn into the
limestone strata. The stream, rushing with impetuous force over a rocky
and uneven bottom, presents a sheet of foam and seems to bear with
impatience the straightened confinement of its lofty banks. A flock of
pelicans and two or three brown fishing-eagles were fishing in its
agitated waters, seemingly with great success. There is a good sturgeon
fishery at the foot of the rapid. Several golden plovers, Canadian
grosbeaks, crossbills, woodpeckers and pin-tailed grouse were shot today;
and Mr. Back killed a small striped marmot. This beautiful little animal
was busily employed in carrying in its distended pouches the seeds of the
American vetch to its winter hoards.

The portage is eighteen hundred yards long and its western extremity was
found to be in 53 degrees 08 minutes 25 seconds North latitude and 99
degrees 28 minutes 02 seconds West longitude. The route from Canada to
the Athabasca joins that from York Factory at the mouth of the
Saskatchewan, and we saw traces of a recent encampment of the Canadian
voyagers. Our companions in the Hudson's Bay boats, dreading an attack
from their rivals in trade, were on the alert at this place. They
examined minutely the spot of encampment to form a judgment of the number
of canoes that had preceded them; and they advanced, armed, and with
great caution, through the woods. Their fears however on this occasion
were fortunately groundless.

By noon on the 12th, the boats and their cargoes having been conveyed
across the portage, we embarked and pursued our course. The Saskatchewan
becomes wider above the Grand Rapid and the scenery improves. The banks
are high, composed of white clay and limestone, and their summits are
richly clothed with a variety of firs, poplars, birches and willows. The
current runs with great rapidity and the channel is in many places
intricate and dangerous from broken ridges of rock jutting into the
stream. We pitched our tents at the entrance of Cross Lake, having
advanced only five miles and a half.

CROSS, CEDAR AND PINE ISLAND LAKES.

Cross Lake is extensive, running towards the north-east it is said for
forty miles. We crossed it at a narrow part and, pulling through several
winding channels formed by a group of islands, entered Cedar Lake which,
next to Lake Winnipeg, is the largest sheet of fresh water we had
hitherto seen. Ducks and geese resort hither in immense flocks in the
spring and autumn. These birds are now beginning to go off owing to its
muddy shores having become quite hard through the nightly frosts. At this
place the Aurora Borealis was extremely brilliant in the night, its
coruscations darting at times over the whole sky and assuming various
prismatic tints of which the violet and yellow were predominant.

After pulling, on the 14th, seven miles and a quarter on the lake, a
violent wind drove us for shelter to a small island, or rather a ridge of
rolled stones thrown up by the frequent storms which agitate this lake.
The weather did not moderate the whole day and we were obliged to pass
the night on this exposed spot. The delay however enabled us to obtain
some lunar observations. The wind having subsided we left our resting
place the following morning, crossed the remainder of the lake, and in
the afternoon arrived at Muddy Lake which is very appropriately named as
it consists merely of a few channels winding amongst extensive mudbanks
which are overflowed during the spring floods. We landed at an Indian
tent which contained two numerous families amounting to thirty souls.
These poor creatures were badly clothed and reduced to a miserable
condition by the whooping-cough and measles. At the time of our arrival
they were busy in preparing a sweating-house for the sick. This is a
remedy which they consider, with the addition of singing and drumming, to
be the grand specific for all diseases. Our companions having obtained
some geese in exchange for rum and tobacco, we proceeded a few more miles
and encamped on Devil's Drum Island, having come during the day twenty
miles and a half. A second party of Indians were encamped on an adjoining
island, a situation chosen for the purpose of killing geese and ducks.

On the 16th we proceeded eighteen miles up the Saskatchewan. Its banks
are low, covered with willows, and lined with drift timber. The
surrounding country is swampy and intersected by the numerous arms of the
river. After passing for twenty or thirty yards through the willow
thicket on the banks of the stream we entered an extensive marsh, varied
only by a distant line of willows which marks the course of a creek or
branch of the river. The branch we navigated today is almost five hundred
yards wide. The exhalations from the marshy soil produced a low fog
although the sky above was perfectly clear. In the course of the day we
passed an Indian encampment of three tents whose inmates appeared to be
in a still more miserable condition than those we saw yesterday. They had
just finished the ceremony of conjuration over some of their sick
companions; and a dog which had been recently killed as a sacrifice to
some deity was hanging to a tree where it would be left (I was told) when
they moved their encampment.

We continued our voyage up the river to the 20th with little variation of
scenery or incident, travelling in that time about thirty miles. The near
approach of winter was marked by severe frosts which continued all day
unless when the sun chanced to be unusually bright and the geese and
ducks were observed to take a southerly course in large flocks. On the
morning of the 20th we came to a party of Indians encamped behind the
bank of the river on the borders of a small marshy lake for the purpose
of killing waterfowl. Here we were gratified with the view of a very
large tent. Its length was about forty feet, its breadth eighteen, and
its covering was moose-deer leather with apertures for the escape of the
smoke from the fires which are placed at each end; a ledge of wood was
placed on the ground on both sides the whole length of the tent, within
which were the sleeping-places, arranged probably according to families;
and the drums and other instruments of enchantment were piled up in the
centre. Amongst the Indians there were a great many half-breeds who led
an Indian life. Governor Williams gave a dram and a piece of tobacco to
each of the males of the party.

On the morning of the 21st a heavy fall of snow took place which lasted
until two in the afternoon. In the evening we left the Saskatchewan and
entered the Little River, one of the two streams by which Pine Island
Lake discharges its waters. We advanced today fourteen miles and a
quarter. On the 22nd the weather was extremely cold and stormy and we had
to contend against a strong head wind. The spray froze as it fell and the
oars were so loaded with ice as to be almost unmanageable. The length of
our voyage this day was eleven miles.

CUMBERLAND HOUSE.

The following morning was very cold; we embarked at daylight and pulled
across a part of Pine Island Lake about three miles and a half to
Cumberland House. The margin of the lake was so encrusted with ice that
we had to break through a considerable space of it to approach the
landing-place. When we considered that this was the effect of only a few
days' frost at the commencement of winter we were convinced of the
impractibility of advancing further by water this season, and therefore
resolved on accepting Governor Williams' kind invitation to remain with
him at this post. We immediately visited Mr. Connolly, the resident
partner of the North-West Company, and presented to him Mr. McGillivray's
circular letter. He assured us that he should be most desirous to forward
our progress by every means in his power, and we subsequently had ample
proofs of his sincerity and kindness. The unexpected addition of our
party to the winter residents at this post rendered an increase of
apartments necessary; and our men were immediately appointed to complete
and arrange an unfinished building as speedily as possible.

November 8.

Some mild weather succeeded to the severe frosts we had at our arrival;
and the lake had not been entirely frozen before the 6th; but this
morning the ice was sufficiently firm to admit of sledges crossing it.
The dogs were harnessed at a very early hour and the winter operations
commenced by sending for a supply of fish from Swampy River where men had
been stationed to collect it just before the frost set in. Both men and
dogs appeared to enjoy the change; they started in full glee and drove
rapidly along. An Indian who had come to the house on the preceding
evening to request some provision for his family, whom he represented to
be in a state of starvation, accompanied them. His party had been
suffering greatly under the epidemic diseases of whooping-cough and
measles; and the hunters were still in too debilitated a state to go out
and provide them with meat. A supply was given to him and the men were
directed to bring his father, an old and faithful hunter, to the house,
that he might have the comforts of nourishment and warmth. He was brought
accordingly but these attentions were unavailing as he died a few days
afterwards. Two days before his death I was surprised to observe him
sitting for nearly three hours, in a piercingly sharp day, in the
saw-pit, employed in gathering the dust and throwing it by handfuls over
his body, which was naked to the waist. As the man was in possession of
his mental faculties I conceived he was performing some devotional act
preparatory to his departure, which he felt to be approaching and,
induced by the novelty of the incident, I went twice to observe him more
closely; but when he perceived that he was noticed he immediately ceased
his operation, hung down his head and, by his demeanour, intimated that
he considered my appearance an intrusion. The residents at the fort could
give me no information on the subject and I could not learn that the
Indians in general observe any particular ceremony on the approach of
death.

November 15.

The sky had been overcast during the last week; the sun shone forth once
only and then not sufficiently for the purpose of obtaining observations.
Faint coruscations of the Aurora Borealis appeared one evening but their
presence did not in the least affect the electrometer or the compass. The
ice daily became thicker in the lake and the frost had now nearly
overpowered the rapid current of the Saskatchewan River; indeed parties
of men who were sent from both the forts to search for the Indians and
procure whatever skins and provisions they might have collected crossed
that stream this day on the ice. The white partridges made their first
appearance near the house, which birds are considered as the infallible
harbingers of severe weather.

Monday, November 22.

The Saskatchewan and every other river were now completely covered with
ice except a small stream not far from the fort through which the current
ran very powerfully. In the course of the week we removed into the house
our men had prepared since our arrival. We found it at first extremely
cold notwithstanding that a good fire was kept in each apartment and we
frequently experienced the extremes of heat and cold on opposite sides of
the body.

November 24.

We obtained observations for the dip of the needle and intensity of the
magnetic force in a spare room. The dip was 83 degrees 9 minutes 45
seconds and the difference produced by reversing the face of the
instrument 13 degrees 3 minutes 6 seconds. When the needle was faced to
the west it hung nearly perpendicular. The Aurora Borealis had been
faintly visible for a short time the preceding evening. Some Indians
arrived in search of provision having been totally incapacitated from
hunting by sickness; the poor creatures looked miserably ill and they
represented their distress to have been extreme. Few recitals are more
affecting than those of their sufferings during unfavourable seasons and
in bad situations for hunting and fishing. Many assurances have been
given me that men and women are yet living who have been reduced to feed
upon the bodies of their own family to prevent actual starvation; and a
shocking case was cited to us of a woman who had been principal agent in
the destruction of several persons, and amongst the number her husband
and nearest relatives, in order to support life.

November 28.

The atmosphere had been clear every day during the last week, about the
end of which snow fell, when the thermometer rose from 20 degrees below
to 16 degrees above zero. The Aurora Borealis was twice visible but faint
on both occasions. Its appearance did not affect the electrometer nor
could we perceive the compass to be disturbed.

The men brought supplies of moose meat from the hunter's tent which is
pitched near the Basquiau Hill, forty or fifty miles from the house and
whence the greatest part of the meat is procured. The residents have to
send nearly the same distance for their fish and on this service
horse-sledges are used. Nets are daily set in Pine Island Lake which
occasionally procure some fine sturgeon, tittameg and trout, but not more
than sufficient to supply the officers' table.

December 1.

This day was so remarkably fine that we procured another set of
observations for the dip of the needle in the open air; the instrument
being placed firmly on a rock the results gave 83 degrees 14 minutes 22
seconds. The change produced by reversing the face of the instrument was
12 degrees 50 minutes 55 seconds.

There had been a determined thaw during the last three days. The ice on
the Saskatchewan River and some parts of the lake broke up and the
travelling across either became dangerous. On this account the absence of
Wilks, one of our men, caused no small anxiety. He had incautiously
undertaken the conduct of a sledge and dogs in company with a person
going to Swampy River for fish. On their return, being unaccustomed to
driving, he became fatigued and seated himself on his sledge where his
companion left him, presuming that he would soon rise and hasten to
follow his track. He however returned safe in the morning and reported
that, foreseeing night would set in before he could get across the lake,
he prudently retired into the woods before dark where he remained until
daylight, when the men who had been despatched to look for him met him
returning to the house, shivering with cold, he having been unprovided
with the materials for lighting a fire, which an experienced voyager
never neglects to carry.

We had mild weather until the 20th of December. On the 13th there had
been a decided thaw that caused the Saskatchewan, which had again frozen,
to reopen and the passage across it was interrupted for two days. We now
received more agreeable accounts from the Indians who were recovering
strength and beginning to hunt a little; but it was generally feared that
their spirits had been so much depressed by the loss of their children
and relatives that the season would be far advanced before they could be
roused to any exertion in searching for animals beyond what might be
necessary for their own support. It is much to be regretted that these
poor men, during their long intercourse with Europeans, have not been
taught how pernicious is the grief which produces total inactivity, and
that they have not been furnished with any of the consolations which the
Christian religion never fails to afford. This however could hardly have
been expected from persons who have permitted their own offspring the
half-casts to remain in lamentable ignorance on a subject of such vital
importance. It is probable however that an improvement will soon take
place among the latter class, as Governor Williams proposes to make the
children attend a Sunday school and has already begun to have divine
service performed at his post.

The conversations which I had with the gentlemen in charge of these posts
convinced me of the necessity of proceeding during the winter into the
Athabasca department, the residents of which are best acquainted with the
nature and resources of the country to the north of the Great Slave Lake;
and whence only guides, hunters and interpreters can be procured. I had
previously written to the partners of the North-West Company in that
quarter requesting their assistance in forwarding the Expedition and
stating what we should require. But, on reflecting upon the accidents
that might delay these letters on the road, I determined on proceeding to
the Athabasca as soon as I possibly could, and communicated my intention
to Governor Williams and Mr. Connolly with a request that I might be
furnished by the middle of January with the means of conveyance for three
persons, intending that Mr. Back and Hepburn should accompany me whilst



Online LibraryJohn FranklinThe Journey to the Polar Sea → online text (page 5 of 41)