EXTRACTS FROM “ NOTES OF A TWENTY-FIVE YEARS'
SERVICE IN THE HUDSON'S BAY TERRITORY,”
BY JOHN MCLEAN (LONDON:1849). VOL. I, p. 32.
The Company having learned, through a pamphlet published by the Moravian missionaries of Labrador, that the country produced excellent furs, were induced by the laudable desire of “ameliorating the condition of the natives,” to settle it; and a party was accordingly sent overland from Moose Factory to take possession in the summer of 1831. The Moravians, finding their intention thus anticipated, left both the cure of souls and trade of furs l to the Company.
Whatever may have been the Company's real motives in forming a settlement in this quarter, the profits derived from it added but little to the dividends; the substance that glittered at a distance like gold proved to be but base metal. Beavers were nowhere to be found ; and although the martens brought an extraordinary high price, they were far from plentiful; while the enormous expense of supplying the district by sea, and supporting it on imported provisions, rendered the “ Ungava adventure ” a subject of rather unpleasant discussion among the partners, most of whom were opposed to the measure from the first.
Mr. Simpson was, in fact, the prime mover of the project, and aware of the discontent caused by its failure, determined on making every effort to reduce the expense, and, if possible, to increase the returns. Accordingly, I was directed to push outposts into the interior, to support my people on the resources of the country, and at the same time to open a communication with Esquimaux Bay, on the coast of Labrador, with the view of obtaining in future my supplies from thence by inland route; “there being no question of the practicability of the rivers.” So said not he who had seen those rivers.
Mr. Erlandson had traversed the country in the spring of 1834, and represented to me the utter impossibility of carrying my instructions into effect. Meantime, the Committee, having learned by despatches from York Factory that the vessel intended for the business of the district had been lost, and the other, in which I made my passage, placed in so critical a situation as to render her safety in spring a very doubtful matter, considered it advisable to provide for the worst by freighting a small schooner to carry us out our supplies. This vessel very unexpectedly made her appearance on the 22d of September, and we thus found ourselves supplied with goods and provisions for two years' consumption.
Having, as above mentioned, learned from Mr. Erlandson the difficulties of the inland route, and also that a great number of the natives had gone to Esquimaux Bay, with the intention of remaining there, I considered it incumbent upon me to visit that quarter at an early period of the winter, and I accordingly set out from Fort Chimo on the 2d of January. I submit the following narrative of my journey to the reader.
“Tuesday, the 2d of January, 1838,— I left Fort Chimo at eleven A.M.,
accompanied by the following men, viz.:—
“Donald Henderson, Henry Hay, and two Indian guides, who are to accompany me throughout the journey ; Pierre Neven and M. Ferguson go part of the way, each driving a sled of two dogs, loaded with provisions, the other men having sleds drawn by themselves.
“Wednesday, the 3d.—Left our encampment before dawn of day. Excessively cold—some of us got frost-bitten, but not severely. Our principal guide, finding his companion unable to keep up with us, set off to his lodge in quest of a substitute. Encamped early, having proceeded about nine miles.
“Thursday, the 4th. Started at seven A.M. Reached High Fall Creek
at nine A.M. Halted to wait for our guide, who soon joined us, alone, finding no person willing to accompany him. Resumed our march at half-past nine; had not proceeded far, when we perceived that our young guide, Pellican, was left considerably in the rear. We waited till he overtook us, and the miserable creature appearing completely exhausted with fatigue, we encamped at an early hour. Eight miles.
“Friday, the 5th.—Lightened Pellican's sled, and set off at five A.M.; fine weather, though sharp. Advanced sixteen miles.
“Saturday, the 6th.—As the ice was covered with water close to our encampment, it was deemed advisable to await the light of day. Set off at eight A.M., but found it impossible to move forward in consequence of the immense quantity of snow that had falled during the night. It continuing still to snow, and blowing a violent gale at same time, I gave up the struggle. Advanced about a mile.
“Sunday, the 7th.—Got up about three A.M., literally buried in snow. Our blankets being wet, we waited in our encampment drying them till eight o'clock, when we started with only half loads, with which we intended to proceed to the first lake, and then return for the remainder; but to our great satisfaction we soon discovered that the tempest which had incommoded us so much last night had cleared the ice of snow ; we therefore returned for the property we had left; then proceeding at a fine rate, having beautiful weather, we soon reached the lake ; when my guides, discovering a herd of deer on an adjacent hill, immediately set off at a bound, followed by Pellican and my two brules . I saw at once my day's journey was at an end, and accordingly directed my encampment to be made. Our hunters joined us in
the evening with the choice parts of three deer they had killed. Proceeded eight miles.
“Monday, the 8th.—Very cold, tempestuous weather. Our progress was much retarded by the great depth of snow in the woods through which our route lay. Thirteen miles.
“Tuesday, the 9th.—Blowing a hurricane; the cold being also intense, we could not venture out on the ice without incurring the risk of being frost-bitten; we therefore remained in our quarters, such as they were, until the weather should moderate.
“Wednesday, the 10th.—My guides appeared very unwilling to quit their encampment this morning, pretending indisposition. They might have been really ill; but the beastly manner in which they had been gorging themselves for the past two days being well known to be the cause of their illness, no one felt disposed to pity them. I therefore sprang into their encampment, and pitching the remainder of their choice morsels into the snow, drove them out before me. Travelled through woods the whole day. Encamped at half-past three. Eighteen miles.
“ Thursday, the 11th.—Started at five, A.M. Soon fell on a large lake, on which we travelled till three, P.M., when we encamped. Thus far the lake extends S.E. and N.W., being about two miles in width. As Mr. Erlandson was the first European who had traversed these inhospitable wilds, I had the gratification of giving his name to the lake. It is reported by the natives to abound in fish of the best quality ; rein-deer are also said to be numerous at certain seasons of the year. Proceeded fifteen miles.
“Friday, the 12th.—Being immoderately cold, and the wind blowing direct in our faces, we could not attempt travelling on the lake.
“Saturday, the 13th.—Weather fine. Left Erlandson's Lake about one, A.M.; it still stretched out before us as far as the eye could reach, and cannot be less than forty miles in length ; its medium breadth, however, does not exceed two miles and a half. The circumjacent country is remarkably well wooded, even to the tops of the highest hills, and is reported by the natives to abound in martens. A few industrious Indians would not fail to turn such advantages to good account; but they can avail the Company very little, while the natives alone are in possession of them. Went on twenty-four miles.
“Sunday, the 14th.—Set off at five, A.M. Passed over several small lakes; the country well wooded. Entered upon a small river about noon, the banks covered with large pine. Encamped at three, P.M. Advanced sixteen miles.
“Monday, the 15th.—Took our departure at seven, A.M. Travelled without halting the whole day. Eighteen miles.
“Tuesday, the 16th.—Decamped at five, A.M.; the snow very deep in the woods. Fell on Whale River at ten, A.M. The face of the country presents scarcely any variety; from Erlandson's Lake to this river it is generally well wooded, but afterwards becomes extremely barren, nothing to be seen on both sides of the river but bare rocks. Proceeded sixteen miles.
“Wednesday, the 17th. —Started at five, A.M. Our route in the morning led us through a chain of small lakes, and brought us out again on Whale River, on which we travelled till four, P.M. The appearance of the country much the same as described yesterday. Proceeded eighteen miles.
“Thursday, the 18th.—P. Neven being unable to travel from indisposition, I resolved on passing the day to await the issue, deeming his malady to be of no very serious nature. In the meantime I took an exact account of my provisions which I found to be so far reduced, that no further assistance was required for its conveyance. I accordingly made the necessary arrangements to send the men back.
“Friday, the 19th.—Early in the morning, P. Neven (being now convalescent) and Mordoch Ferguson set off on their return, whilst I and my party proceeded on our onward route. I retained a sled of dogs, intending to drive them myself. We travelled eleven miles on Whale River, then struck across the country to the eastward. Encamped at four, P.M. Fourteen miles.
“Saturday, the 20th.—The moon affording no longer light to find our way in the night, we must now wait till daylight. Started at seven A.M.; crossed a point of wood, chiefly larch, of a miserably small growth; then came out on a large lake (comparatively speaking), on which we travelled till four, P.M. Thirteen miles.
“Sunday, the 21st. —Set off at seven A.M. About eleven, we fell on the fresh tracks of a large herd of deer, which my guides carefully examined; their experience not only enabling them to determine the precise time they had passed, but the very spot where they were likely to be found, which they affirmed was close to us. My dogs being very much reduced, and not having the means of increasing their present modicum of food, I determined on availing myself of an opportunity which might not again occur of procuring a supply. The Indian accordingly set off in quest of them, desiring us at their departure to make no fire until the sun had reached a certain position in the heavens which they pointed out to us. We made our encampment at the time appointed, and were soon joined by our hunters, dragging after them a fine doe; they had got only one shot at the herd, which immediately took to the bare hills, where pursuit was in vain. Our guides being encamped by themselves, I was curious to ascertain by ocular evidence the manner in which the first kettle would be disposed of, nor did I wait long till my curiosity was gratified. The cannibals fell upon the half-cooked flesh with a voracity which I could not have believed even savages capable of; and in an incredibly short
space of time the kettle was disposed of ;—and this, too, after their usual allowance, which is equal to, and sometimes exceeds, that of the other men who say they have enough. Proceeded seven miles.
“Monday, the 22d.—On examining the remains of the deer this morning I found my quadrupeds would benefit but little by my good intentions loss of time, our guides having applied themselves so seduously to the during the night, as to leave but little for their canine brethren. We started at seven, A.M., the travelling very heavy in the woods. About noon we came upon a large lake, where we made better speed. Thirteen miles.
“Tuesday, the 23d.—Travelled through woods the greater part of the day encamped at four o'clock. Sixteen miles.
“Wednesday, the 24th.—Decamped at seven, A.M. Our route through swamps and small lakes, with strips of wood intervening. Martens appear to be numerous, but beavers must be extremely rare, for we have discovered no traces whatever of their existence anywhere along our route though innumerable small lakes and rivers, such as beavers frequent, are be met with in every direction; but the country produces no food for them At ten A.M. we arrived at a considerable lake, where my guides told me we had reached the highest land. On asking them if this were the lake where we intended to build, they pointed to the south-west, saying it was four days journey off in that direction!—so far had I been led from the route I intended to have followed, notwithstanding the perfect understanding I had with my perfidious guides prior to our departure from the establishment. Encamped at three, P.M. Twelve miles.
“Thursday, the 25th.—Immediately on leaving our encampment, we fell on a large river flowing to the north-east, which I took to be George's River. We followed it for a short distance, and then directed our course over bare hills. Encamped at three, P.M. Eleven miles.
“Friday, the 26th.—Having passed the night in a clump of small pines which sheltered us from the inclemency of the weather, we were not aware of the violence of the storm which was raging around us, until, pursuing our route over a ridge of bare hills, we were completely exposed to its fury. We found the cold intense, the wind blowing in our faces, so that it was impossible to proceed. Observing a hummock of wood close to us, we shaped our course for it, where we were no sooner arrived, than it began to snow and drift. The few trees to which we had retreated being far apart, and the wind blowing with the utmost violence, we experienced the greatest difficulty in clearing an encampment. The storm continuing unabated, we passed a miserable day in our snow burrow. Two miles.
“Saturday, the 27th.—Arose from our comfortless couch at half-past four. The snow having drifted over us, and being melted by the heat of the fire in the early part of the night, we found our blankets and capotes hard frozen in the morning. Thawing and drying them occupied us till nine A.M., when we set off. Snow very deep. Proceeded nine miles.