Part 2 out of 5
skins" or "eight skins" or "five skins," harking back to the time when a
beaver-skin was the unit of money. The rate of exchange to-day is from
four skins to two skins for a dollar. Trapping animals is "making fur."
"I made no fur last winter and The Company would give me no debt," is a
painful picture of hard times. Whenever an Indian has a scanty larder,
he is "starving," and you may be "starving" many moons without dying or
thinking of dying. "Babiche" in the North is the tie that binds, and
"sinew" is the thread, babiche being merely cured rawhide from moose or
caribou, the sinew the longitudinal strands taken from either side of
the spinal column of the same animals.
[Illustration: Scouts of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police]
There is but one thing on this planet longer than the equator, and that
is the arm of British justice, and the Mounted Police, these chaps
sprawling at our feet, are the men who enforce it. The history of other
lands shows a determined fight for the frontier, inch by inch
advancement where an older civilization pushes back the native,--there
are wars and feuds and bloody raids. Not so here. When the homesteader
comes down the river we are threading and, in a flood, colonization
follows him, he will find British law established and his home ready.
The most compelling factor making for dignity and decency in this
border-country is the little band of red-coated riders, scarcely a
thousand in number. Spurring singly across the plains that we have
traversed since leaving Winnipeg, they turn up on lone riverway or
lakeside in the North just when most wanted.
Varied indeed is this man's duty,--"nursemaid to the Doukhobor" was a
thrust literally true. His, too, was the task on the plains of seeing
that the Mormon doesn't marry overmuch. He brands stray cattle,
interrogates each new arrival in a prairie-waggon, dips every doubtful
head of stock, prevents forest-fires, keeps weather records, escorts a
lunatic to an asylum eight hundred miles away, herds wood bison on the
Slave, makes a cross-continent dash from Great Slave Lake to Hudson Bay,
preserves the balance of power between American whaler and Eskimo on the
At one time the roll-call of one troup of Mounted Police included in its
rank and file three men who had held commissions in the British service,
an ex-midshipman, a son of a Colonial Governor, a grandson of a
Major-General, a medical student from Dublin, two troopers of the Life
Guards, an Oxford M.A., and half a dozen ubiquitous Scots. Recently an
ex-despatch-bearer from De Wet joined the force at Regina, and although
the cold shoulder was turned on him for a day or two, he soon made good.
One of the young fellows stretched before us, now going to Fort Smith to
round up wood bison, was born in Tasmania, ran away from school at
fourteen, sheared sheep and hunted the wallaby, stoked a steamer from
Australia to England and from England to Africa, and in the early days
of bicycles was a professional racer.
Constable Walker, lying lazily on his back blowing blue spirals into
the air, has in the long winter night made more than once, with dogs,
that perilous journey from the Yukon to the Mackenzie mouth (one
thousand miles over an unknown trail), carrying to the shut-in whalers
their winter mail. On one of these overland journeys he cut off the tips
of his four toes. His guide fainted, but Walker took babiche and,
without a needle, sewed up the wound. On this trip he was fifty-seven
days on the trail, during five days of which the thermometer hovered
between sixty-two and sixty-eight degrees below.
NINETY MILES OF RAPIDS
"On wan dark night on Lac St. Pierre,
De win' she blow, blow, blow,
An' de crew of de wood scow '_Julie Plante_'
Got scar't an' run below--
For de win' she blow lak hurricane
Bimeby she blow some more,
An' de scow bus' up on Lac St. Pierre
Wan arpent from de shore."
This morning we are to leave the Island; it is June 12th and Friday. The
daylight lengthens from day to day and last night at half past ten
underneath the mosquito-bar within the tent, it was light enough to
thread a needle. We have mending to do each night, and dragging clothes
behind the boat makes a satisfactory kind of progressive laundry. At
dusk we had seen an empty scow floating down river, adrift from
Athabasca Landing. In the middle of Grand Rapids she broke amidships,
but held together until in the darkness she floated beyond our ken.
Trouble of our own awaits us. With no one noting, an adventurous scow,
with all her precious cargo, has pulled loose from her moorings. By the
time the Cree watchman discovers that the "_Go-Quick-Her_" has taken the
bit in her teeth, the runaway with tail-sweep set has turned the next
corner of the Athabasca. Great excitement! Billy Loutit and Emile
Fosseneuve borrow the Police canoe and go in chase. It is such a rough
bit of water that we hold our breaths, for a false stroke means death to
both; but that false stroke does not come. Billy Loutit knows this river
as we know the borders and shrubs in our garden-bed.
[Illustration: Towing the Wrecked Barge Ashore]
This accident causes everyone to look grave. The Edmonton value of the
cargo is over two thousand dollars, but it is a loss that cannot be
measured in dollars and cents. These wrecked goods, gaily sailing down
the Athabasca, cannot be duplicated at some convenient grocery around
We have learned that any untoward happening means a half day's delay.
Philip Atkinson calls me to one side to suggest that it would be a
"clear waste" to leave behind the eggs of "that duck's nest I showed you
the day we came." Atkinson is a half-breed with a Hercules-build who
looks forty-five and owns up to sixty. He and I chatted over the mallard
eggs and my collection of wild flowers, he respecting the preservative
art and I in full awe of that art gastronomic of his which gulps the
Mallards-in-embryo, sans fourchette, sans salt, sans ceremony.
They are an interesting study, these half-breeds; it means much to each
on which side of the English Channel his father had birth. When a
Frenchman marries an Indian woman he reverts to her scale of
civilization; when a Scot takes a native to wife he draws her up to his.
Our crew live at Lac la Biche and were engaged last winter for their
season's work at from twenty to forty dollars a month, with board and
moccasins. They walked a hundred miles to Athabasca Landing to connect
with their summer's job, and the absolute certainty of regular meals
just now appeals. They get three meals a day going with the current, and
four while tracking back, with meals thrown in when anything unusual
happens or a moose is killed. One cannot help wondering how that elastic
term "the law of heredity" works out with these people, cut off from the
lives their fathers led and from the free woods-life of the
Philip, duck-stuffed but untroubled by "that full feeling after eating,"
lights his pipe and looks back through the years. "My father belonged to
The Company, my mother was an Ojibway from the Lake of the Woods
country. My father went back to the Old Country when I was seven,
leaving me to an uncle to be educated, and I don't know 'B' from a
bull's foot. He put me to work on the woodpile from morning till night.
When my father came back after twelve years and found me ignorant, he
cried like a baby. I have no education, but," with a contemplative
puff, "I have friends wherever I go." Philip is good to look at and he
is a linguist, speaking Cree, French, and excellent English with a
delightful Scotch accent. He is an ardent admirer of the H.B. Company.
"They always kept their word with a man, and when they had done with
him, returned him without cost to his old home." Philip and his two sons
were the first to shoot the Grand Rapids, and he tells us that this
stretch of the Athabasca River has been used only twenty years. Before
that time people from the North reached Winnipeg by the Clearwater.
Philip is a Loyalist. During the half-breed rebellion of 1885 he carried
dispatches to Middleton and Otter, going seventy-five miles one day on
foot. He had his horse, "a draught-horse as black as a crow," taken from
him twice, got through the lines and stole another, and tells proudly
how for his deed of valor he was presented with an Assomption belt.
At last we are off, keeping sharp look-out for the lost scow. Buffalo
River, where we pull up for the night, is a recognized camping-place.
The men know where to put their hands on old-time tent-poles, the boys
dig out shin-bones of the moose,--the relics of some former
feast,--which they gnaw as a puppy mumbles an old bone.
Another manifestation of gas is here. It bubbles up on the shore and
through the water at the boat's bow, and as we strike a match the whole
surface flames like the brandy on a Christmas plum-pudding. On the
opposite side of the river are "lobsticks," a new word to us and a new
thing. To stand as a living totem-pole, the Indians select on a striking
promontory a tall spruce and from a section of the trunk lop all the
branches except two, which are left as wings. If the lobstick is to
stand a monument to a certain man or party, the names of those to be
honored are written in Cree on an attached slab. We were to notice
lobsticks from point to point along the rest of our journey, some of
them indicating good hunting-grounds or fishing-places back from the
shore, but most of them memorials of happenings on the river.
The Little Buffalo carries to the Athabasca its noisy current between
two high escarpments, and on the shelf leading back from the banks of
the main stream is a far-reaching plateau of splendidly-fertile land. In
the scow next us the two young Crees who are preparing the food for our
evening "meat-su" carry on a religious controversy as they slice the
sow-belly. We gather that one has been taken into the Protestant fold
and that the other follows the priests. Duncan Tremble comes down and
cuffs them both soundly, putting an end to the argument with, "It's all
the same as the other, just like the Hudson's Bay Company and the free
trader. Each one tells you his goods is the best and the other is
_nee-moy-yuh mee-wah-sin_ (no good). It's that way with the God-goods of
the white men. Each church tells you that his is the best, but they all
come down to us in the same scow, both the priest and the missionary."
Next morning we are all keyed-up for the rapids, and about six miles
down we encounter the Brule, the first one, and take it square in
mid-channel. We ship a little water, but pass through it all too soon,
for the compelling grandeur of the Brule grips one. The river here is
held between vertical walls of the reddest of red sandstone against
which the lush greenery makes a striking contrast. Twenty miles below is
the Boiler Rapid. It got its name not from its churning water but
because the boiler of the steamer _Wrigley_ was lost here and still
remains at the bottom of the basin. The walls of this rapid are as
clear-cut as if wrought into smoothness by mallet and chisel. The
tar-soaked sands appear off and on all the way to McMurray. Next comes
the Long Rapid _(Kawkinwalk Abowstick_), which we run close to its right
From the distance sounds the ominous roar of the Big Cascade. At quarter
past four we reach the head of the swirling fall. The underlying cause
of the Big Cascade is a limestone ledge which cuts the channel
diagonally and makes ugly-looking water. We plan to run the rapid one
boat at a time. The crews are doubled. Our steersman is alert,
expectant, and as agile as a cat, his black hair switching in the wind.
Sitting in the centre of the scow, as we do, the sensation is very
different to that which one experiences in running rapids in a canoe.
Then it is all swiftness and dexterity, for your craft is light, and, in
expert hands, easily dirigible with one clever turn of the wrist. With a
ten-ton scow the conditions change and you feel correspondingly more
The great rapid stretches from shore to shore and the drop is sheer.
With much excitement, the bowsman points out the channel that seems to
him the safe one. No one speaks, and the big awkward craft is brought up
for the jump. It is an elephant drawing his feet together to take a
water-fence. For all we own in the world we wouldn't be anywhere but
just where we sit. If it is going to be our last minute, well, Kismet!
let it come. At least it will not be a tame way of going out. For the
life of me I cannot forbear a cry of exultation. Then there is the
feeling below one's feet which you experienced when you were a kiddie
lying flat on your stomach coasting down a side-hill and your little red
sled struck a stone. We, too, have struck something, but do not stop to
ask what the obstruction is.
[Illustration: The Scow Breaks Her Back and Fills]
At the foot of the rapids, we hurry the boatmen ashore. I want to
photograph the next scow as she shoots the fall. We reach a good
vantage-point and, getting the coming craft in the finder, I have just
time to notice that her passengers are Inspector Pelletier and Dr.
Sussex, when a sharp crack rings out like the shot of a pistol. Just as
we touch the button, something happens. We wanted a snap-shot, and it
was a snap-shot we got. The scow has broken her back and begins to fill.
The blue-and-white jerkin of Isadore Tremble, the pilot, dances in the
sun as he gesticulates and directs his two passengers to crawl to the
top of the boat's freight. In less time than it takes to write it, the
men from our scow have launched the police canoes and make their way
through the boiling water to take off Pelletier and the Doctor. The
Inspector says, "Step quick, Doctor, there's no time to waste." The
native politeness of Sussex doesn't fail him, even in this crisis,
"After you, Inspector." Then Pelletier says, sharply, "Jump, I tell you,
jump; there's no time for--Gaston-and-Alphonse business here."
As always, it is impossible to tell who directs affairs, but quickly
things happen. Lines are run from the wreck to the shore, other scows
discharge their cargo on the bank and push out to take the water-logged
goods from the wreck. The lightened craft is pulled ashore. There has
been no loss of life, but it is a sorry-looking cargo that piles up on
the bank,--five thousand dollars' worth of goods destroyed in three
A sad procession, we make the boats, and drop downstream toward
McMurray. The night is beautiful. The sun sank in a crimson splendour an
hour ago. A low-hung moon comes out and is visible and is hidden
alternately as we pass on the shore-line high hill and intervening
swale. With a blanket thrown over me, as the others sleep, I lie along
the gunwale, and the beauty of it sinks into my very soul. Just before
we enter McMurray the wraith of a tall oil-derrick tells of the
enterprise of some pioneer in the wilderness.
The location of Fort McMurray is ideal. At this point the river breaks
into two branches which encircle a high-banked and thickly-wooded
island. Some hundreds of yards farther on the Clearwater River makes in;
so here we have three streams. The fort has a foundation dating back
forty years. This fur outpost will be the terminus of the Alberta and
Great Waterways Railway, and one could not well imagine a more beautiful
site for a great city. On the broad flat as we enter appear a handful of
Indian houses and the little stores of the fur-traders.
Letters from the outside are not as eagerly looked for as one would
expect. To the people who live within the North, the North is their
world, and to them the news of who is to be appointed to the charge of
the next post down the river is of more, importance than the partition
of Turkey or a possible redistribution of the thrones of Europe. Mr.
Brabant says, "Oh, by the way, Bob, there is a package of letters for
you somewhere in the scow. Shall I dig them out for you?" "Never mind,"
says Bob, "I'll get them to-morrow. Have you got any whiskey?"
It is Sunday the fourteenth of June. On the long beach is strewn the
water-soaked cargo of the wrecked scow, the abomination of desolation.
Mrs. Harding, although all of her personal belongings and her "special
orders" are ruined, smiles bravely. It is a point of honour in the North
not to whine, whatever happens. All day we work trying to save some of
the wrecked cargo. Bales of goods are unwound and stretched out for
hundreds of yards in the sun. Bandanna handkerchiefs flutter on bushes.
Toilet soap, boots, and bear-traps are at our feet. The Fire-Ranger of
the district, Mr. Biggs, has his barley and rice spread out on sheeting,
and, turning it over, says bravely, "I think it will dry." Mathematical
and astronomical instruments consigned to a scientist on the Arctic
edge are shaken off centre and already have begun to rust, and there are
miles and miles of cordage and nets, with braids and sewing silks and
Hudson's Bay blankets!
In the midst of his wrecked drugs and cherished personal effects the
Doctor is a pitiful sight. By stage and by scow, he has been confiding
to us that, in order to save bulk, his medicines have been specially put
up for him in highly concentrated form by London chemists. One little
pill-box of powder is potent enough to make a dozen quart-bottles of
effective medicine. And now all these precious powders have melted
together, and appear like Dicken's stew at the Inn of the Jolly
Sand-boys "all in one delicious gravy." The Doctor is dazed, and offers
to white and brown alike a tin box with "Have a pastile, do." He wanders
among the half-breeds, offering plasters for weak backs, which they
accept with avidity as combining two things that the red man specially
appreciates,--something free and something medicinal. Sad-faced, the
Doctor brings to me a glass case holding a dozen lozenge-shaped disks on
each of which an infinitesimal piece of wood rests. "Here are some
authenticated relics, but unfortunately the water has made them run and
I don't know them apart. You see they have the seal of the Carthusian
Monastery on the back. One of them is a piece of the true Cross, but I
shall never be able to tell which it is." One by one the Doctor digs out
from the wreck his water-soaked treasures,--a presentation "Life of the
Countess of Munster," also a crucifix from her, and a beautifully-carved
holy water stoup of French design which he declares to be "as old as the
Conqueror." There is a medal of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers which
carries with it the freedom of the City of London. Another order shows
the Doctor to be a Knight of the Primrose League; and, fished from under
a side of bacon, is a print of "my great-grandfather who discovered a
cure for scurvy." A missionary's box of toys for some Christmas tree in
Far North fastnesses is opened, and here a native stops work to lead
along the sand a pink-and-blue alligator.
[Illustration: Miss Gordon, a Fort McMurray Trader]
Although the wrecked scow has its grotesque features, the sight is a sad
one, and we are glad to leave it and pull across the river to Fort
McMurray. We call upon Miss Christine Gordon, a young Scottish woman and
a free-trader, if you please, in her own right, operating in opposition
to the great and only Hudson's Bay Company. The only white woman on a
five hundred mile stretch of the Athabasca, she has lived here for years
with the Indians for companions, her days being marked out by their
migrations and tribal feasts. We question, "Are you not lonely,
especially in the winter?" But she smiles and refuses to be regarded as
heroic. "Often in the winter a trapper passes through, and the Indians
are always coming and going, and they are full of interest."
We have not walked with Miss Gordon for half an hour among the tepees
when we discover the secret of her cheeriness and content. Our happiness
consists not in our havings but in our attitude of mind. The world is
divided sharply into two classes. The classes are not the white and the
black, the good and the bad, the sheep and the goats, as the orthodox
would have us believe. We are all good and bad, not black or white, but
varying shades of grey. Neither are we sheep or goats, but moral
alpacas, all of us,--something between a sheep and a goat. But no less
are we divided into two clear-cut classes. Each of us puts himself of
his own volition into the class of the self-centred, or the
self-forgetting, and in the act marks himself as happy or unhappy.
As Miss Gordon lifts the tent-flaps, smiles greet her from every home.
The baby in the moss-bag is handed up for her inspection, and old blind
Paul Cree, the Chief, knows her moccasined step, and rises on his elbow
from his couch of spruce-boughs to greet her eagerly and salute any that
she may present as friend. The Chief is in his ninety-sixth year and
depends upon chance visitors for his companionship and food. Yet an
assured air of dignity shows that Paul Cree is aware of the respect due
to the Chief of the McMurrays. He addresses us in Cree, which Miss
Gordon translates. "I am delighted that ladies have come such a long
distance on purpose to see me. The white man is my friend. I think all
white women must be good. Their mothers have taught them to be kind to
old people. I am sorry I am blind. Be glad that you can see the water,
the sky, the birds and flowers and the faces of little children," and
the tired old head sinks on the fir-boughs and we are dismissed. "Be
glad you are alive, and use that sight while you have it." It is the
advice given by that other strong man laid on his back, Carlton in the
We are joined by Paul Cree's brother. He has long hair, and wears a pair
of pince-nez as an English gallant wears his monocle--merely for effect,
for there is nothing the matter with the vision of those sharp eyes. In
one tepee a young mother is reading a service book of the Roman Church
to her little girl of five. Across the plateau under the shadow of the
hill we enter a camp where Miss Gordon has a patient with an injured
hand. The cut is ugly and is surrounded by proud flesh, and we find that
twice a day Miss Gordon leaves her household work and her little store
to go across and dress this wound.
When a schoolboy takes to his bosom a _fidus Achates_, the first thing
he does is to offer to show his birds' nests; so Miss Gordon introduces
us to her find,--nests of the Gambel sparrow. We take two views, one of
a nest of five eggs and another of the nesting mother.
During the past winter Miss Gordon has fed the Indians in families, as
they had "made little fur," entertaining them as courteously as you
would your special friends at an afternoon of pink tea and pink
thoughts. Visiting the sick, trading fur, cultivating her little garden,
bringing wolf pups and bear cubs up by hand, thus this plucky woman
passes her days. It takes the adaptability and dour determination of a
Scot to fit into this niche. Your Irishwoman would last in McMurray just
about three days.
A new duty has been taken on by Miss Gordon,--the reading of the
rain-gauge just installed by the Canadian Government. Slyly taking a
peep into her records, we feel that they will have to be adjusted to the
latitude of Ottawa when they get there, for with a true Northern
contempt for fractions she has made all the decimals read as full
fractions. The outside world which feasts on blue-books is apt in the
future to be startled at the generous precipitation accorded Fort
McMurray! Miss Gordon's ambitions run in other lines than the
mathematical. Holding us by both hands as we bade good-by, she said,
"Oh, that I were young again, I would learn, learn, learn. I would learn
medicine so that I could help these poor creatures." Her tone of
unselfish sincerity we carry with us as we make our way back to the
scows, bearing with us, as token of good-will from the Gordon garden,
radishes and lettuce for an evening salad.
Next morning we start bird-hunting on our own account, and get a pair of
pictures as striking as those we have Miss Gordon to thank for--a
Foxsparrow on the nest, then the baby sparrows but one day old. If any
one thinks it easy to find and photograph birds' nests in the heart of
the ancient wood on Athabascan banks in mosquito time he has "another
guess coming." The mosquito here is not a joke, not a theorem, but a
stinging entity. During the five days we are at Fort McMurray the
potatoes in Miss Gordon's garden have grown as many inches, literally
an inch a day. Wood violets, wild roses, false Solomon-seal, and the
wild sarsaparilla are everywhere; the air is full of the scent of
[Illustration: The Steamer _Grahame_]
Fort McMurray is the parting of the ways where the Hudson's Bay
Company's steamer _Grahame_ meets us, bringing her tale of outward-going
passengers from the North. The journey of these people from Fort
McMurray to The Landing is going to be a very different thing from the
easy floating with the current that we have enjoyed. All northern rivers
are navigated against stream by "tacking," that is, towing the boats,
weary mile after mile, "by the power o' man," the half-breed boatmen
scrambling now on the bank, now in the water, tugging the heavily-laden
craft after them. It is a mode of transportation that neither written
word nor camera can do justice to. We shake hands with those going out
to civilization and take our dunnage aboard the steamer. The _Grahame_
has its advantages,--clean beds, white men's meals served in real
dishes, and best of all, a bath!
On the _Grahame_ we meet Mr. Harris, of Fond du Lac, who has come thus
far to greet the incoming transport and who goes back again with it.
Scholarly and versatile, we are to find in Mr. Harris a very mint of
Indian lore and woodland wisdom and the most wonderful memory I have
ever encountered. All the vicissitudes of a Northern life have failed to
rub out one line of the Virgil and Horace of his schoolboy days, whole
chapters of which, without one false quantity, he repeats for us in a
resonant voice. He can recite the whole of "Paradise Lost" as
faultlessly as Macaulay was credited with being able to do. If Mr.
Harris could be induced to write a story of the North it would put to
shame all the weak efforts of one-season visitors who of necessity see
only the surface and have to guess the depths.
As we pull out, we mentally run our fingers along the parallel of 56 deg.
40' North to find out by comparison, as they say in Chicago, "where we
are at." In Europe we would be on the top of Ben Nevis and not so far
north as Aberdeen. Our line of latitude run westward will cut Sitka, and
the lone Pribilof, "where the little blue fox is bred for his skin and
the seals they breed for themselves." Crossing the junction of the
Clearwater with the Athabasca, we strike for the first time the trail of
Sir Alexander Mackenzie, who came in by Portage la Loche, and in 1789
traced to the sea the great river which bears his name. At its
confluence with the Clearwater the Athabasca is perhaps three-quarters
of a mile wide, and it maintains a steady current with a somewhat
contracting channel to the point of its discharge into Lake Athabasca in
latitude 58 deg. 36' North.
[Illustration: An Oil Derrick on the Athabasca]
In all Canada there is no more interesting stretch of waterway than that
upon which we are entering. An earth-movement here has created a line of
fault clearly visible for seventy or eighty miles along the river-bank,
out of which oil oozes at frequent intervals. Count von Hammerstein,
building derricks from point to point along the stream, has put in much
time, toil, and money in oil-development here. Our traverse of those
ninety miles of Athabasca Rapids has given us respect for the labor and
determination which in this wilderness has erected these giant
derricks. Looking at them, we waft a wish that the plucky prospector may
reap his reward and abundantly strike oil. The Count tells us of
striking one hundred and fifty feet of rock salt while "punching" one of
his oil-shafts through the ground. Here are overhanging dykes of
limestone; and out of the lime and clay shoot up splendid trees of pine,
poplar, and spruce.
[Illustration: Tar Banks on the Athabasca]
At Fort McKay, thirty miles below McMurray, a fine seam of coal is
exposed on the river-bank. It is bituminous, and can be used for
blacksmithing, but probably not for welding. Ochre is found on these
banks, with sand of the very best quality for making glass, while
extensive sulphur deposits have been discovered on the east side of the
river between Fort McMurray and the lake. On the Clearwater are
medicinal springs whose output tastes very much like Hunyadi water.
Tar there is, too, in plenty. Out of the over-hanging banks it oozes at
every fissure, and into some of the bituminous tar-wells we can poke a
twenty foot pole and find no resistance. These tar-sands lithologically
may be described as a soft sandstone, the cementing material of which is
a bitumen or petroleum. They are estimated to have a distribution of
over five hundred square miles. Where it is possible to expose a
section, as on a river-bank, the formation extends from one hundred and
twenty-five to two hundred feet in depth, the bitumen being distributed
through the sands.
Twelve miles below the last exposure of the tar-sands and about two
miles above the mouth of Red Earth Creek a copious saline spring bubbles
up, and there is an escape of sulphurretted hydrogen whose unmistakable
odour follows the boat for half a mile. Kipling was right when he said,
"Smells are surer than sounds or sights."
We speak only of what we observe from the deck of a boat as we pass down
this wonderful river. What is hidden is a richer story which only the
coming of the railroad can bring to light.
FORT CHIPEWYAN PAST AND PRESENT
"Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their humble joys and destiny obscure."
At seven in the morning of Sunday, June 21st, we enter Lake Athabasca,
and catch our first glimpse of Fort Chipewyan. An acceptance of the
invitation, "Come, shake your leg," has kept the men busy half the night
over a hot sequence of Red River jigs among "pieces" on the lower deck,
and we have this superb sweep almost to ourselves.
The great lake-scape is blue and green and grey and opaline as the sun
strikes it and the surface breaks to a south wind. Ours is the one craft
on this inland sea, but overhead a whole navy of clouds manoeuvres, the
ships of the ghostly argosy doubling themselves in the lake. As we draw
in, the village takes shape. What haunts us as we look at the white
houses, that crescent beach of pinkest sand? We have it! It is a print,
an old woodcut of "Russian America" that we used to pore over in the
days when one wore "pinnies" of flour-sacking, and "hankies" were made
At one end of the village are the little smithy of the Hudson's Bay
Company and the pretentious buildings of their establishment. At the
other gibbous horn of this Athens of the Athabasca rise the steeples
and convent-school of the Roman Church, with the free-trading-post of
Colin Fraser. Midway between is the little Church of England, and higher
up and farther back the Barracks of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police.
The white-washed homes of the employes of The Company, little
match-boxes dazzling in the sun, stretch from one end of the beach to
the other. In among the half-breed populace stalk policeman and priest,
red jacket keeping the dark-skinned people straight in this world and
black robe laying out conditions for the world to come. So is Chipewyan
fate chequered with the _rouge et noir_ of compulsion and expediency.
[Illustration: Fort Chipewyan, Lake Athabasca]
Fort Chipewyan is the oldest post in the North, and every boulder of red
gneissic rock, if we could interrogate it, has a story to tell. Peter
Pond, of the North-West Company, in 1778 built a post on the Athabasca
River thirty miles to the south of the lake. The far-seeing Alexander
Mackenzie, in the interests of the same company, sent his cousin
Roderick ten years later to build Fort Chipewyan on the lake, and for
over a century this was the entrepot and emporium of the whole North.
The Hudson's Bay Company meanwhile were maintaining a post, Fort
Wedderburne, not far away on Potato Island, and upon the amalgamation of
the Companies in 1821 they took possession of the present Fort
This metropolis is one hundred and twenty years old. Chipewyan was doing
business at the same old stand before Toronto was the capital of Upper
Canada, while Ottawa was still unheard of, and when of Chicago not even
the Fort Dearborn nucleus had been built. 1788! We wonder if the old ox
that conveys our "cassette" and "pieces" up to the big gateway of The
Company's quadrangle was a drawer of wood and drinker of water at that
date. He looks as if he might have been. George III was reigning in
England when Fort Chipewyan was built, Arkwright was making his spinning
jenny, and Watts experimenting with the steam-engine. Sir Joshua
Reynolds painted his pictures, Burns, a young man of twenty-nine, was
busy with his ballads. In London a little baby saw the light of day,
whom the world afterwards hailed as Lord Byron. Three British boys might
have been seen with arms thrown over each other's shoulders, "dreaming
greatly"--Coleridge aged sixteen, young Walter Scott, seventeen, and
Wordsworth just eighteen. Across the Channel the French Revolution was
at its height. Shelley and Keats were not yet born. Down on the
Atlantic seaboard of America a new people just twelve years before had
gone through the birth-throes of nationhood. It is a far call.
Scraping the yellow lichens off the old sun-dial, we adjust our
bearings. We are 111 deg. West of Greenwich and in latitude 58 deg. 45' North.
Our parallel carried eastward would strike the Orkneyan skerries and
pass through Stromness. All untouched by the development of that busy
continent to the south which has grown up within its lifetime, Chipewyan
is a little pearl of the periwigged days of the early Georges. From its
red sands, tamarack swamps, and mossy muskeg one almost expects to see
arise the forms of those great of old who outfitted here, making
Chipewyan the base of their northward explorations. The ghostly company
is a goodly one--Sir Alexander Mackenzie, Sir George Simpson, and Sir
John Franklin (their honorary prefixes coming to them in the after days
as reward of their labors), Back and Richardson and Rae, and in later
days that young stripling curate who was afterwards to be known
throughout the world of letters as Bishop Bompas, the "Apostle of the
North." Then there is the great unnamed horde who rested tired limbs at
Chipewyan on their northward journeys, each on his own
mission--fur-traders and hunters of big game, devoted nuns and silent
priests, the infrequent scientist, and the hundreds of Klondikers, their
hearts hot with the greed for gold. These all through the century have
enjoyed as we now enjoy the spontaneous hospitality of this little bit
of Britain which floats the Union Jack from its fort walls, and whose
people, brown and white, when the belated news of the passing of
Victoria the Great reached this her northern outpost, gathered on the
beach and bewailed aloud their personal loss. We seem to hear again the
far-flung cry "The Queen is dead! The Queen is dead!" from the
half-breed runners coming in that Christmas Day across the winter ice.
Mackenzie made Chipewyan his headquarters for eight years. It was from
here he started on his voyage to the Arctic Sea in 1789, and three years
later on that other history-making journey to the far Pacific. Sir John
Franklin outfitted here for his two land-journeys--in July, 1820, with
Dr. Richardson, and again in 1825. Chipewyan is a mine of interest. We
almost begrudge time given to the dainty meals of our hostess, Mrs.
William Johnson, and the hours spent between her lavender-scented
In the loft above the office of the H.B. Company, in among old
flintlock rifles and discarded ox-yokes, we browse through the daily
records of The Company, old journals written by the Factors at the close
of their day's work through the years and here preserved for our
inquisitive eyes. Sitting on the floor, making extracts from these
tomes, one has the half-guilty feeling of being caught poking into a
On this page the ink is thin and one can see the old writer thawing out
his frozen ink-pot of stone at the end of a tired day and sitting down
to write his simple tale. Here are finger-marks where the blood of a
buffalo gives a marginal note. The journalist had been called away from
his writing to weigh and pay for some fresh meat. Drops from a tallow
candle show the light of other days. A pressed mosquito of the vintage
of 1790 is very suggestive. We picture the trivial round and common task
of the man who writes, see him exchanging fathoms of tobacco for
beaver-pelts in those long, cold winters, and eagerly hunger with him
for the signs presaging the going-out of the ice and the coming-in of
Spring. We follow out the short Summer with him and revel in its
perpetual daylight. With him we make the fall fishery and shoot our
winter's supply of waveys and southward-flying cranes. We wonder, as he
wondered, what news the next packet will bring from the old folks in the
Orkneys or the Hebrides. We study, as he studied, the problem of
governing his servants, placating the Indians, and making enough fur to
satisfy that inexorable Board of Directors back in London whose motto is
"Skin for skin."
It has been a grim enough life as the author of this journal records it.
He is far from those who direct his fate, and recognition and reward are
slow in coming. Companionship and the gentle arts of "outside" are
denied him. He must make his own world and rear within it his dusky
brood, that they in honourable service may follow his round of "work
done squarely and unwasted days." What made the charm of this life to
these men? It is hard to see. The master of the post was also master of
the situation, and an autocrat in his community, a little Fur King, a
Captain of Industry. A thing was law because he said it. And isn't it
Caesar himself who declares, "Better be first in a little Iberian
village than second in Rome?"
We get a delightful picture in an entry under the date of Wednesday,
23rd May, 1827, when Sir John Franklin was on his way back to England at
the end of his second journey.
"To-day William McGillivary and Katherine Stewart, daughter
of Alexander Stewart, Chief Factor, were joined in holy wedlock
by Captain John Franklin, R.N., Commander of the Land Arctic
Great is the force of example, for five days later appears the entry
"This evening the ceremonial of marriage took place between
Robert McVicar, Esq., and Christy McBeath. Captain Franklin
acted on the occasion as clergyman. The ceremony o'er, the
evening was agreeably spent in a family assembly."
Looking at these records, we are reminded of a not-very-well-known story
of international courtesy which connects itself with the third and
ill-fated journey of Franklin. Old Sir John, then in his sixtieth year,
had sailed from England in an attempt at the Northwest Passage. Years
passed and no word came from the explorer, and in 1852 the ice-desert
was still mute.
In this year, Sir Edward Belcher in the _Resolute_ headed one of the
many Arctic Relief Expeditions, subsequently abandoning his boat in the
ice off Melville Island. Next year the American whaler _Henry George_
met the deserted _Resolute_ in sound condition about forty miles from
Cape Mercy; she must have drifted through Barrow Strait, Lancaster
Sound, and Baffin Bay. She was recovered, the Government of the United
States bought her and with international compliments presented her in
perfect condition to Queen Victoria in 1856. The old ship was broken up
about thirty years ago, and from the soundest of her timbers a solid
desk was made by direction of Queen Victoria, who presented it to the
then President of the United States. This is the desk which stands in
President Taft's reception room to-day, and on it the papers of eight
administrations have been written.
There is living as well as buried history in Chipewyan. A stroll from
one end of its lacustrine street to the other is lush with interest. We
call upon Colin Fraser, whose father was piper to Sir George Simpson.
Colin treats us to a skirl of the very pipes which announced the
approach of Simpson whenever that little Northern autocrat, during his
triumphal progress through a bailiwick as big as Europe, made his way
into a new fort.
With the echo of the "_Gay Gordons_" in our ears we pass into the
largest convent in the North country, managed by the Grey Nuns of
Montreal. Sister Brunelle came into the North in 1866. Forty-two years
in a convent-school of the Northland! It makes one gasp.
These Indian schools, assisted by the Canadian Government, catch the
little Indians in the camps and hold their prey on school-benches from
the age of four to fourteen. One boy is dumb, another a hunchback. In a
corner we came upon a poor old derelict of the camps, a Cree woman,
paralysed and mentally deranged, who within these quiet walls has found
harbour. The kiddies are taught one clay in French and the next day in
English; but when they hide behind their spellers to talk about the
white visitors, the whisper is in Chipewyan. What do they learn?
Reading, (vertical) writing, arithmetic, hymns, and hoeing potatoes,
grammar, sewing and shoemaking, and one more branch, never taught in
Southern schools. When the fall fishery comes, the nuns kilt up their
skirts, slates are shoved far back into desks, and shepherdess and sheep
(young brown moose!) together clean the whitefish which are to furnish
meals for a twelve-month to come. If fish be brain food, then should
this convent of Chipewyan gather in medals, degrees, and awards,
capturing for its black-eyed boys Rhodes scholarships _ad lib_.
[Illustration: Three of a Kind]
Back of the convent stretches a farm with an historic record. It was
from this enclosure, tilled by the priests and their proteges, that the
sample of wheat came which at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia
in competition with the wheats of the world took the bronze medal. This
wheat ran sixty-eight pounds to the bushel.
We linger in the convent, looking at the rows of tiny beds neat and
immaculate, each covered with its little blue counterpane. Sister Jigot,
with the air of divulging a state secret, tells that the pretty
bed-covering is flour-sacking, that it is dyed on the premises from a
recipe brought out of Chipewyan woods. In the long winter evenings these
good step-mothers of savages do all their reading and sewing before six
o'clock. The mid-winter sun sinks at four, and two hours of candle-light
is all that the frugal exchequer can afford. "What in the world do you
do after six?" I venture; for well we know those busy fingers are not
content to rest in idle laps. "Oh! we knit, opening the stove-doors to
give us light." Many a time are we to throw a glance backward through
the years to these devoted souls upon Athabascan shores, trying to graft
a new civilisation on an old stock, and in the process economising their
candles like Alfred of old.
Both Protestant and Roman missionaries are amateur doctors and we find a
stimulating rivalry in bodily and spiritual ministrations. At the Church
of England Mission we are shown with triumph a piece of bone salved from
the leg of an injured Indian. Afterward we learn that the peripatetic
patient accepted the Church of England treatment in the daytime, and in
the evening shadows was carried across the rocks to the shrine of Rome.
Poor chap, he died in the process! But while he lived he stimulated
trade, and his memory lingers to point a moral and adorn a tale. If
there had but been a Presbyterian Church within range, he might have
comforted himself with the thought that it had all been comfortably
An interesting family lives next to the English Mission--the Loutits.
The father tells of the days when as a young man he served The Company,
and "for breakfast on the march they gave you a club and showed you a
rabbit-track." There were Loutits in Chipewyan as far back as the old
journals reach. The Scottish blood has intermingled with that of Cree
and Chipewyan and the resultant in this day's generation is a family of
striking young people--the girls good to look at and clever in bead-work
and quill-ornamentation, the boys skilled in nemoral arts and holding
the strong men's records of the North.
George Loutit without help brought a scow with four thousand pounds from
Athabasca Landing to Chipewyan through the ninety miles of rapids. His
brother Billy, carrying a special dispatch of the Mounted Police, ran
with a hand-sled (and no dogs) from Chipewyan to Fort Smith and back in
three days--a distance of two hundred miles at least. Once, when the
river rose suddenly in the night, Billy unloaded nine tons from one scow
to another, astonishing the owners, who snored while Billy was toiling
upward in the night. The rivermen tell of George Loutit's quarreling
with a man one afternoon in a saloon at Edmonton and throwing his
adversary out of the window. When he heard him slump, George immediately
thought of the North as a most desirable place and started hot-foot for
Athabasca Landing, a hundred miles away. He arrived there in time for
noon luncheon next day.
At the H.B. Co. end of the village we find Pierre Mercredi in charge. A
French Bishop once wanted to train him for the priesthood, but it is
peltries and not souls that Pierre is after. His forebears were Irish
McCarthys, but this name failed to fall trippingly from the tongue of
French priests, and became corrupted into the Mercredi as he now signs
Throughout the journals of the last forty years we run across such
entries as these:--"Wyllie at the forge," "Wyllie making nails," "Wyllie
straightening the fowling-pieces," "Wyllie making sled-runners," "This
day Wyllie made a coffin for an Indian." We step into the old man's
smithy, and he turns to greet us with an outstretched hand and a "Good
mornin'," in richest Doric. The date 1863 cut into the wooden foundation
of his forge marks the year when Wyllie came to Chipewyan. He was born
in the Orkneys, and had never seen a city in the Old World. Coming out
to America in a sailing vessel of The Company by way of Hudson Bay, he
threaded the inland waterway which brought him to Chipewyan without
seeing a city in America. Torontonians think the hub of the universe is
their capital on Lake Ontario. A smart young man from Toronto filtered
in one day to Chipewyan, and asked the old blacksmith, "Came from the
Old Country, didn't you? What did you think of Toronto?" "Naething, I
didna see the place."
Mr. Wyllie has never seen an electric light nor a railway train nor a
two-story building nor a telegraph wire nor a telephone. In the
forty-five years in which he has presided over this forge, the limits of
his wanderings have been McMurray on the south, Fort Smith on the north,
Fond du Lac on the east, the Chutes of the Peace on the west. To him
these are innocuous days of ease, in which we are falling into
luxuriousness with all its weakening influence. "It was much better in
the old days when we had only dried meat and fish-oil. Nowadays, when we
have flour and tinned meats and preserved fruits, all my teeth are
No one feels like smiling a smile of superiority in talking with old Mr.
Wyllie. He has taught himself the gentle arts of gunsmithing and
blacksmithing. The tools that we see all around us are marvels of
mechanical skill and would be the joy of a modern Arts and Crafts
Exhibition. His sledges and augurs, planes and chisels have been made by
the old man out of pig iron which came as ballast in the holds of those
old sailing ships which beat their way into Fort Churchill through
Hudson Strait. The hand-made tools are set into convenient handles of
moose-horn and bone. Clever indeed is the workmanship that Wyllie has
done with them. The last triumph from this unique forge was the welding
of the broken shaft of the little tug _Primrose_. The steamer _Grahame_
was built at Chipewyan of whipsawn lumber, and much of her steel and
ironwork was wrought on Wyllie's forge.
Wyllie left the Scottish Isles when a mere lad, but they are still
"Home" to him and he tells us that this autumn he is going back on a
visit. It was a prototype of Wyllie's
"From the lone sheiling and the misty island,
Mountains divide us and a waste of seas,
But still the heart, the heart is Highland,
And we in _dreams_ behold the Hebrides,"
who prayed "O, Lord, we beseech Thee, send down Thy covenanted blessin'
on the Muckle Hebrides, the Lesser Hebrides, and the adjacent islands
of Great Britain and Ireland." Talking with the old gentleman, you are
conscious of the innate moral strength rather than the mechanical skill
of the craftsman. Instinctively you feel the splendid power of his
presence and come out from his forge murmuring, "Thank God I have seen a
_man_ this day." Wyllie belongs to the age of the old journals, to the
days that bred Joe Gargerys and old Adams in whom appeared "the constant
service of the antique world."
[Illustration: Samples of Woman's Work of the Far North.
EXPLANATION OF PLATE
A and C--_Muski-moots_, or bags used by the duck-hunter for his game.
Made by Dog-Rib women, of _babiche_, or rawhide of the moose or caribou.
B--Velvet leggings richly embroidered in violet-coloured bead-work, made
by Mrs. (Archdeacon) Macdonald, a full-blooded Loucheaux woman.
D--Wall-pocket of white deerskin embroidered in silk. Made by a
Rabbit-Skin woman at Fort Good Hope under the Arctic Circle.
E--Wall-pocket ornamented with porcupine-quill work, made by a
Yellow-Knife Indian woman at Fort Resolution on Great Slave Lake.
F--_Fire-bag_, or tobacco-pouch, made of two claws of the black bear.
The work of a Beaver Indian woman at Vermilion-on-the-Peace.
G--_Fire-bag_ of velvet ornamented with silk-work, made by Chipewyan
woman at Fond du Lac, Lake Athabasca.
H--Velvet watch-bag embroidered in silk, made by Slavi Indian woman at
Fort Providence, at the head of Mackenzie River.
I--Watch-pocket of smoked moose-skin, embroidered in silk-work, made by
a Cree girl at Fort McMurray on the Athabasca.
J--Armlets ornamented in porcupine quills, made by a half-breed woman on
the Liard River (a feeder of the Mackenzie).
K--Three hat bands--the first two ornamented with porcupine quills, and
the last in silk embroidery--made by Chipewyan woman at Fond du Lac,
L--Beautiful belt of porcupine work, made by a half-breed woman at Fort
Nelson on the Liard (a feeder of the Mackenzie).
M--Armlets of porcupine-quill work, made by half-breed girl at Fort
Mr. and Mrs. William Johnson, with generous courtesy, have made us
their guests while we stay, and their refined home is a clear delight.
Mr. Johnson is as clever a man as Mr. Wyllie, but in other lines.
Without ever having seen an electric light, he learned by study and
research more about electricity than nine men out of ten know who go
through Electrical Training Schools. With the knowledge thus gained he
constructed and put into working use an electric-light plant at Fort
Simpson on the Mackenzie. Far up here on the map, too, the "Judge," as
he is lovingly called, taught himself all about watches, and he is now
Father Time for the whole Mackenzie District, regulating and mending
every timepiece in the country. The corrected watches are carried to
their owners by the next obliging person who passes the post, where the
owner is notching off the days on a piece of stick while he waits. A
watch, the works of which were extracted from three old ones and
assembled within one case by this Burbank of Watchdom, found its way
down to Chicago. The jeweller into whose hands it fell declared that
among all his workmen there was not one who could have duplicated the
Chipewyan is a bird paradise; the whole woods are vocal to-day. In the
autumn, wonderful hunts are made of the southward-flying cranes, geese,
and waveys, thousands of these great birds being killed and salted and
put in ice chambers for winter use. If the mosquitoes were not so bad we
would spend hours in the woods here with "God's jocund little fowls."
These sweet songsters seem to have left far behind them to the south all
suspicion of bigger bipeds. We hear the note of the ruby-crowned kinglet
(_regulus calendula_) which some one says sounds like "Chappie, chappie,
jackfish." The American red-start comes to our very feet, the yellow
warbler, the Tennessee warbler, the red-eyed vireo, and the magnolia
warbler, which last, a young Cree tells us, is
"High-Chief-of-all-the-small-birds." Rusty blackbirds are here with
slate-coloured junco, and we see a pair of purple finches. We are
fortunate in getting a picture of the nest of the Gambel sparrow and two
of the nesting white-throated, sparrow. They are ferreted out for us by
the sharp eyes of a girl who says her Cree name is
"A-wandering-bolt-of-night-lightning!" At our feet blossom cinquefoil,
immortelles, the dainty flowers of the bed-straw.
It has been a full day, and by the way the "permits" are opening up in
the settlement when we come back, promises to be a full night. These men
have waited a whole year for a drink, and now the lids can't come off
quick enough. "Come, hurry up, Flynn, we're all as dry as wooden gods,
we're so dry that we're brittle--we'd break if you hit us." "Well, I'm
hurrying; I'm as much in a rush as any of you; I'm so warped the hoops
are falling off."
It doesn't take long to polish off the permits proper (or improper). By
morning all this liquor, imported for "medicinal purposes," is gone.
Whoever in Chipewyan is thoughtless enough to get ill during the next
twelve months must fall back on the medicine-chest of the English
Mission or of the Grey Nuns. Anything strong will do for the creation of
joyousness during the remaining three hundred and sixty-four days of the
year--Jamaica ginger, lavender-water, flavouring extracts.
Next morning the bon vivants of Chipewyan are down to essences of lemon,
vanilla, and ginger, which have been specially imported as stimulating
beverages. We ask if they are any good. "Good? I should say so, and one
bottle just makes a drink. Can I offer" (politely) "to exhilarate you
ladies with vanilla?" The most jovial of the celebrants tells of his
early imbibition of red ink. "I used to get a gallon of red ink with my
outfit every year, and it gives you the good feel, but when this new
Commissioner comes in he writes, 'I don't see how you can use a gallon
of red ink at your post in one year,' and I writes back, 'What we don't
use we abuse,' and next year he writes to me, 'It's the abuse we
complain of,' and, with regretful reminiscence, "I got no more red ink."
The substitution of red tape for the carmine fluid that inebriates is an
innovation not appreciated.
The old records fascinate us. We spend every spare moment before the
coming of the treaty party in transcribing choice bits from them. There
were drinks and drinkers in these old days.
"_1830, Friday 1st. January_. All hands came as is customary to wish us
the compliments of the season, and they were treated with cakes each, a
pipe, and two feet tobacco. In the evening they have the use of the hall
to dance, and are regaled with a beverage."
"_1830, April 30. Poitras_, a Chipewyan half-breed, arrived, and
delivered 81 made beavers in prime furs, though he says he has been
sickly all winter. I therefore presented him with a complete clothing
and a Feather."
"_1830, May 16th_. One of our Indians having been in company with
Indians from Isle a la Crosse got married to one of their young women,
consequently has followed the father-in-law and taken his hunt away from
"_1830, August 13th_. One Indian, _The Rat_, passed us on the Portage,
he was treated with a dram for 'Old Acquaintance' sake."
On New Year's Eve the old chronicler drops into verse. In tall thin
letters in faded ink we read,
"If New Year's Eve the wind blow south,
It betokeneth warmth and growth;
If west, much milk, and fish in the sea;
If north, much storms and cold will be;
If east, the trees will bear much fruit;
If northeast, flee it man and beast."
"_1831, January 1_. The thermometer this morning was 29 below cypher."
_1831, May 22_. They bring intelligence that _Mousi-toosese-capo_ is at
their tent, having lately joined them, without his family of two women
and two children, who perished during the winter. From his frequent
prevarication when questioned by the other Crees, they suspect he has
murdered and eaten them."
"_1831, May 30th._ The fellow has got too large a family for a Fort
Hunter, he cannot feed them with unlimited Indulgence and supply us at
the same time." [Would Mr. Roosevelt second this?]
"_1831, June 19th_. Two Chipewyans came from the Long Point informing us
that _Big Head's_ son is dead, that _Big Head_ has thrown away his
property in consequence of the loss of his boy, and that he told them to
beg a shirt and tobacco. The shirt, of course, I did not send, the
scoundrel is not worthy of it. I merely sent him six inches of tobacco
with reluctance. That cursed family is a perfect pest to the place, and
it is my humble opinion that the hand of Providence sends them the
present calamity for their ill deeds."[!]
"_1834, November 27th._ A party of the Isle a la Crosse Indians with old
_Nulooh_ and _Gauche_ cast up. They have not come in this direction for
the sake of running about, some of their relations is dead, and in their
own words they are travelling on strange lands to kill grief, not an
unusual custom among the Northern Indians."
"_1865, October 23rd_. We were surprised yesterday at the arrival of a
Protestant missionary, a Mr. Bompas from England; he came in a canoe
from the Portage with Sylvestre and _Vadnoit_."
"_1866, January 1st_. The whole Establishment breakfasted in the Hall
and in the evening a Ball came off with great eclat. Two marriages also
to-day, Francis Villebrun to Marie Cyre, and Baptiste St. Cyre, Jr., to
Justine McKay--so that all things considered the New Year was ushered
in with a tremendous row! Verily, times are improving in the North."
"_1866, January 2nd_. The men are rather seedy to-day after their
tremendous kick-up of yesterday."
"_1840, January 25th._ The object of sending _Lafleur_ to the Little
Island is that he may procure a kind of willow that the Canadians call
'Courmier,' the bark of which scraped and boiled in water has healing
qualities which they think will be of great service for Hassel's
complaint. Confidence in anything is half the cure."[!]
"_1840, February 1st_. Hassel is still without much appearance for the
better, and at his earnest request was bled."
"_1841, December 31st_. The men from the Fishery made their appearance
as usual at this time, and as usual, too, the best we had (which
by-the-by is not great as will be seen by this journal) was served out
to them. The other men had the time to themselves to prepare for the
holiday of to-morrow, for the _Jour de Tan_ is the greatest day of the
Canadians in these distant Northern posts. To finish things properly
there is still wanting the famous aqua vitae, which we are sorry to
state is not in our means to furnish. Adieu the year one thousand eight
hundred and forty-one!"
"_1842, February 13th_. The Rev. Mr. Evans proposing to take his
departure to-morrow for Isle a la Crosse edified us with a farewell
service, several of the women and children were baptized, and Flett and
Hassel were married to their wives."
From the records we compile this Chipewyan calendar:--
March 17th, House-flies. April 8th, Grey goose seen. April 11th,
Catkins. April 12th, Barking crows. April 19th, Blackbirds and
mosquitoes. April 21st, Plover, two hawks, and a butterfly. April 22nd,
Gulls, white waveys, robins. April 28th, White cranes. April 30th,
Frogs, most of snow gone. May 2nd, Dark butterfly, four purple crocuses.
May 4th, Frogs noisy, bumble bees. May 5th, Nearly clear of ice. May
8th, Water from Peace River flowing into lake. An Eagle. May 10th, Sand
martins. Ice drifting in channel in front of fort. May 20th, Swans
passing north. May 21st, Trees bursting into leaf. July 11th,
Strawberries and raspberries. August 18th, Cranes passing south. October
11th, Small birds passing south. October 12th, First ptarmigan seen
about the fort. October 24th, Lake in front closed up this morning.
LAKE ATHABASCA AND ITS FOND DU LAC
"Afar from stir of streets,
The city's dust and din,
What healing silence meets
And greets us gliding in!
"The noisy strife
And bitter carpings cease.
Here is the lap of life,
Here are the lips of peace."
For fresh woods and pastures new this Friday, June 26th! Our little
"bunch" breaks up. Mr. Brabant and Mrs. Harding, of the Hudson's Bay
Company contingent, go on in the _Grahame_ to Smith's Landing, and with
them the two detachments of the R.N.W.M.P. As we shake hands with the
police party, we wonder what Fate has in store for each of us. Breaking
off at Fort Resolution, Great Slave Lake, and trending eastward by canoe
over unchartered ways, will they reach salt water on Hudson Bay as they
For our two selves, great good fortune is ours. The Canadian Government
Indian Treaty party, consisting of Mr. Conroy in command, Mr. Laird as
secretary, Dr. Donald, and Mr. Mooney in charge of the commissariat,
with Constable Gairdner, R.N.W.M.P., as Escort, has just come down the
Peace. To-day they pay treaty in Chipewyan, and this afternoon start
for far Fond du Lac, at the eastern extremity of Lake Athabasca. The
little H.B. tug _Primrose_ will tow them and their outfit in a York-boat
and a scow, and the captain has been persuaded to allow us, too, to take
our blankets and come along, sleeping on the deck. The _Primrose_ from
stem to stern is not big enough to swing a cat in, but who wants to
swing a cat? It is blue Lake Athabasca that we long to see; no white
woman has yet traversed it to its eastern extremity and we would go if
we had to work our passage at the sweeps of the scow.
[Illustration: Lake Athabasca in Winter]
Athabasca Lake (whose name means "In Muskeg Abounding"), is two hundred
miles long, with thirty-five miles at its greatest width. It lies in a
general easterly and westerly direction. No survey has been made of the
lake; its height above ocean level is seven hundred feet, and it covers
perhaps three thousand square miles. Its chief feeder is the Athabasca
River, down which we have come from the south. This stream, assisted by
the Peace, is fast filling up with detritus the western portion of Lake
Athabasca. There is a marked contrast between the upper and lower coasts
of the lake. The north shore consists of Laurentian gneiss with a sparse
wood growth; the south bank for the most part is low, the formation
being a cretaceous sandstone. Ice holds fast this beautiful sheet for
six months every year. As we puff along the surface of its incomparable
blue it is hard to realise that, although the Peace and Athabasca Rivers
open their icy mouths about May-day, parts ot the lake are not free for
travel until mid-May. The lake freezes fast at Fort Chipewyan some time
in November. Lying on the deck of the tug, we look down and take
inventory of our odd tow. Just behind comes the scow. It holds wood for
the engine, a long sled, a canoe, a "skift," all this year's trading
supplies for Fond du Lac, and half a dozen chained husky dogs. Trailing
the scow is a York-boat carrying the treaty party and Mr. Harris.
It is late in the afternoon when we pull out from Chipewyan, but the sun
is still heaven-high, with the offshore air a tonic. At seven o'clock
Colin Fraser's boat passes us with Bishop Grouard standing upright at
the prow. This stately figure, clear-cut against the sky-line, may well
stand as the type of the pioneer Church of the Northland. On the little
deck we can use the camera with facility at ten in the evening, and the
typewriter all night. The light manifestation is a marvel and wooes us
from sleep. Have we not all the tame nights of the after-days for
slumber? Here we lose the moon and those friendly stars which at Pelican
Portage dipped almost to meet our hands. No more are we to see them
until the Arctic has been reached and we have turned southward many,
many hundreds of miles.
[Illustration: Bishop Grouard]
Hours since all the badinage was silenced in the York-boat behind us. On
board the _Primrose_ the mate sleeps, and Captain Prothero has the
wheel. I creep along the wobbly gunwale to sit out a four hours' watch
with him. "I never saw any one navigate as you do, captain, you seem to
have neither chart nor compass."
"No," assents he, biting hard on the little black pipe, "we just go by
the power o' man," and with the words a sharp turn of the wheel lurches
us out from the lee of a batture. The jolt jerks up its passengers in
the semidetached steerage. A growling of huskies, a kick, and a muttered
adjuration in Cree, and all is silent again.
By six o'clock every one is astir, and Saturday is a long glorious day.
At noon we stop to take aboard an Indian who hails us from the
scrub-pine, sore afraid that he will miss connection with his five
dollar treaty present from the Government. It is good to stretch out on
the grass after this somewhat restricted Primrose path of dalliance. In
front of us extends a long row of islands, in the hot haze suspended
midway between blue of lake and blue of sky. Their covering of
baby-willows suggests a face guilty of a three days' beard. We rest, so
far as the mosquitoes think it proper we should rest, on a bed of
reindeer moss (_cladonia rangiferina_?), the _tripe de roche_ of the
North. This constitutes almost the sole winter-food of the reindeer, its
gelatinous or starchy matter giving the nutritive property to the
odd-looking stuff. Reindeer-moss has saved the life of many an Indian
lost in these woods. We try it, and find the taste slightly pungent and
acrid; but when boiled it forms a jelly said to be nourishing and
No orders are given when we land, and we study countenances and actions
to guess the time-limit of our tether. For twenty-four hours we have
wondered if there were trout in Lake Athabasca and if they would rise to
the fly. With a borrowed rod we take a canoe and off the shadow of a
cottonwood point try a cast at random. The gut carries three flies--a
brown hackle, a coachman, with a Jock Scott at the tail--a rainbow
aggregation. To the coachman we get a rise and it takes three of us to
land him. There are no scales; so his weight must forever be unrecorded,
but as we lay him out he measures just a trifle over twenty-three
inches, as beautiful a lake trout as ever sent thrill up and down a
sympathetic spine. Bye-and-bye this road we travel is going to be
listed on the sporting routes of the world, and tired souls from the
Seven Seas with rod and gun will here find Nepenthe.
[Illustration: The Modern Note-book]
Clutching our catch, we step gingerly along an outstretched oar and
climb on board. The orders of the captain to the mate are sporty and
suggest turf rather than surf. "Kick her up, Mac!" "Give her a kick
ahead!" "Who-o-oa!" On Sunday evening, June 28th, we reach Fond du Lac,
clinging close to the water-line on her beautiful stretch of sand. All
unregarded are the church-bells, and the Indians crowd to meet us,--bent
old crones, strong men, and black-eyed babies. For is not the coming of
the treaty party the one event of the Fond du Lac year?
Half way along the traverse of the lake we had crossed the
inter-Provincial boundary, and now find ourselves near the northern
limit of the Province of Saskatchewan, and in the latitude of Sweden's
Stockholm. There are but two people in Fond du Lac who speak
English,--Mr. Harris who trades fur with the Indians, and Father Beibler
who would fain shepherd their souls.
These Caribou-Eater Indians are true nomads who come into the post only
at treaty-payment time or to dispose of their hunt. In the
_moon-when-the-birds-cast-their-feathers_ (July) they will press back
east and north to the land of the caribou. September,
_the-moon-when-the-moose-loose-their-horns_, will find them camping on
the shore of some far unnamed lake, and by the time of the
_hour-frost-moon,_ or the _ice-moon,_ they will be laying lines of
We have learned to estimate the prosperity or otherwise of the Indians
by the condition of their dogs. Fond du Lac dogs are fat; each baby in
its moss-bag exudes oil from every pore. Peace and Plenty have crowned
the Caribou-Eaters during the winter that is past. The law of
Saskatchewan permits the taking of the beaver. Alberta for the present
has enacted restrictive legislation on this hunt, to which restriction,
by the way, among the Indians at the treaty-tent at Chipewyan, objection
had been loud and eloquent.
[Illustration: Tepee of a Caribou-Eater Indian]
We call upon Mr. Harris and his Chipewyan wife, a tall handsome woman
whom he addresses as "Josette." Their three girls are being educated in
the convent at Fort Chipewyan. The room in which we sit reflects the
grafting of red life on white. A rough bookcase of birchwood, with
thumbed copies of schoolboy classics, Carlyle, the Areopagitica, and the
latest Tractate on Radium, gives one a glimpse of the long, long winter
nights when all race and latitude limitations fade away and the mind of
the Master of Fond du Lac jumps the barrier of ice and snow to mix with
the great world of thought outside. "Stone walls do not a prison make
nor iron bars a cage." Fighting our way with the mosquitoes, under
birches somewhat dwarfed but beautiful, through a pungent bocage of
ground pine, wild roses, giant willow-herb, mints innumerable and
Labrador tea _(Ledum latifolium_), we reach the H.B. garden where the
potatoes are six or eight inches high. We wander into a little
graveyard, surely the most lonely God's acre in all Canada. The
inscriptions in syllabic Chipewyan show the patient devotion of Father
Beihler, who comes across us as we gaze at the graves. Eight long years
the priest has put in at Fond du Lac, sent here when but three months in
the priesthood. His English, acquired from Mr. Harris, is a bit
hesitating. His home was in Alsace-Lorraine; he tells us his mother was
out of her mind for three days when he was ordered here, and he himself
wept. White women are a _rara avis_. Father Beihler wants to know how
old we are and if we are Catholics and how much money we earn. Pointing
wisely to the Kid, he assures me, "They are not an-gell (angel) at that
age," and says, "I am not a woman-hater, and I am not a _woman
chercher_." The priest is as great a curiosity to us as we are to him,
and each is interested in studying a new kind of animal. One sympathy we
have in common,--the good Father knows every bird that flies over Fond
du Lac. Who can tell what they whisper to him of the sweet Alsace so
far away? We are treated to peeps into the nests of the orange-crowned
warbler, the hermit thrush, and that shy wader, the spotted sandpiper.
[Illustration: A Bit of Fond du Lac]
These ultimate woods fascinate us, with their worn north trails of the
trapper beaten as hard as asphalt with the moccasins of generations. The
father of the Chipewyan down at the tents receiving his treaty money
to-day and his grandfather before him trod these same trails and served
The Company. Dusky feet trod these paths when good Queen Anne ruled in
England, men made toilsome portages up these waterways, and here
Crowfoot and Running Rabbit and Gaston Lamousette kept undisturbed the
tenour of their way and matched wits with Carcajou the wolverine.
To the student who would read at first hand the story of fur, more
interesting than dark otters, Hudson Bay sables, or silver-fox, one form
silhouettes on the white canvas of the North. It is the figure of the
Trapper. Here, as elsewhere, the man who mixes brains with his bait and
makes a scientific art of a rude craft is the man who succeeds. It is a
contest of wit worthy the cleverest. The animals, as the years pass,
become more rather than less wary, and the days of the magenta string
tying a chunk of fat to a nice new shiny trap are long past. The man who
used to "make fur" in that way is, like Fenimore Cooper's Indians, the
extinct product of a past race that never existed.
The Chipewyan trapper eats at once, or dries for the future, every ounce
of flesh he traps, from the scant flesh-covering over the animal's skull
to the feet and the entrails. As soon as the skins of beaver and
musquash are removed, the bodies, so many skinned cats, are impaled on
sticks of jack-pine and set sizzling before the fire. In the woods as in
the camp, the laborious work falls to the woman. Lordly man kills the
animal and that is all. With her babies on her back or toddling by her
side, the wife trails the game home on hand-sled, and afterwards in camp
she must dress the meat and preserve the skin.
The band of Fond du Lac Indians is the largest in the whole North, and
they are perhaps the least unspoiled of "civilisation," as their range
is removed from the north-and-south route afforded by the Mackenzie.
To-morrow the treaty party will leave, the skin tepees will be pulled
down, and in those beautiful birchbark canoes whole families will be on
the move. These people are essentially meat-eaters. Their hearts have
not learned to hunger for those soggy bannocks, unventilated shacks, and
sheet-iron stoves which are luring their tribal cousins on the
germ-strewn way to higher culture with convenient stopping-places in
the graves by the wayside.
[Illustration: Birch-barks at Fond du Lac]
Starting from Fond du Lac in July, a Chipewyan family sets out in two
canoes, the big communal one, and the little hunting-canoe, the dogs
following along shore. It is paddle and portage for days and weary
weeks, inland and ever inland. In October the frost crisps into silence
the running water and the lake lip. Snow begins to fall, and the grind
of forming ice warns the Chipewyan it is time to change birchbark for
moccasin and snow-shoe. Canoes are _cached_, and the trail strikes into
the banksian pine and birchwood. The door of the forest is lonely and
eerie. It no longer seems incongruous that, although Big Partridge
wears a scapular on his burnt-umber breast and carries with him on his
journey the blessing of Father Beihler, he also murmurs the hunting
incantation of the Chipewyans and hangs the finest furs of his traps
flapping in the top of the jack-pine, a sop to the Cerberus of Mitchie
Manitou, the feared Spirit of the Wood.
Winter sees Indian families, each little group a vignette in the heart
of the wider panorama, flitting over lake surfaces to ancestral
fur-preserves. In the early snow they pitch tepee, family fires are
lighted, and from this centre the trapper radiates. The man sets his
traps, and if the couple is childless his wife makes an independent line
of snares. Each individual traps for miles and days alone, and an
accident in the woods means a death as lonely and agonising as that of
the animal he snares. With blanket, bait, and bacon on a small
hand-sled, silently the trapper trudges forward. The Northern Lights
come down o' nights, and it is cold; but cold makes finer fur. Down far
trails in gloomy forests, across the breasts of silent streams, the
Chipewyan trudges from trap to trap; if he finds fifty dollars worth of
fur along the whole line he is content. It is not this lonely man who
gets the high price, madame, for your marten stole or opera-cloak of
On the trail the hunter may go hungry for two days and no word of
complaint, just a tightening of the lips and L'Assumption belt, and a
firm set to the jaw; but when a moose is killed life is one long supper.
A jolly priest whispers of this confession from a son of the Church, a
recent brand from the burning, "O Father, I know that Christianity is
true, the great, the strong religion. When I was a heathen Chipewyan and
trapped with my mother's tribe I ate ten rabbits a day. But now I am a
Christian, a good Catholic, seven rabbits are enough for me--I will eat
In the early days the H.B. Company allowed its men _en voyage_ five
pounds of meat a day, and each kiddie three pounds. In British Columbia
and the Yukon the ration was one salmon; up here on the Athabasca one
wild goose or three big whitefish; on the Arctic foreshore two fish and
three pounds of reindeer meat. This was the scheduled fare, but the
grimness of the joke appears in the fact that each man had to run his
breakfast to earth before he ate it.
Forty miles a day from trap to trap is a hard tramp on snowshoes when
the wind sweeps down from the Arctic and the silence can be felt. The
whole thing is a Louisiana lottery. The very next trap may hold a
silver-fox that spells kudos for a year round the winter camp-fires and
a trade valuation of one hundred dollars from the tempting stores of Mr.
Harris. As long as the red fox brings forth her cubs to play in the
starlight and marten and musquash increase after their kind, just so
long will there be trappers and sons of trappers setting out from Fond
du Lac. In October or November these Chipewyans will meet the migrating
caribou on the northern side of Athabasca Lake. Caribou skins are in
prime condition then to make coats and robes, and caribou venison, fresh
or dried, is the daily bread which Providence sends to these far folk.
About Christmas time, if they find themselves at a convenient distance
from the post, the Indians come in to Fond du Lac to trade their furs
with Mr. Harris and to get from Father Beihler the blessing of Mother
Church. Out they go again and make their spring hunt of otter, bear,
and beaver, whose skins they bring in when they come for their treaty
money and annual reunion in July.
Interesting indeed is the life-history of the Barren Ground caribou
(_rangifer articus_), whose migrant hordes to-day rival in number the
bands of the dead and gone buffalo. Caribou go north in spring and south
in autumn, as the birds do; and, unlike the seals, the female caribou
form the advance line. They drop their young far out toward the seacoast
in June, by which month the ground is showing up through melting snow.
The male caribou never reach the coast, but join their wives and make
the acquaintance of their babies at the end of July. From this time they
stay together till the rutting season is over late in October. Then the
great herds of caribou,--"la foule,"--gather on the edge of the woods
and start on their southern migrations toward the shelter and food
afforded by the country of the larger pine trees. A month later the
females and males separate, the cows with their intent fixed on the
uttermost edge of things beginning to work their way north toward the
end of February and reaching the edge of the woods by April.
This is the general rule. Broadly speaking, the north shore of Athabasca
Lake to-day forms the southern limit of the caribou range, while the
Mackenzie River makes a natural dividing-line between eastward and
westward branches of the caribou family. But the trend of this mighty
migration will not be pent between mathematical lines of limitation, and
the direction of prevailing winds may turn the numberless hosts and
divert them from their line of march. Individuals and scattered bands,
indeed, have been known not to migrate at all. Fifteen years ago in the
last days of July, in latitude 62 deg. 15' North, the Tyrrell Brothers saw a
herd of caribou which they estimate contained over one hundred thousand
individuals. In 1877 a line of caribou crossed Great Slave Lake near
Fort Rae on the ice. It took them two weeks to pass that point, and, in
the words of an eye-witness, "daylight could not be seen through the
A priest, on the winter trail between Fond du Lac and Fort Chipewyan a
few winters ago, was travelling without fire-arms and, as his trail
crossed that of the moving caribou, he had to delay his journey till
they deigned to give him the right of way. It was impossible to pass
through their ranks, and he hadn't even the satisfaction of making a fat
bull pay tribute to his Mother Hubbard cupboard.
Mr. Hislop, a fur-trader of Great Slave Lake, said to the writer, "At
Fort Rae the caribou are and always have been very plentiful, I don't
think they will ever die out." Rae was the old meat-station for the Far
North, and the records show that after supplying local needs three
thousand tongues were often exported in one season. If one intercepts a
caribou-band in a little lake he may with patience kill them all without
any trouble, as they run round and round on the ice, mystified by the
wood-echoes and the reverberation of the shots.
When the Chipewyan filters into southern latitudes and weakens with pink
teas the virility that should go with red blood, aping the elect he will
cast round for a suitable coat-of-arms. The proper caper for him would
be the caribou rampant with a whitefish flotsam. The whitefish
(_coregonus clupeiformis_) is gregarious, reaching shallow water to
spawn. Wherever you see Indian tepee-poles by the side of Northern
waters you may guess that to be a good fishing spot. The poles are
always hospitably left for the next comer, the Indian merely carrying
with him the skin or canvas cover of his tepee. The location of the
Hudson's Bay forts was in the beginning determined by the good
fishing-grounds, although now there is but indifferent fishing near some
of the posts. It would almost seem that the whitefish have in their
chilly veins as variable blood as any vagrant horde of caribou. The
whitefish contains all elements necessary for human nourishment, and it
is a happy fact that it does, for men and dogs in the North often live
for solid months on nothing else. It is a rich fat fish and the usual
mode of cooking it is by boiling. Northern people tell you that it is
the only fish whose taste will never produce satiety, as it becomes
daily more agreeable to the palate. I can't say that it worked on our
sensibilities in just that way. But it is the old story of _de
gustibus_, etc. We see the Fond du Lac people this evening roasting upon
the coals, as choice tit-bits, the stomachs of the whitefish. Scraping
the dirt and ashes from the blackened morsel, they offer it to us as one
would pass the olives in those lands so far below us where people wear
dress-suits and railroads run. It is all a matter of latitude, after
all, for when a bottle of olives was salved from the wrecked scow we had
overheard this dialogue between two boatmen, as surreptitiously they
broached cargo. "Do you like these?" "Yes." "You're a liar!" On the
Athabasca trail, too, we had seen an untried soul struggling with his
first olive. It was Shorty, the lightning-stricken heir of the house of
Kennedy. He coveted one of the "plums" from our lunch-basket, and was
much surprised when we suggested that it was an olive. "What are them?"
"Olives," we elucidated; "they come from Southern Europe by steamer."
"Do they?" (slightingly). "The one I et must have come steerage."
We are to make the acquaintance of other Northern
delicacies,--beaver-tails, moose-nose, rabbits' kidneys,
caribou-tongues, and the liver of the loche, an ugly-looking fish of
these waters. But the whitefish remains the staple; the fish-harvest
here is as important a season as Harvest Home elsewhere. At the fishery,
whitefish are hung upon sticks across a permanent staging to dry and
freeze; an inch-thick stick is pierced through the tail, and the fish
hang head downwards in groups of ten. This process makes the flesh
firmer if the days continue cool, but if the weather turns mild as the
fish are hanging they acquire both a flavour and a smell exceedingly
gamy. This is the "Fall Fishery." Winter fishing is done through holes
in the ice, the net being spread by means of a long thin pole. The
handling of net and fish is terrible work in the bitter cold.
As a whole, Canadian Indians are more independent than those of the
United States, and certainly they have been more fairly dealt with in
Canada than in the sister Republic. There is in the Dominion to-day an
Indian population of 110,000. The amount expended last year by Canada
from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for her Indian Department was
$1,358,254. The Canadian Government has sedulously kept faith with its
Indians and has refrained from pauperizing them by pap-feeding or
ration-folly; very largely to-day the Canadian Indian plays the game
off his own bat.
Into the sturdy and intelligent faces of the Fond du Lac Indian we look,
seeking in vain any trace of "the wild Red Man." The _raison d'etre_ of
these annual "treaty-payment parties" is merely the acknowledgment on
one side and the recognition on the other that the Northern Indian is a
British subject protected by and amenable to British law. In addition to
the present of five dollars per head each year, the Canadian Government
sends in by the Indian Agent presents of fishing twine and ammunition,
with eleemosynary bacon for the indigent and old. The chiefs strut
around in official coats enriched with yellow braid, wearing medals as
big as dinner-plates.
From Edmonton northward to Fort Chipewyan the Indians are all Crees. At
Fort Chipewyan the northern limit of the Crees impinges on the southern
limit of the Chipewyan, but here at Fond du Lac the Indians are all true
Chipewyans. The Chipewyan wife is the New Red Woman. We see in her the
essential head of the household. No fur is sold to the trader, no yard
or pound of goods bought, without her expressed consent. Indeed, the
traders refuse to make a bargain of any kind with a Chipewyan man
without the active approbation of the wife. When a Chipewyan family
moves camp, it is Mrs. Chipewyan who directs the line of march. How did
she happen to break away from the bonds that limit and restrain most Red
brides? This is the question that has troubled ethnologists since the
North was first invaded by the, scientific. We think we have found the
answer. Along the shores of Fond du Lac we descry a long-legged wader,
the phalarope. This is the militant suffragette of all bird-dom. Madame
Phalarope lays her own eggs (this depository act could scarcely be done
by proxy), but in this culminates and terminates all her
responsibilities connubial and maternal,--"this, no more." Father
Phalarope builds the house, the one hen-pecked husband of all feathered
families who does. He alone incubates the eggs, and when the little
Phalaropes are ushered into the vale, it is Papa who tucks their bibs
under their chins and teaches them to peep their morning grace and to
eat nicely. Mamma, meanwhile, contrary to all laws of the game, wears
the brilliant plumage. When evening shadows fall where rolls the
Athabasca, she struts long-leggedly with other female phalaropes, and
together they discuss the upward struggles toward freedom of their
FOND DU LAC TO FORT SMITH
"On we tramped exultantly, and no man was our master,
And no man guessed what dreams were ours, as swinging heel and toe,
We tramped the road to Anywhere, the magic road to anywhere,
The tragic road to Anywhere but one dear year ago."
Everybody is to say farewell to Fond du Lac to-day, June 29th, so there
is a hurried finishing up of loose ends. A loud yowl as of a lost soul
letting go of life starts the lake echoes! No hand is staining itself in
brother's blood. The treaty doctor, who visits these people, to use
their own word, "as a bird on the wing," has just succeeded in
extracting a tooth for a Chipewyan bride, Misere Bonnet Rouge. Misere
looks ashamed of her howl when the operation is over, and lisping,
"Merci very," bears off in expansive triumph the detached molar.
[Illustration: Fond du Lac]
Down at the lake edge, belly prone, men and women lap the water as dogs
do, while the festive small boy from the Government bags of poor-house
bacon is slyly licking the oozing fat. Of the taste of red-cheeked
apples and chewing-gum he is guiltless; popcorn, bananas, and the
succulent peanut are alike alien. This _pee-mee_ or oil of bacon is
delicious morsel enough for his red palate. We trade a brier pipe with
young McDonald, a full-blood, for his beautiful hat-band of porcupine
quills, and in the French of the North he confides to us, "I have two
boys. The mother can have the younger one to help her in the house, and
the priest can teach him to be a white man if he likes; but the other
one goes with me, no school for him. I will make him a hunter like
myself." Last year McDonald went into the woods on New Year's Day and
didn't return until June, when he came back with three hundred caribou.
Father Beibler is carrying a cup of water up to a tepee where an old
Indian lies dying, to whom he is giving extreme unction. The slanting
sun strikes the tin cup and the big crucifix of the good Father, and so
we leave Fond du Lac.
[Illustration: Father Beihler Carrying Water to a Dying Indian]
The man who tells the story crosses himself piously and immediately
begins a bit of rag-time of the vintage of '08. We ask him where he
heard the tune. "O, I catch him from the phunny-graph, me at the
Mission." Canned culture even here! It is light enough to read on the
deck at quarter past eleven. We chunk along through a lake of amethyst
and opal, the marvellous midnight light keeping us from sleep. On the
scow astern, sprawled on the season's output of fur, the men smoke and
argue. In the North, men talk of feats of strength and endurance, boast
about their dogs, and discuss food. Two kindred souls may hark back to
boyhood days and quote a page of Virgil or demonstrate on a bit of
birchbark the forty-seventh proposition of Euclid, but you overheard no
discussion of elections or ward-politics, no chatter of the marketplace.
That is all "long ago and far away." To-night it is "You know there are
fellows in here who can run like hell. The world's record is beaten
every winter." "The world's record in lying, do you mean?" "No,
running--a man can run one hundred miles a day in this country." "Well,
what makes a day?" "Twelve hours,--that is what I learned at school."
"No: there's twenty-four hours in a day." "Well, a day, _I_ take it, is
as far as you can go without stoppin'--it never gets dark, so how is a
man to know what's a day?"
We reach Chipewyan Wednesday, July 1st, and there is no soul who cares a
whitefish for the fact that this is Dominion Day, Canada's national
holiday. For our dinner Mrs. Johnson gives us home-grown parsley,
radishes, lettuce, and green onions; the potatoes are eight or ten
inches high, and rhubarb stalks an inch and a half in diameter. Wild
gooseberries are big enough to make delectable "gooseberry fool." Who
hungers for whitefish-stomachs or liver of the loche?
Early in the morning we start north in the _Primrose_, cross Athabasca
Lake, and enter the Rocher River. Thirty miles from Fort Chipewyan the
Rocher, uniting with the main channel of the Peace, makes a resultant
stream known as the Slave, down which we pass in an incomparable summer
day, our hearts dancing within us for the clear joy of living. Poplars
and willows alternate with white spruce (_Picea canadensis_) fully one
hundred and fifty feet high and three feet in diameter. It is an ideal
run,--this hundred miles between Fort Chipewyan and Smith's Landing, and
we make it in twelve hours.
[Illustration: Smith's Landing]
"How did Smith's Landing get its name?" I ask the _Primrose_ Captain.
"Some ould fish o' the Hudson's Bay," from the tightly-bitten black pipe
leaves one wondering if Lord Strathcona (Sir Donald Smith) was meant. At
Smith's Landing we encounter the only obstacle to steamboat navigation
in the magnificent stretch of sixteen hundred miles between Fort
McMurray and the Arctic Ocean. Between Smith's Landing and Fort Smith
the Slave River presents sixteen miles of churning rapids with a total
drop of two hundred and forty feet. Until within a few years every ounce
of freight for the lower Mackenzie River posts had to negotiate this
turbulent waterway, making seven portages and many decharges. The "free
trader" still takes his scows down this Rapid of the Damned, but the
H.B. Company (thanks be!) has provided a cross-country portage.
We land on the heels of a tragedy. Some days before, in this surging
swirl of waters two priests pushed out in a canoe. The older man had
been in the North for years and was "going out," the other had come from
Europe to take his place; the Father would show to his successor all the
beauties of the rapids. In their enthusiasm they ventured too near the
"Rapid of the Drowned," and canoe and men went down. An old Indian
woman, the only eye-witness, said to me, "One arm lifted out of the
river, the paddle pointing to the sky--a cry came over the water, and
that was all." Our thought jumps to that peasant's home in far France
where the mother waits and wearies for news from America. We see the
unsteady fingers tearing open the first letter that comes out of that
remote land where devotion and duty had called her son. We wonder who
wrote that letter to her, and, turning away, wonder too at the destiny
which suddenly breaks off the thread of lives like these and leaves
dotards dozing in the sun.
At Smith's Landing we join our Athabasca friends and meet new ones,
among the latter Mr. Max Hamilton, who will tell you more of the North
and its little ways in a forenoon than you could glean from books in a
winter's study. Corporal Mellor and Constables Johnson and Bates,
R.N.W.M.P., no longer gay birds of travel, have gotten down to brass
tacks. With gay visions of striding blooded mounts, herding bison, and
making history, they find themselves employed at present in making a
barracks, making it out of logs and sweat with the lonely ox as
coadjutor. Johnson, who has broken horses in the ring at Regina, is head
of a wagon transport and tries to get speed and form from Wall-Eye Buck,
an ox that came in with the Klondike rush and hasn't rushed since.
Johnson holds the ribbons well and bows acknowledgment when we find a
prototype for him in Mulvaney, the tamer of elephants. He can afford to
take our banter good naturedly, for he knows what lies before us on the
Mosquito Portage and we do not.
We thought we had met mosquitoes on the Athabasca. The Athabasca
mosquito is gentle, ineffective, compared with his cousin of Smith's
Portage. Dr. Sussex sits on the wagon-seat behind and explains the
mosquito. He tells us that they are "of the order _Diptera_," "sub-order
_Nemocera_," and chiefly "of the family _Culicidae_," and he also goes
so far as to tell us that they "annoy man." As we bump along in the
muskeg and the creatures surround us in a smother, he ventures to assert
that "the life of the adult insect is very short" and that it is the
female who stings. The Doctor is a born instructor. We learn that "the
natural food of the mosquito is a drop or two of the juice of a plant."
We suspect the Doctor of fagging up on "Mosquito" out of some convent
dictionary while we have been at Fond du Lac. He is like the parson
introduced by his friend of the cloth. "Brother Jones will now give an
address on Satan. I bespeak for him your courteous attention, as the
reverend gentleman has been preparing this address for weeks, and comes
to you _full of his subject."_
The adult mosquito may have a short life, but it is a life crammed full
of interest; if the natural food of the mosquito is the sweet juice of a
pretty flower then a lot of them in this latitude are imperilling their
digestion on an unnatural commissariat. And if the female mosquitoes do
all the fine work, there is a great scarcity of male mosquitoes on
Smith's portage, and once more in the North the suffragette comes into
her own. We fear that these mosquitoes are like the Indians of whom a
Slave River priest had said to us, "These have not delicate
sensibilities such as gratitude and affection, but they have a proper
appreciation of _material things_."
Opposition is the life of trade. For every vantage-point as big as a
match-head on our face and hands the "bull-dog" contests with the
mosquito. An interesting study is the "bull-dog." He looks like a cross
between a blue-bottle fly and a bumble bee, and we took leisure as we
went along to examine the different parts of his person under a
microscope that some one carried as a watch-charm. The head of the
insect (if he is an insect) looks exactly like that of a bull-dog, he
makes his perforation with a five-bladed lancet, and he is good workman
enough to keep his tools always well sharpened. The Doctor was not
"long" on the "bull-dog." He told us that his Sunday name was
"_Tabanus_," and that was about all he could impart. The rest we could
learn for ourselves by direct contact.
Personally I have very little rancour against the "bull-dog." He looks
worse than he is, and an adversary armed with hands can easily repel
him. Four-legged brutes find it different. On the Bloody Portage we
overtook five teams of oxen which had been more than twelve hours trying
to make sixteen miles and were bleeding profusely from the fly-bites.
Finally two of them succumbed and a relief team had to be sent out from
Fort Smith. Moose in the North, maddened by the "bull-dogs," often jump
over precipices and river-banks, as the Scriptural swine did when _they_
were possessed of devils.
Johnny-Come-Lately from dear old Lunnon reading in a Western paper, "The
deer are chased into the water by the bull-dogs," ruminates audibly,
"Chase the de-ah into the wa-tah with bull-dogs! How interesting! Jolly
resourceful beggars, these Colonials." A literary scientist sending out
copy from the North wrote, "My two greatest troubles are mosquitoes and
bull-dogs," which the intelligent proof-reader amended into, "My two
greatest troubles are mosquitoes and bull-frogs."
Bringing in our daily treasure-trove of flowers we can scarcely realise
that at Fort Smith we are in latitude 60 deg. North, the northern boundary
of the Province of Alberta and in the same latitude as St. Petersburg.
One day we gathered careopsis, pretty painted-cups, the dandelion in
seed, shinleaf (_Pyrola elliptica_), our old friend yarrow, and
golden-rod. Another day brought to the blotting-pads great bunches of
goldenrod, a pink anemone, harebells of a more delicate blue than we had
ever seen before, the flower of the wolf-berry, fireweed, and
ladies'-tresses. The third day we identified the bear-berry or
kinnikinic-tobacco (_Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)_ with its astringent
leaves, and that dear friend of lower latitudes and far-away days, the
pink lady-slipper. The last time we had seen it was in a school-room in
far-off Vancouver Island where in early April the children had brought
it in, drooping in their hot little fists. This same evening, watching a
night-hawk careering in mid-air by the rapids of the Slave and enjoying
its easy grace in twisting and doubling as with hoarse cry it fell and
rose again, we were fortunate in literally running to ground its nest.
[Illustration: A Transport between Fort Smith and Smith's Landing]
[Illustration: Lord Strathcona, Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company]
Fort Smith, as places go in this country, is an infant in age, having
been established only thirty-four years. Resting on the edge of the high
bank of the Slave, it enjoys an eternal outlook on those wonderful
rapids. The river here is a mile wide. The sweep and eddy-wash of ages
have cut out a deep bay, on the inner shore of which stand the buildings
of The Company, the little Roman Church, the houses of the priests. Back
of the permanent structures rise, this glorious July day, the tepees of
the Chipewyans, Slavis, and Dog-Ribs who have come in from the
hunting-grounds for their treaty money. Fort Smith struck us as being
more "dead" than any northern post. But it is on the verge of great
things. Mr. Brabant has announced that this place is to succeed Fort
Simpson as headquarters for the Northern fur-trade, and his personality
will soon send unction into the dry bones of the valley.
At the foot of the high hill looms a monument to the initiative and
commercial enterprise of the H.B. Company,--a modern steamship in the
waters of a wilderness-country. Ours is to be the honor of making in her
the initial journey to the Mackenzie mouth. It is impossible coming from
the South to navigate the Slave River rapids by steam. Any boat
ambitious to ply on the waters lying northward between Fort Smith and
the Arctic must be either taken in in sections or built on the ground.
With enterprise and pluck, the Hudson's Bay Company has just completed
the construction at Fort Smith of the steamship, _The Mackenzie River_.
Its great boilers and engines made in far factories of the south came in
over the Athabasca trail on sleighs in winter. Down that whole distance
of ninety miles of Athabascan rapids they floated on scows as we
floated, and while human ingenuity is bringing north the iron bowels,
skilful hands out of native timber are framing the staunch body to
The builders of the big boat have had disasters which would have daunted
any but the dogged Company of Fur-Traders. Two land-slides threatened to
slice off and carry into the river the partially-made boat, a fire
burned up the blacksmith shop and with it all the imported doors,
window-sashes and interior finishings, so that she sails to-morrow with
carpenters still at work. While the hull of this carefully modelled
vessel is necessarily of light construction, with special steel to
enable her to navigate safely the waters of the Mackenzie River,
longitudinal strength has been adequately provided in the form of five
lattice girders and by numerous hog-posts and ties, and the diagonal
bracing of the bulkheads will provide ample transverse strength. The bow
also has been made especially strong to resist the impact of ice, snags,
etc. The hull is one hundred and twenty-five feet in length, twenty-six
feet broad at the water-line, and five and one-third feet deep to the
structural deck. The strength and safety of the hull are increased by
five water-tight compartments. Propulsion is effected by a pair of
modern stern paddle-wheel engines capable of being worked up to over two
hundred and fifty horse power, giving her a speed of ten miles an hour.
She has stateroom accommodation for twenty-two passengers, draws three
and a half feet of water aft, and eats up half a cord of wood an hour.
She will carry to the northern posts their trading-goods for the year.
Within a day's ride of Fort Smith grazes a herd of four to five hundred
wood bison, the last unconfined herd of buffalo in the world. Doubtless
the wood buffalo were originally buffalo of the plains. Their wandering
northward from the scoured and hunted prairies has not only saved them
from extinction but has developed in them resistance and robust
vitality. These bison appear darker and larger than their pictured
cousins of the past. Probably the inner hair of these is finer and of
thicker texture, a difference which the change of habitat to more
northern latitudes would easily account for. The bison have two
enemies: the grey wolf and the Indian, one an enemy _in esse_, the other
_in posse_. The Government of Canada has prohibited the killing of the
buffalo, and my opinion is that this law, as all other Canadian laws, is
obeyed in the North. I questioned every one I talked with who lives on
the rim of the buffalo-habitat, and the concensus of testimony of
priests, H.B. men, settlers, traders, and Mounted Police, is that the
Indians do not molest these animals. The arch-enemy of the wood buffalo
is the timber wolf.
[Illustration: The World's Last Buffalo]
Evidently the beautiful thick coat of the woodland bisons allows them to
laugh at the mosquito, for we come upon them in an almost impenetrable
mosquito-infested muskeg. An untoward frost is more to be feared by
these great brutes than the attacks of any insect. Thirty-eight years
ago a heavy rainfall in the winter soaked the snow and formed a
subsequent ice-crust which prevented them from grazing, and as they do
not browse on the branches of trees, the herd was almost exterminated.
In the past, they have been abundant throughout sections of this North
country. In the beginning of the last century, the upper Peace River
and as far north as the Liard was stocked with them. As the Hudson's Bay
Company never traded in these skins for export, the Indians hunted them
for food only, Fort Chipewyan being regularly supplied by its fort
hunters with buffalo for its winter use up to the year 1885.
In sections of the wooded country of the north the bison in times past
were as plentiful as on the southern plains. During Sir John Franklin's
first journey, his people near where the Athabasca River enters the lake
"observed the traces of herds of buffalo where they had crossed the
river, the trees being trodden down and strewed as if by a whirlwind."
In 1871, two travellers making a portage to Hay River near its entrance
into Great Slave Lake saw countless numbers of buffalo skulls piled on
the ground two or three feet deep. The terrible loss of life indicated
by these bones they attributed to a fourteen-foot fall of snow which
occurred in the winter of 1820 and enveloped the travelling animals.
One cannot but be intensely interested in the preservation of this herd
of wood bison making here their last stand. The Canadian Government has
shown a splendid spirit in its attitude toward every phase of the
buffalo question, as its purchase of the Pablo herd from Montana now
ensconced in the new Buffalo Park near Wainwright, in Alberta, as well
as the measures for preserving these northern brands from the burning,
Upon my chatting with Chief Pierre Squirrel, and admiring largely his
magenta mosquito-veil, the astute chap tells me that he himself, back of
Fort Smith a few years ago, saw a full-grown buffalo pulled down and the
flesh literally torn off it by woodland wolves, strong brutes, he
assured me, which weighed from one hundred and fifty to two hundred
pounds each. A wolf shot on the Mackenzie last year measured from snout
to the root of the tail sixty-four inches. The Dominion bounty on the
timber-wolf is twenty dollars, but this is not an off-set to the
native's superstitious aversion to killing this animal; the Indian's
belief is that such slaughter on his part queers his hunt for a whole
season. He never goes out with malice aforethought on a wolf-hunt, but
if one of these animals crosses his track he may kill it, although
always with inward foreboding. A man brought in a wolf to Fort Smith
while we were there and throwing down his hunting gear said, "There, it
had better all be destroyed, I will have no luck with it more." Shortly
afterwards a fish-staging fell on his son, for which the dead wolf was
held responsible. As the female wolf has from three to five young at a
litter and as the mother buffalo gives birth to but one calf, Fate, in
both birth-rate and death-rate, would seem to favour the smaller animal.
It is up to the red-coated lads of the river-edge to appear in the drama
as gods-from-the-machine. While one's sympathy is with the shaggy bison
host, still one cannot withhold admiration for the grit and tenacity of
the wolf. Archbishop Tache tells of the persevering fortitude of a big
wolf caught years ago in a steel trap at Isle a la Crosse. Thirty days
afterwards, near Green Lake, a hundred miles away, it was killed, with
trap and wood block still fixed to a hind leg. The poor brute through
the intense cold of a Northern winter had dragged this burden all those
With Fort Smith as a centre, there remains an unmarred fur-preserve and
a race of hardy trappers. Is the fur-trade diminishing? Statistics are
extremely difficult to get, dealers do not publish dividend-sheets, the
stockholders of the Mother-Lodge of the H.B. Company do not advertise.
There is no import duty on raw skins into the United States, and so no
means of keeping tally on the large shipments of fur which yearly find
their way south from Canada. The statistics which are available overlap.
Raw furs making out by Montreal to Europe come back, many of them, as
manufactured imports into this continent by way of New York. Canada in
1904 sent to her American cousins furs and skins and manufactures of the
same to the value of $670,472. This year the export has been more than
doubled; the exact figures are $1,531,912. In 1908, Canada sent to
France $110,184 worth of raw and manufactured fur, to Germany $23,173
worth, and to Belgium $19,090 worth.
More money goes to the trapper to-day for such common skins as red-fox
and skunk and muskrat than was ever paid to the fur-hunter for beaver,
seal, and sea-otter in the old days. Six million dollars worth of raw
furs are sold annually by auction in London, and Canada is the Mother
Country's chief feeder. Included in these London sales are some hundred
thousand martens, or Hudson Bay sables, and probably four times that
number of mink. The imports of raw furs and exports of the manufactured
article cross each other so perplexingly that to-day the wearer of fur
clothing has no way of finding out in what part of the world her stole
or cap or jacket had origin. On the feet of the sacrificed animal, by
snowshoe of trapper and scow of the trader, it may have travelled half
round the world before, in the shop-window, it tempted her taste and
pocket-book. Furs will be always fashionable; the poet of old who
declared, "I'll rob no ermyn of his dainty skin to make mine own grow
proud," would find scanty following among the women of fashion in this
In some parts of the United States an ingenious by-industry to the
fur-trade has arisen, for the offered-bounty destructive animals are
carefully reared in illicit kindergartens. As some states pay for the
scalps of these animal pests and other states for the tails, the
undertaking is interesting and profitable. The only gamble is in the
nursery. When the gladsome breeder gets his wild-cat or coyote big
enough to market, it is "heads I win, tails you lose." The United
States, in twenty-five years, has paid two and a half millions in wild
animal bounties. California paid in a year and a half $190,000 on
coyotes alone, and no breed of noxious animals is yet extinct.
What is true of the undesirable animals fortunately is true also of the
harmless fur-bearers. Several causes make against the extermination of
these in Canada. The range is so wide that, harassed in one quarter, the
animal may get his family around him and make tracks for safer pastures.
Hunted in the winter only, he has a good six months of planning and
putting into practice plans of preservation as against the six months of
active warfare when the trapper's wits are pitted against his. The
fickleness of Fashion's foibles, too, in his favour. In no line of
personal adornment is there such changing fashion as in furs. A fur
popular this season and last will next spring be unsaleable at half its
original value, and some despised fur comes to the front.
What causes the changed standard? Who shall say? World's Fairs, in
showing perfect specimens, popularise particular skins. Some princess of
the blood or of bullion wears mink at a regal or republican function,
and the trick is turned. The trade-ticker on mink runs skyward and a
wireless thrill of warning should by poetic justice be impelled here to
the shores of the Slave where Mr. and Mrs. Mink and all the little
minxes love and hate and eat and sleep (with one eye open). During the
last five years furs have been increasingly fashionable, and to this end
no one cause has contributed so strongly as the automobile. The
exhilarating motion makes necessary clothing of compact texture. This
truth is self-evident and does not require the involved chain of
reasoning by which a friend over our milkless teacups last night strove
to prove that by all laws of the game the auto makes milk cheap.
The burden of his demonstration is this. Autos have largely done away
with the keeping of horses for pleasures. Horses and horse-stables
inevitably breed flies. Flies in summer worry cows, and they, to escape
the annoyance, stand for hours in running streams and do not graze. For
lack of food, the milk-supply yielded by the cow is scanty, and milk
rises in price. The auto upsets all this, and, undeterred by the
horse-bred fly, complacent cows crop grass and distend their udders with
cheap and grateful milk. Now, the reasoning is plain and
incontrovertible at any one point, and yet urban milk grows dearer and
Northern travellers drink boiled tea _au natural_. Cows are the eternal
feminine and will not be explained by logic.
But we are in the latitude of the fox and not the cow. Should the most
valuable fox that runs be called a black-fox, or a silver-fox? What is
the highest price ever paid for a fox-skin? Do not try to get to the
bottom of these two innocent-looking demands. That way madness lies.
"How old is Ann?" pales before this. Canadian foxes present themselves
patriotically in red, white, and blue, and there are also black foxes
and silver ones. The black-fox is only less elusive than the black tulip
or the blue rose, and yet he inhabits the same section and cohabits
often the same burrow with the red and the cross-fox. By the way, a
cross-fox is not a hybrid; he bears the sign of the cross on his
shoulders, and so his name. The red-fox of America is not dissimilar to
the red-fox of Europe, and yet a red-fox in Canada may have a silver-fox
for its mother and itself give birth to a silver-cub. At the Mission at
Isle a la Crosse in latitude 55 deg. 30', about twenty years ago, an
experiment was made in breeding black-foxes. The missionary--Burbanks
got two black-fox pups, male and female, and mated these when they were
mature. From them always came mixed litters of red-fox, cross-fox, and
black and silver. It reminds one of the Black Prince of England, who was
son of a King and father of a King, yet never was a King!
We are told that Messrs. McDougall & Secord, of Edmonton, enjoy the
distinction of having received the highest price for a silver-fox pelt
ever paid on the London market,--$1700, that it was one of the most
beautiful skins seen in the history of the trade, and that it went to
the Paris Exposition. Official Russian records at St. Petersburg state,
"Of the American silver-fox (_Canis vulpes argentatus_) black skins have
a ready market at from $1500 to $4000. They are used for Court robes and
by the nobles."
[Illustration: Tracking a Scow across Mountain Portage]
And so the stories go on. A dealer in Calgary told us that last winter
he had handled a silver-fox skin that subsequently brought $1950 in the
London market. One quotes these tales blithely and with pleased
finality. Then arises from some unsuspected quarter the voice of one
cavilling in the wilderness, who contradicts your every story and finds
with keen discriminating sight, "Black's not so black nor white so very
white." Mr. Thompson-Seton makes declaration, "The silver-fox is but a
phase or freak of a common-fox, exactly as a black sheep is, but with a
difference--!" Yes, there's that fatal and fascinating difference. As we
must have salmon-hatcheries, so Nature demands intelligent fox-farms,
and beaver-farms, and skunk-farms. Forty acres under fur promises
greater interest than even forty-bushel wheat, and, to the imaginative,
the way opens up for the development of a new Cat-o-Dog or Dog-o-Cat,
Goatee-rabbiticus or Rabbito-goat.
I would not like to vouch for the story told on the mosquito-portage by
the half-breed driver, who declared that last year a red-fox on the