Anderson at Lake Garry

birchbark canoe

Image of a birchbark canoe on a Canadian River, from Glenbow Archive, image na-843-14, used with their permission

So let us continue James Anderson’s journey home from Montreal Island and Adelaide Peninsula, on the edge of the Arctic Ocean. On their journey south from the sea, they are paddling up the Great Fish River [also called the Back River], but are making good time — mostly because Anderson’s men are so eager to get away from the Barren Grounds of the Arctic tundra. In this blogpost, they will make their way upriver to Lake Garry, now called today, Garry Lake or Lakes.

Anderson was fortunate that his men could sail up this part of the Great Fish River, on his way Lake McDougall and Garry Lake. His journal continues: “August 15, 1855. This fine day enabled us to dry our clothes and bedding, which were actually getting mouldy. Some of the men began to complain of rheumatism and it is not surprising. I did not take up the pemmican cached on the 17th ulto as it was rather out of the road; we have also enough and the canoes are rather too heavy. Geese are now flying. Not an animal has. been seen today, but the tracks of deer were seen both yesterday evening and today, all going to the Southward. This accounts for our seeing no deer on Adelaide Peninsula on our way back.

“August 1855. Thlewycho. Upward. Thursday 16th.” You will remember that this river, called the Great Fish, or Back’s River, was also known as Thlewycho — its First Nations name. “This has been a day among the Rapids. The canoes received much damage in Escape Rapid; Mr. Stewart’s canoe was broken and mine completely ungummed. Encamped at 6 1/4 pm about 6 miles above Escape Rapid. Mr. [James Green] Stewart’s canoe only arrived at 7 1/2 pm. We lost also about 3/4 hour at breakfast in gumming her. A decharge was made at one strong place in Escape Rapid.” There were many rapids to be hauled up on their way to Lake Garry.

Captain George Back also had a rough journey up this section of the river, although he made his way all the way to Sinclair’s Falls, south of Escape Rapid. Here is what he had to say in his Narrative of the Arctic Land Expedition to the Mouth of the Great Fish River and along the Shores of the Arctic Ocean in the years 1833, 1834, and 1835:

The next day was too foggy to allow us to start until 10 am, when we ascended the rapids, in one of which the boat struck so severely against a sunken rock, that she was stove under her larboard bow: however, by caulking with oakum [old rope, shredded] and grease [bear fat and pitch] we contrived to reach our cache of two bags of pemmican, which had been uncovered, as was supposed, by the wolvereens [wolverines]. By this exposure to the rain a great proportion was too much damaged for consumption, and was carefully covered up again for the benefit of the first marauder, biped or quadruped, that might have the luck to fall upon it. At this spot the boat was cobbled up; and, again, pursuing the route, we reached Escape Rapid, where we found a piece of the oar which had been broken in the descent, and was now lying by a drowned deer in one of the eddies. The falls were too heavy to haul up, and it was late before we had carried every thing to the south end. A fair wind, however, was not to be lost; and, after taking up another cache in excellent order, we proceeded as far as Sinclair’s Falls, near which some ice yet lingered on the banks, and the grass and moss were still of a brownish hue.

Anderson, too, was well on his way to Garry Lake. His journal continues: “Took up our cache in good order. Wind fresh ahead from the N.W.; showery. Yesterday we saw a few sand flies, but today they were in clouds. Neither musk oxen nor deer seen. The geese now fly so that we get no fresh provisions. Three wolverines, a few ermines, and several young foxes seen. Last night the Aurora was seen for the first time, faint in the South, as well as the Great Bear, etc; Venus we saw some days since.” And so the story of the Aurora Borealis which flashed behind Paulet Papanakies’s shoulder, as told in this blogpost: did not happen. The Aurora Borealis would not have shown as the night skies were too light for people to have seen them.

Anderson’s journal continues: “Friday 17th. Left at the usual hour. Rained at intervals last night and throughout the day. Mr. Stewart’s canoe again broken badly in still water; it was repaired at breakfast time.”

Stewart says in his journal: “Started early and with a headwind broke my canoe again and had a row with Mr. Anderson about the lading, after which we breakfasted…” It must have been a very uncomfortable meal. Anderson’s story continues:

“The River below Sinclair’s Falls very shallow; a portage was of course made there and the canoes gummed hastily. The remainder of the Rapids were passed to Lake McDougall safely. We encamped late at the head of the Rapid. A doe Reindeer [caribou] was seen today. I shot 3 white grouse (young ones), they are now 2/3 grown.” Garry Lake is just beyond Lake McDougall, and so Anderson’s men must have felt optimistic about their journey south.

In his 1834 journal, Back tells of his passage upriver past Rock Rapids and into Lake McDougall, which he also reached in safety. 

Having made a portage we reached the Rock Rapid, of which we had intended to try the eastern side; but perceiving that it was certainly the less eligible of the two, we followed the old passage and by 2 pm were safely in Lake Macdougall. [His spelling of Macdougall differs from Anderson’s.] From the summit of a rock, I saw, with surprise, that the whole country was inundated; that which in July had been dry and green being now converted into a wide swamp.

Anderson’s journal continues: “Saturday 18th. It was blowing such a gale from N.E. this morning that it was impossible to leave before 10 am. It had then moderated a little, though still blowing fresh with a heavy sea, we managed to reach the first rapid in the river (say 10 miles from Rock Rapid) falling into McDougall’s Lake.  We then hoisted and had a fine run [through Lake McDougall] for a couple of hours. We got up several small rapids and encamped at 7 1/2 pm, considerably above our encampment of the 24th ulto. The river is now rather shoal having fallen 10 or 12 feet. Not an animal of any kind was seen. Weather showery.” Anderson’s encampment of July 24, coming downriver, had been just below the five sets of rapids that led them into Lake McDougall. Lake Garry was next!

Back tells us of the difficulties he and his men had in ascending the rapids between Lake McDougall and Lake Garry, which lay ahead:

It was not without difficulty and anxiety that we ascended the long and dangerous line of rapids leading to Lake Garry, whose smooth and glassy surface presented a striking contrast to its wintery covering of five weeks ago. A sand-hill that had served the same purpose before was again selected for our encampment, and a more certain evidence of the torrents of rain that must have fallen could not have been afforded, than by the spectacle of whole fields of unbroken moss, which had been swept away in a body from the face of the summit (a height of sixty feet), and was strewed like a carpet along the beach.

So the next lake is Lake Garry. Anderson writes in his journal: “Sunday 19th. Mounted all the rapids to Lake Garry without accident and encamped at the Narrows at our encampment of the 22nd ulto [July]. Anderson noted that on his way downriver his party camped in Lake Garry at Back’s Encampment of July 20th, 1834. As Back says, he used the same encampment going upriver as he had used coming down. So Anderson’s party camped on Lake Garry, at the same sand-hills that Back describes above.

We have now reached Lake Garry; and both parties are encamped at the exact same spot, although in different years. I think this is probably a good place to stop, and we will continue the journey south in this blogpost, when I write it:

If you want to return to the very beginning of this story, go here:

If you want to begin this with his return journey from Montreal Island and Adelaide Peninsula, than start here [I have fixed all the broken links that I had not the energy to complete over the last few months, so everything should work].

I am well. We will know in a month or so whether the medication has put me in remission, but I am optimistic. 

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2023. All rights reserved. 

I am now on Mastodon, on two different Instances. The first account, which is working well for me, is — and I am posting bits of the York Factory Express journals on it. 

On the second Mastodon instance I am posting pieces from the journals and letters of The HBC Brigades, and am found at  It takes a while to be well established on these instances, and does not feel the same as does. I will give it time, however. 

I am not longer posting on Twitter, though I look at it on occasion (but certainly not as often as I used to).

My author Facebook page can be found in the Facebook search bar, at Nancy-Marguerite-Anderson-Author. But I no longer put the effort into it that I used to, as it does not work well for me. And I think that is a problem that everyone has with anything Facebook.


2 thoughts on “Anderson at Lake Garry

  1. Bill woodall

    Re French River posting
    I recently asked a friend who was visiting at North Bay to go to the La Vase Portages Conservation park and take some picture of the area.
    Crossing over the divide some seven miles from Trout lake to Nipissing would have made those early travellers glad to water flowing the other way. The drawing in Morse’s book shows the route but not the difficulty. At least in MacKenzie ‘ s time he did not have to look both ways and watch for trucks when crossing the divide at highway 17. Don’t see way to send pictures to you but it looks like a nice spot to stop and read a little history.

    1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

      I am glad you enjoyed the post. And I am amazed at the work the fur traders’ employees did as they made their way west to the pays d’en haut in search of furs. And yes, there is no way for you to post images, I think.