Anderson’s journey continues

birchbark canoe

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

Anderson’s journey continues: James Anderson and his party have reached “Beechey Lake,” and are encamped above the five sets of rapids that had led them to into that Lake — and guess what: I think I have misnamed Beechey Lake: If Anderson’s party has run through McDougall Lake, then it is not Beechey lake they are camped in, but Garry Lake. (Oops! That’s why you need an editor!) I wonder where my head was as I wrote the last blogpost!

Ahead of the party lies Pelly Lake, and then a long section of the Great Fish River. Then appears Beechey Lake, some distance away from the place where they are now. We will come to it, but it is Garry Lake, and not Beechey Lake, where they are now encamped.  

And so, Anderson’s journey continues. Anderson’s journal reads: “Sunday, 19th [August 1855]. Mounted all the rapids to Lake Garry without accident, and encamped at the Narrows at our encampment of the 22nd ulto [August].” Anderson noted that on his way downriver his party had camped in Lake Garry at Back’s Encampment of July 20, 1834. As Back says, he used the same encampment going downriver as he had used coming up: and so too did Anderson’s party.

Anderson’s journey continues:

This first part of the day was clear and calm which enabled us to dry our clothes, only to be again wetted in the evening by heavy rain. Wind variable. We carried sail about two hours as far as the 2nd sand-hill from nearly the first one. At the last long rapid coming up, a decharge was made, it being shallow. Saw swamp berries for the first time coming up, they were 2/3 formed. The men chose to compliment me by calling the fine sand-hill in the middle of the channel connecting Lake Garry with Lake McDougall “Anderson’s Hill.” Ten deer were seen this evening. Took up our cache below the Rapid at the end of this lake in fine order.

Naming a landmark for a gentleman was another tradition of the fur trade: virtually the same as honoring a man with the creation of a maypole tree that carried his name. As there were no trees here in the Barren Grounds, the crew-members actually didn’t have a huge choice in landmarks to name for James Anderson. Although the traditional honor was always rewarded by a regale and the firing of guns, but Anderson’s men knew full well that there was no rum in these canoes. Anderson’s journey continues: 

August 1855. Lake Garry. Upwards. Monday 20th. Heavy rain and strong gale last night from various points; it was still raining when we embarked at 3 1/4 am. It cleared up partially afterwards. At the rapid between Lake Garry and Pelly we saw some Esquimaux, then only women and children. When we passed on our way up [down the river] and they then ran away; but now the men were there and they came to us immediately. They had various articles used by us in the trade which they must get from the Churchill Esquimaux. There were 3 women, 6 children, and 6 men (2 old, 1 middle-aged, and 3 young men), two of them we had previously seen at McKinley’s River… We gave them knives, spears, dags [small knives], scissors, etc., and parted famous friends. They gave us some deer’s meat. Encamped at sunset, near the head of Lake Pelly. The wind was strong ahead all day. About 25 deer were seen today, all going to the Southward. The same is the case with the Canada geese.

Tuesday 21st. It was miserable weather when we embarked at 3 am; it was blowing fresh and raining. At Bullen’s River we hoisted sail and carried it for about half the day. We were much incommoded by sand banks above Bullen’s River: the same was the case in a minor degree when going down. The water in Lake Garry and above it does not appear to have fallen so much as below it. Below and at McKinley’s River we saw the same Esquimaux as when descending. There were 8 tents; about 10 men were present and 8 women, and several children. The women are all of a very low stature, good-looking; the young women are only tattooed after they have children. Saw several stone kettles made with 5 slabs sandstone cemented together [he has a drawing of a kettle in his journal]. These Esquimaux seem a remarkably harmless, honest and clean race — clothing, canoes, and tents made of deerskin; and have many of our articles of trade. 

I am now doing the final editing for the “Journeys” book, which includes this and other journeys through the north. In one argument I commented on Augustus Peers’ description of the Métis and First Nations men he met. I said, more or less, that neither James Anderson nor Robert Campbell — the other two HBC men that form this book — did not do that! They did not use words that demean, even in their private journals and letters. In fact, I said, it is difficult to even discover what race the men they mention in their journals and letters are, and without the help of the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives Biographical Sheets (an amazing resource), I would probably never know for sure. Above, this is how James Anderson saw the Inuit people he met on this long journey, and as you can see, he does not use derogatory words, but respectful, descriptive, and uncritical words and descriptions. He accepts the Inuit for who they are. This is how a leader of men should behave.

Anderson’s journey continues: 

They made us understand that they came down McKinley’s River, but that it was nearly dry at present. The wind headed us toward the evening and the rain never ceased. We encamped a piece above McKinley’s River. Everything we have now is soaked with rain. We have found plenty of willows since reaching Lake Garry.

I think everyone was ready to reach home: the gentlemen included!

Back’s men also had a hard haul up this section of the Great Fish River, all the way to Hawk Rapids (which is still ahead of Anderson’s men). “On the 4th [September],” Back wrote, “a hard gale from the NW indicated the commencement of the fall weather; and while we were travelling, many hundreds of geese flew high past us to the south. It was necessary to haul the boat all day: and we ascended between sixteen and twenty rapids, which owing to the shallowness of the water were very troublesome. Sand-banks and islands appeared in every direction, and so changed was the face of the river that it was not easy to recognize it. At the centre of the Hawk Rapid the line broke and threw us into a very critical situation… As we advanced the shoals and bars greatly impeded our progress; so that, in an ordinary season, the navigation would have been impracticable, even for a boat entirely light.” They were travelling very late in the summer, and at that season there is always lower water in the rivers. 

James Anderson’s journey continues with his arrival at Hawk Rapids:

Left early, 3 Esquimaux came to see us start and accompanied us a short distance. Alders are seen at the Hawk Rapids for the first time. The long line of rapids below and above Hawk Rapid were safely ascended; it then began to rain very hard and continued without cessation till at last I could not endure seeing the men suffering so much, and encamped 5 1/2 pm, 5 hours above Hawk Rapid among the sand banks. Mr. [James Green] Stewart’s canoe cannot keep up with mine and retards us considerably; the fact is both canoes are now dreadfully leaky and his the worst. Some ripe berries & crowberries were picked — the leaf is red. Several wolves, gulls, and crows were below Hawk Rapid feasting on the drowned deer, but not a deer was seen either today or yesterday. Several banks of Canada geese and grey wavies [grey geese] going to the Southward. At the rapids between Lake Garry and Pelly and below Hawk Rapids, appear to be the only good deer passes we have seen since leaving the coast, tho’ there are doubtless others.

Thursday 23rd. Heavy rain all night. Left at 2 1/2 am amidst drizzling. It cleared up at breakfast and enabled us to partially dry our clothes, etc, but heavy showers soon wetted us again. The sun, however shone out at intervals. I encamped at 6 1/2 pm (to avoid a heavy storm which threatened us) a little below Baillie’s River. The wind assisted us a little today, and the men paddled well, but our progress was much impeded by sand bars which rendered the channel of the river most tortuous. Esquimaux marks as high up as this.

Back, who you will have noticed is travelling up the river two weeks later in the year than Anderson’s party, experienced some difficulty at Baillie’s River. Anderson might have made the choice to return from Montreal Island earlier in the summer, because of Back’s experiences with low water. This is what Back wrote: “The morning was gloomy, but as the wind had fallen we gladly availed ourselves of the opportunity to get away, though the current was strong and the weather so thick that that it was sometimes difficult to find the right channel. About 9 the sun broke out, and allowed us to dry our wet clothes. Passing Baillie’s River we ascended the long rapid where the first Esquimaux marks were seen, and found the country on either side quite converted into a swamp.. Towards evening a NW gale came on with sleet and snow, and the next morning all the creeks were solidly frozen. The cold is indeed excessive; and what with snow, squalls, and mist, we did not make much progress. The water had risen considerably, and the mud and sand cliffs were worn into innumerable ravines from the constant drainage of the upper lands. It occupied the better part of a day to get past the Cascades, and a most laborious and hazardous service it was.”

Anderson’s journey continues: In the next blogpost in this series, Anderson’s men will mount the Cascades above Baillie’s River. I think this is a good place to stop. They will probably be paddling through Lake Beechey in the next blogpost, and I will try to remember that the Lake Beechey, in the blogpost previous to this one, is actually not Lake Beechey. 

To go back to the beginning of James Anderson’s journey to the Arctic, follow this link: 

When I publish the next blogpost in this series, it will appear here:

As I have said, this book is going through a final edit before being sent to publisher, and so we hope to see it soon! The images will be an interesting search, as I have to search Yukon Archives, and the Barren Grounds Archives, which I think is in Edmonton. I will find out!

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



4 thoughts on “Anderson’s journey continues

  1. John Purves Hansen

    This offering is possibly better than previous ones ?

    The sheer toil is eloquently laid before all who read the account. The use of raw hand and body power in ice cold wet conditions, and the rare gift of the chance to employ sail power !!!

    I would not have lasted well in such conditions, even in my youth, and the way the men took any nutrition they could find is so impressive.

    Common threads with all exploratory travel are also apparent in the accounts. The way the native people are met and accepted for what they are, and no doubt respected for their abilities. The way that spirits are lifted by the sight of life on the way. The way that observations are made show the judgements which must be made between resource and rest.

    I can’t help remembering the comment about tattoos. All tattoos are endowed with value, meaning and chronological significance. What were the tattoos ? Were they for each child ? Did they cement the lady’s association with the Father ? What did these women do to protect and rear their offspring in these conditions ???

    My mid is set off in all directions, again, by Nancy’s work.

  2. Blair Jean

    Nancy, how can I find your article that precedes the October 14th article regarding Anderson’s travels on the Great Fish River 1855?