The York Factory Express leaves Hudson Bay

Clinker built boat used on the Fraser River

This is a boat from the Fraser River, not one used by the York Factory Express. Nevertheless, boats similar to this Fort Langley clinker built boat were used all through the fur trade both east and west of the Rocky Mountains

I have played around a little with this section of the York Factory Express journey, writing several posts that covered this part of the world. For the first of these posts, Search: Hayes River in the search box at the top right of this page. This is my exploration of the numerous rapids and portages the express men had to make as they climbed the hill from Hudson Bay, and I needed to have this information so that I knew where I was on the Hayes River.

The second post is an exploration of John Work’s journey upriver in 823. To find this post, enter John Work’s Journey in the Search box at the top of this page. John Work was not traveling in the York Factory Express, however, but in a canoe brigade. The York Factory Express did not, at that time, exist.

James Douglas gave a good description of the upriver journey to Oxford House, made by the York Factory Express. so I will include a portion of his journal here. He made the journey to York Factory in 1835. His first paragraph explains why the Columbia men traveled across the country to York Factory and return!

“Thursday July 16 [1835]. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon of this day took our departure from York Factory on our return to the Columbia. We are two boats in company and we expect to overtake within the course of a day or two 7 more boats which left this yesterday. In these boats the Columbia party consisting of 21 labourers and 3 passengers are embarked and will assist in transporting the property required for the trade of that district as far as Edmonton where we leave them to their own resources. At Norway House we will be joined by two additional gentlemen, and one more in the Saskatchewan forming in all 27 persons besides two families.” Archibald McKinlay was in this incoming York Factory Express from Hudson Bay, and John McIntosh and family would join the party. The story of these men’s almost-fatal passage across Tete Jaune Pass is told in my book, The Pathfinder.

“Friday 17. Blowing a breeze from the same quarter as yesterday which enabled us to use the sail during the whole day. Overtook the 7 boats mentioned yesterday as having preceded us. Cold hazy weather with rain. Encamped at the lower end of Steel River.

“Saturday 18… Made use of the sail during the early part of the day, but the wind failing us we were forced to have recourse to the tracking line during the afternoon. Encamped 6 miles in Hill River.

“Sunday 19. Made use of tracking line the whole day.” On upriver journeys, the tracking line was often used by the men of the York Factory Express and the Saskatchewan Brigades.

“Monday 20. Proceeded with the tracking line until 11 o’clock when we reached the Rock carrying place [Rock Portage] which occupied two full hours. Borwick’s [Berwick’s] Falls 2 hours more; the White Mud Portage 2 hours more, a little above which we encamped for the night.

“Tuesday 21. Leaving our encampment we carried part of our cargo at the Point of Rocks; remained 5 hours at Brassey where the whole cargo was carried, Encamped at the Lower Burntwood where the whole Cargo is also carried.” All of these are portages, and all are long and steep. They are climbing the east side of the Canadian Shield via the Hayes River. Obviously, York Factory is at sea level. Oxford House was 632 feet above sea level, and Norway House 720 feet! It is not an easy upriver journey they are making.

“Wednesday 22 & Thursday 23. Passed South Side Handling place [a rapid, I believe] and Morgan’s Rocks without discharging a package. At the little Rocky Launcher & Little Burntwood carried Boat and cargo; [also] at Smooth Rocks, Mossy and 2nd Carrying Place, and encamped in Birds’ Lake.” Douglas has apparently become confused and passes through Birds’ Lake twice. As the original journal no longer exists, we can’t check it. This might be a transcription error, but we just don’t know.

“Friday 24. Passed Bird’s Creek early in the morning, [also] Upper Carrying Place, and encamped in Bird’s Lake.” I suspect that this mention of Bird’s Lake is correct, and the earlier mention is the error. Bird’s Lake is probably named for James Bird, the HBC man who was in charge of Edmonton House at the same time NWC explorer David Thompson opened the Kootenais District to the fur trade: Bird was always very interested in what Thompson was doing there.

“Saturday 25. Crossed Logan’s Lake and entered Jack River; at the upper end of the 1st Portage camped.

“Sunday 26. Passed the 2nd and 3rd Portage [of] Hill River and encamped on Knee Lake. The country from the Factory to this place is thickly wooded with the spruce, larch, the Scotch fir, patches of poplars, and dwarf birch, with willow in the vicinity of waters. Generally speaking the surface of the soil is covered with a thick coating of lichen, amongst which the Labrador tea plant grows with great luxuriance. The only other plants I observed are the French willow, and Cranberry, and two other plants with whose names and properties I am not acquainted… The banks, particularly of Hill River, rise to a considerable elevation; in other places they are low and possess a very uninteresting appearance. The soil which lies immediately under the lichen in places consists of a reddish clay, in others a vegetable decomposition with a slight mixture of clay. Large masses of white granite are observed all along the river, and with the exception of some islands in Knee Lake where the Rock is of a very dark red colour, Granite is the only mineral observable as far as Norway House..” The rocks in Knee Lake are magnetite or lodestone, and are magnetic. All the fur traders were familiar with them, and in 1826, Aemilius Simpson wrote about the effect of these islands on his compass. [It’s in the book.]

“Monday 27. Passed Knee Lake under sail, the Trout Falls, and encamped at the Upper Knife Handling Place. Cold, cloudy weather. Wind North.” All of these places, except Knee Lake, are portages.

“Tuesday 28. Reached Oxford [House] at 2 o’clock. encamped at the upper end of the Lake.” Obviously Douglas lost interest in the journey at this point, as he hardly wrote in his journal. But it was a steep climb and a wearying journey, and the change of weather, which is indicated in his last posting, might have prevented any journal entries for the next few days.

“Wednesday 29. Encamped at Hill’s Gates.” This was one of the most difficult portages on the route for the incoming York Factory Express. On the next night they camped at Robertson’s [Robinson’s] Portage, and on Friday at a place he called “Barren.” On August 1st they stopped at the head of Tea River, and on the following day the boats reached Norway House.

If you want to know more about Lieutenant Aemilius Simpson, then enter Aemilius Simpson into the Search Box at the top of this page.

And so, after leaving Fort Vancouver, at the mouth of the Columbia River, in March, the men of the York Factory Express are finding their way home again in late July and August. They have a few months of travel yet to go, as they do not normally return to their Pacific coast headquarters until November. Not only that, but they are “climbing the hill” on their way home. At Jasper’s House they will be some 3,400 feet above sea level. They will arrive there in October, hopefully before the snow falls. But in  1835, the year of this journal, they would not miss the heavy first snow of the winter.

If you wish to purchase my book, “The York Factory Express,” you can do so through my publisher, Ronsdale Press, here: Thank you!

To return to the beginning of this series, go to:

When the next leg is posted in a little while, it will appear here:

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2015. All rights reserved.