Finlayson Lake to Fort Selkirk

The Flintlock gun
The Voyageur and his flintlock gun

In 1850, and in 1851, Fort Selkirk’s man-in-charge, Robert Campbell, received word that his provisions and supplies were at Glenlyon House, also known as the Frances Lake Post. And so, we’ve answered a question that I asked in my last blogpost on this route: Did the Glenlyon Post still exist? It did in 1850, and in 1851. Campbell saw the post again in October 1852, when he was fleeing Fort Selkirk after it had been destroyed by the Chilcats:

Tuesday 5th [October 1852]. Come off down the lake [Frances Lake] — had a fine aft wind. Reached the Fort about 3 p.m. where we get a net and pass the rest of the day and night but to my surprise and vexation found the Fort all burnt down — the stockades cut down and everything appearing as if no small savage pains had been taken to destroy it, which must have been done in the course of the summer…. Come off at once from the eyesore seeing the finest Fort in the District in ashes — Killed a partridge behind the Fort and found a large Swedish turnip fresh and green growing behind the kitchen which I took for supper, when we camped a mile down the [Frances] River. [Robert Campbell, Notebook, in Two Journals of Robert Campbell, part 2.]

There are many different dates and years in this post and it might confuse you — but we are telling the story of the country between the Frances Lake post, and the Pelly River. In 1850, when Robert Campbell came up the hills from the Pelly River to Frances Lake, to pick up his supplies for Fort Selkirk, he came close to drowning in Finlayson Lake. Let’s tell that story here:

On reaching Finlayson’s Lake & finding an old canoe there, we prepared to cross in this & on some small rafts made by the men, as we wished to get over to the E side, the country being better adapted for walking there. Marcette & I embarked in the canoe, & on getting well out where wind & wave had full play, we found out too late that the canoe was leaky & filling fast, & we had nothing to bail her out with. The waves were running & Marcette said “We are sure to sink” & so we did. The canoe came up, bottom up, & we held on to it, swimming at the same time, though badly tossed by the waves & almost paralyzed with the intensely cold water (it was 20 Sept.), poor Marcette continually calling out “loche pas la canoe, Mr. Campbell.” We had little hope of reaching the shore which was a long way off, but we struggled desperately & at last reached bottom, so weak & benumbed that we could hardly drag our feet after us, but deeply thankful four our deliverance. Some of the men presently joined us, having crossed on one of the rafts; they hugged us with joy, took off their warm shirts, put them on us & got a blazing fire kindled, at which we soon got our things dried again. Poor Marcette, who was the better swimmer, said that if I had gone down he would never have come ashore alone. Some of our party who were still on the other shore when the canoe filled & left us floundering in the water, ran up to a high knoll from which they watched our struggle. I wore a cap made out of a piece of red blanket, & every now and then poor Kitza would call out “see the chief’s head yet above water.” After all had crossed & we had once more thankfully assembled round the fire & had something to eat, we started off again in the evening. [Two Journals of Robert Campbell, Journal #1]

Here is his 1850 journey from Finlayson Lake to Fort Selkirk, built a few years earlier on the junction of the Pelly River with the Yukon. There’s lots of illegible words in this journal, and I am filling in the words in square brackets when I know them, or can guess at them. This comes from his journal No. 2 in above book.

Thursday 3rd [October]. We left loaded on our return to the Pelly and Mr. [James Green] Stewart for Frances Lake Fort — we camped on Frances River.

Friday 4th. Camped tired and early above the Brulle.

The “Brulle” was a burned out stretch of wood, destroyed by wildfire.

Saturday. Fine day. Camped [illegible] Mt. [Butte de Fille? although I think they had passed that landmark earlier.]

Sunday 6th. Fine day. Camped Lac Frances Portage.

Monday 7th. Crossed the Lake and camped at Lac Long.

Tuesday 8th. Reached the Burnt Fort at 1 p.m. Sent three men back to Frances Lake and us to make oars. Buried the old wife we found lying on the ground since spring. Loaded and left in the evening from such a horrid place now.

The Pelly Banks post had burned down in November 1849, and two men died, one cannibalizing the other. For this story, see:

Wednesday 9th. Camped below [illegible] river.

Thursday 10th. Arrived early at the portage, found all safe. Secured the [illegible] above the Portage & crossed all [illegible: packs?]

Friday 11th. Left after breakfast, camp above Le Chapell [the chapel?] Fine weather.

Saturday 12th. Saw Baptiste early below Stewart route river.

It is quite possible that James Green Stewart used a different route up the hill than Campbell had done. Was it better, or worse? We do not know.

Sunday 13th. Lost part of the day at the Little Lake and with the Knife Indians. Camped between [Lewes] Rapid and [illegible] river.

Monday 14th October 1850. Passed successfully Sheep and McKinlay Rivers from rapid. Meet Vadnoit (?) above Pichon [almost certainly Peschew] River. Camped at the Beaver Lodge and Deer Hill.

Tuesday 15th. Passed [2 words illegible] Forks late. Camped above D’s rapid.

Wednesday 16th. Arrived within a gun shot of the Fort and encamped.

Thursday 17th. Reached the Fort at sun rise. Found Reid and all with him well. We had beautiful weather all the way coming down. Thank God for it and all His goodness to us.

In the Fort Selkirk Post Journal for Thursday 17th October he wrote: “We arrived off our trip to Frances Lake at sunrise this morning. Found Reid and those with him here well & successfully employed fishing, having about 4,000 Salmon Trout secured. Many Indians about the vicinage and had he the Tobacco he would have made a good Trade. I am highly satisfied with Reid’s management of the affairs during my absence. Brough arrived in the evening from his fishery below with 260 fish. Beautiful weather.

As you can see, I have no real idea where these men were at any time at all. But from Karamanski’s book, Fur Trade and Exploration, we have a description of the river as they came down it in 1843:

“On June 10 [1843] the explorers embarked on the Pelly River. It was flanked by high hills on both sides of its course, and the Pelly Range on the south dominated the scenery. After going downstream about thirty miles, Campbell came to a deep, swift river about fifty feet wide, which he named in honor of his interpreter, Hoole. Below the mouth of the Hoole they came to a dangerous rapid, known as Hoole’s Rapid, which drops the water of the Pelly six feet in about two hundred yards of white water. The rapid is navigable when the water is low, but traveling in June, when the spring runoff was still was still entering the Pelly, Campbell was forced to make a short portage along the north bank. After Hoole’s Rapid the Pelly’s current increased, and the river was between three and four hundred feet wide. The scenery varied from scarped banks of grey and white silt to open, grassy meadows interspersed with thick cottonwood groves and scrubby stands of spruce.

“As Campbell canoed downriver, he named the geography for his personal friends and companions… The Ross River, a major waterway draining the Mackenzie Mountains to the northwest, was named by Campbell for Chief Factor Donald Ross, who had befriended Campbell during his journey to Rupert’s Land thirteen years before. The Kitza River, a small mountain freshet, he named after his Indian hunter Kitza. The Macmillan River he named in honor of his cousin, Chief Factor James McMillan, who had been responsible for his joining the company. A modern map of the Pelly also reveals the Lapie River. This stream, however, was named by George M. Dawson of the Canadian Geological Survey…

“On the sixth day of the voyage the party arrived at the junction of the Pelly and another large river. This swiftly flowing waterway Campbell named the Lewes River for Chief Factor John Lee Lewes…” In 1848 he built Fort Selkirk at the junction of these rivers.

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

When the next post in this series is posted, it will appear here:

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2019. All rights reserved.