To Fort Simpson

A York Boat under sail
This powerful image of a York Boat under sail is used with the permission of the Glenbow Archives. Its number is na-1847-5. The HBC men sailed these boats anytime the wind was blowing in right direction, both going downriver, and coming upriver.

So, we are back to Robert Campbell’s journals, which are found in the B.C. Archives. In 1851, Robert Campbell continued his journey up the Mackenzie River from Fort Norman to Fort Simpson, where James Anderson (a) was in charge. At his time Fort Norman stood where the hamlet of Tulita stands today. This is what his journal has to say:

Friday 25th. At 6 a.m. reached the new Fort Norman, Bear River, and breakfasted. Came off again with hardly any wind and camped above the [illegible]. Weather cleared and [two illegible words].

Saturday 26th. A breeze of head wind obliged us to seek shelter for the Boat in the night where we were wind-bound until noon. We reached to camp on the point above the first Fort Norman. The water rising again these 2 days.

In its early days Fort Norman stood south of Old Fort Point and somewhat close to the modern day town of Wrigley. It moved downriver — northward, that is — I think to the present location of the modern town of Norman Wells. Then it was relocated again in 1851, to the place where Tulita now stands.

Sunday 27th July 1851. Strong head wind again in the forenoon and the river drifting woodful [sic] channels. Camp opposite the [illegible] river.

Monday 28th July 1851. Breakfasted at Old Fort Clark. Bad tracking and strong current. Camped at Birch Island.

We have two choices here: this could be Old Fort Point — I think that’s likely as there is a Birch Island south of Old Fort Point. Moreover, I could find no listing for an Old Fort Clark in the Northwest Territories — though there is an “Old Fort,” dates unknown — 50 miles south of Fort Good Hope, on the Mountain River. I think that this is a transcription error (this is a transcript I am copying from), and that “Old Fort Clark” refers to “Old Fort Point.” At the time this manuscript was transcribed, it was not so easy researching these distant lands, there being no internet yet. Its hard to believe those times existed, but they did!

Tuesday 29th. At 1 a.m. left our camp with some [illegible] and supped above the roche que tramp a-liu, when it began to rain and soon after we were obliged to put ashore.

Is he speaking of the Roche-qui-trempe-a-l’eau, just north of Wrigley? Probably. Almost certainly, in fact. In my French dictionary, trempé means “soaked,” or “wet through,” so this might have been a rapid that threw a lot of water around! And below, the word “Trou” means “Hole” as in deep water. So, “Trouesse?” Might mean Little Hole, I guess.

Wednesday 30th. Pouring down rain all night and morning. At noon we started though showery and camped late below the little rapid or trouesse.

Thursday 31st. Fine day. Delay some time at breakfast loosing and drying packs. Camped above Willow Lake River.

Friday 1st August 1851. Passed some starving Indians who had not even fruit for us. We camped near the Nahony [North Nahanni] River. Fine day.

Saturday 2nd. We lost to no purpose three hours by Indians but got nothing for our pains. Camped above the Nahony [Nahanni] River. Fine.

Sunday 3rd. Camped above the 2 Islands. Very warm.

Monday 4th. Arrived at Fort Simpson about noon. Found Mr. Pruden and people (ladies) all well.

And here is the reason Campbell is at Fort Simpson — to pick up his trade goods from the incoming boats and return home with them! These incoming boats had returned to Fort Simpson with all the trade goods that the Athabasca Brigades had delivered to Methye Portage (Portage La Loche). Every year, the men of the Athabasca District, as well as those of the Mackenzie’s River District, delivered their packs of furs to the north side of the Methye Portage — and every year the Athabasca Brigades, from Norway House, delivered their trade goods to the north end of the Methye Portage, and returned to York Factory with the two District’s furs. The man who is in charge of this delivery system is Alexis Bonamie dit L’Esperance, and his story is told here.

Sunday 5th. Passing the time agreeably until Monday [18th?] when Messrs. [Alexander] Murray and [Augustus Richard] Peers arrive from below, and early next morning, Tuesday 19th, the brigade arrives from Portage La Loche, 8 boats well-loaded but no [gentleman?] to direct the business. Wednesday and Thursday we were all busy opening and sorting the goods, and Friday commenced giving out the outfit and equipping the people. Monday 25th the Pelly and West Branch outfits was ready for embarking.

So where’s Fort Simpson, anyway? It’s always in a different place than I think it was. Fort Simpson is on Simpson Island, an island in the Mackenzie River, at the mouth of the Liard. It was first established as a fur trade post by the North West Company in 1804, and of course was taken over by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1821. It has a relatively mild climate and is called “the Garden of the Mackenzie.” Today there is a highway that connects the community to the rest of Canada, so it’s relatively easy to visit and lots to do when you get there. Augustus Peers has an excellent description of Fort Simpson, on his arrival from the south in August, 1843:

On the twentieth of August we came in sight of Fort Simpson which, as the McKenzie is here very wide and straight is seen from a distance of four or five miles. The voyageurs hailed the sight of the fort with rapture and although many of them had many a weary mile to travel to some of the distant outposts, they plied the oar vigorously and in an hour or so we arrived at the landing under a high bank on which stood a flag staff from which floated on the breeze a large red flag.

Fort Simpson, the head post of McKenzie’s River District, is prettily situated on an island at the confluence of the Liard and McKenzie’s Rivers. The McKenzie is here a mile broad from shore to shore and as the bank on which the fort stands is very high a commanding view is obtained of the mighty river and surrounding country.

Above at a distance of one and three quarter miles stands out a bold point of high land covered with pine trees called the Gross Cap which forms the bank of either river. Several pretty islands are also seen at the mouth of the Liard. The view below the fort (that is, I guess, north of the fort) is cut off at a distance of half a mile by a bend in the river. Over the tops of the distant trees a partial and distant view is obtained of the mountains in the lower country.

The fort is situated in about latitude 62 [degrees N], but notwithstanding its northerly situation several acres of rich land are under cultivation. Two extensive fields on either side of the establishment were planted with potatoes and barley, the former even at that early date were as large as hens’ eggs, but which by the end of September when they were dug had attained in many instances the size of a man’s fist. Behind the Fort skirting the forest was a field of waving barley already in a state of ripeness and as plump and full as that grown in more favorable latitudes.

Several head of cattle lay grouped about the park and in an enclosure around the cowhouse were two young moose deer, male and female, which Mr [John Lee] Lewes had himself captured while crossing the river with their dam in the spring. They had become quite reconciled to their confinement and were so tame, that though they once during the summer got out of their enclosure — the door being incautiously left open — they merely took a turn in the woods, cropping the tender willows, and returned at evening to their house! They were fed on the tender branches of the willows which form their food in a wild state.

We are back to Robert Campbell and his journey to Fort Simpson: He left the next morning, leaving William Fletcher Lane, James Pruden, and Pierre Pambrun to take the goods for the Liard River posts in by that river. For Campbell, it was an easy journey downriver to Peel’s River post. They reached Fort Norman on Friday August 29th; Fort Good Hope on Sunday 31st; and Peel’s River on Friday 5th of September. They were at Lapierre’s House on the Porcupine River on Saturday September 13th, Fort Yukon on the 19th, and reached Fort Selkirk, on the Pelly River, on the 17th October.

But what an enormously long journey to make! If you have followed this series all the way through, you know why. If you want to find out more, than start here, at its beginning:

The next post in this series will begin a new thread, which might proceed slowly as I want to do a little research. But it will be fun, I guarantee you that, and it will lead you places you did not expect to go! Anyway, it all begins here, when published:

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

4 thoughts on “To Fort Simpson

  1. Kathleen dann honey

    Aloha…..May I ask where Augustus Peers journal is now? Great read…Kathleen Dann Honey….