The All Canadian Route

A sturgeon-nosed boat on the Athabasca River.

This is one of the sturgeon nosed boats or scows used on the Athabasca River after 1835. This image, na-1338-20 is used with the permission of Glenbow Archives.

I am, of course, speaking of the route to the Klondike gold fields via the Athabasca River to Athabasca Lake, where we left the first writers in a post found here: . Since I wrote that post, I found another journal which takes us by the same route up the  Athabasca River to Athabasca Lake and beyond, as far as the Gravel River. The Gravel River was another route into the Klondike, but we are probably not going to discuss it much, as it was never a fur trade route. The title of this manuscript is “The Trail of /98, by the All-Canadian Route,” by Earnest J. Corp, who later lived in White Rock, B.C. The manuscript (a typescript) is in the B.C. Archives under the number E/E/C81. One thing I learned is that when you are researching the Klondike, you also have to search under “Klondyke.”

So here is the introduction to Earnest J. Corp’s typescript:

Author’s Note: While the vast majority of the thousands heading for the Klondyke went by the way of the Pacific Coast, some hundreds decided to go in by way of Edmonton, over what was called the “All Canadian Route.” This was the result of articles published, quoting extracts from a pamphlet by the late Wm Ogilvie, “a then well-known Government Geologist and surveyor,” who had described a trip taken by his survey part from Edmonton to Dawson, via the rivers and lakes of the great North West Territories, then down the Mackenzie River to Fort McPherson, up the Peel and Rat Rivers, over a low divide to the head of the Porcupine River, down the Porcupine to the Yukon River at Fort Yukon, and up the Yukon to Dawson. 

Well, I am going to have to look for this report, as this is the fur traders’ route I am interested in!! If anyone finds out where it is before I do, please let me know where it is to be found! Thanks.

This was a practical route for a party such as his, travelling with light canoes and obtaining needed supplies at the various H.B. Posts along the way, but for men headed for the goldfields, dragging along their entire outfit, some having as much as a ton apiece, it was a horse of another colour.

But then, what greenhorn was going to let a little thing like that bother him?

I think I like his sense of humor. So here goes, with the main part of his manuscript:

A.D. 1897-8, and the Klondyke Gold Rush at its height. Tales of the marvellous gold deposits found there had reached practically every part of the civilized world: men from every walk in life (even a few women) the majority of whom were without the experience or knowledge required to undertake the hazardous journey to the goldfields, or for success or survival after reaching there, man of them married men with families, were carried away with the hope of acquiring an easy fortune.

Of course we now all know that the grandfather of the current President of the United States was one of the men who went to the Klondike goldfields, where he made his fortune. (He went in, however, by the White Pass route, and not over the all-Canadian trail).

While the vast majority of those headed for the Klondyke went in from the Pacific Coast, many hundreds started by what was called the All-Canadian route, via Edmonton (then the end of the steel), the jumping off place, to the then little-known region of the great Canadian North West. Living in Hamilton, Ontario, at the time, where circumstances had created in me a desire for a change and travel, the great Klondyke gold excitement seemed an opportunity and an entirely new way of life.

Thus, one day calling on a friend of mine, Jack Phillips (who had a thriving merchant tailor business on James Street), I said, “What do you say we go to the Klondyke?” After a few moments’ thought he said, “All right. I’ll go if you will, and we’ll get up a party and be ready to start in the Spring.” So we got a party of six together, and during the following weeks we outfitted for the trail. Our party consisted, besides Phillips and myself, of Dr. Dillabough Jr., Charles Krugg, Vic McFarland, and Alf Willis. We bought most of our outfit from the local wholesale houses, excepting flour and rolled oats, which was bought later in Edmonton (as it had probably come from around there). At that time aluminum utensils were but little used, and, wanting to avoid unnecessary weight when packing on the portages, two of us went to Buffalo, N.Y., and bought a complete outfit of cooking utensils, all aluminum. 

Our heavy winter clothing, sleeping bags and oil skin clothes were all made in Phillips’ tailor shop, and when we were ready to start we had as complete an outfit as could be secured for such a trip. Just about that time there was a rate war on between the C.P.R. and the Grand Trunk Railway, and our tickets to Edmonton cost us only twenty-five dollars.

For a while each Monday morning in March and April, various parties for the Klondyke or the Prairies left the Railway Station on Hunter Street, and quite a crowd would gather to watch the departing travellers. For many of these it would be a final farewell. (It was fifty years before I again saw our starting point, and felt somewhat like a Rip Van Winkle. The old places looked familiar and yet strange). Well, we arrived in Calgary, the first stop on our journey, on Saturday evening, and had to stay over until Monday, when the train left for Edmonton. Sunday, while wandering around Calgary, we were rather surprised to see people on their way home from Church queueing up at the G.P.O. to get their mail, and going on down the street reading it. A mail train had arrived from the East the previous evening. 

After arriving at Edmonton, we found it a small prairie town, with one main street (Jasper Avenue) North of the Saskatchewan River. South of the River, apart from the sheds of the railroad terminus, there were but few houses: later, during the first world war, this was named Strathcona. In /98, when we were there, there was no bridge across the river, and travel across in winter was on the ice, and by boat in summer. The piers on each side for the Railway Bridge were already built.

We got our outfit freighted across the river, and pitched our tents in a cottonwood grove in what is now near the heart of the city. We camped here abut a week, then arranged to have our whole outfit freighted to Athabasca Landing over the old H.B.C. road, being about seventy-five miles. The freighter made two trips to take our six tons of freight. Arrived here, we made our camp, and started to get our boat ready. It had been made for us in Hamilton by an old boat builder, and had a rock elm keel and ribs, and Georgia pine planking, each piece marked and knocked down, which made it easy to reassemble. This, I think, was the strongest boat built here; the scores of other boats built here were constructed of fresh sewn local lumber, and were just flat bottom scows. 

These guys thought everything out before they even left Ontario! I wonder if they made their fortune in the Klondike, or like many others, did they fail? I might have to go back to the archives to find the answer to that question!

Except for the unusually strong construction of our boat, our trip would have ended disastrously a few days after started the river. The boat struck a bad rock in running the Boiler Rapids (so called because the boiler for the first H.B. Steamboat was wrecked and lost here), but instead of being ripped to pieces, as an ordinary scow would have been, just the bow was bruised, and needed but little repairing.

Did these guys run the Grand Rapids on the Athabasca River???? Let’s find out. 

When we were all ready to start down the [Athabasca] river, our party, in conjunction with another party of nine men, also from Hamilton, engaged a river guide to go with us until we were past the rapids on the Athabasca River. He, of course, went on the larger boat. We started down the river about noon the day after the ice went out, early in May of 1898, and after a while we got separated from other boat with the guide aboard in one of the several channels occurring in any river. Thinking it was the intention to run all night, when it got dark we hoisted a hurricane lantern to the mast top, and all turned in and went to sleep, leaving the boat to drift on its own, which none of us would have thought of doing after some experience of what rivers are like. My own idea of a river was somewhat like a canal with nice banks, instead of what many are — real death traps, especially under a cut bank with overhanging sweepers which could easily overturn a boat. This was certainly a case of “ignorance is bliss.”

However, when daylight came, our boat was grounded on a bar at the tip of an island, but easily pushed off. Then a few miles below, we were carried sideways on to a succession of bars just off the main stream, from which, with all our efforts, we failed to get our heavily laden boat off. Now we began to worry lest our guide on the other boat was as far ahead of us that we might not be able to overtake him, when suddenly we heard a voice from the other boat passing by in the main channel, “What are you fellows doing over there?” We said, “We are hung up on a bar, and can’t get off!” He said, “You will have to lighten the boat by taking some of your freight over to the bank in the dinghy, and we will wait for you a short distance down river — it may take hours of hard work, but that is your only chance of getting off.” Reluctantly deciding to take the guide’s advice, we were in the act of starting, when suddenly a stiff breeze sprang up and I had a happy idea. We had several hundred feet of 3/4 manilla rope on board, and it occurred to me that, if we could get a line across the main channel to the bank, and make it fast, if the boat went ahead the rope would haul it round in an arc to the channel. To this all agreed, in that while it might not succeed it was the only alternative to a lot of hard work. This was done, and, when the rope was made fast to the bank, the big square sail was hoisted, and the boat went across the bars like a scared cat and into the channel, and we were ready to go on our way. When we pulled in to where the guide was waiting, about half an hour behind him, he said, “How in H… did you get here so soon?” When we explained what we had done, he said, “Nobody but a bunch of greenhorns would have tried it.”

Continuing our journey, we next came to what is called the cascade. This is caused by a rim of rock stretching across the river, over which the water flows as over a dam, the drop being from six to nine feet according to the stage of water. Empty boats can safely be jumped over, whereas a heavily laden boat may quite likely dive in headfirst and swamp. The accepted procedure is to lower the loaded boats along the bank to the very brink of the falls, tie them to rings fastened in the rock by the H.B. Company for this purpose, after which the empty boats are hauled back upstream a short distance, rowed out, and jumped over, and brought back to the bank about fifty feet from where they were unloaded and again reloaded. Here again we came very near to losing the big scow of our party, and all its contents….

Looking ahead in the manuscript I can see that this is not the Grand Rapids of the Athabasca River. Although he calls it the Cascade in his manuscript, I think this might be what they call the above-mentioned Boiler Rapids, where they damaged their boat. In fact they came pretty close to losing the boat in this  piece of water, but I am not going to tell you the story now. It will, instead, by told in the next post in this series, which will be at when published. 

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2018. All rights reserved.

One thought on “The All Canadian Route

  1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

    There is a lovely long article on the internet, on William Ogilvie, written by Jane Gaffin, and titled “William Ogilvie: Dominion Surveyor Made Order out of Chaos.” The books he wrote were titled: “Early Days in the Yukon,” and his “Klondike Official Guide” is probably the one which tells of the Porcupine River route. I will check them both out. This is who the Ogilvy Mountain range (the mountains north of Dawson City) is named for. Also, Ogilvy River, Ogilvie Valley, and Ogilvie Street in downtown Whitehorse. Pretty interesting dude!