Paul Kane

Norway House

This image of Norway House is used with the permission of Glenbow Archives, na-1041-5

I have not paid enough attention to Paul Kane, and I am beginning to regret that fact. He is a very useful guy when it comes to west-of-the-Rockies history, and this is why. This quote, below, is from the Introduction to the copy of the book I have, Wanderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America, by Paul Kane [Edmonton: Hurtig, 1968]. 

Paul Kane was one of Canada’s first painters. His principal achievement was to produce a series of pictures showing the life of the North American Indians… In 1846, in carrying out his plan to paint Indians, Kane became the first tourist to cross the Canadian West and the first writer not connected with either the church or the fur trade to set down his observations of the natives and the country.  

It is not his paintings, but his writings that interest me. He left Toronto in May 1846, and eventually arranged to travel west with HBC men to Fort Vancouver. He reached Edmonton House on horseback in the summer. “Then he went on to Jasper and across the mountains to the Columbia River and, with the fur brigade, floated down its majestic stream.” Well, that’s romantic, alright, but what it does mean is that, on the Athabasca River and the Columbia, he saw what the express men saw.

But I also discovered that he actually travelled west with the 1846 Columbia Express (Columbia Express is what they called the York Factory Express on its return journey to the Columbia) all the way from Norway House! And so I found a York Factory Express Journal that I did not know existed.

Well, I knew I would find other express journals, and I am happy I found it now. As I have already stated, Paul Kane joined the Columbia Express at Norway House. On the morning of the 14th of August:

we left Norway House, in the boats, for Playgreen Lake. These boats are about twenty-eight feet long, and strongly built, so as to be able to stand a heavy press of sail and rough weather, which they often encounter in the lakes: they carry about eighty or ninety packs of 90 lbs. each, and have a crew of seven men, a steersman and six rowers. Mr. Lane was accompanied by his wife, a half-breed, who travelled with us all the way to Fort Vancouver, on the Columbia.

These boats are, of course, York Boats. As it happens, “Mr. Lane” was Richard Lane, born in Kent, England, about 1816. He was the clerk in the counting house at Fort Vancouver in 1845-1846, and must have travelled out with the York Factory Express in March, 1846. Now he was on his way home again. Bruce McIntyre Watson says that “On a journey with the accounts back to the Red River District, he married Métis Mary McDermott (c1817-1851) (daughter of a native woman and Andrew McDermott of the Red River Settlement and ‘descended from the kings of Ireland’).” Source: Watson’s Lives Lived West of the Divide. Kane’s story continues, below:

We had scarcely got into Playgreen Lake when a heavy gale separated the boats and drove ours on to a rock in the lake. Here we were compelled to remain two nights and a day, without a stick to make a fire, and exposed to the incessant rain, as it was not possible to raise our tents.  In the distance we could perceive our more fortunate companions, who had succeeded in gaining the mainland, comfortably under canvas, with blazing fires; but so terrific was the gale that we dared not venture to leave the shelter of the rock. 

On the 16th, the wind having somewhat abated, we were enabled to join the rest of the party, when the blazing fires and comfortably cooked food soon restored our spirits. Being sufficiently recruited, and the wind being fair, we again embarked, although the lake [he is now speaking of Lake Winnipeg, not Playgreen Lake] was still very rough.

This lake is about 300 miles long, but so shallow, that in high winds the mud at the bottom is stirred up, from which it derives the name of Winnipeg, or Muddy Lake.

I never knew that! His journal continues:

On the present occasion the waves rose so high that some of the men became sick, and we were obliged to put into a lee shore, not being able to find a landing-place. On nearing the shore some of the men jumped into the water and held the boats off, whilst the others unloaded them and carried the goods on their heads through the dashing surf. When the boats were emptied, they were then enabled to drag them up on the beach. Here we were compelled to remain until the 18th, occupying ourselves in shooting ducks and gulls, which we found in great abundance, and which proved capital eating.

The waves having abated on the morning of the 18th, we made an early start, and arrived in the afternoon at the mouth of the Saskatchewan River. The navigation is here interrupted by what is called the Grand Rapid[s], which is about three miles long, one mile of which runs with great rapidity, and presents a continual foamy appearance, down which the boats are able to descend, but in going up are obliged to make a portage.

Here is my blogpost on the Grand Rapids, if you wish to learn more about this dangerous place: 

So the 1846 Express leaves lake Winnipeg on August 18. Edward Ermatinger’s express was at Grand Rapids in early August; as was Thomas Lowe’s. The 1846 express is already running a little late, perhaps, but they were definitely late in arriving at Edmonton House. I don’t know why, but I will try to figure it out as we go. John Rowand is in charge, and so the delays had to have been caused by high waters in the rivers (not unknown), or some other difficulty, such as constant rain or heavy snow that slowed the boats.

Paul Kane’s journal continues:

I was told a story of one of the steersmen of our brigade, named Paulet Paul, who in steering his boat down by an oar passed through a ring in the stern of the boat, fell overboard, from the oar, on which he was leaning with his whole force, suddenly breaking. His great bodily strength enabled him to gain a footing, and to stand against the rapid until the boat following came past, into which he sprang, and urging the men to pull, he eventually succeeded in jumping into his own boat and guiding safely down, thereby saving the valuable cargo, which might have otherwise been lost. He was a half-breed, and certainly one of the finest formed men I ever saw, and when naked, no painter could desire a finer model.

Paulet Paul WAS famous on this river! He was “a giant in stature and strength, beardless but shock-headed and black as Erebus; with a voice like thunder and a manner as blustery and boisterous as March, eyes like an eagle and a pair of fists as heavy and once, at least, as deadly as cannon balls.” He was the Saskatchewan Brigades Guide, circa 1830 to 1855, and he was the champion fighter — the bully — who was challenged on each and every occasion the brigade arrived at any fort along the Saskatchewan brigade’s route. There is a lovely little article about him, that you will find here:

Paul Kane’s journal continues, as the men portage the goods past the Grand Rapids, where I suspect they lost a little more time:

We encamped on the shore, and were obliged to remain here till the third day, for the purpose of getting the goods across [the portage at Grand Rapids], as it required the crews of all the boats to haul each over in succession. There are usually Indians to be met at this portage, who assist the men for a small consideration, but on this occasion they were unfortunately absent. 

August 21st — Embarked in the afternoon, and on the 22nd passed through Cedar Lake, and again entered the Saskatchewan River; the land in the neighbourhood of which is very flat and marshy, innumerable small lakes being scattered over the whole region. We met with nothing worth recording till the 25th, when we arrived at the “Pau,” a Church of England missionary station, occupied by the Rev. Mr. Hunter. He resides in a neat house most brilliantly decorated inside with blue and red paint, much to the admiration of his flock, which consists of only a small band of the same tribe of Indians as are met with about Norway House.

These are the Muskekegon Cree, or Swampy Cree. While at Norway House Paul Kane called them

the Mas-ka-gau tribe, or “Swamp Indians,” so called from their inhabiting the low swampy land which extends the whole way from Norway House to Hudson’s Bay. This race is rather diminutive in comparison with those who inhabit the plains, probably from their suffering often for want of food… Their language somewhat resembled the Cree, but is not so agreeable in sound. 

There are some famous men among the Muskekegon Cree, that I will write about in the later book, “Journeys,” above (which will more likely take a name like Northern Journeys, or something similar). These Muskekegon men are named Mistagan, Paulet Papanakies, and Jeremiah Johnson. I wonder how many of you will know what story these men belong to?

Anyway, Paul Kane has arrived at the Pas, where the mission house stood. This is a very interesting place. This information, from a Physiographic Diagram of this part of the world, found in Historical Atlas of Manitoba, tells us that the land surrounding Cedar Lake and parts west is lacustrine plain, which is very level (like the bottom of a lake). Running in a crooked line through this level land is the Pas Moraine, formed by the frontal edge of a glacier that was fairly stationary. Water dripping off the glacier brought with it gravel and rocks and deposited them in a smooth, raised moraine that rose above the surrounding bogs and swamps. There’s probably a better way to describe this, but what it means, in the end, is that there was solid ground here rather than bog. And that is why some of the first forts on this river were built here; why the Crees always lived here; and why the missionaries also established their mission house here

I will end this here, and when I write the next portion of this Express journey, it will appear here: 

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2020. All rights reserved.