Two Canoes: West from Dunvegan

Furs at HBC replica fort at Fort Langley, B. C.

This selections of furs is displayed at Fort Langley, but the same furs would be found at any HBC fort in the territory.

So, in 1828, Governor George Simpson, and his companion Archibald McDonald, have arrived at the important Dunvegan post, on the Peace River. It is almost the end of August, and these men are heading west toward the New Caledonia. It seems a long way round, but this was the old route into New Caledonia and many men paddled up this river to the Rocky Mountain Portage.

The men spent the day at Dunvegan, as Archibald McDonald reported in his now-published journal, Peace River: A Canoe Voyage from Hudson’s Bay to Pacific [Ottawa: J. Durie & Son, 1872].

Thursday 28th [August]. We remain here for the day, allowing the men to recruit: but unfortunate it is, that there is at this moment no fresh meat at the place, and that we can only make up for the deficiency, in good dried meat for them. But as animals are very numerous in the neighbourhood, the Indian hunters were dispatched this morning to make what havoc they can amongst them. The two men of the Fort, with the assistance of our own, made thirteen bags of pemmican, enough with what we had on hand, to start with on our voyage, and we trust at the same time to the success of the hunters for a little more. We mean to start tomorrow.

There were many animals on this river at this time. Sir Alexander McKenzie used this route on his way to the west coast in May 1793, and he wrote “At this time, the buffaloes were attended with their young ones that were frisking around them; and it appeared that the elks would soon exhibit the same enlivening circumstance. The whole country displayed an exuberant verdure; the trees that bear a blossom were advancing fast to that delightful appearance…” In another place he described the river banks as resembling a “cattle yard.” In the early years there was a wealth of animals on this river, and it would be the provisioning post for New Caledonia for another forty years. McDonald’s journal continues:

This establishment was abandoned in the fall of 1824, in consequence of the death of Mr. Guy Hughes and four men at St. Johns in the fall of 1823, and Fort Vermilion alone was kept in Peace River… Dunvegan was re-established by Mr. Campbell.  

Simpson and McDonald were wrong in their statements here: Dunvegan was in operation in 1824-25 and the journal is actually in the Hudson’s Bay Company archives. It was abandoned in June 1825, and re-established by Colin Campbell in the summer of 1828. The murder of Guy Hughes and four men had occurred at Fort St. John in November 1823. Hughes was murdered on November 2, and on the following day four of the Company’s men were murdered as they arrived at the post. The reason: the Beaver Indians had learned of the HBC’s intention to remove the post to the Rocky Mountain Portage, and they also believed that Guy Hughes had caused an Indian boy’s death with “bad medicine.” The journal continues:

Friday 29th. The hunters returned late last night with a moose, but being less than the quantity expected, we take an additional two bales of meat… Had an early breakfast, and after taking leave of the new Chief Trader, we took our departure in three canoes; the third canoe we bring the length of the portage, finding that we would be too much encumbered in the two canoes. Saw several bears in the course of the day, and we also fancied we saw the buffalo, Killed nothing. Raining most of the afternoon. Encamped early below the islands without name. 

Saturday 30th. Made an early start. Strong current all day. Weather very fine. Great appearance of beaver. Saw several lodges in main river. Bears numerous along the hills, one crossed the river before us, but gained the shore before we could be at him. Breakfasted in front of a hill on main river, to which it is said, the Red Deer [elk] is peculiar in this quarter. Encamped at La Greve near the river. 

I wonder what the history of this site was: Greve means grievance: I thought it might be connected with the George McDougall story here:  However I think that happened too far to the east to be the cause of the naming of this place. If anyone knows the story, let me know. [It may also have something to do with James Murray Yale, see below]. The editor has no explanation for this name.

Sunday 31st. Breakfasted on Pemican Island, and dined about 500 yards below Fort d’Epinette (Pine Post): near the same distance above it, the same side, is Riviere d’Epinette (Pine River), a stream of some size. Encamped within a short distance of Mr. [James Murray] Yale’s House on the left hand. Did not land at St. John’s w[h]ere the people were murdered. Saw the houses and a cross or two on the beach. About five o’clock spoke [to] two Indians of the beaver tribe, with their families, from whom we obtained some berries and a little bear’s meat: a third Indian belongs to the band, and according to the information of the others was out hunting today but we apprehend that to be a “fitch,” and that he made it a point to be off with himself as we landed, being in some degree involved in the mystery attending the murder. His name is Sancho. He was much enraged at Mr. [Sam] Black for taking away one of his wives a few days prior to the sanguinary deed; was present when the Indians fired at Messrs. Black and Henry’s canoes going off from St. John’s, and is, at all events, the brother of the two Indians that have not been seen since, and are universally charged as the murderers. Those we saw, seemed good Indians. For the most they gave us, they had notes on the Fort. 

Oh, my, here is another story to follow up on! Sam Black and Donald Manson explored the Finlay River in 1824, so I wonder if this story will appear in Black’s Rocky Mountain Journal, 1824 [London: Hudson’s Bay Record Society], which I will have to re-read! I also think that someone else mentioned something about this — I thought it was John McLeod Sr., but it appears not. My apologies if I don’t get the story in here: I have a virus, which I have suffered from for over a week, and I am not feeling very brilliant at the moment! 

Monday, September 1st. Started at half past three. At five passed the Grande Fourche [Fork] which we had on the left. Breakfasted below the Red Stone Rock, on the same side. Doctor [Hamlyn] and myself ashore today, and had much misery. River D__ on right. Riviere la Petite Tete, on same side at five. Camped at seven. Current strong. Fine dry day. Saw many beaver lodges in the morning. Through the night they [the beaver] were working and plunging in the river. Our canoe from Dunvegan goes very indifferently.

Tuesday 2nd. Thick morning. Fired, but to no purpose, at four red deer this morning. Left another Grand Fourche on the right. Breakfasted one point above Riviere Maligne. Dined on Ile de Pierre. Soon after had a glance of the Rocky Mountains a few leagues off. Current not so strong today. Arrived at the portage at five. Immediately, eight men with the two canoes proceeded by water, and with the remaining ten we made the first pose [pause, or resting place] of the portage with something like forty pieces. Encamped on the first fine level above the water, and have the old Mountain House right opposite on the south side. Near where we landed, the rocks in several places, poured out spouts of water as if coming from the mouth of a gun.

As far as I can tell, they are at the lower end of the Rocky Mountain Portage. In reading ahead a bit, it sounds like a horrendous passage, and so I will leave it to the next post. In his report, Governor Simpson had little to say of the actual portage, but he did say this:

Having completed my business at Fort Chipewyan, I renewed my journey on the 14th of August, reached Vermillion on the 20th, rested there the 21st, got to Dunvegan on the 17th, remained there the 28th, and arrived at McLeod’s Lake on the 11th of September. Peace River estimated at about 1000 Miles in length, occupying 29 Days in mounting its steady current, and leading us through a vast extent of country, remarkable for the beauty and grandeur of its scenery, the fertility of its Soil, the number of its vegitable [sic] productions, the variety of its mineral appearances and for what to Indian Traders is beyond all its other properties and characteristics peculiarly interesting, its riches in Beaver and other Fur bearing animals. 

It is a beautiful river, and I hope it can be saved. The British Columbia government is building the Site C dam on their portion of the river, and everything along the historic Peace is being logged off, dug up, and destroyed. But this is a fur trade route, and many of our ancestors traveled on this river on their way into New Caledonia. To the Natives, this is also an important river — their long time home. We hope that what is left can be protected and preserved, and that the dam does not get built.

The next post in this series is a John Work post, at

The next Governor Simpson post is published:

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Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2017. All rights reserved.