Two Canoes: to Dunvegan

Flintlock Guns, Fort Langley

Flintlock Guns. These are the guns that the hunters used to hunt the animals that were found around the provisioning post of Dunvegan, on the Peace River.

In this post we will continue with Governor Simpson’s journey west by the Peace River. In the last post they stopped at Fort Vermilion, “where we found Mr. Paul Fraser and two men, and here also we got a sumptuous supper of hot moose steaks and potatoes.”

Paul Fraser ended up on the west side of the mountains, and played a role in establishing the brigade trail over the Tulameen Plateau while he was in charge at the Kamloops post. His interesting story is already written here:  

So here is the continuation of Archibald McDonald’s journal, “Peace River.”

Friday, 22nd. Did not start before six am. Left the Keg Creek on our right by ten; Iroquois and Goose Rivers at eleven and twelve. Dined below Wolverine Point and soon after fell in with the canoes sent to the hunters yesterday, who informed us that up to that time nothing had been killed, but that in all probability we should find them with something towards evening, higher up. Accordingly, by seven o’clock, on Point Hangard a l’Eau [shed or outhouse on the water], we found the two with a moose, which our men soon carried from the woods. Encamped. The hunters were well rewarded by notes on the Fort and a little tobacco from ourselves.

This was moose country — at that time, at least. According to Alexander McKenzie who passed through here in 1793, the number of the different kinds of moose, deer, and wood buffalo, was astonishing, with buffalo’s “attended with their young ones that were frisking around them; and it appeared that the elks [moose] would soon exhibit the same enlivening circumstance.” McDonald’s journal continues:

Saturday, 23rd. Were under weigh early. Breakfasted at L’Isle de Landrie. Dined at L’Isle de Perche, and encamped two miles above Battle River. Constant showers since we left the Fort. Men feast well.

Sunday, 24th. Breakfasted below old Fort feu a cheval [the editor could not explain the name of this location]. Here, in former days, Messrs [John] Clarke [then of the HBC] and [Sam?] Black [NWC] had a recontre. Put ashore on a dirty gravelly beech [beach] below Ile de Campement, and at this moment (eleven p.m.) the torrent of rain, with wind and lightening, is tremendous.

Monday, 25th. Stormy morning, did not start before four [am]. Breakfasted at Cadotte’s River. Encamped at the Spring Islands, near Mr. Colin Campbell’s House, early, that ourselves and men may make things a little comfortable and strong after the ducking of last night and this morning. The River in this part seems imbedded in sand-stone rock, which shows on both sides; the sand-stone here and there emitting large columns of black earth [a bituminous mixture or tar-like substance, according to the editor] in [on] the hills above the margin of the rock.

Tuesday, 26th. Mad a move about three [am]. Breakfasted a little below the lost St. Mary’s House, which is nearly opposite Riviere le C—. We all walked along the beach for some distance, from Mr. [Colin] Robertson’s, St. Mary’s, which we passed at eleven am, and which is directly facing [John] Clarke’s original St. Mary’s at the mouth of Smoky River.Dined at an old Fort of Mr. David Thompson’s[??], and encamped at the Six Islands with a freeman called Bastonais, who gave us a little bear’s meat and berries. This is a delightful country, that we have passed through today. Passed through crops of berries, “poires” or sascutum [saskatoon] berries all along the bank of the river.

Wednesday, 17th. Started early so as to arrive at the Fort tonight, in which object we were much assisted by the unusual fine weather, but the breaking of one of our canoes retarded us for some time. Saw a couple of bears at a distance. Towards evening the appearance of half-a-dozen horses convinced us we were near Dunvegan, which we accordingly reached at sunset, and took Mr. Campbell by surprise.

And so we have reached Dunvegan, which is a very important fort to the west side of the mountains, even though it is on the east side. To reach this place these men had to pass a post called McLeod’s Post — a place I am quite interested in. McLeod’s Post was about fifty miles downriver from Dunvegan. Obviously it did not exist in 1828, but it did exist in 1811, and, apparently, in 1817. When I write about this interesting fur trade fort, I will put the post here:

But it is Dunvegan that I am speaking of now. It is Dunvegan that provided the New Caledonia forts with “leather,” that is, animal skins which were used for all sorts of purposes. In 1828, there were many wood buffalo and moose in this territory, and Dunvegan was able to provide Governor Simpson’s expedition with thirteen bags of pemican. In later years, they would not have been able to do that. The animals were hunted out.

Dunvegan was built on the north side of the Peace River, about half way between the Vermilion chutes to the east, and the dramatic Peace River Canyon [near Hudson Hope] to the west. The north bank of the river, where Dunvegan was constructed, was clear, and the fort stood on  level point beneath smooth sloping hills. On the opposite of the river, the banks were thickly wooded, and the slope to the plateau above was steep and not as gentle as the slopes on the north bank of the Peace.

Dunvegan was built by Nor’Wester Archibald Norman McLeod in 1805, and it provided the moose meat and bison provisions to the Athabasca district. It was also an important outpost, where many furs were traded from the Beaver Indians. Dunvegan was built with two bastions and two blockhouses, and its palisades were tall and had sharpened points. It had gates in its north wall, and in its south. 

McLeod left Dunvegan in 1808 and returned to Montreal. In 1816-1817 McLeod returned to the Athabasca district (which is part of my story about McLeod post) — presumably he was on occasion at Dunvegan if not actually posted there. In 1821 the post was taken over by the HBC, along with the rest of the NWC forts on the river. I presume McLeod post was closed down, but Dunvegan, Fort St. John [to the west], and Fort Vermilion remained open and busy.

The animals are the important part of this Dunvegan story. The fort owned horses, which they used to haul provisions into the post. In 1844, in spite of the fact they had a huge problem with wolves, there were 44 horses at the post. When I was researching my York Factory Book, I was interested in discovering whether there was a road from Dunvegan to Lesser Slave Lake, that could have been traveled by horses. There was, but I believe this was in the later days, and this road actually became a part of the old Klondike Trail from Edmonton.But that is in the future.

In the years after 1830, Dunvegan provided the leather supplies to New Caledonia to the west. These supplies were the dressed moose skins, the parchment skins [the parfleches, perhaps], the leather thongs for snares and nets, the pack cords, sinews, and grease. When Dunvegan first began to provide leather supplies to the west, there were still wood bison around the post. After the bad winter of 1830, they were hunted out — shot for provisions! 

As for the moose, by the 1840’s the supply of moose at Dunvegan was also dwindling. The demands for provisions from the west (and from the Athabasca) had exhausted the supply of animals and there were few left. They were so rare, in fact, that by 1849, when Andrew Colvile came through, the Beaver Indians were dying for lack of food. [This information comes from a book titled: A Narrative History of Fort Dunvegan, by Daniel Francis and Michael Payne. You can probably find it in your University library.]

New Caledonia depended on Dunvegan for its supply of leather. In 1835 the leather supplies were delivered to Tete Jaune Cache, via the York Factory Express from Edmonton [Alexander Caulfield Anderson picked it up and returned with it to Fort St. James, enjoying an adventure or two]. I don’t have a lot of information for the other years before 1848, but I will see what I can find from my research in the years before 1858:

In 1848, Donald Manson, who was in charge of New Caledonia at Fort St. James, reported to the Governor: “I am happy to inform you that the furs left in cache by Mr. Fraser fall /46 were all [returned] here safe the following spring, my [means] however, would not admit of having the whole of the leather transported hither at the same time, and consequently a portion of it remained in cache. On the 26th April [1847], Mr. C.T. [Paul] Fraser despatched a Party from hence for this property, but I am sorry to say, they returned without accomplishing their object, stating that they found it impossible to proceed owing to the high state of the water. On the 30th July [1847] Mr. Fraser dispatched a party from here to Dunvegan for our usual supplies, and who, on reaching the Rocky Mountain Portage, most negligently and carelessly lost their boat, by shamefully neglecting to secure her properly at the west end of the Portage, and during their absence the water having risen carried her off and of course dashed her to pieces in the falls & rapids below…”

It seems Manson got his 1848 provisions of leather without difficulty, but the report is difficult to read. In February 1850 Manson reported that: “I am happy to state that Mr. [Charles John] Griffin with the Leather Party arrived here all safe on the 17th November [1849], but neither Packcords or Babiche were received as usual with the Leather, fortunately we had a few pounds of the latter on hand which has enabled me to provide snow shoes and sledges for the Winter duties of the District, not one fathom of packcord is on hand…”

Babiche is a thong made of strips of rawhide, guts, or sinews. They are used for ties or fastenings, snowshoes, snares. 

In 1851, Manson was able to report that: “The Buffalo Robes sent in last fall were received here in good condition pr Arrival of Mr. Wm. Manson [his son] & party from the East side, on the 16th November, and will be of infinite service to our Brigade. If possible, I would feel much obligated indeed, if 200 Parfleches could be sent in next Autumn by the same route, they are much required both for wrapping up the Packs for the transport to Langley and securing the Bales and other pieces on our inward voyage. Formerly the Colvile District furnished this article, but now, Mr. [Alexander Caulfield] Anderson can only procure a sufficiency for his own Brigades and consequently I have had to cover my pieces at Langley with raw hide, which is a very poor substitute and at the same time an expensive one if we consider the market price of hides.”

Hides are the hides of animals, pulled off and salted to preserve them. They are probably then de-haired with brains and eggs, and possibly “bucked” with ash, lye or other product. Then it is scraped on both sides of the skin, until the first skin layer and all fat is removed. Once scraped you have rawhide, which I presume is the “raw hide” Manson mentions above. At this point you either tan it or smoke it [being careful not to set it afire] — or you make a parfleche. Parleche is a rawhide that has been dried after having been soaked in a solution of lye and water to remove the hair. [It is also an object, as a case or pouch, made of such rawhide.] 

In 1853, Simpson wrote to Donald Manson that the indent of Leather would be available at Dunvegan on the 15th September, but it would come from the Saskatchewan. It included 25 dressed buffalo skins for horse appointments. Then he said, “There has always been a wasteful expenditure of leather in New Caledonia, and now that the article is becoming so scarce & expensive, you must devise means to curtail your demands. One way in which you may supply within the district a large proportion of common leather, would be to skin the horses that are killed annually in such numbers in transport &c; the leather is very good & by making use of it, it will be turning even the dead horses to account…” Good heavens! But he’s right. I wonder if they did do that.

In 1855, Manson’s requisition of leather included 250 large dressed Moose Skins, 20 small dressed Moose skins, 200 lbs. strong pack cords, 30 lbs. sinews, 11 bags tallow each 100 lbs., 50 pounds extra large babiche, 30 lbs. fine small Babiche, and provisions to bring the party back from Dunvegan. However in 1856, Manson unhappily reported that only “40 very inferior Moose skins were supplied this District by Peace River last summer, it is unnecessary for me to inform you that this fact will be attended with very, very injurious effects to the fur trade of New Caledonia. Mr. Maxwell who was in charge of Dunvegan, informed Mr. [Peter] Ogden that he could have collected a much larger quantity of Leather had his Outfit been more ample, and this assertion on his part would appear to be correct from the fact that several Moose skins were picked up by our Leather Party from the men of Dunvegan. This small supply of Leather will scarcely be sufficient to furnish the servants of the District with shoes for the year, I trust therefore that, for the benefit of the fur trade, the ensuing years supply may be more ample.”

I think that’s all the information I have on the deliveries of leather from Dunvegan. Leather was an important provision for New Caledonia, as it made clothing and shoes, rain-proof covers for the packs, and ties — in addition to all its other uses. Obviously the New Caledonia brigades suffered when there was a lack of leather supplies. Today people may ask why they did not hunt for their own animals, as moose is found everywhere in the northern part of the province. At that time, they weren’t. Alexander Caulfield Anderson mentioned that in about 1870 the first moose in B.C. was spotted at Fort St. John, I believe. Another writer suggests they came into British Columbia when logging opened up the heavy woods — and that might be true also. 

But they were here. I found mention of an earlier moose [presuming it was a moose] in this same journal. As Governor Simpson and Archibald McDonald reached the future location of Fort George [Prince George], their men shot a chevreuil deer which was about to take to the water. Then, “We landed at a camp on the opposite shore for fresh salmon which we got, and, to our surprise, the greater part of a moose buck just killed.”

To go back to the beginning of this series, see here:

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

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

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