Two Canoes: To Trout Lake

Canoe on a lake in the Okanagan

This is the Okanagan’s Lac Vaseux (Muddy Lake) with canoe.

This, the nineteenth post of this series, is the continuation of Governor Simpson’s journey west to New Caledonia in 1828. The author of the journal is Archibald McDonald, who is coming west to take over the command of the newly-built Fort Langley, on the lower Fraser River. In this series these gentlemen have just made their way through the Peace River Canyon, and are now on the west side of the Rocky Mountains north of McLeod Lake, British Columbia. 

These stories come from the book, Peace River, a Canoe Voyage from Hudson’s Bay to the Pacific, by the late Sir George Simpson [Ottawa: J. Durie & Son, 1872]. 

Saturday 6th [September 1828]. Made an early start [from the west end of the Peace River Canyon], and commenced with the line, which continued, except when we could not help it, till breakfast time. Dine above what is called Pointe Greve de la Grande Prairie…

The editor says this about the above place, “This is the nearest dechiffrement [deciphering, decoding] that I can make of this, another unfortunate French name. Some may say it is of no importance; but it is of importance, in that no traveller here may question our veracity and fidelity. It is truth, not a mere “traveller’s tale” we would give.” I agree: it is important, and so if anyone can translate and identify this place, I would appreciate the information. The word “Greve” probably translates as “strike,” as in grievance, or “to put a strain on.” I think I was correct when I said they were out of the Canyon, as it seems they are on a beach, hauling or “lining” their canoes through rapids or strong currents at the west end of the Peace River Canyon. Although I do not know what damage has been done to this immediate spot by the Site C project, it might be that this place can no longer be identified. Nevertheless, let us continue:

At half past four, fell in with two Indians of the Chincanee [Sikanni] tribe, from which we got a little dried meat. They had beaver which they mean to trade at Trout Lake [McLeod’s Lake]. This tribe is at variance with the Beaver Indians, and do not like to visit the establishments of Peace River. I believe at this moment some of them visit another of the New Caledonia Posts on Connolly’s or Bear’s Lake. They seem to deserve a house [trading house] somewhere, for their country is rich in beaver. A fine encampment today, about two leagues above the two rivers where we saw the Indians. Weather pleasant. 

Connolly’s Lake is today’s Bear Lake (community) and it lies northward of Babine Lake, in the Omineca District. It was built by James Douglas in 1826, and was named by him for his father-in-law, Chief Factor William Connolly. A lot happened in 1826, it seems. As you know, we are following Connolly’s 1826 brigade journal, beginning here:  Yes, all of these threads will overlap and connect with each other at one point or another. 

Sunday 7th. Resumed our journey this morning a quarter before four. Belair’s River on our right at seven. Mounted the Grand Rapid about nine, and breakfasted. Clear Water [Clearwater] River on our left at eleven. Round Island at one p.m. Hill’s Gate in face of rock [the writing is blurred, the editor says] on our right about five. Encamped at Bernard’s [Wicked?] River (named after our guide in consequence of his falling in the river with the Governor this evening) at half past six.

Delicious! Bernard, the Guide, whose job it was to carry the Governor from the canoe to the shore so he would not get wet, fell in the water with his precious lading. These canoes were birch bark: it was always possible that the gentlemen, who may have worn shoes, could put their foot through the delicate shell. More than that, the canoes were so easily damaged the men would not bring them close to shore; instead they held them in deeper water. Hence, the gentleman who wished to keep his feet dry had the voyageurs carry him ashore. We should put a little plaque at this place, if we can figure out which river it is.

The mountains, this afternoon, assume a stupendous appearance. Snow on the summit of several of them. Saw vestiges of Indians along the river, and heard a shot in the afternoon. 

Monday, 8th. Started late. At another Grand Rapid by seven, and at Finlay’s Branch twenty minutes after. 

They are at the place where the Finlay River flows in from the north. Sam Black explored this river in 1824 (his journal is a fabulous read, by the way). The map in Sam Black’s Rocky Mountain Journal, 1824 [London: HBRS, 1955] shows that the Finlay and the Ospika River flow in the north, and the Omineca River is straight ahead. The map does not show the Parsnip River, which flows into the same junction from the south, and which will lead them, via Pack River, to Trout Lake. Trout Lake is McLeod’s Lake, and it seems that even at the time this journal was written, it bore both names at the same time. 

Arrived at the Little Forks about eleven, and encamped on a fine dry beach on the right hand, about the usual time.  In the afternoon, met three more Indians that were at the house (The nearest trading post, “McLeod’s Fort,” ie. McLeod’s Fort on west side of the R. Mts.). They left Mr. Tod and two men there yesterday.

There was another McLeod’s Post on the Peace River, east of the Rockies. That post was named for Archibald Norman McLeod: perhaps this one was, too, but scholars tell us that McLeod was never west of the Rockies. I was always ready to argue this point, but when I discovered the Peace River post existed I finally understood that they were absolutely correct. It cleared up a few stories for me: Peter Skene Ogden was there. And so, too, was Joseph Louis Rondeau, a Canadien who married the sister of my g-g-grandmother Charlot [Beaulieu] Birnie. Let’s continue or we will never arrive at the McLeod’s Lake post:

Tuesday, 9th. Fine day, breakfasted at nine. At La Prairie by one, River la M…[La Malice?] at three, and at the Grand Remou before sunset (Remou, backwater). Encamped about a league above. Saw a number of geese in this part of the river. 

Both Paul Bouche, and Jean Baptiste Bouche, bore the name of “La Malice,” and both were at the Trout Lake post in 1805 with Simon Fraser and John Stuart. They were brothers. Knowing this, I can almost guarantee that this river’s name is La Malice! This information comes from Bruce Watson’s biographies in his Lives Lived West of the Divide

Wednesday, 10th. Passed Point la Cache at seven a.m. Peace River [Parsnip River] diminishing fast, and entered the Black Water Creek [Pack River?] at three p.m., which is very low indeed. Encamped at entrance of Lac la Loche very late.  

There was a little lake before they reached McLeod Lake, which Anderson called Trout Lake on his 1867 Map. Both Trout Lake and the larger McLeod Lake to the south are shown on this map.

Thursday, 11th. Started early. Lake took us half-an-hour this morning. Entered Little River by right hand branch, which is very shoal, and the canoes in consequence hand to be handed over in many places. Saw fresh tracks of two large reindeer [caribou?]. Killed a goose. Put ashore, changed..

The word “changed” meant that they all dressed in their good clothes and voyageur finery, so they could come into the McLeod’s Lake post in style! This was always a tradition of the fur trade, everywhere.

Changed, and breakfasted within 200 yards of the Fort, and just before we entered Trout or McLeod’s Lake. Of course we took Mr. Tod unexpectedly. He and his two men were on short commons, their fishery having been very uncertain through the summer. Baptiste la Pierre dispatched with letters to Stuart’s Lake about noon, and will, in all probability, overtake an Indian that left this in the morning on same message from Mr. Tod.

Baptiste la Pierre was one of the men who traveled west with Governor Simpson. The Mr. Tod, mentioned here, was John Tod, and he was later in charge of the Kamloops post. In his biography of Tod, John Tod: Rebel in the Ranks, Robert C. Belyk wrote this:

On 11 September 1828, Simpson and his party reach McLeod Lake where Tod and his two assistants, Joseph Letendre and Louis Gagnon, were taken by surprise. The three were facing a difficult time — last year’s supply of salmon had been exhausted and there was little to eat. Simpson, in a later dispatch to London, declared what he had observed at Fort McLeod: “Its compliment [sic] of people… we found starving, having had nothing to eat for several weeks but berries, and whose countenances were so pale and emaciated that it was with difficulty I recognized them.” 

Of course, we cannot put a plaque where Governor Simpson fell into the river, nor can we identify “Point Greve a la Grande Prairie.” I thought these places might have been damaged by the Site C dam — but all the land spoken of in this post is ALREADY under water: drowned by the Williston Reservoir behind the W.A.C. Bennett Dam. Parsnip River is not longer a river but a reach, and fortunately this “reach” will bring a canoeist to the last little bit of the Pack River — NOTHING ELSE REMAINS. Dams make me really sad, when I realize how much history is buried by the water they store.

When the next thread in this series is posted it will appear here:

When the next Governor Simpson post is written, it will be here:

To go back to the beginning of this Two Canoes series, click here:

And to go back to the last Governor Simpson/Archibald McDonald post in this series, go here:

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