Two Canoes: The Peace River

Canoe on a lake in the Okanagan

This is the Okanagan’s Lac Vaseux (Muddy Lake) with canoe — not the Peace River nor anywhere near it. 

So Governor George Simpson has reached Fort Chipewyan, on Athabasca Lake, on his way west via the Peace River in 1828. His traveling companion is Archibald McDonald, who is on his way to Fort Langley on the Lower Fraser River. Take a look at a map — is this not a circuitous route to Fort Langley? Indeed it is, and that is what makes it so interesting for B.C. historians!

Let us continue:

Thursday, 14th [August]. Constant rain again the whole of this forenoon, and could not start before half past twelve. Mr. [William] McGillivray embarks with the Doctor [Hamlyn], and I have the honor of taking a place with the Governor in his canoe. Our departure from Fort Chipwyan [sic] — the grand emporium of the North in days of yore — was as imposing as the firing of guns, heavy cheers from master and men on the rocks, and the waving of flags, and songs in abundance on our part, could make it. Left at two — on our right, English Island, where Mr. Peter Fidler formerly built, and whose chimnies [sic] still stand. At three o’clock entered the small river whose current at present is with us. Dined. The evening threatening a violent storm, to make the best of it we encamped early at the end of this portage that leads to the House [Fort Chipewyan] in winter.

In 1806, the HBC’s Peter Fidler built Nottingham House, close to the NWC post of Fort Chipewyan on Athabasca Lake. His story is told in J. G. MacGregor’s book, Peter Fidler: Canada’s Forgotten Surveyor [McClelland and Stewart, 1966].

Friday 15th — Watch was again regularly kept. Got under weigh at three. Fell into Peace River in an hour after, and which of course, we now ascend. Breakfasted a little below Point Providence.

The editor notes: “The names of places in the manuscript are sometimes difficult to make out; this is one.” I did find Peace Point on Google Earth, which might be the same place: however, there are so many points along the river that any one of these places might be Providence Point.

Beach muddy and dirty, and of which, I understand, we shall have abundance before we reach Dunvegan. I believe that it was from this point that most of the party sent down from the falls [Mountain Fall] by Mr. Clarke [late Chief Factor John Clarke of Montreal] perished in 1815, on their way to Fort Wedderburn.

I have already written about this story, and it is found here:

Weather pretty fine today. A solitary swan, the only game in the course of this day’s march, passed us. It received eight or ten shots from us, but to no purpose, Encamped on Isle de Platre. [So called probably, from the plastery nature of the soil].

Saturday, 16th. Made a move at two. Breakfasted on a small island where Mr. John George McTavish was taken by the ice in the fall of 1818. Jack Fish Creek on our right at noon. John’s house nearly opposite. Saw two or three flocks of geese, but killed none. Two Cree families encamped on the island below Grande Marie. Gave us nothing.

John George McTavish taken by the ice in fall of 1818? McTavish was, of course, a Nor’Wester, and until 1816 he worked in the Columbia at Spokane House. However Governor Simpson, who knew McTavish well, appears to know this about him. Did he go to New Caledonia, perhaps? I suppose he might have, but not according to Bruce Watson in his book, Lives Lived West of the Divide.

I did find “Jack Fish Creek” however, and it is now called Jack Fish River, and you can find it on Google Earth! I stumbled on a good google earth map of this area by googling “Wabasca River,” and clicking on the page that had “” as a link. There is a Google Earth map there, and you can virtually-paddle up and down the Peace River!

Sunday, 17th. Soon after starting, came to another camp of Crees of ten or twelve lodges; they had nothing but a few scraps of very indifferent meat, which we paid for three-fold in tobacco. Breakfasted above Mr. McTavish’s House. Light showers all day. Could distinctly see the Cariboo Mountains at a distance, to our right. Killed a couple of young geese. Early to-night the Northern Lights have been seen to very great advantage, often a complete arch from east to west of the most brilliant columns sprang up, and as often dispersed.

The Caribou Mountains acted as the Northern boundary of the Athabasca District, according to the editor of this book, and it was more a low range of hills running east/west, than a mountain range. It was also called the Deer Mountains, which makes sense.

Monday, 18th — Breakfasted below Cariboo River, which we left on our right about noon. At. three, passed Wolf Point. A few minutes before we arrived at the Falls, left Red River on our left. Made portage at six, and at the upper carrying place arrived with canoes, baggage and all, not before eight, where we found the recent encampment of Beaver Indians. The Fall [called the Mountain Fall, and also Grand Falls] is a grand sheet of water, about half a mile across, and perhaps ten or fifteen feet high. Last of men’s rum finished today.

The editor of the book says of the Grand Falls: “These are the only “Falls” in the course of the river from beyond the other side of the Rocky Mountains, and the only place throughout the whole of it, at which a canoe had to be taken out of the water, in so far as appears from Mr. McDonald’s narrative, or any account of the route that I ever came across or read, or heard allusion to. These “Falls” are about 220 miles from the mouth of Peace River.” I did find them on Google Earth and they are massive, and are today called the “Vermilion Chutes.”

Tuesday, 19th — Breakfasted opposite Loon River, below the English old house built by Halcro. Three hours after that, passed Colvile House, then Mr. Clarke’s Point, and after that, about four o’clock, Boyer’s River, Upper Cariboo River, and Old Fort Liard, all in succession on our right. Encamped early on a fine high bank. In the course of the day the foreman of the second canoe was called to account for not keeping up with the other, which seems to have had the effect of spurring them on the remainder of the day. This, besides another, is the only fine day throughout that we have had since leaving Norway House.

Wednesday, 20th — Started early. Breakfasted above big Pointe de Roche, and dined near the little point of the same name, near old Fort de Tremble. At the C—- by six; Long Island, which is half way to the House, about eight; and did not arrive at Fort Vermilion before ten, where we found Mr. Paul Fraser and two men, and here also we got a sumptuous supper of hot moose steaks and potatoes.

Thursday 21st — Remain here all day, which gives the men an opportunity of refreshing themselves. This by far the finest day but one since we left Norway House. In addition to which, we have had the good chance to find the greatest part of a fresh moose here, which, with the acquisition of Potatoes affords them (the men) a delicious meal. Sent the interpreter and a young half-breed up the river to the Fort hunters requesting that they may have an animal or two for us tomorrow evening. In the afternoon, three of the Beaver Indians came in and were amused at everything they saw about us, the doctor’s percussion gun, and our various musical instruments. They seem to have good gardens here, in potatoes and barley.

The musical instruments on this journey are interesting: Colin Fraser was here with his bagpipes. Someone else came west with his trumpet, as you will see when we arrive at Fort St. James. There were almost certainly fiddles here, which the men would have been playing in their free time. The combination of musical instruments may not have been harmonious, but they were definitely here!

It is probably time to end this blogpost. I thought we would make it the whole way along the Peace River but we are only halfway up, and still have some distance to go! They are traveling against the flow of the river, of course, and so that slows them down.

WordPress is having problems again, and while I have a good map to add to this I cannot do it, as they think I am leaving the site without saving what I have just written. (They do this on occasion, and they will fix themselves in a day or so). However, if you want to see a good Peace River map which is interactive, you can google “Discover the Peace Country,” and find it for yourself.

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

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

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2016. All rights reserved.

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