Two Canoes: West from Norway House

The Flintlock gun

The Voyageur and his flintlock gun

In this post we will follow John Work and Peter Skene Ogden, as they make their way from Norway House, on Playgreen Lake, toward Cumberland House on the Saskatchewan River. In the second half of this post, we follow Archibald McDonald and Governor George Simpson, as they leave Norway House and make their way across the top of Lake Winnipeg to the Saskatchewan River. To Cumberland House the route is the same as that traveled by the incoming Saskatchewan brigades to Edmonton House, led by John Rowand. But both these parties are traveling in canoes, not York Boats, as the Saskatchewan brigades did. Governor Simpson always traveled in the best and fastest canoes, and used the best and most experienced voyageurs as his paddlers. On the other hand, John Work is a passenger in the traditional canoe brigades that the men who worked west of the Rocky Mountains still used.

From: John Work, Journal July 19 to October 25, 1823, A/B/40/W89.1A, BCA:

“Monday 28 [July]. Cloudy blowing fresh from the Southard. Embarked at N[orway] House about 12 o’clock and proceeded on our journey, but had not proceeded more than 20 miles, part of the way under sail, when the sea [Lake Winnipeg] became so rough that we were obliged to put ashore, a good while before sunset, and stop for the night. From the supplies of provisions and other things which we took on board at N. House our canoes are much deeper laden and more lumbered than before.”

I really enjoy John Work’s use of words, for example: “weighty,” and “lumbered.”

“Tuesday 29. Wind S.W. and blowing fresh till towards evening when it became more moderate. Blew a storm in the night with thunder and weighty rain. The sea was so rough and the surf breaking so high along the shore, that we could not safely start and were obliged to stop all day.

“Wednesday 30. Cloudy. Wind variable. The weather having become moderate we embarked at 4 o’clock and made a pretty good days work. The wind was favourable a short time when we availed ourselves of the sails, but it shortly became ahead when we again had recourse to the paddles. One of the men Antoine Bonuefant, was missing in the morning when we were going to embark. On examination, after he could not be found, it was ascertained that he had taken his blanket and bag besides some pemican, this convinced us that the fellow had deserted. He had shown no signs of discontent beforehand. He had about 20 miles to walk to Norway House. Seeking after him detained us some time in the morning.

“Thursday 31. Embarked at 4 o’clock with a head wind the weather being cloudy and blowing fresh from the S.W. with some weighty showers of rain. We crossed the Grand Rapid at Noon and reached the Cross Lake at half past 4 o’clock, when it was blowing so fresh and such a heavy swell that we were obliged to encamp for the night not being able to proceed. From the Grand Rapid the water [in the Saskatchewan River] is very high and the current very strong.”

John Work and Peter Skene Ogden have now entered the Saskatchewan River and have made their way across the Grand Rapid portage to Lac Traverse. It is quite a long stretch of river yet to Cumberland House, and so Lac Traverse, also known as Cross Lake, is a very good place to stop. The lake was given its name because it ran north-south across the flow of the Saskatchewan River, and it was easier to cross (or traverse) the lake, rather than follow its convoluted shoreline to the mouth of the Saskatchewan River on the west side of the lake. But it could be a treacherous lake, even for the York Boats, as you see above.

Fur trade research can be really complicated [though always fun], and it is interesting to note that the editor of Simpson’s 1828 Journey to the Columbia [London, HBRS, 1947] identifies the man named Dease, who greeted Governor Simpson at Norway House, as “Peter Warren Dease, who had just completed the work of superintending the commissariat in John Franklin’s second expedition to the Arctic.” I had presumed that it was Peter but was challenged on that presumption, and found that his brother, John Warren Dease, went out with the 1828 York Factory Express. He, too, could have been at Norway House in 1828. I have no incoming journal for that year, and so I cannot confirm when the Columbia Express [the incoming York Factory Express] was at Norway House. Perhaps someone who knows more about Peter Warren Dease than I know can let me know if it was him, or his brother. Thanks.

Or perhaps someone who has read the Norway House Post Journals for that year can give me that information. It seems they exist, as a footnote in the book, Simpson’s 1828 Journey to the Columbia, has this information about Governor Simpson’s stay at Norway House:

B.154/a/16, Norway House Post Journals, Saturday July 19, 1828, “.. About 6 OClock P.M. Governor Simpson accompanied by Archd McDonald Esquir & Doctor Hamlin arrived in 2 Canoes on his way to the Columbia.” Ibid., Sunday, July 20, 1828, “Very heavy rain & Blowing hard. The Govr. did not go to bed all night. Set up writing untill daylight. The Governor Started after breakfast…

So, here we go with Archibald McDonald’s Journal of his voyage to the Pacific with Governor George Simpson in 1828. This was a very important journey for those who worked west of the Rocky Mountains, but you won’t understand that until I reach the West. The journey made a difference to Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s life on the west side of the Rockies, as is told in my book, The Pathfinder: A.C. Anderson’s Journeys in the West.

From: Peace River, A Canoe Voyage from Hudson’s Bay to Pacific in 1828, edited with notes by Malcolm McLeod and published in 1872;

“Sunday 20th [July]. Blowing fresh last night and this morning, with occasional showers of rain. Did not start before eleven a.m. Took in the following stores here: viz: 23 1/2 lbs. cheese, 13 lbs. hyson tea, 1 lb. mustard, 84 lbs. ham, 4 one gallon kegs port wine, 3 one gallon kegs of madeira, 21 lbs. butter, 2 casks biscuit (fine and common), each 56 lbs., 1 keg port wine, 1 keg spirits for the men, and left the two [kegs] borrowed from L’Esperance’s boats on the 15th. The canoes, between them, had two bags pemican, two bags flour, and a keg of pork from the Governor’s stores, besides a few little necessaries for the use of the canoes. Strong head wind in the Play Green Lake. Arrived at Warren’s Point at four p.m, but cannot commence the “Big Lake” [Lake Winnipeg].”

Very few of those fancy provisions listed above were meant for the men who did all the work of paddling the canoes, as you can imagine!

“Monday, 21st. Weather moderate. Got under weigh about 4 a.m. There was a little wind, rather ahead all day; still we got the length of the first Limestone Point.” At the top of Lake Winnipeg, on its northwest shore, there is a large bay, called Limestone Bay, which is protected by a long bar made of gravel and stones tossed there by the dangerous winds from the south. The very tip of this stony bar is called Limestone Point. Just south of its location is McIntosh Island, and south again is Eagle Island, which was mentioned in James Douglas’s 1835 York Factory Express journals. Because the name-places have stayed the same over the years, it is very easy to track where these men are!

“Tuesday 22nd. Wind continued ahead. Got to mouth of river [Saskatchewan] for breakfast by nine. Got everything to the upper end of the Grand Rapid by about three p.m., where we remained about an hour, drying everything we had, which had undergone a complete soaking for the space of two hours’ incessant rain, while ascending the rapid. Traded a few pieces fresh sturgeon from the Freeman for a little tobacco, besides a note to one of them, Thomas, for pork. Mounted the Upper Rapids [Red Rock Rapids]. Got over Cross Lake, and encamped at the head of Cross Lake Rapids.”

We will pause here, and we have reached the same place that John Work and Peter Skene Ogden reached in the first journal in this post. Governor Simpson had a few things to say about this part of the journey, which appear in a letter he wrote from Fort Vancouver almost a year later, in March 1829. The letter is written to the Gentlemen of the London Committee of the HBC.

Honable Sirs;

Previous to my departure for the East side the [Rocky] Mountains, I consider it expedient to report for your information the state in which I found the Honble Coys affairs at the different Establishments I passed on my way hither from York, as also in this Department; the steps that have been taken to place them on an improved footing and the measures contemplated for extending the business: all which, I trust will prove interesting and satisfactory to your Honors, and serve to shew that not only my own attention, but that of all the Gentlemen to whose management the different branches of the business are intrusted, is entirely devoted to the advancement of the general interests.

The counciling business, and principle arrangement of the Season, which required my presence at York [Factory], being completed on the 11th of July, I commenced my Voyage for the Shores of the Pacific on the Morning of the 12th, and reached Norway House on the 19th and Cumberland House on the 26th. Nothing of material interest presented itself during this part of the journey. So far we saw very few Vestiges of Beaver, indeed the Country comprehending Jack River [Norway House] and Cumberland Districts, has been nearly destitute of that valuable animal for many years…

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


One thought on “Two Canoes: West from Norway House

  1. Jackie Corrigan

    Ah, so the Dease question isn’t solved yet. The Norway House journals are at Manitoba Archives, so I will check that out soon. Will definitely let you know what I find.