Two Canoes: To the North River

North Thompson River

The North Thompson river at Little Fort, B.C., where the HBC men used to cross their brigades

With a little luck and lots of hard work, my book, The HBC Brigades: Culture, Conflict and the Perilous Journeys of the Fur Trade, will be published by Ronsdale Press in May, 2024. You may order or pre-order the book here: 

In our twenty-fifth post in this Two Canoes series, we will bring Governor George Simpson across the Fraser Plateau to the “North” River, and Kamloops. Let’s see how far we get in this blogpost: we might not make it all the way.

On Saturday, September 25th, 1828, Simpson and his companions — “four of ourselves, five men besides Indians, and five loaded horses,” rode away from Fort Alexandria and camped on the second little stream south of Fort Alexandria. The “four of ourselves” are: Governor Simpson, Archibald McDonald, Colin Fraser (later of Jasper’s House), and Dr Richard Julien Hamlyn. Also traveling with them, and completely invisible, is Governor Simpson’s “bit of brown,” Margaret Taylor. Their son, George Stewart Simpson, would in later years accompany the 1848 brigade into the interior, keeping a journal that details the difficulties that the incoming brigade journey pushed through. That story is in my first book, The Pathfinder, and also in my next book about the Brigades themselves.

So, let’s begin:

Sunday, 28th [September]. Had our horses collected early, and were on the move a little before six. Passed the last of the two steep [ravines] about eight. In a few minutes the canoes hove in sight, put ashore, and breakfasted with us at half past eight, at what is called “Head of Rapids;” distance from House, twenty miles.

The canoes were those that carried James Murray Yale and his party downriver to the junction of Thompson’s River with the Fraser, as mentioned in the last Simpson post  

I would have said that the head of the rapids was at Soda Creek, but I am not familiar with this country — or at least not familiar enough, obviously. If Current Creek is today’s Soda Creek, then they camped near or north of the town of McAllister. However, James Gibson says that the “Head of the Rapids was at Soda Creek, at the mouth of the Current River, so this is confusing. At first I thought they might have gone downriver  from Soda Creek, as far as Chimney Creek, and then over to San Jose River via Brunson Lake and Felker/Chimney Lakes, but that doesn’t make sense either. We can all argue about this: and someone else can figure it out. That is the point of my asking these questions.

Anyway, let us continue. I will take a good guess at where they are, but will not always be certain of their location.

Governor very unwell. He embarked with Mr. Yale, to accompany him to the division of the roads, three or four leagues [say, twelve miles or 20 km] lower down. Here [McLeese Creek?] we left the river at two. Encamped at four on Current River [Soda Creek?], which falls into the main stream within two miles of first small Lake [Duckworth Lake?]. Athna Chief with us: he came from “Le Barge,” since Yale passed.

Yes, he said “Athna,” and yes, he said “Le Barge.” Later HBC men called the place The Barge. It was a large Indigenous village on the banks of the Fraser, forty miles south of Fort Alexandria. James Gibson’s book, The Lifeline of the Oregon Country, has Current River as Soda Creek (with a question mark), so these men camped, on their first night out, twenty kms north of Soda Creek, as far as I can see. You see why I am getting confused! It might help a lot if I knew where Fort Alexandria was built in 1821 — and I don’t.

Monday, 29th — Gregoire, who came with us to last nights’ encampment, returned [to Fort Alexandria] in the morning with a few spare horses we had from the Fort. The Athna Chief had a note for a small present from Mr. McDougall [both George and James were at Fort Alexandria]. Started at six. Passed two little rivers during the morning, and breakfasted on main stream at eleven. Resumed the journey at one, when we immediately crossed, and re-crossed in an hour after. Continued on North side. Another little river at two. A Lake, half a mile, at three. Encamped at four within a league of Long Lake [Lac la Hache?]. Governor still unwell. Road very good indeed. Killed a few ducks.

Tuesday, 30th [and also Wednesday, October 1st — so this is a two day journey, which helps explain how they made such a distance]. — Off this morning at five, having the horses in camp before daylight. Reached end of Lake [Lac la Hache?] at eight. Crossed to south in fifteen minutes. Came to an ordinary encampment on small river running from a Lake about half a mile round, but did not stop; continued for an hour longer, main river vanished. Breakfasted at Salt Lake, which afforded ourselves and horses but shocking bad water. Near this place had a chase after a large grizzly bear which soon took to the woods. Point of the woods took us an hour, and in another we arrived at a large stream which flowed to the left. [Bridge Creek]. Crossed it immediately at beaver dam about one o’clock, and continued on North bank for three hours, which brought us to another lake [Horse Lake], a mile of which we made this evening, and encamped before a heavy shower came on. The river we came along today has all the appearance of beaver, fresh. Dams are all over it. Course, for the last two and a half days S.E. Governor much better, eight. Breakfast at half past nine on main river. Off again about noon. Came to another Lake [Bridge Lake] at two. Encamped at the other end at half-past four. In woods whole of afternoon. Tom killed a goose. While struggling with his horse, Doctor Hamlyn had his gun entangled, and his shot accidentally went off without doing any harm to those before him.

This is the incident for which Dr. Hamlyn seems to be best remembered. Bruce McIntyre Watson says of him, in Lives Lived West of the Divide, that “During the journey he was the object of ridicule by the tougher fur traders who noted that he slept on his watch, complained endlessly of the portages, and yearned for the days at York Factory. At another point in the journey he wanted a war party to strike at the Babines as one of them had offended him.” When he arrived at Fort Vancouver in October, he took up his medical position but argued with John McLoughlin, who felt that he was not doing his job well. You will find him mentioned in this blogpost: 

Thursday, 2nd [October]– Wind and rain during night. Started at usual time. First half of road, good, along a chain of small lakes, but the last part was hilly and rocky. Came to a small Lake half a mile long, and breakfasted. The lakes to-day seem still water.

The small lake might be Muddy Lake, or Wilson Lake. Might.

The afternoon journey was a gradual ascent on what is called the Mountain. Here also passed several small ponds and a number of swamps, that must be “very bad going” in spring and very soft weather. Encamped at height on a little M… between two little lakes. Governor quite recovered. Journey very pleasant.

Below you will find the only journal I have seen that makes light work of the descent of the “Mountain.” The made this journey in early October of what was apparently a relatively dry year. The HBC men generally descended the “mountain” in spring, and so had a much more difficult time!

Friday, 3rd — Started at six. Began to descend about eight, continued so for a whole hour coming down to the first small stream at foot, which we crossed, and in an hour more got to the traverse of North River [at or near Little Fort, B.C.]. Here we found Lolew, the Kamloops Interpreter, who left a canoe and two men from the Fort a little below this, early in the morning. Laprade arrived with the canoe about noon. In about an hour after, the horses, alone, and most of the men, crossed, and continued the journey on the other side over a piece of very bad road: ourselves with three men and the baggage embarked at three, after an harangue with the few Indians there, and got to the proposed encampment in two hours, where the land party joined us soon after. Cinnitza, the Chief, stopped with us, and had an order for a small present at the Fort. Our course in this river is south, and will be so, it is said, until we arrive at Kamloops, River pretty large, and no strong rapid.

Fort? Did they stop at or near modern-day Barriere, and was there a fort there at that time? Perhaps he is speaking of Kamloops here — as far as I am aware, there was no fort at Barriere (or anywhere else along the North Thompson) at this time [1828]. However, I know someone who follows me, who will soon answer that question!

Lolew is, of course, Jean-Baptiste Leolo, “a free-spirited, independent and talented figure in the New Caledonia region.” [Bruce Watson, Lives Lived West of the Divide]. Oh, and the harangue was a tradition in the fur trade, which I will probably speak of when we get to Kamloops.

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

When the next post in the Governor Simpson’s journey is written, it will be found here: 

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

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2018. All rights reserved.

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