Two Canoes: West from Oxford House


The Flintlock gun

The Voyageur and his flintlock gun

I am finding the journals of these two canoe journeys very interesting, and so will continue this thread a little sooner than I might otherwise have done. It is fascinating to know that women often traveled in these canoes, and in the York Boats. Are they ever mentioned? No.

From John Work’s 1823 Journal, we begin the voyage from Oxford House, continuing the journey up the Hayes River. I like the words that John Work uses. “Weighty,” and later [not in this post], “Thickety.” He was Irish. Does that account for his use of these unusual words, I wonder?

Thurs 24 [July]. Weighty rain in the morning. Wind S.W. Embarked early and encamped at night at the Hill Portage. We were kept greatly back by a strong head wind. Got a supply of Pemican for the men at Oxford.

July 1823. Friday 25. Cold foggy weather in the morning, cloudy warm afterwards. Blowing fresh part of the day from the S.W. Embarked at 3 o’clock in the morning and reached the Hen Rocks in the Echimamish River where we encamped for the night. We were kept back a good deal by a strong head wind part of the day. We were also delayed some time repairing the dam in the Echimamish. Notwithstanding these delays we made a good days work.

Saturday 26. Cloudy. Some weighty showers of rain. Wind S.E. Embarked at 3 o’clock in the morning and reached the Playgreen Lake in the afternoon, when Mr. [Peter Skene] Ogden and [John Lee] Lewes took a man out of my canoe and went on ahead to reach the Fort before dark. I encamped for the night about five miles from Norway House.

Sunday 27. Light clouds fine weather. Winds easterly. Embarked early this morning and arrived at Norway House a little after Sun Rising, some hours before any of the gentlemen got up. Mr. Ogden & Lewes arrived near dark yesterday evening. I was employed the afterpart of the day writing letters. The men employed in repairing the canoe.

John Work arrived at the old Norway House, which stood on Mossy Point, where Warren Landing is now. This fort would burn down a few years later and be replaced by a new post on the Jack River, where the men in the journal below would arrive. Here is what Governor George Simpson had to say of his journey upriver from York Factory to new Norway House in 1828. He is, of course, traveling with Archibald McDonald, whose journal we will read at the bottom of the page. Simpson said this:

The councilling business, and principal arrangement of the Season which required my presence at York, being completed on the 11th of July; I commenced my Voyage for the Shores of the Pacific on the Morning of the 12th, reached Norway House on the 19th and Cumberland House on the 26th. Nothing of material interest presented itself during this part of the Journey… [Simpson’s 1828 Journey to the Columbia, [London: Hudson’s Bay Record Society,] p.3-4].

Now we can follow Archibald McDonald’s Journals, from the book: Peace River, a Canoe Voyage from Hudson’s Bay to Pacific [Ottawa: J Durie & Son, 1872]. Interestingly, the man who edited this book is son of the man [John McLeod Sr.] who built new Norway House in 1826-7.

Thursday 17th [July 1828]. The Governor pushed on [from Oxford House], and we remained for the space of two and a half hours, sewing in two large pieces [of birch bark, into the damaged canoe]. Came up with the other canoe opposite Nine Mile Island at half-past-ten. Each of us en passant took a little flour at Oxford House for the men, and exchanged the York Factory pemican, which was very bad indeed, for better. Got to Wippimpanish at half-past five. Head wind on the Lake. Encamped late near Windy Lake.

The experiment of yesterday having proved that the Governor’s canoe was not only better manned, but also a better going craft, he exchanged two good hands for two inferior ones, and throughout the whole of this day’s journey, the two canoes seem to go much alike.

Friday 18th. Did not start before half-past two. Got to Hill Portage [Hill’s Gates] at half-past five, left at six, and reached the White Fall [Robertson’s/Robinson’s Falls] a quarter before ten, when we made rather a late breakfast. Dried our tents, &c, here. Left the upper end a little before noon, and arrived at the Painted Stone by three o’clock. The water was low at Aitchemanus [Echimamish River]. Encamped late below the upper beaver dam. This has been a very warm day, and we found no mosquitoes in this acknowledged nursery for them. The Governor shot a few ducks during the day.

The Echimamish and Blackwater Creeks flowed both ways from a swampy pond called Hairy [Swampy] Lake. The dams had been built by the HBC men on the Echimamish River, replacing the beaver dams that had once kept water levels high enough in the two streams [Echimamish and Blackwater] to allow easy canoe travel over the low height of land between the Hayes River, and the Nelson.

Saturday, 19th. We had thunder, with heavy showers of rain, last night and this morning, which is the first weather of the kind since we commenced the journey. The water being secured at one of the dams, we carried canoes and all. Breakfast at nine o’clock at the mouth of Black Water Creek. Sailed up Sea [Nelson] River. Changed [dress for arrival at port], and dined above the portage. As we waft along under easy sail, the men with a clean change and mounting new feathers, the Highland bagpipes in the Governor’s canoe, was echoed by the bugle in mine; then those were laid aside, on nearer approach to port, to give free scope to the vocal organs of about eighteen Canadians (French) to chant one of those voyageur airs peculiar to them, and always so perfectly rendered. Our entry to Jack River [new Norway House] about seven p.m., was certainly more imposing than anything hitherto seen in this part of the Indian country. Immediately on landing, His Excellency [Governor Simpson] was preceded by the piper [Colin Fraser] from the water to the Fort, while we were received with all welcome by Messrs Chief Trader [John] McLeod and [John Warren] Dease, Mr. Robert Clouston, and a whole host of ladies.

Though I had Peter Dease in here first [with a question mark], it is definitely now John Warren Dease, as he went out in Edward Ermatinger’s 1828 York Factory Express!!

You will see that some women are mentioned in these journals. This is what Aemilius Simpson had to say about the gents and women, who remained at Norway House while the voyageurs went on to York Factory. This was written in 1826:

We found several of the Partners and other gentlemen of the Company at this Post, waiting the return of their Boats with the outfits from York Factory. There is also a considerable population who had collected here from various parts of the Territory, with the different Brigades, & who remained here until their return from York Factory, for their respective destinations, and I was informed the number including Women and Children, was for a considerable time quite equal to about three hundred Souls, whose subsistence depended upon the fishing of this place, which fortunately proved very abundant this season. (“Journal of a Voyage across the Continent of North America in 1826,” by Aemilius Simpson, R.N., B.223/a/2, 1826, HBCA)

So, many women traveled with the York Boats to Norway House, where they remained for a month or so. However, one woman traveled all the way upriver from York Factory in Governor Simpson’s canoe, and that was his woman-of-the-moment, Margaret “Peggy” Taylor. Here is what James Raffen, author of Emperor of the North: Sir George Simpson and the Remarkable Story of the Hudson’s Bay Company, had to say of Margaret, as mentioned [or not mentioned] in Archibald McDonald’s 1828 journal:

The only mystery item on this list was a person detailed as M–, who carried the Governor’s little traveling case with his medicines, razor and other items of personal hygiene. Who “M” might be and why McDonald was hesitant to mention the name is a curiosity… Nowhere in Simpson’s own journal or in McDonald’s is it mentioned that with them on this journey was Tom Taylor’s sister Margaret, with whom Simpson had had a child on return from London in 1826-7. Indeed, Simpson had earlier castigated officers for doing exactly what he was doing on this trip: filling a space in a canoe that might have been filled with cargo or another able-bodied man with his country woman. The M– who carried the travelling case had to be Margaret, also known as Peggy Taylor, who kept the chief warm in his private tent throughout the trip.

And that is very interesting, indeed!

The next post in this series is now published, and can be found here:

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

9 thoughts on “Two Canoes: West from Oxford House

  1. Tom Holloway

    A source note: Archibald MacDonald’s “Peace River” is available for free download from Google Books. In other matters, I have hints that John Work’s 1823 journal provides a description of the plank boats used on the west side of the mountains. If you run across that, I’ll be very interested in what he has to say.

    1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

      I’ve got it. “Wedy 15 [October 1823]. Embarked at 9 oclock, and proceeded down the Columbia River, in 3 boats or kind of wooden canoes, worked by 8 Men each, who row with paddles and not oars. These boats will carry about 55 pieces and are made of a light construction so that 12 men can carry them across the portages. The boats are very little loaded having only some Indian corn besides what we brought across with us.” folio 38, John Work, Journal July 19 to October 25, 1823, Manuscript, A/B/40/W89.1A, BCA [transcript] York Factory to Spokane House. That should make you happy, Tom. PSO was with him. Its a very interesting journal, actually.

      1. Tom Holloway

        Fantastic! Thanks very much. This is consistent with other notes I have on these boats, but adds a specific detail: 12 men could carry one on a portage–more than the crew of 8, but with several traveling together there was adequate muscle power for portaging.

        1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

          Thomas Lowe mentions in one journal that, at Boat Encampment [on their return journey], the men sat around the fire and carved their paddles for the downriver journey. I thought that really interesting.

  2. Jackie Corrigan

    Yes, quite a trip for Margaret, my great-great grandmother to have made! I think Peter Warren Dease was still in the Mackenzie River District at this time, and that the Dease mentioned would be his brother John Warren Dease?

    1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

      But John is firmly placed West of the Rocky Mountains at this time. However, either of them could have gone out with the brigades to Norway House. 1828 — for John that would have been Edward Ermatinger’s York Factory Express, and, yes. John Warren Dease went out with Edward Ermatinger’s 1828 York Factory Express from Fort Colvile! Ha!