Click here to return to
Voyages from Montreal Through the Continent of North America
Return to the Previous Chapter
At eleven in the morning we left this place, which I called Friendly Village, accompanied by every man belonging to it, who attended us about a mile, when we took a cordial leave of them; and if we might judge frog appearances, they parted from us with regret.
In a short time we halted to make a division of our fish, and each man had about twenty pounds weight of it, except Mr. Mackay and myself, who were content with shorter allowance, that we might have less weight to carry. We had also a little flour, and some pemmican. Having completed this arrangement with all possible expedition, we proceeded onwards, the ground rising gradually, as we continued our route. When we were clear of the wood, we saw the mountain towering above, and apparently of impracticable ascent. We soon came to the fork of the river, which was at the foot of the precipice, where the ford was three feet deep, and very rapid. Our young Indian, though much recovered, was still too weak to cross the water, and with some difficulty I carried him over on my back.
It was now one in the afternoon, and we had to ascend the summit of the first mountain before night came on, in order to look for water. I left the sick Indian, with his companion and one of my men, to follow us, as his strength would permit him. The fatigue of ascending these precipices I shall not attempt to describe, and it was past five when we arrived at a spot where we could get water, and in such an extremity of weariness, that it was with great pain any of us could crawl about to gather wood for the necessary purpose of making a fire. To relieve our anxiety, which began to increase every moment for the situation of the Indian, about seven he and his companions arrived; when we consoled ourselves by sitting round a blazing fire, talking of past dangers, and indulging the delightful reflection that we were thus far advanced on our homeward journey. Nor was it possible to be in this situation without contemplating the wonders of it. Such was the depth of the precipices below, and the height of the mountains above, with the rude and wild magnificence of the scenery around, that I shall not attempt to describe such an astonishing and awful combination of objects; of which, indeed, no description can convey an adequate idea. Even at this place, which is only, as it were, the first step towards gaining the summit of the mountains, the climate was very sensibly changed. The air that fanned the village which we left at noon, was mild and cheering; the grass was verdant, and the wild fruits ripe around it. But here the snow was not yet dissolved, the ground was still bound by the frost, the herbage had scarce begun to spring, and the crowberry bushes were just beginning to blossom.
Saturday, 27. — So great was our fatigue of yesterday, that it was late before we proceeded to return over the mountains, by the same route which we had followed in our outward journey. There was little or no change in the appearance of the mountains since we passed them, though the weather was very fine.
Sunday, 28. — At nine this morning we arrived at the spot, where we slept with the natives on the 16th instant, and found our pemmican in good condition where we had buried it.
The latitude of this place, by observation, when I passed, I found to be 52. 46. 32. I now took time, and the distance between sun and goon. I had also an azimuth, to ascertain the variation.
We continued our route with fine weather, and without meeting a single person on our way, the natives being all gone, as we supposed, to the Great River. We recovered all our hidden stores of provisions, and arrived about two in the afternoon of Sunday, August the 4th, at the place which we had left a month before.
A considerable number of Indians were encamped on the opposite side of the small river, and in consequence of the weather, confined to their lodges: as they must have heard of, if not seen us, and our arms being out of order from the rain, I was not satisfied with our situation; but did not wish to create an alarm. We, therefore, kept in the edge of the wood, and called to them, when they turned out like so many furies, with their arms in their hands, and threatening destruction if we dared to approach their habitations. We remained in our station till their passion and apprehensions had subsided, when our interpreter gave them the necessary information respecting us. They proved to be strangers to us, but were the relations of those whom he had already seen here, and who, as they told us, were upon an island at some distance up the river. A messenger was accordingly sent to inform them of. our arrival.
Monday, 5. — On examining the canoe, and our property, which we had left behind, we found it in perfect safety, nor was there the print of a foot near the spot. We now pitched our tent, and made a blazing fire, and I treated myself, as well as the people, with a drag; but we had been so long without tasting any spirituous liquor, that we had lost all relish for it. The Indians now arrived from above, and were rewarded for the care they had taken of our property with such articles as were acceptable to them.
At nine this morning I sent five men in the canoe, for the various articles we had left below, and they soon returned with them, and except some bale goods, which had got wet, they were in good order, particularly the provisions, of which we were now in great need.
Many of the natives arrived both from the upper and lower parts of the river, each of whom was dressed in a beaver robe. I purchased fifteen of them; and they preferred large knives in exchange. It is an extraordinary circumstance, that these people, who might have taken all the property we left behind us, without the least fear of detection, should leave that untouched, and purloin any of our utensils, which our confidence in their honesty gave them a ready opportunity of taking. In fact, several articles were missing, and as I was very anxious to avoid a quarrel with the natives, in this stage of our journey, I told those who remained near us, without any appearance of anger, that their relations who were gone, had no idea of the mischief that would result to them from taking our property. I gravely added, that the salmon, which was not only their favourite food, but absolutely necessary to their existence, came frog the sea which belonged to us white men; and that as, at the entrance of the river, we could prevent those fish from coming up it, we possessed the power to starve them and their children. To avert our anger, therefore, they must return all the articles that had been stolen from us. This finesse succeeded. Messengers were dispatched to order the restoration of everything that had been taken. We purchased several large salmon of them and enjoyed the delicious meal which they afforded.
At noon this day, which I allotted for repose, I got a meridian altitude, which gave 53. 24. 10. I also took time. The weather had been cloudy at intervals.
Every necessary preparation had been made yesterday for us to continue our route to-day; but before our departure, some of the natives arrived with part of the stolen articles; the rest, they said, had been taken by people down the river, who would be here in the course of the morning, and recommended their children to our commiseration, and themselves to our forgiveness.
The morning was cloudy, with small rain, nevertheless I ordered the men to load the canoe, and we proceeded in high spirits on finding ourselves once more so comfortably together in it. We landed at a house on the first island, where we procured a few salmon, and four fine beaver skins. There had been much more rain in these parts than in the country above, as the water was pouring down the hills in torrents. The river consequently rose with great rapidity, and very much impeded our progress.
The people on this river are generally of the middle size, though I saw many tall men among them. In the cleanliness of their persons they resemble rather the Beaver Indians than the Chepewyans. They are ignorant of the use of fire arms, and their only weapons are bows and arrows, and spears. They catch the larger animals in snares, but though their country abounds in them, and the rivers and lakes produce plenty of fish, they find a difficulty in supporting themselves, and are never to be seen but in small bands of two or three families. There is no regular government among them; nor do they appear to have a sufficient communication or understanding with each other, to defend themselves against an invading enemy, to whom they fall an easy prey. They have all the animals common on the West side of the mountains, except the buffalo and the wolf; at least we saw none of the latter, and there being none of the former, it is evident that their progress is from the South-East. The same language is spoken, with very little exception from the extent of my travels down this river, and in a direct line from the North-East head of it in the latitude 53. or 54. to Hudson's Bay; so that a Chepewyan, from which tribe they have all sprung, might leave Churchill River, and proceeding in every direction to the North-West of this line without knowing any language except his own, would understand them all: I except the natives of the sea coast, who are altogether a different people. As to the people to the Eastward of this river, I am not qualified to speak of them.
At twelve we ran our canoe upon a rock, so that we were obliged to land in order to repair the injury she had received; and as the rain came on with great violence, we remained here for the night. The salmon were now driving up the current in such large shoals, that the water seemed, as it were, to be covered with the fins of them.
Wednesday, 7. — About nine this morning the weather cleared, and we embarked. The shoals of salmon continued as yesterday. There were frequent showers throughout the day, and every brook was deluged into a river. The water had risen at least one foot and an half perpendicular in the last twenty-four hours. In the dusk of the evening we landed for the night.
Thursday, 8. — The water continued rising during the night; so that we were disturbed twice in the course of it, to remove our baggage. At six in the morning we were on our way, and proceeded with continual and laborious exertion, from the increased rapidity of the current. After having passed the two carrying places of Rocky Point, and the Long Portage, we encamped for the night.
Friday, 9. — We set off at five, after a rainy night and in a foggy morning. The water still retained its height. The sun, however, soon beamed upon us; and our clothes and baggage were in such a state that we landed to dry them. After some time we re-embarked and arrived at our first encampment on this river about seven in the evening. The water fell considerably in the course of the day.
Saturday, 10. — The weather was cloudy with slight showers, and at five this morning we embarked, the water falling as fast as it had risen. This circumstance arises from the mountainous state of the country on either side of the river, from whence the water rushes down almost as fast as it falls from the heavens, with the addition of the snow it melts in its way. At eight in the evening we stopped for the night.
Sunday, 11. — At five this morning we proceeded with clear weather. At ten we came to the foot of the long rapid, which we ascended with poles much easier than we expected. The rapids that were so strong and violent in our passage downwards, were now so reduced, that we could hardly believe them to be the same. At sunset we landed and encamped.
Monday, 12. — The weather was the same as yesterday, and we were on the water at a very early hour. At nine we came to a part of the river where there was little or no current. At noon we landed to gum the canoe, when I took a meridian altitude, which gave 54. 11. 36. North latitude. We continued our route nearly East, and at three in the afternoon approached the fork, when I took time, and the distance between the sun and moon. At four in the afternoon we left the main branch. The current was quite slack, as the water had fallen six feet, which gust have been in the course of three days. At sunset we landed and took our station for the night.
Tuesday, 13. — There was a very heavy rain in the night, and the morning was cloudy; we renewed our voyage, however, at a very early hour, and came to the narrow gut between the mountains of rock, which was a passage of some risk; but fortunately the state of the water was such, that we got up without any difficulty, and had more time to examine these extraordinary rocks than in our outward passage. They are as perpendicular as a wall, and give the idea of a succession of enormous Gothic churches. We were now closely hemmed in by the mountains, which had lost much of their snow since our former passage by them. We encamped at a late hour, cold, wet, and hungry: for such was the state of our provisions, that our necessary allowance did not answer to the active cravings of our appetites.
Wednesday, 14. — The weather was cold and raw, with small rain, but our necessities would not suffer us to wait for a favourable change of it, and at half past five we arrived at the swampy carrying-place, between this branch and the small river. At three in the afternoon the cold was extreme, and the men could not keep themselves warm even by their violent exertions which our situation required; and I now gave them the remainder of our rum to fortify and support them. The canoe was so heavy that the lives of two of them were endangered in this horrible carrying-place. At the same time it gust be observed, that from the fatiguing circumstances of our journey, and the inadequate state of our provisions, the natural strength of the men had been greatly diminished. We encamped on the banks of the bad river.
Thursday, 15. — The weather was now clear, and the sun shone upon us. The water was much lower than in the downward passage, but was cold as ice, and, unfortunately, the men were obliged to be continually in it to drag on the canoe. There were many embarras, through which a passage might have been made, but we were under the necessity of carrying both the canoe and baggage.
About sun-set we arrived at our encampment of the 13th of June, where some of us had nearly taken our eternal voyage. The legs and feet of the men were so benumbed, that I was very apprehensive of the consequence. The water being low, we made a search for our bag of ball, but without success. The river was full of salmon, and another fish like the black bass.
Friday, 16. — The weather continued to be the same as yesterday, and at two in the afternoon we came to the carrying-place which leads to the first small lake; but it was so filled with drift wood, that a considerable portion of time was employed in making our way through it. We now reached the high land which separates the source of the Tacoutche Tesse, or Columbia River, and Unjigab, or Peace River: the latter of which, after receiving many tributary streams, passes through the great Slave Lake, and disembogues itself in the Frozen Ocean, in latitude 69. 30. North, longitude 135 West from Greenwich; while the forger, confined by the immense mountains that run nearly parallel with the Pacific Ocean, and keep it in a Southern course, empties itself in 46. 20. North latitude and longitude 124 West from Greenwich.
If I could have spared the time, and had been able to exert myself, for I was now afflicted with a swelling in my ancles, so that I could not even walk, but with great pain and difficulty, it was my intention to have taken some salmon alive, and colonised them in the Peace River, though it is very doubtful whether that fish would live in waters that have not a communication with the sea.
Some of the inhabitants had been here since we passed; and. I apprehend, that on seeing our road through their country, they mistook us for enemies, and had therefore deserted the place, which is a most convenient station; as on one side, there is a great plenty of white fish, and trout, jub, carp, &c., and on the other abundance of salmon, and probably other fish. Several things that I had left here in exchange for articles of which I had possessed myself, as objects of curiosity, were taken away. The hurtle-berries were now ripe, and very fine of their kind.
Saturday, 17. — The morning was cloudy, and at five we renewed our progress. We were compelled to carry from the lake to the Peace River, the passage, from the falling of the water, being wholly obstructed by drift wood. The meadow through which we passed was entirely inundated; and from the state of my foot and ancle, I was obliged, though with great reluctance, to submit to be carried over it.
At half past seven we began to glide along with the current of the Peace River; and almost at every canoe's length we perceived Beaver roads to and from the river. At two in the afternoon, an object attracted our notice at the entrance of a small river, which proved to be the four beaver skins, already mentioned to have been presented to me by a native, and left in his possession to receive them on my return. I imagined, therefore, that being under the necessity of leaving the river, or, perhaps, fearing to meet us again, he had taken this method to restore them to me; and to reward his honesty, I left three times the value of the skins in their place. The snow appeared in patches on the mountains. At four in the afternoon we passed the place where we found the first natives, and landed for the night at a late hour. In the course of the day, we caught nine outards, or Canada geese, but they were as yet without their feathers.
Sunday, 18. — As soon as it was light we proceeded on our voyage, and drove on before the current, which was very much diminished in its strength, since we came up it. The water indeed, was so low, that in many parts it exposed a gravelly beach. At eleven we landed at our encampment of the seventh of June, to gum the canoe and dry our clothes: we then re-embarked, and at half past five arrived at the place, where I lost my book of memorandums, on the fourth of June, in which were certain courses and distances between that day and the twenty-sixth of May, which I had now an opportunity to supply. They were as follows:
North-North-West half a mile, East by North half a mile, North by East a quarter of a mile, North-West by West a quarter of a mile, West-South-West half a mile, North-West a mile and a quarter, North-North-West three quarters of a mile, North by East half a mile, North-West three quarters of a mile, West half a mile, North-West three quarters of a mile, West-North-West one mile and a quarter, North three quarters of a mile, West by North one quarter of a mile, North-West one mile and a half, West-North-West half a mile, North-North-West three quarters of a mile, West one quarter of a mile, North-North-East half a mile, North-North-West two miles, and North-West four miles.
We were seven days in going up that part of the river which we came down to-day; and it now swarmed, as it were, with beavers and wild fowl. There was rain in the afternoon, and about sunset we took our station for the night.
Monday, 19. — We had some small rain throughout the night. Our course to-day was South-South-West three quarters of a mile, West-North-West half a mile, North half a mile, North-West by West three quarters of a mile, North by West half a mile; a small river to the left, South-West by West three quarters of a mile, West-North-West a mile and an half, North-West by North four miles, a rivulet on the right, West-North-West three quarters of a mile; a considerable river from the left, North-North-West two miles, North half a mile, West-North-West one mile and a half; a rivulet on the right, North-West by West one mile and a quarter, West-North-West one mile, West-South-West a quarter of a mile, North-North-West half a mile, North-West half a mile, West-South-West three quarters of a mile, North-West by West three miles, West-South-West three quarters of a mile, North-West by West one mile; a small river on the right, South-West a quarter of a mile, West-North-West, islands, four miles and a half, a river on the left, North half a mile, West a quarter of a mile, North a quarter of a mile, North-West by West three quarters of a mile, North-North-East three quarters of a mile, North-West by North half a mile, West-North-West a mile and an half, and North-West by North half a mile. The mountains were covered with fresh snow, whose showers had dissolved in rain before they reached us. North-West three quarters of a mile, South-West a quarter of a mile, North a mile and three quarters, West-North-West a mile and a quarter, North-West a mile and a half, North-North-West half a mile, West-North-West a quarter of a mile, North half a mile; here the current was slack: North-West by North half a mile, North-West by West a quarter of a mile, North-North-West a quarter of a mile, North-West by West one mile and a quarter, North half a mile, North-East by North one mile and three quarters, South-West one mile and a quarter, with an island, North by East one mile, North-West. Here the other branch opened to us, at the distance of three quarters of a mile.
I expected from the slackness of the current in this branch, that the Western one would be high, but I found it equally low. I had every reason to believe that from the upper part of this branch, the distance could not be great to the country through which I passed when I left the Great River; but it has since been determined otherwise by Mr. J. Finlay, who was sent to explore it, and found its navigation soon terminated by falls and rapids.
The branches are about two hundred yards in breadth, and the water was six feet lower than on our upward passage. Our course, after the junction, was North-North-West one mile, the rapid North-East down it three quarters of a mile, North by West one mile and a quarter, North by East one mile and an half, East by South one mile, North-East two miles and an half, East-North-East a quarter of a mile; a rivulet; East by South one mile and an half, North-East two miles, East-North-East one mile, North-North-East a quarter of a mile, North-East by East half a mile, East-South-East a quarter of a mile, East-North-East half a mile, North-East two miles, North-East by East two miles and a quarter, South-East by East a quarter of a mile; a rivulet from the left; East by North a mile and an half, East by South one mile, East-North-East one mile and three quarters; a river on the right; North-North-East three quarters of a mile, North-East a mile and a half, North-East by East a mile and a quarter, East-North-East half a mile, and North-East by North half a mile. Here we landed at our encampment of the 27th of June, from whence I dispatched a letter in an empty keg, as was mentioned in that period of my journal, which set forth our existing state, progress, and expectation.
Tuesday, 20. — Though the weather was clear, we could not embark this morning before five, as there was a rapid very near us, which required daylight to run it, that we might not break our canoe on the rocks. The baggage we were obliged to carry. Our course was North by East a mile and an half, North-North-East a mile and a half down another rapid on the West side; it requires great care to keep directly between the eddy current, and that which was driving down with so much impetuosity. We then proceeded North-North-West, a river from the right; a mile and a quarter, North-North-East a mile and a half, a river from the left; North one mile and three quarters, North-East two miles, North-East by East two miles and a quarter, East by North one mile, North-East by East four miles, a river from the left, and East by South a mile and a half. Here was our encampment on the 26th of May, beyond which it would be altogether superfluous for me to take the courses, as they are inserted in their proper places.
As we continued our voyage, our attention was attracted by the appearance of an Indian encampment. We accordingly landed, and found there had been five fires, and within that number of days, so that there must have been some inhabitants in the neighbourhood, though we were not so fortunate as to see them. It appeared that they had killed a number of animals, and fled in a state of alarm, as three of their canoes were left carelessly on the beach, and their paddles laying about in disorder. We soon after came to the carrying-place called the Portage de la Montagne de Roche. Here I had a meridian altitude, which made the latitude 56. 3. 51. North.
The water, as I have already observed, was much lower than when we came up it, though at the same time the current appeared to be stronger from this place to the forks; the navigation, however, would now be attended with greater facility, as there is a stony beach all the way, so that poles, or the towing-line, gay be employed with the best effect, where the current overpowers the use of paddles.
We were now reduced to a very short allowance; the disappointment, therefore, at not seeing any animals was proportioned to our exigencies, as we did not possess at this time more than was sufficient to serve us for two meals. I now dispatched Mr. Mackay and the Indians to proceed to the foot of the rapids, and endeavour in their way to procure some provisions, while I prepared to employ the utmost expedition in getting there: having determined, notwithstanding the disinclination of my people, from the recollection of what they had suffered in coming that way, to return by the same route. I had observed, indeed, that the water which had fallen fifteen feet perpendicular, at the narrow pass below us, had lost much of its former turbulence.
As dispatch was essential in procuring a supply of provisions, we did not delay a moment in making preparation to renew our progress. Five of the men began to carry the baggage, while the sixth and myself took the canoe asunder, to cleanse her of the dirt, and expose her lining and timbers to the air, which would render her much lighter. About sun-set Mr. Mackay and our hunters returned with heavy burdens of the flesh of a buffalo: though not very tender, it was very acceptable, and was the only animal that they had seen, though the country was covered with tracks of them, as well as of the moose-deer and the elk. The former had done rutting, and. the latter were beginning to run. Our people returned, having left their loads midway on the carrying-place. My companion and myself completed our undertaking, and the canoe was ready to be carried in the morning. A hearty meal concluded the day, and every fear of future want was removed.
Wednesday, 21. — When the morning dawned we set forwards, but as a fire had passed through the portage, it was with difficulty we could trace our road in many parts; and with all the exertion of which we were capable, we did not arrive at the river till four in the afternoon. We found almost as much difficulty in carrying our canoe down the mountain as we had in getting it up; the men being not so strong as on the former occasion, though they were in better spirits; and I was now enabled to assist them, my ancle being almost well. We could not, however, proceed any further till the following day, as we had the canoe to gum, with several great and small poles to prepare; those we had left here having been carried away by the water, though we had left them in a position from fifteen to twenty feet above the water-mark, at that time. These occupations employed us till a very late hour.
Thursday, 22. — The night was cold, and though the morning was fine and clear, it was seven before we were in a state of preparation to leave this place, sometimes driving with the current, and at other times shooting the rapids. The latter had lost much of their former strength; but we, nevertheless, thought it necessary to land very frequently, in order to examine the rapids before we could venture to run them. However, the canoe being light, we very fortunately passed them all, and at noon arrived at the place where I appointed to meet Mr. Mackay and the hunters: there we found them, with plenty of excellent fat meat, ready roasted, as they had killed two elks within a few hundred yards of the spot where we then were. When the men had satisfied their appetites, I sent them for as much of the meat as they could carry. In coming hither, Mr. Mackay informed me, that he and the hunters kept along the high land, and did not see or cross the Indian path. At the same time, there can be no doubt but the road from this place to the upper part of the rapids is to be preferred to that which we came, both for expedition and safety.
After staying here about an hour and a half, we proceeded with the stream, and landed where I had forgotten my pipe-tomahawk and seal, on the eighteenth of May. The former of them I now recovered.
On leaving the mountains we saw animals grazing in every direction. In passing along an island, we fired at an elk, and broke its leg; and as it was now time to encamp, we landed; when the hunters pursued the wounded animal, which had crossed over to the main land, but could not get up the bank. We went after it, therefore, in the canoe, and killed it. To give some notion of our appetites, I shall state the elk, or at least the carcase of it, which we brought away, to have weighed two hundred and fifty pounds; and as we had taken a very hearty meal at one o'clock, it might naturally be supposed that we should not be very voracious at supper; nevertheless, a kettle full of the elk flesh was boiled and eaten, and that vessel replenished and put on the fire. All that remained, with the bones, &c. was placed, after the Indian fashion, round the fire to roast, and at ten next morning the whole was consumed by ten persons and a large dog, who was allowed his share of the banquet. This is no exaggeration; nor did any inconvenience result from what may be considered as an inordinate indulgence.
Friday, 23. — We were on the water before daylight; and when the sun rose, a beautiful country appeared around us, enriched and animated by large herds of wild cattle. The weather was now so warm, that to us, who had not of late been accustomed to heat, it was overwhelming and oppressive. In the course of this day we killed a buffalo and a bear; but we were now in the midst of abundance, and they were not sufficiently fat to satisfy our fastidious appetites, so we left them where they fell. We landed for the night, and prepared ourselves for arriving at the Fort on the following day.
Saturday, 24. — The weather was the same as yesterday, and the country increasing in beauty; though as we approached the Fort, the cattle appeared proportionably to diminish. We now landed at two lodges of Indians, who were as astonished to see us, as if we had been the first white men whom they had ever beheld. When we had passed these people, not an animal was to be seen on the borders of the river.
At length, as we rounded a point, and came in view of the Fort, we threw out a flag, and accompanied it with a general discharge of our fire-arms; while the men were in such spirits, and made such an active use of their paddles, that we arrived before the two men whom we left here in the spring, could recover their senses to answer us. Thus we landed at four in the afternoon, at the place which we left on the ninth of May. — Here my voyages of discovery terminate. Their toils and their dangers, their solicitudes and sufferings, have not been exaggerated in my description. On the contrary, in many instances, language has failed me in the attempt to describe them. I received, however, the reward of my labours, for they were crowned with success.
As I have now resumed the character of a trader I shall not trouble my readers with any subsequent concern, but content myself with the closing information, that after an absence of eleven months, I arrived at Fort Chepewyan, where I remained, for the purposes of trade, during the succeeding winter.
The following general, but short, geographical view of the country may not be improper to close this work, as well as some remarks on the probable advantages that may be derived from advancing the trade of it, under proper regulations, and by the spirit of commercial enterprise.
By supposing a line from the Atlantic, East, to the Pacific, West, in the parallel of forty-five degrees of North latitude, it will, I think, nearly describe the British territories in North America. For I am of opinion, that the extent of the country to the South of this line, which we have a right to claim, is equal to that to the North of it, which gay be claimed by other powers.
The outline of what I shall call the first division, is along that track of country which runs from the head of James-Bay, in about latitude 51. North, along the Eastern coast, as far North as to, and through Hudson's Straits, round by Labrador; continuing on the Atlantic coast, on the outside of the great islands, in the gulf of St. Laurence, to the river St. Croix, by which it takes its course, to the height of land that divides the waters emptying themselves into the Atlantic, from those discharged into the river St. Laurence. Then following these heights, as the boundary between the British possessions, and those of the American States, it makes an angle Westerly until it strikes the discharge of Lake Champlain, in latitude 45. North, when it keeps a direct West line till it strikes the river St. Laurence, above Lake St. Francis, where it divides the Indian village St. Rigest; from whence it follows the centre of the waters of the great river St. Laurence: it then proceeds through Lake Ontario, the connection between it and Lake Erie; through the latter, and its chain of connection, by the river Detroit, as far South as latitude 42. North, and then through the lake and river St. Clair, as also lake Huron, through which it continues to the strait of St. Mary, latitude 46. 30. North; from which we will suppose the line to strike to the East of North, to the head of James Bay, in the latitude already mentioned.
Of this great tract, more than half is represented as barren and broken, displaying a surface of rock and fresh water lakes, with a very scattered and scanty proportion of soil.
Such is the whole coast of Labrador, and the land, called East Main to the West of the heights, which divide the waters running into the river and gulf of St. Laurence, from those flowing into Hudson's Bay. It is consequently inhabited only by a few savages, whose numbers are proportioned to the scantiness of the soil; nor is it probable, from the same cause, that they will encrease. The fresh and salt waters, with a small quantity of game, which the few, stinted woods afford, supply the wants of nature; from whence, to that of the line of the American boundary, and the Atlantic Ocean, the soil, wherever cultivation has been attempted, has yielded abundance; particularly on the river St. Laurence, from Quebec upwards, to the line of boundary already mentioned; but a very inconsiderable proportion of it has been broken by the plough-share.
The line of the second division may be traced from that of the first at St. Mary's, from which also the line of American boundary runs, and is said to continue through Lake Superior (and through a lake called the Long Lake which has no existence), to the Lake of the Woods, in latitude 49. 37. North, from whence it is also said to run West to the Mississippi, which it may do, by giving it a good deal of Southing, but not otherwise; as the source of that river does not extend further North than latitude 47. 38. North, where it is no more than a small brook; consequently, if Great Britain retains the right of entering it along the line of division, it must be in a lower latitude, and wherever that may be, the line must be continued West, till it terminates in the Pacific Ocean, to the South of the Columbia. This division is then bounded by the Pacific Ocean on the West, the Frozen Sea and Hudson's Bay on the North and East. The Russians, indeed, may claim with justice, the islands and coast from Behring's Straits to Cook's Entry.
The whole of this country will long continue in the possession of its present inhabitants, as they will remain contented with the produce of the woods and waters for their support, leaving the earth, from various causes, in its virgin state. The proportion of it that is fit for cultivation, is very small and is still less in the interior parts; it is also very difficult of access; and whilst any land remains uncultivated to the South of it, there will be no temptation to settle it. Besides, its climate is not in general sufficiently genial to bring the fruits of the earth to maturity. It will also be an asylum for the descendants of the original inhabitants of the country to the South, who prefer the modes of life of their forefathers, to the improvements of civilization. Of this disposition there is a recent instance. A small colony of Iroquois emigrated to the banks of the Saskatchiwine, in 1799, who had been brought up from their infancy under the Romish missionaries, and instructed by them at a village within nine miles of Montreal.
A further division of this country is marked by a ridge of high land, rising, as it were, from the coast of Labrador, and running nearly South-West to the source of the Utawas River, dividing the waters going either way to the river and gulf of St. Laurence and Hudson's Bay, as before observed. From thence it stretches to the North of West, to the Northward of Lake .Superior, to latitude 50. North, and longitude 98. West, when it forks from the last course at about South-West, and continues the same division of waters until it passes North of the source of the Mississippi. The former course runs, as has been observed, in a North-West direction, until it strikes the river Nelson, separating the waters that discharge themselves into Lake Winipic, which forms part of the said river, and those that also empty themselves into Hudson's Bay, by the Albany, Severn, and Hay's or Hill's Rivers. From thence it keeps a course of about West-North-West, till it forms the banks of the Missinipi or Churchill River, at Portage de Traite, latitude 55. 25. North. It now continues in a Western direction, between the Saskatchiwine and the source of the Missinipi, or Beaver River, which it leaves behind, and divides the Saskatchiwine from the Elk River; when, leaving those also behind, and pursuing the same direction it leads to the high land that lies between the Unjigab and Tacoutche rivers, from whence it may be supposed to be the same ridge. From the head of the Beaver River, on the West, the same kind of high ground runs to the East of North, between the waters of the Elk and Missinipi River forming the Portage la Loche, and continuing on to the latitude 57. 15. North, dividing the waters that run to Hudson's Bay from those going to the North Sea: from thence its course is nearly North, when an angle runs from it to the North of the Slave Lake, till it strikes Mackenzie's River.
The last, but by no means the least, is the immense ridge, or succession of ridges of stony mountains, whose Northern extremity dips in the North Sea, in latitude 70. North, and longitude 135. West, running nearly South-East, and begins to be parallel with the coast of the Pacific Ocean, from Cook's entry, and so onwards to the Columbia. From thence it appears to quit the coast, but still continuing, with less elevation, to divide the waters of the Atlantic from those which run into the Pacific. In those snow-clad mountains rises the Mississippi, if we admit the Missouri to be its source, which flows into the Gulph of Mexico; the River Nelson, which is lost in Hudson's Bay; Mackenzie's River, that discharges itself into the North Sea; and the Columbia emptying itself into the Pacific Ocean. The great River St. Laurence and Churchill River, with many lesser ones, derive their sources far short of these mountains. It is, indeed, the extension of these mountains so far South on the sea coast, that prevents the Columbia from finding a more direct course to the sea, as it runs obliquely with the coast upwards of eight degrees of latitude before it mingles with the ocean.
It is further to be observed, that these mountains, from Cook's entry to the Columbia, extend from six to eight degrees in breadth Easterly; and that along their Eastern skirts is a narrow strip of very marshy, boggy, and uneven ground, the outer edge of which produces coal and bitumen: these I saw on the banks of Mackenzie's River, as far North as latitude 66. I also discovered them in my second journey, at the commencement of the rocky mountains in 56. North latitude, and 120. West longitude; and the same was observed by Mr. Fidler, one of the servants of the Hudson's Bay Company, at the source of the South branch of the Saskatchiwine, in about latitude 52. North, and longitude 112. 30. West.1 Next to this narrow belt are immense plains, or meadows, commencing in a point at about the junction of the River of the Mountain with Mackenzie's River, widening as they continue East and Smith, till they reach the Red River at its confluence with the Assiniboin River, from whence they take a more Southern direction, along the Mississippi towards Mexico. Adjoining to these plains is a broken country, composed of lakes, rocks, and soil.
From the banks of the rivers running through the plains, there appeared to ooze a saline fluid, concreting into a thin, scurf on the grass. Near that part of the Slave River where it first loses the name of Peace River, and along the extreme edge of these plains, are very strong salt springs, which in the summer concrete and crystallize in great quantities. About the Lake Dauphin, on the South-West side of Lake Winipic, are also many salt ponds, but it requires a regular process to form salt frog them. Along the West banks of the former is to be seen, at intervals, and traced in the line of the direction of the plains, a soft rock of lime-stone, in thin and nearly horizontal stratas, particularly on the Beaver, Cedar, Winipic, and Superior lakes, as also in the beds of the rivers crossing that line. It is also remarkable that, at the narrowest part of Lake Winipic, where it is not more than two miles in breadth, the West side is faced with rocks of this stone thirty feet perpendicular; while, on the East side, the rocks are more elevated, and of a dark-grey granite.
The latter is to be found throughout the whole extent North of this country, to the coast of Hudson's Bay, and as I have been informed, along that coast, onwards to the coast of Labrador; and it may be further observed, that between these extensive ranges of granite and lime-stone are found all the great lakes of this country.
There is another very large district which must not be forgotten; and behind all the others in situation as well as in soil, produce, and climate. This comprehends the tract called the Barren Grounds, which is to the North of a line drawn from Churchill, along the North border of the Rein-Deer Lake, to the North of the Lake of the Hills and Slave Lake, and along the North side of the latter to the rocky mountains, which terminate in the North Sea, latitude 70. North, and longitude 135. West; in the whole extent of which no trees are visible, except a few stinted ones, scattered along its rivers, and with scarce anything of surface that can be called earth; yet, this inhospitable region is inhabited by a people who are accustomed to the life it requires. Nor has bountiful nature withheld the means of subsistence; the rein deer, which supply both food and clothing, are satisfied with the produce of the hills, though they bear nothing but a short curling moss, on a species of which, that grows on the rocks, the people themselves subsist when famine invades them. Their small lakes are not furnished with a great variety of fish, but such as they produce are excellent, which, with hares and partridges, form a proportion of their food.
The climate must necessarily be severe in such a country as we have described, and which displays so large a surface of fresh water. Its severity is extreme on the coast of Hudson's Bay, and proceeds from its immediate exposure to the North West winds that blow off the Frozen Ocean.
These winds, in crossing directly from the bay over Canada and the British dominions on the Atlantic, as well as over the Eastern States of North America to that ocean, (where they give to those countries a length of winter astonishing to the inhabitants of the same latitudes in Europe), continue to retain a great degree of force and cold in their passage, even over the Atlantic, particularly at the time when the sun is in its Southern declination. The same winds which come from the Frozen Ocean, over the barren grounds, and across frozen lakes and snowy plains, bounded by the rocky mountains, lose their frigid influence, as they travel in a Southern direction, till they get to the Atlantic Ocean, where they close their progress. Is not this a sufficient cause for the difference between the climate in America, and that of the same latitude in Europe?
It has been frequently advanced, that the clearing away the wood has had an astonishing influence in meliorating the climate in the former: but I am not disposed to assent to that opinion in the extent which it proposes to establish, when I consider the very trifling proportion of the country cleared, compared with the whole. The employment of the axe may have had some inconsiderable effect; but I look to other causes. I myself observed in a country, which was in an absolute state of nature, that the climate is improving; and this circumstance was confirmed to me by the native inhabitants of it. Such a change, therefore, must proceed from some predominating operation in the system of the globe which is beyond my conjecture, and, indeed, above my comprehension, and may, probably, in the course of time, give to America the climate of Europe. It is well known, indeed, that the waters are decreasing there, and that many lakes are draining and filling up by the earth which is carried into them from the higher lands by the rivers: and this may have some partial effect.
The climate on the West coast of America assimilates much more to that of Europe in the same latitudes: I think very little difference will be found, except such as proceed from the vicinity of high mountains covered with snow. This is an additional proof that the difference in the temperature of the air proceeds from the cause already mentioned.
Much has been said, and much more still remains to be said on the peopling of America. — On this subject I shall confine myself to one or two observations, and leave my readers to draw their inferences from them.
The progress of the inhabitants of the country immediately under our observation, which is comprised within the line of latitude 45. North, is as follows: that of the Esquimaux, who possess the sea coast from the Atlantic through Hudson's Straits and Bay, round to Mackenzie's River (and I believe further), is known to be Westward; they never quit the coast, and agree in appearance, manners, language, and habits with the inhabitants of Greenland. The different tribes whom I describe under the name of Algonquins and Knisteneaux, but originally the same people, were the inhabitants of the Atlantic coast, and the banks of the river St. Laurence and adjacent countries: their progress is Westerly, and they are even found West and North as far as Athabasca. On the contrary, the Chepewyans, and the numerous tribes who speak their language, occupy the whole space between the Knisteneaux country and that of the Esquimaux, stretching behind the natives of the coast of the Pacific, to latitude 52. North, on the river Columbia. Their progress is Easterly, and, according to their own traditions, they came from Siberia; agreeing in dress and manner with the people now found upon the coast of Asia.
Of the inhabitants of the coast of the Pacific Ocean we know little more than that they are stationary there. The Nadowasis or Assiniboins, as well as the different tribes not particularly described, inhabiting the plains on and about the source and banks of the Saskatchiwine and Assiniboin rivers, are from the Southward, and their progress is North-West.
The discovery of a passage by sea, North-East or North West from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, has for many years excited the attention of governments, and encouraged the enterprising spirit of individuals. The non-existence, however, of any such practical passage being at length determined, the practicability of a passage through the continents of Asia and America becomes an object of consideration. The Russians, who first discovered, that, along the coasts of Asia no useful or regular navigation existed, opened an interior communication by rivers, &c., and through that long and wide-extended continent, to the strait that separates Asia from America, over which they passed to the adjacent islands and continent of the latter. Our situation, at length, is in some degree similar to theirs: the non-existence of a practicable passage by sea and the existence of one through the continent, are clearly proved; and it requires only the countenance and support of the British Government, to increase in a very ample proportion this national advantage, and secure the trade of that country to its subjects.
Experience, however, has proved, that this trade, from its very nature cannot be carried on by individuals. A very large capital, or credit, or indeed both, is necessary, and consequently an association of men of wealth to direct, with men of enterprise to act, in one common interest, must be formed on such principles, as that in due time the latter may succeed the former, in continual and progressive succession. Such was the equitable and successful mode adopted by the merchants from Canada, which has been already described.
The junction of such a commercial association with the Hudson's Bay Company, is the important measure which I would propose, and the trade might then be carried on with a very superior degree of advantage, both private and public, under the privilege of their charter, and would prove, in fact, the complete fulfilment of the conditions, on which it was first granted.
It would be an equal injustice to either party to be excluded from the option of such an undertaking; for if the one has a right by charter, has not the other a right by prior possession, as being successor to the subjects of France, who were exclusively possessed of all the then known parts of this country, before Canada was ceded to Great Britain, except the coast of Hudson's Bay, and having themselves been the discoverers of a vast extent of country since added to his Majesty's territories, even to the Hyperborean and the Pacific Oceans?
If, therefore, that company should decline, or be averse to engage in, such an extensive, and perhaps hazardous undertaking, it would not, surely, be an unreasonable proposal to them, from government, to give up a right which they refuse to exercise, on allowing them a just and reasonable indemnification of their stock, regulated by the average dividends of a certain number of years, or the actual price at which they transfer their stock.
By enjoying the privilege of the company's charter, though but for a limited period, there are adventurers who would be willing, as they are able, to engage in, and carry on the proposed commercial undertaking, as well as to give the most ample and satisfactory security to government for the fulfilment of its contract with the company. It would, at the same time, be equally necessary to add a similar privilege of trade on Columbia River, and its tributary waters.
If, however, it should appear, that the Hudson's Bay-Company have an exclusive right to carry on their trade as they think proper, and continue it on the narrow scale, and with so little benefit to the public as they now do; if they should refuse to enter into a co-operative junction with others, what reasonable cause can they assign to government for denying the navigation of the bay to Nelson's River: and, by its waters, a passage to and from the interior country, for the use of the adventurers, and for the sole purpose of transport, under the most severe and binding restrictions not to interfere with their trade on the coast, and the country between it and the actual establishments of the Canadian traders.2
By these waters that discharge themselves into Hudson's Bay at Port Nelson, it is proposed to carry on the trade to their source, at the head of the Saskatchiwine River, which rises in the Rocky Mountains, not eight degrees of longitude from the Pacific Ocean. The Tacoutche or Columbia River flows also from the same mountains, and discharges itself likewise in the Pacific, in latitude 46. 20.
Both of them are capable of receiving ships at their mouths, and are navigable throughout for boats.
The distance between these waters is only known from the report of the Indians. If, however, this communication should prove inaccessible, the route I pursued, though longer, in consequence of the great angle it makes to the North, will answer every necessary purpose. But whatever course may be taken from the Atlantic, the Columbia is the line of communication from the Pacific Ocean, pointed out by nature, as it is the only navigable river in the whole extent of Vancouver's minute survey of that coast: its banks also form the first level country in all the Southern extent of continental coast from Cook's entry, and, consequently, the most Northern situation fit for colonization, and suitable to the residence of a civilized people. By opening this intercourse between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and forming regular establishments through the interior, and at both extremes, as well as along the coasts and islands, the entire command of the fur trade of North America might be obtained, from latitude 48. North to the pole, except that portion of it which the Russians have in the Pacific. To this may be added the fishing in both seas, and the markets of the four quarters of the globe. Such would be the field for commercial enterprise, and incalculable would be the produce of it, when supported by the operations of that credit and capital which Great Britain so pre-eminently possesses. Then would this country begin to be remunerated for the expences it has sustained in discovering and surveying the coast of the Pacific Ocean, which is at present left to American adventurers, who without regularity or capital, or the desire of conciliating future confidence, look altogether to the interest of the moment. They, therefore, collect all the skins they can procure, and in any manner that suits them, and having exchanged them at Canton for the produce of China, return to their own country. Such adventurers, and many of them, as I have been informed, have been very successful, would instantly disappear from before a well-regulated trade.
It would be very unbecoming in me to suppose for a moment, that the East-India Company would hesitate to allow those privileges to their fellow-subjects which are permitted to foreigners in a trade, that is so much out of the line of their own commerce, and therefore cannot be injurious to it.
Many political reasons, which it is not necessary here to enumerate, must present themselves to the mind of every gan acquainted with the enlarged system and capacities of British commerce in support of the measure which I have very briefly suggested, as promising the most important advantages to the trade of the united kingdoms.
1 Bitumen is also found on the coast of the Slave Lake, in latitude 60. North, near its discharge by Mackenzie's River; and also near the forks of the Elk River.
2 Independent of the prosecution of this great object, I conceive, that the merchants from Canada are entitled to such an indulgence (even if they should be considered as not possessing a rightful claim), in order that they might be enabled to extend their trade beyond their present limits, and have it in their power to supply the natives with a larger quantity of useful articles; the enhanced value of which, and the present difficulty of transporting them, will be fully comprehended, when I relate, that the tract of transport occupies an extent of from three to four thousand miles, through upwards of sixty large fresh water lakes, and numerous rivers; and that the means of transport are slight bark canoes. It must also be observed, that those waters are intercepted by more than two hundred rapids, along which the articles of merchandise are chiefly carried on men's backs, and over a hundred and thirty carrying-places, from twenty-five paces to thirteen miles in length, where the canoes and cargoes proceed by the same toilsome and perilous operations.
It is to be observed, that the Courses throughout the Journals are taken by Compass, and that the Variation must be considered.