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The Prairie Provinces
Chapter VIII. The Far North


From the days of Cabot and Cartier the finding of a north-west passage to the Pacific had been the ambition of many daring mariners. During the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries voyage followed voyage, each, by the discovery of a new strait or bay, adding to our knowledge of the Arctic regions. Vast sums of money and many valuable lives were spent in the search. Of the Arctic expeditions, those

which were made by land are of interest to us, for they helped to open up our north country, in parts of which valuable minerals have since been found.

In 1819, John Franklin and Dr. Richardson sailed from England, having in view a journey, to the Arctic coast through Northern Canada. The first winter was spent at Fort Chipewyan and the

second at Fort Enterprise, north of Great Slave Lake. In the following spring the explorers descended the Coppermine River to the Arctic, and coasted eastward as far as Cape Turnagain. Three years later Franklin made his second journey, this time wintering at Fort Franklin, on Great Bear Lake. Here the party divided, the leader himself descending the Mackenzie and tracing the coast west to Return Reef Meanwhile Dr. Richardson worked his way east until he reached the mouth of the Coppermine, which he ascended, rejoining Franklin at their winter quarters.

In 1833, Captain Back was sent out to look for one John Ross, who three years earlier had gone by sea in search of the north-west passage. Back wintered at Fort Reliance, on Great Slave Lake, where he received news of the safe return to England of the missing explorer.

Determined, nevertheless, to complete his journey, he pressed on to the Arctic by the Great Fish, which is now called the Back River.

The directors of the Hudsonís Bay Company now began to display an active interest in these Arctic discoveries. Their charter required of them a support of the work of exploration. Moreover, England had become enthusiastic over the remarkable achievements of Franklin and Back. In 1836, therefore, the Company ordered Governor Simpson to prepare and send out an expedition in search of the long-sought passage. Two competent officers of the Company, Peter Dease and Thomas Simpson, were chosen to conduct the enterprise. A start was made from Norway House. The party wintered at Fort Chipewyan, and early in the spring paddled down the Mackenzie and from the riverís mouth westward. Return Reef was passed, and Simpson made his way on foot to Cape Barrow. The explorers wintered at Fort Confidence, and the following summer found them on their way down the Coppermine. Cape Turnagain marked the limit of this journey, hut before returning Simpson took possession of Victoria Land in the name of the Queen.


 

In a third and final trip Simpson and Dease passed Cape Turnagain and reached Cape Britannia.

We have already noticed that, after Canada passed into the hands of the English, the attention of the fur traders was centred in the district about Lake Athabaska. Samuel Hearne, on his return from the Coppermine River, had spent part of a season among the Indians on the north shore of the lake. It remained, however, for the Montreal merchants to open up this new region to trade, and the man chosen for this work was the daring Peter Pond, who, in 1778, built the first trading-post on the Athabaska River, near the lake. Ten years later Fort Chipewyan was erected, the famous starting-point of explorations directed west to the Rockies and north to the Arctic Ocean.

It was natural that traders who had become familiar. with Athabaska Lake should pass 011 up the Peace River. The first to do this was a French-Canadian, who established Fort Vermilion. Later were built, farther up the river, Forts Dunvegan and McLeod.

About seven years after Pond entered the Athabaska district, Cuthbert Grant, the father of the half-breed leader in the skirmish at Seven Oaks, extended the fur trade to Great Slave Lake. When the two great companies united, they built a large trading-post on Great Slave Lake, called Fort Resolution. Another important point on the lake was Fort Providence, founded by Mackenzie on his return from the Arctic Ocean.

About 1796, a North-West Company trader, named Livingstone, built the first fort on the Mackenzie River. That this pioneer work was attended with great danger may be judged from the fact that this unfortunate man was murdered by the hostile Eskimos. The next fort erected on the Mackenzie was Fort Simpson, which was and still is the centre of trade for the district. Other important places in the same neighborhood were Forts Franklin and Good Hope, the former built for the accommodation of the great explorer, the latter to meet the demands of the ever extending fur trade.

The union of the North-West and the Hudsonís Bay Companies was followed by a rapid extension of trade in the Mackenzie River district. John Bell, an Arctic explorer of some experience, built a fort on Peelís River. In 1846, Bell descended the Rat River and discovered the Lower Yukon. This new region was occupied by the erection of La Pierreís House and Fort Yukon. When the United States bought Alaska from Russia in 1867, these points were given up by the Company. The whole district has since been abandoned by the fur traders as unprofitable.

Situated at the junction of the Mackenzie and Liard, Fort Simpson became the base from which the latter river, one of the swiftest and most dangerous of the Rocky Mountain streams, was explored. The first post built on the river was Fort Liard, at the Forks of the east and west branches. In 1834, Chief Trader John McLeod succeeded in forcing his way up the west branch, and discovered Dease River and Dease Lake, from which the Liard takes its rise. Four years later, Robert Campbell established a trading-station on Dease Lake, and in the same season, crossing the mountains, reached the Stikine River.

In 1840, Campbell was again sent out by the Hudsonís Bay Company. Ascending the north branch of the Liard River to Lake Francis, he made his way by Finlayson River to a small lake of the same name, occupying the height of land. Crossing this, he found himself looking down upon a large river, which, as a tribute to the Governor of the Company, he called the Pelly. After descending the stream a short distance, he retraced his course to the Lower Liard. Not until eight years later did Campbell make the journey which rendered complete his already extensive travels. From the height of land he descended the Pelly to its junction with the Lewes, where he-built Fort Selkirk. After a yearís delay, he descended the now famous Yukon River to Fort Yukon, from which point he made his way down the Porcupine to the mouth of the Mackenzie. Great was the surprise of his friends when he arrived at Fort Simpson, coming up instead of down the stream.


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