Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

Wild Life in Canada
Chapter IV - On the Great Churchill River

It is difficult to measure the distances one travels in passing through new country, so one seldom attempts it. When the question arises of travel about to be undertaken, or that has been accomplished, one falls back, as a rule, on what maps one possesses to scale off as best one can on a minute scale the straight distances as they arc there shown. But such map measurements are at best but rudely approximate, for seldom indeed can one follow a land or water trail directly from point to point, as one assumes the course on the map. Indeed, if one surveyed and laid on paper the actual course of a primitive canoe1 in navigating a lake, while keeping land in view and avoiding the unsheltered open lake on which it would spell death to be caught in one of those rapid rising storms of wind so common to the country, one would be astonished at the line that would zigzag and curve in its progress towards its objective, for it would in all probability take along shores of jutting headlands and through bewildering groups of island, that ever interrupt and change the route of travel; and add many hours’ labour to the patient voyageur. Over land it is the same; one works forward to a distant objective, for ever on the look-out to avoid the rougher going—thick undergrowth, swamps, muskegs, and such natural obstacles— and endeavouring to obtain the most comfortable and progressive route that the local conditions of the country offer.

Maps show the distance that I have canoed on the Great Churchill River—or “ The English River ” as it is locally called—from lie k la Crosse Lake eastward to its junction with Reindeer River, to approximate 276 miles; while beyond the point of my departure from it it continues easterly another 540 miles before it empties into the sea in Hudson Bay. This is sufficient to make clear that it is a mighty river in length, as it is also mighty in breadth and volume of water.

Throughout its course the Churchill River is an extraordinary series of wide lake expansions linked together by gateways and glens of magnificent river where waters gather in indrawing volume to enter, and hurry, and tumble, and roar in their wild escaping onward, ever onward to the next lake, and the next, in their incessant, time-set journey to the sea.

On the section of the river on which I travelled there were no fewer than sixteen large and beautiful lakes, ennobled by solitude, rich in the undefined and the mysterious of the Unknown: each resembling the other in that they were gems inset in the one type of fair green forest country indigenous to that latitude; each different in that the aspect to the eye was ever a changing scene of fresh beauty and of fresh and gratifying originality. One never grew tired nor complained of monotony. Stimulated by beauty, rather was one incited almost to hurry from one fair picture to another, seeking what lay hidden beyond the next river-bend, or the next island, and when that also was revealed to wish in passing, and in the fulness of praise and satisfaction, that the best of one’s friends in the world could be there also to share such wealth of wonderful scenes. It was much too fine, it seemed, to be revealed to just an audience of one.

Those lakes on the route occupied, approximately, 157 miles of the total distance, so that considerably less than half of my journey on the Churchill was on actual river.

In the manner of our going I will trace the course of the Churchill River to the mouth of Reindeer River.

Our solitary canoe, containing my able river-man at the stcrn-paddle and myself at the bow-paddle, entered the Churchill River from the north end of lie a la Crosse Lake. After passing down a short, narrow stream of rapid water, we entered and traversed Shagwenaw Lake—a lake which lies almost north and south. The north shore, with forest to the water’s edge, was not far distant on our left, but on our right, away out south as far as eye could see, stretched a beautiful sheet of water interspersed with such a confusion of wooded islands as might well perplex the voyageur should he be so unfortunate as to be doubtful of direction. It was an invigorating day in early June ; cool, almost cold. Bright sunlight lit up the full deep green of the peak-topped forests of spruce and pine and glinted along the bleached, disfigured trunks of storm-wrecked, long-dead trees, uprooted and thrown down here and there at the forest edge in angular disorder. Broad earth and broad water were beautiful: so also the heavens, beyond Space of remarkable atmospheric clearness—grey islands of cloud lying low along the northern horizon, a few faint white puffs and shallows to the east, and to the south a heavy pillowed gathering of white and grey clouds, sun-touched on their bankings with the south-east morning sun—overhead a great wide dome of clearest, softest blue.

Without difficulty we found the outlet from Shagwenaw Lake and entered a long stretch of river, wide and deep, and, for the greater part, gently flowing. During the afternoon two rapids were encountered: the first, not having excessive fall and having a feasible-looking course down the edge of the rough centre volume of water, we attempted to navigate, and successfully ran, after first going above, and walking down on the rocks, to make a critical examination of the rapid, for both of us were complete strangers to the river and had not the almost essential native advantage of knowing where lay each ugly water-covered rock and disconcerting whirlpool. The second rapid on examination offered no canoe passage, so we portaged the canoe and kit overland, and camped for the night at the lower end of the portage path, which was but a faint, almost invisible passage down the forested shore, used once a year, perhaps, in this thinly populated, almost depopulated land, by some three dozen Indians journeying to the rendezvous of the official Treaty Party at lie a la Crosse to draw Treaty money, and hold a big powwow.

The following morning we resumed our journey and were soon to learn that we had rapids and typical hard river voyaging to contend with. During the morning we encountered three rapids. The first we ran; and shortly after leaving it behind we passed, on the north shore, the sandbars which lie at the mouth of the Mudjatick River. The Mudjatick, or Bad Caribou River, noteworthy because it affords a possible passage, though a hard one, to Lake Athabasca, rises in the height of land north of latitude 57° and flows south about eighty miles in a shallow winding channel before it joins into the Churchill River. Thereafter followed other two rapids both too dangerous to run, so at each we let the canoe down the Jess turbulent water close in to the south shore: a process we accomplished by wading hip-deep, at bow and stern of the canoe, over the uneven, bouldered, hole-dented bed of the stream; loading the canoe slowly and laboriously downstream, holding against the rude strength of the downpouring passing current.

About midday, after a strenuous morning, Joe and I landed. I had secured three museum specimens and nine mallards’ eggs en route. We lunched on the eggs—finishing the lot at a sitting. I assure you that if one works hard one eats heartily in the North. It was June 2— where we lunched on shore Pin Cherry Trees were in blossom and Wild Strawberries, and tiny purple Violets were in flower; charming colours before the great background of evergreen forest.

In late afternoon, when nearing the head of Pelican Rapids, we came quietly downstream on two moose standing in the cool water, browsing contentedly on a beed of Water-lilies in the solitude of a sheltered bay. Had it been open season, or had meat been necessary to our existence at the time, they would have fallen easy prey. When our scent was borne to them they left the water, and vanished in the forest.

Before sundown we portaged Pelican Rapids— a roaring, tumbling force of water that one heard rumbling in the distance long before one came upon it. It was a wild, angry rapid, typical of many on this mighty river—agitated waves when eager escaping waters rushed together through the narrow, bouldered gateway; long, swinging swells curling at the crests and breaking in silver foam; great waves rising over boulders and rocks, and plunging into the depth beyond. Below the entrance, ere the force died out in the great deep pool at the bottom, were boiling whirlpools; and backwater eddies—swinging round to the sides of the main stream and back into the head-waters of the angry turmoil. On the shores were dark rocks tilted at all angles and broken limbs of trees stuck in crevices where high water had lodged them. Everywhere the waters were blue in the sunlight except where they broke in silvery foam—an inspiring scene of sound and motion and colour. . . . And there was an old friend: the Tennessee Warbler, whose kind particularly haunt the shores of rapids,' singing joyfully of summer and boundless activity, seemingly in competition with the prolonged purring sound of the rapid, which clearly pleases him.

Next morning we passed the great marshes at the entrance to Pelican Lake—marsh that teemed with duck in the full pride of brilliant summer plumage. Mallard, Pintail, and Shovellers were the most abundant, and Green-winged Teal and Golden-eye in lesser numbers. In addition to those birds there were great colonies of Common and Black Terns nesting among the marsh-reeds, and many Yellow-headed Blackbirds—hoarse, shrill-voiced reed-birds, piebald in aspect, with their black and yellow markings of sharp contrast.

The air was dotted with swinging groups of birds we had disturbed, winging their way forward, then backward; while the water and marsh held many more. It transpired, as the months passed and we travelled on through lake and river, that this lake (Pelican Lake) was recalled as the one containing the greatest abundance of waterfowl. It held, however, one disappointment—there were no pelicans—at least- none were seen. Possibly they once inhabited the locality, as the name of the lake implies, but now have departed.

Pelican Lake was very irregular on all sides, with long bays biting deep into the mainland; also there were many wooded islands, mostly of fair elevation, standing well out of the water.

Small poplars grew chiefly on those islands and a few white birch, while here and there a group of spruce and pine showed darkly, and above the tops of the other trees. Willows bordered the narrow beach of light granite stones, which marked the line between water and soil.

On Pelican Lake we encountered difficulties. Crossing it in the canoe we faced a heavy head wind and struggled against large waves which the heavily laden canoe rode badly, for she rose stiffly to the crests of the waves and pitched heavily into the hollows between. We shipped more water than was comfortable and, once or twice, shipped it in ugly fashion until we feared damage to our canvas-protected stores, which lay packed in the centre of the canoe, if not a trifle anxious for our own safety. Finally, about 3 p.m., we were able to reach an island, and put ashore to wait until the wind should drop.

At 6 p.m. the wind had moderated and we were able to go on, and reached the east shore of the lake. But then again we were in difficulties, for along those shores we searched until dark without finding the “blind” (hidden) outlet from the lake.

It had, altogether, been a disappointing day of hard work and little progress.

Next morning early we found the channel through to Primeau Lake, but again, during the day, we were in trouble, for in the afternoon we toiled up a deep bay which in the end blankly terminated, and it took us until evening to return to the position of our mistake. On a great many waterways of the north, if without an Indian guide who knows the territory, it is a grave problem to determine what to do when confronted with two, or even three, long channels of water, to the terminus of which the eye cannot see, and decide which is the one which holds somewhere in its shores (secreted, perhaps, in yet another bay off the main bay) the river outlet. Sometimes, on the dead water of the lake at a shore point, or at a stone, or at weeds, it is possible, on close examination, to find the slightest of down-flowing current passing the stationary object; and then one may be positive that one is following the right course. At other times it is one’s good luck to hear the faint rumble, like a rising puff of wind in the trees (which one must be careful not to confuse it with), of a distant rapid or waterfall, and know that where it arises is the river. There is yet another sign which sometimes gives one comfort when current and sound fail, and that is some mark of Indian travel on shore: a willow or tree from which an axe has robbed some branches and left the wounded ends, the black ash, or a burnt stump, of an old camp-fire, or, best sign of all, a discarded teepee— for those elementary, pole-framed, cone-shaped habitations of the native nomads are seldom, if ever, erected except somewhere on an Indian main “roadway.” But there are times when all those signs are wanting and one must simply trust to Providence when confronted with the puzzling irregularity of the shore.

The following morning, June 5, we found outf course soon after pushing off. Below Primcau Lake we ran Crooked Rapid and part of Knee

Rapid, after making a short portage over the rocks at its head where the first inrush of water broke angrily over a rocky dip in elevation. We had not long left Knee Rapid when a Black Bear was sighted on the north shore, wading in the water :n search of fish, as is a common habit with them in summer. The canoe was run ashore, and as the animal ambled into the woods, for it had seen or scented us, I tried a long shot at about 300 yards, but failed to bring it down.

The greater part of the day was spent travelling a zigzag course through Knee Lake, a long, extensive sheet of water, and we camped toward sundown well up to the north-east end, where should lie the river outlet.

Knee Lake, like the others, was very irregular in shape, and contained many islands. The rough hilly north shore was often less densely wooded, and, here and there, ranged along the lake for a considerable distance, were bare grass-hills scantily scrub-grown.

During the afternoon we came on a pair of Bald Eagles nesting on a prominent point on the west shore of a side-channel on Knee Lake. The huge, twig-constructed nest was on the top of a decayed spruce tree, and contained one well-grown young bird.

To-day was a lean one for securing specimens. I note that it was remarkable that I saw no hawks in this territory, and had not seen one since leaving Lake He k la Crosse—though up to that time I had seen a fair number and had secured one or two skins. It bears out that which I have always experienced in Canada—that birds are remarkably local, principally because, in my humble opinion, in such a vast country, they are free to select ground of nature most attractive to their habits of feeding, and most remote from their natural enemies. I do not include man and gun as “natural" enemies, for they have invaded the country after the habits of the birds were inherent. Large numbers of some species, such as geese and cranes, have had the wisdom to seek new haunts north of the line of civilisation. All of the edible species that remain within the settled country, such as Sharp-tailed Grouse, Pinnated Grouse, Ruffed Grouse, ducks of many species, geese, and cranes—all are diminishing, some even threatened with extinction, like the buffalo and the Prong-horned Antelope; and that though the legitimate shooting season is open but for two brief weeks in the Fall (autumn) of the year.

With extracts from my field diary I will follow out the incidents of the remaining days we voyaged down the Churchill River; extracts which it is my hope will continue to serve to bring before the mind’s eye of the reader something of the varied, wholly outdoor and untrammelled aspect of this great northern waterway.

June 6.—Morning dull, threatening rain, high wind from north-west. Astir before 5 a.m. Cooked breakfast, and, as customary, the one meanwhile struck tent and packed canoe ready for embarking, while the other was employed over the fire. Mosquitoes were very troublesome when we came ashore last evening, and worried us all through the night. At all times at this season mosquitoes are in great numbers, but when they are particularly bad—swarming and biting with unshakable persistency—it is a certain sign that rain is near. Those insects, and black -flies and sand-flies at times, are the bane of summer travel in Canadian north territory. Out on the water they never trouble one, but on shore they pounce on one from the vegetation that is there, and are a constant jar to one’s full pleasure. One should never set out, as I thoughtlessly did, without mosquito curtains; I would never again overlook to prepare against them. True they carry no disease, but in numbers and capacity to torment they far outstrip the malarial mosquito in Africa (Anopheles) in my experience.

We reached the east end of Knee Lake between 9 and 10 a.m. There were there, close to the-exit from the lake, a small log cabin or two, on the north shore and on an island. Those were completely deserted of Indian or halfbreed: no sound was there, no contented smoke curled above the thatched roof to give welcome to lonely voyageur hungry for companionship and the sound of human voices. The inhabitants had gone, the men taking with them their womenfolk and their children, even their dogs. They had gone, perhaps, to meet the Treaty Party, perhaps to pitch their teepees at some favoured summer haunt where fish and fowl and beast were sufficient to feed them plentifully.

Invariably those log cabins of Indians are built—as those here were—on a site remarkable for the long stretches of water it commands: the sharp bend of a river, or the junction of two rivers, is most often chosen, where the hunter inhabitant can obtain, without moving from his door, an extensive view down at least two great watercourses, and see, perhaps, the passing of worthy game, and, seeing them, would then set out in chase.

At this point of Knee Lake there was a pair of ospreys nesting; magnificent, masterful birds— the “Fish Eagle” of the country. Their nest was on the top of a dead jack pine on a drear hillside scorched at some not long past date by a runaway bush fire. There grew there now, among the charred and blackened debris, the little ad-venturings of new green growth ; an uprising of little living things about the feet of the grave, grey, dismantled masts of trees that were dead and but monuments now of lives once lived.

When we were nearing the osprey’s nest the male bird was seen to approach, against the wind on powerful wings, carrying in his talons as food for the sitting female a small pike about twelve inches long. This fish he carried not broadwise to the wind, but held parallel to the body, and with the head facing forward, so that it offered little resistance to the wind.

About 10.30 a.m. we passed the mouth of Haultain River, a stream from the north, about 300 feet wide where it empties into the Churchill River over shallow sand-bars. Here, in the marsh west of the river mouth, I spent some time observing bird-life. Five specimens were collected during the afternoon, and three nests of eggs were found.

It commenced to rain after midday and we got miserably wet before evening. During the day the following birds were observed: Leconte Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Yellow Warbler, Tree Swallow, Redwinged Blackbird, Belted Kingfisher, Snipe, Bittern, Mallard, Shoveller, Golden-eye, Bluewinged Teal, Holboell Grebe, Black Tern, Crow, Raven, Osprey.

June 7 (Sunday).—Awoke this morning after a miserable night passed on water-soaked ground in damp blankets. The activities of the mosquitoes on the 5th were sure forecast of rain, and so rain had come. It rained all day, and we did not attempt to move on but sat tight within the shelter of my small silk tent. I skinned the specimens I had collected yesterday, while Joe did his best to nurse a spluttering fire before the tent-door for the cooking of meals. Rain can be a most disconcerting element when canoeing and camping-out in this fashion, far from any settlement ; a steady downpour will very soon find a way into every conceivable corner, no matter how well you have fancied you have taken precautions against it, and the result is that before long you sit among your far-carried, dearly valued possessions and see them in a state of half ruin before your eyes. Then only sunshine can lift your depression, and, in spite of your unpleasant experience, when Old Sol breaks through again you find yourself gaily arranging your possessions before its heat, and looking out on the world with a freshened optimism. Rain was, however, by no means a constant tyrant, for we experienced a beautiful summer of sunshine with days of rain a rare exception.

June 8.—Morning overcast after a night of heavy rain, but the heavy clouds cleared about 10 a.m. and the day thenceforward was bright and pleasant; the air crystal-clear as the sparkling water, the whole North world pure with the intense cleanness of virginity.

To-day we passed down the rapidless stretch of river between Knee Lake and Sandy Lake: a stretch sub-named Grassy River on account of the waterway for some distance wending its way, in three separate channels, through broad green marsh. The chief incident of the day was the finding of a colony of nesting terns on a low, plant-barren, wave-washed island, full note of which is given in the subsequent chapter of “Field Notes.” While on the island, some time was spent photographing nests, and, thus delayed, we were still short of Sandy Lake when night approached and necessitated our pitching camp on the river bank.

June 9.—We breakfasted in rain, and struck camp, to continue our canoe journey under the same discomforting conditions. An hour after leaving camp we emerged into Sandy Lake, and throughout the day voyaged through it. Sandy Lake bore out its name, containing many low broad points and bays of beautiful sand. Indeed, so clean and white were the shores in many places that the lake was thereby of pleasing fresh aspect in comparison with those already navigated. Here, too, and on account of the composition of the beach, shore birds were found more numerously than anywhere previously, and I collected ten specimens; among them a pair of Sabine’s Gulls, of which I saw three. These are noteworthy, for they were the only specimens of this species encountered throughout the expedition, and possibly they are quite rare in this inland territory. Further west, some two hundred and fifty miles, Ernest Thompson Seton and Edward A. Preble made an expedition in 1907 down the Athabasca River and adjacent waterways, and in their list of birds observed do not record having seen a single specimen.

Late in the afternoon, close to an island in the north-east corner of Sandy Lake, we came on a small settlement containing fourteen inhabitants. Here (in the rude, unkept clothing of an outdoor exile), we found a white trapper, by name Hans Madson—a Danish-American married to an English-Cree half breed woman. Not an old man, this ruddy haired Dane of perhaps five-and-thirty, yet were the customs of his race well-nigh erased and his disposition imbued with the habits and mannerisms of his redskin associates: only in colouring and speech did trace of his origin remain; so far had he grown into the likeness of his surroundings. His cabin was empty of every luxury of food, and his eyes lit hungrily when opportunity was given him to receive a portion of sugar and prunes in exchange for dried moose meat; for his daily food was little more than dried meat, and fresh or dried fish, cooked without seasoning and eaten without vegetable or bread of any kind. He was undisguisedly delighted to see us, and told us we were the only whites he had seen since the Fall of the previous year, when he had been out to Prince Albert. He begged us to camp the night near him, and this we did, sharing with him as real a European meal as scant stores could furnish, much to his satisfaction and gratitude.

The boom in black fox farming was at its height in 1913 and 1914, and every good fox that could be trapped alive in the wilderness was being caged and sent east to Prince Edward Island for breeding purposes. Like every other white trapper in the Dominion of Canada, Hans Madson was “fox crazy”: smitten with the mad desire for great riches, as men are swept off a sane balance who join in a great gold rush. He was obsessed with the thought of digging out dens of priceless black and silver cubs, or the offspring of black or cross parents. Now, however, the cub season was over, and his chance of success, for the time, was gone. He had had no great luck—a few7 reds and cross foxes he had taken—but, undaunted, still he talked of the rare animals he had seen on frozen lakes and in snowed-up forest, and of others his Indian friends had reported; and he dreamed with true optimistic sporting keenness of the possibilities of success when the next early spring should approach.

June 10.—In the early morning we bade goodbye to Hans Madson, who looked on with melancholy visage at our departure : God knew when next he would see a white man! Not likely another to pass his way this summer, nor any summer, for he had pitched his can ip off the route of the red man’s trail—off such trails as rare, adventurous, self-exiled wanderers of the white race turn curiously along one or two days in a score of years. In olden days Indian tracks from the Reindeer River—Foster River territory radiated from the Hudson Bay post at lie a la Crosse, and this stretch of the Churchill River was a well-used main route, but later, a shorter and easier north route developed to the Churchill, from Cumberland House via Sturgeonweir River to Frog Portage, and from Prince Albert via Montreal River and Lac la Ronge to Stanley Mission Post.

Soon after we had bidden farewell to Madson the canoe entered the short stretch of river that led on to Snake Lake and we ran Snake Rapid, the only rough water on our course to-day. Thenceforward the day was occupied in travelling through Snake Lake, a lake of some twenty-one miles length from western to eastern extreme. The shores of this lake had some prominent formations of vertical sand-bank, or small cliffs; especially on the north-east shore. During the day much bird-life was observed, and some nests and eggs collected at points we landed at. Toward evening we camped well to the east of Snake Lake within view of a solitary deserted winter post of the Hudson Bay Company. This day witnessed a favourable change in the weather, for about noon the rain, which had been with us for the last four days, gave place to clearing skies and periods of sunshine. Charming was the evening at our night camp: late western sunlight rested with golden richness on the eastern 6 wooded shores, while below the curving, changing shore-line the broad lake water lay becalmed and wholly placid and blue, and a perfect mirage of leaved forest, scarred banks, spotless pebbles, and dainty sandpipers was reflected on the immediate lake margin. Overhead—with similar instantaneous sight, and marvellous quick-changing flight of Swift or Swallow—swinging, plunging, rising through the cool, balmy, rain-purified air, flew a pair of Nighthawks, feeding on insects the while they emitted their hoarse, grating call, which is associated with summer evenings anywhere in Canada; though perhaps most familiar of all to those who camp outdoors by lake or forest. Such sounds, and a few others, are inseparable from Canadian wilderness; typical in their own country as the call of the Curlew or peevish Lapwing on the dreary, wind-swept, highland moors of the British Isles: such the maniacal, laughing cry of the Loon (the Great Northern Diver) heard on nearly all backwood freshwater lakes; such the eerie wolf-howl of the Coyote on the western plains.

June 11.—A day of perfect weather—very pleasant for canoeing. Progress to-day was marred by our missing our true course when east of the deserted Hudson Bay Cabin. There we entered a long false bay to the south of the turn beyond the Post and had three hours’ fruitless paddle to and from its blank extreme before we were again back on an open course, where we discovered a slight sign of current to definitely point the way.

About 3.30 p.m. we entered Sandfly Lake, a lake of lesser size than Snake Lake. This proved again to be a lake containing a great many islands similar to Shagwenaw, Pelican, and Knee Lakes of those we had thus far voyaged through on the Churchill. Some of the islands were of fair elevation and were wooded, others were low-lying surfaces of rock and boulders with a scant, ill-thriven growth of grass. We landed at a group of the latter wbere large colonies of terns and gulls were nesting. Of those I made observations and notes, and collected a few rare shore-birds. Before departing we gathered some fresh eggs to augment our food supplies, counting them a great treat since they were a change from our regular diet of bannock, salt pork, wild duck, and pike. Pike and black and red Suckers were the only fish I caught on the Churchill River—no trout were seen ; not even on Trout Lake.

This day I observed a single Chipmunk—noteworthy, as I had not before seen this pretty little animal on the Churchill. A Porcupine was also seen landing on the shore after swimming across the expanse of water above Sandfly Lake. He proceeded to climb a poplar tree to feed on buds and leaves. This was the first occasion on which I had seen this species in the water. It appeared not to relish its immersion, for it shivered with cold, and perhaps with fear, when it landed.

June 12.—We reached the exit from Sandfly Lake in the afternoon and passed into swift-flowing river where bad rapids were encountered and canoe navigation became impossible. This meant hard labour, but, as it was all in the day’s work on travel of this kind, we stuck to our task, with the result that three rapids were overcome and an open course lay before us at camping time. At the first rapid—Pine Portage—we waded into the water and let the canoe slowly down a shallow branch of the river on the north side; at the second—Birch Portage—we portaged the canoe, stores, and specimens overland through the wood on the south shore; and at the third—Pall Portage—we again portaged, but only over a narrow twenty-yard rocky neck, to evade the fall that was there, for the water below was navigable.

To travel, as we did, without an Indian guide to lead exactly over the recognised route—which is invariably the quickest and least laboursome route, and the outcome of knowledge handed down from one generation to another—meant that when no human trace could be found on shore, such as an old portage path, when navigating rapids, or where friction of feet had slightly whitened a vague line over an exposed platform of rock, we simply had to aet on blunt individual judgment in accomplishing our journey; and blundered on occasions and gave ourselves extra labour. On rare occasions we saved labour, as in this ease, for a small map I possessed stated that there were four portages at this part of the river, while we only actually made two, though a third would have been necessary had we not succeeded in letting down the canoe at the top rapid. However, travelling guideless as a rule increases the labour and risks, and certainly means loss of time; yet, even so, there is something most attractive in attaining to complete independence, complete freedom from reliance on others, which is most typical of the primitive spirit which the North makes known to you, and approves. And, beyond the pleasure it gives to be able to go where you list through the wilderness, and risk what you list, the extra labour you undertake has behind it, as all labour that is difficult must have, a spiritual satisfaction and reward: for among red men or black in British colonies, the prestige of our race is surely upheld by those who, when occasion arises, can stand up alone, endure alone, and accomplish alone, admitting no weakness to the eye of the critical native. Many an Indian expressed great surprise at my travelling unguided through their boundless country. Foolhardy it must have seemed to them who knew the difficulties and dangers; yet none called me a fool. Rather were they ready to be my friends'—not on account of myself, but because their simple imagination painted me like the adventurous White Chiefs of our earliest settlement, who wandered far and had great knowledge, and whom they were willing to serve as subjects.

June 13.—Having secured some specimens yesterday—among them an adult Northern Bald Eagle—I was busily employed skinning all morning.    .

After lunching we again pushed forward, our course swinging well into the north-east up the lake-like expansion that lies between Sandfly Lake and Black Bear Island Lake. Passing the neighbourhood of the mouth of the Foster River —a river of considerable size flowing from the north—no sign of its outlet was seen, and I have since learned that that was because it empties into the Churchill in the bottom of a deeply inlet bay.

Toward evening we entered Blaek Bear Island Lake through its maze of channels which flow between the large islands that bloek its entrance and obscure extensive view. Like the shadows of a big problem were those islands which were crowded in and almost made prison walls about us, leaving us anxious to solve the riddle that would discover the doorway of escape and give again the freedom of the open road. Nowhere do I recall such another eerie, shut-in scene as this. But in an hour or so we had worked our way through to more open water and pitched camp for the night on the north mainland of the lake, viewing, across the shimmering, dead-calm water, and over the tree-covered contour, a glorious sunset among grey and white clouds that had retired to the horizon from the great blue open sky.

No less ungenerous than on the days that have gone before are my entries and remarks this evening on mosquitoes and black flies. They give no peace when on shore: they truly are the curse of summer travel in Canada.

June 14.—A lovely morning; calm, and clear, and warm; the continuance of a spell of fine weather without drawback to voyaging. We did not leave in the canoe at once this morning, but explored in the dark forest behind camp among fallen limbs and trunks lying about on the rough, hillocky, moss-covered underbed of the woods. Many of the trees were picturesquely lichen-grown with whitish, close-clinging plant, and with scattered tufts of hairy, moss-like, pale-green plant. At the edge of the forest was an eighteen-inch growth of green grass and weeds. Forested hills sloped upwards from the north shore of Black Bear Island Lake, and at the summit in some cases an outcrop of rock and large boulders protruded prominently. The lake was some fourteen miles in length, and while we remained on it we never quite forgot its somewhat frowning, shut-in aspect. Even birds seemed to shun the neighbourhood, for few were seen, and I recorded it the worst I had so far travelled through in that respect. It has not been common with me to hear the red squirrel’s chatter in this territory, but here I heard one to-day. While speaking of creature sounds, I am reminded that it was on this lake that I first noticed the absence of frog-croaking in the evenings, and it was not until reaching Stanley Mission on June 23 that they were again heard. Unfortunately I was too busily employed with other subjects to investigate their apparent absence from this area—a stretch of about seventy miles of watercourse. No black bears were seen, and in supporting its nomenclature this lake was as disappointing as Pelican Lake. Probably, when the course of the Churchill was mapped, a black bear was seen on one of the islands of the lake, and therefore the name—a name selected on the spur of the moment, without perhaps grasping any very great and permanent characteristic. On the other hand, I, in my haste onward, might easily miss such a characteristic, did it in reality exist, therefore it is merely a passing personal . impression that I at present record. Had I been the original surveyor I think I would have chosen “Eerie Lake” as name for this strangely silent expansion of dark water, wherein were closeted ghost-like citadel islands, and wherein I never quite threw off the impression that I had intruded on a sanctuary of spooks and fairies of long-past ages.

June 15.—Day again fine. Noonday sun high overhead, giving the broad earth fulness of summer, and its living season of growth. How blithely it lifts the spirit! How different this to the sun’s low, short circuit in winter over land then dormant!

Characteristic of the country are the cone-peaked tops of Black Spruce on the sun-lit hillsides, their branches drooping down a little in extending horizontally outward; in this respect differing from the White Spruce, which is more straightly outgrowing.

Passed the rapid at Birch Portage about 3 p.m. and entered Trout Lake. We let the canoe down through the troublesome current at the top of this rapid and ran the remainder. We camped for the night on Trout Lake.

It is now twenty-four days since we left He a la Crosse Post.

Joe to-night caught a pike weighing seven and a half pounds when trolling with a small blue phantom minnow.

June 16.—Spent till noon to-day looking for right course on Trout Lake. Yesterday headed out north-easterly in following the small survey map in my possession, but found no outlet. Today, in the forenoon, canoed down the east shore, poking into all side-inlets—but without avail, and we lunched at Birch Rapids, from whence we had started yesterday. From there we set out due north, and found our course through.

About 2.30 p.m. thunderstorm and squall broke over us when in mid-lake, and gave us a rough time until we reached inshore, where we lay up until evening; then travelling onward, when the wind went down, late into the night. We shipped a lot of water in mid-lake when struggling against the great waves that arose, and at one time feared for the safety of our craft, but finally we got through with little more than a thorough wetting to our persons, the stores and specimens saved by the tarpaulin which I always have laced over the canoe-centre against rain, or spray when running rapids. Such a tarpaulin, and a light platform to keep the kit raised off the canoe bottom, are essential for protection against wet on long, rough journeys of this kind.

Saw first two blooms of Wild Rose or Briar to-day.

Dragon-flies are now about the shores, and have been in evidence for the past three or four days. They commonly fly back and forth at height of the tree-tops (say 40 to 50 feet) or else very low around the roots of the willows on shore ; to rest on occasions out of the breeze on the sand in the bays.

Daily I note ornithological observations, and continue collecting specimens, but these are omitted here as I deal with them in a later chapter.

June 17.—Up at 3 a.m. and away early with the desire to make up for time lost on Trout Lake.

Morning very dull and chilly, with wind from the east—it looked like rain, but the sky cleared later in the day and there was none. In early morning entered the north channel of the two riverways which run past the large island which lies between Trout and Dead Lake. Here we had to pass four rapids; at the first two, Trout and Rock Trout Rapids, it was necessary to run ashore above and portage the canoe and kit overland to quiet water below—laborious work over the rough ground with the huge loads we piled on our backs to lessen as far as possible the number of journeys back and forth on the portage trail. After we had finished at the second rapid I put up my rod and fished the deep, swirling pool at the top with a small minnow, hoping that I might see trout. Here I hooked two great fish, not trout, alas! but pike. The first one finally broke, taking the whole of my tackle; the second, after some twenty minutes’ play on my trout rod, I landed—a pike weighing 18 lbs., measuring 3 ft. 5J in. in length. Hitherto, until that canoe voyage, I had always looked upon pike as an unclean, poor-quality-food fish; but on the Churchill River, and elsewhere, we caught those fish almost daily at times, and thoroughly relished eating them. Of course, living as they did in clean cold water, those fish were of particularly good quality, and, besides, real hunger cures many a fanciful aversion.

Resuming our journey we ran Light Rock Rapid and the nameless one below, having some exciting moments on the latter, which was stony and very rapid, and somewhat dangerous, but through which our canoe travelled headlong, like the wind, unscathed. And so out to Dead Lake, the shores of which were high and rocky, timbered as usual with willows, poplar, spruce and pine. Camped for the night well to the north-east of Dead Lake.

During the day, on a marsh in the river, we saw a fox prowling, searching for fish or waterfowl. Unaware of the canoe for a few moments, the animal allowed us a full view of it, then, as it saw us, but a glimmer of rusty red and white-tipped brush as it leapt ashore with great bounds through the marsh and into the forest. It is not often that a fox is thus seen during the day in summer, in the open, in country which is for them one vast wilderness of forest cover.

June 18.—This morning we paddled out into the south-east sun, while before us were the silver-glinting, sun-lit waves that ran merrily with a moderate breeze. The short remaining distance on Dead Lake was soon covered, and we again entered a connecting link of river—the link between Dead Lake and Otter Lake. Here we spent all day getting past rapids which had principally to be portaged.

At Great Devil Rapid, the first of the rapids here, we encountered tough opposition to travel. Portage was necessary—a portage of excessive length, which gave us incessant labour until lunch-time in effecting the transport of the canoe and stores down to the foot of the dangerous water. The portage was sixty-four chains in length, over rough, uneven ground, through forest that skirted the banks of the river. Joe, heavily laden, made three trips over this portage, and I five, for, fitting in our work to save time, as we always did, I went back for a load while Joe prepared lunch, and again for a final one when he washed up and packed our belongings in the canoe. Therefore the distance Joe travelled on that rough portage amounted to almost five miles, and mine to eight miles—all over rough country ; and one-half of those distances, the down-trail half, accomplished while carrying heavy loads. Thus you can conceive the nature of hard river work which the voyageur has to contend with —work so hard that I think it can truthfully be said that no white man can accomplish it who is not accustomed to it. Hardened though I had been with previous outdoor life on the Saskatchewan Plains, I well remember how tiny my first packs seemed in comparison to Joe’s 60 lbs. to 100 lbs., and how I perspired and laboured with them, and how impossible it seemed that I should ever be able to carry such a load as he did. Yet to-day my loads could equal his—so can man harden his will and muscle to any task in the face of necessity.

Overcoming Great Devil Rapid was our morning’s work, but there our difficulties were by no means at an end, for we found we had yet two more portages to make this day, each necessitating the unloading of the entire contents of the canoe, the carrying of heavy loads to the bottom of each portage, and, finally, the carefully balanced repacking of everything into our frail craft, so that we would, each time we embarked, enter the water snugly compact and weather-worthy.

Below the third portage we camped for the night, after having there cut and cleared a portage pathway through the forest, as we failed to find any old track made by Indians. The river above this rapid broke into more than one channel, and apparently they evade this last rapid by taking through, or portaging, at one of the other branches. No one could run the water we encountered in a canoe.

Fished with fly in river to-night, but saw no sign of trout. Caught 5-lb. pike on minnow.

Shot two specimens—a Northern Raven and a Grey-Cheeked Thrush.

June 19.—Mosquitoes and black flies were particularly virulent last evening; it was calm and close—omens of a weather change, and sure enough all to-day it rained heavily. In the morning we decided it was too wet to travel on account of portages ahead where stores would be soaked were we to uncover them for pack transport overland.

So we stayed in camp all day, I skinning and looking over my case of specimens, Joe cooking meals over a spluttering fire, and baking a few days’ supply of sour-dough bannock from the sack of flour.

The 5 lb. pike caught last evening was gone in the morning from the tree on which it had been hung. A bear had taken it, for claw marks were on the bark where the thief had reached up to plunder our larder. I could well imagine the brute in the dead of night contentedly licking over its lips when it had finished the meal as it ambled away into the forest, well pleased at

scenting and finding such easy prey; perhaps almost laughing up its sleeve at our impending discomfiture.

June 20.—We awoke to find the rain-storm past, and, refreshed with yesterday’s rest in camp, we made an early start, embarking at 4.30 a.m.

Soon the great easy-flowing river narrowed, and we heard ahead the unceasing rumble of falling water—we were coming to Otter Rapid. Arriving there, and after making the usual careful survey of the agitated waters, we decided that no likely channel presented itself that could be run; therefore we would attempt to let the canoe down along shore very close in to the bank. Into the water we got, clothes and all, till it swept high and forcibly against our thighs, one grasping the canoe forward, the other astern. The shore proved rough to let craft down: strong side-swinging inshore waves and eddies caught and strained the canoe, and almost swept us off our feet as slowly, feeling for precarious foothold, we carefully stepped and stumbled along over the rocks and boulders and pockets of the river-bed. Nearing the foot of the rapid we made a short portage across a rocky point and in doing so cleared the last stretch of troublesome water. Soaked to the skin were our lower bodies, from our jacket pockets down; but we never changed into dry clothes, for we were inured to this sort of thing, and garments were few. We shivered somewhat on occasions when we first got into the canoe again after being in the water, but soon wind and sun, and the heat of our bodies, dried up the clammy, uncomfortable wetness. Hardly a day passed that we kept dry throughout.

Below Otter Rapid was Otter Lake, and by lunchtime we had almost completed the distance on this nine-mile expanse of water, which was full of high, wooded islands distributed in great profusion, as on other lakes which I have previously described.

About 2 p.m., on entering the river channel between Otter Lake and Rock Lake, we encountered more rapids. Here again we took like deer to the water and let the canoe down Stony Mountain Rapid; then passing on to Mountain Rapid, which we had to portage. Below this latter rapid we cooked the evening meal; but did not camp, for we were nearing Stanley Mission, and, excitedly eager for the society of mankind after our long, lonely spell on the canoe trail, had agreed to keep on and attempt to reach the post to-night. A twelve-mile sheet of open water lay before us through Rock Lake— no more rapids between this and the Post.

Memorable were the last two hours outside Stanley Mission. Southwards down Rock Lake we paddled in the full content of a perfect Northern evening, praying wind would not rise to detain our eager passage, lilting snatches of half-forgotten popular songs, snatches of Joe’s French-Canadian songs of the Ottawa River, even snatches of the old Scotch airs of boyhood were amongst our mutual repertoire this evening: each timidly singing with rusty, unskilled voice, but each voicing surely the lifting of spirits from the gloom of lonely days now that we anticipated meeting kinsfolk. Without fault, as luck would have it, we steered a true course down the lake, which appeared less irregular and confusing than many of the others, and late in the evening, after hours of unceasing paddling, we came upon narrowing shores which promised the foot of the lake and the location of Stanley Mission. The light in the western sky lay low on the horizon; the shores to the right and left darkened to solid blackness; the air and the water were alike becalmed. In through the last long stretch of lake glided the solitary canoe, our two figures, dark in the dusk, rocking slightly as we flicked the paddles methodically in and out of the water with easy, almost careless strokes—action that was habit after months on the water. At last two light-coloured dwellings gleamed dimly on an inland bay to the south, promise at last of the settlement we sought. Into the bay wc glided; noiselessly we stole inshore with The stealth peculiar to canoeing. Eagerly we listened, but no human voice was there to give us welcome —we had not been observed, and apparently the inhabitants had gone indoors to sleep. . . . A disconsolate sled-dog, on a distant shore, gave forth a long, coyote-like howl . . . then, again, deadly silence. We stopped paddling before an Indian teepee that was just discernible on the dark shore and called out. No answer came. . . . Again I spoke; footsteps shuffled, and there was a murmur of gruff voices within the teepee; then an Indian hailed us, but in response to my question, asking direction to the white trader’s dwelling, he made no response—he did not understand my tongue. . . . Down the shore a door creaked, suspense a moment, then a clear woman’s voice rang out in English. We were dumbfounded. Was there a white woman here? There must be. . . . Clearly the voice directed us. How sweet it sounded here, how welcome the assuring instructions!—for we were dog-tired after our long day (eighteen hours in all), and eager to land and camp."

June 21, 22, and 23.—During those days we camped at Stanley Mission Post; the 21st was a Sunday, and we took things easy, on the 22nd much time was spent at the Hudson Bay Company’s post, replenishing supplies, while on the 23rd it rained heavily, and unfortunately delayed our restarting for a day.

Throughout the period we were at Stanley Post our chief care was to protect our tent and belongings from the sled-dogs of the settlement. They were a downright pest, so bad that Joe and I had to take it in turns to stay at home and sit on the doorstep, so to speak, to defend our belongings against their attentions. We lost a few little things to begin with, in spite of our care, but the culminating offence that brought our wrath down on them was when on the night of the 23rd they raided our tent while we slept and devoured six loaves of bread which the halfbreed woman at the Post had that day kindly baked for us as a particular delicacy, and which were to have been a toothsome food supply for the next month on the trail.

There was no Factor at the Hudson Hay Post, for he was south at the Lac La Ronge Post at the time, and purchase of stores was made through his halfbreed wife, who spoke Cree well, but only a very little broken English, so that conversation was carried on with difficulty; for at this time I knew but a few words of Cree. There was only one more Hudson Bay Post between Stanley and my ultimate objective in the north—that of Fort Du Brochet at the far end of Reindeer Lake—so here at Stanley I replenished my stores to the extent of 150 lbs. from the standard variety common to all fur-trading posts. Selecting a limited quantity of almost every available edible article in the store, my purchases were :—Two 24 lb. sacks of flour, 25 lbs. “Hardtack” ship biscuits, 5 lbs. rice, 5 lbs. beans, 15 lbs. bacon, 8 lbs. salt pork, 5 lbs. sugar, three cans of syrup, 3 lbs. evaporated apples, 2 lbs. baking powder, 2½ lb. bag of fine salt, 2 cakes of soap, 1lb. cut tobacco, 1lb. black plug tobacco, three hundred 12-bore cartridges, one spoon troll for pike, one tump line (for roping and carrying loads over portage), two yards mosquito net, and one pair of socks.

The Provincial Government had arranged with the Hudson Bay Company, previous to my departure, to take care of and transport whatever specimens I collected on the expedition, so at their trading post I packed 57 skins and 47 eggs for shipment, those I had taken sinee passing lie a la Crosse post.

Stanley Mission Post is at an abrupt angle of the Churchill River, for the down-trending waters flow, with current unseen, through Rock Lake in an almost due-south direction to narrow, then expand to broad river width, at Stanley, and swing again into its natural easterly course. The scattered settlement is on both banks of the river, north-west and south-east; however, the greater number of mud-plastered cabins and canvas-covered teepees (wigwams), and the Protestant church and mission, are on the north-west shore. There is one island in the bay opposite the north-west shore. Wooded hills are behind the settlement, while on the low ground there is clay soil in which good potatoes are grown. I noticed Dandelions growing here, and surmised they had been brought up at some time in potatoes or other foreign seed. Stanley Mission Post is the largest settlement north of the Churchill River. It contains about two hundred inhabitants, men, women, and children; and about twice that number of dogs. Very few of the natives are pure Indians, nearly all being a variety of castes of half breed. All speak Cree. The Post, owing to its geographical position, might almost be said to be on the outer fringe of the Frontier, for it is, though distantly, in touch with the large northern town of Prince Albert through the route which lies directly south, some two hundred miles in length, via La Ronge Lake and Montreal River: therefore the race of Indians is affected by contact with civilisation, as almost all Indians are to-day, except in the most remote and furthest-north territories which they inhabit—affected in purity,

in physique, in reserve, and the quiet grace of race which indubitably marks, and marked, the full-blooded Indian.

Of our two great religions the Catholic faith appears to be the stronger pioneer on the outskirts of civilisation in North-west Canada, and beyond, for at a great many, surprisingly remote stations of the Hudson Bay Company it has established missions where priests work faithfully alone among the few somewhat pagan inhabitants that constitute their charge. Therefore one comes to take Catholic missions as a matter of course on the north trails, but here, at Stanley, was a less common institution—a long-established Protestant mission which at the time of its beginning must have been a great pioneering venture on the part of the mission, and missionary, which undertook it, and even now could give to a man exiled from his kind, and the customs of his kind, but little comfort and reward except--ing a measure of satisfaction to earnest conscience and devout determination. The highest-up habitation on the hillside on the north-west shore is the mission house, while the church, dominant and outstanding in this place of tiny dwellings, is erected on the east margin of the settlement, near to the shore. Inhabitants of Stanley say the church was built sixty-five years ago, and as it is the most pretentious erection north of the Churchill, and has been so for many years, I will endeavour to describe it. The architecture, if it could be so called, was crude, almost barn-like; such as could be described was Gothic in design. The church was constructed with timber above the foundations, which were of rough stone imbedded in and plastered with clay. The main aspect was that which most churches bear in greater or less proportions—a tower rising high over the entrance; a nave forming the main body of the church, lighted from clerestory windows; and narrow side-aisles behind columns, and below roofs in taking to the upper walls. There - was a small vestry in the rear, but no transept, and so the pulpit stood on the right of the congregation at the head of the nave. There were seats in the nave, and bare forms against the walls in the side-aisles, while in a space in the nave at the rear stood a simple, antique-looking font, which I thought the most beautiful thing in that strange place of worship. The whole was impressive, since it was obviously the outcome of the rude labours of necessity of men who wished beyond all else to advance the faith of God to the outermost corners of the world. A large wood-burning stove stood at either end of the nave, for heating purposes in winter, and from those stoves unconcealed galvanised smoke-funnels ran overhead to find an exit finally in the roof; the whole being one of those harsh, incongruous necessities that one finds in out-of-the-way places and which are most disturbing to one’s sense of good taste. The church, well packed, could seat two hundred people. All hymn-books were printed in the Cree language. The whole interior of the church was kept in some degree of preservation with paint, paint that, alas! in effect was almost vivid rather than gravely peaceful; again, no doubt, a circumstance occasioned by necessity—lack of colours to select from, and the impossibility of having an accurate blend sent in to that remote station by any but a particularly enthusiastic craftsman. The walls, and ceilings between the rafters, were painted pale blue; the column white; and, for the rest, all woodwork was painted dark reddish-brown—the cornice, the column caps, the window-frames, the roof-rafters, and the seating—while the window openings contained leaded glass divided into small oblong panes of red, yellow, blue, green, purple and white in glaring contrasts. I came again outside, and was almost glad of the grave greyness and ill repair of the exterior, which appeared to be in the last stage of decay; moss growing on the weather-beaten, paintless grey boarding, and many places broken and growing to an open wound.

Leaving the church, the door was closed and secured with a piece of string tied to a nail.

June 24.—It was daybreak at 2 a.m. and the rain was easing outside the tent. By 4 a.m. we were hauling up tent-pegs and preparing to leave Stanley. There was a light wind from the north, but it was dull and cold—more like Fall weather than that of June. Small openings of clear sky showed scantily through dreary, dull-grey clouds—disclosures more blue than any of a common summer’s day, and it is probably on account of the strangely cold atmosphere that there is such brilliancy to-day.

Proceeding on our way down the Churchill River, we soon came to Grave Rapids, below Stanley Mission, and nearly upset the canoe in running them. We were running the rapid on the left of the swells that surged down the middle, when, in a flash, we were too far into them, and shipped a canoe-load of water before we righted on out course and fled on swiftly to the foot of the rushing water. Then, lurching heavily, we pad-died ashore and emptied the canoe, finding as before that the canvas cover had saved most of our provisions and kit from the water.

Thereafter, after some delay in finding the inlet, we came on through Rapid River Lake.

About 2 p.m. we portaged at the rapid above Drinking Lake and again had lake expanse before us and an unobstructed stretch of water through which we made good progress. The shores of Rapid River Lake and Drinking Lake were similar to those previously passed, except that neither were very confusing in outline.

At 4.30 p.m. we reached the foot of Drinking Lake and made a portage at the entrance to the narrows above Key Lake, where an island separates the river into two channels: a large main channel and a small channel. Down on the rapid water of the latter we ran in the canoe, thus evading the fall which obstructed passage at the foot of the other channel. Here we camped for the night within hearing of the pleasant sound of tumbling, hurrying water, well satisfied with our long day, for we had covered about twenty miles as the crow flies and overcome three rapids. A number of birds were noted, but none collected, since they were either commonplace, or of species I had already collected.

June 25.—On the water about 6 a.m. and proceeding onward through Key Lake.

About 11.30 a.m. we reached the bottom of the lake, where we portaged overland at Key Falls.

Below the falls, going quietly downstream, we came on a very large brown bear. The bear, when first seen, was wading belly-deep in the water on the outside of some reeds on the north shore on the prowl for fish—suckers or pike, which such animals capture by striking at in the water in lightning scrap fashion. Providence or sense of danger stirred in the brute while we watched, for it waded leisurely ashore and disappeared into the bush before we had even planned how to get near enough for shooting. The animal gave no sign of having seen us or scented us, and so we were induced to paddle down on to the south shore of the river, and go into hiding opposite where it had been hunting on the chance of its returning. There we lay up for two hours, but our patience was unavailing, and disappointed we resumed our journey at the end of that time.

In the late afternoon we made a portage at Grand Rapids and camped for the night at the lower end. The portage at this rapid was a long one, nearly half a mile in length.

Again and again I am prompted to exclaim in admiration of the vastness of the Churchill River. After twenty-four days on the great waterway, her lakes and rapids have not lost one whit of their impressive strength and grandeur; unbridled force running wild; powerful water-power worth many a man’s kingdom if only it were within the boundary of civilisation. In such a trend of thought one is apt to try to look into the far-distant future and wonder what changes another century will bring and to what industries mankind will turn when they assail this virgin country. Lumbering, though the timber is small in comparison to the great trees in British Columbia and elsewhere, will probably be the first industry to be taken up, while rich minerals may be found, and good agricultural land; though on the river bank I saw no promise of the latter, much of the ground surface of the forest being bare rock and boulder where sand takes the place of soil. But no living white man yet knows what the interior of the vast northern territory holds; inland there may be great tracts of soil suitable for agriculture. Only the waterways, where summer canoeing is possible, have been roughly surveyed. Beyond them the maps remain a great blank space.

During the day I collected some specimens of birds and found a number of nests. In the evening I caught a pike weighing 3Jibs., which I was astonished to find had an adult Cedar Wax-wing in its stomach. Dissolution had not set in, the bird was intact, and easily identified. Wax-wings prey much on insects, and I fancy this bird had dipped to the water surface in pursuit of a beetle or shadfly, and the ravenous pike had on the instant risen and seized it.

At dusk I took my rifle and went quietly back on the portage path to the top Grand Rapid in the hope of seeing bear, but had no luck, though bears at this season of the year frequent such places if they are in the neighbourhood to prey on the shoals of black and red suckers, many of which are easily cornered and captured in shallow channels and pools in the angular, rocky steps of a fall.

June 26.—To-day we travelled Island Lake, the last lake expansion between us and the mouth of the Reindeer River, where our journey on the Churchill would end. Island Lake held beautiful scenery. After leaving the east end of the lake, which was something like many of the others in rough shores of bewildering outline, there lay before us a wide expanse of water, the clean-cut shores of which had straight distances of green grass and coniferous tree-trunks rising perpendicularly from the earth, their bases unscreened by willows. Nearing the north-west end of the lake there were a few pretty islands where bright grass blended with the darker green of shapely poplar trees. The water of the lake was clear, so clear that it sometimes permitted a view of the clean, stony bottom through a good depth of water.

In the afternoon, after spending some time searching through one or two of the islands, we reached the end of Island Lake and there located Frog Portage on the south shore opposite an island, where the river takes a sharp turn into the north-east. Frog Portage is an overland link into Lake of the Woods, which is the north end of the Sturgeon weir River route, that runs 150 miles south to Cumberland House and thence forty-five miles east to The Pas in northern Manitoba, where, for the present, terminates the railway service on the Canadian Northern branch now under construction to Hudson Bay. I made particular note of the position of Frog Portage, which was difficult to discern until you are almost upon it—as, indeed, are all Indian trails—and I cut a large blaze on a solitary tree which stood on a bare point on the east shore after resuming our journey, so that I would be warned when I approached it on my return and might be sure of finding it, for it was by the above route that I intended to return to civilisation at some distant date in the future.

There were some Crees camped at Frog Portage : four teepees containing one deaf old man and a number of women and children. With the exception of the old man the male inhabitants were away “freighting” stores north from Pelican Narrows for the Hudson Bay Company. I photographed the gipsy-like dwellings, after I had overcome the old man with a gift of tobacco, to the seeming consternation of the female inmates, who in their acute shyness reminded me somewhat of alarmed sheep.

Leaving Frog Portage behind we continued onward in a more north-east direction than hitherto, until approaching darkness bid us camp.

To-day I saw a Mink swimming rapidly ashore with prey in its mouth. With my shot-gun I fired near to the animal as it landed, and it dropped what it carried, which proved to be an eel fifteen inches long, showing by deep-sunk teeth-marks that the strong, squirming thing had been held in vice-like grip across the head to subdue it and prevent its escaping. To-day, too, I again saw a Porcupine swimming in the water.

Previously, on June 11, I had noted a similar occurrence.

June 27.—This was our last day on the Churchill River, for about 2 p.m., after poitaging at Kettle Falls, we came to the mouth of Reindeer River and turned north up that broad stream of crystal-clear water that cut a well-defined line where it joined the more brownish water of the Churchill.

Stiff paddling henceforth lay ahead: against current we must now journey onward; no longer was our course downstream.

Somewhat reluctantly we bid good-bye to the stream whose name and character had grown familiar and given us pleasure, and thereafter faced the dim trail into the distant North. Always, on such travelling as this, the familiar scene and the knowledge and experience you collect go back to the Past, while ahead, round each bend, and island, and point in your course, lies the alluring, unravelled unknown of the Future. So like our lives !—the plan unfinished, the map of our course to be drawn as each day leads onward. Unseeing what is in front of us, yet in faith picturing scenes as we imagine them to be, and as we would like best to find them.

But so far as the Churchill River was concerned our travels there were ended, at least for the present. We had voyaged by lake and stream for forty-seven days, twenty-seven of which had been spent on the broad, beautiful waterway which I have endeavoured to describe.

Below I give a summary of the Churchill

River from Lake lie a la Crosse to Reindeer River:

Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus