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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Mike McMullen and Ian Macdonald confirm location of Chapleau Hudson's Bay Company Outpost in new research

Ian Macdonald, Mike McMullen
Mike McMullen and Ian Macdonald are changing the conventional wisdom of 100 plus years in the history of Chapleau with their revelations about the location of the Hudson's Bay Company Outpost commonly believed to have been at the Old Fort site at Mulligan's Bay. 
Chief Anita Stephens with Nick
Mike, my cousin, and Ian, my longtime friend and professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba, have spent countless hours researching, which included a recent trip to Chapleau, before revealing their conclusions here. Their findings are bound to spark a lively discussion and that's fine. 
It has been a great privilege to have been a small part of their research project, and I thank Mike and Ian for sharing with me. I also extend my most personal thanks to Chief Anita Stephens of the Chapleau Ojibwe First Nation for her assistance in making  their visit to the Memegos site possible.... MJM My email is mj.morris@live.ca
CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE
By MIKE McMULLEN and IAN MACDONALD
In the early 1880s, as the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was constructing its mainline through Northern Ontario, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) at Michipicoten on Lake Superior, decided to build three outposts that would be strategically located near three towns that would be built along the CPR line. The objective was to intercept the Natives and carry out trading activities with them before they got to these new towns and the storekeepers that would be located there. One of these posts was the HBC Chapleau Outpost, which was built in the fall of 1884 and reported to the Michipicoten Post. The other two outposts were located at Dog River and Magpie.
We know from the HBC Archives that the post consisted of three buildings. Two photographs from the CPR Corporate Archives confirm this and show that they were located on flat land near a shoreline.   

          HBC Chapleau Outpost under Construction (1884) CP Archives and Ian Macdonald
These two photographs, taken by the photographer accompanying the CPR survey crew in 1884, show the outpost under construction. They were published in Van Horne’s Road by Omar Lavallee in 1974. For many years, it was commonly believed that these photographs were taken at the Old Fort site at Mulligan’s Bay. 
Ojibwe Families at HBC Chapleau Outpost Site (1884) CP Archives and Ian Macdonald
We believe that the Ojibwe families in these photographs were enticed to move to the Chapleau area from the Gros Cap Reserve at Michipicoten because of opportunities associated with construction of the HBC Outpost, the CPR and logging operations.
For the past two years we have been working collaboratively on early Chapleau social and economic history, including the HBC presence in the Chapleau area. One of our interests has been to verify where the Chapleau Outpost was located. Material from the HBC Archives in Winnipeg, Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa and other Chapleau-related material, such as Pioneering in Northern Ontario, by Vincent Crichton, led us to conclude that the site was about one mile south of the Chapleau CPR station on the east bank of the Nebskwashi River. 
This places it at the location where members of the Memegos family lived for many years – commonly referred to now as the Memegos site.
Less than two years after constructing this Post, HBC decided that with the growing population in Chapleau, the company would establish a general store in the downtown area. It was built on two lots at the southwest corner of Young and Birch streets in late 1886. When Chapleau was made headquarters of the Michipicoten district, responsibility for the Chapleau Outpost was transferred to Chapleau. Less than three years later, suffering from competition from other Chapleau general merchants and a general decline in the fur trade, HBC closed the Chapleau Outpost in 1889.
In 1903, the Ojibwe families, who had been living near Chapleau for nearly 20 years, petitioned for land of their own. The Indian Agent, William L. Nichols, supported their request and recommended to J. D. McLean, Secretary of Indian Affairs, suitable land close to Chapleau for this purpose. This land was on the east side of the Nebskwashi River where he wrote that there was an HBC post that was now in a state of decay. Indian Affairs approved the request and negotiated with the Province of Ontario for the purchase of this land, which would be paid for by these Ojibwe families. The land was surveyed in 1904 and became I. R. 61. 
Over time the Ojibwe would receive more land near Chapleau with three more reserves being added: I.R.61A, I.R. 74 and I.R. 74A.
Memegos Site on I.R. 61 on East Bank of Nebskwashi River  (1924) Vince Crichton collection
A photograph in the on-line Vincent Crichton Collection (Volume 4, Picture 30) taken in 1924, shows buildings on I.R. 61 (Memegos site) from across the river near the CPR tracks south of town. There appear to be seven buildings and two of them are quite similar to two of the original HBC buildings that are in one of the CPR 1884 photographs. 
We believe there is good probability that they are the same buildings and that they were repaired and upgraded by the Ojibwe families following their purchase of the 220 acres (I. R. 61) that included the HBC site.
Before finalizing our conclusions, we felt it necessary to visit the Memegos site in person and to do it in the spring before the growing season and before the black flies are out. Michael Morris contacted Chief Anita Stephens of the Chapleau Ojibwe First Nation and she gave us permission to visit the site. Josh Memegos and Fabian Picody took us in and out on Tuesday, May 14, 2013, two days after the more than 30 cm snowfall in Chapleau.
Fabian Picody, Ian, Josh Memegos
We found the remains of three buildings, but no log buildings. Apparently, many buildings were vandalized beginning in the late 1960s. The site is relatively level and uncomplicated, sufficiently high to avoid seasonal flooding and ideally suited to an HBC outpost that had to be built quickly. The shoreline condition, while not a sandy beach, does allow for easy beaching of canoes.
This site condition tends to be an anomaly as most land along this stretch of the river appears challenging and difficult to clear and build on. The view from the site across the river to the other side is quite similar to the CPR 1884 photograph that has the river in the background. The day before our visit to this site, we walked down the tracks in the snow to about a mile south of town to duplicate the 1924 Crichton Collection photograph view of the Memegos site on the other side of the river. The topography is very similar.

 Memegos Site where HBC Chapleau Outpost was located (May 2013) Mike McMullen
Before leaving Chapleau we had the pleasure of talking with Elder Eva Memegos and we showed her pictures of the Memegos site. She and her husband Adam moved to this location in 1946 when they were married. She identified buildings from the 1924 Crichton Collection photograph as still being on the site in the late 1940s when there were about 10 buildings there. She showed us the building that she lived in (one of the buildings that we believe was one of the original HBC buildings from 1884) and pointed out the two churches on the site: one Anglican and one Roman Catholic.
We are confident that our research has verified where the HBC Chapleau Outpost was located. We continue to look for information to determine what was at the Old Fort location at Mulligan’s Bay. This property, owned by Bruce Poynter, has a natural sandy beach and is located close to the Loon Lake portage. This location, at the southern end of the Nemegosenda and Kebsquasheshing Rivers, makes it an identifiable and inherently important place regardless of what may have been built on it.
(c) 2013 Mike McMullen and Ian Macdonald

1 comment:

Raeannen McAdam Thibert said...

very interesting read! Now that they have reopened the Chapleau Museum, hopefully there can be a section for this information!

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