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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Six young Chapleau adventurers make trip to Moose Factory mostly by canoe in 1932

Six adventurers made a canoe trip from Chapleau to Moose Factory in July 1932 recording their progress in writing as they travelled. Their chronological account was kindly made available to me by Dorothy Turner, and I am delighted to share parts of it as the Chapleau Cree First Nation hold their annual Traditional Gathering and Pow-Wow on August 17 and 18.

The young men were Donald White, Oliver 'Doc' Potts, Howard Cachagee, Mike Turner, Fred McAuley and Vince Crichton. In 1968, Vince typed out an account of the trip from the notes and sent it to Mike Turner, Dorothy's uncle, with the following comment written on the top of the first page: "Mike. I hope I have recorded this properly. Vince".
Mike Turner, Fred McAuley, Don White, Doc Potts


They left Chapleau on July 1, 1932, by train for Missanabie with two canoes and all their equipment. "We arrived at Missanabie about 8;30 p.m. and immediately started on the first lap of our canoe journey. We camped a couple of miles north of the railroad track... After a late supper we sat around the camp fire, telling stories, as the fuel turned into dying, glowing embers. The night was clear and cold and after making our canoes and provisions safe from marauding animals we turned in with high expectations of the morrow."

"Shortly after sun up the next morning we were having breakfast of bacon and eggs. The aroma of the repast with the boiling coffee whetted our desire for the adventure and it was not long before we were on our way. Loading up our big freight canoes with equipment and three men to a canoe, we were content to let a small three horsepower engine do most of the work for the first day.
Howard Cachagee, Vince Crichton, Don White

"The night had been cold and frosty. The surface of the lake was like a sheet of glass and covered with millions of mosquitoes, presumably killed by the frost of the previous night.

After a seven mile run up Dog Lake, they portaged to Crooked Lake a distance of about 150 yards. "All along Crooked Lake we saw moose and bear and in almost every bay either a live of dead beaver house."

At the end of the lake they made another portage over the height of land to Missinaibi Lake. This height of land separates the waters flowing into Lake superior from those flowing into James and Hudson Bay.
Don White, Mike Turner, Doc Potts

Upon reaching Baltic Bay they took a route to the northeaast arm arriving at a long peninsula varying in width to three miles.

"It terminates abruptly in a granite cliff, towering in places to well over two hundred feet. This is known as Fairy Point. Many years ago, the Cree and Ojibway banded together for self protection from bands of Iroquois and drove an armed band over the cliffs to complete destruction. Looking closely at the cliffs one can discern Indian pictographs of centuries ago which only time can eliminate."

They arrived at Brunswick House to explore the remains of the once thriving Hudson Bay Company Post. They note that most of the buildings were in ruins but some still some were standing, the remains of an old boat were on the shore and along the beach and in the ruins were old rifles and flintlocks with the stocks nearly eroded completely away.

They also visited a cemetery to which pilgrimages were still made "every few years to keep the hallowed spot of their loved ones clean and in good order."

By the end of the first day, they had run rapids and travelled about 60 miles making camp at Peterbell on the Canadian National Railway.

They enjoyed a "well earned supper of fish, bannock, jam and tea" and then "crawled into their eiderdowns and with the sky for a roof, slept as only those on the trail can sleep, seldom being troubled by the mosquitoes and black flies. 
Don White, Fred McAuley

The next day after shooting rapids calling one a "thrilling experience" Donald White remarked, "It gives you a tingling feeling, shooting rapids like these." (Perhaps someone can ask Donald if he recalls the remark).

The adventurers reached the Hudson Bay Post at Mattice on the CNR and decided to spend the day there washing their clothes and darning socks. 

After supper, the Indian Chief, who they do not name, came down to their tents and invited them to a dance being held at his home that evening. The cost for all six was 25 cents. When the chief was asked what it was for, he replied "to buy coal oil for the lamps".

They found themselves at the chief's home "Listening to music from two violins and a moose hide drum. Everyone danced jigs and reels which included the Midsummers Night and the Rabbit dance. To top off the evening's entertainment, Fred (McAuley) who is a violin player of no mean ability gave the folks a lesson in step dancing which was received with loud cheers and hand clapping."

The only mishap of the trip appears to have been while shooting the rapid below the Black Feather where a canoe hit  a submerged rock, but they made shore all right and got it fixed. But, while they were making dinner, in opening a packsack they discovered that a top had blown off a can of jam.

"What a mess. Howard and Fred cooked dinner while the rest washed every article and including the packsack and repaired the canoe."

As they neared the end of their trip, here is part of one of the vivid descriptions provided. "We shot Frenchman's rapid and then portaged Frenchman's gorge. It is a very beautiful place. The gorge is cut out of red granite and the square cut rock is topped with black spruce.

"What a place to stop and ponder over the beauties of nature that the north is so profusely endowed with."

On the final day they travelled the broad expanse of the Moose River, past the mouth of the Abitibi and Kwataboahegan rivers and reached Moose Factory about four in the afternoon. They had made the trip in six days, apparently a record time which was still stood in 1968 -- they note only two other parties had made the trip and it took them about two weeks.

For the next two weeks they stayed in Moose Factory visiting and relaxing. "We loafed and rested." Some of the adventurers were recruited to play ball for the Moose Factory team.

They returned to Chapleau via the moose, up the Mattagami, and then into the Kapuskasing River to the town of Kapuskasing. From there they continued to Elsas on the CNR to the northeastern corner of the Chapleau Game Preserve, into the Nemegosenda River to Trout Lake  and into Twin, Round, West, LeBlanc, Emerald and Loon (Borden) lakes. A portage of a mile took them into the Chapleau River and home. 

It took them 12 days and was a much harder journey. Over the years, notes were lost of the return trip.

My sincere thanks to Dorothy Turner for sending me the account of the trip. I have provided some highlights but the complete story is fascinating. My email is mj.morris@live.ca

4 comments:

Valerie Harris said...

Thank you for this!! I just finished reading The Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden, in which there is a voyage "home" to Moose Factory. Was Chapleau the place where recruits met the train to go for training for WW1??

Veronica Potts said...

I have a copy of this story as Doc Potts was my Moshoom, so nice to see some other photos of him when he was younger. R.I.P papa xo

Unknown said...

A great journey. All of my relatives, plus my father Howard Cachagee. I have this story also. Meegwetch for sharing this part of our Cree history.

lyndsay turner said...

I had the glorious opportunity to do this when i was 17 (I am a Chapleau Cree band member. We paddled from Big Miss to Moose Factory. Just like our ancestors did. I was working for the MNR and Missanabie Cree First Nation as a Stewardship Ranger, cleaning the portage trails. I loved this. It wasn't a job, it was an adventure. Thirty days in the bush and paddling all day. This was amazing. Missianabi Lake, camping in Peterbell, onward and upward to Mattiice for a few nights .It was our 2 days rest stop.It was pouring something fierce. I remember finally pulling in the canoe, and almost straight out bawling. This was the most intense 13 days of my life. then we carried on. We took the rapids, the 2.5km portage around a waterfall. Thunderhouse Falls It was eye opening. This place was... magical. We went on to Moose River. I remember when it met the Abitibi River. I faced 6 foot waves in my canoe. Thank goodness I had an amazing paddle partner. Finally reaching Moose Factory was indescribable. I think a great deal of who I am developed on this trip. I have never felt closer to my heritage. This was truly amazing and I would love to do it again some day!!!

Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet

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