Wednesday, August 27, 2008

JOURNEY'S END (for both of us)

August 27th & 28th, 1827

Entered Steel River, a stream of some magnitude but not so rapid as the last. Breakfasted at its junction with the York River [nowadays the Hayes River]. Continued until dusk when we put to shore, boiled the kettle and embarked under sail. Aurora borealis beautiful [we were prevented from seeing the Aurora by the storm which kept us benighted]. The idea of finishing my journey and expectations of hearing from England made the night pass swiftly.

At sunrise on Tuesday I had the pleasing scene of beholding York Factory two miles distant, the sun glittering on the roofs of the house (being covered in tin) and in the bay riding at anchor the company's ship from England [the Prince of Wales].

The hearty welcome I had to the shores of the Atlantic from Mr McTavish and others was to me not a little gratifying [altho the York Factory Journal merely records that they arrived!]. In the most polite manner everything that could add to my comfort was instantly handed, including a new suit of clothing, linen etc [the Pants] ready to put on [altho this would all be accounted for and paid for by the Horticultural Society of course]. No letters from England

Regret the death of my Calumet Eagle; was strangled a few days ago with the cord by which he was tied by the leg; fell over the eavings of one of the houses and was found dead in the morning. What can give one more pain - this animal I carried 2000 miles and now lost him, I might say, at home.

It now only remains to state that I have had great assistance, civility and friendly attentions from the various persons I have formed an acquaintance with during my stay in North America.

And here our journeys come together. In 2008 I can only echo Douglas's sentiments above.
It has been a pleasure and a privilege to have followed his travels to York Factory in remote Manitoba. Like him, our party has been assisted at every stage with every kindness, particularly by Ian Campbell and Doug Gibbs (and Nelson the dog) of Parks Canada at York Factory, and Bronwen Quarry of the Manitoba Archives, all of whom went far beyond the call of duty to help us illuminate the Douglas story.

Tomorrow, August 28th, 2008 - the 181st anniversary of Douglas's arrival at York Factory - I fly out of Winnipeg and back home. Thank you for your patience in following this parallel blog through 1827 and 2008; not many people have commented but I know people have been watching it. Normal allotment service will resume in due course.
August 25th, 1827

In the course of the morning the boat was considerably injured descending this stream, the water being low. At noon, while descending a rapid, the boat struck heavily on the rock and shattered seven of the timbers and planking. Just had time to reach a small island when she was filled. My hands tied up - could not get off. [He then notes, for no apparent reason, that three of his planted specimens are all fresh and berates himself for not doing more of that] (Why did you not bring Gaultheria alive - across the continent - 2900 miles? It could be done.

August 25th, 2008

We've spent the day at the Hudson's Bay Co'y Archives in Winnipeg, looking at their records from 1827 through to 1834. This is fascinating stuff - they were obsessive record keepers so that everything could be brought to account.

In the 1827 York Factory Account Books we found the list of materials issued to Douglas at York Factory for his journey home, and which would eventually be paid for by the Horticultural Society. They include a gallon of rum, for a four week journey!! But also - David Douglas's Underpants. The records include 2 pairs of white flannel drawers at nine shillings and eightpence each. Only two pairs of pants for a 4 week sea journey. They'd have been a bit whiffy by the end, altho once he'd got the gallon of rum down his neck I doubt he'd have noticed.

26th August, 1827

Employed all day at the boat until three o'clock when we set out again, the boat making a great deal of water.
August 23rd, 1827

Thunder & lightning during the night. As usual made an early start and reached Oxford House at ten, where we took breakfast [all these places still exist. Oxford House is a small community housing the Oxford House Cree Nation]. Proceeded at eleven and passed some very bad rapids. Launched the boat at Trout Fall Portage, where the remainder of the day was spent repairing the boat [by this time they aren't in small canoes any more but in York Boats, large boats specifically developed for freight on Lake Winnipeg and the Hayes River]

Friday 24th August 1827

On leaving Trout Fall we found the boat still made water but as the wind was favourable no time was lost. Entered Lower Jack River at sundown where we camped, a small narrow stream with low banks.

Sunday August 24th, 2008 - We're Out!!!

The storm finally eased after keeping us detained for two extra days. Saw two polar bears on the day we left and two bald eagles. We've finally completed our filming at York Factory; on the last day we were able to touch permafrost, which in this location is about 18" below the floor of the main building.

So, an hour on a bush plane, four tedious hours in Gillam (one of the least exciting places in this world) and a flight back to Winnipeg and we're back in the Fort Garry Hotel [located on the site of the original Red River Settlement visited by Douglas in 1827]
Aug 21st, 1827

Started a little before day. Passed through a small lake and creek until we arrived at White Fall portage at ten - a small cataract with high rocks on one side, adorned by timber. At four, left and passed the upper or small hill gate where the boat was lightened previous to running the rapid. Navigation intricate [and flying over it you can see why - it's MAMBA country, Mile After Mile of Bugger All, except for endless small lakes and streams. The country is 50% water]

Wednesday 22nd August, 1827

At seven came to Hill Gate, a rocky rapid narrow part of the river, where considerable time was lost lowering the boat with the line. Timber gradually becomes smaller as we approach the coast [indeed, thin poor soil, marshy conditions & cold climate = poor growth]. Shortly after noon entered Oxford Lake, a small narrow but beautiful sheet of water with bold rocky banks and numerous islands.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Despatches from York Factory

Weather has turned v interesting here. It's gone from 30 deg on the day we arrived to 3 deg yesterday. And it's blowing a mighty storm. That causes problems because the airstrip for the bush plane is on a big island in the middle of the Hayes River, with a rough boat trip to it, and it's so stormy we can't get to it, and the plane isn't flying anyway. So here we still are. Weather is forecast to ease tomorrow so the plane may get in then. Plenty of food and it's warm enough, and of course a real sense of how it was in 1827! So windy last night it blew both the flag and the top of the flagpole away. And bears were seen around the building we've been filming in just 2 days before we got here. We saw one in the distance as we flew in.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Mon Aug 18th 2008

Not a great start to the Following David Douglas adventure. Hurt back (again) on the day before departure then, minutes before departure, found car had a flat tyre. Train to airport, long flight to Toronto (pronounced Tronno locally) and a delayed flight on to Winnipeg. Arrived Winnipeg 12.15 am (or 6.15 am body clock time). What does the song say? "Things can only get better"

August 19th, 1827

After having everything [his seed and plant collections] packed up by ten a.m. embarked in Mr Bird's boat and descended the river. Camped twenty five miles below; country low, swampy, trees small. Found nothing different from what I had seen before. In the evening at my usual work changing and drying papers.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Norway House and Manchester Airport

1827 – Friday August 17th

Morning rainy; took breakfast at six a.m. and continued under a strong breeze till four p.m., the last point of the lake when the wind failed. Pulled [ie. rowed] over the narrow bay to Norway House, where I found Messrs John Stuart and Cameron on their way to their winter quarters. Both these gentlemen showed me every kindness and informed me that Captain Back had passed two days before for Hudson’s Bay

2008 – Sunday August 17th

Packing almost complete, but as I stepped out of the shower this morning my lower back went Twang. Consequently I am somewhat bitter and twisted and in some discomfort. Sitting on planes for many hours tomorrow is absolutely not the right thing to do for a bad back but it is nevertheless what I’ll be doing. Aww; stop milking it, Woody. This wouldn’t have stopped David Douglas. No, but then he died at 35.
Norway House now

Annually, in the first week of August since 1973 the Norway House Cree Nation hosts the Treaty & York Boat Days. A summer festival that relives the community's history during the time of the fur trade and the accomplishments that resulted from the "will to succeed in life." These are symbolized in the famous and living icon enshrined in the community on the banks of the Nelson River.

The celebration honors those Cree, Metis and European settlers that carved out the community during a time when survival depended on an iron will and steady determination. The World Championship York Boat Races pays homage to the strength through determination of contestants from all over Manitoba and neighboring Provinces / States, who take it upon themselves to heave and thrust fifty pound oars in an effort to claim supremacy in the races. Sweat, calluses, and aching limbs are reminders of the tremendous stamina required to propel the mighty York Boat. "The race is part of our history. In the past, you had to be in good shape to take these boats from York Factory, filled with supplies and furs, to Norway House and on to markets in the South. In those days, there were routes along the mighty Nelson River and many times rough sailing on Lake Winnipeg. Today the race is a strong reminder of how hardy our people were." Treaty & York Boat days is a rich and many-colored showcase that highlights the culture of the Norway House Cree and welcomes people from all over the world to join in the celebration.

The Norway House Cree Nation is 450 air kilometers north of Winnipeg at the intersection of the Nelson River and Playgreen Lake. Norway House consists of approximately 124,219 acres. The language of the Norway House Cree Nation is Cree and English. Based on the Norway House Cree Nation membership office, the population as of December 31, 2004 was 6,019; the band has an on-reserve population of 4,460 and an off-reserve population of 1,559.

1827 – Saturday August 18th

Left Norway House at six a.m. in company with Mr Jos Bird, with whom I intend to complete the remainder of my journey. Passed at eight o’clock two canoes in Play Green Lake containing the men belonging to the Land Arctic Expedition on their way to Montreal. Made but little progress having a strong wind against us. At midday gained the lower establishment on Jack River. Learned with regret my Silver-Headed Eagle had died of starvation. I found every other thing safe. The roots, both dry and those hid in the wood, (on July 2nd) in good condition.

2008 – Monday August 18th

An advance post because tomorrow will be a travelling day. Next post will, with some luck, be from downtown Winnipeg. I fly out of Manchester mid-afternoon for Toronto, change planes in Toronto and stagger into Winnipeg at 10p.m. local time, which will be 4 a.m. by my body clock.

In the meantime, Wilma Wilbury will be holding things together here at Fort Wilbury. It hasn’t gone unremarked that I’ll be in Winnipeg on our wedding anniversary; our 36th wedding anniversary at that. Wilma Wilbury is very tolerant of these expeditions (thank goodness).

Rough weather and a Twinflower - Lake Winnipeg, August 1827

Wednesday 15th, August, 1827

Weather same throughout the night; still unable to proceed. Found and laid in specimens of Linnaea borealis (in fruit). This is the first time I have ever seen this plant in this state.

Linnaea borealis (aka Twinflower)
General - a creeping broadleaf evergreen shrublet, up to 10 cm tall; stems creeping or trailing, with numerous short aerial stems rising from the stolon.
Flowers - pink, with 5 petals, bell-like in pairs; very fragrant, on Y-shaped stalks. Blooms June through September over most of its range; flowers last about 7 days.
Fruit - small, dry, one-seeded capsule, maturing approximately 36 days after flowering; appearing in August and September.
Common throughout NW Ontario's boreal forests; in open shade, dry or moist sites, often associated with moss-covered surfaces
Used by Native North Americans to brew medicinal tea.

Employed all the forepart of the day drying papers and shifting plants; no place that I can walk, being all swamp.

More moderate at noon; started and gained seven miles at three, when the wind sprang up from the same quarter, which obliged us to put to shore on a sandy beach exposed to the weather. Afternoon & evening the same.

Thursday 16th

Weather stormy until eleven a.m. when the boat was launched and pulled off. Called at Banning’s River where we made a stay of a few minutes. Learned that the other boat from Red River had passed the preceding night.

On leaving this place at four p.m. a favourable breeze sprang up and, being anxious to lose no time, did not put ashore to sup but went on along the shore under easy sail until daylight.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Struggling up Lake Winnipeg, August 1827

New readers start here:

David Douglas, botanist and plant collector extraordinaire is currently (in 1827) making his way across North America from the Pacific coast in the company of the voyageurs of the Hudson's Bay company. He has been travelling since mid-March when he left Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River. After a spell in Fort Garry (now Winnipeg) he is heading up Lake Winnipeg on the final stage of his journey to York Factory, the Hudson's Bay Company depot on the western shore of Hudson's Bay, where he will take a Company ship back to England.

Next Monday I fly out to Winnipeg to start retracing his steps for this part of his journey. We start filming next Wednesday at York Factory (try Google) for a TV documentary on Douglas. More reports in real-ish time as we go along.

Sunday 12th August, 1827

Last night the wind increased to a perfect hurricane and the water rose so high as to overflow our camp [Lake Winnipeg is well known for these wind-induced surges], so we had to betake ourselves to the boat for the night. Wind more moderate at sunrise; started at 9 o’clock, sea nearly calm. Nothing occurred.

Monday 13th

The wind at two a.m. being favourable and moonlight, we started under easy sail until daybreak. Morning cloudy and heavy, rain from six to eight. Put ashore to breakfast. The weather being somewhat drier, proceeded at nine and crossed over to the south side of the lake, when the wind veered round to the south-west, which prevented us from going. Put ashore, camped and remained four hours, when it calmed; proceeded a second time although the weather was still gloomy. Nothing occurred

Tuesday 14th

Morning dull, cloudy and drizzly; rain at eight. Started with a favourable breeze at five o’clock and gained the “Dog’s Head” to breakfast at half-past eleven [late breakfast then!!] Passed “Rabbit” point at one and a second at four, when the wind shifting to the west we were obliged to run back to a small sandy beach and run the boat on the shore. Ere all the baggage was out, the waves were breaking on the shore with all the violence of a sea hurricane. In the course of the evening the boat had to be hauled up as the surge rose on the shore, all our strength being inadequate to pull it up at once. Blowing with increased violence. Now ten o’clock.

Monday, August 11, 2008


.....these little beauties. Climbing French. Aren't they lovely?
Moving on at last

Friday 11th August 1827

[After many days at the Red River settlement David Douglas is ready to move on, heading north towards Hudson's Bay and his ship back to England.]

Lest the boats be delayed in transit by bad weather on the lake too long to meet the ship in Hudson’s Bay, I thought it prudent to make my stay no longer. To Mr D McKenzie (Governor of the Colony) I am greatly indebted for his polite attentions. After bidding him and the Bishop adieu, I left the establishment in company with Mr Hamlyn, the surgeon, for Hudson’s Bay

Had some cheeses presented me, which I could not well refuse. Camped a few miles below the rapid.

Saturday 11th

At five proceeded down the river with a light air of wind and entered the lake [Lake Winnipeg] at eight o’clock. Continued our voyage along the southwest side of the lake for 15 miles when we came to a small narrow sandy island and put ashore to boil the tea kettle [Douglas is notorious for his love of tea – “The Monarch of All Foods”].

Continued our route prosperously until three o’clock when the wind became contrary. It became suddenly boisterous and much hard labour before we got to shore. The oars were long and by the heavy swell it was nothing but plunging. Landed on a low thinly wooded island at half past five; our poor men exhausted and myself somewhat anxious. From the appearance of this and many others in this lake the water has risen to a considerable degree. Trees are buried to the depth of eight to ten feet and many places are seen with dead poplars standing erect that no doubt were woody islands.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

But soon recovers

Wed, August 1st, 1827

At daylight started on horseback to a small low hill about sixteen or eighteen miles east of the colony, composed of limestone rock with a few low poplars, will and birch in the low places.

The plains being overflowed for or five miles back from Red River, had to go round by Sturgeon Creek on the Assiniboine River. Returned late at night [having made 17 additions to his botanical gleanings]
Mr Douglas is ill

Having spent all the intervening days cataloguing and attending to his collection, David Douglas is having a couple of off days.

Sunday July 29th, 1827

Very hot and sultry; thunder in the evening

Monday & Tuesday 30th & 31st

Much indisposed; violent headache and feverish. Had some medicine of Mr Richard Julian Hamlyn, the Company and Colony surgeon, who has been attentive to me. Unable to go out
Hacking through

Although some bits are still distinctly jungloid I take comfort from the fact that after three hours intensive effort (which according to the Times Health Club comfortably disposed of 1300 calories) I can now see the beans and leeks
and can get up and down the path without a machete.

I've also managed a good picking of blackberries from what is now a sturdy blackberry 'fence'. I also take comfort from the fact that everyone else seems to be in pretty much the same boat, and some are worse!!! Can't afford to take your eye off the ball for a moment at this time of year.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

A man considerably above six feet and proportionally stout

Saturday 14th July, 1827

Monseigneur J N Provenchier, the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Mission, called on me and made a long stay.
The bishop speaks good English but with that broken accent peculiar to foreigners. His companion [Rev Theophilis Harper] speaks English with as much fluency as his native French.

They conversed in the most unreserved affable manner and made many enquiries concerning the different countries I had visited. I have some reason to think well of their visit, being the first ever paid to any individual except the offers of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

I am much delighted with the meek, dignified appearance of the Bishop, a man considerably above six feet and proportionally stout; appears to be a man of the most profound acquirements, seen only through the thick rut of his great modesty.

The Winnipeg Time Machine tells us that "Provencher was head of the Catholic Church in western Canada but Bishop Provencher slept on a block of oak as his pillow to show his self denial. Standing a majestic 6' 4", in his long flowing robes, Provencher was described as a most handsome man of about 300 pounds. Norbert Provencher looked larger than life. Provencher's mission was to convert the Indian nations and to "morally improve" the delinquent Christians who had "adopted the ways of the Indians. Abuse of alcohol was rampant and Provencher tried to discourage the HBC's sale of liquor and beer to natives. He also railed against the conjugal lives of the settlers who took on "wives of convenience."

He is commemorated today in Winnipeg by Provencher Bridge, immediately north of Fort Garry, and Boulevard Provencher.

Sunday 5th July

At church. There being no timepiece for the colony and the habitations widespread, the hour of the day is guessed by the sun. The service being begun half an hour before I got forward, in consequence of missing the proper path, the clergyman seeing me from one of the windows, despatched a boy to fetch me on the proper path. This struck me as the man of the world who, in the parable, was compelled to go to the feast by person stationed on the wayside.