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Voyages from Montreal on the river St. Laurence, through the continent of North America, to the frozen… Mackenzie, Alexander, 1764-1820 1802

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Continent of 'North America,&c.
IN THE YEARS 1789 AND 1793.
ON presenting this Volume .to my Country,
it is not necessary to enter into a particular
account of those voyages whose journals form
the principal part of it, as they will be found,
I trust, to explain themselves. It appears,
however, to be a duty, which the Public
have a right to expect from me, to state the
reasons which have influenced me in delaying the publication of them.
It has been asserted, that a misunderstanding between a person high in office and
myself, was the cause of this procrastination.
It has also been propagated, that it was occa-
casioned by that precaution which the policy
of commerce will sometimes suggest; but
they are both equally devoid of foundation.
The one is an idle tale; and there could be
no solid reason for concealing the circumstances of discoveries, whose arrangements
and prosecution were so honourable to my
associates and myself, at whose expence they
were undertaken. The delay actually arose
from the very active and busy mode of life
in which I was engaged since the voyages
have been completed ; and when, at length,
the opportunity arrived, the apprehension of
presenting myself to the Public in the character of an Author, for which the course and
occupations of my life have by no means
qualified me, made me hesitate in committing
my papers to the Press; being much better
calculated to perform the voyages, arduous
as they might be, than to write an account
of them. However, they are now offered to
the Public with the submission that becomes
I was led, at an early period of life, by
commercial views, to the country North-
West of Lake Superior, in North America,
and being endowed by Nature with an inquisitive mind and enterprising spirit; possessing
also a constitution and frame of body equal
to the most arduous undertakings, and being
familiar with toilsome exertions in the prosecution of mercantile pursuits, I not only
contemplated the practicability of penetrate
ing across the continent of America, but was
confident in the qualifications, as I was animated by the desire, to undertake the perilous enterprize.
The general utility of such a discovery,
has been universally acknowledged; while
the wishes of my particular friends and commercial associates, that I should proceed in
fhe pursuit of it, contributed to quicken the
execution of this favourite project of my own
ambition: and as the completion of it extends
the boundaries of geographic science, and
adds new countries to the realms of British
commerce, the dangers I have encountered,
and the toils I have suffered, have found
their recompence ; nor will the many tedious
and weary days, or the gloomy and inclement
nights which I have passed, have been passed in vain.
The first voyage has settled the dubious
point of a practicable North-West passage ;
and I trust it has set that long agitated question at rest, and extinguished the disputes
respecting it forever. An enlarged discussion of that subject will be found to occupy
the concluding pages of this volume.
In this voyage, I was not only without the
necessary books and instruments, but also
felt myself deficient in the sciences of astronomy and navigation; I did not hesitate,
therefore, to undertake a winter's voyage to
this country, in order to procure the one,
and acquire the other. These objects being
accomplished, I returned, to determine the
practicability of a commercial communication
through the continent of North America,
between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans,
which is proved by my second journal. Nor
do I hesitate to declare my decided opinion,
that very great and essential advantages may
be derived by extending our trade from one
sea to the other.
Some account of the fur trade of Canada
from that country, of the native inhabitants,
and of the extensive districts connected witlt
it, forms a preliminary discourse, which will,
I trust, prove interesting to a nation, whose
general policy is blended with, and whose
prosperity is supported by, the pursuits of
commerce. It will also qualify the reader to
pursue the succeeding voyages with superior intelligence and satisfaction.
These voyages will not, I fear, afford the
variety that May be expected from them; and
that which they offered to the eye, is not of a
nature to be effectually transferred to the
page. Mountains and vallies, the dreary
waste, and the wide-spreading forests', the
lakes and rivers succeed each other in gene*
ral description; and, except on the coasts of
the Pacific Ocean, where the villages were
permanent, and the inhabitants in a great
measure stationary, small bands of wander*
ing Indians are the only people whom I shall
introduce to the acquaintance of my readers*
The beaver and the buffalo, the moose-
deer and the elk, which are the principal
animals to be found in these countries, are
already so familiar to the naturalists of Europe, and have been so often as well as correctly described in their works, that the bare
mention of them, as they enlivened the landscape, or were hunted for food; with a cursory account of the soil, the course and navigation of lakes and rivers, and their various
produce, is all that canbe reasonably expected
from me.
I do not possess the science of the naturalist ; and even if the qualifications of that
character had been attained by me, its curious
spirit would not have been gratified. I could
not stop to dig into the earth, over whose
surface I was compelled to pass with rapid
steps; nor could I turn aside to collect the
plants which nature might have scattered on
the way, when my thoughts were anxiously
employed in making provision for the day
that was passing over me. I had to encounter perils by land and perils by water; to
watch the savage who was our guide, or to
guard against those of his tribe who might
meditate our destruction. I had, also, the
passions and fears of others to controul and
subdue. To day, I had to assuage the rising discontents, and on the morrow, to cheer
the fainting spirits of the people who accompanied me. The toil of our navigation
was incessant, and oftentimes extreme; and
in our progress over land, we had no protection from the severity of the elements, and
possessed no accommodations or conveniences but such as could be contained in the
burden on our shoulders, which aggravated the toils of our march, and added to the
wearisomeness of our wayi
Though the events which compose my
journals may have little in themselves to
strike the imagination of those who love to
be astonished, or to gratify the curiosity of
such as are enamoured of romantic adventure^; nevertheless, when it is considered,
that I explored those waters which had never
before borne any other vessel than the canoe
of the savage; and traversed those deserts
where an European had never before presented himself to the eye of its swarthy
natives; when to these considerations are
added the important objects which were pursued, with the dangers that were encountered,
and the difficulties that were surmounted to
attain them, this work will, I flatter myself,
be found to excite an interest, and conciliate
regard, in the minds of those who peruse it.
The general map which illustrates this
volume, is reduced by Mr. ArroWsmith from
his three-sheet map of North-America, with
the latest discoveries, which he is about to
republish. His professional abilities are
well known, and no encomium of mine will
advance the general and merited opinion of
Before I conclude, I must beg leave to inform my readers, that they are not to expect
the charms of embellished narrative, or animated description ; the approbation due to
simplicity and to truth, is all I presume to
claim; and I am not without the hope that
this claim will be allowed me. I have described whatever I saw with the impressions
of the moment which presented it to me.
The successive circumstances of my pro*
gress are related without exaggeration or display. I have seldom allowed myself to
wander into conjecture; and whenever conjecture has been indulged, it will be found, I
trust, to be accompanied with the temper of
a man who is not disposed to think too highly
of himself: and if, at any time, I have delivered myself with confidence, it will appear,
 viii PRElp.CE.
I hope, to be on those subjects, which, from
the habits and experience of my life, will justify an unreserved communication of my opinions. I am not a candidate for literary
fame: at the same time, I cannot but indulge
the hope that this volume, with all its imperfections, will not be thought unworthy the
attention of the scientific geographer; and
that, by unfolding countries hitherto unexplored, and which, I presume, may now be
considered as a part of the British dominions,
,it will be received as a faithful tribute to the
prosperity of my country.
November SO, 1801.
J HE fw fa9&er from thp earliest settlement ^f
Cm%d$.9 WM ppft§f(tered of the fi^t importance to
that polony. Thf country was then so populous
that, in jt£&<vi£jntty of tfee est^lfchments, the %ti^f
m#l§ whoge $fci$£ H^re precious, in a commercial
rifeW* §@QQ Jb^§me very #g$rce> if not altogether
£Kti$£t. They were, it is true, hunted at jformgj
j^i#d£*ibutmerely for fo^^p^^^ng. The tt\?
diap^^ifef^refore, to procure the necessary supply
jfef&&£8&HU'ggp(! to penetrate into the country, and
were g&ii&rilly accompanied by some qfthe Canadians, who found mejps to induce the remotest
tribes of W&WV& to bring the ski&s which were
most ^dgjft-ai&J, ito their settlements, if^jhe way of
It fc ®&t necessary for me tp ^ai^ie the cause,
im£ experience provesik%i it &j($9$F£s nujieh le$£
£ime for a civilized pe^Je to deviate into the manners m4 customs of savaee Ji&? tkm for sav^m
to rise into a state of civilization. Such was the
event with those who thus accompanied the natives on their hunting and trading excursions; for
they became so attached to the Indian mode of
life, that they lost all relish for their former habits
and native homes. Hence they derived the title
of Coureurs des Bois, became a kind "Of pedlars,
and were extremely useful to the merchants en-
gaged in the fur trade; who gave them the necessary credit to proceed on their commercial undertakings. Three or four of these people would
join their stock, put their property into a birch-
bark canoe, which they worked themselves, and
either accompanied the natives in their excursions,
or went at once to the country where they knew
they were to hunt. At length, these voyages
extended to twelve or fifteen months, when they
returned with rich cargoes of furs, and followed
by great numbers of the natives. During the short
time requisite to settle their accounts with the
merchants, and procure fresh credit, they generally contrived to squander away all their gains,
when they returned to renew their favourite mode
of life: their views being answered, and their labour sufficiently rewarded, by indulging themselves in extravagance and dissipation, during the
short space of one month in twelve or fifteen.
This indifference about amassing property, and
the pleasure of living free from all restraint, soon
brought on a licentiousness of manners which
could not long escape the vigilant observation of
the missionaries, who had much reason to complain of their being a disgrace to the Christian religion ; by not only swerving from its duties
themselves, but by thus bringing it into disrepute
with those of the natives who had become converts
to it; and, consequently, obstructing the great ob-
ject to which those pious men had devoted their
lives. They therefore, exerted their influence to
procure the suppression of these people, and accordingly, no one was allowed to go up the country to traffic with the Indians, without a licence
from the government.
At first these permissions were, of course,
granted only to those whose character was such as
could give no alarm to the zeal of the missionaries: but they were afterwards bestowed as rewards for services, on officers, and their widows;
and they, who were not willing or able to make
use of them (which may be supposed to be always
the case with those of the latter description), were
allowed to sell them to the merchants, who necessarily employed the Coureursdes bois, in quality
of their agents; and these people, as may be imagined, gave sufficient cause for the renewal of
former complaints; so that the remedy proved, in
fact, worse than the disease.
At length, military posts were established at
the confluence of the different large lakes of Canada, which, in a great measure checked the evil
consequences that followed from the improper
conduct of these foresters, and, at the same time,
protected the trade. Besides, a number of able
and respectable men, retired from the army, prosecuted the trade in person, under their respective licences, with great order and regularity, and
extended it to such a distance, as, in those days,
was considered to be an astonishing effort of
commercial enterprize. These persons and the
missionaries having combined their views at the
same time, secured the respect of the natives, and
the obedience of the people necessarily employed
in the laborious parts of this undertaking. These
gentlemen denominated themselves commanders,
and nattraders, though titey were intitfeft to both
thom! Ghmmtets : and, as for the rhissiotiartes, if
sufferings and hardships in* the prosecution of the
great work which they had undertaken, desei^ed
applause and admiration, they h&d an undoubted
claim to be admired and apjAattded : tbey spared
no labour and avoided no iiasgeri& -liie4B&£c&{ion
of their importMt office ; aiid it is to be seri&iiglj?
kiffiented, that their pious efideaV8tif& did not
meet with the &tic£0$& Whieh they eteierfed :• &>?
there is hardly a trace to be found beyond the cuh
tivated parts, Of their meritorious feffi^ticm^
The cause of thi& failure ffi-tisi be attributed t6
k want of due cMsider&ti@& in the frtctete employed by the missionaries, to propagate the religtoj!
df which they were the zealous miftiffifgi Tfe&f
habituated themselves to tfe€ savagfclife, md n#t«N
ralized themselves to the savage m&nrigi^ arid*. Uf
thus becoming de|r#itdent, a£ it were'y &n tldi
natives, they acquired tliiir coiiieMft letter thafil
their veneration. If they had been a& Well acquainted with human nature, as they Wife with
the articles of their faith, they would have kno#i*|
that the uncultivated mind of an Indi&fi MWt bg
disposed by much preparatory method a?nd instruction to receive the revealed truths of CM&i
tianity, to act under its sanction, and be impelled
to good by the hope of its reward, or turned fr&fti
evil by the fear of its punishinents. They sMduld
have begun their work by teaching some? tff $&&$&
useful arts which are the inlets of knowled^, m&
lead the mind by degrees to objects of higW^f
comprehension. Agriculture so formed to fix
and combine society, and so preparatory t& objects
of superior consideration, should have been the
first thing introduced among a savage people : it
attaches the wandering tribe to that spot where
it adds so much to their c'Omforte; #hile it glyes
them a senste of property, and of lasting persses-
rfdn, ihsfcead of the uncertain hopes erf the ch&se,
and the fugitive produce of laiJeialfivafed wildb*
Siicbwere &e means by which the forests of Paraguay were converted into a scene of abtmdant
dnkivatiowyaedit^ savage inhabitants introduced
to ait ther adv^rfttiges of k civilized life.
The Canadiafi ihissienaries should have been
conteitted to improve the morals of their o#n
eotintrymm, so that by meliorating their character and comcWdty they would have given a striking example of the effect of religion in promoting the comforts of life to the surrounding
savages; and might by degrees have exteifded
its beftigrt influence to* the remotest regions of
th&t cbiiirfry, which wa§ the object* and intended
to be the scene* of their dva&gelic labours. But
by bearing the BgW of the Gospel at once to the
distance of iwo thous&ftd five hundred miles from
the civJiized part of the cdtenies, it was soon ob-
s£wed by the cloud of ignorance that darkeifed
the h&f$8n MM in those disfent regions.
The whole of their long M-urtfe I have often
travelled, and the recoitection! of such a people as
the missionaries having been there, wstk confined
to a few superannuated Canadians, who had not
life that country since the cession to the English,
in 1763, a?«d who particularly mentioned the
death of some, and the distressing situation of
them all. Bw if these religious men did not attain the objects'of their persevering piety, they
were, <feftring their mission, of great service t6
the cMmaafefs who engaged in those distant
expeditions, and spread the fur trade as far West
as the banks of the Saskatchiwine river, in 53.
North latitude, and longitude 102. West.
At an early period of their intercourse with the
savages, a custom was introduced of a very excellent tendency, but is now unfortunately discontinued, of not selling any spirituous liquor to
the natives. This admirable regulation was for
some time observed, with all the respect due to
the religion by which it was sanctioned, and
whose severest censures followed the violation of
it. A painful penance could alone restore the
offender to the suspended rites of the sacrament.
The casuistry of trade, however, discovered a
way to gratify the Indians with their favourite
cordial, without incurring the ecclesiastical penalties, by giving, instead of selling-it to them.
But notwithstanding all the restrictions with
which commerce was oppressed under the French
government, the fur trade was extended to the
immense distance which has been already stated;
and surmounted many most discouraging difficulties, which will be hereafter noticed; while, at
the same time, no exertions were made from
Hudson's Bay to obtain even a share of the trade
of a country, which according to the charter of
that company, belonged to it, and, from its proximity, is so much more accessible to the mercantile adventurer.
Of these trading commanders, I understood,
that two attempted to penetrate to the Pacific
Ocean, but the utmost extent of their journey I
could never learn; which may be attributed, indeed, to a failure of the undertaking.
For some time after the conquest of Canada,
this trade was suspended, which must have been
very advantageous to the Hudson's Bay Company,
as all the inhabitants to the westward of Lake Superior were obliged to go to them for such articles as their habitual use had rendered necessary*
Some of the Canadians who had lived long with
them, and were become attached to a savage lifer
accompanied them thither annually, till mercantile adventurers again appeared from their own-
country, after an interval of several years, owing,
as I suppose, to an ignorance of the country in
the conquerors, and their want of commercial
confidence in the conquered. There were, in*
deed, other discouragements, such as the immense
length of the journey necessary to reach the limits
beyond which this commerce must begin; the
risk of property; the expences attending such a
long transport; and an ignorance of the language
of those who, from their experience, must be
necessarily employed as the intermediate agents
between them and the natives. But, notwithstanding these difficulties, the trade, by degrees,
began to spread over the different parts to which
it had been carried by the French, though at a
great risk of the lives, as well as the property of
their new possessors, for the natives had been
taught by their former allies to entertain hostile
dispositions towards the English, from their having been in alliance with their natural enemies
the Iroquois; and there were not wanting a sufficient number of discontented, disappointed people,
to keep alive such a notion; so that for a long time
they were considered and treated as objects of
hostility. To prove this disposition of the Indians, we have only to refer to the conduct of
Pontiac, at Detroit, and the surprise and taking
of Michilimakinac, about this period.
Hence it arose, that it was so late as the year
1766, before which, the trade I mean to consider,
commenced from Michilimakinac. The first who
attempted it were satisfied to go the length of the
river Camenistiquia, about thirty miles to the
Eastward of the Gmnde Portage, where the
French had a principal e^^blish$iif»t,;f^4 l|M
the line of their communication ^iih ths i^tesrik^
couatry. It w#s>o©&e .destroyed by fire/ Heife
they went and returned successful in t&e following spring to Michilimakinac. Their suc&ess in-
dktoed them to renew their journey, &n4 incited
others to follow their £i&ample. Boms of th&m
remained at Came«stiquia, while ofchem proceeded to and beyond the Grande Pjortaggi'W&ieh,
since that time has become the principal entrepot, and is situated in a fe^y, in latitude
48. 3$arih, and longitude 90. West, After pas^ng
the usual season there, they went back to Miehi-
limajkinac as before, and encouraged by the trade,
returned in increased numbers. One of thesg*
Thornas Curry, with a spirit of enterprize superior to that of his coMemporaries, determined to
penetrate to the furthest limits x»f tfce feench discoveries in that country; or at Least till the frost
should stop him. For this purpose he procured
guides and interpreters, who were acquainted y$A
the country, and with four canoies arrived at lf®ift
Bourbon, which was one of their posts, at $m
West end of the Cedar Lake, on the waters of $11$;
Saskatchiwine. His risk and toil were well re*
compensed, for he came back the following spring
with his canoes filled with fine furs, with wfrich
he proceeded to Canada, and was satisfied never
again to return to the Indian country.
From this period, people began to spread over
every part of the country, particularly where the
French had established settlements.
Mr. James Finlay was the first who followed
Mr. Curry's example, and with the same niuririaear
of canoes, arrived, in the course of the .a&'$£ sear
son, at Nipawee, the last of the French settlements
. **<±
on the bank of the Saskatchiwine river, in latitude
nearly 43f. North, and longitude 103 West: he
found the good fortune, as he followed, in every
respect, the example, of his predecessor.
As may be supposed, there were now people
enough ready to replace them, and the trade was
pursued with such avidity, and irregularity, that in
a few years it became the reverse of what it ought
to have been. An animated competition prevailed,
and the contending parties carried the trade, beyond
the French limits, though with no benefit to themselves or neighbours, the Hudson's Bay Company ;
who in the year 1774, and not till then, thought
proper to move from home to the East bank of, Sturgeon Lake, in latitude 53. 56. North, and longitude
102. 15. West, and became more jealous of their
fellow subjects; and, perhaps, with more cause,
than they had been of those of France. From this
period, to the present time, they have been following the Canadians to their different establishments,
while, on the contrary, there is not a solitary instance that the Canadians have followed them; and
there are many trading posts which they have not
yet attained. This, however, will no longer be a
mystery, when the nature and policy of the Hud-
son's-Bay Company is compared with that which
has been pursued by their rivals in this trade.—
But to return to my subject.
This competition, which has been already mentioned, gave a fatal blow to the trade from Canada,
and, with other incidental causes, in my opinion,
contributed to its ruin. This trade was carried on
in a very distant country, out of the reach of legal
restraint, and where there was a free scope given
tp any ways or means in attaining advantage. The
consequence was not only the loss of commercial
benefit to the persons engaged in it, but of the
good opinion of the natives, and the respect of their
men, who were inclined to follow their example ;
50 that with drinking, carousing, and quarrelling
with the Indians along their route, and among
themselves, they seldom reached their winter quarters ; and if they did, it was generally by dragging
their property upon sledges, as the navigation was
closed up by the frost. When at length they were
arrived, the object of each was to injure his rival
traders in the opinion of the natives as, much as was
in their power, by misrepresentation and presents,
for which the agents employed were peculiarly calculated. They considered the command of their
employer as binding on them, and however wrong
or irregular the transaction, the responsibility rested with the principal who directed them. This is
Indian law. Thus did they waste their credit and
their property with the natives, till the first was
past redemption, and the last was nearly exhausted ; so that towards the spring in each year, the
rival parties found it absolutely necessary to join,
and make one common stock of what remained, for
the purpose of trading with the natives, who could
entertain no respect for persons who had conducted
themselves with so much irregularity and deceit.
The winter, therefore, was one continued scene of
disagreements and quarrels. If any one had the
precaution or good sense to keep clear of these
proceedings, he derived a proportionable advantage from his good conduct, and frequently proved
a peace-maker between the parties. To such an
height had they carried this licentious conduct,
that they were in a continual state of alarm, and
were even frequently stopped to pay tribute on their
route into the country; though they had adopted
the plan of travelling together in parties of thirty
or forty canoes, and keeping their men armed;
which sometimes, indeed, proved necessary for
their defence.
jrtThus was the trade carried orjfor several years,
and consequently becoming wbirse and worse, so
that the partners, who met them at the Grande
Portage, naturally complained of their ill success^
But specious reasons were always ready to prove
that it arose from circumstances which'they could
not at that time controul; and encouragements were
held forth to hope that a change would soon take
place, which would make ample amends for past
It was about this time, that Mr. Joseph Fro-
bisher, one of the gentlemen, engaged in the trade,
determined to penfetrate into the country yet unexplored, to the North and Westward, and, in the
spring of the year 1775, met the Indians from that
quarter on their way to Fort Churchill, at Portage
de Traite, so named from that circumstance, on
the banks of the Missinipi, or Churchill river,
latitude 55. 25. North, longitude 103f. West. It
was, indeed, with some difficulty that he could induce ;them to trade with him, but he at length pro*
cured as many furs as his canoes could carry. In
this perilous expedition he sustained every kind of
hardship incident to a journey through a wild and
savage country, where his subsistence depended on
what the woods and the waters produced. These
difficulties, nevertheless, did not discourage him
from returning in the following year, when he was
equally successful. He then sent his brother to
explore the country still further West, who penetrated as far as the lake of Isle a la Crosse, in latitude 55. 26. North, and longitude 108. West.
He, however, never after wintered among the
Indians, though he retained a large interest in the
trade, and a principal share in the direction of it till
the year 1798, when he retired to enjoy tr^p fruits
of his labours; and, by his hospitality, became
known to every respectable stranger who visited
i The success of this gentleman induced others
to follow his example, and in the spring of the year
1778, some of the traders on the Saskatchiwine
river, finding they had a quantity of goods to>
spare, agreed to put them into a joint stock, and
gave the charge and management of them to Mr.
reter Pond, who, in four canoes, was directed to
enter the English River, so called by Mr. Fro-
bisher, to follow his track, and proceed still fur4
ther; if possible, to Athabasca, a country hitherto
unknown but from Indian report. In this enter-
prize he at length succeeded, and pitched his tent
on the banks of the Elk river, by him erroneously called the Athabasca river, about forty miles
from the Lake of the Hills, into, which it empties
Here he passed the winter of 1778-9; saw a
vast concourse of the Knisteneaux and Chepew-
*yan tribes, who used to carry their furs annually
to Churchill; the latter by the barren grounds,
where they suffered innumerable hardships, and
were sometimes even starved to death. The
former followed the course of the lakes and rivers,
through a country that abounded in animals, and
where there was plenty of fish : but though they
did not suffer from want of food, the intolerable
fatigue of such a journey could not be easily
repaid to an Indian: they were, therefore, highly
gratified by seeing people come to their country to
relieve them from such long, toilsome, and dangerous journies; and were immediately reconciled
to give an advanced price for the articles necessary to their comfort and convenience. Mr.
Pond's reception and success was accordingly
beyond his expectation; and he procured twice
as many furs as his canoes would carry. They
also supplied him with as much provision as he
required during his residence among them, and
 OF THE FUR TRADE, &c. xiii
sufficient for his homeward voyage. Such of the
furs as he could not embark, he secured in one of
his winter huts, and they were found the following
season, in the same state in which he left them.
These, however, were but partial advantages,
and could not prevent the people of Canada from
seeing the improper conduct of some of their
associates, which rendered it dangerous to remain
any longer among the natives. Most of them who
passed the winter at the Saskatchiwine, got to the
Eagle hills, where, in the spring of the year 1780,
a few days previous to their intended departure,
a large band of Indians being engaged in drinking
about their houses^ one of the traders, to ease himself of the troublesome importunities of a native,
gave him a dose of laudanum in a glass of grog,
which effectually prevented him from giving further trouble to any one, by setting him asleep forever. This accident produced a fray, in which
one of the traders, and several of the men were
killed, while the rest had no other means to save
themselves but by a precipitate flight, abandoning
a considerable quantity of goods, and near half the
furs which they had collected during the winter
and the spring.
About the same time, two of the establishments
on the Assiniboin river, were attacked with less
justice, when several white men, and a great number of Indians were killed. In short, it appeared,
that the natives had formed a resolution to extirpate the traders; and, without entering into any
further reasonings on the subject, it appears to be
incontrovertible, that the irregularity pursued in
carrying on the trade has brought it into its present
forlorn situation; and nothing but the greatest
calamity that could have befallen the natives,*saved
the traders from destruction: this, was the small
pox, which spread its destructive and desolating
power, as the fire consumes the dry grass of the
field. The fatal infection spread around with a
baneful rapidity which no flight could escape, and
with a fatal effect that nothing could resist. I^t
destroyed with its pestilential breath whole
families and tribes; and the horrid scene presented
to those who had the melancholy and afflicting
opportunity of beholding it, a combination of the
dead, the dying, and such as to avoid the horrid
fate of their friends around them, prepared to disappoint the plague of its prey, by terminating their
own existence.
The habits and lives of these devoted people,
which provided not to-day for the wants of tomorrow, must have heightened the pains of such
an affliction, by leaving them not only without
remedy, but even without alleviation. Nought
was left them but to submit in agony and despair.
To aggravate the picture, if aggravation were
possible, may be added, the putrid carcases which
the wolves, wTitha furious voracity, dragged forth
from the huts, or which were mangled within
them by the dogs, whose hunger was satisfied
with the disfigured remains of their masters. Nor
was it uncommon for the father of a family, whom
the infection had not reached, to call them around
him, to represent the cruel sufferings and horrid
fate of their relations, from the influence of some
evil spirit who was preparing to extirpate their
race; and to incite them to baffle death, with all
its horrors, by their ownpoignards. At the same
time, if their hearts failed them in this necessiry
act, he was himself ready to perform the deed of
mercy with his own hand, as the last act of his affection, and instantly to follow them to the common place of rest and refuge from human evil.
It was never satisfactorily ascertained by what
means this malignant disorder was introduced, but
it was generally supposed to be from the Missi-
souri, by a war party.
The consequence of this melancholy event to the
traders must be self-evident; the means of disposing of their good^were cut off; and no furs were
obtained, but such as had been gathered from the
habitations of the deceased Indians, which could
not be very considerable : nor did they look from
the losses of the present year, with any encouraging
expectations to those which were to come. The
only fortunate people consisted of a party who had
#gain penetrated to the northward and Westward
in 1780, at some distance up the Missinipi, or English river, to Lake la Rouge. Two unfortunate
circumstances, however, happened to them; which
are as follow:
Mr. Wadin, a Swiss gentleman, of strict probity
and known sobriety, had gone there in the year
1779, and remained during the summer 1780.
His partners and others, engaged in an opposite interest, when at the Grande Portage, agreed to send
a quantity of goods on their joint account, which
was accepted, and Mr. Pond was proposed by them
to be their representative to act in conjunction
with Mr. Wadin. Two men, of more opposite
characters, could not, perhaps, have been found.
In short, from various causes, their situations be-?
Game very uncomfortable to each other, and mutual
ill-will was the natural consequence : without entering, therefore, into a minute history of these
transactions, it will be sufficient to observe, that,
about the end of the year 1780, or the beginning
of 1781, Mr. Wadin had received Mr. Pond and
one of his own clerks to dinner; and, in the course
of the night, the former was shot through the
lower part of the thigh, when it was said tfrat he
expired from the loss of blood, and was buried
next morning at eight o'clock.    Mr.  Pond, and
the clerk, were tried for this murder at Montreal,
and acquitted : nevertheless, their innocence was
not so apparent as to extinguish the original suspicion.
The other circumstance was this. In the spring
of the year, Mr. Pond sent the abovementioned
clerk to meet the'lndians from the Northward, who
used to go annually to Hudson's Bay; when he
easily persuaded them to trade with him, and return
back, that they might not take the contagion wrhich
had depopulated the country to the Eastward of
them: but most unfortunately they caught it here,
and carried it with them,to the destruction of themselves and the neighbouring tribes.
The country being thus depopulated, the traders
and their friends from Canada, who, from various
causes already mentioned, were very much reduced
in number, became confined to two parties, who
began seriously to think of making permanent establishments on the Missinipi river, and at Athabasca; for which purpose, in 1781-2, they selected
their best canoe-men, being ignorant that the small
pox penetrated that way. The most expeditious
party got only in time to the Portage la Loche,
or Mithy-Ouinigam, which divides the waters
of the Missinipi from those that fall into the Elk
river, to dispatch one canoe strong handed, and
light-loaded, to that country; but, on their arrival
there, they found, in every direction, the ravages
of the small pox ; so that, from the great diminution of the natives, they returned in the spring with
no more than seven packages of beaver. The strong
woods and mountainous countries afforded a refuge
to those who fled from the contagion of the plains;
but they were so alarmed at the surrounding destruction, that they avoided the traders, and were
dispirited from hunting, except for their subsistence.    The traders, however, who returned into
 OF THE fW TRADE, Scg. xvii
the country in the year 1782-3, found the inhabitants in some sort of tranquillity, and more
numerous than they had reason to expect, so that
their success was proportionably better.
During the winter of 1783-4, the merchants of
Canada, engaged in jtjhis trade, formed a junction
of interests, tender the name of the North-West
Company, and divided it into sixteen shares, without depositing any capital; each party furnishing a
proportion or quota of such articles as were neces-
sairy to carry on the trade : the respective parties
agreeing to satisfy the friends they had in the
country, who were not provided for, according to
this agreement, out of the proportions which they
held. The management of the whole was accordingly entrusted to Messrs. Benjamin and Joseph
Frohisher, and Mr. Simon M'Tavish, two distinct
houses, who had the greatest interest and influence
in the country, and for which they were to receive
a stipulated commission in all transactions.
In the spring, two of those gentlemen went to the
Grande Portage with their credentials, which were
confirmed and ratified by all the parties having an
option, exept Mr. Peter Pond, who was not satisfied with the share allotted him. Accordingly he,
and another gentleman, Mr. Peter Pangman, who
had a .right to be a partner, but for whom no provision had been made, came to Canada, with a
determination to return to the country, if they could
find any persons to join them, and give their scheme
a proper support.
The traders in the country, and merchants at
Montreal, thus entered into a co-partnership,
which, by these means, was consolidated and directed by able men, who, from the powers with
whicmthey were entrusted, would carry on the
trade to the utmost extent it would bear* The
traders in the  country,  therefore, having every
reason to expect that their past and future labours-
would be recompensed, forgot all their former
animosities, and engaged with the utmost spirit
and activity, to forward the general interest; so
that, in the following year, they met their agents
at the Grande Portage, with their canoes laden
with rich furs from the different parts of that immense tract of country. But this satisfaction was
not to be enjoyed without some interruption ; and
they were mortified to find that Mr- Pangman had
prevailed on Messrs. Gregory and Macleod to join
him, and give him their support in the business,
though deserted by Mr. Pond, who accepted the
terms offered by his former associates.
In the counting house of Mr. Gregory I had been
five years; and at this period had left him, with a
small adventure of goods, with which he had entrusted me, to seek my fortune at Detroit. He,
without any. solicitation on my part, had procured
an insertion in the agreement, that I should be admitted a partner in this business, on condition that
I would proceed to the Indian country in the following spring, 1785. His partner came to Detroit
to make me such a proposition. I readily assented
to it, and immediately proceeded to the Grande
Portage, where I joined my associates.
We now found that independent of the natural
difficulties of the undertaking, we should have to
encounter every other which they, who were already in possession of the trade of the country,
could throw in our way, and which their circumstances enabled them to do. Nor did they doubt,
from their own superior experience, as well
as that of their clerks and men, with their
local knowledge of the country and its inhabitants,
that they should soon compel us to leave the
country to them. The event, however, did not
justify their expectations ; for, after the severest
 OF THE FUR TRADE, &c. xix
struggle ever known in that part of the world, and
suffering every oppression which a jealous and rival
spirit.could instigate; after the murder of one of our
partners, the laming of another, and the narrow
♦escape of one of our clerks, who received a bullet
through his powder horn, in the execution of his
duty, they were compelled to allow us a share of
the trade. As we had already incurred a loss, this
union was, in every respect, a desirable event to
us, and was concluded in the month of July 1787.
This commercial establishment was now founded on a more solid basis than any hitherto known
in the country; and it not only continued in full
force, vigour, and prosperity, in spite of all interference from Canada, but maintained at least an
equal share of advantage with the Hudson's-Bay
Company, notwithstanding the superiority of their
local situation. The following account of this self-
erected concern will manifest the cause of its
It assumed the title of the North-West Company, and was no more than an association of commercial men, agreeing among themselves to carry
on the fur trade, unconnected with any other business, though many of the parties engaged had
extensive concerns altogether foreign to it. It may
be said to have been supported entirely upon
credit; for, whether the capital belonged to the
proprietor, or was borrowed, it equally bore interest, for which the association was annually accountable. It consisted of twenty shares, unequally
divided among the persons concerned. Of these, a
certain proportion was held by the people who
managed the business in Canada, and were styled
agents for the Company. Their duty was to import
the necessary goods from England, store tl<em at
their own expence at Montreal, get them made up
into articles suited to the trade, pack and forward
them, and supply the cash that might be wanting
for the outfits, for which they received, independent of the profit on their shares, a commission on
the amount of the accounts, which they were obliged to make out annually, and keep the adventure
of each year distinct. Two of them went annually
to the Grande Portage, to manage and transact the
business there, and on the communication at Detroit, Michilimakinac, St. Mary's, and at Montreal,
where they received, stored, packed up, and shipped the company's furs for England, on which they
had also a small commission. The remaining
shares were held by the proprietors, who were
obliged to winter and manage the business of the
concern with the Indians, and their respective
clerks, Sec. They were not supposed to be under
any obligation to furnish capital, or even credit.
If they obtained any capital by the trade, it was to
remain in the hands of the agents; for which they
were allowed interest. Some of them, from their
long services and influence, held double shares,
and were allowed to retire from the business at any
period of the existing concern, with one of those
shares, naming any young man in the company's
service to succeed him in the other. Seniority
and merit were* however, considered as affording
a claim to the succession, which, nevertheless,
could not be disposed of without the concurrence
of the majority of the concern; who, at the samf
time relieved the seceding person from any responsibility respecting the share that he transferred,
and accounted for it according to the annual value
€>r rate of the property; so that the seller could
have no advantage, but that of getting the share
of stock which he retained realized, and reviving for the transferred share what was fairly
determined to be the worth of it. The former was also discharged from all duty, and be-
 OF THE FUR TRADE, &c. xxi
^came a dormant partner. Thus, all the young
men who were not provided for at the beginning
of the contract, succeeded in succession to the character and advantages of partners. They entered
into the Company's service for five or seven years,
under such expectations, and their reasonable
prospects were seldom disappointed : there were,
indeed, instances when they succeeded to shares,
before their apprenticeship was expired, and it
frequently happened, that they were provided for
while they were in a state of articled clerkship.
Shares were transferable only to the concern at
large, as no person could be admitted as a partner
who had not served his time to the trade. The
dormant partner indeed might dispose of his interest to any one he chose, but if the transaction was
not acknowledged by his associates, the purchaser
could only be considered as his agent or attorney.
Every share had a vote, and two thirds formed a
majority. This regular and equitable mode of
providing for the clerks of the company, excited a
spirit of emulation in the discharge of their various
duties, and in fact, made every agent a principal,
who perceived his own prosperity to be immediately connected with that of his employers. Indeed, without such a spirit, such a trade could not
have become so extended and advantageous, as it
has been and now is.
In 1788, the gross amount of the adventure for
the year did not exceed forty thousand pounds*,
but by the exertion, enterprise, and industry of
the proprietors, it was brought, in eleven years, to
triple that amount and upwards; yielding proportionate profits, and surpassing, in short, any
thing known in America.
* This might he properly called the stock of the company, as it included, with the expenditure of the year, the amount of the property unexpended, wlSch had been appropriated for the adventure of that year,
and was carried on to the account of the following adventure.
Such, therefore, being the prosperous state of the
company, it, very naturally, tempted others to interfere with the concern in a manner by no means
beneficial to the company, and commonly ruinous
to the undertakers.
In 1798 the concern underwent a new form, the
shares were increased to forty-six, new partners
being admitted, and others retiring. This period
Was the termination of the company, which was not
renewed by all the parties concerned in it, the majority continuing to act upon the old stock, and
under the old firm; the others beginning a new
one; and it now remains to be decided, whether two
parties, under the same regulations and by the
same exertions, though unequal in number, can
continue to carry on the business to a successful
issue. The contrary opinion has been held, which
if verified, will make it the interest of the parties
again to coalesce; for neither is deficient in capital
to support their obstinacy in a losing trade, as it is
not to be supposed that either will yield on any
other terms than perpetual participation.
It will not be superfluous in this place, to explain
the general mode of carrying on the fur trade.
The agents are obliged to order the necessary
goods from England in the month of October,
eighteenllhonths before they can leave Montreal;
that is, they are not shipped from London until the
spring following, when they arrive in Canada in the
summer. In the course of the following winter
they are made up into such articles as are required
for the savages; they are then packed into parcels
of ninety pounds weight each, but cannot be sent
from Montreal until the May following; so that they
do not get to market until the ensuing winter, when
they are exchanged for furs, which come to Montreal the next fall, and from thence are shipped,
chiefly to London, where they are not sold or paid
 OF THE FUR TRADE, Sec. xxiit
for before the succeeding spring, or even as late as
June; which is forty-two months after the goods
were ordered in Canada; thirty-six after they had
been shipped from England, and twenty-four after
they had been forwarded from Montreal; so that
the merchant, allowing that he has twelve months
credit, does not receive a return to pay for those
goods, and the necessary expences attending them,
which is about equal to the value of the goods
themselves, till two years after they are considered
as cash, which makes this a very heavy business.
There is even a small proportion of it that requires
twelve months longer to bring round the payment,
owing to the immense distance it is carried, and
from the shortness of the seasons, which prevents
the furs, even after they are collected, from coming
out of the country for that period.
The articles necessary for this trade, are coarse
woolen cloths of different kinds; milled blankets
of different sizes; arms and ammunition; twist and
carrot tobacco; Manchester goods; linens, and
coarse sheetings; thread, lines and twine; common hardware ; cutlery and ironmongery of several descriptions; kettles of brass and copper, and
sheet-iron; silk and cotton handkerchiefs-, hats,
shoes and hose; calicoes and printed cottons, &c.
&c. &c. Spirituous liquors and provisions are
purchased in Canada.    These, and the expence of
l This will be better illustrated by the following statement:
We will suppose the goods for 1798;
The orders for the goods are sent to this country
They are shipped from London       -
They arrive in Montreal        -
They are made up in the course of that summer and winter.
They are sent from Montreal - -       -i-L-'i&ci
They arrive in the Indian country, and are exchanged for
furs the following winter -
Which furs come to Montreal -
And are shipped for London, where they are sold in March
and April, and paid for in May or June
25th Oct. 1796,
March 1797.
June 1797.
May 1798,
I   1798-9.
Sept. 1799.
! •:.      1800.
transport to and from the Indian country, including
wages to clerks, Interpreters, guides, and canoe-
men, with the expence of making up the goods for
the market, form about half the annual amount
against the adventure.
This expenditure in Canada ultimately tends
to the encouragement of British manufactory,
for those who are employed in the different
branches of this business, are enabled by their
gains to purchase such British articles as they
must otherwise forego.
The produce of the year of which I am now
speaking, consisted of the following furs and peltries :
106,000 Beaver skins,
210©-I3ear skins,
1500 Fox skins,
4000 Kitt Fox skins,
4600 Otter skins,
17,000 Musquash skins,
32,000 Marten skins,
6000 Lynx skins,
600 Wolverine skins,
1650 Fisher skins,
100 Rackoon skins,
3800 Wolf skins,
700 Elk ski®Sj,
750 Deer skins,
1800 Mimk skins, 1200Deiarskmsdressed,
500 Buffalo robes, and a quantity of castorum.
Of these were diverted from the British market,
being sent through the United States to China,
13,364 skins, fine beaver, weighing 19,283 pounds;
1250 fine otters, and 1724 kitt foxes. They would
have found their way to the China market at any
rate, but this deviation from the British channel
arose from the following circumstance :
An adventure of this kind was undertaken by a
respectable house in London, half concerned with
the North-West Company, in the year 1792. The
furs were of the best kind, and suitable to the market; and the adventurers continued this connexion for five successive years, to the annual amount
of forty thousand pounds. At the winding up of
the concern of 1792, 1793, 1794, 1795, in the year
1797 (the adventure of 1796 not being included,
as the furs were not sent to China, but disposed of
in London), the North-West Company experienced
aloss of upwards of £40,000 (their half), which was
principally owing to the difficulty of getting home
the produce procured in return for the furs from
China, in the East India Company's ships, together
with the duty payable, and the various restrictions
of that company. Whereas, from America there
are no impediments; they get immediately to market, and the produce of them is brought back, and
perhaps sold in the course of twelve months. From
such advantages, the furs of Canada will no doubt
find their way to China by America, which would
not be the case if British subjects had the same privileges that are allowed to foreigners, as London
would then be found the best and safest market.
But to return to our principal subject. We
shall now proceed to consider the number of men
employed in the concern: viz. fifty clerks, seventy-
one interpreters and clerks, one thousand one hundred and twenty canoe-men, and thirty-five guides.
Of these, five clerks, eighteen guides, and three
hundred and fifty canoe-men, were employed for
the summer season in going from Montreal to the
Grande Portage, in canoes, part of whom proceeded from thence to Rainy Lake, as will be
hereafter explained, and are called Pork-eaters, or
Goers and Comers. These were hired in Canada
or Montreal, and were absent from the 1st of May
till the latter end of September. For this trip the
guides had from eight hundred to a thousand
livres, and a suitable equipment; the foreman and
steersman from four to six hundred livres; the
middle-men from two hundred and fifty to three
hundred and fifty livres, with an equipment of one
blanket, one shirt, and one pair of trowsers ; and
were maintained during that period at the expence
of their employers. Independent of their wages,"
they were allowed to traffic, and many of them
earned to the amount of their wages. About one
third of these went to winter, and had more than
double the above wages and equipment. All the
winterers were hired by the year, and sometimes
for three years ; and of the clerks many were apprentices, who were generally engaged for five
or seven years, for which they had only one hundred pounds, provision and clothing. Such of
them who could not be provided for as part-
at the expiration of this time, were allowed from one hundred pounds to three hundred
pounds per annum, with all necessaries, till provision was made for them. Those who acted in
the two-fold capacity of clerk and interpreter, or
were so denominated, had no other expectation
than the payment of wages to the amount of from
one thousand to four thousand livres per annum,
with clothing and provisions. The guides, who
are a very useful set of men, acted also in the additional capacity of interpreters, and had a stated
quantity of goods, considered as sufficient for their
wants, their wages being from one to three thousand livres. The canoe men are of two descriptions, foremen and steersmen, and middlemen.
The two first were allowed annually one thousand
two hundred, and the latter eight hundred, livres
each. The first class had what is called an equipment, consisting of two blankets, two shirts, two
pair of trowsers, two handkerchiefs, fourteen
pounds of carrot tobacco, and some trifling articles.
The latter had ten pounds of tobacco, and all the
other articles : those are called North Men, or
Winterers; and to the last class of people were
attached upwards of seven hundred Indian women
and children, victualled at the expence of the
 OF THE FUR TRADE, kc. xxvii
The first class of people are hired in Montreal
five months before they set out, and receive their
equipments, and one third of their wages in advance; and an adequate idea of the labour they
undergo, may be formed from the following account of the country through which they pass,
and their manner of proceeding.
The necessary number of canoes being purchased, at about three hundred livres each, the
goods formed into packages, and the lakes and
rivers free of ice, which they usually are in the
beginning of May, they are then dispatched from
La Chine, eight miles above Montreal, with eight
or ten men in each canoe, and their baggage; and
sixty-five packages of goods, six hundred weight of
biscuit, two hundred weight of pork, three bushels
of pease, for the men's provision; two oil cloths to
cover the goods, a sail, &c. an axe, a towing-line, a
kettle, and a sponge tobailout the water, withaquan*
tity of gum, bark, and watape, to repair the vessel.
An European on seeing one of these slender vessels
thus laden, heaped up, and sunk with her gunwale
within six inches of the water, would think his
fate inevitable in such a boat, when he reflected on
the nature of her voyage; but the Canadians are
so expert that few accidents happen.
Leaving La Chine, they proceed to St. Ann's,
within two miles of the Western extremity of the
island of Montreal, the lake of the two mountains
being in sight, which may be termed the commencement of the Utawas river. At the rapid of
St. Ann they are obliged to take out part, if not
the whole of their lading. It is from this spot
that the Canadians consider they take their departure, as it possesses the last church on the island,
which is dedicated to the tutelar saint of voyagers.
The lake of the two mountains is about twenty-
miles long, but not more than three wide, and surrounded by cultivated fields, except the Seignory
belonging to the clergy, though nominally iiv
possession of the two tribes of Iroquois and Algon-
quins, whose village is situated on a delightful
point of land under the hills, which, by the title of
mountains, give a name to the lake. Near the
extremity of the point their church is built, which
divides the village in two parts, forming a regular
angle along the water side. On the East is the
station of the Algonquins, and on the West, one of
the Iroquois, consisting in all of about five hundred warriors. Each party has its missionary, and
divine worship is performed according to the rites
of the Roman Catholic religion, in their respective
languages in the same church: and so assiduous
have their pastors been, that these people have
been instructed in reading and writing in their own
language, and are better instructed than the Canadian inhabitants of the country of the lower ranks :
but notwithstanding these advantages, and though
the establishment is nearly coevel with the colonization of the country, they do not advance towards
a state of civilization, but retain their ancient
habits, language, and customs, and are becoming
every day more depraved, indigent, and insignificant. The country around them, though very
capable of cultivation, presents only a few miserable patches of ground, sown by the women with
maize and vegetables. During the winter season,
they leave their habitations, and pious pastors, to
follow the chase, according to the custom of their
forefathers. Such is, indeed, the state of all the
villages near the cultivated parts of Canada. But
we shall now leave them to proceed on our voyage.
 OF THE FUR TRADE, Sec. xxix
i At the end of the lake the water contracts into
the Utawas river, which, after a course of