Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Seven Men

The Crosses
Memorial Observance service February 15, 2009

At the time of their burial, one week after the accident of February 15, 1909, in St. Mary's cemetery on Second Street, Nipigon, no relatives were present. Over the years the seven white crosses weathered, and crumbled, so that today only four remain. These were placed into the keeping of the Nipigon Historical Museum by Rev. McClure. On Sunday, February 15, 2009, a Memorial Observance for these seven men was held during regular service at St. Mary's Anglican Church. The story of Knut Bjorneset's life was read and a prayer from his family was said for them, while they held a vigil at their homes in Norway marking the same time as our ceremony in Nipigon. A prayer from a Swedish church minister was also supplied and read at the service.

The Burial List:

  1. Anton Wilhelm Gustafson, born 13th of December 1864. Homeplace: Hjerphagen (farm), Fared (village), Mariestad (municipality), Skaraborg (district), Vastergotland (county), Sweden. His cross survives.
  2. Nils Sten Mansson, born 28th of November 1869. Homeplace: Vinslov (village), Hassleholm (municipality), Skane (county), Sweden. Foreman. His cross survives.
  3. Magnus Andersson, born 10th of March 1872. Homeplace: Bosebyn (farm), Gunnarskog (village), Arvika (municipality), Varmland (county), Sweden.
  4. Knut Alfred Lundqvist, born 16th of October, 1879. Homeplace: Torahult (village), Nobbele (town), Vaxja (municipality), Kronoberg (county), Sweden.  Homeplace after one year old: Goljahult (village), Linneryd (town), Tingsryd (municipality), Kronoberg (county) , Sweden. Foreman's helper, his cross survives.
  5. Knut Tobias Bjorneset, born 4th of March, 1880. Homeplace: Bjorneset (farm), Straumshamn (village), Volda (municipality), More and Romsdal (county), Norway.
  6. Oscar Emanuel Sjoblom, born 1st of April, 1884. Homeplace: Sodermallm (city-district), Stackholm (city), Stockholm (municipality), Sweden. His cross survives.
  7. Oscar Emanuel Lundgren, born 1st of February, 1887. Homeplace: Skilsaker (farm), Tyndero (village), Sundsvall (municipality), Vasternorrland (county), Sweden.

A special thank-you to Gunnar of Norway for his diligent research to find these men a homeplace and now a place in our history as well. When crosses fall, who is to remember. We are so lucky to have had Gunnar bring these men back to us.

Monday, 30 January 2012


They came be-
Cause Canada called for them
Sons of the Norse
To hew and to haul and to quarry
To open a western course.

It happened
One month before March arrived
The winter of
Nineteen nine
When the men were taken from us,
Then placed in their shroud of pine.

The Horses
Great beasts of the Belgian breed
Their shoes clove deep
In the snow
Taking seven men for St. Mary's
Their coffins in silent tow.

The bells of
Bob sleigh and horses were tolled
one hundred
and fifty miles.
Gone were these men from their labours
From their hardships and their trials.

I spent quite a few years "with these men" tracking the site of their accident at Cross Lake.
 Imagining their journey finally made me break out in poetry .
B. Brill



Gruesome journey over 150 miles of ice and snow
 with seven dead men.

Daily Times - Journal Fort William, Ontario  Monday February 22, 1909

With the corpses of seven men whose lives were snuffed out in an instatnt in a premature explosion on the Transcontinental railway,  a single bob sleigh, accompanied by three weary and travel stained men, arrived in Nipigon last Saturday, after having conveyed its gruesome burden over 135 miles of lakes , rivers and brush covered hils.

Since alst tuesday, the day succeeding that of the explosion, the men had been on one of the most awesome journeys ever recorded in this part of the west.

While tamping in a rock cut, some 15 feet in depth, last Monday, Nels Munson, foreman of a crew of nine men, accidently struck a charge of dynamite. When the debris occasioned by the explosion which resulted had been cleared away, it was found that only two members of the party had survived. Four lay buried beneath tons of earth and broken rock, while three had been mangled almost beyond recognition. The whole face of the cut, close to which all nine men were standing, fell in. No one has been able to account for the miraculous escape of the two survivors.

The men killed were; Nels Munson, foreman; Knute lundquist, Knute Nelson(later identified as Bjornset, 2005), Anton Gustafson, Magnus Anderson, Oscar Lundgren, Oscar Sjblom (Sjoblom).

Sjblom (Sjoblom) was a Norwegian (no, we have identified him as a Swede 2005), and the others were Swedes. (Bjorneset/Nelson was the Norwegian, 2005) They were in the employ of McCaffery and McQuaig, subcontractors under the Nipigon Construction Comapany. All were experienced at their work.

No cries were heard at the time nor following the explosion. It is thought that not one of the seven men knew that an accident had occurred. It was several minutes before either of the two men who had passed safely through the shadow of death realized what had happened. Although they were so wedged in by the falling rock that it was impossible for them to move more than a few inches, the two survivors were not even seriously bruised.

it was more than two hours before two score of willing hands could remove the debris form some of the bodies. All but two had died where they stood.

It was the break of day on the following morning that the long death march, which will form one of the most appalling chapters ofthe great railway, was  begun. The only means of conveyance was the primitive bob sleigh. The trail is difficult to traverse under the best of conditions.

Knowing that the testimony of the two survivors, the only living eye-witnesses, would be required at the inquest, the superintendent of the camp advised them to accompany the driver of the team. They traveled from early morning until late evening, and took turns watching their charges by night.

The two survivors were on the verge of collapse when they arrived in Nipigon. One of them had accompanied two of the men killed across the same trail a short time before.

Crown Attorney Langworthy and Coroner Brown of port Arthur returned from Nipigon, where the inquest was held. There was no evidence produced at the inquiry to show that anyone had been to blame.

Both the foreman, who was doing the tamping and his helper were accustomed to the use of dynamite. The tools used were new and in good order.

The verdict rendered was simply that the men had come to their death as the result of an accidental explosion.

The funeral took place yesterday and was conducted by the pastor of the Swedish Anglican Church. There were no relatives present. Seven graves in a row were made in the English cemetery.


The following brief account was written for the Times-Journal by Crown attorney Langworthy, who returned last night from the inquest.

' Nels Munson, Knute Lundquist, Knute Nelson(Bjornset), Anton Gustafson, Magnus Anderson, Oscar Lundgren, Oscar Sjblom(Sjoblom), and were all Swedes with the exception of one who was Norwegian.
These men together with two other men named John Swanson and Alex Bengtson formed a party who had taken station work on McCaffrey's and McQuaiggie's sub-contract under The Nipigon Construction Company, and at the time of the accident the men were engaged in blasting out a rock cut 15 feet in depth. The foreman Nels Munson and his helper Knute Lundquist were engaged up on top of the bank of the rock cut in loading a hole with dynamite preparatory to blasting, while the rest of the men were down in the cut clearing up the rock from the previous blast.

The only surviving witnesses of the accident are Swanson and Bengtson, and they told a most simple story of the accident. They said that there was about four feet of earth on the top rock and a pit had been dug out on the top of the cut so they could get down to the rock. A minute or so before the explosion they looked up but they were unable to see the men loading the hole as they were down in the pit but they could see the wooden loading stick going up and down showing that the foreman and his helper were engaged in pushing down the dynamite. Without any warning a terrific explosion took place which literally blew into fragments the two men who were loading the hole and also killed five of the men in the cut by the falling of the rock caused by the blast, the whole face of the cut falling in as a result of the explosion, and the men being instantly killed.  The two survivors had a most thrilling experience and miraculous escape."

" The accident happened only a few yards away from the camp and in a few minutes a large gang of men was at work removing the debris and endeavouring to rescue the men, but it was well on in the night before the rock could be removed and the bodies recovered. The doctor was at the camp and was at the scene of the accident inside of five minutes, but the men were all instantly killed. All the men were experienced rock men, had been working on the same cut for some months, were all first class and careful men in handling explosives, and no one alive is able to say the cause of the accident."

'The two survivors say that they had the best of tools and outfit for the work, the dynamite was of the best, they had the best kind of a powder house, and they blame no one for the accident, and say that it was one of these unaccountable accidents that will happen in handling dynamite. The contractors did everything that could be done under the unfortunate circumstances.

They had coffins made for the men and brought them down to Nipigon over the long trail of 135 miles across lakes and rivers."

Thursday, 19 January 2012


By Dr. Herman Bryan M.D., F.A.C.S.

This is the conclusion and describes the "snow-shoe treks to rescue injured workers".
Dr. Bryan's daughter donated these articles to our Nipigon Historical Museum shortly after we opened in 1973.

On December 28, 1905 I was in Ottawa when I received a telegram from Headquarters at Nipigon to come back at once and go into the Negagami and bring out a man by the name of Campbell who was badly frozen.

A wire was returned to prepare men and dogs and supplies for this trip which meant 250 miles in and out or a total of 500 miles ( close to 800 km) .

This case had an interesting history. Two men had been ordered by the engineer to proceed west from the camp about 12 miles to the Negagami River and go north to the original cache and move supplies down about 20 miles south to where the new survey line would cross the river. Just after these two men had been sent out I visited this party and took orders to the engineer to abandon his present line and go west about 30 miles and tie on another line which had been run from the west to the east.

Being the last day of October it was starting to freeze and the party was unable to move until the ice was thick enough to carry the men and supplies so they remained in camp and no word was sent on to the men who had moved the supplies down the river. These men expected the party to be at the river daily.

These men ran short of essential supplies and one went back some twelve miles to the party to learn of the delay. He wanted to return to tell his partner to come to camp but the engineer would not let him go saying that Campbell would know enough to come himself.

Campbell waited til November 13th and was very short of food so he started back to camp. The weather was below zero and about 13 inches of snow had fallen. While crossing the Negagami Campbell fell into the river. He was a man who had been in Alaska and knew the woods and cold very well. His matches were wet and he could not start a fire to dry his clothes so he started to walk. He proceeded about 4 miles to the first camp and found no party. He had no snow-shoes and he began to tire. about 4 P.M. in the afternoon of November 14th, he was tired and sleepy. He knew he dare not sit down or he would go to sleep and freeze to death; for when one goes to sleep in the cold they freeze and never waken. So he leaned against a tree for a rest. There he made a mistake for he went to sleep standing against the tree. At noon the next day the party came through and found him still standing up against the tree and frozen into unconsciousness. The chief erected a temporary tent, left a small stove and supplies and a man to look after Campbell;  and immediately dispatched Mr. Bain, an experienced woodsman, to bring word out of Campbell's condition. Mr. Bain had to walk back to Kabinagagami about 25 miles and then up this river out the Magpie and to the C.P. R.  at Grassett a distance of a least 150 miles. This was a severe and dangerous journey alone and on foot at that time of year. Although the lakes were frozen the streams were still open. Mr. Bain was from November 14th to December 28th getting out; a very hazardous journey and I received the wire on his arrival at Headquarters.

On December 31st our party consisting of two Indians, Michael Bouchard and James Ward and Mr. Bian with two dog teams and supplies for a 500 mile trip, left Nipigon by C.P. R. (Canadian Pacific Railway) and proceeded to Jackfish where the trail leads north across the Height of Land into Long Lac and on north about 30 miles to the survey line.

There is probably no circumstance in life that teaches one to live on essential like the long winter trip in the north that lay before us.

To those who have never travelled with dog sled and dogs it might be interesting to know what weight can be carried by sleds. A dog team usually consists of 5 dogs. The lead dog must understand your language for direction and guidance. The sled dog is the one that starts the load. For each dog a maximum one can load 100 pounds. A five dog team will pull over a good trail 500 pounds. Of course, on a new trail it is not well to load to this capacity.

 Our supplies consisted of flour, baking powder, salt and pepper, sugar and tea, bacon, ham, beans and slat pork, powdered milk, oatmeal, dried fruits such as apricots or prunes and dried potatoes, for the dogs cornmeal and fish. The dogs are fed at night on a meal of boiled cornmeal with a fish or two. At noon the dogs are given a frozen fish.

We left Jackfish at noon January 1st, 1906 and through heavy snow we made only about six miles. We put up a tent with a small collapsible stove and stopped for the night. We nearly froze trying to keep warm. In the morning after a consultation with the Indians we decided to cache the stove and tent and rely on an open fire.

For clothing we wore heavy underwear and socks; the heavy bushman's socks and moose moccasins with heavy pants, sweater and sheep-skin coat. We slept in a rabbit-skin bag or heavy Hudson's Bay blankets. A rabbit-skin blanket can be made to any size. The green skin of the rabbit is cut in a strip about an inch wide. One skin will make a furry rope about 4 to 5 feet long.The ends of these are sewed together and interwoven on the frame of desired length. This makes a beautiful white blanket of about two inches of fur with open spaces for ventilation and is very light in weight and will pack into a small space; but it is best to cover these blankets with some material like flannelette for the fur sheds very easily. The blankets are folded once, sewed across one end and almost up complete on one side. This makes the most useful and inexpensive of covers for the cold.

To make an open camp we each had our work. Ward cut the wood as he was cook. Bouchard cut poles for the tarpaulin and spruce boughs for the beds. Bain looked after the dogs and my work was to take my snow-shoe as a shovel and shovel a hole in the snow which was from two to three feet deep, large enough for  a sleeping storage  and fire, long poles were pushed into the snow on three sides at the top of the dugout and came up on a slant to all meet at the top which would be about 6 to 8 feet above the ground. The tarpaulins were thrown over this and they were tied on to the poles and snow thrown up over the bottom. The walls and bottom of the dugout were lined with spruce boughs making a bed as comfortable as a spring mattress. Two large logs about ten inches in diameter were placed about three or four feet apart in front of the teepee with the ends pointing toward the camp, across the top of these were laid the other logs and fire started. This fire was kept going all night and the heat dried any wet clothing or moccasins hung on the poles. The idea of the crossed logs in under the fire was for cooking. The coals dropped down and in baking one could put the pan on the coals and have an even heat both above and below.

In all we were comfortable in our open camp.

The dogs were chained to a tree or stump and after they had been fed, dug a hole in the snow and curled up for the night.

On the third day we reached Long Lac, from there we couldn't go astray because we knew the Hudson's Bay Post with Peter Gauthier as factor was due due north.

There are narrows in Long Lac about half way up and a small island in mid-lake. For some reason this part of the lake is the last part to freeze over. About 3 P.M. one afternoon we were trotting along ahead of the dogs and I thought I could see the ice give way under our feet so we tested it. One blow of a small axe and the water spurted up so we had to camp on the island and wait for more ice. There was a north wind blowing and the temperature dropped steadily till morning. There were only a few scrubby spruce on the island and it was impossible to keep a fire going as the wood would only spit and flare up and the wind would blow the fire out. That night we were cold.

The weather continues to grow colder and the second night after this was the coldest weather I have ever experienced. We camped about 12 miles south of the Long Lac post. The snow was so cold that we could not wash in it. The hands chilled and the snow felt like sand. We had plenty of fire and slept well but in the morning the dogs refused to go out on the ice and face the freezing wind. We had struck camp but we put up a tarpaulin and put on a fire. At noon we had hot beans and they were frozen on the plate before we could finish eating them. The official temperature at White River that morning was 65 degrees below zero. The next day we reached Long Lac Post and were graciously welcomed by Mr. Gauthier. We remained there for 2 days waiting for a guide to take us to the line as there was no trail. The second day Angus McLeod, who is now established at Macdiarmid, arrived and we were two days going into McKay's camp on the line. Here we found Mr. McKay, the engineer almost dead with scurvy. He was not able to even stand on his feet. His legs were swollen and black to his knees from hemorrhage. I ordered him out to Long Lac Post and to wait there till I returned with Campbell. On, now almost due east to Caldwell's camp. Here we ran into our first real trouble. We were out of cornmeal for the dogs and were short of many supplies ourselves.

My reason for going into this longer route was that I had brought sealed orders from Ottawa for Caldwell's party to discontinue work and come out. These orders probably incensed the chief and although we still had about 100 miles to go east for Campbell, Caldwell forbid my men supplies for the dogs or ourselves. My men came to me in distress so that night I ordered them to get supplies from the cook and to pick up a bag of cornmeal left by the mailman who had gone east to the caches along the line.

The next morning the transit man told me that Mr. Caldwell wanted to see me. So I went into his tent. He told me I would get no supplies from him and that I might as well turn around and go out and leave Campbell where he was. I told him I had my supplies and that I had picked up the mailman's cornmeal and I handed him a signed order to go to Long Lac Post and get more cornmeal and replace what I had taken. Mr. Caldwell read the note, did not say anything back to me and I said, " Good morning " and left. That was the last time I ever saw Mr. Caldwell.

On, day after day to the east, a couple of incidents I well remember; Bouchard was breaking trail and I was following to make a path for the dogs. We struck a burnt country of about a mile and the wind was cold. We crossed into green bush and as I came in out of the open he was grinning at me and I asked him what was funny. He said, "Your face is all frozen."  I looked at him and said you have nothing to laugh about your face is frozen too.

Again we were getting short of supplies and expected to reach the cache on the Pegatechewan about noon. The wind was cold, probably a temperature of about 30 degrees below zero. No cache was in sight. Ward was ahead of me going down the river. I was tired and hungry. I felt I could not go any further; green and yellow specks started floating across my eyes; I cuesed the steady piston-like tramp of the Indian's snow-shoes in front and wondered if he would ever tire but Ward never tired. Suddenly he stopped and sniffed the air and turning to me said the one Indian word, "Ishkode" which meant fire. We were near the cache and he had smelled the smoke.

Two days later we reached Campbell. He had made a good recovery but his feet were badly in need of care. The first dressing I took a dozen pieces of bones from his feet and applied the proper dressings. We had been 21 days coming 250 miles.

Our return journey over the trail was made in ten days.

From the place where Caldwell had camped to Long Lac Post several of the party's dogs had to be shot. The party coming out had run short of dog feed or else did not feed the dogs and they were cut out of the tema and left to die in the bush.

At long Lac Post again we picked up Chief McKay. He had improved a little since I had seen him. I brought several tins of canned fruit and had him eat it on the way out. Before we got to Jackfish McKay was wealking. This was 37 years ago (1906) and I learned that there was something in canned goods cooked in vacuum that was lost in the dried fruits; something that cured scurvy. THis was many years before vitamins were discovered.

We reached Jackfis February 5th , 36 days after leaving I took Campbell to the General Hospital in Toronto.

Two days later I received another telegram to return and go up the KowKash, to bring another man that had been badly frozen. This meant another 300 mile trip. I took this man to London.

On returning to Headquarters at Nipigon, I took Michael Bouchard and made an inspection trip to the caches around Lake Nipigon, calling at South Bay, Grand Bay, Nipigon House and the caches at the Tunnell Lake, Sand River, Mud River, Ombabika and down the east side of Lake Nipigon back to South Bay and Nipigon.

Late that spring I had an order to go to South Bay on Lake Nipigon and bring out another man who was snow-blind.

At 7 A.M. Albert Fraser and I left Nipigon on foot. We reached South Bay about 4:30. The weather was warm and the snow melting and the walking bad. We decided to come back that night an the man was suffering considerable. We left South Bay at 9 P.M.  The night wa clear and freezing and the walking better. Fraser and I returned to Nipigon at 6 A.M. We had walked 64 miles in 23 hours and had stopped about 5 hours to rest and eat.

And now back to the present. (1945). The snow-shoe and light canoe have been replaced by the ski and the pontoon of the airoplane. The heavy transport canoe by the motor boat. The tumpline and pack and axe of the woodsman by the bull dozer and the modern road equipment. Along the survey line now runs the Canadian National and over it the beams of the Great Trans-Canada Airlines. But let us not forget, Perry, Hannigton, and Armstrong, the chief Engineers, or such men as Mattice, Tempest, Redman, McKay, Caldwell and McLennan, the resident engineers and the men who worked with them, who have opened up this great Northern Country.

Tonight, let us pay tribute to the chief of all these men. No one has done more with less acknowledgement. He was never hearalded in the headlines, but when the blue prints of the transportation of this district are unrolled for the study of the future, the tracings will be the last 40 years of the life and achievements of the late T.S. Armstrong - A man who prized accuracy, action, and service, above the fading benefits of praise, glory, and riches.

T.S. Armstrong photo.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012


By Herman Bryan, M.D., F.A.C.S.

This article was presented to the Nipigon Historical Museum  by Dr. Bryan's daughter shortly after we opened in 1973. I make all my summer student staff read this.

Part One

As the intimate knowledge of anatomy of the human body is to the success of the surgeon so is the complete understanding of the history of one's immediate environment essential to successful living.

On the 4th of June 1905, after finishing a year of post-graduate work I was called to Ottawa by Mr. Lumsden, Chief of the Survey and Construction of the Transcontinental Railway. Mr Lumsden put me in charge of the medical supervision of Division E. which extends from the present town of Hearst to a little west of Armstrong on the main Canadian National Railway. This distance is approximately 250 miles and parallel to the Canadian Pacific through the District of Algoma and Thunder Bay about 125 miles to the north.

In charging me with my duties the chief gave me authority to command if necessary any supplies or help I required to look after the health of the men on survey or construction. I thought at the time this was rather a peculiar authority to give me but evidently he knew the autocratic tendencies of some of the engineers who considered themselves the only authority in the woods.

May I ask you to draw down the curtain of our present day facts and go back with me forty years when this work was first started. (This was likely written about 1945)

To give you some picture of my duties I may explain that over this territory which was practically unexplored, caches or store-houses were established every 25 to 50 miles along this entire stretch from east to west.  Large rivers cut this country north of the Height of Land and goods and provisions for the survey party had to be transported from the C.P.R. north by canoe and dog team over the water routes and trails to these strategic positions. Cache keepers or two men were supposed to be stationed in charge of these supplies. Two men because if one took ill or had some injury he might lay for months before anyone found or visited him.

The Headquarters was at Nipigon in the Old Hudson's Bay Building at the docks. This building has since been destroyed by fire. Mr. Perry was chief engineer, Mr. Hannington assistant and later Mr. T.S. Armstrong took charge. Mr. Perry was a short, stocky man in his early 60's. His favourite dress was riding breeches and English jacket and cap. He wore close trimmed whiskers and I never met a man who could lose his temper quicker, curse you more heartily and then amend for it better. I took my letter from Ottawa to him and he read it, got red in the face and looking at me said, "What in hell did they send you up here for?" When he had finished his first outburst he said, "Well, Doctor, what can I do to make you comfortable?" That was Perry.

This man had a bad heart. He was not well and later his feet and legs were badly swollen, and being a devoted Christian he always said his prayers, but he found it difficult kneeling by his bedside. So he made a little Edison record of what he want to say  and then got into bed, turned on his gramophone and had it do the work for him.

Hannington, big and husky, a typical woodsman and engineer who hated office work and detail, tells a story of his early life. He and his brother were attending college in an eastern institution. The principal was a n old time Methodist, long black coat and all. When the old minister would be praying, Hannington and his brother would tiptoe out. One day the old man followed them into the garden and they met face to face. The old professor in his sanctimonious voice said, "Well boys, have you found the Lord?"  Hannington looked up at him and replied, " I didn't know he was lost, sir."

Shortly after my arrival at Nipigon, a young English Church Missionary came and Mr. Perry asked him to sit at our table. That didn't suit Hannington at all. One morning he and the Missionary came to breakfast a the same time and the Missionary  started asking Hannington questions. Hannington was very short with him and I felt something was brewing. At last the Missionary said, "And what do they raise around here Mr. Hannington?"  "Nothing but Hell," was the reply.

T.S. Armstrong , photo. Tramway Engine
To be concluded in "The Rescues"


By L.M.Buzz" Lein 
April 5, 1976

They lived in Nipigon half of 1906 - 1907 and part of 1908. Their father was Daniel Johnson who was the assistant store manager of Revillon Freres in Nipigon. He was transferred to a Revillon Store in Matheson, Ontario.

Lawrence Johnson describes an incident that took place in Nipigon about 1907.

"About 1907, Claud Barker and I were playing around an old steamship storage building that had been dismantled or partly dismantled, and among the things we discovered, was a big iron sheet under which we found -oh -, maybe one hundred detonators or dynamite caps. We took them outside; examined them closely - we didn't know what they were. We lit a little fire with some waste from a freight car grease box, and by taking the nitro glycerin out of the caps and throwing it on the fire we got purple, green and blue colours. We finally got a cap right into the flame.  She blew and that is what happened to my hand."

"We were alongside the C.P.R. tracks on the town side, close to the water tank but opposite it, we were fooling with this cap and it exploded. We hustled back into town; over a couple of high fences. I don't know how I got there but I got home. Dr. Bryan was the doctor who originally fixed the hand up, bandaged and so forth. He said, "Take the train to Port Arthur tonight. Go in and see a doctor and that finger may not have to be sacrificed."

"My father wasn't home - he was in Matheson. Our family hadn't moved, we still lived in Nipigon. "

In response to a question "What did your Mother have to say about all this?"  Johnson replied, "Oh. That was sad."

Lawrence stumbled into the kitchen, all bloody-handed bleeding.

"It was my mother's "receiving day," said his sister Margaret Tracy. "Jean Alexander and I were sitting in the kitchen playing with our dolls and being very quiet. We didn't dare speak on Mother's "receiving day". Lawrence came in, holding his hand. He went to the sitting room door. I went over to see what he was doing. He knocked at the door. It looked as if he had a whole handful of strawberries. And I said, " What have you got there?"

"I hurt myself," was his reply.

So that was it. I knocked on the door and mother came.

"Lawrence hurt himself, " I explained.

"Get some warm water from the reservoir on the stove", she said, "and put his hand in it."

"Which we did and as soon as his hand touched that warm water, well, it was just dreadful. He just screeched, the poor kid."

"The ladies in the sitting room all came rushing out. Mrs. Lothian had been a nurse so she and Mrs. McKirdy and Mrs. _ . They sent for Dr. Bryan but he was out on a case and couldn't come right away. I remember Mrs. Lothian taking some sheeting or some kind of bandaging, wrapping up his hand. Then they sent out for Dr. Bryan who came about three quarters of an hour later. Then as Lawrence said, this was when the Doctor advised going to Port Arthur."

Lawrence Johnson was about 12 years old in 1907 and his sister was 9.

The custom of using calling cards to arrange visits was in use in Nipigon at this time. There were probably not more than 400 people in town. Allowing four people for a family, would result in 100 families. Out of these only about 15 families would be involved with this formality.

"Everybody had their calling cards - the men and the women," said Margaret, "and each family had their "receiving day". My Mother's was the first and third Thursday of every month. You only visited on the day set for it. If you were going to visit, you called around prior to visiting and left your card." If your husband was coming too, you left his card along with your own. If he wasn't you left two of his." Each card was marked with the "receiving day" of the card's owner. " Being quite young, I can't really remember how many there would be on calling, but there would be twelve to fourteen possibly."

" Close friends and neighbours visited anytime, but receiving day was formal and an excellent excuse for formality in an area that knew little about this. It also was a formal way to ensure that everyone in the "card" circuit got to have a tea party twice a month."

"When you went to one of these, you went to the house, knocked on the door and were admitted by your hostess. You went in. And you left your calling card in a silver dish that was there in the hallway for this purpose." Since the hostess, by this system, knew who was coming, the cards merely served as a reminder.

The guests merely sat around the sitting room or drawing room, drank tea, probably ate small sandwiches and talked. Like a modern afternoon tea.

" I recall the names of some of the people my Mother used to visit," Margaret continued, " There was Mr. and Mrs. MacDonald, he was the manager of Revillon Freres; and Mr. and Mrs. Barker, he was the manager of the Hudson's Bay Store; and Mr. and Mrs. W. McKirdy; Mr. and Mrs, Krumm, of (Transcontinental Railway); Mr. and Mrs. Lothian; Mr. and Mrs. Alexander, (Lighthouse Keeper, Lamb Island); Mr. and Mrs. Hogan, he either owned or ran the International Hotel. He later moved to Port Arthur and bought the Marriagi Hotel."

When asked if he knew what the Alexanders worked at, Larry replied, " There were two boys and two girls in the family. The boys helped their father who operated a lighthouse on an island in Lake Superior where there was need of such warning. As far as I know that was all Alexander Sr. worked at."

The Johnson children went to school in Nipigon. The school was on the same street as the Anglican Church on the side nearer the C.P.R. tracks.

The Johnson's must have had a piano because , "Miss Sarah McLean who was a school teacher was also  a wonderful music teacher, and had Lawrence to the point where he was a very very good pianist. After the accident with dynamite cap, his musical career came to an end because a nerve was cut in his index finger and he couldn't use it any more for piano playing." explained his sister.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012



Ten thousand years ago, the landscape of North-Central Ontario was far different from today. The Wisconsin glacier still covered the northern part of the province as far south as Lake Nipigon, and a large glacial lake, Minong, filled the Lake Superior basin. A second glacial lake, Lake Agassiz, inundated a large area from Atikokan west into Manitoba. Along the ice margins were expanses of open park land and tundra- like vegetation. Caribou and other species now found only in the far north ranged across the region.

From The Archaeology of North Central Ontario : Prehistoric Cultures
North of Superior
Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport

Late Palaeo-Indian people of the Plano Culture appear to have entered the Thunder Bay area from the  south and west about 7000 BC. Unfortunately, little is known of these early people. Their campsites were located on the ancient strand lines of the glacial lakes, now many kilometres inland from the present shore. Their tool kit includes distinctive lanceolate points and large stone knives. It would appear that the Plano people were primarily hunters of large game, probably caribou, which they intercepted at crossing places on the shores of Lake Minong.

With the recession of the continental glacier came lowering lake levels, and the northward migration of the plant and animal communities upon which the Palaeo-Indians depended for their existence. This resulted in the decline of the caribou-hunting life style in the Lake Superior region about 5000BC.

 Courtesy of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport

More INDIAN ROCK PAINTINGS , Northwestern Ontario

From : The Archaeology of Northwestern Ontario  1  The Prehistoric and Fur Trade Periods
1980 Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport (2012 ministry)

Figure 17 page 16.

Indian Rock Paintings from Cuttle Lake near Rainy Lake.  The numbers must refer to individual paintings that have been identified in that region. They figure the Blackduck and Selkirk Indians were probably the originators of the magnificent Indian Rock Paintings, hundreds of which adorn the vertical cliff faces throughout the region.

Getting closer to the Manitoba border the Bloodvein River has delicate looking Rock Paintings as evidenced in Figure 18, on page 20 of The Archaeology of West Patricia  Voices From the Earth: A 7000 - Year Outline  circa 1981   Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport (2012)

West Patricia covers about 90,000 square miles in Northern Ontario bordering close to Manitoba." It is a vast area that still has mysteries to reveal."


"On sites dating to the latter part of the 17th century, glass beads, scraps of metal, thimbles, and other articles provide evidence of contact with another culture - that of the European fur traders. The influx of European trade goods in the late 1600's signals the beginning of the adoption of, and adaptation to, Western Culture by the native peoples of North Central Ontario." ( Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport)

Trade axe drawings from Nipigon Historical Museum collection.

Seen on the left in the Fur Trade Display exhibit,
 they encircle the map of Lake Nipigon.

drawings of Nipigon Historical Museum Trade Axes

Axe # 1 was found at Gurney by D. Whent of Nipigon. The trade mark appears on both sides.

Axe # 2 was found at Ombabika Narrows by C. Hadley of Macdiarmid. The trade mark is on one side and not clear.

Axe #3  was found at Lake Helen by Andrew Hardy of Nipigon. The trade mark U S I D stands for the United States Indian Department. This mark would date this axe no earlier than the third quarter of the 18th century.

Axe # 4 was found at Black Sturgeon Lake by Einar Danielson of Nipigon. It had an old root grown through its eye.

Axe # 5 was found at Black Sturgeon Lake also by Einar Danielson. The trade mark of three crowns appears only on one side.

Axe # 6 was found north of White Lake in the vicinity of Shabotik & Kwinkwage Rivers by Geo. Breckomridge, Thunder Bay. No trade mark.

Axe # 7 was found on Ombabika River by George Flett and given to L. Manuel. No trade mark.

Axe # 8 was found at Polly Lake by Ted Wright. No trade mark.

Henry Mercer describes the Trade Axe in his book, Ancient Carpenters' Tools, Buck Co. Hist., 1975, as , "...having the characteristics of a long down-flaring, flat-topped bit and no poll. "

When they say it has no poll, that means the iron bends around the handle smoothly and does not become thickened and squared to make a pounding surface. As you can see from some of the cracks in the back of our axes that didn't stop some owners from using them as hammers anyway.

The under-curve and hook between the eye and the blade of the axe sometimes makes identification of the nationality of origin possible, i.e British or French.

Peter Priess, Artifact Analyst of the Research Division of the National Historic Sites Service, National Historic Parks Branch, in 1972, told us that this form of axe is sometimes referred to as a half hatchet or tomahawk in available literature. Their history spans from the 16th to the 19th century.

In 1972 axes were being recovered by underwater archaeology projects carried out jointly by the Minn. Hist. Soc. and the R.O.M.

The National Historic Sites Service had just started it archaeological investigation of Western Canada fur trade sites in the early 70's and had not found any axes by 1972 so at that time no research of that item had been undertaken.

The Museum of the Fur Trade, in Chadron, Nebraska, has a couple representative trade axes. Their catalogue card yielded a paucity of information just like ours. Now, if anyone is interested in Trade Guns, there is the place to go - they have hundreds!

Christmas 2007, before we got our Cultural Spaces Canada grant for display cases
the exhibits those items that could stand-alone, low security items.
The axes were tied onto the plywood.

Appendix C of Carl P. Russell's book, Firearms, Traps & Tools of the Mountain Men, U. Of New Mexico Press 1967 Alfred A Knopf, Inc ...Markings on Axes and Tomahawks, page 408 - 424 was the most informative reference for our Trade Axes that I found.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

UP THE NEPIGON by Elizabeth Taylor Part Nine the conclusion

Be Still Thy Heart this was written in 1889 and published in Harper's Magazine

Part Nine: Time to Say Good - by

Split Rock from below and Camp Alexander Rapids
by F. Adams

The night after we left Camp Victoria we camped at Pine Portage, pitching our tent at the lower landing, where from the door we could see the rapids below us shining in the moonlight, which was so bright that we ate our late supper by the light. It had been a hard day, and soon after supper we were glad to roll ourselves up in our blankets, for the last night on the river. Nip, the Indian dog, barked loudly about the tent, and we feared some Indians might be prowling around, but we slept soundly in spite of that and the cold high wind which shook the tent above our heads. Next morning we were up early, for we had a long journey before us - the "Long Portage" to make - and the wind , which was strong, was against us.

Running down the rapids and crossing Island Portage, we rowed laboriously over Lake Maria, the large waves and fierce wind making our  progress very slow. When almost across, we saw the dark clouds gathering quickly behind us. We hesitated about going on, but as we talked about it the angry sky warned us that there was but one wise course to pursue. Hastily rowing towards land, we reached shore just as the storm burst. We tumbled out of the canoe in all directions; fishing tackle, tents, blankets, frying pans and kettles were thrown here and there, and in two minutes we were under the canoe, all mixed up with our baggage, and helpless with laughter and excitement. The wind blew a gale, the water was lashed to foam, and the rain fell in torrents; but in ten minutes the worst was over, and before long the guides were building a fire, cooking the fish caught on the way down, and we ate a hurried dinner, trying to dry ourselves at the fire at the same time.

As the storm subsided the wind changed,  and as we re-embarked we found that a favouring breeze increased the prospect that we might reach Red Rock that night. We had very little for supper and nothing for breakfast, and with our Nepigon appetites, it was important to get as quickly as possible to the Hudson's Bay Company post, with its supplies.

We made the "Long Portage " that afternoon, and the guides worked hard; but the sun was low in the sky when we left the lower end for the final unbroken run to twelve miles down to Red Rock. Soon scattered tents of the Indians camping by the river near Lake Helen came in sight, and as we passed quickly by, the guides exchanged greetings with groups on the bank, receiving from all the assurance that they were wanted badly at the post - that two clergymen had been waiting impatiently several days for them.

The rosy clouds were reflected in the river, the pine-trees stood in dark relief against the sky, the white-fish were leaping on every side, and the voices of the Indian women sounded plaintively across the water as they called to one another, and as we turned into Lake Helen, across the water came the klingle-klangle of the cow- bells at the mission. We were nearing home, it is true, but it was hard to say  good-by to our wild life, our beds of hemlock-boughs and fragrant, spicy air. It was dark when we landed at the foot of the lake, and left the missionary's wife and her little boy at their summer home, and then the guides and I started for the mile run down the rapids to the post. The moon shone bright and cold on the high cliffs as we were carried swiftly down the dark braided current of the river, and in a few minutes we had landed. I had climbed the hill, given on lingering look at the shining river and dark forest beyond, and knocked at the door of the Hudson's Bay Company agent.

A Chippewa Teepee, near Camp Alexander

It was after our return that my big fish was caught. Many larger ones had been taken that year, but I had never fished for trout until the week before, and this one I captured after a fair fight, and he was a fish to be proud of.

One cold morning, with the wind blowing from the north-west, a young boy and I started out by ourselves. Four old anglers, waiting for guides to go up the river, watched us pass with an amused tolerance, and it must be confessed our hopes were rather feeble. We stopped here and there to cast, but saw no signs of fish; we crossed the river into deeper water with no success, and at length were about to give it up and start for home; but as we passed a stretch of quiet rapids, and I had cast once more in a listless way, allowing the flies to sink a little below the surface of the water, a fish rose, turning completely over as he seized the fly, and falling on the water with a loud splash. I remembered my loss in the Victoria Rapids, and struck vigorously; a wild whir, and the line spun out fully seventy-five feet as the fish darted down the rapids; then came a sudden stop, and the boy, who had been struggling with the rapids, unconscious of it all, turned his head, and called out, "You've caught a rock," and prepared to go back and dislodge the hook. The line was  motionless. I could feel nothing but a heavy drag on it, and feared that the fish had torn away in the rapids and the hook was fast in the rocks below. I was raising the rod slowly, but firmly, when a welcome jerk at the line told me that he was still fast; then another and another jerk, fierce tugs that seemed as if the fish would certainly break loose. I had heard of salmon's "jigging," and wondered if this harrowing performance could be called that name. I don't know how he did it, but it felt as if he was throwing himself backward violently in the water. I could do nothing but let the line go and bear it as coolly as possible till he was pleased to get through. This he did at last, with disconcerting abruptness, and immediately charged on the boat. When within twenty feet of it , he turned and ran down the rapids again. Then came another despairing time of jerking, and we had the whole thing over again. The reel was an old one, the leader a little doubtful; the trout made for the rocks and fallen trees, and I thought I never could land him. Once he came near enough for us to see him. How beautiful he was! with his great red fins and iridescent sides showing distinctly as he swam slowly to and fro, collecting his strength for another rush, but resisting all efforts on my part to bring him nearer.

It was the first time i had been thrown quite on my own resources; before that, our guides had been with me to manage the canoe and the landing-net, and give an occasional word of advice. But I had faith in my Imbrie rod, and felt that with so many fallen trees and rocks around us, I must land him as soon as possible. I brought him close up to the boat once, when he caught sight of the landing-net, and was off again, apparently as fresh as ever. The next time I told my companion to hold the net quietly a little under the surface of the water. We were more successful in our second effort; the fight had been a hard one, though lasting less that fifteen minutes. As I reeled him slowly in, anything but an easy matter in the rapids, he turned upward his broad side and was led into the net with hardly a struggle.

"Four pounds full" he weighed, with dark-red , white-bordered fins, bright spots, and a bar of white underneath. He seemed rather short, I thought for his weight - only twenty inches, but it was made up in the girth, which was over thirteen inches. The flesh was highly coloured, with flakes of creamy curd.

I had always heard that large fish are not very gamy - they know that they are big, have confidence in their strength, and are not easily alarmed - but this one fought as hard as a black bass. Perhaps he was not heavy enough to be classed among the large fish. A number were taken after that on the river, weighing from four and three-quarters to six pounds; but a beginner must not expect to rank with the experienced anglers. As I looked at the beautiful fish lying at my feet, I did not envy the best fisherman "up the Nepigon."

The End

Taken from the Nipigon Historical Museum Archives.

UP THE NEPIGON by Elizabeth Taylor Part Eight

Be Still Thy Heart this is an article written in 1889
and published in Harper's Magazine of that date.


In the solitude of these far northern woods, one understands how it is that the Indians have peopled them in their imagination with manitous, windigos and a host of minor sprites.There is no cheerful hum of insects in the air, no call of familiar birds ; a hush seems to have fallen over the forest, and one shares in the seeming expectancy, and strains the ear for some coming sound. It seems quite in keeping with the surroundings that these dark woods and shadowy cliffs should be the home of the creatures of the Indian mythology. Around the camp-fire at night is the place to learn of them, when no sound is heard but the soft rustle of the pines, and break of the swift current against the rocks, unless at times a Ko-ko-ko-o, or great barred owl, flies near the camp. At such times we were told stories of the Manabozho that ruled over the lakes, and had his head-quarters up here, and many and long were the tales of his valorous deeds. In fact, on one island, we saw a fragment of his white rabbit-skin blanket, which was caught by the branches and torn off as Manabozho rushed down the river, in great wrath, to punish an enemy which had appeared at the Sault Ste. Marie. It turned to glittering quartz afterwards, and still flashes in the sun as white as when Manabozho lost it.

Then there was " Gah-puh-ke-ta-je-wung "- meaning "water striking against a rock " - a great manitou that lives under White's Chute, a place on the river where the rapids rush against a wall of rock, and are thrown back on either side into a pool about four hundred feet across. Here, in the old  times, the voyagers always made an offering of tobacco as they passed, to bring good luck to their trip; even now it is done occasionally - very quietly, however, as these Indians have almost all been converted, and are supposed to have left the old superstitions behind them. We did not fail to slip a choice bit of "Myrtle Navy" over the side of our canoe as we passed.

Lesser manitous there were too, that haunted deep holes at the mouths of rivers, animals endowed with speech and in league with the manitous, and there were windigoes, most unpleasant creatures that seemed to be a kind of ghoul, and were very malignant. I was always much interested in these creatures, perhaps because it was permitted us to see their mischief working  on one occasion.

We had camped one afternoon, on our way home, at Bechah Onegum, or Pine Portage, and the guides and I had just started in our canoe to run down the rapids to the fishing -ground, when suddenly we heard a rushing, crackling noise, which was echoed back and forth by the high trap cliffs, and looking about, startled by the confused sound which seemed all around us, we saw across the river, where the Cariboo Mountains tower above the rapids, an immense pine-tree which had become loosened from its hold in the rocks, five hundred feet above the bed of the river. It leaped from cliff to cliff, striking with a hoarse, booming sound, breaking in its wild fall many smaller trees, and was followed by them in its downward course, and by detached fragments of rocks. As we looked in wonder, we saw it strike the rapids below with a fearful crash, dashing up great waves on the steep sides of the precipice; the water foamed and hissed, the tree was broken into a hundred fragments by the fall, and the great limbs surged up and down in the waves and then were quickly hurried down into the rapids to the fall below. It was a thrilling sight; we watched it all in silence; and when the last sound died away I turned to Joseph for the sympathy and appreciation that he never failed to give. As he met my eyes, he said, in a low tone: "Windigo!" "Why Windigo, Joseph?" I asked. Joseph gave his shoulders a little shrug, and took up the paddle to push the canoe off shore. "It is very quiet today ," he said, significantly, " and the little wind we have blows the other way."

This will be concluded in Part Nine: A Time for Good-by

UP THE NEPIGON by Elizabeth Taylor Part Seven

Be Still Thy Heart this was written in 1889 and published in Harper's Magazine.


We hurried past to the landing-place, made the short portage over sharp rocks and fallen trees,, and camped below the falls in a picturesque spot, where we found rough-hewn tables and benches left there by some former camping-party.

The falls are about twenty feet high, and plunge down into a great basin of seething, foaming rapids that expand a little farther down, into an eddying pool, a favorite resort of large trout and white-fish.

There is not a more charming spot on the river than the Virgin Falls. It is out of the beaten track of the Hudson's Bay Company packers, that turn to the west at Lake Hannah, as we did on our way up the river, and the spot impresses one deeply with its wild beauty. In the growing twilight we saw over the falls a graceful light shape flashing in and out of the tossing spray, and showing white against the dusky shadow of rock and pine. A great herring-gull, the small boy called her, but i shall always think of her as the "Spirit of the Falls." When I crept shivering out of our tent in the gray morning light, a heavy mist hid sky and land, but the beautiful creature still watch over the falls, now showing like some vague, hovering form through the mist, now quite lost to sight as the cloud closed around her.

The guides were already waiting with the canoe, and with fly-rod in hand I climbed in, and we started for the base of the falls, or as near it as we dared go. It certainly  was hardly the place for one's first attempt at fly-fishing, with the rapids surging about us, tossing the canoe in all directions, the foaming waves occasionally curling in, and the spray dashing over us. One wanted to hold on tight and shut one's eyes, not to calmly throw the fly in all that confusion. But the tales I had heard of big trout at that point sustained me. I grew accustomed to the turmoil, and the possibility of a five-pounder was wonderfully calming. He was not caught that morning, but a smaller fish did rise, and was received with that heart-felt gratitude that one only feels on catching one's first trout. He was a fighter, and the little experience I had had in taking black bass with light tackle and bait-rod was of great use. He did not break water like a bass after the first jump, but charged on the canoe, and down the rapids, ran to and fro, and jerked viciously at the line. After a hard struggle he began to tire, and with aching arms and wrists I reeled him slowly in, with only a few short rushes on his part.  But when he was near the canoe, the reel suddenly refused to work, the fish rose steadily toward us, the line was becoming slack, and in despair I sprang to my feet, though the tossing of the canoe in the rapids made  it anything but an easy matter. Standing on tiptoe and stretching up my arm as far as I could, and bending the rod back as much as possible, the line was kept taut without an inch to spare; and as the fish was drawn nearer, Joseph, with a dexterous swoop of the net, landed him in the canoe. And after all that  struggle, he weighed only two and a half pounds. In a short time I had taken another, weighing three pounds, that did not fight half as hard as the first. There was a great difference between them. The first was a long silvery fish, with light fins and tail, while the other had deep-red, white-bordered fins, red flesh, and most brilliant colors and spots.

We stayed only a day at Virgin Falls, and then left for Camp Victoria, a two-hours run down the river. It is beautifully situated on a rocky point of land, the rapids in front of it, a dense growth of evergreens behind. From its fine situation and good fishing, it is a favorite camping-place for anglers. The canoes are carried to the head of the great rapids, and the fishermen have a short walk through the woods from camp to reach them. Here some of the largest fish in the river are caught, the canoes being held in position by the paddles of the guides, in the smaller rapids above, while the fisherman casts all about him. Almost every one has a chance for a big trout, but they frequently tear out in the strong rush of the current.

The morning we left I hooked my big fish, but was not equal to the occasion. He did not rise from underneath the fly, but jumped for it more than two feet while near the canoe, completely clearing the water and giving me a chance to see him distinctly - a six-pounder, Joseph said, and these guides are good judges of the weight of fish. I saw his broad side and great red tail and fins, and it was too much for my equanimity, I " struck " too feebly. It needed more than the "slight turn of the wrist " to put the large hook through his mouth, and though the reel sang as he turned downward with the fly, I knew I should lose him. He remained on for perhaps two minutes, until he had become thoroughly alarmed, and then, with his first determined rush down the rapids, he tore away. I shall never forget the reproachful look that Joseph turned upon me as the fly floated free on the water. It was not a time for words. Indeed, I felt I was under a cloud until I had run the Victoria Rapids, below those on the fishing-ground.

Wherein Elizabeth Runs the Rapids

The guides were to take down the canoe that morning, to load it for the homeward trip, and soon after I lost my fish we started for the camp. They stopped at the head of the portage, for me to land, and I was about to step out of the canoe, when Joseph said: " You would not like to go down the rapids with us?" "Is it dangerous, Joseph?" I asked. He hesitated a moment, and then replied: " The gentlemen do not often run these rapids; sometimes they go down near the shore." Then after a moment, " We will be very careful, if you feel that you would like to go down with us." I thought a moment , looked at the rapids running white below us; then, turning to the waiting guides, "I'll go down, Joseph." He gave a nod of approval, said a few words in Indian to the under-guide, and pushed off from shore to the middle of the stream. I settled myself in the bottom of the canoe, grasped the thwarts firmly, and wondered if I was very foolish. I had a curious sensation as the fierce current seized the canoe and I felt there was no going back. The canoe reared on the edge of the big rapids, seemed to pause an instant, trembling on the brink, and then came a dizzy downward plunge; then we rose to a fierce struggle with the waves, the canoe pitching and tossing to and fro, the guides silent, watchful, guiding it with quick, powerful strokes. It was over in two minutes, we floated swiftly down past the camp, and as I drew  a long breath and sat up straighter, Joseph smiled with a satisfied air, and I felt that I was forgiven for losing the big fish.

We said good-bye to Camp Victoria reluctantly, and started for the downward run to Pine Portage, where we were to camp that night. As we rowed over the quiet waters of Lake Emma, Joseph gave us from time to time the Indian names of the points we passed, with a short account of the legends connected with them.

To be continued in Part Eight: The Legends of Nepigon

Friday, 13 January 2012

UP THE NEPIGON by Elizabeth Taylor Part Six

Be Still Thy Heart this was written for Harper's Magazine in the year 1889.

PART SIX: The Homeward Journey - the beginning

We were up and busy, preparing for our homeward journey, at five o'clock next morning, and by seven were on our way across the southern part of Lake Nepigon, bound for the head of the river, twenty miles away. We stopped for dinner on an island, and then hurried on. Aside from the anglers that visit these shores, few people in the States know of the existence of this beautiful lake. Yet, as far back as 1679, Daniel Greysolon du Luth explored the country around here, and founded a trading post on the north-eastern corner of the lake to divert the trade of the Indians from the English that had already begun to traffic with them on the shores of Hudson's Bay.


There is much discussion about the meaning of the word "Nepigon." It is evidently a contraction, by the whites, of an Indian name. On a Franquelin map of 1688 the lake is found , and is called Lac Alepimigon. Our Joseph, an educated, very intelligent guide, spelled it Uh-ne-me-bu-gung, and said it meant " the endless waters." A French Canadian missionary of Lake Superior, who made a careful study of the Ojibwas for years, spells it A-nim-i-bi-gong (the same word as our guide's, but differing in spelling, as the Indian and French modes always do), and he still addresses in this way the letters that he sends to far away post toward the northern part of the lake. Another guide said that the meaning could not be given exactly in English; with expressive gestures he tried to give the idea of a brimming bowl, of a great quantity of water. Most anglers, after making hasty enquiries of Indians here, leave the locality confidently asserting that the river should be called Nip-ke-gon, from "nipi," water, and "kego'" fish - which is quite absurd.

The lake is about ninety miles long and fifty wide, has over five hundred and eighty miles of coast- line, and Professor Robert Bell, in his Government report, estimates that there are more than one thousand islands ranging in size from one to eight miles in diameter to small ones of an acre or so in extent. The shores in some parts are comparatively low , and suitable for agriculture, but our journey of that day led us by bold, rugged highlands, frowning cliffs of black trap rock seamed with quartz, that rose in some places to dizzy heights from the water's edge, with their summits crowned with the dense virgin forests. Here and there delicate sprays of white flowers, gleaming like stars against the dark rock, swayed gracefully in the light breeze, and seemed to add, by contrast, to the forbidding grandeur around them.

We passed one island that was simply a huge mass of jagged rocks, almost covered with a bright orange-colored lichen. Here hundreds of large gulls have their homes in the breeding-season, but as we passed by we startled only a few, that swept by us with a plaintive cry.

It was one of those rarely quiet days, a cool, sweet breath crossed the water, and the lake looked like a great shimmering bowl of mother-of-pearl. We were very tired with our early start, and lay back among the tents and baggage, dozing sometimes, and waking often to miss nothing that we should pass. On either side were many islands, but away to the north the water stretch to the horizon. The guides were very quiet, and no sounds were heard but the faint plash of the paddles, the sighing of the pines as we passed near some cliff, and once in a while a far-off, wild cry of a loon.

So, hour after hour passed, and the cliffs grew darker, and the shadows crept down over the hills and lay on the water, the islands began to close in about us, the canoe seemed to spring forward in the swift current that now set in, and as I was about to question Joseph, he began to sing, in a low voice

"Row, brothers, row, the stream runs fast,
The rapids are near, and the daylight's past."

and just then I heard the low boom of the falls, and I saw in the distance flashes of white where the river makes its first plunge over the rocky precipice - the beautiful "Virgin Falls."

Continued in Part Seven: a day spent at Virgin Falls

UP THE NEPIGON by Elizabeth Taylor Part Five

Be Still Thy Heart this was written for Harper's Magazine in 1889

PART FIVE: Five Days at the Mission

The five days we passed at the mission were very pleasant ones. The Indian Agent and a Government surveyor arrived next day, coming from Nepigon House, a Hudson's Bay Company post fifty miles north of us, on the lake. We had forgotten to bring kerosene-oil with us from Red Rock, and I had only a piece of candle; we expected to find plenty of oil at the mission, but when we reached there, the last had just been used. The supply of matches had failed, and the man in charge had been burning a lamp day and night for five weeks to keep fire. We hoped that the Indian Agent would have lights with him. The sound of a gun off on the lake, after dark, told us that they were approaching, and our first question, when they had landed was : " Have you any candles?" The surveyor had one, and needed most of that for his evening observations, so after that, during our stay, we went to bed by daylight, and saved our two little candle-ends for the last evening, when the payment was to take place.

We were very busy while at the mission, the men with the survey, the guides being pressed into service, while our guide Joseph, a little Indian boy and I went trolling up a beautiful river about a mile away to get fish for our large family, an occupation rendered doubly necessary after the stealing of our bacon and ham by the Indian dogs about the houses.

The Dance

The fourth night we had a dance given in our honor in the kitchen of the mission. The "Ogina," or Indian Agent, the missionary's wife and I sat in chairs at one end; on a long bench, and in rows on the floor, were the dancers, about twenty in number, while the Indian women, children and a few dogs were clustered in a little group in one corner of the floor. The three musicians sat in another corner with the tom-tom and the queer little sticks they beat it with. A table stood in the middle of the floor, and on it was a large frying pan, tilted up a little, and containing half-cooked pork rind, out of which trailed a bit of cotton cloth, lighted at one end. After we had taken our places, the dance began without further ceremony; the musicians beat upon the tom-tom with perfect time, singing a monotonous song which began high and ended in a deep growl, then started anew; and this kept up as long as the dancers kept the floor.

We had the :
  • Warrior's dance
  • Triumphant Song
  • Mohawk's Dance
  • and the Rabbit Dance or "Wah-booso-she-mow-in"

The figures were very simple. In one dance the performers stood in a long row, and bent the knees, dipping the body without moving the heels from the ground.  They sang with the tom-tom-players, keeping time to the music with the motion of their bodies. I advise those who think this dance easy to try it for a few minutes, being careful not to stir the heels from their position on the floor. In another dance they went about in rows, throwing their bodies into every imaginable position, till it seemed as if the joints would certainly be dislocated. In the "Warrior's Dance" they filed around the table, one close behind the other, bending the arms and throwing themselves from one foot to the other, singing at the same time, and occasionally going through the motion of snatching up a gun , aiming and firing, giving a wild war-whoop, catching an imaginary foe by the hair and making a horribly suggestive motion of the scalping knife. Round and round they went, the tom-toms beating faster and faster, the men quickening their pace, the singing increasing in volume and shrillness as the women and children took up the song. The war-whoops rang out, the house fairly shook with the heavy thud of moccasined feet and the leaps of the dancers, and the pork-rind light smoked and flared, and added the smell of burning fat to the air that was already quite heavy enough with the fumes of a dozen pipes. It was very interesting at first, but after three hours we were quite willing to withdraw and let the dancers take possession of the cook-stove and make unlimited quantities of strong tea, which, with bread, was our contribution to the feast.

The next night the Indians received their annual payment of four dollars apiece for every man, woman and child, in one of the neat little Indian cabins. It was conducted with great seriousness. The Agent, two Counsellors, our guide Joseph, who acted as interpreter, and I had chairs, while the others sat on the bench and on the floor. The room was prettily draped with two flags, and our last two precious bits of candle in bottles graced the table, lighted one after the other. There was much business to attend to - complaints to be heard, the payment made, advice given, etc. - and it was almost midnight when we stepped into our canoe to return to the house, while the Indians stood on the bank with lighted pieces of birch-bark to enable us to avoid the submerged rocks in the lake.

To be continued in Part Six : the Return Journey Begins

UP THE NEPIGON by Elizabeth Taylor Part Four

Be Still Thy Heart this was written for Harper's Magazine in 1889

Part Four: Across Lake Nepigon to the Mission

Below Split Rock looking West. Drawing F. Adams

The next day was spent on Lake Nepigon, and in making a mile portage over a long peninsula.

Cedar Portage near Split Rock. F. Adams.

We were storm bound for some time on an island by a sudden, violent thunder-storm, and it was sunset when we set out again for the mission, seven miles away. The storm-clouds were still in sight, heaped in great masses toward the west, and were aflame with the brilliant sunset clouds; we passed many islands covered with a beautiful growth of evergreens, and as the night drew on island and shore were mingled together in the dusk, the stars came out with a brilliancy I had seldom seen equalled, and in the north the wavering lights flashed now and then from horizon to zenith. With these wild surroundings, it seemed quite appropriate that Joseph should sing an Ojibwa war-song as he paddled, beginning with a high, plaintive note, rising and falling with a wild, crooning sound, and sinking finally with a refrain of "A - hai - ya!  A - hai - ya! " to a deep chest-note almost inaudible.

But the aurora and the war-song died away, the night grew cold, and we shivered in our heavy shawls and strained our ears for some sound from the mission. It was long after ten o'clock when we heard at last the far-off howls of the Indian dogs, and knew that we were near our journey's end. We climbed stiffly out of the canoe, and up the steep hill to the house, and I folded my Hudson's Bay Company blanket about me and lay down to sleep heavily after our hard days journey.

The mission consisted of a well-built, roomy log-house for the missionary and his family, a little chapel erected under direction by the Indians themselves, and a few small cabins. The next morning I wandered out to the chapel where a grave-yard with  its twenty graves, overlooked Lake Nepigon, its waters stretching farther than the eye could see. One grave was especially noticeable; it was that of  a young Indian, who seemed to have been a great favorite, who died in the woods while caribou-hunting. In chopping wood one day, the ax  glanced and severed the artery of his leg. His companions tried in vain to stop the bleeding, taking turns in applying pressure, and even sewing up the wound, in the hope of staying the hemorrhage. For several days they thought to save him, but again and again the wound broke out anew, and in despair the poor fellow begged them not to try again, but to let him die. His body was brought in to the mission, forty miles distant from the camp, on a  toboggan, and buried in this little grave-yard.  At the foot, on a wooden board, was  carefully pinned a large gray satin bow, much draggled and weather -stained, while the wooden cross at the head bore pieces of tissue-paper cut out in many devices, and some Christmas cards. On one of them , chosen evidently for the colors, and not the sentiment, was printed:

" I send you this, with my best wishes, hoping that your coming year will be a happy one."

Continued in Part Five: Five Days at the Mission

Thursday, 12 January 2012

UP THE NEPIGON by Elizabeth Taylor Part three

Be Still Thy Heart this was written for Harper's Magazine in 1889.


The gray reindeer lichens.

The mile portage that brings one to the shores of Lake Nepigon, along the western route - that taken by the Hudson's Bay Company packers - is over great rocks, most of the way, covered with a mingled growth of blueberries, red raspberries, the running or swamp raspberry, Spiranthes or ladies tresses, white pyrolas and the Potentilla tridentata, or three-fingered cinque-foil, in great profusion, the leaves of the latter already turning scarlet, and making a beautiful contrast with the large patches of reindeer moss.

There is not a great variety in the flora of the Nepigon. I found only forty-five varieties, but most of these grew in great abundance. At one portage the path was lined with a continuous growth of the Clintonia borealis, and the dwarf cornel still gleamed white in its bed of moss, though it was the middle of August. as for the twin-flower, the Linnaea borealis, how it must fill these woods with fragrance in its time of blooming.! The delicate trailing vines completely covered the ground in some places, and here and there I could see the swinging pink and white bells making their presence known by the perfume that the wind brought me.

Twin flower

I found the round -leaved white orchid, with the northern green orchid growing near by, and the ladies-tresses were very common. On the shores of Lake Nepigon I saw the grass of Parnassus; the flowers were large, and - a new feature to me - beautifully veined  with lilac.

the flower of the Nepigon that ranks first, as the kingfisher does among the birds, is the great willow-herb, the Epilobium angustifolium.

The great will-herb or Fire-weed as we call it . This is close up of flower on the stalk.

The portages are gay with its spikes of pink blossoms; it grows to the very water's edge and trails down the swift current, and at sunset the rosy clouds seem reflected alike on land and water.

Growing on the overhanging rocks in secluded nooks above the rapids, I often found the graceful northern fern, the Aspidium fragrans, and traced it by the delightful spicy perfume. It grew luxuriantly, sending up many long, delicate fronds out of a tuft of the last year's chaffy growth. The common polypody, or rock fern, generally accompanied it, while at the base of the rocks, in the damp, mossy earth, the Labrador - tea grew in thick clumps.

This is the blossom of the Labrador - tea .
 Ms. Taylor would have just seen the leafy bushes by mid-August.

This article will continue in Part Four. She has reached Lake Nipigon and the next part is of her crossing.

UP THE NIPIGON, By Elizabeth Taylor - Part Two

Be Still Thy Heart, this is from Harper's Magazine 1889

Part Two

The Birds of Nipigon 1889

Whisky Jack

I am inclined to think that Whisky Jack has been maligned, and to agree with our guide, with whom I talked about it. He said: " The Whisky Jack is not an impertinent bird; all the gentlemen that come up call him so , but they don't understand him. They camp in his woods and make a big noise and disturb him, and why should he care for them? This is his country, where he has always lived - he is at home, and why need he be shy? He does not like new-comers , and perhaps he shows it , and then they call him impertinent."

I was told before leaving Red Rock, by a gentleman who had been up the river, that I should not find more than a dozen kinds of birds, but by diligent search on the portages, a list of thirty - eight was made; and many more , I am sure, could have been found earlier in the season, when they are in song.

The bird one hears oftener than any other is the "Dah-je-ba," or white-throated sparrow, the "Rossignol" of the Eastern Provinces. A guide from the Sault Ste. Marie called him the "Onak."  His wild, sweet note sounded on every portage, though it was with the greatest difficulty that I caught sight of him.

We often beheld the black-capped Chickadee talking cheerfully to himself as he flitted up and down between the boughs. I had met him last in the far-away  marsh islands of Point Seakonnet, in Rhode Island, and his voice sounded like that of an old friend. The Indian name for him, "Ge - je - ge - je - ga - na - she, " when said quickly, is a much better imitation of his usual call than our chickadee. Longfellow gives the name of "Opeechee" to the robin which we found only near Red Rock, but all the North- shore Ojibwas that I asked about it called him the "Kwushqua."

The owl seemed to be the 'Ko - ko - ko -o " everywhere; the white-headed eagle, the "Me - ge - ze"; and the loon, the "Maung," or "brave-hearted." To one familiar with the quiet, dignified, gentlemanly ways of the cedar-bird, his Indian name of "O- gi- ma- bi - ni - shi" will seem a good one - "the bird that is king."

One morning I had the good fortune to see two rare birds, the Philadelphia vireo and the solitary vireo. I was sitting on a rock, resting, after a hard climb for some ferns, when I noticed these birds at some distance among the underbrush that surrounded me. I tried a device that had proved successful many times before - began whistling with a low crooning sound, sitting perfectly quiet, and allowing the insects to attack me undisturbed; and soon the birds began to circle about  me , coming closer and closer, until I had  a satisfactory view of them. The red-eyed and yellow-throated vireos were met with on the river, and the American red-start, black and white creeper, willow-warbler, tree and song sparrows, wood - pewee, grass-finch, and several kinds of woodpeckers.

The novice in camping is the recipient of much advice from experienced friends. Let me suggest that the would-be camper cultivate an interest in the birds. If anything can make one forget the ravages of black flies and musquitoes, the sight of a flock of pintail grouse or rare warbler will have that effect, and there are few sights more charming than a ruff-grouse seen as you peer through the dusky hemlocks, standing erect and graceful, with her bright eyes fixed on you, ready to start at the first sign of danger.

This is a he not a she. Ruffed Grouse.
The bird of the Nepigon, however, is the kingfisher. On the lake itself, the loon, or the great herring gull , takes its place; but at every turn, while on the river, we saw him perched on some limb overhanging the water, and launching himself  into the air with his cheerful rattle as we passed. "O - gush - ke - muh - na - see" - the Indian name for him is appropriate " cut up to the point" in allusion to his style of wearing his top-knot.

This will be continued in Part Three.