Thursday, 28 June 2012


Continued :From Ken Switzer's Pagwa presentation to the Lions Club of Longlac, 1971

There were two distinct periods in the Revillon operation. While Mr. Gauthier was in charge no power boats were used. Some time subsequent to his leaving in 1921, power boats were introduced. The following description of scow and boat building spans both periods and the reader will have to use judgment in relating the remarks to the proper period.

About mid-September of each year a special operation, not common to other posts, was begun, with part of the work being carried on independently of the weather in a tent several score feet in length. Under Mr. Shave's supervision a boat builder from Nova Scotia steamed, bent and fashioned oak and other woods to make power boats of various sizes and with "tunnel drive" for shallow draft operation. Each year too, up to as many as 42 scows were built for the transport of supplies onnthe spring flood to Revillon's various northern posts.

Scows were made of Douglas Fir lumber . (Buzz Lein questioned the reason for this specific lumber in 1984 but no reason was forthcoming). Each one was 12' x 44' x 4' in depth. Framing was of 2" x 4" material. They were made with a double floor, the bottom of each scow being of 2' x 6' planks and the balance of the floor and walls of 1' x 8' lumber. All joints were caulked with oakum and pitch. There was a 6' space between the two floors for the protection of the cargo against wetting.


Each spring about mid-April (approximately two weeks before the ice was expected to go out) up to 150 men were assembled at Pagwa from such centres as Chapleau, Nipigon, Longlac and augmented by those who lived locally. This large crew was needed to launch and load the scows and get them away on the crest of the spring flood that usually occurred in early May.

In the early period (1916 - 1921) these men had several weeks work as the scows were floated down all the way from Pagwa to Albany with supplies and usually two were brought back laden with furs. On the return trip they had to be lined and poled all the way.

In the later period after power boats were introduced, the scows were floated individually from Pagwa to Mammamattawa (English River Post) and these were made up into units of eight or ten scows controlled by one large gas boat. The gas boat then brought the fur scows back to Mammamattawa and a smaller boat with tunnel drive and draft of not more than 18", took the furs from there back to Pagwa. In this second period the large temporary crew of men was required for only a one week period after the ice went out as their task was simply to load the scows, man them as far as Mammamattawa and return to Pagwa - one trip only, and this required but two days down and one day back on the power boat.

Pagwa River Barge
reference S11487 Ontario Archives
nmp 6504

Wages paid in 1920 to the scow handlers were approximately $150 to the foreman and $100 per month for each of the regular crew. Board for the regular crew was $1.50 per day. The normal work day was from daylight to dark. Trippers received $75 plus all expenses for the short trrip from Pagwa to Mammamattawa and return.

On the spring flood the water level in the Pagwa, English (Kenogami) and Albany Rivers was good. There were some comparatively shallow stretches, however, where the scowmen had to "read" the water and guide their charges accordingly. The first of these was the 'Big Rock" about seven miles below Pagwa followed by a shallow limestone slide known as the "Loimestone Rapid" about thirty miles below Pagwa and another stretch just above Mammamattawa.

Everything was in readiness each year so that full advantage could be taken of the spring flood. Scows were ready for quick launching as soon as the ice would go out, usually about May 5 or 6.

Loading the scows with up to 20 tons of supplies and equipment was accomplished with the aid of a funnicular railway. As the loaded car descended from warehouse to wharf the empty one was pulled up by the descending one, using a block and cable arrangement.

Each scow was fittted with tarpaulins to cover the cargo, a tin pump for keeping the bilge water pumped  out, a long sweep and two long oars for guidance and a crew of two men. The scows tied up each night wherever they could along the shore and the crew ate and slept on the scow or the shore according to circumstances and their choice. Often their families accompanied them.

John Ferris, an experienced local resident who knew the river well, was always in charge of the lead scow, followed by others at about ten minute intervals.

In the early period the scows were guided individually from Pagwa to Albany Post. From Mammamattawa (about 69 miles) was a one day trip, and from there to Albany Post progress was at the rate of about 100 miles a day and the trip (230 miles) took the best part of three days. The return trip was a gruelling one by scow, or York boat and required ten days of hard work from Fort Albany to Mammamattawa. When the first flood receded there was usually a bare track left on either side of the Albany (river). Along this track a crew of seven men with shoulder harnesses and attached to the scow or boat with light lines about 150' long tracked the boats upstream. In addition, there were men aboard using oars and pushing poles. Also there would be other men aboard resting to relieve those who were working. These men who took the supplies down and the furs back were known as "Trippers".

Conclusion to follow: Pagwa after 1920

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