Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Tuesday, 30 July 2013


It doesn't seem that long ago that we started the Blog. It was the beginning of August 2011.

That's 298 Posts ago.

Yesterday, July 29, 2013, was the busiest reading day yet with 211 Pageviews.

Many new readers are discovering our Museum Archives and Nipigon's varied historic past.

In the museum this history resides in a file drawer (many).

Every summer I have the summer student staff read as much as they can so that they can talk about Nipigon's past with our visitors. That is our intangible history... one I can't put in a cabinet for display.

So, now, you in the "world" can access this history of the Nipigon... or as much as I can Post.

Thank You for reading the Nipigon Museum Blog.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

A SUMMER VACATION - the conclusion - Nepigon


Nipigon Historical Museum Archives

C. P. R. Bridge crossing the Nepigon River, 1918

Three hours later we were anchored in Nepigon Harbor, one of the safest on Lake Superior.  It is protected by two peninsulas with three large islands at the entrance forming a breakwater and checking the force of the storms from the south. The east and west is effectually sheltered by high mountains, making this a land-locked harbor.

One of the large islands referred to in the bay is Isle Vert. The Isle Vert stone is well known to the builders of Fort William and Port Arthur and large quantities of this beautiful red sand-stone have been used in both cities. At the mouth of the Nepigon River stands the sacred red rock, sacred to the Manitou. From this rock has been made from time immemorial the Indian Calumet.

The Virgin Falls on the Nepigon River was my destination.

Virgin Falls, Nepigon River, 1918

Hiring two guides in Nepigon with canoe and tents, and purchasing provisions, two days later I was comfortably settled in my "Hotel Virgin."  My Indians gave me splendid service. Here I met many of the disciples of Izaak Walton and they all agreed that the Nepigon is the first and last word in things piscatorial.  A dear old gentleman from New York spent the most of a night with me. He was a student of nature. For the early part of the night the sky was illuminated with the northern lights.  Later heavy clouds passed over the sky and from clear spaces the stars burned soft and close and friendly. The gentleman from New York, in his conversation, said that if Nepigon Lake and River was in some remote part of Europe thousands of our American tourists would spend a vast amount of money to see this land of the Otchipaways.  The same American tourists would return to the United States and boast for the balance of their lives of the fact that they had visited the Nepigon.

The Nepigon River is famed the world over for its speckled trout and magnificent scenery. It is the largest and clearest river  flowing into Lake Superior. It is 42 miles long with numerous lake-like expansions and surging rapids, and is the only outlet from Lake Nepigon. It has an average width of 300 feet, the purest and coldest of water. There are nine portages on it and near those portages the best fishing is to be had. As you canoe the river you get view after view that looks like the climax of wonder, yet another more inspiring one appears.

Lake Nepigon, with its Franco-Indian name, is situated between the parallels of the 49th and 51st degrees of latitude, and the 88th and 89th degrees of longitude; measures nearly 70 miles in length by about 39 miles in width, and in consequence of its numerous and deeply indented bays has a shore line of nearly 600 miles. It is the world's greatest breeding ground of the king of fish, the speckled trout. This beautiful sheet of pure water with its numerous islands was until the exploratory surveys of Canada's great transcontinental railway, the Canadian Pacific, little known to the outside world. It is very deep and has an elevation of 852 feet above sea level. The climate of Lake Nepigon and the North Shore of Lake Superior in summer is much the same as the Florida winter. There are nearly 700 Indians in the Nepigon District. In summer many of them are employed as tourists' guides, while the majority depend almost entirely on fishing and hunting. The government pays them an annual bounty of four dollars per head. It is much to be regretted that in this, their own land, the Indians are actually dying of starvation.

Having fished, explored, and photographed the Nepigon Lake and River, I could now count the remaining days of my vacation on the fingers of one hand. The sun had baked me to a healthy brown , and I could find no excuse to prolong my holiday. With a feeling of regret I packed up and started on my homeward trip. It was evening when we left Lake Helen. The last rays of the setting sun were shining on the Canadian Pacific Railway Company's bridge crossing the Nepigon River as we swept under it into the quiet waters of Nepigon Harbor.

But of all the picturesque routes on the Great Lakes, the inner channel from Nepigon to Thunder Bay is unsurpassed for island scenery. In the early part of the morning the lake gleamed like a mirror, every tree and rock being reproduced in the water.

Passing the Great Thunder Eagle, the lights of Port Arthur and Fort William shone out, making me feel that civilization would soon have me in its grip again.

The Great Thunder Eagle of Thunder Cape
Sacred to the Manitou
The above is an exact reproduction of Thunder Cape, Lake Superior,
 as shown on U.S. and Canadian Govt. Marine Charts - William S. Piper
Copyright 1917 by W.S.P.


The spelling of Nipigon with an 'e' is of historic interest. - nhm

Saturday, 20 July 2013

A SUMMER VACATION - part 5 - St. Ignace Island


Nipigon Historical Museum Archives

Lamb Island and Light

Next morning we left for St. Ignace Island.  Lake Superior is famed for its precious stones, and Luke had told me of one of Nanna-Bijou's treasure houses where I might find some agates. Passing Otter Island we encountered a strong south-west wind and headed into it until well out in the lake.  Changing our course for Lamb Island we encountered a heavy sea on our quarter aft, the combers picking us up and sending us forward in long intoxicating bounds. In two hours we were in full view of St. Ignace, and, crossing the blind channel, we ran for Green-Mantle -Bay, where we cast anchor.

St. Ignace Island is the second largest island on Lake Superior.  It is the granite king-pin of the archipelago of islands, being a breakwater which shelters Nepigon Bay from the fury of the lake.  It is a huge rock and has an area of about 160 square miles and is rich in Indian Legends.

Without a pilot one would never find Green-Mantle-Bay.  Yet this bay is situated on the south side of St. Ignace Island.  It is a crystal basin almost oval, and one could not but marvel at the beautiful transparent water which at a depth of about two fathoms seemed clearer than the atmosphere, the pebbles in the bottom sparkling like opals.  There are many such bays on Lake Superior, but none more bewitching than Green-Mantle.


There is also an inner bay which is called the death chamber, deriving its name from the following legend:  About two hundred and fifty years ago a Nepigon Chief with his handsome daughter visited at Kaministquia. The dark-eyed beauty won at first sight the heart of a young Kaministiquia brave. She was a true child of nature, passionate and impulsive. For six weeks Green-Mantle and her young brave were constant companions, and parted with the understanding that they would meet soon again.  But Fate decided otherwise.  Shortly after the Chief's return to Nepigon war was declared on the Sioux. Among the Otchipaway warriors killed, Green-Mantle's lover was numbered among the slain, though the battle ended in a great victory for the Otchipaways. A great festival and dance was afterward held at Rustibou to celebrate the event. The Chief dearly loved his daughter and had presented her with a beautiful shawl which she wore on that occasion, expecting to meet her lover, but on arriving she soon learned the truth. Her heart was crushed and bleeding from the cruel blow. Vainly she strove to rally, but life seemed but an empty blank to her and the merry dance knew her no more.  Upon the second night, when the festival was at its height, she quietly disappeared and was not missed until morning. Her canoe was also missing - she had gone to bear her sorrow alone.  Two days later a search party found her body lying on the shore in this little bay, rolled in her green shawl, her canoe drawn out of the water.  This had been one of her favorite camping grounds. When the lake was calm and the moon shone bright a party of her friends started with her body for Porphyry Island cemetery and laid her by the side of her lover.

They journieyed there in the dead of night,
With their loved one o're the deep,
That she might be laid
In this sacred place
Where parted spirits meet.

_W. S. P.

The next wo days we spent looking for agates.  They were all in the solid rock, and the best of them were under water, but I succeeded in getting quite a number of these handsome stones, one of them being a rare gem resembling a human eye, blue in color, with a small tree of gold growing through it.  The next day as I stood on the shore of that beautiful bay and looked out on the blue and whiteness of the sky and water, the lure of the sport got me again. Calling Luke, he prescribed Nepigon Straits, and we were soon on our way, casting anchor in the Eagle's Nest, one of Superior's safest harbors.

At Eagle's Nest, Nepigon Straits

While at supper we had a call from an Indian and his son.  He had some fine speckled trout in the bottom of his canoe that he wanted to trade for pork and tea. I traded with him and gave him some tobacco, although trout were so plentiful now they began to be almost a bore.

After supper I went over to his tepee, as I wanted to hire him and his canoe to take us to a lake on St. Ignace Island that we might troll in the lake and explore same. He refused, however, telling me that he had seen marks on the shore there of a strange animal, one foot being the foot of a man while the other was the foot of something else. I suggested that he show me those marks on our way. After a desultory conversation with the Indian, carried on almost by himself, while he stared into the fire shaking his head, what he did not know about a windigo, or evil spirit, I did when I got through with that interview. Apparently a windigo is the male witch, probably a witch's husband. Getting a description of the place, I visited the shore where the tracks were. He was correct - one foot was that of a man. It was the marks of one who had suffered and offered all that he had that freedom may not die; that the accident of birth shall not give men license to trample over the rights of their fellows. The marks were those of a soldier who had lost a foot.

That afternoon a splendid yacht came down the Nepigon Straits flying the American flag and cast anchor in the Eagle's Nest about a hundred yards from where we lay. We saluted them and was immediately saluted in return. Late I rowed over to call on them and soon felt quite at home with the owner and his party.   The owner, by the way, was a true boat lover and was got up regardless of appearance in a suit of blue jeans.  After showing me all through his magnificent yacht, I came to the conclusion that it was impossible to tell a wealthy American's Bradstreet rating by his clothes. I soon learned they were from Cleveland and were cruising Lake Superior in a leisurely way for the benefit of the owner's wife who was subject to a severe form of hay-fever. She laughingly informed me that she had not had a sneeze since entering Lake Superior, which was certainly remarkable, for among her friends in Ohio she was known as the "seventeen times sneezer."  They were anxious to go trout fishing, so I invited them over to my cruiser and presented them with about ten pounds of speckled trout with which they were delighted. We spent three delightful days fishing and cruising and visiting the Wana-Wana Falls, Duncan's Cove, and the reefs of St. Ignace Island.  In the evening we were entertained with their splendid phonograph. But I must see Lake Nepigon, and it was with a feeling of regret that we pulled anchor and bid good-bye to our friends. As we sailed down the Nepigon Straits they played that beautiful song:

"I'll take you home again Kathleen,
Across the ocean wild and wide."

TO BE CONCLUDED - The Nepigon adventure

Friday, 19 July 2013

A SUMMER VACATION Part 4, Otter Island


Written, illustrated and published by
W. S. Piper , Fort William, 1918

Nipigon Historical Museum Archives

No Reef Fishing Today

On awakening next morning we found the lake in a very obstreperous mood. Lake Superior is a large lake and certainly does things in a large way. One could not believe her temper could get so ruffled in a few hours. No reef fishing today, the water was jumping far above the reefs.

That afternoon I trolled in vain in the bay. Many a time I hauled in my line expecting I had hooked a maskilonge (muskellunge) or sturgeon, only to find my catch was a stick of pulp wood or a bunch of weeds.

There was a beautiful pink sunset that evening, so we decided to leave for Rustibou in the morning. We were not particularly early risers when cruising, but perhaps I was the demoralizing influence.

It was noon when we dropped anchor in Lambs' Bay. I was anxious to explore Rustibou, as Luke had told me there were relics to found there of a bloody encounter that took place between the Sioux  and Otchipaways. I was anxious to find a copper arrow-head, but was not successful, although I found a flint one in perfect condition.  The arms used in battle were guns, bows and arrows, and the swatter or bludgeon. The Sioux ammunition gave out and the Otchipaways defeated them with their favorite weapon, the swatter, exterminating the whole band. The extinct races found in the tumli, or mounds, of North America seem all to have suffered from the same weapon. Luke's great great grandfather, then a young brave, fought in the battle of Rustibou.


In the evening we left for Otter Cove, one of the finest harbors on Lake Superior for pleasure boats. After casting anchor, we rowed up to near the falls and cooked supper on the river bank. Talk about beautiful scenery - it was magnificent; the falls with their banks of spruce and birch made a picture long to be remembered.

Otter River and Falls

During supper I found we had camped at Mosquito Lodge, and it proved to lodge night, and they seemed to have got me for the goat, as Luke seemed undisturbed. After supper and washing up, I was glad to return to the boat to escape the flies. Stretching out on the cockpit cushions I lit a cigar;  a great peacefulness stole over me, and I lost all desire to move. The soft fragrance of the air and the murmuring sound of the falls all seemed to sooth my mind as I gazed dreamily at the reflection made by the moon on the water. I suppose I dozed off, but awakened half-conscious of something splashing near by. Swimming toward the boat was a large moose. I watched it with genuine pleasure. There is something delightful in meeting these interesting people of the wilds. Suddenly it raised its sensitive nose, and sniffing suspiciously in my direction, caught the danger scent, and immediately swam for the shore and disappeared in the bush.

Otter Island

Next morning as the big red sun was pushing its way above the eastern rim of the lake, I slowly and with great care made my way to near the foot of the falls. When within about two rods length of the goal I then cast a fat pink worm into the water. It seemed to scarcely sink beneath the surface when there was a great commotion on the end of my line. I landed for breakfast four beautiful trout.

I fished no more that day, as I did not wish to catch more than we could use. That evening I strolled up the Otter River above the falls, finding an old lumber road. I walked farther than I intended, and sitting down on a log that crossed the river or creek, I watched intently for some time for signs of fish, but was surprised to see no fish or animal life of any kind, not even flies. It was a pleasant evening and time passed quickly. The sun had dropped behind the hills and darkness suddenly came on, when almost instantly a crashing in the brush arrested my attention. A red deer went flying past me toward the lake, seeming scarcely to touch the ground. I at once made for the trail, walking fast. I had a feeling that I was not alone; the bush seemed to be alive with the patter of feet. I was not afraid, but more than startled on seeing the form of a large timber wolf ahead of me. Raising his sepulchral voice, he called his companions, and was immediately answered on all sides and for miles around. Striking a few matches, I pressed on toward the lake, never slackening my pace till I saw the welcome light of the camp fire.


Thursday, 18 July 2013


A Summer Vacation on the North Shore of Lake Superior

Written, illustrated and published by
W.S. Piper, Fort William, 1918

Nipigon Historical Museum Archives

Old Silver Islet Mine, 1918

Silver Islet Summer resort, 1918

The morning broke clear with a nice breeze off the land, so I asked Luke concerning fishing for speckled trout.  He said: "As there is a breeze blowing we had better not try for trout off the reefs, but sail out on deep water and put out the troll." But for the trout of the reefs I protested feebly.  "Oh, no, Mister, too many nets here; I will take you later where you will get speckled trout."  this was decided on, so I started the engine and we were soon clear of the islands, and, when well out on the deep water, I shut down and hoisted the sail. For three hours I trolled, catching three silver and one gray trout. By this time I felt highly elated and remarked to Luke, "Some catch, eh?"  "Not bad, Mister."  But I felt worthy of more applause.

Turning toward the shore I beheld a peculiar formation.  The peninsula that divides Black Bay from Sturgeon Bay, called Magnet Point, seemed to take the form of a human Hercules, the head lying slightly lower than the body, the breasts very prominent, the limbs partly covered with water, and feet protruding. At one time the Indians blamed this formation for all their trouble. it is a common saying among Indians to this day that when an Indian does wrong that he should be sent to Matchee-Manitou to scratch his feet. This is supposed to typify Satan, the old serpent. On how he came to make Magnet Point his resting place authorities differ.   According to one of the legends, he made war against Nanna- Bijou, a servant of the great Manitou, and was seriously wounded.  This provoked the wrath of the old serpent, who, hoping to destroy Nanna-Bijou and all the animal creation, entered into the water and blowing his venom into it, caused the oceans to boil up and overflow the land.  Nanna-Bijou, seeing the waters rising, built a great raft, saving with it a species of all animal life. After the water subsided, Matchee-Manitou, in the form of a great giant, appeared on Lake Superior.  As he approached the Great Thunder Eagle he was struck by lightning, and , falling across Magnet Point, his back was broken, thus forming the strange formation.

Nanna-Bijou, the Sleeping Giant of Thunder Cape, 1918

As we neared the No. 10 Lighthouse the keeper ran down to the water's edge and hailed us. I thought it was an S. O. S. and that something was wrong, so we turned in. His delight was truly pathetic, as no one had called there for eight weeks. He asked about the war and other current events, and one seldom gets such an appreciative audience. We gave him some newspapers, fruit and cigars, and spent a couple of hours pleasantly on the island, leaving with the feeling that we had never known how glad one could be for the mere presence of human companionship.

We then ran for the old Hudson Bay harbor where we cast anchor.

Taking the tender we rowed to the reefs about two miles off where the water was deep and blue - blue as a sapphire.  I handled with care my two new and expensive fishing rods which were accompanied by numerous different flies.  I knew I had been extravagant and I gloried in it. Carefully adjusting a large brown hackler to my line, I cast, keeping my fly in the air and winging it about like a thing alive. I lightly deposited my offering on the crystal platter, which was immediately accepted. I had hooked a coaster. On feeling the metal in his mouth he made for the open lake, sending my reel spinning. Suddenly my line slackened; he leaped from the water. I reeled in, then let it spin out; his dashes for freedom being most beautiful. After playing him for almost twenty minutes he began to tire and Luke landed him with the net. he was a lovely speckled trout 18 inches long. I hooked two more that evening 14 inches long and packed them in a box of moss covered with ice.


Wednesday, 17 July 2013


A Summer Vacation on the North Shore of Lake Superior
Written, Illustrated and Published by
W. S. Piper, Fort William, Ontario, 1918

Nipigon Historical Museum Archives

We are now entering Kitchegamee (Lake Superior), the great fresh water reservoir of North America, which has an area of 31,800 square miles, its greatest length being 420 miles and its greatest width 167 miles.  Its maximum depth is 1000 feet, and its surface is 600 feet above the level of the sea. Its lowest floor is about 400 feet below the sea level. The temperature of the lake in summer is about 39 degrees Fahr., and falls from 4 to 5 degrees in winter

Looking from the southwest we get a good view of the Lion of Thunder Cape, the highest elevation forming the head and breast.

As we sail down the southeast shore we pass Moos-oos (Moose Calf) of Thunder Cape.

The Lion of Thunder Cape

Moose -oos of Thunder Cape

We are now in sight of Silver Islet, one of Nanna-Bijou's treasure houses. From it has been taken over four millions of dollars. The old Silver Islet village is now a popular summer resort. We did not call at the Islet, as our destination was Porphyry, but, slowing down, I took several pictures while passing.

Another hour saw us anchored in Porphyry Harbor where the most ancient cemetery on Lake Superior is situated and which is known as the Indian's Happy Hunting-ground. At the entrance to the harbor stands the sacred rock "Shaminitou" (Child Saviour), sacred to the Manitou, and from time immemorial the recipient of special offerings by its devotees. Pictures of this peculiar rock may be seen on the Pacific coast and in Alaska, carved on wood and on totem poles.

The Sacred Rock "Shaminitou"

We spent the evening exploring the island and visited the cemetery. The last burial on Porphyry was in the year 1884.  Luke explained to me the reason this most beautiful place is no longer used.  The Indian belief is that when he dies he goes to the happy hunting-ground, where all kinds of game abounds, but the Christian religion appeals more to the younger generation, many of them claiming to belong to same, while others, although not strictly adhering to ancient customs, are decidedly free thinkers. In many cases their greatest need is food and clothing.

As it was a quiet, peaceful night we sat up late, and nature and God seemed very good. We were loath to go to bed, but, after adjusting our riding light, we turned in. We had not been long asleep when we were suddenly awakened by a loud hoarse noise which seemed to almost lift us out of bed and rip to shreds the silence of the wilderness.  It was the Porphyry fog-horn.  This started the night birds to quaver out all sorts of petulant lost-soul cries; blaming someone or something for disturbing their slumbers and shriekingly resenting the intrusion.  This Gabriel continued to trumpet most of the night and seemed to put a crowning touch on this weird place.

Porphyry Cemetery

Porphyry Light and Number 10 Light

Tuesday, 16 July 2013




Nipigon Historical Museum Archives

front cover

Victoria Avenue, Fort William, 1918

Cumberland Street, Port Arthur, 1918

Part of Indian Village, 1918

Nepigon Village, 1918

Birch Park, 600 Acre Farm on Kaministiquia River, 1918

Bowlker Park, 780 Acre Dairy Farm on Kaministiquia River, 1918

W. S. Piper, 500 Acre Stock Farm on Kaministiquia River, 1918

Kakabeka  Falls, on the Kaministiquia River, 1918


We in Western Algoma are just beginning to realize the charm of Indian Legends. Too late, perhaps, as many of the old-time Otchipaways, who translated freely, have passed away. By pen and camera I have tried to preserve some of their stories as told to me years ago. There is an unmistakable charm about Indian legends that is fascinating, especially when you hear them amid their own surroundings.

W. S. P.


With thermometer registering almost 90 degrees in the shade I wasted no time, but took a hasty farewell of my friends. Taking one last look around my office, I found so many things that required my personal attention, that I left immediately. Since my vacation was to be aquatic, I made straight for the dock, where I found Luke, my Indian pilot, awaiting me at the head of navigation on the Kaministiquia.

Piper's boat

Among the principal rivers flowing into Lake Superior the Kaministiquia as a commercial River ranks first. Born in the height of land, or watershed, dividing the waters of the Hudson Bay from those of Lake Superior, its valley is the only railway outlet between Thunder Bay district and the Canadian Northwest, the three transcontinental railways following its course to near the summit of the great divide. The river banks are very beautiful, in many places the river winding between shores of spruce and birch with here and there luxuriant banks of wild roses fringed with water lilies. Some of the largest stock and diary farms in the district are situated on the Kaministiquia River. Two miles down we pass the old Point de Mueron farm, atone time the residence of the late Lord and Lady Milton, and the birthplace of the present Lord Milton.

Fort William Harbour

As we sailed down the river I asked Luke concerning "Kaministiquia." He said the Chippewa word "Kaministiquia" meant in English  "river of many mouths." After a ten-mile run we entered the Fort William harbor where elevators succeed elevators - elevators of steel, elevators of concrete, elevators of wood - with freight boats of all kinds receiving grain at their spouts. At the wheel Luke was kept busy passing scows, barges, tugs and every imaginable kind of water-craft.

It was high noon when we left the river and entered into the clear water of Thunder Bay. Here Luke explained to me the Indian Legend of Thunder Bay as follows:

"Many, many years ago a party of hunters from a distant tribe, in spite of many warnings, provoked the wrath of the Great Thunder Eagle by climbing to its summit and assailing its home in the high cliff.  Their progress was suddenly arrested by vivid flashes of lightning accompanied by loud and prolonged peals of thunder. The mountain was soon enveloped in flames and the hunters all perished in the vain attempt to bring down a great medicine. Ever after the bay on which the cities of Fort William and Port Arthur are situated was known as Thunder Bay."

We are now in full view of Port Arthur. It is situated on a hill and is one of Canada's most beautiful cities and a popular summer resort. But when on a vacation I want birds and butterflies overhead, not buildings, as brick, stone and human faces look much alike the world o'er, so we changed our course for the Welcome Islands, where many, many years ago one of the fiercest battles ever fought took place between the Sioux and Otchipaways, traces of which remain.

To the east of us is the Great Thunder Eagle of Thunder Cape, upon whose western side reclines Nanna-Bijou, the Sleeping Giant. The inspiration of the Great Thunder Eagle, sacred to the Manitou, from time immemorial swayed the minds of the extinct races who peopled this land of the Algonquins, as well as the Indians of the present time.  Pictures of it may be found in this district and the far north carved on the rocks and in the mounds of the extinct races.  All the sacred animals are represented by Thunder Cape as described by St. John, Rev. 4 - 7.

As we passed Hare Island we could see and hear a bell buoy. The channel was marked right enough, but about the way the old lady marked her pies: "T. M. " ('tis mince ) and "T. M. " ('tisn't mince ).  There was nothing to indicate which side of the bell buoy to go, but the chart showed plenty of water either side.

Port Arthur Harbour, 1918

Monday, 15 July 2013


By Madge Macbeth, circa 1924

The Nipigon Historical Museum Archives


Clear and very hot. Grasshoppers arranged themselves in weird designs all over our tents, and filled the still air with their raucous scraping. We drifted lazily into the dining hall to find our largest trout beautifully mounted on birch bark and hanging above the end of the table. This was Friday's work. He hadn't eaten that, anyway!

A unique experience was added to our growing collection, when we were paddled right into the rapids, and anchored there by means of an enormous stone, which was powerless, even with the assistance of the two guides, to keep us stationary. But the fishing was the best we had enjoyed... great big trout, fat and firm, tumbling down the icy waters with no other object than snapping at our flies.

We stopped at noon, and took a couple hours rest. Towards evening all of us seemed to have renewed energy, even the fish, and before the sun sank we hauled up our anchors and called it a day, for no other reason than because the Game Inspector had a stern chin, and although we had thrown back as many trout as we had caught, each of us had taken his quota.


It was a wrench to leave Pine Portage, but Camp Alexander beckoned, so one day we waved our regret to the swaying trees and set sail on the broad waters of the Nipigon.

Really set sail! A strong wind swept southward and the Indians hoisted blankets in lieu of canvas, proving themselves able seamen of diversified accomplishments.

To the music of guttural cries we raced madly along, keeping well ahead of the wind which strengthened into a spanking gale, as the day progressed. Points of interest flew past too rapidly to make much of an impression. Island Portage, an ancient landmark, was not much of an island and certainly no portage any longer. With the building of the dam at Hydro, the level of the river was raised to such an extent that it has virtually become a series of broad lakes, inundating not only a considerable stretch of the former shore line and rising high along the trunks of growing trees, but also covering camp sites and portages and offering an unobstructed waterway between Pine Portage and Camp Alexander, a distance of some fifteen miles.

Split Rock, made famous by post cards that fail to do it justice, rose majestically on our port side, and receded into the haze of blazing moon.  A fisherman on the starboard bow saluted us with a fine big pike. We learned that the channel once lay between Split Rock and the farther shore, but our attention was centred on Nicholas-John, who was handling his canoe with masterly and discomfiting skill, rather than upon that hydrographic detail.

Rabbit-skin Rock was covered by water, so we could not see this interesting spot shaped like an enormous rabbit's skin stretched out to dry, but we saw Old Indian's Head silhouetted against the clouds, and learned that this Manitou promised his children to guard their land against the invasion of the white men. When asked why he didn't keep his word, Friend Guide bent to his work and pretended not to have heard the question.

Hiawatha's Blanket, too, was passed on the way to Alexander. Here, the great Teacher used to gather about him the young men of the tribe, and tell them of the gods and lesser gods, of the Spirits living in bird and beast and tree. And here, he left his blanket - a large flat white stone - to which, it is expected that he will return one day.


We danced gaily to the dock at Nipigon Camp and sorted out our duffle bags with prodigious sighs. The tank was lifted carefully ashore for "future intensive study of Flora's fauna," somebody said. Two mounted fish were laid on the wharf, the proud owners trying to assume the look that deprecates a conspicuous achievement.

The trip was finished. In ten days we had made a circuit of about eighty miles under ideal conditions and through the finest trout fishing waters on the continent. As our neighbour had said, we could go no farther... The Nipigon is the best there is!

Sunday, 14 July 2013

20,000 PAGEVIEWS BY 6 A.M. JULY 14, 2013



Saturday, 13 July 2013


Friday  and his caribou.


By Madge Macbeth, circa 1924

Nipigon Historical Museum Archives


We walked the portage at Flat Rock, between berry-laden bushes, and came upon an olive lake, where a magnificent pickerel rose to the bait even as assembled on the dock waiting for our gondoliers. A moment later, another angler shouted and we turned to see him landing a royal trout.

We shot a beautiful stretch of creamy water called White Chute and after passing a large flock of duck, landed at Pine Portage. There, while the guides were making camp, we started to fish in earnest. Before lunch time, we had taken seven fine trout - two rainbow trout among them.

We encountered several other parties during the day, and our next-door neighbours (on the camping grounds) were a lady and gentleman from Kansas City. The latter had contracted the Nipigon habit thirty-three years ago, and had suffered an outbreak of the fever every summer since. One of the guides with him had been a bright-eyed papoose on his first trip up the river.

"There's nothing like it where trout fishing is concerned," he said. "What Comedie Francaise is to the aspiring French actor, or perhaps Kimberley is to the diamond merchant, the Nipigon is to anglers with a weakness for trout. You can't go any further. This is the best there is!"

We felt a sense of remoteness to a startling degree the following day, when returning from Camp Alexander, they told us of seeing a caribou swimming across the river, while two of our guides held the animal's horns and posed for a photograph. Where, save in the primordial forests, could such a thing have happened?

"Our Guides?" we repeated, amazed. "Which ones?"

"Friday," the gentleman told us. He didn't know the man's name.

"What became of the caribou?" asked our camera man, eagerly.

"Friday's eaten him by now," returned the Chief, with a twinkle in his eye.



By Madge Macbeth, circa 1924

Nipigon Historical Museum Archives


A moose crossed just below the Falls as we were peeping out of our blankets to face a thin Scotch mist. Breakfast was hurriedly eaten, for every fisherman was impatient to feel the rod in his hands, Some of the party undertook the beautiful six-mile walk to Orient Bay and were rewarded by seeing a deer and a fawn. The mail came in, brought from Nipigon by a runner, or by relays of runners. Four guides joined us. They had just come down from James Bay, and judging by the rapid-fire conversation that passed amongst the Indians, their arrival was better than the coming of a newspaper. Indians somehow have gained themselves the reputation for taciturnity, but no characteristic was less conspicuous in those of our party.

There was the incident of Friday and the fish.

Michel Friday or Mike, as he called himself, was a guide who instantly endeared himself to the lot of us. Why? How does  one know? Who can dissect and tabulate that elusive quality termed charm? He was just Friday. That was all.

Several fine fish had been caught at dusk on the second day, and anticipating the scepticism of our friends, we determined to make pictures of our catch. The camera man had invented a tank - about which there was a good deal of jollity, for he demanded volunteers to get inside and create for him an improvement on "Neptune's Daughter." He even suggested our sharing it with a sturgeon and a couple of imported muskellunge!

When the tank was unpacked, we were relieved to find a small box-like affair only about a cubic foot in size. It barely accommodated one worthy trout.

Now, the fish that had been caught at dusk could not, of course, have their photo taken at that time of night, so with great trouble and back-straining, we built them a kraal or pen at the water's edge and left them to be photographed in the morning. At lunch time some one thought of those fish. The kraal was empty. The fish were gone.

The old newspaperman revived his sleuthing instincts, and ran the mystery to earth.  Friday had eaten the fish, and it was only Saturday on the calendar!

The Indians never tired of the joke. We came to see something funny in it ourselves. At the mention of comestibles, every eye would turn accusingly to Friday, who bore the scrutiny with unruffled calm and a good-natured grin. We blamed him for a temporary shortage in jam, for the scarcity of caribou, for failure to discover a moose whose trail we followed all one morning. When one of the party was late for lunch, we even accused him of eating her!

And when he snared a couple of rabbits and laid them by for a succulent meal, the rest of the guides appropriated them during his absence, and explained that such was his punishment for taking the fish. Talk? Why, the Indians were never silent, except when sleeping.

In the afternoon, we broke camp and paddled a glorious fourteen miles down the river to Flat Rock, shooting several exciting rapids - including Devil's and Victoria - but, not fatally. We found an excellent camping ground at Flat Rock and availed ourselves right gladly of it, although this was not the spot originally chosen for our destination. Pine Portage, three miles away, was full - which is to say, its convenient camp sites had already been pre-empted by fishermen bound up or down the river.

That night, across a lofty columnar bonfire, I asked Nicholas John the meaning of the word Nipigon.

"It's hard to pronounce in English," he replied. "We spell it with an 'e', " he added, throwing in a little swank about his schooling.

I was no nearer my objective, and afterwards discovered that by 'pronounce' he meant 'translate,' and as for spelling Nipigon with an 'e,' the Indians spell it, like most of their language, exactly as suits their fancy. To hear them speak the work, I should call it Nem-be-gong, and a loose translation of my own is The Sea Without a Shore - this referring to the lake which is about seventy miles long and fifty wide.


Friday, 12 July 2013


By Madge Macbeth , circa 1924

Nipigon Historical Museum Archives


The second day was faultless. The sun had almost dried our little white homes before we had finished breakfast, and it took the edge off a keen wind that was more suggestive of October than July. Virgin Falls raced over glittering rocks like so much liquid malachite. The rapids swirled and eddied, a wondrous green foam.

Intense activity prevailed around Camp. We consulted fly books, called to one another for advice we didn't take, polished the lenses of our cameras, and up and down the rocky shore, to the soft whir of spinning reels, damp lines were hung from tree to tree like crazy cobwebs etched against the sky.

We fished from shore, and decided after a disgraceful dinner that reduced the stores alarmingly that a swim in the Nipigon would be almost as enjoyable as angling. Consequently, we embarked in our spacious canoes and were paddled (even the sportsmen, too!) out among the Virgin Islands, where, with a good deal of hesitancy, we plunged into the clear, cold water of the river.

By the gods, it was cold! For a few seconds after the body's first immersion, one feels an impulse to turn immediately towards the shore. But this passes suddenly, and the only consciousness is that of intense invigoration, tempting one to swim great distances. I found that water less cold was unpleasant and enervating.

On the way home, the Curious Gentleman demanded of his guide how he could keep his moccasins so soft and pliable, like those of the Indians.

"You take them home," advised the old man, in almost unintelligible English, "and get your woman to chew them. That's the way Nindians' are soft."



By Madge Macbeth circa 1924

Nipigon Historical Museum Archives


We were amazed to hear the splattering of rain drops on our tents in the morning. After such a night, it seemed incredible. However, no aspect of weather could dampen our spirits, and with the outfit furnished us, there was little that could interfere with our comfort.

This outfit deserves a paragraph at least. We were provided with tents, easily accommodating two persons. For the benefit of those who refused the luxury folding camp beds and preferred sleeping bags or mattresses laid upon the ground, there were tarpaulin floors. Otherwise, we used canvas beds, a towering pile of NEW blankets (none too many for the sharp cold nights) and pillows! We had a dining tent, furnished with a substantial table, and very comfortable folding chairs. We had also a Community tent, where a glorious fire burned throughout the rainy days, and where afternoon tea was served and coffee after dinner! We had a cook stove with which the "Prince of Wales' Jimmie" performed indescribably delicious gastronomic mysteries. We had bath towels and soap. I felt on more than one occasion that had I asked for a change of underwear or an elephant's tusk, my whim would have been gratified.

Confidentially, I might confess that there was some grumbling. The party included a few desperate sportsmen who resented our luxurious equipment and the sensation of being coddled. They up and spake their minds, and the rest of us were abashed, wishing that we hadn't written home to say that we were "camping." We avoided one another's eyes and felt like cheats - impostor's.

And we were not a little surprised to hear the sportsmen agree to try those confounded beds - as the ground was wet - and the next morning to hear them call for a basin of hot water!

We fished in the rapids from the shore the first day, taking our quota of speckled trout, and several white fish. The largest of the former tipped the scales at five and a quarter pounds, and evoked the observation from the jealous member of the group that, on such a day, anyone should be able to catch fish.

"In this downpour," said he, "they don't even know that they're out of the river!"


Thursday, 11 July 2013


By Madge Macbeth, circa 1924
Nipigon Historical Museum Archives


Sunset Lake Nipigon

But delightful as adventuring near Camp assuredly is, interesting as one may find the Indian Reserve with its Old People's Home included in the category of "Municipal Buildings," satisfactory as the sportsman will concede his experience into the little-known streams that find their source at the Height of Land north of Lake Superior, I doubt that any fishing trip on the continent is comparable in point of comfort, scenic beauty and piscatorial reward to that "up the Nipigon." Its memory will haunt me all my days.

We went by rail to Orient Bay, and there, in the amber light of evening, we set out towards Nipigon Lake and down through the exquisite Virgin Islands into Nipigon River.

Our regiment of guides was ready, two to each man. They tied their fleet of eight canoes end-to-end, and strung out after the launch like the tail of some curious sea monster.

The distant shore etched its rugged outline against the sky - rugged precipices, huge bluffs, undulating ranges of hills wooded by poplar, birch and fir, with here and there a little forest of slim white trunks softening the sombre green and climbing timidly up a darkened hillside. A beautiful break was Port McDermid, lying between two unsympathetic cliffs - a modest little village, very prim and very white in the coppery glow of late evening.

As we slipped between the Virgin Islands, a great pink moon flashed soft radiance on the calm water, and smiled at her own reflection. For a time, she followed us, just beyond the stern of the farthest swerving canoe. But after a bit, she sailed ahead and led our small flotilla, by throwing great splashes of silver in our path.

We disembarked just above Virgin Falls, as darkness engulfed the forest. Through a woodsy trail we felt our way, drawn by the rush and thunder of swift-flowing waters; and presently our little colony of tents gleamed amid the star-dust of a flawless night.

The voice of the Chief Guide summoned us to the water's edge. Noisily we trooped to a pine-crested rock, and silently we stood there, staring in awed fascination at the unearthly beauty that lay before us.

Virgin Falls in the moonlight! No words can picture the scene.

In a great ebony surge, shot with cold, white streaks, the river rushed to the twenty-foot drop where it fell with a terrible volume and silvery foam. A mass of spray like millions of dancing moonstones leaped upwards to capture more light; while below, the rapids churned and roared, tearing, it seemed, without direction or objective over and around the glistening rocks.

Silent, we stood, watching, and quietly we slipped into our blankets, rather excited by the crash and tumbling waters that drowned the music of the stars.




By Madge Macbeth circa 1924

Nipigon Historical Museum Archives

part one:

NIPIGON! It is difficult to find the inevitable adjective that will conjure up the enchantment of that remote region and give to the prospective traveller even a filmy idea of the delight that may be his.

If he is a fisherman, he knows something of the country, by reputation anyway, for Nipigon is almost synonymous with "big trout," the size and sportiness of the red-speckled species having earned for it the respect of anglers the world over, and to say that one has fished the Nipigon waters covers just about all there is to be said.

The sporting opportunities  of the Nipigon have been brought well within the grasp of vacationers, by the establishment of a Bungalow Camp on the southern shore of Lake Helen. The Canadian Pacific also erected a station especially for the convenience of its guests who have no need to disembark in Nipigon Village, about two miles distant from the Bungalows. A motor service operates over the few hundred yards between Camp and the new depot.

Nipigon is easily accessible to any point on the continent. It lies on the main line of the Canadian Pacific transcontinental service, nearly a thousand miles west of Montreal and seven hundred and forty-three miles northwest of Toronto, Port Arthur is only sixty-fives miles distant , while Winnipeg is about a days journey. (2013 update - no passenger rail service on this Nipigon mainline anymore - VIA takes the passengers on the northern route north of Lake Nipigon.)

The Bungalow Camp, like those operated at French River and Kenora, provides urban conveniences plus the freedom and informality o the wilds.

A cluster of charming one - and two-room rustic bungalows surrounds a central or Community building, which contains the offices, dining and recreation hall. A spacious, screened verandah surrounds three sides of this Club House, wooing the gay breezes that a cavernous stone fireplace, within, succeeds in discouraging. This fireplace, by the way, is especially interesting by reason of the fact that the stone with which it is built contains great pieces of native amethyst. There is an amethyst "mine" quite near the Camp, where the visitor can secure any number of beautiful souvenirs.

Each cabin is a self contained rustic palace, with hardwood floors, chintz decorations, electric light, running water and comfortable beds. It also boasts of a clothes closet and is effectively screened. As the season advances and the soothing zephyrs of summer are absorbed in the chill rush of the north wind, stoves are added to the furnishing, and no greater cosiness can be found than in one's cabin with a brisk fire crackling and a pot of coffee breathing its fragrance through the room.

In justice to the prospective guest, however, it should be said right here that Nipigon Camp is no place for persons whose wish is to reduce. In atmosphere that fairly pricks the appetite, and with a cuisine that is beyond criticism, especially in the matter of fresh fish - well, the pounds do accumulate, despite energetic bathing in the sparkling waters of the lake, and other forms of vigorous exercise. There is an excellent beach at Nipigon sloping by easy gradations fifty yards or more to the end of a fine dock where more adventurous swimmers can enjoy the thrill of a diving board.

Dancing, of course, is one of the most popular pastimes, and frequently a good orchestra supplements the Camp piano and victrola.

However, the majority of guests do not go to Nipigon to dance, enjoyable as they may find this form of entertainment. They go to fish - to try to break the world record made in 1915, when a speckled trout weighing fourteen and one-half pounds was taken from its waters. Although failure has so far crowned their efforts, they are by no means dissatisfied, for five-pounders are common, and lake trout, pike and pickerel will reward the determined angler.


If history wearies you, be good enough to turn the page. Upon the past is the present builded, and in the Nipigon country one finds a firmer footing on the foundation than upon its more modern superstructure.

True, Nipigon has acquired telegraph, telephone and railways; over it drift echoes of vast operations at Jackfish and Lake Superior; the electric plant at Hydro commands millions of gallons of its water which are transmuted into light, and flung out to cities miles away. But Nipigon does not feel like telephones and telegraphs, railways and steamboats and electric light. It feels like soft voices speaking in strange tongues, like pictures painted on rock or tree, like canoes guided by a strong brown hand, and torches cut from some resinous sapling. And passing but a few miles up the river, that is just about what one will find.

Authorities tell us that Nipigon was known to white people as early as 1612. De la Verendrye was one of the first famous explorers in the district. Brule, whose discoveries deserve more credit than is generally accorded them, certainly must have penetrated this region, and it is more than probable that Long made trips into the Nipigon, for he spent twenty years among the Indians, becoming not only a woodsman, and a fur-trader, but virtually on the savages themselves. He adopted their dress and customs, even to scalping his prisoners. He was admitted into the Chippewa (or Ojibway) nation as one of the most famous Chiefs of the day, and to attain such honour, he was obliged to undergo a very painful initiation. An account of the ceremony makes extremely interesting reading.

The vast territory north of Lake Superior, and fringing the shores of the Nipigon River to the lake of the same name, is one of the sections that has resisted civilization and the invasion of the white man. it is scantily settled, and at that, by the picturesque Ojibways  who have occupied that territory since time immemorial.

They are a forest people, and although one of the largest tribes north of Mexico, strong in numbers and occupying extensive lands, they have never been prominent in history. The reason for this is that the Ojibways were always remote from the scene of warfare, particularly during the period of the Colonial struggles. According to tradition, they are part of an Algonquin body that separated into divisions when it reached Mackinaw in the westward movement.

Ojibway is a combination of ojib, to pucker, and ub-way, to roast, the significance being the manner in which this tribe pleated or puckered the lower part of their moccasins on to the piece that forms the top. In Long's account of them, he says they term themselves N'unawesik, meaning Natural Language, and implying that they speak the original tongue, while other tribes have an acquired one.

Referring to the "original tongue", Carver observes that it is easy to pronounce and more copious than any other Indian language. At the same time , it is not encumbered with any unnecessary tones or accents; neither are there any words that are superfluous. Being a stranger to ceremony or compliment, the Ojibways have no need for an infinity of words wherewith to embellish their intercourse.

In the matter of compliment, I am in perfect accord with Carver's observation. I found the guides a most disconcertingly frank people. One day, in a effort to familiarize myself with a few of the commoner terms, such as the numerals, the names of bird and beast and tree, I enquired of Chief Guide Nicholas John what the Indians called women.

"Queer," he answered, promptly, and with utter seriousness.

The hopeful member of the party suggested that he must have given me an Ojibway word that sounded like the uncomplimentary on above. I should like to believe it , but...

A two hour trip from Nipigon Camp will give the visitor a splendid view of the historic Picture Rocks on Lake Superior. This painting executed in colours that are foreign to any natural deposit in the vicinity, of a durability unknown to modern pigment and on rocks that hang, sheer, from immense heights to the water's edge, has always been a mystery to white people. But the Indians explain it with confidence. A Manitou, they say, placed his message there - a Manitou who had no need for colouring matter. He merely laid his finger upon the rock and his words became visible that all might read them, and for all time.

Nipigon added an interesting page to its history when the Prince of Wales visited the district and spent ten days fishing the sparkling waters of the river. Our party followed the route he had taken, and engaged the services of the same cook, as well as two or three of the same guides. They spoke of him in terms of affectionate respect, and were unanimous in according him the title of Ho-go-mar, or Big Chief.