Project Canterbury

The Journal of the Bishop of Montreal, during a Visit to the Church Missionary Society's North-West America Mission.

By George Jehoshaphat Mountain

London: Seeleys, 1849.

Letter I. Voyage from La Chine to the Red-River Settlement

Quebec, Nov. 20, 1844.


THE accumulation of business which has come upon me in the Diocese, since my return from the Red River three months ago, and the necessity which I have been under of travelling, in different directions, upon ecclesiastical matters, have compelled me to suffer mail after mail to depart with out furnishing to the CHURCH MISSIONARY SOCIETY the fuller and more particular account which I promised, upon the first occasion of my writing to you after getting back to Quebec, of my visit to the Society's Mission in the quarter above-mentioned, and of the fruit of their operations which [1/2] I there witnessed. To this task I now address myself, proposing chiefly to execute it in the form of a condensed abstract from my Journal; but, even now, I am by no means sure of being able to complete it be fore the closing of the mail on the 24th of the present month.

Departure from Quebec for Montreal.

Having, by the great goodness of God, been enabled again to undertake this long-cherished project, the hope of accomplishing which appeared, in 1842, to be extinguished by the extraordinary illness which it pleased Him at that time to lay upon me and having once more put all matters in train for it by communications, which had the most encouraging result, with the heads of the Church at home, the Society, the Hudson's Bay Company, and the Missionaries upon the spot--I left Quebec, by Steamer, for Montreal, on the 13th of May last, and on the morning of the 16th embarked in my canoe at La Chine, nine miles above the [2/3] latter city, where the Company have an important Depôt.

Equipments and Crew.

My equipment, and the means of my conveyance, having been provided, with the utmost alacrity, at the charge of the Society, in their desire to procure the Episcopal ministrations for the remote Mission of the Red River, it may be satisfactory, upon this as well as upon other and obvious grounds, to state that the arrangements were all made for me in the most excellent manner, and with the most careful attention, by direction of Sir George Simpson, the Governor of the Company's Territory, who was at La Chine at the time. A new birch-bark canoe was provided, of the largest class, such as is called a canot de maître, having fourteen paddles, and being of the length of thirty-six feet. The crew were picked men, and most of them were, more or less, experienced voyageurs. One had accompanied Captain Franklin to the Arctic regions [3/4] in 1825. Eight of them were French Canadians: six were Iroquois Indians, from the village of Caughnawaugha, opposite to La Chine, where a Mission was established for this Tribe during the French possession of the country. All, of either race, were Roman Catholics--a great drawback from the comfort of a voyage of many weeks through the wilderness, in which several Sundays were to be passed, with only my own servant to benefit--beside our mutual benefit--by any ministrations afforded by my Chaplain and myself. Our guide, a functionary who, in a manner, conducts the whole enterprise, was an Iroquois, and a man of the very first reputation in his line: the steersmen--of whom there are two, on account of the practice of exchanging the large canoe for two smaller ones, and dividing the crew, at the upper end of Lake Superior--were Canadians. The other eleven men are called middlemen. One of them however, who acted as our own cook, and had charge of our provisions and all the apparatus connected with our culinary [4/5] department, had certain perquisites and privileges above the rest. The Indians all spoke French sufficiently for the common purposes of the day. We were thus seven teen persons in the canoe. Our baggage, bedding, and provisions, with the equipments of the canoe and the tent, were estimated, I think, at the weight of a ton and a half.

Mode of Travelling.

We travelled for some few days up the Ottawa, with Settlements or detached habitations within our reach; and, in fact, we were far up this river before we bid adieu to the region where Steamers have penetrated, and inns have been established at intervals connected with their trips; but we fell at once, to avoid all delay and to make sure of keeping our people together, into the habits and rules of the voyageur, and our only recourse to the houses was to procure milk, for which payment was always refused, for our tea.

[6] The whole system of travelling on this route is framed with reference to the necessity of accomplishing an enormous distance, presenting many obstructions and tedious delays, within a given time. The season is short; for the navigation is not open before the end of April, and much inconvenience and detention are apt to be encountered if Lake Superior be not crossed, on the downward route, before the end of August--the high winds of September rendering it often impossible, for many days together, for a canoe to proceed at all upon that prodigious expanse of water, and the size of the craft precluding any arrangement for carrying a considerable stock of provisions. In fact, I was strongly advised to lay my plans in such a manner as, humanly speaking, to ensure my return to La Chine before the end of August. Duties in my own Diocese made it impossible for me to set out before the middle of May. With every exertion, I was not likely to accomplish the voyage, or journey--I hardly know which to call it--in a less space of time [6/7] than one of between five and six weeks, each way; and being anxious to afford all the time in my power to the Mission, and, if it should have been found necessary, to visit the Catechist's Station at Cumberland, I had evidently no time to lose. The rules in travelling, observed with more or less strictness according to circumstances, but without any material deviation, are to rise about three o'clock; hastily throwing on your clothes, to jump into the canoe, and push your way on till about eight, when you go ashore, and an hour is allowed for breakfast. It was our practice, while breakfast was in preparation, to make our toilet, going a little apart behind a tree, and hanging a traveller's looking-glass upon one of the branches; and it was in these operations, although often abridged by the omission of the process of shaving, that the mosquitoes and smaller flies of two different kinds, were most annoying. Another stop is made about two o'clock for dinner; but this is usually cold, and only half an hour is allowed for it. We then [7/8] keep going commonly till a little after sunset--sometimes a little earlier where the places suitable for camping are rare, as in Lake Superior, and we happen to reach one of them before the day has wholly declined--often considerably later when the nights are fine, and the way without difficulty. Upon two or three occasions, when we found that we could sail, and it was a great point to take advantage of our wind, we ran the whole night. I may here observe, that we are not in the least cramped in the canoe; but can lounge in any posture that we like, or lie at length, if needful, covered over with our blankets, and, in case of rain, a tarpaulin for a quilt, which may be drawn over head and all.

As soon as we go ashore at night, the tent is mounted for the passengers--myself and the Rev. P. J. Maning, who accompanied me as Chaplain. My servant also slept within the tent. The three beds, consisting of blankets and a stout green rug, with cloth pillows, of which articles I had rather more than my share, but without [8/9] sheets or mattrasses, are spread upon pieces of tarpaulin, and, with the chests, &c., between, precisely fill the whole interior of the tent. Two huge fires are lighted, composed of drift-wood, or fallen trees; or, in some places, of trees felled upon the spot. One of these is close to the tent--and thankful we were, on many a cold or wet evening, to get over it--that for the canoe-men is at some little distance--and then the kettles are set boiling, and the cooking operations begin. In wet weather the men sleep under the canoe, which is always drawn ashore and inverted at night: they lie two and two together, and the smallest men occupy the places under the bow and the stern. In general they sleep beneath the canopy of heaven. Each man has one blanket. The canoe is examined by experienced hands, while some day-light remains, to ascertain whether any rents have been made in the bark by scraping against rocks in passing through rapids, or otherwise; and the gum which is over the seams is spread, as required, by the application of burning brands. If there has [9/10] been reason to apprehend more serious in jury, some fuller opportunity of day-light is taken, and recourse is had to the keg of resinous gum which is always carried in the canoe, and, perhaps, to spare pieces of bark, of which a supply is also taken.

The distance from La Chine to the Red River is commonly estimated at 1800 miles; but it is not accurately known.

Sir George Simpson, one of the most remarkable travellers in the world, accomplishes the distance in visiting the Red River--and thence proceeding, by a circuitous route, to Hudson's Bay, and so back, by a different line of route still, till it falls into the Ottawa--in a wonderfully short time. He calls his men at half-past one o'clock, and sets out each day about two A.M.

Difficulties and Varieties of the Journey.

At times you make a great distance in a day, descending a swift river with an [10/11] exemption, for some unusual space, from the frequent interruption of Portages; [Carrying-places.] or sailing, it may be, along an open lake. Upon other occasions, you are contending against a powerful and turbulent stream, and mastering the current opposed to you sometimes by poling, sometimes by the towing-line drawn by the men who are now in the water, now scrambling along its edge through tangled woods--sometimes by the mere force of the paddle. Or you are brought to a stand by a cataract, or an impassable rapid, and then comes the whole process of unloading the canoe and dividing out every article which it contains to be carried upon the backs of the men, others being employed in carrying the canoe itself upon their shoulders; and all this, here over broken rocks, and there, perhaps, through deep and miry swamps. Often you have scarcely re-loaded, and seated yourself again in the canoe, before another similar obstruction presents itself, and the [11/12] whole double labour of unloading and reloading is to be gone through over again. In parts of the Winnipeg River, these Portages occur in very rapid succession; and some of them are only of a few yards in length separated from each other by a distance not very much greater. The longest Portage upon the whole route is called five miles. Again, on the great lakes, but particularly on Lake Superior, you are liable, even in the best season, to the necessity of lying by, for a day here or a day there, or a couple or more days together, when the winds and waves become too high for the canoe. This detention the voyageurs describe by the term dégrader. We were considered fortunate in not being obliged to pass any one whole day upon the shores of this Lake. It took us eight days to ascend it, and a week to come down.

Line of Route.

The line of the whole route is as follows. After ascending the Ottawa for about a week, [12/13] you pursue a course almost at right angles to the direction of that ascent. Entering the river Mattawan at its confluence with the Ottawa, passing again from this through La Petite Rivière, and some small lakes, traversing the high lands from whence the waters flow in opposite directions, you reach Lake Nipissin, and, having crossed it, descend the whole length of French River into Lake Huron. You then coast up the northern shore of this Lake for 190 miles, which brings you to the Saut Sainte Marie, at the lower extremity of Lake Superior. Thence you coast, in like manner, up the northern shore of the last-mentioned Lake, till you reach Fort William, a Station of the Company, at the mouth of the River Ka-menistiquoia. Here the large canoe is exchanged for two smaller ones, more adapted to the travelling which is to follow; [They are called canots du nord. The whole voyage is sometimes performed in them.] but much less so for the passage of the great lakes, and you again ascend the waters, [13/14] passing into the interior up the river just named; and so, by an immense chain of lakes and rivers, varying infinitely in size--the smallest lakes being little more than spacious ponds, and the smallest rivers scarcely entitled to be called any thing but brooks--you reach Lake Winnipeg, which is 300 miles long; and, passing a short way up the shore, enter and ascend the Red River. In the course of this latter part of the route, commencing at Fort William, you again reach a height from which the waters fall either way, and here is the boundary between Canada and the Hudson's Bay Territory. The Rainy Lake, and the Lake of the Woods, are the most considerable of those of which you travel the length, after leaving Lake Superior. The River Winnipeg, which flows out of the Lake of the Woods into the Lake of its own name, is a magnificent stream, abounding in foaming rapids and thundering falls, many of which are of extraordinary beauty; but any description of which, in detail, would be wholly inconsistent with the limits which I [14/15] prescribe to myself here, intending only to convey a general idea of the whole journey, and having already been carried to a length beyond my own anticipations. There are still, however, some few leading features, and prominent points of the journey, which it may not be uninteresting to notice, with out exhibiting them in any particular order or connexion.

Particular Features or Occurrences of the Journey.

In passing through long tracts of country, where there is so little to remind you of living human beings, it is rather striking to meet with the mementos of the dead. It is the custom of the voyageurs, in case of death among their number, by drowning or any other casualty, to plant a low wooden cross on the spot where the body lies. We saw several of these crosses, sometimes two or three together, on the Portages by the side of rapids, in the higher parts of the magnificent Ottawa; and in the Portage [15/16] which is called Rocher du Capitaine there is one, said to commemorate the death of a man whose neck was broken in carrying the canoe, and bearing this inscription, rudely cut upon the arms of the cross: Aujour-d'hui pour moi: demain toi. Upon a low bare rocky point in Lake Nipissin, there are fourteen crosses, serving, as we were told, to record the loss of the whole crew of a canoe, with which another was in company at the time. We found a few single crosses, at wide intervals, beyond Lake Superior. These were the memorials of men who, though such is the chosen emblem of their system, had darkened views of the doctrines of the cross; but we found, also, the obscure and solitary graves, concealed among the bushes, in some spots where we landed, within the Hudson's Bay Territory, of those to whom Christ was totally unknown. These graves were roofed over with birch-bark. The Indians are said to deposit, with the dead, his gun, and other articles which he is supposed to find useful in the other world. In the immediate neighbourhood of the [16/17] Rainy Lake Fort, where there is a resort of Indians, and where we saw them encamped, there is an oblong box, resting upon a small platform, and supported by four posts, perhaps ten feet high, which contains the bones of a Chief, held in especial honour; and these bones, it appears, had been removed all the way from Fort William to a spot more frequented by the connexions of the deceased.

We experienced more cold, both in degree and in duration, than I had expected. In crossing small bays, as we coasted up Lake Superior, on the 3rd and again on the 5th of June, we broke our way through a thin coat of ice, which had been formed over the whole surface of these bays during the night. It is a very singular noise which is produced by the paddles in this operation, and not unlike distant thunder: so, at least, it seemed to me when it woke me as I happened to be dozing in the canoe. It is only in an extraordinary concurrence of circumstances that the whole of this vast fresh-water sea can freeze over. I [17/18] was assured that this happened in the winter of 1843, after a calm of four days, and during intensely cold weather. No other instance of this is said to be remembered. On the 10th of June, when we camped upon the edge of the River Kame-nistiquoia, the ice formed during the night upon the paddles was a quarter of an inch thick. On the 11th, still upon the same river, there was a crust of ice found up on the water left close to our fire in a tin pot.

At Fort William, situated, as I have said, at the mouth of this river, there is a fishery carried on, which employs a good many Indians, of different sexes and ages; the fish being cured for the Montreal market, besides affording the principal food of the dependents upon the Fort, The species is white-fish, of a very excellent quality, and the numbers taken are something prodigious. Five thousand of these fish were taken in one morning before breakfast during the past summer. At the distance of about a day's journey up the river, from the Fort, [18/19] are the Kakabéka Falls poured down an awful chasm in the rocks after Niagara, incomparably the grandest and most striking cataract that I ever saw.

Fort William is approached through Thunder Bay. It is a singular and beautiful scene: shut in, on one side, by an irregular range of heights, of which the lower part, consisting of densely wooded slopes, is crested by very lofty and precipitous columnar rocks, entirely bare. On the other side of the bay are some remarkable eminences and islets--one of the eminences having very much the appearance of a huge bastion, or military rounded work.

The rude and rocky solitudes, through which we passed, exhibited, at intervals, many scenes of romantic beauty; and the features of the landscape assume, in some few instances, a softened character, as in the Rainy Lake River, and the lower part of the Kamenistiquoia, where green sloping banks are crowned with a full foliage of well-grown deciduous trees, and fringed by luxuriant shrubs and bushes. Most of the [19/20] lakes abound in small rocky islets, covered partially or wholly with wood. Parts of the Ottawa--I do not speak of those which are within the verge of established civilization, and which comprehend some remarkable objects of attraction--are very beautiful; and nothing can exceed the romantic rapids known by the name of the Culbute and the Calumet, in that river, at the latter of which the Government is engaged in constructing a slide for timber, which has already produced a nascent village. But the hand of the Creator has also gemmed the wilderness with minor decorations; and the eye is often refreshed by the sight of flowers, or trees, and shrubs, in blossom. I forbear to particularize them; yet I cannot refrain from mentioning that in parts of the downward route, in July and August, our way was en livened by the greatest profusion of wild roses, and highly-scented white water-lilies of extraordinary beauty. The only wild quadruped that we saw, on the whole journey, except some insignificant kinds, was [20/21] a wolf. We disturbed, upon the waters, innumerable wild ducks of different kinds, and we saw many loons, and some other aquatic birds, and a few of the heron tribe. We also saw a good many eagles. Lake Winnipeg is frequented by the wild swan and the pelican; but we did not meet with either, and were, indeed, a little too late in the season at that spot for the wild swan, of which four different kinds are found within the Hudson's Bay Territory, and of which the down is one of the articles exported by the Company. I brought home with me a pair of antlers, of portentous size, of the wapiti deer, which were made a present to me at the Red River. In the late Mr. Simpson's Journal, this animal is called the red deer, by which name it is known among the English-speaking inhabitants: the French call it biche. We saw one domesticated buffalo, grazing with the other cattle in the pastures of the Red River Settlement.

Inhabitants, or Stragglers, met with along the Route.

I come now to speak of the rational in habitants, who are sprinkled along these wilds. After passing the habitations of a meagre and widely-severed population which begin to break the dense continuity of forest in the higher parts of the Ottawa, we bid adieu to settlements, and during our last day upon that river, in mounting it, we saw no human habitation except the little post of the Company at the mouth of the Mattawan, where we slept. The traces of lumberers, who may be called the pioneers of settlement, are found to linger further up: and we breakfasted, one rainy morning, before reaching the Mattawan, in one of their empty shanties, a rude temporary edifice of trunks felled upon the spot and left in their rough natural state at least equal, however, to many habitations of new settlers, which often take the same name. The word, no doubt, is a corruption of chantier, and strictly, therefore, should describe [22/23] the place of the lumber-men's operations rather than the building constructed for their shelter. They are a wild, reckless, adventurous race, and the life which they lead tends too often to demoralize the youth of the country who engage in it. We fell in with but few of them; but, in one in stance, our canoe-men raced with a crew of lumberers, and the lumberers--who were the defeated party--afterward camped close by us. I got into conversation with a fine active young fellow, who appeared to have been reared in religious habits in Ireland; but who acknowledged to me his total neglect, and that of all the Protestant portion of his companions, of private devotion or means of edification--pleading, when I urged upon him the reproach of falling behind the Romanists, whose advantages were so vastly inferior, that they were indeed punctilious in their prayers, but in their lives and language not less profane and careless than those who omitted them. And so the unhappy formality of one set of men is made to furnish a dispensation from [23/24] religious duty by others who have better means of light. We were now fairly in the wilderness, and, speedily turning our backs upon the last vestige even of lumbering enterprise, had this wilderness before us for a journey of perhaps five weeks more to the Red River, without a trace of civilized man except the solitary posts of the Company, and the more considerable interruption in the neighbourhood of the Saut Sainte Marie; where, on both sides, there is some settlement, and, on the American side, a small military post directly opposite to that of the Company.

The Company's posts, which are established at very unequal intervals, are gene rally called Forts; and some of them are surrounded by a high and strong stockade. We stopped, both in going and returning, at ten of these posts, the first of which is upon the Ottawa, not above 250 miles from Montreal; and in six instances, taking the two journeys together, we enjoyed their shelter for the night. Upon these occasions, we always collected the few [24/25] persons who could be got together for prayers and some religious instruction, and our services appeared always to be thankfully received. We had the opportunity, in three instances, of regularly officiating to a little band of hearers, at the Forts, on Sundays--upon one of these occasions, I signified to our crew, through the cook, that we should be glad to see them if they would attend; but none of them did so, except the cook himself. In two other cases, the wife of the gentleman in charge expressing an earnest desire for Confirmation, I administered that rite, in its full solemnity, to the solitary Candidate. I mention this particularly, because I previously examined these two ladies, who were Half-breeds, myself; and their seriousness, humility, and acquaintance, at the same time, with essential scriptural truths, as well as, more generally, with their Bibles, afforded a very satisfactory testimony in favour of the Red River School, established under the auspices of the Church Missionary Society, in which they had been educated. A very few [25/26] subordinates, who are often Roman Catholics, and a larger number of dependents, who are Heathen Indians, augmented, at certain seasons, by some transient inhabitants of the same class, make up, with the gentle man in charge and his family, if he has one, the list of persons at most of the Forts. The principal posts are in charge of Chief Factors: the next grade is that of Chief Trader: some inferior posts are committed to the hands of clerks. The particular spot is selected on account of some local advantages, and there is usually a kitchen-garden, of very limited produce, some pasturage, and a dairy, attached to the establishment. At Fort William the dairy is really a very complete affair. I carried a letter from Sir George Simpson to be presented at every post where I should stop; but the kindness and attention which we everywhere experienced at the hands of the Company's servants were marked by an empressement which showed them to proceed from spontaneous feeling, and gave the better zest to those comforts and refreshments [26/27] demanded by the wants of the body, which were tendered in a manner, and under circumstances, stamping them with a resemblance to the exercise of primitive hospitality towards the way-worn stranger. It may be supposed that common things are often by no means common in places like these. At one of the posts, where we brought away some milk, there was no such thing as an empty bottle to be had, and the vessel which we borrowed for the purpose was left at the next Fort with a strict charge that it should be returned by the first opportunity.

At these posts we also procured, when necessary, supplies to be charged in the account; for the provision which we could carry tapered down very rapidly in the hands, or rather in the mouths, of seven teen men It was not always that we could get food of a very choice kind: in one in stance, at a very remote post, our replenishment of provisions consisted of small wheaten cakes, made of very discoloured flour, a pair of fowls, which were a present, [27/28] and a supply of maple sugar, for ourselves; with pemmican, or pounded buffalo-meat, for the men. But we had always enough to eat, without danger, also, of running short in point of quantity; and we had with us, in the canoe, the accounts of some journeys made by adventurers in the fur-trade, in other parts of these regions, or by men exploring them in the cause of science, whose hardships, privations, and dangers, would have made us blush to complain of anything which we encountered; even if we had not had another Book in our company, which tells us of the Patriarch's pillow of stone, and the Apostle's night and day in the deep, and which teaches us, as the disciples of One who had not where to lay His head, having "food and raiment to be therewith content."

The longest space of time which we passed without seeing a single human being, was five days and a half. This was after we left the mountain Portage at the Kakabéka Falls, where there was a small encampment of Indians, and passed up the [28/29] Kamenistiquoia into the chain of streams and lakes beyond, before reaching the Rainy Lake. We fell in with straggling Indians, generally at wide intervals, all the length of the route; sometimes in their little canoes, sometimes sojourning in a solitary tent of bark, or in little parties which occupied two or three such habitations. They almost always came alongside of us to barter fresh or dried fish, generally sturgeon, of a very large size, for tobacco, pemmican, or fragments of biscuit. They were all Sauteux, so called from the Saut Sainte Marie, one of the great stations of this extensively-ramified Tribe; [The English pronounce and write it Sauteaux, and, if I recollect rightly, it is so spelt in the late Mr. Simpson's Journal; but the Roman Catholic Bishop at the Red River, who gave me the etymology of the word, pointed out that it should be written Sauteux.] but by their own Indian name, Ogibwas, till lately called and written, corruptly, Chippawas by the English, who have given the [29/30] permanent name of Chippawa to a village near the Falls of Niagara. They could, with few exceptions, speak neither French, English, nor Iroquois, and all their communication with us was by signs. If addressed in any of the languages here mentioned, they have a very expressive way of putting the finger to the ear as if to intimate deafness, to which, in its effect, their ignorance of the language is equivalent. In other places, we came to considerable encampments, of perhaps 200 savages, and we counted, at one of them, thirty canoes; but this was an exceedingly rare occurrence on the journey. We encamped nearer to a large body of them than we intended, or desired, in the Rainy Lake River, where we saw their fires, and heard their drum, or tom-tom, which appeared to be going for a great part of the night. In this quarter they are noted for thieving with a surprising adroitness, and baggage the most closely watched has some times not wholly escaped their pillage. We did not, however, lose a single article. [30/31] These different bodies had shifted their encampments when we returned. [The Indians, when they move, leave the skeleton of their tents; but carry with them the bark, which is in great rolls, stitched at the ends by a fibrous thread to a slender stick. Most of their tents are conical; the smoke, issuing from an aperture at the point of junction of the poles, directly over the fire which is in the centre of the tent. When the tent smokes, they apply a piece of bark as a remedy, which is stuck up on one side of the aperture above, and placed on this side or on that, according to the direction of the wind.]

Nothing can be more pitiable, in my estimation, than the condition of these poor Heathens: nothing more calculated to excite an interest in favour of all rightly conducted efforts for their conversion. They are sometimes regarded with a sort of admiration, as the unsophisticated children of nature; and, still more, as exhibiting the very impersonation of a high-toned independence, and an unshackled manliness of spirit. Children of nature they are: and what kind of moral nurse is mother nature, [31/32] a Christian has no need to ask. They are physically a fine race of men, and they are perfectly susceptible of moral, and intellectual, and spiritual culture; but their actual condition presents a most degrading picture of humanity. Some of them came up to us in dirty blankets, or dirtier dresses of worn and tattered hare-skins: others were totally naked, except the waist-cloth, their heads, with scarcely an exception, protected only by an enormous mass of long black hair. Others, in the encampments, who appeared to be persons of some distinction, and whose attire was in better order, were tricked out more like Bedlamites than rational beings; a silly and undiscriminating passion for ornament prompting them to turn to this account whatever frippery they can become possessed of; so that the thimbles, for example, which they procure from the Company are seen dangling at the end of long thin braids of hair which hang from the men's foreheads: some have feathers stuck into their hair, and these, perhaps, bent into an imitation of horns; with [32/33] others appended to resemble the ears of an animal. Many have their faces painted, all the lower part of the visage being made perfectly black, and the eyes encircled with bright vermillion; but it would be impossible to describe the varieties of their costume, or their fantastic decorations: and there they sit, or rather squat, smoking and basking in the sun the live-long day, sunk in an indolence from which nothing seems to rouse them but the excitement of war, or of the chase. Every species of labour and drudgery, in the mean time, is thrown entirely upon the women, and if an Indian travels on foot with his family, all the load which is to be carried is consigned to the back of his wife or wives; for he does not always content himself with one. We were particularly struck with the appearance of one savage, who, squatting, with his whole figure in a heap, upon the point of a projecting rock which overhung the river, perfectly naked and perfectly motionless, staring down upon us out of the hair which buried his head and covered his shoulders, [33/34] looked like some hideous idol of the East. The passion for tobacco among these people appears to be excessive and universal: they receive a little fragment of it with unrepressed delight, and will promise sometimes a good wind to the traveller in compensation for the favour. Their passion also for liquor is well known; but it is a great blessing that the Company have adopted measures to withhold from them this devastating curse. That some of them are practised thieves, I have already had occasion to notice: whether this characteristic attaches extensively to the race, I cannot say; but they appear very generally to be inveterate gamblers, and will strip themselves of every article they possess, in the unsuccessful indulgence of this passion. Their abject condition struck me very forcibly in seeing their women and girls, exceedingly good-looking lasses of seventeen or eighteen, putting themselves in the way of our canoe-men to earn from them a few handfuls of pemmican or other fragments of coarse food, by helping to carry the loads across [34/35] the Portages, and screaming at the top of their voices in contending for more than was given to them, as if noise could make their strange language more intelligible. One poor woman, with three young children, kept company with us in her canoe for the greater part of a day, and assisted in this way at every Portage. Thus they, the ancient lords of the soil, and invested still, in many imaginations, with a species of wild dignity and grandeur, are glad to gather up the crumbs which fall from the superfluity of our roughest class of hirelings, and to make themselves, as it were, beasts of burthen for their benefit. The men and boys, also, will make this exertion for the same inducement.

The vices to which these Indians are addicted, prevail, as is but too sadly notorious, among professed Christians; but where is there a cure for them at all, but in the Christian system efficiently applied? and what is more conspicuous than that where-ever it is so applied, they disappear? Europeans, in some points of view, have done [35/36] unspeakable mischief to the Indians, and they owe them a long-accumulated reparation; but as matters are now conducted, their condition is meliorated by their connexion with the Whites, and their partial assimilation to European habits; and this is one step of approach toward their enjoyment of fuller blessings and more exalted privileges. Those who are attached to the Forts are far more comfortable in their appearance than the others.

That they are a fine race of people physically, I have already said; and I have certainly seen among them some striplings, from fifteen to eighteen years old--sufficiently neat in their persons, with a manly bearing and an elastic tread, their limbs well-turned, their hands and nails well-formed, their dark beaming eyes harmonizing with a profusion of glossy black hair and a sunned complexion--who did seem, altogether, to carry the stamp, if I may so express it, of a natural nobility. I have been assured that there is no such thing known, as a dwarfish or deformed Indian. They are certainly fine animals.

[37] What they are capable of becoming, as the rational creatures of God, and subjects for His grace, I shall have occasion to show hereafter, and I shall then speak, also, if so permitted, of certain superstitions which prevail among them in their Heathen state. The Society may not be sorry, although they will hear nothing new, to receive a sketch, be it but an imperfect one, of the condition, efficiency, and prospects of the Mission, from other hands than those of the Missionaries themselves. But I am obliged to reserve for another Letter the account of my actual visit at the Red River, and I shall now conclude this by a description of our efforts made to gain that place at the close of our ascending journey.

Efforts to reach the Red River.

We camped at nightfall, on the 21st of June, upon a level rock beside the Winnipeg River, whose whole volume of water here rushes down in an impetuous and roaring fall--called le petit rocher du bonnet. [37/38] At three o'clock the next morning, a cry was raised that the Governor was coming in view; and, accordingly, by the time that we were ready to receive him, Sir George Simpson, attended by his Secretary, stepped from his canoe upon the rock, being on his way down from the Red River. We remained together a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes, to arrange some matters connected with an Ordination to be there held, and upon that rock an official letter relating to the subject was written at his dictation and signed by himself. We then parted, to proceed in opposite directions.

The spot, I believe, is about 100 miles from the Lower Fort, at the Red River. We passed down the Winnipeg River, stop ping to breakfast, and take in some few supplies, at Fort Alexander; and, entering Lake Winnipeg, began to coast round in order to gain the mouth of the Red River. It was Saturday. If it could only be possible to reach the first Church of the Settlement during the night, it might, besides preventing, as it were, the dead loss of another [38/39] Sabbath, save us a whole week; for I knew that less than three Sundays would not suffice for my duties among the Churches, and I judged that, by diligently improving the time of my sojourn, I might properly accomplish them without remaining for a fourth. This I represented to the guide, and the other men, and they cheerfully undertook to carry me on, calculating that we should reach our destination about midnight, or one in the morning. We went ashore for supper on a flat islet in the Lake, of sand and shingle, and there witnessed a sunset of unequalled glory: the gorgeous splendour of the descending orb through a blaze of gold among empurpled clouds, contrasted with a remarkable depth and massiveness of gloom which covered the whole face of the adjacent heavens where a thunder-storm was collecting itself, while a long stream of golden light was playing upon the waves up to the very spot where we stood. We got our tea, and re-embarked without rain; but then the storm began, and the lightning was vivid and brilliant. The moon showed [39/40] herself afterwards by fitful glances between the clouds; but before long she sunk, and was lost to us. The rain now came down without interruption, and the night grew exceedingly dark. The whole shore is level, and even in day-light the mouth of the river is not always easily found, so that persons have been known to enter Pike or Jack River--Rivière aux brochets--by mistake, intending to go to the Red River Settlement. Our guide, however, knew what he was about, and cautiously groped his way along the reedy shore, in one place jumping into the water and walking about to ascertain--as a help to his judgment of the locality, and its accordance with his own memory--the nature of the bottom with his feet. This mode of proceeding, however, was necessarily very slow; and the day broke upon us disclosing a bed, on either side, of green reeds or rushes extending for miles together, out of which arose countless multitudes of wild ducks and some other water-fowl, with no object in the distance which looked like a Church, [40/41] The men in the mean time, in both canoes, wet and weary as they were, preserved an unfailing patience, good-humour, and cheerfulness; and such, in fact, was their deportment from first to last. They had now been paddling, with the exception of our stay for breakfast at Fort Alexander, which was rather unusually prolonged, and half an hour's sailing on Lake Winnipeg, added to the stop made for supper--dinner we did not take on account of a late breakfast--they had been paddling, with these exceptions, since a little after three on Saturday morning, and it was nine on the Sunday morning when we reached the Church and Mission-house of the Indian Settlement, distinctively so called. What we saw there, and what contrast it exhibited with things which we had seen on the way, I must tell you, if it please God, another time. We made our distance in thirty-eight days from La Chine.

I am, Rev. Sir,

Your faithful humble Servant,


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