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Alberta, Past and Present, Historical and Biographical
Vol 1 - Chapter II
Explorers and Fur Traders (Continued)


For the next few years Thompson's work was confined to the Province of Alberta, but before we follow him let us consider what had been done by those who preceded him. As we have seen, Peter Pangman of the North West Company ascended the North Saskatchewan as far as the site of Rocky Mountain House in 1789. Angus Shaw built Fort George in 1792 and Fort Augustus in 1794. In 1795 George Sutherland of the Hudson's Bay Company built Fort Edmonton, probably naming it after Edmonton, near London, England, the birthplace of John Prudens, his clerk. Buckingham House also had been built in the neighborhood of Fort George but the date is uncertain, probably 1793. In 1798 the North West Company sent James Hughes to build a fort close to Fort Edmonton, which was called New Fort Augustus, on the site of the present city of Edmonton. It was in charge of Hughes and Macdonald of Garth. Macdonald tells us in his autobiographical notes that there was another fort at Edmonton, "a new concern which assumed a powerful shape in the name of the XY Co., at the head of which was the late John Ogilvie in Montreal and at this establishment a Mr. King, an old south trader in his prime and pride as the first among bullies." The new concern, as Macdonald calls it, was composed of the dissatisfied partners of the North West Company, who had retired and were organized into a company in 1795 by the firm of Messrs. Forsyth, Richardson and Company of Montreal. The name by which the company was designated was given to it on account of the symbols XY used to mark the bales of fur and to distinguish them from those of the North West Company, usually marked NW. It was not really the legal name of the company. The XY Company during its existence included some of the most enterprising men that ever engaged in the fur trade, including Sir Alexander Mackenzie who, as we have seen, was never on cordial relations with old Simon McTavish and we may take John Macdonald's estimate of them as "A new concern which assumed powerful shape" as a measure of the race they gave the old North West Company. The XY Company also had a post at Fort George. The most westerly post on the North Saskatchewan was Rocky Mountain House built about a mile above the confluence of the Clearwater and the Saskatchewan in 1799 by Macdonald of Garth.

Up to this time there had been but one fort built on the South Saskatchewan, if we except Fort La Jonquiere of De Niverville in 1751. This was South Branch House near Gardepui's Crossing. It is not known exactly when it was established but Thompson visited it October 18th, 1793, and Peter Fidler says that the Hudson's Bay Company post was plundered June 24th, 1794, though the North West Company house close by escaped. After this the fort was abandoned until 1804 when a new post was established six miles farther up the river.

We are now in a position to follow Thompson in his various expeditions throughout the province. We left him at Fort George. In the spring of 1800 he set out on horseback to Fort Augustus and thence to Rocky Mountain House, taking the well known Blackfoot trail from Fort Augustus. On May 5th he embarked at Rocky Mountain house and made a survey of the Saskatchewan River to The Elbow. On his way down he found the Hudson's Bay Company men encamped at Buck Lake Creek, eight miles below Goose Encampment. He passed White Mud House at the mouth of Wabamun Creek in charge of a clerk named Hughes of the North West Company. On May 7th he reached Fort Augustus and three days later passed Fort George, his starting place. Fort George was by this time in a ruinous condition and was being abandoned for a fort a few miles up the river called Island Fort built by De Coigne in 1801, situated in section 19, township 56, range 5, west of the 4th meridian. On May 18th he left Fort George and mentions the ruins of several old posts observed by him, viz., Umfreville's old house, in section 4, township 53, range 25 west 3rd meridian on May 20th. He mentions another Island House near the old site of Manchester House where he spent the winter of 1793—and Turtle River house in section 4, township 36, range 18 west 3rd meridian. Before he reached The Elbow he must have noticed the site of Cole's old post where Cole gave the laudanum to the Indians in 1780. He went on to Grand Portage and in the autumn returned to Rocky Mountain House, then in charge of Duncan McGillivray.

Rocky Mountain house and Alexander Mackenzie's old fort on the Peace River were now to be Thompson's headquarters during the years he was to spend in Alberta and before he began his transmontane explorations. On October 5th Thompson traveled up the Clearwater and over to the Red Deer River and visited a camp of the Peigans at the mouth of William Creek. From there he travelled twenty-two miles vest to conduct a band of Kootenay Indians to Rocky Mountain House. When the Indians were ready to return he sent two of his men, Le Blanc and Le Gassi, with them to spend the winter in their home across the mountains. These men were, as far as we know, the first white men to cross from the Saskatchewan to the Columbia River. Accompanied by Duncan McGillivray, a North West Company partner, Thompson went south again until he reached the Bow River in the vicinity of Calgary. According to Tyrell's summary he surveyed the northeast side of the river down to a short distance below the bend, where he crossed it and went on to the Highwood River which he reached two miles above its mouth. From here he turned a little west of south and reached a camp of the Peigans in latitude 50 degrees, 35 minutes, 30 seconds north, travelling on Tongue Flag Creek. He was now farther south in Alberta than any white man had yet reached, except Peter Fidler of the Hudson's Bay Company, who was at the foot of Chief Mountain in 1792. "After stopping here for a short time," says Tyrell, "in order to establish friendly relations with these Indians, he turned northward and again reached the Bow River at a point which he places in latitude 51 degrees, 13 minutes, 51 seconds north, longitude 114 degrees, 58 minutes, 22 seconds west, a short distance from the mouth of the Ghost River. From here he followed the Bow River upwards on its south bank for three miles and then fording the stream, followed the trail on its north bank to the steep cliffs of the mountains where the town of Exshaw is now located." Here McGillivray killed a mountain sheep, possibly the first specimen to reach the hands of systematic naturalists. Thence he returned to his old camp on the Bow River and struck northward to Rocky Mountain House. McGillivray explored the country towards the Brazeau River and the country up the Saskatchewan to its headwaters and discovered Howse Pass, which he crossed to the head of the Blaeberry River. Thompson, accompanied by Hughes, explored the Saskatchewan up to Sheep Creek and up the valley of this creek as far as horses could go. An effort was made to go on with the canoe by a way over the mountains, but as the river was in flood the expedition failed.

He returned to the fort June 30th and towards the end of the summer came down to Fort Augustus and back again on horseback. Here he remained until May, 1802, when he went to Fort William and returned to Lesser Slave Lake in October of the same year. Crossing the lake to a North West Company post where Grouard now stands, he proceeded to the Peace River and took up his headquarters at Mackenzie's old fort. He spent the winter at the fort, but was active throughout the summer in exploration, making five trips from the fort and back. In December of that year he was back at the North West Company post on the west end of Lesser Slave Lake and crossed the lake to its outlet to the Little Slave River where the principal North West Company post on the lake was situated, and in charge of John McGillivray, MacIntosh and Jarvis, clerks of the company. Here Thompson wrote a number of letters to the agents of the Company at different posts for porcupine quills, upon which Coues comments: "No doubt to adorn his young wife." This was Thompson's substitute in those simple days for cut glass or a wrist watch. He was back to the Forks on the Peace December 29th. On these trips he noticed the existence of XY posts at Peace River Forks and near the head of Little Slave River.

On February 29th, 1804, he journeyed up the Peace River to the most westerly posts of the North West Company, Rocky Mountain house, which must be distinguished from the one on the Saskatchewan where he wintered in 1800-1801, and also from the Rocky Mountain House afterwards built on the Athabaska River within the present Jasper Park, The Peace River Mountain House was in longitude 120 degrees, 38 minutes, a short distance beyond the boundary line between Alberta and British Columbia. He arrived here on March 6th and was back at headquarters March 13th. Two days later he set out with his wife and children for Fort William. Ile travelled down the river to Horse Shoe House, latitude 57 degrees, 8 minutes north, where he remained from March 20th to April 30th until the river was clear of ice. He then continued by canoe passing the North West Company post on May 2nd, which he calls Fort Vermilion, though it was considerably higher up the river than the present Fort Vermilion of the Hudson's Bay Company. Below it the following posts are mentioned in succession: Old Fort DuTremble; Fort Liard, not far from the site of the present Fort Vermilion; Fort Wenzel, five miles below the Vermilion Falls; and Grand Marais of the North West Company, then deserted. On May 12th he reached Athabaska House at the present site of Fort Chipewyan, in company with a North West Company trader by the name of Wenzel. Crossing Lake Athabaska he ascended the river and on May 17th passed Peter Pond's old fort, reaching the mouth of the Clearwater, where McMurray now stands, on May 19th. From here he proceeded along the route he had already surveyed up Clearwater River across the Methy Portage and thence by Cumberland House to Fort William.

The next few years Thompson spent in the vicinity of Hudson's Bay. Meantime old Simon McTavish died in 1804 and the XY Company amalgamated with the North West Company. At the big meeting at Fort William in 1806, the North West Company, renewed and strengthened by the union, resolved on a vigorous policy of expansion and to follow up the work of Alexander Mackenzie. Accordingly Thompson, the most suitable man in the service, was delegated to open up relations with the Indians west of the mountains. He arrived at Rocky Mountain House on the Saskatchewan, October 29th, 1806, then in charge of Jules Quesnell. Here he spent the winter 1806-1807 maturing plans for his transmontane expedition. With wife and family he started on May 10th, sending Finan Macdonald ahead with canoes up the river while he travelled on horseback. The party passed Kootenay Plain and reached a spot in the mountains where they were forced to abandon the canoes. They packed their supplies on horses and reached the summit of Howse Pass June 25th. Emerging from the pass the party descended the Blaeberry River to the Columbia, which Thompson called the Kootenay, which he reached on June 30th. The reader will wonder why this pass is called Howse. Joseph Howse was a clerk of the Hudson's Bay Company. He crossed the pass in 1809, two years later than Thompson. The pass was really discovered and traversed first by Duncan McGillivray in 1800 and Jaco Finlay, the Indian half brother of James Finlay, who kept an outpost of the Rocky Mountain House at Kootenay Plain, and had been over the pass in 1806. Howse, however, was the best publicity agent and so carried off the honour.

Thompson spent the next twelve months on the Columbia trading with the Indians, but returned to the Saskatchewan via Howse Pass, reaching Kootenay Plain June 22nd, 1808. Leaving his family at Boggy Hall, he descended the river by canoe and went east as far as Rainy Lake, returning to Boggy Hall, October 3rd of the same year. This trip of Thompson's is interesting to Albertans because of the observations he makes respecting the forts on the river at this time. Boggy Hall is a new post to the reader. When it was built we do not exactly know, but it was situated on the north bank of the Saskatchewan between townships 46 and 47, range 9, just above Blue Rapids. The next post was Fort Muskako in township 30, range 6 west 5th, called Quagmire Hall by Henry. He does not mention Upper White Mud House, Fort Edmonton, nor Fort Augustus, though we have seen that these posts were in existence on his first trip down the river in 1800. Fort George was in ruins and old Fort Augustus had been pillaged and destroyed by the Blackfeet. He mentions Old Island Fort, twenty miles above Fort George and a new fort within Alberta, viz., Fort Vermilion. This fort was just built on the north side of the river opposite the mouth of the Vermilion River. It was the headquarters of the district. Alexander Henry the younger had just arrived from the Red River to take charge of this fort for the North West Company. There was also a Hudson's Bay Company post at this point in charge of Henry Hallett and Robert Longmore. After spending 40 years with the Company Longmore left the country, having saved £1800 in that time.

We find Thompson in the Kootenay country across the mountains during the winter of 1808-1809 and back again at new Fort Augustus (Edmonton of the present day) in June, 1809, where he met his old friend James Hughes, now partner of the North West Company of whom Macdonald of Garth says "he was as brave a fellow as ever treaded the earth." He sent his brigade eastward while he returned to the Columbia, meeting Joseph Howse at Kootenay Plain on his way back from the pass that falsely bears his name. We find him back on the Saskatchewan again in 1810 on his way to Rainy Lake accompanied by his family. By this time Upper Fort Augustus (present Edmonton) and Fort Vermilion were abandoned and a new house built at the mouth of the White Earth River, section 1, township 59, range 16, west 4th. Henry was in charge of the post for the North West Company and Hallett for the Hudson's Bay Company. Returning in the autumn with his canoes laden with goods for the Colurnbia department he attempted to cross by his old route—Howse Pass. His objective was now the mouth of the Columbia River. Bad luck attended his attempts to reach the Columbia by this route. His canoes were turned back at the head of the Saskatchewan by the Peigans who were angry at the North West Company for supplying arms to their enemies, the Kootenays. Not all the ability of Alexander Henry could outwit the Indians, and Thompson was forced to find another route over the Rocky Mountains.

The route he followed on this expedition became one of the most important in the whole history of trans-continental transportation in western Canada. From the time that Thompson discovered the Athabaska Pass in 1810, it was the main highway across Canada until the completion of the C. P. Railway in 1886. Frustrated in his attempt to cross the Howse Pass, Thompson gathered his men and horses at Boggy Hall and followed the old Indian trail until he reached the Athabaska River near the point where the Canadian National Railway reaches it now. This was in December, 1810. Proceeding up the river he turned southward at the point where the Miette joins the Athabasca to Whirlpool River and crossed the Athabasca Pass descending Wood River to Boat Encampment on the Columbia. After unfortunate delays at this point he finally reached the mouth of the Columbia July 15th, 1811, two months after the establishment of Fort Astoria by the Pacific Fur Company, a new rival in the fur trade of the west, headed by John Jacob Astor.

The reader will be interested to learn that one of the principal members of Astor's party sent out to found Astoria, was Alexander McKay, who accompanied Mackenzie on his overland journey to the Pacific Ocean in 1793. The ship "Tonquin" which brought the party from New York to the mouth of the Columbia was blown up with all on board while on a trading voyage up the west coast of Washington and Vancouver Island. Alexander McKay, chosen to lead this expedition, lost his life in this disaster, and as we may surmise, it was "an irreparable loss to the Company" as Franchere tells us.

The next year Thompson made his last journey through the Province. Returning from the Lower Columbia to Boat Encampment, he crossed the Athabaska Pass May 8th, and on May 11th was at Henry House at the confluence of the Miette with the Athabaska, opposite the present station house at Jasper. From 1-lenry House he proceeded by canoe down the Athabaska to the Little Slave River and turned up to the North West Company post at the foot of the lake. Continuing his journey down the Athabaska he reached the mouth of Lac la Biche River and ascended to the Lake of the same name. Crossing the Portage to Beaver River he descended to Isle a la Crosse. From here he continued by the usual route to Fort William and thence to Terrebonne, near Montreal. Here Thompson took up his residence and set to work to prepare his wonderful map of Western Canada for the North West Company. He never returned to the West again. Towards the end of his life he lost his fortune, and the great explorer was forced to sell his instruments and pawn his coat for food. The reader will observe that Thompson traversed every principal river of the Province. He established the first trans-continental trade route and made the first topographical survey of western Canada. Like \Terendrye he has not received the fame due his name for his great work.
This is an appropriate point at which to review progress made on the Peace, Athabaska and Mackenzie Rivers since we parted with Alexander Mackenzie in 1793. The twenty years that succeeded Mackenzie's expeditions to the Pacific Ocean witnessed a rapid development of the fur trade within Alberta and its adjacent territory. Thompson explored the lower Columbia and the Kootenay and Simon Fraser following in the footsteps of Mackenzie ascended the Peace River and reached the Fraser, descending this turbulent stream to its mouth, 1806-07. There were now three passes through the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia Department,— Howse, Athabaska and Peace. A lucrative trade was springing up. Each year the Peace and Saskatchewan were thronged to and fro with rich cargoes of fur for the East and goods and supplies for the western posts. Within the Province of Alberta and outlying territory many posts were built, principally by the North West Company and the XY Company. The Hudson's Bay Company found great difficulty in establishing trade in these regions and cannot be said to have gained a foothold within the period considered. Though Peter Fidler built Nottingham House in 1802 on the site of the present Fort Chipewyan, beside North West post the Hudson's Bay Company abandoned it in 1806 and retired from the whole Athabasca district until 1815 when the company built Fort Wedderburne near the same post. Posts were built by the rival Canadian companies all the way from Hudson's Hope on the Peace River to Bears Lake Castle on the west end of Great Bear Lake and up the Liard River to Fort Nelson on the Nelson River.

Beginning at the west end of the Peace we shall try to give the posts in order as they existed when Thompson left the country in 1812. The first post was at Hudson's Hope. This post was established by Simon Fraser and John Stewart in 1805 as the base for Fraser's explorations in New Caledonia. It was situated on the north bank of the Peace. Subsequently there was a post on the south bank of the river at the foot of the Canyon. Harmon, who passed here in 1810 on his way to take charge of the North West Company affairs in New Caledonia, called it Rocky Mountain Portage Fort. The next fort was Fort St. John. Thompson does not mention this post in his survey of the river in 1804. Tyrell says this was Rocky Mountain house and it is marked on Tyrell's map. As Rocky Mountain House is a generic name, it is evident the post is the same as Fort St. John.

Entering Alberta the next post was Fort Dunvegan. This was a large, well built fort. Harmon arrived here in 1808 and spent the winter here with a number of of North West Company partners, among whom were John McGillivray, J. D. McTavish, John McTavish, Archibald Norman Macleod and 32 others comprising clerks and voyageurs, nine women and several children. Supplies of buffalo, moose, red deer and berries were easily obtained, which no doubt was the reason it was regarded as such a popular winter resort. The Indians in the neighborhood were Beavers and a few Iroquois and were excellent hunters. The Iroquois Indians were brought from the East by the North West Company to assist in hunting furs. Potatoes, vegetables and barley were grown and yielded large returns. In 1809 barley was cut on July 21st and Harmon says it was the finest he had ever seen in any country.

Proceeding down the river the next fort was near the junction of the Smoky with the Peace. This was where Alexander Mackenzie wintered before his dash to the Pacific and where Thompson spent the winters of 1803 and 1804 and was called by him the Fort of Forks.

Five miles below the Smoky on the north side of the Peace was Macleod's Fort. This was a well constructed fort, for James Mackenzie, a grouchy old partner of the North West Company, stationed at Fort Chipewyan in 1799, complained that the men's quarters at Macleod's Fort were better than those provided for the bourgeois at Fort Chipewyan. There were five bastions, courtyards everywhere and spacious gardens. Below this point, Thompson in his voyage down the Peace in 1804 mentions forts in the following order: Horse Shoe Fort, latitude 57 degrees, 8 minutes; Fort Vermilion, considerably higher up the river than the present post of that name; Fort DuTremble; Fort Liard, not far from the present site of Fort Vermilion; Fort Wenzel, five miles below Vermilion Falls; Grand Marais, and 'Athabasca House on the site of the present Fort Chipewyan. Harmon ascended the Peace from Fort Chipewyan in 1808 and mentions Fort Vermilion sixty miles above Virmilion Falls which would be near the site of the present Fort Vermilion, lie also mentions Encampment Island Fort but does not give its position and it is not marked on Thompson's map. On Lake Athabaska, a new Fort Chipewyan was rising on the north side of the lake on the site of the present fort. Beside the North West Company fort was the Hudson's Bay Company fort built by Peter Fidler in 1802. It is not definitely known when the new fort was built by the North West Company, but it was there when Thompson came down in 1804. In the Mackenzie River region, the reader will remember that Laurent Leroux built a post on the north side of Great Slave in 1786. It was found to be too distant from the Northern Chipewyans and ten years later Duncan Livingstone was sent to build a fort eighty miles from the source of the Mackenzie, which would place it near the site of Fort Providence. John Thompson, who succeeded him in 1799, was killed on the lower reaches of the Mackenzie by the Esquimaux. A post was later established on the west end of Great Bear Lake soon afterwards known as Fort Franklin. In 1805 Alexander Mackenzie (not Sir Alexander) went down to old Fort Good Hope and on his return left Charles Grant to build a post at Blue Fish River, 60 miles below Fort Norman. There was also a fort at the mouth of the Clearwater as shown on Thompson's map, where Fort McMurray now stands.

Some of the best men of of the service were generally stationed inside the Athabasca and Mackenzie departments, indicating the importance of these regions as a fur supply for the North West Company. The maintenance of these posts was difficult and often hazardous owing to the possibility of starvation and the hostility of the Indians. At Great Bear Fort in 1811, all but one of the clerks starved to death.

Although the Athabaska River was becoming at this time the principal highway from the plains to the Pacific Coast, few posts were built along its course. The first we have any record of is Henry House, built by William Henry, cousin of the famous diarist, during the interval that Thompson was on the Columbia from June, 1811, to May, 1812. Reference is made to this post by several travellers who crossed the continent by this route. Gabriel Franchère, who descended the Athabasca in May, 1814, on his way from Fort Astoria with a number of North West Company men and Pacific Fur Company men, mentions this post as "an old house which the traders of the North West Company had once constructed, but which had been abandoned for four or five years."

The next post down the river was located on the west side on the lower end of Brule Lake. Franchère called it "Rocky Mountain House" and described it as "surrounded by steep rocks, inhabited only by mountain sheep and goats." It was really the original site of Jasper's House, and so called after Jasper Hawes or Howse, who built it. It was maintained as a provision depot to facilitate traffic through the mountains to the Columbia River posts. Joseph Decoigne, the founder of Fort D'Isle on the Saskatchewan River, above Fort George, was in charge.

From this point Franchère's party took canoes to a small post called "Hunter's Lodge" some miles above the junction of the Pembina with the Athabasca, and where a supply of canoes was kept for the use of North West Company men who went up and down the river.

Ross Cox, who Passed down the river in 1817, with a brigade of over eighty people of the Pacific Fur Company from Astoria, says Henry's old fort was abandoned, and that "Jasper's House" was a "miserable concern of rough logs with only three apartments, but scrupulously clean." Jasper Hawes himself was now in charge. In later years Jasper's House was built farther up the river at the foot of Jasper Lake.

It will no doubt be observed by the reader that the development of the fur trade was confined to the northern part of the province. This was due to the character of the country. The open plains of Southern Alberta were not a good fur country. The only furs were buffalo and wolf skins, lightly prized by the trader in comparison with marten, beaver, black and silver fox of the Athabaska and Mackenzie districts.

The Blackfeet and Sarcees found no difficulty in reaching the trading posts on the Saskatchewan and could travel at all seasons of the year. The only post by this time in the south country was Chesterfield house at the confluence of the Red Deer River and the south branch of the Saskatchewan. It was built by Macdonald of Garth for the North West Company in 1805. It was soon abandoned, however, and not re-built until after the union of 1821. The Hudson's Bay Company and XY Company had posts on the same site.

Conditions of living and trade at the posts in Alberta were much the same as in other parts of the North-West. Alexander Henry, the younger, who spent many years in the Red River, Saskatchewan and Columbia districts for the North West Company, has left in his extensive journals an instructive picture of life in the province at the end of the 18th century. Henry arrived at Fort Vermilion, situated as we have seen on the North Saskatchewan, opposite where the Vermilion debouches into the Saskatchewan from the south, in September, 1808, and spent three years on the Saskatchewan visiting at different and frequent intervals the various posts from the Vermilion to the headwaters in the Rocky Mountains. During this period the bitter opposition that characterized the relations of the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company had not developed. From Henry's observations and Harmon's express statements, we learn that the rival companies and their men lived on amicable terms. The whole occupation of the people, Indians and traders, was obtaining food and fur. Indians exchanged their furs for the merchandise of the company which was imported into the country by the Hudson's Bay Company via York House and Fort Churchill and by the North West Company via Fort William and Rainy Lake. Transportation was by York Boats, canoes, dogs and horses. Red River carts were not used in Alberta until many years later. Horses were procured from the Blackfeet and Henry tells us the price of a horse in his day was a keg of Blackfoot rum, 2 fathoms of new twist tobacco, 20 balls and powder enough to fire them, one awl, one scalper, one falcher, one worm, I. P. C. glass, one steel and one flint. "We did not mix our liquor," he says, "so strong as we did for tribes who are more accustomed to use it. To make a nine gallon keg of liquor we generally put in four or five quarts of high wine, then filled it up with water. For the Crees and Assiniboines we put in six quarts of high wine and for the Saulteurs eight or nine quarts." Horse stealing was very common among the Indians and they were bold enough to steal from the company's herds. In fact horse stealing persisted in the North-West until it was finally and effectually stamped out by the N. W. M. P. and Chief Justice Sifton over a century later.

When the goods arrived in the fall the Indians thronged the forts to get their supplies, which were advanced for the winter's hunt. Henry calls this "giving debts for the winter." The utmost diplomacy and firmness was necessary in handling the various tribes who frequented the forts; for example, at Vermilion in 1808 and 1809 Henry tells us that he traded with the Crees and a few Slaves from the north, with the Assiniboines from Battle River, the Blackfeet, Bloods and some Sarcees from the south. Every tribe was a rival of every other one. For this reason the fur traders tried to keel) the tribes separated by having each one attend a certain fort. For example, the Peigans traded at Fort Augustus (Edmonton) and Rocky Mountain House. The Bloods and Blackfeet, however, were not allowed to trade at Rocky Mountain House until about 1860. When one considers that there was no organized government and no police within thousands of miles, the accomplishment of the task of preserving the life of the trader and those of his men, not to mention the maintenance of peace and order necessary to pursue successful commerce with all tribes, —seems a miracle.

In addition to furs, the traders of the Saskatchewan traded their goods for buffalo and moose meat, pemmican and dried berries. Pemmican was one of the principal articles of trade in the Saskatchewan country. It was taken for example to Cumberland House, and shipped to the northern posts on the Athabaska and Mackenzie, which were never so fortunate in the matter of a safe supply of food, if reliance was placed on local resources of those distant posts. Sometimes the pemmican was shipped overland from the Saskatchewan to Isle a la Crosse and thence to the Athabasca posts. Bateaux were built expressly for this purpose at Fort George where there was considerable timber. The Indians were continually arriving at the forts during the winter with their furs. It was customary for the tribe to come in a body. A short distance from the fort they halted and sent a deputation of young men to announce their arrival. Presents consisting of six inches of tobacco twist and a pint of Indian rum were sent to each principal man of the tribe. After regaling themselves the Chief and his principal men came in and met the factor, and trading began. Prices were fixed by a tariff agreed upon for the season's business at the big meeting at Fort William in the previous summer. In the spring packing commenced for the long journey to Hudson's Bay or Lake Superior. During the winter life at the fort was a busy one for all. While waiting for the Indians to come in with their season's catch, the men at the forts were engaged in various tasks. Some built bateaux to carry 90 pound bags of pemmican and kegs of grease. Others built new canoes or repaired the old ones and searched the woods for bark and gum. Still others sawed boards for the houses. Hunters were kept at each establishment to secure food and supplement the catch of fur by the Indians. Many of the posts, such as Vermilion, White Earth House and Edmonton House had immense ice houses where hundreds of large buffalo carcasses were stored. Henry tells us in the winter of 1809 he packed 380 front quarters and 530 hind quarters of buffalo meat in his ice house. When the North West Company abandoned Fort Vermilion May 31st, 1810, "400 limbs of buffalo meat still frozen" were left in the ice house. The women busied themselves stretching buffalo skins and sewing pemmican bags. There was constant travelling up and down the river between the various posts. Men and goods were transferred and exchanged according to the necessity of the respective posts. For example at White Earth House in 1810 the barley was frozen, so Henry sent his harvesters to Edmonton to reap a splendid harvest at that post.

We get a still more intimate glimpse of life on the river and plain from Henry's story of the establishment of White Earth House in 1810. As we have seen, Fort Vermilion and Fort Augustus were abandoned in 1810 for a new post at the mouth of the White Earth River. It was a joint venture of the North West and Hudson's Bay Companies. The post was a compact little village composed of two distinct communities representing two great trading companies. This was before the savage and bloody conflict that later disgraced the conduct of both companies in the years between 1811 and 1821. The population of the post included 135 North West Company and 85 Hudson's Bay Company people. Henry and Hallett laid out the ground together which was enclosed by a stockade. Within the stockade positions were assigned for the houses of each company separated by another stockade which divided the entire enclosure. Henry's workmen ate a bag of pemmican a day. All summer the work went merrily on. Warehouses were built and covered with boards sawn from timber in the near-by woods. Workmen's houses and the Big House for the Chief Factor were built before the winter set in. Some were covered with earth or bark and plastered with the white mud that gave its name to the post. Stockades were cut and stones gathered for the chimneys of the houses. The logs and heavy planks were drawn from the woods by a drag or what Henry calls "a go-devil." A blacksmith's shop and a hen house were erected and Henry says he had to make a separate coop for his rooster, for as he notes in his journal with apparent regret, this rooster killed one of the two chickens he raised that summer. Fields were cleared for barley and potatoes and turnips and radishes were sown in the woods. Women picked strawberries, raspberries and cranberries to mix with the pemmican. Haying was finished on August 29th, the men having put up more than 2000 bundles. Altogether Henry was well satisfied with the work of the summer, though he remarked "The men work as usual but they take their own time and smoke very often." If Henry was alive in 1923 he would readily recognise many of his old gang. It is worthy of note, however, that throughout the entire season the men did not work on Sunday but once. That was on September 16th and they worked that Sunday on the condition that they would get a holiday when the brigade arrived from Fort William.


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