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Forest, Lake and Prairie
Chapter XII
Summer transport - Voyageurs - Norway House - The meeting place of many brigades - Missionary work intensified.


As the summer months are few in that northern climate, the need to push transport matter is imperative.

Norway House was the first depot post in the interior, coming from York Factory on the Hudson's Bay. Here were wintered the most of the "green hands," those men who had been brought out by the ship the previous summer, and from this point these men were distributed to the various districts in the further interior.

To Norway House, in the early summer, came the brigade of boats, from the Mackenzie River, the Athabasca, and English River, and Cumberland districts.

Down from the west, the Saskatchewan and Swan River districts, came the "Braroes" (I give the word as it was pronounced), the men from the great plains. Down from the south, the Red River Brigade added their quota to these fleets of inland transport.

For all these, Norway House was the common centre. At these times the old fort was em fete. The river banks were lined far up and down with boats and tents. The smoke of many campfires hung over the place. The prattle of many tongues in different languages was heard. English and French, and Norwegian, and Ojibway, or Salteaux, and Chippewayan, and Caughnawaga and Cree—these were most common at these gatherings, but through and over all the Cree dominated and was most generally understood and spoken.

Here were the Governor and chief factors and chief traders and clerks of various grades in the service of this honorable Company. Here were the steersman and bowsmen and middlemen, the hardy voyageurs whose, strength of brain and muscle, and whose wonderful pluck and daring, as well as prudence, made possible the import and export traffic in vast regions which would have seemed to other men impossible and inaccessible. Some of these men would leave their distant inland posts on snow-shoes, and reaching what was the frontier post to them in their sublime isolation, would then take to the boats with the first break of navigation; then, descending rivers and running rapids and portaging falls, they would finally reach York Factory, and unloading and reloading, would turn and retrace their course, and only arrive at the frontier post of their own district at the beginning of winter. Then with snow-shoes and dog-train they would travel to their own homes. The toil and hardship of such a life is beyond the conception of most minds, and yet these men endured all this uncomplainingly and without a murmur, in their loyalty to the honorable Company they served.

What an object-lesson they were and have been to me!

These gatherings were periods of great responsibilities and also of intense anxiety to the missionary stationed at Norway House.

These were the days of temptation to the people. Rum and evil association were rife during these days.
Then there came within the range of his influence men who had seldom been at service and many who had not had the opportunity of attending a regular preaching service for a long time. To say the right word to those who in a few days would scatter, who in a few weeks would be located at widely distant posts, but who now gathered in the mission church, and eagerly listened to the preached Gospel —truly this was a great responsibility for the missionary.

Then the men of our own mission would now be starting with their brigade of boats for the summer's transport work. To counsel with these, to arrange the work of the class-leader and local preacher, to readmonish as to Sabbath observance and general deportment—all this kept the missionary busy and anxious.

Father was instant in season and out of it. Both among Indians and white men, his influence was very apparent and became widespread in its effect for good.


 


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