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
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
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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