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Forest, Lake and Prairie
Chapter VII
From Georgetown on the Red to Norway House on the Nelson - Old Fort Garry - Governor MacTavish - York boats - Indian gamblers - Welcome by H. B. Co. people.


I THINK it was the sixth day out from Georgetown that we again entered Canada. Late in the evening of the eighth day we rounded the point at the mouth of the Assiniboine, and landed at Fort Garry.

It was raining hard, and mud was plentiful.

I climbed the banks and saw the walls and bastions of the fort, and looked out northward on the plains and saw one house.

Where that house stood, now stands the city of Winnipeg.

Fortunately for us a brigade of York boats was then loading to descend the rivers and lakes, and cross the many portages to York Factory on Hudson's Bay.

Father lost no time in-securing a passage in one of these, which was to start the next morning. In the meantime, Governor MacTavish invited father and mother and sisters to quarters in his own home for the night.

My work was to transfer our luggage to the York boat, and then stay and look after it, for it was evident that our new crew were pretty well drunk.

Near dark we heard a strange noise up the Red, and one of the boatsmen said, "Indians coming!" And sure enough a regular fleet of wild, Red Lake Ojibways hove in sight, and singing and paddling in time, came ashore right beside us. Painted, and feathered, and strangely costumed, these were real specimens of North American Indians.

As was customary the Hudson's Bay Company served them out a "regale" of rum, and very soon the night was made hideous with the noise of their drunken bout.

I had a big time keeping them out of our boat, but here my acquaintance with their language served me in good turn.

Until near morning I kept my vigil in the bow of our boat, and then our steersman woke up, and was sufficiently sobered to relieve me, and I took his blanket and slept a short time.

Early in the day we made our start for Norway House. This we trusted was our last transfer.

Our craft was an agreeable change to the clumsy barge. This was more like a bateau built and used on our eastern lakes, but lighter and stronger, capable of standing a good sea, and making good time under sail. We were manned with eight men and a steersman. One of the eight was the bowman.

With our eight big oars keeping stroke, we swept around the point and again took the Red for Lake Winnipeg and beyond. Our quarters in the open boat were small, and for our party, crowded, but we hoped to reach our destination in a few days.

We had but four hundred miles more to make to what was to be our new home.

We were now passing through the old Red River settlement, St. John's, St. Boniface, Kudonan, the homes of the people on either bank, many of these making one think that these folk literally believed in the old saw,."Man wants but little here, nor wants that little long." Here, as everywhere in the North-West, the influence of the great herds of buffalo on the plain, and big shoals of fish in the lakes and rivers, was detrimental to the permanent prosperity of a people. You cannot really civilize a hunter or a fisherman until you wean him from these modes of making a livelihood.

We passed Stone Fort and Archdeacon Cowley's Mission, where for a lifetime this venerable servant of God labored for the good of men, on to the mouth of the Red, which we camped at the second day. We had many delays coming through the settlements, but now we were fairly off.

Up to this time father and I had not let our crew know that we understood the Ojibway, or as it was termed here, the Salteaux.

Often had we been much amused at the remarks some of these men had made about us, but seeing a muskrat near the boat, I forgot all caution and shouted in Indian to a man with a gun to shoot it. The man let the nuskratgo because of his wonder at my use of the language. "Te Wa," said he, this fellow speaks as ourselves;" and then we became great friends.

Here for the first time in my life I found myself amongst "Indian gamblers."

Whenever we were wind-bound, some of the various crews (for there were a number of boats) would form gambling circles, and with drum and song play "Odd or Even," or something similar.

Here the man most gifted with mind-reading power would invariably come off the winner.

Our men seemed passionately fond of this kind of gambling, and it was one of the habits the missionary had to contend against, for to the Indian there was associated with this the supernatural and heathenish, and often these gambling circles break up for the time with a stabbing or shooting scrape.

Sometimes wind-bound, sometimes sailing, sometimes pulling, merely calling at Berens River post, where some ten or twelve years later Rev. E. R. Young began a mission, and presently we had gone the greater part of the length of Lake Winnipeg, had entered one of the outward and sea-bound branches of the Nelson, had crossed the island-dotted and picturesque Play-green Lake, had come down the Jack River, and on the tenth day from Fort Garry, pulled up at Norway House, and met a very kind welcome from the Hudson's Bay Factor and his lady, and indeed from everybody.

We were still two miles from Rossville. Our new friends manned a boat and took us over. Here we found the Rev. Robt. Brooking and family; and as no news had preceded us, we brought them word of their being relieved. And great was their joy, and ours was not a little, for we had now reached our objective point for the present. Here was our home, and here were we to work and labor, each according to his ability.


 


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