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Forest, Lake and Prairie
Chapter VIII
New mission - The people - School - Invest in pups - Dog-driving - Foot-ball - Beautiful aurora.


ROSSVILLE is beautifully situated on a rocky promontory which stretches out into the lake. All around are coves, and bays, and islands, and rivers. The water is living and good, the fish are of first quality, and in the season fowl of many kinds were plentiful. Canoe and boat in summer, dog-train in winter—these were the means of transport.

The only horse in the country belonged to the Mission, had been brought there by James Evans, and was now very old. We used him to plough our garden, and sometimes haul a little wood, but he was really a "superannuate."

The Indians were of the Cree nation, and spoke a dialect of that language, known as the Swampy Cree.
As there is a strong affinity between the Ojibway and the Cree, I began very soon to pick it up. As Peter Jacobs told me, these Indians were the best we had ever seen—more teachable, more honest, more willing to work, more respectful than any we had as yet come across.

Their occupation was, in summer, boating for the Hudson's Bay Company and free traders, and in winter, hunting.

There were no better, no hardier tripmen in the whole Hudson's Bay country than these Norway House Indians.

Between Lake Winnipeg and York Factory there are very many portages, and across these all the imports and exports for this part of the* country must be carried on men's backs, and across some these big boats must be hauled. No men did the- work quicker or more willingly than the men from our Mission at Rossville.

When we went to them their great drawback was the rum traffic. This was a part of the trade, but I am glad to say that soon after this time of which I write, the Hudson's Bay Company gave up dealing in liquor among the Indians.

This was greatly to their credit.

No wonder the Indian drank, for almost all white men with whom he came in contact did so; and even some of our own missionaries, greatly to my surprise, had brought into this Indian country those Old Country ideas of the use of stimulants.

But father soon inaugurated a new régime, and many of the Hudson's Bay people respected him for it, and helped him in his efforts against this truly accursed traffic.

In a few days Mr. Brooking and family left on their long journey to Ontario, and we settled down to home-life at Rossville.

My work was teaching, and I had my hands full, for my daily average was about eighty.

I had no trouble, the two years I taught at Norway House, to gather scholars. They came from the mainland and from the islands and from the fort, by canoe and dog-train.

My scholars were faithful in their attendance, but the responsibility was a heavy one for me, a mere boy. However, I was fresh from being taught and from learning, and I went to work enthusiastically, and was very much encouraged by the appreciation of the people.

After school hours I either took my gun and went partridge-hunting, or went and set my net for white-fish, to help make our pot boil.

On Saturdays I took one of my boys with me in my canoe, and we would paddle off down the lake or up the river, hunting ducks and other fowl.

When winter came—which it does very soon out there—I got some traps and set them for foxes.

Many a winter morning I rose at four o'clock, harnessed my dogs and drove miles and back in visiting my traps, reaching home and having breakfast before daylight, as it was necessary, for a part of the winter, to begin school as soon as it was good daylight.

Soon after we arrived I invested in four pups. I paid the mission interpreter, Mr. Sinclair, £2 sterling for the pups, on condition that he fed them until they were one year old.

In the meantime, for the first winter Mr. Sinclair kindly lent me some of his dogs. Everybody had dogs, and my pups promised to make a good train when they grew.

All my boy pupils were great "dog-drivers."

Many a Saturday morning, bright and early, my boys would rendezvous at the Mission, and we would start with staked wood-sleighs across the lake or up the river to the nearest dry wood bluff.

This, in my time, was three and four miles away, and what a string we would make— twenty-five or thirty boys of us, each with three or four dogs, all these hitched tandem; bells ringing, boys shouting, whips cracking, dogs screaming—away we would fly as fast as we could drive. What cared we for cold or storm!

When we reached the wood we would race as to who could chop and split and load first. What shouting and laughter and fun! and, when all were loaded, back across the ice as fast as we could go, all running.

Then we would pile our wood at the schoolhouse or church, and, again agreeing to meet at the mission house in the afternoon, away home to their dinner my boys would drive, and by and by turn up, this time with flat sleds or toboggans; and now we would race across to the Hudson's Bay Company's fort, every man for himself, and when we got there we would challenge the Company's employees to a game of foot-ball, for this was the national game of the North-West, and my boys were hard to beat.

Then back home by moon or Northern Light, making this ice-bound land like day. Ah! those were great times for the cultivation of wind and muscle and speed—and better, sympathy anti trust.

Father, when home, held an English service at the fort once a week, and the largest room available was always full. Then we organized a literary society, which met weekly at the fort. Thus many a night we drove to and fro with our quick-moving dogs.

Sometimes we were surrounded by the "Aurora." Sometimes they seemed to touch us. One could hear the swish of the quick movement through the crisp, frosty atmosphere. What halos of many-colored light they would envelop us in! Forest and rock, ice and snow would become radiant as with heavenly glory. One would for the time almost forget the intense cold.

No wonder the Indian calls these wonderful phenomena "The Dancers," and says they are "the spirits of the departed." After all, who knows? I do not.


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