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Saddle, Sled and Snowshoe
Chapter XXI
Father and I visit Fort Edmonton—Peter takes to himself a wife—Mr. Connor becomes school teacher— First school in that part of the country—Culinary operations—Father decides to open a mission at Pigeon Lake—I go prospecting—Engage a Roman Catholic guide—Our guide's sudden "illness"— Through new scenes—Reach Pigeon Lake—Getting out timber for building—Incidents of return trip.


SHORTLY after this I accompanied father and Peter to Edmonton. We left Friday morning and reached Edmonton the evening of the next day; spent Sunday, Monday, and part of Tuesday there, and were back at Victoria Wednesday night. The distance to and from Edmonton by the bridle-trail (for there was, as yet, no cart or waggon road on the north side of the river) was one hundred and eighty miles. Edmonton was then without a single settler, and unless you met or overtook some traveller or wandering Indian, you and your party, large or small, were entirely alone. Father was practically chaplain of the Fort, as his predecessors had been, but these visits meant more than this, for Edmonton was a centre, and ever and anon messengers from the camps came in there, and thus the missionary could send messages and counsel and keep in touch with a people scattered over a large area.

Back once more at home we found plenty to do in making ready for winter. There were cattle to provide for and look after, horses to keep track of, dogs to feed, wood to cut, haul, and again split up at the door, timber to take out, and lumber to saw, dry, plane, groove and tongue. In the meantime Peter married a Whitefish Lake woman and brought her to the mission. She was a fine-looking Christian woman, and we all felt like congratulating our friend on his good fortune.

Mr. Connor, who came up with me from the Red River in the summer, and whom I left some time since building a shack for the winter, took the work of harvesting and threshing our small field of barley on shares, and now has engaged to teach school for the winter months. Our shanty is to be the school-room, and Mr. Steinhaur's children, from Whitefish Lake, our family, and a few orphan Indian children, are to be the scholars. This will be the first institution of the kind in this part of the North-West. Our house is full and our larder precarious, but father and mother do not hesitate for a moment, but freely open their house to the children of a brother missionary, who otherwise would be without any such means of education. Moreover, father has accepted the little daughter of "Chief Child," who in dying besought him to take his much loved child, and train her in a Christian home. Thus our home will send nine scholars to the new school, and for the winter mother's responsibility will have increased greatly, while we who have to provide food for such an household will of necessity need to keep on the move.

Our garden this year had given us a nice quantity of potatoes, and we have some barley, but meat will be our chief food. As we have no mill, the only way we can prepare barley is to soak it, and then, when partially dry, pound it in a wooden mortar to loosen the chaff and husks, and then winnow this. We boil the barley in soup, or else parch it and then grind it in our small coffee-mill, and make cake of the meal obtained, all of which is slow and tedious work. So long as we can get buffalo within three hundred miles we would prefer buffalo-steaks to barley-meal.

The winter of 1864-5 came in bright and fine; clear, cold weather, but no snow or storm. In my spare time I broke in a train of young dogs. When I left Norway House, in 1862, I left at home a fine train of dogs. One of these, a handsome animal, my sisters had named "Maple." She had just enough of the "husky" strain of blood to make her hardy and strong. When father moved up in 1863 he brought Maple along, and that same autumn she made a den in the bank in front of the shanty and brought forth a fine litter of pups. Mother and the girls had taken good care of these, and they grew into strong, handsome dogs. They were now one year old, and I took pleasure in breaking them for the sled. Many a long run we had on the bare, frozen ground. My plan was to hitch the pups to a toboggan, and attached to this I had a long line, the end of which I kept in my hand, and as I ran behind I could, when I said "Whoa," stop the dogs. Soon they learned all the words of command, which, by the way, are but four. Then by holding the line I could regulate their step, and soon I had them trained down to trot a mile in a very short time. As I urged them forward, if any should break trot I would hold back on the line and pull the whole train into a regular step. My, how those pups did trot I Their legs would go like drumsticks, and I was proud of my success. By using them carefully this their first winter, if they lived they would make flyers. This was the opinion of experts. Father, mother, the girls, everybody in the settlement, all took a great interest in those pups. At last I got them down so that they could trot as fast as I could run, and that was making good time.

About the first of December snow came, and father put into execution a project he had been thinking about for some time, and that was to begin a mission west of Edmonton, between that post and the mountains. He had about decided on Pigeon Lake as a suitable spot, so he told me he wanted me to look up the place, and, if feasible, take out some timber for a house, as lie proposed to do something in the coming spring in the way of permanent occupancy. The Mountain and Wood Stoneys, and some Wood Crees, who frequented that country, were without a missionary. Accordingly, early in December, I took Oliver with me and started with two trains of dogs, carrying loads of dried provisions. In two days we reached Edmonton, where I hoped to secure a guide who could take me straight to Pigeon Lake; but there were very few Indians or half-breeds around the Fort, and only one who had ever been at Pigeon Lake. I hired this fellow at once, and we were to start as soon as the Fort gates were open the next morning.

During the evening I went around to see how my guide was progressing in making ready for a start in the morning, when lo! I found him both sick and lame. This man, a few hours since all right and glad of the work offered, was now sick, lame and totally unable to travel. I thought this strange, and set to work to find out the secret cause of such a change. I pretty soon found that his spiritual adviser was at the bottom of it. He had put his foot on our enterprise, nipping it in the bud, as he thought. So I went back to my man and told him it was all up with our guide. "Will we go back?" enquired Oliver. "No, sir," I said; "we will find Pigeon Lake, notwithstanding all the priests in Canada. Let us go to bed," which we did, and with the creaking of the heavy gates on their hinges in the morning we drove out of the Fort on our quest. The plan I had formed in the night was to follow a trail which led from Edmonton to the Mountain House, until we came to Battle River, then follow this up to Pigeon Creek, which ran out of Pigeon Lake. We would follow the creek up to the lake, and coast along the shore until I found the spot where it was proposed to establish a mission.

This was a long distance around, but (D.V.) I had no doubt of succeeding. Away we went, all day on the west-bound trail, and camped for the night in a clump of spruce. Then, as the track could be plainly seen, we were off before daylight, and ere noon came upon a new-made road crossing ours at right angles. Here I stopped and pondered. Perhaps this road comes from Pigeon Lake. If it does it will save us four or five days' journey in going and coming. Finally I said to Oliver, "Here goes, we will take this trail and follow it until to-morrow night, or to its end; and at the worst we can come back and take up our original plan." So we turned up the new road and carried on faster than ever. All the way from Edmonton had been through a country entirely new to me. Now we were going into the forest, and travelling almost due west. When it came time to camp for the night, after selecting a suitable place and pulling my dogs out of their collars, I left Oliver to make camp, and running some distance climbed a tree and took a survey of the country. It was all forest and no sign of a lake to be seen. Next morning we were away early, and by noon had climbed a range of hills covered with dense timber. On reaching the summit we noticed a big depression not far ahead, and thought this might be the lake, which it proved to be, for in about an hour we were on the ice, and driving across the bay were at our destination.

The Indians had made a cache and left some fish, and we considered ourselves fortunate in having these for our dogs. We spent the rest of the day in fixing up a camp. Next morning we went to work taking out timber, and in three days had nearly enough for two modest houses. We had not far to haul it, our dogs were quick, and we were both of us fairly good axemen. We had found the lake, had taken out the timber, and hauled it to the spot, and now, cacheing our provisions, we took some fish instead, and started about two o'clock one moonlight morning on our return trip. The rest and the change of diet had done our dogs good, and my old Draffan rang his bells in grand style as we followed the narrow trail through the forest, which crackled about us, for Jack Frost was now vigorously at work.

In the meantime snow had fallen, and the roads were heavier; nevertheless we made Edmonton the same evening before the gates closed, and every Protestant in the Fort was glad we had found Pigeon Lake. Eighty miles at least in the time we had taken was considered good travelling. We spent most of the next day with friends at the Fort, and in the evening, just before the gates closed, drove out some five miles and camped for the night. Starting early next morning we made a trail through several inches of new snow, and pushing on made Victoria that evening, which was a better day than the one from Pigeon Lake to Edmonton. We took to the river at the mouth of the Sturgeon, and followed it all the way to the mission. When opposite the mouth of Sucker Creek, just a little while before dark, we boiled our kettle and ate some pemmican; then as I had run ahead all day, Oliver took his turn at the lead, but within a mile old Draffan passed him, and kept the lead himself the rest of the way. From point to point, prudently avoiding the open holes and dangerous spots, the wise old dog carried on for home, and between seven and eight we had reached the mission house. Father expressed himself as delighted with our report of the trip. We had found the lake, got out the timber, cached the provisions, and in a sense started the new mission.

In the meantime those at home were preparing for the erection of a church in the spring, and Peter was making lumber as fast as this could be done by whip-sawing; we hauling the logs to the saw-pit at odd times between trips.


 


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