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Saddle, Sled and Snowshoe
Chapter VI
The summer brigade—With the brigade down the Saskatchewan—A glorious panorama—Meet with father and mother on the way to Victoria—Privations of travel—A buffalo crossing—Arrival at Victoria—A church building begun—Peter Erasmus as interpreter.


ALONG about the latter part of July, the "Summer Brigade," made up of several inland boats left at Edmonton, and manned by men who had been on the plains for the first or summer trip for provisions and freight, now returned, passing us on its way to Fort Canton to meet the regular brigades from Norway House and York Factory, as also the overland transport from Fort Garry, which came by ox carts. Mr. Hardisty was with the boats, and he invited me to join him until he should meet the brigade in which my father and mother had taken passage from Norway House. Mr. Woolsey kindly consented, so I gladly took this opportunity of going down to meet my parents and friends.

I had come up the Saskatchewan as far as Fort Canton, and had gone three times on the ice up and down from Victoria to Edmonton; but this run down the river was entirely new to me and full of interest. The boats were fully manned, and the river was almost at flood-tide, so we made very quick time. Seven or eight big oars in the hands of those hardy voyageurs, keeping at it from early morning until late evening, with very little cessation, backed as they were by the rapid swirl of this mighty glacier-fed current, sent us sweeping around point after point in rapid succession, and along the lengths of majestic bends. A glorious panorama met our view: Precipitous banks, which the rolling current seemed to hug as it surged past them; then tumbling and flattening hills, which, pressing out, made steppes and terraces and bottoms, forming great points which, shoving the boisterous stream over to the other side, seemed to say to it, "We are not jealous; go and hug the farther bank, as you did us just now;" varied forest foliage, rank, rich prairie grass and luxuriant flora continuously on either bank, fresh from Nature's hand, delightfully arranged, and most pleasing to the eye and to the artistic taste. No wonder I felt glad, for amid these new and glorious scenes, with kind, genial companionship, I was on my way to meet my loved ones, from some of whom I had now been parted more than a year. At night our boats were tied together, and one or two men kept the whole in the current while the others slept. At meal times we put ashore for a few minutes while the kettles were boiled, and then letting the boats float, we ate our meal en route.

Early in the middle of the second afternoon we sighted two boats tracking up the southerly bank of the river. Pulling over to intercept them, I was delighted to find my people with them. The Hudson's Bay Company had kindly loaded two boats and sent them on from Carlton, in advance of the brigade, so that father and family should have no delay in reaching their future home. Thanking my friend Hardisty for the very pleasant run of two hundred miles he had given me with him, I transferred to the boat father and mother and my brother and sisters were in. We were very glad to meet again. What sunburnt, but sturdy, happy girls my sisters were! How my baby brother had grown, and now was toddling around like a little man!

Mother was looking forward eagerly to the end of the journey. Already it had occupied a month and more on the way up—half that time in the low country, where water and swamp and muskeg predominate; where flies and mosquitoes flourish and prosper, and reproduce in countless millions; where the sun in the long days of June and July sends an almost unsufferable heat down on the river as it winds its way between low forest-covered banks. The carpenter, Larsen, whom my father was bringing from Norway House, met with an accident, through the careless handling of his gun, and for days and nights mother had to help in nursing and caring for the poor fellow. No wonder she was anxious to reach Victoria, and have change and rest. Forty days and more from Norway House, by lake and river, in open boat—long hot days, long dark, rainy days—with forty very short nights, and yet many of these far too long, because of the never- ceasing mosquito, which, troublesome enough by day, seemed at night to bring forth endless resources of torture, and turn them loose with tireless energy upon suffering humanity. But no one could write up such experiences to the point of realization. You must go through them to know. Mother has had all this, and much more, to endure in her pioneering and missionary life.

Only a day or two before I met them, our folks had the unique sight of witnessing the crossing through the river of thousands of buffalo. The boatmen killed several, and for the time being we were well supplied with fresh meat. Our progress now was very much different to mine coming down. The men kept up a steady tramp, tramp on the bank, at the end of seventy-five or one hundred yards of rope from the boat. Four sturdy fellows in turn kept it up all day, rain or shine, and though our headway was regular, yet because of the interminable windings of the shore, we did not seem to go very far in a day. Several times father and I took across country with our guns, and brought in some ducks and chickens, but the unceasing tramp of the boats' crews did not allow of our going very far from the river.

I think it was the tenth day from my leaving Victoria that I was back again, and Mr. Woolsey welcomed his chairman and colleague with great joy. Mother was not loath to change the York boat for the large buffalo-skin lodge on the banks of the Saskatchewan.

The first thing we went at was hay-making on the old plan, with snath and scythe and wooden forks, and as the weather was propitious we soon had a nice lot of hay put up in good shape; then as father saw at once that the house we were building would take a long time to finish, and as we had some timber in the round on hand, he proposed to at once put up a temporary dwelling-house and a store-house. At this work we went, and Mr. Woolsey looked on in surprise to see these buildings go up as by magic. It was a revelation to him, and to others, the way a man trained in the thick woods of Ontario handled his axe; for, without question, father was one of the best general- purpose axemen I ever came across.

It was my privilege to take a corner on each of these buildings, which is something very different from a corner on wheat or any such thing, but, nevertheless, requires a sharp axe and a steady hand and keen eye; for you must keep your corner square and plumb—conditions which, I am afraid, other cornermen sometimes fail to observe.

Then father sent me up the river with some men to take out timber and to manufacture some lumber for a small church. While we were away on this business, father and Larsen, the carpenter, were engaged in putting the roof on, laying the floors, putting in windows and doors to the log-house, and otherwise getting it ready for occupancy. Despatch was needed, for while a skin lodge may be passable enough for summer, it is a wretchedly cold place in winter, and father was anxious to have mother and the children fairly housed before the cold weather set in.

In the meantime Peter Erasmus had joined our party as father's interpreter and general assistant, and was well to the front in all matters pertaining to the organization of the new mission.


 


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