Saturday, 13 August 2011

It Started on the Shores of Nipigon

Written by L.M."Buzz" Lein  1981

The Red Rock Trading Post of the Hudson's Bay Co had a very  inauspicious beginning as a couple of rude log cabins erected on the shore of the Nipigon River, just above the high water where the present Nipigon Dock is located. It was meant a first merely as a look-out to see who was trying to get up into Lake Nipigon to cut into the fur business.  In the 1850's and 1860's the Americans had well and truly cleaned out all and any furs around their part of Lake Superior. The free traders from the Duluth area patrolled the north shore of Lake Superior for any pelts they could get. Whoever was in the shacks at the Nipigon mud flats was supposed to do something probably if they saw any strange traders heading upstream. We do not know at this time what action was suggested.

Gradually, the couple of rough log cabins grew into several rough log cabins with a dock in front of the little cluster of huts.  Peter McKeller was there in 1872 and sketched what he saw.

Over the years the little post was gradually enlarged and tidied up.  The coming of fishing tourists about 1870 and the advent of surveyors and construction of the C.P. R. starting about 1883 made it imperative that the post look as if it belonged to someone.

As well as the fishing and construction, there was a great rumour in 1870-71 that Nipigon was going to be the Lake Superior terminal of the C.P. R., so they got to work and built the post up to what is evident in the copy. It is a copy of an unnamed and undated badly stained watercolour. This watercolour is not in Nipigon. If we gave it a date of 1883, we are not too far wrong.  The flag flying from the bell tent in the lower left hand corner carries the initials C.P.S. for the Canadian Pacific Survey.

At the water's edge we see a fur press.   To the left is a scallop with two masts - the half ton truck of the era.  Note the piling along the dock and the storage building.  There are piles of firewood neatly arranged.

( edit note 2011: part of this dock still exists in the current Nipigon Marina Dock or submerged close by. It was almost 350 feet long. Repairs are being planned maybe as soon as this fall. Some councillors have called for the removal of these historic pilings. The Curator is upset the real history may be destroyed.)

There is a pathway leading from a storage building at the waterfront back up the slope into the bush.  This is the same road that leads from the C.N.R. to the water's edge in 1981. The buildings fronting on the road are the store (the largest) and dwellings for the hands who worked there.

Over to the left one sees  a smokehouse where meat and fish were smoked - no refrigerators - and back of it to the left is the barn where there were probably cows, chickens and pigs.

Dead centre - the big fancy house - was known as the red house and it was where the factor or Chief Trader lived. In the fenced off field behind was the vegetable garden and hay field.

Of the two flags - Union Jacks - that are flying the one on the left might be the Hudson's Bay Co official flag with the HBCo on the lower right edge. The other one is a standard Union Jack. The Nipigon Museum actually has a genuine HBCo flag. It's so old that it is almost as thin as parchment. (Edit note 2011: HBCo flag lost in 1990 Museum fire.)

Since steamboat traffic was a regular occurrence after 1863, a look at the dock shows that steamers could come in - and did.

Life in this Red Rock Trading Post of the Hudson's Bay Co must have been pretty darn dull and uninteresting in the winter time as they were isolated except for the dog teams that ran the mail run to Fort William.  In the summer what with tourists and railway it must have been a bustling place.

In the period about the time of this picture, the man in charge was Chief Trader Newton Flannagan. He retired from the Red Rock Trading Post to St. Paul, Minn. about 1892. We had the pleasure of touring his grandson about the location of this post. However, said grandson was about 70 years old in the early 1970"s : knew nothing about his roots and was hoping he'd find something here in Nipigon.  He did.

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