Thursday, 19 January 2012


By Dr. Herman Bryan M.D., F.A.C.S.

This is the conclusion and describes the "snow-shoe treks to rescue injured workers".
Dr. Bryan's daughter donated these articles to our Nipigon Historical Museum shortly after we opened in 1973.

On December 28, 1905 I was in Ottawa when I received a telegram from Headquarters at Nipigon to come back at once and go into the Negagami and bring out a man by the name of Campbell who was badly frozen.

A wire was returned to prepare men and dogs and supplies for this trip which meant 250 miles in and out or a total of 500 miles ( close to 800 km) .

This case had an interesting history. Two men had been ordered by the engineer to proceed west from the camp about 12 miles to the Negagami River and go north to the original cache and move supplies down about 20 miles south to where the new survey line would cross the river. Just after these two men had been sent out I visited this party and took orders to the engineer to abandon his present line and go west about 30 miles and tie on another line which had been run from the west to the east.

Being the last day of October it was starting to freeze and the party was unable to move until the ice was thick enough to carry the men and supplies so they remained in camp and no word was sent on to the men who had moved the supplies down the river. These men expected the party to be at the river daily.

These men ran short of essential supplies and one went back some twelve miles to the party to learn of the delay. He wanted to return to tell his partner to come to camp but the engineer would not let him go saying that Campbell would know enough to come himself.

Campbell waited til November 13th and was very short of food so he started back to camp. The weather was below zero and about 13 inches of snow had fallen. While crossing the Negagami Campbell fell into the river. He was a man who had been in Alaska and knew the woods and cold very well. His matches were wet and he could not start a fire to dry his clothes so he started to walk. He proceeded about 4 miles to the first camp and found no party. He had no snow-shoes and he began to tire. about 4 P.M. in the afternoon of November 14th, he was tired and sleepy. He knew he dare not sit down or he would go to sleep and freeze to death; for when one goes to sleep in the cold they freeze and never waken. So he leaned against a tree for a rest. There he made a mistake for he went to sleep standing against the tree. At noon the next day the party came through and found him still standing up against the tree and frozen into unconsciousness. The chief erected a temporary tent, left a small stove and supplies and a man to look after Campbell;  and immediately dispatched Mr. Bain, an experienced woodsman, to bring word out of Campbell's condition. Mr. Bain had to walk back to Kabinagagami about 25 miles and then up this river out the Magpie and to the C.P. R.  at Grassett a distance of a least 150 miles. This was a severe and dangerous journey alone and on foot at that time of year. Although the lakes were frozen the streams were still open. Mr. Bain was from November 14th to December 28th getting out; a very hazardous journey and I received the wire on his arrival at Headquarters.

On December 31st our party consisting of two Indians, Michael Bouchard and James Ward and Mr. Bian with two dog teams and supplies for a 500 mile trip, left Nipigon by C.P. R. (Canadian Pacific Railway) and proceeded to Jackfish where the trail leads north across the Height of Land into Long Lac and on north about 30 miles to the survey line.

There is probably no circumstance in life that teaches one to live on essential like the long winter trip in the north that lay before us.

To those who have never travelled with dog sled and dogs it might be interesting to know what weight can be carried by sleds. A dog team usually consists of 5 dogs. The lead dog must understand your language for direction and guidance. The sled dog is the one that starts the load. For each dog a maximum one can load 100 pounds. A five dog team will pull over a good trail 500 pounds. Of course, on a new trail it is not well to load to this capacity.

 Our supplies consisted of flour, baking powder, salt and pepper, sugar and tea, bacon, ham, beans and slat pork, powdered milk, oatmeal, dried fruits such as apricots or prunes and dried potatoes, for the dogs cornmeal and fish. The dogs are fed at night on a meal of boiled cornmeal with a fish or two. At noon the dogs are given a frozen fish.

We left Jackfish at noon January 1st, 1906 and through heavy snow we made only about six miles. We put up a tent with a small collapsible stove and stopped for the night. We nearly froze trying to keep warm. In the morning after a consultation with the Indians we decided to cache the stove and tent and rely on an open fire.

For clothing we wore heavy underwear and socks; the heavy bushman's socks and moose moccasins with heavy pants, sweater and sheep-skin coat. We slept in a rabbit-skin bag or heavy Hudson's Bay blankets. A rabbit-skin blanket can be made to any size. The green skin of the rabbit is cut in a strip about an inch wide. One skin will make a furry rope about 4 to 5 feet long.The ends of these are sewed together and interwoven on the frame of desired length. This makes a beautiful white blanket of about two inches of fur with open spaces for ventilation and is very light in weight and will pack into a small space; but it is best to cover these blankets with some material like flannelette for the fur sheds very easily. The blankets are folded once, sewed across one end and almost up complete on one side. This makes the most useful and inexpensive of covers for the cold.

To make an open camp we each had our work. Ward cut the wood as he was cook. Bouchard cut poles for the tarpaulin and spruce boughs for the beds. Bain looked after the dogs and my work was to take my snow-shoe as a shovel and shovel a hole in the snow which was from two to three feet deep, large enough for  a sleeping storage  and fire, long poles were pushed into the snow on three sides at the top of the dugout and came up on a slant to all meet at the top which would be about 6 to 8 feet above the ground. The tarpaulins were thrown over this and they were tied on to the poles and snow thrown up over the bottom. The walls and bottom of the dugout were lined with spruce boughs making a bed as comfortable as a spring mattress. Two large logs about ten inches in diameter were placed about three or four feet apart in front of the teepee with the ends pointing toward the camp, across the top of these were laid the other logs and fire started. This fire was kept going all night and the heat dried any wet clothing or moccasins hung on the poles. The idea of the crossed logs in under the fire was for cooking. The coals dropped down and in baking one could put the pan on the coals and have an even heat both above and below.

In all we were comfortable in our open camp.

The dogs were chained to a tree or stump and after they had been fed, dug a hole in the snow and curled up for the night.

On the third day we reached Long Lac, from there we couldn't go astray because we knew the Hudson's Bay Post with Peter Gauthier as factor was due due north.

There are narrows in Long Lac about half way up and a small island in mid-lake. For some reason this part of the lake is the last part to freeze over. About 3 P.M. one afternoon we were trotting along ahead of the dogs and I thought I could see the ice give way under our feet so we tested it. One blow of a small axe and the water spurted up so we had to camp on the island and wait for more ice. There was a north wind blowing and the temperature dropped steadily till morning. There were only a few scrubby spruce on the island and it was impossible to keep a fire going as the wood would only spit and flare up and the wind would blow the fire out. That night we were cold.

The weather continues to grow colder and the second night after this was the coldest weather I have ever experienced. We camped about 12 miles south of the Long Lac post. The snow was so cold that we could not wash in it. The hands chilled and the snow felt like sand. We had plenty of fire and slept well but in the morning the dogs refused to go out on the ice and face the freezing wind. We had struck camp but we put up a tarpaulin and put on a fire. At noon we had hot beans and they were frozen on the plate before we could finish eating them. The official temperature at White River that morning was 65 degrees below zero. The next day we reached Long Lac Post and were graciously welcomed by Mr. Gauthier. We remained there for 2 days waiting for a guide to take us to the line as there was no trail. The second day Angus McLeod, who is now established at Macdiarmid, arrived and we were two days going into McKay's camp on the line. Here we found Mr. McKay, the engineer almost dead with scurvy. He was not able to even stand on his feet. His legs were swollen and black to his knees from hemorrhage. I ordered him out to Long Lac Post and to wait there till I returned with Campbell. On, now almost due east to Caldwell's camp. Here we ran into our first real trouble. We were out of cornmeal for the dogs and were short of many supplies ourselves.

My reason for going into this longer route was that I had brought sealed orders from Ottawa for Caldwell's party to discontinue work and come out. These orders probably incensed the chief and although we still had about 100 miles to go east for Campbell, Caldwell forbid my men supplies for the dogs or ourselves. My men came to me in distress so that night I ordered them to get supplies from the cook and to pick up a bag of cornmeal left by the mailman who had gone east to the caches along the line.

The next morning the transit man told me that Mr. Caldwell wanted to see me. So I went into his tent. He told me I would get no supplies from him and that I might as well turn around and go out and leave Campbell where he was. I told him I had my supplies and that I had picked up the mailman's cornmeal and I handed him a signed order to go to Long Lac Post and get more cornmeal and replace what I had taken. Mr. Caldwell read the note, did not say anything back to me and I said, " Good morning " and left. That was the last time I ever saw Mr. Caldwell.

On, day after day to the east, a couple of incidents I well remember; Bouchard was breaking trail and I was following to make a path for the dogs. We struck a burnt country of about a mile and the wind was cold. We crossed into green bush and as I came in out of the open he was grinning at me and I asked him what was funny. He said, "Your face is all frozen."  I looked at him and said you have nothing to laugh about your face is frozen too.

Again we were getting short of supplies and expected to reach the cache on the Pegatechewan about noon. The wind was cold, probably a temperature of about 30 degrees below zero. No cache was in sight. Ward was ahead of me going down the river. I was tired and hungry. I felt I could not go any further; green and yellow specks started floating across my eyes; I cuesed the steady piston-like tramp of the Indian's snow-shoes in front and wondered if he would ever tire but Ward never tired. Suddenly he stopped and sniffed the air and turning to me said the one Indian word, "Ishkode" which meant fire. We were near the cache and he had smelled the smoke.

Two days later we reached Campbell. He had made a good recovery but his feet were badly in need of care. The first dressing I took a dozen pieces of bones from his feet and applied the proper dressings. We had been 21 days coming 250 miles.

Our return journey over the trail was made in ten days.

From the place where Caldwell had camped to Long Lac Post several of the party's dogs had to be shot. The party coming out had run short of dog feed or else did not feed the dogs and they were cut out of the tema and left to die in the bush.

At long Lac Post again we picked up Chief McKay. He had improved a little since I had seen him. I brought several tins of canned fruit and had him eat it on the way out. Before we got to Jackfish McKay was wealking. This was 37 years ago (1906) and I learned that there was something in canned goods cooked in vacuum that was lost in the dried fruits; something that cured scurvy. THis was many years before vitamins were discovered.

We reached Jackfis February 5th , 36 days after leaving I took Campbell to the General Hospital in Toronto.

Two days later I received another telegram to return and go up the KowKash, to bring another man that had been badly frozen. This meant another 300 mile trip. I took this man to London.

On returning to Headquarters at Nipigon, I took Michael Bouchard and made an inspection trip to the caches around Lake Nipigon, calling at South Bay, Grand Bay, Nipigon House and the caches at the Tunnell Lake, Sand River, Mud River, Ombabika and down the east side of Lake Nipigon back to South Bay and Nipigon.

Late that spring I had an order to go to South Bay on Lake Nipigon and bring out another man who was snow-blind.

At 7 A.M. Albert Fraser and I left Nipigon on foot. We reached South Bay about 4:30. The weather was warm and the snow melting and the walking bad. We decided to come back that night an the man was suffering considerable. We left South Bay at 9 P.M.  The night wa clear and freezing and the walking better. Fraser and I returned to Nipigon at 6 A.M. We had walked 64 miles in 23 hours and had stopped about 5 hours to rest and eat.

And now back to the present. (1945). The snow-shoe and light canoe have been replaced by the ski and the pontoon of the airoplane. The heavy transport canoe by the motor boat. The tumpline and pack and axe of the woodsman by the bull dozer and the modern road equipment. Along the survey line now runs the Canadian National and over it the beams of the Great Trans-Canada Airlines. But let us not forget, Perry, Hannigton, and Armstrong, the chief Engineers, or such men as Mattice, Tempest, Redman, McKay, Caldwell and McLennan, the resident engineers and the men who worked with them, who have opened up this great Northern Country.

Tonight, let us pay tribute to the chief of all these men. No one has done more with less acknowledgement. He was never hearalded in the headlines, but when the blue prints of the transportation of this district are unrolled for the study of the future, the tracings will be the last 40 years of the life and achievements of the late T.S. Armstrong - A man who prized accuracy, action, and service, above the fading benefits of praise, glory, and riches.

T.S. Armstrong photo.

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