Sunday, 22 July 2012

NIPIGON TO FORT HOPE, 1910 - 1913 part five

Written by L.M. "Buzz" Lein in 1979 from notes from a nine year correspondence with Corrine Francher

Buzz wrote in the first person so this could be her story.


It was surprising that the winter months were not so cold as other places. The large wood-burning heater in the store kept things nice and warm there.

I had a lot to learn in the way of living with Indians, but I did learn the language. I felt right at home with them, but they were quite shy until I started to visit them and taught them a few things. I had to go slow so as not to hurt their feelings. We had about 300 Indians and the nearby Hudson's Bay Co. had about the same.

The routine seemed to be that in the fall, the Indians went hunting and trapping. Those who needed outfitting were so fixed up by their respective Posts.

The weeks and months went by so quickly. At Christmas time there were not many Indians left.

One of the things I was supposed to do because of my experience with nursing was to help look after the health of the Indians. They didn't care too much for this but I did what I could. As I already mentioned the Indians were shy with me.

I did make friends with a girl of about 15. Her name was Flatfoot Mary and I took her in hand to try and teach her to speak English; to sew and things like that. She used to come over and help me with the dishes. Along with two other girls, Mary Moose and Mary Billy, these were my original contacts. The Company had supplied an Indian dictionary, so between the dictionary and the girls I learned to speak the language. Mary Billy married later and moved to James Bay.

There were dogs all over the place. They were used as sleigh dogs in the winter and ignored in the summer. Long Mac had a team of his own and so did Ralph and I. I learned how to drive them and used them in winter to haul in firewood.

Firewood haul with dog team by Corrine at Fort Hope.

We also had a cat. The dogs got loose one day and killed it. I felt badly. The Indians had no cats. They didn't have enough food to feed them.

All the while I was continuing to learn. I was practicing with a 30/30 rifle and a revolver. I learned how to handle a canoe. I learned how to live off the country and survive if I had to. I had lots of time to do all these things and I was in a place where they could be done. I didn't see another white woman until I was on the way back to Nipigon two years after we had arrived here and we stopped again at the Revillon Brothers' Ombabika Post where I saw Mrs. Thorpe.

All the Indians were supported by their respective Posts - ours and the Hudson's Bay Co. They got rations twice a week while they were at Fort Hope, in return for the fur they could gather. They used to go north from Fort Hope as far as Lake Attawapiskat. They were all good Indians. I think now how much more I could have done for them, but the Company didn't seem to want them to know too much. I wanted to do so much but Ralph wouldn't let me. No one spoke English - only Indian.

They all had a ration of flour; rolled oats; tea and sugar each day. Children included. Then every tow or three weeks the Indians brought in their furs. These were credited against their ration account. I saw Mac doing up small parcels of tea and sugar and hide them under the counter. These were for his friends but I never let on that I knew about it.


A wigwam is built by setting a post in the ground. Then poles are set up with their bases in a circle about the centre pole. The outside is covered with bark. There is a fire inside where the Indians cook whatever they have. The smoke goes out through the top, following the centre post.

There may be as many as ten people living in a wigwam. The whole place smells and it isn't perfume, believe me. They used cups make from woven birchbark.

The lake in front of the Post had been fished out. I don't know what the name of it was (Lake Eabimet, L.M.L.), but I called it No Fish Lake. All the Indians ever got out of it was a few whitefish. I never saw a sturgeon.

The Indians at Fort Hope had a York boat on a small lake there. They called them long pointers and didn't like them. Too heavy to handle on the portages. I had a short trip in one of them. The Indians like the birch bark canoes that they make for themselves. Whenever they went anywhere, whether it was for fishing or for any other reason they never went alone. All the kids go, grandma, too, and usually two or three small dogs.

As well as our store-dwelling place, there were two old houses with windows and doors. They were inhabited by the two interpreters who were attached to our Post. John Goodwin was one and the other was John Richter. John Richter had a Cree wife and a flock of kids. The children were smart and good looking. I heard that Goodwin went to James Bay to live there.

I had but one un-nerving experience with an Indian. One night I felt someone getting into bed with me. He put his cold hand on my leg. I thought it was Ralph and said, "Hurry up and get into bed. It's cold!"

But it wasn't Ralph.

It was an Indian and I woke up in a hurry. I chased him out with the revolver that was always under my pillow.

I was scared then, but I can laugh now. He was more scared than I was when he heard me cock the revolver. He sure got out quick.

Anyway , he didn't hurt me.

Our guides to Fort Hope were John Goodwin, John Rich and Joe Moose. They had learnt to speak English at the school in Moose Factory. They were my friends during the two years at Fort Hope.  Their wives were always making things for me - moccasins, mitts, slippers and a sort of head bonnet trimmed with ermine. The work was beautifully done.

The Indians taught me many things. They taught me how to tan hides, how to dry fish and how to make beaded moccasins. On the other hand I taught them things too. How to sew on the hand operated sewing machine. They were fascinated with it but also afraid of it. I let them use it to make some of their print dresses. There were some beautiful shawls at the Post. They came from England and France. I used several of them and cut them down to make shawls for their babies. They were so happy.


Most of the foodstuffs we had were dry. There were cans of things, though, and slabs of bacon. There were cases of dried apples, prunes, raisins, currants and other mixed fruits. Lots of different kinds of cheeses in cans. We never had any fresh potatoes because Long Mac ate all the seed potatoes instead of planting them. Instead we had dessicated potatoes. They looked like macaroni only smaller and were brown in colour. You put them in water and boiled them. They swelled up like porridge in the cooking.

We had butter in red cans. It was called Blue Nose Butter and came from Nova Scotia. It was put up in one pound cans and was the best butter I ever tasted.

There were canned meats of all kinds, including sausages that came from England. I have never encountered anything like them since. They were always a treat.

Cases of tomatoes, bags of flour, sugar and rice. Sugar sold for $1.00 per pound. Flour we did not sell. We gave all the Indians a ration of flour, salt and tea. We sold tea to non-Revillon Indians for $2.00 per pound. We also sold Brunswick Sardines for $1.00 per can. These were $).02 per can wholesale. rice was also a $1.00 per pound and corn syrup (pint size) was $5.00.

The Indians never had cash money. It was all trade with furs. Some of the Indians had never seen any money and didn't know what it was.

Sometimes we would open a few cans of corn syrup and sell two or three spoonful at a time. The price was one good weasel skin, worth then $1.00. They brought their birch bark cups in for the syrup. If the weasel skin wasn't in good condition or wasn't good in the stretching, we gave them less of whatever amount it was that they wanted.

In the spring the store was open every day from early morning (7 a.m.) to 7 or 8 at night. At Fort Hope in the summer months it was still daylight almost to 11 p.m.

We had package powder puddings and powdered milk, jam, and pickles. The food for us, such as carrots , beets, onions and cabbage were all dry, dark in colour and sticky, but we got used to it. There was canned roast beef, canned salmon and to repeat the best butter in the land - Blue Nose Butter in the red, one-pound cans.

We could not keep oranges. When the freighter canoes arrived in the spring, all the tribe and their kids would be at the dock waiting for a reward. All the oranges were given away - even to the new-born. The Indians loved oranges. We managed to keep a couple dozen for ourselves.

Canned tomatoes and sardines were great favourites. They could never get enough of them, but they sure needed other things for their health. We also sold mutton tallow. They seemed to like it better than lard, but Indians never seemed to fry any food. It is mostly boiled or cooked over a fire on a stick.

They made Bannock when they had flour. It is just made with white flour, salt, baking powder, a piece of tallow and water.

We had very nice prints for sale, all in lovely bright colours. They came from England. There were also beautiful, fancy satin ribbons of all colours and some really beautiful beads. The Indians used two needles at a time to do bead work.

There were also things like saws, axes, shovels, nails and pegs.

To be concluded.

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