Thursday, 19 July 2012

NIPIGON TO FORT HOPE 1910- 1913, part one

Written by L.M. Buzz Lien in 1979, pieced together from notes from a nine year correspondence with Corrine Franche.

Buzz kept it in the first person so it could be read as her story.


The summer of 1910, in August, along with my brother Arthur, we came to Fort William from Ottawa via C.P.R., on a pass, to visit cousins we loved who were living in Fort William.  Their name was Martin. They had lived with us in Ottawa while they were teaching school. They married and moved to Fort William.

My boyfriend, Ralph May, to whom I was engaged, was the purser on the barge called the Minewa. It was operating on Lake Nipigon, the south end of which is some 35 miles north of Nipigon, Ontario. At this time
, although I did not know it, immense quantities of supplies were being transported to the north end of Lake Nipigon for use on the construction of the North Transcontinental Railway. The Minewa carried most of the heavy and bulky material. Ralph had spent the summer of 1909 on this same boat doing the same job.

My brother and I went to Nipigon by train. From Nipigon we went to Alexander Falls by a barge-towing tug - the Nipigon- and from there we went to South Bay on Lake Nipigon by the Nipigon Tramway. This was a narrow gauge railway where the engine and the freight cars were small. We rode in a small box-car that had a long bench on each side for passengers to sit on.


We met my boyfriend at the South Bay Terminal of the tramway where all the north-bound material was unloaded and stored until it could be moved across the lake. The Captain of the Minewa was Captain Moore of Huntsville, the same place my boyfriend came from. He invited my brother and me to travel the lake with them for the rest of the summer. I didn't have, nor did I need , any supervision. Ralph and the Captain were always there.

There is no doubt but that I created a lot of gossip among the natives, but I sure didn't care. The Captain was good to me and the hired hands always polite. I stayed away from crowds.

Only when there was a cargo and hay, was I on deck checking the count with a little gadget like a punch. It was really Ralph's work, but I enjoyed helping out. The Indians used to unload bundles of hay, live cows, horses, cases of food. As well as construction materials for the railway, they were setting up lumbering camps.  As far as I knew, there were no maps of any kind and I never did know the names of any of the places to which we went.

Many times we would tie up in a sheltered bay and wait for the lake to calm down.


In the fall, when it was too cold for me to be travelling the lake, I stayed in a cabin in South Bay with a Mrs. Jackman, whose husband was chief engineer on the Ombabika, a passenger-freight boat that was also delivering people and goods around Lake Nipigon. This steamer was supposed to have belonged to the Revillon Brothers. It was operated by a Captain Patten who came from Sault Ste. Marie.

The Ombabika which plied the Lake Nipigon waters from 1906.
Photo by C.D.H. Mason 1907

Mr. and Mrs. Jackman had a little red-headed boy about 8 years old. A funny little boy, but very lonesome, I guess. i used to play ball with him and take him for walks in the woods but he was always hiding. His name was Harold. His mother used to sound like a loon when she called him -"HAAARRrroold. Come home!" His mother taught him school work in a way but the kid wanted to play.  Mr. Jackman was from Fort William. He was Irish; a fine man; a good engineer and a good friend. his wife too was good to me.

It was at the Jackman's cabin that I showed that I still had a lot to learn. Mrs. Jackman and I were alone in the cabin when a small boat pulled into the Jackman Dock.
She said, "Oh, my! They will be wanting supper."
 I wanted to help. Ralph happened to be there. He got some wood for the stove and a pail of fresh water. Mrs. Jackman always had a pot of cooked potatoes on hand. I saw this pot and wanted to help. So, I put it on the stove and went out of the cabin. Mrs. Jackman and Ralph walked in as the potatoes were starting to burn. The tent (possibly using the tent as a kitchen because the cabin was too small. L.M.L.) was full of smoke and Mrs. Jackman was almost in tears.
 Ralph said,"Don't think about her and I'll cook fresh potatoes while you cook the fish." And I thought I had been such a good help. Ralph further added," She can't cook, but she will learn." And I did.

Ralph told me about putting a gallon pot of cooked potatoes on the stove. I said, "Well, what's wrong with that?" The potatoes have to be warm."

Ralph just shook his head and laughed.  "I'll have to teach you how to cook".  And he did. He sent away for a great big cookbook - the White House Cookbook. I made almost everything from that book, but Ralph never stopped telling our friends how to fry potatoes - my style.

We spent the better part of three months on Lake Nipigon, travelling a lot on the Minewa. The latter part of October is probably when the Minewa was tied up; finished sailing for the year.

So we went back to Fort William.

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