Thursday, 19 July 2012

NIPIGON TO FORT HOPE 1910- 1913, part two

Written by L.M. "Buzz" Lien, 1979 from notes of a nine year correspondence with Corrine Franche.

Buzz wrote in the first person so it reads as her story.


While in Fort William, we made our wedding plans. On November 25, 1910 we were married in St. Luke's Anglican Church on Cameron Street. We didn't linger too long in Fort William because while we were visiting in Nipigon, my husband had been asked if he would like to go north and work at a fur trading post and be only with Indians. He had always wanted the opportunity, so we decided to go and what a wonderful experience it was.

We were to be engaged for a two year period to work at Fort Hope for the Revillon Brothers. The district manager who was based in Nipigon was the one who approached Ralph. Ralph was to be  the bookkeeper; keep track of the stock; do some trading and write necessary reports. I was supposed to look after the health of the Indians because of my nurse's training.


Since this was only the first part of December, we had to spend the winter somewhere. Ralph and Mr. McDonald (District Manager, Revillon Brothers) had made arrangements to spend the winter in the Forest Ranger's cabin at South Bay. We bought all the supplies that were needed, and my husband arranged for an Indian to come with his dog team and take us to our cabin in South Bay. There was a lot of snow and we got caught in a blizzard.

We made it to Alexander Falls where we stayed in a cabin owned by some Indians. The poor sleigh dogs had all they could do to pull the toboggan, let alone me, so I walked most of the way to Alexander. We had snow shoes now and i quickly learned how to use them. I do not recall the Indian's name.

When we got to Alexander, the cabin was not locked. There was a stove inside, lots of dry wood and a coal oil lamp. Someone had left tea, sugar, but we had all our winter's supplies with us. We stayed here about a week, then Ralph again got the Indian to help us move our supplies. In the meantime, Ralph had been to the Ranger cabin in South Bay to check things out.

When he came back, he said that it wasn't far. We would walk on the shore and the Indian would take our supplies with his dog team. It was six or seven miles. Ralph gave him some cash, canned fruit, vegetables, tea, powdered milk and a few cans of sardines. The Indians loved sardines. They called them "baby fish". Oh, yes, while we were at Alexander we ran out of bread. Ralph made baking powder biscuits on top of the stove. He put the biscuit dough in one pan and used another for a lid. They came out real good.

Our cabin in South Bay was nice, cosy and clean. There was a small cookstove and a heater. It had two rooms, a good bed, a sofa, a table, a bench and two chairs. Of course it was built of logs.

Our nearest neighbours were an Irish couple (Jackman of the Ombabika?). They often came at nights to play cards. We played so many times that I have hated cards ever since.

In the spring of 1911, after spending the winter in the Ranger cabin, we packed up our clothes and blankets. We left them in the cabin to be picked up later when we were on our way north. South Bay was clear of ice now, but there was plenty of it on Lake Nipigon. It was either very late in April or early in May when Ralph said that it was time to go.

"We'll have to walk to Nipigon," he said.

We couldn't see the tramway track for snow. We soon discovered that there was only roadbed and no tracks. So there was no speeder. Tracks and freight cars had been removed; probably about two weeks before we set out. It could even have been the preceding fall because we couldn't see whether there were any tracks or not when we went to South Bay. There was too much snow.

So we walked. I'm not sure how long the track was to Nipigon, but we got there all right.


 The first thing we did was go to the Chinese Restaurant and have a good meal of bacon and eggs. We had long since finished the eggs that we had taken to our South Bay cabin.

Then we took up quarters in a side street boarding house run by some people with the name of Flatt. We stayed there while Ralph and Mr. Donald  McDonald worked out the arrangements for our trip to Fort Hope and to get ready everything they needed.

The Flatts had five small children. There was another store there run by the McKirdy's who had three or four young boys.

There wasn't anything much in Nipigon. As well as McKirdy's store, there was the Revillon Brothers and the Hudson's Bay Co. store. All these stores were on the main street across the road from the C.P.R. Station. (Present day Front Street)

There were a couple of restaurants  and along the business side of the main street there was a wooden sidewalk. I didn't meet many people in Nipigon because Ralph didn't want me roaming around. i seem to recall the name Sam Prendergast (Nipigon Inn) and Sanderson ( Independent Trader).


Our trip to Fort Hope would be Mr. McDonald's third trip and was his yearly post inspection. While Ralph was busy with Mr. McDonald, I was getting ready to go too. Mrs. McDonald was a great help. She said that she had made the trip to Fort Hope one year with her husband and that the mosquitoes wee bad. She also said that she would not go again. She arranged to get me a pair of leather high boots from Montreal and told me about using veiling over our farmer-type straw hats as extra protection against flies and mosquitoes. I also bought several jars of fly repellent that the McKirdys made and sold. (Still being made and sold in 1979- not in 2012). Later on when the Indian guides saw this, they laughed and said that we should eat it. I also had some large, loose cotton gardening gloves.

I asked Mr. McDonald if there were any eggs at Fort Hope. When he said that there were none, I asked if I could take some.

"Sure," he said, "as long as you look after them and carry them over the portages."

So I got a Humpty Dumpty case of eggs. This is half a regular case and was about 15 dozen. I also had a small packsack with my personal things. Oh, yes, there were powdered eggs at the Post.

Since there were only two scheduled trips a year from Nipigon to Fort Hope, what was being taken in was carefully selected. The spring trip north out of Nipigon was the main one, but there was a faster trip from Fort Hope to Nipigon to pick up and return with mail and anything that was required but may have been forgotten in the spring. This trip was usually made in late August or early September.


I think that we started out with two "ton" canoes and two Peterborough freighters. The 'ton' canoe was a standard Revillon light canoe that was rated to carry 1800 pounds. This figure was stencilled on the bow of each of these canoes. Everybody paddled. Since we had some 35 portages to carry over, everyone had to pack too. We had four Indian guides.

All the things that we took in came from Revillon Freres in Montreal.

Trip Route from Ombabika Bay, Lake Nipigon , map circa 1926

1 comment:

  1. As an artist myself, I enjoy reading Philip Koch's sensitive writing about Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth, who along with Whistler and Rothko, are my favorite American painters.
    I don't live in the United States but have traveled and passed a short time there. But even with the little time spent in your beautiful country, especially in small-town America, I can relate to some of the poetical feel that Hopper and Wyeth had captured in their art, which is for me part of the attraction of their paintings.
    Browsing at the other day, as I do now and then, I find a good selection of Edward Hopper's work, ,in the big archive of Western Art, that customers can order online for canvas prints and even hand-painted, oil-painting reproductions can be made and sent to them.
    Hopper's surrealistic and depersonalized world is there again. Timeless, yes, as it is still there now in the roadside cafes and diners that I ate at all over America.