Friday, 20 July 2012

NIPIGON TO FORT HOPE 1910-1913, part three

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

Buzz wrote in the first person to make it her story.


On June 1st, 1911, a Thursday morning, we were down by the little lagoon just north of the C.P.R. Bridge over the Nipigon River. Everything that we were taking had been carefully stowed in the canoes after having been repacked in some cases into canvas sacks for easier handling. There I was in my new $25.00 high boots; heavy woollen hose; short skirt; canvas gloves; farmer straw hat with veiling and McKirdy's fly dope all set to start out on this adventure. We even had a flag (Revillon?) on our canoe.

A gang of people had come to see us off. Some had sad faces and were shaking their heads. After all the goodbye's had been said, we started off.

It was all so exciting.

We pulled out into the outlet from Lake Helen, and started north for the Nipigon River which came into Lake Helen on the west side about 3 miles above the C.P.R.'s Nipigon River bridge. We had no maps of any kind with us and didn't need them because  the four guides knew exactly where they were going. I did know that we were going to South Bay where Ralph and I had wintered to load our left behind possessions on the passenger freighter steamer Ombabika for the trip north to the Revillon Brother's post in Ombabika Bay.

The worst portage was the long one around Cameron Falls. (The Long Portage). Mr. McDonald told me that it was about 2 and a half miles. We stopped here while Mr. Mac and I caught some fish and cooked them. Speckled trout. our Indian guides were very clean and polite. They helped put up the tents. Ralph worked with them.

There were millions of flies and mosquitoes. We had to eat many meals under the protection of our veils while we were on the portages.

We all had Hudson's Bay blankets. The Indians had rabbit skin blankets that had been made by weaving together strips of rabbit pelt. These Indians spoke English. They had learnt it in school at Moose Factory.

At nights on the portages we put up a small tent and slept on a bed of pine boughs under a mosquito net. We had flannelette sheets and 5 and a half point green HBCo blankets. We used the canoe cushions for pillows. And for light - one lonely little candle.

One night I heard an owl start up. I was wishing it would choke. My husband said "Don't be afraid. It may be worse later on." What a pleasant thought. At 4 a.m. we heard the guides getting up and making things ready. Except for the trip from South Bay to Ombabika post, it was paddle , pack and portage all the way to Fort Hope. And I lugged my Humpty Dumpty case of eggs over every one of those portages. I was wishing I had never heard tell of them.

It took us four days to go up the Nipigon River to get to South Bay where the Ombabika was docked at the Nipigon Tramway Terminal. We went over to our cabin where we had wintered to pick up the blankets and things that we had left there. The Tramway facilities as such were not being used. (Not needed. All construction material needed for railway construction had been moved north . L.M.L.) There was a camp there operated by some people from Kenora - the Cameron's.

It took us about four days to get to Revillon Brother's Post on Ombabika Bay. It would have taken longer if we had not been able to get transportation on the steamer. As it was we stayed in shelter and behind islands as much as possible.


The Ombabika Post was on the north shore of Ombabika Bay about two miles east of the Little Jackfish River. It was built right on the edge of the shore, so that from the front door of the post you could easily toss a rock into the water. The shoreline was exceedingly stony.

It was a nice store. Mr. and Mrs. Thorpe 9he was the manager) lived above the store. The clerk was Hilton George and he was Mrs. Thorpe's brother. They made us very welcome. Mr. and Mrs. Thorpe had a baby girl about 7 months old. I was always picking her up from her high chair. Mrs. Thorpe remarked that I was spoiling her, but she was so nice I just loved her. There was also a little girl of 5 or 6.

Mrs. Thorpe's brother had an odd hobby. He used to do silk embroidery on cloth for cushions. Roses, pansies, and all sorts of flowers. And good colours too. I was quite surprised to see a man doing this kind of work.

We stayed three days. We had mail and supplies for the Thorpe's. We changed canoes and re-arranged the things we were taking to Fort Hope. Mrs. Thorpe seemed happy to a white woman. She said she wasn't going to stay there another year, but she did, because when we returned she was still there. She didn't recognize me because I was so brown. She helped me fix my hair and change clothes.

Before we left the post, Mrs. Thorpe loaded my packsack with goodies and candies. "Take it", she said,  "You have a long hard trip ahead of you." She was right. All the Indians and their families came to the post to shake hands with us. Then we were off.

The Revillon flag was up and waving in the breeze.


The first day was lonely. We were still on Lake Nipigon (Ombabika Bay, actually, and heading for the Ombabika River L.M.L.) then we branched out. After this it was nothing but paddling and portaging. There was never any trouble but i soon found out that skirts were not the thing for this kind of jaunt. My husband's trousers were too big for me, so I made a deal with one of the guides for a pair of his trousers which were my size.

Mr. McDonald lost his camera in one of the rapids so we didn't get anything in the way of pictures.

The Indian guides cooked all our meals. When we ran out of bread, they made bannock. Everything tasted so good after sitting in a canoe, paddling and running rapids.

The poor dear Indians worked so hard, the mosquitoes eating them up while portaging. We had to be on the lookout for bears. We walked the portages close to each other. My husband was a good woodsman, but I was sure green. I really was afraid of the Indians, but I soon found out that they were my friends. They looked after and protected me as if I were a queen.

I always wanted to give them something, but my husband said that they would be hurt. But as we were paddling I had my pockets full of hard candy. On long trips I would give them a few arrowroot biscuits and some candies. They would smile and say "Megwatch!" which is "Thank you."

On that trail, the Indians seem to live on bacon, fried potatoes, bread toasted on an open fire, sugar, powdered milk and strawberry jam. They never drank coffee but had their own tea. When there was no bread they made bannock. They had a supply of sardines which they loved. (On the trail Revillon would supply the standard provisions.L.M.L.)

The country had very small timber.

On the whole trip we met but two large bears. At night we could hear the wolves howling quite close. Our guides had their guns ready. Ralph had both a rifle and a revolver that he kept loaded, and in our tent.

We were four days on the Albany River which was narrow and full of lily pads. There was no particular wind or rain throughout the trip, nor was there any sign of forest fires.

The longest and most miserable part was paddling up that narrow Albany River. In places we couldn't use the paddles and had to use poles to push our way up. The flies! There didn't seem to be any birds - nothing but scrub trees and almost no animals.

On July 1st, 1911, we arrived safe and sound at the dock at Fort Hope.

What a relief! We felt as though we were in civilization again. It was about 6 o'clock in the evening, a nice day but not very warm, but we still had our heavy clothes on. After our hello's the first questions were for the mail and the instructions.

When I stood on the dock it seemed as though there were about 200 Indians - men , women and children.  Some had never seen a white man. They were laughing as they always did, and shaking hands. I was more than a little nervous. On an impulse, I picked up a tikanoggan holding a little, pine and smoke scented baby, about two years old, and kissed him. He was so sweet and so small and so clean.

 Mr. Mac called to me, "Now you have made a friend of all the Indians!"

The Indians were still laughing and wanted now to shake hands all over again.  I found out later, that because of kissing this little boy, they had nicknamed me "Ogimah ninamonchen" - friend  love or sweetheart.

Then to the Revillon Brothers' Post where we settled in.

Fort Hope Revillon Freres Post .
Corrine and Ralph standing. Living quarters up stairs
Small cabin behind home for John Goodwin, Interpreter

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