Saturday, 13 July 2013


By Madge Macbeth, circa 1924

Nipigon Historical Museum Archives


A moose crossed just below the Falls as we were peeping out of our blankets to face a thin Scotch mist. Breakfast was hurriedly eaten, for every fisherman was impatient to feel the rod in his hands, Some of the party undertook the beautiful six-mile walk to Orient Bay and were rewarded by seeing a deer and a fawn. The mail came in, brought from Nipigon by a runner, or by relays of runners. Four guides joined us. They had just come down from James Bay, and judging by the rapid-fire conversation that passed amongst the Indians, their arrival was better than the coming of a newspaper. Indians somehow have gained themselves the reputation for taciturnity, but no characteristic was less conspicuous in those of our party.

There was the incident of Friday and the fish.

Michel Friday or Mike, as he called himself, was a guide who instantly endeared himself to the lot of us. Why? How does  one know? Who can dissect and tabulate that elusive quality termed charm? He was just Friday. That was all.

Several fine fish had been caught at dusk on the second day, and anticipating the scepticism of our friends, we determined to make pictures of our catch. The camera man had invented a tank - about which there was a good deal of jollity, for he demanded volunteers to get inside and create for him an improvement on "Neptune's Daughter." He even suggested our sharing it with a sturgeon and a couple of imported muskellunge!

When the tank was unpacked, we were relieved to find a small box-like affair only about a cubic foot in size. It barely accommodated one worthy trout.

Now, the fish that had been caught at dusk could not, of course, have their photo taken at that time of night, so with great trouble and back-straining, we built them a kraal or pen at the water's edge and left them to be photographed in the morning. At lunch time some one thought of those fish. The kraal was empty. The fish were gone.

The old newspaperman revived his sleuthing instincts, and ran the mystery to earth.  Friday had eaten the fish, and it was only Saturday on the calendar!

The Indians never tired of the joke. We came to see something funny in it ourselves. At the mention of comestibles, every eye would turn accusingly to Friday, who bore the scrutiny with unruffled calm and a good-natured grin. We blamed him for a temporary shortage in jam, for the scarcity of caribou, for failure to discover a moose whose trail we followed all one morning. When one of the party was late for lunch, we even accused him of eating her!

And when he snared a couple of rabbits and laid them by for a succulent meal, the rest of the guides appropriated them during his absence, and explained that such was his punishment for taking the fish. Talk? Why, the Indians were never silent, except when sleeping.

In the afternoon, we broke camp and paddled a glorious fourteen miles down the river to Flat Rock, shooting several exciting rapids - including Devil's and Victoria - but, not fatally. We found an excellent camping ground at Flat Rock and availed ourselves right gladly of it, although this was not the spot originally chosen for our destination. Pine Portage, three miles away, was full - which is to say, its convenient camp sites had already been pre-empted by fishermen bound up or down the river.

That night, across a lofty columnar bonfire, I asked Nicholas John the meaning of the word Nipigon.

"It's hard to pronounce in English," he replied. "We spell it with an 'e', " he added, throwing in a little swank about his schooling.

I was no nearer my objective, and afterwards discovered that by 'pronounce' he meant 'translate,' and as for spelling Nipigon with an 'e,' the Indians spell it, like most of their language, exactly as suits their fancy. To hear them speak the work, I should call it Nem-be-gong, and a loose translation of my own is The Sea Without a Shore - this referring to the lake which is about seventy miles long and fifty wide.


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