Museum Musings by L.M. "Buzz" Lein May 15, 1984
When the HBCo finally saw the light and moved their Pic River Post up to the main line of the C.P.R., they selected a section called Montizambert for its location. It is near the discharge of White Lake. It was an ideal location for a store because of its easy access for trappers who were working the watershed area of the White Lake. And the area between the C.P.R. line and the south of the Pic was trapped out during years of use.
Montizambert somewhere along the line was changed to Mobert and that is what it is called today. It has a special significance for us because we were there first in 1937 and then again set up housekeeping not far from there in 1941. We have a clear mental picture of how it looked then. We were there again (near by that is ) in 1945 and 1946.
Before you read any more , get out your road map and check its location. West of White River on the C.P.R. line near the discharge of White Lake. Look at it well and see if you can realize how isolated it is - then as now.
William Aitken was the man in charge of this store in 1897 and he was having a tough time. His boss was Alexander Matheson whose mailing address was " Red Rock, Nepigon, Ontario". About this time period Matheson had been put in charge of the Lake Superior District and Mobert was one of the places where he had jurisdiction. We know this great stuff because we read up on it. And we know about William Aitken because we have a copy of his copy book for the time period 1897-1898. It sure is hard to read because the copies are not like the crisp clean sheets that come from a modern copier.
We don't know how William Aitken made out for copies of his letters to his boss and others before he was given a copying machine by Matheson. Before you get all choked up about Matheson's generosity, wait till we tell you what it was.
It looked for all the world like a table top fur press. It required a special kind of paper and a special kind of technique. The inks of the day were not waterproof and this is why this technique worked.
This copying paper was called "Stout Buff" and was glowingly advertised as an excellent substitute for written duplicates. Saving manual labour - what they mean by this is that it wasn't necessary to have someone hand write a copy of whatever the message was.
The instructions for use were - for copying ink recently written, damp well ( not soak! - L.M.L.) this copying paper. Put it on top of the ink written original and screw press it down so that the moistened ink of the original will soak into the "Stout Buff". If you have pressed it correctly for the required time, when you lift it, you have a copy of what was written. And if what we are looking at are samples of the technique, then this copying method sure left a lot to be desired. We suppose that it was a matter of learning how because some of the copies are surprisingly clear - particularly the copies that were not written in Spencerian Script. If you are not sure what Spencerian Script is, go look it up in a Calligraphy Book. One of the reasons this cumbersome process worked for William Aitken was because he wrote very few letters and these as short as he could get away with.
Visualize the set up at Mobert. Aitken, the store manager is probably there by himself. There is no radio. There is no road. Mail, when it came is delivered at the whim o the section men of the Trudeau Section. He had to send a courier to Trudeau to even see if there was any. Because the store was small, his stock was small and there is no indication how this was delivered. He doesn't mention a way-freight.
He starts off the brand new year of 1897 by sending a couple broken muskets to Montreal for repair. Now, why Montreal when they could have been repaired in Fort William?
On the second of February, he acknowledges receipt of the copying press mentioned above.
On Feb. 3rd, 1897 he writes to Alex Matheson Esq.' Nepigon (not Red Rock this time) " The monthly statements of this post have been closed and sent to Trudeau to be mailed from there. I have not bought any fur along the line since a little that I bought from O. Jalbert (Heron Bay) on the 18th of Nov. (1896) and I don't know if he has any at present to be disposed of. Mr. McDougal and Hogan of White River (independent traders?) have quite a lot of fur before Xmas and were going to let me have first, and therefore wrote to you but got no reply and after waiting a long while I had to write to the parties saying that I would not be able to transact with them at that time." "Mr. Hunter wrote to me some time after saying the Mr. Ross of Missanabie bought it all or a large part of it from them. I was sorry to let this chance pass me because I know I could have made quite a little on it at that time."
One has to wonder what was going on.
Here was an apparently experienced trader who wasn't about to stick his neck out without his superior's OK. One also has to wonder why Matheson didn't answer the guy's letter. Even given the tardiness of mail delivery of the time there were ways of communicating at regular intervals. The traders of Missinabi didn't have any trouble about deciding whether or not to buy it.