Thursday, 18 February 2016

Journey up the Nipigon River, 1887 letters


Letter from Keith Denis, Director, Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society. August 12, 1975

TO: L. M. Lein, Nipigon Historical Society

Dear Buzz:

The enclosed copy of ‘Journey up the Nipigon River”  from “the diary of Hiram Worcester Slack, Summer of 1887” is forwarded to you at the request of Mrs. Nye who published the diary this year.  The original is in the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Would you please send a letter of acknowledging receipt of “Journey Up The Nipigon River” to Mrs. Allen M. Nye, …  St. Paul Minnesota … I am certain she would also appreciate your comments.

I enjoyed reading the diary and it certainly covers a period about which little has been published except in magazines.  Note the prices!

I expect you have been busy this summer and I hope to hear more about what you have collected.

Yours very truly,


REPLY from Buzz:

Dear Keith:

Just got the  “Journey up the Nipigon River” in 1887 and I most assuredly will be writing to Mrs. Nye as soon as I have read it about six more times.

It sure seems queer to be reading information like this about places that no longer exist but which are clear and distinct places in my mind.  It is almost like going on a fishing trip up that river with those guys.  I suffer through the flies – how well I remember what it was like in the days before fly dope.  And those Nipigon River thunderstorms, bottled up in the diabase canyons, furiously trying to light their way out – or over.

I deplore some of those pictures.  The cover picture is 1960 vintage, I’m sure. And some opther photos of the rough water on the Nipigon River, were, I suspect, taken before EC’s time.

I think perhaps that I will send Mrs. Nye a copy of that 1886 sketch map of the Nipigon River.  It is more suitable than the fish derby map used. You will also note that I have enclosed one for you to attach to your own copy.

I have not yet managed to catch up to the “log of the North Shore Club”.

Again, many thanks for the book and be assured that I will be writing Mrs. Nye shortly and thanking her too.  Best regards, Buzz

Letter to Mrs. Allen Nye from L. M. Lein – August 17, 1975

Dear Mrs. Nye:

Journey up the Nipigon River

It was easy for me to accompany your father on his fishing trip up the Nipigon River.  In spite of the fact that by the time I got here most of the primitive river was gone,  there was still enough of it left to give a good idea of what this stream was like.  When my input from numerous reports and personal conversations affects the interpretation, I come up with a darn good idea of what it was like.

Your father never even thought that some day someone would be reading his day book for historical pleasure.  This methodical and careful man was merely keeping a record because that’s the kind of man he was, right? And many thanks to you Mrs. Nye, for going to the trouble of having this booklet put out.

The fishing permit at the front of the book is the first one that I have seen.  The Newton Flanagan who signed it was Junior Chief Trader Flanagan who was in charge of the Hudson’s Bay Co. Red Rock trading post which was situated on the west bank of the Nipigon River near the present government dock in Nipigon.  Nothing of it remains.

Notes: July 25. For Bousha read Boucher.  For Lake Ellen read Lake Helen.  This is the first time I have seen the prices for railway fares in this time period.

Notes: July 26.  Camp Alexander was a camping place just below the present Alexander Falls. Note that they had an oil stove.  This was probably part of the package deal that would have been made with the H.B.Co. who arranged the tours and supplied the canoeing gear and guides.

Notes: July 27. The Long Portage was the portage around Cameron Falls.  Today a highway follows this route almost all the way. The first reference I have found to this by-pass was by John Long in 1776.  For Lake Marie read Lake Maria.  Don’t forget tha his guide was probably more familiar with French.

Notes:  July 28. Note that they were rowing the canoe and not paddling it.  This was very common.  The spectacular waterfall he came on was the White Chutes at the discharge of Lake Emma which no longer exists.  His upstream journey ended at the pool below Virgin Falls.  This in its day was the most famous trout pool in the world.

Notes:  July 31.  The guy is lonesome.  First time a long way from home in true wilderness? And he is most certainly not accustomed to the cold wet weather that we have in this country, walking over a portage after one of those rains would be like walking through an ice cold shower bath.

Notes:  August 1.  A thunderstorm in the Nipigon River valley is still a fearsome experience.  There are lots of them in the latter part of July and August. The storms seem to get trapped between the high diabase cliffs and try to blast their way out.  Louis must have got whatever it was he threw on the fire from the resident priest at the Lake Helen Mission.

Notes:  August 3.  For Bouscharg, read Bouchard.  There are many Bouchards still here.

There are a couple of , to me, curious things.  First, they didn’t catch very many fish in a place where he should have worn his arm off hauling them in.  And he doesn’t get excited over of the size of the ones they did land. They certainly never mentioned speckled trout the size of the ones they get anywhere else.  Secondly he barely gives passing mention to blackflies, mosquitoes and sand flies that infest the place.  Other early travellers were profanely lyrical about their hate for these insects.

I note also that there is no mention made of the coasts for the guides and the gear. Maybe Mr. Evans paid for this?

When it comes time to run off another edition of this journal, I am enclosing a copy of an 1886 sketch map of the Nipigon.  Along with the modern map shown this contrast will be of interest.  The cover photo is from the 1960’s and is of the Nipigon River immediately above the highway bridge that crosses the river.  May I suggest that one of the William Armstrong’s sketches of 1886 or the C.P.R.’s photos of 1885 or thereabouts.  You can get a good photo of the Hudson’s Bay Co. Red Rock Trading Post from the Ontario Archives, Queen’s Park, Toronto.

One of these days soon I will be starting on an area history.  I would appreciate permission to mention this journal with appropriate credit.

I am so pleased that I received a copy of this journal.  Special thanks and appreciation to the people who went to this trouble to make it available.

Yours truly,

L.M. “Buzz” Lein, Nipigon



Nipigon Museum the Blog POST of August 14, 2011



In 1887, Hiram Worcester Slack of St. Paul, Minnesota, came to the Nipigon River to fish and to observe the countryside. Thanks to his daughter, Julia Slack Nye, his record of the trip has been preserved and what follows are some excerpts from it.


Written by L.M. "Buzz" Lein  1981

No comments:

Post a Comment