Freighting Supplies up the Pic River 1910
William McKirdy (of Nipigon) contract with Canadian Northern Railway
John G. (Jack) McKirdy made notes before taping stories for his three grand children in England between 1969 and 1971. Also involved were exchanges with his two grand daughters in Edmonton. The notes were transcribed and edited by his son, John G. M. McKirdy.
When I was quite young, your great grandad [William McKirdy] took a contract to supply and deliver four tons of provisions for the engineers locating the Canadian Northern Ry. North line east of Nakina. This was to be an exciting job for me. I figured I was an experienced canoe-man. My faithful Joe Salt, “Sheeptogan”, was in charge of the party with Paul Cameron, my canoe partner and myself.
This was an exciting job for me.
While I thought I was an experienced canoe-man by this time, it was on this trip that I graduated.
[Dad (Jack) would have been 19. JGMM]
Dad [William] figured out the supplies for the delivery crew on the trip, with instructions we were not to touch any of the contracted supplies. The supplies, eleven Indians, and myself with six canoes, three birch bark canoes and three all wooden chestnut canoes, canvas came later, landed at Heron Bay on the C.P.Ry. the 30th of September, 1910. The supplies were to be cached at Pagwachawan Lake, at least 400 miles [643km] from Heron Bay. [Very windy river, less than 300 km as the crow flies.]
Starting up the Pic River, we knew there were 26 portages. The supplies had to be packed on our backs with head-straps [tump lines] . The average load was 250 pounds.[ 113 kilograms] The head-strap was about 12 feet long, [3.65 meters], widened to three inches [7.62 cm] at the middle. It was placed over the top of your head with the load on your back. At one level portage, about an eighth of a mile long , the crew started a competition. One Indian would take 400 pounds, the next 500 , then Sheeptogan, Joe Salt, the main Indian Boss on the trip, loaded six, 100 pound bags of flour, two tied to the strap the other four piled on top. I followed him with the same load of 600 pounds. When I dropped the load at the end of the portage I thought I was going to float up into the air. We held the record. That is the most I have ever carried on my back. You have to practice and build yourself up to carry a load like that.
[ 400 pounds = 181 kilograms; 500 pounds = 226 kgs; 100 pounds = 45kgs; 600 pounds = 272kgs]
On the road a week and we were out of sugar, syrup, jam etc.. It was a tough deal packing sugar and not being able to use it.
On Cranberry Portage Jerry Morriseau and I were packing a heavy freight canoe when I kicked a can, it was rusty but wasn’t empty. We let the canoe down, it was a five pound can of corn syrup. Jerry and I sat there, cleaned up on it and not a word to the rest of the crew.
Near the end of the trip, in the canoe ahead of Paul and I, Joe Salt called a muskrat that was on the bank. He swam over to the canoe. Joe conked him with a pole. In that stretch of fast water we all used poles instead of paddles. By the time we camped that night, Joe had picked up nine muskrats, for cooking as a stew in a couple of our big pails. The muskrat, “bouwal”, that night was beyond description. Joe and some of the others could turn out food fit for kings.
The final portage was six miles long over the height of land and it took three days to pack the supplies into Pagwatchewan Lake. Twelve days out we landed at the lake, spent two days to build a log building to store the supplies to keep them dry and so animals could not get at the supplies.
[On the current, 2017, road map the lake is spelled Pagwachuan.]
The last night on Pagwatchewan Lake , ‘Wazogo’, Michael Daba, shot a couple loons. This called for a celebration. After supper, the loons were cut up, adding lake trout, salt pork, white beans, rice, dried potatoes and onion, then boiled in our biggest pail for two or three hours as a stew, “anabobecon”. I caught the lake trout, they were so plentiful I caught one on every cast. We sat around and one at a time they told stories, all in Indian. Finally the pail came off the fire, then each of us with a cup, drank the broth, ate the fish, then the loon. Loon is about the toughest bird that flies, but they consider the loon to be a real treat. It is tough and you can chew it like chewing gum. The best of the party was the stories they told, their experiences with animals and trapping and travelling. The loon was tough, alright, but I never will forget that party. My recipe for loon would be to place the loon in a pot with a rock and when the rock can be pierced with a fork you know the loon is cooked and ready to eat.
At all of these portages there were rapids, on the way back we ran some of them with the canoes. It was late in the fall when we made this trip and on the way back there were small lakes where we had to go through that were covered with ice. We broke the ice with a heavy poplar pole. With the delay, we ran out of food for three days. We lived on a fish diet and an odd partridge, but I had cached five pounds of flour in the bottom of my packsack. We had this, with a rabbit I snared the last night before we landed at Heron Bay. One of the canoes with Joe Salt went on to Heron Bay, travelled almost all night and when the rest of us reached the bridge the next day, a real meal was all set out for us as we came in. We loaded everything on the train, landing in Nipigon early in the morning. Mother had breakfast all ready and I ate everything that she had cooked.
Revised by John G.M. McKirdy to Oct. 2016.