Through the Mackenzie Basin: A Narrative of the Athabasca and Peace River Treaty Expedition of 1899…. Also Notes on the Mammals and Birds of Northern Canada.

p. 5-7, where the Preface provides a good introduction to the expedition and this book: The literature descriptive of Northern Canada, from the days of Hearne and Mackenzie to those of Tyrrell and Hanbury, is by no means scanty. A copious bibliography might be compiled of the records of its exploration with a view to trade, science, or sport, particularly in recent years; whilst the accounts of the search for Sir John Franklin furnish no inconsiderable portion of such productions in the past. These books are more or less available in our Public Libraries, and, at any rate, do not enter into consideration here. Such records, however, furnished almost our sole knowledge of the Northern Territories until the year 1888, when the first earnest effort of the Canadian Parliament was made “to inquire into the resources of the great Mackenzie Basin.” …

A treaty with the Indians of the region followed this Report in 1899; but, owing to the absence of roads and markets, and other essentials of civilized life, not to speak of the vast unsettled areas of prairie to the south, the incoming, until now that railways are projected, of any great body of immigrants was very wisely discouraged, and this in the interest of the settler himself. The following narrative, therefore, has lain in the author’s diary since the year of the expedition it records, its publication having been unavoidably delayed. It is now given to the public with the assurance that, whilst he does not claim freedom from error, which would be absurd, he took pains with it on the spot, and can vouch, at all events, for its general accuracy.

The writer, and doubtless some of his readers, can recall the time when to go to “Peace River” seemed almost like going to another sphere, where, it was conjectured, life was lived very differently from that of civilized man. And, truly, it was to enter into an unfamiliar state of things; a region in which a primitive people, not without faults or depravities, lived on Nature’s food, and throve on her unfailing harvest of fur. A region in which they often left their beaver, silver fox or marten packs—the envy of Fashion—lying by the dog-trail, or hanging to some sheltering tree, because no one stole, and took their fellow’s word without question, because no one lied. A very simple folk indeed, in whose language profanity was unknown, and who had no desire to leave their congenital solitudes for any other spot on earth: solitudes which so charmed the educated minds who brought the white man’s religion, or traffic, to their doors, that, like the Lotus-eaters, they, too, felt little craving to depart. Yet they were not regions of sloth or idleness, but of necessary toil; of the laborious chase and the endless activities of aboriginal life: the region of a people familiar with its fauna and flora—of skilled but unconscious naturalists, who knew no science.

Such was the state of society in that remote land in its golden age; before the enterprising “free-trader” brought with him the first-fruits of the Tree of Knowledge; long before the half-crazed gold-hunters rushed upon the scene, the “Klondikers” from the saloons and music-halls of New York and Chicago, to whom the incredible honesty of the natives, the absence of money, and the strange barter in skins (the wyan or aghti of the Indian) seemed like a phantasmagoria—an existence utterly removed from “real” life—that ostentatious and vulgar world in which they wished to play a part.

It was this inroad which led to the entrance of the authority of the Queen—the Kitchi Okemasquay—not so much to preserve order, where, without the law, the natives had not unwisely governed themselves, as to prepare them for the incoming world, and to protect them from a new aggressor with whom their rude tribunals were incompetent to deal. To this end the Expedition of 1899 was sent by Government to treat for the transfer of their territorial rights, to ascertain, as well, the numbers and holdings of the few white or other settlers who had made a start at farming or stock-raising within its borders, and to clear the way for the incoming tide of settlement when the time became ripe for its extension to the North. This time is rapidly approaching, and when it comes the primitive life and methods of travel depicted will pass away forever.

p. 105, between Fort Chipewyan and Fort McMurray: But old as the fort [Chipewyan] is, it has no relics—not even a venerable cabin. In the store were a couple of not very ancient fling-locks, and, upstairs, rummaging through some dusty shelves, I came across one volume of the Edinburgh, or second, edition of Burns in gray paper board—a terrible temptation, which was nobly resisted. Though there was once a valuable library here, with many books now rare and costly, yet all had disappeared.

p. 127: What can equal the delight in the wilderness of hearing from home! It was impossible to make Grand Rapids, and we camped where we were, the night cold and raw, but enlivened by the reading and re-reading of letters and newspapers.

p. 138: The Hudson’s Bay Company had built a post near Mr. Weaver’s Mission, and there was a free-trader also close by, named Johnston, whose brother, a fine-looking native missionary, assisted at an interesting service we attended in the Mission church, conducted in Cree and English, the voices in the Cree hymns being very soft and sweet. Mr. Ladoucere was also near with his trading-stock, so that business, it was feared, would be overdone. But we issued an unexpectedly large number of scrip certificates here, and the price being run up by competition, a great deal of trade followed.

p. 460, in the Mackenzie Basin: General Greely, U.S.A. (a renowned Arctic traveller), considers Collinson’s referred-to voyage as one of the most remarkable and successful on record. With a sailing ship he navigated the Arctic, forward and back, through 180 (61 one way) degrees of longitude, a feat only excelled by the steamer “Vega;” but he also sailed the “Enterprise” more than ten degrees of longitude through the narrow straits along the northern shores of continental America, which never before nor since have been navigated, save by small boats and with excessive difficulty. Of all Government naval expeditions searching for Franklin he (elsewhere mentioned) came nearest the goal. Admiral Richards has also characterized Collinson’s Arctic Journal as a “record of patience, endurance, and unflagging perseverance, under difficulties which have perhaps never been surpassed.”

p. 460: Again General Greely observes that as Dr. Rae was compelled to hunt and explore on foot without dogs or native Eskimo assistance, it should not be considered surprising that he did not examine all of West Boothia on the occasion of his hearing of Franklin’s fate, while he believed that his eleven hundred mile journey of exploration with two men in the spring of 1851 is one of the most remarkable on record.

p. 460-62: Readers of the narrative of the northern coast discoveries of Dease and Simpson, in the years 1837, 1838, 1839. ‘under the auspices, and at the expense, of the Hudson’s Bay Company, may remember that they erected a large and con- spicuously placed cairn of stones at Cape Herschell, latitude 68° 41′ 16″ north, longitude 98° 22′ west,—their most northerly attained point. This cairn was on the line of retreat of the Franklin men under Crozier and Fitzjames. Captain McClintock visited the spot early in June, 1859, and found that one side of the cairn had been pulled down, probably by the retiring party, and, from evident indications, they no doubt placed a notice and perhaps some of the valuable records of the expedition therein. Unfortunately, however, Eskimos undoubtedly visited, secured and destroyed these papers. McClintock says he could not divest himself of the belief that some record was left there, and possibly some most important documents which their slow progress and fast failing strength would have assured them could not be carried much farther. It was with a feeling of deep regret and much disappointment that he left Cape Herschell without finding any records whatever. He therefore truly remarks: “Perhaps in all the wide world there will be few spots more hallowed in the recollection of British seamen than this cairn on Cape Herschell.”

“Some regret had been expressed by many people interested in Arctic exploration that after the return of Sir Leopold McClintock no steps were taken by the British Government to obtain still further particulars of the fate of Franklin and his gallant men. In the United States, however, among our kith and kin, the subject was not forgotten. The late Captain Hall pursued a laborious investigation among the Eskimos of that region, and eventually ascertained that one of the abandoned ships, with five of her crew on board, had actually, and in a measure, accomplished the North-West Passage, and that she was afterwards deserted by them near Reilly Island, in about latitude 68° 30′ north, and longitude 98° 8′ west, where the Eskimo found her. Hall collected one hundred and fifty relics of the ill-fated expedition which had belonged to the officers and crews. It was also reported by Eskimos, through the American whalers operating in Hudson Bay, that one officer (Captain Fitzjames probably) and a companion were living as late as 1864, and that there were books and records in possession of the north-western tribes of Eskimos.

“These reports found little credence in England, but it was otherwise in the United States; and among other believers was a fine army officer, the late Lieutenant Schwatka, who, with Mr. W. H. Gilder as second in command, and two American companions, resolved on the difficult and even dangerous enterprise of testing their accuracy. In August, 1878, a Yankee whaler deposited themselves and their stores, provisions and equipments at a point named ‘Camp Daly,’ in latitude 63° 40′ north, and not far from Chesterfield Inlet. Hudson Bay. They passed the winter there, and on the 1st of April, 1879, they started out on their long and arduous journey to King William Island, accompanied by thirteen Eskimos, including women and children, with several kayaks or canoes and three heavily-laden sledges, drawn by forty-two native dogs, carrying about a month’s provisions for the party, consisting principally of bread and meat landed from the whaler, and their store of firearms and ammunition.”

It would occupy too much space to give even an abridged narrative of the work of these Americans on this wonderful journey. Suffice it to say that, with the aid of their Eskimo friends, they made a thorough and exhaustive search of King William Island, and of the country at the estuary of the Great Fish River, Montreal Island, and of the other relative points reported upon by Dr. Rae, Captain McClintock, and by the eastern Eskimos to themselves and Captain Hall. They met many Eskimos and discovered several probably despoiled graves, many human bones and other relics of the unfortunate expedition; but no records whatever, except one placed by McClintock in a cairn on “King William,” on 3rd June, 1859. Five months were spent on the island.

p. 469: Late in the autumn of 1862, the lamented Professor S. F. Baird, at that time Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution at Washington, wrote me that the reading of the List of Birds and Eggs collected on the Anderson, season 1862, was like a dream, as it contained a reiteration of species which he had always considered as the “rarest among the rare.” This, although good, was but the beginning of that probably unexcelled (individual) Anderson Collection, which that year was put up in ten; but which for 1865 (our best and last season on Franklin Bay), comprised thirty-five boxes of zoological, ethnological and other objects of Natural History.