Boulders of all shapes and sizes and sharp rocks set on edge were encountered along that part of the stream, which could be traversed with little or no risk to men, but which was very dangerous for boats. Great care had to be taken to prevent damage to keels and bottoms, and the labour of getting the boats safely over the portages and tracking them up the stream was exceedingly trying.
None but men of strong physique were of use here.
From the Matawin bridge to the Oskondagee Creek by land was 12 miles. To a point known as Young's Landing it was navigable, but from here on there was a succession of rapids, the most difficult on the route, and a deep canyon with perpendicular walls, through which the current dashed at a great speed. The boats had to be taken up this part of the river for 8 miles. These rapids end at Calderon's Landing, and this place was connected with the main road by a bush trail two miles long, called Browne's Lane, after an officer of the corps. By this trail supplies were hauled from the Matawin bridge to the Landing and transported by boats to Ward's Landing.
From Calderon's Landing to the Oskondagee the river was navigable for lightly laden boats, but the current was swift and the work severe, the men having to track along the high rocks, sometimes poling or wading in the swift and shallow water up to the armpits. From the Oskondagee to Ward's Landing, over 4 miles, the boats and supplies had to be taken by waggon.
The total distance by water from Fort William to the Oskondagee is about 70 miles, and prior to this expedition no boats had ever passed up.
22 November 2015
The bark canoe was the only craft considered suitable by the Great Fur Company's voyageurs, and with good reason. Dawson reported unfavourably of the route on account of the danger of damaging the clinker-built boats, but Mr. Maclntyre, of the Hudson's Bay Company, was of the opinion that we could make use of the route, though with difficulty. Even so the difficulties of that trip up the Matawin were stupendous.
It was hard enough on the soldiers, but it was still worse for the voyageurs, who were kept continually coming and going until the last boat had passed up. When Captain Young started up the Kaministiquia on June 3, rain was falling daily and the rivers were rapidly becoming torrents. The Kaministiquia, fed by smaller streams, rose 6 feet in one night. There were 7 portages to pass as far as the Matawin, one of them, at the Kakabeka Falls, being nearly a mile long and the fall no feet. The heavy boats had to be dragged up the hill at an angle of 45 degrees, and the load carried upon the men's backs over the portage.
The rain fell continuously, while the black flies worried the men during the day and the sand flies and mosquitoes at night. The method of bringing the boats across the portages was by skids short poles , cut and laid across the track at intervals of a few feet. When the boats were ready the long towline was secured to the forefoot or stem and passed over double to a ring bolt on the kelson, back again to the forefoot and there secured. Then a man would take the end of the towline over his shoulder to lead in the right direction; two of the most powerful of the crew, generally voyageurs, placed themselves at the bow with their backs against the side of the boat, seizing the towline where it passed above the stem, and braced themselves, while two more of the strongest men were at the stern.
The rest strung themselves along the towline or supported the sides of the boat by holding the gunwales. Those on the towline placed themselves in pairs or half sections, dividing the distance to the end of the fine, fastening their tumplines portage straps to the rope, passing the flat part over the outward shoulder, and hauled on the rope, bearing outwards a little.
As the boat went along the men at the bows lifted the stem over obstacles, such as stumps, stones or high skids, and in this manner they crossed the portage. Even on the few navigable stretches the current was often much too swift to admit of rowing or even poling; consequently tracking had to be resorted to in many places.
Sam Steele’s Adventures On Land and Sea, by Capt. Hugh Fitzgerald: a Project Gutenberg eBook
When at this work the voyageurs were in the bow and stern of the boat, each with a pole to keep it out from the rocky shore or to steer clear of boulders. The remainder of the men took hold of the line, one of them leading it the best way over land or along the shore, while the rest passed the fine over their shoulders. Often when the water was too deep near the shore they ascended the bank, the leader passing the rope in front of the trees while the others hauled on the line as was most convenient, running along and passing one another when necessary.
As a rule wading was preferred to taking to the high banks.
Frequently, owing to the swiftness and depth of the water, one would miss his footing and would have to hang on to the towline whilst the other men steadied themselves until he had regained his feet. Captain Young and his party reached the Matawin bridge in 7 days from Fort William. The voyageurs reported that they had agreed to go as far as, but no farther than, the Matawin, and were sent back by road and tug boat to Fort William. They stated before leaving that it was impossible to take the boats higher up the river, but a few days later Captain Young made the attempt without voyageurs.
He took only one boat, and after great difficulty reached the gorge on the canyon already described. He returned, convinced that it was useless to try to bring the boats up further by water. It has been stated by Captain Huyshe that no boats were taken up that part of the river, but this is an error difficult to account for, as all were brought up the bad stretch and on to the Oskondagee Creek.
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Dawson, who was in charge of the transport, etc. There is no doubt, however, that the difficulty was such that not one man in a hundred could have succeeded. It was left to Mr. Dawson knew them well and sent a messenger for Mr. John McKellar, and when he got a reply that John was not at home, he sent back the messenger to get any McKellar to come to him without delay, as he had very important business under consideration. Donald McKellar, at the time the only one at home, went in to see him and was told how things were at the Matawin.
Take with you a crew of local Indians from the mission at Fort William. Here is a letter to the foremen along the line, authorizing them to give you any men, boats or supplies you may want; see that you get the best, so that you will be sure to open up this route. McKellar suggested taking Iroquois and Sault St.
Marie Indians. When they arrived at the Matawin he chose three boats. While he was fitting them up for the trip, Captain Young, who was encamped on the opposite bank of the river, came across to where they were working and said to him: " You can save yourself all this trouble, for there are not men enough in the expedition to take the boats up this river. McKellar started with ten men to each boat, he taking the lead with the Fort William Indians. Towers followed with the Sault St. Marie Indians and Captain Pritchard with the Iroquois brought up the rear.
At nine o'clock in the evening they arrived at Ward's Landing on the Oskondagee, which was their destination. Captain Ward, of the 60th Rifles, was encamped there and rushed down to meet McKellar and his party. He was delighted and surprised, thinking it impossible to get the boats up the river so far. The feasibility of the route from the Matawin bridge was now assured, and it proved a great success.
The news soon spread, and there was great rejoicing along the line, for the success of the trip removed a load from the minds of all concerned. It looked odd on these parades to see our officers armed with rifles, but they are certainly a more useful weapon than the sword.
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A few hours after the parade the Arctic came in with the last of the detachment which had been at the Sault St. These were the last troops to land, and they came at a time when the thunder had for many weeks rolled round the vast solitudes where the white man was practically unknown. The rain was almost incessant, and the road was in constant need of repair. Bridges were swept away and transport trains cut off, so that they could neither advance nor retire.
The ingenuity of everyone was taxed to meet the situation.
The boats were going up the Kaministiquia, and large parties of men were posted at intervals to repair damages to the road. When they had finished one tedious job, knapsacks were strapped on, rifles grasped, and the company moved on to the next place needing repair. This road work was the hardest task in my experience in this land of severe trials and strenuous pioneering, but it was carried out under the direction of one of the most capable of commanders, whose example and tactful treatment of his troops inspired them to face cheerfully and remove every difficulty in their way.
One of the brigades of boats sent up the Kaministiquia left on June 14, under the command of Captain afterwards Sir Redvers Buller, who was soldiering for the love of it, and setting his men an example of self-denial not often seen. He was a great favourite in Canada and the Old Country to the day of his death.
On arriving he reported : The boats, nine in number, are arranged according to merit and capacity, durability, and speed; 2 white clinker-built boats marked R. Abbott, 2 large carvel-built, 2 small grey ditto; 2 marked T. The carvel-built are undoubtedly the strongest, but their weight renders them liable to rough treatment in portaging. They have no well holes, and therefore cany a large quantity of water, which it is impossible to bale out.
A large quantity of the cargo consisted of flour in barrels, the hoops of which not being nailed on, came off during the rough usages which they received in portaging. The felling axes to which Captain Buller alluded were the old army ordnance pattern, and were served out to us although quite useless.
Related Finding Steele: North Bay Pursuits
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