Friday, 14 October 2011

The Portage La Loche Brigade

"The greatest and most important of the brigades organized at Red River Settlement is that commonly know as the Portage La Loche Brigade. The chief objects of this organization are to convey inland the English manufactures intended for barter with the Indians in the remote and valuable districts of Athabasca and Mackenzie River...""Red river" by Hargrave 1871 (page 160)

The Portage La Loche Brigade leaving Norway House between 1841-1847. The man watching is dressed as a member of a brigade.

History of the Portage La Loche Brigade
Men from the Red River Settlement recruited by the Hudson's Bay Company formed the first Portage La Loche Brigade of 1826.
 The brigade consisted of 7 York boats with Laurent Cadotte  as guide. 
The guide in 1833 was Alexis L'Esperance (he retired in 1866). In 1848 two Portage La Loche Brigades were formed. 
Each brigade had seven boats, each with a guide.
One brigade was still guided by Alexis L'Esperance (*Alexis Bonami Lesperance), the other by Jean Baptiste Bruce. 
In 1866 the HBC increased the Portage La Loche Brigades to three with seventeen boats in total. 
The last Portage La Loche Brigade arrived at Norway House in the early 1870's. 

Many of the men of the Portage La Loche Brigades of 1862 took part in the Red River Rebellion of 1869. 
Michel Dumas, Baptiste Boucher, Jean Baptiste Bruce (mentioned by Petitot) and most of the men 
were  French Canadian Metis from the Red River Settlement. 
Many of these men also had close family ties to residents of the North-West. 
A few years after the Red River Rebellion of 1869 the Portage La Loche Brigade route was broken up into smaller
shorter sections. 
The trip from the Red River Settlement to Portage La Loche would begin around the 1st of June and end around the 8th of October. 
This famous brigade traveled 4000 miles every year.

The following are estimates of the times and dates when the brigades arrived and left each section of their route.

Route of the Portage La Loche Brigade 
  • June 1...........leaving Fort Garry 
  • June 10.........arrive at Norway House (pick up supplies that were stored since the year before from York Factory) 
  • June 12.........Leave Norway House (Fort Bourbon to Cumberland House)
  • June 24.........pass Cumberland
  • July 9............Ile a la Crosse
  • July 17..........arrive at Portage La Loche (unload and portage supplies and load furs)

  • August 1........Leave Portage La Loche
  • August 5........pass Ile a la Crosse
  • August 15......pass Cumberland
  • August 21......Norway House (Oxford House/ Hayes River Route to York Factory)
  • August 31......York Factory (unload furs and reload supplies bound for Norway House and Fort Garry)
  • Sept. 10.........Leave York Factory
  • Sept. 30.........Norway House (unload supplies to be picked up again next year)
  • Oct. 8.............arrive Fort Garry (unload supplies)
From the "History of La Loche"

This photo of Lac La Loche was taken on May 1, 2010. It will take another week or two for the ice to break up on the lake.
Across the lake behind the island is the entrance to the portage. This is the only island on the lake.

"Vale of the Clearwater River from the Methye Portage" 
A 1828 etching by Edward Finden (from the British Museum) based on Sir George Back's 1825 watercolor.
 (It has been edited for contrast)

                                  from....The Fur Trade...History of La Loche

York boats being portaged painted by a 15 year old Peter Rindisbacher in 1821. 
This portage would be located between York factory and Norway House.
Rindisbacher was one of the Swiss settlers bound for the Selkirk Settlement (Red River) about the Selkirk Settlers
This painting by Rindisbacher in 1821 shows York boats and a camp on the shore of Lake Winnipeg.
Ice fishing on the Red River by Rindisbacher painted in the early 1820's. The location is now Winnipeg with Saint Boniface across the river.