Saturday, 3 December 2011

West La Loche

The home of Aime Janvier at West La Loche in 1945.

West La Loche is considered by many to be the first permanent village built on Lac La Loche. 
It may have begun as a few houses in the late 1700's or the early 1800's.

By 1822 there may have been 120 people in 24 households on Lac La Loche.
These early log cabins were scattered around the lake with perhaps a small group of houses at West La Loche and at least a few houses in the La Loche area. Some were at the south west side of the lake where the HBC and the NWC had their posts. Some may have been at Black Point. 
Sir George Back stopped at some of these log cabins on the lake in 1822.
In 1822 most residents of Lac La Loche left for their winter camps north of the Clearwater River as they had done for many generations and they continued to do so for at least another century.

The villages on Lac La Loche had a population of about 150 people in the 1870's. Perhaps as many as 80 people lived in West La Loche. It may have had 16 to 18 houses plus the buildings of the Hudson's Bay Company post. The village began losing population in the 1890's when a church was built in La Loche.
In 1895 the population was 60 to 70 people.
A post office called "Portage La Loche" opened at the HBC post in 1926-07-10 but closed down in 1930-07-09. The postmaster was Henry Archibald McDonald.
The HBC post at West La Loche burned down in 1936 and was never rebuilt.
In 1944 both Father Ducharme and the HBC factor John Blackhall were encouraging the residents of West La Loche to move to La Loche to be near the school, the infirmary and the HBC post. The village had 11 families with about 58 people in 1944. In 1970 forty-three people lived in West La Loche. In 1986 there were three people. Alex Janvier, Joe Lemaigre and Joe's wife Monique. (from "Canoeing the Churchill" page 102) Today there is no permanent population. Several summer cabin's are located there.

Note: A post office was also opened in "La Loche" in 1926 probably in the Revillon Freres post with Thos. Batchelor as postmaster.

Photo taken on Lac La Loche 1918 (Blanchet Survey)
Photo taken on Lac La Loche 1918 (Blanchet Survey)
There is a cemetery in West La Loche. It is said that before this cemetery existed people were buried near the HBC post. There was a church in West La Loche. It is not yet known when it was built. It may have been built by Father Ducharme in the 1930's around the time he built a church in Turnor Lake. The church in West La Loche was sold by the Mission and dismantled fifty or sixty years ago.

Sir George Back wrote a description of the Lac La Loche posts while travelling through in 1820. There may have been 120 people living on the lake with a few houses in La Loche, West La Loche and around the two posts. The HBC post and the NWC post were on the south west side of the lake. 
The HBC Post were  "logs piled one above the other with mud and moss to fill up the crevices- there is a single partition which divides the Master's room from that of the men.-the former has half a roof to it-some parchment windows make up the whole-" The NWC Post was "a square and flat roofed hut just seven feet high-neither wind nor weather tight in which are stowed-Master, men, women, children, dogs and sledges-"
Returning from Fort Chipewyan in 1822 with a brigade of canoes he writes... " we touched at the houses on the borders of the lake and embarked a man in each canoe".
(from the book- Arctic Artist    The  Journal and Paintings of George Back, Midshipman with Franklin, 1819-1822 ( page 207))

Sir George Back's sketch of the Portage in 1825

Summer Population Estimates of Lac La Loche                                                           
120 ?
post-smallpox epidemic estimate based on the 1825-1838-1881 populations
based on an English River Dene Population estimate of 469
based on the English River Dene Population of 489 (HBC Census)
based on Father Petitot account of 150 Dene camped at the Portage
Father Caer (based on a Mission population of 275 less epidemic casualties of 59)
Father Legoff (based on the Mission population of 230)
Bishop Grandin (based on a Lac La Loche/Garson Lake population of 200)
based on the English River Dene Population of 531 (Canada Census)
Father Penard’s count
Canada Census
Father Penard’s count

  • The residents of Lac La Loche "camped at the Portage" every year when the brigade arrived.
  • "Dene" was used to describe all the residents of Lac La Loche until the treaties were signed. After the treaties most of the   residents were classified as Metis although they only spoke Dene (see "Ducharme Letter of 1922"). 
,,,,from West La Loche...The History of La Loche

The following coloured photos are from a boat trip to West La Loche in August 2015.

Alfred Toulejour with the La Loche sub-division of Poplar Point in the background (photo by Raymond Dauvin)

La Loche central (photo by Raymond Dauvin)

The clearing at West La Loche (photo by Raymond Dauvin)

The clearing at West La Loche (photo by Raymond Dauvin)

The clearing at West La Loche (photo by Raymond Dauvin)

Inside a cabin at West La Loche (photo by Raymond Dauvin)
Small shrine on the table (photo by Raymond Dauvin)

Friends Alfred and Justine Toulejour (photo by Raymond Dauvin)

Sun-bleached denims hanging outside the cabin (photo by Raymond Dauvin)

West La Loche clearing (photo by Raymond Dauvin)

The cemetery of West La Loche is just south of the Clearing of West La Loche (photo by Raymond Dauvin)

West La Loche cemetery  (photo by Raymond Dauvin)