Saturday, 3 March 2012

Francois Beaulieu of Salt River, NWT

A portion of Sir John Franklin Expedition map of 1819-20

“That same night we set up our tent at Salt River. It is an undrinkable river whose source is the Caribou Mountains. The salt of this river is deposited naturally on the shore where a great quantity is taken to supply all the forts and missions of the north.
This river belongs to the its discoverer, a French Metis called Beaulieu, who has worked a piece of land into a nice farm where he lives with several of his children.

He is one of the oldest who witnessed the events that happened in the north. His father, a Frenchman, was a “coureur de bois” working for the “Compagnie des Sioux”. He came to this region that no one in Canada knew about. His son, our hero, who he had from a Chipewyan wife, saw arrive, in 1780, the first explorer of Slave Lake, Peter Pond; then in 1789, Sir Alexander Mackenzie. His uncle, Jacques Beaulieu, served as interpreter for the first of the officers of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Himself at 18, accompanied to Great Bear Lake another Mackenzie who was a professional hunter. In 1825, he was the interpreter of Sir John Franklin.
Chosen by the Yellowknife tribe as their chief, Beaulieu became the terror of the Dogribs, the Slaves and the “Secanais” of whom he killed a dozen, around Fort Halkett.  This Metis sultan, “sybarite” of the desert, who was of French blood but raised like a savage, had three wives; one Cree, one Dene and one Metis. He also had children in all the tribes he had visited, without counting six married children, fathers and mothers or grown children, that lived with him.
In 1845, Beaulieu, saw the first Canadian missionary, M. Thibeault, at Portage La Loche. The faith of his father, that covered his savage soul, was awakened. He became a serious convert, put away two of his wives and kept only the old Metis woman with whom he would remain faithful. He helped the others, returned their children, and insured that they were fed and supported. After that, the patriarch, which is what Beaulieu was called in this place, retired to Salt River, and sold its produce to the Hudson’s Bay Company. The salt, the crops from his fields, milk from his cows, fish “coregone” from the Slave River, and the hunt, was ample enough to assure him and his dependents an easy life. He also traded in furs.
When I saw Beaulieu, in 1862, he was 85 years old, yet he still hunted by himself, travelled hundreds of miles, running behind his dogs. He died a few days after his birthday at 101 years old, leaving behind a brother in law named Poitras who was almost as old as him.”

This is my translation of pages 312 to 314 of the following French book