Friday, 9 March 2012

Father Petitot leaves Fort Garry 1862

Fort Garry and  St. Boniface by Paul Kane circa 1851-56. The church of St. Boniface on the left was a burnt ruin when Father Petitot arrived in 1862. 

"We took our place , M. Grouard and I, in one of the boats of the Hudson Bay Company that left that day for the ‘Grand Portage La Loche’.

The name is given to the point where the waters that flow into the Hudson’s Bay and the waters that flow into the Glacial Sea divide. This line is situated at 56’ 40’ latitude north. It was the most direct route to Lake Athabasca and the Mackenzie River which is where we were going.
The distance from Fort Garry to Portage La Loche was 482 French leagues which we would undertake in a small vessel called a York boat.
York boats are flat bottomed, pointed at both ends and displace 8 to 9 tonnes, which give them a capacity of 4 to 5,000 kilos. The keel measures normally 30 to 36 feet. It is rowed or sailed and steered with a long ‘aviron’ called a sweep and a rudder.
The York boat is crewed by nine to ten men, a ‘timonier’ called a gouvernail, a bossman or ‘devant de barge’, and eight rowers called the ‘milieux’. These milieux are also the porters.
These boats travel in small flotillas of three to twelve units called brigades. Each brigade has a pilot or guide.
New sailors, and the travellers on their first trip to the interior are given the nickname of 'mangeur de lard’. This name is equivalent to ‘bejaune’ from our schools of the old days, and of ‘greenhorn’ or ‘green-hand’ of the English. We were therefore ‘mangeur de lard’, Grouard  and I. There were several others on our boat also.
Our guide was an old French Canadian called Baptiste Lesperance. At 80 years old his actions were slowed but not his voice. His boat, always the first, was guided by his son.
A kind of guide, the Metis Michel Dumas, led our boat. Our cook and porter was another Metis called Baptiste Boucher, ‘mangeur de lard’ like us who was forced to come out of need. Our brigade had seven boats, all crewed by French Metis with a few ‘Savanais’ and Chippewa Christians.
A great cry: “Aoh! Aoh!” Pousse au large!” came from the lungs of Lesperance, made me understand that the old guide, however white haired he may be, was nevertheless a ’diable a quatre’ still green and full of energy.
A savage cry: “Wi ! Wi !” uttered by the crews, answered this order, and the seven York boats took their leave on the ‘Miskwa-Kamaw Sipiy’.
Twenty five years later I still seem to see the pitiful figures that  Grouard and I made in our boat filled with sugar boxes, barrels of powder, bolts of cloth and cases of tobacco, with only a felt hat for shade, seated on the first piece of baggage we found."
(page 203-205) ....En route pour la mer Glaciale by Emile Petitot

The Stone Fort (Upper Fort Garry)

Father Petitot's supplies

At the Stone Fort, I bought some more provisions for our journey. Our complete list of supplies now included 125 kilos of flour, two bags of sea biscuits, 25 kilos of pemmican, 4 smoked and cooked hams, 6 large loaves of bread, a big bag of buffalo tongues and smoked meat, a small case of eggs, a little bag on onions, 3 pounds of Congo tea, a small barrel of maple syrup; some sugar, ground coffee, salt, pepper and butter.
Two blankets rolled in a oil skin bag, a hatchet and a case of clothes completed our baggage.
I had not expected to travel in such a grandiose way. I had even protested in all my power. This brought to mind “St. Paul et son baton”! As a response the good bishop who had accompanied us, Monsignor Tache, smiled like a father and with a little irony told me:
-Take what is given, dear one. You are still too much of a “mangeur de lard’ to make sacrifices right now. You will soon be so abandoned!  Saint Paul did not travel to savage lands. Hard days and misery will come for you sooner than you think.
And with this prudent council he gave us his benediction with tears in his eyes.
In a friendly manner the old Lesperance added jokingly:
-Ah! Well, I will tell you that you are set up like men of importance. It’s too bad that you have to travel with such rich supplies. You’ll hope for a little bit of it when you are on the great northern river; there you will only find “du tondre et des bardeau” to eat.
Caress, enjoy this ham while you have it. It may be the last one that you eat for the rest of your life. (pages 205-206)

Passengers are picked up on the Red River

“Between the Stone Fort and Lake Winnipeg was a protestant mission of “Savanais”. These Indians are now called “Machkegons”.We stopped a few moments to pick up in one of the boats a Scot Chippewa Metis, who was going for four years to the Mackenzie District. The reverend Mr. MacDonald was a man of 35 years, with amber eyes and the complexion of milk in coffee. He was dressed all in grey and he was single. That is he was not accompanied by a wife.
There we also picked up a young “Savanaise”with a small child who was to join her husband, William Charles Burke at Fort Yukon, towards Alaska. This courageous woman had to travel by boat 1500 leagues of this empty land to reach her husband. What courage! Without my knowing then, I was destined, after accompanying her to the Mackenzie, to see and appreciate her even more later on at Fort Good Hope.
We also had in our brigade a Catholic Chippewa family whose head, Francois Wabisten, also called Canard, would later become a member of my flock at Great Slave Lake.” (page 206-207)  ........."En route pour la mer Glaciale" by Father Emile Petitot more of Petitot's Journey at the "History of La Loche"

Red River Map