Up The Neepigon River.

Five miles of paddling above the rapids brought us to the mouth of the river Neepigon, a rapid stream about 500 yards in width, we had to keep close to shore in order to avoid the current.

Our canoe was about 20 feet in length, and weighed perhaps 150 lbs., she sat as light as a feather upon the water, and the least movement on the part of any of the party tipped it over to one side. The paddlers sat on the cross bars–about two inches wide, Uhbesekun in the bows, then Joseph, the Bishop and myself, Jimmy and William, and Esquimau in the stern, six paddles in all, and we travelled at the rate of from four to six miles an hour.

About 1.30 p.m. rain began to fall, and the clouds threatened a storm. We paddled on fast to a convenient landing-place, and then went ashore for dinner, which we partook of under the tent, the rain pelting down in torrents. However, it was merely a thunder-shower, and in the course of an hour we were able to proceed.

By four o’clock we had reached our first long portage–three miles in length–and now began the tug of war. Esquimau and Uhbesekun got the huge canoe mounted on their shoulders–one at either end of it–keeping it in its position by ropes which they held as they walked, with their arms outstretched. Then followed Joseph with the bag of flour (70 lb.) carried by a portage strap, placed in true Indian style round his forehead. Then started Jimmy with the tent, blankets, axe, and gun, and the Bishop with his bundle of wraps hung on his umbrella. William remained behind with me while I made a sketch. There was no great hurry for us, as the canoe-bearers would have to return again to take the remainder of the things. William’s pack consisted of my camp-bed, blankets, mat, coats, &c, and I had the Bishop’s valise and some coats. The portage track was narrow, raspberry canes and high grass almost hiding the path; up hill and down hill, and across a creek. We soon met the canoe-bearers going back for their second load, and a little further on was Joseph, who had deposited his flour and come back to meet us.

The tents were already pitched when we reached the end of our tramp on the shores of Lake Jessie, and soon our cook was at work baking bread and frying pork for our evening meal.

We were all tired, and went to bed about 9 o’clock, after uniting together in singing and prayer under the open vault of heaven. “Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer, That calls me from a world of care,” was the hymn we sung. William shared my tent with me, and the rest of the boys, with Uhbesekun, slept under the canoe.

The next morning was bright, but with a headwind, we made slow progress. We accomplished twelve miles across Lakes Jessie and Maria and pulled up for dinner at Split Rock portage. Here was some of the grandest scenery we had yet witnessed–high, towering rocks, their crests clad with fir and birch-trees, the rapids rushing in a white foaming torrent over the rocks in two rushing, roaring streams, divided one from the other by a high, precipitous, rocky island. I made a sketch, and we had dinner, and then, having accomplished the portage once more, started paddling. It was not far to go this time. In half an hour we had reached Bland portage, and everything again had to be unladen and carried. Soon we were in the canoe again heading for the opposite shore, with a new set of rapids on our right. Now for some stiff work again, a long portage of about two-and-a-half miles. We each took our packs and toiled away, getting into camp about 6 p.m.

We were rather disappointed with the appearance of Lake Neepigon, with its large unbroken line of horizon, land being almost too distant to be visible. Our baggage was deposited on the face of a great slippery rock, sloping down gradually into the deep water of the lake. A favourable breeze was blowing, and as soon as we had dinner our blanket sail was rigged up. When we were well out into the lake we found quite a high sea running, and our canoe shipped water. Still we kept on, and made about twenty miles before we put into an island for the night at 7:30 p.m.

A disappointment awaited us next morning. A strong head-wind was blowing. We started at 8 a.m., and made about twelve miles. It was very rough, and the waves dashed over the prow of our frail canoe. We went in to an island for dinner, and, the wind increasing, we were obliged to remain there for the rest of the day. All our baking-powder was gone, and we were reduced to “grease bread,” i.e., flat cakes of flour and water fried in pork fat. They make a good substitute for bread, but are rather greasy. Joseph had shot a brace of ducks in the morning before coming away, and one of them we had for supper; which, with some potted beef and tea in a tin basin, made very good fare!

_August 9th_–We packed up, got all on board, and started precisely at 6:30. It was a head-wind and a high sea still, so we proceeded only about one mile to another island, and then pulled in to have breakfast and wait until the wind went down. At 1 p.m. we made a start, and ran about five miles to another island. After running twelve miles more we put in for supper. We calculated we had come fifty miles on the lake, and had twenty miles more to go. The direct course was sixty-five miles, but we had lost way by going into the bays.

_August 10th_–We stopped two hours on the island where we landed for supper last night, and then–it being bright moonlight, and the wind having calmed down, we started again on a twenty mile stretch, determined, if possible, to reach the H. B. C. Post at the head of Lake Neepigon before midnight.

The Bishop settled himself down in the bottom of the canoe, and Uhbesekun, the four boys and myself, plied vigorously at our paddles–forty-two strokes per minute. It was a glorious night, and the keen air put fresh strength into our muscles, so that we kept on untiringly for nearly three hours. Just at 11 o’clock we came underneath a stupendous cliff, its dark, rugged face glittering in the moonlight, extending far up towards the sky above us, with a few ragged fir trees crowning its summit. It was the grandest scenery we had seen yet.

Our voices echoed as we passed beneath it, and we heard afterwards that it was called Echo Rock. After passing the cliff, another mile or so brought us to the Post. We had some difficulty in finding a camping ground in the dark. The shore was rocky, and we had to cut out a place in the thick bush on which to pitch our tents. The boys made up a large fire, which was grateful in the chill night air, and soon we had the pot boiling for tea. It was 1.30 a.m. when we got to bed, well tired after our long paddle of seventy miles across the lake.

Next morning the Bishop was the first one astir. About 8 a.m. I got up and went with Uhbesekun to H. B. Co.’s store to buy baking-powder and sugar, both of which we had run out of. Prices are high here, flour is 6_d_. a pound–at the Sault it is only 1 1/2_d_. Our cook had only just woke up, and was rubbing his eyes when we got back. We were glad to get “spider-bread” again (bread baked in a spider or frying-pan) instead of grease bread. Several Indians came round. I had a very interesting talk with a chief this morning. He and another man came over in a canoe from an island close by, and Esquimau and myself talked to them as they sat floating on the water, keeping the canoe off the rocks with their paddles. The chief was certainly the most intelligent Indian we had yet met with on our travels. He was greatly interested in hearing about the Shingwauk Home, and said that if he had a son young enough to go he would send him, but his children were all either grown up or dead.

We felt very thankful thus to meet one at length who will listen, and who seems anxious for the improvement of his people. The old man’s way of speaking reminds me very much of “Little Pine” of Garden River, and he appears to be a man of much the same stamp. Just after this a couple of young boys visited our camp. One of them was a half-breed. They carried bows and arrows, and were shooting squirrels. We gave them an alphabet card. Most of the Indians just round the Post are Roman Catholics, but those scattered over the lake, about 500 in number, are nearly all pagans. The name of the chief with whom we talked this morning is David Winchaub (Bowstring).

We had tea about 7 o’clock, and then put our canoe in the water and paddled over to the island to visit our friend the chief. He was sitting cross-legged in a large tent, his summer residence, cooler probably than a wigwam. Only Esquimau and Joseph were with me. We entered the chiefs tent and soon got into conversation with him.

I asked him if he would like me to relate to him the history of Little Pine’s conversion to Christianity. He said yes, and listened very attentively, several times uttering ejaculations, as I recounted to him how bewildered Little Pine had been about the many religions offered to him when he was still a pagan some forty years ago; how he and his father and other Indians made a journey of 300 miles in a canoe, and then walked another 100 miles till they got to Toronto; how they went to visit the Great Chief, Sir John Colborne, and asked his advice as to what they should do about religion, and how Sir John Colborne said to them, “This country belongs to the Queen. I belong to the Queen’s Church, and I think all you Indians, who are so loyal, ought to belong to the Queen’s Church too.” And then, how Little Pine and his party returned to Garden River, and ever since that time had been faithful members of the Church of England.

The Chief then made some remarks expressing his approval of what we had told him, and said he quite understood all that we meant.

I then asked him if he would like me to tell him what was written in God’s book, the Bible. There was only one Bible. French Christians and English Christians were the same in that,–they had only one Bible. He would see from what I would tell him whether it was the same as what he had been taught. He said he was willing to hear and asked me to proceed. As he was rather deaf, and I wanted him thoroughly to understand. I asked Esquimau to interpret what I said instead of speaking to him myself. As I dwelt on the universal sinfulness of mankind, and urged that there was not a single one free from sin, the Chief said emphatically, “Kagat, kagat, kagat, kagat! me suh goo azhewabuk!” (Truly, truly, truly, truly, it is indeed so!) The boys and myself then knelt and offered up prayer to God for this poor, ignorant, yet eagerly-listening chief, and for his people, that they might be taught the true way to life and eternal happiness. It was 9.30 p.m. when we paddled back to our camp. We met as usual around the camp fire, and each one repeated a verse of Scripture; then we knelt in the shade of the dark bush, with the ripple of the water in our ears, and God’s heaven lighted up by His silvery moon, nearly at its full, and offered up our confessions, and prayers, and praises to Almighty God before retiring to rest.

_Sunday, August 11th_–While I was dressing, William came to say that a squaw had come in a canoe with fish to sell. I said, “No, we do not buy fish on Sunday.” So he gave her a piece of bread and sent her away. We had arranged with the Chief to hold a short service in the afternoon at his camp, so we passed the morning quietly among ourselves, reading the first part of the Church prayers, chanting the Psalms, and one lesson, and then the Bishop taught and catechised the boys from the Gospel for the day (Matt. vii. 15).

In the afternoon, about 4 p.m., we put our canoe in the water, and leaving our pagan guide to take care of the tents, the Bishop, four boys, and myself, paddled across the water to Winchaub’s camp. After waiting some little time, about sixteen or seventeen people gathered together; being Roman Catholics, the Bishop thought it best not to attempt a service, but merely to address them on the object of our visit. So, after shaking hands with the Chief, the Bishop began.. He spoke first of man’s sin and the love of God in preparing a way of salvation for us by the sacrifice of His own Son. Then he spoke of the uselessness of mere formal religion, and that we must give our hearts to God. The Bible, he said, teaches us to care for and to do good to one another. Then he referred to our Industrial Home at Sault Ste. Marie, and after urging the people to send their children to it, left it to me to give a detailed account of the work of the Home. The Indians listened attentively to all we said, and the Chief thanked the Bishop, and said that he and the other men would talk together about what they had heard, and later in the evening he would come over and give the Bishop their answer.

Wilson, Rev. Edward F. Missionary Work Among the Ojebway Indians. London: Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge. 1886.

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