WANDERING....Then Came The Whiteman
(Ile-a-la-Crosse History part I)
The restless highway of water shimmered in the June sunshine. Sakitawak just behind them, the canoes surged forward to reach the river opening. Furs waited in bundles for the long river trip to the Whiteman. Stroke after stroke in song-like pattern bore the men onwards. The lake was kind today, Manitou has bid the wind to rest and let the people pass this large water in peace.
Silence was on all sides, yet the world was filled with the sounds of an active world. The cry of the raven, the splash of the paddle, the laugh of the solitary loon, together with their brothers and sisters of the water, land and the sky feasted in this natural, eternal silence.
This is our home. This land, this water, this air. Where ever we pull to shore with our canoe and build the fire of warmth - that is our home. Manitou does not chain us to a piece of earth. We are all like all of Manitous children - free to roam the bountiful land and share in the life and peace of a peaceful land.
The canoes edged onward nearing that mighty river that travels to the Whitemans fort. Behold, there appeared on the horizon, canoes - the canoes of Whitemen, for all do not share the labour of the paddle. We have met you in peace.
We continued our voyage til the twenty-fourth, June 1776, when a large opening being before us (entrance into Ile-a-la-Crosse Lake), we saw a number of canoes, filled with Indians, on their voyage down the stream. We soon met each other in the most friendly manner.
Go directly to the Website of Canadian Artist Glen Scrimshaw.
Alexander Henry and Joseph Frobisher beached their canoes laden with trade goods. The presents were laid before the men of the north country. Liquor flowed, pipes were smoked, tea drank and food shared. Words sailed through the barriers of race and language. Wonders of a country called Athabasca brought a gleam of greed and lust into the eyes of the Canadian peddlers. Trading followed the sharing of words and bodily comfort, and became part of the excitement. Knives, needles, kettles, cloth, hunting weapons and more poured freely into the hands of the wilderness people, all in return for the fur of the ever-giving land. Frobisher eyed in wonder the heaps of beaver, marten and otter before the trade canoes. Here, in return for almost worthless trinkets of a rich and fat civilization, the savages had given a fortune.
Soon time drew apart the parties, and a return was made to their starting places. The wilderness trappers paddled across lac Isle-a-la-Crosse to Sakitawak and on to their home camps. Their people waited. They would rejoice at the early return of their men weighted with the treasures of the Whiteman.
Returning to their post on Beaver Lake, north of Hearnes Fort Cumberland, Henry and Frobisher talked of the furs to be had in the Athabasca country. Some way must be found to get there. Josephs older brother, Thomas Frobisher, was to go up the Churchill river with a veteran of that river, Louis Primeau. Louis has set up a post for the past winter at a lake near to the trading spot at Lac Isle-a-la-Crosse, a lake since called Primeau Lake. Alexander and Joseph were to continue on to the Grand Portage and Montreal with their 12,000 beaver and large number of other furs.
Hopefully, Thomas and Louis Primeau would reach the Athabasca country and return in the early summer with a fortune in excellent beaver. Nature allowed Thomas Frobisher and Louis Primeau to reach the entrance into Deep River, at the South West end of Lac Ile-a-la-Crosse. Her on an isthmus, they constructed a fort for trading and for wintering. Louis Primeau was then left to trade and Thomas Frobisher departed and followed other paths and pursuits, so suggests one writer of history, while other are quite certain Thomas remained at the fort. Whether Primeau, or Frobisher, or both - Ile-a-la-Crosse has been occupied and claimed.
Seasons passed by in quick order and the beaver lost. Furs piled high on the docks of Montreal. The Canadian peddlers, anxious to reserve the rich country of the north-west for their ever growing wallets, decided to form an alliance and partnership. The year was 1779. The place, the Grand Portage. Now the rivalry of trade was to be directed against the English Ð the Hudsons Bay Company.
Peter Pond became part of this alliance. With the combined resources of Montreal, he was outfitted to seek the Athabasca country. It was Natures intention that he should proceed to Ile-a-la-Crosse and remain at the wintering post constructed by Frobisher and Primeau. Trade was good and talk guided his plans to the spring. With the breakup of the waterways, Pond paddled northward past the lakes that bear his name, on the Portage La Loche, to the Athabasca country. He stayed the winter for trade. Then in the spring of 1784, he returned south and east to the Grand Portage only to find that he now belonged to a new company - the North West Company. The days of the free trader had come to an end.
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Copyright Michael J. Durocher, 1997