YE OLDEN TYME - Wolves in the Wilds of Algoma in 1900
19 May 2019
As J.B. Dobie tells early in this submission, wolves and wolf stories have been a part of traditional folklore for centuries, even well before this story unfolded which he passes on in this edition of “Ye Olden Tyme”.
As far as wolves go in Algoma, there is this tale from the turn of the previous century, and later my mother Margaret (McEachern) Swain told us of the chilling sound of wolves howling from the hill on a nearby clearing as her mother Tina (Dobie) McEachern chased the cows into the barn in the evening during the early 1920’s. They lived on a pioneer farm in Gould Township on the north shore of the Mississauga River just south of Axe Lake.
And of course wolves are still around the area, often seen on iced over lakes in the winter and a couple of years ago we saw some young wolf pups on top of a rock cut on Highway 129 towards Wharncliffe. The scary stories will continue I'm sure although modern statistics clarify that threatening interaction by wild wolves towards humans is virtually non-existent.
YE OLDEN TYME
By J.B. Dobie
To Editor of Algoma Advocate,
Komta Cottage, Basswood Lake, January 1926.
Every once in a while a new wolf story is published. Some fellow either kills one with a snowshoe, or is eaten up so completely that nothing is found but a few buttons where the man ought to be. The latest is a fur trader who was attacked by a pack of wolves who ate his dog etc., and he only escaped because he was such a prevaricator (liar), the wolves were afraid he would ruin their reputation.
The “Toronto Star” has fallen for many of these stories but now declares itself “off wolves for good”. The “Sault Star” did some good work by organizing a wolf hunt and having some wolf hounds imported to assist in the capture. A school house was chosen as the best starting point and the hunt should have been a big success as there were a number of good hunters there. But they left Little Red Riding Hood out of the programme and the wolves were so disgusted that they refused to be hunted.
But I am sure that the efforts made by the Sault Star resulted in proving: 1st, that we have wolves in Algoma; 2nd, that they will kill sheep, fowl and in some cases young cattle; 3rd, that they never attack human beings; 4th, that they can be trapped and hunted; and 5th, that most of the thrilling wolf stories that we read are 100 per cent fairy tales.
The only Algoma wolf story I ever wanted to believe was that of a MIchipicoten man, who was attacked by a wolf, and while holding down and fighting with his attacker, the rest of the pack attacked him. They tore out the back out of his coat, etc, and yet he marvelously escaped. He can say, “If you don’t believe me, look at my coat”.
The trouble is now that if a man comes forward with a real wolf story the public are not inclined to believe it, and that is my main reason for not telling sooner the story that Marcelle told me years ago in a cabin at the King Edward Mine in Rose Township.
First I must tell again about Marcelle, one of the most resourceful little French Canadians who ever came to Algoma. He was short and not too stout, not very badly bow-legged and had a bristling moustache that met his eyebrows - had he been obliged to travel on his looks alone he would have never gone beyond the back forty. But nature gives great compensations as he had a wonderful disposition and was so useful he could turn his hand to anything. If you had a wheezy engine, Marcelle would repair it and run it. He was a good trapper and keen sportsman, an expert with a canoe and could carry with ease over a long portage a big canoe or a pack containing well over 100 pounds, and he could cook! Well the world would be crowded with domestic happiness if every woman could cook as well as Marcelle.
He was a good miner both with a hand drill and steam drill and handled dynamite as easily and carelessly as he would roll a cigarette. He would climb a telephone pole as easily as he would step into a bucket and slide down into a mine shaft. His French-English accent and manner of speech added a peculiar charm to his conversation.
At the time I refer to, he was with his team of horses, unwatering a shaft at the King Edward Mine for a Chicago company to sample at the bottom of the shaft in the early 1900’s. A gentleman from Chicago was there to see that the sample came from the bottom and Sam Lobb was supervising the work. Marcelle always called him “Mr. Lobbs”. This is not an advertisement, but there is no harm to say that the 500 pound sample of ore for the Chicago company produced copper, gold, silver and zinc. (Sam Lobb was one of the early experienced Cornish miners to be brought over from England to start up and work the copper mines at Bruce Mines in 1850 – he married a local Bruce Mines girl Ellen Trainor and they were the parents of J.B. Dobie’s wife Mary Caroline (Lobb) Dobie).
I went out to see how the work was progressing at the mine and remained overnight. It was under those circumstances that Marcelle entertained us with what he said he would swear was a true story. (The old saying that a mine is a hole in the ground and the owner of it was a liar does not fit in here for Marcelle did not own the mine. My son Jim was the owner and he was not present and anyway I never caught Jim chopping down any cherry trees).
Marcelle said he was cooking in a lumber camp north of Massey. On New Year’s Day he was allowed to have a holiday and decided to spend it hunting. He wanted a moose for the camp so he started off early with his trusty rifle, and 100 cartridge in his leather cartridge belt, which just held that number. When noon came and he had seen no large game he shot the head off a partridge with one of the cartridge, leaving 99 in his belt. He broiled the bird over a little fire and had a nice lunch, took his bearings and again started on his hunt.
Later he turned and started back to camp, but found it becoming dark before he could reach the camp. So he walked around a little lake towards an old camp from the year before, which he could reach before dark. Within a hundred yards of it he heard a pack of wolves in full cry on his trail. He ran as fast as he could to the camp and chose the smallest building for shelter because it had a good door and hastily made arrangements to stay overnight.
He fastened the door none too soon as the wolves surrounded the camp and to use Marcelle’s words “they seemed to be in “tousands” . The little building that Marcelle had chosen had a shanty roof and the lowest part of it was only a few feet from the ground. In one corner was a hole in the roof big enough for a wolf to put his head through. Marcelle in his haste had not noticed this until he heard a wolf jump on the roof and then saw his head coming through the hole. Marcelle very promptly shot him and when the wolf rolled off the roof onto the snow the pack tore the wolf to pieces and quickly devoured him.
Marcelle could tell by the noises what was taking place. After a while another wolf jumped on the roof, stuck his head through the hole and was dispatched in the same manner, and so the game went on. One after another the wolves would jump on the roof and receive a bullet from the rifle and roll off and be eaten.
Just as day was breaking Marcelle fired his last cartridge completing the 99. There was no further noise outside and after waiting a while he removed the door and looked out and found there was not a live wolf in sight. Sam Lobb said “Well there must have been a heck of a lot of dead wolves lying around for you to skin.” “Well Mr. Lobbs, not so many as you would think. You see, every time I kill one the others ate him up, and there were only seven dead ones left , but oh, they were big fellows.” “Well said Sam, even seven would give you a lot of bounty money.” “Well you see, said Marcelle, I was too hungry to skin them right then, so I hurried off to camp to get my breakfast and get some help to skin them, and there was so much work to do I did not get back till next day and then found that another pack of wolves had came along and eaten the seven all up.”
Just then Marcelle said, “I must go out and fix my team up for the night. As he closed the door Sam Lobb said, “I don’t believe that blankety blank wolf story, do you?” Marcelle then opened the door back up and stuck his head in and said with some anger – “ That’s the trouble Mr. Lobbs. Some big liar come along and tell you lot of lies and you believe him. I tell you something that really happen to me, and I will swear on a stack of Bibles big as this camp it all did happen, and you say I not tell de truth. Very nice ting for you Mr. Lobbs.” And he slammed the door and went to the stable to attend to his horses. I have omitted a lot of detail but the gist of the story is as he told it.
Marcelle was killed years ago by a premature explosion in a Cobalt mine. Sam Lobb died very suddenly while superintending the opening of a mining prospect in Gould Township for John McEachern. The Chicago gentleman, we never heard from, after receiving the report of the ore sample. The wolves still howl at night in the wilds of Algoma.