"A Woman on the Mississauga" 1904 - Part 1

17 November 2020

A number of considerations come out of this impressive adventure diary transcribed from a digital copy of the 1904 Rod and Gun Canada Magazine. The article has a particular significance to me as both my Grandparents, John McEachern and Tina Dobie had a direct connection to the route of the legendary canoe trip around this time – John homesteading and prospecting on the lower reaches of the Mississauga River and Tina spending her summers on Basswood Lake at the termination point of the trip. No doubt that both of them observed the influx of tourists taking part in this adventure in the early 1900’s.

This detailed description of what was then becoming widely famous expedition from the Canadian Pacific Railway mainline in central Northern Ontario down to Lake Huron is very interesting. It sets a backdrop for a number of converging dynamics at play in Canada and the United States at the turn of the 20th century.

The connection of the railroad across Canada had been accomplished by the mid 1880's and this feat started an age of settlement and adventure along its route. By the 1890's and early 1900's, perhaps inspired by pioneer women who had played such a major role in the settling of the North American frontiers, the world was already seeing the emergence of woman adventurers. Mountain climberAnnie Smith Peck and adventure traveller/journalist Isabella Bird were like many other women who were forging their own blueprint for individualism and anti-stereotype amongst their gender.

With the upgrades to passenger rail transportation and the emergence of automobiling, the field of adventure travel had now opened up to all people. The growing population were now finding more leisure time as the industrial revolution put the final touches on broadly providing all the comforts of life - particularly in urban centers.

This diary was submitted for printing in the Rod and Gun magazine one year before the Canadian Camp Club was officially chartered in New York by a group of mostly wealthy American businessmen in 1905 (with the notable exceptions of prominent Thessalon residents Albert Dyment, owner of the extensive local lumbering interests at that time, and James B. Dobie, my Great Grandfather, storekeeper and unrelenting promoter of the settlement and growth of central Algoma).

Interestingly the routing of the CPR through north Ontario, perhaps coincidently as the shortest route or alternatively due to topographic advantages, roughly followed the watershed high ground. Rivers flowing north on one side to James Bay/Hudson Bay and flowing south on the other side to Lakes Superior and Huron.

The original concept of the Canadian Camp Club was to build linked Clubhouses stretching from Basswood Lake far north to Moose Factory on James Bay with the CPR mainline as the access mid- point at Winnebago or Biscotasing. From either of these locations you would plan between paddling downstream north or south. These alternate adventures would be sponsored by the Canadian Camp Club in cooperation with the CPR and would provide a recreation opportunity for the elite of the day who at that time were seeking such experiences away from urban life.

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An old Hudson Bay Company trading post was already located north of the CPR line on a tributary of the Abitibi River which would be a stepping stone for developing camps on the northern route. In 1905, the Canadian Camp Club officially took over the clubhouse described in this article on the north shore of Basswood Lake as the end point of the route to the south which consisted of a series of connected lakes and rivers leading to the final stretch downstream on the Mississauga River. The final portage of this south route was uphill from the River to the Lake Waquekobing Camp (future Canadian Camp Clubhouse on Basswood Lake) along a steep ridge forming a watershed barrier just before Red Rock Falls. Red Rock and Slate Falls, both significant and impressive cascading watercourses at that time, are now unfortunately submerged under Red Rock Lake flooded behind the hydro dam.

From the accounts which I have read, the route south towards civilization appeared to be the preferred route for most participants. There is evidence that the most adventurous of paddlers did undertake to run the route north into what was an even more wilderness and unexplored environment.

Bearing this background in mind, the fact that there were three female participants in this expedition in 1904 would be interesting although not novel as I mentioned earlier in this introduction. Since the article is written from her perspective, it is evident from the tone of the writer that the women prided themselves in being up to all tasks encountered along the route and felt equal at every turn to the group of brash collegiate young men and other males on the trip.

It was also interesting to note the respect with which the adventurers regarded their guides on the trip. The guiding crew were highly skilled at all aspects of hosting the adventure, including paddling, whitewater navigation, making camp, cooking, packing and portaging and it appears that they were of mostly native descent. Quite likely some of the men had travelled the same journey and traded at the Hudson Bay Post to the north prior to the construction of the CPR and the formalization of this more civilized consolidation of the canoe route. The pen name of the writer, Wahnapitae, was an Ojibwa place name and term for which I have seen several definitions, and it remains as the name of a small village on Highway 17 just east of Sudbury (how I remember stopping in with my Dad to Wahnapitae Lumber for supplies back in the 1960’s and blueberry picking in the acid scorched hills beyond the town). I speculate that Wahniapitae may have been a nickname bestowed upon the woman by one of the esteemed native guides. It would then appear that she considered it proudly enough to adopt it for her writing.

It was also observed that one of the guides was named Harris – I expect that this may have been William Harris Jr. a noted guide in the area who was a frequent contributor to Rod and Gun Canada Magazine at this time mostly on issues of natural and wildlife conservation. He would have been raised at Day Mills, the most southerly termination point of the journey on the south shore of Basswood Lake, the son of the town’s founder and most prominent citizen William Harris, Sr. As a young man he was a contemporary, friend and fellow adventurer of my Great Uncles Draper Dobie and Fred Dobie at Basswood Lake in the late 1890’s.

As mentioned the article is very detailed and it is quite a lengthy read. As such we have divided the transcript into two parts – Woman On the Mississauga Part 1 and Part 2. We hope you enjoy reading the diary as much as we did and we look forward to summarizing and posting more information on Algoma life back in the day.


A Woman on the Mississaga - Part 1

(Transcribed from the 1904 Edition of Rod & Gun in Canada Magazine - Notes added in italics by B.Swain.)


Winnebago, Ontario!

At this call from the conductor of the Canadian Pacific Railway our party of campers, consisting of three ladies, twenty three; men and boys, and seven guides,

alighted from the train at Winnebago, which is simply a name on the map, and even then not found on all maps, the new Rand & McNally has given it a place. It is (on the CPR mainline) northwest of Sudbury Junction, Ontario, Canada, 130 miles. Our first impression of the place was one of surprise, as we could see nothing there

but a beautiful clear spring by the side of the track. There is also a railway siding around which there will some day without doubt grow up a town of some kind.

After unloading numerous canoes and packs for the camp outfit, the train again started on its way to the Pacific coast. We all then began sorting our stuff, as six of us were to make a separate camp, twenty of the young men and boys having been up there since July 1st, before joining our party at Winnebago to go down the Mississauga. For a few moments the scene was rather a lively one, the guides and boys making themselves busy cutting tent poles and pegs, and pitching the tents, some of which were placed by the track, and others by the Winnebago River, which was but a short distance away. Soon the fires were going, the water boiling, and preparations for our first camp supper under way. Our dishes consisted of one enameled plate, cup, knife, fork and spoon, while for extra plates we had plain tin, which were used for serving plates, though most things were served right from the hot frying pan, or the boiling pail. For our first; supper we had to eat some of the bulky things in order to lighten and lessen the size and bulk of the packs.

A Woman on the Mississauga 1904-4

1905 photo of adventurers camping at Winnebago Siding before the canoe trip

Upon our first evening nearly the entire party gathered round a big camp fire, telling stories and getting acquainted. It was all very jolly and we were sorry to break up. But knowing that there were other evenings before us, and also an early rising in the morning, we finally said "Good night." We three ladies occupied one tent, being most luxurious, we thought, with narrow mattresses of excelsior, laid on top of pine boughs. We had great fun preparing for bed, our quarters being smaller than usual, and most things were done on our knees. We each had a bag containing our outfit, which was composed of a pair of heavy blankets, one of light weight, a rubber pouch, and an entire change of clothing.

Our camp rig was an army blue flannel skirt (this being good on account of the two deep pockets) a heavy woolen skirt, heavy shoes or shoe packs, such as the Indians use, with woolen socks to wear over the stockings, a soft felt hat, and a sweater. We had extra long coats in case of cold or rain. However, I should never take a long coat again, as it was not once removed from my case and just made extra and useless weight. A rubber coat, such as is used in automobiles, would be much better, taking small space, being light,and completely covering the skirt, either during walking or canoeing. A skirt four or five inches from the ground is about the right length, being short enough to avoid the bushes and much wet, and long enough to protect one from the mosquitoes, of which we had very few. Knitted socks for night wear are essential, as one is apt to unroll from the blankets. With all these, a Turkish towel, and a flannel wrapper, the outfit is about complete.

We were not long in getting to sleep and the first thing we knew again was in the morning blaring voices arousing the camp. To be sure it was only a little after five, but we were soon all up and out, as we were enthusiastic about our surroundings, and anxious to strike camp and be off up the river. This we accomplished about eleven, each of the girls giving a helping hand or rather head, having a pack on her back, suspended from her head by the use of the tump line stretched just above the forehead. This carrying is of course not compulsory, but if one is able and falls into the spirit of the thing, one wants to help take at first a light load, and add a little each day. Our packs being loaded, the camp ground being carefully looked over, ( always a most essential and important duty, so that nothing be left behind) "good-bye" is said to Division B who were to follow a day later, we step into our canoes, and are actually off on our trip of 250 miles. One tenderfoot on boarding her canoe slipped from a log and fell into the water filling her moccasin. This caused a little amusement to her companions, but filled her with disgust, that she should so soon make such a blunder. These things are, however, part of the experience and one soon becomes accustomed to them and takes very little notice of them. The best thing to do in such a case is to remove the moccasin, pour out the water and replace it without any fuss, all the time looking pleasant. Shortly after leaving Winnebago, Joe Saugeen, one of our Indian guides, called our attention to an Indian grave on the shore. On a square of about ten feet was enclosed by a picket fence, in the centre of which was a tall wooden cross. The Indians have a great fear of death, burying their dead as soon as possible. The practical side also has to come into play, there being no easy way of carrying a body, so that it is generally buried wherever death claims it.

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Pictures illustrating having a pack suspended from the head by the use of the tump line stretched just above the forehead.

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After paddling up stream through much burnt district for an hour and a half we came to our first rapid, which is, crossed by a rough log bridge. Here we landed for lunch, the guides immediately preparing food, the men taking a swim, while the girls picked blueberries, of which there were a great quantity. Never before did I think that evaporated cream with water would be good on berries, but we all thought so that noon.

After luncheon we portaged all the things and started on, soon to come to two more rapids, around which some of the canoes were carried, while others were pulled over the rocks. From then on the river proved itself to be very snakelike in its build, twisting and turning many times, often so abruptly that though we could not see each other owing to the bush, we could speak across the stretch of land in the various ox-bows made by the river (the term "oxbow" is widely used to refer to a U-shaped meander In a river, sometimes cut off from the modern course of the river that formed it).

This went on for an hour or more, everyone keeping up their hopes of getting to Lake Winnebago, the opening to which we could see far ahead of us. When we did reach the lake we were more than delighted with the sheet of water spread out before us, calm as a mirror, with its high banks reflecting the lights and shadows from the sun. We paddled about two miles up the lake, passing an Indian encampment, of which we afterwards discovered there were several on the lake.

Our camp that night was made in the thick bush, with a beautiful sandy beach just in front of us. While some set to work pitching tents and preparing camp, others of us went out fishing, having the good luck in a few minutes to catch enough for our supper and breakfast. These fish must have been decidedly hungry, as each one swallowed the hooks so far down its throat that it was difficult to extract them, until the jaw was pretty well cut to pieces, in a surgical operation. Here is one of the many times when the sheath knife worn in the belt comes into play. Do not go on a canoe trip without one. These fish certainly did taste good to us, as did all our meals. By going a little off our course we could have got bass and trout, the Indians told us, but our palates never tired of the fish we were catching. It was never difficult at any meal to get our party together, and no one was shy about letting his or her appetite show itself.

At this camp, Division A, as the college men called themselves, invited Division C our party of six, to their camp fire, which was about one hundred yards or so from us. Here we had many songs, Division A having composed several, with local hits on members of their party, touching on such subjects as growing beard, big appetites, misadventures, etc. The General here pulled out his last box of cigars, and the action met with a response in the form of the song: "For it was his last cigar."

On August 17th, our second morning, we were off at eight o'clock, this being our accustomed hour for breaking camp. Everyone was fresh and ready for a long paddle, feeling no ill-effects from the work of the day before. It was a beautiful trip the lake for two miles, everything looking so bright in the early sunlight. Passing a small island on our right, the General landed to blaze the canoe trail for Division B, which was following us. At the upper end of the lake we all noticed that our canoes suddenly dragged through the water, and we discovered that we were in such shallow muddy water that our canoes felt as heavy as lead.

A Woman on the Mississauga 1904-6

The portage was in the left hand corner of a small inlet. Here we had to carry for three-quarters of a mile, over a hilly boggy portage, at the end of which we found quite a number of pitcher plants, from which the party refreshed themselves. We now came to a small mud lake, across which we paddled. It was rather shoving the canoe along, the bottom not being firm enough to even pole the canoe. This, however, lasted but a few minutes, and we then entered into a creek which seemed to 'be but the outlet of a large spring running through the tall grass. It was a queer but picturesque sight, looking backwards and forwards to see the canoes winding through the tall grass, as the water was at times invisible.passed on. From this creek we emerged into a nother rather small lake, these two being the mother lakes of the Wennebegon River. We had no difficulty in finding the entrance to, or rather the outlet of another stream.

Here our course changed and we began going down stream, heretofore having been paddling up stream on waters flowing down to Hudson Bay. I cannot be too positive, however, as some of the map-makers said we had only one short day up stream. We were now between 1400 and 1500 feet above sea level, this being of course a great height, considering that we were in about longitude 85.50 and latitude 45.40. We had about 800 feet to run downhill with the water before reaching Lake Huron. Again we entered a narrow stream, which as much overhung with bushes, so much so that in some places the General, who was still in the lead, had to chop a path through for us.

It certainly was most picturesque to be winding our way among the alders, the bow paddle having to help a great deal, pushing the bow around the sharp turns. It was just such a place that if it were near home, a young suitor would like to take his sweetheart canoeing about the sunset hour, and the other party to the contract would like it too— that is after the first canoe, with the General in it, had been through and the hard work done. But even for the unattached the trip could be nothing but pleasant, and would make a lasting impression on their minds. Just as in life we turn the corners to find some obstacles facing us, which with thought and some exertion are soon overcome, leading us at last to the beautiful havens of accomplishment ; so we were now led to the beautiful Lake Kabushquashing, at which we arrived after a portage of one and a quarter miles.

We here saw "cached" a bag of flour, left by the Indians under a cover of bark until they could return from the woods for it. The Indians are very conscientious when finding a "cache" and very seldom is one touched except by the owner.

After a good luncheon of bacon, bread, beans, and corn meal mush, with maple syrup, which was shared by both Divisions, we started on our way again, paddling but three miles, Then we made a camp, Division A on a rocky point jutting out into the lake ; and Division C in a sheltered little nook just beyond them. At this camp the boys very gallantly cut a trail from one Division to another, in the evening coming to escort the ladies to their beautiful big white-birch fire. To show our appreciation of their courtesy we named the place Mekaunce (Trail) camp. By this time we in Division C were necessarily' becoming quite well acquainted, as intimacy is inevitable with a party in camp. We were most fortunate in having a congenial party and one which took the good-natured side of everything.

This means a great deal when added to the many pleasures of such a trip. These canoe trips have been organized for many years by our General and their growing popularity is largely due to the tact he displays, and the trouble he takes in organizing them. By his system the incongruous and the uncongenial cannot obtain.

We were also becoming quite attached to our guides, selected by the General, of whom two were Indians, and the third a white man, a trapper by trade. This was his first trip as a guide. He proved himself a good man, always ready to help with anything, was quite polite and attentive to the ladies and proved most excellent in running the rapids, as did also the Indians, of whom we thought a good deal, and in whom we learnt to place great confidence.

A Woman on the Mississauga 1904-7

Our permanent crew for each canoe was now made up and the canoes given names, each crew being anxious to have at the end of the trip the least marred and injured canoe. We had three "Old Towns" from Maine (see heritage story of these quality canoes which are still produced to this day https://www.oldtowncanoe.com/heritage), and one bark canoe. The former we liked immensely, and they proved very steady, good sea boats, easy to steer and paddle, and fast.

As we were about to leave camp on Thursday, the 18th, the General took photographs of both divisions in their canoes, making eight in all. It was an attractive scene, with the girls in their rough costumes, and the boys in khaki uniform with colored handkerchiefs tied round their necks. Shortly after leaving camp we came to a fall of water, having to make a portage of half a mile, at the end of which we had our last luncheon with Division A. Our packs were getting into the habit of becoming very much mixed up at the end of a portage, which worked confusion and took extra time to sort. It was then that the Colonel of Division A left a bark letter instructing Division B not to hurry on, as they (Division A) were having enough trouble on the portage. During the afternoon we had a very pretty winding course down the river, passing under many "natural bridges" formed by fallen trees, the canoes having just room to pass under and between the branches, which extended into the water.

That night Division A camped a bit further down the stream than we did— at least they thought they were going to do so, but by the river making a sharp turn (an ox-bow in shape) they paddled quite a distance before they were brought up on the shore almost opposite to us, causing much amusement on all sides. We were in an open blueberry patch that night, though closely surrounded by trees. For the first time we made use of our little camp stove which had bravely stood the jeers of many of our party. It did good service for us, as by it we were enabled to have hot biscuits and blueberry pie. Necessity is certainly the mother of invention, as the lime juice bottle might have groaned out when used as a rolling pin. Great was our consternation when we sat down to supper and discovered that the bag of bread was missing. For a time long sober faces were noticeable around the camp, as that was a serious matter. Joe then decided to make a trip to Division A to see if by chance they had found it at the portage. What a cheer went up as he climbed the bank, a broad smile upon his face and the bag of bread in his arms.

In the evening having two callers, and Harris, the guide from Division A, we spent some time in making maps of the route, as we each thought it to be, and many were the ideas brought to light. It was comical to see the very various directions we had taken according to the different maps and minds.

On August 19th we were all up early in our efforts to get to the fire, which was burning just between the two tents. We had had a very cold night, ice having formed in the water pails. This was our only experience of the kind. We were off as usual at eight, soon passing Division A, who had not then broken camp. In half an hour we came to a pretty steep rapid practically a fall. The canoes were all un-packed ready to carry when we found that Clement, the white guide, had taken the bark canoe through them. He was so pleased with himself, that quick as a flash he was back for one of the Old Towns, urging one of the girls to go with him. We however, all thought discretion in this instance to be the better part of valour, and well it was in this case, as the canoe was half filled with water going down. It was too risky a place in which to take chances and one has to remember all the time how far away one is from civilization or help of any kind. "Save the canoes" is a good motto all through the trip. At 10.30 we had another portage to make, which all did save Shemahgan, who "ran" one of the Old Towns down the rapids. He was fairly successful, although by coming in contact with a rock the metal bow was sprung just a bit. Again caution was the higher virtue. As a contrast to this swift water we now came to a quiet part of the river, landing at a pretty mossy little spot in the woods for luncheon. While the guides were cleaning and packing the dishes the rest of us amused ourselves by having a shooting contest with the doctor's rifle, our target being a small stick floating in the river. The temptation for the guides to shoot was too strong for them to resist, so they also came to the front, the dishes being allowed to wait for a few minutes.

It was amusing to see the expression on their faces when they failed to hit the mark, which the General and Clement had hit, and which the others missed, partly from being unused to the rifle. The afternoon again gave us a great variety of scenery. First we came to a log jam, over which we all climbed, the canoes being also carried over. Next some very swift and rather long rapids put in an appearance. Our guide as usual ran his canoe alongside the shore and then went ahead to see if they were safe to "run." The question was decided in the affirmative, but with no extra weight in the canoes. So there was another stage of unloading and carrying of packs. It is remarkable how soon one becomes used to this, and takes it as a most matter of course part of the trip. We had to climb over a rather high cliff, from which we had an excellent view of the canoes going through the rapids. At the end, as we supposed, there was a nice quiet little pool, but as we walked down to it we saw, in a sharp bend of the river another waterfall, over which we had no desire to go, so we continued the portage to the foot of this second fall, where we again loaded and started on our way. Very many moose and deer tracks were seen on the shore, and one deer we saw swimming across the river.

We camped that night on a high sand bank, finding there the remains of a very recently deserted camp. Our "Sherlock Holmes" discovered this by the warm sand ashes. Fresh boughs were laid for two tents, wood piled up ready for the fire, and a crane, having the poles suspended on it from which to hang the kettles. I asked Joe the name in Indian for a crane of that kind, and to me the answer sounded like "Goat kick, why not." I will leave it to someone who knows the Ojibway language better than I do, to put it into its correct spelling garb. Lighting a fire, cutting a few more boughs, and pitching the tents, which was also made easy the tent poles being ready cut, we soon were very much at home. What a delightful feeling it is to sit out in the open around the big camp fire, and feel that we cannot be disturbed by any trolley cars, trains, or other signs of civilization. How much at home a fire makes us feel in a very few minutes. How little we miss the daily papers, surely some of us are inoculated with the "call of the wild" and are happy in getting back to our original way of living.

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After a delightfully "soft night", as the guides described it, August 20th found us breaking camp at 8.30, a little later than usual. Division A was now left away in the rear, so a letter on a piece of cedar bark was suspended from a branch over-hanging the river, this and birch bark being the stationery used in the woods. The post office is a split stick used to hold the bark, and then driven into the bank.

At nine o'clock a small log jam presented itself to us. The regular portage was on the right of the river, and this some of the party used, though it was a mean one, being of clayish formation and very slippery. One member of the party was helping very enthusiastically with the packs and getting them down the bank. In her enthusiasm she picked up her own case, and using too much energy, threw it into the river. Fortunately it was immediately rescued, but her thoughts might easily be imagined as to the condition of the contents. She was "game" for anything though, and laughed it off as a joke on herself.

Great excitement was caused after we had been paddling for a while by the arrival of a bear into our ever changing river panorama. He was loping up the side of a rough rocky cliff. Two or three shots were fired, which quickly brought up the other canoes, so that the occupants could see what what was going on. Several of the party landed and scaled the rock, declaring that they could see a wounded bear. "Mr. Bruin" however had no intention of being taken prisoner, and carried in pieces to the States. He very cautiously slipped behind a rock, and probably had much fun in telling his associates about the party of "sports" whom he had seen and fooled. He must have been a hungry one, if his tracks were any proof, and his fondness of blueberries was only to be equaled by that of our party.

At 11.30 Joe brought us up alongside an insignificant little portage, at time saying "man tracks", showing that we were still in close pursuit of an, unknown party. Here we 'had lunch in the hot sun, and here we said "good-bye" to the Winnebagon River for two days; we were to see it again where it emptied into the main Mississauga. We tramped over a rather difficult portage of one mile, coming to a series of lakes through which we were to travel to Lake Minnesinaqua.

To Be Continued.... A Woman on the Mississauga - Part 2

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