ROSSVILLE is beautifully
situated on a rocky promontory which stretches out into the lake. All around
are coves, and bays, and islands, and rivers. The water is living and good,
the fish are of first quality, and in the season fowl of many kinds were
plentiful. Canoe and boat in summer, dog-train in winter—these were the
means of transport.
The only horse in the country
belonged to the Mission, had been brought there by James Evans, and was now
very old. We used him to plough our garden, and sometimes haul a little
wood, but he was really a "superannuate."
The Indians were of the Cree
nation, and spoke a dialect of that language, known as the Swampy Cree.
As there is a strong affinity between the Ojibway and the Cree, I began very
soon to pick it up. As Peter Jacobs told me, these Indians were the best we
had ever seen—more teachable, more honest, more willing to work, more
respectful than any we had as yet come across.
Their occupation was, in
summer, boating for the Hudson's Bay Company and free traders, and in
There were no better, no
hardier tripmen in the whole Hudson's Bay country than these Norway House
Between Lake Winnipeg and
York Factory there are very many portages, and across these all the imports
and exports for this part of the* country must be carried on men's backs,
and across some these big boats must be hauled. No men did the- work quicker
or more willingly than the men from our Mission at Rossville.
When we went to them their
great drawback was the rum traffic. This was a part of the trade, but I am
glad to say that soon after this time of which I write, the Hudson's Bay
Company gave up dealing in liquor among the Indians.
This was greatly to their
No wonder the Indian drank,
for almost all white men with whom he came in contact did so; and even some
of our own missionaries, greatly to my surprise, had brought into this
Indian country those Old Country ideas of the use of stimulants.
But father soon inaugurated a
new régime, and many of the Hudson's Bay people respected him for it, and
helped him in his efforts against this truly accursed traffic.
In a few days Mr. Brooking
and family left on their long journey to Ontario, and we settled down to
home-life at Rossville.
My work was teaching, and I
had my hands full, for my daily average was about eighty.
I had no trouble, the two
years I taught at Norway House, to gather scholars. They came from the
mainland and from the islands and from the fort, by canoe and dog-train.
My scholars were faithful in
their attendance, but the responsibility was a heavy one for me, a mere boy.
However, I was fresh from being taught and from learning, and I went to work
enthusiastically, and was very much encouraged by the appreciation of the
After school hours I either
took my gun and went partridge-hunting, or went and set my net for
white-fish, to help make our pot boil.
On Saturdays I took one of my
boys with me in my canoe, and we would paddle off down the lake or up the
river, hunting ducks and other fowl.
When winter came—which it
does very soon out there—I got some traps and set them for foxes.
Many a winter morning I rose
at four o'clock, harnessed my dogs and drove miles and back in visiting my
traps, reaching home and having breakfast before daylight, as it was
necessary, for a part of the winter, to begin school as soon as it was good
Soon after we arrived I
invested in four pups. I paid the mission interpreter, Mr. Sinclair, £2
sterling for the pups, on condition that he fed them until they were one
In the meantime, for the
first winter Mr. Sinclair kindly lent me some of his dogs. Everybody had
dogs, and my pups promised to make a good train when they grew.
All my boy pupils were great
Many a Saturday morning,
bright and early, my boys would rendezvous at the Mission, and we would
start with staked wood-sleighs across the lake or up the river to the
nearest dry wood bluff.
This, in my time, was three
and four miles away, and what a string we would make— twenty-five or thirty
boys of us, each with three or four dogs, all these hitched tandem; bells
ringing, boys shouting, whips cracking, dogs screaming—away we would fly as
fast as we could drive. What cared we for cold or storm!
When we reached the wood we
would race as to who could chop and split and load first. What shouting and
laughter and fun! and, when all were loaded, back across the ice as fast as
we could go, all running.
Then we would pile our wood
at the schoolhouse or church, and, again agreeing to meet at the mission
house in the afternoon, away home to their dinner my boys would drive, and
by and by turn up, this time with flat sleds or toboggans; and now we would
race across to the Hudson's Bay Company's fort, every man for himself, and
when we got there we would challenge the Company's employees to a game of
foot-ball, for this was the national game of the North-West, and my boys
were hard to beat.
Then back home by moon or
Northern Light, making this ice-bound land like day. Ah! those were great
times for the cultivation of wind and muscle and speed—and better, sympathy
Father, when home, held an
English service at the fort once a week, and the largest room available was
always full. Then we organized a literary society, which met weekly at the
fort. Thus many a night we drove to and fro with our quick-moving dogs.
Sometimes we were surrounded
by the "Aurora." Sometimes they seemed to touch us. One could hear the swish
of the quick movement through the crisp, frosty atmosphere. What halos of
many-colored light they would envelop us in! Forest and rock, ice and snow
would become radiant as with heavenly glory. One would for the time almost
forget the intense cold.
No wonder the Indian calls
these wonderful phenomena "The Dancers," and says they are "the spirits of
the departed." After all, who knows? I do not.