In starvation times, guests were not appreciated. Robert Campbell of the H.B. Company, writing from Fort Halkett in 1840, says, “God grant that the time of privation may soon end, and that I may not see a soul from below till the snow disappears.” These days of the early forties when England was engaged with the Chartist risings at home and her Chinese wars abroad, were surely parlous times up on this edge of empire. The Fort Simpson journals of February 4, 1843, record, “The Cannibal, with young Noir, and others of the party of Laman, arrived this evening in the last stage of existence, being compelled by starvation to eat all their furs.”
Still these sonsy Scots kept a good heart and were able to jest at their misfortunes with the grim humour that belongs to their race. Neither empty larder nor other misfortune disheartened them. The recurrence of New Year’s Day and the Feast of St. Andrew were made ever occasions for rejoicing. Up on the Pelly Forks under date of November 30th, 1848, the record reads, “Though far from our native land and countrymen, let us pass St. Andrew’s Day in social glee. So fill your glasses, my lads, and pass the bottle round.” Three years later, on the same anniversary, the lines are, “Very cold for St. Andrew’s, and no haggis for dinner.”
And as January Ist ushers in the year 1845, the Factor at Fort Macpherson bursts into verse:
“This day, Time winds th’ exhausted chain
To run the twelvemonths’ length again.
I see the old bald-pated fellow
With ardent eyes, complexion sallow,
Adjust the unimpaired machine
To wheel the equal, dull routine.
Underneath the record a postscript appears, in another hand:
“Oh let us love our occupations,
Bless the Co. and their relations,
Be content with our poor rations,
And always know our proper stations.
THE TALE OF A WHALE
“In the North Sea lived a whale.”
What is a whale? Well, although the whalers dub it so, it is not a fish, but is a true mammal, the last of the mammoth creatures that trod the earth and floundered the seas of a past age. The whale is the biggest, the meekest, and the most interesting of living animals. As we go north, we readjust all our ideas of distance and immensity. Rivers are longer, lakes more majestic, and whales bigger than we have ever dreamed. Examining a stranded whale at Herschel, we see the flippers to be really hands with four fingers and a thumb enveloped in a sheath, and rudimentary hind-legs are discovered under the tough skin. Without doubt, the ancestors of the whale were land mammals which became adapted to a littoral life, and in splashing round the shore acquired the habit of swimming. Subsequently carried out to sea, they became under the new environment the structure as we see it.
Off the delta of the Mackenzie, the Circumpolar of Arctic Bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) is making his last stand. Unless a close season is enforced, this cetacean carrying round his ten thousand dollar mouthful of baleen will soon fold his fluked fins like the Arab and swing that huge body of his into line with the Great Auk, the Sea-Otter, the Plains Buffalo, and all the melancholy procession of Canadian Has-Beens.