DOWN THE ATHABASCA ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY-FIVE MILES TO GRAND RAPIDS
“Set me in the urge and tide-drift
Of the streaming hosts a-wing!
Breast of scarlet, throat of yellow,
Raucous challenge, wooings mellow—
Every migrant is my fellow,
Making northward with the Spring.”
If you have to do with Indian or half-breed boatmen in the North you plan to begin your journey in the evening, even though you hope to run only a few miles before nightfall. This ensures a good start next morning, whereas it would be humanly impossible to tear men away from the flesh-pots (beer pots) of Athabasca Landing early in any day. It took these chaps all the afternoon to say good-bye, for each one in the village had to be shaken hands with, every dog apostrophized by name.
The Athabasca Transport of which we form joyous part makes a formidable flotilla: seven specially-built scows or “sturgeon-heads.” Each runs forty to fifty feet with a twelve-foot beam and carries ten tons. The oars are twenty feet long. It takes a strong man to handle the forty-foot steering-sweep which is mounted with an iron pivot on the stern.
Our particular shallop is no different from the others, except that there is a slightly raised platform in the stern-sheets, evidently a dedication to the new Northern Manager of the H.B. Co. We share the pleasant company of a fourth passenger, Mrs. Harding, on her way home to Fort Resolution on Great Slave Lake. The second sturgeon-head carries seven members of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, jolly laughing chaps, for are not they, too, like us, off duty? Inspector Pelletier and three men are to go with our Fur Transport as far as Resolution and then diverge to the east, essaying a cross-continent cut from there to salt water on Hudson Bay. For this purpose they ship two splendidly made Peterborough canoes. The other three members of the force are young chaps assigned to Smith’s Landing on the Slave River, sent there to protect the wood bison of that region, the world’s last wild buffalo. The third craft we observe with due respect as “the cook boat.” The remaining four scows carry cargo only,—the trade term being “pieces,” each piece from eighty to a hundred pounds, a convenient weight for carrying on the portages.
[Illustration: A “Sturgeon-head” at Athabasca]
[Illustration: “Farewell, Nistow!”]