On the 8th, at sunset, we reached Rainy Lake House. This fort is situated about a mile from a considerable rapid. We saw here cultivated fields and domestic animals, such as horses, oxen, cows, &c. The port is a depot for the wintering parties of the Athabasca, and others still more remote, who bring to it their peltries and return from it with their outfits of merchandise. Mr. John Dease, to whose charge the place had been confided, received us in the most friendly manner possible; and after having made an excellent supper, we danced a part of the evening.
We took leave of Mr. Dease on the 10th, well provided for the journey, and passing round Rainy Lake falls, and then traversing the lake itself, which I estimated to be forty miles long, we encamped at the entrance of a small river. On the next day we pursued our way, now thridding streams impeded with wild rice, which rendered our progress difficult, now traversing little lakes, now passing straits where we scarcely found water to float our canoes. On the 13th, we encamped near Dog Portage (Portage des chiens), where, from not having followed the advice of Mr. Dease, who had counselled us to take along a bag of pemican, we found ourselves absolutely without food.
Arrival at Fort William.—Description
of the Fort.—News from the
Starving men are early-risers. We set out on the 14th before day, and effected the portage, which is long and difficult. At the foot of the rapid we found a sort of restaurant or cabaret, kept by a man named Boucher. We treated the men to a little eau de vie, and breakfasted on some detestable sausages, poisoned with salt.
After this wretched repast, we set out again, and passed toward noon, the Mountain Portage. Here the river Kaministiquia flings itself over a rock of immense height, and forms a fall scarcely less curious to see than that of Niagara. Below, the succession of falls and rapids is constant, so that we made no fewer than thirty-six portages in the course of the day. Nevertheless we pursued our laborious way with good cheer, and without a murmur from our Canadian boatmen, who kept their spirits up by singing their voyageur songs. At last, at about nine o’clock in the evening, we arrived at Fort William.
Fort William is situated on Lake Superior, at the mouth of the Kaministiquia river, about forty-five miles north of old Grand Portage. It was built in 1805, when the two rival Canadian companies were united, and was named in honor of Mr. (now the Honorable) William M’Gillivray, principal agent of the Northwest Company. The proprietors, perceiving that the old fort of Grand Portage was on the territory claimed by the American government, resolved to demolish it and build another on the British territory. No site appeared more advantageous than the present for the purposes intended; the river is deep, of easy access, and offers a safe harbor for shipping. It is true they had to contend with all the difficulties consequent on a low and swampy soil; but by incredible labor and perseverance they succeeded in draining the marshes and reducing the loose and yielding soil to solidity.