And now the explorer was back at Michilimackinac, on the way to the accomplishment of the daring ambition of his life. The trip from Montreal had fatigued the voyageurs. Brandy flowed at the lake post freely as at a modern mining camp. The explorer kept military discipline over his men. They received no pay which could be squandered away on liquor. Discontent grew rife. Taking Father Messaiger, the Jesuit, as chaplain, M. de la Verendrye ordered his grumbling voyageurs to their canoes, and, passing through the Straits of the Sault, headed his fleet once more for the Western Sea. Other explorers had preceded him on this part of the route. The Jesuits had coasted the north shore of Lake Superior. So had Radisson. In 1688 De Noyon of Three Rivers had gone as far west as the Lake of the Woods towards what is now Minnesota and Manitoba; and in 1717 De Lanoue had built a fur post at Kaministiquia, near what is now Fort William on Lake Superior. The shore was always perilous to the boatman of frail craft. The harbors were fathoms deep, and the waves thrashed by a cross wind often proved as dangerous as the high sea. It took M. de la Verendrye’s canoemen a month to coast from the Straits of Mackinaw to Kaministiquia, which they reached on the 26th of August, seventy-eight days after they had left Montreal. The same distance is now traversed in two days.
Prospects were not encouraging. The crews were sulky. Kaministiquia was the outermost post in the West. Within a month, the early Northern winter would set in. One hunter can scramble for his winter’s food where fifty will certainly starve; and the Indians could not be expected back from the chase with supplies of furs and food till spring. The canoemen had received no pay. Free as woodland denizens, they chafed under military command. Boats were always setting out at this season for the homeland hamlets of the St. Lawrence; and perhaps other hunters told De la Verendrye’s men that this Western Sea was a will-o’-the-wisp that would lead for leagues and leagues over strange lands, through hostile tribes, to a lonely death in the wilderness. When the explorer ordered his men once more in line to launch for the Western Sea, there was outright mutiny. Soldiers and boatmen refused to go on. The Jesuit Messaiger threatened and expostulated with the men. Jemmeraie, who had been among the Sioux, interceded with the voyageurs. A compromise was effected. Half the boatmen would go ahead with Jemmeraie if M. de la Verendrye would remain with the other half at Lake Superior as a rear guard for retreat and the supply of provisions. So the explorer suffered his first check in the advance to the Western Sea.