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The Barren Ground of Northern Canada
By Warburton Pike (1917)

Ready for Tracking


In many of the outlying districts of Canada an idea is prevalent, fostered by former travellers, that somewhere in London there exists a benevolent society whose object is to send men incapable of making any useful scientific observations to the uttermost parts of the earth, in order to indulge their taste for sport or travel. Several times before I had fairly started for the North, and again on my return, I was asked if I had been sent out under the auspices of this society, and, I am afraid, rather fell in the estimation of the interviewers when I was obliged to confess that my journey was only an ordinary shooting expedition, such as one might make to the Rocky Mountains or the interior of Africa, and that no great political reformation depended upon my report as to what I had seen. .

In talking with officers of the Hudsonís Bay Company,, many of whom had been stationed for long periods in the Athabasca and Mackenzie River districts, I-had often heard of a strange animal, a relic of an earlier age, that was still to be found roaming the Barren Ground/the vast desert that lies between Hudsonís Bay, the eastern ends of the three great lakes of the North, and the Arctic Sea. This animal was the Muskox, but my informants could tell me nothing from personal experience, and all that was known on the subject had been gathered from Indian report. Once or twice some enthusiastic .sportsman had made the attempt to reach the land of the Muskox, but had never succeeded in carrying out his object; specimens had been secured by the officers of the various Arctic expeditions, but no one had ever seen much of these animals or of the methods of hunting them employed by the Northern Indians.

This, then, was the sole object of my journey; to try and penetrate this unknown land, to see the Musk-ox, and find out as much as I could about their habits, and the habits of the Indians who go in pursuit of them every year. But the only white men who had succeeded in getting far out into the Barren Ground were the early explorers,óHearne, Sir John Franklin, Sir George Back, and Dr. Richardson, while long afterwards Dr. Rae and Stewart and Anderson went in search of the missing Franklin expedition. With the exception of Hearne, who threw in his lot with the Indians, these leaders were all accompanied by the most capable men that could be procured, and no expense was spared in order to make success as certain as possible; yet in spite of every precaution the story of Sir John Franklinís first overland journey and the death of Hood are among the saddest episodes in the history of the Arctic exploration.

My best chance seemed to be to follow Heameís example, and trust to the local knowledge of Indians to help me; and I think, as the sequel showed, that I was right in not taking a crew from Winnipeg. The Indians and halfbreeds of the Great Slave Lake, although very hard to manage, are certainly well up in Barren Ground travel; they are possessed of a thorough knowledge of the movements of the various animals at different seasons, and thus run less danger of starvation than strangers, however proficient the latter may be in driving dogs and handling canoes.

In following out this plan I naturally passed through a great deal of new country, and discovered, as we white men say when we are pointed out some geographical feature by an Indian who has been familiar with it since childhood, many lakes and small streams never before visited except by the red man. I have attempted in a rough map to mark the chains of lakes by which we reached the Barren Ground, but their position is only approximate, and perhaps not even that, as I had no instruments with which to make correct observations, and in any case should have had little time to use them. Let no eminent geographer waste his time in pointing out the inaccuracies in this map; I admit all the errors before he discovers them. All that I wish to show is that these chains of lakes do exist and can be used as convenient routes, doing away with the often-tried method of forcing canoes up the swift and dangerous streams that fall into the Great Slave Lake from the northern tableland.

The success of my expedition is to be attributed entirely to the assistance which was given me by the Hudsonís Bay Company, and 1 take this opportunity of thanking them for all the hospitality that was shown to me throughout my journey; I was never refused a single request that I made, and, although a total stranger, was treated with the greatest kindness by everybody, from the Commissioner at Winnipeg to the engaged servant in the Far North. My thanks are especially due to Lord Anson, one of the directors in London, to Messrs. Wrigley and William Clark at Winnipeg, Mr. Roderick MacFarlane, lately of Stuartís Lake, British Columbia, a well-known northern explorer who put me in the way of making a fair start, Dr. Mackay of Athabasca, Mr. Camsell of Mackenzie River, Mr. Ewen .Macdonald of Peace River, and most of all to Mr. Mackinlay of Fort Resolution on the Great Slave Lake, who was my companion during a long summer journey in the Barren Ground.

My only excuse for publishing this account of my travels is that the subject is a reasonably new one, and deals with a branch of sport that has never been described. I have spared the reader statistics, and I have kept my story as short as possible. I hope that in return anyone who may be interested in these pages will spare his comments on faulty style, and the various errors into which a man who has spent much time among the big game is sure to fall when he is rash enough to lay down his rifle and take up the pen.

I have also cut out the chapter with which these books usually begin,óa description of the monotonous voyage by Atlantic steamer and Canadian Pacific Railway, and start at once from Calgary, a thriving cattle-town close under the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

London, 1891.

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Appendix I
Appendix II

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