Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

The Stories of the Counties of Ontario

“And when we bring old fights to mind
We will not remember the sin—
If there be blood on his head of my kind,
Or blood on my head of his kin— . . .

“After us cometh a multitude—
Prosper the work of our hands,
That we may feed with our land’s food
The folk of all our lands!”

Rudyard Kipling.

THOUGH the new district of Timiskaming (a name which has had many varieties of spelling) looks somewhat blank upon the map, it has a story which would lend itself admirably to representation in a great historic pageant like that enacted some years ago on the Plains of Abraham at Quebec. From the first scene to the last, the background is always the wilderness— sometimes forests of well-grown pine and spruce, sometimes acres upon acres of stunted poplar or small second-growth trees. But it is not unbroken forest, for here and there broad lakes reflect the blue of the sky. Here and there streams of all sizes, from considerable rivers to little creeks, loiter through level, swampy lands or hurry down from the hills in a succession of rapids and chutes. Here and there is a wide muskeg, haunt of water-fowl and amphibious four-footed things, or a dismal bruit, the scar of a fire started by some careless wanderer or by heaven’s lightning.

The opening of our pageant would show the red men fighting, hunting, trapping, fishing, building their bark tepees in the woods, feasting or starving, according to the season or chances of the chase, bewailing their dead, trying to propitiate the spirits of the earth, the air, and the beasts they had slaughtered.

Then come the white men on the stage, and we are plunged into the bewildering storj’ of the struggles of French and English for the possession of the Hudson Bay country, a story rendered the more complicated and confusing by the "turn-coat” proceedings of the two French adventurers, Raddisson and Dr Groseilliers. To put the matter briefly—in 1670 was formed that famous trading association, the Hudson’s Bay Company, which immediately sent out a vessel and built a little fort at the mouth of Rupert’s River on the shores of James Buy. Very shortly afterwards the energetic Talon, at Quebec, commissioned a Jesuit, Albanel, “to penetrate as far as the Mer du Nord”; and, accompanied by a young Frenchman and a few Indians, the valiant father struggled through the wilderness of Northern Quebec to his goal. A little later other French adventurers bade defiance to the English claim of sole sovereignty over the frozen north by erecting a little trading post at the mouth of Moose River, just within the boundaries of what is now Timiskaining District. The English protested, and presently the French lost their footing in this paradise of fur-traders, leaving their rivals in possession at Moose River and several other points.

In 1685, however, two Frenchmen travelling down the Abitibi river and lake, and thence by way of Lake Timiskaming and the Ottawa, pioneered a new route from the north. This suggested a daring scheme to a retired French officer, the Chevalier de Troyes, and on Christmas Eve 1685 he sought permission of the Governor, Denonville, to “drive the English utterly from the bay.”- So comes in the second episode of our pageant.

Toiling through the wilderness, impeded by snow and ice, up-stream and down-stream, making many a portage through deep morass or tangled wood, goes a stouthearted, ruthless band. Upon the march are thirty French soldiers, veterans of European wars; fourscore bushrangers, wild in mien and in habiliments as the Indians themselves; a French priest in the black robe of the Jesuit; De Troyes himself, elderly, scholarly, frail of body, dauntless of spirit; last, but not least interesting to Canadians, three of the famous sons of Charles Le Moye—Sainte Helene, De Maricourt, D’Iberville himself —the very type in hardihood, resourcefulness, utter indifference to bloodshed, of the young gallants bred the castles “dangerous” of the St. Lawrence.

Such wild journeys wear down the strength of the hardest muscles, and reaching Abitibi the adventurers run up a little stockaded fort and take a brief rest before voyaging down the swift-flowing Abitibi River to surprise the English at Moose Factory. When they do strike, on a dark night, it seems to their prey that they have sprung full-armed from the very ground. The little fort is escaladed. The chief gunner, resisting single-handed, dies by D'Iberville’s blade. His comrades cry for quarter, and, fifteen in all, are captured. Then, with solemn ceremonial, De Troyes, in the name “of the Most Redoubtable Monarch, Louis XIV,” takes possession of Moose Fort and island, and cries of "Vive le Roi!" ring sharply out over the icy waters.

After capturing Moose Factory, taking two English ships, overpowering Fort Rupert, and making its garrison prisoners, De Troyes’ French force turned westward along the coast to seek out the third English factory on that part of James Bay. They did not know its situation exactly. Meanwhile two Indians had carried to Governor Sargeant of Fort Albany the appalling tidings of the doings of the French. But Sargeant determined to resist to the last. When, however, the French began to attack the fort by land and water most of its inmates (who were servants and traders, not soldiers) lost heart. The death of one man by the enemy’s shot brought them to the verge of mutiny, and they were terrified lest their powder magazine should be undermined and they should all be blown up together. Finally Sargeant—so the story is told in Mr. Beckles Willson’s Great Company-desired to lower the flag above his own dwelling," but the hail of bullets whistled so thick and fast that none dared to undertake the task until Dixon, the under-factor, offered to show himself and propitiate the French. He first thrust a white cloth through a window, waving a lighted torch before it; then he shouted with all his might. On this the firing ceased, and he went forth beyond the parapets, with a huge flagon of wine in each hand. The French officers came to meet him, and presently his comrades saw him by the light of the full moon sitting with some of the foe upon a mounted gun and drinking to the health of the Sovereigns of England and France. Next day Sargeant surrendered the fort, and on August 10 De Troyes set off on his return journey to Montreal, taking spoil in the shape of 50,000 beaver skins, many of which the unhappy English captives were forced to carry on the long march through the wilderness.

The French rechristened the fort Ste. Anne, and, in spite of some efforts of the English to dislodge them, succeeded in holding it for seven years, till 1693, when three English vessels, which had wintered at Fort Albany, appeared on the scene and landed forty men. These were met by a brisk fire from the fort, but it ceased very suddenly, and when the English entered cautiously, fearing a ruse, they found the place deserted, save for a wretched criminal, who lay loaded with chains in the cellar. Some sailors presently reported seeing three Frenchmen running away as fast as they could go, and it appeared that it was they who had fired the threatening salute to their opponents.

Some ten years later the French tried again to surprise the post, but on that occasion its Governor was not to be caught napping. He drove back the assailants from his gates in confusion, and from that day to this the flag of England has continued to wave over Fort Albany.

By the Treaty of Utrecht the English at last obtained undisputed possession of the Hudson Bay region, and the great fur-trading corporation began to reach out in every direction from the bay which had lent it a name. In 1755 (the eventful year of Braddock’s defeat and the expulsion of the Acadians) a Hudson’s Bay Company’s post was erected on a picturesque point of land jutting out into Lake Abitibi from its eastern end. This has been continuously occupied ever since, and until comparatively recently, when steamers began to ply on Lake Timiskaming, the post was supplied from Moose Factory, “whence the goods were laboriously conveyed up the river after the arrival of the annual vessel from England,” and the coming of these canoes, or the setting out for Timiskaming of the Abitibi brigade, which two years ago was described as “the last of the splendid fur brigades of the north,” would provide a most animated though peaceful scene in our pageant.

Now scenes crowd on us thick and fast. While the railway was building, two contractors, M'Kinley and Darragh by name, struck with the appearance of a heavy, blackish substance on the shores of what was then known as Long Lake, sent away samples to be examined (which proved extraordinarily rich in silver), and staked a claim at the southern end of the lake. About a month later a French Canadian blacksmith, La Rose, discovered a vein of silver at the other end of the lake, jud staked his claim. The story goes that one day, when La Rose was busy at his temporary forge, he caught sight of an impudent-looking fox staring at him from a bush, and flung his hammer at the intruder. The fox decamped, and the man, going to pick up his hammer, found a bright metallic streak on the rock, where it had struck. The same summer two more veins were discovered, and the. Provincial Bureau of Mines sent up experts to report on the district. One of these, Dr. W. G. Miller, fearing, it is said, that the coming town might be christened Long Lake, put up a board near the lake, inscribed “Cobalt Station, T. & N. O. Railway.”

Not quite at; once was the public to be persuaded of the wealth of precious metals and other minerals that Jay hidden beneath the soil of New Ontario; then suddenly the news seized on the imagination of the people, and Cobalt became a great mining camp. Shacks and houses were run up without a plan or order, and at first the methods of mining were as rough and ready as the place itself. Old hands at mining flocked thither from every quarter of the globe, but at first much of the work was done by inexperienced “lumber-jacks,” who needed expert supervision to make a success of their new trade. In its roughest days Cobalt (which was incorporated in December 1906) is said to have been an orderly place, as mining towns go.

But it is only one of Timiskaming’s mining centres. Elk Lake City and Gowganda have their famous silver mines. The year 1906 saw a stampede to Larder Lake, where it is told that a certain old Indian, Towmenie, used to obtain gold quartz, with which he paid for strong drink, and in 1910 the name of Porcupine began to be coupled with the magic monosyllable gold! In the fall of that year the district was “a moss-covered, gold-laden” swamp; by the following spring there were the beginnings of two or three little towns beside the lake. A few weeks later almost every human habitation was swept from the scene by the awful fires which for a generation to come will make 1911 a marked year in the annals of Timiskatning District. At Cochrane, far to the north, only six houses escaped the flames, but the story of the disaster is too recent to call for more than a mere reference here.

A discovery of importance perhaps as great as that of the precious metals, though of an altogether different character, was due to the scouts of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. Penetrating far north of the region once scornfully characterised as “a few acres of snow,” they came in Timiskaming and Algoma Districts on the immense stretch of fertile lands known as the great Clay Belt. And this is surely destined in not far distant days to be a fair and prosperous land of fine farms, richly cropped fields, and many people.

At present much of the population of Timiskaming is of Indian blood; and a story that well deserves telling is that of the missionaries, who for the love of God and of humanity have given their lives to the service of the folk of the wilderness. The name of one such “hero of the Cross,’’ John Horden, is indissolubly linked with that of Moose Factory, which for forty years was his headquarters as missionary and bishop. Horden was a Devonshire man—a printer’s son—and in the beautiful Cathedral of Exeter a memorial tablet hints at the noble story of his life. Arriving at Moose Factory in 1851, after the withdrawal of the Methodists, who had been labouring there, he found a small Christian congregation to begin with. His experiences were naturally varied in “a parish” extending “as far north as you please,” and including “the last house in the world,” as he described that lone outpost of civilisation, Fort Churchill.

Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus