Perspectives on the Fur Trade

Document 3: Diary of Nicholas Garry

Source: Nicholas Garry, The Diary of Nicholas Garry, Deputy-Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company from 1822-1835: a detailed narrative of his travels in the Northwest Territories of British North America in 1821 (Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, 1900), 125-128.


Friday the 27th [July]. At six passed two loaded Canoes containing Provisions for Captain Franklin commanding the overland Expedition for the Discovery of the North West Passage. At seven landed to Breakfast on a Point called the Detroit about five Hours paddling from the Fort of Rainy Lake. A Party of Indians, Sauteux, landed during our Breakfast. They were a dirty looking People. Started at eight and landed at half-past twelve at a Point at the Bottom of the Lake where we dined. Rainy Lake is very uninteresting, low Banks and stunted Fir Trees. Indeed, all the Lakes we have passed since we left Fort William present little to gratify the Eye. At 2 o’clock we started and after running a Rapid we entered the River of Rainy Lake. Here the Scene at once changed. The River is here 500 Yards broad and the Banks covered with the most luxuriant Verdure and Woods of Oak, Maple, Elm. At a quarter before three we arrived at the Portage de Chaudiere which is about 400 Paces and is made to avoid a very fine Waterfall. On an Eminence close to the Fall is the Hudson’s Bay Post commanding a most beautiful and picturesque Situation. The North West Post is about a mile higher up the River. The Post of Lac La Pluie or Rainy Lake before the Union of the two Companies was one of great Importance. Here the People from Montreal came to meet those who arrived from the Athabascan Country and exchange Lading with them receiving the Furs and giving the Goods to trade in Return. It will now become a mere trading Post as the Athapascans will be supplied from York Fort. We found here Mr. Leith, Chief of the Athapascan and Mr. Connolly, Lesser Slave Lake Department. We first went to the North West Post but returned in the evening to the Hudson’s Bay Post. The Night was intensely hot and I felt so oppressed that I was fearful of a severe Attack of Illness which I feel would have followed had we continued there any Time.

Saturday 28th [July]. Rose very unwell and exhausted, – remained quiet till 6 in the evening when we embarked Stopped at the North West Fort where we had a Council of Indians to whom I made an Address. I stated that though the two great rival Companies had coalesced, still that this Union would be in no way injurious to them, on the contrary that the active and good would be benefited. We then gave them a nine Gallon Keg of Rum recommending them to be sober and quiet. The Chief replied that though the Black Bird had told them many things, that the Coalition was to oppress them still they did not believe it, that their Country was poor and therefore too much must not be expected from them. After the Council we took Leave of Mr. Leith, the two Mr. McGillivrays, Junior, etc. We then dropped down the River two miles where we encamped waiting for Mr. S. McGillivray.[1]; The Heat was so intolerable that I felt we should be more comfortable in our Tent and in this we were not disappointed and I rose refreshed and well. Indeed many Circumstances made me uncomfortable in the North West Post. The Man who had murdered Mr. Keveny,[2] a Gentleman in the Service of the North West Company, was at large in the Fort and we found afterwards that Mr. Bird and myself had run some Risk, one of the Clerks who had been dismissed for Drunkenness having declared that he would shoot Mr. Bird or myself. He went about in a State of Intoxication with loaded Pistols which were taken from him. His Name was Cadot. During our Stay at Rainy Lake we had wild Rice for Dinner which is well tasted but ill-cleaned. The Houses are built of wood with the Skin of the Moose Deer as Windows. A Lover of Dogs would be delighted at Rainy Lake. At the Fort there were more than twenty of a large Breed used for the drawing of Sledges in Winter. At the Fort was a tame Otter who was as playful as a Dog and as affectionate. He had full Range to go where he liked. He was constantly swimming in the River but always returned to the House.

Sunday the 29th [July]. Mr. McGillivray not arriving we started at half-past eight. We are now on the Rainy Lake River which is about 160 Paces in Breadth, the Banks are low, but very rich beautiful Verdure, high rich Grass, the Soil appearing admirably fitted for Colonization, the Trees of Slender Growth Poplar, Ash, Oak, Willows. We met at every moment the White-headed Eagle with a white Tail. We passed two Rapids the Country about them beautiful bringing to the Mind the Recollection of English Scenery, fine rich sloping Banks of Grass, most luxuriant Verdure interspersed with Oak Trees. At 11 we landed when Mr. McGillivray and Mr. McRobb joined us. We immediately proceeded and running down the River encamped at eight o’clock.

Monday the 30th [July]. At two o’clock we embarked. The River of Rainy Lake, or Lac La Pluie, connects this Lake with the Lac du Bois, or Lake of the Woods, the general Course being from East to West, but it is so meandering in its Course that this is very variable. Mackenzie makes the Length to be 120 miles, but He has taken his Account from the Voyageurs, which is always exaggerated. The Distance may be 85 miles. If this is not the grandest River I have seen in my Wanderings it is at least the most pleasing to my Eye, presenting at every moment the most beautiful Scenery and Spots which bring to the Mind England and all the attendant pleasing Recollections, the Strength of which and the delightful Feelings they produce appearing to be increased by Distance. The Banks are low, more elevated on the North Side than on the South. The Timber is small but of fine Appearance and most beautiful rich Foliage, the Elm, Maple, Ash, Aspen and at Intervals the Oak. The Banks are covered with high Grass presenting the most beautiful Verdure which cannot be surpassed even in England. The Breadth varies but little and may be from three to four hundred Paces or Feet. The Course is uninterrupted having no Portages to make and we only ran three Rapids. The River is full of Sturgeon, the Soil everywhere rich. At seven o’clock we landed to Breakfast. The Wind being favourable we arranged our Sail for the first time. At 9 we came to the Embouchure of this delightful River and entered the Lake of the Woods. We had here a Traverse to make of about 3 Leagues. We started with a fair moderate Wind but when we had got half way across the Wind chopped round to the North blowing hard and our frail Bark was in a good deal of Danger having shipped a great deal of Water. Our course is about North. At one we landed on a small Island to Dinner. Our Course continued to be through Islands which are chiefly Rock but low and uninteresting. At six we came into a narrow Channel formed by two Islands and covered with wild Rice. At the End of this Channel we came to the Portage of the Lake of the Woods which is 50 Paces and leads to another Rice Pond after passing which you enter again the Main Lake. At half-past eight we encamped on a Rock and it blowing hard we found it difficult to fix our Tent and with Risk of its being blown down during the Night.

[1] Mr. S. McGillivray was in charge of the H. B. Co. post of Rainy Lake in 1823 when visited by Major Long. Keating’s Long, vol. II., p, 113.
[2] Can this be Owen Keveny who was murdered by Charles de Rainhard? See Henry (Coues), vol. I., p. 98.