At Athabaska Landing, on May 18, 1907, 10.15 A. M., we boarded the
superb Peterborough canoe that I had christened the Ann Seton. The
Athabaska River was a-flood and clear of ice; 13 scows of freight,
with 60 half-breeds and Indians to man them, left at the same time,
and in spite of a strong headwind we drifted northward fully 31
miles an hour.
The leading scow, where I spent some time, was in charge of John
MacDonald himself, and his passengers comprised the Hudson's Bay
Company officials, going to their posts or on tours of inspection.
They were a jolly crowd, like a lot of rollicking schoolboys,
full of fun and good-humour, chaffing and joking all day; but when
a question of business came up, the serious businessman appeared
in each, and the Company's interest was cared for with their best
powers. The bottle was not entirely absent in these scow fraternities,
but I saw no one the worse for liquor on the trip.
The men of mixed blood jabbered in French, Cree, and Chipewyan
chiefly, but when they wanted to swear, they felt the inadequacy
of these mellifluous or lisping tongues, and fell back on virile
Saxon, whose tang, projectivity, and wealth of vile epithet
evidently supplied a long-felt want in the Great Lone Land of the
Dog and Canoe.
In the afternoon Preble and I pushed on in our boat, far in advance
of the brigade. As we made early supper I received for the twentieth
time a lesson in photography. A cock Partridge or Ruffed Grouse
came and drummed on a log in open view, full sunlight, fifty feet
away. I went quietly to the place. He walked off, but little alarmed.
I set the camera eight feet from the log, with twenty-five feet of
tubing, and retired to a good hiding-place. But alas! I put the
tube on the left-hand pump, not knowing that that was a dummy.
The Grouse came back in three minutes, drumming in a superb pose
squarely in front of the camera. I used the pump, but saw that it
failed to operate; on going forward the Grouse skimmed away and
returned no more. Preble said, "Never mind; there will be another
every hundred yards all the way down the river, later on." I could
only reply, "The chance never comes but once," and so it proved.
We heard Grouse drumming many times afterward, but the sun was low,
or the places densely shaded, or the mosquitoes made conditions
impossible for silent watching; the perfect chance came but once,
as it always does, and I lost it.
About twenty miles below the Landing we found the abandoned winter
hut of a trapper; on the roof were the dried up bodies of 1 Skunk,
2 Foxes, and 30 Lynxes, besides the bones of 2 Moose, showing the
nature of the wild life about.
That night, as the river was brimming and safe, we tied up to the
scows and drifted, making 30 more miles, or 60 since embarking.
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