Freshwater Passages: The Trade and Travels of Peter Pond

Freshwater Passages: The Trade and Travels of Peter Pond

Freshwater Passages: The Trade and Travels of Peter Pond

Freshwater Passages: The Trade and Travels of Peter Pond

Excerpt

On the upper reaches of the Churchill River, far to the northwest of Lake Superior and well beyond Lake Winnipeg, five large birch-bark canoes glided north across a quiet lake. White pelicans may have skimmed the water on this late summer day in 1778, looking for fish, undisturbed by the sight of the first non-Natives ever to visit their summer nesting grounds. The four or five paddlers in each canoe stroked the water in unison. Most were young French-speaking voyageurs, accustomed to the rigors of extended wilderness travel. Each of their “north canoes,” or canots du nord, held more than a ton of trade goods and provisions bound for the Athabasca country, a region to the north as yet unknown to the men. As they paddled past a long peninsula jutting out from the lake’s western shore, they looked to the low-lying forest ahead, wondering what they would find there.

Along with the French-speaking paddlers, known as engagés, one canoe held the English-speaking leader of the party, or bourgeois, and perhaps his clerk. As gentlemen, not laborers, they did not paddle unless they wanted to. Also among the group there was likely a guide of Cree or Dene heritage showing the way. Perhaps too the bourgeois had a personal servant, possibly a panis boy or young woman. Indeed not all the people in the canoes were men. Several women of Native or mixed ancestry likely . . .

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