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Excerpts from Miles Macdonell's Journal for the Period August 22 to December 25, 1812

Manitoba Pageant, April 1962, Volume 7, Number 3

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

From the Selkirk Papers, Provincial Archives of Manitoba

Saturday, August 22 - The wind still ahead and blowing hard from the Southward - got some Fusils and Pistils in order and made a few cartridges to mount guard in passing the Canadians at Winipic river. Weather boisterous all day with appearance of rain but none fell.

(Sunday 23 and Monday 24 no progress because of a gale " ... we could not put to sea.").

Tuesday, August 25 - A light breeze from the N.E. We left our encampment at 5. The Otter sprung a leak which kept a man constantly bailing. Stopt the leak without going ashore. I had a wish of landing at the Black River but could not find the entrance of it. Stopt at 11 to boil our kettle. At 3 p.m. entered the mouth of Winipic River which here is very wide. A long eminence terminated by Stag Island which projects far into the Lake to S.W. forming the entrance of the river into a Frith. At 5 p.m. arrived at Ft. Alexandria, the N.W. Co. Establishment on the S. side the river. I was met on landing by Messrs. Thompson, Frobisher, Harrison, Traversant etc. etc. at whose invitation I immediately went to the Fort. Mr. Ogden came up afterwards,. Passed a pleasant evening with these gentlemen and obtained a great deal of public and private news. Declaration of War by the United States, the surrender of Michilimackinac etc. etc. Corps raising in Canada. A mortification to be absent from there at this important crisis. Staid with these gentlemen till 1 in the morning. We had our first guard consisting of a corporal and 3 privates placed on the Boats in the evening. This river is the Key of all the interior country from Canada but is a scarce place for provisions. The Canadians killed two dogs for their supper.

Weather clear and fine all day - I feel quite disappointed in not meeting letters here from Canada. Mr. Hillier was likewise to have come here and has not appeared.

Wednesday, August 26 - It was 8 o'clock before our departure this morning from Ft. Alexandria. I was curious to see their crop of wheat, barley and oats which was very fine, that of Pease failed. Mr. Thompson obligingly gave me a pile of the Inverness Journal & Henry's Publication of his confidential Mission. I found much civility from all these N.W.Co. gentlemen. Some potatoes and other vegetables from their thriving garden was put into my boat some of my men were missing at the time of coming away. It would be making them a bad practice to stop - they ran along the side of the bank and embarked by the Canoe.

Thursday, August 27 - Wind blowing strong from S.W. all day. My hunter brought me 2 Geese, 3 Ducks and a bittern. In the evening the wind abated a little, the sky looked serene and settled. I ordered the people to embark wishing to get to Hunter's point about 10 mi. distant. We set off at 7, pulling against a head wind. The wind increased and consequently the swell, driving direct upon the shore. The Swan and Batteau lagged astern out of sight. The Otter shipped some water till I took the helm. It was 2 in the morning before we reached Hunter's point, the other two boats remained behind. I felt anxious for their safety and reflect on myself for running any risk with the cargoes, particularly so near the completion of the voyage. My people had a severe pull. I found here encamped Mr. Hillier with two boats destined for Winipic River.

Friday, August 28 - At 8 this morning the Swan and Batteau came up, wind and sea strong against them. They had put into a small bay - passed the night at anchor, not being able to land from the violence of the surf - the wind continuing to blow a head - remained here all day.

Mr. Hillier having no provisions for his people I advised him to desist for the present attempting to fix himself at the Winipic River, as that part was bare of subsistence and he must soon of necessity abandon it. He concludes on going back to Red River. Weather clear all day, wind strong a head sea running high.

Saturday, August 29 - Wind abated and came round to N.W. Set off at 9. Mr. Hillier remained, judging the sea too high for his small boats. We made straight for the mouth of Red River. My hunter kept along shore with his canoe. I did not join. At 12 entered the mouth of Red River. Passed Dead River where there is a plain, from here up-wards the banks rise and the land appears to be of a good quality and fit for tillage. At 4 p.m. reached the House built this spring by order of Mr. Heney on the E. side, where 9 kegs of potatoes were planted but not in the most judicious manner. The banks are of a convenient height and the soil excellent. Two men were here who complained of not catching many fish. From them I got two kegs of fat left by Mr. Heney, a couple of catfish and 4 ducks. Received here a letter from Mr. McKay who passed the 24th Inst, he and Mr. Heney wait for me at the Forks, on opposite side was an old Establishment abandoned. We came off stopt to boil our kettle at the head of Poplar Island on W side at burnt poplar woods. I do not know why this Island was so called as it appears to be chiefly timbered with Elm and Oak. The batteau come up with us here. It being a still and starry night, I set off again much against the inclination of some of my people, but I was anxious to shorten the distance so as to be able to reach the Forks next day - by 12 at night got to the foot of the strong current where we stopt till day light. Weather clear and fine all day.

Sunday, August 30 - Set off at 1/2 past 4, saw many pigeons. Mr. Edwards and I went ashore with our guns on E. side, found the walking so very bad that we were glad to reembark with indifferent success. Mr. Frobisher with two N.W. Canoes passed - by 7 got to near the head of the strong current where we stopt to breakfast. While here, two men sent by Mr. Heney for horses for me to ride to the Forks came to us. I embrace this occasion of getting there before the boats and to see something of the country. The saddles were not equal to good pack saddles (I took Mr. Edwards with me). After leaving the river bank entered a fine plain as level as a bowling green covered with a fine sward of grass knee high - here and there a clump of wood as if planted for ornament by the hand of man, partridges rising before us in coveys on each side of the path. Ducks and Geese fly about us. This plain extended close to the Forks which we reached at 2 o'clock p.m. Messrs. Wills and McDonell received us at the gate of the N.W.Co. Fort and asked us in.

Received from Mr. Wills a letter from my brother and some of my friends in Canada. After chatting a while with these gentlemen (Mr. Frobisher arrived in the meantime) we crossed to the other side where Mr. Heney was, at my setting off from the shore a few Indians on the Bank fired a salute and afterwards followed me across to get a treat.

Our people are out of provisions. Mr. Heney employed and sent off Hunters on his arrival here from Pembina, there has not yet been any account of them and the fishing here cannot supply so many people. My boats arrived before sunset. Weather warm all day.

Monday, August 31 - No place here to store up things in. I resolved to build a temporary log shade. The men are occupied in unloading the boats. Mr. Hillier arrived in the evening. Weather forenoon clear, after-noon heavy rain. There is no possibility of getting much rest here at night with the howling and barking and fighting of dogs. Weather warm and sultry. Therm 92° above 0 in the tent.

Tuesday, September 1 - Set my men about cutting and carrying timber for the store, they made very slow progress. Messrs. Wills and Frobisher call on me to ask me to go to dine with them. I was engaged to Mr. Hillier but they proposed to ask him likewise - we crossed altogether after taking a smoke and a drink with me - this being a standing custom of the country. We passed a very pleasant evening and only returned at 1 in the morning. Weather clear forenoon - rain afternoon.

Photo: Fort Gibraltar under construction. Courtesy of Provincial Archives.

Wednesday, September 2 - Sent off Mr. Isham with his son and Tipotem to the foot of the current below the Sault de la Biche, as I proposed making the first cultivation there. These men were to be catching fish and hunting till my arrival as we had no provisions to take along.

Thursday, September 3 - Occupied arranging the stores and making selections to go up and down. Went in the afternoon to take a ride with Mr. Wills by invitation - went out with all the gentlemen here of the N.W.Co. mounted and a number of followers, about 18 altogether, free-men, servants, Indians, every one that could muster a horse - running races with each other. I invited them to be present the next day at the ceremony of delivery and seizing of the land, which was fixed to take place tomorrow at 12 o'clock.

Friday, September 4 - At 12 o'clock today fired our signal gun and hoisted our colours - being the signal agreed on with the N.W.Co. gentlemen that we were ready to begin - they accordingly came across - when the conveyance was read. both in English and French in the presence of all our people and several Canadians and Indians (Mr. Heney having prepared a translation) my commission was likewise read - at the conclusion of which 7 swivels were discharged and 3 cheers given. The gentlemen assembled at my tent and partook of a cold snacke and we drank toasts appropriate to the occasion. The Head was driven into a Keg of Rum for the populace. Mr. Wills was obliged to go away early on account of canoes he was sending off which broke up our party sooner than we should otherwise have done.

Crossed with Mr. Edwards and spent the evening with the N.W.Co. gentlemen.

Sunday, October 25 - Pembina - Fire takes again in the plains, it runs on the N. side of the Pambina - bad prospect for meat for the winter as it will drive off all the Buffaloe. I intended going after some Buffaloe that were reported near today but could not find horses.

Monday, October 26 - I find it troublesome to procure green meat for the number of men and families. Send off Franchemontaine with 2 carts for Buffaloe, and Mr. Isham and son with their families to encamp about the mountain to be near the Buffaloe to hunt them for us and support their own families. Mr. Isham was averse to going but I insisted upon it he being a mere supernumerary to me here, as he has been all along having done no service for us except that of fishing for my party at the Forks, his being pawned on me and recommended strongly by Mr. Auld is quite an imposition.

Tuesday, October 27 - Took up a net this morning which had been set for 3 days, only found one Pike in it.

At 12 o'clock heard firing at the H.B.Co. Fort and observed a string of boats coming up from them which turned out to be our people so long expected from below in 9 boats, in the leading boat the Bagpipes played and the British Flag was displayed - we received them on landing with a guard of ceremony on the Bank, a discharge from a swivel and small arms - among them was 35 men for Mr. Hillier that were immediately sent down to Mr. Heney - my people pitched their tents and covered a good deal of ground.

Photo: Summer view of Fort Douglas on the Red River drawn from nature in July 1822. Courtesy of Provincial Archives.

Monday, November 30 - Two men came in from the Hunter with meat - he has killed 4 cows yesterday and requests a party to be sent for the meat. This being St. Andrew's day Mr. Hillier and the gentlemen belonging to him, Mr. Heney and Mr. McDonell of the N.W.Co. dined with me, passed a pleasant evening, singing, piping and dancing and did not part till 4 in the morning.

Mr. Edwards dressed in a Highland dress walked about and visited the sick in it although the Therm: was 25° below 0.

Tuesday, December 1 - A party of 16 men is sent for the last meat killed by the Hunter 12 miles off. The hunter himself [Jean Baptiste Lagimniere] came in in the afternoon. This man had been out since the 20th Ult. ie. 10 days, in which time he killed 9 Buffaloe.

Some of Mr. Heney's men came in with a bull.

Monday, December 7 - Walked out with Mrs. McLean - she gives a party this evening, being the anniversary of her marriage, danced with the bagpipes and kept it up till 5 in the morning - all the gentlemen of the 3 Forts were there except Mr. Keveny who declined going.

Tuesday, December 22 - Men came in yesterday who gave information that Franch has 2 bulls staged, send off a party of 10 there today under the orders of Mr. Holmes - they returned with the meat in the evening, Mr. H. remained behind from fatigue.

The Flag Staff is ready dressed and hauled into the plain by our horse - the stick is 'ft. long. A party in the evening at Mr. McLean's, danced reels.

Wednesday, December 23 - Canadians brought home the Flag Staff, treated them with 1/2 gallon rum. Mr. Isham arrived with some meat - likewise Mr. Holmes.

Thursday, December 24 - Franch and his party arrived with 2 bulls, these two days back we got a ton of meat in. Erected our Flag Staff this afternoon, 55 feet above the ground - hoisted the flag, fired off a swivel, gave three cheers and named the place Fort Daer - gave a dram to our people. Mr. Hillier and Mr. McDonell N.W.Co. joined us. Spent the evening at Mr. McLean's - danced reels - 2 men came in afternoon from Mr. Isham's with meat.

Friday, December 25 - Christmas day - Play at the Hurl [a primitive form of ice hockey] on the ice with the people of the 3 Forts. We all dine at Mr. Hillier's, dance to the Bag Pipe in the evening. Very pleasant party. Mr. McRae ordered the 2 men that came last with meat to go off immediately for more, they came to me and I gave them leave to stay not knowing. We had afterwards some words in consequence of Mr. McR's order. He accused me of not supporting my officers.

Page revised: 23 May 2011

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