Au Pays de l’Ours Noir: Part 14

 Excerpt from Au Pays de l’Ours Noir,

Dispatches of a Missionary 1897 by Father

Adrien Gabriel Morice

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Translated by Neil Wylie and Garry Girvan

Means of Travel 

I have said that the Stuart Lake district (in British Columbia) made an ideal mission.

 I might have added that it could be considered a paradise for the traveler and for the tourist. Here you have something for all tastes.

Afloat, you travel annually from one end to the other of beautiful Lakes Stuart and Babine, either rocked by the waves or cleaving them in spite of their rage. And you soon trust yourself to the flow of the Stuart and Nechako Rivers, if you prefer the canoe to horseback riding, the stream will deliver you safe and sound into the hands of the Indians who will greet your arrival with musket shots. The roaring flow of the rapids or the towering waves on a lake are perhaps angry at your audacity and so threaten your frail craft: but the good God watches over his missionary and you will get away with only a dousing and a light thrill of terror which will break the monotony of the voyage.

You feel like horseback riding? Saddle him then and head for the Rocky Mountains. Soon you are plunging into the thickets and flying over the thousands of fallen trees lying across the path. Bottomless swamps will probably dampen your enthusiasm from time to time and threaten to swallow your sweating charger alive. Divide the weight on your horse by jumping (from your horse) into the quagmire, and a few paces further on you will (be able to) continue on your way as if nothing has happened. Then the next day or the day after you will have the satisfaction of baptizing some Sekani hunter who will maybe die of hunger before the next visit and will owe you his salvation.

But if you say that you would like something quieter, I will advise you to wait for winter with its snow and frosts. Then pulled by four dogs which are more or less quarrelsome according to whether the whip is near or not so near, you will be able to take the forest road and point yourself toward the south-west. By hill and dale you will glide over the hardened snow of the narrow trail at the foot of the pines which the north wind has newly covered with the whitest lace, until the first plumes of smoke and then the firing of the muskets of the Indians tell you that you have come to Fraser Lake where the people of that lake and those from the vicinity have come together to celebrate with you the feast of the Child of Bethlehem.

Carrier Canoe

Carrier Canoe

 The climbs are too slow and the descents too sudden will you say? Your sled(ge) tips too often, threatening to throw you into the smothering snow where your driver has let you plunge? Then you leave the forest and make again the crossing of Babine Lake which you made a few months before, carried on the crest of its waves, but this time make it on ice.. There you will have none too lively excitement: but on the other hand you will likely have your chin frozen by the north wind which blows  along  the Lake without encountering any obstacle.

But if you say that you are not satisfied (with that) then I will show you, are you ready for this?… la raquette.

La raquette? What is that, you will say?

La raquette, or show shoe is a frame of wood a foot and a half in width by four or five in length, tapering at the two ends, especially to the rear, while the forward end is curved upwards. The frame is laced across with a network of thongs of caribou hide. You attach this frame to your feet to walk on the snow. These trellis  frames prevent you from sinking in, especially if the crust of the snow has some firmness. These frames allow you to go where you could not take a step without their help.

A Native uses them with as much ease as a White Man does his shoes.  He has to walk by thrusting the end of one snow shoe almost in front of the other. The snow shoes force him to go even faster than he would go on bare ground. Most of the Natives, especially on the run make strides or jumps of prodigious lengths with the snow shoe. But if you wish to learn by the experience that we call fatigue, I will advise you to put on for the first time a pair of big snow shoes. If at the end of four or five miles of walking over soft or snow that is not compacted  you do not call for mercy, and if then next day you do not feel your back broken, you are a phenomenon I declare.

I have made some trips on foot so hard that after two days on the march I had to throw myself on the ground every four or five hundred yards; I have suffered hunger like an Indian, eating nothing for three or four days; I have been covered from head to foot by those cruel little torturers they call black flies; but I do not hesitate to say that all these miseries are not to be compared to the fatigue resulting from a first trip by snowshoe over soft snow with no trail broken. The extraordinary size of the footwear which obliges you to spread your legs sideways to an inordinate degree, and the big steps you have to take so as not to stumble by putting one snowshoe on the other, have the inevitable result of breaking your back. Besides, if you have a long march to complete, the task of dragging these contraptions along comes back almost entirely on the big toe, and it will end almost always by refusing its services.

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