Monday, 30 October 2017

Through New Ontario on a “Jigger”

Through New Ontario on a “Jigger”
By Richard A. Haste.
From The Wide World Magazine  1908. Vol. xxi.—21.
Originally published in 2 parts
Digitized by Doug Frizzle, October 2017 for Stillwoods.Blogspot.Ca
A Railway Tricycle or "Jigger"
An account of an unconventional trip over the new Canadian Northern Railroad, which runs for five hundred miles through what is practically an uninhabited wildernessa country of magnificent lakes, mountains, and forests, and one of the finest game reserves on the face of the earth.

NEW ONTARIO is the name applied to that portion of King Edward’s dominions lying north and west of Lake Superior, east of Manitoba, and south of Kewatin. It is a region of rivers and lakes and granite hills, wild and picturesque—the haunt of moose and elk a

nd deer. Here, too, are found the large timber wolf and the black bear; while along the creeks of the remoter forests the beaver still builds his home. The region contains workable veins of gold and silver, and is supposed to harbour vast deposits of iron ore; moreover, it is rich in historic incident, for from Lake Superior to Lake Winnipeg lay the route of the Voyageurs and the Courier des Bois of the North.
I had promised myself a canoe trip from Grand Portage, where the international boundary line dips into Lake Superior, to the Lake of the Woods, along the very course blazed by these men of iron. But for one reason and another I had been unable to fulfil the promise. So when, in the summer of 1892, I was asked to secure a photographer and make the trip from Winnipeg to Port Arthur on a “jigger,” over the then new line of the Canadian Northern Railroad, I readily accepted the commission.
This was not exactly the expedition of my dreams. The birch canoe had vanished, and in its place stood the “jigger.” Instead of the broad lakes and winding rivers set with rapids, there were the parallel lines of steel. And a photographer, with tripod and camera, was to take the place of the silent Indian guide. There was, however, one saving circumstance— the railroad line conformed, as closely as a rail­road line can conform, to the Dawson Road, and that did not depart much from the route of the old Voyageurs.
Although the last spike had been driven, the railroad line had not been opened to general traffic—no regular trains were running. The five hundred miles lay mostly through the heart of an uninhabited wilderness. I was to take a camping outfit and do the distance by easy stages, making side excursions to points of interest along the line as my fancy or inclination might suggest.
A “jigger,” in railroad parlance, is a tricycle made to run on the rails when propelled by human power. It is an innocent-looking machine, and most deceiving.
Only one jigger being available, it was fitted with a double seat, and a tray to accom­modate a tent, a “war bag,” and the photographic outfit. Stillwell, the photographer I had engaged, looked the affair over as it was brought from the shops, and asked if I had had any experience with jiggers. When assured that I was as innocent as a tadpole so far as jiggers were concerned he made no comment, but went back to his hotel. We were to start the next morning, but in the morning he was ill too ill to go. I had my suspicions then, but they were not confirmed until later. That man was not ill; he had crossed the Rockies on a jigger, and he knew the breed. He knew that a bucking broncho can’t be more vicious than an overloaded jigger.
Obviously the expedition could not proceed without a photographer. I appealed to the traffic manager.
Yes, he knew of a first-class photographer— an artist, a man by the name of Forde, living in Port Arthur, at the other end of the line.
“Wait a minute.” He touched a button and the chief clerk appeared.
“Mr. Cooper, is there a special coming West this week?”
“Yes, sir; the general superintendent is expected here on Friday.”
“Wire Forde, Port Arthur, to take first train and meet Mr. Haste at Warroad. Bring complete photographic outfit.” Then, turning to me, he continued: “You can make the run to Warroad alone. There isn’t much to photo­graph between here and there, anyway.”
It was one o’clock in the afternoon when, having loaded my camp-kit and supplies, I moved gaily out of the yards at Winnipeg, across the bridge to St. Boniface, and struck boldly to the south-east over twin lines of steel that led without a curve or a break to the verge of the horizon.
I had scarcely left the outskirts of the city, with its fringe of new-built shacks, when my troubles began.
A strong wind was blowing from the south. Now a jigger is as sensitive to atmospheric movements as an unladen birch-bark canoe; but there the similarity ends. I worked and pumped and perspired, but scarcely held my own. Whenever I stopped for breath the thing would try and sneak back home. I urged and coaxed it, swore internal oaths, and then got off and led the beast with a rope. For three immortal hours I counted the ties and cursed the fiend who invented the infernal machine. And then the wind veered to the west. My load suddenly became light, my tow-line hung slack, and soon the jigger was nipping at my heels. I took the hint, got aboard, and during the next three hours reeled off thirty miles of flat prairie.
In the midst of a grassy reach I passed St. Anne, the hithermost outpost of the Red River Settlement, calmly basking in the sun, much as it was eighty years ago when the foundations of its solitary church were laid, and when the chimes in the single tower broke the primeval silence of earth and sky.
On an open plot within a mile of the forest, that extends in an unbroken reach of two thousand miles to the Atlantic, I made my first camp. My hands were blistered and my muscles sore. I was a physical wreck, but I was happy. I had had my first encounter with a jigger, and was alive to tell the story.
Supper! Was there ever such bacon and fried potatoes? And the coffee! He who has known life and fatigue in the wilderness will understand.
I pitched my tent, spread my blanket, and was soon fast asleep.
At midnight or thereabout I was awakened by a most diabolical serenade. Confused barkings, as of a disturbed kennel of a hundred curs; staccato yelps, ending in screams of rage like the cry of an angry child; doleful howls, long-drawn-out to a weird wail, changing into outbursts of demoniac laughter, seemed to come from every side. There would be absolute silence for half a minute, when a single whimper would set the whole chorus off again.
To admit that the hair on my neck began to creep is to admit nothing unusual under the circumstances. I cautiously opened the flap of the tent and peered out. There, in the light of a waning moon, sat my entertainers—coyotes. I could count only four; there were probably as many more on the other side of the tent, but, had I not relied on the witness of my own eyes, I should have sworn there were forty. For full fifteen minutes I watched them at their antics; the show was well worth the price of admission. I had no gun, and would not have used one if I had. At last I stepped before the curtain, thanked them for the entertainment, and bade them begone. They respected my feelings and vanished instantly. Nor did they return, so far as I know. Later in the night I fancied I heard a sniffing about the tent, but that may have been imagination or the wind. The east was red when I awoke, sore and stiff, to another day. A piece of bacon rind I had left on the outside was gone, and my frying-pan had travelled some distance. There were no other traces of my nocturnal visitors.
Before the sun was up I was on the road, and the click-clack, click-clack of the jigger wheels indicated a pace of ten miles an hour. At that rate I could cover the sixty-seven miles to Warroad with comparative ease before night. There was no wind, but I soon began to feel the drag of an up-grade. The railroad was leaving the bed of ancient Lake Agassiz and rising to the level of the Lake of the Woods. I had left the great Western plains and was enter­ing the forest that extends unbroken from Kewatin to Labrador. Open pine “barrens,” warm in the sun, dark swamps, dank and fragrant with moss and balsam, and ridges of upland covered with poplar and silver birch lined the narrow lane through which I urged my now obedient jigger.
A noonday meal with red raspberries for desert, and a delicious rest amid the soothing silence of an abandoned tie camp, made me forget the toil of the previous day. A leisurely run of four hours through a tangle of sweet-smelling woods brought me to the station at Warroad in time for supper.
Warroad is an American village. The railroad in passing around the foot of the Lake of the Woods is compelled to traverse some fifty miles of the State of Minnesota. The town site is on the lake at the mouth of Warroad River, where there is a natural harbour, recently improved by the expenditure of a forty-thousand-dollar United States Government appropriation.
Warroad has ambitions. It is the only “seaport” on the American side of the Lake of the Woods. And as Mr. Moody, the enthusiastic father of the town, assured me, it occupies the same strategic position in regard to the Canadian North-West that Chicago does to the north-west of the United States.
The name Warroad had its origin in a great event of Indian history.
Before the advent of the white man the lake country of New Ontario and what is now the northern part of Minnesota was the choice hunting-ground of the Chippewas. The woods were full of game, the lakes were full of fish. Moreover, this favoured region was within easy striking distance of the buffalo-covered plains of the Red River. These hunting-grounds the Sioux—the Arabs of the Western plains—had long coveted. With commanding strategy they planned to seize the Lake of the Woods, it being the key to the vast interior region reached by the network of streams and lakes of which Rainy River is the outlet.
The Chippewas, learning of the proposed invasion, determined to force the fight on their own ground. Selecting a position on a river that flowed into the south-west extremity of the lake and directly across the trail which the enemy must take, they erected fortifications and then awaited the approach of the invaders. From this place of ambush to their base on the lake they opened up a broad road to be used in case of retreat. The battle which ensued raged for six days. The invaders were defeated with great slaughter. Five hundred scalps were taken, and for ever after the Chippewas were left in peaceful possession of their lands. The trail along the river from the lake to the battle-ground became known as the War Trail—in English the War Road, after which the river and the town are named.
There is a legend of an ancient chief, not many years dead, who for nearly a hundred years made annual pilgrimages over the War Trail from the Indian village on the lake to the battle-ground, and there, fasting for six days, he fought over again and again this last great battle of his people with their fierce enemy the Sioux.
The Lake of the Woods has a history. It has figured in more treaty stipulations and diplo­matic correspondence than any other portion of our international boundary.
It is not generally known that long before the era of national expansion which opened with the purchase of Alaskain fact, from the very inception of the original confederation, of States —the United States possessed a section of noncontiguous territory north of the forty-ninth parallel—a territory that could be reached only by passing over foreign soil. This territory is included in what has become known as the North-West Angle.
In the treaty of 1873, wherein Great Britain acknowledged the independence of the United States, it was stipulated that the northern boundary should follow the Great Lakes and the water communications from Lake Superior to the most north-west point of the Lake of the Woods—and thence west to the Mississippi River. This provision was based upon the assumption that the waters from the Lake of the Woods flowed east into Superior, and that the source of the Mississippi was north and west of the “most north-west point” of the Lake of the Woods. This clause, calling for at least one impossible boundary line, opened a veritable Pandora’s box of diplomatic controversy.
The purchase of Louisiana by extending the western boundary line of the United States to the “Stony Mountains,” and the subsequent determination of the source of the Mississippi, simplified to some extent this mathematical puzzle. The forty-ninth parallel was accepted as the dividing line between the possessions of Great Britain and the United States west from the Lake of the Woods to the “Stony Mountains.” But the most north-west point of the Lake of the Woods, the starting base, was found to be about twenty-four degrees north of the agreed parallel. To make the boundary continuous, therefore, it was necessary to provide by treaty that from the most north-west point of the Lake of the Woods a line drawn south to an intersection with the forty-ninth parallel should form the connecting link. Such was the origin of the North-West Angle.
A glance at the map will show the inter­national boundary line extending from the mouth of Rainy River in a north-westerly direction across the southern lobe of the Lake of the Woods to the head of a bay supposed to be the most north-west point of the lake. From here a north and south line intersects the forty-ninth parallel somewhere in the open lake about five miles from shore. This is not the end, but the beginning of the practical complications. This line cuts off and gives to the United States a peninsula containing one hundred and fifty square miles, the only territory of the original domain north of the forty ninth parallel.
On my arrival at Warroad I fell in with a corps of United States surveyors on their way to the North-West Angle, to examine and correct the recent Government surveys of that isolated bailiwick. They were waiting for their canoes and I was waiting for Forde. Why not employ the interim in visiting this historical territory— this piece of the earth’s surface that had been honoured by a distinct clause in nearly a dozen treaties and conventions?
The first difficulty encountered was one of transportation. There were thirty miles of lake to cross, and the only seaworthy craft in the village belonged to a half-breed fisherman, but his shanty was locked and his dog had not been seen on the steps of Big Pete’s saloon since early morning. He might come back and he might not, we were told; he was often away for days. Next morning the hut was still locked and the dog was not sitting guard at Big Pete’s. A brisk wind was blowing from the south-east. There was no time to lose, so we “commandeered” the boat and in ten minutes were out of the harbour. The boat was a thirty-foot, flat-bottomed craft with a centre-board and an abundant spread of canvas. We hoisted every stitch, perched ourselves on the gunwale, and struck out boldly across the “Grand Traverse.” The wind held strong, and before noon we had rounded the eastern elbow of American territory, entered the bay, and were at the hub of the universe—the North-West Angle. All about us was a low swamp, with here and there low islands covered with green caps of spruce and poplar. Here we found the ruins of an old dock, built to accommodate the line of steamers that was to form one of the connecting links in the Dawson Road, the first line of commercial communications between Lake Superior and the Red River Settlement. Here also are the remains of a one-time flourishing Hudson Bay Company’s trading post.
Why so much diplomatic ink was spilled over a few square miles of sand ridges and tamarack swamps, interspersed with low marshes, is explainable only when we remember that those wily diplomats knew less of the physical features of the country about which they were contending than they did about the canals of Mars. The whole one hundred and fifty square miles contained within the North-West Angle is worthless, and interesting only as a geographical curiosity.
Fortunately for us, the wind had changed, and under a fair breeze from the north we left the bay, rounded the peninsula, and headed for Buffalo Point, on the south-west shore of the lake. This point, lying mostly in Manitoba, is high and well wooded. It figures in early history as the place where Verandrye built a fort and established a trading post in 1732. The post was abandoned in 1763, but was known among subsequent fur-traders as “the Old French Fort.” It is now occupied as a reserve by the Powawasson Indians.
It was nearly sundown when we reached Buffalo Point. I should have enjoyed a day instead of half an hour in this historic spot; but twelve miles of wind-lashed water lay between us and the reed-grown harbour at Warroad. We could scarcely expect to reach it before dark—and there were no harbour lights. It was half-past nine when, under a single fore-sail, running before the wind, we struck and threaded the channel and tied up at the little dock. The shanty was dark—French Louis had not returned.
I found a telegram awaiting me, stating that the “special” would not come West until the next Tuesday.
I had become convinced that my jigger, in its most amiable moods, would not carry double without protest. Fifty-four miles farther on was the town of Rainy River, a divisional point, where I fancied it might be possible to obtain another jigger. I concluded to make the run to that place, and intercept Forde as he came through.
The railroad from Warroad east to Rainy River, where it crosses into Canada, traverses a low, level country which was once a part of the lake bed. It rises gradually to the south, and merges into those immense muskeg swamps adjacent to the source of the Mississippi River.
Evidences of the homesteader were on every hand. New board shanties and line fences showed that the American pioneer had followed the steel rails into this wilderness and staked out his claim under the free land laws of the Government.
Although it was scarcely seven o’clock when I started out, I passed groups of berry-pickers— Indian women and children, shy as rabbits, but more curious. An invitation to ride was accepted by a young squaw amid whispered protests and vigorous pantomime on the part of the family, who no doubt took me for an up-to-date Lochinvar seeking the hand of their fair Ellen. A half-mile spin was enough for the young lady, who, in good English, asked to be put down. For this daughter of the wild it was an experiencean experience that would make her the object of special interest in her world for a day. She had been for a brief time an integral part of the “white man’s burden.”
It was three o’clock in the afternoon when I crossed the international bridge and side-tracked myself at the station. Rainy River is a new town, with its streets recently cut through the hardwood forest. Although on Canadian soil the town is decidedly American. It is full of ambition and the smell of pine lumber. I asked for an hotel and was directed to an unfinished building on the edge of the woods. The rooms had been lathed but not plastered. To afford some degree of privacy, paper had been tacked on to the laths. My request for a room with a private bath being ignored, I took my bath in a bowl.
The Indian is much in evidence in the vicinity of Rainy River. On the American side Baudette is in a reservation occupied by the Chippewas, and reserves, as they are called in Canada, occupy the choicest locations along the lakes and rivers.
The influence of the fur-trader and the mission schools have had a marked effect upon the Ontario Indians. They have to a large extent adopted modern dress, and many of the young men can be found at work in the sawmills and as river-drivers. The women, too, manage to keep step with their lords in this march toward civilized appearances. I have seen moccasined feet peeping from beneath the folds of velvet gowns of royal purple. On the bank of Rainy River I came upon a com­munity of wigwams and tepees. About an open fire crouched three old hags, filthy and hideous. But in the door of a tepee not ten feet away stood a young squaw—perhaps a daughter of one of the hags—doing her hair with a curling-iron. The humour of the occa­sion appealed to me, and I paused to watch the process. The dusky Juliet, as if appreciating the incongruity of the situation, gave me a sheepish smile and hid away the implement of civilized vanity.
My first view of Fort Francis, at the head of Rainy River, was of two white buildings against a background of green — the Hudson Bay Company’s post (since burned), standing on the bluff at the head of the last long reach of the river.
Fort Francis is beautifully situated. On the east is Rainy Lake, studded with islands. Then come two miles of beautiful water, half lake, half river, and then the falls boiling and seething at the very feet of the town. To the west, and forty feet below the plateau on which the town stands, is a four-mile sweep of river. To the north for three thousand miles stretches the unsurveyed wilderness.
Immediately across the falls from Fort Francis is the American town, Kouchiching. A more ambitious little hamlet of five hundred souls one must go far to find—and a more wicked one. Here, a hundred years ago, the American Fur Company, the institution that laid the foundation of the Astor fortunes, maintained a post and competed with the Hudson Bay factory across the river for the goodwill of the Indians and the fur trade of the Rainy River district.
For a number of years Kouchiching has had dreams of railroads and future greatness. The railroad dreams are about to be realized, for within a year from this writing two railroads —one from Duluth, another from St. Paul—are likely to have their northern termini at this place with the romantic name—a name which the United States Post Office has changed to International Falls. Notwithstanding the official edict, the original name, with its barbarous grouping of vowels, still stands and will remain.
When the “special” at last arrived, a man with a close-cropped beard and a photographic outfit got out of the superintendent’s private car. It was Forde, my promised photographer. I had secured a requisition for another jigger. Armed with this order, I confiscated one in the possession of a party of linemen, much to their disgust.
“I don’t know how we shall get along, but orders is orders,” was the only comment of the foreman as he delivered over the machine.
It was 1:30 p.m. when the “jigger special,” in two sections, was ready to move. I tried my best to thrust upon Forde the honour of lead­ing, but he modestly, respectfully, though firmly declined. The reason became clear as we pro­ceeded. My neck was of less importance to him than his precious instruments. If one jigger was to be sacrificed in a head end collision with a construction train or a “wild” engine, I was to offer that sacrifice in order that the Kodaks and plates might be saved. I regarded this view of comparative values as most uncomplimentary to me, as well as indicating an abnormal selfishness in Forde.


(To be concluded. End of part 1) (Link to part 2)

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.