Sakitawak Bi-Centennial, Ile-a-la-Crosse 1776 - 1976

Wandering . . . Then came the Whiteman

Voyageurs. Voyageurs.

The restless highway of water shimmered in the June sunshine. Sakitawak just behind them, the canoes surged forward to reach the river opening. Furs waited in bundles for the long river trip to the "white" man. Stroke after stroke in song-like pattern bore the men onward. The lake was kind today. Manitou had bid the wind to rest and let his people pass this large water in peace.

Ile-a-la-Crosse Lake.
Lake Ile-a-la-Crosse, (Photograph Courtesy, Ile-a-la-Crosse Mission).

Silence was on all sides, yet the world was filled with the sounds of an active world. The cry of the raven, the splash of the paddle, the laugh of the solitary loon, together with their brothers and sisters of the water, land, and the sky feasted in this natural, eternal silence.

This is our home. This land, this water, this air. Where ever we pull in to shore with our canoe and build the fire of warmth - that is our home. Manitou does not chain us to a piece of earth. We are like all of Manitou's children-free to roam the bountiful land and share in the life and peace of a peaceful land.

The canoes edged onwards nearing that mighty river that travels to the "White" man's fort. Behold, there appeared on the horizon, canoes-the canoes of "White" men, for all do not share the labour of the paddle. We have met you in peace.

"We continued our voyage till the twenty-fourth (June, 1776), when a large opening being before us (entrance to Ile-a-la-Crosse Lake), we saw a number of canoes, filled with Indians, on their voyage down the stream. We soon met each other in the most friendly manner".

Alexander Henry and Joseph Frobisher beached their canoes laden with trade goods. The presents were laid before the men of the north country. Liquor flowed, pipes were smoked, tea drank and food shared. Words sailed through barriers of race and language. Wonders of a country called Athabasca brought a gleam of greed and lust to the eye of the Canadian pedlars. Trading followed the sharing of words and bodily comfort, and became part of the excitement. Knives, needles, kettles, cloth, hunting weapons and more poured freely into the hands of the wilderness people, all in return for the fur of the ever-giving land. Frobisher eyed in wonder the heaps of beaver, marten and otter before the trade canoes. Here, in return for almost worthless trinkets of a rich and fat civilization, the savages had given a fortune.

Soon time drew apart the parties and a return was made to their starting places. The wilderness trappers paddled across Lake Ile-a-la-Crosse to Sakitawak and to their home camps. Their people waited. They would rejoice at the early return of their men weighted with the treasures of the "White" man.

Returning to their post on Beaver Lake, north of Hearne's Fort Cumberland, Henry and Frobisher talked of the furs to be had in the Athabasca country. Some way had to be found to get there. Joseph's older brother, Thomas Frobisher, was to go again up the Churchill River with a veteran of that river, Louis Primeau. Louis had set up a post for the past winter at a lake near to the trading spot at Lake Ile-a-la-Crosse, a lake since named Primeau Lake. Alexander and Joseph were to continue on to the Grand Portage and Montreal with their twelve thousand beaver and large numbers of other furs.

Hopefully Thomas and Louis would reach the Athabasca country and return in early summer with a fortune in excellent beaver.

Nature allowed Thomas Frobisher and Louis Primeau to reach the entrance to Deep River, at the southwest end of Lake Ile-a-la-Crosse. Here on an isthmus, they constructed a fort for trading and for wintering. Louis Primeau was then left to trade and Thomas Frobisher departed and followed other paths and pursuits, so suggests one writer of history, while others are quite certain Thomas remained at the fort. Whether Primeau, or Frobisher, or both-Ile-a-la-Crosse had been occupied and claimed.

Seasons passed by in quick order and the beaver lost. Furs piled high on the docks of Montreal. The Canadian pedlars, anxious to reserve the rich country of the North-west for their ever growing wallets, decided to form an alliance and partnership. The year was 1779. The place, the Grand Portage. Now the rivalry of trade was to be directed against the English-the Hudson's Bay Company.

Peter Pond became part of this alliance. With the combined resources of Montreal, he was outfitted to seek the Athabasca country. It was Nature's intention that he should proceed to Ile-a-la-Crosse and remain at the wintering post constructed by Frobisher and Primeau. Trade was good and talk guided his plans to the spring. With the breakup of the waterways, Pond paddled northward past the lakes that bear his name, on the Portage La Loche, to the Athabasca country. He stayed the winter for trade. Then in the spring of 1784, he returned south and east to the Grand Portage, only to find that he now belonged to a new company-the North West Company. The days of the "free trader" had come to an end.

Peter Pond's Map.
Peter Pond's Map 1785 V1/700 - 1785. Public Archives Of Canada.


Author: Webmaster -
"Date Modified: July 21, 2024."

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