Trip 4 on the Keenora

The weekend at home was not pleasant.  I forget whether the plumbing was misbehaving, or someone was sick, or what, but it was with a distinct feeling of attaining a haven that I arrived back on board.  Mr. Miller, in the office, had ceremoniously changed his bookings so that I could have the same cabin again, and having established myself, I made a tour of the deck, and then stationed myself over the passenger hatch to see who might be coming aboard.  I got into conversation with two girls from St. Paul, Leona and Lil.  At lunch, my companions were a young couple, both students at the University of Minnesota, Beasie and Dick.  The dining room was not crowded, and I felt rather fortunate at having this pair.  The fourth at the table was a Frenchman from Otterbourne, Hormidas Turenne.  He was very chatty, so much so that we were rather pleased when later on he decided to try another table.  From the start, the whole atmosphere of the trip was informal.  There were only about a dozen round-trippers, the other passengers being people with business up the lake, or locals.  On our way, I took refuge in the wheelhouse, and as it began to rain, Roy called to Leona and Lil to come in too.  They did, rather hesitantly, as they had not yet realized that this was the boat’s official gathering place.  When the captain appeared they were prepared to depart hastily, but were soon reassured.  Then Leona and the captain discovered that they both hailed from Duluth, and things went swimmingly.  Presently, two women and a man came up, and one of the women introduced her companions to the captain.  I learned that her husband had been the Hudson’s Bay manager at Norway House, due to illness had to be flown out, and this couple, the McLeans, was to take over the post.  Mrs. Fraser looked vaguely familiar to me, and I noticed her eyeing me.  Presently, we began to compare notes, and I found that we had been at University at the same time—she had been Dorothy Borland.  I was amazed—she looked quite worn and had a curious trick of blinking her eyes.  She was a far cry from the pretty girl I had known.


As we left the dock, I had heard someone call a warning about the locks—something about the water being low, and the Luberc having been stuck.  When we finally got to the locks, Leona, Lil and I were in the wheelhouse.  Instead of sailing into the lock, we tied up, and there was considerable conversation and running about.  At last we sailed in, the captain muttering maledictions about people who tried to keep him from going ahead when there was enough water over the sill.  We were very quiet, not knowing just what it was all about.  Down we dropped, and the gate opened.  We started—and stopped.  No mistake, we were stuck.  We huffed and puffed, stirring up a great deal of mud, but to no avail.  Meanwhile, the Purvis, captained by Roy’s brother Ted, was just behind us.  We were just far enough along to be clear of the gate, and the Purvis came out behind us.  Alas, we were neatly in the middle of the channel, and there was no room for the Purvis to pass.  Our propellers raced, the Purvis pushed, but to no avail: we were stuck fast.  Finally, they gave up, and we just sat.  The Purvis was between us and the wall of the lock, and by crawling across her and climbing a ladder, it was possible to get ashore.  We ate our dinner while we were stranded, and curiously, in the middle of dinner, with my pleasant companions, I suddenly discovered an appetite, and kept it for the rest of the trip.  Presently, people began to arrive from Selkirk.  Mrs. Campbell and her daughter Dorothy from Grand Rapids climbed down the ladder and crawled aboard.  Mrs. Campbell is not small, and there was much fun before she finally reached a safe haven.  It was about this time that I saw Ted Purvis, and demanded to know how long we would be stranded.  He answered, “You wouldn’t care if we stayed here a week,” and I had to admit that he was right.  He also volunteered the information that the water had gone up two inches, and we were going to make another try to get away, so I went on deck to watch.  Once more our screws turned, roiling the muddy water.  Once more the little Purvis panted and pushed, and wonder of wonders, we moved! Almost before we knew it, we were gliding down the river.  With the Purvis puffing along behind us, and Eleanor gleefully yelling at Ted that we had towed the Purvis out.


By this time it was dark, and the approach to Selkirk, with all its lights glittering in the river in duplicate, was quite different from the usual daylight approach.  As we were so late, the usual crowd was not ready for us, and Eleanor and I strolled up to the town.  On our return, I found Audrey looking for me, and delivered the books I had promised her.  Meanwhile, the welcoming crowd had arrived, and was milling around in the dark, while the crew loaded freight.  It was late when we finally pulled away.  Next morning, I awoke to find us through the lower part of the lake.  By the time I reached the wheelhouse we were crossing Washow Bay.  Once again, we stopped at Pine Dock for wood, and the girls from there kept wishing that we would stay all night at Snake Island, where they had friends.  Arrived at Snake Island: the captain announce his intention of staying, as it was too late to get to Berens River, unload, and get away again before dark.  It was shortly after noon when we arrived, and as it was a pleasant day, we all wandered around the island.  The postal inspector invited me to accompany him to the post office, which he wished to inspect.  He was not quite sure where it was, but thought he would know it, as the postmistress had her husband buried in the front yard.  We did find it, grave and all, and while he went in I investigated the shore.  There were low limestone cliffs, only four or five feet high, and I sat in a sheltered spot and enjoyed the sun.  Presently, becoming weary of waiting, I wandered along to another dock where there was a big fish house.  I met a man, who stopped to talk, and told me of his adventures on the Lady Canadian, which included rescuing the occupants of a boat, who later went off and succeeded in drowning themselves.  The people all seemed most friendly, and any I passed stopped to ask how I liked the place, or enquire what the plans of the Keenora were.  There was an endeavor to promote a dance, but it was not overly successful, as the captain refused to have it on the boat, and it was a long time before anything could be got going in the village.  The boat was all closed up except the little hatch near the engine room, and Mrs. Campbell, who had gone for a stroll, was quite disturbed, as she felt the effort of crawling in was more than she could compass.   I think the boys finally opened another hatch for her.  It really was a bit tricky getting in and out.  It was necessary to step over a gap of nearly a foot, and then crawl through the hatch, which was waist high.  I quickly became adept—indeed if you want to move freely on the Keenora—and off it—you have to be fairly agile.  I think a small dance for the boat people only was finally promoted, and two lads who had joined our company at Selkirk persuaded some of the girls to initiate them.  They were Kurt and Bert, both tall, Kurt very fair, both architectural students from Minneapolis.  They took to the square dancing in fine style, and soon became experts.  We finally reached Berens River Wednesday morning, somewhat behind the famous “schedule”, and proceeded to unload freight.  That done, we sat.  The wind was bad, and in any case there was no use moving before evening, as we could not enter Warrens Landing until dawn.  The McEwans came aboard, and bridge was played in the dining room.  Upstairs things were dull.  Finally, someone discovered that Father Berlot had a stock of classical records, which he was taking back to his mission at Poplar River.  We borrowed them, and instead of the perpetual square dances and jigs, we had an hour or two of Beethoven, Bvorjak, and Tchaikovsky.  He had one record that particularly appealed to me—a selection from the opera Le Rois d’Ys.  Father Berlot, who was a native of Brettony, told me the tale of this kingdom under the sea, and was delighted when I had heard of it, and la Cathedrale Engloutie.  He was a little fat man, very cheerful, who affected a beret.  His English was not good, but his Cree was fluent.  His companion, Father Chamberlin, was returning to Norway House.  He was quite a different type, a much taller man, and I thought him a French Canadian, rather than a true Frenchman.  They are both fine men, and well liked around the lake, where missionaries are in general at a discount.


The day wore on, and in the evening a half-hearted attempt was made to start a singsong.  Kurt proved to be quite a pianist, and a small group gathered around the piano.  Suddenly I heard a familiar sound—the engine telegraph.  We must be going!  I made tracks for the wheelhouse, and sure enough, we were away.  There was some motion, even in the entrance to the river, and before long Kurt, Bert, and company arrived, explaining that they didn’t particularly care for the atmosphere in the parlour, which is apt to be the liveliest spot in the boat.  It soon became evident that we were in for a rough time, and I decided to stay in the wheelhouse as long as possible.  However, before long things seemed a little calmer—and I suddenly realized that we were headed back in.  The Captain had decided that his “groceries” might get wet, so had just stayed out long enough to get fresh water.  It was nearly dark when we returned, and the Captain remarked that it was snowing.  I thought this just a practical joke.  We all went back to the parlour, and soon a dance was going.  There was a banging on the window, and there was one of the boys, waving a snowball.  We all ran out, and sure enough, all the rails had a thick layer of snow and the decks were slushy.  Snow, in September.  What a country.  Next day we just sat.  Father Berlot informed me he was up before breakfast (which is at 6) playing the New World Symphony.  Of such stuff are martyrs made! During the day I talked a good deal to Dorothy Fraser, and she told me many tales of her life in the north.  They had been stationed at a remote post in the Ungava Territory, on the east shore of Hudson’s Bay.  There her little daughter was born, with only what assistance her husband could offer, and no anaesthetics but aspirin.  She gave me some interesting sidelights on northern housekeeping.  So many books about the north tell about arriving at a Hudson’s Bay Post as a haven, and of staying there for hours, days, or weeks.  Dorothy told me how a plane would occasionally arrive, and she would suddenly have to feed a dozen or so extra people.  With supplies tight at best, this was usually a problem, and I gathered that visitors are not always as welcome as they like to think.  She explained that food was seasonal, and the family diet was apt to swing from fish to ptarmigan and so on according to the time of year.  She also told me of a trip up the west coast in an open boat, to scotch the plans of some rival trader.  For the benefit of Mrs. McLean, she gave a summary of conditions at Norway House, explaining that Norway House and Rossville posts, although rivals, were traditionally friendly.  Incidentally, I was glad to hear the McEwans characterized as thoroughly nice people.  During the day, Grace and Doreen appeared.  They had had a trip to Catfish Creek, where there was a fisherman’s camp, but rain and mud had finally become just too dismal.  Dickie Kemp, whose mother keeps the inn, was with them, practically obscured in an enormous pair of rubber boots, and it was quite a sight to see the boots performing the steps of a square dance.  Anyway, the girls had decided that the might as well get on the boat, and make the round again, as at least they would have company.  They had become friendly with Lil and Leona, and the four of them with Kurt and Bert formed a group, and got them a table together.  That night the McEwans announced that they were having a dance at their house, and the crowd from the boat all went up the hill.  Curiously, the three Hudson’s Bay people on board did not go, and I was interested in hearing their indignation and all those people landing in on the McEwan’s.  I got the impression that they had invited themselves, without the knowledge of Mrs. McEwan, but I think that it was actually an excess of hospitality on the part of her husband.  I had stayed behind, because I thought there would be an awful mob, and presently Swanie, who was on watch, came along with his violin, and played for me.  Then the Hudson’s Bay people decided to grace the fete after all, and the four of us set out.  We got to the front door, decided to go to the back, and suddenly found ourselves on the way back to the boat.  Mrs. Fraser explained that Mr. McLean would not go in with a bunch of Indians, and I noticed that a group of bystanders had been emboldened to follow us.  Mr. McLean expressed himself with vigor—“Think I’m going in there with that bunch of bows and arrows?”  We returned to the boat.  There was a bright moon, and as a result, about midnight the captain decided to try going, which he did, and we reached the Landing, uneventfully, next morning.  As usual, I stayed behind while the rest of the crowd went to Norway House.  Grace and Doreen, having made the journey the week before, also remained behind, and Grace beguiled the afternoon fishing off the dock.  She caught one fairly large fish, but while she was engrossed in trying to land another, one of the local starving dogs sneaked up and made off with her prize.  Incidentally, this trip was notable for livestock.  We started off with six horses, some of which we let off at Berens River, and some at the landing.  At Pine Dock we picked up four really beautiful digs.  The poor things were frightened, and in order to get them up to the boat deck, where they were to be tied, they had to be practically carried.  It was rather an unnerving experience, to go up the back steps to the boat deck, and find four sets of slavering jaws facing you.  The animals seemed quite comfortable there, and it was curious, in the parlour, to hear them banging bones about, and attempting to scrape a hole in the deck.  At Berens River, both horses and dogs were taken ashore for a rest, and then, of course, there was another struggle to get them on again.  The dogs were also left at the Landing, but we picked up what the Captain called a “little man cow” for Grand Rapids.  We also picked up Norm Thomas, a selection of missionaries, and a prospector, Herb Cowan.   The missionaries promptly pre-empted the piano, and gave with a series of doleful hymns.  Herb took over the hot box, and sat muttering imprecations on missionaries in general, and this set in particular.  I had already discovered the comforts of the hot box, and Herb and I spent a lot of time there, discussing everything from missionary music to northern exploration, from immortal souls if any to mortal gossip.  He and norm were friendly, and I heard a good deal about bush travel from them.  Norm had had to give up his expedition, as the streams on which he was travelling were very shallow in spots and would freeze easily.  He did not fancy getting stuck during freeze-up.  He was an enthusiastic and tireless square dancer, and kept urging me to try it, but it looked so strenuous, I did not feel competent.  We stayed overnight at the Landing, and next morning started across to Grand Rapids.  As usual, I was in the wheelhouse.  At first it was not very rough, but gradually the sea worked up.  The Captain explained that we did not need to expect any dinner until we arrived, because it was too rough for the girls to do much in the kitchen.  I didn’t care, as by this time I was feeling a bit woozy, and finally retired to my cabin and slept awhile.  About three, we reached our destination, and were not sorry to get off for a bit.  The kitchen girls got busy, and soon had dinner on the tables, and as I had not actually been sick, I was able to take nourishment.  Beazie had had a real session, and was feeling definitely rocky.  We were not sorry to realize that we would be staying overnight.  As usual, the population came aboard, and made themselves at home.  Herb and I had the hot box, and were somewhat annoyed by the constant procession through the side door, which was invariably left open.  The Captain locked it, but the lock could not have been effective, because the procession continued as before.  As soon as the kitchen staff had finished clearing up after supper, a raid was made on the parlour, and the piano rescued with difficulty from the missionaries.  A dance was soon in progress, with the locals gathered around to enjoy the fun.  Here we lost “Father Christmas”, a little English lay worker, who had come to take charge of the mission.  He was over seventy years of age, and although he did not look his ears, I wondered how he would stand the rigors of a winter at Grand Rapids.  Next day there was a howling wind, and it was at once evident that we would not be leaving.  The Captain went off to fish at the rapids, and Tom, the purser got a guide and decided to go for a look at the rapids.  It was to be about a ten-mile expedition, but most of the crowd decided to accompany him.  Everyone urged me to go, and Norm Thomas practically carried me off, but I didn’t fancy the trip, and stayed behind.  Instead, I went exploring on my own, up the shore toward the lake.  It was a pleasant walk.  In spite of the rain, there was little mud, for the ground seemed porous, and the earth was mostly limestone.  I passed a number of little cabins, each with its quota of dogs.  The latter were, for the most part, a miserable looking lot.  They seemed to be part Pomeranian, and far too small for sleigh dogs.  I finally reached a point which looked out to Horse Island, and the raging waters.  I wandered back along green lanes, watching the wind swirling the treetops, and the leaves turning yellow almost before my eyes.  This was Sunday, and the tolling of the church bell reminded me of the fact.  In deference to the Sunday, and the tolling of the church bell reminded me of the fact.  In deference to the missionaries, dancing was out for the day, but when I reached the boat, the crew had a small dance going.  The missionaries had gone to church, and everyone else in authority was out walking, so the crew enjoyed itself undisturbed.

Posted in Tales Aboard the Keenora.