Tag Archives: Don Morris

Mattie Mitchell, Response

Good response to Mattie Mitchell story

Vignettes of the West, by Don Morris (Apr. 11, 1992)

Mattie Mitchell-ca-1920-heritage.nf-wikicommonsI was pleasantly surprised by the response to the two-part series on the story of the career, achievements and brief life history of Mattie Mitchell, the Micmac Indian, which appeared in The Western Star March 7 and 14. I got two phone calls from Corner Brook on the day the first column appeared; one from my good friend, Dr. Noel Murphy, who kindly gave me what information he had on Mr. Mitchell and family; the other from a granddaughter of the famed guide and prospector who expanded on Dr. Murphy’s data.

This particular caller said her grandfather had lots of descendants all over Newfoundland and elsewhere and on the very day the first column appeared many of them in the Corner Brook area, the caller informed me, were telephoning each other reporting that the Star “had an article on Mattie.”

Two other phone calls came during the days that followed, including one from John Mitchell who is a grandson of Mattie and whose father, also named John, was the person who travelled from Corner Brook to Curling to fetch a Roman Catholic priest to be at Mattie’s side at the time of death. This was one of Mattie’s last requests.

And letters came in also, including one from the United States. But probably the most informative of the phone calls and letters was a written communique from Ms. Irene Doucette… However, before dealing with Ms. Doucette’s letter, it is appropriate to state briefly here something about the man of whom I wrote.

Noted prospector and guide

Matthew Mitchell was undoubtedly the most noted of Newfoundland’s Micmac people. He was born either at Hall’s Bay or Norris Point about 1851. He was the son of a Micmac Chief whose ancestors came to Newfoundland in the mid-1700s from Cape Breton. He became widely known in the early part of this century as the prospector who, in 1905, discovered the rich ore bodies at Buchans River in the interior which was the beginning of the thriving town of Buchans.

While that made Mattie famous, (although not rich), his celebrity grew in 1908 when he was chosen by the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company to act as guide in the most unusual wildlife venture in the island’s history. The company, builders of the Grand Falls pulp and paper mill, had ordered from the Grenfell Mission at St. Anthony 50 of the 300-reindeer herd which the mission had purchased in Scandinavia as a supplement to caribou as a big-game animal for the northern population.

Reindeer swimming - Grenfell lantern slides, Maritime History Archive
Reindeer swimming – Grenfell lantern slides, Maritime History Archive MUN

Men from the AND Company went to St. Anthony, accompanied by Mattie, to escort the animals 400 miles southward to Millertown. It was intended to make this unique “reindeer drive” over the sea ice. However, vicious winds and heavy seas made this impossible and the only alternative was to herd the reindeer down The Great Northern Peninsula. This was accomplished in the very difficult month of March when the land was constantly swept by blizzards and the weather was most times below zero. However, the trek was completed without the loss of a single animal. Mitchell then went on about his usual business as a popular, eagerly-sought guide and prospector whose clients included some wealthy and influential American, Englishmen and Canadians.

Irene Doucette’s letter

Now to Ms. Doucette’s letter which, because of the apparent popularity of the Mitchell articles, I shall quote in full:

“Dear Mr. Morris: I just had to write to you and let you know how surprised I was when I read The Western Star today (March 7) about the amazing career of Mattie Mitchell. The reason for my surprise was that Mattie Mitchell was my grandfather and to me he was a Newfoundland legend and more should have been written about him. But thanks to you it is now coming to light.

“I didn’t know my grandfather. He died in 1922 before I was born. He was 72. But I have heard so many wonderful stories from my father, John Mitchell (evidently Ms. Doucette is the sister of the John Mitchell who telephoned me) and my mother, Agnes Mitchell, with whom he resided, that I just had to write and give you the additional information you requested.

Mattie Mitchell and Mary Ann Webb
based on letter, Mattie Mitchell Webpage and Jasen’s genealogy #23 (click to enlarge)

“Mattie was married to a woman named Mary Webb. She was from Flat Bay, St. George’s Bay. She died when she was about 60. It was then that my grandfather went to live with my mother and father here in Corner Brook. My father told me that Mattie was a great fur trapper. He would cure all his own fur skins. He was a very big man, six foot four and he wore size 14 shoes. I guess back then they were called moccasins. I have in my possession a walking cane that he made and to me that is a priceless object. I also have a picture of Mattie, also priceless.

“My mother told me that Mattie was a very gentle man. She told me she never heard the man say a bad word; he was a very religious man and had a Micmac Bible which he carried with him at all times.

Six children

“My grandfather had six children: three boys and three girls. My father, John, was the youngest. The other boys were Matthew and Laurence. The girls were Margaret Rumbolt, Bridget Sheppard and Lucy Duhart, and, of course, there are numerous grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren. My mother and father raised eleven of us. My father worked at the paper mill in Corner Brook for 40 years and he was very proud of his father. When my grandfather discovered Buchans’ mine he worked for the AND Co. and from what I understand he was given $2.50 (for the find). I also read somewhere that he was given a sack of flour for the discovery. I hope that the story about Mattie Mitchell hits the St. John’s papers as I have two sons and a daughter living out there. Thanks again for that long overdue story about my grandfather.”

More letters and calls

The other letters I received are similar to the one from Ms. Doucette, and all the writers are descendants of Mattie Mitchell. The one from the States came from John Alexander Atkins, a great grandson of Mattie. Apparently, the MItchell columns were sent to him by his mother, Helena Atkins of 29 Crescent Way, Corner Brook… This young correspondent said he worked as a logger and during his life had travelled to many places. He said he always wondered why he was so adventurous. May I suggest, John Alexander, the trait runs in the family…

Included in the phone calls I received was one from the west coast from a man who said he was a grandson of Mattie Mitchell. Although he gave me his name I shall not use it because he had some rather curious things to say which were not in keeping with all the other information I received on Mattie Mitchell. This particular caller said that Mattie Mitchell was of Beothuk extraction; was not at all friendly with the Micmac Indians; in fact detested them; and that he was not of the Catholic faith. I repeat, what this reader had to say goes against everything all other calls and letter writers have to say.

In any event, I wish to thank most sincerely all those who contacted me about the celebrated Mattie Mitchell. I agree with one writer who said that a monument should be erected to him and a definitive book written about his amazing career.morris-mattie-mitchell-pt3-headline

don morris-mattie-mitchell column-pt 3
(click to enlarge)

Mattie Mitchell commemorated

Amazon for Mattie Mitchell
Go to Amazon.ca

In 2005, a historical plaque was erected in Gros Morne National Park honouring Mattie Mitchell. Gary Collins wrote a biography of him, published in 2011.

Also a short film was made in 2013. In “The Mattie Mitchell Project,” Alonzo Rumbolt portrays his great grandfather Mattie.

The first of this series is Mattie Mitchell, Buchans and the second is Mattie Mitchell, Reindeer.

Mattie Mitchell, Reindeer

The unique 400-mile ‘reindeer drive’Reindeer_Jukkasjärvi_Lappland_Sweden_1930-1949

Vignettes of the West, Don Morris – Mar. 14 1992

Newfoundland’s most noted Micmac Indian, Mattie Mitchell, passed away at Corner Brook in the autumn of 1921 at about the age of 71. He became locally renowned during his lifetime as the prospector who, in 1905, discovered the rich ore bodies at Buchans River in the interior which was the beginning of the thriving mining town of Buchans.

That was Mattie’s greatest claim to fame. But three years later, in March of 1908, he was chosen by the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company to act as guide in probably the most singular wildlife venture in local history. The AND Company, builders of the Grand Falls pulp and paper mill, had ordered from Dr. Wilfred Grenfell, founder of the Grenfell Mission, head-quartered at St. Anthony, 50 of the 300-reindeer herd which the medical missionary had purchased in Scandinavia. The animals were intended as a supplement to caribou as a food source for the northern population.

laplanders-at-St-Anthony-medicalarchives.jhmi_.edu_vbartlett_phnewfound
Saami and reindeer, Newfoundland 1907 photo Vashti Bartlett (Johns Hopkins archives)

Reindeer in harness

However, the AND Company wanted 50 of them for an experiment; to see if reindeer could be used in harness for hauling logs in the lumber woods. These were originally intended to be landed at the convenient harbor of Lewisporte. However, when the overseas steamer arrived with the animals and their Lapland herders, it was found that Lewisporte was ice-choked and the deer were then landed at Cremaillere Bay near St. Anthony.reindeerboat-vashti-bartlett-medicalarchives.jhmi

The mill builders sent a team of men north, under supervision of a key employee, Hugh Cole, to escort the reindeer south to Millertown. Mattie Mitchell was contracted to act as the guide for the company men and the reindeer. Because the sea ice was unsuitable, it was decided that the “reindeer drive” would be down The Great Northern Peninsula. The project was a first (and only) of its kind in our annals.

Reindeer drive route

It had been a long and severe winter. From the outset the drive showed promise of being an arduous undertaking. On March 22, the unusual caravan, which included four Lap herdsmen and their trained dogs, had reached the headwaters of Cat Arm River inside White Bay, after 20 days of torturous travel. Because of storms and sub-zero weather which had slowed both men and deer, provisions were now practically gone.

Forced to turn eastward in an effort to survive, the hikers and their charges reached an empty logging camp at Sop’s Arm River March 28.

reindeer-route-nq-1966-flr.gov.nl.ca
Reindeer drive route, Nfld Quarterly 1966 (click to enlarge)

20 miles in 52 hours

At Cole’s direction, Mitchell and another man headed by dog-team to the village to find food. When the pair reached the settlement, they found it deserted. The inhabitants had moved across the bay to their more sheltered winter quarters. The men pushed ahead, reached the people, obtained some supplies and returned to Cole’s camp. It took them 52 hours to make the round trip of about 20 miles. The party and the deer then continued towards Deer Lake.

At the foothills of the Long Range Mountains caribou were encountered and the trekkers dined on welcomed venison. Thirty days after leaving St. Anthony, the Cole party and deer had reached the summit of the great peninsula’s mountain range. But sub-zero temperatures and storms made travel appalling. When they eventually descended and again reached foothills on the other side of the range, the most difficult part of their journey was over. The intense cold and severe gales persisted, but there was more shelter and now the waterways were opened, permitting the herd to swim across St. Paul’s Inlet.

Reindeer on railway cars

Bonne Bay was reached April 23, after 53 days on the trail. Cole left his party and made a sled trip to the railway depot at Deer Lake where he took a train for Millertown to arrange building of corrals for the reindeer. Mattie Mitchell stayed with the party in his capacity as guide. Cole returned to meet his crew and the reindeer at a point halfway between Bonne Bay and Deer Lake. Then the animals were loaded into railway boxcars and eventually reached Millertown. The long, unusual journey was completed by April 30. They had been on the trail 58 days and covered 400 miles of the most grueling nature.

mun-maritime-history-archive-ca1907-harnessed reindeer in St. Anthony
Reindeer in St. Anthony ca. 1907

After a while the AND Company lost interest in the experiment of using reindeer as beasts of burden. But the animals, together with the Laplanders clad in their attractive native garb, proved to be a showpiece at Millertown and attracted visitors from as far away as St. John’s. Even the colony’s governor was curious enough to organize a party to go and view the novelty. Eventually, the reindeer were donated to the Grenfell Mission and shipped back to St. Anthony. The Laplanders returned home and Mattie Mitchell went about his business as a fishing and hunting guide and prospector. It is said he did not lack for clients.grenfell-reindeer-hooked mat-crescentlanehooker.blogspot-2010_02

Mattie married to Mary Ann Webb

Mattie Mitchell was married to a lady named Mary Ann Webb. They had a large family. One of their sons, also named Matthew, became a well-known guide and prospector in his own right.

Mattie, Sr. was a local celebrity when he died at Corner Brook. One of his last requests was that a priest be at his side in his final moments. This was fulfilled when one of his sons, John, travelled to nearby Curling and returned with a clergyman.

A Roman Catholic priest was at the veteran woodsman’s side when he breathed his last.

Mitchell ancestry

As disclosed in last week’s column on Mattie Mitchell, he was born either at Hall’s Bay or Norris Point about 1851 and was the son of a Micmac Indian Chief whose ancestors came to Newfoundland in the mid-1700s from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Information on Mattie’s parents or on his early years and on his own wife and family are indeed scanty.

f-speck-1922-p-134-beothuk-and-micmac
Frank Speck Beothuk and Micmac 1922:134 Mattie Mitchell on list of Nfld hunting territories

I would be keenly interested in hearing from any reader who can shed more light on the family and career of this remarkable man. Are any of his descendants still residing in Newfoundland? If so, a letter from them would be greatly appreciated.

A highly interesting footnote to this two-column series on Mattie is that, according to several reference sources, family tradition has it that this particular Mitchell Clan had a presence in Bay St. George during the early days of the French migratory fishery and that Mattie’s great grandfather was given a vessel by the king of France in order… “to facilitate the movements of the Micmac on the water in the interests of France.”

Don Morris column Reindeer Drive Mar. 14 1992

In Mr. Morris’ next column, a Mitchell family member responds. I will post it next week. (Last week I posted Part 1 – Buchans.) The reference to Mattie’s great grandfather is from Frank Speck’s Beothuk and Micmac 1922 (Internet archive). For more on the Mitchell forebearers, see ‘father,’ ‘grandfather,’ ‘Captain Jock’ in sidebar of The Mattie Mitchell Webpage. Reindeer in Newfoundland as well as the 1966 Newfoundland Quarterly article is in a pdf newsletter 2010 from the Dept. of Environment and Conservation.

With the Lapps… 1907-1908

With the Lapps Amazon linkInterestingly, while looking through Amazon books, I found With the Lapps… A woman among the Sami, 1907-1908 by Emilie Demant Hatt (tap image to see more).

So, at the same time as Mattie Mitchell was herding reindeer with Saami herders in Newfoundland, a Danish woman was with the Saami in Northern Sweden and Norway herding reindeer.

Mattie Mitchell, Buchans

The amazing career of Mattie Mitchell

morris-pt-1-mattie-mitchell article western star 1992
March 7, 1992 – click/tap to enlarge. Transcribed below.

– Vignettes of the West, by Don Morris

Mattie Mitchell was a Micmac Indian with strong western Newfoundland connections. It was he who, in 1905, discovered the valuable ore lodes which gave rise to the mining town of Buchans. And it was Mattie who, three years later, acted as guide for an unprecedented “reindeer drive” down the Great Northern Peninsula from St. Anthony to Millertown, a distance of 400 miles. The man became a legend in his own lifetime.

Buchans_Mines_Newfoundland-Ken-Eckert-2000-wikicommonsYet, frustrating, little is known about the early years of Mitchell. The Dictionary of Newfoundland Biography states he was born about 1851 at Hall’s Bay. The Smallwood Encyclopedia gives two possible birth places – Hall’s Bay or Norris Point. I was surprised to learn during research that Mattie (his given name was Matthew) was of Indian aristocracy. He was the son of a Micmac Chief whose ancestors came to Newfoundland in the mid-1700s from Cape Breton. It is obvious that Mattie gained an intimate knowledge of the local interior in his youth. It was this cognition of the Newfoundland wilderness and its resources which brought him fame in later life.

Before his discovery of the Buchans River mineral deposits and his subsequent guiding a group of white men and their herd of reindeer down the Great Northern Peninsula, Mattie was already renowned as a superb woodsman, fishing and hunting guide and his clients included many wealthy and influential American, Canadian and English sportsmen.

AND Company

In the early 1900s Mattie was commissioned by the Anglo Newfoundland Development Company, builders of the impressive Grand Falls pulp and paper mill enterprise, to prospect for mineral deposits on their land grants which the English concern had obtained from the Newfoundland government. The company had sulphur particularly in mind; it being an essential ingredient in the pulp-making process.

Accompanying the Indian on a January, 1905, prospecting trip to the Buchans River area was William F. Canning, an English assayer who had studied mining engineering at McGill University. With some prior knowledge of the mineral characteristics of the region, Mitchell succeeded in locating the ore deposits which would one day give rise to the thriving mining town of Buchans.

The company was very interested in the rich ore bodies and claimed right over them. They held the ore bodies under concession for over a decade.

ASARCO

Then, in 1915, the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) learned about the Buchans River mineral deposits of copper, lead and zinc and began experiments for the separation of sulphides. In 1925 ASARCO was successful in concentrating the minerals and smelting them. The following year the American company made an agreement with Grand Falls mill builders by which ASARCO would manage and process the property. Two years later, in 1928, the mine milling operations began and the first shipment of lead and zinc was sent to Botwood. A 22-mile rail line was built to carry the concentrates to Millertown where the main railway took the ore to the Botwood seaport for overseas markets.

buchans to botwood-mapcarta.com
Buchans lower left, Millertown to right on Red Indian Lake, Botwood top right. Tap to enlarge.

Buchans

The town of Buchans had been born. The early employees lived in bunk houses and log cabins but by the end of 1928 the fledgling town had 60 houses, a post office, a hospital and churches. Schools and other facilities were to soon follow. By this time, Mattie Mitchell had been deceased for about seven years.

After the discovery of the Buchans River valuable mineral lodes, the enterprising Mitchell became involved in another historic adventure and this was also associated with the Anglo Newfoundland Development Company. But more directly concerned was the Grenfell Mission at St. Anthony established in 1892 by the famous medical missionary, Dr. Wilfred Grenfell.

Reindeer

Grenfell had bought in Scandinavia a herd of 300 reindeer to augment the food supply of the northern Newfoundland people. Fifty of the animals were earmarked for the AND Company which wished to try an experiment – the use of reindeer in harness for hauling logs in the interior. It was intended that the company’s portion of the herd be landed at the convenient harbour at Lewisporte. However, when the steamer arrived that port was ice-blockaded and the reindeer, accompanied by their colorfully-dressed Lapland herders, were landed at Cremaillere Bay, near St. Anthony.

Reindeers_above_Kilpisjärvi_panoramio-2010-Tadeas-Gregor-wikicommonsA party of men from the company, under the direction of Hugh Henry Cole, a prominent employee with the mill builders, left for St. Anthony for the unique “reindeer drive” southward. And it was only natural for the company to choose Mattie Mitchell to guide the men and animals down the Great Northern Peninsula to Millertown.

At the Grenfell Mission Mattie and the AND Company men were joined by four Laplanders for the southward drive. This event, unmatched in the colourful, long history of Newfoundland, began on March 8 (1908).

Overland on Northern Peninsula

It was originally intended to drive the herd over the sea ice, but this surface was broken by violent storms. The alternative was the high, windswept plateau of the Great Northern Peninsula, a formidable route in summer weather, let alone in a harsh, punishing winter. But that was the only route if the company’s goal was to be achieved.

The men, particularly Mattie, were aware that it had been a late, lingering winter with the land being constantly swept by blinding blizzards. The herd consisted of 40 female reindeer all heavy with fawn, and 10 male deer. The Laplanders had four trained reindeer herd dogs which they had brought over with them, as well as six local huskie sled dogs.

It was, indeed, a very strange caravan which headed down the long peninsula towards the destination of Millertown, 400 miles distant.

Mattie Mitchell-ca-1920-heritage.nf-wikicommonsNEXT WEEK: Conclusion: the arduous trek, final success and the passing of Mattie Mitchell at Corner Brook.

Published in the March 7, 1992 Western Star, Corner Brook. This column is the first of three that Don Morris wrote about Mattie Mitchell. I will post the others over the next two weeks. For more on the Buchans mine, see Buchans Miners Museum. To read more about the ore deposit and mining operations, see Great Mining Camps of Canada 3, The History and Geology of the Buchans Mine by J. Geoffrey Thurlow (2010). See Fred Powell’s Mattie Mitchell Webpage for more on the man himself.

Sea-trouting at Main Gut

In July 1835, Archdeacon Edward Wix joined a night fishing party at the Main Gut, Stephenville Crossing, and described it in his diary. In his Vignettes of the West column, historian Don Morris told the story.don-morris-sea-trouting at main gut

A moonlit sea-trouting scene

All was not work for the English Church of England missionary, Archdeacon Edward Wix, when he toured settlements along the south and west coasts of Newfoundland in 1835. Certainly, he attended most conscientiously to his priestly duties of marrying, baptizing, interring and holding church services in the various little hamlets he visited. But he also took time out to see first hand how the people went about their routine industry.

On one occasion he accompanied salmon fishermen to their site of work and he indeed experienced a singular scene. Before describing this in his diary, he wrote under the date of Sunday, July 5, (1835) the following:

“Three full services at Sandy Point (St. George’s Bay) so well attended that I regret exceedingly there should be no missionary stationed among this very teachable quiet people. This harbor and the barrisways, with an occasional visit to the Bay of Islands, and the settlements at Codroy Rivers and Island, would constitute a pleasant and no idle charge; and a school, as I found on an enumeration with one of the inhabitants, might in Sandy Point alone, congregate 70 children if it could be opened tomorrow.”

Following that entry for the Lord’s Day of July 5, the archdeacon penned in his journal:

“Monday [July 6, 1835] –

Went this week to visit the salmon fisheries, which are upon the Main Gut. Three or two families reside there. One night, as some of the families and an Indian boy were going out just at the rise of high tide, five canoes in all, to spear trout and eels, I joined them in the excursion. It employed us till an hour or two after midnight.”

main gut google-mapsArchdeacon Wix described the scene as an “animating one”. He wrote that a brilliant moon hung over the hills, which were finely wooded to the very cliffs and sand at the edge of the water. He continued his account: “Bunches of birch bark were packed together, a dozen in each packet. These were stuck, one at a time, as required, into a stick which was cleft at the top to let in this rude flame, in which a light was applied. The stick with the ignited birch bark was then put upright at the bow of the canoe; there, also, the man stood up, most insecurely summer-eel-spear-ffallop.tripod.combalanced, as would seem, with his ‘nighor’, or eel-spear, a pole cleft at the bottom with a spike inserted. This, on his striking a fish of any size, would open and admit it till the spike perforated it, and then closing upon it, would press it and prevent its escape.”

Fish bewildered

The archdeacon continued his fascinating account: “The sandy or stony bottom of the river in the shallows, – for in deeper water this sport cannot be pursued, – was seen as clearly as in the day, and every fish in it. The fish seemed at least bewildered, if not attracted by the light; and the quickness of eye, and adroitness of the man who used the nighor, impelling as he did, the canoe with the thick end, and every now and then, reversing it to strike, was surprising. He struck successfully at eight out of 10 of each of the fish at which he aimed, and shook them off into the boat with a sudden turn of his arm, which left him at liberty to strike at two fish within a second or two.

Kept his balance

“He kept his balance, also, with great niceness, when he seemed to have poised himself so far over the side of the light canoe, that he must, it seemed to me, have gone overboard, or capsized our crank bark. the light of the flambeau in the other canoes, as they came round the projecting points of leafy green, and the shade, as we again lost view of them behind the tree or rocks in the distance, was most imposing.”

Archdeacon Wix went on to say that 400 trout were thus speared in the canoe in which he was an occupant. He added that some of these fish were of such a size, that they would have been taken, as they frequently were, in the salmon nets.

The archdeacon concluded his account of this unusual “excursion” by penning: “In the five canoes, above 1,000 (fish) were taken in a little less than two hours. I had the curiosity to weigh six of them, which together weighed 22 pounds, and had a barrel of this night’s catch salted that I might take them with me to St. John’s.”

Held more services

During the last days of July, Archdeacon Wix went about his duties, holding three full services at “The Barrisways” on Sunday the 19th.

The entry for his journal, Friday, July 24, said: “A new schooner belonging to my kind friends, Mr. Horatio Forrest and Joseph Pennall, for the launching of which I had been anxiously waiting, being now rigged and ready for sea, I took leave of the worthy inhabitants of St. George’s harbor – of whose kindness I shall ever entertain an affectionate recollection – in an evening service which was very crowded.”

He sailed from Sandy Point Saturday, July 25, at five in the morning, headed for Port aux Basques. No doubt his moonlit sea-trouting excursion was still fresh in his mind.

thetownofstephenvillecrossing.comWho was fishing at the Main Gut?

Archdeacon Wix does not name those with whom he went fishing. However, Kirk Butt in Early Settlers of Bay St. George Vol. 1 writes about who it likely was:

The 1838 List of Inhabitants showed four settler families living in the area that is now known as Stephenville Crossing… Jean Pillet and Jean-Marie Luca/Lucas were included on the 1838 List of Inhabitants and it was indicated that both men had been at the Main Gut for 15 years (since 1823)… François Benoit’s time of residence in the area was given as 50 years. This number was also rounded off. He had actually been there for just under 49 years. James Young Jr. (Jacques LeJeune Jr.) was correctly entered on the list as having been there for 8 years (since 1830)…

During this period, there are known to have been Mi’kmaq families from Seal Rocks [St. George’s] who lived in the vicinity of Stephenville Crossing during the summer months in order to participate in the salmon fishery… In addition to the settlement at Seal Rocks (Anse des Sauvages), his map [Lieut. Vauhello 1819] showed two families a few kilometres away at the mouth of St. George’s River (the east end of Stephenville Crossing)…

The two Mi’kmaq families at the Main Gut would only have been living out on the point during the summer as that area was exposed to somewhat fierce winds and storms in wintertime. They may have returned to Seal Rocks in the winter. By about 1830, however, there were MI’kmaq families from Seal Rocks in permanent residence at Stephenville Crossing. [2007:279-280]

Mr. Butt says that the family of Jean Marche also lived in the Main Gut but was omitted on Captain Polkinghorne’s 1838 List of Inhabitants (2007:218).

vauhello-bay-st-george-map-1819
Lieut. Vauhello Bay St. George 1819 survey, published 1822. Main Gut is gap at right. At its upper tip, he notes “two families of Indians who are involved in fishing salmon.” He also notes MI’kmaq settlement at Seal Rocks (lower middle). Provincial Archives Map Collection, St. John’s.

How to make an eel spear

Should you wish to make your own eel spear, Kerry Prosper of Nova Scotia shows you how on YouTube.

Louis John

Newfoundland archivist and historian Don Morris wrote about Louis John in his Vignettes of the West column in The Western Star. The photocopy I have of the article is difficult to read, so I’ve typed it out. Unfortunately the date of publication is not on it. It would be between 1974 and 1989, the years that Mr. Morris wrote for The Western Star.

don morris louis john western star
Click or tap image for larger view

The great caribou-skin canoe journey

By Don Morris

One of the greatest outdoorsmen and hunting and fishing guides who ever trod and explored the pristine Newfoundland wilderness was a Micmac named Louis John. Born in Conne River in 1868, he entered the guiding business at the age of 18 under the expert tutorage of his father, Peter John.

During his long career as woodsman par excellence, Louis gained the respect of all who loved the great outdoors. He acted as guide to sportsmen in all walks of life, including affluent St. John’s merchants, well-heeled visitors to our island and to ordinary local folk who wanted to know the best fishing and hunting grounds. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the vast and – to some – forbidding Newfoundland interior and its wildlife long before any train began snorting its way across the island. When he died in 1957 at the age of 89 he was already a Newfoundland legend.

Paddled hundred of miles

His stories of his experiences in the wilds captivated young and old alike. One such adventure was about a remarkable journey he and a partner, Micmac guide and trapper Noel Mattis (Matthews), made from St. George’s to Bay d’Espoir where they lived. They made the trip in a canoe of caribou skins and paddled many hundreds of miles of interior waterways without a single portage.

st-georges-to-bay-despoir-map.
Red line is a very rough indicator of their journey. My apologies to geographers. Click to enlarge.

Mr. John related that they left St. George’s and trekked along the Lapland River and over the mountains until they came to the base of the Anniopsquotch Mountains. Heading northeast, they came out at the head of Red Indian Lake by a place now called Lloyd’s River. They made camp there for a few days. They set their camp between what Mr. John described as “two old Red Indian houses.” He was obviously referring to the remains of Beothuk Indian abodes.

He said he couldn’t sleep well that night and was always waking up, explaining that “in those days, I guess, I was pretty scared of spirits and superstitions, because I thought those Red Indians were always after me.”

Killed caribou with rock

The men built a raft and poled their way down Red Indian Lake until they came where it emptied out into the Exploits River. One Sunday when they were out of meat Louis suggested to Noel, who apparently was older than Mr. John, that they shoot a caribou. The older man objected strongly that they hunt on the Sabbath Day and hid the rifle under the bed in camp.

Louis told his companion that they would have meat anyway. He picked up a heavy rock. One caribou looked over his shoulder at some others. Louis took aim and threw the rock with all his might. Recounted Louis in later years: “I hit him (the caribou) hard and he fell down. Quickly I leaped on him and cut his throat, dressed him and put him on my back and walked up to the camp.”

“The old man”, as Louis described his companion, was surprised that Louis had the animal as he had not heard a gunshot. Louis explained that the “gun” he used made no noise. He said that he threw the rock with such force that he had to dig it out of the caribou with his knife. The “old man” chuckled and remarked that they would not go hungry if there were rocks around.

The two men decided to build a canoe out of the hide in which to continue their overland journey. In later life, in describing this experience, Louis explained that the method of making the canoe was simple and used by many guides and trappers in the old days.

mikmaq-canoe-the-rooms-heritage.nf_.ca
ca 1983 Michael Joe and Martin Jeddore, caribou skin canoe, Newfoundland Museum, Traces

Louis and his companion cut a keel, tied a stem to the keel with roots. The caribou skin was laid out flat and the keel placed under it. Side timber and ribs were cut from crooked spruce and tied together. The ribs were placed under the hide, which was punctured on one side to hold the frames. They used spruce roots to tie the whole canoe together, and it worked very well, tight and buoyant.

Louis and his companion then paddled down river to Paul’s Brook and made camp. While there, they made a pine tree “dug-out” to carry them in country to the south and eventually home. With the dug-out Louis and his friend made their way up Noel Paul’s Brook and by hitting smaller tributaries eventually reaching Bay d’Espoir, covering a total of about 400 miles of water routes. Mr. John boasted as he recounted the adventure to his eager listeners in later years: “We never made one portage during the entire trip with the raft and boats.”

Louis John, when an elderly man, said that in one season he killed 50 caribou. He estimated that he had killed more than 1,000 in his lifetime and he packed every pound of meat out of the woods, leaving nothing to waste.

It would take a series of “Vignettes” to recount all the experiences of this remarkable man of the forest. For the material for this particular column I am indebted to William Peter Dugan of Gordon Terrace, Corner Brook, who is the great grandson of Louis John. Mr. Dugan is intensely interested in his genealogy and the history of the Micmac people in Newfoundland. It was said at the time of the death of Louis John: “The John Micmac ancestry is worn as a proud banner.”

Louis John 1868-1957

The Atlantic Guardian  published a long and interesting obituary of Louis John (pp 27-32). Above is the first page.  Also, his daughter Kathleen (Cassie) Humber talks about him in Calvin Coish’s Stories of the Mi’kmaq (pdf pp 9-26).

The caribou skin canoe pictured above was made by the late Michael Joe and Martin Jeddore, of Miawpukek. It was part of the Newfoundland Museum Mi’kmaq material culture project Traces. The construction method, as I remember, was just as Mr. John described. All photography for the project was done by Dave Quinton.