Fire Canoe: Prairie Steamboat Days Revisited

 
9781459732087: Fire Canoe: Prairie Steamboat Days Revisited

The story of steamboating in the Canadian West comes to life in the voices of those aboard the vessels of the waterways of the Prairies.

Their captains were seafaring skippers who had migrated inland. Their pilots were indigenous people who could read the shoals, sandbars, and currents of Prairie waterways. Their operators were businessmen hoping to reap the benefits of commercial enterprise along the shores and banks of Canada’s inland lakes and rivers. Their passengers were fur traders, adventure-seekers, and immigrants opening up the West. All of them sought their futures and fortunes aboard Prairie steamboats, decades before the railways arrived and took credit for the breakthrough.

Aboriginal people called them “fire canoes,” but in the latter half of the nineteenth century, their operators promoted them as Mississippi-type steamship queens delivering speedy transport, along with the latest in technology and comfort. Then, as the twentieth century dawned, steamboats and their operators adapted. They launched smaller, more tailored steamers and focused on a new economy of business and pleasure in the West. By day their steamboats chased freight, fish, lumber, iron ore, real estate, and gold-mining contracts. At night, they brought out the Edwardian finery, lights, and music to tap the pleasure-cruise market.

Les informations fournies dans la section « Synopsis » peuvent faire référence à une autre édition de ce titre.

About the Author :

Ted Barris is an award-winning author, journalist, and broadcaster. For more than forty years his writing has appeared in the national press, as well as in history, news, and arts magazines, and he has authored seventeen non-fiction books. In 2014, his Globe and Mail national bestseller, The Great Escape received the national Libris Non-Fiction Book of the Year Award. He lives in Uxbridge, Ontario.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. :

Prologue 
It was wesukechak, the great spirit and creator, who bestowed upon the Swampy Cree the intricate, almost endless watercourses at the heart of North America―but to do this he first had to overcome a formidable test. Flood waters had overwhelmed the earth, leaving him and his animal brothers adrift on a raft. For days on end they searched for dry land. Finally, in desperation, Nehkik, the otter, retrieved a small piece of mud from beneath the flood waters. Wesukechak rolled the mud between his hands and blew on it, until the mud became an enormous ball. Putting ashore on the great landmass, Wesukechak set about reshaping the world. He ordered trees and grass to appear. He told Maheekun, the grey wolf, to jump about with his large feet in the soft earth to form hollows for lakes, and to push up piles of mud with his nose for mountains. And then he had Misekenapik, the great snake, cut rivers into the earth. And this is how the Cree world was made. The Cree story of the great flood is augmented by the more mundane geological explanations for the formation of the great plains. For a million years before the Cree, the glacial masses of the Quaternay period gripped and gouged the high latitudes of the North American continent. When the warm climate finally returned, approximately 14,000 years ago, and the ice was driven northwards by the melting sun, a vast inland sea was created, that submerged more than two hundred thousand square miles of territory in present-day Minnesota, North Dakota, Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. The watershed and basin of Glacial Lake Agassiz encompassed nearly the entire north central plains. In its few thousand years of life, Agassiz wore away at the flesh of the plains, shaping a system of waterways and flatlands which for millennia would determine the migration of animal and man, the way of agriculture, the means of survival, the pattern of settlement, the growth of nations, and the method of transportation. Locked within the core of the continent by the sprawling Arctic Ocean watershed to the north, by the Hudson Bay and Great Lakes networks to the east, by the Mississippi and Missouri arteries across the south, and by the quick ascent of the Rocky Mountain range on the west, lay the modern descendant of Lake Agassiz―the Lake Winnipeg basin. Lake Winnipeg, dominating the topography of Cree hunting grounds, drew no less than five major watercourses to its centre. Rising in the American territories, the Red River meandered northward through boulder-strewn rapids, overgrown riverbanks, and crooked channels five hundred water miles to the south shore of the lake. Two prairie-born rivers approached Lake Winnipeg from the west: fed by the streams and chain lakes of the open grassland, the Qu’Appelle (or Calling) River joined the Assiniboine River below her parkland source, and, as the main Assiniboine channel, wound 350 miles to meet the Red River en route to the lake. Also from the west, Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipegosis, totalling in area nearly four thousand square miles, flowed through the Dauphin River into Lake Winnipeg. The most generous fresh water source, the Saskatchewan River, poured into the lake at its northwestern extremity. Weaving together a dozen principal tributaries, the combined forces of the north and south branches of the Saskatchewan, converging halfway across the plains, deposited silt and glacial run-off from the Rocky Mountain interior into Lake Winnipeg. And in dramatic fashion―falling on an average six feet per mile over its one thousand miles of flow across the prairies, the Saskatchewan thundered through the Grand Rapids cataract, descending nearly a hundred feet inside three miles. Awesome though they were, the prairie waterways were brotherly spirits to the Cree natives, personalities upon which the Indians depended for fish, game, and travel. And as theirs was a friendship with rivers and lakes, the Cree lived in harmony with the Lake Winnipeg basin. But the fair-skinned newcomers and their gods, their habits, and their experiences were foreign to the basin and to the natives. The newcomers’ attitude toward prairie watercourses was one of exploration and exploitation―an attempt to own the western interior of the continent. The Europeans never considered prairie rivers and lakes as spiritual brothers. For them, entering the western plains was a discovery of profitable resources and a conquest over bothersome adversities. Prairie waterways brought Cree and European together. In their creeks, sloughs, and swamps, the waters of the western interior harboured the beaver. Amisk, as the Cree knew him, clothed the Indians. But for the traders of New France and the Hudson’s Bay Company men, beaver pelts meant premium prices in seventeenth-century Europe. Consequently, all along the Hudson Bay watershed whites rivalled whites to trade simple foreign articles for the Indians’ surplus furs. Each year the water highways of the interior carried the Cree birch-covered canoes, laden with beaver skins, from the distant basins of the Athabasca, the Peace, and the North Saskatchewan rivers to this lucrative trade with the white man. The fresh waters of the interior offered their natives bountiful fur to trade and easy transport to eastern trading posts at Hudson Bay, while they frustrated and puzzled the British and French novices who were pushing their fur monopoly contention further inland. The Saskatchewan River buffeted its first European visitor in the summer of 1691, when the young adventurer Henry Kelsey canoed west on a mission of reconnaissance for his Hudson’s Bay Company. The first white to see the Canadian prairies via the Saskatchewan, Kelsey noted the violent nature of the riverway, running “strong with falls,” and barricaded by “thirty-three Carriages.” Fifty years later, the southern Lake Winnipeg basin resisted an invasion from New France. Vanguard explorer Sieur de la Verendrye, rivalling the British, built fortifications along the lower Red River, and then canoed upstream to claim the Assiniboine River, uncooperative with its “water very low . . . winding, strong currents and many shallows.” Rivalry on the plains and abroad ultimately pushed the French and British to global blows in the Seven Years war, diverting all attention from the North American interior. Thus the prairie lakes and rivers flowed undisturbed for several years following 1756, while Britain defeated France, won sovereignty over North America, and granted its Hudson’s Bay Company exclusive monopoly of the interior territory of Prince Rupert’s Land, which comprised all territory drained by Hudson Bay. Inland waters again bore the rivalry of heavy freighting canoes by 1780, when the Montreal-based North West Company challenged the Hudson’s Bay Company along the frontier. Nor’westers thrust their fur trade deep into the Lake Winnipeg basin, and upset the Hudson’s Bay Company monopoly. But despite their lightning probes into the West, they lacked the skill and, in particular, the knowledge of the waterways, of the Cree natives. Each summer the Saskatchewan River rose suddenly with the melting of the snow in the Rocky Mountain headwaters; in 1786, this phenomenon dumbfounded North West Company journalist Edward Umfreville, just as the expansive sprawl of the Lake Winnipeg basin had confused and amazed fellow North West Company explorer Alexander Mackenzie. In contrast to this European puzzlement with prairie waters, the subsequent travels of cartographer David Thompson reflected a greater understanding and rather remarkable foresight: “Although the heads of this River give several passages to the Mountains, from the labor being so great, and also [being] exposed to attacks from hostile Indians, [it seems] that Steam Vessels are the only proper craft for this River; and even to these, its many shoals and sands offer serious impediments, for its waters are very turbid. . . .” Was it conceivable in those days of the early nineteenth century that steam-driven vessels might ever navigate the tortuous waterways of the northwest river system? The idea must have seemed incredible. Nevertheless, the first tentative experiments with steam navigation had already been successfully completed in Great Britain, and new innovations and improvements were following one another in rapid succession. William Symington had successfully launched the steamboat Charlotte Dundas in 1801 on the Forth and Clyde canals. By 1809 the St. Lawrence between Montreal and Quebec carried the first Canadian steamer, Accommodation. Still, London directors of the Hudson’s Bay Company knew that steamboats were some years from their Rupert’s Land territory. So, while the river routes of the North West Company lived with the occasional passing of low-capacity voyageur canoes, the British-controlled waterways awoke to the nineteenth-century buzz of Hudson’s Bay Company men ceaselessly building and launching their future in long, broad, wooden vessels―the famous York boats. Uniformly built with standardized ribs and hull planks, sharp at both ends, forty feet long and nine feet across, and propelled by as many as a dozen oarsmen, the York boats formed the spearhead of the Bay Company retaliation. The murmur of the Saskatchewan, the Red, and the Assiniboine was increasingly overpowered by the commotion of York boat fleets―the clatter of the portage, the whine of the oar locks, and the whoop of their singing. Cathedral bells for St. Boniface, wheeled carriages for Company officials, pianos for factors’ wives, six and nine-pounder guns for Upper Fort Garry, even young buffalo―all travelled the water trails in prairie York boats. By 1821, their superior economy and efficiency had forced the North West Company into amalgamation with the Hudson’s Bay Company, whose factors then moved their entire York-boat/fur-trade operation inland to bolster their monopoly. But again the very nature of the Lake Winnipeg basin defied total domination by any single organization. Of necessity, all York boats were constructed of prairie soft woods from the river banks and lake shores of the plains; consequently, the repeated transportation of three-ton cargoes down rapids, across portages, and through waterlogging rivers deteriorated the Company’s York boats before their time. Despite the short life expectancy of the York boats, each year the rivers carried more Company freight. And each year the lakes delivered more newcomers to the brink of the prairies―hunters, scientists, naturalists, and military men, all on expedition―arriving to change the pace of the prairie basin. In 1819, a British Navy captain, John Franklin, led a collection of scientists upstream into the West. Somewhat later, two American missions―one despatched by the federal government in 1823, and another by the Washington Territory governor in 1853―slipped above the forty-ninth parallel to search out potential transportation routes. The greatest impact on the Lake Winnipeg basin resulted from two expeditions launched in 1857―one British, led by John Palliser, and the other Canadian, led by Henry Y. Hind. Travelling by paddlewheeler up the Missouri, Palliser, the “solitary rambler,” came northwest to study the feasibility of prairie agriculture; his reports invited western settlement, and spelled the end of fur-trade control. Simultaneously, the sensitive naturalist Hind boarded a Great Lakes steamer en route to the prairies’ edge; surveying prospective passages into the Canadian plains, he foreshadowed a transportation revolution on the prairies, and wrote the York boat off to far northern frontiers: “There are large quantities of goods imported by [various] lines of communication―chiefly through the United States territory at present; and as the York Factory route is to be partially abandoned, a large portion of the importations of Rupert’s Land will have henceforth to enter the Winnipeg Basin from the south, so that there will doubtless be sufficient commerce in view of the great water facilities afforded by the country, to encourage the initiation of steam navigation.” Within a year, Hind’s prediction was reality. Steam-powered, propelled by paddle or screw, wide, low, shallow-drafted, flat-bottomed or keeled, and crowned by one or more deck levels, with smokestacks and a pilothouse, the water vessel of a new era arrived―the prairie steamboat. Prairie watercourses and Cree natives faced a mechanical encroacher. For Lake Agassiz’s descendant―the Lake Winnipeg basin―prairie storms, unpredictable water levels, shifting sandbars, deceptive shallows, and shoals and snags were sufficient defence. But for the Cree, this thrashing river beast, screeching evil shrieks and belching sparks, was an overwhelming monster. “An Indian was standing on the bank, when the boat came ’round the bend of the river, with navigation lights on and smoke pouring from her funnels. Never having seen a steamboat before, the apparition made him run so fast that his hair swept out behind him. . . .” Kuska pahtew oosi! Fire canoe!

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Description du livre Dundurn Group Ltd, Canada, 2015. Hardback. État : New. 2nd ed.. Language: English . Brand New Book. The story of steamboating in the Canadian West comes to life in the voices of those aboard the vessels of the waterways of the Prairies. Their captains were seafaring skippers who had migrated inland. Their pilots were indigenous people who could read the shoals, sandbars, and currents of Prairie waterways. Their operators were businessmen hoping to reap the benefits of commercial enterprise along the shores and banks of Canada s inland lakes and rivers. Their passengers were fur traders, adventure-seekers, and immigrants opening up the West. All of them sought their futures and fortunes aboard Prairie steamboats, decades before the railways arrived and took credit for the breakthrough. Aboriginal people called them fire canoes, but in the latter half of the nineteenth century, their operators promoted them as Mississippi-type steamship queens delivering speedy transport, along with the latest in technology and comfort. Then, as the twentieth century dawned, steamboats and their operators adapted. They launched smaller, more tailored steamers and focused on a new economy of business and pleasure in the West. By day their steamboats chased freight, fish, lumber, iron ore, real estate, and gold-mining contracts. At night, they brought out the Edwardian finery, lights, and music to tap the pleasure-cruise market. N° de réf. du libraire AAC9781459732087

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Description du livre Dundurn Group Ltd, Canada, 2015. Hardback. État : New. 2nd. Language: English . Brand New Book. The story of steamboating in the Canadian West comes to life in the voices of those aboard the vessels of the waterways of the Prairies. Their captains were seafaring skippers who had migrated inland. Their pilots were indigenous people who could read the shoals, sandbars, and currents of Prairie waterways. Their operators were businessmen hoping to reap the benefits of commercial enterprise along the shores and banks of Canada s inland lakes and rivers. Their passengers were fur traders, adventure-seekers, and immigrants opening up the West. All of them sought their futures and fortunes aboard Prairie steamboats, decades before the railways arrived and took credit for the breakthrough. Aboriginal people called them fire canoes, but in the latter half of the nineteenth century, their operators promoted them as Mississippi-type steamship queens delivering speedy transport, along with the latest in technology and comfort. Then, as the twentieth century dawned, steamboats and their operators adapted. They launched smaller, more tailored steamers and focused on a new economy of business and pleasure in the West. By day their steamboats chased freight, fish, lumber, iron ore, real estate, and gold-mining contracts. At night, they brought out the Edwardian finery, lights, and music to tap the pleasure-cruise market. N° de réf. du libraire AAC9781459732087

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Description du livre Dundurn. Hardcover. État : New. Hardcover. 376 pages. Dimensions: 9.0in. x 6.0in. x 1.0in.The true story of steamboating in the Canadian West comes to life in the voices of those aboard the river paddlewheelers and lake steamers that plied the waterways of the Prairies. Their captains were seafaring skippers who had migrated inland. Their pilots were indigenous people who could read the shoals, sandbars, and currents of Prairie waterways. Their operators were businessmen hoping to reap the benefits of commercial enterprise along the shores and banks of Canadas inland lakes and rivers. Their passengers were fur traders, adventure-seekers, and immigrants opening up the West. All of them sought their futures and fortunes aboard Prairie steamboats, decades before the railways arrived and took credit for the breakthrough. Aboriginal people called them fire canoes, but in the latter half of the nineteenth century, their operators promoted them as Mississippi-type steamship queens delivering speedy transport, along with the latest in technology and comfort. Then, as the twentieth century dawned, steamboats and their operators adapted. They launched smaller, more tailored steamers and focused on a new economy of business and pleasure in the West. By day their steamboats chased freight, fish, lumber, iron ore, real estate, and gold-mining contracts. At night, they brought out the Edwardian finery, lights, and music to tap the pleasure-cruise market. This item ships from multiple locations. Your book may arrive from Roseburg,OR, La Vergne,TN. Hardcover. N° de réf. du libraire 9781459732087

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