1 Canoe Trip Staging Area at Old CPR Winnebago Siding (1905) Dr. Howard Kelly
By Ian Macdonald and Mike McMullen
We normally associate American tourism in Chapleau with the opening of Highway 129 in 1949 when vehicles with licence plates from the northern United States gradually began to appear on Chapleau streets. The fact is that the challenge of exploring the remote Northern Ontario wilderness had attracted visitors from the United States long before that time.
The year is 1905. The natural and undisturbed wilderness of the Laurentian shield remains much as it has been for the past century. It would be another five years until Olie Evinrude’s newly invented outboard motor would violate the pristine solitude of this country and challenge the canoe as the prime mode of wilderness travel. It would be a further 10 years until the Ontario Provincial Air Service would introduce Northern Ontario to the first amphibious aircraft in 1919.
Chapleau in 1905 is just approaching the end of the first wave of building associated with construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and will wait yet another four years until the village is introduced to electricity in 1909. Early negotiations leading to the creation of Treaty 9 (James Bay Treaty) with the Cree Nation have just begun. A land surveyor from Little Current, Ontario by the name of T.J. Patten has submitted an official land survey of a 220 acre parcel of land, which includes the site of an abandoned HBC sub post, a mile south of Chapleau, which becomes Indian Reserve (I.R.) 61 for the Michipicoten Ojibwe.
1905 was also an important year for Dr. Howard A. Kelly of Baltimore, Maryland, who along with two sons, two nephews, a professional colleague and his son, planned an 18-day journey in the Canadian wilderness travelling by canoe from the height of land near present day Sultan, south to the Mississagi River and from there to where it empties into Lake Huron at Blind River, Ontario. For the children, it must have been the trip of a lifetime.
Dr. Kelly had already acquired property at Ahmic Lake near Burk’s Falls in the early 1890s, which is where this trip originated. He joined Dr.Angell at his summer camp near Restoule, boarded the steamer which crossed Lake Nipissing to North Bay, where they caught a westbound CPR passenger train. They likely met up with their guides in Biscotasing. The Mississagi River can be reached from Biscotasing, but Dr. Kelly opted to travel further west up the CPR to a railway siding named Winnebago where the CPR crosses the Wakami River approximately 43 miles east of Chapleau (Photo 1).
Lumbering activity had not yet begun in the Wakami region in 1905 and the future village of Sultan did not yet exist. This was still classic unspoiled Laurentian Shield country and Dr. Kelly would be one of the first American visitors to attempt such a journey. At the end of their journey they would have caught a CPR train at Blind River for their return to the east.
It is most fortunate for us that he brought a camera with him and recorded the trip with photographs cross referenced to a meticulous detailed diary of the journey. Besides the journey, it provides us with a rare record of traditional Ojibwe culture in the Chapleau region that was rapidly disappearing.
According to Dr. Kelly’s great grandson, Steve Davis, “As far as I can tell, there were twelve people for 18 days on the trip. These were: Dr. Howard A. Kelly, age 47 and two of his sons, Henry (age 12) and Fritz (age 10) and his two nephews (children of his sister Dora) Bob Lewis (age 19), Shippen Lewis (age 18), and a Dr. Angell, and Montg, who is Dr. Angell's son, Montgomery (age 16) and guides, Phillipe, Octave, Tom, Ian, and Jim who may have been a ranger who was only with them a few days. The guide, Tom appears to have been the guide-in-charge. There seems to have been 5 canoes, one a Peterborough, one an Old Town, the rest unknown.”
The Wakami River is approximately 1440 feet above sea level where it flows under the CPR tracks at the old Winnebago siding. This canoe journey of probably over 150 miles will descend 840 feet through a network of rivers, lakes, rapids, waterfalls and numerous portages through the Mississagi River system to Blind River on Lake Huron. The canoe route taken by Dr. Kelly’s party in September 1905 began at Winnebago Siding, up the Wakami River to Wakami Lake, portaging over the height of land from Wakami Lake into Kebskwasheshi Lake and down the Kebskwasheshi River into the Wenebegon River. The Wenebegon River eventually joins the Mississagi River near Aubrey Falls (Photo 2).
2 Aubrey Falls, Mississagi River (1905) Dr. Howard Kelly
During this trip, Dr. Kelly encounters a number of Ojibwe families and settlements, which he photographs and describes in his extraordinary journal. (Photo 3). His documentation of the journey reflects a genuine interest and sensitivity to native culture, is specific and at the same time poetic. His writing reflects professional attention to detail and his respect for Ojibwe property is evident as the group explores abdandoned Ojibwe encampments. The following two entries from his diary describe general observations of Ojibwe settlements and of items at a site where recent canoe making has evidently taken place. (Photo 4)
“Camped Wednesday night in an Indian camp on the left of the entrance of the river from Round Lake. These Indian camps show many interesting details of Indian lives. The character of their dwellings, large tepees, double lean-tos, cooking arrangements are 3 poles with hooks of alder. Dog house, arrangements for smoking hides, arrangements for smoking meat, arrangements for fleshing hides, for tacking out bearskins.”
3 Henry and Fritz Kelly with Ojibwe Family near Wenebegon River (1905) Dr. Howard Kelly
slats for sides
birch bank in rolls covered well
stakes of cedar for holding the canoe in place
shavings from the draw knife all over the place, bushels and bushels of them
float sticks for nets
stones on shore tied with spruce roots for sinking nets
numerous bundles of long strips of spruce roots tied up
numerous birch bark receptacles of all sizes holding from a bushel to a quart made of one piece tied with root
Cedar brush (flat) for a flat surface
Cedar brush round form for scrubbing”
|4 Ojibwe Canoe Framing (1905) Dr. Howard Kelly|
Dr. Howard A. Kelly
Dr. Howard A. Kelly was an internationally renowned surgeon and medical pioneer, medical educator and author. He is the founder of Kensington Hospital in Philadelphia and one of the “Big Four” founding professors at the world famous Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.
All photographs in this article are the property of the Kelly family. Dr. Kelly’s original journal has been donated to and is in the hands of the Chesney Medical Archives of Hopkins.
We are especially grateful to Dr. Kelly’s great grandson, Mr. Dave Davis, who initiated contact with us and generously made this rare material available for our use. We are equally grateful to Mr. Woollcott Kelly, grandson and family historian of Dr. Kelly, who gave us permission to publish this material.
We also acknowledge the assistance of Professor Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Head of the Department of Native Studies, University of Manitoba and Professor Jacqueline Romanow, Department Chair, Department of Indigenous Studies, University of Winnipeg for their expert comment and advice.