EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Early Tourism in the Chapleau Region: The 1905 Canoe Trip Of Dr. Howard A. Kelly

1 Canoe Trip Staging Area at Old CPR Winnebago Siding (1905) Dr. Howard Kelly

Note --- Thanks to Ian and Mike for their articles on some of the early history of the Chapleau region. This is the final one in the series for the moment. Much appreciated that they had them set to go while I was in Orlando -- enjoying my longest stay ever there. I am back in Cranbrook now.My email is mj.morris@live.ca  MJM

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

A similar trip today would take 13 or 14 days, cover about 155 miles with 18 portages. The reservoirs created by the large hydroelectric dams at Aubrey Falls and Wharncliffe have significantly impacted the original topography of the Wenebegon and Mississagi Rivers existing at the time of the 1905 canoe trip and submerged many of the distinctive geographic features documented by Dr. 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)

Ojibwe Settlements

“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
Canoe Making and Other Items

“ Carpentering 
making canoes 
numerous frames
slats for sides
cross pieces 
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
papoose holder 
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. Kelly has provided an extensive detailed record of his journey down the Mississagi and we have been able to provide only a brief synopsis of his journey in this article.  We plan to do detailed research into much of the material covered in his diary for future publication.   We are fortunate that Dr. Kelly has provided descriptions and rare insight of what can be best characterized as the cultural landscape of the Mississagi River system that remains a significant part of the cultural heritage of the Chapleau region.

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.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Canoe Routes in the Chapleau Region

1 Chapleau Region Canoe Routes (2016) Ian Macdona
Note - Here is the second in a series of three articles by Ian Macdonald and Mike McMullen: "Canoe Routes in the Chapleau Region". My thanks to Ian and Mike for having this article ready while I was on one of my periodic trips to Orlando. Much appreciated.MJM
By Ian Macdonald and Mike McMullen

The community of Chapleau, Ontario is located on the drainage divide between the Hudson Bay and Lake Superior watersheds commonly referred to as the height of land.  Before the coming of the railway and the founding of the village of Chapleau in the 1880s, the Ojibwe Nation carried out traditional activities of hunting, fishing and trapping in the region.  The largest group of Ojibwe was an inland group of the Michipicoten Ojibwe Band who took furs back to the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) post at Michipicoten for trading. Ojibwe hunting and trapping territory was primarily to the south and west of the height of land and Cree territory was to the north.  

Early maps of the Chapleau region identify an extensive network of paths and portages connecting lakes and rivers with the primary river systems flowing from the height of land to Lakes Superior and Huron and north to James Bay. Topographic information reveals an average drop of over 800 feet from Chapleau to both Lakes Superior and Huron. This is a relatively steep descent and it is probably more than coincidence that the Michipicoten, Montreal and Mississagi Rivers each presently accommodate four major hydroelectric power stations over the length of each river. These giant hydro projects along with extensive road and highway construction have significantly diminished evidence of the original canoe routes in the region that have been displaced or become overgrown over time.

This article does not attempt to identify every route or speculate on how heavily they may have been used, but offers a description of the most probable paths. We’ve limited our descriptions to routes and conditions of which we have direct personal knowledge or are officially documented (Photo 1).

HBC, created by royal charter in 1670, was granted all territory in the Hudson Bay watershed in which to develop the fur trade. The height of land is significant in Chapleau history as it generally defined the southern boundary of HBC territory.  Additionally, it established the northern boundaries of the Robinson-Superior treaties of 1850 with the Ojibwe Nation and the southern boundary of the James Bay Treaty of 1906 with the Cree Nation. The height of land became even more significant when it was established as the route for the new Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) through Northern Ontario. The Kebsquasheshing River at Chapleau is 1403 feet above sea level and eventually descends north to salt water at Moose Factory through a complex 300 mile network of rivers and lakes.

To the North

The main canoe routes from Chapleau to the north are the Kebsquasheshing and Nemegosenda River systems which drop 360 feet over approximately 75 miles to where they converge at the Kapuskasing River just north of the Canadian National Railway line at Elsas on Kapuskasing Lake. The challenge associated with this canoe route is reflected in the number of rapids and portages required to navigate the system. The Kebsquasheshing River system, for instance, requires 30 portages around a combination of rapids and waterfalls demanding a good measure of experience and skill to complete the journey safely. Present day voyageurs exercising due caution typically make this trip in six days.

The Kapuskasing River from this point continues north over equally challenging terrain before joining the Mattagami River 32 miles north of Kapuskasing, Ontario before finally converging with the Moose River and eventually James Bay. It is undoubtedly the most difficult and challenging tributary of the Moose River system. Cree hunting parties from Moose Factory travelled south on this system in the 19th century and, due to the length and difficulty of the journey, wintered over and eventually settled permanently in the Chapleau region.

The Kebsquasheshing and Nemegosenda rivers never became major routes for HBC. The primary route for the fur trade was the more easily navigable Missinaibi River system that runs through the centre of the Chapleau Game Preserve approximately 60 miles west of Chapleau connecting Lake Superior with James Bay. 

Records indicate that HBC had two trading posts in the Foleyet region. One was on Lake Pishkanogami (Ivanhoe Lake) and another at the southern end of the Groundhog River. (Flying Post) Near this latter location there had been a North West Company post dating back to the earliest days of the fur trade in the late 18th century.  The Kinogama and Ivanhoe River systems both flow north from the height of land near the former communities of Kormak and Nemegos and provide access to Ivanhoe Lake. This is a 65 mile journey requiring 16 portages over a variety of rapids and waterfalls. 

To the West and South

HBC post reports record that most of the fur trade with the HBC from the Chapleau area before construction of the CPR was with the HBC post at Michipicoten.  We believe that the Micipicoten Ojibwe inland group supplied most of this trade.

There are two main routes to Lake Superor from Chapleau: west by Lake Windemere, and southwest by the Montreal River system.  A third route south to Lake Huron is by the Mississagi river system. For the former, canoe travel to Michipicoten from the Chapleau area was approximately a 95 mile journey west  on the Nebskwashi River portaging from Nagasin Lake over the height of land into Windemere lake and from there portaging to the Shikwamka River west to the Michipicoten River and Lake Superior. The Michipicoten River descends 400 feet in the last 15 miles before Lake Superior in which four hydro-electric power plants are presently located (Photo 2).
2 High Falls, Michipicoten River (1916) Wawa Historical Photo Album

The Montreal River system in the Algoma Region southwest of Chapleau extends from the height of land to Lake Superior approximately 60 miles south of present day Wawa. This route extends from Lake Nagasin and the Nebskwashi River over the height of land to Top Lake (Summit Lake) near the former lumber mills at Island Lake through a network of marshes, rivers and lakes to Lake Superior. The Montreal River system descends approximately 800 feet over 75 miles from Top Lake to Lake Superior. Similar to the Michipicoten route, there are also four major hydro-electric generating stations on this river. The best known and most unique of these is the MacKay Generating Station which is integrated with the trestle structure where the Algoma Central Railway crosses the Montreal River (Photo 3)
3 Mackay Generating Station and Trestle, Montreal River (ca.1965) Algoma Central Railway

One of several canoe routes to the south is the Mississagi River system that descends from the height of land north of Wenebegon Lake near Sultan, Ontario through a maze of rivers, lakes, and waterfalls toBlind River on Lake Huron. The Mississagi River parallels Highway 129 for part of the way and has become quite familiar to most Chapleau residents. Some of the earliest tourist activity in the Chapleau region developed near the old CPR siding at Winnebago, which was 43 miles east of Chapleau where the rail line crosses the Wakami River.
4 Aubrey Falls Generating Station, Mississagi River (ca.1975) The Globe and Mail

 In 1905, an American party, led by Dr. Howard A. Kelly of Baltimore, Maryland, began their canoeing adventure at this location paddling down the Wakami River, portaging into Kebskwasheshi Lake and from there into the Wenebegon River to the present location of Aubrey Falls where it merges with the Mississagi River. Dr. Kelly retained a detailed diary and photographs of this trip that will be the subject of the next article in this series. The Mississagi River system like the Michipicoten and Montreal River systems presently accommodates four hydroelectric generating stations that have significantly impacted the original waterway that Dr. Kelly’s group would have experienced (Photo 4).

Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet


click on image


Following the American Dream from Chapleau. CLICK ON IMAGE