One man’s journey

Ron Fredrick Payne, left, and Marlena Payne made a trip through Northern Alberta in June to see the region his ancestor visited in 1913. They brought with them the journal of Fred E. Brewer, his grandfather, which they shared with the museum and Spotlight.

On July 16, 1912, Fred Brewer departed Edmonton on a trip to the Peace River Country. He arrived in Grouard on Aug. 16 after an arduous trip. Following is a journal he kept during the trip, which highlights the many difficulties he enountered: constant rain, mosquitos, ornery oxen, rocky roads, etc. The journal depicts the hardships pioneers had making the trip to the north. For Brewer, by the end of the trip, it was enough. He high-tailed it out of the country never to return. As parts of the journal reveal; however, he never lost his sense of humour.

July 16, 1912:

Thomas E. Denning, Willard Martin, and F.E. Brewer, left Edmonton Tuesday, July 16 for Peace River District via Athabasca Landing and Lesser Slave Trail. Two oxen and a New Deal covered wagon was the palace car that took the trio into the wilds of the illustrious north ahead of the steam railroad. We were called fools for attempting the trip and as the happenings of the trip from day to day are recorded in this diary. It will then be known how strongly and fitting the word “Fool’s Affair” is to the party of three pioneers.

Tue., July 16

After a great deal of hustle and trips downtown for articles forgotten, the trio managed to get into motion about 4:30 p.m., and amid cheers from Mr. Charles and goodbyes from short acquaintances, the husky oxen started the prairie schooners into motion. We made about eight miles that evening and put up camp just north of the Swifts packing house. Our first bad luck was getting on wrong road, but we were expecting just such luck and were not disappointed. Had beef steaks and bacon for eight o’clock supper. The latter was partaken of too freely and rather dampened our taste for pig.

Wed., July 17

Pulled out in morning about 5 a.m. The day was nice and warm and we made good time. Got off the road only once and then only about two miles extra drive, behind a pair of speedy bulls. Have to get a line on fence to see them move. Camped at noon in a woods and by evening were almost five miles from Sturgeon River. Made camp in a field along road. Had a good sleep.

Thur., July 18

Up at four in the morning and made Sturgeon River about six. Camped there all day and tried luck at fishing, never had a bite except under my hat. In the afternoon, did our washing in the pioneer way, a cake of soap in one hand and a shirt in the other and by hanging on bushes with teeth. Got up enough friction to make a little suds and not get clothes any dirtier than before starting the operation. Left Sturgeon Creek about 4:30 p.m. and made seven or eight miles that evening. Camped along the roadside.

Fri., July 19

Raining hard in the morning and not pleasant for traveling. Made Vermillion Creek at noon and had a dandy Mulligan stew of three partridge we shot in morning. Rained hard but we made a fire and got pot a boiling. Stood in rain and had as nice a meal as I ever had along route. We were all wet to the skin but a little thing like that didn’t put a damper on our enthusiasm to reach the goal. Left about 3 p.m. and made almost seven miles. Camped along road. Purchased some onions and had a good supper.

Sat., July 20

Up in the morning about four. Just about as near froze as could be and live. Put on wet clothes and hunted for wood for fire. Hooked up oxen about six and after being on the road a short time, soon forgot the frosts we previously suffered. Made Potts Lake about 10, camped until 4 p.m. Shot partridge at lake and had a god Mulligan with rice, onions and potatoes added. Left about four and made creek about eight miles distant. We bought bed tacking at store we passed and got straw for a soft bed. Henning said the hard boards were getting the best of him.

Sun., July 21

Camped all day at creek and gave oxen the whole Sunday to rest and feed. Laid around all day ourselves and got straw in tack and had a soft bed for Sunday night’s rest. Rain had cleared and sun came out at times. A coloured man who made camp across camp called to visit us in evening. The cook tried to make pancakes and made an awful mess. All rather starve than eat them. It tasted like soft dough leather bound. Denning commenced to worry about our future baking. Managed to get a loaf of sour bread from a good-hearted French woman.

Mon., July 22

Feeling good after Sunday rest. Oxen pretty frisky and gave trouble to catch Teddy. Made Lewis about nine and found old log hut occupied. Our new acquaintances found nice fellows and up against it. We gave them breakfast and dinner. Two other ox teams pulled up and we had a jolly party for afternoon. Rained quite a bit and we put stove in hut and then we couldn’t stay there for smoke. Found old stove pipe and succeeded in making a warm place to lay in the rain. Left about four and made nine miles. Had to get water from mud hole to cook partridge and rabbit we shot. A wet, cool night again.

Tue., July 23

Up early and made Smith’s about 10. Had partridge for dinner. Rained a little, but we were now so used to rain that we would have felt ill-at-ease in sunshine. Pulled out about three and nearly got stuck on hill before we got five miles from camp. Managed to drive across fields and make it. Now about 10 miles from Athabasca Landing and anxious to see the big town we had heard so much about. Met a nice Swede along the road and we gave him his supper about four miles from Landing at beaver dam. Camped there all night and built a large fire to dry out from recent wetting.

Wed., July 24

Up early and without any excitement made Athabasca Landing about eight. Were advised not to make trip to Grande Prairie, but we told our newfound friends that we were going if we lived. Crossed river on ferry and got stuck getting off the wooden boat. Had friends help on wheels and we pulled up first grade. Second grade was a dandy and we stuck for sure. A fellow bound for Grande Prairie hooked his horse on load and up we went. Made camp about quarter of mile from hill and along river. Beavers plentiful and we got a good menu for supper.

Thur., July 25

Woke up in morning and it was raining hard. Went downtown and had a good look at the famous Athabasca Landing. Found it to be the slowest and poorest looking little village that could be found in north. All the boom was the real estate talk to people who never seen the place. Rained all day and of course got wet again. Martin had some excitement with dog who tore his coat and went back past house with revolver handy to kill the canine. Nothing happened to break the monotony of the steady rain. I wrote several letters and cards as also did the other two.

Fri., July 26

Had about 600 pounds shipped by boat past the muskeg. Met two other bull teams and we will travel together and trust that six oxen on a wagon can pull through anything if the top of clives is in right. Three other fellows came along and after having dinner we started to face the worst part of the journey. Traveled 12 miles before we camped. Road fairly good on whole. Our camping place was hard to get and we stopped about 10 miles out and tried to dig for water. No water prospects and so a couple miles farther brought us to homesteader’s clearing and a well. Had a big Mulligan stew from nine rabbits shot. Turned in about 11. Oxen pretty tired.

Sat., July 27

Turned out about 5:15 from warm bed to cool morning air. Light lunch of cold Mulligan and the three prairie schooners got underway. Only got lost once and had to make five miles extra and roads very heavy. About 10 o’clock we discovered a water hole and camped until 4:30 p.m. Pulled on then to Bald Hill, which name fully describes the place. Found dandy clearing along river and camped for Sunday. On route passed over a little muskeg and for a couple of miles of the old corduroy roads, the latter being hard on bull pushers. Lots of moose and a few bear tracks but no heavy game to be seen.

Sun., July 28

Had a nice quiet Sunday in clearing. The oxen have a chance to rest, which they well deserve after the heavy pulling through rough and soft roads. Had two good meals, and for myself I was able to put away as much as three men ordinarily could handle. Had top of my head shaved to try and coax the hair to grow a little more lively. The flies bit on it a little but by keeping my hat on I may be able to take the next six week’s treatment which are the same as today’s. Denning is the artist and does job as well as a city barber.

Mon., July 29

Left our Sunday camp about 5:15 a.m. We ran into the muskeg as bad as I ever seen on trail so far. Olsen’s team stuck. We hooked on and pulled out. Two other teams got through OK. Patches of muskeg all day long but nothing near as bad as we expected. Road good and rough and nothing but a strong wagon could stand the jolting. We had a little bad luck: broke two thugs and pins but Olsen happened to have old pair which pulled us through. Denning broke all of his previous records in profanity line when thug broke just as wagon was up small hill. Very warm in daytime but nights good and cold. Camped about 30 [or a little better] miles from Athabasca Landing. Two other boys from Calgary are hiking near us and make camp the same place as we.

Tue., July 30

Got started about 6 a.m. Too hard to get up early. Made five miles and camped at noon at creek where we found a family with three wagons and 19 head of horses. Had a good Mulligan from five partridges shot night before. Pulled out about 5 p.m. after a supper of warmed up mulligan. About six we got stuck in the real old muskeg. Hooked up four oxen to each wagon and pulled through with trouble only about 50 feet of the mud. Made camp about one mile further along little creek. The feed was fine for cattle. Found dandy moose horns and tested revolver and small rifle against horns. Rifle would penetrate in places but revolver would hardly make a dent unless no chance for ball to glance. Went to bed with good resolutions for early start in morning.

Wed., July 31

Tom surpassed himself in waking up the camp at 3:15. Imagine he laid awake half the night to redeem himself from the two previous mornings he slept in. Made about seven or eight miles and camped at nice running creek for dinner. Got a rabbit in morning for the dogs. Left camp for afternoon pull and made nice running creek about eight miles distant where we found the two boys and man with family and three wagons ahead of us. Mosquitoes very bad all night and very sultry. Wagon was in slanting position and uncomfortable to sleep in. Met two boys from Edmonton who had traveled trail from Edmonton to Peace River Crossing and just returning. They reported woods in a better condition than what we had come through. Man with large family and three wagons gave us some violin music before going to bed. Any old music is good on the lonesome trail.

Thur., Aug. 1

Denning couldn’t sleep so he roused camp at 2:30. We were all up before it was light. Tom quite often gets fidgety and nervous and the only way to keep him quiet is to get him moving. The trail is not putting any push on him. Made about 10 miles from 4:55 to 8:45. Camped a little past Dead Lake for noon. Tried for ducks in lake and got one. On route our two friends of weeks traveling acquaintances pretty near come to blows on morning trip and since then have dissolved partnership and each cooks for himself and keeps provisions apart. Made noon camp at creek near Dead Lake. Two Evans boys caught up about three. Had good sleep in afternoon and about five started for creek about six miles distant. Met two boys on horseback who had been to Peace River Country and they reported trail was good and were much pleased with country. Made camp at good creek in good shape.

Fri., Aug. 2

Up in morning before daylight. Had our usual breakfast of oatmeal, canned Bluenose butter and sugar. Made Mirror Landing about 11 o’clock and loaded on our trunks and 300 of flour. Freight bill from landing to Mirror Landing was $4.50. Tried my luck at fishing but never had a bite. Evans boys loaded on 1,400 pounds of Mr. Johnston’s provisions and started over the 17-mile portage. We decided we could freight our 550 pounds over ourselves. Mirror Landing consists of a freight shed, country store, telegraph office and pile of bailed hay. It’s only a trading post and a place for boat to stop to unload for the portage. Left Mirror Landing about three and camped overnight along the Little Slave River, about eight miles distant.

Sat., Aug. 3

Got started about 6 o’clock and about 12 and made camp for our Sunday about 12 miles distant. Our camp was situated on Little Slave River alongside of a little creek running into river. About a mile from camp we got into a mud hole up to the hubs and it made four oxen work to pull a wagon out. About a mile and a half from camp we got acquainted with a settler by the name of Mr. Chase. He sold us a pail of new potatoes and gave us a pail full of lettuce. About a half mile distant we found an Indian encampment and bought a piece of moose meat – about five pounds for a quarter. The Evens boys caught up to us about six o’clock with our meat and potatoes, bannock, rice and lettuce, we eight had a royal banquet about nine in the evening. I tried my luck at fishing but never got a bite. Eddie Johnston caught a nice three pound pickerel. About Tuesday noon we hope to reach Lesser Slave Lake and get some fish.

Sun., Aug. 4

We observe Sundays on our trip as a day of rest. There are no churches anywhere near and if there was I am afraid with our dirty old clothes and long whiskers, they would bar us from any church if there happened to be any eastern style about them. Had a cold breakfast about eight and about half-past it started to rain and at present moment of writing I am cooped up in a wagon to keep dry. Rained until about five in the evening. We then got some dry wood and had a good big meal. Large fish caught Saturday, some hammock and new potatoes. Retired early to sleep and glad that one rainy day had passed and hoped for sunshine in the morning.

Mon., Aug. 5

Tom got the outfit in motion about 5 am. Martin [the cook] could not get up and so I had to make and serve cold Mulligan to warm up. It was cool in the morning but no rain, grass was long and one soon got wet. Before we got five miles from camp we got stuck in the mud holes twice. Four oxen easily pulled a wagon out. We made about nine miles and camped for noon at river side. After four hours rest and Olson’s bull nearly running away with me hanging on the halter with one hand, we started and made about eight miles. Most of the afternoon’s trip was out on the prairie and it seemed good to get out of the thick woods after seeing nothing but trees for three weeks. The grass at our night camp is most plentiful and high and oxen can soon fill up and rest. We are now about 200 miles from Edmonton.

Tue., Aug. 6

Up about five and started at seven. The long grass was wet and so was I before I got my hands on the stubborn oxen. I rode as far as Sawridge [two miles]. Sawridge has a general store, telegraph office, and several houses and a couple dozen Indian wigwams. Stayed at Sawridge about 10 minutes to buy some supplies at three times their value. Then started the Lesser Slave Lake Trail. Made about three miles and called a halt for dinner. Stones by the millions and oxen got shod. This afternoon we are going to make enquiries about road and if it is no better than it is at present time we can’t make it. Started back to Sawridge to find out about trail and about a mile downroad met a fellow who directed us to a man at lumber camp who had been over trail. We returned with him and got information that others got through and why shouldn’t we. At five we started over gravel again and after five miles of the hardest pull yet made camp at a point about 9 o’clock.

Wed., Aug. 7

Had a good sound sleep and woke up around seven. It was windy and the lake was rolling like a young ocean. Had a breakfast of fried mush and hit the rocky road again. About four and a half hours of hard puling only got us about four miles or a little better. The oxen without feed are feeling the effects of the trip and show a rib or two extra. Had a dinner of bannock and rice and look the proposition in the face. Our load was too heavy for the oxen and we decided to build a raft and take off a few hundred pounds. Had a try at raft making and got together such a looking thing that we decided to risk the rocky road again and almost five made a start. Our team made about 200 yards and gave up. Olsen got through but we had to camp for the night.

Thur., Aug. 8

Before going to bed Wednesday night we decided that the only way out of the difficulty was to make a raft and load on half our load. We all got up early and started a good raft. I had to walk ahead about five miles to tell Olsen, who was camping at a creek, that we were coming through and we were not going to turn back. When I arrived back at our camp, I found the raft completed. Had a dinner of mush and bannock and loaded the raft with almost 700 pounds. Denning and myself started out and made Martin Creek about eight in the evening. Of all my experiences so far the raft was the limit. We hauled it for a couple of miles. Tom played out and I got a cramp in my arm. I pulled off my clothes and swam and waded and Tom also done the same and after almost three hours in the water we reached Martin Creek [all-in]. Olsen gave a good feed of rice and about a hour the teams came along. We had destroyed the top of wagon to lighten load and then had to sleep on the ground rolled up in blanket with a canvas partly stretched over us. It was the hardest day I ever had and almost wished I had never made the trip.

Fri., Aug. 9

Up almost seven and felt no bad effects from exposure. Tore raft apart and vowed never to attempt to run another. Found an old boat and fixed it up so it would carry a few hundred pounds. Tried my luck at fishing but no success. Almost five, left Martin Creek. I took 400 of flour and about 60 of oatmeal on boat and started out. Boat leaked pretty freely, but by bailing kept the flour dry and boat gradually soaked up. The teams camped about five miles from creek and I pulled in and unloaded and got flour under cover just before a rain came up. Rain did not last long. We took wagon tongue and hoisted it up and put canvas over it and slept under. The sleeping on the ground is not as nice as being high and dry in the wagon.

Sat., Aug. 10

Up at four and started at half past. I took boat and rowed for a couple of miles. We did not take time to get breakfast and I felt the need of it. Pulling boat again, a wind and heavy load at that. I pulled ashore and let Martin take boat and I punched the bulls. The road was nothing but a rock pile and oxens’ feet were pretty sore. About nine o’clock they commenced to stop up and what a time I had to get them moving. They stopped before long again and three of us couldn’t convince them that we were in a hurry. We unhitched and had dinner of some partridge shot in morning. About four we started them up again. It took almost a half an hour and they even got on their backs with their feet in the air to show that they were sore. We had about a quarter of a mile to make to get good feed and we finally convinced them with a whip to get a move on. We made it and we were as tired as they. I had to haul one ox along by head. We will give them a good rest now that we have feed for them.

Sun., Aug. 11

Before retiring Saturday night we had decided to get up Sunday about four and make about three miles farther where we know of better feed for oxen. It was so rough on lake that we could not run the boat, and so we turned over and slept until nine. We had our dinner and breakfast combined. It consisted of a large Mulligan stew. Saturday evening we got eight partridge and a duck and with rice, puffed wheat, onions, and water combined with the birds, we had a dandy banquet. We laid around and talked and read some old magazines and almost five we hooked up and made a pull for the feeding place ahead. The poor oxen are having it hard over the stony ground without shoes on. The feed has been so poor along the lake that they must be hungry all the time.

Mon., Aug. 12

Four o’clock found us trying to get our eyes open. It was and always has been a desperate struggle and generally takes about five minutes before a person gets good natured enough to say good morning in an even cheerful tone. I helped Bill load the boat with flour and with my gun over my shoulder started after the teams. Made a good drive and stopped for dinner about three. I started with the boat loaded with the flour and oatmeal. The wind was blowing and the rain started to come and between the two I had one dandy time rowing that old leaky boat. For four hours I had to keep up the struggle, and then pulled in where team had camped. I was wet to the skin and hungry. Bill found two ducks and with the cold Mulligan left from noon, made a hearty meal. Then we three crawled into wet blankets and slept through the rain.

Tue., Aug. 13

On account of the rain and the dam conditions of our bedding and ourselves we slept until about eight, and it was 10 before we hit the trail. The grass was long and wet and so a person had no difficulty hitting the lower limbs, cool and wet. We passed through an all-Indian camp and I purchased two large whitefish for 35 cents. We had fish for three meals and they tasted good. In the afternoon it fell my lot to drive the oxen. Bull skinning is one job above all that gets my goat. A man who can drive an ox without getting a bit miffed has won my admiration. We made about 11 miles this day, and are feeling encouraged and hope to be in Grouard by Saturday at latest. From there on the roads are reported good.

Wed., Aug. 14

Just 20 minutes after four, camp was awakened by a familiar and weird sound of Denning’s voice. Breakfast was cooked [oatmeal, cold fish and tea] and by 10 to six we hit the trail once again. For the first couple of hours the wet grass made a person’s legs feel as if they were not missing any of the dew on the grass and whichever way you turned you imagined you shook off the most amount of moisture in the shortest possible time. I had the misfortune to drop Johnston’s pipe case and have a wagon run over it. I will replace it at Grouard. After dinner I took a turn at rowing the boat. The wind and sea was in my favour and I made good time. I pulled up at a dock that is used for loading wood for Hudson Bay boats. I waited for teams and they did not show up and so I slept in an Indian canoe I found. My coat was pillow and I used Tom’s coat for a blanket and used a raincoat to cover overall.

Thur., Aug. 15

Had a good sleep in the canoe and was up in the morning about 4:30. Boiled up some oatmeal in a tin can and had a fair breakfast. After my light lunch, I started to find where the outfit had gone. I had to walk back about three miles and found them camped at a lumber shanty. Johnston’s wagon had upset [no damage except bows of cover broken]. It was the last place to feed before reaching Grouard. I had a big meal. I then relieved Bill at oars and pulled boat through Buffalo Bay and into Salt Creek. Had a time to get the boat through as water was shallow. I waited where Evans boys were camping until nine and then had to walk about two miles to where my outfit was camping. I found them rolled up in blankets asleep.

Fri., Aug. 16

About nine o’clock Tom and I went downtown and had a breakfast at a restaurant. A poor breakfast for 50 cents it was. Tom got some mail but not the money he expected. I arranged for a man to see my oxen and wagon. He came along in the afternoon where I was camping and made me an offer of $265, $35 more than I paid. Mr. Johnston said he would give me that price and I sold to him. I am tired of oxen and as Tom is unable to pay for himself, Mr. Johnston put up his tent and we all slept in it while we are here.

Sat., Aug. 17

After breakfast I wrote a letter home. Received two letters from home when I arrived here. The other boys have bought about all my outfit and all I have to sell is just flour and I hope to easily get rid of that downtown. I hope to get a suitable Indian pony to continue the trip. I am through with Tom as he has not been able to get his money, he was so positive it would be here waiting for him. Bill expects to go on with Mr. Johnston and will drive the oxen he bought from me. I feel sorry for Tom but he got himself into the box and I have looked after him for a couple of months. I think I will let someone else. I’m afraid he has been telling me things about his wealth isn’t true.

Sun., Aug. 18

The Sabbath broke bright and clear and will be good and warm. I have just completed a letter to William Peach extending my sympathy at the loss of his mother and also my friend. Also wrote V.M.C. [Violet Mary Corret]. After dinner I read a magazine and slept alternately. In the afternoon an English church clergyman [Archdeacon Robinson] asked us if we wanted service. We said yes. About eight in the evening our bunch and part of the road gang gathered into a tent. It was my first pioneer sermon. After sermon, he gave us a talk about country. He has been in every part of the north preaching.

Mon., Aug. 19

Olson and Evans boys pulled out early for Peace River Country. I went downtown with Johnston and helped him load on his goods shipped by boat. Mr. Johnston gave me $265 for my wagon and oxen. I have everything sold out and expect to return to Edmonton. In afternoon, I decided that I might better go on to Peace River Crossing after coming so far. I was in Grouard News and met Mr. Burns, the editor and manager. I sent a copy home and one to Picton Gazette. I came back to camp and made box and packed in what I have left and caught a ride to Grouard and had it stored. All I am taking on is blanket, revolver, rifle, knife, raincoat and cartridges. Did not get home until near midnight from Grouard.

Tue., Aug. 20

Tom woke us up at 4 a.m. It was too dark and we laid in until near five. Almost 5:20 we hit the trail without breakfast. Tom took his blanket and went on ahead. We met four fellows returning from Dunvegan and they told us about 9 o’clock that they met him three miles ahead, and that he was trying to catch the teams that had a day’s start. He did not have his breakfast and I don’t see where he can catch his dinner, and think he will have a hard time to catch the other part of the outfit. I have been wondering why I am going to Peace River Crossing when I don’t want to take up land and will have a hard time getting back. By three o’clock we reached Heart River and had some dinner. Bill got a couple of chicken and we will have a big stew for supper. I am wondering whether to go ahead or go back. Will decide by tomorrow morning.

Wed., Aug. 21

About 4:30 found me with my eyes open and decided that I would go back to Grouard. I put about 35 pounds on my back and started an 18-mile walk. Before I had gone a mile I thought it was 100 pounds. I was carrying by main strength and awkwardness, I traveled until noon. I found an Indian cabin and found out I could get my dinner. A young Indian was making soda cakes and I found out before long that my dinner was to combine the above mentioned article of stomach to tang with a cup of catnip tea to wash it down. I paid 35 cents for the mixture and hit the trail again. Before going many miles the catnip tea made me so sleepy that I crawled into a thicket and had a good sleep. By six o’clock I arrived at Salt Creek and got the rowboat and pulled almost three miles and camped along shore near Grouard. I slept on a rock pile and was tortured by mosquitoes.

Thur., Aug. 22

It was about eight o’clock before I woke up. I had no breakfast and pulled boat to Grouard. Intending to take big boat to Athabasca Landing. Near where I landed boat, I met fellow whom I had met day before on trail and he said the rest of the gang was going in a small boat. I met rest of boys and decided to take boat I had used for return trip. Started to rain about noon and it was after we had en excellent supper at hotel [for half a dollar] before we pulled out. At last minute a fourth man sold his horse and made our crew number four. Including a big dog. Our motto on leaving was “Athabasca or Bust”. Some rough weather before we reached Shaw’s Point, made dog seasick. About nine we pulled in a bay and laid down on wet sand to sleep. About midnight it rained and after sleeping half the time and shivering the rest I pulled through a hard night.

Friday, Aug. 23

Wasn’t I sore when I got up of the wet sand! After a good breakfast of bread, jam, coffee and oatmeal, I felt good once more. Made a sail for boat and until wind dropped, made good progress. Caught two large fish for dinner. In afternoon had to row. The lake was calm as a mill pond. Took turn at rowing until about seven and had fish for supper. Found a log house, but it was so dirty we couldn’t sleep in it. I took a walk to an Indian village a few hundred yards away and got a place to sleep in a shack. The Indian charged 50 cents for four of us and dog. I want back to boat and we all shouldered our blankets and when we reached the hut were more than surprised and pleased to find a nice fire in fireplace. I slept on a board bed and rest took floor, and we slept like a log.

Sat., Aug. 24

Never woke up until half past six and after a good breakfast of fish, oatmeal and coffee, pulled out in boat. Wind was good and we sailed a good clip. Sailed right through until six o’clock. Had bread and jam for dinner, served aboard the boat. About five o’clock a squall struck us and my hat went sailing across the lake, got it again without much trouble. It rained about half the afternoon and most of the night, and we were all wishing for Indian cabin with fire in it. Blankets and clothes were wet, but we built a large fire and partially dried out. Another fellow and I put the tarp across a couple of poles and slept on boughs covered with blankets. It was a damp bed, but when heat of body warmed up clothing and tarp kept off rain. We slept like a log until six in the morning.

Sun., Aug. 25

About 6:30, I woke up, and after pulling on wet boots and sweater and coat, and feeling as if I might freeze to death and not feel any colder. I done my little share toward getting breakfast ready, and after a good breakfast felt better. A good breeze was blowing down the lake and soon left that dismal wet shore in the distance. Every minute the wind and waves increased and how we did speed up. Made Sawridge by about 12. Had dinner and started again down Little Slave River. Being out of lake it was warmer, being more sheltered. In afternoon, it rained most of the time, and by eight o’clock a more frozen crew couldn’t be found. We found a settler [Mr. Chase] who gave us lunch and let us sleep on kitchen floor. The house did smell bad but being tired slept like a log, too tired even to dream.

Mon., Aug. 26

Mr. Chase gave us breakfast including fish, potatoes, jam and soda cakes. He only charged 50 cents apiece for the sleeping accommodation, lunch and breakfast. By eight o’clock we started again and inside an hour we were shooting the rapids in the Little Slave River. They were not as swift as I expected, and it was a good thing they weren’t. The water was low and we struck rocks and stone piles, but managed to get off them without much trouble. The many bumps we had made our leaky boat leak more than usual. By six o’clock we reached Mirror Landing. We spent the night in an old shack. A couple of Breeds, a couple of Frenchmen. Our party of four and two dogs, and occasionally a pig, slept on the floor. It rained all night long.

Tue., Aug. 27

After the usual breakfast of bacon, mush, coffee, bread and jam, the boat was loaded with its freight and passengers and started down the Athabasca River toward Athabasca Landing. Seventy-five miles had to be traveled before the leaky boat could be dispensed with. We traveled all day, had our dinner aboard consisting of canned pork and beans and crackers. It rained the usual amount but I had my slicker on and felt quite comfortable although the other three of the crew did considerable shivering. About 4:30 Bald Hill was sighted and by five we tied up there and took possession of a nice shack with a stove in it. Cooked supper and spent the night there. It rained all night and the dry shack with a fire made a comfortable stopping place.

Wed., Aug. 28

When we woke up in morning, it was still raining and so we slept a little longer. Had breakfast and laid around until about 11 when it seemed to be clearing up. The wind was in our favour and with our sail hoisted we pulled out on the last 25 miles of the water trip. The wind and the current took us along pretty lively and by 3 p.m. pulled in at Athabasca Landing. Two of the boys packed their load on their back and started for Edmonton. One fellow hired out for government road work and took boat down river to near Fort McMurray. I put up a North Star Rooming House. There in a room I had a stretcher to myself.

Thur., Aug. 29

Woke up feeling refreshed after sleeping in a dry place and on something softer than a board or stone pile. My sleep was occasionally disturbed by a drunk in the dining room who yelled regularly every few minutes. When I got down to breakfast I found out that he had kicked the panel out of the door and broke a pan of dishes, torn down a couple of lamps, and in fact changed the appearance of everything that he could by kicking and pulling. Reports circulated to the effect that the train would be in sometime and I decided I would be patient as long as I could and wait for the train. Athabasca Landing is the worst drunken hole I ever seen. At four o’clock a message came saying “train would be in next morning” leaving Morinville at 7 p.m. I slept at the North Star another night.

Fri., Aug. 30

Had my usual sleep and after breakfast, loafed around town waiting for that train to come, and at same time learning to hate the place worse every minute, outside of the numerous drunks. Athabasca Landing has nothing to entertain the people unlucky enough to get within its gates. About 2:30 a couple of railway officials landed in town on a hand-car. Train could only get within three miles of town. I walked down the tracks with several others and after a great deal of disturbance and sweating, got my baggage there also. Train pulled out and after 50 miles ran off tracks and we were there all night. About 5 a.m. we got going again and got in Edmonton 8 a.m. next morning.

Richard Evans used The Castle Hotel stationery to sell his oxen to Fred Brewer in Edmonton for $147.50 on July 5, 1913.
Mirror Landing was a much nicer place to stop than Athabasca Landing, in Fred Brewer’s opinion. Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives.
Athabasca Landing in 1912. Photo from the Provincal Archives of Alberta.

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