Too bad we couldn’t keep the Dryden History Society going, meetings were fun (for us history buffs), and we learned something every meeting. I remember sounding off wisely about how John Crerar had got it wrong in his memoirs, referring to ‘Southworth Township on Eagle Lake’. Clearly he meant Wabigoon lake, which is where Southworth is. John Corner, co-founder (with Gerry Noble ) of the Society and a long-time, serious student of local history commented that he had studied this long and hard, and based on some other clues in Crerar’s memoirs, concluded that I had it wrong, what Crerar really meant was ‘Temple township’ which is on Eagle lake. This was a humbling lesson, as an engineer I ought to know that all the information and possibilities have to be considered before coming to a conclusion.
Another time I observed that the Wabigoon River makes a big, circle of maybe 5 miles with three sets of rapids all around my farm, so there ought to be a portage somewhere cutting about a mile or so across the farm toavoid all those rapids, but I could never see any evidence of one. Some of the guys observed that in sand country a trail might be visible after the hundred years that has gone by since it became a farm, but in the high clay the bush grows so quickly and thick that the only way to find a trail would be to find a dropped artifact of some kind. It was noted that everybody except those inheriting the Roman love of straight roads would make their trails following the height of land, to avoid ravines, water crossings, etic, and that might help figuring out where such a portage might be. Even with that advice, I still haven’t found that portage.
Another time I remarked about a rocky point on the river between those rapids, with a high hill to the north so it made a little microclimate. There was a good-sized oak tree growing there, and a small thicket of little oaks, some wild grape and other stuff that I couldn’t recognize that might normally grow in Wisconsin.
Louis Maltais, another serious student of local history, observed that the voyageurs travelled the country with just a bag of beans. If they didn’t manage to shoot anything all day, they had beans for supper at night. He said they learned this from the natives, up here they didn’t have access to beans, but they carried a bag of acorns. He said no doubt my oak tree was left over from a long-ago shore lunch, in fact, he went on there are ‘Oak Islands’ and ‘Oak Points’ on lots of local lakes, and he thinks they are also ancient campsites. He observed that there were a lot more people, and a lot more canoe routes in the past than we realize, the native population were pretty near wiped out by smallpox after the white man came.
Louis also stated there had been an active trade route from Lake Winnipeg to Hudson’s Bay, up the Berens and down the Albany rivers, carrying pemmican to trade for sea salt which they brought back to the prairies by the same route, and that the salt runs were still going on into the 20th century, in spite of the HBC and the fact that there was no more pemmican because the buffalo were all gone.
I wish we could have kept it going, lots to learn.