The Journal of Canadian

Wilderness Canoeing

  AUTUMN 2002











In this issue

Front Page


Fall Packet


From the Editor


Back page






Barrow to Boothia

The Arctic Journal of Chief Factor

Peter Warren Dease 1836-1839

Edited by William Barr

McGill-Queens Press 322pp. $49.95

ISBN: 0-7735-2253-0

Peter Warren Dease is not a brick in the wall that is the Northern Historical Hall of Fame. Such distinction befalls Franklin, Back, Richardson and Hearne, men whose names are likely familiar to the general public.

But Chief Factor Dease is part of the mortar between those bricks and the very reason they have held together so solidly. And Edmonton-based historian William Barr, continues his superb work editing manuscripts from Canada’s historical north and throwing a spotlight on those, like Dease, who deserve it.

But Chief Factor Dease is part of the mortar between those bricks and the very reason they have held together so solidly. And Edmonton-based historian William Barr, continues his superb work editing manuscripts from Canada’s historical north and throwing a spotlight on those, like Dease, who deserve it.

In fact, it was Dease, assisted by the young and arrogant Thomas Simpson, nephew of HBC inland governor George Simpson — another man not known for his small sense of self, who from 1836-1839 filled a crucial gap in the geographical knowledge of the north, namely from Point Barrow to the Boothia Peninsula.

Those familiar with George Douglas’ Lands Forlorn will well know their exploits. Douglas followed part of their route 70-odd years later. Fort Confidence, situated at the northeast corner of Great Bear Lake was the winter quarters built for Dease’s party. As the accompanying photos illustrate, it lasted for 65 years or so before being taken apart for the wood or burned down. Hornby and Melville overwintered nearby just before Douglas’ arrival in 1911.

This book marks the first time Dease’s journal has been published. His field notes were held by a private collector in Montreal and Dr. Ian MacLaren first transcribed and analyzed them. They were then combined with Dease’s journal from the McCord Museum in Montreal and William Barr then took up the large task of assembling everything into this fascinating book.

Of course, such detailed historical books are primarily the domain of the academic. But many northern canoeists, whether they possess the credentials of academe or not, are in their own way historical researchers. Such seeming details make a northern trip some alive since, in many cases, the mode of travel and the hardships faced are so similar.

And Dease was in need of the PR help that Dr. Barr seems so willing to dispense. Born 20 years before the younger Simpson, that may account for the problems the pair had. Dease was 48 when the trip started. American born, he had worked for the XY Company and Northwest Company and accompanied Franklin on his second northern expedition as the HBC representative.

Simpson had joined the service after graduating from university in Scotland. He travelled with his uncle and work at several posts demonstrating great physical abilities. When it came to the natives, the pair could not have been more different. Dease, like his famed predecessor David Thompson, understood and appreciated their  talents, while Simpson showed no such compassion or knowledge.

Their trip was unique in that it marked the first time the Hudson’s Bay Company has undertaken such a venture in the exploration of the northern coast. They did so to ward off criticism of their charter privilege, their lack of improvements to the region and the consuming public interest in continued northern exploration.

It was the height of the great age of northern explorers. London buzzed with the names of Back, Franklin, Ross, Richardson, and the amazingly irritating Dr. Richard King. It was King, surgeon to

Cont'd next column

Cold Summer Wind II

20 Years of Canoe Camping North of 60

By Clayton Klein

Wilderness Adventure Books

Manchester, MI, 168pp. US$17.50

ISBN: 0-923568-49-2

Despite its subtitle, Cold Summer Wind II is really about canoeing the “little sticks’ country north and south of 60˚ in northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba and southern Nunavut.

That area, which is still largely wilderness, has a great canoeing history and it good to see author Klein tapping into that. He features some tales of Ragnar Jonsson, a legendary trapper in the region for 60 years. He must be quite a hero to Klein, who like Jonsson was also paddling into his 80s. Klein reprints, from another author, a

colourful (and fanciful) account of Ragnar’s pursuit of a demon wolverine who had been stealing from his traps and creating a huge nuisance. Great reading and the stuff of Jack London novels!

Many of the tales are of shorter trips throughout the region and include the Lockhart, Ross and Anderson rivers and even the mighty Pike’s Portage out of the eastern end of Great Slave Lake. He also spends some considerable time looking for a rumoured WWII Japanese communication facility! And there is also a trip to Alaska thrown in.

The trips usually consists of Clayton’s son Darrell and daughter-in-law Deborah. In later years they took to paddling solo boats, the famed Monarch, made by another amazing elderly paddler from the US Midwest Verlen Kruger.

The writing is straight forward and informative. And his writing of dialogue has improved with age, though it’s not the reason to buy the book.

I was surprised to still see Klein’s camping outfit still consisting of pack frames and five gallon pails but I guess if you’re happy with something and it works, you stick with it.

Clayton Klein truly loves the north and wonders why some people catch what he calls Arctic Fever.

“Now I think I know,” he writes. “In canoeing strange and little-known river systems including crossings from one river headwaters to another , where no trails exist, one is often facing and overcoming the forces of nature.”

                                            — Michael Peake

Barrow to Boothia cont'd

Back’s expedition, who tried in 1836 to head another expedition to the area to rescue the overdue Ross but so infuriated everyone with his pushy manner, he got nowhere. (Ed. Note: The HACC did his proposed inland “rescue” route in 1995.) So with all that going on, Simpson and Dease set out in the summer of 1836 for a what became a three year exploration of the missing piece of the northern map.

Wintering over the first year at Fort Chipewayan the headed west to Point Barrow while Fort Confidence was being constructed. They returned to the Great Bear and headed eastward the next two years - through the Lands Forlorn route - and back again to Confidence.

One can only imagine how strong and tough the men of this era were. Reading Dease’s notes on coming up the Coppermine River in September 1839, heading back to civilization, is an eyeopener.

They hauled the boat up the swift Coppermine to the Kendall River, some 80 miles, in four days. Dease got too far ahead one day and spent the night out in the freezing cold alone or “alfresco” as he puts it. They then cached the boat and walked back to Great Bear Lake. As one who has ventured along that ground - I can tell you it’s tough going and here it is a mere footnote to the rest of the amazing story.

The book is arranged with an entertaining backbone of introductions to each chapter as it follows the expedition through its different phases. The people who did the work do the talking in a mixture of letters, journal entries, post journals  and assorted info and footnotes; all-in-all a concise and superb job done in the service of history.

— Michael Peake


Fort Confidence Crumbles



Dease and Simpson's Fort Confidence as seen by Hanbury in 1902 was still standing.


Photo: David Hanbury




By 1911, George Douglas found the buildings burned down and only chimneys remaining.




Photo: George Douglas


In 1991, the forest had grown up considerably and only two chimneys were standing.






Photo: Michael Peake

 Autumn 2002         Outfit 110 

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