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  • Ontario, Canada

William Logan’s 1845 Field Notes

William E. Logan’s 1845 Survey of the Upper Ottawa Valley

Edited and Introduced by Charles H. Smith and Ian Dyck, Mercury Series, 2007

It is rare to have an early eye-witness account of a river’s shoreline.  Sir William Logan’s day-by-day field journal notes, as he canoes through this stretch of the Ottawa River around our “Big Bend”, is a fascinating read.  It is highly recommended for both the history buff and those interested in his observations about the river landscape. These field notes were cataloged and laid to rest in old archives until Charles Smith and Ian Dyck  brought them to light in this excellent volume.

While traveling up one of the most historic waterways in Canada, Logan’s notes describe a period when the fur trade was in decline, the lumber trade was nearing its peak and the Valley was being settled by Scottish and Irish immigrants, United Empire Loyalists and French Canadians.

From the back cover of the book:    “Sir William Edmond Logan was one of Canada’s great scientists, whose pioneering geology produced many benefits for Canada.  He laid the groundwork for the Geological Survey of Canada, the Canadian museum of Nature, the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Canadian Museum of Science and Technology.

This volume presents Logan’s field journal, written as his party explored and mapped the Ottawa River from Lachine to the head of Lake Timiskaming, and from the mouth of the Mattawa River to Lake Nipissing.

The journal is sprinkled with fascinating stories of daily life during the expedition – how the field party lived, worked and traveled the people they met, and the social and economic conditions of the time. In place of a camera, Logan supplemented his notes with sketches of the landscape and geological features.”

Over five months, he and his 6-man party; including a Mr. John McNaughton a land surveyor, paddled and portaged their two birch bark canoes.  McNaughton was important in his own right and knew the area well. His signature appears on a land survey map of Westmeath peninsula area of 1836. He also served as a Crown Land Agent and signed a number of Crown Land Patent documents in Westmeath Township.

We present here a few excerpts from the book:

Monday 18 August 1845:

Logan meets a Mr. Nagle who is the engineer in charge of  the timber slides in the Calumet area, (present day Rocher-Fendu  whitewater rafting area):

“The scenery among the rocks & waterfalls of the Calumet is very grand.  The river is split into a multitude of channels & each is supplied with a thundering cataract or rapid. 

“The rocks are metamorphic limestone & the river is in the strike of the measures & displays among other things a fault of some importance.

“Several parts of Mr. Nagle’s works gave way this spring but the unusual height of the river renders this not surprising.  It is more than 20 feet above the present level.  The lumbermen abuse him through thick & thin.” 

Logan had already heard of Mr. Nagle on August 1st when passing the mouth of the Madawaska River (Arnprior):

 “Mrs. Barrett is a Scotchwoman from Douglas in the vicinity of Lanark; and she is mighty talkative & soon launched into an abuse of Mr. Nagle, the gentleman appointed by the Board of Works to make a slide here at the High Falls on the Madawaska. One of their booms broke in the spring  & 10,000 pieces of lumber coming against one end of the dam carried it away & the timber drifting down the falls has jammed in several of them to the great detriment of the lumbermen some of whom will be ruined.  

“Mrs. Barrett is a regular Scotch boddie.  Her hens come and go in the house as if it were their own, & the pigs poke in their noses occasionally, but with some fear & trembling?  They come forward a step & give a grunt & stop a little & look about & then another step & another grunt & another scrutiny, but prudently retire again before a kick comes to them.”

Wednesday 20 August 1845

 “We camped on Mr. McNaughton’s land where his mill was recently burned. It has a sadly desolate aspect.  It is supposed Mr. McNaughton’s mill was maliciously burnt.  It was built by an American who made £300 by it, but in consequence of some disputed matter he put his curse upon it & prognosticated that it would never thrive.  He used to land his goods & teams at the place, but he has never once visited it since it was burnt.  He has always since then proceeded to a more inconvenient landing place higher up & has also begun to build a mill for himself.”

McNaughton had a mill and a farm in the Rocher Fendu area east of Foresters Falls.

“The night is most beautiful…….   “The stillness is great.  We hear the fish now and then leaping, a distant fox is occasionally heard to bark, & the rush of the rapids some distance above us now & then swells slightly on the ear”

Thursday  21 August  1845: 

“Mr.Prior upon whom we called is building a mill on these rapids.  He had an unfinished mill at the place before, which was carried away in the spring.  The difference of level between the top & the bottom of the portage he says was then 10 feet.

“Above Prior’s the river splits into a great many channels forming multitude of islands which are increased in number when the water is high.”

Friday 22 August 1845:

 “I staid at the house of the slide agent, a nephew of the proprietor.  He is a fine fellow & was fishing when we arrived.  I could not but admire the graceful & dextrous manner in which he managed his canoe when coming towards shore.

“In the Northwest fashion there is a female of Indian blood living with him in the house which is not yet finished, there being but one room in the whole.  There is no chimney up yet so the cooking is carried on out of doors, I brought my own tea and things in the house & my air bed with the filling of which the lady of the house was much amused.  We have a pair of bellows, with which we puff away for half an hour before the bed is ready.”

Saturday 23 August 1845:

“While at breakfast Mr. Bernard paid us a visit.  He is Sir George Simpson’s pilot, a half savage 60 year old.  He is an Algonquin & to our men speaks French not understanding the Iroquois.”

Jean Baptiste Bernard worked for the North West Company before 1811 and was retained by the Hudson Bay Company (HBC) after the merger of 1821.  He was known as “diligent, attentive, sober, good-natured and well acquainted with the route….an excellent steersman.”

In 1828 he had accompanied Governor Simpson, Governor–in-chief of the HBC, to and from the Columbia River.  During the 1840s Bernard was attached as a “Goer and Comer” to the Fort Coulonge District, where he was often called upon to act as a guide for parties traveling into the interior.

Sunday 24 August 1845:

“On a walk through the woods near the Calumet, Mr. McNaughton pointed out to me a plant which he called the chocolate plant.  The root is cut into slices lengthways & boiled & the resulting decoction is said with sugar to be very like chocolate.”

Tuesday 26 August 1845:

“We have reached Fort Colonge [Fort Coulonge] & I have procured wool cloth on the strength of Sir George Simpson’s letter of introduction from a very fair haired young man who said he was a relation of Dr. Trail’s, but who resembles Sir George Simpson in the build.”   

Gov. Simpson extended HBC assistance to travellers by means of a letter of introduction “instructing HBC staff to assist the bearer in every possible way.”

The original Fort Coulonge begun as a NWC post was located on the northeast shore of Lac Coulonge, near  the mouth of the Coulonge River,  close to present day Davidson, PQ.   In 1829, Alexander Sherriff observed that the HBC’s establishment consisted of “a double row of neat white washed buildings”, and across the river, on the Upper Canada side, a farm of 60  or 70 acres. The post was finally closed in 1855.  The farm frontage (“The Poupore Farm”), on the Ontario side is on Malloy Ba y and owned by Dawn Anderson on the Bromley Line.

Wednesday 27 August 1845

Logan as a field geologist, continues to collect rock specimen and fossils.

“Yesterday….gathered two boxes full of fossils [boxes 28 and 29] which took me to 2 o’clock to pack.  Then came dinner & now near 5 o’clock.  We are on our way further up Lake Coulonge.  We shall not make much progress, but we shall perhaps get to another fossiliferous spot some mile or two further up and camp again. 

“I went out fishing in the canoe last night.  We speared 2 sturgeon, 2 pike, an eel & a carp.  We have stopped near Romain’s Point now about 7 p.m.  (Fig.28).  Bears have been committing depredations on Romain’s  oats & two of my Indians Carahoto & Sanorace have gone to watch for them.  They are rather late.  Just at sunset is the proper time.”

Thursday 28 August 1845:

“The Indians returned this morning about 5 a.m. after having watched all night.  They saw nothing of the bears.  Romain & another man watched with them.  There was rather too much wind they say.”

At present-day Hennessy Bay sand point:   “We have just had a regular battle for some black ducks which we saw on opening a deep bay across a narrow projecting point between it & the main channel of the river. Our canoe remained at the mouth with a gun & a rifle while I went up across the point.  I found two of the ducks with their heads under their wings &, being a pot luck hunter, let drive.  I wounded them both & then shot them dead with two more shots having to load while one of the ducks was under the water.

“We have reached the lower end of Alumet Island [Allumette Island or L’Ile aux Allumettes]. The land on both banks of the river is flat & makes beautiful farms.

“There is a point on the Lower Canada side (Algers clearing) which is beautiful land between the mountains and the river.  Widow Alder [Alger] has a very neat house.

“Mr McNaughton & I walked to the falls of the Black River about 1½ miles distant, where there is an exposure of Primary rocks.  The cascade is very pretty.  The water may be precipitated 70 or 80 feet.  There is a lumber slide at the place by which one stick of timber can be sent down one at a time.” (In the lumber trade, a stick was a log squared on four sides.)  

“Mr. McNaughton says he has seen 10,000 pieces of timber jammed in the chute.   There is a clearing by the chute occupied by Mrs. Pierce  & her son.

“We made for the top of the bank expecting a good path.  In our way we met with a great lot of brambles with good berries upon them. I feasted on them for 10 minutes at least & saw McNaughton who is amazingly fond of berries of all kinds very busy at them.

“We crossed the [Ottawa] River to Mr. Spotswood’s & put into his charge boxes 28 & 29 paying him 2/6 for their carriage to the Calumet whither he will be going on Monday.  He is busy cutting or rather stacking his meadow hay.

“We proceeded upwards to Pockets Rapids [Paquette Rapids], where there is a great exposure of the Ottawa at one place where it boils up from under a solid bank with the breadth of 50 yards and a depth which I could not ascertain; but McNaughton thinks that one third of the river comes out.

“Sending the canoe round the outside of the island where this occurs, McNaughton, McDougall & I walked up a channel where the limestone was beautifully exposed; and a multitude of fossils were visible.

“I shall make a great collection here & probably stop several days for the purpose.”

Friday 29 August 1845:

Logan stayed in the picturesque Paquette Rapids area, north of the Village of Westmeath for nearly a week collecting samples from the rich geologic treasures of the area before moving upstream into Lower Allumette Lake.

“[We are] still at Pockets Rapids. Sanorace & Carahoo went out fishing last night & speared two fish, a large pike & a large carp.

“I have been at my fossils all day & have made a great collection.  I have cut a great many out by means of a hammer & chisel & have smashed the skin of my hand in many places. I missed my chisel  & hit my hand twice – good swinging blows.  I worked twelve hours hammering like any stone mason, with nothing to eat, & not returning until I could see no more. Rain threatens – no fish spearing tonight.”

Sunday 31 August 1845:

“We got 20 fish last night namely 4 large sturgeon, 2 carp, 2 pickerel, 2 pike, 1 black bass, 1 rock bass, with other kinds.  We got 1 muskrat also.”

Monday 1 September 1845:

“Having made a considerable collection of fossils it has become necessary that I should pack them.  It is a most tedious job, for the fossils are very fine & very delicate.

“They will be easily broken so I must pack with much care. It has taken me the whole day to fill two boxes of 60 to 70 lbs. weight each [boxes 30 and 31].  The boxes in a part of their descent to Montreal will have to suffer carriage by wagon. This might shake them & roll their contents together & grind away their beauty.”

Wednesday 3 September 1845:

“I have packed 2 more boxes [boxes 34 and 35]. My back is nearly broke with stooping & I have positively broken my camp stool which is a great misfortune. 

“Oh my back!  I cannot stand up straight, but I have secured an admirable collection of fossils.”

Thursday 4 September 1845:

“Mr McNaughton speaks of a mineral spring & petrifying spring which we are to go see.

“We have come some 2 or 3 miles on our way up & have lodged our seven boxes No. 30 to 36 with Mr Chamberlain of Westmeath to be forwarded to the Calumet.

“Having passed all the rapids of Pockets Rapids we have pitched our tent above Mr. [Caleb Strong] Bellow’s clearing on a sandy point [Sand Point] not far from a great marsh.”

Caleb Bellows was Reeve of Westmeath Township in 1837, 1838 and 1843.  He also become the district’s first Postmaster.  Bellows Bay on Allumette Lake is named for him.  The Westmeath Provincial Park now preserves the great marsh Logan refers to in his notes.

Friday 5 September 1845:

The party heads inland from Bellows Bay to the current Lookout Road area:

“Mr McNaughton, Mr. McDougal & I have been to the petrifying spring, which is no petrifying spring at all.  It is about 3 miles from where our tent is.  It is on the land of Mr. Litle [Little], an Irishman with a great tongue, who keeps a tavern near the spot.    He undertook to pilot us to the spring, which is in the wood, not half a mile or even a third of a mile from his clearing.  But he took us round & round in the wood a mile & a half before he hit on the place.

“The number of turns Mr. Little made in the word quite confused his notion of the points of the compass & when we started to return he insisted upon taking one way while all the rest of us determined that the right way was to the contrary.  So off we went in contrary directions.  We got out of the wood some 20 minutes before him, & he would not have got out at all had he not after some toil & trouble found out his mistake, returned upon his steps and followed our track.”

“Walking thence we got a good ducking, & arrived at Mr. Bellows who would have us stop & dine with him, to eat a bite to support nature as he expressed it.

 “Mr. Bellows has a pretty good house for this part of the world.  There are several rooms in it & he has a fine family. One of his daughters officiated as cook on the occasion & by means of a very good cooking stove soon got pork & potatoes & tea ready, with toast & butter & bread.  I doffed my wet jacket & my wet beef shoes & my wet stocking & hung them all up by the stove to dry.  Mr. Bellows lent me a pair of stockings & slippers & so I dined in my red flannel shirt sleeves.  Mr. Bellows has a garden and he gave us a melon, not a very good one, but I took two slices notwithstanding.  He produced some red plums also, which he said were not ripe, neither were they, but I ate a dozen of them notwithstanding.  No doubt they grow wild in the neighbourhood.”

Beef shoes:  this was the everyday footwear made in the style of Aboriginal moccasins, but using cow hide or horse hide, and European shoemaking techniques.  Such shoes were common in Quebec from the mid-1600s until the late -1800s.

“Mr Bellows says the land here about produces 20 bushels of wheat to the acre on an average.  He has very excellent land on a flat about 6 feet above the highest water, which produces much more.  There was a capital crop of potatoes on it.  It has given 4 tons of hay to the acre.  The price of hay is here seldom under £3 per ton.

“Mr. Samuel Adams, who is settled in the vicinity, and has a mill, used to grind some 10,000 bushels of wheat annually until another mill was erected. How much the two divide between them I have not been informed. Moffatt is the name of the other person who has a mill.  Mr. Bellows has the post office.”

Saturday 6 September 1845:

“Sunshine broke out after a few showers & we visited one or two points on the way up, particularly Mr. Moore’s clearing, where there was a report of black lead,  there is a little & we got a sample, but it would not be worth working.

“Mr. [William] Moore is a Scotch man, no doubt.  In his house was an old woman & a younger one no doubt his wife & the other one his or her mother. The old woman was reading a newspaper by which I found an attempt has been made to plunder some Chinese traders on the way home & that the Great Britain has got across the Atlantic in 14 days.

“Above Moore’s we touched at one or two more points & then reached the Allumette Rapids.  The fall in these is about 12 feet.

“We got to the head of Becket’s Portage about 3 p.m. & then had dinner.  Then Mr. McNaughton & I started to make a tour of the larger (Morrison Island) of the three islands which stand between the channels.

“The Indians have been out spear fishing.  They have got 4 sturgeon, 1 pike, 1 carp & 11 swordfish.  One of the sturgeons measures 4 ft. 6 inches & another about 5 feet.”  (The swordfish is likely a longnose gar.)

Sunday 7 September 1845:

“6 a.m.  We have had rain all night; our fire is dead out & it is cold.

Logan would camp that evening with “a good view from our point of a part of the village of Pembroke.”