Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Snippet for WIPpet: Farewell to York Factory

This morning, three-foot icicles dangle outside my office window, about a foot of snow on the ground, and temperatures in the 20s promise a quiet day. I found an amazing article online by Eric W. Morse on Fur Trade Routes in Canada/Then and Now that includes notes from Sir John Franklin's journey up the Hayes River in 1819. 

So many details of Cat's journey downstream were simply wrong. I'd left out the first portages and the first waterfalls. Luckily I knew about the mosquitoes, so many, Franklin reports, that they were unable to shoot snow geese for dinner for they couldn't see through the clouds of mosquitoes. I've camped a time or two and swiped bees off my food, but imagine being out in the wilderness without Deet to ward off mosquitoes. I know. Toxic chemicals. But I'd rather not hear that nasty whine and barely can imagine "clouds" of mosquitoes. 

Except once when we traveled to Inuvik near the Arctic Circle and took a side trip to a small town just because its name was intriguing. We literally ran from the car to the tourist information center to escape that summer cloud of mosquitoes. Seriously. No camping. One night in a hotel and then back to White Horse.

Today's snippet for WIPpet Wednesday picks up the start of Cat's journey west from York Factory in Manitoba in the 1840s. Based somehow on the date, I give you five paragraphs for the 5 in 2015.

Cat sloshed over the muddy beach, waded into the Hayes River, and scrambled into one of the three boats, her legs dripping wet. She sat close to one of the mail packets in the middle of the 40-foot boat, well out of the way of the six oarsmen. Charles Alcorn nodded at her. “Heard you were coming, Cat.” Two ministers she didn’t know at all were bundled heavily with blankets over their coats, sitting behind Charles. Just off the ship from London, they swatted at the ever present mosquitoes and talked only to each other in low voices, as if they weren’t quite awake.

Back on shore, a group of men gathered around Mr. Mactavish and Mr. Hargrave to consult on last minute instructions. Then, three voyageurs carried Mr. John Rowand, a bear of a man, short but weighing over 300 pounds, out to one of the waiting boats. Once hefted into the York boat, he sat alone in the center, morose and nearly buried in blankets. Muchk had told Cat the Blackfoot called Rowand Iron Shirt, but he was also known as One Pound One. Some said for the way he walked with a decided limp; others for his temper. “Watch your way west,” Muchk had said. “He has a loud bark, but he has daughters.”

Mr. Hargrave and Mr. Mactavish stood with a few of the Cree to watch their departure. Cat looked for Muchk, but he was not there. She waved at Samuels as with a cheer, the York boats, heavily laden, launched into the Hayes River, turning south to the Nelson River and Norway House.

Samuels had shown Cat a map of the trip, his fingers tracing the route from York Factory, south some 200 miles on the Hayes River. Samuels tapped his finger at the Painted Stone Portage. "Ye'll have a bit of a walk here to get over to the Echimamish River, but it's easy going down the Nelson River to Norway House after that."

Cat didn’t really care about where the boats would go. She was finally leaving York Factory. She did not look back at the few who stood on the bluff above the river near York Factory. She shivered as she glanced at the burial ground south of the whitewashed buildings. I won’t think of it. May the child be at peace in this cold place, and may I never return.



York Factory 1853 (Wikipedia)

Check out what other writers have posted this morning for WIPpet Wednesday. Thank you, Emily Witt, for hosting! May 2016 bring you good reading, good friends, and happy endings.