National Geographic : 1939 May
GENTLE FOLK SETTLE STERN SAGUENAY On French Canada's Frontier Homespun Colonists Keep the Customs of Old Norman Settlers By HARRISON HOWELL WALKER With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author SAGUENAY, Quebec's northern fringe of civilization, is a rough land of gentle folk. From glacier-gouged Lake St. John to rocky Tadoussac, the Saguenay River, which gives the region its name, flows through fjordlike country to meet the broad St. Lawrence almost 120 miles north east of the city of Quebec* (map, pages 598-9). Montagnais Indians, only inhabitants until a hundred years ago, called it "The Kingdom of the Saguenay." As early as 1535 their stories of gold and copper mines tempted Jacques Cartier to explore the land that he discovered. But the savage Sague nay River, the realm's ancient highway, discouraged him after he almost lost a ship in the treacherous currents. Survivors of "The Kingdom" have con centrated on the Indian reservation at Pointe Bleue on Lake St. John. Their chief, Joseph Kurtness, chatted with me one day. "So you're from the States, eh? New York?" he asked. "No, I'm from Washington, D. C." "Washington. I used to guide Colonel Theodore Roosevelt on hunting trips up here. I believe he came from Washington." The chief spoke English well. I asked where he learned it. "I picked it up when I was in France with the Canadian troops, and then I was a streetcar conductor in Bridgeport, Con necticut, for several years." INDIANS LIVE IN TENTS ALL YEAR Most of the reservation's 75 families are engaged in fur trading, the Dominion's old est industry. The Hudson's Bay Com pany trading post stakes them to grub and equipment early each autumn when they * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Old France in Modern Canada," by V. C. Scott O'Connor, February, 1935; "Gaspe Peninsula Won derland," by Wilfrid Bovey, August, 1935; and "Quebec, Capital of French Canada," by William Dow Boutwell, April, 1930. leave for hunting grounds several hundred miles west and north of Lake St. John. All winter they live in tents, working their trap lines and braving 40-below-zero weather. With spring they return to sell their furs, pay back the trading post, and spend the rest of their money on a few nec essaries and many good times. Next au tumn they start all over again from scratch. I found Montagnais Indians living under canvas and in small wooden houses at Pointe Bleue, their summer quarters. One family invited me into a tent where father was shaping a snowshoe frame with a jack knife, mother and daughter were stripping moose skin for laces, and little brown chil dren were crawling over the floor of bal sam boughs (Plate XII). I offered to bacco to the man; the woman licked her wrinkled lips. Her eyes twinkled as she, too, filled her pipe. TRAPPER TAKES TAXI TO WORK I watched one Indian pack up for his long winter of hunting and trapping. Con trary to custom, he was going alone. Into a hired car he put five 100-pound bags of flour, canned foods, a slab of bacon, a hunk of pork, a tin stove, some canvas, two pairs of snowshoes, a gun and am munition. A canoe was lashed on top (page 597). The automobile taxied him round the lake to the Peribonca River. Here he loaded his canoe and started upstream on his long, hard, lonely journey. Each por tage meant several trips. Perhaps in two months he would reach his hunting ground. And then his work would begin! Not until the spring of 1838 did coloniza tion of the Saguenay begin in earnest. White men from La Malbaie (Murray Bay) sailed up the river aboard the schooner Sainte Marie (page 610). At Grande Baie, about sixty miles from the Saguenay's mouth, they disembarked, cleared land, built log huts, set up sawmills. That autumn their families joined them (Plate II).