The town on the north shore was now to enjoy a period of happy tranquility, enlivened from time to time by holidays and feasts which were always observed, and little were the inhabitants troubled by feud or quarrel.
The number of houses had grown to be between 3o and 4o, grouped around the stone house like chickens nestling about their mother. These all were exclusive of the Fort buildings which had been erected on the east bank of what is known as the Fort Creek, the graveyard of which now adjoins St. John’s Anglican Church.
Mr. Severight, who had been Bourgeois under the North West Company, became the Factor of the amalgamated concerns when, in 1823, the North West and Hudson’s Bay Companies joined forces, and he filled in his time when not on duty, with a round of calls and dinner parties, now at the American barracks, now at Johnston’s and again at Armitinger’s or at Schoolcraft’s, to which gatherings and their complimentary returns all eligible people were invited.
Schoolcraft, although taking occasion in his diaries to point out his disdain for these happy relaxations, nevertheless seems never to have missed an opportunity of being present with the rest. So much for the magnetism of a jolly party.
The Trading Post, less busy than in former times, when under the Frobishers and McTavishes, found labour for fewer men for now all supplies went by way of Hudson’s Bay to the interior as did the peltries which reached the outer world via Hudson’s Bay and England.
The people, however, eked out a happy existence, living on the taking of snare and net together with the product of their miniature gardens and the trifle dolled out to them for their assistance at the Fort when they were required.
Old Cagwayon, the Indian, who was said to have passed his hundredth birthday anniversary, still straight of limb and keen of eye, was wont to gather the little boys about him at Biron’s modest store and relate to them wonderful tales of his exploits when in the olden days, as a Brave, he had trodden the warpath with the fellow warriors of his tribe. Nor did the crafty narrator scruple to recount as his own exploits the deeds of daring on the part of others who had lived and died ere he was born.
It was ever so. Did he not tell them how he, with two others, threaded their silent way through the pine forest from Gros Cap to the Sault, to spy upon the Naud-o-ways as they tortured their victims by the Rapids of St. Mary’s ? And many like yarns did he spin which carried his fascinated auditors to the fires of death and to the camp of undoing. Then, having finished, he would rise and wrap his blanket about him and stalk away, this old man, in majestic silence. No wonder he was a hero among the habitants, though hardly regarded at all by the few whites.
Sassaba, whose name meant ” finery,” still strutted officiously through the American town, openly proclaiming his loyalty to his King, whom he could not renounce and whom he had served at the head of his tribe clad in the scarlet and gold uniform of a British officer, with sword, epaulettes and sash.
Good reason had he, indeed, for his dislike, for it was his brother who had been struck down by his side, when together under Tecumseh, they had fought the Americans at the Thames. But little by little did he realize that the country had passed into other hands and a gloomy sorrow settled upon him.
No longer did he appear on the street brilliant with martial decking.
The veil of civilization tumbled from him as the epaulettes from his shoulders.
Once more he was merely a Redman roaming the country, his only covering a great wolf skin which quite enveloped his body, the bushy tail dragging sullenly behind him.
From “Sassaba ” he became ” My-een-gun,” the wolf whose drinking bouts and ferocious ways made him ominously notorious, so that mothers hushed their papooses to rest with the threat, ” Lest the wolf get ye.”
My-een-gun’s fate was sad. Returning with several others from a drunken revel at Pointe aux Pins, his little barque was caught in the swirl of the Rapids and carried down to destruction. He, and his wife and child, were dashed to death. Odabit, an Indian who was with them managed, he knew not how, to reach the shore and crawl to safety, but Odabit’s wife, the last of of the party, shared the fate of the others.
So perished this old chieftain, Sassaba or Myeen-gun, whichever you please, and to his memory did the Indian agent weave this eleagic wreath :
” The falls were thy grave as they leapt mad along ;
” And the roar of their waters thy funeral song ;
” So wildly, so madly, thy people for aye ” Are rapidly, ceaselessly passing away ;
” They are seen but a moment, then fade and are past ;
” Like a cloud in the sky or a leaf in the blast ;
” The path thou hast trodden thy nation shall tread.
” Chief, warrior and kin to the land of the dead.
” And soon on the lake or the shores or the green,
” Not a war drum shall sound, not a smoke shall be seen.”
Shingwaukonce” the little Pine”was still a power in the land, nor was he for many a year, until 1856, to be called to take the journey to the ” Isles of the Blessed.” He was an orator of no mean ability, but better, like his son Augustin, he was a mighty man of valour. In 1812 he had summoned his bands around him and as speedily as he might had journeyed to the threatened frontier and had fought with Brock and Tecumseh’s followers at Queenston Heights.
M Biron who in 1820 had sent to Detroit a bill of goods for domestic use, kept the village store, the site of which is covered now by Etienne Jollineau’s home.
Armitinger, ready of wit, rough in manner, a shrewd trader, never lacking in hospitality, kept open house for all who came, while Mr. Severight, the Factor, who was alike magistrate and clerk with power to baptize, marry and conduct the prayers of the Church of England, which were read reverently in every Hudson’s Bay fort each Sunday, completed the list of men one would have likely meet in journeying through in the early 20’s.
In 1821 the first steamer made her appearance in the river.
She was not the first vessel of size, however, to reach the Sault, for in 1681 LaSalle, then in the hey day – of his prosperity, had brought his sailing craft, the ” Griffon,” around by the straits of Mackinac when he visited the mission in order to claim his own from the Fathers and at least one other craft that belonging to LaRonde Denys father and son had tossed upon St. Mary’s waters.
But a steamer was a thing unheard of and if the idea caused a sensation in older lands it is not to be wondered at if the same emotion was experienced at the foot of the Rapids.
Her coming had been anticipated and the settlers and Indians gathered on the shore to see.
Presently she appeared puffing smoke like some huge dragon of fable and pushing the waters frond her with her mighty paddles. The secret of her propulsion had been explained to the natives, but the sight of her approach proved to be too much for ordinary nerves, and one and all the Indians fled to the woods which closed in the town on every side But like all else in this world of miraculous commonplace the steamboat lost its terror inspiring powers and all went down to examine it and only some few of the visitors leapt ashore in fright on the sudden blowing of the primitive whistle.
The Walk-in-the-Water, for such was the name of this little craft, was short-lived, for in the same year was burned at her moorings at Detroit.
As though envious of the notoriety of this new kind of craft did the Napoleon, one of the old North West Company’s bateaux, seek to draw attention to herself and to her master.
On the union of the companies it was decided among other local matters that the bateau was no longer required on Lake Superior and M. Lamelin Picquet was deputed to bring her down the rapids. Picquet was a clever voyageur, but such a thing had not been done before in the memory of man, yet to receive instructions was to obey, and with a picked crew he proceeded along the old portage road to the head of the rapids where lay the disused boat.
Carefully she was pulled to a good position and began her perilous course. The people on both sides of the river gathered to see the end.
A false move, a slip of the pole and all would be lost. Faster and faster they rushed as the bateau gained momentum until speeding like a race horse she plunged into the rapids. Muscles were tightened to breaking point as she strained and groaned, pushing her sturdy way along ; on the shore the good people held their breath, and the Factor, no less moved though apparently undisturbed, watched every turn and toss.
Once she dove and was swallowed up in the angry waves and a gasp from the little handfull told their fear, but now she appeared again, her crew toiling and sweating in the agony of their exertion. Straight ahead she shot, a dexterous turn by the man at the stern and she hove into the still waters below the disappointed billows, and a shout of relief and joy went up from the throats of all at her safety and Picquet’s triumph.
Once again, this time by inexperienced men, were the rapids dared by a big boat. It was a sailing vessel whose master offered, in a moment of foolhardiness to bring her down the rushing Sault. The attempt was made and, according to the story of those living still who were in the village at the time, out of a crew of six, only three survived the venture.
It was about this time that Lieutenant-Colonel Cockburn, the Deputy Quartermaster General, when in attendance on Lieutenant-General the Earl of Dalhousie on a tour of inspection, made the following observation :
” On the Canadian side of the St. Mary’s River the North West Company (now the Hudson’s Bay) have a large establishment. There are several other houses * and one or two inhabitants of respectability
” There are some houses on the American side but not so many as on the Canadian side. (March, 1822).”
Although the country was under Christian influence many of the Indians still retained the customs handed down to them by their fathers.
And one of these customs was the readiness to barter away a wife or to leave her on the slightest excuse.
An example of this was furnished in the Sault in these early years where an Indian, who had been married some years, became tired of his squaw and setting his heart on a beautiful girl, of his tribe, determined to make the way clear for himself to wed.
Embarking the squaw and her two children in his canoe he journeyed up through the chain of western lakes and rivers, until reaching a tributary of the Red River wherein was a small island, he put his wife off with a few provisions and he and his children turned again to paddle home.
The poor creature was not long in realizing her position. She was out of the line of travel,. away from all probable help, the water about her was deep and she could not swim, but she immediately set to work and out of the small bark of the various trees she patched together a canoe, using the inner fiber of the spruce to sow and the spruce gum for filling, living meanwhile on roots and berries.
Many weeks were consumed by the weakened sufferer in her painfully slow task, but at last it was completed and with a bough for a paddle she started for home.
In the meantime the man had reached the Sault and taken to himself the coveted girl and settling down in his wigwam with his children and his new-found mate, he tried to forget his crime.
The time slipped by and he felt he was secure till one day when the ice had broken up and floated away over the rapids, the natives descried coming down the river a crazy craft in which was a dishevelled woman.
It was the discarded wife.
The man was angry and stormed with rage but the woman was silent.
She set to work and built a wigwam of bark and laid her snares and traps, uncomplainingly living alone as though the man had never been.
One day Nemesis came.
It was several years after and in the late Fall that the man took his gun and paddled away down the river to shoot game and return.
His new squaw awaited his coming but he did not appear. Fall advanced into Winter and the snow piled thick and deep. Men came and went on snowshoes, but no trace of the absent one was seen.
Finally came the Spring time, when a number of the inhabitants made their way from Sault Sainte Marie down the river to the Duck Islands for a Spring’s shooting.
There they found the remains of the missing Indian.
He, too, had landed on an island where the water was deep and his canoe had been washed away. After the manner of Indians he could not swim. No one passed by to whom he might shout for help, and there the fate he had intended for .his wife overtook himself. He starved to death.
The habits of the people were most primitive.
There was no place of worship.
The Hudson’s Bay officer was instructed to read the service of the Church of England once each Sunday, and he and his clerks would gather in the dining hall of the Fort and join their voices in the prayers of that wonderful liturgy, but the inhabitants were Roman and their nearest clergyman was on the Grand Manitoulin Island. Nor were the people on the south shore any better off, for though a chaplain was attached to the post, he found the people to be Catholics like the Canadians and they were not interested in his ministrations. Indeed, as late as 1843, we learn of an election on the American side of the river in which one of the candidates promised, if elected, to give a ” ball ” to last three days, while the other candidate promised, if he were returned, to have a resident priest appointed.
In the Spring of the year when the sun, strong in the day time, caused the vapor to rise from the river and the frost at night tightened its hold once more upon the imprisoned earth, would all leave their huts and journey to the maple bushes, for now was the time to gather the quick flowing life blood of the maple tree and to boil it down into sugar. Thcn might a stranger have passed through the deserted village and entered into any house, for bolts and bars were unknown, and no one thought of taking what was not his. In the Summer they acted as voyageurs for the various parties and expeditions that passed through these waters, and in the Fall and Winter they hunted and fished while the women indulged in the making of those wonderful moccassins, powder pouches and coats, whose dainty bead work has ever been the admiration of lovers of beautiful things. But Christmas Eve found most of the Saulteaux at home, and though no priest came to celebrate the midnight mass, still old M. Pereault gathered the people together and all knelt and bowed their heads in prayers and adoration to the New Born King.
Armitinger gave the land for a church and Hyacinthe Davieux and Raymond Boiseneault hauled the stone, but it never got beyond the foundations, for what did these know of building such a structure ?
All Saints’ Day and New Year’s Day were times of especial feasting. All occupation save that of enjoyment was suspended.
Schoolcraft, because not educated to observe the former feast, remarks in his very superior way that “the people are senseless and benighted.” Perhaps his feet were set in a larger room before his passing away.
White fish, herrings, pork and potatoes were the principle articles of diet among the people. Wheaten bread was a thing almost unknown and bread was made by the women folk from ground Indian maze. And how primitive was the mode of preparation ! Water poured into the bag of meal and mixed together with salt into an adhesive mass to be lifted out then and placed upon the red hot stones till the lump was thoroughly baked. Only the Factor was allowed wheat flour. Once a year was a bag of the precious product deposited by the Brigade at the Post for his use, and not until twelve months had come and gone again did another bag make its appearance.