The Wood Runners

By 1721, the very lifeblood of New France, the fur trade, was on the brink of disaster. The market in France was glutted and fur shipments were no longer being accepted. The King (Louis XIV) had tried in many ways to establish industry in the colony and control it to his benefit but had largely failed, at times because of lack of materials, at times lack of industriousness on the part of the colony itself. Various monetary systems were tried, even to the point of creating “card money” yes, literally marking playing cards with a stamp.

It did not take long for some of the men in the colony, who became known as the “coureurs des bois”, already hardened by the fur trade, to start trading for themselves. They knew they would have to compete with the Indian fur traders and to this end, ventured further inland looking for new trapping grounds thus stimulating western exploration. The royal reaction was to turn these men into outlaws and create trading licenses. Each license allowed the departure of two canoes loaded with goods. Only one canoe was allowed afterwards bearing 3 men and 400 pounds of freight. The licenses were sometimes sold for the profit of government and sometimes given to widows of officers, the hospital or other people in need.  At times, they would be sold privately to merchants or voyageurs. The licenses were valid for a year and a half, with each canoeman sharing in the profits which could be considerable, providing you didn’t drown first.

The bane of the fur trade was the running off of the young men into the woods, at one time 800 disappeared following the call of Daniel Dulhut. The fear was that they would not resettle and help to build the colony. The way of life was one of adventure and freedom, many adopting the ways of their native brothers. Unlike the natives though, they had a better capacity for the brandy which was part of the trading deal. An inebriated Indian could always be cheated in an unfair trade deal.  It was considered to be one the “tools of the trade”. The reason this continued was the fear of losing the young men to the English traders or driving them away from the Church.

The King had ordered that whipping and branding be given for the first offence of trading without a license and being sent to the galleys  for the second offense. Nothing the intendant Duchesneau did could prevent the debauchery and lawlessness. Therefore, siegneuries were abandoned, wives left behind and children ran about in the streets as men gathered and disappeared into the forest. They could be gone for years out of the reach of the law. Montreal  was the headquarters for the fur trade. When a party of “coureurs des bois” returned, the settlement would turn into a place of revelry and debauchery. The men would bedeck themselves in a blend of French finery and Native decoration, always with a sword at their side, the women following suit. Of course, after the celebration was over, confessions were heard and penances issued for the Church could not afford to lose any more souls.

One of the most famous coureurs des bois was Daniel Greysolon Dulhut who was a noblemen and career soldier from Lyon, France. His mission was to create a peace between the western Indian tribes and the French while fortifying areas that were under threat by the English and Iroqouis. To this end, he fortified the fort at Michillimakinac, Michigan and built Fort William on Lake Superior and later, Fort St. Joseph. He made an enemy of the intendant Duschsneau for disobeying the orders of the King and was slandered by La Salle in order to gain a monopoly on exploration rights for New France. In spite of this, he was able to secure the authority of New France in the Great Lakes area. He died in Montreal in 1710, leaving a part of his fortune to Charles Delauney who had cared for him. The city of Duluth, Minnesota is named after him.

It is likely that at this point, the ending of the 17th century and with the rise of the coureurs des bois a new nation started to form in New France, that of the Metis as they took  “country wives”, women they had children with but did not marry. Eventually, the coureurs des bois would fade away and in their place came the “voyageur”, a man whose business it was to legally transport goods up into the “pays des haut”.

There were several voyageurs in the family of which I would like to find out more. For now I will just list some. Francois Beauchamp, Michel Beauchamp, Joseph Beauchamp, Antoine Beauchamp, Pierre Beauchamp, Augustin Beauchamp, Hubert Beauchamp and Jean Beauchamp, very likely the son or grandson of our original settler. There were also voyageurs in my grandmother’s family (Daigneault), Richard Daigneault was one of them. Below are some maps of the fur trade hub lakes taken from a book by Eric Morse, Fur Trade Routes of Canada/Now and Then.

Fur Trade Routes Out of Lake Athabasca

Lake Superior Fur Trade Routes E. Morse

Lake Superior Trade Routes

Lake Winnipeg Fur Trade Routes. Eric Morse

Lake Winnipeg Trade Routes

Sources included but not limited to :
Francis Parkman, The Old Regime in Canada
Francis Parkman,  Pioneers of France in the New World
Canada: The Fur Trade at Lachine
St. Boniface Historical Society-Voyageur Contracts 
PRDH-University of Montreal
Genealogy Quebec
Ancestry.ca
Virtual Museum of New France

Whither Thou Goest . . .

In 1906 my grandfather, Richard Walker Phillips, was granted a land patent in the tiny hamlet of Magnet, Manitoba, Canada. The town was surrounded by 3 lakes; Lake Dauphin to the west, Lake Winnipegosis to the north and Lake Manitoba to the east, as you will see below.

Magnet, Manitoba Location

When it was first settled in the 1880’s, it was primarily inhabited by Ojibway and Cree people who proved to be of invaluable help to the early settlers. In fact, I have often thought on how the line was blurred between my mother’s upbringing and that of a native child. Of course, a certain social divide was maintained but growing up on the land was something they all had in common. One of my aunts just recently told me that she used to gather seneca root (snakeroot) to sell when she was a child. Seneca was used initially for snake bite but was later used as part of medicinal formulas to treat bronchitis. During the depression it was gathered to provide income for the farmers.

To obtain a land grant you first had to register and meet the requirements of the “Dominion Land Act“. That stipulated that you must clear 10 acres within 3 years or lose the land. Since Richard was working on a farm in Portage la Prairie in 1911, I assume he found time to clear the land in Magnet while he was working there. By 1915, he and my grandmother, Jane Gartshore Smith, were living in Wellwood, Manitoba and were married at the Methodist Church in Neepawa.  By this time, Sophie Phillips, Richard’s sister, had come to the area and married Richard Mason. Now, you had George, Sophie and Richard all living in the same area.

Sophie Phillips Mason and family

Sophie Phillips Mason and family

By 1916, Richard and Jane had come by wagon to the homestead with their new baby, George Holmes, the third. I have seen a picture of the log house they built with laundry hanging on the line outside of it.  Whatever, my grandmother felt about the new life she had signed up for, she apparently was not lowering the standards she had learned in Glasgow. Her house never did fall into that state of country homeliness that I found in so many of my friends homes. Rather, it had a somewhat spartan air about it, comfortable but everything in it’s place. Of course, I only knew her when she was in her 70’s, what her house was like when she had 7 children running around I don’t know. Somehow I don’t see it being too different. Later in life, she acquired some lovely furniture, but kept it all tucked away in her tiny front room. No one could enter unless it was time for Don Messer’s Jubilee or the Tommy Hunter show.

There are a few things to think about here. One is how one makes it in these circumstances, not just physically but mentally. I have moved many times in my life and each time was full of expectation and hope for the future. AND a leaving behind of the problems that got you moving in the first place. So it goes that the hardship in setting up a new place is an adventure and a fresh experience. Leaving a life of service and the grime of an industrial city for the fresh air and freedom of a new land would be a great incentive for Jane. For my grandfather, Richard, the loss of both his parents and a beloved grandfather, would drive him and his siblings overseas.

But first, you had to worry about shelter, heat and water. My grandfather got the shelter built, they would probably have had a wood stove of some kind (with the accompanying threat of fire) and water hauled from the creek . There was still a leg-hold trap under the sink when I visited as a teen-ager which my crawling brother almost got into.  For food, everything was there, if you wanted to go and get it. There was fish in the lakes, deer and moose to be hunted, and berries to be picked in spring.

I cannot be sure if my grandmother’s cooking was the same when she was older as before but we had some pretty plain food. She always gave a farm breakfast, eggs, porridge, toast and tea. But you were likely to get crabapple preserves with cream for lunch, including the stem and all (with a few cloves thrown in for good measure). At night you might have a meal of “mince”, which was basically simmered ground beef thickened with flour.  As a ravenous teen, I did not appreciate my mother carrying on this tradition! Jean would have had to cook for the men during harvest as well. Her later house in Ochre River, only had a tiny root cellar in it where her preserves were stored. At times it would fill with water if the sump pump failed.

Meeting Gramma Jean (I'm the baby)

Meeting Gramma Jean at 4 months

In 1916, Richard and Jane had the brother in law, George living with them. He spent most of the remainder of his life with them; though he had his own farm and when he wasn’t travelling back to Ireland or making trips to Winnipeg. He did meet a girl and marry once, but she wasn’t for that kind of life. The sister, Sophie took up residence on a neighboring farm. She had taken up nursing when she was young and delivered some of her nephews and nieces. When her husband died, she even ended up marrying a man from a neighboring farm. So, by this time they were surrounded by the people they would know for the rest of their lives.

By 1921, Dick and Jean were living on a different section of land with the 3 oldest children. Sometime around this period, a little girl was born who lived to be 4 years old (this told to me by my grandmother). I don’t know how she died and I have no certain record of her. Diphtheria was rife at that time and many families lost children to it.

George, Heather and Sheila Phillips c.1836

George, Heather and Sheila Phillips c.1936

At times like those, the community banded around each other. That is part of how you survived out there. They created there own social times, played hockey (even if a few eyes got knocked out) , had a women’s committee, which my Aunt Sophie belonged to and seasonal dances, played baseball in the summer when they weren’t swimming in the lakes. When my grandfather finally built a house, he had help from the neighbours. When it burned down, taking all my grandmother’s memories and money she was saving for a trip home, they helped him put another one back up. Later on, Dick and George would buy and sell cattle and horses, an activity they would have known something about since some of their Irish relatives did the same. In 1918, Dick belonged to the Orange Lodge in Wellwood.

Lodge-membership-R.W.

 

 

Uncle George St. Rose

George Phillips (dark suit on the right) at a Cattle Auction

In that environment, everything was new. The train line didn’t come into Magnet until 1924 and on that day there would have been great celebration, after all the work it took to clear the land and make way for it. It was 1921 when a pay phone was installed in the local store but it would be 1959 before home phones could be installed and 1996 before private lines were installed. I actually remember living in Dauphin, the nearest main centre in 1968 and finding out that other people were listening into my teen conversations!

Mail was of course delivered by horse and buggy in summer and sleigh in winter. Eventually post-offices were set up in private homes with the owners making bids for the privilege but eventually, in 1970, the mail was moved to the post office in Rorketon a near by town and you had to pick it up there. I remember my grandmother actually getting dressed up to walk down to the post office after she moved to Ochre River, another small town. It was only a block away but it was an outing for her. She was “going into town”. There she would meet and have a small conversation with the post mistress and meet her other neighbours. They always called her “Mrs. Phillips”.

Jane Smith Phillips c.1942

Jane Smith Phillips c.1942

My grandmother’s last pregnancy, with my mom, was a difficult one. She was 46 and the years had taken some toll on her health. My mother was the first child to be born in hospital ( if you want to call it that, it was part of the doctor’s house). My grandmother started to hemorrhage and it was a close call for both of them. I think that is one reason my grand mother called her Sheila JOY Richard Phillips. She was probably so glad to just get through it. Here is a pic of the darling little girl.

Sheila kitten 1942 c.r.

Sheila Phillips c. 1940

The horse below, Jessie, was the horse that my mother and her siblings rode to school. I say rode but Jessie (so named after Gramma’s oldest sister) knew the way back and forth. She would walk home by herself and come and get Mom when school was over. Mom rode her bareback. Mom never was afraid of horses, unlike her daughter!

Jessie and Mae Rev 2014

Jessie and Mae                      Sheila’s School Horses

 

Richard and Sheila c.1943

Richard and Sheila c.1943

Magnet School c.1942

Magnet School c.1942, Sheila top left

Magnet School c. 1945

Magnet School c. 1945   Sheila 3rd back right

By 1957, Dick and Jean had retired to Ochre River, Manitoba. I don’t know why they picked Ochre River, but there seemed to be many families of British extraction there. My grandfather bought half of an airport hotel (re-purposing buildings was a major activity there) and they set up house on a very pretty piece of property which sat on the highway going into Dauphin. There was a small river over to the side of it, called Ochre because the rock under it had that colour. That little river still wreaks havoc in the spring if it gets plugged with ice. In the late 60’s they were still pumping water and using the outhouse.

Richard, George and Jean Phillips c.1960

Richard, George and Jean Phillips c.1960

In Ochre River, they made many friends and lived out the rest of their lives. Family came and went including myself.  I remember sitting on the floor beside my grandmother as she sat knitting. I knew I would probably never get another chance to ask what it was like. She did not like talking about the past.
She said  ” Londa, the wind blew and the wolves were throwing themselves at the door. Your grandfather was away and I had to go out to see to the animals.”
“What about the kids? I asked her.
Well, there were 6 of them and I left them with the oldest.”
The oldest boy, George who had to help deliver one of her babies.
“But what about the wolves?”
“I just opened up the ” blammed” door and shot at them!”
There were always two guns in the house, one above the door and one standing in the corner.

In 1967, my grandmother was awarded a Pioneer Certificate of Recognition for her contributions to the settler community.

Pioneer Award for Jane Richard had passed away in 1964 at age 74. She joined him in 1975 at age 88. Until then, she lived in the little house by the river. This is one of my favorite photos of her, though poorly taken. It is Jane as I knew her.

Jane in front yard c.r.

This is my grandfather, Richard Phillips as I knew him.

Richard Phillips

They are both buried with old Uncle George in the Magnet Cemetery.

Headstone, Jane Phillips, Magnet, MB 2007

Headstone, Richard Phillips, Magnet, MB. 2007 Headstone, George Phillips, Magnet, MB. 2007