“We Came in a Big Boat”: From Drummond Island to Penetanguishene

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Historian tells story of young girl who made the journey after the War of 1812 as Britain sought to strengthen its local presence

Author’s note: Here I found and told the story of Rosette Laramée, a 13-year-old girl who, with her parents, embarked on an amazing journey in a small two-horse boat. I tried to stick to his story as much as possible. Her story was told to AC Osborne later in life, and it says as much about what she doesn’t say as what she does. I have reduced her account to include only details about her and the trip.

In this case, the history of men is probably the least interesting of the lot. The men paddled the Great Lakes every year and Louis Lepine was a second generation traveler in the Great Lakes region. (His father Pierre was a governor and helmsman, of some repute having accompanied Franklin to the Arctic on an overland expedition.) The men knew the way to Penetanguishene and so had probably made the trip before.

Undoubtedly, Rosette’s main role, as an eldest, would have been to entertain and watch over the children, ensuring that they did not suffer accidents. Not so easy a task in a small boat with horses, also with potential dangers on land and water. So here she is and listen to her story. You will be amazed!

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After the War of 1812, the British Army sought a new location for a naval base on the Great Lakes. They chose Penetanguishene.

The British faced two other problems; many ancient travelers needed a new place to settle, and military bases flourished when there was an agrarian village nearby. The British decided to combine these problems and find the solution of moving travelers to Penetang. Land grants were made in and around Penetanguishene.

However, this warm-hearted group will have to find their own way to Penetanguishene, a distance of over 400 kilometres. The migration from Drummond Island at one end of Georgian Bay to the other end at Penetang began around 1828 as people left Drummond Island and came to Penetang.

AC Osborne, a local historian and newspaper publisher, collected oral histories based on the migration of these people and their families from Drummond Island. Here is the story of one of these trips, based on a story by Rosette Boucher (Laramée).

From AC Osborne Traveler Migration from Drummond Island to Penetanguishene:

“My maiden name was Rosette Laramée, born on Drummond Island on December 12, 1815, the year after the war.”

Drummond Island to Penetang

Rosette explains: “We left Drummond Island in April 1828, and we were at the sugar shack when some of the others had left. The Labattes left before the soldiers.

Drummond Island is at the western end of the North Channel, at least 400 kilometers from Penetanguishene.

This gives an interesting insight.

The soldiers and the Indian Department came in November, and the Labattes the previous summer. So Rosette probably noticed and knew things would never be the same again. They were at the sugar camp, the maple sugar camp, and they would be sugaring there for the last time. Perhaps they would use the sugar to trade for other supplies. Would they find a new sugar camp at Penetang?

The three families, six adults and eight children were traveling alone. There are several reasons for this, but one important factor was the wingspan (two) of the horses.

They would create problems that many other families would not have. Also, camping spots would be limited in size, so a small group would be easier to accommodate. There was no hostel, not even very many dwellings, so despite the start of the season, they spent many nights in temporary shelters.

“We came in a big boat with two other families and a span of horses.

“Our family was made up of my father and my mother, and four children: Julien, Zoa, James and myself. James was only two years old. I was around 13 years old. With us was Louis Lépine , his wife, and one child, Frances , who later became the wife of William Rawson, of Coldwater. Pierre Lépine, who with his wife and child were shipwrecked with the soldiers, and was the brother of Louis. Antoine Fortin , his wife and three children, were also with us.

They came in a big boat. A “boat” is a kind of flat-bottomed boat (pictured) that can be rowed or sailed.

Let’s look at the numbers again here. A large boat, and a span of horses (two), but also eight children including her and six adults.

The eight children, well, they would have taken up more space than the three women could provide, or so you would think. So Rosette probably wasn’t exactly a passenger. Factor in feeding everyone on the water or dealing with the bad temper of unfed people (and horses) and it stands to reason that it wasn’t the best of times. However, nowhere does she complain in her account.

It was an incredible journey, and they faced it with bravery and aplomb.

“We passed through the North Shore, and were a month on the way. We camped at Mississaga Point, McBean’s Post, LaCloche, She-bon-an-ning, Moose Point, and Minniekaignashene, the last campsite before reaching Penetanguishene .”

Mississagi River Delta

Again, Rosette reveals more than is written. We went through the North Shore, so when they left Drummond Island, they went north, past Saint-Joseph Island and towards the North Shore of the channel. Mississagi Point was at that time a known native village. Rosette would know from the sights and sounds she would have seen there.

It also illustrates a few other things. One that the trip by this boat was well planned with stops at certain places. Second, that the north coast of Georgian Bay was a safe place for these travellers.

They did not avoid the natives but sought them out. Did these families trade here for supplies? Absoutely. The small boat with so many people could not have held enough provisions for the month-long trip.

It wasn’t the Wild West; the natives were not diabolical enemies at the time. In fact, most of what we knew about the Wild West dated back to the post-American Civil War era, where animosity had been simmering for centuries.

Fort La Cloche

McBean’s post was a trading post. Rosette does not say it was a trading post or an HBC trading post, but rather McBean’s post. Why? Because John McBean was his uncle who had married his aunt. Later in life, when McBean returned to Montreal to retire, her aunt did not accompany her but lived her life in Lafontaine. Rosette therefore knew the McBeans and had probably returned at some point and visited them.

LaCloche was also a trading post and part of the boat’s voyages. From there they then went to She-bon-an-ing. The She-bon-an-ing area was what we now know as Killarney. It was also a fur trading post held by Etienne Lamorandière. Lamorandière was also known to the group and had a daughter who had also experienced the migration.

The North Shore, although vast, was a community with family ties along the coast.

Then on to Moose Point, where the Moose Deer Point Preserve is located today. It would be the future home of some of the well-known people of Rosette and Minnecognashene and is just over a stone’s throw from Penetang. This would represent at least half a day of travel from their destination.

Rosette would have been fascinated by these places, and probably frustrated by the limitations imposed on her. A thirteen-year-old girl should be restrained or at least her parents would no doubt have watched her well in these pioneer colonies. McBean’s and LaCloche’s stations were quite close to each other, so obviously had more stops than listed.

Obviously, the named places were probably not the only places they stopped, but the “known” places she would continue to visit later in her life. The presence of those from Penetang all over Georgian Bay to Bruce Mines and beyond shows the continued use of the bay as a highway and extended community.

Rosette did not lament or mention the fact that the conditions aboard this little boat, especially in April and May, were probably not the most comfortable. We can assume that many days would be under the canvas, but it was highly unlikely that they would have a heat source. The only other alternative would have been the habit of travelers having a pot of heated peas brought on board during the night. And two horses can make a mess, a smelly mess…

The indigenous practice of women setting up the shelter, and it could have been anything from a wigwam to a tent, would have fallen to them. Should she also have found pasture for the horses, who knows. Many days were probably cold, and the nights too, temperatures at this time of year drop quite low.

Local historian Art Duval explores the area’s rich history through his website Pipesmoke of the Past.

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