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Indian Tales of the Canadian Prairies

Indian Tales of the Canadian Prairies


By Hammerson Peters

Imagine that it is the spring of 1876. You’re lounging on a bench on the deck of your family’s log cabin, which doubles as your family’s trading post, enjoying an evening smoke with your swarthy mustachioed brother-in-law. It is sundown in the Cypress Hills, and the lodgepole pines which crown the surrounding slopes are fading into dusky silhouettes against a crimson sky.

As you draw on your pipe, you and your companion spot a lone rider in the distance- an Indian approaching the palisaded walls of nearby Fort Walsh. The rider is hailed by the guards and ushered inside the fort. Just as you begin to replenish your dwindling bowl, he emerges again, this time accompanied by an officer of the North-West Mounted Police. Taking the lead, the policeman spurs his horse to a brisk trot and heads straight towards you.

The Indian, you soon learn, is the advance scout of an Assiniboine band which is in the process of making camp on Battle Creek about three miles to the southeast, at the edge of the prairie. Buffalo are harder to come by these days, and with their winter pemmican stores all but exhausted, the Assiniboine are in desperate need of food.

The band intends to camp outside the fort tomorrow, but refuses to complete the journey until morning. If they proceed up the trail any further, they will come to the spot at which several dozen of their kin were killed three years prior in the event which has come to be known as the Cypress Hills Massacre. Anyone who travels through that haunted valley at night, the Assiniboine believe, runs the risk of encountering those spirits of the dead who have yet to make the journey to the Great Sand Hills- the final resting place of all Plains Indian souls north of the Medicine Line.

The red-coated Mountie informs you that, although the band will be properly treated in the morning, he has been tasked with bringing some bacon and a few sacks of flour to them tonight as a gesture of goodwill. His own knowledge of the Assiniboine language is rudimentary at best, but doubtless most of the Indians speak the Plains Cree tongue- a language in which you are perfectly fluent. Would you consent to accompany him to the Assiniboine camp and lend him your interpretive services tonight?

You agree. You grab your rifle and your woolen Hudson’s Bay Company blanket and hitch your horse up to your two-wheeled Red River cart, the latter being less cumbersome than the heavy NWMP wagon which the Mountie might have otherwise employed. After taking on some provisions at the fort, you and your two new companions head down Battle Creek. The Red River cart is a two-wheeled all-wooden wagon invented by the Metis people of what is now Manitoba, and was originally used to transport goods associated with the 19th Century fur trade.

The journey takes about half an hour, bringing you past the charred remains of the American whisky forts outside which the aforementioned massacre took place. Mercifully, your excursion is devoid of any encounters with the spectral residents whom the Assiniboine say haunt those grounds.

From 1869-1874, dozens of fur traders from Fort Benton, Montana, established quasi-legal trading posts in what is now Southern Alberta and Southwestern Saskatchewan and began trading goods to the local Blackfoot in exchange for buffalo robes. One of the chief commodities peddled at these forts was a rotgut concoction consisting of diluted whisky, tobacco, molasses, red ink, and other ingredients, which many Blackfoot found irresistible. The destructive effects of this whisky trade on the Blackfoot Nations was one of the major impetuses behind the creation of the NWMP.

It is dusk by the time you reach the Assiniboine camp, situated as it is at the edge of the open prairie. In typical Indian fashion, the Assiniboine have pitched their smoke-stained teepees in a large circle, in the centre of which they have tethered their horses as a precaution against potential Blackfoot horse thieves. Half-starved Indian dogs bark as you approach the camp, and shy Assiniboine children peek out from behind their mothers’ skirts as your red-coated companion hands sacks of flour to their grateful fathers and brothers.

“It is too dangerous for you to return home tonight,” the band’s chief says to the Mountie after the last of the provisions have been unloaded. “The ghosts don’t know the difference between Red Coats and wolfers. They will shoot you with their night arrows all the same. You had better stay in my lodge tonight.

The Mountie, having anticipated such a request, had already secured permission from his superior to spend the night in the Assiniboine camp. As your red-coated friend would have some difficulty communicating with his native hosts without you, you also accept the chief’s hospitality.

Later that night, you find yourself seated cross-legged on a buffalo robe in the chief’s teepee next to your red-coated friend, sharing a pipe with a handful of Assiniboine braves. Aside from the crackling of the buffalo chips in the centre of the lodge, which have been set ablaze to drive away the spring chill, and the distant, mournful howling of a pack of prairie wolves, all is quiet.

Once every man in the lodge has had the opportunity to smoke, your taciturn host breaks the silence. Using soft tones so as to not wake the women and children who are sleeping behind him, he and his men begin to converse in Plains Cree for your benefit and that of your white companion. The conversation ranges from the agreement which the Great White Mother hopes to make with the Cree and Assiniboine nations in the near future to the war being fought between the Sioux and the blue-coated Long Knives south of the Medicine Line.

When talk turns to the rumour that the great Sioux chief Sitting Bull hopes to make peace with the Blackfoot Confederacy, his people’s ancient enemies, an old grizzled warrior seated to your left begins fingering a greasy scalp lock stitched to the shoulder of his buckskin shirt. “It is a good thing that our people made peace with the Blackfoot,” he growls. “They were powerful enemies. Even if I live to see a hundred summers, I will never forget that battle on the Belly River. They shot us down like so many buffalo.” Without further ado, the old warrior launches into the tale of the world’s last great intertribal Indian battle, fought six years prior on the shores of a westerly waterway.

This hypothetical scenario serves to illustrate the manner in which James Francis Sanderson, the author of Indian Tales of the Canadian Prairies, may have heard some of the tales he put to paper in 1894.

James F. Sanderson

James Francis Sanderson was born on March 23, 1848, in the fur trading town of Athabasca Landing, the site of the present-day town of Athabasca, Alberta, situated on the Athabasca River about 115 kilometres (72 miles) southeast of Lesser Slave Lake. His Scottish-Cree father, James Sr., worked aboard the Viking-style York boats of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), spending much of his time in York Factory, the Company’s headquarters, located on the southwestern shores of Hudson Bay. His mother Elizabeth, on the other hand, was the daughter of an Orcadian Scotsman named James Anderson- another HBC employee- and a Saulteaux woman named Mary.

Shortly after taking up residence in the Red River Valley, James Sr. drowned in a boating accident on Lake Manitoba. James Jr. and the rest of his family subsequently relocated to the Metis village of Portage la Prairie to the northwest, where Elizabeth’s family, the Andersons, had also decided to resettle. In addition to receiving a basic formal education there, teenaged Sanderson accompanied the local Metis men on a number of buffalo hunts on the eastern prairies in the late 1860s, during which he acquired both an insatiable appetite for frontier life and perfect fluency in both French and Plains Cree.

In 1934, 1935, and 1936, George William Sanderson, James’ elder brother, recounted his childhood experiences to his niece, Mary Sophia Desmarais Campbell, who published them in a piece entitled Through Memory’s Windows. Of the Metis buffalo hunt, in which he was unable to participate on account of a childhood medical condition, George said:

“Buffalo meat was our chief article of food. Every summer for weeks at a time the settlers moved to the plains and killed buffalo, dried the meat and made pemmican of some of it. They sold the robes to the Hudson’s Bay Co. I have been told that when the hunter first began to chase the buffalo any old horse would do, but in later years one had to have a very swift horse. It took a good rider and a man had to be quick too to kill a buffalo. The guns were all muzzle loaders and the rider carried a powder horn on his right side, a shot or bullet pouch on the other, and the gun caps in his waist coat pocket. The bullets for immediate use he held in his mouth. The horses were well trained and could be guided by the motions and gestures, or leaning of the riders’ body


The Red River Rebellion

In the wake of Canadian Confederation (1867), a large force of French Metis from the Red River Valley refused a Canadian government survey party entry into the region, fearful that Dominion agents would force them to abandon their homesteads on the Red River, which they did not legally own, and relinquish their Michif language and Roman Catholic faith, to which they strongly adhered. Immediately after repelling the survey party, the Metis rebels seized Upper Fort Garry- an old HBC trading post situated at the site of what is now Winnipeg, Manitoba- completely without bloodshed. This uprising, called the Red River Rebellion, was led by a well-educated Metis revolutionary named Louis Riel.

While Riel negotiated with Donald Smith- an HBC representative and future railway magnate who would come to be known as Lord Strathcona- hoping to transform the Red River Valley into a Metis province within the framework of the Dominion, fourty-eight pro-Canadian counter-revolutionaries, most of them of Scottish, Irish, or Anglo-Metis pedigree, plotted to overthrow the new provisional government that Riel had established. Before they could execute their scheme, however, they were arrested by Riel’s men and imprisoned at Upper Fort Gary.

Major Charles Boulton, a member of the Canadian government survey party that Riel had repelled, subsequently organized a militia with which to rescue Riel’s captives. Among the men he recruited were 20-year-old James Sanderson and his elder brother, George. Like the counter-revolutionaries before them, Boulton and his militia were captured by Riel’s Metis and imprisoned in Upper Fort Gary, where, according to the official history books, they languished in cold, cramped cells, forced to endure a month of privation and malnutrition.

Said George William Sanderson of the event of their capture:

“When we came near the Fort, a man on horseback shot out of the gate like an arrow, then another, and so on until ten or twelve came out. One rode towards us and stopped to speak. He held up a white handkerchief in his right hand… Old Mr. Pecha walked up to the rider and said in French, “Good day. What do you want?” The man answered, speaking in French also, “our leader, Louis Riel and his officers, wish you all to come into the Fort and have dinner with them.” Well, that was very acceptable. We wouldn’t dream of refusing such an invitation, as we had not too much to eat since we left home. We were all ushered into the Fort where we had to stay more than a month.”

Of their stay at Fort Gary, George Sanderson said:

“We were all put into a large room to sleep. There were no beds, so we just bunked on the floor and benches. Most of us had a buffalo robe of our own. My brother Jim and I slept together. We would have been quite comfortable had it not been for that man [Thomas] Scott making such a racket. He would kick the board partition, yell and curse, and was most impudent to the guard.

“One night when Scott was especially troublesome and noisy, a guard walked in and asked what all the trouble was about. He said, ‘Now you fellows had better be quiet. If I have to come in again tonight, I will bring a billy with me, and the man who is making the noise will get it over the head’.

“On the whole, we were used fairly well. We had all the pemmican we could eat, and tea to drink. The Frenchmen themselves had nothing else except that they had sugar in their tea, and we had none

“The Roman Catholic priest made a special intercession for us to Riel and his guards. He asked them to use us as well as they could as we were just poor natives like themselves and it was not our fault we were captives

“When we were in prison a few days, some of the town folk came in and asked Riel if they could supply us with one meal a day. Riel told them they could do so. They could give us whatever they wished. They raised a subscription among the inhabitants as the town was very small. They must have all given something, for after that we got one good meal a day, cakes, pies, bread, and butter and sugar for our tea.

“Some years ago, I picked up and began to read a history of the Manitoba Rebellion, the story told of the great hardships we endured as prisoners and how we were starved. It must have been written by someone who knew nothing about it, for it was nothing but a lot of damned lies. We were well-treated.”

During the Sanderson brothers’ imprisonment, one of their fellow pro-Canadian counter-revolutionaries- the troublesome aforementioned Thomas Scott, who was a staunchly Protestant Irishman- was executed by firing squad on Riel’s orders, apparently for the sole purpose of forcing the Canadian government to take the Metis seriously. The Dominion responded by sending a military expedition west to the Red River Valley to enforce peace in the region, prompting Riel to flee south to Dakota Territory in the United States and ending the Sanderson brothers’ month-long incarceration.


Heading West

In 1872, James Sanderson married Maria McKay, a Metis girl who belonged to a prominent Scots-Cree family. That same year, the McKay clan relocated to the Cypress Hills- a remote oasis nestled deep in the heart of the Canadian prairies, in the midst of a vast, wild, lawless domain known at that time as the North-West Territories. James Sanderson and his new wife accompanied their family west, where they lived the traditional Metis lifestyle, roaming the prairies in the summer months in search of buffalo and spending the winter in their cabin in the Cypress Hills, combatting hibernal monotony with music and dance. When they weren’t travelling or hunting buffalo, James and Maria helped Maria’s father, Edward, run the fur trading post that he established in the Cypress Hills.

The couple would go on to have four children: Caroline, Owen, Duncan, and Mary.


The Cypress Hills Massacre

The Sandersons and the McKays were not the only fur traders plying their trade in the Cypress Hills at that time. Not far from their store were two rival trading posts separated by a small creek, one of them owned by a New York Polish-Jew named Moses Solomon and the other by a Montanan named Abe Farwell. Solomon and Farwell had both established their posts in 1871, having heard of the tremendous profits garnered by the traders at Fort Whoop-Up, an American-run fur trading post established in 1869 on the banks of what is now the Oldman River, about 215 kilometres (134 miles) to the west. The traders at Fort Whoop-Up had managed to acquire a prodigious quantity of buffalo robes through the practice of selling rotgut whisky to the local Blackfoot- a commodity for the procurance of which the natives would undergo any hardship. Hoping to replicate Whoop-Up’s success, Solomon and Farwell ensured that their stores were amply stocked with firewater.

In the summer of 1873, twelve heavily-armed American wolf hunters rode up to Farwell and Solomon’s posts and generously helped themselves to the whisky traders’ eponymous wares. They informed their hosts that they were searching for an Indian raiding party which had stolen nineteen of their horses north of Fort Benton, Montana, several days prior, from whom they hoped to reclaim their animals. After engaging in idle banter with some of the forts’ employees, the wolfers became convinced that an impoverished band of Assiniboine Indians who were camped at the edge of the nearby creek were the horse thieves. The inebriated wolvers approached the Assiniboine camp with their rifles at the ready, prompting the natives, many of whom were similarly intoxicated, to take cover. Assuming that the Indians were preparing to fight them, the wolfers raised their guns and opened fire. After a brief exchange of gunfire, twenty-two Assiniboine- including several women and children- and one wolfer lay dead.


Fort Walsh

Since the year 1870, the Canadian government had been toying with the idea of sending a mounted police force west to suppress the illegal whisky trade in what is now Southern Alberta, the rumours of which they had learned from HBC employees stationed at trading posts along the North Saskatchewan River. Advocates of this western police force succeeded in passing a legislation allowing for the creation of the NWMP on May 23, 1873, coincidentally ten days before the aforementioned tragedy which has come to be known as the Cypress Hills Massacre. After learning of the bloody event, Canadian bureaucrats realized that they needed to form the police force quickly if they hoped to establish Canadian sovereignty on the western plains. The North-West Mounted Police was subsequently established, and less than a year later, its first officers made the long trek from Fort Dufferin, Manitoba, across the Canadian prairies to Fort Whoop-Up, located at the site of present-day Lethbridge, Alberta. A year later, the Mounties built Fort Walsh in the Cypress Hills not far from the site of the massacre, in the vicinity of the McKay trading post.

James Sanderson found work with the Mounties as soon as they established themselves in the area, serving the Force as a scout, hunter, and interpreter. The farsighted frontiersmen realized that, with the coming of the Mounties, the days of Canada’s Wild West would rapidly draw to a close. Cognizant of the possibility that the buffalo, which had dominated the North American Plains since time immemorial, might not be around forever, Sanderson rode south to Montana, purchased a small herd of cattle at the town of Fort Benton, and drove his livestock north to the Cypress Hills.

In 1878, Fort Walsh was made the new headquarters of the North-West Mounted Police (the former being Fort Macleod, built upriver from Fort Whoop-Up), its importance having been bolstered by the presence of Sitting Bull’s Sioux, who had fled into Canada and settled at easterly Wood Mountain following the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The influx of policemen to the new headquarters led to Sanderson’s acquiring a lucrative contract selling beef to the Mounties, through which he accumulated a small fortune.


Medicine Hat

In 1882, the NWMP headquarters was moved to the fledgling town of Regina, newly-established at a location to the east hitherto known as ‘Pile-o’-Bones’. The Sanderson and McKay families subsequently left the Cypress Hills and resettled at a lonely stretch of riverbank which the Indians called “Saamis”, or “Medicine Hat”, located about 80 kilometres (50 miles) to the northwest on the shores of the South Saskatchewan River. The frontiersmen knew that the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR)- Canada’s first trans-Atlantic railroad- was to cross the South Saskatchewan River at Medicine Hat, and surmised that the CPR worksite would grow into a thriving community. Sure enough, when the CP Railway reached Medicine Hat in 1883 and construction of the bridge over the South Saskatchewan commenced, a town sprang up in the vicinity of the work camp.

James Francis Sanderson quickly established himself as one of Medicine Hat’s most prominent citizens, working variously as a freighter and general contractor for the CPR, a buffalo bone collector (due to their high phosphorous content, buffalo bones were used to make fertilizer at that time), an interpreter for the local Mounties, an agent for a local coal mine, and a regional wolf inspector. Eventually, Sanderson operated a bull herd for local cattlemen, herding bulls from the surrounding ranches onto his own property every spring and fall. Later on, he established his own livery herd and his own cattle ranch on a flat bordering the South Saskatchewan River, which came to be known as Sanderson’s Point, and became an ardent proponent of horse racing.

In 1894, James Sanderson wrote a series of articles for the Medicine Hat News entitled “Indian Tales of the Canadian Prairies”, in which he recounted some of the stories he heard from his Metis and First Nations friends during his days as a trader and buffalo hunter on the Western Canadian frontier. Most of these stories appear to be based on events which took place from 1850-1870.

In 1896, Sanderson sent a shipment of cattle across the continent and the Atlantic Ocean beyond to England. A reporter for the Montreal Herald who encountered him during this journey described him as “a stalwart Scotsman with the frame of a Hercules, and the suspicion of a strain of the Cree chieftain’s blood in his bearing”.

James Francis Sanderson passed away in Medicine Hat, Alberta, on December 8, 1902, at the age of 54, leaving behind four children, a foster daughter, and an invaluable piece of Canadian literature offering a unique glimpse into the history, folklore, and character of Canada’s Wild West. He was buried in Medicine Hat’s Old Hillside Cemetery, where he lies today beside his wife and his son, Owen.

In the summer of 1965, Indian Tales of the Canadian Prairies was republished in the Alberta Historical Review, supplemented with eight excellent illustrations by Calgary-based artist William B. Fraser. That same year, the piece, complete with Fraser’s illustrations, was republished by the Historical Society of Alberta.




  • “Sanderson, James Francis” (2003), by L. J. Roy Wilson in Volume 13 of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography
  • The Andersons: A Hudson’s Bay Company Family (ca. 1985), by Theresa Schenk
  • James F. Sanderson (1957), by E.G. Luxton; from the Southern Alberta Research Project
  • Through Memory’s Windows, as told to Mary Sophia Desmaris Campbell by her uncle George William Sanderson in 1934, 1935, 1936
  • “About the Author” section of the 1965 publication of James F. Sanderson’s Indian Tales of the Canadian Prairies, issued by the Historical Society of Alberta


Indian Tales of the Canadian Prairies

White Elk Horn

The Conjuring of Loud Voice

Loud Voice’s Raid

Kin-u-sayo’s Death

Red Ochre Hill

The Gros Ventres’ Raid

The Sutherland Boys

The Prediction

How Medicine Hat was Named

How Seven Persons Creek was Named


Iron Shield’s Fall

Joe Tanner’s Daring

The Nine Years’ War in Canada- 1690: The Acadian Theatre

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The Nine Years’ War in Canada- 1690: The Acadian Theatre


The Raid on Salmon Falls

Following Benjamin Church’s first Acadian raid, things were quiet in Acadia and New England for seven months. Then, in the spring of 1690, the governor of Canada ordered two military officers- Joseph-Francois Hertel and his son, Jean-Baptiste- with leading a raiding expedition against New Hampshire. On March 27, 1690, the two French officers, twenty six French Canadian soldiers, and a war party of Abenaki, Mi’kmaq, and Maliseet warriors surrounded the New English settlement of Salmon Falls (present-day Berwick, Maine). The warriors attacked the village and killed thirty four of its residents before burning the settlements’ buildings and their contents, including the livestock within them. The settlement’s remaining fifty-four inhabitants, most of them women and children, were captured and later carried off to Acadia.

The Battle of Falmouth (1690)

a.k.a. The Battle of Fort Loyal

After the raid on Salmon Falls, the Hertels and the Wabanaki war party waited for reinforcements, engaging briefly with a small militia from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which had come to harry them. Within a month, they were joined by Jean-Vincent de Saint-Castin and several hundred Abenaki warriors. Their ranks swelled, the Acadians marched on the nearby village of Falmouth (also known as Casco)- the settlement which Benjamin Church and his Rangers had saved from Wabanaki warriors the previous autumn.

On May 16, 1690, the five-hundred-man French-Indian war party arrived at Falmouth and attacked the settlement, at which stood a palisaded bastioned called Fort Loyal. The New English settlers, who were hugely outnumbered, managed to hold off the attackers for four days, all the while enduring a withering barrage from the attackers, who took up position in a deep gully which sheltered them from New English musket fire. Knowing that they would incur heavy losses if they assaulted the fort directly, the besiegers dug a zigzag-shaped trench towards the bastion until they were close enough to lob cast-iron hand grenades over the palisades.

On May 20, the defenders finally surrendered. Despite promises of save passage given by the Frenchmen, the Wabanakis proceeded to mercilessly massacre the settlement’s inhabitants. When the slaughter was complete, the victors piled the corpses of the slain in a large heap outside the village. The fort’s commander, Captain Sylvanus Davis- one of the few New Englanders who survived the massacre- was captured and eventually brought to Quebec.

The fall of Fort Loyal gave the Wabanakis free reign to pillage and plunder with impunity throughout the countryside. In the week that followed the Battle of Falmouth, the Acadian Indians slaughtered forty New English settlers in various small-scale massacres that took place throughout the Acadian-New Hampshire borderlands.

The Battle of Port Royal (1690)

While the Hertels, Saint-Castin, and their native allies had been busy exchanging fire with the residents of Falmouth, another battle was taking place in the heart of Acadia.

Up until this point, all the Acadian operations in the Nine Years’ War had been coordinated from Fort Meductic, on the shores of what is now New Brunswick. The capital of Acadia, however, was the village of Port Royal, the second oldest French settlement in the New World, situated on the southwestern shores of the Acadian Peninsula (i.e. Nova Scotia) on the Bay of Fundy.

The settlement of Port Royal was no stranger to conflict. Back in 1613, the village had been razed by a party of intrepid New English raiders. In 1627, it had been captured by Scottish noble Sir William Alexander, who converted it into the capital of the short-lived colony of Nova Scotia. Throughout the 1640s, Port Royal- in French hands once again- was the setting of two battles fought during the Acadian Civil War. And in 1654, three hundred English soldiers, under the orders of Oliver Cromwell (leader of the Commonwealth of England) took the village by force.

On May 19, 1690, Port Royal was attacked for a sixth time by 225 New English sailors and 446 provincial soldiers under the command of Sir William Phips.

William Phips was considered something of a homegrown hero in New England. A lowborn shipwright and lumber merchant from the colony of Massachussets, he had allowed his hard-won livelihood to literally go up in flames in order to save the lives of the residents of a particular village during a Wabanaki raid that took place during King Philip’s War. More recently, he had been awarded a knighthood from King William III for salvaging the contents of a sunken Spanish treasure galleon in the Caribbean, becoming the first native New Englander to earn the honorific ‘Sir’. Despite Phips’ complete lack of military experience, the Massachusetts militia promoted him to the rank of Major General in the spring of 1690 and gave him command of the naval expedition against New France.

Upon approaching the capital of Acadia, Phips found, to his delight, that Port Royal’s ninety soldiers were actually in the process of dismantling their fortifications so that stronger ones could be built in their place. None of the fort’s cannons were presently functional, and to top it off, the village’s armory held a total of nineteen muskets at that time. The garrison surrendered without a fight.

For some reason, on which French and English accounts of the incident disagree, Phips perceived that the Frenchmen were attempting to withhold some of their town’s spoils from him and flew into a rage. He claimed that the French had breached the terms of their surrender before seizing not only the contents of the fort, but also the private property of the village’s citizens.

The Battle of Chedabucto

About a month after his capture of Port Royal, Sir William Phips tasked one of his officers, Captain Cyrian Southack, with raiding the Acadian village of Chedabucto, situated at the tip of the Acadian Peninsula just across the Chedabucto Bay from Ile Royale (i.e. Cape Breton Island). In addition to housing a French military post called Fort Saint Louis, Chedabucto served as the headquarters of the Company of Acadia, an important French fishing company.

On June 3, 1690, Captain Southack and eighty-eight New English soldiers stormed Fort Saint Louis. Although they were heavily outnumbered, the twelve Acadian soldiers who manned the fort put up a fierce six-hour defense. When the New Englanders began to firebomb the fort, the French defenders realized that future resistance would be futile. They surrendered to Southack, who allowed them to retreat across the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the colony of Plaisance, on the island of Newfoundland. Upon capturing the fort, Southack proceeded to destroy 50,000 crowns-worth of salted cod that had been garnered by the Company of Acadia, dealing a major blow to the New French fishing industry.

Church’s Second Expedition

In the fall of 1690, Benjamin Church prepared for his second expedition to Acadia. Several months earlier, he had been designated the sad task of burying the bones of the New English settlers who had been massacred at Falmouth- the same settlers whom he and his men had saved from Abenaki warriors one year earlier. Eager to avenge their deaths, Church and three hundred volunteers of both New English and aboriginal extraction set out for the ruins of Fort Pejepscot (present-day Brunswick, Maine), and English fort that had been abandoned in the wake of the Glorious Revolution.

Church and his men arrived at the desolate Fort Pejepscot on September 11, 1690. From there, they trekked forty miles up the Androscoggin River to an Abenaki village. The few warriors who resided in the village at that time became aware of Church’s presence and fled as his men approached the settlement. Some of the New English and indigenous marksmen fired at the braves as they rowed their canoe across the Androscoggin River and three of them received fatal shots in the back.

Upon taking the village, Church and his men found a number of women, children, and old Abenaki men huddled within the wigwams. Among the Indians were five filthy, half-starved New English prisoners. In a brutal act of psychological warfare, Church put a number of villagers to death, subjecting them to a cruel form of execution known in Italy as mazzatello- a method of capital punishment characterized by blunt trauma to the head which, in this case, was likely administered by war clubs or gun stocks. Two elderly women were spared the slaughter so that they might relate the incident to the Abenaki warriors when they returned, along with a message from Benjamin Church instructing them to bring all their English captives to Salmon Falls within two weeks if they ever hoped to see their wives and children again.

Church took the rest of the villagers captive and interrogated them, quickly learning that a major Acadian offensive was in the works. He proceeded to burn the settlement and its huge store of corn, leaving a small quantity of food for the two elderly women he chose to leave behind, and marched his prisoners down the river to vessels that awaited him there.

Church and his men spent the remainder of the day exploring the mouth of the nearby Saco River, where they rescued a New Englishman from his Abenaki captors. As the ships were crowded, three companies of the New English force decided to spend that night on shore at what is now Cape Elizabeth, Maine, known at that time as Purpooduc Point- a decision which would prove near-disastrous.

That night, one of the force’s Indian sentries heard a man cough in the bush, followed by the cracking of sticks. When he informed his companions that he suspected they were being watched, they laughed at him and said that the ‘cough’ he heard was probably the snort of a wild boar.

At dawn, the poor sentry was vindicated when a party of Abenaki braves rushed into the camp screaming war cries. Fortunately for the New Englanders, the morning mist had dampened the Abenaki’s gunpowder, delaying the timing of their first volley. The Englishmen retreated to the shore, where they were joined by the soldiers and warriors who had spent the night on the boats. Bolstered by these reinforcements, the New Englanders chased their assailants back into the woods. Church lost seven soldiers in this skirmish, and twenty four of his men were wounded. As was typical of the Nine Years’ War, the number of casualties the Abenaki sustained was a mystery since, according to the custom of the natives of the Atlantic Northeast, they had carried their dead and wounded with them into the forest.

Promises of a Prisoner Exchange

In October 1690, the Abenaki chiefs of the Androscoggin River appeared at the town of Wells (now Wells, Maine) under the white flag of truce and appealed to the town’s resident militia captain, asking that the New Englanders return the wives and daughters that Benjamin Church had taken during his second expedition to Acadia. The natives claimed that they wished to make peace with the English, and so a prisoner exchange was arranged for that November.

The scheduled meeting went as planned, although the Abenaki chiefs brought a only ten New English captives with them for exchange- a mere fraction of the prisoners they had taken during those first few years of the Nine Years’ War. After a six-day parley, the natives agreed to a truce which would last until the following spring. In May 1691, the two parties were to meet a second time, whereupon they would exchange all of their captives and agree to a permanent peace.

The Nine Years’ War in Canada- 1689: The Acadian Theatre

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The Nine Years’ War in Canada- 1689: The Acadian Theatre


Background: King Philip’s War

By the time the Nine Years’ War broke out, British and French colonists on the Atlantic Coast were spoiling for a fight. Over a decade earlier, a handful of Algonquin tribes had warred against the settlers of New England in a devastating three-year conflict called King Philip’s War (‘King Philip’ being the nickname of Chief Metacomet, a powerful leader of the Wompanoag Indians). The French Acadians took advantage of the conflict by incentivizing the Wabanaki Confederacy, an alliance of five Acadian First Nations with whom they were friendly, to attack the Englishmen. From 1675 to 1677, the Wabanaki tribes engaged in annual raiding campaigns against New English settlements, prompting a prominent New English leader named Richard Waldron to eventually retaliate with a strike on an Acadian Mi’kmaq settlement.

By the time King Philip’s War ended in 1678, the English and French colonists on North America’s Atlantic coast had grown to resent each other and their respective First Nations allies. One incident which starkly illustrates this sentiment took place in the summer of 1677, when a party of settlers from the village of Marblehead, Massachusetts, hazarded a fishing trip off the southern coast of the Acadian Peninsula (i.e. present-day Nova Scotia). Not far from shore, the fishermen were captured by a party of Mi’kmaq warriors who hijacked their boats and commanded them to sail for a certain Indian village off the coast of what is now Maine. When they learned that they were to be executed, the New Englanders overpowered their captors, throwing most of the Mi’kmaq into the sea and keeping two of them as prisoners-of-war before rowing for home. When they finally slipped into Marblehead with their captives, the fishermen were mobbed by a throng of New English ladies who had lost fathers, husbands, and sons in the war against the natives. Armed with sticks and stones, the furious women set upon the Indian prisoners, attacking any of the fishermen who tried to protect them. Left with little choice, the New Englishmen eventually relinquished their captives and watched in helpless horror as the women vented their rage upon them. According to one colonist who witnessed the atrocity, “we were kept at such distance that we could not see [the prisoners] till they were dead, and then we found them with their heads off and gone, and their flesh in a manner pulled from their bones.”

The Northeast Coast Campaign

When King Philip’s War finally ended in 1678, the Atlantic Northeast enjoyed ten years of relative peace, although the New Englanders and the Wabanaki tribesmen neither forgot nor forgave the atrocities they had suffered at each other’s hands. The Abenaki Nation- one of the five tribes of the Wabanaki Confederacy- finally broke the spell in early 1688, launching a series of surprise raids against New England. That spring, Edmund Andros, the widely unpopular governor of what was then the Dominion of New England, retaliated by launching a minor raid against Acadia, plundering an Abenaki village situated on the shores of what is now southern Maine. Significantly, this village was home to by Jean-Vincent de Saint-Castin, an eccentric French officer who lived as a chief among the Abenaki Indians, and who had almost singlehandedly convinced the Wabanaki Confederacy to go on the warpath against New England during King Philip’s War. Although he plundered the rest of the village, Andros was careful not to desecrate the small altar and religious artifacts that the Catholic officer kept in his home- an act for which he was criticized by his zealous Puritan countrymen.

Four months later, the New Englanders carried out a second raid against the fishing village of Chedabucto (now Guysborough, Nova Scotia), situated on the northeastern shores of the Acadian Peninsula. The Wabanaki Confederacy countered by raiding the New English villages of New Dartmouth (now Newcastle), Yarmouth, and Kennebunk. By the time the Nine Years’ War was declared in Europe, the conflict in the North Atlantic was already in full-swing.

The Raid on Dover

On June 27, 1689, an incident took place in the village of Dover, one of the oldest settlements in New Hampshire, which was more a legacy of King Philip’s War than a development of the Nine Years’ War.

Back in 1676, a band of Indian refugees had taken up residence in the forest surrounding Dover. The town’s leader, Richard Waldron, a Major in the Massachusetts militia, was ordered to attack these natives and turn any captives he managed to take over to them. Waldron, however, had recently made a peace pact with these Indians and had no desire to do battle with them. Instead, he fulfilled his orders through duplicity, disarming the natives by inviting them to discharge their firearms in a mock battle. The natives were subsequently captured and brought to Boston, where many of them were executed or sold into slavery in the Caribbean.

The natives of New Hampshire had not forgotten Waldron’s treachery, and thirteen years after the incident, they decided to take revenge. On the eve of June 27, 1689, a number of Indian women appeared at each of the houses in Dover and asked if they could spend the night. The residents of all but one home invited the women inside. That night, the native women quietly unlocked the doors of the houses they occupied, allowing Indian warriors to sneak inside, tomahawks and scalping knives in hand, and slaughter or capture the residents therein. The white-bearded Major Richard Waldron, now 74 years old, attempted to fight off the braves who entered his own home with his sword. He was eventually overpowered by his attackers and tied to a chair, whereupon the natives tortured him to death, severing his fingers, cutting off his nose and ears and stuffing them in his mouth, slicing him across the chest and belly as if to “cross out” their trading account with him, and finally forcing him to fall on his own sword.

The Siege of Pemaquid (1689)

A few months later, Jean-Vincent de Saint-Castin, the French officer-turned-Abenaki chief who had played a pivotal role in King Philip’s War, decided to personally lead his own offensive against New England. On August 2, 1689, Saint-Castin, a French missionary named Father Louis-Pierre Thury, an old Abenaki chief named Moxus, and a war party consisting of about 200 Abenaki braves surrounded Fort Charles, a palisaded English trading post located in the village of Pemaquid (now Bristol, Maine), killing or capturing any settlers they came across in the countryside. The few dozen defenders garrisoned in the fort exchanged shorts with the attackers throughout the day, and by sunset, most of them were wounded.

The following morning, the defenders surrendered, and the Abenaki allowed them to retreat to Boston. Many of the villagers, however, were kept as prisoners and eventually taken to Fort Meductic, a fortified Maliseet village located just outside present-day Meductic, New Brunswick. One of these captives was nine-year-old John Gyles, who would one day write of his experiences on the Northeastern frontier in his 1736 autobiography Memoirs of Odd Adventures, Strange Deliverances, Etc. in the Captivity of John Gyles.

As the defeated New English defenders limped away from Pemaquid, the Abenaki put the fort and the surrounding settlement to the torch.

The Battle of Deering Oaks

In response to the raid on Pemaquid, the government of Massachusetts tasked one Major Jeremiah Swaine with leading a 600-man militia to secure the Acadian-New Hampshire border. While Swaine and his men were patrolling the region, a party of Abenaki warriors audaciously attacked the village of Oyster River (present-day Durham, New Hampshire) right under their noses, killing twenty one settlers, including three or four children, and taking a number of prisoners. The natives retreated north without suffering any reprisals from Swaine, who had dispatched an unsuccessful scouting party to hunt them down.

Disappointed with Swaine’s performance, the government of Massachusetts recalled the Major and tasked a seasoned military commander named Benjamin Church with carrying out raids on Acadia.

A veteran of King Philip’s War, Benjamin Church had long since realized that the military tactics commonly employed in Europe- characterized by disciplined formations, ostentatious uniforms, and pitched battles- were ineffective on the North American frontier. Accordingly, he studied and trained his own soldiers in the guerrilla tactics of the natives, forming his own unit of special light infantrymen who constituted the first regiment of what would one day become the U.S. Army Rangers.

In the early fall of 1689, Benjamin Church and his 250 Rangers set out on their first expedition into Acadia. On September 21, Church and his men came upon a group of settlers who had been attempting to establish the village of Falmouth (now Portland, Maine), and who were presently under attack by Wabanaki warriors. Church and his men leapt to defend the settlers but discovered, to their dismay, that the musket balls they had been issued were too large for their guns. After hastily hammering the lead balls into crude cylindrical slugs, the militiamen drove back the natives, incurring 21 casualties in the process. The site at which the battle took place is where Portland’s Deering Oaks Park now stands.

After an unsuccessful attempt to locate hostile Indian encampments deep in the Acadian wilderness, Church and his men retreated to Boston, leaving Falmouth unprotected.

Forward to 1690: The Acadian Theatre.

The Nine Years’ War in Canada- 1688: Setting

Back to The Nine Years’ War in Canada.

The Nine Years’ War in Canada- 1688: Setting

The Political Stage

Back in 1688, the political landscape of Western Europe looked nothing like it does today. France was the world’s leading superpower, led by the powerful Catholic monarch Louis XIV. Although King Louis was on friendly terms with King James II of Great Britain, a fellow Catholic ruler, he was feared and mistrusted by much of the rest of Europe; many suspected that Louis harboured designs to one day rule all of Christendom, and dreaded the balance of power tipping in Louis’ favour.

To the east of France lay the Holy Roman Empire, a loose agglomeration of German states of both Catholic and Protestant persuasion, nominally led by Emperor Leopold I, another Catholic and a member of the House of Habsburg- one of Europe’s most powerful noble families. At that time, the Holy Roman Empire was at war with Turkey’s Ottoman Empire, and King Louis had done nothing to help his fellow Catholic ruler repel the Islamic incursion. His inaction fostered resentment not only in the Emperor, but also in the sickly King Charles II of Spain, another member of the Habsburg family who was plagued by congenital illnesses resultant of the Habsburgs’ practice of multigenerational intermarriage.

Last but not least of the major political players in Western Europe at that time was the fledgling Dutch Republic, which had, several decades earlier, emerged victorious from an eighty-year fight for independence from Habsburg Spain. The Dutch Republic was ruled in part by its stadtholder, the devoutly Protestant Prince William III of Orange, who considered King Louis XIV his archenemy. Sixteen years earlier, while Holland was busy fighting a naval war with England, King Louis had taken advantage of the distraction and marched his army right into the heart of the Dutch Republic, an incident which so enraged the Dutch people that they killed and ate their own Prime Minister (seriously). It had taken the Dutch six years to push back the Gallic invaders, and Prince William was determined to never allow the French King to get the better of him again.

At that time, the English Parliament- Protestant to a man- was none too pleased with the Catholicism of Britain’s King James II. Four decades prior, zealous English Parliamentarians had beheaded James’ father, King Charles I, in part because of his pro-Catholic leanings. Rather than repeat the mistake of their predecessors, which led to the bloody English Civil War and the disastrous Commonwealth of England that followed it, the Parliamentarians secretly plotted with William III, Prince of Orange, urging the Dutch stadtholder to seize the

British crown in a bloodless coup d’état. William acquiesced; in the winter of 1688, he and 40,000 mercenaries sailed through the Strait of Dover and across the English Channel, disembarked at Torbay, marched on London, and assumed the British throne in what the Parliamentarians dubbed the ‘Glorious Revolution’. While the Dutch prince was crowned King William III of Great Britain, the deposed King James II fled to France, where he and his descendants became known as the Jacobite pretenders.

While William III had been organizing his invasion of Great Britain, Louis XIV had invaded the western frontier of the Holy Roman Empire, hoping to acquire territory on which he could build defensive fortresses for the purpose of securing the French border. Alarmed by France’s military might and Louis XIV’s apparent expansionism, William III decided to join forces with his people’s old enemies, the Habsburgs, who were now fighting the French on their own doorstep. In 1689, Dutch Republic, Great Britain, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire allied to form the League of Augsburg, more commonly known as the ‘Grand Alliance’, and promptly declared war on France. Thus the Nine Years’ War- sometimes referred to as King William’s War in Canada and the United States- commenced.


The North American Stage

When war broke out on the borders of France, England had France had a number of long-established colonies in North America.

New France, as French possessions in North America were collectively called, consisted of four colonies. The most significant of these was ‘Canada’, a territory along the St. Lawrence River, which included the cities of Quebec, Montreal, and Trois-Rivieres. Canada was the oldest European colony in North America, having been established by Breton explorer Jacques Cartier back in 1541 and reinforced by French explorers Pierre Dugua and Samuel de Champlain in the early 1600s. Despite Quebec’s having been captured by a band of English adventurers six decades earlier (and returned to France in 1632), Canada remained the stalwart seat of French power in North America.

East of Canada was Acadia– a territory consisting of what are now Canada’s Maritime Provinces and much of the state of Maine. This old French colony had fallen into British hands several times in the past, serving as a Scottish colony from 1629-1632 and an English territory from 1654-1670. In 1688, however, Acadia was firmly under French rule.

North of Acadia was Placentia, a French colony which comprised the Avalon Peninsula in southeastern Newfoundland. In 1688, France had two forts on Placentian soil, including Fort Plaisance, situated on the bay which separates Avalon from the rest of Newfoundland, and Fort Royal, built the previous year not far from Fort Plaisance.

West of Canada, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, stretched a sprawling, wild territory called Louisiana, officially established just six years prior by French explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. Remote as it was, this newest territory of New France would not escape the destruction and carnage of the Nine Years’ War.

Neighbouring in uncomfortable proximity to the territories of New France were the colonial holdings of England. The most significant of these were the Thirteen Colonies. The northernmost of the Thirteen Colonies- namely Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire- were collectively referred to as New England, and were the only colonies to play an important role in the Nine Years’ War in Canada. South of New England were the Middle Colonies- namely New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. South of the Middle Colonies were the Southern Colonies- namely Virginia, Carolina, Maryland, and Georgia.

Although the former King James II had amalgamated the New English colonies into the unified Dominion of England back in 1686, the Glorious Revolution prompted the old colonial governors to reassert their former authority over their respective provinces, thus dissolving the short-lived Dominion. By the time the Nine Years’ War began, each New English colony operated under its own jurisdiction, preventing a united English campaign against the centrally-governed yet numerically inferior colonies of New France.

North of New England and Acadia beyond, the British shared the Island of Newfoundland with the French. Just north of the French colony of Placentia, the English had their own Newfoundland Colony, which had survived for nearly ninety years.

England’s third and final colony in North America was situated far to the northwest, on the southwestern shores of Hudson Bay. This newest of English colonies was not truly owned by the British Crown, but rather by the Hudson’s Bay Company- a recently-established fur trading enterprise. At the start of the Nine Years’ War, the land surrounding Hudson Bay was disputed territory, as a band of French soldiers had captured a number of the Company’s forts a few years prior.

Forward to 1689: The Acadian Theatre.

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The Nine Years’ War in Canada

The Nine Years’ War in Canada






The Acadian Theatre

The St. Lawrence Theatre

The Newfoundland Theatre

The Hudson Bay Theatre



The Acadian Theatre

The St. Lawrence Theatre

The Newfoundland Theatre

The Hudson Bay Theatre



The Acadian Theatre

The St. Lawrence Theatre

The Newfoundland Theatre

The Hudson Bay Theatre



The Acadian Theatre

The St. Lawrence Theatre

The Newfoundland Theatre

The Hudson Bay Theatre



The Acadian Theatre

The St. Lawrence Theatre

The Newfoundland Theatre

The Hudson Bay Theatre



The Acadian Theatre

The St. Lawrence Theatre

The Newfoundland Theatre

The Hudson Bay Theatre



The Acadian Theatre

The St. Lawrence Theatre

The Newfoundland Theatre

The Hudson Bay Theatre



The Acadian Theatre

The St. Lawrence Theatre

The Newfoundland Theatre

The Hudson Bay Theatre



The Acadian Theatre

The St. Lawrence Theatre

The Newfoundland Theatre

The Hudson Bay Theatre

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The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 4

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 4

Continued from The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 3.


Henry and his crew paddled over to the mainland and disembarked on the shores of Michilimackinac Country. They proceeded to Fort Michilimackinac, an old French fur trading post. No sooner had Henry’s voyageurs procured a room for their employer than, against his orders, they revealed his true identity to the fort’s French traders. The fur traders politely informed Henry that he had put himself in grave danger by coming to Michilimackinac, and advised him to make for Detroit while he still had the chance. Henry thanked the Frenchman for their concern but assured them that he resolved to stay, whatever the dangers.

The traders had hardly delivered their warning when Henry received word that the entire Chippewa (Ojibwa) band from Mackinac Island were on their way to the fort to welcome him and his voyageurs to their country. Henry hastily secured the interpretive services of a French trader named Farley, who was married to a Chippewa woman.

“At two o’clock in the afternoon,” wrote Henry, “the Chippewa came to my house, about sixty in number, and headed by Minavavana, their chief. They walked in single file, each with his tomahawk in one hand and scalping knife in the other.

“Their bodies were naked from the waist upward, except in a few examples where blankets were thrown loosely over the shoulders. Their faces were painted with charcoal, worked up with grease; their bodies with white clay in patterns of various fancies. Some had feathers thrust through their noses, and their heads decorated with the same.”

The natives silently entered Henry’s cabin and sat on the floor. Then, through Farley, Chief Minavavana revealed his knowledge of the fact that Henry was an Englishman, remarking that he must be a brave man to wander into the territory of his enemies. The chief and his followers proceeded to fill their pipes and smoke them silently. When they were finished, the chief stood up and made a long and eloquent speech in which he explained that the “father” of the Ojibwa people, King Louis XVI of France, had asked his children to make war on the English. Many Ojibwa warriors had perished in carrying out this request, and their spirits would only be satisfied by the spilling of English blood or the giving of gifts. Since the English had not yet given any presents to the Ojibwa, the two nations were still at war. Yet because Henry had arrived with much-needed trade goods and had no intention of warring with them, he was welcome in Michilimackinac and would not be harmed. With that, the chief presented Henry with a pipe of friendship. Henry took three puffs, whereupon the pipe was passed around and smoked by everyone in the room. The Englishman then shook hands with the chief and all the Ojibwa warriors.

When the ceremony had finally ended, the chief asked Henry if his braves might be allowed to taste his rum, which they called “English milk”. They were curious to know if there was any difference between it and the brandy which they had acquired from the French in the past. “My adventure on leaving Fort William Augustus,” wrote Henry, “had left an impression on my mind which made me tremble when Indians asked for rum; and I would therefore willingly have excused myself in this particular; but being informed that it was customary to comply with the request, and withal satisfied with the friendly declarations which I had received, I promised to give them a small cask at parting.”

Henry proceeded to make a speech of his own, in which he declared that he knew the Ojibwa were a people of good character, and that they ought to regard the King of England as their new father, as the King of France had surrendered to him. If they treated Henry well, then he would return home and tell his countrymen of the good treatment he received at their hands, and other Englishmen would be encouraged to bring their own trade goods to Michilimackinac. When the Ojibwa appeared to be satisfied by his words, he gifted them a present that he had prepared which, as he had promised, included a small quantity of rum.

The be continued in The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 5.

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The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 3

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 3

Continued from The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 2.

The Mattawa River

The narrow and swift-flowing Mattawa was a stark change from the wide and relatively placid Ottawa, and Henry and his crew were forced to make fourteen portages, some of them extremely difficult. The river’s shore was rocky and barren, stained red with hematite and punctuated by the occasional burial cairn. The blood-red hue of the riverbank and the Indian graves that dotted it gave the place an eerie atmosphere, augmented by the presence of a yawning black cave which Henry’s crew called “Porte de l’Enfer”, or Hell’s Gate.

“In the side of a hill,” wrote Henry of this sinister landmark, “on the north side of the river, there is a curious cave concerning which marvelous tales are related by the voyageurs”. Although Henry and his crew were fortunate enough to avoid meeting the demon whom fur trader lore designated the denizen of this stygian cavern, they were accosted by monsters of another sort. “Mosquitoes and a minute species of black fly abound on this river,” wrote Henry, “the latter of which are still more troublesome than the former. To obtain a respite from their vexations we were obliged at the carrying-places to make fires and stand in the smoke.”

Eventually, Henry and his crew reached Lake Nipissing, the headwaters of the Mattawa and the divide which separates the watershed of the Ottawa River with that of Lake Huron. After spending a very fruitful two hours fishing for pike and bass, they paddled over to the lake’s eastern shore, where they met and traded with canoe-going Nipissing natives.

When Henry and his men concluded their business on Lake Nipissing, they paddled to the lake’s western end, down the French River, and into Lake Huron, “which lay stretched across [their] horizon like an ocean”.

Lake Huron

Henry and his companions rowed out into the massive lake, its “waves running high from the south, and breaking over numerous rocks”. They passed many islands, including one that the voyageurs called “La Cloche”, or “The Bell”, for the large quartzite rock that stood on it which, upon being struck by a rock, rang like a bell across the lake. The men spent some time on La Cloche, where they found an Indian village. The voyageurs bartered some of their trade goods for fish and dried meat. When they learned that Henry was an Englishmen, they proclaimed that the Ojibwa of Michilimackinac would certainly murder him. That done, they extorted a barrel of rum from him.

Nearly every native that Henry had encountered on his journey to Lake Huron had warned him of the Ojibwa’s hatred of Englishmen. Taking the advice of Etienne Campion, one of his voyageurs, he endeavoured to pass himself off as a French-Canadian when he arrived in Michilimackinac. “To this end,” wrote Henry, “I laid aside my English clothes and covered myself only with a cloth passed about the middle, a shirt hanging loose… a blanket coat, and a large, red, milled worsted cap.

“The next thing,” Henry continued, “was to smear my face and hands with dirt and grease; and this done, I took the place of one of my men, and when Indians approached, used the paddle with as much skill as I possessed. I had the satisfaction to find that my disguise enabled me to pass several canoes without attracting the smallest notice.”

The Island of Michilimackinac

Alexander Henry and his voyageurs paddled along the northern end of Lake Huron to the mouths of the Mississagi River. After purchasing fish from canoe-going natives, they paddled south across Lake Huron to the island of Michilimackinac (known today as “Mackinac Island”), which translates to “The Great Turtle”. There, they came to an Ojibwa village which boasted about a hundred warriors. To Henry’s dismay, the Ojibwa braves surrounded their canoe and asked if there were any Englishmen aboard. When the voyageurs assured the natives that there were not, they allowed them to continue south to the mainland. Before they did, however, one native looked directly at Henry, laughed, and pointed him out to one of his companions. “This was enough to give me some uneasiness,” wrote Henry, “but whatever was the singularity he perceived in me, both he and his friend retired without suspecting me to be an Englishman.”

Continued in The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 4.

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The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 2

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 2

Continued from The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 1.

The Rapids

The pair hiked through the night and arrived at a solitary wigwam by sunrise. This dwelling was occupied by a single native and his wife. The couple welcomed the men into their home and fed them a huge meal of venison and melted snow. “I resumed my journey,” wrote Henry, “full of sentiments of gratitude, such as almost obliterate the recollection of what had befallen me among the friends of my benefactors [the previous night].”

Henry and Bodoine trudged down the frozen river on showshoe for the rest of the day. At sunset, they came to a shallow, swift-flowing stretch of river which, in spite of the cold, remained free of ice. Nearby on the riverbank lay an abandoned birch bark canoe. The Frenchman suggested that, in order to save time and bypass a large Algonquin village located further downriver, they use this vessel to travel down the rapids. Despite the disaster which had befallen him on the St. Lawrence the previous year, Henry was anxious to avoid further confrontations with the natives and readily consented to his guide’s proposal. After performing a rough patch job, the pair embarked in the canoe and rowed out into the current.

Henry and Bodoine had not gone far downriver when their craft began to leak, and in no time the pair were ankle-deep in frigid water. After stopping briefly at a river island, the pair finally reached the end of the rapids and rowed over to the shore. Thoroughly shaken, Henry wrote that he would rather “have faced the wilderness and all its Indians” than relive the harrowing experience.

Les Cedres

The following day, Henry and Bodoine encountered a toboggan-going French-Canadian who offered to take the New Englander to the village of Les Cedres, located downriver, for a fee of $8. Henry accepted the offer and, bidding his companion adieu, travelled on to the French settlement.

At Les Cedres, Henry was received by the settlement’s seignor (mayor)- a French fur trader named Jean-Baptiste Leduc. Through an interpreter, the Frenchman regaled Henry with tales of the fur trade and convinced him that the region of Michilimackinac, between Lakes Huron and Michigan, was the best place in the world to engage in this lucrative industry. Then and there, Henry resolved to become a fur trader.

Voyage Up the Ottawa River

Alexander Henry spent the rest of the winter in the Montreal. In May, he travelled south to Albany, New York, where he stocked up on trading goods. He then returned to Montreal, where he convinced British General George Gage to grant him a licence to trade with the Indians of Michilimackinac (or simply “Mackinac”) – a licence which Gage was reluctant to issue, as the natives of the Great Lakes had not yet made a peace treaty with the English and would conceivably be hostile to English subjects. Henry then secured the services of several French-Canadian voyageurs, who spent a day praying to St. Anne, the patron saint of Canadian river travel, and a night of hard drinking before setting out on the voyage to Mackinac.

Instead of following the St. Lawrence, Henry and his voyageurs headed up the Ottawa River, a waterway which empties into the St. Lawrence at Montreal. Habitant farmland soon gave way to wild forest as they pressed beyond the boundary of civilization. The men paddled past the confluence of the Rideau River, where the Rideau Falls cascade into the Ottawa, and beyond the spectacular Chaudiere Falls, which tumble from a cliff in the middle of the river. They portaged (i.e. carried their canoes and gear) their way around Chats Falls, where a hydroelectric generating station now stands, and paddled up the Lac des Chats, where the river’s current slows to a near standstill. There, they encountered several canoe-going Algonquins with whom they traded some of their goods for beaver pelts and maple sugar. The natives asked the white men for rum, but Henry, remembering his first night on the trail with Jean Baptiste Bodoine, refused to sell them any. During the exchange, the natives, through the interpretation of the voyageurs, warned Henry that the Ojibwa who lived further upriver would certainly kill him, as he was an Englishman. Heedless of the warning, Henry and his crew continued up the Ottawa.

The party made a gruelling portage at a place called Grand Calumet. They passed the derelict remains of an old French trading post, where they purchased dried and fresh fish from a band of Swampy Cree Indians camped in its vicinity, and portaged around the rapids of Des Allumettes. Finally, after a succession of minor portages, the voyageurs reached the confluence of the Mattawa River, up which they proceeded.

Continued in The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 3.

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The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 1

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 1

A few months ago, I did some research on the mystery of the ‘Shaking Tent’- a spooky phenomenon mentioned in the reports of Jesuit missionaries, the journals of Canadian explorers, and the memoirs of early Mounties involving a particular variety of First Nations seance. While reading about this strange shamanic secret, which I hope to make the subject of a future article, I came across references to an 18th Century fur trader named Alexander Henry “the Elder” who paddled the rivers and traversed the game trails of Ontario in the wake of the Seven Years’ War. Not to be confused with his nephew, another famous fur trader called Alexander Henry “the Younger”, this Canadian adventurer documented his exploits in his 1809 autobiography Travels and Adventures in Canada and the Indian Territories Between the Years 1760-1776. Unlike some other Canadian frontiersmen of whom I’ve written in the past, Alexander Henry was an excellent storyteller and a remarkable wordsmith, and his memoir, in this author’s opinion, holds the same literary value as many of the great 18th and 19th Century classics. If you’re into the setting of The Last of the Mohicans and enjoy the flavour of classic literature, I strongly recommend that you check out his book. For those readers who prefer more modern language, or who don’t have time to read Henry’s long book in its entirely, I’ve decided to put together a Coles Notes-esque summary of Henry’s Travels in Canada, the first part of which will comprise the rest of this article. Enjoy!

The Voyage to Montreal

On September 13, 1759, British and French armies clashed on a grassy plateau just outside the walls of Quebec, exchanging musket and canon fire on a field called the Plains of Abraham. By the time the smoke cleared, British General Wolfe lay dead, French General Montcalm lay mortally wounded, and the city of Quebec lay in British hands. It was the death knell of the Seven Years’ War and the beginning of total British rule in Canada.

One year after the battle, three British armies converged on Montreal, the last Gallic stronghold in New France, by way of the St. Lawrence River. One of the men aboard the British ships, attached to the army of General Amherst, was a 21-year-old merchant named Alexander Henry. Henry was a New Englander who had spent the entirety of his adult life supplying the British army during the Seven Years’ War, and on this particular voyage from Lake Ontario to Montreal, he was in charge of three ships loaded to the gunwales with supplies.

At a turbulent stretch of the river known as the Rapides des Cedres, a number of British ships capsized, bringing more than a hundred of their crewmembers with them to the bottom of the St. Lawrence. Henry lost all three of his vessels during this disaster, and only managed to keep from drowning by clinging to a piece of wreckage. After several long hours in the water, he was rescued by one of General Amherst’s aids. He eventually made his way back to Fort William Augustus, a British military post situated between Montreal and Lake Ontario.

First Night on the Trail

The incident on the St. Lawrence was serious financial blow to the young New Englishman, and in order to rectify his situation, he took it upon himself to make a winter business trip to Montreal. Knowing that he would be travelling through wild territory occupied by potentially hostile natives, Alexander Henry decided to secure the services of a French-Canadian guide and interpreter named Jean Baptite Bodoine. Strapping on a pair of snowshoes- clumsy accessories with which he was not yet acquainted- Henry and his Gallic guide set off down the frozen St. Lawrence.

Near the end of their first day on the trail, the pair encountered an encampment of Algonquin Indians composed of six lodges and about twenty men. Knowing that these natives had likely fought with the French against the English during the war, Henry wanted to spend as little time in the encampment as possible. Bodoine, on the other hand, was adamant that they spend the night there, as he personally knew several members of the band. Henry reluctantly acceded to his guide’s wishes.

That night, while curled up in one of the Indian wigwams, Henry awoke to a violent kick in the chest. Bodoine, he soon learned, had opened a keg of rum and shared it with his hosts, many of whom were now roaring drunk. One of the Algonquins, in this lamentable state, had decided to slaughter the New Englander, but was restrained at the last moment by a fellow brave and several native women; Henry had awoken in the ensuing scuffle. Seeing murder in his assailant’s eyes, Henry rose to his feet and was rewarded for his efforts by a knife wound to the hand.

In the midst of the fight, an old woman took hold of Henry’s arm and led him out of the lodge. Then, using gestures, she indicated that he should hide in the woods in order to avoid being killed. Knowing that he would not last long in the cold, dressed as he was, he asked the woman to find his guide before concealing himself behind a tree. While waiting for his savoir to return with the Frenchman, Henry “beheld several Indians running from one lodge to another, as if to quell the disturbance which prevailed”.

Finally, Henry heard a familiar voice, thick with drink, call out is name. Bodoine, as it turned out, was “as much intoxicated and as much a savage as the Indians themselves”. The inebriated French frontiersman handed his charge his personal effects and directed him down a certain path in the woods which led away from the camp.

Continued in The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 2.

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Granger Taylor: The Spaceman of Vancouver Island

3 Canadian Mad Scientists- 1: Granger Taylor

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Granger Taylor: The Spaceman of Vancouver Island

The youngest mad scientist on our list is Granger Taylor, whose mysterious disappearance in 1980 remains one of the greatest mysteries of Vancouver Island.

Granger Ormond Taylor was born on October 7, 1948, in the logging and fishing town of Duncan, British Columbia, situated on the southeastern shores of Vancouver Island about halfway between Victoria and Nanaimo. His biological father died when he was an infant, having drowned in northwesterly Horne Lake during a vacation at the family cabin. When he was two years old, Granger’s mother, Grace, married a widower named Jim Taylor, who had children of his own. Granger would spend his earliest years growing up with his seven siblings, including three biological siblings, three stepsiblings, and a half-brother.

From an early age, it became clear to Mr. and Mrs. Taylor that Granger was an unusual child. He was withdrawn and socially awkward, but what he lacked in social skills he more than made up for in an extraordinary aptitude and appetite for mechanics. Granger spent much of his childhood alone in his bedroom, dismantling toy gadgets in an effort to understand their inner workings.

Despite being extremely bright, Granger displayed little interest in his studies and dropped out of school after completing Grade 8. He began working as an apprentice for his neighbour, an auto mechanic, and eagerly absorbed all the knowledge the old tradesman could impart. After a mere year of apprenticeship, Granger decided that he had acquired all the skills necessary for him to strike out on his own. He set up shop on his parents’ forest-side property and began to tinker away on his own unconventional projects, many of which he would go on to sell to collectors or the provincial government for impressive sums of money.

It soon became evident that Granger Taylor had found his calling. At the age of fourteen, he built a single-cylinder automobile, which is now on display at Duncan’s B.C. Forest Discovery Centre. Three years later, he rebuilt an abandoned bulldozer that professional heavy duty mechanics had dismissed as unsalvageable. In his early twenties, he decided to resurrect a derelict steam locomotive he found rusting in the rainforest, with alder trees growing through the chassis. It took Granger two years to restore the train to full working order, whereupon he laid tracks for it through his parents’ garden and began taking neighbourhood children for rides in it, his workshop having become something of a local attraction. It seemed that there was no mechanical mystery too daunting for Granger Taylor; no kinetic conundrum he couldn’t conquer.

On New Years’ Eve, 1969, about half a year after Granger had finished hauling the last piece of his rusted train onto his parents’ property, something strange took place at the Cowichan District Hospital not too from Granger’s home. At about 5:00 in the morning, while tending to patients in the geriatric wing, four nurses working night-shift allegedly saw a silent, brilliantly-lit flying saucer hovering outside the window about three stories off the ground, near the children’s ward. Doreen Kendall, the first nurse to observe the object, claimed to have witnessed two humanoid pilots standing in the craft’s cockpit through its transparent window. The nurses gazed in amazement as the craft drifted behind a grove of trees before zipping away into the night sky like a shooting star.

Later that morning and throughout the following night, citizens from all over Duncan and the surrounding area, including a handful of elementary school teachers and a pilot of the Royal Canadian Naval Air Service, came forward with reports of a similar-looking UFO spotted throughout the region. For months following the incidents, flying saucers and visitors from outer space were the talk of southwestern Vancouver Island.

It seems likely that Granger Taylor was bitten by the same UFO bug that had smitten so many of his fellow Islanders in early 1970s. Not long after he applied the finishing touches to his steam locomotive, he apparently developed an interest in the dynamics of air travel, earning his pilot’s license and beginning restorative work on a scrapped WWII Kittyhawk fighter plane (which he would eventually sell to a private collector for $20,000).

By the late 1970s, Granger had wearied of conventional mechanics, which no longer seemed to challenge him. Instead, he turned his attention to the greatest aeronautical question of all- the propulsion of flying saucers. No engineer on earth had yet been able to conceive an engine which could enable a huge metallic disk to maneuver as tightly, rapidly, and silently through the air as the flying saucers described by UFO witnesses. Granger Taylor decided to tackle this enigma, which had apparently baffled the most brilliant minds of military aerospace, and start on his magnum opus– the construction of a real-life flying saucer.

Granger Taylor began his quest by building a private office the same size and shape as the quintessential UFO. Aided by the children and teenagers who often came to watch him work, he scavenged two radio tower satellite dishes from the local dump and constructed a cylindrical building at the edge of his parents’ garden, which he erected on stilts. After decorating the sides of the metallic structure with a lightning bolt design and a port-like window, he outfitted his UFO with a cast iron wood burning stove, a couch, and a television. Finally, Granger stocked his new study with science fiction novels and pseudoscientific books on UFOs, which were intended to stimulate his ingenuity. His office complete, the mechanical genius hunkered down with his books and his notes and began to consider the question of UFO propulsion.

Throughout 1979 and 1980, Granger Taylor spent much of his time alone in his backyard UFO, sitting in quiet contemplation or pouring through his many books. Then, after many months of deep pondering, something extraordinary happened. One night, while lying in bed, Granger was purportedly contacted by extraterrestrials.

According to Robert Keller- a troubled teenager whom Granger had taken under his wing, and one of the few souls with whom he shared his incredible experience- Granger explained that beings from beyond our solar system had introduced themselves to him telepathically. In the months preceding the incident, the machinist had attempted to contact extraterrestrials via a sort of radio he had devised. Perhaps, he surmised, his willingness to communicate was what prompted the aliens to choose him.

Granger would go on to have several more alleged telepathic conversations with the extraterrestrials. During these incidents, he repeatedly asked the aliens questions about the propulsion source of their saucer-like vehicles, but all they divulged was that the secret had something to do with magnetism.

In October 1980, an elated Granger Taylor confided in Keller and another friend named Bob Nielsen that the aliens had invited him on a trip through the Milky Way Galaxy. His younger friends couldn’t entirely believe Granger’s story, suspecting that the eccentric genius had simply experienced a strange dream or some sort of hallucination, but they couldn’t entirely discount it either; if an extraterrestrial intelligence were to contact anyone on earth, they believed that Granger would undoubtedly be their first choice. Despite their earnest entreaties, Granger refused to take his eager friends with him on his upcoming interstellar voyage, claiming they had too much to leave behind on earth. He disclosed that the aliens planned to pick him up on a rainy night so that the general public wouldn’t see their spaceship.

About a month later, on November 29, 1980, the town of Duncan was rocked by what newspapers dubbed ‘The Storm of the Century’. Thunder, lightning, torrential rain, and gale-force winds descended upon the city, uprooting trees and downing power lines.

At 6:00 that evening, right before the height of the storm, Granger Taylor paid a visit to Bob’s Grill, one of his favourite haunts. The waitress who served him his meal noticed that Granger was clad in his usual attire, consisting of jeans, logging boots, and a brown knitted sweater. He didn’t have a coat with him, and was clearly ill-prepared for the incoming tempest.

At 6:30, 32-year-old Granger Taylor paid his bill, left the diner, and drove off in his 1972 light blue Datsun truck. He was never seen again.

The following day, as the people of Duncan were busy clearing their roads and driveways of fallen trees and windblown debris, Taylor’s parents discovered that their son was missing. Jim Taylor found Granger’s last note to the world taped to his and Grace’s bedroom door. This bizarre document read:

“Dear Mother and Father,

“I have gone away to walk aboard an alien ship, as recurring dreams assured a 42-month interstellar voyage to explore the vast universe, then return.

“I am leaving behind all my possessions to you as I will no longer require the use of any. Please use the instructions in my will as a guide to help.



On the back of the note was a hand-drawn map which some have interpreted as a depiction of Waterloo Mountain, located about fifteen kilometres (10 miles) southwest of the Taylor home.

Jim Taylor and his sons searched high and low for Granger, checking hospitals and driving lonely logging roads in the hope of finding some clue as to the eccentric genius’ whereabouts. In accordance with his note, they looked through his will and found that he had replaced the word “deceased” with “departed” throughout the document. Try as they might, however, they could find no trace of the missing man nor his blue Datsun truck.

Months turned into years, yet the fate of Granger Taylor remained as mysterious as it had been on that fateful morning of November 30, 1980. On June 29, 1983- the date of Granger’s scheduled return from his trip through the cosmos- Granger’s stepbrother, Douglas Taylor, who worked for the Canadian Coast Guard at the time, sat out for half the night on the deck of his patrol boat, scanning the night sky for any sign of Granger and his alien spacecraft. His heart was heavy when he turned in for the night, the promised ship having failed to appear.

In April 1986, six years after Granger’s disappearance, a municipal works crew discovered an artificial crater several meters in diameter off Mount Prevost Road, on the slopes of either Mount Prevost or northeasterly Sicker Mountain (both of which overlook northwestern Duncan). Scattered in the vicinity of the crater were rusted and discoloured fragments of what appeared to have once been a truck. The local Royal Canadian Mounted Police subsequently investigated the scene and discovered two shards of what proved to be human bone not far from the depression. Many Duncan residents, including the police and several members of Granger’s family, believed that these bones constituted the last remains of Granger Taylor. As DNA profiling was in its infancy at the time and unavailable to the Force on Vancouver Island, that suspicion was never definitively confirmed or refuted.

In the wake of the sobering discovery, a number of theories were put forth pertaining to Granger Taylor’s last moments on earth. Many believed that on the night of November 29, 1980, Granger had packed his Datsun full of dynamite, which he used for removing tree stumps, driven into the wilderness, and either deliberately or accidentally blown himself and his vehicle to smithereens.

Some believed that Granger’s inability to solve the mystery of flying saucer propulsion had eaten away at him during the long hours of self-imposed isolation that typified his final months. Unable to cope with his failure, he set out with the intention of taking his own life, concocting the tale of his interstellar voyage in an attempt to ease the pain of the friends and family he would leave behind.

Some of those who knew him best, however, were adamant that Granger Taylor was not suicidal. If he did blow himself up with dynamite, then it must have been accidental. Perhaps he had brought dynamite into the wilderness with the intention of using it in some way to inform the extraterrestrial astronauts of his whereabouts, or to somehow facilitate his journey into outer space. Through some terrible accident, the explosives had detonated prematurely.

Others still, however, including Granger Taylor’s late mother, Grace, and his friend Robert Keller, believe that Granger Taylor was picked up by extraterrestrials on that stormy November night, just like he said he would be. Perhaps he is still hurtling through outer space in an alien spacecraft, exploring the galaxy and studying alien astronautics to his heart’s content. After all, according to Einstein’s theory of relatively, time dilates for objects travelling near the speed of light. Perhaps one day a 35-year-old Granger Taylor will return from his 42-month voyage to find a very different Duncan to the one he left, where phones are cordless, cars drive on their own, and residents still puzzle over the fate of that quirky genius who disappeared on a stormy night so long ago.



  • Spaceman (2019), by CBC Docs POV
  • The Man Who Went to Space and Disappeared: The Story of Granger Taylor, by Tyler Hooper in the June 30, 2016 issue of VICE
  • The Strange Disappearance of Granger Taylor, by Rob Morphy in the October 9, 2012 issue of Mysterious Universe
  • Night Shift Nurses and Flying Saucer Men, by Rob Morphy in the September 30, 2011 issue of Mysterious Universe