Chapter 1: Fur Company Exploration  

     For ten thousand years the valley belonged to the Indian.

     By the beginning of the nineteenth century the fur brigade companies of the world began looking at the land west of the Rocky Mountains and north of Oregon Territory.  The North West Company, operating out of Montreal, Quebec, was the first to send an exploratory expedition over the mountains to the sea in 1808.  Their leader was Simon Fraser.  In an attempt to lay claim to New Caledonia or New Scotland -- the name of the vast interior country north of the Columbia and west of the Rockies -- the North West Company set about building fur trade posts.  The objective of these first was to discourage the Hudson's Bay Company, a British organization, and American pedlars, from reaping the harvest of prime beaver pelts. Fraser, in descending the river since named in his honour, was searching for the mouth of the Columbia.  Disappointed he immediately ascended the river he had just come down, condemning it as being unsuitable for canoe travel.  Although the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company amalgamated in 1821, it was three years later before their men again approached the Fraser Valley in search of a suitable location on which to establish a fort.


     This was done primarily to head off American trading ships which were loitering around the Fraser's mouth monopolizing trade with the Indians.  A second reason for seeking out a fort site was to produce food for the occupants of the various posts of the company west of the mountains.  When, in 1824, Sir George Simpson, Governor of the Northern Department in America for the Hudson's Bay Company, visited Fort George at the mouth of the Columbia, he reported that "the management shows an extraordinary predilection for European supplies without once looking at or considering the enormous cost it means."

     It was with these two points in mind that the Governor dispatched an expedition composed of some men who had hunted over the area earlier, only eleven days after arriving at the fort.  James McMillan, a former employee of the North West Company, who had travelled extensively with David Thompson, was to head the expedition.  He was to explore for a fort site with surrounding land suitable for extensive farming operations.

     McMillan's party consisted of over 30 men.  His three clerks were Francois Noel Annance, Thomas McKay, step-son of  Dr. John McLoughlin from the Columbia, and John Work.  The interpreter was Michel LaFrambois.  The men were: -- Louis Anawano Junior, Alexis Aubuchon, Peo Bean, Cannon, Cawano Junior, F.H. Condon, Leo Depuis, Segwin le Deranti, Joseph Despard, Louis Diomelea (Diomilea), J.B. Dubian, Joseph Grey, Louis Hanatiohee Junior, Charles Jaundeau, William Johnston, Pierre Karagaragab Junior, Pierre Karaguana Junior, Andre Le Chappel, Pierre L'Etang, Andre Lonctoin, Joseph Louis (Abanaker), Momonta, Ettuni Oniager, Jacques Patvin, Pierre Patvin, Basil Pioner, James Portneuf (Abanaker), Jean Baptiste (or P.B.) Proveau, Charles Rondeau, Louis Satakarata Junior (alias Rabiska), Louis Satakarata Senior (Shorakorta)Thomas Toyanel, Pierre Villandri, Louis Vivet, Pierre Walker (Wagner), and Thomas Zawaiton.  While Louis and Portneuf were Abenaki Indians, Cannon was an American, and William Johnson was an Englishman, the rest of the party consisted of French-Canadians or Metis and Hawaiians.  The fun-loving Islanders had found employment in the company as the result of Honolulu becoming a trans-shipment point between London and the Columbia River.  On westward voyages via Cape Horn, the Hudson's Bay Company ships would unload English manufactured goods for the English (2) and American settlers residing on the Islands and then reload the ships with sugar, molasses, rice and coffee for Fort Vancouver.  In many instances these Islanders, called Kanakas, found work with the company as seamen.

     These voyageurs left Fort George on November 24 in three bateaux.  The inland water route chosen by McMillan was difficult but practical.  To have attempted the stormy seas of the open coast with their frail canoes would have been disastrous.  From Fort George the party paddled down the broad Columbia to Baker Bay.  From here they portaged overland to Shoalwater Bay.  They followed inland a small stream which flowed into the bay and then again portaged to Gray's Harbour into which ran the Chehalis River.  They ascended the Chehalis to a tributary which they named the Black River because of its colour and reached its source from Lake Tumwater.  On November 30 they secured as a guide Pierre Charles, a French-Canadian, who was living with the Indians.  An Indian trail led them from Tumwater Lake to Eld Arm of Puget Sound.

     On December 13 they entered Mud Bay and began to ascend the little Nicomekl River.  This river was blocked with driftwood, necessitating a great deal of work to make passage for the large bateaux.

     The driftwood was not the only difficulty which had to be overcome.  An 8,000 yard portage between the Nicomekl and the Salmon Rivers had to be crossed.  The party required three days to get their boats and baggage over this obstacle.  On December 15 they reached the Fraser. Jean Baptiste Proveau, one of the party who had descended the river with Fraser in 1808 instantly recognized the mountains to the north (Golden Ears).  The party proceeded upriver to seek out a suitable location for a fort and to get acquainted with the Indians.  The following day, they descended the river to salt water; on their return journey the party reached Fort George on the Columbia, having followed down the coastline, on December 30.  McMillan's vital information was only to be filed for future use.

     On June 27, 1827, a group of 25 men again under the command of Chief Trader McMillan left for the Fraser River from Fort (3) Vancouver, a new post situated about 90 miles up the Columbia. McMillan was again accompanied by Clerk Annance.  He also had two new clerks--George Barnston and Donald Manson.  The other 21 men were:--Anawiskum MacDonald, Amable Arquoith (Arquoitte)James Baker, Louis Boisvert, Oliver Bouchard, Pierre Charles, Como, Joseph Cornoyer, Jean Baptiste Dubois, Jean Baptiste Ettiers (Ettue), Dominique Faron, John Kennedy, Peeoh Peeoh, Antoine Pierrault, Jacques Peirrault, Francois Piette dit FaniantSimon Pomondean (Plamondon)Louis Satakarata Junior (dit Rabaska)Laurent Sauve dit LaPlanteFrancois Xavier Tarihonya (Tarihonhga), and Abraham Vincent.  McMillan, Annacis, and Barnston Islands, all located in the Lower Fraser River, and Manson Mountain near Hope, are named in honour of the Chief Trader and his Clerks.

     McMillan's new clerks had varied careers.  Manson had been born in Scotland and had joined the company's service in 1817 at the age of 17.  Because of his education and his long and faithful service he rose in the ranks.  He left Fort Langley in 1828 and went to Fort Vancouver.  In 1831 he acted as second-in-command to Peter Skene Ogden in the expedition which founded Port Simpson at the mouth of the Nass River.  He subsequently established Fort McLoughlin on Milbanke Sound and ran it for nine years.  In 1841 he took charge of Fort Kamloops on the Thompson River.  In 1842 he took the place of John McLoughlin Junior, the son of Dr. John McLoughlin, who had been killed by Indians at Fort Stikine.  In 1844 he was promoted to the command of New Caledonia.  He retired from this position in 1857 and settled at Champoeg on the Willamette River in Oregon.

     Clerk Barnston was also a Scotsman.  Leaving Fort Langley he was put in charge of Fort Nez Perce.  He retired in 1831 and went to Lachine, Quebec, but rejoined the following year and with Alexander Caulfield Anderson explored the Ottawa River in Ontario and the Great Lakes.  For some years he was in charge of Norway House at the north end of Lake Winnipeg.  He retired a second time and settled in Montreal.

     McMillan's party used only two boats in 1827 to reach the Fraser.  They were escorted to the open sea by the schooner Cadboro, under the command of Aemilius Simpson.  The party (4) paddled down the broad Columbia and safely over the shoals at its mouth.  Upon reaching salt water they were picked up by the Cadboro and taken north along the Pacific coastline and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Gulf of Georgia.  From here the schooner brought them up the Fraser to the site chosen for the establishment of the fort by McMillan in 1824.

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Copyright Donald E. Waite / Lisa M. Peppan