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Fred Brewer's Diary , 1912

In 1912 Fred Brewer, along with two other men, started from Edmonton with the intent of going to the Peace River Country. The trio went by way of the Athabasca Landing and Lesser Slave Lake trails. With Fred Brewer were Thomas E. Denning from Iowa, and Williard Martin from North Dakota. Later, along the trail they joined with the outfits of F. Olsen from California and O. & E. [Eddie] Johnston from Minnesota. Mr. Brewer, who turned back after reaching Grouard, kept a diary of the trip which is a wealth of information. 

In 2017, I met Brewer’s grandson Ron Payne and his

wife Marlena, who had come to northern Alberta to follow

the path Ron’s grandfather had taken. They have given

me permission to share the diary. Some grammar

is edited ffor readability.

Fred Brewer, Date Unknown.

Fred Brewer's Diary , 1912

July 16 - 1912 (Introduction)

Thomas E. Denning, Williard Martin & Fred (T.E.) Brewer left Edmonton Tuesday, July 16th for Peace River District via Athabasca Landing and Lesser Slave trail. Two oxen and a New Deal Covered Wagon was the palace car that took the trio into the wilds of the illustrious north ahead of the steam railroad. We were called fools for attempting the trip and as the happenings of the trip from day to day are recorded in this Diary, it will then be known how strongly and fitting the word ‘fools’ applies to the party of three pioneers. 

Tuesday, July 16th 

After a great deal of hustle and trips down town for articles forgotten, the trio managed to get into motion about 4:30 P.M. and amid cheers from Mrs. Charles and good-byes from short acquaintances the husky oxen started the prairie schooner into motion. We made about eight miles that evening and put up camp just north of Swift’s Packing House. Our first bad luck was getting on the wrong road, but we were expecting just such luck and were not disappointed. I had beef steaks, and bacon for eight o’clock supper. The latter was partaken of too freely and rather dampened our taste for the pig. 

Note: Swift’s Packing House built a meatpacking plant in 1908 near the Transit Hotel, along Fort Road in Edmonton. It was this area the the trio would have camped. Reference:

Wednesday, July 17th

Pulled out in the morning about five a.m. The day was nice and warm and we made good time. Got off the road only once and then only about two miles extra drive behind a pair of speedy bulls - “I guess not.” I had to get a line on a fence to see them move. We camped at noon in the woods and by evening were about five miles from Sturgeon River. Made camp in a field along the road. I had a good sleep.

Thursday, July 18th

Up at four in morning and made Sturgeon River about six, camped there all day and tried luck at fishing - never had a bite except under my hat. In the afternoon we done our washing in the pioneer way - A cake of soap in one hand and a shirt in the other, and by hanging on [bushes] with teeth, got up enough friction to make a little suds and not get clothes any dirtier than before starting the operation. Left Sturgeon Creek about four thirty p.m. and made seven or eight miles that evening. Camped along the road side. 

Friday, July 19th

Raining hard in the morning and not pleasant for traveling. Made Vermillion Creek at noon and had a dandy Mulligan Stew of three partridge we shot in the morning. Rained hard, but we made a fire and got pot a boiling. Stood in the rain and had as nice a meal as I ever had along the route. We were all wet to the skin, but a little thing like that didn’t put a damper on our enthusiasm to reach the goal - Grand Prairie. Left about three p.m. and made about seven miles. Camped along the road. Purchased some onions and had a good supper. 

Saturday, July 20th

Up in the morning about four - just about as near froze as could be and live. Put on wet clothes and hustled for wood for fire. I hooked up the oxen about six and after being on the road a short time soon forgot the frosts we previously suffered. Made Pott’s Lake about ten and camped until four p.m. Shot partridge at Lake and had good Mulligan with rice, onions and potatoes added. Left about four and made Creek about eight miles distant. We bought bed ticking at a store we passed and got straw for a soft bed. Thos. Denning said the hard boards were getting the best of him.

Sunday, July 21

Camped all day at Creek and gave oxen the whole Sunday to rest and feed. Laid around all day ourselves and got straw in the tick and had a soft bed for Sunday night's rest. Rain had cleared and sun came out at times. A colored man who made camp across from our camp called to visit us in the evening. The cook tried to make pancakes and made an awful mess. All of us would rather starve than eat them. It started like soft dough leather bound. Thos. Denning commenced to worry about our future baking. Managed to get a loaf of sour bread from a good hearted French woman. 

Trail Map 1 IMG_4408.jpg

Part 1 of 3 of Athabasca Trail Map found by the Payne's.

Date & Source Unknown.

Trail Map 2 IMG_4409.jpg

Part 2 of 3 of Athabasca Trail Map found by the Payne's.

Date & Source Unknown.

Trail Map 3 IMG_4410.jpg

Part 3 of 3 of Athabasca Trail Map found by the Payne's.

Date & Source Unknown.

Monday, July 22nd

Feeling good after Sunday rest. Oxen pretty frisky and gave trouble to catch Teddy. Made Lewis at about nine and found an old log hut occupied. Our new acquaintances proved to be nice fellows and they were up against it. We gave them breakfast and dinner. Two other ox teams pulled up and we had a jolly party for the afternoon. Rained quite a bit and we put the stove in the hut and then we couldn’t stay there for smoke. Found old stove pipes and succeeded in making a warm place to lay in the rain. Left about four and made about nine miles. I had to get water from the mud hole to cook a partridge and rabbit we shot. A wet cool night again.

Thursday, July 23rd

Up early in the morning and made Smith’s about ten. I had porridge for dinner. Rained a little, but we were now so used to the rain that we would have felt ill at ease in the sunshine. Pulled out about three and nearly got stuck on a hill before we got five rods from camp. Managed to drive across fields and make it. We are now about ten miles from Athabasca Landing and anxious to see the big town we had heard so much about. Met a nice Sweed along the road and we gave him his supper about four miles from Landing at Beaver Dam. Camped there all night and built a large fire to dry out from recent wetting. 

Note: Smiths is on the map Marlene & Ron provided. A rod is 1/320 of a  mile or 16 ½ feet.

Wednesday, July 24th

Up early and without any excitement made Athabasca Landing about eight. Were advised not to attempt a trip to Grand Prairie, but we told our new found friends that we were going if we lived. Crossed the river on a ferry and got stuck getting off the wooden boat. Had friends help on wheels and we pulled up the first grade. Second grade was a dandy and we were stuck for sure. A fellow bound for Grand Prairie hooked his horses on load and up we went. Made camp about a quarter of a mile from the hill and along the river. Berries were plentiful and we got a good mess for supper.

Thursday, July 25th

Woke up in the morning and it was raining hard. Went downtown and had a good look at the famous Athabasca Landing. Found it the slowest and poorest looking little village that could be found in the north. All the boom was real estate talk to people who had never seen the place. Rained all day and of course got wet again. W. Martin had some excitement with a dog who tore his coat, and he went back past the house with the revolver handy to kill the canine. Nothing happened to break the monotony of the steady rain. I wrote several letters and cards as also did the other two. 

Friday, July 26th

I had about six hundred pounds shipped by boat past the muskeg. We met two other bull teams and we will travel together and trust that six oxen on a wagon can pull through anything if the top of the cover is in sight. Three other fellows came along and after having dinner we started to face the worst part of the journey. Traveled twelve miles before we camped. Road fairly good on whole. Our camping place was hard to get and we stopped about ten miles out and had to dig for water. No water prospects and so a couple miles farther brought us to a homesteaders clearing and a well. Had a big Mulligan Stew from nine rabbits shot. Turned in about eleven. Oxen pretty tired. 

Saturday, July 27th

Turned out about 5:15 from warm bed to cool morning air. Light lunch of cold Mulligan and the three prairie schooners get underway. Only got lost once and had to make five miles extra and roads very heavy. About ten o’clock we discovered a water hole and camped until 4:30 P.M. Pulled on then to Bald Hill, which name fully describes the place. Found dandy clearing along the river and camped for Sunday. En route passed over a little muskeg and for a couple of miles of the old corduroy roads, the later being hard on bull-[punchers]. Lots of moose and a few bear tracks, but no heavy game to be seen.

Sunday, July 28th

Had a nice quiet Sunday in the clearing. The oxen have a chance to rest, which they well deserve after the heavy pulling through rough and soft roads. I had two good meals and for myself I was able to put away as much as three men ordinarily could handle. I had the top of my head shaved to try and coax the hair to grow a little more lively. The flies bit it a little, but by keeping my hat on I may be able to take the next six weeks treatment which are the same as today’s. Tom Denning is the artist and does the job as well as a city barber. 

Monday, July 29th

Left our Sunday Camp about 5:15 a.m. We ran into the muskeg as bad as I have ever seen on trail so far. Olsen’s team stuck, we hooked on and pulled out. Two other teams got through o.k. Patches of muskeg all day long, but nothing near as bad as we expected. Road good & rough and nothing but a strong wagon could stand the jolting. We had a little bad luck: broke two thugs and pins, but Olsen happened to have an old pair which pulled us through. Tom Denning broke all his previous records in the profanity line when a thug broke just as the wagon was up a small hill. Very warm in the daytime, but the night is good and cold. Camped about thirty (or a little better) miles from Athabasca Landing. Two other boys from Calgary are keeping near us and make their camp in the same place as we do.

Tuesday, July 30th

Got started at about six a.m. Too hard to get up early. Made five miles and camped at noon at a  creek where we found a family with three wagons and nineteen head of horses. Had a good Mulligan from five partridge shot the night before. Pulled out about five p.m. after a supper of warmed up Mulligan. About six we got stuck in the real old muskeg. I hooked four oxen to each wagon and pulled through with trouble - only about fifty feet of the mud. Made camp about one mile farther, along a little creek. The feed was fine for cattle. Found dandy moose horns and tested revolver and small rifle against horns. The rifle would penetrate at places but the revolver would hardly make a dent unless there was no chance for the ball to glance. Went to bed with good resolutions for an early start in the morning. 

Wednesday, July 31st

Tom surpassed himself in waking up the camp at three fifteen. Image he laid awake half the night to redeem himself from the two previous mornings he slept in. Made about seven or eight miles and camped at a nice running creek for dinner. Got a rabbit in the morning for the dogs. Left camp for afternoon pull and made a nice running creek about eight miles distant, where we found the two boys and a man with family & three wagons ahead of us. Mosquitoes are very bad all night and very sultry. Wagon was in a slanting position & uncomfortable to sleep in. Met two boys from Edmonton to Peace River Crossing and they were just returning. They reported roads in a better condition than what we had come through. The man with the large family and three wagons gave us some Violin music before going to bed. Any old music is good on the lonesome trail.    

Thursday, August 1st

Tom Denning couldn’t sleep so he roused the camp up at 2:50. We were all up before it was light. Tom quite often gets fidgety and nervous and the only way to keep him quiet is to get him moving. The trail is not putting any flesh on him. Made about ten miles from 4:55 to 8:45. Camped a little past [Mead] Lake for noon, Tried ducks in the lake and got one. An [?] over two friends of a week’s traveling acquaintance pretty near come to blows on the morning trip and since then they have dissolved partnership and each cooks for himself and keeps provision apart! Made noon camp at Creek near [Mead] Lake. Two Evans boys caught up with us about three. I had a good sleep in the afternoon and about five started for the creek about six miles distant. Met two boys on horseback who had been to Peace River Country and they reported trail good and were they were much pleased with the country. Made camp at a good creek in good shape.

Friday, August 2nd

Up in the morning before daylight, we had our usual breakfast of oatmeal, canned Bluenose Butter and sugar. Made Mirror Landing about eleven o’clock and loaded on our trunks and three hundred pounds of flour. Freight bill from Landing to Mirror Landing was four fifty. Tried my luck at fishing but never had a bite. Evans boys loaded on fourteen hundred pounds of Mr. Johnston’s provision and started over the seventeen mile portage. We decided we could freight our five hundred and fifty pounds over ourselves. Mirror Landing consists of a freight shed, country store, telegraph office and pile of baled hay. It’s only a trading post and a place for the boat to stop to unload for the portage. Left Mirror Landing about three and camped overnight along Little Slave River about eight miles distant. 

Saturday, August 3rd

Got started about six o’clock and about twelve made camp for over Sunday about twelve miles distant. Our camp was situated on Little Slave River alongside a little creek running into the River. About a  mile from camp we got into a mud hole up to the hubs and it made four oxen work to pull a wagon out. About a mile and a half from camp we got acquainted with a settler by the name of Mr. Chase. He sold us a pail of new potatoes and gave us a pail full of lettuce. About a half mile distant we found an [Indigenous] encampment and bought a piece of moose meat, about five pounds for a quarter. The two Evans boys caught up to us about six ‘clock and with our meat and potatoes, bannock, rice, and lettuce we eight had a royal banquet about nine in the evening. I tried my luck at fishing but never got a bite. Eddie Johnston caught a nice three pound pickerel. About Tuesday noon we hope to reach Lesser Slave Lake and get some fish.

Sunday, August 4th

We observe Sundays on our trip as a day of rest. There are no churches anywhere near. If there was, I am afraid our dirty old clothes and long whiskers would ban us from any church if there happened to be any Eastern style about them. I had a cold breakfast about eight and about half past it started to rain and at the present moment of writing I am cooped up in the wagon to keep dry. Rained until about five in the evening. We then got some dry wood and had a good big meal - large fish caught on Saturday, some bannock and new potatoes. Retired early to sleep and glad that one rainy day was passed and hoped for sunshine in the morning. 

Monday August 5th

Tom got the outfit in motion about five a.m. Martin, the cook, could not get up, and so I had the porridge to make and some cold Mulligan to warm up. It was cool in the morning, but no rain, but the grass was long and one soon got wet. Before we got over five miles from camp, we got stuck in the mud holes twice. Four oxen easily pulling a wagon out. We made about nine miles and camped for noon at the river’s side. After a four hour rest and Olsen's bull nearly running away with me hanging on the halter with one hand, we started and made about eight miles. Most of the afternoon trip was out on the prairie and it seemed good to get out of the thick woods after seeing nothing but trees for three  weeks. The grass at our night camp is most plentiful and higher and oxen can soon fill up and rest. We are now about two hundred miles from Edmonton, with twice as far to go.

Tuesday, August 6th

Up at five and started at seven. The long grass was wet, and so was I before I got my hands on the stubborn oxen. I rode as far as Sawridge (2 miles). Sawridge has a General Store, Telegraph Office, and several houses and a couple dozen [Indigenous peoples] wigwams. Stayed at Sawridge about ten minutes to buy some supplies at three times the value, then started the Lesser Slave Lake Trail. [Based on the following entries re: stones, this would have been the north shore trail.]  Made about three miles and called a halt for dinner. Stones by the millions and oxen not shod. This afternoon we are going to make enquiries about the road and if it is no better than it is at present, we can’t make it. Started back to Sawridge to find out about the trail and about a mile down the road met a fellow who directed us to a man at a lumber camp who had been over the trail. We returned with him and got information that the other man had got through and why shouldn’t we. At five we started over gravel again and after five miles of the hardest pull yet, made camp at a Point about nine o’clock. Our oxen looked pretty tough and there is no food for them, hardly at all. 

Wednesday August 7th

Had a good, sound sleep and woke up [at] about seven. It was windy and the lake was rolling like a young ocean. Had breakfast of fried mush and hit the rocky road again. About four-a-half hours of hard pulling only got us about four miles or a little better. The oxen without feed are feeling the effects of the trip and slow a mile or two extra. Had a dinner of bannock & rice and look the proposition in the face. Our load was too heavy for the oxen and we decided to build a raft and take off a few hundred pounds. Had a try at raft making and got together such a looking thing that we decided to use the rocky road again and about five made a start. Our team made about two hundred yards and gave up. Mr. Olsen got through, but we had to camp for the night.

Thursday, August 8th

Before going to bed Wednesday night we decided that the only way out of the difficulty was to make a raft and load on half our load. We all got up early and started a good raft. I had to walk ahead about five miles to tell Mr. Olsen, who was camping at a creek that we were coming through and was not going to turn back. When I arrived back at our camp, I found the raft completed. We had a dinner of mush and bannock and loaded the raft with about 700 pounds. Tom Denning and myself started out and made Martin Creek about eight in the evening. Of all my experiences so far, the raft was the limit. We pulled it for a couple of miles. Tom played out and I got a cramp in my arm. I pulled off my clothes and swam and wadded and Tom also did the same and after about three hours in the water we reached Martin Creek - “All In.” Mr. Olsen Gave us a good feed of rice and after about an hour the teams came along. We had destroyed the top on the wagon to lighten the load and so had to sleep on the ground rolled up in a blanket with a canvas partly stretched over us. It was the hardest day I had ever had and I almost wished I had never attempted the trip

Friday, August 9th

Up about seven and felt no bad effects from exposure. Tore raft apart and vowed never to attempt to run another. Found an old boat and firmed it up so it would carry a few hundred pounds. Tried my luck at fishing but no success. About five left Martin Creek. I took four hundred pounds of flour and about sixty pounds of oatmeal on the boat and started out. The boat leaked pretty freely, but by bailing kept the flour dry and the boat gradually soaked up. The teams camped about five miles from the creek and I pulled in and unloaded and got the flour under cover just before a rain came up. The rain did not last long. We took the wagon tongue and hoisted it up and put canvas over it and slept under. The sleeping on the ground is not as nice as being high and dry in a wagon. 

Saturday, August 10th

Up at four and started at half past. I took the boat and rowed for a couple of miles. We did not take time to get breakfast, and I felt the need of it, pulling the boat again with a wind and heavy loaded at that. I pulled ashore and let Martin take the boat and I punched the bulls. The road was nothing but a rock pile and the oxen's feet were getting pretty sore. About nine o’clock they commenced to stop up, and what a time I had to get them moving. They stopped before long again and three of us couldn't convince them that we were in a hurry. We unhitched and had dinner of some partridge shot in the morning. About four we started them up again - it took about a half an hour, and they even got on their backs with their feet and air to show that their feet were sore. We had about a quarter of a mile to make to get good feed and we finally convinced them with a whip to get a move on. They made it and we were as tired as they were. I had to haul one ox along by the lead. We will give them a good rest now that we have feed for them. 

Sunday, August 11th

Before retiring Saturday night, we had decided to get up Sunday morning about four and make  about three miles farther, where we knew of better feed for the oxen. It was so rough on the Lake that we couldn't run the boat, and so we turned over and slept until nine. We had our dinner and breakfast combined - it consisted of a large Mulligan Stew. Saturday evening we got eight partridge and a duck, and with rice, puffed wheat, onions and water, combined with the birds we had a dandy banquet. We laid around and talked and read some old magazines, and about five we hooked up and made a pull for the feeding place ahead. The poor oxen are having it hard over the stoney ground without shoes on. The feed has been so poor along the lake that they must be hungry all the time

Monday, August 12th

Four found us trying to get our eyes open - it was and always has been a desperate struggle and generally takes about five minutes before a person gets good natured enough to say “Good Morning” in an even cheerful tone. I helped Bill load the boat with flour and with my gun over my shoulder started after the teams. Made a good drive and stopped for dinner. About three I started with the boat, loaded with the flour and the oatmeal. The wind was blowing and the rain started to come and between the two I had one dandy time rowing that old leaky boat. For four hours I had to keep up the struggle and then pulled in where the teams had camped. I was wet to the skin and hungry. Bill fried two ducks and with the cold Mulligan left from noon, made a hearty meal. Then we three crawled into damp wet blankets and slept through the rain.

Tuesday, August 13th

On account of the rain and the damp condition of our bedding and ourselves, we slept in until about eight and it was ten before we hit the trail. The grass was long and wet and so a person had no difficulty in keeping the lower limbs cool and wet. We passed through a Cree [Indigenous] camp and I purchased two large Whitefish for thirty five cents - we had fish for the three meals, and they tasted good. In the afternoon it fell my lot to drive the oxen. Bull Skinning is one job above all that “gets my goat.” A man that can drive an ox without getting a bit ruffled has won my admiration. We made almost eleven miles this day and are feeling encouraged and hope to be in Grouard by Saturday at the latest. From there on the roads are reported good.

Wednesday, August 14th

Just twenty minutes after four the camp was aroused by the familiar and weird sound of Tom Dennings voice. Breakfast was cooked (oatmeal, cold fish and tea) and by ten to six we hit the trail once again. For the first couple of hours the wet grass made a person's legs feel as if they were not missing any of the dew on the grass, and whichever way you turned you imagined you shook off the most amount of moisture in the shortest possible time. I had the misfortune to drop Mr. Johnston's pipe case and have a wagon run over it. I will replace it at Grouard. After dinner I took a turn at rowing the boat. The wind and sea was in my favor and I made good time. I pulled up at a dock used for loading wood for Hudson's Bay boats. I waited for teams and they did not show up and so I slept in an [Indigenous person’s] canoe I found. My coat was [my] pillow and I used Tom's coat for a blanket and used a raincoat to cover over all.

Thursday, August 15th

Had a good sleep in the canoe and was up in the morning about 4:30 and boiled up some oatmeal in a tin can and had a fair breakfast. After my light lunch I started to find where the outfit had gone. I had to walk back about three miles and found them camped at a lumber shanty. Johnston's wagon had upset (no damage, except [house] of cover broken). It was the last place to feed before reaching Grouard. Bill and I started back together to take the boat into Grouard, while teams proceeded through the wooded trail. When I reached Grouard I had a big meal. I then relieved Bill at oars and pulled the boat through Buffalo Bay and into Salt Creek. I had a time to get the boat through as the water was shallow. I waited where Evan's boys were camping until nine and then had to walk about two miles to where our outfit was camping. I found them rolled up in blankets asleep.

Friday, August 16th

About nine o’clock Tom and I went downtown and had a breakfast at a restaurant. A poor breakfast for fifty cents it was. Tom got some mail, but not the money he expected. I arranged for a man to see the oxen and wagon. He came along in the afternoon where I was camping and made me an offer of two hundred & sixty five, thirty five dollars more than I paid [See Original Reciept]. Mr. Johnston said he would give me that price and I sold it to him. I am tired of oxen, and as Tom is unable to pay his share, I am selling out and if I go, I will just pay for myself. Mr. Johnston put up his tent and we will all sleep in it, while we are here.   

Saturday, August 17th

After breakfast I wrote a letter home. Received two letters from home when I arrived here. The other boys have bought about all of my outfit and all I have to sell is just flour and I hope to easily get rid of that down town. I hope to get a suitable “Indian” pony to continue the trip. I am through with Tom, as he has not been able to get his money, he was so positive would be here waiting for him. Bill effects to go on with Johnston and will drive the oxen he brought from me. I feel sorry for Tom, but he got himself into the box, and as I have looked after him for a couple of months, I think I will let someone else. I am afraid he has been telling some things about his wealth that [aren’t true].

Ox Reciept P1 IMG_4406.jpg
Ox Reciept P2 IMG_4407.jpg

Sunday, August 18th

The Sabbath broke bright and clear and will be good and warm. I have just completed a letter to Wm. Peach, extending my sympathy at the loss of his mother and also my friend. I also wrote to V.M.C. [Violet Mary Corbett, whom Fred would later marry. See picture with their daughter Elaine.] After dinner I read a magazine and slept alternately. In the afternoon an English Church clergyman (Archdeacon Robinson) asked us if we wanted service. We said Yes! About eight in the evening our bunch and part of the road gang gathered into a tent, and for me it was my first frontier sermon. After the sermon he gave us a talk about the country. He has been in every part of the north preaching.  

Fred Brewer Wife Violet Daughter Elaine IMG_4414.jpg

Monday, August 19th

Olsen and Evan boys pulled out early for Peace River Country. I went down town with Johnston and helped him load on his goods shipped by boat. Mr. Johnston gave me two hundred and sixty five dollars for my wagon and oxen. I have everything sold out and expect to return to Edmonton. In the afternoon I decided that I might better go on to Peace River Crossing after coming so far. I was in Grouard News and met Mr. Burns the Editor and Manager. I sent a copy home and one to Picton Gazette. I came back to camp and made a box and packed in what I have left and caught a ride to Grouard and had it stored. All I am taking on is a blanket, revolver, rifle, knife, raincoat and cartridges. I did not get home until near midnight from Grouard.

Tuesday, August 20th

Tom woke us up at 4 a.m.. It was too dark and we laid in until near five. About five twenty we hit the trail without breakfast.  Tom took his blanket and went on ahead. We met four fellows returning from Dunvegan and they told us about nine o’clock that they met him three miles ahead and that he was trying to catch the teams that had a day's start. He did not have his breakfast and I don’t see where he can get his dinner, and I think he will have a hard time to catch the other part of the outfit. I have been wondering why I am going to Peace River Crossing when I don’t want to take up land, and will have a hard time getting back. By three o’clock we reached Hart River and had some dinner. Bill got a couple of chickens and we will have a big stew for supper. I am wondering whether to go ahead or go back. Will decide tomorrow morning. 

Wednesday, August 21st

About four thirty found me with my eyes open and decided that I would go back to Grouard. I put about thirty five pounds on my back and started an eighteen mile walk. Before I had gone a mile I thought it was a hundred pounds I was carrying. By [man/main] strength and awkwardness I traveled until noon. I found an [Indigenous person’s] cabin and found out I could get my dinner. A young [Indigenous person] was making soda cakes and I found out before long that my dinner was to combine the above mentioned article of stomach torturing with a cup of catnip tea to wash it down. I paid thirty five cents for the mixture and hit the trail again. Before going [to]many rods the catnip tea made me so sleepy that I crawled in a thicket and had a good sleep. By six o’clock I arrived at Salt Creek and got the row boat and pulled about three miles and camped along shore near Grouard. I slept on a rock pile and was tortured with mosquitoes.

Thursday, August 22nd

It was eight o’clock before I woke up. I had no breakfast and pulled the boat to Grouard intending to take the big boat to Athabasca Landing. Near where I landed the boat I met a fellow, whom I had met the day before on trail, and he said the rest of the gang was going in a small boat. I met the rest of the boys and we decided to take the boat I had used for the return trip. It started to rain about noon and it was after we had an excellent supper at the hotel (for half a dollar.) before we pulled out. At the last minute a fourth man sold his horse and made our crew member four, including a big dog. Our motto on leaving was, “Athabasca Landing or Bust.” Some rough weather before we reached Shaws Point made the dog sea sick. About nine we pulled in a bay and laid down on wet sand to sleep. About midnight it rained, and after sleeping half the time and shivering the rest, I pulled through a hard night.

Friday, August 23rd

Wasn’t I sore when I got off of the wet sand. After a good breakfast of bread, jam, coffee and oatmeal, I felt good once more. Made a sail for the boat and until the wind dropped made good progress. Caught two large fish for dinner. In the afternoon we had to row. The lake was as calm as a millpond. We took turns at rowing until about seven and then pulled up and had fish for supper. Found a log house but it was so dirty we wouldn’t sleep in it. It took a walk to an [Indigenous] village a few hundred yards away, and got a place to sleep in a shack. The [Indigenous person] charged fifty cents for four of us and the dog. I went back to the boat and we all shouldered our blankets and when we reached the hut, we were more than surprised and pleased to find a nice fire in the fireplace. I slept on a board bed and the rest took the floor, and we all slept like a log. The hut seemed nice and clean and other [Indigenous] articles.

Saturday, August 24th

Never woke up until half past six and after a good breakfast of fish, oatmeal and coffee, pulled out in the boat. Wind was good and we sailed at a good clip. Sailed right through until six o’clock - had bread and jam for dinner, served aboard the boat. About five o’clock a squall struck us and my hat went sailing across the lake - got it again without much trouble. It rained about half the afternoon and most of the night, and we are all wishing for an [Indigenous] cabin with a fire in it. Blankets and clothes were wet, but we built a large fire and partially dried it out. Another fellow and I put the tarp across a couple of poles and slept on boughs covered with blankets. It was a damp bed, but when the heat of my body warmed up my clothing, and the tarp kept off the  rain, we slept like a log until six in the morning. 

Sunday, August 25th

About six thirty I woke up and after pulling on wet boots and sweater and coat, and feeling as if I might freeze to death and not feel any colder, I done my little share towards getting breakfast ready, and after a good breakfast felt better. A good breeze was blowing down the lake and we soon left that dismal wet shore in the distance. Every minute the wind and waves increased and how we did speed up. Made Sawridge about twelve, had dinner and started again going down Little Slave River. Being out of Lake it was warmer, being more sheltered. In the afternoon it rained most of the time, and by eight o’clock a more frozen crew couldn't be found. We found a settler (Mr. Chase) who gave us a lunch and let us sleep on his kitchen floor. The house did smell bad, but being tired slept like a log, too tired even to dream.

Monday, August 26th

Mr. Chase gave us our breakfast including fish, potatoes, jam and soda cakes. He only charged fifty cents a piece for the sleeping accommodation, lunch, and breakfast. By eight o’clock we started again and inside an hour we were shooting the rapids in the Little Slave River. They were not as swift as I expected, and it was a good thing they wasn’t. The water was low and we struck rocks and stone piles, but managed to get off of them without much trouble. The many bumps we had made our leaky boat leak more than usual. By six o’clock we reached Mirror Landing. We spent the night in an old shack. A couple of breeds, a couple of Frenchman, our party of four and two dogs, and occasionally a pig slept on the floor. It rained all night long.

Tuesday, August 27th

After the usual breakfast of bacon, mush, coffee, bread and jam, the boat was loaded with its freight and passengers and started down the Athabasca River towards Athabasca Landing. Seventy five miles had to be traveled before the leaky boat could be dispersed with. We traveled all day, had our dinner aboard, consisting of canned pork & beans, and crackers. It rained the usual amount, but I had my slicker on and felt quite comfortable, although the other three of the crew did considerable shivering. About four thirty Bald Hill was sighted and by five we tied up there and took possession of a nice shack with a stove in it. Cooked supper and spent the night there. It rained all night and the dry shack with a fire, made a comfortable stopping place. 

Wednesday, August 28th

When we woke up in the morning it was still raining and so we slept a little longer. I had breakfast and laid around until about eleven, when it seemed to be clearing up. The wind was in our favor and with our sail hoisted we pulled out on the last twenty five miles of the water trip. The wind and current took us along pretty lively and by three p.m. we pulled in at Athabasca Landing. Two of the boys packed their load on their back and started for Edmonton. One fellow hired out for government road work and took a boat down river to near Fort McMurray. I put up at North Star Rooming House. Three in a room. I had a stretcher to myself. 

Thursday, August 29th

Woke up feeling refreshed after sleeping in a dry place and on something softer than a board or stone pile. My sleep was occasionally disturbed by a drunk in the dining room who yelled regularly every few minutes. When I got down to breakfast I found out that he had kicked the panel out of the door, broke a pan of dishes, tore down a couple of lamps and in fact changed the appearance of everything he could by kicking and pulling. Reports circulated to the effect that the train would be in some time and I decided that I would be patient as long as I could and wait for the train. Athabasca Landing is the worst drunken hole I have ever seen. At four o’clock a message came saying “train’ would be in next morning, leaving Morinville at 7 p.m. I slept at North Star another night. 

Friday, August 30th

Had my usual sleep and after breakfast loafed around town waiting for that train to come and at same time learning to hate the place worse every minute. Outside of the numerous drunks, Athabasca Landing has nothing to entertain people unlucky enough to get within its gates. About two thirty a couple of railway officials landed in town on a hand-car - train could only get within three miles of town. I walked down tracks with several others and after a great deal of disturbance and sweating got my baggage there also. Train pulled out and after going about fifty miles ran off the tracks and we were there all night. About 5 a.m. got going again and got in Edmonton at 8 a.m. in the morning.

And so ends Fred Brewer's account of his trip into northern Alerta. If you enjoyed this, and would like to donate to Sheila's efforts to share Alberta's history you can email money transfer to or use a credit card to buy buying her a coffee!

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