Food and learning under northern lights, Part 1/4 Yellowknife

Muskox Bourguignonne
Muskox strip loin, Mushrooms and Pearl Onions simmered in Red Wine
Caribou Stroganoff
Ground Caribou and Mushrooms simmered in a Garlic Sour Cream Sauce

Northern entrées by Pammy’s great4granddaughter

Museum of Civilization facing Parliament Hill

Museum of History facing Parliament Hill

The Canadian Museum of History is built as a grand curvilinear that grasps the Gatineau bank of the Ottawa River opposite Parliament Hill. In the museum’s Canada Hall a great journey is simulated through many centuries and over vast distance via icons of Canada’s social history. Under the ceiling’s super high dome the adventure starts at a sod longhouse, part of a Viking settlement on the northern tip of Newfoundland around 1000 AD. Basque ship, whaling station, Métis settlement, Voyageur camp, Ukrainian church, grain elevator, Chinese hand laundry, the many turns and tides of the Canadian historical experience are replicated. Finally, at the far end of the trek through Canada’s history, the visitor is invited to sit, sip tea and listen a while to tales of the frozen northwest in the warm welcome of the Wildcat Café.
The Wildcat is faithfully reproduced and featured at the museum because it was at the core of the pioneer community of Yellowknife and remains a symbol of identity in the Northwest Territories. In this expanse of more than a million square kilometers of the Canadian northlands just 41,000 people face tremendously challenging climatic extremes. (Nunavut, which was carved from the Northwest Territories in 1999 and stretches to Alert, 800 kms from the North Pole and the northernmost permanently inhabited point in the world, has twice the area of NWT, just 31,000 people and even more challenging conditions.) In the harsh northern frontier, prospectors, bush pilots, miners and trappers created places where they could exchange information and stories. The Wildcat was a popular gathering spot, part of the core and colour of Yellowknife. Built in 1937, an early owner also ran one of the two taxis then operating in town. His was the bigger car and he contrived a head-on collision with the other cab to drive his competitor out of business.

Wildcat-CafeThe Wildcat was popular but not always prosperous. It served at various times as an eatery, a Chinese restaurant, an ice cream and soda stand. Once it featured steam baths next door. Each new venture told of a previous failure. Finally, in the 1970s a volunteer group undertook to restore the log cabin, now one of the last remaining buildings in what had been the commercial centre of Yellowknife in the 1940s, and reopen it in 1979 as a restaurant featuring northern fare such as caribou and char.
It was this enterprising revival that caught the interest of the Museum of Civilization, which was itself re-housed in the sweeping cantilevered vision of Métis architect Douglas Cardinal in 1989, though it traces its origins as one of North America’s oldest cultural institutions back to 1856 (and was renamed the Canadian Museum of History in 2013).
Icon it might be, but the Wildcat wasn’t protected by any heritage or museum budget. Enthusiasts for heritage restoration proved over time not as adept at restaurant management. What the museum didn’t know – Yellowknife is a long way off and there are no direct flights – was that the restaurant had fallen on hard times again even as they were building the full-scale replica in Canada Hall. There was a danger that the Wildcat would be closing just as the Canada Hall exhibit was opening.
Then Pammy’s great4granddaughter took a hand. Kerrin had lived a decade in Yellowknife. A single mom with a fresh teaching degree from McGill, she’d come to teach at the school named for John Franklin. Her ancestor had once encountered the famed northern explorer. Returning in 1827 from two years of exploration in the Arctic, Franklin stopped at Bytown (now Ottawa) and presided at a ceremony at the entrance locks of the Rideau Canal on August 16. Pammy was among “as large and respectable gathering of spectators as had ever been witnessed at this place” for Franklin’s show. The intrepid adventurer, who would later return on a fourth expedition to the far north and disappear completely, laid the first stone of the great work that Colonel By and his men, the sapper Pammy among them, would strive mightily to build over the next five years.
Kerrin’s address — Trail’s End, Northwest Territories — spoke of vistas in the Canadian landscape that few have witnessed. Born and bred in Montreal, a big city girl, she came to know the midnight sun, the great life forms, the northern lights, the huge expanses and ice floes. “The north grows on you,” say those who know. “Eventually you have to decide whether you will spend the rest of your life there or get out.” Kerrin sank roots. She would stay.
Teaching was her vocation, cuisine her passion with some strong family antecedents. A grandfather owned one of the signature restaurants in mid-twentieth century Montreal. Her stepmother acquired the Grande Diplome of the Cordon Bleu Paris Cooking School, still on Kerrin’s kitchen wall.Wildcat KPatCAT Edit361X266
The Wildcat was a summer project, mostly months she was off from her primary occupation teaching art and drama to mostly Inuit high school students. Arctic summers are much like those in the rest of the country, with the exceptional delight that the sunlight and the days often stretch twenty hours or longer. Yellowknife has more sunshine each year than anywhere in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, or the Maritime provinces.
The distance from the replica tea room at the Museum to actual operation of the Wildcat is captured in this monologue from Kerrin’s unfinished play about food and family, Wildcat Capers. The lights come up on Cook. She is pounding caribou and occasionally swatting flies. She is wearing the patch. It’s 4:00 at the Wildcat and the restaurant is prepping for dinner.

Cook: “Veg! Veg, veg, veg! Damned ferry. Damned veg. Always a problem. Friday afternoon, four o’clock, the food order shows up – no potatoes – no corn. Brunch tomorrow and no potatoes for home fries – no veg for tonight. Fucking produce guys. Only a lunatic opens a seasonal restaurant during break-up. Where does one find 100 lbs of potatoes at four o’clock on Friday afternoon in Yellowknife? Co-op! Not supposed to shop for the restaurant at the Co-op. Costly. But what’s a girl gonna do? Boy the flies are bad today! Anyway, Danica has the car again and she’s not answering the phone. Again. It’s nice she’s still here but why does she always have my car? I am not taking a taxi to the Co-op for potatoes and veg. Twenty dollar taxi for a twenty dollar grocery bill. Well it would be down south but this is Yellowknife and the ferry isn’t in. Fucking ferry. I can pick up potatoes at Extra foods tomorrow morning and get down here before . . . No. No I can’t. Shit! Veg, veg, veg! Ok – I got carrots, celery and onion for sure. A nice mira-poix for the dinner veg? Could stuff peppers. Never been a pepper person, only in chili and spaghetti sauce. Anyway peppers stuffed with rice and served with rice and fish won’t wash, not for 16.95 a plate. God it’s hot in here. Turnip! There’s turnip left from Gord’s stew. Turnip and carrot mash. I love that. A Christmas staple at home. My favorite thing on the plate – besides the beet salad. Best thing about Christmas is the cold turkey and mayonnaise sandwiches on white bread the next morning. Plain, just salt, pepper, mayo. Marcus puts stuffing and cranberries on his, which I personally think is a mistake. (Calling backstage) Tara – could you please bring in those turnips (pause) they’re in the bag in the produce cupboard? Turnip and carrot mashed with butter salt and pepper. And beets. We have beets. A mound of turnip and carrots with beets on top. Beets warmed in melted butter with salt, pepper and . . . dill. Great! I’ve gotta use up that dill. I have a car load of the stuff. It will be tasty and look great on the plate! Bridget always said we eat first with our eyes. Dad always said it better taste good too. I can please both. But he’s right. Nana judged restaurants on how clean their bathrooms were. Daddy by the bread. Now I can pee in a dirty latrine but I insist on fresh rolls. (Again to backstage) Tara could you bring the beets too? They’re in the box under the rotten onions. Fucking produce guys. I want a credit for those onions! And the romaine!”

Kerrin's Window Ulus-384X217Kerrin ran the historic Wildcat for four seasons, for another year had her own eponymous eatery, then set off to a new frontier. Yellowknife is a pioneer town still, with a population just shy of 20,000. Only Whitehorse in the western Yukon Territory is larger, by a few thousand people, in the whole of the immense Canadian north. But Yellowknife is the NWT capital and by far the largest city in the eastern territories. Kerrin was ready to experience traditional Inuit communities. True north.
She gave notice to John Franklin, sold the house at Trail’s End and Kerrin’s Restaurant. Danica and Marcus helped stow fifteen years of accumulation and Molly the dog in a convoy of north-beaten vehicles that took the four of them almost 5,000 kilometres over seven days to near the parental home in the Nation’s Capital.
The following links will bring you to Part 2 of this series, Kangiqsualujjuaq, Part 3, Umiujaq and Part 4, True North.

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A century standing by

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On a warm summer day in 1985, Pammy’s great3grandson* looked on as Elmer MacKay, solicitor general of Canada, inaugurated the recently established museum of prison artifacts at Kingston Penitentiary, on the occasion of that cruel dungeon’s sesquicentennial. He was a member of the ministerial party because he had co-authored a history of KP. A hundred and fifty years before, on June 1, 1835, Matthew Tavender became Inmate Number One, sentenced to three years for grand larceny. Tavender and the convicts who followed him inside were forced into labour gangs that would greatly expand the fortress-like prison on the shore of Lake Ontario, but the earliest work on the massive stone building was done by local tradesmen. (A generation later the ancient stone walls would give up their last inmates at the instigation of Elmer’s son, Peter MacKay, minister of justice. KP, which overlooks the harbour where the sailing events were hosted during the 1976 Olympics, was one of the oldest prisons in continuous use in the world when it closed finally on September 30, 2013.)

+ For an explanation of the convention designating various generations of Pammy’s family, see About Rideau Canal And All That on the bar above.

In Kingston, the local workers who knew best how to work with stone were those who had just finished the Rideau Canal. The new pen, destined to be still in use in the twenty first century, wasn’t the only lucrative construction contract in those days in Kingston. Fort Henry, which commands the city’s entrance heights was — is — an imposing fortification. Some of the last Martello Towers ever built are in Kingston. It was a bit late for these defensive forts when they went up — another example of the military preparing for its last war — but they still stand tall for tourists. These were massive works of construction and times were good in Kingston, which in another half-dozen years would be the first capital of what would become Canada and where the young John Alexander Macdonald was entering upon a legal career, his thought not yet turned to politics. It was a bonanza for stone workers. Good times would come again for their descendants in the 1860s with work on Parliament buildings for the new country then being born. In the meantime they built many great houses along the Rideau corridor between the first Canadian capital (Kingston 1841) to the one we have now (Ottawa 1867), including the official residences on Sussex Drive for prime minister and governor general.

Many of the stone workers were among or had been trained by those who came to work on the canal in 1826. There were two companies of Royal Sappers and Miners recruited to assist Lt. Col. John By (right) in his great task, a complement of a hundred and sixty two men. Fifty seven were lost to accident, disease and desertion through the six years of construction. When the work was finished, seventy one of those remaining accepted hundred acre grants of land and settled along the corridor of the canal, planting outposts of settlement where none existed. And then there were the lucky few who got the land and a job as well. But few were as fortunate as William (Pammy) Fleming, who got all of that and the lady too.

Everything Jim Simmons owned was sold after he was killed in a blasting accident on the canal at Newboro in 1830. His wardrobe and kit and ‘necessaries’ went to provide some relief to his family.  Pammy, who had been a friend and fellow bricklayer among the sappers, bought a pair of regimental trousers for twelve shillings. Elizabeth Simmons, mother of a girl and seven-year old Jim Jr., received thirteen pounds, eight shillings, ninepence. Not a fortune but a tidy sum and with a widow’s pension from the military Elizabeth could bide her time. There was no shortage of suitors. There were many more men than women in Upper Canada. Women could choose. She waited two years, until it was sure that the colonel would give Pammy the job at Chaffey’s Lock. He wasn’t a big man, just five and a half feet tall, but strong. (It wasn’t a time of tall men, then or for a long time after. The mean height of a company of British soldiers en route to India in 1865 was 5’5. Winston Churchill, who was almost a teenager when Pammy died in 1887, was well short of 5’7.) He hadn’t been a non-com. Sergeants and corporals were getting preference for canal jobs. But Pammy was made an acting corporal before discharge. And she knew he had one of the essential requirements. Pammy could read and he could write, one of the few who could.

In his survey of the Rideau route in 1826 John MacTaggart, Colonel By’s clerk of works, wrote that at Chaffey’s “I am not ashamed to own that I was more puzzled to know how to act, than on any other part of the route.” This was because MacTaggart wanted to bypass the mills that Sam Chaffey and his brother had built on both banks near a waterfall of thirteen feet. It would be too expensive to expropriate the distillery and the grist, carding and sawmills that the Chaffeys had put up in the six years they had been in the area. “High banks on either side of the river, and mills choking up that river, seemed to defy the science of engineering to pass them with the Canal . . .”

But the problem would be resolved by tragic circumstance just a year later when Sam Chaffey died of malaria. His widow decided to sell the millworks and two hundred acres of land to Colonel By for two thousand pounds. His brother Ben had already departed for the United States and the family spread later to Australia, producing significant memorials wherever they settled. They are inveterate builders. One of Sam’s nephews was back at Chaffey’s in 1872 to construct a stone gristmill.

The contract to remove the mills and build a lock with nine feet of lift and a twenty foot high dam went to John Sheriff & Co. The project became known as Haggart’s Job after Sheriff’s partner, “a jolly bachelor of that name, well known for convivial hospitality to all travellers by this route.” Another year, another tragedy, when John Sheriff succumbed to malaria in 1828, along with several labourers on the lock.

Over the six year construction period more than five hundred men and an unknown number of women and children at and near the canal works died of malaria. It was a disease that had been present in eastern North America for many years. The mosquito that transmitted it could and did live here. But it was groupings of people that helped to spread the disease. In construction camps one worker to another was a zip for a mosquito. No one escaped, from Colonel By down through the ranks to the wives and children of workers. Everyone suffered. During the “sickly month” of August, six out of ten workers took to their beds with terrible pain, stomach upset, vomiting and general debility. The only known antimalarial treatment was quinine but it was quite rare and very expensive. It was hard to get in Canada and few had it. The old Chaffey’s graveyard is said to contain the remains of more unrecognized malaria victims than any other. (In the picture, Mary Anne Chaffey’s plot is fenced in, with fieldstones and headstones in the distance marking early graves where wood crosses have rotted away.)

But the work continued. And what a work it was that the colonel had conceived. To build the canal, John By had two options. The conventional and proven option was to use excavated channels of considerable length to link existing waterways that were navigable, bypassing falls, rapids, swamps and rocky shallows. By dismissed this approach as being too expensive and time-consuming, given the terrain, geology and configuration of the lakes and rivers.

Through what would be called “a fundamental stroke of creative genius” he envisioned another option, the relatively untried technology called ‘slackwater’. It would use a large number of embankments and high dams to inundate shallows, swamps, and rapids, creating a series of basins deep enough to navigate the full length of the canal. This dramatically reduced the need to excavate channels. Costs and construction time were greatly contained and compressed.

Slackwater techniques had never been attempted in North America near the complexity of what By conceived to join the Rideau and Cataraqui rivers into a corridor linking the Ottawa River with Lake Ontario. This would become the swiftest route of the day from Montreal, where most British troops were stationed, to the frontier opposite the United States at Kingston. It was the threat from the U.S. that By was addressing. He never forgot that. Speed was essential. His Corps of Royal Engineers designed an ingenious system to exercise unprecedented control over water levels. They included seventy four dams and forty seven locks at twenty four lock stations, allowing vessels to ascend eighty five metres to the summit of the canal from the Ottawa River, and then descend fifty metres to Lake Ontario.

Part of By’s genius was his foresight in planning for the future dominance of steamboats. The specs for the canal that he was given called for locks just sufficient to pass durham boats, flat-bottomed vessels propelled by sail or oars. By sought and got authorization to build larger locks able to accommodate the bigger boats that would use the emerging technology of steam power.

“It is the best preserved example of a slackwater canal in North America,” UNESCO wrote in designating the canal a World Heritage Site. “It is the only canal dating from the great North American canal-building era of the early nineteenth century to remain operational along its original line with most of its original structures intact.”

Once built, with what even today would be considered blazing speed, the problem became one of operations. By’s final task before departure was to ensure that key posts along the waterway were filled with the best candidates available. Literacy was a prime requirement for a lockmaster, but not the only one. They are outlined by Ed Bebee in his original and masterful portrayal of the workers who have kept the canal operating almost the way it was built for almost two centuries. His book is entitled Invisible Army: Hard Times, Heartbreak and Heritage, and he writes:

“What were the qualifications to be a lockmaster? First, military experience, generally as a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO), either Corporal or Sergeant; second the ability to read and write, because of the flood of written orders and the extensive record-keeping; third, basic arithmetic and some sense of book-keeping to be able to manage the accounts of tolls and local rents; fourth, robust good health; fifth, ‘steadiness’, which could mean anything. Sobriety was not a requirement, as soon became evident.”

Canal jobs were the pick of the province. The Army built the canal. The Army owned the canal. There was nothing more stable in all of Canada than the British Army. The pay was not bad and it came in cash, a rare perk in an economy that operated almost entirely on barter and long-term credit. Pammy was a lucky man and knew it the year the widow and the colonel said yes. It was 1832.

Lockmasters initially got housing (or materials to build their own) and permanent lock labourers had small houses or stayed in dormitories at larger stations. Garden plots were also provided. Lockmasters and workers were strictly admonished to avoid political partisanship and even voting. They were front line public servants and expected to behave as such. Patronage was endemic in the early days of colonial semi-self-government. The Rideau Canal was one of the few major generators of jobs and contracts in eastern Ontario. Politicians were very much aware of the opportunities. The local MP, or the defeated candidate if his party happened to be in power, would provide a list of acceptable candidates.

Pammy and his bride Elizabeth (later Gammy) had little time to consider their circumstances in those first months at Chaffey’s, after the military had departed and the first ceremonial passage was through the lock, en route from Kingston to Bytown. Colonel By and his family were joined by aides and dignitaries aboard the canal tug Pumper, renamed Rideau for the journey, greeted all along the great waterway he had built with rousing cheers that fell not far short of adulation. In this place and time he had made a wonder of the modern world. The people along the Rideau corridor, some who had been his soldiers and many who had worked on the canal, sensed greatness. Sadly, he was to fall victim to bureaucrats and petty politics on his return to Britain, his world-class achievement never celebrated by the British, whose taxes had paid for it.

The Pumper, built for Robert Drummond, one of the primary canal contractors, would be followed through the years by a succession of maintenance tugs well into the twentieth century. The longest lasting and most famous was Loretta, whose captain into the 1930s was Pammy’s grandson. Captain Ned, Kate’s brother, also had captained the Rideau King (left), one of the passenger steamers owned by his brother-in-law. For many years the Rideau King and Rideau Queen, with their musical steam whistles that could be heard for miles, provided a luxurious cruise along the beautifully crafted waterway between two of Ontario’s principal population centres. He was known as the ‘poet laureate’ within the family. When tied up overnight at a station along the waterway, the sweet sound of Captain Ned’s violin would often swell from Loretta’s deck and fill the summer evening all around.

In 1832 the population of York (Toronto) was 5,000, Kingston was 4,200 and Bytown (Ottawa), which hadn’t existed six years earlier, was 3,200. It was the beginning of urban society but not yet an urban economy. As one merchant wrote, “No one here can do business and obtain payment short of a year’s credit.” Almost all sales to farmers were on credit. They had no cash until the crops were harvested. Some debts were settled by a merchant buying land and having debtors supply labour or materials to erect a house or building.

Pammy, who built a ‘log house’ for his family when he arrived, was paid the lockmaster’s wage of $0.80 per day. The days were long, sometimes stretching through the nights and into new days. A lot of labour and time went to stretching the salary. There was a plot to grow vegetables. The potato was a staple of the daily diet, which made for hardship in the mid 1840s when a blight struck. Ireland was being devastated at the same time by this crop failure but the famine that prevailed there was in no way repeated here. Canadians were survivors in the toughest climate of the new world. They kept a cow, pigs and chickens. Fish were plentiful as were venison, ducks, muskrat. Drowned logs or trees from the surrounding forest were fuel for winter fires. They might have been colonists, or even colonials, but they weren’t landless peasants so weakened by life as the 20,000 Irish who died of disease and malnutrition on their way to Canada in 1847, one out of five who sailed.

In the colony the Rideau Canal was about to become an economic lifeline. It would get busier and busier, day and night, week after week, month on month until ice checked the flow. Ultimately, of course, the onset of a navigable St, Lawrence and the railroad combined to overpower the canal as a commercial route. But for a century the scene was the one described by an anonymous writer at Newboro, quoted by Robert Legget in Rideau Waterway. The canal was “crowded with boats carrying the produce of the country and bringing in such goods as were needed and the growing prosperity of the country could afford. City of Ottawa, Rideau King and Rideau Queen were some of the boats that carried passengers and freight and looked to one in their day like monsters of marine architecture. Tugs were towing 2, 3 and 4 barges; about 40 sailing scows carried out wood, lumber, pressed hay, grain, horses, cheese, whatever the country had to sell and brought in goods the merchants sold, the implements that were needed, the foodstuffs not grown in this climate and furnished employment to hundreds of men. Rafts of squared timber and of rough logs running up to hundreds of lock bands, built up with cook and bunk houses, stables for horses gouged by 20 or 30 men made their slow way to mills and market every year and left behind a fire menace. I have seen the men at work without a break for over sixty hours. They slept on the grass while the locks were filling and ate their meals that were brought to them sitting on a swing bar. They worked 24 hours a day, slept when they could. At first the lockmen were paid 60 cents a day for 71/2 months each year. Later their pay was raised to $1 a day and there never was a time when there was any trouble getting men to work on the lock.”

It was non-stop “when the horn blew we’d lock ‘em through” twenty four hours a day, seven days a week until 1871, after which Sunday was allowed off. Sleep between lockages was often snatched on a cot on the lockmaster’s porch. The biggest problem were the “blue barges” of logs, huge flotillas of lumber that had to be passed through the lock bit-by-bit, hour-after-hour.

For more than seven months a year there was no shortage of activity or company at the station. But in the winter it was thoroughly isolated. Distances to Kingston or even Elgin, a few miles away, were over trails rather than roads. The few people in the area had to make do with one another’s company. Pammy’s house, the largest around, was often the centre for euchre games, Christmas parties and impromptu dancing. “One of the high spots during the winter,” Melinda Warren writes in Hearth and Heritage: History of Chaffey’s Lock and Area, “would be when the carpentry crew came. The crew, of about twelve members, would camp at the station, sleeping on bunks in the storehouse. This work force was provided with their own cook, for a crew could live at the lock site for sometimes two months, building a new set of gates or a new dock. Because of their long stay they would become temporary members of the small communities. They provided a friendly diversion from long winter boredom. At night when the day’s work was done the crew, Lockmen and families would sit around the wood stove; stories and homemade bread in abundance. When the families retired for the evening, more stories and other ‘refreshments’ would be in greater abundance!

“It was a special time for the Lock Station when this crew came. The empty space which the crew left in the community when they moved on, would soon be filled by hard work to prepare for the new navigation season; and later new faces to relate the past winter’s tales to. . .”

Lockstations were strengthened in 1837-38 in response to rebellion troubles in both provinces (Upper and Lower Canada at that time, to become Canada West and East in 1841 and Ontario and Quebec in 1867) that pointed to the susceptibility of canal works to attack. Government durham boats loaded with ammunition and troops were passing through. Lock workers were called out to train with the militia. A report in Pammy’s hand describes “the loyal men who turned out to defend the lock and other works at Chaffey’s, Rideau Canal, on the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th of July, 1838,” when the lock was menaced by sympathizers with the rebellion in Upper Canada. Under Pammy’s command twenty seven volunteers, including fifteen-year-old stepson James Simmons Jr., mounted sentries and patrolled the area to deter aggression.

Captain Billy, Pammy’s son, in 1890.

In the meantime Pammy and Elizabeth had a son William in 1833. As a boy he became a lake sailor and earned his captain’s papers at an early age. He would eventually be the first master of the Rideau Queen, owned by his son-in-law, and become widely known along the Rideau as Captain Billy.

As word spread of employment possibilities, good farmland and world class sport fishing at Chaffey’s, immigrant families began to arrive, many of them fleeing the famine in Ireland. Among these were the Doyles, who arrived from near Dublin in 1830 with an infant daughter. Young Billy and Margaret Doyle grew up together and just before Christmas 1854 they eloped and married. Elopement was necessary because the English Protestant Flemings and Irish Catholic Doyles were not ready mixers. They had to get over it eventually though as Captain Billy and his bride made passionate use of the long winters over the next two decades to produce five sons and three daughters, most born in a little log cabin on a section of Pammy’s property. The first born, Mary, married Captain Dan Noonan, who owned the Rideau Navigation Company. Henry, the second, became the third Chaffey’s lockmaster. A younger brother, Edward, would succeed Captain Billy as master of the Rideau Queen and earn his own local fame as Captain Ned.

Kate, christened Catharine, was the third, born in 1859. At nineteen she married James O’Brien, fifteen years older, the only son of Little Ned O’Brien, who had arrived in Chaffey’s from Ireland in 1840. Little Ned’s property would become the core of Queen’s University’s Biological Station (pictured) on Opinicon Lake a century later, where Pammy’s great3grandson Roberto would one day pursue studies toward his doctorate in zoology.

Jim O’Brien, who had been a lakeboat captain, tried farming at Chaffey’s as he and Kate started the family that would eventually number eight girls and five boys. But in less than a decade that toil was abandoned and they picked up and left for Montreal, the first ever of the family to move from Chaffey’s. Jim would be a milkdealer at first, then a grocer, and died in 1925. Kate would live to ninety nine in 1958 with the patience and quiet acceptance of the poker player and lifelong fisher she was.

The log cabin they were born and raised in had long outlived its comfort level by the time Captain Billy got around to building a proper home for his fast growing brood. Margaret would reminisce years later about the day in 1870 when the house was ready and what a pleasure it had been “to walk down the hill carrying baby Charles and take my family into our new home.”

And what a home it was. It’s described in a remarkable family manuscript written by Pammy’s great-granddaughter Catherine in 1975. Catherine was born at Chaffey’s in 1899 and knew Captain Billy intimately. They lived in the 1870 house together while she was growing up. Pammy had died a dozen years before but his memory lived strong in the neighbourhood where there were many old friends and much family. Catherine writes of the times, the neighbourhood, the customs, schools, entertainments, home life for the girls and the boys, a full and telling evocation of what it was to grow up and live at Chaffey’s Lock through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. The manuscript is contained in the privately printed genealogical masterwork by Pammy’s great2grandson, James, entitled The Fleming Family Tree. Suffice to say the new home for Captain Billy and family was “the nicest and largest farm house in the community” with an iron roof, room to house a three-generation family of ten and an annex with a winter kitchen. It was still in use more than a hundred years after going up and may be still.

It was in this context that Pammy got the name he was universally known by, and which has descended to a property at Chaffey’s still referred to as Pammy’s Farm. A fourth generation grandson once suggested that it was derived from the derogatory slang for Englishman, ‘pommy’. This was impossible. Pammy was a man of respect in the county around Elgin. He had been discharged an acting corporal. There were very few field promotions in the two companies of sappers and miners of the Royal Engineers working with Lt. Col. By on the building of the Rideau Canal. Pammy was the Lockmaster at Chaffey’s, in command of a link on a vital waterway, holding one of the few permanent, paying jobs in the colony. He wouldn’t have been dissed by his neighbours.

Then, there were hundreds of demobbed sappers after the work was finished. Could Pammy have been a generally used nickname? Well no. Finally, there’s no record of the word ‘pommy’ being used before 1912, and then primarily in Australia. That’s well after Pammy’s day and far away. So how did he come by that nickname? For anyone with grandkids, it’s clear enough.  Pammy (William Fleming) had only one natural son, Billy. But he had eight grandchildren, all born at Chaffey’s, all within hailing distance for most of his life. He lived with one of his grandsons and family in later years. It was these kids who called him Pammy, an easy childish mangling of Papa or Grandpa. One after another they made it stick. Only they would have been innocent enough, and well enough loved, to have dared. For Pammy was far from a figure of fun. He had an aristocratic bent and, according to family account, in retirement “always dressed in a swallow tail coat, wore a high silk hat and carried a cane.”

A one storey, defensible lockmaster’s house was built in 1844 and after a dozen years in the log house Pammy, Gammy and family were finally able to move in. It was completely renovated in 1894-85 for their grandson Henry, another of Kate’s brothers, who was the third lockmaster at Chaffey’s. A second storey was added and a wood frame back kitchen. This house (pictured) is now a museum. Chaffey’s was a Fleming family fief for a century. After retiring in 1856, Pammy was succeeded by his stepson, Jim, who served until 1894. There was some fuss when grandson Henry got the next appointment. Patronage was alleged. Henry was dismissed in December 1896 but rehired three months later. He’d hold the job for more than three decades.

As Ed Bebee writes in Invisible Army, “An affable lockmaster with thirty-five years service at a popular station met a lot of people. When his family is there for generations, then relationships run deep.” Henry was such a person.

A combination of age (65 in 1922) and years of service (39) meant that Henry would most likely retire in the early 1920s. Knowing he’d have to move from the Lockmaster’s house, he wanted to acquire a property nearby where he could build a home. He wanted to get it at a good price and avoid an auction that might increase it, particularly since the CNR had built a station at Chaffey’s and local land prices had soared. So he wrote his good acquaintance, George Buskard, private secretary to Prime Minister Arthur Meighen, enquiring casually after family members and enclosing a sketch of the land he wanted. Within a day, enquiries on Henry’s behalf were dispatched on prime ministerial letterhead. The sale transpired as he had wished, helped by an Order-in-Council that designated him the buyer and sidetracked any other potential bidder. Perhaps most remarkably, the government had changed in the interim. Mr. Meighen had been replaced by Prime Minister Mackenzie King. But the change hadn’t bothered Henry. Rather, he lobbied again to have his retirement postponed. He wasn’t finally succeeded as Lockmaster until 1929. The family had held the job just three years shy of a century from the day Pammy got it from Colonel By.

James and Kate O’Brien. First to leave Chaffey’s, Pammy’s granddaughter Catharine (Kate) Fleming was the motherlink of the clan with thirteen children in Montreal. She lived to ninety nine.

After 1847, when work on the St. Lawrence River canals was completed, the Rideau system gradually lost its commercial prominence, though it long remained a gracious and comfortable route for passengers on the Rideau Queen, Rideau King and their like that plied regularly between Kingston and Ottawa. Until today the Rideau Canal, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, remains a destination for boats and yachts from near and far as well as the focal point for local festivals in summer and, never forget, the largest skating rink in the world in winter.

Massacre starts Métis link

For more than a half century, they were all of one name. Then family mergers and moves away began. Doyles and Flemings and Simmons at Chaffey’s Lock turned to Noonans, O’Briens and Grays in Kingston, Montréal and Ottawa, then Jacksons, Breaults, Linders, Underwoods, Shaws, Kierans in Toronto, New York and London, then Cavalcantis, Pendakurs and deNeeves on the west coast, in Brazil, Ireland and the far east. There were fifty three great-grandchildren, almost a hundred in the next generation, then more than two hundred and by now, with the generation of great7grandchildren well underway, there are thousands of Pammy’s descendants in the land. Many have embraced cultures, traditions, languages, colours unknown to the Canadian progenitor. Others stayed close to the original homestead at Chaffey’s and live there still.
And some dug deep for Canadian roots. A child of the Inuit was adopted by Pammy’s great4granddaughter. A great5grandson is half Cree and a great6grandson is at least a quarter Mohawk.
A great2granddaughter married into one of the earliest lines of the Métis, a unique mix of aboriginal and colonist parentage, in this instance arising from one of the most inflammatory, defining incidents in Canada’s earliest days. It is still recorded as the worst mass killing in Canadian history, more than three hundred and twenty five years later. The Lachine Massacre.

Pammy’s granddaughter Kate at right, with her own granddaughter Eunice and great-grandsons Tony (right) and Brian, who are ninth generation Métis.

They came at night, an army of 1,500 Iroquois warriors, overwhelming the small Québec village and terrorizing Montréal a couple of miles east for days after. It happened August 5, 1689. The Iroquois took some captives from Lachine that day and those they didn’t kill or keep were returned in the year or so after the massacre. One of these was Anne Mouflet.
Anne Mouflet’s mother, Anne Dodin, was one of the famously-styled filles du roi sent by the Sun King Louis XIV to help populate what was then a French colony. In 1669 she married Jean Mouflet, a soldier in the Carignan-Salières Regiment and one of 450 who opted to remain here when the regiment went home to France. With a pension and a plot of land, he and Anne would have eight children.
In 1689 there were fewer than 12,000 colonists in Nouvelle France, or Quebec. There were another 1,000 in L’Acadie (N.B.) and 3,000 in Newfoundland. Lachine, with 375 inhabitants, was one of the larger communities. There were probably more than 50,000 aboriginals in the same territory, which stretched west only as far as an outpost at Kingston, then known as Fort Frontenac.
The assault on Lachine was the culmination of nearly a century of bloody, take-no-quarter, show-no-mercy brutality. If there was a single incident or instigator, it would have to be Samuel de Champlain. This was ironic because Sam was essentially a peacemaker whose entire career revolved about bringing people together. But he was new in Canada and made a big mistake in 1609 when he lined up with the Wendat nation (called Huron by colonists) against the Iroquois. In their very first encounter, Champlain killed two Iroquois chiefs. But these foes were more menacing than Sam or native enemies bargained for. They stayed at war continuously with Champlain and his successors and all but obliterated the Wendat. Sam’s shot would resonate for 80 years and finally explode in the savagery at Lachine.
Iroquois had seen the colonists as a threat to their sovereignty from virtually the first encounter. As time went on and newcomers kept coming, the Mohawk Chief Teoniahigarawe would warn, “Brethren, the Governor of Virginia and the Governor of Canada are both quarrelling about lands which belong to Us, and such quarrelling as this may end in our destruction.”

Iroquois flag

It wasn’t as simple as white people against auburn people. The whites — French, Dutch, Spanish and English — were fighting among themselves a lot of the time. And some blood feuds between aboriginal nations had gone on for centuries. But the Canadien-Iroquois connection at the core of the embryonic country was particularly intense, and so it remains in territories such as Kahnawake and Akwesasne, south and west of Montréal.
Iroquois are not an Amerindian nation per se, but a confederacy formed sometime in the fifteenth century. They refer to themselves as the Haudenausonee, or people of the longhouse, and there were five member nations in the 17th century — Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca. They lived for the most part in what is now northern New York, southern Quebec and eastern Ontario, an area not then under colonist control and referred to in French as Iroquoisie.
Furs were the primary reason for the French presence in Canada. The primary motive of Iroquois was to control access to furs, which could be traded for metal goods, guns and ammunition, cloth and brandy. This meant fighting off Wendat and Illinois and other nations that wanted a piece of the action, as well as resisting the push of settlers for land. Skirmishes and battles, part of a way of life on this frontier, escalated in 1665 when the Carignan-Salières regiment arrived from France and promptly destroyed several Mohawk villages where inhabitants had been decimated by smallpox. In 1687, Governor General Denonville lured 30 Iroquois chiefs under a flag of truce from a council at Onondaga. He had them seized, chained and shipped to France to be used as galley slaves. He then led 2,000 men deep into Seneca territory and destroyed their largest village. The confederacy, infuriated, set out to terrorize Canadiens as never before.

Fort Lachine in 17th century

There is no list of the warriors who descended on Lachine. Most were Mohawk, but warriors and younger braves from all five nations must have been present, a badge of honour to be there. The names of the leaders have not come down, nor the numbers from each member nation. But we know something of one young Onondaga. His name was Little Dog, at least that’s how it translates. He was 17. Was he there? Passions ran high. For Iroquois this was not just jostling for advantage but a strike of retribution in a war for survival. Most likely he wouldn’t have been kept away. Certain it is that he had friends and family in the fight.
There was a summer storm that night. Thunder rolled over the St. Lawrence. Lightning flashes lit the 77 log, plank and stone homes in the rural community, 10 miles west of Montréal. A hard rain pelted the roofs and ground. There were guards on duty, as always, because the danger of attack was constant. But they sought shelter from the weather and were sleeping as a war party stepped ashore in the dark. Undetected, they fanned out in pairs, threes, fours and small groups, holding to the edge of the woods, away from dogs that might bark a warning. Dressed in loincloths, bodies and faces painted to terrifying effect, they were armed with metal hatchets and guns supplied by English provocateurs in what is now the United States.
The command to attack comes at dawn Friday, August 5. They descend, smashing at windows and hacking doors, with howls and shrieks that disable their victims with fright. Some colonists try to barricade their homes. The attackers set fires and wait for them to flee the flames. Twenty-four settlers are killed in the initial raid (Jean Mouflet, Anne Dodin and two of their daughters among them), more than ninety are taken prisoner and four dozen die in captivity (including Anne Mouflet’s husband Mathias Chateaudeau and their son Jean) but Anne Mouflet survives.
The massacre sparked three years of off and on warfare, with sporadic attempts at parleying. Then a new player entered the arena. The name of Louis-Hector de Callière doesn’t echo through history’s halls as loud as Champlain, Maisonneuve or Callière’s long-time boss, Louis Buade de Frontenac, whom he succeeded. But his contribution was at least as valuable.
Callière convened the Great Peace Council of 1701 in Montréal. He had the assistance of some French military successes to bring adversaries to the table, but for his time he was a diplomat. He went first to meet Iroquois for a conference in the territory of Onondaga, in March 1700. In September, he signed a preliminary treaty with 13 chiefs. He then invited all Amerindian nations of the Great Lakes region to a council in Montréal in the summer of 1701.

Callière

Thirty nine nations sent representatives and their chiefs, sachems and orators were given warm welcome, here described by the great historian of pioneer North America, Francis Parkman.
“A vast, oblong space was marked out on a plain near the town, and enclosed with a fence of branches. At one end was a canopy of boughs and leaves, under which were seats for the spectators. Troops were drawn up in line along the sides; the seats under the canopy were filled by ladies, officials, and the chief inhabitants of Montréal; Callière sat in front, surrounded by interpreters; and the Indians were seated on the grass around the open space. There were more than thirteen hundred of them, gathered from a distance of full two thousand miles, Hurons and Ottawas from Michillimackinac, Ojibwas from Lake Superior, Crees from the remote north, Pottawatamies from Lake Michigan, Mascontins, Sacs, Foxes, Winnebagoes, and Menominies from Wisconsin, Miamis from the St. Joseph, Illinois from the river Illinois, Abenakis from Acadia each painted with diverse hues and patterns, and each in his dress of ceremony, leathern shirts fringed with scalp-locks, colored blankets or robes of bison hide and beaver skin, bristling crests of hair or long lank tresses, eagle feathers or horns of beasts.
“Pre-eminent among them all sat their valiant and terrible foes, the warriors of the Iroquois Confederacy, who could make a whole new world tremble and spread dread over an extent of more than fifteen hundred leagues.”
Callière opened with a speech. Each chief answered in turn. It wasn’t going to be a cut-and-dried process. To start with, his Wendat allies were a problem. Kondiaronk, the Wendat grand chief, once ambushed an Iroquois peace delegation to prevent a treaty between the French and the Iroquois. Kondiaronk was here.
Hassaki, chief of the Ottawa, came with four Iroquois captives. “You asked us for our prisoners,” he said, “and here they are. I set them free because you wish it.” Then turning to the Iroquois deputies: “Know that if I pleased I might have eaten them; but I have not done as you would have done. Remember this when we meet, and let us be friends.” Iroquois shouted their approval.
One chief followed another, with much the same message. The Miami orator said: “I am very angry with the Iroquois, who burned my son some years ago; but today I forget all that.”
Discussions were prolonged and after several days agreement was still not near. A major stumbling block was the return of prisoners captured by Iroquois during previous campaigns and enslaved or adopted.
Finally, on August 1, Kondiaronk stood to speak. Though suffering from influenza, he addressed the assembly for two hours, winding up to an impassioned conclusion: “Let it not be in a forced or insincere way that you ask Onontio for peace; for my part I return to him the hatchet he had given me, and lay it at his feet. Who will be so bold as to take it up?” Kondiaronk was onside.
But the next day he died. His funeral was said to rival that of Frontenac three years before, a demonstration of the esteem in which he was held by all sides. It may have given even more power to his words at the council, which reconvened with a presentation by Wendat Chief Michipichy.
“We thought that the Iroquois would have done by us as we have done by them,” he said, “and we were astonished to see that they had not brought us our prisoners. Listen to me, my father, and you, Iroquois, listen. I am not sorry to make peace, since my father wishes it, and I will live in peace with him and with you.”
When he and all the rest had ended an Iroquois orator strode to the front. “Onontio, we are pleased with all you have done, and we have listened to all you have said. We assure you by these four belts of wampum that we will stand fast in our obedience. As for the prisoners whom we have not brought you, we place them at your disposal, and you will send and fetch them.”
What a crowd it was! What an event! A constellation of chiefs. Anne Mouflet, now 31, would be there and as a Lachine survivor perhaps somewhat of a local celebrity. Her second husband was there as well. Anne’s first had been killed by her side that fearsome night at Lachine. She had married again eight years later. René Tsihène was his name. He was Onondaga.
Tsihène is not a French name and not Iroquois. My brother, who is educated in these matters, believes it to be a stab at ’ti chien, ‘little dog’ in French. This was either his true Onondaga name or one he was tagged with by the white eyes in town. He also adopted, as a sign of respect, the name of Anne’s first husband, Mathias Chateaudeau, who was killed by his kinsmen at Lachine. And it’s by this name — Massias — that he enters the written historical record.
He had met with Callière just before the conference was to start, when an incident threatened to derail the process. He was one of two deputies from Onondaga who were in town when they heard that a band of their hunters had been ambushed by Ottawa warriors. Such an attack contravened a preliminary agreement signed the previous year. The chiefs sought a meeting with the governor and “Massias, who had married a French woman, spoke first on this occasion.”
After asking that the Ottawa attackers be punished, the chief turned to a personal matter. He said that his frequent voyages between Canada and Iroquois territory on behalf of the peace process had prevented him from going to the hunt. Because of this, his wife was not able to take care of her responsibilities as an Iroquoise. “I ask of you,” Massias said, “for my son, a donkey no more than 10-12 years old that will be able to haul wood for heating.” One was found and given to him.
On August 4, 1701, eve of the massacre a dozen years before, the representative of each nation affixed his mark to the peace treaty. While tensions between the Canadiens and the Iroquois would continue they never erupted into warfare again. The Great Peace of Montréal is still recognized as a valid treaty by the nations involved.

Great Peace Treaty 1701

Genealogical tables don’t say how Anne Mouflet and Little Dog Tsihène came together after the bloody events of August 1689. Did she go to him? The marriage took place in Iroquoisie, in a Catholic church that preserved a record of the union. We don’t know whether they met or spoke when she was a captive and he a young warrior. The marriage came long after. It’s not obvious that he came all the way into her world but he came far enough for his line to survive there.

Métis blue flag

Métis red flag

She would live to be 70 and, after Massias died, took a third husband. But it was Massias who fathered this line. Out of the ashes of Lachine they survived to help populate the nation that in time would become Canada. Their healthy branch of Pammy’s family tree is living proof. After a few centuries, every genealogical list reveals dozens more cousins from the same stock.
Theirs was far from the first mixed marriage between white and aboriginal although it was early in the origins of that distinct Canadian population, the Métis. Most of the unions that produced the 400,000 Canadian Métis alive today began in the 18th and 19th centuries, between Algonquin, Cree, Ojibway or Mi’kmaq women and Canadien voyageurs and Scottish traders on their travels east and west from Montréal. But René Tsihène Massias was the man of Anne’s house.
These two were in the thick of it at Lachine that night in August 1689, on opposite sides, his people killing her people, and terrifying her. But survival in harsh conditions — harsh was a common condition in 17th century North America — requires a practical turn of mind. After a while hurts heal. Cooler counsels prevail. Come together. No more war. War no more. Peace.
Unusual it was for her to be Canadienne and he Onondaga. How much more unusual that they had set aside the hate from that day of infamy when their peoples had been on opposite sides? Despite furious provocation, this early willingness to bury the hatchet — Callière and the chiefs threw war-axes irretrievably into a “pit so deep that no-one could find them” before the peace conference — has become, after germinating all these centuries, a quasi-genetic Canadian trait to consult, to compromise, to accept and welcome differences, to mix, to keep the peace.