It was daybreak at 2 a.m. and the rain was easing outside the tent. By 4 a.m. we were hauling up tent-pegs and preparing to leave Stanley. There was a light wind from the north, but it was dull and cold-more like Fall weather than that of June. Small openings of clear sky showed scantily through dreary, dull-grey clouds-disclosures more blue than any of a common summer's day, and it is probably on account of the strangely cold atmosphere that there is such brilliancy to-day.
Proceeding on our way down the Churchill River, we soon came to Grave Rapids, below Stanley Mission, and nearly upset the canoe in running them. We were running the rapid on the left of the swells that surged down the middle, when, in a flash, we were too far into them, and shipped a canoe-load of water before we righted on our course and fled on swiftly to the foot of the rushing water. Then, lurching heavily, we paddled ashore and emptied the canoe, finding as before that the canvas cover had saved most of our provisions and kit from the water.
Thereafter, after some delay in finding the inlet, we came on through Rapid River Lake.
About 2 p.m. we portaged at the rapid above Drinking Lake and again had lake expanse before us and an unobstructed stretch of water through which we made good progress. The shores of Rapid River Lake and Drinking Lake were similar to those previously passed, except that neither were very confusing in outline.
At 4.30 p.m. we reached the foot of Drinking Lake and made a portage at the entrance to the narrows above Key Lake, where an island separates the river into two channels : a large main channel and a small channel. Down on the rapid water of the latter we ran in the canoe, thus evading the fall which obstructed passage at the foot of the other channel. Here we camped for the night within hearing of the pleasant sound of tumbling, hurrying water, well satisfied with our long day, for we had covered about twenty miles as the crow flies and overcome three rapids. A number of birds were noted, but none collected, since they were either commonplace, or of species I had already collected.
On the water about 6 a.m. and proceeding onward through Key Lake.
About 11.30 a.m. we reached the bottom of the lake, where we portaged overland at Key Falls.
Below the falls, going quietly downstream, we came on a very large brown bear. The bear, when first seen, was wading belly-deep in the water on the outside of some reeds on the north shore on the prowl for fish-suckers or pike, which such animals capture by striking at in the water in lightning scrap fashion. Providence or sense of danger stirred in the brute while we watched, for it waded leisurely ashore and disappeared into the bush before we had even planned how to get near enough for shooting. The animal gave no sign of having seen us or scented us, and so we were induced to paddle down on to the south shore of the river, and go into hiding opposite where it had been hunting on the chance of its returning. There we lay up for two hours, but our patience was unavailing, and disappointed we resumed our journey at the end of that time.
In the late afternoon we made a portage at Grand Rapids and camped for the night at the lower end. The portage at this rapid was a long one, nearly half a mile in length.
Again and again I am prompted to exclaim in admiration of the vastness of the Churchill River. After twenty-four days on the great waterway, her lakes and rapids have not lost one whit of their impressive strength and grandeur; unbridled force running wild; powerful water-power worth many a man's kingdom if only it were within the boundary of civilisation. In such a trend of thought one is apt to try to look into the far-distant future and wonder what changes another century will bring and to what industries mankind will turn when they assail this virgin country. Lumbering, though the timber is small in comparison to the great trees in British Columbia and elsewhere, will probably be the first industry to be taken up, while rich minerals may be found, and good agricultural land; though on the river bank I saw no promise of the latter, much of the ground surface of the forest being bare rock and boulder where sand takes the place of soil. But no living white man yet knows what the interior of the vast northern territory holds; inland there may be great tracts of soil suitable for agriculture. Only the waterways, where summer canoeing is possible, have been roughly surveyed. Beyond them the maps remain a great blank space.
During the day I collected some specimens of birds and found a number of nests. In the evening I caught a pike weighing 3|lbs., which I was astonished to find had an adult Cedar Wax-wing in its stomach. Dissolution had not set in, the bird was intact, and easily identified. Wax-wings prey much on insects, and I fancy this bird had dipped to the water surface in pursuit of a beetle or shadfly, and the ravenous pike had on the instant risen and seized it.
At dusk I took my rifle and went quietly back on the portage path to the top Grand Rapid in the hope of seeing bear, but had no luck, though bears at this season of the year frequent such places if they are in the neighbourhood to prey on the shoals of black and red suckers, many of which are easily cornered and captured in shallow channels and pools in the angular, rocky steps of a fall.
To-day we travelled Island Lake, the last lake expansion between us and the mouth of the Reindeer River, where our journey on the Churchill would end. Island Lake held beautiful scenery. After leaving the east end of the lake, which was something like many of the others in rough shores of bewildering outline, there lay before us a wide expanse of water, the clean-cut shores of which had straight distances of green grass and coniferous tree-trunks rising perpendicularly from the earth, their bases unscreened by willows. Nearing the north-west end of the lake there were a few pretty islands where bright grass blended with the darker green of shapely poplar trees. The water of the lake was clear, so clear that it sometimes permitted a view of the clean, stony bottom through a good depth of water.