Manitoba History: Documents and Archives: Odyssey of Mary Christie

edited by William J. Fraser

Manitoba History, Number 2, 1981

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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My mother and I boarded the S.S. Wolverine II at Selkirk for a return trip to Norway House and other ports of call. The lower part of the boat was used for freight, which was the main function of the ship. Cabins with upper and lower berths could accommodate about forty passengers. Tourists were included only when there was space.

A heavy rain came on just as we sailed. At dinner, the people took on a “get acquainted” manner. We were a cosmopolitan group—Indians, a papoose, two teachers going to a mission, a young man bound for Gull Harbour and two professors on a research mission. Our captain was a hand-some well-built man of mixed blood, probably Métis.

We arrived at the mouth of the Red River and passed a boat towing a large barge. Then came the wind and the waves. As mother tried to adjust the window it crashed down on her hand and cut it. I rushed madly down the corridor calling for the purser and hot water. Later my stomach behaved very badly, making for a very uncomfortable night. When we stopped at Hecla and Gull Harbour the weather became more settled.

Next landing was at Bull Head where we took on wood for fuel. A hatch opened and a large stack of cord wood was efficiently taken into the hold. The woods were close to the shoreline. Scattered among the pines, spruce and tamarack were blackberry bushes loaded with ripe tangy fruit. What a delicious treat! There was a store made of spruce logs surrounded by a wonderful garden of corn, peas and other vegetables and a profusion of flowers. The far end of the building was a mass of morning glories which fairly gleamed in the bright rays of the sun.

Store at Bull Head
Mrs. Mary Christie, Regina

Next morning we arrived at the fishing point opposite Warren’s Landing at the entrance to Playgreen Lake. As we entered the Nelson River we passed some islands where a lonely hut or tent could be seen. Next, Norway House loomed into view. Mail was left at the Inn. Then we sailed on to the mission and into Little Playgreen Lake.

The mission was a group of scattered buildings on or near the rocky shore of the lake. There was a monument commemorating the heroes of the First World War. We went to the Methodist Church and sang a hymn before continuing our explorations. Unfortunately we could not visit the school because of an outbreak of measles. We were told that it was quite modern and well equipped with twelve staff and one hundred students.

We passed the old fort and arrived at Playgreen Inn for lunch. There were big green lawns, tennis courts and many canoes and boats for the pleasure of tourists.

We went to a log building where there was a memorial service for an Indian child who had died the previous day. There was a stove, table, bed and small organ. The room was crowded with relatives and friends seated on the floor. As we prepared to do the same, two low seats were pushed toward us. Mr. Kells, a missionary from Toronto, conducted the service in Cree. Francis Nickawa, a young Indian woman, sang a hymn in Cree. I played the accompaniment even though the organ did creak and groan a little. Robert, one of the lay missionaries, gave a prayer in Cree with such reverence and earnest emotion that I was deeply moved.

Mr. Kells boarded the boat at Norway House along with the Reverend Gordon of the Methodist Mission and his wife who were returning their children to school in Winnipeg. A native lay missionary, William Thomas Towers, came on board with his wife at the next stop and Francis Nickawa boarded at Forestry Island. We sailed up the Black River to a fishing port and then on to Berens Landing, Snake Island and through the Narrows. At each place fuel, passengers and freight were taken on or unloaded.

The usual custom on the last evening was an impromptu concert. William Towers told Indian stories and I sang “The World is Waiting for the Sunrise”, a popular song of the day. After some community singing Miss Mickawa stirred the emotions with her recitation of Pauline Johnson’s “The Song My Paddle Sings”. It was simple entertainment with sincere friendliness.

The fog horn blew all night but we landed safely at 7:39 a.m.. After farewells and good wishes we left for home, hoping someday we would return to the North.

Page revised: 23 April 2010