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1829 - 1830: Winter Road Proceeds and Labour Problems Develop

The following records provide information on the Nabaise Family.
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In a Memorandum for Mr. Taylor from Colin Robertson, dated York 22 August 1829, it reads, Kegsesse the Steersman is a very carefull person and has promised to take charge of the Stove, and carry it himself in the portages, Give this arrangement your Authority [fo. 55] and allow none of the Canadians to touch it….Although Rondeau as engaged as Steersman – as he has not the Experience, either of Kegsasse or Wakesh, he must therefore act as Middle man, he is a good Voyageur, but rather forward and requires to be Kept at a distance I have therefore placed him in your Boat. (PAM, HBCA, B.156/a/12, fo. 54d/55, Oxford House Journal, 1829-1830, mf. 1M115) This capable man, ancestor to the Amos Family of Fisher River, has close family ties with the Hudson’s Bay Company and had worked as a steersman on the boat. He was a man that could be trusted with considerable responsibility, but the Company was niggardly about paying him a fair wage, a problem that prompted much dissatisfaction.

24 Oct 1829, Saturday, Tom the Yellow Heads Son whom Mr R. has engaged for thirty Made Beaver for the winter about two Pounds Sterling, the usual price given to the Indians of this Post, and which they have hitherto considered Satisfactory But of late Tom has Shewn alittle dissatisfaction, and talks agood dale about money, arising principally from conversing with those Indians Engaged on European terms by Chief Factor MacTavish. Mr. R admits that Indians have rendered him the most important Service in opening and Establishing the Winter Road – and could we at all times afford them that Kind of employment (without confining them to the common rotine [sic] of business in the country, they are certainly equal to any engaged Servants – but Mr. R. has found none of the Natives equal to those duties, they Shall not be confined to one duty or one place, Could we employ them in hunting or voyaging, they might earn the wages of a European, but how is the labourers work of an Out Post to be effected if your Servants are only hunters and Voyageurs[?]. This was one Strong objection to our Athabasca Irroquies, and many of those men were Supperior to the white GovernorWakish or Huggie – men of twenty two pounds Sterling pr annum and until the Junction were perfectly happy in Steering a Boat to York for twenty Made beaver, and returning to their usual occupation of hunting during the winter. Mr. Robertson has at present four Indians engaged until the navigation opens at 30 and 40 Skins each, which is about the amount of their usual hunts, and with the Exception of a few observations from Tom, they are quite Satisfied with their agreement, they are now well fed and with the few Skins they make in voyaging during the Summer well Clothed – they will this winter occupy the place of Engaged Servants in driving the Dogs – Wakish who has twenty two Pound Sterling pr Annum – can do no more.  (PAM, HBCA, B.156/a/12, fo. 7, Oxford House Journal, 1829-1830, mf. 1M115) Although it had not become general, the local hunters were beginning to question the difference between their wages and those of engaged labourers like the White Governor, Wakish, and Huggie (Price Isham), who were Native like themselves.

Oxford House, Dec 1829, Colin Robertson to the Governor, Chief Factors & Chief Traders, Northern Department,


I reached this place on the 11th Septr, and to my Surprise found the Indians attached to my Establishment in a very unsettled State – being on the eve of taking their departure for Red River – It would appear the colonial Carriers last Summer held out Such brilliant prospects to Fur Hunters – ease and plenty to the old and infirm – that all ages and Sex, Seemed bent on a General movement – to have attempted to Combat their opinions or Satisfy their Extravagant notions by a Sacrifice of property, would have been incurring an unnecessary expence – I therefore gave directions that two of their principal men Should be allowed a passage to Red River – they returned later in October perfectly Satisfied with their Own country, which enabled me to engage Some of our Indian Voyageurs on the most reasonable terms. The reemploying of these men became in Some measure absolutely necessary from the circumstances of being greatly limited in the number Experient [sic] Voyageurs I expected from the portage la loche Boats – for the information of Such gentlemen as may be unacquainted [fo. 59] with the application of the means assigned me, I have annexed to this Letter the distribution of my people on the Lower Section of the road who will be removed to the upper Section as Soon as the property has reached this place –

The transport business commenced on the 25 of November and on the 10th of this month 460 pieces had up to this date reached the 81, 69 & 57 mile Stages from Oxford the other Stages will be occupied in a few days, the men and dogs being hitherto employed in procuring fish at the wires, and hauling them on the communication – I could not Avail myself of the early Setting in of the winter from a number of unforeseen accidents, as well as the preparatory arrangements Connected with the new mode of transport by the means of traineaux and Sleighs – the Oxen from Red River reached Oxford on the 4th Octr – but were Stopped in their progress to Deers Lake on the 14th of that month by a Sudden and heavy fall of Snow, and are at present unfortunately living on provender, which ought to have been employed in conveying the property from Foxes River to this place – This is more Severely felt from the circumstances of upwards of 2000 Bundles of our Hay being burned last Summer, and to remedy this evil, I Sent to Red River for fifty Kegs of barley, but the Boat was taken by the Ice at Hairy Lake – So a month has been Occupied in hauling that property to Oxford House – & 25 Pieces pr trip – I have therefore as a preparatory Step to Carrying this mode of transport into effect, opened a new road of 20 Miles whereby the Deers Lake is not only avoided, but have gained three miles on the Old road, So that the whole of the lower Section being thus Sheltered may be occupied either by Horses or Oxen as may be found most convenient. Altho the accident alluded too my be Severely felt this winter, it has caused researches (and I am happy to Say) opened resources, which had the Season permitted, were fully ample [fo. 59d] for conducting our business – had our present Stock of Cattle been double the number, as to the quantity of Hay, I have only to remark that when fed from the decayed Grasses by which it is interwoven it would be equal if not Superior to any found in the lower countries –

To Counteract the loss of so large a portion of our provender, and other unfortunate Occurrances [sic] – Our Fisheries have been very productive having collected up to this date about twenty thousand fish while our daily returns from this Lake alone Exceeds 150 – So that I am in hopes I shall Still be able to convey the thousand Pieces of Goods left at Foxes River to this place of destination –

I have had no accounts from my Out Posts. Nor any intelligence from the Indians I fitted out last fall – therefore can form no idea of our prospects – But from the Augmentation made to our Outfit (as regards the heavy articles of trade, Kettles Excepted) I have every reason to hope our returns will at least be equal to those of last year.


Distribution of the Men on the Winter Road
Names of Assigned Men

From Fort Daer to 81 Mile Stage from Oxford House





Arcan & Drummond

From 81 Mile Stage to 69 miles Stage from Oxford





LaMalice & Boisvent

From 69 Mile Stage 57 Stage from Oxford





Spence & Indian

From 57 Mile Stage to 46 Mile Stage from Oxford





Bruneau & Waketch

From 46 Mile Stage to 34 Mile Stage from Oxford





De Rosier & YF [York Factory] Indian

From 34 Mile Stage to 23 Mile Stage from Oxford





Bernier & La chance

From 23 Mile Stage to 11 Mile Stage from Oxford





Morwick & Bakie

From 11 Mile Stage to House





St. Germain & Norquay






John Isbester









South End Winipegucies

1 man

Laverdure and an Indian

North End Winepegucies

1 man

Harper and an Indian

Leiths Portage

1 Man

La Clair and an Indian [Napis]


3 Men

La Peirre, Grieves and Isbister B

Oxford House

2 Men

Mallette, Rondeau and an Indian


8 Men



At the Posts


6 men


At the House

2 men

Carpenter and Blacksmith


1 man

George Groat


9 [Men]



A List of Portage la Loche Men Attached to the District and Winter Road

1. Jean Baptiste Boisvert

2. Jean Baptiste Bouche dit La Mallice

3. Joseph Bernard dit St. Germain

4. Jean Baptiste DeRosier

5. Magnus Harper

6. Pierre le Clair

7. Joseph Laverdeur

8. Thomas Morwick

9. Pimatumigimaw

10. John Isbister B.




11. Pierre Louis Eneux [?] (not belonging either to Fort or district Establishment Wages paid by Mr. Alexr. Stewart)


From England

12. John Drummond

13. George Groat

14. William Norquay


To England

15. James Gaudy, Blacksmith

16. Henry Ward, Carpenter



17. Bakie Sinclair

18. Joseph Arcan

19. John Bernier

20. Jerome Bruneau

21. James Grieve

22. John Isbister A

23. Antoine La Peirrys [?]

24. Charles La Chance

25. Joseph Mallette B






26. William McKay

27. Edward Moody

28. Francis Robertson

29. Joseph Rondeau

30. William Spence B

31. William Sinclair C

32. William Thompson

33. William White

34. Waketch an Indian




(PAM, HBCA, B.156/a/12, fo. 58d/60, Oxford House Journal, 1829-1830, mf. 1M115)


Oxford House, 10 March 1830, Colin Robertson to Mr. George Taylor.

Dear Sir/
Enclosed is a letter for Mr. McLeod from whom you will receive the Necessary Supplys for your return Voyage – as I cannot without deranging our transport business, furnish you with two engaged Servants, to enable you to complete the Survey of the upper Section of the road, you will therefore have the Goodness to take the two Indian Carters at the 23 Mile Stage to Leith portage, where you will exchange them for Napis and his Son, I need Say nothing as to the observations you may consider necessary to complete a Correct chart of the upper Section of the road this as a Matter of course Must be left to your own Judgement – But what I am particularly desirious [sic] of ascertaining is the distance from the Winipegucies to the Winipeg – and from the Sea River Portage to Laverdeurs House – The former can be Solved by observation, but the latter I fear can only be determined by actual measurement, as the road will in all probability wind round that fringe of pines bordering on that extensive Hay Swamp, laying between the Play Green and winipegucies Lake. (PAM, HBCA, B.156/a/12, fo. 64, Oxford House Journal, 1829-1830, mf. 1M115)

15 March 1830, Directed Isbester to Keep himself in readiness to Start to morrow for the Knee Lake he will be accompanied by Tom who arrived about an hour ago – from Robinsons Lake, Napis having Joined Mr. Taylor at that place - (PAM, HBCA, B.156/a/12, fo. 33, Oxford House Journal, 1829-1830, mf. 1M115)

4 April 1830, Sunday, About one A.M. Mr. Taylor arrived he has completed the Survey of the Upper Section and measured the distance from the Black River in Lake Winepeg to the Meadow River, is Fifty Seven Miles, the Half of that distance on the Winepeg Side is a fine level country [fo. 36] But as Mr Taylor approached the Meadow River it was one continued Shelve of Rock’s – however Mr T is of opinion had he Keep more to the South East and Struck upon the Eastern part of the Winipegucies, would have avoided most of this uneven Country – as his track appeared to be a Chain of Rock’s running from the Jack River Lake to the Western Extremity of the Winepegucies – The upper part of the winter Road will not admit of any further alteration being within ten miles of the actual distance by observation. (PAM, HBCA, B.156/a/12, fo. 35d/36, Oxford House Journal, 1829-1830, mf. 1M115)

15 May 1830, Kegasse, Napis, & Eyneskees Son arrived to see if their services were required. They were assigned to haul up the boat left at Wipinipanies and Keep themselves in readiness to Start as Soon as she was repaired – as it is my intention to remove the Goods [fo. 45] to the Head of the Wipinipanies River. 16 May 1830, Sunday – Harper with three traineaux and thirty Pieces left this for the Wipinipanies, he was accompanied by the Indians who arrived yesterday – also 6 men for York Factory by the Winter Road. (PAM, HBCA, B.156/a/12, fo. 44d/45, Oxford House Journal, 1829-1830, mf. 1M115) “Eyneskees” and “Ethiniskees” were variations of the same name, the different spellings reflecting the “y” and “th” dialects of Cree respectively. “Eyneskees” was a brother of “Waketch”, with whom Napish had been associated in 1819 at Island Lake. A sister of “Kegasse,” (ancestor to the Amos Family of Fisher River) was married to Waketch. Nabaise was related to these men in some way, perhaps through his wife.

25 May 1830, Tuesday – Settled with the Indians that arrived yesterday –Twenty Skins pr. Man for the Fall trip to Red River is a most Extravagant price – The very best of Mr R__s Indians who were employed from the opening to the Closing of the Navigation, have only Forty Skins, Steersmen excepted – I Explained to the Badgers Son, that nothing but necessity could have induced Mr McLeod to Grant Such terms which I told the Badgers Son Must not be considered as a president [sic] – Mr Robertson cannot help remarking in this plan the want of a proper Standard for Wages, in particular as regards the Natives and freemen, nor do I altogether approve of the Plan of mixing the Natives with a Certain class of our Engaged Servants, or permit them on any consideration to be employed by the Colonial Carriers, the Consequence of the intercourse is daily developing itself in a rudeness assuming a degree of Consequences, Starting difficulties as to prices, terms and provisions, which may, and in a very Short time, Lead to a total want of respect to the Companies officers. I Should therefore recommend completing the Crews of the respective districts, and forming our Indian voyagers into Separate Brigades – as an instance of the irregular Standard of Wages – are the two following Indians – Huggie Steers a Boat to Portage La Loche for £20 – Kagsesse – an equally as good Steersman is employed for the Summer for 45 Skins – and when paid even in the very Best of Goods at 33 1/3 advances – is only £3.9.2. – It appears to me that this business cannot be brought into any economical System, nor can we depend on the principal voyageurs for Portage la Loche, until the Winter and Summer transport are blended together, and a Complete Set of effective men Engaged for both duties, men on whom confidence can be placed. [fo. 47] Indeed the Wages Mr McTavish was obliged to promise last Spring, before he could complete the crews of those Boats, would have procured at a proper Season – first rate Servants, without Subjecting us to hold forth these kind of incentives which frequently decorate the Harrangue of a recruiting Agent (PAM, HBCA, B.156/a/12, fo. 46d, Oxford House Journal, 1829-1830, mf. 1M115) This journal provides insights concerning wages that Native men could expect, if they worked for the HBC. 

June 1830, Mr. R. regrets to State that three of my Indians whom I had engaged for the Summer declined accompaning [sic] the Boats yesterday - this unfortunate change in Sentiment has deranged my business – as Mr Taylor by this defection will only have two Boats to return from Norway House [fo. 48d] All these Indians came volunterly [sic] and engaged for the Summer – and it appears pretty evident, that this change of Sentiment, is in consequence of hopes or expectations being held out from other quarters.

- It is certainly hard and Mr. R – must confess Somewhat annoying to the Indians of this place to See inferior voyageurs Clothed in the best common apparel of that depot, Belts, Hats & feathers were Scratched out of Mr R__s Indent last fall – the Light Canoe men are decorated with those articles Even one of the Indian Women is Clothed in fine Cloth – to which is added a pair of Ladies Boots ; while with the utmost difficulty I can Scrape Lodge Leather Sufficient to cover the feet of our Indian voyagers – When the Indians of York and Oxford Sit down, and draw their own lines of distinction between their Service and the quality of their Clothing – these fineries Provisions &c will make a Material difference in their estimation of Payment – and to Such lines of distinction may be assigned the defection of Kegsesse, Chemauch & George, this thing cannot Last Long and unless the evil is remedied, we cannot in future Expect a Continuation of these orders & Interested exertions which the Natives of this Post have so prominently Exercised in opening the Winter Road. (PAM, HBCA, B.156/a/12, fo. 48/48d, Oxford House Journal, 1829-1830, mf. 1M115) Chemauch was the ancestor of the Hart family of Oxford House, Norway House, and Fisher River. “George” was a son of Aissayseepeau, the Oxford House Chief, and was also known as George Sinclair.

12 June 1830, Having ordered the allowance of fish to the Indians who refused to accompany Mr. Taylor to be with drawn, but in consequence of their numerous families, I directed that the children Should have a few fish allowed them. (PAM, HBCA, B.156/a/12, fo. 49, Oxford House Journal, 1829-1830, mf. 1M115) Colin Robertson was too soft-hearted to allow women and children to suffer.

14 June 1830, Kegsesse embarked his family and took his departure towards Norway House – with the intention of engaging with Mr. Rowand – I hope the Governor will See the propriety of Checking this Kind of opposition - (PAM, HBCA, B.156/a/12, fo. 49, Oxford House Journal, 1829-1830, mf. 1M115) If the rebellion over wages wasn’t checked, it could spread, and the tight control that the HBC exercised over the hunters would have been jeopardised.

18 June 1830, Ordered five Indians to leave this to morrow in two Small Canoe and proceed to the White fall where Mr. Taylor has left one of his Boats, which these lads are to bring down for the purpose of being Sent to the Swampy Portage, to meet the returns of Manittoo and Windy Lake; 19 June 1830, This Being a grand Medicine day amongst the Indians could not prevail on them to leave this until to morrow at day break. (PAM, HBCA, B.156/a/12, fo. 49d, Oxford House Journal, 1829-1830, mf. 1M115) European cultural practices were beginning to have an impact on the Cree at Oxford House, but traditional religious practices like the Goose Dance were still observed.

Oxford House 25 June 1830, To Mr. George Taylor and Post Master McKay /as Soon as Mr. Taylor arrives at this place, he will endeavour Both the assistance of Mr. J. Robertson – to bring to Accounts, So as to Occasion as little delay as possible to Chief Trader Miles/…[fo. 73d] Men for York Factory Wakish, Brunneau, Moody, Arcan and Thompson; Indians Engaged for the summer – Billy Moore, Jem, Nepen wescom, Tom, Chemouch, 2 Rat River Indians, Whis Ke Jacko, Napis, Lynx, his Brother, Tuskitch & Ducks Son – Harper, Stevenson & Norquiy[?] to replace the men gone to Portage la loche – These will man three Boats with whom Mr Taylor will proceed to York with all possible expedition, as their Service may be wanted on the lower Section of the road….[fo. 74] That no misunderstanding occur as to the terms of the Indians, the summer voyagers have 40 Skins each to be paid at York Factory, in Such goods, as that establishment is in the habit of paying to their Indians –Three lads I have engaged for the Summer, Billy [Moore] Charlo [Colen?] & Nabis Son have ten Skins each which Mr. Taylor will please carry to their credits – you will also have Occasion to employ the women & even the children, not only in the Garden, but you will find them very usefull in the Hay Season – These people may have a Small Acknowledgement in trifling articles, Such as Beads, Paint Garters &c - /Please take down on Bag of Pemican for Isbisters party/ Complaints have been made by the Indians, of their families Starving while they themselves are working for the company, this is certainly a hard case, and as these men are to be employed for the Season, I have Set a part for their families 3 Bags Pemican and 2 Casks of Flour, So that should the fish fail, you may allow each Family every 2nd or 3rd day, 1 lb pemmican and an equal quantity of Flour (i.e) If you have not fish for the whole - (PAM, HBCA, B.156/a/12, fo. 73, Oxford House Journal, 1829-1830, mf. 1M115) As the foregoing reveals, local efforts to improve wages did not succeed.


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