Gwichin Country: April 6, 2015(posted September 2016)
The James Creek Highway Maintenance compound is much like the previous two compounds I had stopped at over the past week, a very large equipment repair and storage building a couple of ATCO trailers and an abundance of road equipment scattered about. The line of southbound traffic blocked by the closed gate stretched around the corner out of sight, I recognized some of the big rigs from my two days behind the northbound closure at Eagle Plains and spoke with some of the drivers. One stranded family, heading to Edmonton for a funeral, didn’t know if they would make it in time, I lent them my Satellite phone so that they could contact their family with an update. Two ladies (Snowshoe and Kui) insisted that I eat and made me a couple of huge ham sandwiches, another fellow filled up all my water bottles. Everyone had the same question, when will the road be open? That question was no longer my concern; I was through the mountain passes and back on the flats. My concern was to dry out my sleeping bag and get a good night’s sleep; thankfully Paul and Alfie graciously let me stay in the empty trailer.
The Abraham Francis Peel River Ferry waiting for summer!
Next morning it was cold and overcast but I had dry gear and new energy for the push to Fort McPherson where I planned to spend the night in a church basement on Mirjam’s suggestion. Fort McPherson population about 700 is located on the east bank of the Peel River which I crossed on the ice bridge, cycling past the Frozen Ferry on the shore.
Welcome to Fort McPherson – Drugs or Alcohol not permitted!
Fort McPherson was originally a Hudson Bay Post and was the starting point of Francis Joseph Fitzgerald‘s famous tragic journey of Royal Northwest Mounted Police, “The Lost Patrol”. On 21 Dec. 1910 Fitzgerald left Fort McPherson with three other constables. From the outset, the patrol was slowed by heavy snow and temperatures as low as −62°. They were unable to find the route across the Richardson Mountains. With supplies dwindling, Fitzgerald reluctantly had to admit defeat and return to Fort McPherson. The patrol now faced a desperate struggle. As food ran out, they began eating their dogs. In the last entry in his diary, on 5 February, Fitzgerald recorded that five were left and the men were so weak they could travel only a short distance.
Within a few days all four died, three from starvation and exposure, including Fitzgerald, and one by suicide. Their emaciated bodies were found by Inspector Dempster in March a few miles from the safety of Fort McPherson. All four men including Fitzgerald, were buried at Fort McPherson on 28 March 1911. In 1938, the graves were cemented over into one large tomb (to the right of the flag pole in above image), with cement posts at the four corners connected by a chain. In the centre is a memorial to the Royal Northwest Mounted Police Patrol of 1910.
Fort McPherson Cemetery where the members of the Lost Patrol were buried in 1911
Good Samaritan (Gwichin)Ernest Firth: “The Gwich’in people of Fort McPherson are very welcoming of strangers and go out of their way to make them welcome”.(source Wikipedia)
Arriving in Fort McPherson I was met by Ernest Firth who knew of my arrival from the Dawson City New article, he told me I was staying at his B&B and he wouldn’t take no for an answer, explaining that if he did he would be in big trouble with his wife, so I obliged gratefully, (thank you Ernest) The Firth B & B Fort McPherson
It was certainly nice to have my own place for the night, hot bath television, fridge full of food and comfortable bed, I ALMOST FELT GUILTY,,,, almost lol. The next morning I visited Co Co Thom the RCMP Staff Sargent who treated me to breakfast and coffee and escorted me out of town towards Tsiigehtchic – Arctic Red River.
Fort McPherson RCMP Staff Sergeant ‘Co Co’ Thom,
Mackenzie River Ice Crossing in Arctic Red River
Welcome to Tsiigehtchic – Arctic Red River
“Located on the site of a traditional Gwich’in fishing camp. In 1868 the Oblate Fathers started a mission here. By 1902 the trading post was located here. RCMP Constable Edgar Spike Millen stationed at Tsiigehtchic was killed mad trapper Albert Johnson in a shoot-out of January 30, 1932 in the Rat River area. The Gwich’in retain close ties to the land today you can see net fishing year round as well as traditional methods of making dryfish and drymeat. In the winter trappers are busy in the bush seeking valuable fur animals.”
Oblate Mission Tsiigehtchic
Inside: Tsiigehtchic Church
Snowed in, Louis Cardinal ferry, Mackenzie River at Tsiigehtchic
After a quick tour of the hamlet of Tsiigehtichic I stopped at the Northern Store to re-supply and hit the long straight road to Inuvik. Long and straight and dry,,, it was and there was a brisk tail wind. 5 hours later I had gained another 80 k closer to Inuvik, it was getting dark so I set up camp, ate supper and prepared for the next day.
The road to Inuvik north of Tsiigehtchic, straight and dry with a brisk tailwind!
Last Camp before Inuvik