Tuesday, March 21, 2017

How long have people lived at Red Lake, Ont.?

Large pulley wheel is evidence of old gold mine from 1926 Gold Rush.

Brenda Cieplik stands on rock pile from old mine, almost covered now with trees.
Pictograph on rock in Middle Narrows was probably painted about 1,200 years ago.  Above three photos are by Brenda Cieplik

An entire broken clay pot is visible to the trained eye in this photo

This is a shard from that pot, evidence of the Woodland Period, 3,000 to 500 years ago.
Red Lake is famous for being the location of the third-largest gold rush in the world. That took place in 1926 and saw thousands of people from all parts of the globe making their way to the lake by canoe in the summer and by snowshoe and dogsled in the winter in the hopes of striking it rich. They got as close as they could by railroad, about 180 miles away at Hudson, Ont. and then struck off for Red Lake.
This was also the infancy of aviation and soon the very first floatplanes were landing at Red Lake with prospectors and provisions. In 1936 Red Lake gained the notoriety of being the busiest airport in the world! That superlative is based on the number of landings and takeoffs per day, all of them on water. It wasn't until 1948 that a road was made to Red Lake.
Little gold mines popped up all around the lake, including the west end where Bow Narrows Camp is found. A couple of hundred people worked at the west end mines and a few built homes primarily in three locations: the narrows and bays right where camp is found, Pipestone Bay and Golden Arm. There were homes and stores, a doctor and even post offices. But the big strikes happened at the other end of the lake where the town is now located. By the 1940s everyone had moved to the eastern end. Some of them took their houses with them, either by disassembling the logs and floating them in a boom or if a frame building, taking off the boards and hauling them by boat or over the ice.
Lots of people just abandoned the buildings altogether. When my family came to Bow Narrows Camp in 1961 these old buildings were still standing but were already in poor condition. The tar paper that had covered their roofs had given way a decade earlier and almost all of the boards and logs were badly rotten. It was eerie to go into these places. In a few there were still coats hung on hooks, dishes in the cupboard and even tins of dried food laying around. We never took any of these things because, as my dad said, "This still belongs to somebody and they might come back."
But in fact, they never did.
The cabins fell down and rotted. The clearings where the cabins were located eventually filled in with trees and today there isn't a sign of any buildings at all. If you searched on your hands and knees you probably couldn't find anything. Steel cans and nails turned to rust. The only thing you can find at most sites today is the odd glass jar and maybe a chunk of a shoe.
There isn't much left of the mines either. Mostly there is only the waste rock pile that came from making the underground shaft. This is just a pile of broken stones and can easily be mistaken for natural rock. It seems amazing that where there were communities fewer than 100 years ago, now there is just forest.
But we really shouldn't be surprised because communities have come and gone here for thousands of years. First Nations people have lived here since the glaciers retreated 10,000 years ago. And ironically, there is more evidence of their existence than there is of the gold rush prospectors even though those last immigrants had full benefit of what is considered modern society -- things like steel and machinery.
I suspect that last statement will raise some eyebrows. Evidence? What evidence? they will say.
It takes a trained eye to see it, I will admit, and it took me 50 years and a son with a passion for archeology to show me the light. Remnants of previous peoples are everywhere around Red Lake.
These include arrow and spear points as well as flakes from making both. There are also lots of pottery shards.
My epiphany happened two years ago when Matt and I took some time to explore an island that we had never set foot upon. Upon landing the boat, Matt picked up some point flakes. We set forth across the island and ended up detouring around a windfall area and coming back out to the lake where Matt picked up a full spear point. We then took the boat to the other side of the island where Matt made another discovery; under a piece of galvanized metal left from the gold rush era was a broken spear point from perhaps 1,000 years ago. And beneath that was a point from maybe 5,000 years ago. All of this was laying right on the surface with just some moss covering it.
"It is ubiquitous," said Matt, who has searched all around the west end of the lake. "It's everywhere."
To prove a point we just boated to any place that might have been a good place to camp, sheltered spots for winter camps and exposed places for summer. We found pottery shards in all of them.
"How many people do you think lived here?" I asked.
"I don't know but lots," he replied. "Don't forget," he cautioned, that this took place over thousands of years."
But lots of the pottery bits are from the same period, isn't that right? I asked. He agreed.
"Could there have been more people living here then than there are now?" I wondered. "In fact, could the population today be the least the lake has seen in thousands of years?"
It's not out of the range of possibility, he said.


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joe overman said...

Great story, Dan. If you don't Write a book, I WILL Kneecap you! Just joking!

Ray G said...

Dan: Do you know any of the history of the cabin on the west end of Pipestone. There has been a mine in that area, with some of the track still in place. The mine has been apparently flooded and capped.


Dan Baughman said...

That cabin is what is left of the Cole Gold Mine, one of the west end mines that I referred to. It is still owned by the granddaughter of the man who founded the mine. The Cole Mine was the largest of the west end mines, is 500 feet deep, and had a drift that went beneath Pipestone Bay! All of the old mines are flooded. Few of them, however, have been capped so hikers need to beware of these open holes. Most have barbed wire around them and signs warning of the danger. Everyone should stay away from these open shafts because if you were to fall in, you might not be able to climb out without assistance from above.