Described by Grant MacEwan as “one of the strangest stories in the repertoire of Canadian lore”, the story of the raft baby of the Peace River is a long and curious tale of tragedy and coincidence. It was once a well-known story, corroborated by diaries and official records as well as in an autobiographical account by Alfred Garrioch, one of the most dogged researchers responsible for solving the mystery of the raft baby.
Alfred Garrioch was an Anglican missionary to the Peace Country. He was much admired for his linguistic skills: he learned the Beaver and Cree languages, made extensive translations and wrote linguistic guides. He also wrote several autobiographical accounts of his time in the Peace Country. One of those, A Hatchet Mark in Duplicate, was the reference for the following retelling of the story of the raft baby of the Peace. Garrioch’s account is personal and apt to be romanticized and didactic in places, and there are a few questionable details. It is a very interesting read, so please click the link to read Garrioch’s original account published in 1929. You can decide for yourself if you believe the story as it was recorded.
The retelling below is shorter than Garrioch’s book; however, it will take several posts to tell the whole story. Hopefully the suspense of all the twists and turns will keep you coming back until you know the whole haunting story. And so, let’s begin with The Raft Baby of the Peace River, Part One:
Mr. Alfred Garrioch, a missionary in the Peace Country, was on a visit to his home territory near Winnipeg in 1878 or 1879 when he met by chance a charming couple and their strikingly pretty daughter, a girl of about seven. The Vinings were very friendly and Garrioch spent some time with them. They told him about their adopted daughter, Lily, “a beautiful little girl, a brunette, with particularly lovely eyes.” They had gotten her from a free trader at Edmonton, “according to whose account she was a piece of flotsam and jetsam from the Peace River”.
It seems Garrioch was smitten by the romantic and mysterious history of the little girl, made all the more poignant by her beautiful eyes. There wasn’t much to go on, but Garrioch promised himself and the Vinings that he would find out the truth about their little water Lily.
The missionary’s instinct would prove to be correct: here was an intriguing tale that would take many years to piece together, but would be worth the detective work in the end. Garrioch was returning to the Peace Country soon and would make inquiries.