Surveyor, engineer and explorer Guy Houghton Blanchet was a legendary Arctic trekker. For almost 50 years he surveyed the Northwest Territories, often setting a daunting pace for his young students. From Hay River to the Dubawnt River to the Coppermine River, Blanchet recorded his journeys by foot and canoe, describing the history, geology, biology, and culture encountered along the way.
The following is an excerpt from Gwyneth Hoyle’s book, The Northern Horizons of Guy Blanchet: Intrepid Surveyor 1884-1966 as the author describes a 1909 surveying expedition to the Peace Country. Blanchet is assistant to George MacMillan. The 20 man crew, followed by a pack train carrying over four tons of food, has reached our neck of the woods:
Fort Dunvegan, soon to be abandoned, was in such a state of decline that it could not supply any oats or hay for the horses, and the man in charge advised travelling about twenty miles southwest to Spirit River where a rancher could supply feed for the horses. The date was May 3, and the break up of the Peace River could come at any time. The river valley they had to cross below Dunvegan is very deep, with steep enclosing walls. They had to lower the wagons down with ropes, then found the ice so dangerous that they hauled the wagons across the river by hand and then led the horses over one at a time. They climbed out of the valley, set up camp high on the south bank of the river. During the night they were wakened by a rumble that grew to a roar. By morning the whole river was in motion, and they watched the spectacle of the ice going out.
The party pushed on to Spirit River and waited there for the prairie grass to grow sufficiently to restore the horses to strength. It was the end of May before they reached the Smoky River near where the work was to begin.
Unfortunately, Hoyle’s book doesn’t include Blanchet’s impression of Spirit River’s early days, when the lure of land was attracting farmers and ranchers to the newly opened prairie just beyond Fort Dunvegan.
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