by Bruce Cherney (part 4 of 4)
Drops in elevation encountered further up the Winnipeg River by the 1823 American military-scientific expedition were called Petite Point de Bois and Jack’s Falls by William H. Keating, the group’s historian, with “the lower sheet of water divided into three parts by two islands, and the effect is quite picturesque; the foam produced by these two falls, exceeds that observed at any other ...”
Keating, who wrote Narrative of the Expedition to the Source of the St. Peter’s River, Lake Winnepeek, Lake of the Woods &c. (St. Peter’s is today’s Minnesota River, while Lake Winnepeek is Lake Winnipeg), commented that their guide Baptiste Demarais and voyageur and Métis paddlers believed that there were many different streams emptying into the Winnipeg River, but “upon closer inquiry they (were) found to be mere branches of the same river that divide off at distances of twenty or thirty miles, and which unite with the main stream, or, as we should deem it more probable, they are parts of the general system of lakes which cover the whole country.”
Indeed, as the Winnipeg River winds its way through Whiteshell Provincial Park and across the Manitoba-Ontario border it is difficult for the casual observer to distinguish the many narrowings and enlargements of the river without considering them to be parts of other waterways.
Before reaching Rat Portage (present-day Kenora), the Americans came to a place called the “Petites Dalles” (Little Rapids), where HBC employee Owen Keveney was murdered.
The U.S. expedition’s guide, Desmarais, was also the guide in the Keveney canoe and was one of the chief witnesses in the subsequent trial for murder of Charles de Reinhart, who was convicted following a trial at Québec. Following the May and June 1818 trial, Charles de Reinhard, formerly a sergeant in the De Meurons regiment, who had entered the service of the North West Company, was convicted and sentenced to death.
“Of the 150 charges laid against the Nor’Westers in connection with the Red River affair (Seven Oaks and other conflicts with the HBC), his case was the only one that resulted in a guilty verdict but, because of disputes over the exact location of the crime and the jurisdiction of the Canadian courts, the sentence (of death by hanging) was never executed” (Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Volume 5).
The commuting of the sentence resulted from a subsequent ruling that the jurisdiction of Canadian courts didn’t extend into Rupert’s Land.
From Rat Portage, the Americans made their way by water to Fort William (present-day Thunder Bay) and hence returned to the United States, completing a journey that was originally not intended to include British North America. Yet, the U.S. military-led expedition did invade Canada, although through convenience, as the passage through Canada via the Red River from Pembina, to Lake Winnipeg, up the Winnipeg River and to Lake of the Woods and then to Lake Superior and American territory, was decidely less arduous than a trek along the 49th Parallel.
That they gathered military intelligence is shown by the expedition’s subsequent report to the U.S. War Department, which determined that there was little to fear from an invasion originating from British territory to the north, as “the country is such as affords a more formidable barrier to the invasion of an enemy than any cordon of posts that art could devise.”
And an invasion up the Red River by the British would not be undertaken, since the 1823 expedition concluded that the HBC was more interested in the fur trade than establishing colonies.
“Added to this is the utter impractibility of transporting by ordinary means heavy ordnance, and other munitions of war, up Nelson’s River, or by any other route, to the valley of the Red River ...”
While the Americans installed a post marking the 49th Parallel at Pembina in 1823, it wasn’t until 1872 that the international line between the U.S. and Canada from the prairies to the western summit of the Rocky Mountains was surveyed by the joint North American Boundary Commission, a task that took two years with a final protocol signed in 1876.