Ducks Nearly Unlimited, Indian Relics Plentiful, by Howard Horton Brown, Carleton Place Canadian, 17 August, 1961

This is the second of three articles recalling hunting and fishing activities of many years ago in the Carleton Place area.

A century ago in the Eastern Ontario paradise for hunters and fishermen which extended throughout the then united counties of Lanark and Renfrew, locally organized action already was under way to protect wild animals from wasteful destruction.  Its first supporters, as mentioned in the preceding instalment of these stories, were a few foresighted hunters and other leading citizens of Carleton Place, Pakenham and Almonte. 

Later, with a spreading realization of the economic and esthetic benefits to be gained by men from his protection of wild birds and animals, there came a gradual revulsion against wanton slaughter in the forests, fields and lakes.  Among the victims, the long-extinct passenger pigeon still was shot here in numbers in the early 1880’s, as shown by reports of partridge and pigeon hunting in the townships bordering the Mississippi Lake.

First Finds of Indian Relics

Of the native Indians who a hundred and fifty years ago had been almost the sole inhabitants of the Lanark and Renfrew area, only a few stragglers still remained seventy-five years ago in Lanark County.  One of district’s first residents to record his interest in the excavated relics of the reign of the Indian hunter was Andrew Bell, a son of the Rev. William Bell of Perth.  In the early settlement days here he wrote in a letter:

“All the country hereabouts has evidently been once inhabited by the Indians, and for a vast number of years too.  The remains of fires, with the bones and horns of deers round them, have often been found several inches under the black mound. .. A large pot made of burnt clay and highly ornamented was lately found near the banks of the Mississippi, under a large maple tree, probably two or three hundred years old.  Stone axes have been found in different parts of the settlement.  Skeletons of Indians have been several times found, where they had died suddenly or had been killed by accident in the woods.  One was found in a reclining posture with its back against a hillock, and a rough-made stone tobacco pipe lying beside it.”

Another Pioneer Conservation Society

The wild life conservation movement in this district had expanded by the 1880’s to the arousing of organized local support for a wiser harvesting of most of the usual products of rod, gun, spear, trap and net, and for protection of other obviously harmless or beneficial wild creatures.  Carleton Place Herald editor James Poole in an editorial of nearly a hundred years ago already had claimed any man who would shoot a robin or other songbird would be capable of robbing his grandmother or of committing any other crime or rascality.

An organization in Carleton Place with these newer ideas for the conservation of practically all main forms of wild life was formed in 1884.  Under the title of the Carleton Place Game, Fish and Insectivorous Birds Protective Society it continued to operate for some years.  Original officers of the group were William Pattie, president ; Jim Bothwell, vice president ; Walter Kibbee, secretary-treasurer, and committee members John Cavers, Tom Glover, John Moore, Jim Morphy and Jim Presley ; elected at a May meeting in the old fire hall on Bridge Street, when a constitution drawn up by Robert Bell was adopted.  Other members pledged to support the rules of this pioneering wild life protective society were William Beck, Peter Cram, Jim Dunlop, John Flett, David Gillies, Charlie Glover, Tom Hilliard, Archie Knox and Tom Leaver ; Hugh McCormick, William McDiarmid, Hiram McFadden, Jim McFadden, Jim McGregor, George McPherson, William Neelin, Robert Patterson and William Patterson ; Dr. Robert F. Preston, Alex Sibbitt, William Taylor, William Whalen, Will R. Williamson, Alex Wilson and Joe Wilson.  Out of town sportsmen among the first members were Duncan Campbell, John Gemmill, D. G. MacDonnell and Tom Mitcheson, all of Almonte ; Jim Rogers of Montreal and R. W. Stevens of Ottawa.

At this time fishing on Sundays was illegal here as well as hunting on Sundays.  Only about five of these men were said to be still living in 1928 when a story recalling the formation of the Carleton Place wild life protective society of 1884 was published.

A social event sponsored by the Society in its first year was a steamboat excursion to the present Lake Park, then noted as “the old Regatta Grounds.”  The “Morning Star” and her two barges, with a number of skiffs in tow, carried three hundred people to the picnic ; which featured a rifle shooting competition, a baseball game, tug of war and track events, croquet, boating, and dancing to the exhilarating airs of the Willis bagpipes.

Game Law Enforcement

Two unfortunate Indians were among those who felt the first punitive effects of the new society’s protective activity.  This local story was published in October of 1884:

“Last Wednesday two Indians from St. Regis were about to pack up and leave their camp between Appleton and Almonte, on the Mississippi River, when a representative of the Carleton Place Game, Fish and Insectivorous Birds Protective Society appeared on the spot and confiscated a number of muskrat skins.

The fellows had been warned by the Society to desist trapping the animals until November.  The two offenders were brought to Carleton Place.  They had in their possession 126 muskrat skins, one mink skin and one raccoon skin.  The taking of the latter is not an offence.  The poor fellows were in most destitute circumstances.

The magistrate inflicted a fine of $10 and costs and the skins were confiscated.  They doubtless intended to do the river above Carleton Place at once, as has been their annual custom.  The Protective Society is extending its influence very rapidly in all directions from Carleton Place, having a good representative membership in many points at a distance.”

Duck Shooting Toll

Ducks in the 1890’s remained abundant and were shot by the hundreds by the most experienced hunters.  An 1890 published report of two Carleton Place duck hunters’ successes gave totals early in the season of 200 birds for one and 272 for the other, with one shooting 154 ducks in three days in a northerly expedition.  Heavy tolls by the relatively small numbers of hunters seemed to make little impression on the duck population.

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Eagles And Vultures Once Flew Around Mississippi Lake by Howard Brown, from the Carleton Place Canadian, December 22, 1955

“The Canadian is fortunate in receiving a number of articles from Howard Brown of Ottawa concerning early hunting and fishing stories around Carleton Place.  The series includes one on the first game club, deer hunting, bird protection, Mississippi fishing, the beaver, wildcat and lynx, introduction of pickerel to the Mississippi.  The first article follows:

 Hunting and Fishing Stories of our Grandfathers

Lanark and Renfrew counties, well supplied with woods, lakes and marshes, have a record as a favourite fishing and hunting district which antedates their first English speaking settlement.  Referring to the immediate neighbourhood of Carleton Place, William Bell, pioneer Lanark County pastor and an observant man if not an experienced fisher or hunter, wrote soon after his 1817 arrival at Perth:

“The Mississippi Lake, its length about 12 miles and its breadth varying from four miles to half a mile, affords an abundance of fish for the settlers in the neighbourhood, who kill them with spears in great numbers in the spring when ascending the river to spawn.  Some of the islands in the lake are still inhabited by Indians, whose hunting ground is on the north side and who are far from being pleased with the encroachments our settlers are making on their territories.

The animals most troublesome to the farmers are squirrels, brown and grey, equally destructive to crops both in fields and gardens.  They do most mischief in the spring by taking the seed up out of the ground.  I have seen a field of Indian corn entirely ruined by them so that it was necessary to plant it a second and even a third time.  The number killed by some farmers in a year almost exceeds belief.  There is another species called the black squirrel but it seems scarce, being seldom taken.

Of birds there are many kinds.  The principal are eagles, vultures, owls, night hawks, fish hawks, cranes, geese, wild ducks, partridges, snow birds, teal, wild pigeons, blackbirds, thrushes, larks and various other kinds.  The wood pigeons pass to the northward in the spring and return in the fall in immense numbers.  Great numbers of them are taken in nets, but they are more frequently shot, and are generally found to be fat and good eating.  When they happen to alight upon a field they scarcely leave a grain, if not disturbed.”

The story of these famous clouds of passenger pigeons, which usually frequented wooded regions rather than farmers’ fields and which, at 40 cents a pair, were still sold on the Ottawa market in the 1870’s, is well known.  After wanton whole sale killing they were exterminated from the continent to the last bird.  Some larger fur bearing animals, such as the marten and fisher, the lynx and the otter, soon retreated in these counties, like the Indians themselves, before the axe and the plough.

 First Game Protective Club:

 Forty years after the white man had settled in the local scene to dispossess the North American Indian, the second generation in this area, had begun to lessen the seeming abundance of some useful wild animals and birds to a point at which a local Game Protective Club was undertaking enforcement of existing legislation (19-20 Vic. C, 94) for their preservation.  An 1859 Carleton Place announcement gave notice that a sportsmen’s club, composed of persons resident in this and adjoining townships and prepared to prosecute and punish breaches of the game laws “exists in this village as some unseasonable slaughters of game may yet learn to their cost.  The Club has thought proper to offer a reward of $5 to be paid by the Treasurer of the club to any person giving such information as shall ensure the conviction of offenders.  The company have also employed a Lawyer to conduct their business and attend to the prosecution of all parties complained of without respect of persons.”

 The seasons of prohibited hunting still left a six months open deer and moose season from August to January, six months of grouse or partridge hunting from September to February, and gave no protection for waterfowl beyond an eleven week closed season from mid-April to the end of July for “Wild Swan, Goose, Duck of kinds known as Mallard, Grey Duck, Black Duck and all kinds of Teal.”

 An 1862 visitor observed: “There are few villages in the interior, off the main streams the St. Lawrence and the Ottawa, that can rival Carleton Place in scenery and we know of few places where a day or two’s fun can be better appreciated than up on the Mississippi Lake.  In fact fishing and hunting has become almost an institution among the inhabitants and the fame of the Mississippi Pike and Ducks and we may add Deers or Dears, has reached distant sections of the Front.”

 The Game Protective Club, interested chiefly in increasing the deer population, became the Lanark and Renfrew Game Protection Society, as formally constituted at a March 1861 meeting of district deer hunters at Pakenham, home town of the then retired Andrew Dickson, prominent as a deer hunter as well as in Eastern Upper Canada public affairs. 

Cases of convictions for winter killing of deer in the closed season were cited at the Society’s meetings.  “A Law Abiding Hunter” wrote to the deer-hunting editor of the Carleton Place Herald at the end of the 1861-62 season:

 “It is estimated that upwards of 700 deers were butchered on the crust last winter and spring in the Counties of Lanark and Renfrew, and that about 150 deer have been killed in these counties in the past year during the time allowed by law.  In settlements where liquor can be procured the most of the venison that the Indians kill is sold to procure whisky.  It is stated that one Indian, who stopped near Arnprior, killed no less than 90 deers on the crust last winter and spring – a crime.”

Early court records of deer hunting in the two counties were not limited to cases for deterring hunting out of season.  Others concerned appropriation of hounds or of the hunter’s quarry.  In an 1865 trial at Almonte dealing with an October deer hunt at White Lake, magistrates James Rosamond and John Menzies, after hearing many witnesses, dismissed a charge based on the information and complaint of a Pakenham resident to the effect that James Poole, W. Morphy and James Cram of Carleton Place “did with force of arms take and carry away one deer the property of John McManagle.”  The implication of the decision seemed to be that hunters stationed at a lakeshore in shooting and attempting to keep possession of deer which had been run out by another hunting party did so at their peril.

Remarkably large packs of dogs were maintained by some deer hunters.  Andrew Dickson, ex-sheriff of the United Counties and onetime warden of the Provincial penitentiary at Kingston, was once reported to be the owner of over thirty.  In the same period large numbers were kept by James Poole of Carleton Place.  A granddaughter’s account of Andrew Dickson’s last farewell to hunting and to his dogs is given in Senator Andrew Haydon’s Pioneer Sketches in the District of Bathurst.

     The scene is in 1868 at the Dickson home in Pakenham :

“The last time I saw my grandfather was just a week before he died.  The dogs had broken out of their kennels and rushed into the house, Sport, the favourite, on the bed, the place of honor, earned by years of devotion, and the other dogs with noses resting on the quilt, and on the gray old plaid they had so often followed.  The tears ran down his face, but he beckoned to me.  I took the whistle, which I could hardly use for crying, I led the way to the kennel, but Sport would not come.”

     In the early 1880’s the district game supply and the hunting restrictions both continued to be generous to the hunter.  A pair of hunters are reported returning to Carleton Place from a five week deer hunt in which they shot forty deer, followed by an advertisement “Good Venison for Sale,”  James Presley opposite the Methodist Church, Carleton Place.  Moose in the Upper Ottawa were meeting a similar onslaught which they could less readily withstand.  A Carleton Place “Protect the Moose” editorial May 1887 said:

     “Steps are being taken to have the Governments enforce more stringently the laws for the protection of this noble game.  As an instance of the terrible slaughter of moose deer that has gone on in the Upper Ottawa this season, it is mentioned that Montreal man who hunted on the Mississippi River killed 27.  A Pembroke man killed 40.  It is computed that all the carcasses would weight 53,600 pounds.  The Montreal man killed his moose during the legal season, but his companion killed during month of March and is reported to be killing yet.”

     Restrictions following 1887 included in the case of deer a season limit of 3 to 5 per person depending on the size of the hunting party with a season opening November 15th.