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Michael Labatte, a typical French-Canadian voyageur, lives on an island in Victoria Harbor (Hogg Bay). His family history and descent is an interesting one. He claims over one quarter Indian blood, but the aboriginal element in his nature is most unmistakably marked. His father went up to the North-West in the closing years of the last century, and probably accompanied the British army in their first move to “Sault Ste. Marie” and St. Joseph Island, on the first transfer of Mackinaw to the Americans in 1796. He also formed one of the contingent of one hundred and sixty French-Canadian voyageurs accompanying Mr. Pothier, under Captain Roberts, at the capture of Mackinaw by the British in July, 1812, and three years later he moved to Drummond Island with the British forces on the second transfer of Mackinaw to the Americans, and finally to Penetanguishene. For a man of his years (over 85) Michael is vigorous and alert, and his memory is apparently intact.
Narrative of Michael Labatte
I was born at Sault Ste. Marie (on the American side) in 1814, the last year of the war, my mother being there on a visit to friends at the time, though our home was on Drummond Island. My father was Louis George Labatte, a blacksmith by trade, who was born in Lower Canada. He was a soldier in the British Army, and was at the capture of Mackinaw in 1812. He went up from Montreal with the North-West Company, and moved from Mackinaw with the British soldiers to Drummond Island. My mother’s name was Louisa Cadotte, a Chippewa, from whom I learned the Indian language. I was the eldest of a family of three children, two brothers and one sister, the others being dead. Nothing but French and Indian was spoken at Drummond Island. I learned English at Penetanguishene, where I first heard it spoken. I was twelve years old when we left Drummond Island. I came in a bateau with my mother, brother, sister, and an Indian, named Gro-e-wis Oge-nier, and his wife. We were two weeks coming. Several families started together in sail-boats, bateaux and canoes. We camped at Thessalon River, Mississaga River, Serpent River, LaCloche, She-bon-aw-ning,1 Moose Point and other places on the way. We stopped at Pinery Point and made our toilet before entering Penetanguishene Bay. We landed at the Reformatory Point. We were all looking for the place where we expected to see the sand rolling over and over down the hill. I was married in Penetang by Father Charest. My wife’s maiden name was Archange Bergé, whose father came from Drummond Island. I was a volunteer in the enrolled militia of Simcoe. I have my discharge papers for 1839, signed by Colonel Gourlay and Horace Keating, certified by Wm Simpson. Also for 1843, signed by Col. W. A Thompson.2
I remember Bishop McDonnell’s visit to Penetanguishene. I took him and two priests up to Manitoulin and round to the “Sault” and back again to Holland Landing in a big canoe. Henry and Louie Solomon and Francis Giroux were with us, and there were several other canoes. I often went with the late Alfred Thompson, of Penetang, to the Blue Mountains hunting. I was with Captain Strachan at Baldoon, on Lake St. Clair, shooting ducks. I went up the Nottawasaga and over the Portage to Lake Simcoe, when there were no white settlers there – nothing but Indians. Drummond Island had the best harbor on Lake Huron. The barracks at Penetanguishene was built of Norway pine from Pinery Point. The first houses built in Penetanguishene were built by Revol, Mitchell and Simpson for stores, all of cedar. Old Ste. Anne’s (R. C.) church was built by Rev. Father Dempsey,3 missionary, who died while on the road to Barrie, and was buried in the cemetery at Penetanguishene. The old church was built of upright posts and the spaces filled in with cedar logs, laid horizontally, and let into the posts by a tenon and extended mortise. Rev. Father Proulx was the next priest, then Father Charest. I came to Victoria Harbor (Hogg Bay) over thirty years ago. My mother has been dead over fifty years. She is buried at Lafontaine with my father. Kean & Fowlie built the mill at Victoria Harbor. Asher Mundy, who kept the canteen on the old military road, was married to Mrs. Vallières, widow of a French-Canadian. There was no house at Lafontaine when I first saw it. It was first called Ste. Croix. The nearest house was my father’s, at Thunder Bay, about seven miles distant. Louis Deschèneau built the first house there. Toussaint Boucher built the “Iron Canoe” on the spot where Dr. Shohn’s residence now stands in Penetanguishene, for Father Proulx, who afterward presented it to the Government.4
I made a trip in the “Iron Canoe” with fifteen men, Father Proulx, a young priest named Lavelle and a bishop from Europe, up to Manitoulin, the “Sault” and Mackinaw, and back. Father Crevier visited Drummond Island twice in my recollection. I carried the mail to the “Sault” in winter on snow-shoes. I made the trip from Penetanguishene to the “Sault” and back (three hundred miles) with a sleigh and two dogs in fifteen days-snow three feet deep. I once made the trip in fourteen days. Dig a hole in the snow with my snow-shoes, spread spruce boughs, eat piece of cold pork, smoke pipe and go to sleep. I often had Mal de racquette. I would sharpen my flint, then split the flesh of the ankle above the instep in several places, and sometimes down the calf of the leg for a remedy. I was in the Shawanaga country for furs on two occasions when I could not get out, on account of floods. I was four days without food, which was cached at the mouth of the river. At another time I was five days without food, except moss off the rocks on account of floods and soft weather. I was sent by the Government to clear the land where Waubaushene now stands, for the Indians. I planted potatoes and sowed grain. I was there when the Government built the first grist-mill and houses for the Indians at Coldwater. The Government afterwards moved the Indians to Beausoleil Island, Christian and Manitoulin Islands. A man named Stone built the first mill at Severn River, before there was any mill at Waubanshene. I remember seeing several cannons at the old Red Store or Naval Depot at Penetanguishene.
Squire McDonald, uncle of Squire Sam. Fraser, of Midland, was agent for the North-West Company, and came from Drummond Island the year before we did. Dr. Mitchell, his son Andrew, William Simpson and Revol, all came about the same time. I knew about the Tom Landrigan scrape – getting into trouble about stolen Government military supplies – mighty close shave for Tom – he was sentenced to be hanged. I saw Prisque soon after he fell and broke his neck in Penetanguishene. He looked as if he had a black handkerchief tied round his neck. He was sawing off a board lying across the beams, and sawed it too short and pitched down head first. I saw the drunken soldier, who cut his throat at Mundy’s Canteen, and who was buried near the old cricket ground. I was fireman for three summers on the steamer Gore, commanded by Captain Fraser, who married a daughter of Hippolyte Brissette. I went with the volunteers to Chippawa and Navy Island to clear out the Mackenzie rebels. My father was married twice. I was the eldest of the first family, and worked for myself since I was fourteen years old. I have had a family of fifteen children.