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Narrative of Antoine Labatte
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I was born on Drummond Island, 16th September, 1824. We left the Island in 1827. My father’s name was Louis George Labatte, a soldier in the British Army, and a blacksmith by trade. He was at the capture of Mackinaw, and fought in the war of 1812. He was born in Lower Canada, and went up with the North-West Company, and after three years in the British service at Mackinaw, returned to Drummond Island with the soldiers and stayed there eleven years. He then moved to Holland Landing, stayed there two years, then to Penetanguishene, and lastly to Thunder Bay (Tiny), where he died in 1872. My mother died in 1863, and both are buried at Lafontaine. Her maiden name was Julia Frances Grouette, a half-breed. I am three-quarters French and one-quarter Indian blood. We left Drummond Island in August, in a bateau, towed by the schooner Alice, Captain Hackett commander. The vessel was subsequently wrecked on Horse Island. We came by the outer channel, past Tobermory, and landed at Cedar Point in Tiny the same month. Eighteen persons came in the bateau, besides provisions and household effects. There were six of the Labatte family, four of the Grouette family, Antoine Recollet and child, Francois Recollet and child, Jessie Solomon, and an Indian named Jacobe. Captain Hackett had suffered shipwreck on the sea. His vessel was burned and he saved his life by clinging to a small piece of the burning wreck till he was rescued. Captain Hackett was badly burned on one side of his face and neck, so that the cords were drawn down, causing a peculiar twitching of the muscles and a continual turning of his face to one side.
We camped at Cedar Point one night and left next morning for Nottawasaga. We went up the Nottawasaga to Pine River, within nine miles of Barrie, and portaged over to Lake Simcoe, and down to Holland Landing. We stayed there two years, then went to White’s Corners in Oro and stayed there about one year, then came to Penetanguishene in 1831. We first lived on the lot on the corner next Shannahan’s blacksmith shop, Penetanguishene, now owned by Mrs. Mundy, then on the lot now owned by Charles McGibbon. The little steamer Penetanquishene was built, I think, about 1832, by Mitchell & Thompson, on the spot where McGibbon’s Mill now stands, on Water Street. We left Penetanguishene in 1834, to go to Meaford to take up land received for Government service. We were in a bateau with our goods and provisions, being towed by the steamer Penetanguishene, on board of which were Captain Workman and family and Mr. Rattray and family, with their household furniture, also going to Meaford, accompanied by a Mr. Vail; Stephen Jeffrey in his sail-boat was also being towed. A heavy storm arose before we reached Christian Island. Our bateau smashed the back windows of the cabin of the little steamer, and one of the lines broke by which we were being towed. We were driven on Christian Island, near where the lighthouse stands. After a little time the captain thought he would try again, and my father refused to go. We were obliged to unload the bateau, as it belonged to the steamer. We unloaded our goods and blacksmith’s tools into a birch canoe, while they started the second time for the Blue Mountains, but were obliged to return. We camped there about a week. There were no Indians there then. When the storm ceased, Captain Beman came along with his sloop and took Captain Workman and his party to Meaford, but left Mr. Vail. My father found him one day without any food, and brought him to our camp. Antoine Lacourse, a fisherman from Penetanguishene, and some friends, came to take us back to Penetanguishene. We started, but the ice was so thick it took three men with sticks in the front of the bateau to break it. We got as far as Thunder Bay (Tiny), and landed at a fisherman’s cabin, but twelve feet square, where we stayed for the night, with fifteen men, besides eight of our own family. We built a place to winter in, then built a log house, and lived on the bay ever since. The old house is still standing. Tontine Martin, a fisherman from Penetanguishene, built a small cabin just before we came, but occupied it only temporarily. Camile Giroux was the next settler, about twenty years after we came. My father set out fruit trees, which grew from seed dropped on the beach by fisherman and travellers. Michael Labatte, of Victoria Harbor, is my half-brother. His mother’s Indian name was Oh-ge-ke-qua. In my father’s time a “Yankee” vessel often came to Thunder Bay with whiskey and hid the barrels in the sand. Stephen Jeffery, of Penetanguishene, would come through the Indian trail from Colborne Bay and get the whiskey and take it across to his canteen. After the barrels were emptied they would break them up and leave the staves in the sand. They would sometimes dig holes in the gravel at Lighthouse Point, on Christian Island, and hide the whiskey and cover it with brush, until they came after it. The distance through the Indian trail across to Colborne Bay opposite to the barracks was called seven miles. I worked two years in Saginaw and at the Bruce Mines, with three hundred men, under Manager Campbell.1 I attended school in Penetanguishene three months under a teacher named Antoine Lacourse. His grandson, William Lacourse, and Francis Marchildon were drowned some years since on their way to Christian Island. I knew Rondeau at the old Fort, who ate a root of la carotte à moureau (wild parsnip) and was poisoned. He was planting potatoes and found the root. His wife said it was good to eat. While she was getting dinner he ate some and died the same night. I saw him when they buried him in Penetanguishene. The Labattes left Drummond Island in 1827; the troops left in 1828, and most of the French-Canadians in 1829. I heard of the burning of the schooner Nancy at Nottawasaga. She ran into the river followed by the Yankee schooners. She got inside the bar, where they had a slight skirmish, when the captain set fire to her to prevent her falling into the hands of the Yankees. While passing Detroit the captain kept a keg of powder on deck ready to blow her up in case of attack. The captain and his men were left with nothing but the yawl boat, and they made their way back to St. Joseph Island by the North Shore, where they saw two “Yankee” vessels. They ran across to Mackinaw and got permission from the Colonel and returned and captured the two schooners. Capt. McTavish boarded one of the vessels as a negro was in the act of loading a cannon, when he cut off his head with a sword, the former falling overboard. The captain seized the body and pitched it over also, saying, as he did so, “Follow your head.”2 Pierre Giroux took a squaw for his wife from Moose Point and settled on Penetanguishene Bay. She appeared to be a little crazy. When Bishop McDonnell visited Penetanguishene he ordered them to marry or separate. Giroux gave her a blanket and sent her away. She wrapped her babe in the blanket and started across the ice, but when she reached Giant’s Tomb Island her babe was frozen to death. Pierre afterwards got his hands and feet so badly frozen while hauling fish down from Moose Point that they had to be amputated. His brother, Joseph, started with provisions for his son, Camile, who was fishing on Thunder Bay, and got lost. The snow was two or three feet deep and no roads. He was found three days later near Pinery Point, with his hands and feet frozen. They had to be amputated. His son Joseph still lives in Penetanguishene. Andrew Vallier parted with his squaw and they afterwards met again and were married by Rev. Father Proulx. They generally married their wives when the priest came. Point Douglas, to the west of Thunder Bay (Tiny), was named after a marine surveyor. My lot is north half No. 16, con. 19, broken front, Tiny. My brother, Ambrose, lives on lot 13, con. 17, Tiny. I married Mary Coté for my first wife.
A very interesting account of the Bruce Mines when at the height of their prosperity (in 1849-50) may be found in the Second Report of the Ontario Bureau of Mines (1892) pages 171-8. It was written by Walter William Palmer, and is entitled, “A Pioneer’s Mining Espreience on Lake Superior and Lake Huron.” ↩
This is a popular version of the capture of the two “American” schooners, Scorpion and Tigress, near Mackinaw in 1814. Another version of the capture, from the pen of John McDonald of Garth, may be found in Massons “Bourgeois,” II, p. 55. ↩
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