A Devils Pact at the Wolf Rapids

This story I believe to be a true and verifiable tale from the days of Big Timber in the Ottawa Valley.
Because I got it from truthful men; no longer alive, it was a long time ago.

Some of the verification if you choose) might take you through the scenic Gatineau hills.
If this story makes you uncomfortable after you read a little, you may wish to return to
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Skketch of  rapids

The place looked something like this, I was there 4 or 5 times.
This view is a thin memory, I only saw the place from the portage.

The Big Wolf Rapids is no more. The Mountain Chute Hydro Electric Generating Plant Dam flooded this spot and almost as far as Griffith.

A very short tale
from a time recently passed.

was consummated here
so I have been told.

Sketch of rapids V

A Devils Pact or Into the Vee.

In the late 1930's there were two trains a day not counting freight trains in Calabogie. The Black Donald graphite mine was still operating and there were lots of American tourists in the summer. Only one hotel was really busy, and a former hotel was a rooming house and the largest was empty, the home of Jake Jackson who had a peg leg. In the times of the log drives the hotels were busy.

The rivermen could get a rest in a real bed and a few drinks of the good stuff. By the mid thirties the bar at the Legree House was a mostly empty room, long and narrow with windows on the lake; the bar was closed by local option.. There was a steady stream of visitors that only stayed one day or one night, between trains so to speak. These men knew they could get a little to eat in Calabogie. They were called hoboes, sad looking, all of them. Children were taught to steer clear of them. I had the good fortune to meet one, and hear some tales, but the story of young (16 years old) Bob Trail's visit home is for another time and of another time.

Big Jim LeGris was a scaler and timber cruiser who worked for Booth and others. A son of Sam LeGris a hosteler, perhaps from White Lake. During the spring runoff he was a drive boss.

The last log drive on the Madawaska was in 1929. I was going on five years old then and failed to grasp the historic significance of the logs and rivermen going through. They were all gone by the time I got to the river bank.

Big Jim LeGris( his nephew Little Jim was scrappy but not a tall man.) talked to me and explained things from a wooden rocking chair. He always had time for me. He was my uncle. There were four Legree families and one Le Gris family. The Jim's were differentiated as Big Jim, Little Jim and James T.

I had heard of a devil's pact and asked him what it was. He explained it with a story about a drive he was on. Two boat loads of eight rivermen each drew straws at the campfire one night. They were upstream from the Wolf Rapids which had to be portaged the next day.

Now a river boat is a bit like a whale, it is designed to be in the water; and when possible rapids were "run" to reduce damage which portaging inflicted. Unlike a whale the riverboat could not repair itself so the rivermen did their best for them. The rivermen were fiercely competitive proud of their skills and dependent on each other for survival. Why did these men draw straws? To decide which boat would go first into the Wolf rapids. It had never been run. There must have been some trepidation among some of these men. Because they agreed that no matter what happened to the lead boat, the other was to follow it. I do not know anything much about these men, married men with families, perhaps some young men on their first drive with sweethearts praying for their safe return. The few rivermen I have known were strong, gentle, caring, and intelligent and also tough in the best sense. Some of them got very drunk sometimes. The stress of change when the drive was over could be ameliorated with a little booze so to speak.

All sixteen men drowned the next day. That was a delay which the Lumber Barons would not appreciate. All sixteen bodies were recovered and taken out with horses and wagons for the long trip back to their families.

That was a devil's pack those men made. That is how my uncle explained what a devil's pact was. He did not say it was a devils pack because it ended badly, that is my interpretation of why it was called a devil's pact.

I pretty well forgot the story until many years later I was talking to Tommy Sharbot (he was the actual fiddler in "Best Damn fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar" an award winning documentary film) about the rapids on the Madawaska. I had taken (carefully) to white water canoeing. I learned to paddle with a small birch bark canoe Sam Jocko had made for his children. I used to watch him build canoes. I had a bicycle but my parents would not go for a canoe. The danger was obvious. Willard Jocko had a canoe, but he wanted a bicycle. It not only cost money but the danger was obvious, with all the cars and fast buggies running around on the roads. An unspoken arrangement developed. I would ride past Jocko's house and go to the lake about a mile up the road. Pretty soon Willard would be paddling along the shore. He rode off on the bike as I left in the canoe. I don't recall that we bothered to speak to each other. We had something more interesting to do. Now something puzzles me as we did not have watches or had a time frame in mind. But after I was good and tired from trying to force the canoe up Constan Creek I would go back to the meeting place and find Will pedaling across the open field or putting the bike down.

I guess we each ran out of steam at about the same rate. Greeting were minimal and we headed home. It eventually became known what was going on and Bill's dad gave me some good tips about managing in rough water. When The LeGris were away for a few days from time to time; I would take their cedar strip canoe to the lake. It was a fast one.

Anyway, I was telling Tommy Sharbot about climbing a tree at the head of the Wolf rapids to see if I could figure out what the trap was. From the shore you would swear it could be run with at most a dunking and a few bruises in the event of failure. Tommy says to me; "you know I saw something there that I will never forget. I was with my brother ( I think he said it was Jerome) at the landing spot for the portage. Our job was to wave the boats in before they got too close to the vee. These two boats came down and I guess they did not see us or hear us shouting because one of the boats pulled ahead and went straight into the vee and then disappeared. The second boat was stopped watching. Then they went straight in too." " To this day I do not understand what went wrong, they must have seen us". "They knew about the Wolf.". "They were from Maniwaki. All the bodies were taken home for burial.".

I think he may have felt him and Jerome were a little to blame. He did not know about the devil's pact. I told him the story about the drawing of straws. He just shook his head a little. I do not know what he thought. But I think he was glad to know. It does not matter.

I do not know what year those men drowned trying to prove they were the best at what they did; but it would be easy to find out. Now I wonder sometimes what that life was like, what those dead men left behind. What were their thoughts when they went out that last morning.

I think they were like Big Jim LeGris and the Sharbot boys, the people in Calabogie and the people in Maniwaki. There are unmarked graves along the Madawaska, those rivermen did not go home. One little cemetery was fenced off when the Barrett Chute Generating station was built at the head of Calabogie Lake in 1942. Then years later, everthing at Barret Chute was fenced off, possibly to reduce liability if someone fell off the headgate railing. Perhaps no one in the Ontario Hydro Electric System even knows about the little cemetery. No one goes there to leave flowers.

There is a saying "A grave for every mile", probably no one alive knows the real number. In those days just part of the cost of supplying masts for the Royal Navy. (The endnote relates to this.)

Some things are not fun. The riverman's brag is a valid brag. That was not so very long ago.

From: Tom Mousseau, set down in the Summer of 1996
(Symantic corrections in August 1997) (grammar corrections in the year 2000; lines added in 2001.)
(Added information on the LeGris and Legrees November 09, 2005)

Recently I learned more from a man much older than me, who lived in Quadeville before he went to the second world war. His father and grand father were rivermen. We were talking about the drives and the number of graves along the Madawaska river. When the drives began there were so many lives being lost that the Provincial government imposed a requirement that 15% of the rivermen had to be experienced log drivers before the drives could continue. These men were recruited from Quebec, mostly from the Trois Riviers region. Many married local girls of Irish and Scottish descent. In villages along the Madawaska there are many surnames from Quebec. Also the Fist Nations rivermen were many and capable in this dangerous and difficult work.

The Madawaska rivermen were honored in song's no longer heard, and are faint memories from my childhood.
They are gone along with the large lumber mills. and the fortunes of the Lumber Barons..

Tom Mousseau was born in Renfrew county and raised in Calabogie on the Madawaska river.

Added in September 2001 T.M.

The rocking boat
Copyright T.J. Mousseau., 1966, 2000, 2002 A.D.
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