The historical file: Local man’s grandfather barged bison down the Athabasca

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Former Slave Lake resident Bruce Paterson has been going through the family archive and a few interesting things have come to light. Thanks to Dennis Barton, The Leader has copies of the material, which includes photos from back in the heyday of riverboat transportation on the Athabasca and Mackenzie Rivers. Paterson’s grandfather ‘Dan’ Ross Paterson was a river pilot and later a captain for the Hudson’s Bay Company, who had a lot to do with transporting 7,000 prairie bison to Wood Buffalo National Park in the 1920s.

“He and his brother built a big barge and pushed it with the Northland Echo,” says Bruce.

How all this came to light has to do with another historical photo that Barton submitted and The Leader published about a year ago. It was one of a series from the Wabasca area, showing a dog team with a white lead dog. Paterson has photos of his grandfather’s mail sleigh and team from way back when; in both cases, he says, there’s a white lead dog in the team. So he asked Barton, “Was it my grandfather?” Dennis didn’t know, but there’s a good possibility it was. Paterson says his grandfather – in addition to working on riverboats – had a trapline and a trading post on the Athabasca, due east of Wabasca. It’s quite possible he did mail delivery overland from his post on the river, since it’s actually a shorter distance to Wabasca than it is from Slave Lake – or from Athabasca Landing, for that matter.

Paterson says his grandfather made at least one trip to Slave Lake (or Sawridge, as it was known then), sometime around the First World War.

Sun dial and block house at Fort Chipewyan – from the Paterson family archive.

Barges carrying bison north to Wood Buffalo Park, from the Paterson family collection.

‘Athabasca River’ and ‘Northland Echo’ at the dock at Fort Chipewyan.

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