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Ancillary 8. Evidence regarding the tragedy.
This Ancillary provides all known evidence related to the death of Arthur Moffatt.
So that the reader may assess that evidence unencumbered by my interpretations of it,
I refrain from making comments except as deemed necessary for clarity.
no quotes of accusations, no references to them, no responses to them;
no mention of redactions, no references to them, no responses to them.
The reader will find the omitted items in the Appendices and in the other Ancillaries; the corresponding Internal URLs are provided at the end of this document.
List of Moffatt’s sources.
1. The book of James W Tyrrell.
2. The book of Joseph B Tyrrell.
3. The journal/report of J B Tyrrell.
4. Correspondence with J B Tyrrell.
Reference for these items. Ancillary 7. Moffatt’s Tyrrell sources.
5. The maps of J B Tyrrell.
Reference. The Appendix provided at the end of this document.
The book of James W Tyrrell.
Moffatt had accessed J W Tyrrell’s book Across the Sub-Arctics of Canada (Toronto, 1908).
With the help of the kind and patient staff at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library (University of Toronto), I obtained a copy of every page for the entire reach from Black Lake to Baker Lake to Chesterfield Inlet.
The book makes little mention of rapids in general, and none of rapids in the reach where Moffatt died.
This Ancillary makes no further mention of it.
The book of Joseph B Tyrrell.
As evinced for example by Moffatt’s Prospectus on page 71 of the Sports Illustrated article, Moffatt had accessed J B Tyrrell’s book of the 1893 expedition.
Report on the Doobaunt, Kazan and Ferguson Rivers and the north-west coast of Hudson Bay and on two overland routes from Hudson Bay to Lake Winnipeg. S E Dawson, Ottawa (1897).
With the help of the kind and patient staff at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library (University of Toronto), I obtained a copy of every page for the entire reach from Black Lake to Chesterfield Inlet. If I may be indulged a comment, the remainder is harrowing reading.
Ancillary 3. Tyrrell excerpt provides the complete excerpt for the reach (Wharton Lake to Marjorie Lake) where Moffatt died.
The journal/report of Joseph B Tyrrell.
Moffatt had also obtained access to J B Tyrrell’s journal (aka his report) for the 1893 expedition. I was unable to access JBT’s journal; I note though that excerpts from the journals of Moffatt and Pessl document that it contains material not mentioned elsewhere.
The Moffatt – J B Tyrrell correspondence.
Thanks to Pessl, I have copies of Moffatt’s letters of 18 December 1954 and 14 January 1955 to J B Tyrrell.
A thorough search at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library (University of Toronto) failed to find JBT’s reply to the first, known to have been made. I possess no evidence that JBT replied to the second.
Reference. Sub-Appendix 1. Tyrrell sources of Appendix 9.
Appendix 9. The fatal rapids.
The evidence of J B Tyrrell’s book, for the reach from Wharton Lake to Marjorie Lake.
The following provides the text (deletions are marked by ellipses) for the entire reach from Wharton Lake to Marjorie Lake; Moffatt died in rapids not far above the latter.
Below Wharton Lake the river flows at first eastward, and then southward, for four miles to a small lake, in which distance it rushes down two rapids with descents respectively of 15 and 6 feet.
The small lake seems to be everywhere shallow, though the water is very clear. On its south side is a sand ridge or (esker [character apparently an italic l, which makes no sense to me]) about 300 feet high, trending east-and-west, on the side of which the three terraces seen at the quartzite hill are well shown. Towards the west end of the ridge are scarped banks of sand almost eighty feet high. On the north side of the lake is a cluster of low islands, composed of boulders of red gneiss, covered with moss and grass. Low hills of boulders continue eastward, along the course of the river, for the next five miles. The stream has no well-defined channel, but flows around and between these hills with a current of from five to eight miles an hour. Five miles below the small lake is a rapid with a descent of twenty feet, past the lower part of which a portage 400 yards long was made over a hill of boulders, and we embarked from a sheet of ice that, on the 23rd of August, was still frozen to the bank. Above the rapid a gravel plain extends a long distance back from the river. At the foot of this rapid the river turns at right angles and flows northward for seven miles as a wide shallow rapid stream, through low country, composed of small morainic or drumlin-like hills of boulders of light-gray well foliated gneiss.
Lady Marjorie Lake, so named as a mark of respect… , was entered at the south end, …
1. two rapids with descents respectively of 15 and 6 feet.
2. the small lake below these rapids.
3. Five miles below the small lake is a rapid with a descent of twenty feet, past the lower part of which a portage 400 yards long was made,
4. At the foot of this rapid the river turns at right angles and flows northward for seven miles to what is now called Marjorie Lake.
5. No rapids are mentioned in the northward reach to Marjorie Lake. Moffatt died in rapids in this reach, not far upstream from Marjorie Lake.
Comparison of the evidences of J B Tyrrell’s book and that of his map, for the Wharton-Marjorie reach.
I compare, in downstream order, the features described in JBT’s book with those provided on his map at https://barrenlands.library.utoronto.ca/content/zone-6-1893 .
Book. two rapids with descents respectively of 15 and 6 feet.
Map. Two Rapids.
Book. small lake.
Map. A small unnamed lake.
Book. A rapid with a descent of twenty feet, with a portage of length 400 yards around the lower part.
Map. A Rapid with a Por. 18c around it.
Comment. 18 chains = 400 yards. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chain_(unit) .
Book. the river turns at right angles and flows northward for seven miles to Lady Marjorie Lake.
Map. A sharp turn to the north.
J B Tyrrell’s book and his map agree completely regarding the essentials of the features between Wharton Lake and what is now called Marjorie Lake. The book provides more detail, but the map is clearer.
Again, Moffatt possessed both the book and the map.
The evidence of Moffatt’s journal for 13 September.
The following is the complete text of Moffatt’s last journal entry, that for the day before the tragedy, as kindly supplied by Pessl (with (?) indicating faint, uncertain words on my copy.
Off at 10:15 across outlet bay (of Wharton Lake), Skip caught 3 trout, then down 15 foot very swift rapids, no rocks but very rough. Took water, had to bail. Following Tyrrell’s route, down 6’ rapid, back in (?) map, lunch 2 fish chowder, 2 hardtack. Then along island, water in channels, very fast, no looking it over, about 5 miles of it. Sun out more than for 6 days, but spotty. Pulled into bay by esker, I found good dry portage while canoes unloaded above last very rough + rocky part of rapid. I carried canoe across to little valley below bay, where we camped. Others portaged while I cooked huge glop, fish and bully, pudding + tea. Then, in darkness, I made last portage trip for load of wood, (?), 2 poles. Thought of wolves. Saw none!
Good distance today, Marjorie Lake tomorrow.
Comment. This was Moffatt’s last journal entry.
1. The phrase Following Tyrrell’s route.
This phrase was redacted by the Sports Illustrated editor.
2. The references to the 15 ft and 6 ft rapids.
These were run without incident on 13 September.
3. The portage made around the last very rough + rocky part of rapid. This is the Rapid with a Por. 18c around it, aka the rapid with a descent of twenty feet. The portage was begun on 13 September and completed in the morning of 14 September.
All features (the 15 ft and 6 ft rapids, and the portage) were found to be as described by Tyrrell.
The evidence of participant Lanouette for the afternoon of 14 September.
His journal is not published and so I express my gratitude to Lanouette (Moffatt’s bowperson) for providing it; I hope that the padding community as a whole is similarly grateful for this contribution to our understanding to the events of 14 September 1955.
Lanouette’s full journal for 14 September is provided in Ancillary 2. Lanouette excerpt.
After completing the portage in the morning of 14 September, the party continued downstream, then stopped for lunch.
We had a rather satisfying lunch of chowder and three hardtacks (or ‘tacks) apiece and were ready to shove on again around 2:30 or 3:00. The weather was still dismal, although the wind had dropped (I think) almost to a complete calm.
The river flowed on rather swiftly and it was but a few minutes before we heard and saw another rapids on the horizon. (Notes – at this time, Art figured we had shot the last 2 rapids into Lady Marjorie and so we were not anticipating anything more along this line – actually, what we had taken for rapids were only riffles and what lay ahead was the real beginning of the first rapids). At the top, these rapids looked as though they would be very easy going – a few small waves, rocks … nothing serious – so much so that we didn’t even haul over to shore to look it over before proceeding as was customary. The river at this point was straight and we could see both the top and foot of the rapids quite clearly – however, although we didn’t realize it, we couldn’t see the middle, even though we thought we could – at any rate we barrelled happily along. We bounced over a couple of fair-sized waves and took in a couple of splashes but I didn’t mind, as I had made an apron of my poncho and remained dry enough. I, as was my habit, was looking a few feet in front of the canoe, looking for submerged rocks – suddenly, Art shouted “Paddle” – I responded and took up the beat, at the same time looking farther ahead to see what it was we were trying to avoid – to my complete surprise, what I saw were two lines of white, parallel to one another and coming closer with every passing instant – I looked at them in helpless fascination, not altering my stroke any. The lines of white were the crests of two huge waves formed by the water as it crashed over 2, 3 or 4’ ledges or falls). Note: it was too late to pull for shore – all we could was to pick what seemed to be the least turbulent spots and head for them.
The evidence of participant LeFavour.
Thanks to LeFavour for providing the following.
…As we sped through Wharton Lake only the occasional snow flurry fell, an incentive not a deterrent. Up to that point we had shot five caribou and by doing so had saved enough meat to see us through. Now it was not even necessary to spend time hunting. We traveled, and traveled hard.
The river between Wharton and Marjorie Lakes split up into three channels. The longest of these [the east/rightmost] had been traveled by Tyrrell in his trip 60 years before and was described in his journal: there were five rapids, the first two rough but shootable, the third long and heavy requiring a portage of a mile [“400 yards” in Tyrrell’s book] and the last two apparently easy for they were mentioned only as “rapids”. Because this route was described we took it, being careful to look over the first two which were indeed rough. Hurrying as we were, no foolish chances were taken.
Please note that LeFavour mentions all features encountered on both 13 and 14 September by the Moffatt party.
The first two rapids, those rough but shootable, are the 15 ft and 6 ft rapids run by the Moffatt party that day, when it began the portage.
Comment. Tyrrell’s remarks and those of LeFavour agree regarding these two rapids and the portage, except that LeFavour gives a greater length for the portage.
The Moffatt party completed the portage in the morning of that day and continued downstream, stopping for lunch. Some time later, it encountered the last two apparently easy for they were mentioned only as “rapids” mentioned above.
Excerpt from LeFavour’s article for the afternoon of 14 September.
At 3 p.m. we were again on the river. Gone was the wind, and we hoped to get a good way up Marjorie Lake in the calm before dark. A mile downriver the roar of the next rapid reached our ears, a roar which had become familiar and comforting in this quiet land, a roar which in the past had promised excitement. As we coasted into the top of it all appeared to be well. You could see the bottom, the water, though white, was apparently shootable. Tyrrell had indicated by his neglect that the rapid was an easy one, and it seemed to be just that.
A flock of ptarmigan on the shore caught my eye, but soon we were past them and out in midstream. It was then that Skip and I noticed that Art and Joe in the lead canoe were having trouble. They were over! We saw the two huge waves, walls of white water which seemed almost five feet high. Pete and George had made the one, were heading for the second, and then we saw nothing but the unavoidable waves. We were into it!
Source. Appendix 9. The fatal rapids.
I remind the reader that Tyrrell’s book (possessed by Moffatt) makes no mention of these rapids
Ancillary 3. Tyrrell excerpt.
and also that they are not marked on Tyrrell’s map (also possessed by Moffatt).
The source for this additional information can be only Tyrrell’s journal/report or the Moffatt-Tyrrell correspondence, neither of which I have been unable to access.
Private correspondence from LeFavour.
His [Tyrrell’s] journal had been accurate to that point, namely lunch time on 14 September, prior to the running of the fatal rapids. .
The evidence of participant Pessl.
After completing a short portage, loaded the canoes and continued our dash down the river. It was cold and windy, the sky was overcast and we stopped at frequent intervals to warm our feet and legs.
[We] approached what we thought must be the last rapids with confidence and impatience. Art stood up … looked ahead, and … drove his canoe for the middle of the flow. … The next thing I saw as we shot around the bend was a white wall of huge waves. … Beyond the thundering waves, the yellow camera box and Art’s gray canoe bobbed crazily in the rapids below. [Canoe&Kayak, May 2012 issue, p 48, right column].
Comment. The short portage is the 400-yarder completed in the morning of 14 September.
That’s the other lesson I learned, says Pessl. To be patient. If we had just been patient and confident, if we hadn’t been in such a headlong rush that we didn’t stop to scout the rapid, we would have been fine. It’s very hard to do that, in the grip of panic, but it would have made all the difference. Art would have been with us, his life …. Pessl pauses. When it comes down to it, even with everything that happened, we were so close. [Canoe&Kayak, May 2012 issue, p 102?, left column].
The tragedy of September 14, when Art Moffatt died, occurred, in my opinion, … , because Art and I tried to concurrently accomplish two mutually exclusive objectives: canoe travel and documentary filming of that journey. The demands of these opposing goals delayed and distracted our commitment to river miles. Art and I remained tragically stubborn in our commitment to filming the journey, even in the face of serious and obvious deterioration of the weather. [Nastawgan, Summer issue, 2013, p 5].
The weather grew harsh. Freezing temperatures, wind-driven snow, dwindling food supplies, and deteriorating equipment pushed us hard to travel faster and more efficiently, and ultimately we made a fatal mistake. We approached the rapids entering Marjorie Lake with caution, but without an onshore look. Standing up in our canoes as we floated toward the rapids, we saw a modest current sweeping toward a right-hand bend and drove our canoes into that initial current V. [Pessl book, p XVII.]
The tragedy of September 14 occurred, in my opinion, not because of Art’s alleged mental instability or some sort of Zen nonsense, but because Art and I failed to accurately translate our collective Albany River experiences to northern big-river conditions, especially into late-season, freezing conditions, and because we tried to concurrently accomplish two mutually exclusive objectives: travel and film. …we did not differentiate between what worked on the Albany River and what would not work in late season on the Dubawnt.
The deteriorating weather…changed our modus operandi from cautious land-based scouting of rapids to a floating assessment as we were sucked into the headwater Vs of each successive rapid. It worked for several days and many rapids, except for one.
Somewhere between the robotic distance grinds of… and the tragic disregard for time, distance, and season of the Moffatt leadership (and I include myself I that category), there must be a reasonable balance for wilderness canoeists on long journeys… [Pessl book, pp 172&173].
Pessl (kindly and most frankly, both as ever) responded as follows regarding an email message of mine.
I understand the confusion, contradiction that the two quotes may create. The quote attributed to me [Excerpt 2] is accurate and comes from a conversation I had with Al Kesselheim when he was preparing to write his C&K article on the Moffatt Dubawnt journey (May 2012). It was a very emotional interview for me; the first time in many years that I shared some of my feelings about Dubawnt ’55. The quote expresses my remorse over Art’s death and my belief, in retrospect, that we should have scouted the Marjorie rapids. My use of the term “panic” was inaccurate, too strong and I regret that. Bruce’s phrase is much more accurate.
But our individual and collective state of mind during those early September days is pretty much conjecture and perhaps mostly semantic after so many years. The much more important question, clearly answered by your detailed research, is WHY we didn’t scout the rapids? And the answer: because we were following Tyrrell’s journal description of the river conditions approaching Marjorie Lake. Tyrrell’s river descriptions had proven dependable previously and indicated benign conditions entering Marjorie Lake following the last portage. [Pessl, private correspondence].
The evidence of George Luste.
I mention that Luste identified no source for either item.
Art Moffatt, following Tyrrell’s notes, was not expecting the rapid in which he swamped and then died.
Source. Page 284 of Grinnell’s book (1996).
Over the years, a number of unfounded versions or representations of the Moffatt accident have made their way into the canoeing literature. I’ve read statements like
“After some discussion there came a momentous decision. To save time the party would run any rapid which looked safe from the top.” and
“Everyone was rescued quickly so there should have been no problems.” or
“Increasing desperation made them run rapids without careful checking,” or
“…to speed progress they would run any rapid that looked passable from the top…” and
“On Moffatt’s trip, the canoeists surviving the mid-September swamping first picked up all the packs, then the swamped members, a fatal mistake.”
Source. Pages 293 and 294 of Grinnell’s book (1996).
Given my introductory remark I refrain from…for clarity, it would be inappropriate to provide a summary.
Appendix. The maps of Joseph B Tyrrell.
At the Thomas Fisher library, I found the URLs (provided below) for his maps for the 1893 expedition, for the reach from Black Lake to the mouth of the Churchill River on Hudson Bay.
The evidence convinces me that Moffatt had obtained copies of these maps. Of special interest is the map (number 6) for the reach from Wharton Lake to what is now called Marjorie Lake, for it was in this reach that Moffatt died. I provide above a full discussion of its contents.
J B Tyrrell’s annotated maps.
Black Lake to south of Selwyn Lake.
Continuation to past Wholdiah/Daly Lake.
Continuation to past Boyd Lake.
Continuation to the middle of Nicholson Lake.
Continuation to the middle of Grant Lake.
Continuation to past Aberdeen Lake.
Continuation to Baker Lake.
Continuations to the mouth of the Churchill River.
These URLS are provided for navigation within the blog.
URLs for accessing the following items from outside the blog are provided elsewhere.
Foreword and Forum.
Appendix 1. Reality.
Appendix 3. Equipment.
Appendix 4. Experience.
Appendix 5. Pace and Weather.
Appendix 6. Food.
Appendix 7. Schedule.
Appendix 8. Rapids in general.
Appendix 9. The fatal rapids.
Ancillary 1. Accusations.
Ancillary 2. Lanouette excerpt.
Ancillary 3. Tyrrell excerpt.
Ancillary 4. Distances.
Ancillary 5. Loose ends and the future.
Ancillary 6. Addenda.
Ancillary 7. Moffatt’s Tyrrell sources.
Ancillary 8. Evidence regarding the tragedy.
Ancillary 10. My sources.
Ancillary 11. Canoe&Kayak manuscript.
Ancillary 12. Acknowledgements.
With the exception of quoted material, copyright to the above belongs to Allan Jacobs.
Edition of 14 March 2018.