Chapter 5: The Gaspe Peninsula, Summer 1923



The Gaspe Peninsula is located in southeastern Quebec, Canada. It is north of New Brunswick and Chaleur Bay and south of the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. It covers approximately 11,390 square miles and is thickly forested with many lakes and rivers. The Mi'kmaq, who occupied this area when the first Europeans arrived, called it 'Gespeg' meaning 'the place where the land ends.'


Map of the Mt. Logan area drawn by Collins


Whether it was the harsh weather or rugged mountains or a combination of both, after Sir William Logan (1798-1875) exploration in 1844, no definitive attempt was made to explore and describe the region for quite a few years.


Pass at the west end of Matawees, from 1 mile above Locked Camp

During the summer of 1923 seven botanists and three guides spent July and August exploring and botanizing the Gaspe Peninsula, mostly in the area of the Shickshock Mountains. They crossed the Cap Chat River on July 6th, 1923 and headed to their home base. A cabin they referred to as the Locked Camp. This camp consisted of a cabin where they stored their extra supplies and food while they were out collecting in the field. Every few days their guides would trek back to Locked Camp to restock. The botanists also traveled back there a couple of times during their trip to drop off mounted specimens. The members of the party were:

  • Merritt Lyndon Fernald - Fisher Professor of Natural History, Harvard University
  • James Franklin Collins - Forest Pathologist, USDA, Brown University
  • Arthur Stanley Pease - Botanist, University of Illinois
  • Carroll William Dodge - Instructor, Farlow Herbarium, Harvard University
  • Ludlow Griscom - Assistant Curator of Birds, The American Museum of Natural History
  • Kenneth K. Mackenzie - Corporate lawyer and amateur botanist
  • Lyman B. Smith - student, Harvard University
  • Joseph Fortin, Israel Thibeault, and Leon Douglas - guides


Sitting at the Fernald Pass camp

This party was the first ever to engage in scientific work on Mt. Logan since its discovery in 1844, nearly 80 years earlier. As stated by C.W. Dodge in a report he made shortly after their trip "As the country on the line we proposed to follow had never been represented on geographic maps nor even examined at all, and as at the same time exact geographic details were indispensable to arrive at correct geographical conclusions, and to present them in an intelligent manner, it became necessary that our trip serve as a topographic as well as stratigraphic exploration".

The party discovered many new species of plants during this trip, quite a few which were unheard of in the east and have their nearest relatives found in the Rocky Mountains. Each member of the party was assigned tasks dependent on their specialties. Collins was responsible for photographing their journey and creating maps, Dodge for geographical measurements, Griscom recorded the birds that they observed, and of course each botanist collected in his field of expertise.

Because the mountains were largely uninhabited the supplies and equipment they brought in were extensive. Besides the common food staples such as potatoes, eggs, beans, hard bread, maple syrup, pork, condensed milk, etc. They had chocolate, lentils, grapefruit, dried beef, raisins, and other foodstuffs shipped in from Boston about a week before they began and brought up to the Locked Camp. They had four waterproof tents; two cotton and two khaki as well as cheese cloth canopies to sleep in and protect them from insects. One of their tents was used to shelter the plants and collecting equipment, one was used by the guides and the botanists shared the two remaining.


Camp at Fernald Pass

Each man carried a knapsack (weighing between 30 and 80 lbs) containing a camera, vasculum or collecting box, emergency rations, matches, compass, and a whistle. They uses their whistles to communicate and devised a code of whistle signals to help locate each other, communicate danger, and, most importantly, to announce when dinner was ready.

The party faced many hardships including extremely rough weather. Most of the party dressed in waterproof coats or slickers because rain and even hail came down at a moments notice. At night they wore all of the clothes that they had packed but still, it often wasn't enough to keep warm. On at least four nights the temperature fell well below freezing.

Crossing Cap Chat River

The botanists had to deal with extremely difficult terrain each day. The area on the north shore was especially rugged. It is comprised of river canyons with steep slopes. The sheer cliffs occasionally rise to a height of 1200 feet. Throughout the region are numerous outcroppings of granite, serpentine, dolerite, or trap. The south shore had a gentler slope but both were often wet and slippery travel because of the harsh weather and because of the hundreds of salmon and trout filled rivers and brooks that bisect the area. The party had to cross many of these each day.

There was also the danger of landslides because of the shallow soil and excessive rain. In J. Franklin Collins' diary he tells how one of the guides, Thibault, tries to reach the Locked Camp for supplies and finds that the only road leading to it had slid down into the river below.


On the Plaque a Malade trail

Even with all the hardships they faced each botanist writes of their Gaspe adventure and their findings with great fondness after their return. They left their mark as well.  The Great Basin was re-named Pease Basin, the names Fernald Basin and Fernald Pass were given to two other areas in Gaspe, Botanist's Dome was the name given to the flat area at the top of Tabletop Mountain, and lastly the Canadian Geological Survey named the 3,500 foot mountain near Mt Logan, Mt Collins.

Carrying Gear across Washed-out Road