A speckled trout hanging on a wall at the National Archives of Canada may seem out of place in such an institution. On closer examination, one finds that its significance rests not with the fish but in who landed it. An inscription on the frame provides the basic facts:

This trout caught in one of the more remote Canadian rivers symbolizes how Edward, Prince of Whales, got away from his hectic public duties and relaxed during a royal tour of Canada. Edward. Prince of Whales and heir to the British Throne, who became King Edward VII before his abdication in 1936, made his first visit to Canada in 1919. For more than 3 months, the 25 year old Prince traveled across Canada where he made an appearance at 'Warriors Day' at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto as well as a visit to Ottawa where he laid the cornerstone of the Peace Tower of the new Parliament Buildings. Yet one of the sporting highlights of the tour was a three-day fishing and camping trip to the Nipigon River.

The Nipigon River has long been famous as a trout stream. Its reputation stems, in part from the world record fourteen and one half inch (pound) speckled trout which Dr. J.W. Cook caught in Rabbit Rapids (near Virgin Falls) in 1916. (actually 1915)

In September of 1919, a reporter for the Montreal Gazette, who was struck by the splendor of the Nipigon River,  provided the following description. "It can give moments of sheer beauty in foaming rapids, its white and tossing water leaps, its placid pools lying silent, dark and enigmatic under sheer high bluffs, forest clad, that rise abruptly from the surface of the water."

William McKirdy of Nipigon, who was experienced in the tourist outfitting business, made the local arrangements. He believed September was the best month for trout fishing. In a letter to Lieutenant-Colonel Henderson, the governor general’s secretary, McKirdy wrote in June 1919: "There are few tourists, no flies, and the fish are beginning to assume their most gorgeous hues." 

The royal fishing party, which consisted of 10 members and four servants, was accompanied by McKirdy’s son Jack and more than 40 aboriginal guides from the Ojibwa tribe. The Ojibwa guides were described as "cunning in camp life and the secrets of stream and wood." Andrew Alexie and Charles Kitchineeni, both of the Ojibwa tribe, were chosen as the Prince's personal guides.

Just before the fishing trip began, two Ojibwa chiefs (Joe Salt and Tommy James) were selected for the expedition from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., roughly 400 miles from Nipigon, to attend a meeting of the newly formed League of Canadian Indians and to meet the prince. The return of the two chiefs to Nipigon in time for the

outing was assured when the elder McKirdy arranged with the governor general’s secretary for them to ride on the royal train with one stipulation: They must travel in the baggage car. Despite this lack of respect for aboriginal peoples, Jack McKirdy told a local newspaper that aboriginal guides "are the most reliable, courteous and thoughtful of all tourist guides. The Indian takes a personal interest in seeing that his client has success in fishing."

On Sept. 5, 1919, at approximately eight o'clock in the morning, the royal train traveling via the Canadian Northern rail line, arrived at Orient bay, near the Nipigon's headwaters. After a brief stop, the motor launch Arrow, flying the royal standard, transported the Prince and his royal party to Virgin Falls, 15 miles from Orient Bay at  the headwaters of the Nipigon River. Under the supervision of Jack McKirdy, Aboriginal guides transported the royal party, as well as all the fishing and camping equipment, by canoe through the rapids around the falls and over the portages of the Nipigon. Once on the Nipigon, the royal party began fishing its way down the river, stopping a number of times at temporary campsites to eat and rest. At Robinson's Pool, near Pine Portage, they encamped for two nights high on a river bank surrounded by trees. On Sunday, September 7th, the peacefulness of the camp site was suddenly disrupted by a fierce lightening storm during which the Prince had a narrow escape. A gust of wind sent a large tree crashing to the ground just missing his tent.

For the most part though, the weather was ideal for fishing. This, combined with the skill of the aboriginal guides, made the trip a great success. For example, the prince caught one speckled trout weighing nearly three pounds. Jack McKirdy landed one weighing well over six. In March 1952, McKirdy recalled how he wanted this fish mounted for the prince but His Royal Highness refused the offer. According to McKirdy, the prince said he might be inclined to tell friends in England that he caught it himself.
Early Monday, the royal fishing party gathered at Cameron Falls, which was their final stop on the Nipigon River. Later that day, the prince walked a mile through bush to where, the royal train was waiting and went on to Port Arthur and Fort William, now joined as Thunder Bay. From there, the royal tour continued westward across Canada.


Royalty on the Nipigon

"The one that didn't get away"

by James Whalen

Government Archives and Records

For his Royal Highness, the Nipigon trip was a memorable experience. According to royal author, Trevor Hall, it was here, in the wilderness of northwestern Ontario that the Prince declared "for a real holiday, Canada would be is first choice."


The following two photos were donated to the Thunder Bay Museum by Ann Smith, granddaughter of  Neil McDougall.


Nipigon River Guide and sometimes Indian Agent, Neil McDougall seen talking to the Prince.

Prince Albert (a.k.a. Edward, Prince of Wales & later King Edward the VIII). circa 1919 on the 'Nepigon' River talking to unidentified guide.

Web Editor Side Note: 
Years ago, I remember my grandmother mentioning that she was in Orient Bay as a young girl of 18 when the prince was there fishing. She didn't remember much about the fishing, but did say the future king became ill for a few days and had to recoup in his private rail car. She was a cook at the Orient Bay Lodge and prepared several meals for him.

Nipigon River video (circa 1923)

Montage: Prince of Wales and Party on the Nipigon, 1919

#1: H.R.H. on the National's motor launch

#2: The Prince had some luck with his gun

#3: The royal guest at the Nipigon Lodge

#4: The Prince and his Indian guides

#5: Arrival at Cameron Falls

Paddling in the front of the canoe.


"The one that didn't get away"
by James Whalen


Royalty on the Nipigon