THIS country, as delineated in this connection, is formed by part of the Algoma district of the present Ontario, from the boundaries of the last named territory as far west as Lake Nipigon, and uniting with the eastern section of the present Keewatin Territory north of the Albany River. The northern part of this territory is bounded both by James and Hudson Bays, while the south follows the coast of Lake Superior, from a point a little east of the Soo to the mouth of the Nipigon River. Though situated almost in the centre of the Dominion, it has more sea coast than almost any other province or territory in Canada.
The western boundary is formed by a line running through the valley of the Weenisk River in that portion that runs north and south, being extended in a straight line to Hudson Bay on the north, and Lake Nipigon on the south. This gives a length, north and south, of some six hundred miles, and a width of two hundred and fifty miles, having an area not less than one hundred and twenty thousand square miles. The whole northern coast of Lake Superior, with the St. Mary’s River, has been included in this territory, because it is suggested by the natural watersheds, and, further, because it gives a section of the country a southern location. It is already in intimate touch with the activities of American and Canadian civilization and industry at the Soo. The present population of this region is about thirty thousand, and its development has been so rapid of late that any estimate, or even accurate census, cannot long remain reliable.
This territory is naturally divided into three sections, each of which will be briefly described. These sections may be regarded as a southern, a central and a northern, while the whole may be said to have the same general features as those of North Ontario of the last chapter.
We will first consider the northern section. This part of the territory includes all the country north of the valley of the Albany River, and is about one-half of the entire area. At the present time this section is most isolated, not having any importantif, indeed, anypost of the Hudson’s Bay Company within its borders, and is seldom visited by a white man, either by land or by sea. As compensation for this, however, there is a peculiar attraction in it which always attaches to an unknown country.
Doubtless there are many who have regarded this entire section as a perfectly valueless region, consisting mostly of swamps, and lying largely in the embrace of winter. It will be an agreeable. surprise to find that such is not the case. While it is true that certain parts of the country here in the north, owing to the level character and consequent lack of drainage, are at present too wet for agricultural purposes, it is also true that the territory, as a whole, has a very large proportion of excellent land, especially that bordering its numerous rivers.
At the present time the country is a sportsman’s paradise, as it abounds in waterfowl, fish, and other large and small game. Its many shallow lakes and marshes are the breeding ground of vast flocks of ducks and geese. Of the fish sturgeon are, perhaps, the most abundant, though whitefish, pike and suckers all abound in its waters. These fish are all esteemed for their food value.
Many densely populated countries in Europe are much further north than this section. Finland, and even Denmark, for instance, each having several millions of population, represent countries probably not more favored than the territory now under consideration yet Finland, seven degrees further north, is called the ” Granary of Sweden,” while Denmark, no larger in area, monopolizes the dairy imports of Great Britain. With these facts before us further reference as to, the possibilities of this great region is unnecessary. When the country is made accessible by railway, as it certainly will be in time, it may be expected to attract the attention of settlers, for agricultural and other reasons, taking its place worthily among the various sections of the Dominion.
From the northern portion of Algoma we now turn our attention to the southern ; that is, the section lying between the C.P.R. and the lake shore. This is in strong contrast to that of the north ; here is a country of rugged cliffs, almost mountainous in character; the country of minerals, as opposed to one of agriculture. The chief point of interest in this southern section, and, indeed, of the whole west, is the thriving town of Sault Ste. Marie. The position of this busy hive of industry assures its future greatness. What Sydney is to Eastern Canada so Sault Ste. Marie must be to the upper lake regions.
The climate of this part of the country is similar to Northern Michigan, and the country, though rough, has many fine valleys affording opportunity for a considerable amount of agriculture. An enthusiastic resident writes : ” We can grow every kind of grain to perfection. I hold a diploma and medal from the World’s Fair in Chicago for wheat, barley and buckwheat, and several other farmers in Algoma obtained diplomas and medals. We can raise very fine apples and other fruit. Grapes, tomatoes and corn will ripen here in the open air and are of excellent quality. We have lots of beautiful lakes, well stocked with fish, and a healthy climate.”
If the undertaking now entered into by the Government to have five thousand permanent settlers a year brought into this and the adjoining territory for the next twenty years is carried out, it will be seen that a heavy population is likely soon to occupy it. The cool climate and the magnificent scenery of the north shore of Lake Superior is a decided feature of that part of the country, and being situated reasonably near many of the large cities of the west, it may be expected also to attract summer tourists in increasingly large numbers.
It is, perhaps, to the central section of this large territory, however, that we look for its true hope and future greatness to spring from, though to the casual observer this is not now in evidence. Someone has said concerning it : ” You may have seen a certain tract burnt and desolate, but you did not see the interior ; you did not see the arable lands stretching away back for many miles ; you did not see there a country capable of sustaining thousands of souls.” Those who know it best claim that such is the country’s true character. This central section alone represents an area of thirty thousand square miles, about equal to the province of New Brunswick.
This great central belt combines the best features of both the north and south already described, much of it being an agricultural country of the highest order. The climate also, for obvious reasons, is more genial than many sections farther to the south.
Lake Nipigon, though considerably smaller than any of the great lakes of this system, has an extensive area, being about seventy-five miles long by fifty miles broad, and on account of its deep and numerous bays boasts a coast-line of greater extent, it is said, than either Lake Erie or Ontario. It is in every respect worthy to be classed among the great lakes, even in a country celebrated for the grandeur of its inland seas. It differs from the other great lakes of the St. Lawrence system, in that it is thickly studded with islands of varying size and surpassing beauty.
The country, where not burnt, is everywhere covered with forests of timber, consisting of balsam, white cedar, spruce, red and white pine, tamarac, poplar, aspen, elm and ash. The variety and character of this timber bear ample testimony both to the character of the climate and soil. It is a well known fact that, though further north, the climate is superior in some respects to that of the north shore of the great Lake Superior.
Mr. Bell, of the Geological Survey, says : ” The best illustration of the agricultural abilities of the Nipigon country from actual experiment id the Hudson’s Bay Company farm at Nipigon House, on the west side of the lake. This has been cultivated successfully for a great number of years. Wheat is said to ripen well here. Among the numerous garden crops at Nipigon House I observed Indian corn. From all I could observe myself or learn from others, I am of the opinion that the Nipigon country, as regards both soil and climate, is suit-able for agriculture.”
Most of the rivers, and there are some of considerable volume, flow with sluggish current between alluvial meadows, which extend for great distances in various directions. The same report goes on to say, ” We paddled up one of these rivers a distance of thirty miles, following its course. In that distance the water was from 18 to 20 feet deep, and the only impediment we met with, except jams of drift wood, was a very short rapid with a fall of four and a half feet, and my Indian guide informed me that he could go an equal distance on the other side be-fore coming to the next rapid. At this little rapid was found the only opportunity to gather a few stones for net sinkers in all the thirty miles.” It will have been observed that, together with the etensive lake navigation, the country could be reached for long distances in the interior, by way of these rivers, with fairly deep draft steamers. The country, with these attractions and possibilities, cannot always, be hidden away from the eager homeseeker of the more densely populated portions of the world, but must soon yield up its treasures and assume the more fitting aspect which comes with human activity and population.
Allusion has already been made to the Albany River as the most notable stream emptying into the west side of James Bay, its importance, therefore, to this central section can hardly be overestimated. It is comparable to the Ottawa in size, and has unimpeded navigation from its mouth to Martin’s Falls, a distance of two hundred and fifty miles. The valley through which it runs is one of rare beauty, in many places furnishing an abundance of splendid lands. In several places called the ” long opening,” the course is so straight that water and sky merge in the horizon, so unbending is its course. At other places it expands into lake-like dimensions, some of which are filled with lovely islands. One cannot help but think that the time is not so very far distant when the beauty of this majestic river shall be enhanced by the evidences of domestic comfort, commingling with its pastoral beauty. Cities, towns and villages must at some future time rise upon its banks, while its sloping valleys will be adorned with peaceful farmsteads, and upon its bosom will pass to and fro vessels bearing its commerce. That a country so fair could keep the secret of its charms and worth from the busy tide of human life that surges not two hundred miles from its banks, seems wonderful indeed. The near future is likely to find these wonderful valleys echoing to the whistle of the locomotive ; then shall the loneliness be forever past. This country, as a whole, must sometime figure largely in the general development of the Dominion.