Canada – Hudson Sea

WE now approach for description a series of territories bordering on the great Hudson Bay, or sea, as it should more properly be called. Before taking up any description of the surrounding country we will devote a chapter to this important inland sea of the Dominion, that the value of the surrounding country may be the better understood. Probably no land-locked body of salt water can be found to equal it in the world, with the single exception of the Mediterranean Sea. Its dimensions, roughly speaking, are a thousand miles long, by six hundred broad. It has been fittingly called the ” Mediterranean of the North.”

It is not necessary to dwell upon this most wonderful physical feature of North America ; its discovery by the intrepid navigator, Sir Henry Hudson, and his tragic end somewhere within its waters, are matters of common knowledge. Ever since the establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company ships have constantly visited its waters by way of the straits which unite it with the ocean. It is, therefore, one of the earliest visited portions of Canada, and the fact that no further progress and no increase of shipping has developed in all these years seems at first a little strange. It is the same lonely, unfrequented sea that it was hundreds of years ago, and the surrounding country gives no further evidence of the millions of Europeans on this continent than were to be found two centuries ago. Indeed, so long has this condition continued that even Canadians seem to have become quite reconciled to it, and look upon both the sea and the surrounding land as a place of little or no value, and always destined to remain as it is. Except the fur traders and a few missionaries there is absolutely no civilization anywhere on the thousands of miles of coast which encircle it.

There is no way, except by the Indian canoe, of reaching it overland from any Canadian point, though at one place its tidewater is within two hundred miles of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Supplies of any importance that are sent to its shores have to be shipped by way of Liverpool or London, necessitating two trips across the Atlantic.

Since the year 1883 the Canadian Government has sent a few expeditions into the bay, chiefly for the purpose of testing the navigability of Hudson Strait. The official reports of these expeditions have been invariably favorable to those regions.

In the month of February, 1882, a report was laid before the Parliament of Canada detailing the results of an expedition despatched by the Government of that country particularly for the purpose of inquiring into the navigability of Hudson Strait and Bay, and at the same time gathering information concerning the resources of that region, and its availability as a field for settled habitation. This report represents the first properly organized attempt that has ever been made to pierce the secrets of Hudson Bay for the public benefit. This report made a deep impression on the public mind, as the following will indicate :

” It is at first blush not easy to understand why this mighty -expanse of water, occupying the peculiarly important position that it does, should remain for so many generations comparatively unexplored, and wholly unutilized, except as a hunting-ground for a few New Bedford whalers, or a medium of easy communication between some half-dozen scattered factories of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Although called a bay, it is really an inland sea, one thousand miles in length by six hundred miles in width, having thus an area of about five hundred thousand square miles, or quite half that of the Mediterranean. It drains an expanse of country spreading out more than two thousand miles from east to west, and fifteen hundred miles from north to south, or an area of three million square miles.”

Into its majestic waters pour feeders which take their rise in the Rocky Mountains, on the west, and in Labrador in the east, while southward it stretches out its river roots far below the 49th parallel until they tap the same lake source which sends a stream into the Gulf of Mexico. Despite its distance northward its blue waves are never bound by ice fetters, and its broad gateway to the Atlantic is certainly navigable four months out of the year, and possibly all the year round to properly equipped steamships. Its depths abound in finny wealth, from the mammoth whale to the tiny caplin. Its shores are serrated by numerous streams, some navigable for a long distance inland, and all stocked with the finest of fresh water fish, and clothed, as to their banks, with valuable timber ready for the lumberman’s axe. Its islands are rich in mineral ore of many kinds. The country whose margin its tide laves is well adapted for tillage and pasturage, while all round the- region swarms with animals and birds, whose flesh or fur renders their chase a highly lucrative employment.

Other published statements concerning this wonderful region are as follows : “As to the marine resources of Hudson Bay, it is known that for more than forty years American whalers have regularly found harvests there. Reports of the United States Fisheries Department shows that the return of fifty whaling voyages there amounts to $1,571,000, or $27,240 per voyage. The value of fish and whale oil alone taken from the Hudson Bay by United States whalers and the Hudson’s Bay Company is estimated at $150,000 per year for the past ten years. The Hudson’s Bay Company reap over $50,000 a year from the blubber of the porpoise and walrus here, while the bay teems in certain parts with salmon, cod, whiting, trout, hake, pollock and many other fish. The salmon abound in the streams running into the Hudson Strait so plentifully that a ship can be loaded with them in a few days. They are proved to be the best in the world. The same may be said of the trout.”

These reports, at the time, were regarded as highly colored and much overdrawn, so manifestly were they in opposition to the preconceived prejudices of ignorance and indifference. The manner in which this region, both by land and sea, has been spoken of has, however, been more than sustained by the more recent reports by Dr. Robert Bell, the Dominion Surveyor. This gentleman paid an official visit to this region in 1897-8. He describes it in glowing terms, the following of which is a synopsis:

” The Hudson Bay is half as large as the Mediterranean Sea. It drains a vast territory, three million square miles in area. Vast rivers flow into it from the south, east and west, flowing from places as distant as the plains of Minnesota and Dakota. In its waters live undisturbed fish and oil-bearing mammals, along its shores are fine harbors, in the country surrounding it are rich mineral deposits and fine farming lands. But it is a portion destitute of human habitation. White whale, walrus as big as elephants, and fur-bearing seals disport themselves undisturbed in the water. On land there is wealth, with no one to take it away.

“But all this is in the Arctic region,” you say. ” Not a .bit of it,” says Dr. Bell, Director of the Geological Survey. “Moose Bay is in a latitude further south than London, and the more northern portion of Hudson Bay is at about the same latitude as the north of Scotland. The climate also compares very favorably with that of the same latitude in other portions of the globe. The Bay does not freeze across in the winter, the winter conditions there being similar to those of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

” The Hudson Bay route would bring the great NorthWest as near to Europe as the city of Quebec. It offers, perhaps, the route to the Yukon district, and is the natural route to the oil wells of the great North-West. Gold is there—specimens of the gold-bearing quartz have been brought into the Hudson’s Bay stations—pyrites, containing gold, has been found by the Geological Survey party, and alluvial gold has been found, according to Mr. William Ogilvie, in the valleys. Gypsum, iron, copper, silver and lead are abundantly indicated in many places.”

History has it that Hudson and a few of his men were abandoned in an open boat by a mutinous crew, after a winter of privation in a southern portion of James Bay, leading to the inference that they were drowned miserably. Dr. Bell caused some laughter by stating it to be his belief that the famous explorer rowed ashore and, with his companions, lived out the allotted span of life in that pleasant climate, and were probably as happy as though living in England.

D. A. Jones, explorer for the Ontario Government, recently returned from a trip through the wilds of Northern Ontario, declares “that Hudson and James Bays are destined to become the greatest fishing ground in the world. There is abundance of salmon, trout, sea trout, whitefish and codfish, while in the streams brook trout abound.” Mr. Jones says the breeding grounds are a hundred times larger than those on the Atlantic coast, and the Atlantic cod fisheries are not a shadow to what may be developed around Hudson Bay.

The Hudson Straits have a shorter period of navigation than the sea itself, being blocked with ice between seven and eight months of the year. The waters of the bay itself, however, are open to navigation much longer, especially in the west and south, probably for a period not much less than the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Indeed, the bay is said to never freeze in the greater portion of its area, but rather only for a limited distance along its shallower coast line. This comparatively long open season of navigation on the bay is a matter of much importance to the future, inasmuch as when it is reached by rail and the surrounding country occupied, its coast-wise trade is likely to become a feature of importance.