Canada – Laurentia

As the more settled portions of Canada are fairly well known, let us turn our attention to some of the more remote and less familiar sections of our great Dominion, which may be located by means of the accompanying map.

Assuming that Canada will one day come into the possession of Newfoundland and Labrador by the admission of that colony into the Dominion, a region of provincial area is made possible by uniting Eastern Labrador with the County of Saguenay as far west as the Saguenay River, and bounded on the north near the fifty-fifth parallel, which, for convenience, we will call ” Laurentia.” Though most of this region is an outlying and much neglected portion of the Province of Quebec, it is of itself of immense proportions, being nearly one hundred thousand square miles in area. The country is also very rich in various resources, and her agricultural possibilities are quite extensive, though all are now quite undeveloped.

Notwithstanding the fact that this large section of country is situated comparatively near the commercial centres of the Dominion, having the great transatlantic highway passing close to her coast, yet there are few portions of Canada more completely isolated or unfrequented than this. In consequence of this isolation the territory has been much misunderstood. The popular mind is accustomed to think of it as a hopelessly desolate and barren region, inhabitated by Eskimos and Indians, together with a few trappers and fishermen, and wholly devoid of interest or attraction. Legends of pirates and wreckers, with stories of wild beasts and well-nigh perpetual winters, have instilled these ideas into our minds. Such stories must be classed with that large body of literature sometimes alluded to as ” fiction founded on fact.” There is, indeed, in parts of this region plenty of winter, desolation, poverty and uninhabited space, but notwithstanding all this, it is a country with a different aspect and a different story. That other story of genial summer, rich resources, magnificent scenery and grand possibilities is just as true as the other, and must be briefly told.

The natural resources of this region, though little known, are both rich and varied, and are already beginning to attract the attention of capitalists. The great deposits of magnetic iron sands which occur at intervals and in large quantities for hundreds of miles along the coast have long been known to exist, though as yet little use has been made of them commercially. The early attempts made for their development were rendered unprofitable by hostile tariffs, but now that the iron and steel industry of Canada has been permanently established these deposits, because of their nearness to Sydney and from being easily accessible, must take on a new importance. In addition to these iron sands, explorers have discovered other deposits of the richest iron in solid form. Besides this, there are immense deposits of Labradorite, valuable graphite mines, and traces of gold are found in several places along the coast. Some geologists, indeed, express the belief that gold will some day be found in this region in greater, richness than that of the Klondike or Cape Nome.

The prospects of mineral wealth are certainly very promising. It must not be forgotten that this great country is pre-eminently a lumber country. Perhaps no province in the Dominion is more magnificently supplied with valuable forests than is this section so long considered barren. Even the extreme eastern section, as far north as Hamilton Inlet, except on the bleak and rocky coast line, and on the higher elevations, is one majestic forest of valuable timber. The following report, given by the representative of a company of capitalists, with a view to the establishing of a pulp industry, will be of interest as confirming these statements

Referring to the head of the Hamilton Inlet he says : ” The geological formation of the country ‘ indicates mineral deposits, but our time was too limited to investigate, as timber was the primary object of our visit. The timber here is all spruce, and some of it is of immense size, the large timber being nearly all on the margins of rivers. Straight thrifty spruce timber of smaller size is literally unlimited in quantity. I think I can say there is enough pulp wood on Hamilton Inlet to last one hundred years at one hundred cords a day. Hamilton Inlet is a remarkable arm of the sea, and with-out doubt before many years much capital will be placed there to develop the wonderful resources of that interesting region.” The forests which have made New Brunswick wealthy and famous probably in some respects do not excel those of Laurentia still in their virgin state.

Associated with this timber and mineral wealth there are also found in this region some of the most important water powers in all Canada. On the great river flowing into the head of Lake Melville, or Hamilton Inlet, there is a waterfall which for height and volume and general grandeur is said to take the palm from Niagara. The presence of these great waterfalls must greatly enhance the value of the forest and mines by affording power for development. The name of “Labrador ” is already made famous by the importance of its deep sea fisheries as well as those of its coastal waters. The best quality of all the chief varieties of the fish of commerce abound in its waters and streams in their season. Some twenty-five thousand people are engaged annually in this industry alone, and this great source of wealth is too well known to need further comment here. But what of the climate and agriculture ?

The climate of this promising section of the Dominion is, like its resources, varied according to locality. A section of country extending six hundred miles east and west, and four hundred miles north and south, must necessarily have considerable variety of climate, especially when located as the one under consideration. The climate of the western section, and extending as far east as Natashquan, is about identical with that of the Gaspe Peninsula, differing very little from that of other portions of Eastern Canada, and capable of producing to perfection and in abundance the grains and vegetables and most of the fruits of the North Temperate Zone. The report of the Commissioner of Agriculture for Quebec is not only interesting, but also instructive to a surprising degree. He says : “With a proper selection of hardy stocks, fruit growing can be carried on most profitably even in Gaspe, and pears can be grown successfully to full ripening among the Laurentian Mountains.”

The occupation of the people since the settlement of the country has not been calculated to encourage agriculture, or the development of agricultural instincts, yet some progress has been made in this noble calling. The Census Commissioner, who visited this coast in 1901, says : “From Tadousac to Port Neuf the people live by farming and lumbering, while from Port Neuf to Blanc Sablon the residents depend almost wholly on fishing and hunting. From Port Neuf to Natashquan, however, potatoes are cultivated successfully and almost every family has a kitchen garden in which as good vegetables are raised as any grown, around Quebec.”

He further states: ” In 1881 nothing like this was seen, nor were there any cows or horses owned by the residents east of Port Neuf, but today horses, cows, etc., are to be seen, and fresh milk, butter and eggs can be had as far east as Natashquan.” It would seem by these reports that the people to their own great advantage are gradually turning to the cultivation of the soil. This country may not be essentially an agricultural one, but it is clear that there are sections, comparable to some provinces in extent, as well , as in soil and climate, well adapted to this most staple of occupations. The climatic and agricultural character of the extreme east is, of course, much less favorable, but even here in the more favored sections a limited degree of agriculture may be carried on.

The great need of this territory is population. The inhabitants, all told, in both sections, now number some fifteen thousand souls, and are entirely confined to the coastal settlements. Though the country, except in the extreme west, is absolutely without roads or public works, it is gratifying to know that in some sections the population has quadrupled in the last decade. A natural increase, even without being supplemented from the outside, would in the next decade mean a poulation of considerable importance. Within the next generation, and perhaps much earlier, this section of the country is likely to witness a great development of its resources and an increase of population.

The country seems to have sufficient attractions to draw, and means to support a comparatively large number of people, and these would quickly find their way thither if it were brought more fully in touch with the outside world by means of better transportation facilities, especially by land and in winter season. What is really needed is a railway line extending from the Lake St. John region right down to some good harbor in the Straits of Belle Isle. A branch line should also run through to the head of Hamilton Inlet. This would doubtless be an expensive line to build, but it would undoubtedly ultimately become profitable.