A glance at a map of Canada is sufficient to indicate that the country enjoys an enormous advantage in the matter of water transport, and to render’ it easy of belief that the Dominion controls nearly one-half of all the fresh waiter on the globe.
The question of transportation is one of the utmost importance in a land of such vast extent, and the navigable rivers are called into service to aid in solving the problem of providing cheap water routes for the conveyance of freight to the ocean, as well as from one point to another within Canadian territory.
The mighty St. Lawrence, with the Great Lakes of which it is the outlet, forms a complete system of navigation from the head of Lake Superior to the Atlantic, a distance of 2,384 miles, the river proper being about 755 miles in length. By means of this great waterway ocean liners of thirty feet draught can reach the city of Montreal, while smaller vessels, utilizing the splendid canal system which has been established at enormous cost, may proceed to Lake Superior, thus reaching the heart of the continent.
The source of the St. Lawrence is the St. Louis River in Minnesota, which empties into Lake Superior near Duluth, but the name St. Lawrence is not actually applied to the river until it emerges from Lake Ontario. It drains a territory over half a million square miles in extent, and its width varies from the enormous expansions of the Great Lakes to quite narrow proportions some six miles above Quebec where it is soon to be spanned by a bridge for the National Transcontinental Railway. It widens again to twenty and thirty miles below Quebec, and, where it ends in the Gulf of St. Lawrence it is 100 miles across. Its water is salt as far up as the mouth of the Saguenay, and the influence of the tide ceases only at Three Rivers.
The ship channel has been dredged to a depth of thirty feet at extreme low water from Montreal to Cape Levrard, four miles below Batiscan, a distance of 104 1/4 miles below Montreal. Notwithstanding the enormous sums which have been expended on the work of improving the channel the rapid advance in the construction of vessels of large size will render it imperative to still further deepen it, and the dredging of a 35-foot channel between Montreal and the sea has been undertaken. Passenger and cargo vessels of 15,000 tons are now using the St. Lawrence route, and it is believed to be the best buoyed and lighted channel in the world.
Of the great tributaries to the St. Lawrence, the Ottawa, proceeding from Lake Temiskaming, has a length of over 750 miles. By means of canals, the obstructions to navigation in its lower reaches are overcome, and vessels can reach as far as the Chaudière Falls near the city of Ottawa. The Saguenay (112 miles),which is the outlet of Lake St. John, is navigable to Chicoutimi, a distance of seventy-one miles. The Richelieu drains Lake Champlain, and is navigable to the head of that lake.
Before passing further west mention must be made of the St. John River, some 500 miles in length, which, flowing through the province of New Brunswick empties into the Bay of Fundy and is navigable for steamers from above the falls at the mouth to Fredericton, eighty-of our miles distant. In the same province are the Miramichi, the Restigouche and Richibucto and other rivers all more or less navigable for large vessels.
The Red River, rising in the State of Minnesota, flows through 100 miles of Canadian territory and empties into Lake Winnipeg. The city of Winnipeg, from which point the river is navigable for small craft for some 220 miles to the south, is situated at the point where it is joined by the Assiniboine. The swift-running floods and ever-changing shoals of these and other prairie rivers are a great obstacle to navigation, especially on up-stream trips. The Saskatchewan River is another great natural highway running some 1,500 miles through Western Canada, but the navigation owing to periodical flooding is comparatively limited.
In British Columbia, the Fraser River (740 miles) is navigable for sea going vessels as far up as New Westminster, and above this stern-wheel steamers ply. In the north the Stikine (250 miles) can be navigated for 130 miles and the Skeena (300 miles) for about 125 miles by small steamers.
Other great rivers in the undeveloped North are dealt with in another chapter.