The first territory to be described, having a part of its boundary washed by the great Hudson Sea, we have here called Ruperta, from the chief trading-post on its shores. This territory comprises the country between the western border of Quebec and the territory last described ; and from the valley of the Upper Ottawa to a point north of Big River, near the entrance of James Bay. Within these boundaries would be an area of about one hundred thousand square miles, about equal to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
This great scope of country is one of the least known in all Canada east of Manitoba. Much of it is still unexplored, and except for the Indians who inhabit it, it is almost wholly without population. A few posts of the Hudson’s Bay Company represents its only civilization, and yet this country is rich and fair and well-fitted for the home of a large white population.
The valley of the Upper Ottawa, which is made the southern limit of this territory for present convenience, is so comparatively near the heart of civilization that it need not here be described. It is sufficient to say that it is a country rich in lumber and minerals, with a goodly proportion of arable lands, and will undoubtedly in due time be occupied, as settlement is rapidly creeping up in that direction. We will, therefore, turn our attention more particularly to the north of the height of land. It may here be stated that this height of land, or dividing watershed, between the north and south, is so gentle in its elevation that it presents no barrier to easy railway construction.
The whole of the northern territory is covered with a dense forest, a goodly portion of which is heavy timber. This, in the future, must prove of great importance from a commercial and domestic point of view. The country is also drained and its surface marked by many lakes and rivers, both great and small. These both add beauty and fertility to the country, as well as afford a means for the easy transportation of the enormous products of its forests when in time they shall seek the outside world.
The largest lake in the territory, so far as known, is the Abittibi, a part of which lies within these boundaries. This is a beautiful sheet of water of very irregular shape, having many islands.
Nature has designed this territory primarily for an agricultural region, as the great plains stretching away from the height of land towards Hudson Bay may testify. Though now covered with dense forests they have, it is said, a most excellent soil. Mr. L. O. Armstrong, of the C.P.R. Emigration and Colonization Department, speaking of this great northland, said : ” The country west of Lake Mistassini, and north of the Laurentian Mountains, has much good land, equal to and even better than that to the south of them.” This is corroborated by many witnesses, and it is well known that the great fertile plains, beginning north of Lake Temiscaming, stretch practically unbroken over one hundred miles to the north. This section is well within the wheat belt, and has vast possibilities and a brilliant future.
Concerning the most northern section of this territory, on the east coast of James Bay, considerable skepticism prevails regarding its agricultural worth. Happily there are some very authoritative reports regarding this particular part. Mr. A. P. Lowe, of the Dominion Survey Department, says of the country about the lower stretches of the Lower Rupert’s River : ” The timber was much larger than formerly seen on this river, consisting of balsam poplar and balsam spruce, while at Rupert House, garden vegetables were cultivated. The soil along the rivers appears to be good, and as the climate to the southward is probably favorable to the growth of cereals and root crops, nothing pre-vents future settlement in this region.”
The arable area of this wonderful country on the east side of James Bay is about twice as large as the Province of Prince Edward Island, and is, therefore, of great importance. It is thought probable that the climate may be somewhat cooler than that on the west side of the bay, but Mr. Lowe says : ” Good crops of potatoes and other roots are constantly grown at the most northern Hudson Bay post at Fort George.” The hardier cereals, he thinks, could be grown, and the country is spoken of as `being ” an excellent grass and grazing land.” Extensive marshes exist near Fort George, which yield an abundance of hay ; by this means alone cattle are successfully kept at this most northern post.
As another proof of the comparative excellence of this region, the forest growth in the river valleys is quite as good, if not better, than further south. Mr. Lowe found spruce trees for a considerable distance up the Big River, eighteen inches in diameter, fifteen feet from the ground. The existence of this timber here is not only marvellous in itself, but of the highest importance to the future of the country. It would seem that this side of James Bay was capable of becoming an excellent dairying and mixed farming country.
This particular section of the territory has an increased importance attaching to it from the fact that at Fort George, near the mouth of Big River, is situated the only first-class harbor anywhere in the southern part of Hudson Bay. It is also situated in close proximity to the rich fisheries of the east coast, another matter of importance both for it and for the fisheries. It would seem, when the whaling and fishing possibilities of the north are considered, that Fort George, when connected by rail, is destined to become the New Bedford of the Dominion.
These are facts of the greatest importance, and Big River harbor, under some more fitting name, must in the future, when the vast resources of this region are being sought, become the site of one of Canada’s future cities. As a northern railway terminus of the east side, and in touch with an extensive country, and being the only suitable port for large ocean steamers in that section of the bay, from its docks in the future must be handled much of the lumber, fish and other products of the surrounding sea and land. It is nearer Liverpool than Quebec, and may yet compete with the St. Lawrence. for a part of the year in handling the products of a portion of the west.
A commercial centre and probably a stately city with far-reaching trade, situated on the eastern coast of Hudson Bay, may today seem like a dream of fancy, as, indeed, it is, but in the light of these facts it is quite within the possibilities of the twentieth century. Fort Garry and Fort William for three hundred years remained with little change mere posts of the great fur company, but when the time was ripe and the wave of population and progress touched these regions, they sprang into large centres of trade in an incredibly short time. Some time in the future, perhaps soon, these places, now scarcely known, will have a similar history.