THE country containing the famous Lake St. John region, which, together with the County of Charlevoix, we have for description associated with the name of Saguenay, in recognition of the great river which forms one of its chief physical features. This territory, extending from the seventieth to the seventy-fifth degree of west longitude, a breadth of about two hundred and twenty miles by about four hundred and fifty miles north and south, represents an area from eighty to one hundred thousand square miles. This is about twice as large as the State of Pennsylvania, which supports a population of over five million people.
The southern part of the territory here outlined is very well known, being in intimate touch with the outside world by the Lake St. John Railway, and in summer also by steamer. We shall turn our attention, therefore, first to the northern section of the country. North of the height of land it has long been shrouded in mystery. It has, however, in recent years been partly explored and surveyed by the Dominion Government, so that its chief features are now pretty well known.
Lying just north of the low hills which form the height of land, sometimes called the Laurentian Mountains, is situated the once fabled Lake Mistassini, the chief physical feature of that part of the country. While not so vast in extent as tradition made it, this is still a large, even magnificent, body of water, being by far the largest lake in Eastern Canada.
The soil of the country around this lake overlies limestone, and is said to be of excellent quality, being a sandy loam with a clay subsoil. Owing, how-ever, to the elevation of the country, the climate is not so favorable as the latitude would indicate, and the great depth of the lake renders its waters, much of which comes from the north, constantly cold, a fact which also influences the climate. Not-withstanding this, the southern end of the lake especially has a very pleasant summer climate and some agricultural possibilities. The highest mean temperature from the 1st of May to the end of August (1885) was something over eighty degrees Fahrenheit, while the general mean was about fifty-six degrees Fahrenheit. This is not a bad showing considering that 1885 was a very wet season. It indicates a summer climate very similar to that of Scotland, which, by the Scotchman at least, is regarded as quite satisfactory. At the present time there is a little danger, it is said, from slight summer frosts, though potatoes and other vegetables are grown each year at the Hudson’s Bay post.
Mr. Lowe says : The waters of Mistassini and of the adjoining large lakes are full of fish. The principal kinds are lake trout, river trout, white-fish, pickerel and suckers, all of large size and fine quality. These fisheries would be of considerable commercial value if access could be had to them by railway.” The country is densely covered by forests of spruce, pine and birch, but the growth is not generally of large size, though this is probably due largely to the frequency of forest fires. The growth as now reported is splendidly suited to the manufacture of pulp, and the supply is said to be practically inexhaustible. Excellent water powers are also in the vicinity.
Lake St. John is a beautiful sheet of water, from seventy-five to eighty miles in circumference, and quite round and regular in shape. Emptying into this immense catch-basin are some nineteen rivers, a number of which are navigable for steamers. These rivers unite their waters in the lake, which becomes the source of the mighty Saguenay, which leaves the lake through the ” grand discharge.” This lake is called the home of the ” Ouananiche,” or great fresh water salmon, and on this account attracts a large number of sportsmen and tourists.
This country is essentially agricultural and though comparatively recently colonized, has made great strides in the development of this industry. The soil is almost universally composed of rich gray clay with a fertility well-nigh inexhaustible.
The climate of this region is more mild than that of Montreal, and the snowfall less than at Quebec. As an indication of the climate, it is said melons are successfully grown in the open air.
This territory has already a considerable population, not less than sixty thousand people, and is rapidly increasing. Uniting with it, as we have, for the sake of uniformity in this description, the County of Charlevoix, the population would probably amount to eighty or ninety thousand. This is about double that of the State of Nevada, and nearly double that of Manitoba when it was admitted as a province of Canada. There are already a number of towns of considerable importance, of which Roberval, Chicoutimi and Murray Bay are the most important.
A brief reference to the Saguenay River must be made before passing from this interesting section of the Dominion :
” The Saguenay can hardly be called a river. It is rather a stupendous chasm from one to two miles in width, doubtless of earthquake origin, cleft for sixty-five miles through the Laurentian plateau. Its walls are almost an unbroken line of naked cliffs of syenite and gneiss. Its depth is many hundred feet greater than the St. Lawrence ; indeed if the St. Lawrence were drained dry all the fleets of the world might float in the abyss of the Saguenay and yet find anchorage only in a few places. Of mere soft beauty the Saguenay landscape can show none save the one or two valleys where tributary streams flow in. It has been called, indeed, the River of Death. Silence, nakedness and awe brood over it. Its grim solitudes are shunned by bird and insect. The profound immoving waters, on account of their great depth, appear as black as pitch, with purple gleams in the sunlight, and are broken only when the back of a white whale rises for a moment into view. Its overpowering sublimity and noiseless desolation becomes oppressive to some visitors. A writer in the London Times called it Nature’s sarcophagus.’ ”
” Capes Trinity and Saguenay guard its entrance, and are called the climax of Saguenay scenery. These great cliffs, the one 1,600 and the other 1,800 feet in height, watch each other across the black gulf of Eternity Bay, the narrow fiord wherein the sounding line must descend a thousand feet to reach the bottom. The dreadful sublimity of these promontories, springing sheer from the black depths of the mysterious river, compels the reverence of the most indifferent.”
Taking this territory as a whole, it is one of great natural wealth and big with future promise, and it is bound, in time, to become the scene of great achievement and a teeming population.