The Canadian Prairie Province – Toronto To Thunder Bay

WE had pulled half way through long vacation ere deciding on leaving ” cap and gown and store of learned pelf.” Then the route must be considered. There is the Coiling-wood steamer, also the Beatty line from Sarnia, the Windsor boats, the ” Ward ” steamers at Detroit, the “all rail” route. Desiring to enjoy the lake breezes, and to test the working of the narrow gauge road, a pleasant evening found us in the parlour-car of the ” Toronto, Grey and Bruce,” bound for Owen Sound, there to take the Frances Smith for Thunder Bay.

The progress of Ontario cannot be more marked anywhere than by one who on this road passes rising towns and well-tilled fields where late the forest waved untouched. We reach Owen Sound by 10 p. m., but find that the vessel is not yet come to hand. A load of Mennonites to Duluth took an extra day, so we have a few hours to see the fine harbour, the mountain, and good folk of ” the Sound.” Right glad were we at last to spy the smoke stack and side-wheels of the vessel as she steamed into the harbour. Capt. Tait Robertson soon welcomed the party who were to find their home with him across two lakes ; and the gallant vessel was off at good speed all well pleased with the accommodation, and, we may say, not dissatisfied with each other, as the happy manner in which the hours sped away soon showed.

It is not the intention of the writer to dwell much on this part of his trip, as many of his readers have, to some extent, become familiar with this way to Thunder Bay.

At the Village of Killarney we first see Indians in their bark-covered conical tepees or tents, dotted over the rocky shore. At Garden River we glide in beautiful water past log-houses of white and red men, and at both these places we run out and buy pretty baskets and mats of scented grass, bark and porcupine quill work. Through many a glassy bay, past many a lovely island and wood-covered nook our vessel glides. While the sun shines, we watch her course. Darkness falls, then fair friends charm away the silence music and songs fill the cabin, and we move in the mazes of quadrilles, waltzes, galops and Sir Roger.

We come to waters studded with cedared isles, that remind us of dear Yohocucaba, in the Muskoka region, names of five of the founders of the Yo-ho-cu-ca-ba Club. Esto perpetua and are in sight of two towns, divided by the Sault Ste. Marie River ; on the north is the capital of our Algoma District, a scattered town. We see the bishop’s residence near the water, and the school in which Indian boys and girls of the Ojibway nation are taught. One of these three islands, near the North Shore, is the romantic grave of the late Colonel John Prince, who was, when he died, judge of this immense sparsely populated region. We cross and are in the short canal, have time to run through the little Michigan city on the South Shore, pass into the grassy enclosure with flag holding U. S. colours, and see Fort Brady, with its park of artillery, white officers’ quarters and barracks, with two companies of Uncle Sam’s infantry. Close to the present canal, also on the American side, is the great excavation destined to be the ship canal. Its locks will be 80 feet wide, affording 18 feet of water, and admitting vessels of the largest size on the lakes. Soon we are on the stormy waters of Lake Superior, the big sea water, Gitche-Gumee of Longfellow’s ” Hiawatha.” Our vessel has on this trip no time for side excursions passing Michipicoten and Nepigon Bay. We are much interested in the little red houses on the rocks which we are told form Silver Islet. At the wharf, where we stop a few minutes, a score of men with spade and pick were taking up hard rocks that formed the wharf and tide-breaker; their foreman informed us that these rocks, till lately considered refuse, can now, by improved machinery, be made to yield many dollars’ worth of ore to each ton. A busy place is this Silver Islet, with crushing mills, store-houses, and clap-board dwellings, all owned by a great American Company, and under charge of the able and ingenious manager, Captain Frue.

Fifty stamps are being worked, and from 100 to 150 tons of ore crushed per day. The yield is reported by the Company to be in value from 36,000 to $40,000 per month, the whole cost of getting out, crushing and washing the ore by Captain Frue’s process amounting to only $2.25 per ton, while eight ounces of silver are, on an aver-age, extracted from that quantity of rock of low grade.

The Frances Smith has no time to lose. Her whistle sounds, we gather a few specimens of the white quartz rock and are off, soon pass the great headland of Thunder Cape, and are in Thunder Bay, in sight of the rising village of Prince Arthur’s Landing. The Queen’s Hotel, a large frame house, faces us, with guests from many a quarter. The site of the village, which now contains probably 1,000 souls, is very fine : on the west side the Kaministiquia, emptying with its three mouths into the bay ; McKay’s Mountain, rising 1,200 feet high, and the Welcome Islands; opposite are Pie Island, of 31,000 acres in extent, with an altitude of 850 feet, having on its western end the strange round cap or dish-shaped protuberance whence it takes its name. Thunder Cape rises behind us 1,400 feet high, and beyond is the great lake whose waves, unceasing and monotonous, lash the shore. As we pass the west end of Pie Island a hut may be seen which marks the place where silver ore was lately found, and a mine is being sunk by Professor Ames and some other Americans. At the east end of the village is a little river—McVicar’s Creek—round which are piles of lumber and log and clap-board houses. Close to the creek is the bark conical wigwam of an Indian. Along the shore boys pick up agates. The village site, with its scattered white houses, gradually rises. We pass up Arthur street, leaving the reservation for a park of some ten acres on our left, and the commodious grounds, residence and offices of Mr. D. D. Van Norman, Stipendiary Magistrate and Registrar, on the right, the land rising gradually, so that after a half-mile walk we are on high ground, with a fine view of the harbour, village and surroundings. This street we have been on turns to the left, and, in the course of a few rods further, runs into the well-known road, the Dawson route to Manitoba.

Prince Arthur’s Landing received its naine from Colonel Sir Garnet Wolseley, in honour of His Royal Highness, then in Canada. It was at this, then insignificant hamlet, that the Expeditionary force, on its way to Red River, disembarked on the 25th May, 1870.

The inhabitants of the Landing are such as an adventurous wild life, the outskirts of civilization, and the speculation in minerals and lands bring together, to which, in the season, are added tourists from far and near ; from Nova Scotia from many other parts of the Dominion. But here passes a black-robed man a priest from the Mission up the river. This half-score of rough fellows are navvies from the railway line. Three young gentlemen, undergraduates of Yale, with their guns and fishing tackle, were here. They had seen the falls of the Kaministiquia, and fished there and elsewhere in the region, and were about to start for prairie chicken shooting on the plains of Minnesota. The number of saloons and drinking places in the village was astonishing. All seemed only too well patronized. Strong rough fellows from the woods often pass, with coarse brown dress and unshaved faces. One stout man of more than middle age, whose hair hung in curls, in which grey and black were equally mingled, was pointed out. He was a graduate of Cambridge, but, years ago, gave himself up to a roving life and dissipated ways. He discovered several mines, made large sums by selling his rights, which were soon spent in sprees on the South Shore. His countenance still retains many traces of intelligence, and we saw him last as a deck passenger on the way to Duluth, addressed with some attention and civility by those who knew him.. When not actively engaged he lives a hermit life. How the inhabitants of the Landing spent their time was a matter of amusement. At the hotels and like places of resort, and not at offices or shops, we must seek them. One talks of Silver Islet, another of Shuniah, the Cornish, 3 A, the Bruce mines, Thunder Bay, or She-ban dowan, and each pulls from his pocket a specimen of the ore or quartz supposed to contain silver, as ” blende ” or “native,” or in sulphates and other forms. Various as the specimens may be, and to the unskilled, scarcely differing in structure and appearance, yet our friends here will at once name the mine whence they come.

Three tugs ply in the harbour of Prince Arthur, and form in summer the chief means of communication between the Landing and the Fort. Owing to the nature of the bottom, it is necessary to take a circuitous course of a mile or so into the bay, pass the two smaller mouths of the Kaministiquia River, and enter the third, which, after a half-hour’s puffing of the little steamer, brings us in sight of the ancient fort of the great Hudson’s Bay Company, now in charge of Captain McIntyre and employ&, among whom we see white men, Indians and half-breeds. The river is here just broad enough for the lake steamer to turn in, and runs swift and dark in its bed, the fort being on the right. It is not long since the place was guarded with a high stockade fence, and block-houses pierced with port-holes. These have given way to a neat picket that divides the grounds from the road that skirts the river’s side. Two small cannon stand as watch-dogs, one on either side the gate. Within the few acres that form the square of the fort are wide store-rooms, one of stone, very thick and substantial ; others of wood, the shop for retail dealing, and two neat dwelling-houses. Vast in value have been the pelts here stored, and hence sent to the selling agents of the fur companies, during the last hundred years of their reign and dealings here. Fort William was years ago the main depot of the great North Western Company, which united with the English Corporation in 1821. Before the factor’s pretty vine-clad house was a garden blooming with flowers of many varieties, and a rockery that particularly attracted our attention. Its formation was of large quartz and other mineral-bearing rocks, in which shone clearly traces of silver, lead, iron and copper, and blocks of the beautiful amethysts that are found throughout this wonderful region, but chiefly at Amethyst Harbour, near the mouth of McKenzie River, some twenty miles east of Prince Arthur. The river banks are low at the fort probably about ten feet above the ordinary level of the water. Two miles farther up they rise to double this height. On the left bank is the Catholic Mission of the Immaculate Conception, with Indian reserve twenty-five miles square. Above the Mission, ten miles distant, are the extensive lumber works of Mr. Adam Oliver, the residences of the Messrs. McKellar, and the wharf on which is piled many a ton of steel rails, ready for the track of the Canada Pacific Railway, the terminus whereof is here placed by the powers that be. The bank is high, and affords a level bed on which the track has been graded for about half the forty-seven miles that are to form the connecting chain between Thunder Bay and Lake Shebandowan. The contractors, Messrs Sifton and Ward, had a large force employed in getting out trees and making cuttings, and were to be so engaged during the winter. The work on the lock at Fort Frances is also being expeditiously carried out. Government surveyors have reported favourably on the route via Sturgeon Falls and the head of Rainy Lake. The contractors named have also in hand the Red River end of this section of the great road, but the middle )art of it, being over rough land full of difficulties, is not yet located. There is much fine land in the free grant sections of the Kaministiquia valley, where one hundred families have established themselves during the past few months. Along the banks, as far as we went, was a rich alluvial soil. This large increase of settlers is no doubt partially due to the grasshopper plague in Manitoba, of which we will speak hereafter.

Very amusing to the visitor is the jealousy existing between this region and Prince Arthur. ” Why,” say residents of the latter, ” require vessels to run up the Kaministiquia to the Railway, when at the Landing in Thunder Bay is a splendid natural harbour, safe for vessels of any burden, and not so soon closed by the ice ? ” ” Your harbour,” say the gentlemen of the river, ” cannot be safe till well dredged and a great breakwater made to ward off the winter storms.” To secure their ends, the Prince Arthurites were passing a by-law to devote a sufficient sum $32,000 to continue the railway to the Landing, so we hope all parties will soon be satisfied.

There will in time be a spreading population both at the Landing and up the river. We cannot afford to let Manitoba be drained long into the United States through the Pembina route. A through line of rail must ere long connect Thunder Bay with the Kewatin District and Red River. In summer this will be a pleasant and popular mode of ingress to the Prairie Province.

We met several who had gone over the Dawson Road to Garry, and who told with interest of its varied scenery and incidents by stage, open boats and small steamers, over lakes and rivers, during the five hundred miles of the course of this Government road. W. H. Carpenter & Co. had the contract from the Canadian Government for the conveyance of persons and goods on this route during the summer months, but it is closed as soon as the frost sets in. They received an annual subsidy of $76,000 in addition to the fares they made. The charge for each passenger from Prince Arthur to Winnipeg was $10 ; to return it was $15. Meals were provided at rude stations at thirty cents each. It is understood that the Dominion Government will soon take the control of the route into their own hands. There are many rich mineral deposits al-ready discovered in the region through which this road runs. Valuable tracts of timber, especially near the Lake of the Woods and on the banks of Rainy River, will be brought into access from Winnipeg as soon as the railway is constructed. The grain crop of the Province will also by this route seek shipment on Lake Superior.

For fuller accounts of the region traversed by this road we can only refer readers to the several interesting narratives which have appeared, especially that of Professor Hind’s expedition of 1857. This route, however, goes from the northwest angle of the Lake of the Woods by land to Red River, while Professor Hind and Colonel Wolseley followed the longer and more romantic course from that point by Winnipeg River to the lake, and up Lake Winnipeg and Red River to Fort Garry.