• Back to Encyclopedia Arctica homepage

    Water Transportation in the Canadian Shield

    Encyclopedia Arctica 9: Transportation and Communications

    001      |      Vol_IX-0188                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Commun.

    (D.M. LeBourdais)


            The Canadian Shield, (q.v.), consists of a maze of lakes of all sizes

    and shapes with arms or greater or less length sprawling on every side, but

    more often following the direction of the country's general trend. These

    lakes are connected by tortuous stretches of stream, broken by innumerable

    rapids and falls, while in some cases lakes almost spill from one to the

    other. It is thus possible, despite incessant portaging, to travel

    by canoe almost anywhere across the shield. This has facilitated the develop–

    ment of mines, especially gold mines, and even the establishment of consider–

    able communities, many miles from the nearest railway. Because of frequent

    interruptions, the streams are often not suitable for use, and routes must

    be carefully selected to include a greater proportion of lakes than rivers,

    and improvements are often necessary in the latter. In winter, tractor-trains

    generally follow the summer water routes.

            The best examples of this cross-country transportation are found in

    northwestern Ontario. The manner in which two adjacent gold mines —

    Pickle Crow and Central Patricia — near the headmasters of the Albany River,

    (q.v.), have been supplied for over 20 years is a typical instance. These

    two mines, side by side on Crow River, a tributary of the Attawapiskat River

    (q.v.), which flows into James Bag, are 100 miles in a direct line from the

    nearest railway, and farther from the nearest highway. Occupying camps about

    002      |      Vol_IX-0189                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Commun. LeBourdais: Water Transp. in the Canadian Shield

    seven miles apart, employees and their families constitute a community of

    approximately 1,000 persons, and naturally their requirements are considerable.

    Except for passangers, mail and light freight, this community is supplied

    almost entirely by a water-route, 170 miles in length, over which loaded

    scows can be brought to within 20 miles. The final 20 miles are covered

    by a graded road over which traffic is by truck.

            The Albany River rises in Lake St. Joseph (q.v.), and flows northeast–

    ward into James Bay. Pickle Crow and Central Patricia mines are located

    about 20 miles north of Doghole Bay, at the eastern and of this lake, which

    is about 70 miles long, lying in an east-west direction. Although the

    Albany River flows into James Bay, the English River, rising not far south–

    west of the headwaters of the Albany, flows in the opposite direction, its

    waters eventually reaching Hudson Bay by way of Winnipeg River, Lake Winnipeg,

    and Nelson River. At one point the distance across the height of land

    separating these two sections of the Hudson Bay drainage basin is less than

    a mile.

            The farthest north railway traversing northwestern Ontario is a branch

    of the Canadian National Railways which crosses the English River drainage

    system at Hudson Station, on Lost Lake. The latter is drained into Lac Seul,

    which in turn is drained by English River. Root River, a smaller stream

    which flows into the northeastern end of Lac Soul, follows a horseshoe-shaped

    course, passing within a few miles of the western end of Lake St. Joseph.

    The course from Hudson to Lake St. Joseph is across Lost Lake, into Lac Soul,

    and across the latter its northeastern angle, where Foot River comes in,

    thence up Root River to its nearest approach to the end of Lake St. Joseph.

    At this point, Root Creek comes in from the east, taking the course to within

    003      |      Vol_IX-0190                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Commun. LeBourdais: Water Transp. in the Canadian Shield

    three miles of Lake St. Joseph. These three miles are covered by a standard–

    guage railway on which flatcars propelled by a 14-ton gasoline-electric loco–

    motive are used.

            Towards the eastern end of the route, th r ee rapids occur, the only once

    in the whole 170 miles. Here dams of timber filled with stone have been

    built to flood out the rapids. To get past the dams, marine railways are

    used consisting of wide-guage rails on which low, heavy-timber cars are run.

    The rails disappear beneath the water at each end, allowing the cars to be

    submerged so that loaded scows may be floated onto them. Then, by means of

    a steel cable operated by a steam winch, a car bearing a loaded scow is hauled

    over the portage and slid back into the water above the dam. The process is

    repeated at each dam. These marine railways, the railway crossing the

    three-mile portage into the western end of Lake St. Joseph, and the 20-mile

    highway from Doghole Bay to the mine, are operated by the Lake St. Joseph

    Transportation Company, jointly owned by Pickle Crow Mines Limited and Central

    Patricia Mines Limited, and managed by C. M. Low, who, with his wife, lives

    the year round at Root Portage.

            Supplies for the two mines are transported from Hudson to Doghole Bay

    by the Patricia Transportation Company, managed by Charles Wilson, of Hudson,

    which operates a line of diesel-powered tugboats each of which tows seven or

    eight 15-ton scows, leaving Hudson three times a week and requiring about

    five days for the round trip. In addition to supplies for the mines, the

    company handles freight for traders, prospectors, etc. The rate in 1950

    from Hudson to Doghole Bay was $23.25 a ton, in addition to tolls of $14.00

    a ton charged by the Lake St. Joseph Company for transportation over the

    marine railways and on the highway between Doghole Bay and the mines.

    004      |      Vol_IX-0191                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Commun. LeBourdais: Water Transp. in the Canadian Shield

            Patricia Transportation Company has also operated a service between

    Hudson and Fed Lake, which was without highway communication from the

    inception of the camp in 1925 until completion of a highway in 1946. Red

    Lake, farther west than the Pickle Crow area, is about the same distance

    from the railway. The route from Hudson is interrupted by four rapids,

    where marine railways is described above ar e provided. Previous to the

    completion of the highway, refrigerator scows were used for the transport

    of perishables, and a 24-hour service was maintained between Hudson and

    Red Lake. The highway has curtailed water transportation considerably,

    but in many cases the facility with which scows can go direct to a parti–

    cular mine renders that form of transport still convenient. The cost, too,

    can be held to within competitive range of highway transport. In winter,

    however, where tractor-trains were formerly the principal means of trans–

    port, trucks have supplanted the tractors. The cost of tractor transport is

    roughly three times that of transport by diesel-propelled tugs and scows,

    as described here.


    Low, C. M. Lake St. Joseph Transportation Company ; Canadian Mining Journal,

    Vol. 70, No.11 (Nov. 1949).

    Back to top