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Water Transportation in the Canadian Shield: Encyclopedia Arctica 9: Transportation and Communications
Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

Water Transportation in the Canadian Shield

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

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

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.

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).
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