House of Commons, 13 April 1870, Canadian Confederation with Manitoba

1010 COMMONS DEBATES April 13, 1870


Dr. Grant, in moving for the Reports of the Public Works on the route of Mr. Dawson through the Thunder Bay region, said he was simply desirous of obtaining the fullest information bearing upon the very important subject of the selection of the best line of communication with the North-West Territories. He was of opinion the Government had acted judiciously in opening up at present the old canoe route of the Hudson's Bay Co., which he hoped would be more a temporary rather than a permanent means of communication, providing the information he had received from various sources would coincide with the observations of the Department of Public Works made last season. It is a well known fact that the Thunder Bay region possesses all the physical characteristics peculiar to Laurentain regions generally, abounding in high hills and deep ravines, by far the most expensive physical difficulties to be overcome in the construction of any road. During the recent debate on the Nipigon country, the hon. member for Algoma adverted to a dam about to be built on the Matawin River, half a mile in length and sixty feet high, by which the water was to be elevated 30 feet above its present level. The estimated cost was $12,000, but from information he had received, and from his personal knowledge of the country, such a dam as proposed would cost $120,000, if not more. He was anxious from these various facts which had come within the knowledge of many, that the results of the examinations made last fall should be brought down, so that some reliable idea might be formed of the practicability or probable cost of the proposed Canal route from Thunder Bay to Fort Garry. He was of opinion this matter could not be too forcibly brought under the notice of the Government, as the remoteness of 1011 this country, and the consequent difficulty of getting reliable information in regard to it, might lead to the expenditure of large sums of money on a route which ultimately might be of no practical utility. We had only to advert to the early history of the public works of this country to be reminded, how, from insufficiency of information, larger sums of money had been expended without any beneficial result, such as in the connection of Lakes Huron and Ontario through the Trent region, fully half a million was thus thrown away prior to the finding out of a direct means of communication. What he should like to see, would be Lake Nipigon taken as a base of operations, and observations extended east and west in order to gain accurate information concerning that whole section of country, with a view to the formation of a permanent way to the Red River Territory, in the meantime the Thunder Bay Route would serve as a temporary means of communication.
Hon. Dr. Tupper said he had not sufficient information to say, how far the statements, that the route from Thunder Bay to Fort Garry was all but impracticable, were well founded; but he was satisfied that even if the most sanguine expectations of the promoters of that route were well founded, it was obvious that it must be a very imperfect line of communication, as it would be closed by winter six months in the year. He regarded the discovery made by Prof. Bell, who was declared by Sir W. Logan to be an able and reliable man, as very important. Prof. Bell informed the Committee of Agriculture and Immigration that the country, from the head of Lake Superior to Lake Nipigon, and for 90 miles westward towards Fort Garry, was very favourable for a line of railway, and he was informed that for 100 miles further it was of the same character. We know that for 90 miles east of Fort Garry, the country was level and the soil of good quality. Under these circumstances he hoped that no time would be lost in making a thorough survey from Nipigon to Fort Garry, as it was evident, that, if we would make the North- West Territory an important part of this Dominion, we must have rapid, easy, and constant communication with it from here at all seasons of the year.
Mr. Holmes said he was glad the hon. member for Russell had asked for the reports so far as made last fall by the Public Works Department, and under, he believed, the able charge of Mr. Munro. He knew something of the peculiarities of that section of country, and from the various reliable accounts he received, 1012 COMMONS DEBATES April 13, 1870 he thought the construction of a road in the Thunder Bay region would be attended with great difficulty and a very large expenditure of public money. He was one of those who believed that the sooner we had a permanent way to the North-West the better. He had considerable experience in road construction, and felt satisfied that the mountainous country about Thunder Bay and westward would not prove very conducive to road construction. What he would like to see, would be a continuous route such as a railroad to the North- West, which must take the place of any land and water communication as proposed by Mr. Dawson. Under these circumstances he hoped a thorough exploration would be made through the level country to the north of Lake Superior, in the Nipigon region, as recommended by Professor Bell, before the Government would undertake the expenditure of large sums of public money on the road now in process of construction.
Hon. Mr. Langevin said that when Dawson was sent out, he was sent to open up a temporary road to Fort Garry. The work was commenced, and the road built, except 27 miles. Mr. Dawson, in his report, recommended the construction of a very large and expensive dam. Mr. Munro was afterwards sent up to make further examinations as to the feasibility of the route. This gentleman's report had only been in for a few days. New surveys were to be made of the region between Nipigon and Fort Garry, the object of which was to discover whether a mixed route of land and water would not be best. Measures would be adopted to ensure that no difficulty should arise between the surveyors and Indian tribes of that section. Next session the Government would be able to tell the House whether or not a better road cannot be had to the North-West.
Mr. Mackenzie said the land in the Nipigon country was a terra incognita to every one. No one had been there who was qualified to state what were the facilities offered by this section of country. He himself believed that the Nipigon route would be the longest, as the lake was further from Fort Garry than Thunder Bay, which was also the best harbour. Because there was some good available land in Nipigon, was no reason why that route should be adopted. He cautioned the Government against paying too much attention to hints about a new country without a thorough examination. By the present route they had about 300 miles of water communication, and 130 miles of land, and so far the route was favourable. The Nipigon was difficult to reach in many ways, and they knew little of the country except the land around the 1013 shores of that lake. Nipigon Lake was 160 feet above the water level of Lake Superior, and the harbour at the mouth of Nipigon river was not in any way as favourable as the Thunder Bay harbour. He would like to know if the survey of Mr. Dawson was the same as that made by the Department of Public Works.
Hon. Mr. Howe said that Thunder Bay appeared to him to be a great harbour formed by nature. He trusted that the Minister of Public Works would give the whole matter, of such vast importance, an earnest and prudent consideration.
Dr. Grant said it was a well known fact, that all those who have either seen or written about this section of the country agree as to its level character. The recent work of Mr. Russell, of this city, contains much useful information on this very subject, and it is well known that the vast Laurentian Range, which crosses a great portion of the Dominion of Canada, is backed up by a level country extending up the valley of the Ottawa towards the Montreal River, and on to the Winnipeg basin. Such is also corroborated by various explorers who have visited these sections of the country. Prof. Bell pointed out the existence of a level silurian country in the Nipigon region entirely different from what was generally supposed, and well adapted for railway communication. Lake Nipigon is 150 feet above the level of Lake Superior, instead of 400 feet as generally stated. He was not aware that any particular survey of the Matawin and Shebandowan had been made by Mr. Dawson, where public works, involving a large expenditure of money, were to be constructed. Last session when the Government learned the facts, an examination under the charge of their able chief, Mr. Page, was at once set on foot, and now it is known from the physical features of that section that it will be an exceedingly difficult matter to hold the requisite body of water, even after the proposed dam on the Matawin was constructed. The fact of gentlemen holding mineral lands about Thunder Bay should not be a sufficient reason for the advocacy of this route in preference to a more available means of communication. He felt satisfied the Nipigon country would offer all the physical peculiarities favourable to railway construction, and he hoped that the day was not far distant when the first link of such a railroad would be commenced, and extended to the Atlantic on the one hand and the Pacific on the other, and thus consolidate our Dominion.
The motion was carried.


Canada. House of Commons Debates, 1870. Edited by P.B. Waite. Ottawa: Queen's Printer, 1979. Original scans accessible at: http://parl.canadiana.ca/.



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