Will the Bay Route Work?
Yes, answers this writer; it will work because it has worked for 250 years and more
ARTHUR HUNT CHUTE
WILL the Hudson Bay route work?
Some persons, as definite in their opinions as they are indefinite in their acquaintance with history, declare emphatically: “The idea of a Hudson Bay route is supreme folly. Of course it won’t work.”
If those who are aware only of the narrow horizons of the present, could become familiar with the long vista of their country’s past, they would see that the Hudson Bay route has worked—worked effectively ever since the year 1670.
At York Factory I saw a book of entry and departure with a record of over 750 ships that had cleared in and out of Hudson Bay in a period of over a century with only two casualties. Surely, even the St. Lawrence route might envy such a record.
Long before Scots merchants started to lay the basis of Montreal’s commercial supremacy, Hudson Bay was looked upon as the only gateway to the north and west. The Hudson’s Bay Company had practically all their posts on its shores, and outlying posts were merely tributary to the bay.
In Churchill I saw the ruins of Fort Prince of Wales, one of the strongest fortresses of the New World, which remains a sort of silent witness to the faith of the eighteenth century in this highway of the north.
A Route 250 Years Old
THE Great Company which used this route successfully for over two centuries, regarded the bay and the empire westward as far as Oregon as their own peculiar property, to be guarded jealously, and to be preserved inviolate because of the monopoly of the fur trade.
Not only did the officers and men of the Hudson’s Bay Company enter the country every year by this route, but the first military force, and the first permanent settlers in what is now Manitoba, came in by the same route. Viewed from the British Islands it seemed by far the easiest and most direct way into the Canadian northwest.
The first seed wheat to arrive at Red River came in through Hudson Bay, as did also the first piano to arrive in Winnipeg. Every year, ships used to sail from Stromness, with lads bound for service in the west who knew of this one and only gateway into the heart of Canada.
In due time, there rose up a rival to challenge the Hudson’s Bay Company, the North West Company, which for keen, hard, shrewd efficiency came to be perhaps “the most terribly effective organization that had ever arisen in the world.” Due to this relentless rival, the headquarters of the fur trade gradually shifted from York Factory to Montreal.
With the subsequent building of the C.P.R., and with the lines of east and west development becoming more and more established, it so transpired that a later generation had little knowledge of the ancient highway of the north.
But with the ever growing products of the west seeking for channels to the sea, it was only natural that a consciousness of the former route should some day be revived. The opening up of this channel for trade was bound to become a living issue when the exports of the interior became sufficiently great to force themselves to the sea by the line of least resistance.
Practically all our western farm area, excepting Peace River, forms part of a basin draining into Hudson Bay. All other important wheat raising countries, the Middle West States, Argentine, Russia, Egypt and China, send their product to the seaboard along the course of their mighty waterways. Canada alone has ignored the natural way of transportation and carried her harvests across natural divisions at additional expense to outlets more remote.
Western Canada’s present serious handicap has not been in ocean mileage but in the extent of the rail haul to reach the seaboard. Hence the half century of agitation for the building of the Hudson Bay Railway which this
year will be carried to a successful conclusion.
There are three great gateways into the heart of North America, the St.
Lawrence, the Mississippi, and Hudson Bay. This last was at one time most important, and now, with the northward trend, it is coming back into its own.
The Short Route to Europe
YXTE ARE already begin*^ ning to realize that this Hudson Bay route is more than a Canadian affair.
It is an undertaking of imperial and international concern. In its further implications, like all great railroad undertakings, it far outruns the dreams of its first promoters. As part of a transcontinental system across Canada’s New North it may some day be on the highway of the quickest route between Europe and the Orient. Circumnavigators of the future, whether by sea, or land, or air, will be inclined to follow our high latitudes for the swiftest passages around the world.
Coming back to more immediate considerations, this Hudson Bay route is the shortest possible course from the Prairie Provinces to Liverpool, as it follows approximately a segment of a great circle.
As a concrete illustration, the distance from Saskatoon to Fort William is 904 miles, and from Fort William to Liverpool, 3,974 miles. By the Hudson Bay route the distance from Saskatoon to Churchill will be 847 miles, and from Churchill to Liverpool 2,926 miles—a total of 3,773 miles, or a saving by the Hudson Bay route of 1,105 miles. Added to the gain of this short rail haul the cool ocean trip in northern latitudes is expected to be an advantage to the dairying and stockraising industries.
The pathfinders and the plungers, who have been responsible for every advance, have always had to buck up against the take-it-easy-and-play-safe brigade. When the C.P.R. was initiated, the only freight in evidence out of the prairies was buffalo bones. The first C.P.R. steamer to cross the Pacific carried as its total cargo several carloads of shingles and the bodies of seven Chinamen bound for their ancestral sepulchres.
The Hudson Bay Railway can certainly start on something more than Buffalo bones and dead Chinamen.
As our Hills and our Van Hornes of yesterday saw their dreams come true through an empire of wheat, so our railroad builders of the north may even yet see their dreams come true through an empire of minerals.
Irrespective of the wheat road and every other sonsideration, the Hudson Bay Railway will justify itself on metals alone. The East has generally regarded this pet scheme of the west as supreme folly. But now, with the project nearing completion, vast mining discoveries begin to cast a new light upon the picture, so that those who yesterday were knocking the loudest, are today scrambling to get into the line. Like the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway, the Hudson Bay route may be the key for the opening up of a vast treasure-house of wealth.
After a journey of investigation into the bay I have come out with a feeling that perhaps our Dominion’s brightest star is not westward but northward. To write or speak about that future is a task calling for prophetic vision. Answering to the lure of development millions of capital from Wall Street and elsewhere has already started to flow in here. Names like Flin Flon and Sherritt-Gordon are suggestive of the magnitude of the mining ventures.
The strongest impression which has come to me from this last frontier is that Canada’s empire of wheat to the south may even yet be supplemented by an empire of minerals to the north, which taken together will serve to give depth to the Canadian Nation.
Yesterday, Northern Ontario was referred to as “the land of the Stunted Poplar.” Today, in this long ignored region they have a mine that has produced over two hundred millions in gold. How much of the substantial growth of Toronto has been derived from that “Land of the Stunted Poplar?”
What has already happened in Northern Quebec and Northern Ontario is beginning to be repeated in Northern Manitoba and Northern Saskatchewan. Underlying this whole area is a mineral wealth whose fringes, the geologists tells us, have hardly yet been apprehended.
Development and railroad building go hand in hand. With the advancing steel goes the skirmishing line of scouts and prospectors who are ever pushing back the borders.
This Hudson Bay Railway, which was until recently regarded as the end of our construction programme, is now merely a new beginning. Following the trail that has been blazed across the other side of fifty-six, both of our great railroad systems have caught the vision of vaster opportunities that await them in the north.
Speaking in the House of Commons in 1906, Sir Wilfrid Laurier made the following prophetic statement: “I hope that I shall live to see a city at the terminus of the Hudson Bay Railway . . . it is not enough for us to confine our views to Canada that is now settled; we must look ahead, we must push northward. I have a great confidence that we shall see towns and villages on the shores of Hudson Bay, as we see on the shores of Norway, where people will be prosperously engaged in the lumbering business, the pulp industry, the fishing industry, the mining industry, and others. This is what I hope Canadians will see ere long.”
Underway Since 1910
'""THE first sod of the Hudson Bay Railway was turned in 1910. On coming into power in 1911, the Conservative government carried on the work of its predecessors.
Nelson was selected on the advice of engineers of the department. Active development of harbor works was commenced there in 1913, and continued until the close of the war, when the state of the country’s finances led to their closing down. The work on the railway was continued until October, 1918. At that time, the completed portion of the railway to Mile 243 was turned over to the Canadian Northern Board for operation,which board provided a local service.
In 1920, a special Committee of the Senate which had gone into the matter reported “that sufficient care was not taken in the selection of Nelson,” and also recommended that the government should not make further expenditures without a thorough examination into the relative merits of Churchill and Nelson as a terminus.
It was not until 1926 that the affairs of the country permitted a revival of the Hudson Bay undertaking. In June of that year, Mr. Dunning, as Minister of Railways, submitted an estimate of three millions for construction and betterment of the line.
The of the work made it necessary either to confirm the choice of Nelson or to reconsider the situation. Here a piece of real statesmanship illuminated the otherwise sorry spectacle of political bungling. Mr. Dunning’s conduct of affairs will stand out in the history of this scheme because he had the courage to cut out politics and commit himself to sound business policies. The west was red-hot for Nelson, but with a sense of the magnitude of the undertaking, Mr. Dunning passed up public opinion in favor of an expert authority on tidal, estuarial, and harbor problems.
In August, 1927, Mr. Frederick Palmer, a ranking harbor engineer of England, after careful investigation reported that Churchill was undoubtedly the port to be selected, as affording a real harbor protected from all storms. The cost at Churchill was found to be less than one half that at Nelson, while the annual charges would be a million dollars less.
Mr. Palmer estimated the cost, including interest of necessary works, at Nelson $26,111,550, at Churchill $8,450,159, and annual charges $1,474,594 at Nelson and $413,980 at Churchill—the latter item including interest on extra capital cost of eighty-seven miles of railway construction to Churchill.
In consequence of this recommendation by such an unassailable authority, it was decided to extend the railway to Churchill and establish the terminal there, which as a matter of fact was the terminus named in instructions to engineers of the original survey twenty years ago.
Meanwhile, it was necessary to rehabilitate the line between Mile 214 and Mile 332. The original line had no engine terminal facilities; three terminals including yard tracks have since been completed. The frost on the muskeg had wrecked the telegraph line which has since been reconstructed and placed in operation.
The line to Churchill swings off from the original route at Mile 356. During last year’s season the old embankment from Mile 332 to Mile 356 were retrimmed and the track laid on it, so that by the beginning of the working season this year the new line to Churchill was able to get under way.
The country between the Nelson and Churchill rivers is a particularly difficult country from the railway construction standpoint, requiring thousands of additional ties per mile and a great deal more ballast than is ordinarily necessary.
At present writing, the end of the steel has just reached Churchill. It is planned to have the line working to Churchill this season. In order to be assured of this, tracklaying was proceeded with on top of the snow, the line being brought to the surface where required with timber and brush placed under the ties.
Later, when the thaw comes, the track will finally be brought to a usable condition by lifting with train fill and ballast. This method is being employed because of its previous success last year as an experiment on the construction of the line to Flin Flon, which branches off from the H.B. Railway a few miles out from The Pas.
At the peak of operations, over two thousand men are employed on the work. The gradiijg and ditching have been let by contract, while the track and station work is being taken care of by Canadian National construction forces.
About 16,000 tons of material were shipped from Halifax to Churchill last summer. Two dipper dredges, “Churchill No. 1” and “Churchill No. 2,” built at Montreal especially for the work, were delivered at Churchill in September, 1928. Two hopper barges are also available there now for the coming season.
A Saga of the Air
^"\N THE operations at Churchill 349 men were employed, while the work was materially expedited by the use of airplanes between Churchill and the end of the steel. Though little has been heard about them, Canada’s frontier fliers have been adding a new chapter to the history of aviation, not so much on its spectacular as on its constructive side. The plane takes its place in the north country side by side with the dog team and canoe. But while the latter move slowly and are often held up by inaccessible country, the plane has accelerated the speed of frontier transportation from a few miles to a hundred miles per hour, while it has removed the word “inaccessible” from the pioneer’s vocabulary.
Much useful information in connection with Hudson Bay and Strait has been secured by the Royal Canadian Air Force under Squadron Leader Lawrence. These intrepid fliers conducted a successful expedition, the daring and achievements of which will some day be retold in our school books, although, up to the present, it has almost completely escaped attention. It’s a pity that while Canadians are reading so much about the stunt fliers of other countries, they couldn’t learn at least something about the work-a-day fliers of their own Dominion, who, unnoticed and unsung, have been blazing the trails on a future highway of world commerce. The flying Saga of Hudson Strait is one of our great stories of the air that yet remains to be written.
As a result of the findings of this flying expedition in the north, stef ; are now being taken by the department of Marine and Fisheries to establish modern aids to navigation, including direction finding devices which will greatly add to the navigation possibilities of the Hudson Bay route.
On this vexing question of the navigation of the Strait there has been far more investigation than the man in the street is aware of. There was the Neptune expedition in 1884-5-6, the Diana expedition in 1897, the Neptune expedition in 1903-4, and minor expeditions of later dates.
Captain William Kennedy, who accompanied an expedition in search of the remains of Sir John Franklin and who has had eight years experience of the Straits, says that they are navigable from June to November.
J W. Tyrrell, the explorer, who has gone through the straits on several occasions, says: “The straits can in my opinion be réjfied upon for unobstructed
navigation from July 15 to November 1, with a possible extension of two weeks at either end.” Later findings confirm this view. Mr. Tyrrell continues: “As to icebergs, they are occasionally met with in Hudson Straits, being sometimes carried in along the north shore by prevailing current from Davis Strait, but they are by no means of frequent occurrence and not one tenth as numerous as off the Straits of Belle Isle.”
Six Months of Open Water
A RECORD kept at York factory for over fifty years shows an average of fully six months of open water in the year. The difference in latitude between York and Churchill is very slight. Hudson Strait itself never freezes over, due to ocean currents, but the open season of navigation can only be reckoned as the period during which shipping can enter and clear from the established port.
The ice went out of Churchill last year on June 19, and the harbor itself continued open until about the end of November. As late as November 17, there was no ice in sight in any direction from Nottingham Island, which would indicate that the strait was navigable up to the end of November—almost as late as the Saint Lawrence navigation.
Facts like this incline one to look with increasing respect at this new trade route about to be opened up by a people who still answer to the pioneering call.
There is something to enkindle the imagination in the spectacle of that marching line of steel north of fifty-eight. What may evolve is not a subject for dogmatism, the mining shows vast promise, the new ocean gateway is alluring. By 1930, with the grain ships passing in and out of the Bay, we shall see the North West Passage—long sought for— at last an actuality.