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The Great Fresh-Water Seas of Canada

A sentimental journey in Canada is not like Sterne's, all about corking-pins and remises, monks and Marias, nor is it likely, in this utilitarian age, even if Sterne could be revived to write it, to be as immortal; nevertheless, let us ramble.

The Welland Canal naturally leads one to reflect on the great sources of power spread before the Canadian nation; for, although it will never, never be la nation Canadienne, yet it will inevitably some day or other be the Canadian nation, and its limits the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.

President Polk—they say his name is an abbreviation of Pollok—can no more dive into "the course of time" than that poet could do, and it is about as vain for him to predict that the American bald eagle shall claw all the fish on the continent of the New World, as it is to fancy that the time is never to come when the Canadian races, Norman-Saxon as they are, shall not assert some claim to the spoils.

Canada is now happier under the dominion of Victoria than she could possibly be under that of the people of the States, and she knows and feels it. The natural resources of Canada are enormous, and developing themselves every day; and it needs neither Lyell, nor the yet unheard-of geologists of Canada to predict that the day is not far distant when her iron mines, her lead ores, her copper, and perhaps her silver, will come into the market1.

I see, in a paper lying before me, that Colonel Prince, a person who has already flourished before the public as an enterprising English farming gentleman, who combines the long robe with the red coat, has, with a worthy patriotism, obtained a very large grant of lands from the government to explore the shore of Lake Superior, in order to find whether the Yankees are to have all the copper to themselves; and that, in searching a little to the eastward of St. Mary's Rapids, a very valuable deposit has been discovered, which has stimulated other adventurers, who have found another mine nearer the outlet of the lake and still more valuable, the copper of which, lying near the surface, yields somewhere about seventy-five per cent2.

We know that rich iron mines exist, and are steadily worked in Lower Canada; we know that a vast deposit of iron, one of the finest in the world, has lately been discovered on the Ottawa, a river in the township of M'Nab; and we know that nothing prevents the Marmora and Madoc iron from being used but the finishing of the Trent navigation. Lead abounds on the Sananoqui river, and at Clinton, in the Niagara district; whilst plumbago, now so useful, is abundant throughout the line, where the primary and secondary rocks intersect each other. Mr. Logan, employed by the government, ex cathedra, says there is no coal in Canada; but still it appears that in the Ottawa country it is very possible it may be found, and that, if it is not, Cape Breton and the Gaspé lands will furnish it in abundance; and, as Canada may now fairly be said to be all the North American territory, embraced between the Pacific somewhere about the Columbia river, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, for a political union exists between all these provinces, if an acknowledged one does not, coal will yet be plentiful in Canada.

Canada, thus limited, is now, de facto, ay, and de jure, British North America; and a fair field and a fertile one it is, peopled by a race neither to be frightened nor coaxed out of its birthright.

The advantages of Canada are enormous, much greater, in fact, than they are usually thought to be at home.

The ports of St. John's and of Halifax, without mentioning fifty others, are open all the year round to steamers and sea-going vessels; and when railroads can at all seasons bring their cargoes into Canada proper, then shall we live six months more than during the present torpidity of our long winters. John Bull, transported to interior Canada, is very like a Canadian black bear: he sleeps six months, and growls during the remaining six for his food.

Then, in summer, there is the St. Lawrence covered with ships of all nations, the canals carrying their burthens to the far West and the great Mediterranean's of fresh water, opening a country of unknown resources and extent.

These great seas of Canada have often engaged my thoughts. Tideless, they flow ever onward, to keep up the level of the vast Atlantic, and in themselves are oceans. How is it that the moon, that enormous blister-plaster, does not raise them? Simply because there is some little error in the very accurate computations which give all the regulations of tidal waters to lunar influences.

Barlow, one of the mathematical master-spirits of the age, was bold enough once to doubt this vast power of suction on the part of the ruler of the night; and there were certain wiseacres who, as in the case of Galileo, thought it very religiously dangerous indeed, to attempt to interfere with her privileges.

But, in fact, the phenomenon of the tides is just as easy of explanation by the motion of the earth as it is by the moon's presumed drinking propensities, and, as she is a lady, let us hope she has been belied. The motion of the earth would not affect such narrow bodies of water as the Canadian lakes, but the moon's power of attraction would, if it existed to the extent supposed, be under the necessity of doing it, unless she prefers salt to fresh liquors.

One may venture, now-a-days, to express such a doubt, particularly as Madam Moon is a Pagan deity.

The great lakes are, however, very extraordinary in their way. Let us recollect what I have seen and thought of them.

We will commence with Lake Superior, which is 400 miles in length, 100 miles wide, and 900 feet deep, where it has been sounded. It contains 32,000 square miles of water, and it is 628 feet above the level of the sea.

Lake Michigan is 220 miles long, 60 miles wide, and 1,000 deep, as far as it has been sounded; contains 22,400 square miles, and is 584 feet above tide-water; but it is, in fact, only a large bay of Lake Huron, the grand lake, which is 240 miles long, without it averaging 86 miles in width, also averaging 1,000 feet deep, as far as soundings have been tried, contains 20,400 square miles, and is also about 584 feet above the tidal waters.

Off Saginaw Bay, in this lake, leads have been sunk 1,800 feet, or 1,200 feet below the level of the Atlantic, without finding bottom.

Green Bay, an arm of Michigan, is in itself 106 miles long, 20 miles wide, and contains 2,000 square miles.

Lake St. Clair, 6 feet above Lake Erie, follows Lake Huron; but it is a mere enlargement of the St. Lawrence, of immense size, however, and shallow: it is 20 miles long, 14 wide, 20 feet deep, and contains 360 square miles.

Then comes Lake Erie, the Stormy Lake, which is 240 miles long, 40 miles wide, 408 feet in its deepest part, and contains 9,600 square miles. Lake Erie is 565 feet above tide-water. Its average depth is 85 feet only.

Lake Ontario, the Beautiful Lake, is 180 miles long, 45 miles wide, 500 feet average depth, where sounded successfully, but said to be fathomless in some places, and contains 6,300 square miles. It is 232 feet above the tide of the St. Lawrence.

The Canadian lakes have been computed to contain 1,700 cubic miles of water, or more than half the fresh water on the globe, covering a space of about 93,000 square miles. They extend from west to east over nearly 15 degrees and a half of longitude, with a difference of latitude of about eight and a half degrees, draining a country of not less surface than 400,000 square miles.

The greatest difference is observable between the waters of all these lakes, arising from soil, depth, and shores. Ontario is pure and blue, Erie pure and green, the southern part of Michigan nothing particular. The northern part of Michigan and all Huron are clear, transparent, and full of carbonic gas, so that its water sparkles. But the extraordinary transparency of the waters of all these lakes is very surprising. Those of Huron transmit the rays of light to a great depth, and consequently, having no preponderating solid matters in suspension, an equalization of heat occurs. Dr. Drake ascertained that, at the surface in summer, and at two hundred feet below it, the temperature of the water was 56°.

One of the most curious things on the shallow parts of Huron is to sail or row over the submarine or sublacune mountains, and to feel giddy from fancy, for it is like being in a balloon, so pure and tintless is the water. It is, like Dolland's best telescopes, achromatic.

The lakes are subject in the latter portion of summer to a phenomenon, which long puzzled the settlers; their surface near the shores of bays and inlets are covered by a bright yellow dust, which passed until lately for sulphur, but is now known to be the farina of the pine forests. The atmosphere is so impregnated with it at these seasons, that water-barrels, and vessels holding water in the open air, are covered with a thick scum of bright yellow powder.

A curious oily substance also pervades the waters in autumn, which agglutinates the sand blown over it by the winds, and floats it about in patches. I have never been able to discover the cause of this; perhaps, it is petroleum, or the sand is magnetic iron. Singular currents and differently colored streams also appear, as on the ocean; but, as all the lakes have a fall, no weed gathers, except in the stagnant bays.

The bottom of Ontario is unquestionably salt, and no wonder that it should be so, for all the Canadian lakes were once a sea, and the geological formation of the bed of Ontario is the saliferous rock.

I have often enjoyed on Ontario's shores, where I have usually resided, the grand spectacle which takes place after intense frost. The early morning then exhibits columns of white vapor, like millions of Geysers spouting up to the sky, curling, twisting, shooting upwards, gracefully forming spirals and pyramids, amid the dark ground of the somber heavens, and occasionally giving a peep of little lanes of the dark waters, all else being shrouded in dense mist.

People at home are very apt to despise lakes, perhaps from the usual insipidity of lake poetry, and to imagine that they can exhibit nothing but very placid and tranquil scenery. Lake Erie, the shallowest of the great Canadian fresh-water seas, very soon convinces a traveler to the contrary; for it is the most turbulent and the most troublesome sea I ever embarked upon—a region of vexed waters, to which the Bermoothes of Shakespeare is a trifle; for that is bad enough, but not half so treacherous and so thunder-stormy as Erie.

Huron is an ocean, when in its might; its waves and swells rival those of the Atlantic; and the beautiful Ontario, like many a lovely dame, is not always in a good temper. I once crossed this lake from Niagara to Toronto late in November, in the Great Britain, a steamer capable of holding a thousand men with ease, and during this voyage of thirty-six miles we often wished ourselves anywhere else: the engine, at least one of them, got deranged; the sea was running mountains high; the cargo on deck was washed overboard; gingerbread-work, as the sailors call the ornamental parts of a vessel, went to smash; and, if the remaining engine had failed in getting us under the shelter of the windward shore, it would have been pretty much with us as it was with the poor fellow who went down into one of the deepest shafts of a Swedish mine.

A curious traveler, one of "the inquisitive class," must needs see how the miners descended into these awful depths. He was put into a large bucket, attached to the huge rope, with a guide, and gradually lowered down. When he had got some hundred fathoms or so, he began to feel queer, and look down, down, down. Nothing could he see but darkness visible. He questioned his guide as to how far they were from the bottom, cautiously and nervously. "Oh," said the Swede, "about a mile." "A mile!" replied the Cockney: "shall we ever get there?"—"I don't know," said the guide. "Why, does any accident ever happen?"—"Yes, often."—"How long ago was the last accident, and what was it?"—"Last week, one of our women went down, and when she had got just where we are now, the rope broke."—"Oh, Heaven!" ejaculated the inquisitive traveler, "what happened to her?" The Swede, who did not speak very good English, put the palm of his right hand over that of his left, lifted the upper hand, slapped them together with a clap, and said, most phlegmatically—"Flat as a pankakka."

I once crossed Ontario, in the same direction as that just mentioned, in another steamer, when the beautiful Ontario was in a towering passion. We had a poor fellow in the cabin, who had been a Roman Catholic priest, but who had changed his form of faith. The whole vessel was in commotion; it was impossible for the best sea-legs to hold on; so two or three who were not subject to seasickness got into the cabin, or saloon, as it is called, and grasped any thing in the way. The long dinner-table, at which fifty people could sit down, gave a lee-lurch, and jammed our poor religioner, as Southey so affectedly calls ministers of the word, into a corner, where chairs innumerable were soon piled over him. He abandoned himself to despair; and long and loud were his confessions. On the first lull, we extricated him, and put him into a birth. Every now and then, he would call for the steward, the mate, the captain, the waiters, all in vain, all were busy. At last his cries brought down the good-natured captain. He asked if we were in danger. "Not entirely," was the reply. "What is it does it, captain?"—"Oh," said the skipper, gruffly enough, "we are in the trough of the sea, and something has happened to the engine." "The trough of the say?"—my friend was an Irishman—"the trough of the say? is it that does it, captain?" But the captain was gone.

During the whole storm and the remainder of the voyage, the poor ex-priest asked every body that passed his refuge if we were out of the trough of the say. "I know," said he, "it is the trough of the say does it." No cooking could be performed, and we should have gone dinnerless and supperless to bed, if we had not, by force of steam, got into the mouth of the Niagara river. All became then comparatively tranquil; she moored, and the old Niagara, for that was her name, became steady and at rest. Soon the cooks, stewards, and waiters, were at work, and dinner, tea, and supper, in one meal, gladdened our hearts. The greatest eater, the greatest drinker, and the most confident of us all, was our old friend and companion of the voyage, "the Trough of the Say," as he was ever after called.

Such is tranquil Ontario. I remember a man-of-war, called the Bullfrog, being once very nearly lost in the voyage I have been describing; and never a November passes without several schooners being lost or wrecked upon Lakes Huron, Erie, and Ontario; whilst the largest American steamers on Erie sometimes suffer the same fate. Whenever Superior is much navigated, it will be worse, as the seasons are shorter and more severe there, and the shores iron-bound and mountainous.

Through the Welland Canal there is now a continuous navigation of those lakes for 844 miles; and the St. Lawrence Canal being completed, and the La Chine Locks enlarged at Montreal, there will be a continuous line of shipping from London to the extremity of Lake Superior, embracing an inland voyage on fresh water of upwards of two thousand miles. Very little is required to accomplish an end so desirable.

It has been estimated by the Topographical Board of Washington, that during 1843 the value of the capital of the United States afloat on the four lakes was sixty-five millions of dollars, or about sixteen millions, two hundred thousand pounds sterling; and this did not of course include the British Canadian capital, an idea of which may be formed from the confident assertion that the Lakes have a greater tonnage entering the Canadian ports than that of the whole commerce of Britain with her North American colonies. This is, however, un peu fort. It is now not at all uncommon to see three-masted vessels on Lake Ontario; and one alone, in November last, brought to Kingston a freight of flour which before would have required three of the ordinary schooners to carry, namely, 1500 barrels.

A vessel is also now at Toronto, which is going to try the experiment of sailing from that port to the West Indies and back again; and, as she has been properly constructed to pass the canals, there is no doubt of her success.

Some idea of the immense exertions made by the government to render the Welland Canal available may be formed by the size of the locks at Port Dalhousie, which is the entrance on Lake Ontario. Two of the largest class, in masonry, and of the best quality, have been constructed: they are 200 feet long by 45 wide; the lift of the upper lock is 11, and of the lower, 12, which varies with the level of Lake Ontario, the mitre sill being 12 feet below its ordinary surface. Steamers of the largest class can therefore go to the thriving village of St. Catherine's, in the midst of the granary of Canada.

The La Chine Canal must be enlarged for ship navigation more effectually than it has been. I subjoin a list of colonial shipping for 1844 from Simmonds' "Colonial Magazine."

Number, Tonnage, and Crews of Vessels, Which Belonged to the Several British Plantations in the Year 1844:—

Countries. Vessels. Tons. Crews.
     Malta, 85 15,326 893
     Bathurst, 25 1,169 215
     Sierra Leone, 17 1,148 111
     Cape of Good Hope,      
          Cape Town, 27 3,090 265
          Port Elizabeth, 2 201 10
          Mauritius, 124 12,079 1,413
     Bombay, 113 50,767 3,393
     Cochin, 15 5,674 275
     Tanjore, 33 5,070 257
     Madras, 32 5,474 248
     Malacca, 2 288 13
     Coringa, 17 3,384 126
     Singapore, 13 1,543 289
     Calcutta, 186 51,779 2,004
     Ceylon, 674 30,076 2,696
     Prince of Wales Island, 7 996 51
New Holland—      
     Sydney, 293 28,051 2,128
     Melbourne, 29 1,240 147
     Adelaide, 17 864 60
     Hobart Town, 103 7,153 724
     Launceston, 42 3,150 257
New Zealand—      
     Auckland, 13 305 42
     Wellington, 2 262 32
Countries. Vessels. Tons. Crews.
     Canada, Quebec, 509 45,361 2,590
        "         Montreal, 60 10,097 556
     Cape Breton, Sydney, 369 15,048 1,296
       "          Arichat, 96 4,614 335
     New Brunswick, Miramichi, 81 10,143 509
     St. Andrews, 193 18,391 918
     St. John, 398 63,676 2,480
     Newfoundland, St. John, 847 53,944 4,567
     Nova Scotia, Halifax, 1,657 82,890 5,292
     Liverpool, 31 2,641 163
     Pictou, 60 6,929 354
     Yarmouth, 146 11,724 637
     Prince Edward's Island, 237 13,851 857
West Indies, Antigua, 85 833 220
     Bahama, 140 3,252 587
     Barbadoes, 37 1,640 305
     Berbice, 18 854 89
     Bermuda, 54 3,523 323
     Demerara, 54 2,353 250
     Dominicia, 14 502 85
     Grenada, 48 812 198
Countries. Vessels. Tons. Crews.
Jamaica, Port Antonio 5 95 22
     Antonio Bay, 2 70 13
     Falmouth,, 5 107 29
     Kingston, 68 2,659 359
     Montego Bay, 18 849 105
     Morant Bay, 9 251 51
     Port Maria, 3 86 18
     St. Ann's, 1 20 5
     Savannah la Mar, 3 153 22
     St. Lucca, 2 64 10
Montserrat, 4 100 19
Nevis, 11 178 45
St. Kitts, 35 546 114
S. Lucia, 19 *013 132
St. Vincent, 27 1,164 180
Tobago, 7 182 46
Tortola, 48 277 127
Trinidad, 61 1,832 378
Total, 7,304 592,839 40,659
[* Transribers note: This figure is not correct]

It will be seen, from the foregoing statement, that the tonnage of the vessels belonging to our colonies is about equal to that of the whole of the French mercantile marine, which in 1841 consisted of 592,266 tons—1842, 589,517—1843, 599,707.

The tonnage of the three principal ports of Great Britain in 1844 was:—

London 598,552
Liverpool 307,852
Newcastle 259,571
Total 1,165,975

On Lake Erie, the Canadians have a splendid steamer, the London, Captain Van Allen, and another still larger is building at Chippewa, which is partly owned by government, and so constructed as to carry the mail and to become fitted speedily for warlike purposes.

Lake Ontario swarms with splendid British steam-vessels; but on Lake Huron there is only at present one, called the Waterloo, in the employment of the Canada Company, which runs from Goderich to the new settlements of Owen's Sound.

Propellers now go all the way to St. Joseph's, at the western extremity of Lake Huron; and the trade on this lake and on Michigan is becoming absolutely astonishing. Last year, a return of American and foreign vessels at Chicago, from the commencement of navigation on the 1st of April to the 1st of November only, shows that there arrived 151 steamers, 80 propellers, 10 brigs, and 142 schooners, making a total of 1,078 lake-going vessels, and a like number of departures, not including numerous small craft, engaged in the carrying of wood, staves, ashes, &c., and yet, such was the glut of wheat, that at the latter date 300,000 bushels remained unshipped.

Upwards of a million of money will be expended by the Canadian Government in protecting and securing the transit trade of the lakes; and the Canadians have literally gone ahead of Brother Jonathan, for they have made a ship-canal round the Falls of Niagara, whilst "the most enterprising people on the face of the earth," who are so much in advance of us according to the ideas of some writers, have been, dreaming about it.—So much for the welfare of the earth being co-equal with democratic institutions, à la mode Française!

The American government up to 1844 had spent only 2,100,000 dollars on the same objects, or about half a million sterling, according to the statement of Mr. Whittlesey of Ohio. But that government is actually stirring in another matter, which is of immense future importance, although it appears trivial at this moment, and that is the opening up of Lake Superior, where a new world offers itself.

They have projected a ship-canal round, or rather by the side of the rapids of St. Marie. The length of this canal is said to be only, in actual cutting, three-quarters of a mile, and the whole expense necessary not more than 230,000 dollars, or about £55,000 sterling.

The British government should look in time to this; it owns the other side of the Sault St. Marie, and the Superior country is so rich in timber and minerals that it is called the Denmark of America, whilst a direct access hereafter to the Oregon territory and the Pacific must be opened through the vast chain of lakes towards the Rocky Mountains by way of Selkirk Colony, on the Red River.

1 Since I penned this, a company is forming to work valuable argentiferous copper-mines lately discovered on Lake Superior. The Americans are actually working rich mines of silver, copper, &c.

2 A recent number of "The Scientific American," published in New York, contains the following:—Some of the British officers in Canada have lately made an important discovery of some of the richest copper-mines in the world. This discovery has created great excitement. Some of the officers, en route to England, are now in the city, and will carry with them some specimens of the ore, and among them one piece weighing 2,200 lbs. The ore is very rich, yielding, as we learn, seventy-two per cent. of pure copper. Some of the copper was taken from the bed of a river, and some broken off from a cliff on the banks. The latter is six feet long, four broad, and six inches thick.

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Source: Canada and the Canadians, Volume I, 1849


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