Popular Science Monthly/Volume 27/June 1885/The Mediterranean of Canada
|THE MEDITERRANEAN OF CANADA.|
By J. MACDONALD OXLEY.
IN the month of February last a report was laid before the Parliament of Canada detailing the results of an expedition dispatched by the Government of that country particularly for the purpose of inquiring into the navigability of Hudson Strait and Bay, and, at the same time, of gathering information concerning the resources of that region, and its availability as a field for settled habitation. This report represents the first properly organized attempt that has ever been made to pierce the secrets of Hudson Bay for the public benefit.
It is at first blush not easy to understand why this mighty expanse of water, occupying the peculiarly important position that it does, should remain for so many generations comparatively unexplored, and wholly unutilized, except as a hunting-ground for a few New Bedford whalers, or a medium of easy communication between some half-dozen scattered factories of the Hudson Bay Company. Although called a bay, it is really an inland sea, 1,000 miles in length by 600 in width, having thus an area of about 500,000 square miles, or quite half that of the Mediterranean. It drains an expanse of country spreading out more than 2,000 miles from east to west, and 1,500 from north to south, or an area of 3,000,000 square miles. Into its majestic waters pour feeders which take their rise in the Rocky Mountains on the west and in Labrador on the east, while southward it stretches out its river-roots away below the 49th parallel until they tap the same lake-source which sends a stream into the Gulf of Mexico. Despite its distance northward, its blue waves are never bound by icy fetters, and its broad gateway to the Atlantic is certainly navigable four months out of the year, and possibly all the year round to properly equipped steamships. Its depths abound in finny wealth, from the mammoth whale to the tiny caplin. Its shores are serrated by numerous streams, some navigable for long distances inland, and all stocked with the finest of fresh-water fish, and clothed as to their banks with valuable timber ready for the lumberman's axe. Its islands are rich in mineral ore of many kinds. The country whose margin its tides lave is well adapted for tillage and pasturage, while all around the region swarms with animals and birds whose flesh or fur renders their chase a highly lucrative employment. How comes it, then, that, for all this superabundant endowment, the only population outside the wandering bands of Eskimos and native Indians to be found there to-day gathers in little circles around the company's forts which dot the shore at immense intervals?
The explanation of this apparent enigma is not far to seek. It lies simply in the fact that, until little more than a decade ago, Hudson Bay and vicinity was the subject of a monopoly, which effectually excluded from it all but the employés of a single corporation. It was first visited in 1610 by Henry Hudson, who, after giving his name to the Hudson River, in his rude little bark, well named Discovery, dauntlessly pushed his way thither in search of the mythical northwest passage to the Pacific, and made it both his imperishable monument and his grave. The stories that his mutinous crew took home with them did not prevent other vessels being dispatched on the same hopeless quest, and, if these latter failed to find the northwest passage, they at all events found sufficient cause for the Hudson Bay Company being founded in 1668. This astute corporation, easily obtaining a grant of the bay and its environing territory, together with the most extensive powers from a king who knew nothing of its value, and cared less, forthwith set about excluding all possible rivals from their invaluable fur-preserve. For half a century or more they had a serious obstacle to the execution of their laudable design in the presence of the French, and the bay became the theatre of many a hard-fought conflict.
It was not until, by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, the whole of Hudson Bay was ceded to the British, that the company were left to the undisputed possession of their vast estate—the most stupendous landed property ever owned by one corporation, embracing, as it then did, the entire Northwest of Canada. As the day for violence had gone by, they resorted to a subtler but incomparably more effective method of keeping the country to themselves. The most ingeniously false and distorted accounts were sedulously spread abroad concerning this region. According to them, it was a land of eternal snow and ice, utterly unfit for human settlement. The perils of the passage through the strait were grossly magnified. Preposterous tales were circulated as to the rigors of the climate, the fierceness of the wild animals, and the barbarous character of the inhabitants. The company's efforts were crowned with the most gratifying success. Decade after decade slipped by, and they were still in unquestioned possession, and probably would have continued so to this day, but for their having been bought out in 1870 for the tidy sum of £300,000, by the Canadian Government, to whom, with some reservation, they transferred all their real estate.
With the change of ownership came a complete change in policy. Under the new régime, the great object held in view was no longer to keep the country a solitude, unbroken by the hum of human life, but to ascertain in how far it might be available as a field for settlement. In fulfillment of this policy, Dr. Bell, Assistant Director of the Geological Survey, was sent up there with an exploring party for six successive seasons, and his observations constitute some of the most interesting portions of the reports of that survey. The vast importance of this region rapidly dawned upon the public mind, when it became known that here was an immense range of country, having a temperate climate, a fertile soil, and boundless wealth in forest and mine, awaiting the long-delayed advent of the farmer, the lumberman, and the miner. And not only so, but the phenomenal development of the great Northwest drew attention to Hudson Bay upon another and even more immediately important ground.
Entering as this bay does into the very heart of the continent, and being connected by navigable rivers with a network of great lakes which spreads out until it touches the western boundaries of Manitoba, the keen-eyed farmers of that fertile province espied in it a hopeful solution of the vital problem how they should most cheaply transport their grain to the markets of the Old World. By reference to a map of the northern hemisphere it will at once be seen that the shortest possible route between the Northwest Territories and Europe lies through Hudson Bay. As the result of careful calculations, it has been ascertained that even the city of Winnipeg, which is situated in the extreme southeastern part of these Territories, is at least eight hundred miles nearer to Liverpool, for instance, by the Hudson Bay route, than by the St. Lawrence, while the difference in favor of the former necessarily increases the farther we advance northwestward. If, as Dr. Bell has so clearly pointed out, we take the central point of the agricultural lands of the Northwest, we shall find that the distance from it to Winnipeg is about the same as it is to Churchill, the finest harbor in Hudson Bay. Now, the distance between Churchill and Liverpool is a little less (about sixty-four miles) than it is between Montreal and that great entrepot of commerce. The conclusion consequently is that, as between the above-named center and Liverpool, there is a saving of the whole distance from Winnipeg to Montreal by the use of Hudson Bay. This saving amounts to no less than twelve hundred and ninety-one miles by way of Lake Superior, and sixteen hundred and ninety-eight miles via Chicago.
The translation of miles into dollars and cents is an easy process nowadays, and it has been estimated that the difference in freight in favor of the Hudson Bay route is at least thirty-two cents on each bushel of grain, or, in other words, means an additional profit of over six dollars an acre to the farmers of the West. When this idea had once fairly taken hold of the public mind, a profound interest was awakened, not only throughout Canada, but also in England, where, at the 1880 meeting of the British Association, Sir J. H. Lefroy, President of the Geological Section, hesitated not to affirm that the natural seaports of that vast interior now thrown open to settlement, Manitoba, Keewatin, and the other provinces yet unborn, must be sought in Hudson Bay. The mouth of the Churchill River would undoubtedly be the future shipping-port for the agricultural products of the Northwest, and the route by which immigrants would enter the country. In Canada the subject was brought before Parliament for the first time in 1878, and thenceforth pressed upon its attention every year, until, finally, after a committee had gathered all available information upon the subject, it was decided, at the session of 1884, to dispatch a fully equipped expedition having for it's main object the determination of the one point upon which the whole question rested, namely, whether the bay and strait might be relied upon as safe and serviceable highways of commerce. It was, of course, a matter of general knowledge that these waters had been plowed by keels for two hundred and seventy-four years back; that sailing-vessels of all descriptions, from the pinnace of twenty tons to the seventy-four-gun man-of-war, had passed through the strait and spread their white wings all across the bay; and that Moose Factory had been visited by a supply-ship with unfailing regularity every year since 1735. But facts like these, encouraging as they might be, were not conclusive, because in all cases these vessels had been free to choose their own time for entering and leaving the bay, and they therefore still left the question open as to whether these waters were navigable during a sufficient portion of the year to render possible the development of a great and permanent commerce. In order that there should be successful shipping-ports upon the bay, there must, of course, be railways leading from the interior to these ports, and these railways must be assured of a profitable volume of business during a good long season, or they would never be built. The expedition, therefore, was charged primarily with the duty of affixing the limits of the period of navigation, and at the same time was instructed to gather as much information concerning the climate, resources, flora, fauna, and other features of the region as the limited time at its command would permit.
On the 22d of July last the steamship Neptune, a wooden vessel, built and equipped with special reference to northern navigation in prosecution of the seal-fishery, set forth from the port of Halifax, with the members of the expedition on board. These were some twenty-six in number, Lieutenant Andrew R. Gordon, R. N., of the Meteorological Survey of Canada, being in command, and having with him, in the double capacity of geologist and medical officer, Dr. Robert Bell, whose explorations in the vicinity of Hudson Bay have been already referred to. The rest of the party comprised a photographer, eight observers, three carpenters, and twelve station-men. As the observers and station-men were to be left for the winter, they had each of them been carefully examined by medical authority, and pronounced physically well fitted to withstand the rigors of an Arctic climate.
Sailing up past Capes North and Ray, and thence through the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Strait of Belle Isle, the Neptune coasted along the Labrador shore until reaching Nain on the 29th, where a pause was made in the hopes of securing fur clothing for those who were to remain out all winter, and also an interpreter. Failing in both objects, but experiencing much kindness at the hands of the Moravian missionaries, one of whose principal stations Nain is, the expedition continued on to Nachvak, arriving there on the 1st of August. On the way icebergs were encountered in great numbers, requiring constant vigilance on board the steamship. At Nachvak, which is a post of the Hudson Bay Company, both the fur clothing and the interpreter were readily obtained. The company's agent informed Lieutenant Gordon that the ice takes over the harbor of Nachvak, which is in latitude 59° 10' north, and longitude 63° 30' west, about the middle of November in each year, and, curious to note, has, for the last seven years, at all events broken up within a day of the 26th of June in each year. Off Cape Chudleigh, which is just at the mouth of Hudson Strait, the Neptune was enveloped in a dense fog, which compelled her to lay-to from Sunday until Tuesday morning. Tuesday, however, dawned bright and clear, and, pushing in through Grey Strait, a fine harbor was found that afternoon on the northwestern shore of the cape, at the entrance to Ungava Bay. On the shore of this harbor a site was selected for observing station No. 1, and the place named Port Bur well, in compliment to the observer appointed to that station. As the best and briefest method of indicating the precise nature of the duties devolving upon these observers who were to spend a long and dreary winter at their posts, we herewith transcribe the instructions with which each was furnished:
Instructions to Officers in charge of Stations in Hudson Bay and Strait.—As the primary object of the whole expedition is to ascertain for what period of the year the strait is navigable, all attention is to be paid to the formation, breaking up, and movements of the ice.
Each station is supplied with a sun-dial and time-piece, and the clock is to be tested each day when there is sunshine about noon. A table of corrections is supplied for the reduction of apparent time to local mean time; to this the difference of time will be applied to 75th meridian, all entries being made in the time of this meridian, and observations will be taken regularly at the following times throughout the year, viz., 3h. 08 m., 7 h. 08 m., 11 h. 08 m., a. m. and p. m.
Each morning the sums and means of the observations taken on the previous day will be taken out and checked over; they will then be entered in the abstract-books supplied for the purpose.
After each observation during daylight the observer on duty will take the telescope and carefully examine the strait, writing down at the time all that he sees, stating direction and (when possible) velocity of tide, movement of ice, if any; also describe the condition of the ice, whether much broken up, solid field, etc.
Tidal Observations.—Each day the time and height of high and low water are to be carefully observed, and during the open season the character of the tide will be carefully noted for two days before and three days after the full and change of the moon. For this purpose a post, marked off in feet and fractions of a foot, is to be placed in the water, at low water in some sheltered spot, if any such be available, and the height of the water noted every half-hour during the rise and fall of one tide on each of these days—the height to be noted most carefully every five minutes during the hour of high water and the same at low water; the five-minute observations will also be taken for one hour during the most rapid portion of the rise. Special observations of barometric pressure are to be taken in connection with these tidal observations.
To check the zero-mark for the tidal-observation post, select a spot on shore from which the horizon line will be projected on the tidal post, and record the reading of this line when seen projected on the post by the observer, whose eye is to be placed at a measured height above the datum-point selected on shore.
All remarks in regard to the movements of birds, fish, etc., and also as to the growth of grasses, will be carefully entered.
As it is impossible to give to the officers in charge of stations detailed instructions which would be of service in every contingency which might arise, the officers are required to observe and enforce the following rules:
(a.) Every possible precaution is to be taken against fire, and, as it is anticipated that the temperature can be maintained considerably above the freezing-point inside the houses, two buckets full of water are always to be kept ready for instant use.
(b.) As the successful carrying out of the observations will, in a great measure, depend on the health of the party, the need of exercise is strongly insisted on during the winter months, and also that each member of the party shall partake freely of the lime-juice supplied.
(c.) Each party is supplied with a boat, but, unless some emergency requires it, it must be a rule that neither afloat nor ashore must any of the party leave the station for a greater distance than they can be sure of being able to return the same day.
(d.) As soon as possible after the houses are completed and the stores all in place, the party will set to work collecting sods, grass, or any other non-conducting material, and before the winter sets in the whole house is to be covered with this, boards overlaid, and snow packed over all; the assistance of the Eskimos should, if possible, be obtained, and the whole house arched over with snow.
As will be gathered from the above, the observers' duties, while not onerous, were sufficiently varied and responsible to impart variety and purpose to the otherwise necessarily monotonous and depressing round of existence.
It was intended to place station No. 2 on the lower Savage Islands, at the northern entrance to the strait, and nearly opposite to station No. 1, but a succession of stormy weather prevented success in doing so. The expedition proceeded up the strait to Big Island, North Bluff, where station No. 3 was established, and the place christened Ashe Inlet. The Eskimos in the neighborhood seemed highly delighted at the prospect of having white men near them. Station No. 4 was established at Stupart's Bay, Prince of Wales Sound, across the strait from Ashe Inlet; station No. 5 at Port de Boucherville, Nottingham Island. Other calls were made at Digges Island, near Cape Wolstenholme; at Marble Island, south of Chesterfield Inlet, which was found marked by the presence of nineteen graves and a monument to six other persons who had been drowned; at Churchill, the future Liverpool of the region; at York Factory, the present commercial metropolis of the bay, whence, after a stay of only one day, the return journey was taken up. The several stations were visited in turn, and the finishing touches were given to the preparations for the long Arctic winter. A second attempt was made to establish a station on Resolution Island. Two bays were examined, in both of which the vessel ran unwarned immediately from deep soundings upon the rocks, and the idea was given up. Finally, the Neptune arrived at Port Burwell, on the 27th of September, where, as at all the other stations, it found the observers well, pleased with their work, and satisfied with their provisioning. Thence the expedition returned to St. John's, Newfoundland, where the Neptune was given up to her owner, while the men took passage for Halifax.
The course of this expedition having thus been briefly outlined, it now remains to examine into the results so far as they have been detailed, and consider their bearing upon the important problem sought to be solved; and, first of all, with regard to the navigation of Hudson Strait and Bay. The ice has hitherto been supposed to be the most formidable barrier to the navigation of these waters, but Lieutenant Gordon assures us that under investigation its terror very largely disappears. The ice' met with during the cruise of the Neptune could be divided into three classes—each class having a distinctly separate origin—namely, icebergs from the glaciers of Fox Channel, heavy Arctic ice from the channel itself, and ordinary field-ice, being that formed on the shores of the bay and strait. No icebergs were encountered in Hudson Bay, nor were any reported as having been seen there in the past; but in the strait a good many were seen, principally along the northern shore, where a number were stranded in the coves, while others were met with in mid-channel. Of those seen in the eastern end of the strait, some had undoubtedly come in from Davis Strait, passing between Resolution Island and East Bluff; but all of those met to the westward had come from Fox Channel, as observations made by the observer at North Bluff show that an iceberg coming in sight from the westward will pass out of view to the eastward in from three to four tides, showing an easterly set of upward of ten miles a day. In Lieutenant Gordon's opinion, the icebergs seen in Hudson Strait during August and September would form no greater barriers to navigation than do those met with off the Strait of Belle Isle, nor were they more numerous in the former than they frequently are in the latter waters. The field-ice encountered, although it would have compelled an ordinary iron steamer to go dead-slow, gave no trouble to the Neptune, the vessel running at full speed between the pans, and rarely touching one of them.
In the harbor at Ashe Inlet the ice came in with the flood-tide, and set so fast that the Eskimos were able to walk off to the ship, although she was at least three quarters of a mile from the shore. On the south shore, also, it was much the same; but still no ice was met with through which the steamer could not easily and safely force her way. In the center of the strait, to the east of North Bluff, no field-ice was seen at all, while between Stupart Bay and Salisbury Island long strings of ice were frequently seen; but, as their direction was invariably parallel to the vessel's course, it was only necessary to coast round them. On the homeward voyage none of this field-ice was seen at all. It is a point of no small significance that, upon the testimony of the Eskimos, both at Ashe Inlet and Stupart Bay, the quantity of ice in the strait had been very unusual that year, and the ice had never been known to hang to the shores so late in the season.
After passing the east end of Salisbury Island the ice got heavier and closer, and when off Nottingham Island the pack was so run together that no attempt was made to force the ship through it. Viewed from a hill on Nottingham, the sea in every direction seemed one vast ice-field, in which four vessels could be noted fast prisoners. This ice was of an altogether different type to that which had been hitherto met. In some cases there were sheets of solid blue ice not less than forty feet in thickness, not a mere aggregation of field-ice, but evidently frozen just as it stood. In other places the thickness would be twenty feet, and the general average of the whole field at least five feet. Now, the question as to the origin of this ice, and whether it will be frequently met with in-the strait, is one of paramount importance. Lieutenant Gordon does not consider it possible for ice to form in Fox Channel to a greater thickness than ten feet in a single year, and consequently feels convinced that much of the ice encountered was the accumulation of several years. Ice is well known to be a very poor conductor of heat, and therefore, when once a certain thickness has been formed, the subsequent rate of thickening must be very slow. The depth to which water will freeze has never yet been determined; but measurements of the formation of ice which are to be carefully made at the observing-stations will, no doubt, materially assist in a determination of this important question.
At Churchill the harbor-ice forms, on an average, about the middle of November, and breaks up about the middle of June, and these two dates may therefore be taken as marking the extreme limits of the season during which that harbor may be used.
With regard to the time consumed in making the passage through the strait, it is necessary to note that, had the Neptune gone direct from Cape Chudleigh to Churchill, instead of coasting and working across the strait, there would have been no greater delay on account of the ice than forty-eight hours at the most; but, at the same time, no ordinary iron steamship, built as the modern freight-carrier is, could have got through the heavier ice without incurring serious risk, if not actual disaster.
There is one matter to which Lieutenant Gordon draws attention that will require the serious consideration of mariners navigating these waters, namely, that in working through the strait, especially at the western end, he found the ordinary compass so sluggish as to be practically useless. The Sir William Thomson card, however, worked admirably when properly compensated. The reason of this difficulty with the ordinary compass is that, from the proximity to the magnetic pole, the horizontal directive force of the earth's magnetism, which alone directly affects the compass-needle, is very small compared with the whole magnetic force, and consequently the effect of induced magnetism in the iron of the ship on the compass becomes very large in comparison with the direct action above mentioned, the result being that, in an imperfectly compensated compass, the error due to local attraction is very greatly increased. The means of correcting this error in the Sir William Thomson binnacle are perfect and easily mastered, and the system is such that the compass can, after the first voyage or two, be perfectly compensated by using certain proportions of soft-iron bars and magnets as correctors, the proportion having to be determined by actual observation and experiment on the voyage. All steamships making the voyage through the strait, Lieutenant Gordon therefore concludes, should have one of these compasses as a standard, and the captains should familiarize themselves with the methods of correcting them, and, as opportunity offers, take azimuth observations, both stellar and solar.
Great caution will have to be observed by all vessels approaching the strait in thick weather, owing to the strong southward current there prevailing, which, during the forty-eight hours the Neptune was lying-to, swept her forty miles out of her course by dead-reckoning, showing that the amount of southerly set exceeds that indicated by the Admiralty directions. Then, again, the tides rise to a considerable height, as much as thirty-two feet at springs in some places, and in their fluctuations create tide-races, which have to be taken into consideration and carefully allowed for. Thus at the entrance to Churchill there is a tide-race, the velocity of which was estimated to be not less than seven knots.
In the matter of weather, Hudson Strait would seem to compare very favorably with that great highway of commerce, the Strait of Belle Isle, as the following table, which is for the month of August, clearly indicates:
|Number of days on which fog is recorded||13||9|
|Approximate number of hours of fog||220||102|
|Days on which snow fell||0||4|
|Days on which rain fell||10||8|
|Days on which wind exceeded twenty-five miles per hour, but did not reach forty||6||5|
|Days on which wind exceeded forty miles||2||1|
This is a very favorable showing for Hudson Strait, and it is strengthened by the annexed table, affording a comparison between Station No. 1 at Cape Chudleigh and Belle Isle. This table covers the month of September:
|Number of days on which fog is recorded||7||4|
|Approximate number of hours of fog||82||34|
|Days on which snow fell||3||8|
|Days on which rain fell||15||6|
|Days on which velocity of wind was between twenty-five and forty miles per hour||4||5|
|Days on which velocity of wind was forty miles or over per hour||11||3|
So far as weather is concerned, therefore, Hudson Strait enjoys a decided advantage over Belle Isle Strait, and on that ground, at all events, presents no difficulties of such a character that they can not readily be overcome by experienced, careful navigators.
Those portions of Lieutenant Gordon's report which deal with the resources and trade of the region he visited, interesting and important as they are, must be passed over for the present, while we hasten on to what he has to say concerning its natural history. Before doing so, however, it is worth noting that, although Hudson Bay belongs to Canada, its whale and walrus fisheries have been hitherto enjoyed by the Americans altogether, and the fur-trade has been entirely monopolized by the Hudson Bay Company, so that the Dominion practically obtains no benefit from these vast possessions whatever. Lieutenant Gordon accordingly, very properly, presses upon the Government of Canada the necessity of their turning their attention to this unaccountably neglected field for enterprise and investment, and especially of seeing that its treasures are not prematurely exhausted, but so preserved as to be a permanent source of revenue and profit.
We come now to Lieutenant Gordon's observations upon the natural history of the country, and first of all as to its human inhabitants. These are very scanty, and, with the exception of a few white men at the traders' posts, are solely Eskimos. On the north side of the strait they are quite familiar with the ways of white men, and seem to be highly pleased at the prospect of increased intercourse with them. Occasionally one is met with who has mastered the English tongue, but not often. Many others understand well enough what is said to them in that language, although they can not be persuaded to speak it. They are particularly fond of any article of civilized clothing, and the head-man at North Bluff manifested no small pride at the possession of a stand-up linen collar, which he displayed to the utmost advantage. In character they are docile, amiable, and willing to work. When landing the stores and coal at North Bluff they worked all day along with the men, carrying heavy weights up over the rocks, and toiling away as cheerily and heartily as could be desired, asking no other remuneration than biscuits, of which commodity they are inordinately fond. These people have no farinaceous food of any kind, and, as a consequence, the children are not weaned until they reach the age of three or four years. The families are small, there rarely being more than two or three children, and, although early marriages are the rule, their numbers must be diminishing, because signs of their presence were met with everywhere, while the people themselves were found at only three places along the straits, and there are only some five or six families known to be between Cape Chudleigh and Nachvak. Along the Labrador coast the Eskimos gather in small settlements around the Moravian mission-stations. Nain is considered the largest settlement, and its Eskimo population does not exceed two hundred souls. Those at the stations are all educated, being able to read and write in their own language, and, according to the missionaries, are regular attendants at church, and very fond of music—two excellent and hopeful traits certainly.
Practical prohibition prevails, thanks to the vigilance of the missionaries, and the only liability to temptation that ever falls in the way of an Eskimo is when some unprincipled Newfoundland fisherman offers him a pull out of his flask. This, however, is a rare occurrence, and there is no record of any disturbance or trouble ever having been raised that would elsewhere demand the presence of a policeman for its quelling. The missions are so well managed as to be self-supporting, the modus operandi being for the missionaries to supply the Eskimos on loan with the very best traps, fishing-lines, and other gear, and then to purchase from them all their catch, whether it be seals, cod, salmon, furs, or anything else. A vessel which comes out from London every year transports the stock thus accumulated to London, where it is sold for the benefit of the mission, and in this way a considerable income is secured annually. In reference to the work thus carried on by the missionaries, Lieutenant Gordon pays them a well deserved compliment by giving it as his opinion that their system of dealing with the natives, when honorably carried out, as it has been, and is on the Labrador coast, is the one which best meets the wants of the natives, and tends to the improvement of their condition.
So much has been said by Arctic explorers about the incorrigible kleptomania of the natives they encountered, that we read with no less surprise than gratification this testimony as to the moral condition of the Eskimos at Hudson Strait: "One word may be said in regard to their honesty. Although scraps of iron and wood possess a value to them which we can hardly appreciate, they would take nothing without first asking permission; not even a chip or broken nail was taken without their first coming to the officer who was on duty at the building for permission to take it."
In the matter of animals, the Hudson Bay region is quite as scantily supplied as it is in human inhabitants, the list of terrestrial mammalia comprising only four species, namely, the polar bear, the fox, the hare, and the reindeer. The skin of the polar bear is quite valuable, a good one bringing twelve dollars with the agents of the Hudson Bay Company. These animals, although reported by the Eskimos to be very savage, will not, as a rule, attack human beings unless first wounded or rendered desperate by hunger, under which circumstances any beast of prey becomes an undesirable neighbor. The Eskimos on the south side of the strait stated that, at certain times of the year, there were large numbers of these animals seen. Their meat is not unpalatable, but the liver is said to be poisonous. Of foxes there are three kinds found, to wit, the white, the blue, and the red. The white species would seem to be very numerous, judging from the number of skins seen with the natives. These skins, however, have no commercial value. The blue fox is properly of a steel-gray color. The skins are in good demand; but the animals are not at all numerous. As to the red fox, its sole value consists in the fact that its presence indicates the "possibility of that most precious of all pelts—a black fox's—being somewhere in the vicinity. This species is met with on the south side of the strait, and black foxes are annually shot or trapped in the country south of Cape Chudleigh. The most important and beneficent of all the animals of the country, however, is the reindeer, which furnishes food and clothing, and much more, too, for its Eskimo master. The hare is common over the whole coast, and with game-birds of many kinds—geese, swans, duck, and ptarmigan—will no doubt furnish many a toothsome dish for the tables of the men at the various stations.
Having thus traversed the whole ground sought to be covered by the expedition, Lieutenant Gordon brings his admirable report to a close with some suggestions to the Government as to what should be done during the coming season. While much, no doubt, will be learned from the observations taken during this winter as to the formation and breaking up of the ice and generally in regard to its movements, and also of the other phenomena affecting navigation, it would be manifestly impossible to state definitively from one year's observations what the average period of the navigability of the strait might be. In order to do this, the stations should be maintained for a second or even a third year.
The question, therefore, as to whether the navigable season of the strait is sufficiently long to permit of an extensive commerce growing up and being profitably maintained, remains still an open one, and must do so for perhaps a year or two more. Yet, in view of what has been already ascertained, it certainly seems as if the probabilities were all in favor of the Hudson Bay route being found practicable, and pressed into the world's service at no very distant day.
The era of sailing-vessels is rapidly passing away. The freight-carriers between the continents will ere long be exclusively steamships, and to steamships properly adapted for the work the passage of Hudson Strait has been clearly shown to be perfectly feasible and free from danger. The matter has resolved itself down to this single point: For how many months may a steamship navigate those waters? And even if the answer, deduced from the observations taken at the stations now established, be that these months are too few to make the route pay, Lieutenant Gordon's expedition will not have been undertaken in vain, for it has thrown a flood of light upon a region hitherto comparatively unknown, and has opened Canadian eyes to the fact that here, right in the heart of their own territory, they possess sources of wealth, both in the seas and on the land, requiring nothing but a little enterprise and capital to yield the most satisfactory returns. In the bay and adjacent waters the whale, porpoise, walrus, narwhal, seal, salmon, trout, and cod are ready at the summons of hook and harpoon to make substantial contribution to the national wealth. Upon the shore and throughout the islands minerals without number and forests without limit await the lumberman and the miner.