Thursday, 16 March 2017

William McKirdy, Overseer at Nepigon

Mr. William McKirdy, Ontario Government Fishery Overseer at Nepigon

In 1880, William was appointed overseer for the Department of Fisheries, responsible for Lake Nipigon, the Nipigon River and adjacent waters.

 He succeeded Newton Flanagan who had spent half a century as a Hudson’s Bay Company employee before retiring to St. Paul.  Flanagan’s first report from Red Rock concerning the Nipigon Fisheries was made in 1887.  The salary in both cases was $50 per year. [from Elizabeth Arthur, History of Thunder Bay District 1821-1892].

 In the Province of Ontario Sessional Papers Vol XXXIII part 1 Session 1901, reported for Thunder Bay;  Wm. McKirdy, salary, $100, fish overseer for the Nipigon. [ The salary had doubled in 10 years.] The sessional papers also reported; paid to Wm. McKirdy, rental of tents, camping outfits, etc. $39.75.  To pay for supplies, etc., $65.19;  wages to guides and rental of canoes $120.00.  Totalling $221.94.

Submitted by J.G.M. McKirdy  February 2017

Nepigon Trout, the paper 1903

 a paper by William McKirdy, 1903

A paper by Mr. William McKirdy, Ontario Government Fishery Overseer at Nepigon, rad at the annual meeting of the North American Fish and Game Protective Association, held at Ottawa on the 21st and 22nd  January 1903.

The following paper, a carbon copy on yellow copy paper, was found in a file, in a box with other notes and items left by Jack McKirdy, who died in 1979. I (J G M McKirdy) have typed it in without editing, in January 2017.

So much has been written about the Nepigon and its Trout by much abler writers than I, that I feel some diffidence in preparing this paper, but I have the consolation of knowing that each of us handles the subject as it appears to him, and I trust that my paper may present some new colourings and facts that have not appeared to others.

The average size of Nepigon Trout has been for many years two and a half pounds (2-1/2) the largest accredited fish caught on the river, eight and a quarter pounds (8-1/4), although some larger fish have been reported.  To the angler used to fishing other streams, these are extraordinary fish.  In fact, many visiting the stream for the first time have said it was a salmon proposition in the matter of the size of the fish,  and the tackle necessary to hold them, which is really the case.  Nor is it to be wondered at,  that the Nepigon is the home of these beauties.  As the conditions are unique – no more favourable ones could be found in the world – the Brook Trout, in sympathy with these surroundings, have excelled their kind.

Nepigon Lake, the head waters of the St. Lawrence, is some eighty miles long by fifty wide, with a coast line equal to that of Lake Ontario,  the water is of the clearest and (purest), and studded with bold, rocky islands, capped with the stately spruce and graceful birch.  Here the finny tribe thrive, as the lake is filled to overflowing with Whitefish, Lake Trout, (some of the latter have been caught weighing forty pounds) and the last,  but not least important the Brook Trout (Salvalinus fontinalis)  varying with teir surroundings in size and beauty.   It has been stated by old residents on the lake that Brook Trout, weighing from two to twelve pounds have been caught on the spawning beds, and to give an idea of the quantity of these fish, I have mapped out some twenty miles of spawning beds, and in doing so, have only shown a portion of them.  A gentleman traversing the lake during September told me he passed through an extraordinary large school of Brook Trout;  this was before the spawning season, which commences on the Lake about the 15th of October.  Most of the streams emptying into the lake have no trout in them, except in the higher reaches;  there is an exception, however, viz. Sand River, a wide, rapid stream on the Northwest corner.  Here, I understand, the stream is full of these trout, equal in size and beauty to those of the Nepigon River. Lake Nepigon will, no doubt, become a great tourist resort. Its ideal camping places on the numerous islands and beautiful bays,  together with the delightful cool nights in the hottest parts of the season (one can always enjoy a good supply of warm blankets) possessing the charms of nature untrammelled by civilization,  yet within easy reach of modern travel.

The Nepigon River is simply an outlet to the lake, two to four hundred feet wide,  forced in great measure through rocky formations, preserving its clearness while leaping over foaming falls, dancing over surging rapids, losing itself in placid lake expansions,  repeating itself thus as it dashes through towering precipitous rocks, where its deep green water lends a charm that is not easily forgotten in its forty miles’ course to Lake Superior, dropping 250 feet in that distance.

The government has preserved the stream in its beauty, only the necessary camping grounds being cleared for that purpose.  An Overseer is constantly patrolling the river, whose duties are to see that there is no abuse of the fishing privileges, that all camps are kept clean and all refuse burned,  so that when a camp is left by one party, it is in readiness for the next.  His duty is also to facilitate in any way possible,  by information and courtesy, the pleasure of the anglers.  For some years back it has been found that Pike were on the increase, and threatened to do serious damage to the trout.  Last year a raid was made on them in their haunts by netting these places.  Thousands of Pike were caught, of weight varying from four to twenty-five pounds.  I have measured them from four to five feet long.

Your Society aims at preserving the game and fish of America;  I think there is great work for you.  I can look back to the time when I was a boy, and remember the splendid fishing streams  about home, and those days have gone, and so has the fishing, and the work you have undertaken is to produce those conditions as far as possible, and preserve those that are as nature has left them.  It seems to me that if there could be left a small wooded belt along our streams, even a narrow one, this would not interfere with the general utility of the land,  in fact,  would improve it,  and would be the means of preserving our streams to a very great extent.

I have noticed that in every lake and every principal stream ( and smaller ones emptying into it) where Trout ae found that each one has Trout peculiar to itself.  Great care is taken by breeders of cattle and other domestic animals to raise only the best,  why not so the Trout?  And if the Nepigon Trout is the finest and gamest fish in the world,  why not stock our depleted lakes and streams with it?

There are such possibilities for securing spawn known as in Lake Nepigon,  with its miles of spawning grounds.   Nets couyld be thrown around them, and spawn could be secured in quantities to stock America, if necessary.  The Nepigon River is itself one vast spawning bed on all its rapid portions.  I passed over a half mile of water at the foot of Pine Portage where the fish fairly covered the whole stream, shining out with their gorgeous fall colourings, a sight to be remembered.


After reading this Post go back to the previous Post and see the You Tube video of our Nipigon River Before and After the Dams.

Nipigon River photos you tube connection


Friday, 10 February 2017

A Fisherman's Memories of the Nipigon River

A letter to Buzz Lein from F. Stevens - September 2, 1972 - Nipigon Historical Museum Archives

A fisherman's memories of the Nipigon River.

"Dear Buzz:
I was pleased to have your brief note and to see you are still in the same area that is of mutual interest.
Hind sight makes experts of us all and i wish we had the time over again so that a serious attempt could be made to save the Nipigon River as God and Nature created it.
I don't know of any river East of the Rockies that was so well endowed with beauty, exciting force and populated with the fairest fish.
When Hydro decided to build a dam at Pine Portage, none of us figured the loss of the river could be weighed against the benefit to accrue to people from the Hydro dam. They had the right to build it and we took the decision meekly with some protests against the higher cost of delivering wood.
If I had the power and the money, I would remove the dam and try to restore the river to its original condition and I'd try to make every part of it accessible so that everyone could experience the pleasure the river gave.
There are many people who fished the river oftener than I did and who knew it far better. Len Moffat, Corley Wilson, Ray Davies, Jack McKirdy, Bonner, of Bonner's Island, etc. If you have time to talk to Ray Davies, he can tell you of fishing experiences and people better than anyone. Ray is in the eighties and you should not delay in visiting him.
The original Nipigon River was a series of falls, rapids, fast water, lakes. In some places quite narrow with high rocky banks, in others broad as the river widened into lakes.
The fast water was the most fascinating. It was crystal clear green and boiling almost to whiteness with air bubbles created by the tumbling water. It was always ice cold and you could rarely stand in the water more than 20 minutes if you wanted to get clear of the shore to cast.
Most of the fishing was done with casting rods and level wind rolls using hardware such as red and white daredevils, Gapin's Spinner and Cockatouche fly, William's spinner and worms, live cockatouche, minnows, bucktail streamers, black and white and yellow, etc.
I caught my first trout in South Bay at the spawner's shack with Len Moffat, it weighed over 6 lbs. and was caught in late evening on a daredevil casting into shore. There wasn't more than 6 inches of water where the fish struck. Moffat cast right alongside and caught its mate a few seconds later. Next day we caught another off the point above the spawner's shack.
The overflow out of South Bay into what was then Lake Hannah was a unique place. The trout would come in there and lay in the deep water. On a quiet day, you could look down into the water and see as many as 30 to 40 trout, 5 lbs. and up, and they would most of the time ignore any bait you offered.
At some time of the day though, early morning or evening, they would bite and that pool could be a busy place for a while. I caught on 7 and a quarter pound there which would have been a record fish that year, but I gutted it  and didn't enter it in any competition. Scotty Morgan, a papermaker with Great Lakes Paper, used to camp at the overflow a week at a time to fish or use it as a base.
The creek out of the overflow used to contain lots of young specs that were partial to Gapin's Silver Doctor fly. We had Bus Davidson in the river catching them while Withenshaw and I were on shore frying them up as fast as he tossed them to us. There was never a better meal than those trout fried in bacon fat with bread and butter and cold beer.
The best job of fishing I ever saw was from the dam at Virgin Falls. Bus Davidson and Gordon Withenshaw ran through the dam and came back up on the west side anchoring about 40 feet below the dam in fast water. Both were using fly rods with brown cockatouche fly and spinner and both hooked a trout at the same time. The advantage was all with the fish. Gordon lost his almost right away as his trout simply headed downriver and tore out the hook. Davidson managed to turn his fish and thirty-five minutes later he landed his fish, weighing over 6 pounds. It was a spectacle to see him work that fish upstream with white water.
Fishermen have always had a high regard for people who could cast a long distance but in fishing the Nipigon River it meant little and the fellow who got the fish was the one able to think like a fish and didn't use more that 15 feet of line.
If you knew where to look you could spot where the trout were. A tree root into the water used to provide the watching place for a six pounder at Devil's Rapids. He would dart out from the cedar stump and grab food and then go back into shelter. Len Moffat hooked this fellow with 3 feet of line but he took off downstream, jumped a cedar in the water and was gone.
Boulders and centre jams were other good spots. At island Rapids where the launch 'Ghost' used to land there was a large boulder that sheltered a trout that went into Slim Johnson's fish basket. As soon as a trout was caught, in a short time another would move into his spot.
The centre jam at Victoria Rapids and above the Ranger's Pool where the cable bridges were located were good spots to fish. Ray Davies filled his basket many times with 2 to 3 lb. fish above Ranger's Pool.
I always believed that the Nipigon River had a function in the production of trout and in the rejuvenation of them. Fish moved up and down the river and I think the highly oxygenated water of the river had a lot to do with the strength and vigour of the trout. Certainly a river trout fought more fiercely than one in Lake Nipigon.
I caught one 6 lb. trout at the drive camp at White Chutes. I'll never know why he struck my lure because when I opened him up, I found him full of peas and a piece of salt pork that was one and a half inches by four inches by one inch. He had been mooching where the cook had dumped some left-overs in the river.
We considered ourselves lucky if we came back with one or two fish. The fish were there but to get them you had to find them in the mood.
If fishing in Lake Nipigon is finished, you had better get a private eye to find out why. It is too valuable a heritage to be lost or reduced."

A Diverting Experience -Ogoki

Sorry photos didn't copy over for me for this post. I'll sort them out later.
Anthropogenic Changes to a Great Lake Superior

MAN, We Did It!

Changes to the hydraulic features of the Great Lakes have been going on since the early 1800's.

The Lake Michigan Diversion at Chicago ( 1848, 1900, 1928) , is now in the news as they race to keep the Asian Carp from accessing the whole Great Lakes water system.

The Long Lac diversion (1941), and the Ogoki diversion (1943), divert water from the Hudson Bay watershed to Lake Superior.

Long Lac began as an aide to logging operations and then turned into hydro-electric generation. The Ogoki was purely extra water for the Nipigon River power dams at Cameron Falls and Alexander Falls and later Pine Portage. The down-stream power houses on the Great Lakes also benefited.

Between the two diversions flow rate in 1999 averaged 5,600 cubic feet per second and that raised Lake Superior level by + 0.21 of a foot. By the time it p[asses through all the Great Lakes, Lake Ontario raises level by + 0.21 of a foot. The effects change with regulation plans - I am using 1999 rules from Volume No. 136 July 2, 1999 Great Lakes Update, US Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District : Anthropogenic Changes to Great Lakes Water Levels by Frank H. Quinn, Ph D.

In 2007 I was on a site called " Great Lakes Water Wars " that described the Ogoki Diversion. The author was in a DeHavilland Beaver float plane, 150 miles north of Thunder Bay. He watches as the logging roads and cut-overs fade away - then they are flying over "pure unadulterated Canadian wilderness."


"In the middle of nowhere rests a dam."


"It's located in a roadless area!"

The Summit Dam: named because it sits on the divide between Hudson Bay and Lake Superior watersheds.


The Waboose Dam: spans 1700 feet - that's 450 feet longer than the Hoover Dam.

The Summit and Waboose Dams are part of the largest inter-Basin water transfer project built in the Great Lakes.

The Waboose Dam cuts off the Ogoki River, backing it into a reservoir feeding toward the Summit Dam which pours the water at a rate of 4000 cfs toward Lake Nipigon and the Nipigon River power dams and then Lake Superior and the Great Lakes system.

The Ogoki diversion started in 1940 and had its grand opening in 1943. The cost $5,000,000.

From HYDRO NEWS, Volume 30, No. 9, September 1943  Published by The Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario

Editor: William Rattray
The Waboose Dam
"Might and Majesty both find expression in the spectacle of a massive dam,
and water which rushes over sweeping sluice-ways
to roar into a turbulent torrent on the rocks below." photo by W. Rattray 1943

" It was the winter of 1940 when actual construction work commenced. The keen-edged axe of the lumberjack quickly made a clearing in the bush at Ferland where base headquarters were established. In all, approximately 80 miles of roads were built within the Ogoki area to facilitate the movement of equipment and more than 20,000 tons of different kinds of materials which had to be brought from outside. Of that total more than 800 tons were foodstuffs alone."

"Where sand and gravel for the mixing plants had to be trucked, or excavated rock or earth moved from the shovels, short stretches of good gravel road were built. The main winter roads, however, were simply clearings through the forest surfaced with hard-packed snow and ice. Thus cold weather provided smooth-surfaced highways over which heavy sleigh trains could be hauled. When spring came, however, these roads reverted to the forest primeval and became impassible swamp or rocky, stump-studded bush. By using this winter type road many thousands of dollars in construction costs were saved as well as a great deal of valuable time."
"Caterpillar tractors played an important role in Ogoki construction operations.
They were used extensively in moving freight over winter roads
and in hauling loads of rock-fill as shown above. " photo W. Rattray

"With the use of tractors, pulling long strings of freight carrying sleighs, most of the material and equipment was brought in during the winter months ready to commence operations in the spring when the frost released the ground from its icy grip."

" In summer planes were the principal transportation link between the Ferland headquarters and the various camps. One of these planes based at Ombabika Bay, two miles from Ferland, equipped with skiis in the winter time and floats during the summer, carried more than 1,800,000 pounds of freight and nearly 2,000 passengers within the Ogoki area during the construction period."

"Some conception of the magnitude of the task can be formed from the fact that during the construction period nearly 800,000 cubic yards of earth and muskeg and 140,000 cubic yards of rock were taken out by the tireless jaws of the mighty excavation machines."

"Where it was necessary to construct auxiliary earth dams a great deal of fill was also required. When the job was completed there were 65,000 cubic yards of rock fill, 284,000 cubic yards of earth, and 51,000 cubic yards of rip rap used, in the dams which close low spots in the contour."

"These works, combined with other auxiliary dams at Chappais Lake and Snake Creek, which flows into Mojikit Creek from the west, will create a reservoir extending upstream to the west a distance of 30 miles and to the south in Mojikit Lake. The total area of this reservoir or new lake will be 120 square miles of which 78 square miles only will be newly flooded land."
The new lake level is at the top and this shows the fall to Montreal.
page seven Hydro News
"Daily communication between construction camps and
the H.E.P.C. office in Toronto was maintained by shortwave radio.
 Key points at which shortwave radio was installed included
Waboose, Summit and Jackfish.
"This is the new railway bridge which was erected at Jackfish crossing
where the channel had been enlarged to take care of the increased flow of water."
"Houses for the operators have been constructed at both Summit and Waboose dams."
"Otto Holden, chief hydraulic engineer, W. B. Crombie, superintendent of Ogoki diversion constructions and David Forgan, the commission's construction engineer.  Declaring the Ogoki diversion open, Otto Holden smashed a bottle containing Niagara River water against a stop log at Summit control dam. With an  almost inaudible splash, the contents of the bottle mingled with the water below the dam."

International Lake Superior Board of Control Board Meeting  March 9, 2005  Conference Room E  Jacob Javits Federal Building, 25 Federal Plaza, New York City

...Item 3.  Update on Lang Lac and Ogoki Diversions

"Mr. Caldwell reported that Ontario Power Generation provided the Board with an update on the discharges of the Long Lac and Ogoki Diversions. The Ogoki Diversion into Lake Nipigon averaged 129.1 cms (4,560 cfs) during September 2004 - February 2005. The Long Lac Diversion averaged 60.6 cms (2,140 cfs) for the same period. The total diversion was reported to be 135% of average for the reporting period. Water was spilled northward to the Ogoki River from September through February and from Long Lac from September through November."


Secretary of State for External Affairs to Ambassador of United States

note No. X-259  Ottawa, September 29th , 1953

...concerning the Long Lac and Ogoki diversions in Northern Ontario:

"As stated in the Department of External Affairs Notes No. X-125 of May 1, 1952 and No. X-133 of May 7, 1952, the diversions of these Canadian rivers are harnessed to important hydro-electric power developments serving communities and industries in the area which are consequently dependent on them. In spite of co-operation, however, the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario has on occasion made arrangements to reduce or stop the diversions temporarily when such action would serve a useful purpose without serious damage to the interests involved. The Long Lac diversion is directly harnessed to the Aguasabon power plant and continuous use of this water is necessary; but in order to ease the anxiety of interests directly affected by the out-flow from Lake Superior, the diversions have been reduced to a minimum by stopping, temporarily, the entire flow of the larger or Ogoki diversion to the Great Lakes basin."

"With regard to the proposal that the International Joint Commission be requested to give priority to this aspect of the Reference of June 25, 1952, the Reference itself asks the Commission to make recommendations with a view to reducing the fluctuations and to bringing about a more beneficial range of stage of water levels of Lake Ontario."...etc..".Accordingly, no useful purpose would seem to be served in requesting the Commission to digress from the orderly conduct of its work ..."

In 2010 consideration is back on the front burner for a power dam on the Little Jackfish. It has been an on again/off again project for many years.  With so many mill-closures the need for more power is not there, unless they are looking toward The Far North Ring Of Fire business?

Issues in the Forest

Landscape Management, Wildlife Habitat and Biodiversity

Something new in forest management?

No way!

This is from "Forest Operations and Silviculture Manual" prepared under the authority of the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, February 20, 1995. Ministry of Natural Resources for Ontario.

Over a decade before Victoria's Secret turned her models loose with chainsaws - in a most derogatory put-down of our forest workers and managers - this is really what was planned for our forests.

page 30 " Considerable work has been done on this subject (Landscape Management, Wildlife Habitat and Biodiversity), resulting in the recommendation of an ecosystem approach to wildlife habitat management rather than a species - by - species approach."

"The featured-species approach to habitat management is being changed to one which strives more explicitly to conserve biodiversity with methods derived from landscape provide the vegetative mosaic required by all species in the forest."

"This approach will seek to ensure that wildlife habitat requirements of a broad range of species will be met over the long term across large areas... It will not eliminate the need for site-specific prescriptions and critical habitat elements for some species."

In 1996 the Timber Management Guidelines for the Provision of Pine Martin Habitat were completed.

"The provision of martin habitat has potential to provide habitat for other species that depend on mature and over-mature coniferous forests."

"At the forest level the pine martin guidelines suggest maintaining a minimum proportion of each conifer-dominated forest unit in older post-rotation age classes and those older forest conditions are to be maintained in patches of a minimum size.( Rotation = the planned number of years between the regeneration of a stand and its final cutting at maturity.) These areas would ideally be located beside areas of intermediate-aged stands to create "core habitat areas." Wherever possible, core habitat areas would be connected to each other by riparian reserves or unmerchantable areas etc."

"At the stand level, the guidelines speak to the retention of course woody debris (large downed trees) and snags (standing dead or dying trees) as well as live green trees which are expected to become snags later."

Resource Manuals also exist for : Bats 1984; and Woodland Caribou 1996; Furbearer Habitat etc.

By 2014 we will be seeing an Eastern Cougar Habitat Guideline...I kid you not.

Starting in about 2001 the Environment groups tried to stop all logging in Ontario because we were destroying birdnests.(Previous posts – in Blog … have gone over that issue) So, let’s see what the Forest Managers were doing way before that.

The Timber Management Guidelines for the Provision of Pileated Woodpecker Habitat , completed 1996.

Forest Level:

"The pileated woodpecker feeds and breeds in a range of forest conditions, but shows a preference for the mature and over-mature stages of forests dominated by tolerant hardwoods and pine."

Stand Level:

The pileated woodpecker requires dead and dying trees and downed woody debris for feeding, nesting and roosting."

Problem # 1 The Occupational Health and Safety Act requires operators to fell standing dead trees.

Problem # 2 Dying trees are removed preferentially in partial cutting systems.


"To address these concerns, current MNR guidelines require that living cavity trees be kept to provide habitat for primary and secondary cavity users in the tolerant hardwood and pine forests of Central Ontario. (They describe the number and dispersion and characteristics of trees to retain.)"

"Since living cavity trees may not meet all the habitat needs of the pileated woodpecker, MNR will continue to work with the Ministry of Labour to find methods to keep dead standing trees without compromising the safety of woods workers."

Resource Manuals also exist for: Osprey 1983; Forest nesting Accipiters, Buteos and Eagles 1984; Cavity nesting birds 1984; Protection of Heronries 1984; Warblers 1984; Birds of Wetlands 1985; Bald Eagle 1987; Golden Eagle 1987; Peregrine Falcon 1987; Waterfowl; Hawk Guide 1991.

Since that time these may have been upgraded and some amalgamated but I wanted to list them here , in their individual state to show that our loggers and pulp cutters weren't just going out and attacking and slaying and destroying the boreal forest and all the creatures that live there. Even the plants -

"Consideration is being given to providing direction on plant management such as protecting the habitat for uncommon species. For forest operations where ginseng is known to exist prescriptions include maintaining dense crown closure around intermittent streams and seeps, limiting the seasons of operation and minimizing the number of points at which streams and seeps are crossed."

B.Brill essay

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Virgin Falls Dam

Virgin Falls

from the Nipigon Historical Museum Archives

" In 1924, a survey of the proposed damsite was completed.  In 1926, the Commission built a control dam at Virgin Falls, at the outlet of Lake Nipigon, creating the largest storage reservoir in existence at that time, with a capacity of 6,700,000 acre feet. "

"Order-in-Council dated April 25, 1930, approved construction of control dam to maintain Lake Nipigon level of 855; approved amount $486,884.26. The control dam consisted of a concrete pier and stop-log structure (nine sluices, 15 feet deep, 5 feet freeboard) across the main channel together with an additional three sluice ways located in the left bank diversion channel. Total design discharge for the structure was 10,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) at minimum lake level."

"The gravity wall section, right abutment is founded on rock with a top width of 24 inches and downstream batter of 7 and a half to 12. The gravity wall section between channels is also founded on rock, with a 12 inch top width, 7 and a half to 12 downstream batter, with the deeper sections back filled on the downstream side by rock fill ( one and a half to one slope)"

"The Pine Portage project assumed control of Lake Nipigon and all stoplogs were removed from the Virgin Falls dam. During demolition proceedings on the deck, one of the piers was demolished and the structure is no longer in an operational condition."

"Note: License of Occupation 7785 dated November 1, 1963 grants Ontario Hydro the right to occupy and maintain the damsite areas at Virgin Falls and Black Sturgeon in order to regulate the Lake Nipigon level up to  elevation 855 feet. Land involved at Virgin Falls is 5.1 acres and at Black Sturgeon 13.63 acres."