Monday, 30 July 2012



Cameron Falls Dam construction

Cameron Falls Dam construction

NMP 1013
Hydro boat above now completed Cameron Falls Dam

School house and Recreation Hall at Cameron Falls
Bernice Watson photo 1939

School at Hydro (Cameron Falls), January 1926

Cameron Falls , Hydro, Ontario

Bernice Watson Duncan photo c. 1921
Cameron Falls Dam

Alexander Falls Dam 1936
Bernice Watson Duncan photo

Dog team Mail carrier Nipigon to Hydro-
(Cameron Falls), Spring 1937
E.C. Everett photo

Cameron Falls Dam construction

Cameron Falls Community Hall - 1938

Looking downstream from Cameron Falls
during the construction period.

Cameron Falls Power Generating Station


Fred McIntyre photo  NMP 1006
Nipigon Causeway Construction

Dr Herman Bryan
Nipigon Tramway Dinky Engine
circa 1908-1910

Nipigon Causeway construction
Fred McIntyre photo
NMP 1005

Engineer cabin somewhere on the North Trans-continental Railway construction
Clyde MacDiarmid Photo NMP1039

Unknown railway station T.C.R. circa 1913
Clyde MacDiarmid photo
copied by L.M.Lein 1978

Causeway completed, showing Lagoon
 created from Nipigon River cut-off.
C.N.R. construction

NMP 1003
Nipigon Causeway Construction
Photo: Fred McIntyre
Dominion Construction Co.

NMP 1004
Fred McIntyre photo
Nipigon Causeway construction

NMP 1065
Mr. and mrs. Clyde MacDiarmid circ 1913
North Transcontinental Ry. construction in North Central Ontario
Clyde MacDiarmid photo
copied by L.M.Lein June 1978

Mrs. Alice Ateill photo
Old Bridge over CNR  at Nipigon Marina

Mrs. Alice Atwill photo
Nipigon Causeway
Lagoon left and Harbour right

Clyde MacDiarmid home on T.C.R. construction about 1913
Clyde MacDiarmid photo
copied by L.M. Lein 1978

T.C.R. construction, N. Central Ontario
Sawmill set-up circa 1913
Clyde MacDiarmid photo
copied by L.M. Lein 1978

North Central Ontario T.C.R. construction
Clyde MacDiarmid photo
copied by L.M.Lein, June 1978

Standard log cabin
T.C.R. construction, North Central Ontario
Clyde MacDiarmid photo
copied by L.M.Lein June 1978

T.C.R. construction N. Central Ontario
C. MacDiarmid second from left.
Clyde MacDiarmid photo circa 1913
copied by L.M. Lein June 1978

Moving dirt, North Transcontinental Railway construction 1913
location not known
Clyde MacDiarmid photo
copied by L.M. Lein, June 1978

Double track CP and CN along the Nipigon River/Bay
between Nipigon and Red Rock

Clyde MacDiarmid photo 1913





Sunday, 29 July 2012

The Nipigon Tramway, Conclusion

By the late Mr. John Todd from "Canadian Rail", No. 309, October 1977
The Canadian Railroad History Association
Re-printed in Nipigon Historical Museum Souvenir Edition newspaper June 1982

The Canadian Pacific built a siding, or more correctly, a spur from its main line to the warehouses alongside the narrow-gauge railway, where construction materials and supplies were interchanged. Rails for the National Trans-continental were also unloaded here for trans-shipment onto the narrow-gauge cars. In 1906 a large dredge was busily engaged in deepening the channel into Nipigon Bay, so that the larger lake freighters, laden with rails, could tie up alongside the wharf.

At each rail-water interface point on the narrow-gauge, loading ramps, each with three tracks, were built so that the loaded or empty cars could be run on and off the scows. Each of the three tracks on the scows held three cars, for a total of nine cars per scow.

Passengers were also transported on the tug boats. For the rail portion of each journey, passengers enjoyed the rocky ride over the portage railway in a closed-in car with longitudinal benches, the capacity of this vehicle not being known.

An alternate route to the construction site, via Windigo Bay on the northwest side of Lake Nipigon, involved traversing a formidably rough terrain and only light supplies were brought in to the NTR location over this route.

 "Ombabika" in the Ogibway language means " a high rock cliff rising up from the edge of the river".

When the winter freeze-up arrived, the tote-road from Nipigon again was used to transport the essential supplies north to the construction sites.

In 1906, at Nipigon, two old, rival fur-trading companies, the Hudson's Bay Company and Revillon Freres, were located side by side. Both firms were still engaging in competition for the furs of the local Indians and trappers. A little further up the town's main street these was a store operated by William McKirdy, an old Hudson's Bay man who competed successfully for local furs with his two powerful rivals.

Wholesale businesses established branches in Nipigon to supply contractors with groceries and hardware. A branch of the Bank of Ottawa was soon opened to transact the business offered by the contractors, among whom were Messrs. Chambers, McQuaig, McCaffrey and Russell. This company later built the rock breakwaters in the harbour at Port Arthur.

Many other business establishments were soon opened in the town, including hotels, restaurants, stores and a barber shop.  All of them, including the last one names, did a thriving business.

Government survey crews for the National Transcontinental project passed through Nipigon in the autumn of 1903. From there, they went by boat to the north end of Lake Nipigon, where they began running trial locations for the railway. The route finally selected was similar to that recommended by Sanford Fleming for the Pacific Railway nearly 35 years before.

An engineering headquarters was built at Nipigon in 1904 to service Division E civil engineers of the National Transcontinental Railway, which ran easterly from English River to today's town of Hearst. Mr. T.S. Armstrong was the chief engineer.

Messrs. O'Brien, Fowler and Macdougall Limited were awarded two contracts, amounting to 150 miles of railway immediately to the east of the point where the  GTP branch to Fort William left the main line. This point had been named Superior Junction, for the obvious reasons. E.F. and G.E. Faquier Limited were also awarded two contracts, one for the 75 - mile section eastward from Lake Nipigon to Grant and the other 100 miles westward from Abitibi Crossing, the crossing of the Abitibi River in the remote northeastern Ontario.

Transporting equipment and supplies into this remote region north of Lake Nipigon posed a big problem for the contractors. Winter tote-roads were built from various locations on the Canadian Pacific Railway. Teams of horses hauled supplies to the construction sites, usually about 100 miles to the north. Dog-teams also proved to be useful. In summer, the Nipigon water route provided the best means of transport. The problem of portaging the many rapids on the upper Nipigon River was resolved by building an 18 mile , three-foot gauge tramway. Its construction and operation was undertaken by the Nipigon Construction Company and was called the Nipigon Tramway.

At Nipigon on Lake Superior, a large wharf and warehouse were built underneath and upstream from the Canadian Pacific's high bridge over the river. All the supplies for the construction camps were loaded onto the narrow-gauge flat cars, which in turn were loaded onto a scow or primitive car-ferry for the three-hour trip up Lake Helen and the Nipigon River to Alexander Landing (or Alexander Point), a distance of 12 miles. The loaded cars were here run off the scow to the "main-line" of the narrow-gauge, and hauled 18 miles by a diminutive "donkey-engine" (0-4-0 saddle-tank) to South Bay at the South end of Lake Nipigon.

The loaded cars were stored here in warehouses, until the second part of the trip was begun. The cars were loaded again onto the primitive car-ferries for the 70-mile trip to the northern depot on Ombabika Bay. The cars were rolled off the scows to the second part of the "main-line" and hauled two miles further north to the construction site, now the town of Ferland on the Canadian National Railways' Caramat S/D/.

Two steam tugs were used to push the scows up the lake: they were the "Ombabika" and the "Pewabic", both built as lake fishing boats about 1901.  The steam tug "Nipigon" was used to push the scows on Lake Helen-Nipigon River run and a small tug alongside the scow helped to guide it through the fast-flowing, turbulent waters.

The return trip from Ombabika Bay, with empty cars on the car-float, was made at a much faster speed. On arrival at the southern terminal, the cars were hauled off the scow by horse power and taken to the warehouses, where they were reloaded as quickly as possible for another trip up the lake. Hay and oats for the horses, coal for the steam engines, track-building material, commissary's supplies and other associated items were rushed up the lake before freeze-up in the fall of 1908.

During the building of the Canadian Northern, headquarters were established at Nipigon by the surveyors; Foley Brothers, Welch and Stewart also had their headquarters there. The Nipigon River route and narrow - gauge tramway were again used to transport equipment and supplies to the construction sites along the Nipigon River and Orient Bay. As a consequence the town of Nipigon continued to prosper during this second period of railway building.

Contracts for the new railway were awarded to Foley Brothers, Welch and Stewart and construction started in the spring of 1911. Rapid progress was made, steel laying being started at Port Arther in June 1912.

The location chosen followed Nipigon Bay from a point just north of Red Rock to the town of Nipigon. Here, the Canadian Pacific right-of-way hugged the shoreline at the base of a high, rocky bluff and there was just no room for another right-of-way. To over-come this obstacle, the Canadian Northern built a retaining wall close to the Lake's shoreline and filled the space between it and the rocky shore with a huge amount of rock fill, dredged from the lake and brought in from other locations. At Nipigon , the new line crossed a lagoon on a causeway, which also required a very large amount of fill.

 On January 1, 1914, Sir William MacKenzie drove the last spike in this section at Little White Otter River, 254 miles east of Port Arthur. Ballasting was still incomplete and it was October before a freight service was started between Toronto and Port Arthur.

Friday, 27 July 2012


By the late John Todd, Canadian Rail No. 309, October 1977
The Canadian Railroad History Association

Reprinted from the Nipigon Historical Museum Welcome Newspaper, June 1982

If you pick up a modern map of the remote territory north of the most northerly portion of Lake Superior in eastern Canada, you will find several geographical features all having the same name. There is (was) Nipigon Provincial Park, then Lake nipigon, followed by the Nipigon River and, last but not least , the town of Nipigon, located on a sheltered Bay on the north shore of lake Superior at the mouth of the Nipigon River, mile 63.3 on the Nipigon S/D of CP Rail. The town of Nipigon has a very important claim to fame in Canadian history: it played an important role in the building of all three Canadian trans-continental railways.

In the spring of 1871, Sanford Fleming, Chief Engineer of government surveys for the proposed Pacific Railway, sent a party of surveyors to the Nipigon region. Mr. J.C. Johnson, engineer in charge of the party, had instructions to locate a practical route for a railway running east to west from a point about 20 miles north of Lake Nipigon, which would have easy grades and light engineering works. At the time, a location along the high, rocky northern shore of Lake Superior was not considered feasible.

Mr. Johnson's party came up to the mouth of the Nipigon River by side-wheel steamboat from Collingwood on Nottawasaga Bay, an indentation off Georgian Bay in Lake Huron. A camp was set up at the Hudson's Bay Company post, where the party spent a few days waiting for the supply boats, which were Ottawa River lumberman's batteaux, 40 or 50 feet long. Soon after these batteaux arrived, the party set out up the Nipigon River for about 30 miles. The batteaux had to be dragged over the portages which by-passed the many rapids in the river. On reaching Lake Nipigon's South Bay, a sailing boat was engaged to take the party of 38 men and a dog up the lake to the north end, a distance of about 60 miles.

From a point north of the Lake , the surveyors set about running a location eastward, to meet with another line being run westward by H.W.D. Armstrong's party, the latter having made their way up the Pic River from Lake Superior, near the location of today's Heron Bay.

An inefficient Commissariat in the government's offices in Ottawa failed to follow up with the necessary supplies and dwindling rations forced Johnson's party to turn back in October. The 110 mile return trip was made in four days, with only wild rose hips and swamp water for sustenance. Coming down the Ombabika River into Lake Nipigon, the surveyors met a motley crowd of Indian canoeists, with whom they traded scarlet shirts for whitefish, which they needed worse than the shirts. After much haggling, birch-bark canoes were secured and the trip down the river to the supply base on Ombabika Bay of Lake Nipigon continued.

When they reached the base, the party expected to find provisions. They found hundreds of barrels of sugar, but little else. One engineer, J.H. E. Secretan, and an Indian decided to continue the return journey by canoe, but the Lake was so rough that they had to paddle south hugging the shoreline to Flat Rock Portage Depot on South Bay, a two-day journey. Here ample provisions were available.

The remaining members of the Johnson survey team came down Lake Nipigon on the down-bound government Commissariat boats. Henry Armstrong's men were also forced to return to Lake Superior via the Pic River, as they, too, had exhausted their supplies.

During the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway through the region in 1883-1885, Nipigon, town-site, river and Lake, were important links in the supply route to the railway location. Contractor's equipment, construction material and supplies for the gangs were unloaded at Nipigon and at other points on Nipigon Bay, the shoreline of which was closely followed by the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Various chroniclers subsequently gave credit for the completion of this difficult stretch of railway to various people. W.C. (later Sir William) Van Horne was probably most famous as the chief "expediter" for the construction and railway historians and others have acknowledged his remarkable accomplishment. On the other hand, there are those who contend that, without the final subsidy made available to the railway in the critical period of early 1885 by Canada's federal government, it could not have been completed. Therefore, these historians credit Sir John A. MacDonald, Prime Minister of Canada in that year, as being responsible for the completion of Canada's first railway from Montreal to Port Moody, British Columbia.

Scarcely a year after the turn of the century, the occupation of Western Canada was in full swing. Sir Wilfred Laurier, leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister at the time, was not unaware of this situation; he was, however, more acutely conscious of the fact that in that year Manitoba would for the first time harvest 50 million bushels of wheat and there was but one railway to transport it to either the Lakehead or the Pacific Coast. Sir Wilfred, it is said, was motivated by economic necessity, political inducements and personal vanity to consider most seriously a second trans-continental railway, to run north of the Canadian Pacific from Quebec to a port on the Strait of Georgia north of Vancouver. The new railway would also act as a development line, opening up vast areas to settlement, thus assuring Sir Wilfred of a permanent place in the history of the development of the country.

While the concept may have been valid, it took lengthy negotiations and a few years before an agreement was reached with the then powerful Grand Trunk Railway Company of Canada, which had been selected to operate the new railway. It was finally agreed that the Government of Canada would build the eastern section of the National Trans-continental Railway, from Moncton, New Brunswick, via Quebec to Winnipeg, a little more than 1,800 miles. The Government  would upon completion, lease the line to the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway for 50 years at an annual rental of 3% on the cost of construction. This turned out to be a bad bargain for the parent company, the GTR.

The western portion, from Winnipeg to Prince Rupert, on an inlet off Chatham Sound, was to be constructed by Grand Trunk Railway Company and was to be completed by December 1, 1908. It was to be built to standards equivalent to the GTR mainline between Montreal and Toronto. The Canadian Government would guarantee cost of construction and interest to a maximum of 75% of the construction bonds issued by the GTP, such bonds to be limited to $13,000 per mile on the prairies and $30,000 per mile on the mountain section.

continued next post : the Nipigon part

Thursday, 26 July 2012

"A TALE OF TWO POSTS" conclusion

A 1982 lecture by David W. Arthurs, Field Archaeologist  for the North Central Region of the Historical Planning and Research Branch of the then Ministry of Culture and Recreation

continued from previous post...WAPISCOGAMY HOUSE AND RED ROCK HOUSE  and the early and late Hudson's Bay Company Fur Trade in Northern Ontario

As you will see, though the history of this post (Wapiscogamy House) parallels remarkably that of the next one, I'm going to talk about, the century that elapsed between their periods of construction had several major effects on the Hudson's Bay Company's approach to the fur trade.

We move now to the latter part of the 19th century, and to the HBC's operation in the Lake Superior area. Lake Superior had, of course, figured prominently in the French and North West Company fur trades. There were several posts along the shore, through the fur trade period, including those at Michipicoten, Pic River, Nipigon and Thunder Bay.

Perhaps the most important of these was Fort William at the mouth of the Kaministikwia River, the great inland headquarters of the North West Company.

Although the HBC continued to operate the post after the 1821 coalition with the N.W.C., in the mid to late 1800's, it was a mere shadow of its former greatness.

It was but one of a series of HBC posts, which included those at Michipicotin, Red Rock, Pays Plat, Pic and other spots along the shore at the mouth of the major rivers leading into the interior.

By the mid 19th century, a sophisticated transportation network had been developed on Lake Superior. Though large canoes were still in use, since the late 1830's the HBC had employed schooners, the Whitefish and later the Isobel, to carry goods among the north shore posts. This may be the Isobel docked at Fort William in the 1860's - symbolically, a steamer appears on the horizon, heralding the days of steamer transport in the Superior region in the second half of the century. (as before - no photos are in our Archives to go with this lecture)

Although archaeologists and historians have done much research with Fort William and Michipicoten, surprisingly little attention has been paid to another post on the north shore, that in many ways typifies the later stages of the fir trade in the region. It is Red Rock House, at the mouth of the Nipigon River.

The post gets its name from the distinctive red and cream sedimentary rock that forms the cliffs at the mouth of the river it is a spot sacred to native people - somewhere hidden in the hills is an ancient quarry where stone was obtained to carve pipes and along the cliffs are pictographs - hundreds of symbols, one of only 5 known rock art sites on Lake Superior - and perhaps the largest.

The most impressive figure is that of the mythical creature Maymaygweshi (or Rock Medicine Man) who guards the entrance to the Nipigon River.

Red Rock House began in 1859, as a couple of rough log buildings located along a small harbour on the river at the present site of the Nipigon Docks. A safe haven, at first for the HBC schooners Whitefish and Isobel, and later for steamboat traffic, the post was gradually to gain importance as a trans-shipment centre, located as it was on the important Nipigon River route to the interior. Originally, paralleling Wapiscogamy House somewhat, Red Rock House was established as an outpost to guard against the encroachment of American traders from the South Superior shore. It did little trade originally, but guarded the access to the valuable lake Nipigon country. From Red Rock House, canoe and boat brigades began the arduous journey up the River to Nipigon House a major HBC post located on the north west shore of Lake Nipigon.

The growth of the post was slow until the early 1870's. The CPR survey crews operated in the area in 1872-3 and rumours began to spread that Red Rock House was being considered as the site of the railhead, from which goods brought by steamer from Sault Ste. Marie would be distributed to the west.

The Chief Trader at the time, Robert Crawford, rapidly set about upgrading the post facilities, to include dock facilities, warehouses, and commodious officer's quarters. A spacious dwelling house was constructed at a cost of $5,000 with gingerbread under the eaves in the style of southern Ontario Georgian farmhouses.

Unfortunately, the people of Prince Arthur's Landing, through their political connections, had the present site of Thunder Bay chosen as the terminal. This dealt the death blow to the improvement of Red Rock House, and Crawford, who had gone against the wishes of the Honourable Company, was unceremoniously transferred to Ungava, where there was no wood for building material!

The construction of the railway across the north shore in the 1880's led to the collapse of the post as a distinct entity. The establishment of the station, and of several stores at the town plot, some distance from the post, took away from the retail business. For several years the post masters argued with the Company that a store should be established near the station. This was finally accomplished in 1899, and the empty buildings, being sadly in need of repair, were rented out to commercial fishermen. Although the HBC remains in Nipigon to this day (1982) the post faded away at the turn of the century, to be replaced by fishing concerns. (2012 HBC no longer in Nipigon).

One of the more interesting structures at the site was the stone powder magazine. Stone buildings of 19th century vintage are uncommon in this part of the world - the only other one, at Fort William, was torn down in the early 1900's.

There are references to the building in the archival documents as early as 1888, however, the date of its construction remains unknown.

We began our investigations of the building this past summer, with the hope of establishing its construction date, and of gathering data concerning the methods of construction.

The project was all the more urgent as during the construction of the new dock facilities the winter before, a bulldozer had seriously damaged the foundation walls at the time it stood almost a metre high. WE gridded off the area in 1 metre units, and selected the four intersecting the corners of the building.

The layers of soil surrounding the foundation were peeled away 3 cm. at a time, the location of artifacts plotted on graph paper, and soil removed passed through a screen to recover artifacts missed in trowelling.

As each unit was completed, a scaled profile was prepared for each wall of the excavation, and of the foundations themselves. Although we had hoped to recover artifacts such as china or glassware that would assist us in dating the structure, artifact recoveries were disappointingly few. We did gain some insights into the construction of the building not to be gotten from studying the photographs, or from the archival documents.

The build  had been constructed of roughly trimmed blocks of the red sedimentary rock, available in the cliffs across the river from the site. These were held together with a coarse mortar. The interior of the building appears to have had a plaster of mortar, presumably to make it less damp. The floor appears to have been packed clay.

It had a roof of wood, to which sheets of metal had been tacked to retard the spread of fire. The rafters were set on rough hewn timbers fastened together at the corners with tongue and groove, that rested on the stone walls.

The most interesting aspect of the building was the foundations. They were set in a trench dug into the sandy sub-soil, large rocks and wooden planking had been laid in the bottom of the trench presumably to serve as footings to stabilize the walls as they were erected. The trench was then backfilled to the original ground level.

Although the excavations are not yet complete, we now have a fair idea of how this building was constructed. Though we are not certain of the date of construction, the plate cut nails in the structure to indicate a late 19th century construction date. By amalgamating the archaeological archival and photographic data, we will have a larger body of information on this late 19th century powder magazine.

To sum up, I've tried to give an outline of the early and late fur trade in Northeastern and North Central Ontario. There are several comparisons and contrasts that may be made - Wapiscogamy House was one of the first inland posts in the area, as Red Rock was one of the last. Both began as outposts, top protect the HBC trade and serve as jumping off points in a transportation network that, as it developed in sophistication, led them to become important posts in their own right both eventually declined, directly or indirectly as a result of improved inland transportation and finally the coming of the railway. One was fortified mainly to guard against attacking Indians and the traders of the competition, but probably also as a means of giving sense of security to the men who lived there so far from home. The other was unfortified and in territory that was gradually being settled. It was gradually absorbed into the expanding community that was to become the town of Nipigon


A 1982 lecture by  Field Archaeologist David W. Arthurs of the North Central Region Historical Planning and Research Branch of the then Ministry of Culture and Recreation -

"A Tale of Two Posts - Wapiscogamy House and Red Rock House, and the Early and Late Hudson's Bay Company Fur Trade in Northern Ontario"

I'd like to talk tonight about the fur trade in two areas of northern Ontario - one the Moose-Missinaibi River System in north eastern Ontario, and the other the north shore of lake Superior. The two posts that I'll be referring to - Wapiscogamy and Red Rock House - are widely separated in time and space, but there are several recurrent themes that bind them together, and I'd like to attempt to compare and contrast them. The Missinaibi posts represent the very inception of the Hudson's Bay Company's attempts at establishing an inland trade network, while the north shore posts represents the waning years of the fur trade in the late 19th century. What I'll be presenting tonight is based on both archaeological survey and excavation, and several hundred hours of work in the HBC Archives in Winnipeg, and is the first time much of anything has been done on either post.


In the summer of 1976 I conducted an inventory survey of a 500 km stretch of the Moose Missinaibi River system, between Missinaibi Lake and moose River Crossing, about 150 km inland from James Bay. A great deal of our time was spent working at Brunswick Lake, and at the mouth of the Pivabiska River at the site of Wapiscogamy House.

Missinaibi Lake, at the head of the system, on the height of land dividing the Superior watershed from James Bay drainage, is extremely rich archaeologically, with a broad range of prehistoric and historic native cultures represented. These are the famous rock paintings of Fairy Point. (No photos accompanied this document in our archives, sorry)

The river corridor below the lake, however, is surprisingly meagre in prehistoric sites. The majority of sites we located during our survey were historic period sites related to the fur trade, including the sites of four major posts for the Missinaibi was a popular transportation route between James bay and Lake Superior during the Fur Trade, as it is today for recreational canoeists.

The most important post on the system, and one of the key HBC posts in North America, was Moose Fort, later Moose Factory, at the mouth of the river on James Bay. Erected in 1673, it played a major role in the Canadian Fur Trade.

For nearly a century the HBC had successfully encouraged native peoples to bring their furs down to the Bay to trade, and had taken little effort to explore the vast hinterland to the south.  However, by the late 1700's the French, and their successors the Canadian Pedlacs (?) on Lake Superior were beginning to have a serious impact on the Bayside trade, notably by attracting the Indians to their establishments at the mouth of the Michipicoten River. It was far simpler for native people hunting in the fur lands north of Superior to go there than to make the arduous trip down to the Bay to trade. After several years of debate, the HBC abandoned its Bayside policy, and made attempts to penetrate inland. This was no easy task. The first inland port, at the Albany Forks, failed, and it was several years before another attempt was made.

In October of 1776, a small group left Moose Fort and paddled up the Moose River, with the intentions of establishing a small outpost to serve as a halfway town for the provisioning of an inland post closer to the height of land. The journals of this expedition make for exciting reading - but also point out that the Honourable Company had no idea of how to approach settlement in the interior. It was December before they reached their destination - their canoe ripped to shreds by the forming ice, they had to layover at the mouth of the Soweska River while it set enough to drag their gear up on a sled.  The location finally settled on for the construction of the outpost was a spot one-half mile up from the mouth of the Wapiscogamy (now Pivabiska) Creek, on the main river channel, 300 km. south of the Bay.

The settlement of the interior posed considerable problems - especially in transportation of goods and furs between the height of land and the Bay. In the lowland section the river is broad and shallow with low rapids and only gravel bars to impede progress, in the upland section however, it is narrow and swift, with many difficult rapids.


The major barrier to navigation is Thunderhouse Falls - a complex of rapids and waterfalls where the river cascades off the edge of the Shield onto the James Bay Lowlands - it is a strikingly beautiful area, but the only way around it is via a gruelling 12 km. portage.

Canoes were the main mode of transport in the early years, but as cargoes increased, batteaux and york Boats similar to these were employed between stations at the ends of the major portages, and a sophisticated inland transportation network was established.

Wapiscogamy House was only intended as a halfway house, and from it, a post was established at Missinaibi Lake in 1777. It was far too far from Moose to be adequately provisioned or protected, and it came to a sudden end, when it was razed to the ground by Indians sent to attack by the opposition traders at Michipicoten, and the post personnel barely escaped with their lives.

A second post, established at Brunswick Lake in 1788 was more successful. New Brunswick House Post was in operation for nearly a century, and became the major inland post on the Missinaibi system, comparable in its time with Fort William, the Northwest Company's inland headquarters at Thunder Bay. During our survey we collected over 1500 artifacts from the site - they give a good representation of the types of goods present on late 18th and 19th century major fur trade posts.

They include:
  • building hardware
  • fire arms and ammunition
  • trap fragments
  • files
  • a boot cleat
  • brass bottles - one snipped up for use in secondary manufacturing
  • white clay pipes - the majority of which were undecorated
  • ceramics - most of which have blue underglaze transfer print decorations and maker's marks like Copeland and Spode
  • glassware
  • the plow share from an iron plow - found among the furrows in the fields behind the post
  • trade goods
  • beads
  • silver ornaments
  • mouth harps
  • lead seals that secured the bales in which they shipped into the interior
But, back to Wapiscogamy House itself - a few years before our survey, a site had been found at the mouth of Pivabiska Creek. It was identified by the researchers as the site of Wapiscogamy House.

It was very small, consisting only of a rock pile (the remains of a bee-hive oven), foundations of a small building, and a trench-like depression across the back of the point. We were not convinced that this was the site of Wapiscogamy, as historical records consistently stated that it was one-half mile up river from the mouth of the Pivabiska.

We continued the search, and at a slight bend in the river, found another site - which consisted o0f a large, deep cellar, foundation trenches, low mounds of earth and rubble, and a variety of other features.

Test pits in the foundation trenches yielded fragments of clay bricks, many with a white lime plaster adhering to them - and in the cellar the burned remains of timbers secured with large spikes.

At one end of the foundations a cluster of stones marked the base of a fireplace, and a second was found along one side wall. It appeared that we had a much more substantial building than the one at the mouth of the creek.

In an effort to recover dateable artifacts and to better understand its structure, we opened 2, 1 metre units in the flat clear area in front of the cellar.

Unfortunately there were few artifacts - however, those we did recover - like this barrel hoop, were in a burnt out layer, suggesting the building may have been destroyed by fire.

The artefact's from the site included:
  • brick fragments
  • pipe stems
  • glass fragments
  • carpenter's gauge
  • l-shaped staples
  • cut and wrought spikes
Most of these we are able to identify specifically with descriptions of the construction of Wapiscogamy House in the historical documents.

The nails and spikes were the most helpful in dating the site as most of them are wrought or cut with wrought heads and chisel points, suggesting a date for the site between 1770 and 1810.

The map of the site compares favourably with details of the post construction gleaned from the post documents in the HBC Archives. The post was upgraded in the 1780's from an outpost to a post status, and had several buildings, including a barn, forge, men's cabins, and a fortified trading house, with flankers on 3 corners. The whole complex was enclosed in stockades and was a fortified and relatively easily defensible position.

Wapiscogamy House closed in the early 1800's when transportation routes had been perfected to the extent that a halfway house between New Brunswick House and Moose was no longer required. The emphasis in the 19th century seems to have shifted more and more southward toward Lake Superior. New Brunswick House itself was closed in 1879, and operations re-established at the post on Missinaibi Lake. It was abandoned early in this century, when the HBC gave up its water transportation network in favour of shipping goods to and from Montreal by rail.

So that's the history and archaeology of Wapiscogamy House, the first inland port on the Missinaibi.

Next up will be Red Rock House

Wednesday, 25 July 2012


By L.M.Lein  (1984)  from the Nipigon Historical Museum archives

If an historian were to be asked to document the history of our town, his chore would be a lengthy one and challenging too. The historian would have to ask himself many questions and reflect on what the readers or listeners would want to know or hear.
  • Should they be informed of all aspects of Nipigon's history?
If so , here are some possible questions and thoughts he might have. The historian might begin with some prehistory of the region. He could ask:
  • "What compelled the Palaeo Indians to migrate and live in this region some 7000 years ago?"
  • "How did their small groups of people survive near glacial lakes using only primitive tools to kill roaming herds of caribou?"
  • "What caused their ancestors some 3000 years later to discover the use of copper to make needles, knives, spears and bracelets?"
  • "How did it come about that 2500 years later pottery became an important tool of the native people?"
  • "How did all these native people survive the harsh winters armed only with stone, wood, or bone tools?"
  • "How did these talented people live indeed?"
The coming of the Europeans would start another chapter in our time obscured history. From what is known, we could reflect and ask these questions:
  • "What motivated Jesuit Claude Allouez in 1667 as he ascended the Nipigon River to celebrate the First Mass ever in the area?"
  • "Why was it important to Sieur du Lhut to set up a post on Lake Nipigon in 1684, over three hundred years ago?"
  • "What promises of furs and wealth id Sieur de la Verendrye have in 1727 which prompted him to set up a post in the Nipigon Area?"
  • "What fortunes were the Hudson's Bay Company hoping for when they built their Fort Nipigon at the Ombabika River in 1775?"
  • "In 1859, why did the Hudson's Bay Company set up a post on the right bank of the Nipigon River?"
  • "Was its only purpose to prevent competitive traders from getting access to Lake Nipigon or was it to be an important trans-shipment point where schooners and lake steamers could unload their cargoes en route to Lake Nipigon or did someone in the company have foresight of what was to come?"
By the year 1869, Red Rock House had become important, for trading English goods, such as awls, blankets, capots, combs, guns, kettles, needles, and medicinals to the native people in exchange for goods and services.
  • Was this the only enterprise for the H.B.Co.?"
Not quite - tourism and real estate played a significant role in the Company,

By the 1870's sport fishing was very popular in the Nipigon Region. The rich and famous came to catch our abundant square tails.
  • "Did the H.B.Co. realize that they were to be the first of a long line of tourist outfitters?"
In essence, the H.B.Co. supplied all the needs, physical and human in order to satisfy the dreams of the early fishermen who fished our famous river.

Even Canadian Pacific surveyors used the H.B.Co. post at Red Rock House. By 1873, store houses and trade shops at the post were being used.
  • "Did the future railway have plans for Nipigon?"
By 1874, the area around Nipigon was surveyed by A.B. Scott. Since the H.B.Co. owned most of this land where present day Nipigon lies, it was in their interest to be in the real estate business and sell lots to prospective settlers. IN 2010 THE NIPIGON HISTORICAL MUSEUM ARCHIVES RECEIVED ONE SUCH DEED OF LAND PURCHASE COMPLETE WITH THE GREAT SEAL OF  LONDON ON IT.

In 1875, disaster struck Nipigon as it was passed over in favour of Prince Arthur's Landing (at Thunder Bay ) as the C.P.R. terminus.
  • "Did this mean the everlasting doom of Nipigon as a potential city?"
A new Chapter might be started again by the Historian. With the completion of the C.P.R. in 1885 of its North Shore route, Nipigon became more accessible to other parts of Canada. At about the same time, the beginnings of Nipigon's Main Street and commercial establishments started with an Hotel, McKirdy's Store, and the First C.P.R. Station in Nipigon.
  • "Was this the beginning of a new community?"
  • "Why did some of Red Rock Post workers want to homestead at Nipigon after their contracts were up?"
  • "Was there a fortune to be made or found in the region by mining or fishing or did they sense it as a decent place to settle and live?"
After all, fishing was a major industry along with mining of marble and granite for export to the U.S.A. I wonder now if these first permanent settlers realized at the time, that they were to be the roots and beginnings of a new permanent settlement. In 1885, the present Anglican Church was built. (now replaced by a modern one) In 1899 the First United Church was constructed.
  • "Why did the H.B.Co. in 1899 decide to change the name of Red Rock House to Nipigon?"
  • "Was it because there was a post office named Red Rock in Eastern Ontario, or was it because the railway had named their stop Nipigon?"
At the same time, the H.B.Co. decided to move their warehouse to the Hudson's Bay present day location, on Main Street (since closed ) in order to compete favourably with the independent stores.
  • "Did the formation of the Main Street as the business centre mean the doom of the Nipigon Trading Post?"
After all the Main Street commercial area now even contained the First School house with J.J. Robinson as the First Teacher. By 1090, the H.B.Co. transferred its headquarters to Fort William leaving its retail sale shop in the blossoming village of Nipigon, but terminating its fur trading post at the present- day dock.

So ended another Chapter and another Era.

But, before this Era had ended, another Era and Chapter had begun by the railways.

In 1904 the Trans-continental Rail Road was begun.
  • "What role was Nipigon to have in this venture?"
Surely the building of the Nipigon Tramway, a railway from Nipigon to South Bay, would provide opportunities for the residents and merchants.

The building of the first permanent Catholic Church in 1906 in Nipigon gave another indication of the permanence of the community. We must assume that this feeling of a community must have motivated the good residents of Nipigon to petition a judge in order that an election could take place. On the evening of January 10, 1909, the First Council meeting was held in the school house. One must wonder what prompted William McKirdy to become the First Reeve, or, J. Ashly Fife to be one of the Councillors.
I'm sure what motivated our First Town Father to run for office, also has motivated all subsequent reeves.

After the incorporation of the Township of Nipigon in 1909, more precise records were kept. The Historian could start other chapters:
  • Early 1900's Finns arrive in Nipigon in great numbers
  • 1900? Coca Cola Bottling plant opened in Nipigon
  • 1918 Spelling change of Nepigon to Nipigon
    Hydro station at Cameron Falls started
  • 1923 First Lutherann Mission service held
  • 1925 Nipigon's first Dairy operated by A. Maatta opens
  • 1929 C.P.R. station built to replace original
  • 19?? First phones in Nipigon
  • 1937 Nipigon River Highway Bridge opened
  • 1941 Large Forest Fire destroys two of Nipigon Dairies.
  • 1943 O.P.P. Detachment opened in Nipigon
  • 1947 Completion of Nipigon's Consolidated School
  • 1948 Building Pine Portage
    Nipigon Red Cross Hospital built
  • 1950 First Fire Truck for Nipigon
    First Curling Rink built
  • 1952 First Lutheran Church built
  • 1953 Nipigon has a new Municipal Building
  • 1955 St. Edward School built
    Arena built
    Plywood Mill opens
  • 1956 Nipigon District Memorial Hospital Incorporated
  • 1959 By-law creating Public Library
    Great Flood
  • 1960 Delivery of local dairy milk ceases as Ruoho sells to Palm
  • 196? Dial phones arrive in Nipigon
  • 1964 Greenmantle School built
  • 1967 Public Library moves into its Centennial Project home
  • 1973 Nipigon Museum is Opened
    River drives down the Nipigon River cease

Tuesday, 24 July 2012


Birch Bark craft for use and for show. On display at the Nipigon Museum.

Birch Bark Sheath with knife.

Both home made.

Just sheath, but it has a belt loop.

Birch Bark hat, coming a little bit undone.
Writing says made by Birch Bark Alex

Detail of a "Moose Call" made of Birch Bark.

About 20 inches long.

Birch Bark slippers.
 These are 12 inch tiles on the floor.
Bottoms show some wear.

The larger ones were made in the 1930's and survived the Museum fire of 1990.
The smaller ones have Nipigon on the side and were made as a souvenir.

Detail of larger canoes.

End detail of larger canoes.


Taking a look at two pair of snowshoes that were donated to the Nipigon Museum this year.

Tips of the snowshoes made by Sam Barden in the very early 1900's.

Tips of the snowshoes manufactured in Norway, Maine, U.S.A.
Unknown date.

Tails of Sam Barden's snowshoes.

Tails of the Norway, Maine, snowshoes.

Toe-hole in Norway, Maine, Snowshoe.

Toe-hole in Sam Barden's Snowshoe. You can see his name.

Sam's web-weaving.

Norway, Maine, web-weaving - bottom area

Sam Barden's hand-crafted Snowshoes

Snowshoes manufactured in Norway, Maine U.S.A.

Some other snowshoes in our collection:

This snowshoe must have had an interesting life.

Leather harness.

Stamp on cross-bar reads Terrace Bay

Harness is a mixture