SUBMITTED BY NEWFOUNDLAND.
EXTRACTS FROM NOTES ON ESQUIMAUX BAY AND THE SURROUNDING COUNTRY.
By W. H. A. DAVIES, ESQ.
TRANSACTIONS OF THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF QUEBEC. VOL. IV.
(Read 19th February, 1842.)
The Great Bay of Esquimaux, or as it is more generally called, Esquimaux Bay, is a large inlet, on the east coast of Labrador, penetrating into the country in a south-westerly direction. It is situated about 250 miles beyond the Straits of Belleisle ; the entrance lying in N. Lat. 54° 23´ West Long. 57° 25´.
It is by far the largest of the numerous inlets that indent that part of the coast. At its entrance it is upwards of thirty miles in breadth, from thence it decreases, until at the Post of Rigolet, about fifty miles from the sea, it is reduced to about a mile in width, beyond this it again expands, and about 90 miles from the sea, it forms a magnificent salt-water lake of upwards of 20 miles in breadth, and in length fully 30 miles ; at the western extremity of the lake, it again contracts to a narrow width for a short distance, above which it forms another lake about 7 miles wide and 20 long, when the head of the inlet is reached. Its total length. may be taken at 150 miles and its mean breadth about 15 miles, exclusive of two large arms that join it in the neighbourhood of Rigolet, the one running to the south-east about 40 miles, and the other having a course nearly parallel to the main bay, and a length of 60 miles—including these arms, the surface covered by its waters may be taken at about 1,700 miles.
* * * *
Such are the scenes presented by the entrance of the Bay ; as it is ascended an amelioration is perceived in the landscape by the gradual introduction of trees, first appearing at the bottom of the small coves, and then gradually climbing up the sides of the mountains, until on arriving at the Post of Rigolet, the whole country is found covered with timber, small and stunted it is true, but still large enough to hide the ruggedness of the ground. Above the Post of Rigolet and on the shores of the salt-water lake, mentioned above, the scenery becomes very grand ; the range of the Mealy Mountains here strikes the shores of the Bay, leaving but a narrow
strip of land between the water and their base, from whence they rise 1,400 to 1,500 feet in height, almost perpendicularly, presenting the appearance of an immense wall, the resemblance to which is much increased by the extraordinary evenness of their summit. The Mealy Mountains are a range of mountains whose tops are first perceived about 100 miles to the south of Esquimaux Bay, running nearly parallel to the coast—they strike the shores of the bay, as already observed, near the commencement of the salt-water lake, along which they continue for about 25 miles, they then gradually leave the shore and after some distance, meeting with another range, coming in an opposite direction, they lose a part of their height, and are lost amidst the confused mass of hills that fill the interior of the country. The only level ground of any extent in the neighbourhood of the bay reaches from the head of it to the foot of these mountains.
Cartwright, as well as the Moravian Missionaries, state, that these mountains are always covered with snow, this is not exactly the case, at least, in that part that I am acquainted with—there is an interval of about 15 to 20 days at the latter end of August and first days of September, when they are free from snow except in the deep ravines, where the snow remains constantly. They derive their name, I believe, from the patches of snow distributed over their surface during the greatest part of the summer, giving them the appearance of being powdered over with meal. When viewed in winter, in fine weather, at the time of sunset, these mountains present scenes of great beauty ; and it is difficult for the imagination to conceive anything more beautiful than the tints that their summits assume as they are touched by the last rays of the setting sun, long after he has disappeared from the eye, while every little ravine, every inequality in their surface is chiselled out against the clear cold sky with a precision and vividness that are alike beautiful and wonderful.
RIVERS AND LAKES.
As may be supposed in such an extensive bay, numerous rivers flow into it, but three only are of large size, viz. : The Grand or Hamilton River, the Kenamou, and the Nascapee or North West River—of these the Grand or Hamilton River, flowing in at the head of the bay, is by far the most considerable, both as regards the length of its course and the volume of water it discharges. It is nearly half a league in breadth at its entrance gradually decreasing in width for about twenty-five miles from its mouth ; it then becomes from one-eighth to one-quarter of a mile wide ; from this size it never varies very much as far up as it has been followed. Two hundred miles from its mouth it forces itself through a range of mountains that seem to border the table land of the interior, in a succession of tremendous falls and rapids for nearly 20 miles. These falls were accidentally discovered, in 1839, by a gentleman engaged in exploring a route to Esquimaux Bay from the interior. Above these falls, the river flows with a very smooth and even current ; it has been followed for 100 miles further, where a Post has lately
been established—between the falls and the Post it passes through a succession of very large lakes, communicating with one another by short straits—these lakes appear to cover a very considerable part of the table land ; they have not yet been explored, and their dimensions are, consequently, not known but from Indian report ; many present a water horizon in different directions as portions of them are crossed. Above the Post, called Fort Nascapee, the river has not been explored, but the Indians report that it comes from a long distance to the westward, and runs with a deep and gentle current unobstructed by falls or rapids—it is supposed to come from lakes in the rear of the Seven Islands. If this is the case, and there is every reason to believe it to be so, it developes a curious fact in the formation of that country, viz. : that a large river should flow for so considerable distance on the top of the ridge, if I may so express it, between the head waters of the rivers falling into the St. Lawrence and those falling into the Hudson's Bay and Straits, for they are said, by the Indians, to be quite close to the waters of the Grand River on either side. The course of the river from Fort Nascapee to the place where it forces itself through the mountains is to the southward of east, it then turns to the east, and finally to the north-east, the latter course it pursues until it falls into Esquimaux Bay.
The Kenamou River flows in from the south, about 13 miles from the entrance of the Grand River—it is a considerable stream, taking its rise in the country lying between the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Esquimaux Bay ; its course is therefore short, and as the lakes from whence it takes its rise, are at a high elevation, it is extremely rapid and full of falls. I had it explored for about 80 miles ; in the whole of this distance it was nothing but a succession of rapids. Its banks are mountainous. About 30 miles from its mouth it cuts through the range of the Mealy Mountains.
The Nascapee River or North West River is rather a large one, and falls into the Bay on the north side, very nearly opposite to the mouth of the Kenamou River ; the distance between the entrances of these two rivers (which is the breadth of the Bay at this place) is 12 miles. About 2 miles from its mouth, it passes through a narrow lake, about 40 miles long, bordered by high mountains ; a little below the head of the lake (called the Grand Lake) the river flows in from the north-east, it keeps this course for about 25 miles, when it bends very considerably and flows from the north, its course from thence to its source is only known at intervals, as in consequence of numerous rapids and falls, the river is left and the route to the interior is pursued through a series of lakes until close to Lake Meshagamou, from whence its waters flow, when the river is again followed as far as that lake. Meshagamou, or the Great Lake, is one of the lakes occupying the table land of the interior—it is of considerable size ; it has not however been explored, as yet, by the whites. It is one of the lakes with which the Grand River communicates. Among the largest of the other rivers flowing into Esquimaux Bay, may be mentioned the Goose Brook, the Double Mêr River, Moulagan River, the River of Goose Bay ; the whole of these rivers, though some are of large size at their entrance, are short and are not navigable for anything larger than a small canoe.
The country, in the neighbourhood of Esquimaux Bay, abounds in lakes of all sizes and shapes, from the small pond of a few acres in length to the large lake of twelve or fourteen leagues long ; this is indeed, the case with the whole of the Labrador coast, but however they may vary as to their sizes and shapes, there is one feature in which they all agree, that is in their shallowness— and this is found to be the case in all the lakes of the Atlantic slope, with the exception of those which communicate directly with the ocean or with some of its bays, these are in general distinguished for their depth. This almost universal shallowness of the lakes is a singular feature, when the nature of their borders is taken into consideration, as they are generally surrounded by hills, which would lead one to look for a corresponding depth in the lake ; but, instead of this, some are so shallow, that for miles there is hardly water enough to float a half-loaded canoe. I am informed by my friend John M'Lean, Esq., that this is likewise the case with the lakes lying on the watershed of Ungava Bay. The lakes, lying on the table-land, are said to be deep.
* * * *
FACE OF THE COUNTRY.
The face of the country, in the vicinity of Esquimaux Bay, on proceeding to the northward and westward is extremely rugged and hilly ; it is composed of ranges of round-backed hills, traversing the country in all directions ; they do not, in the interior at least, assume the altitude of mountains—the intervals between them are filled either by lakes or marshes ; so that in looking down from the brow of some more elevated hill, an interminable succession of naked hills and lakes is seen, giving an indescribable aspect of desolation to the country, which is greatly heightened by the effects of the fires that have ravaged the whole country. Indeed, there can be but little doubt, that at one time nearly, if not the whole, of the interior of Labrador was covered with wood, which has since been destroyed by fire ; in almost every direction, the naked stumps of trees are seen, rising out of the moss that now covers the country. Hundreds of miles of the country are now nothing but a barren waste of naked rock from this cause, which in the recollection of some of the old hunters were covered with wood formerly.
* * * *
The following extracts, from the report of a gentleman, who was sent to explore the country on the Nascapee River, will give a very good idea of it :—
“ From North-west River House, the River Nascapee is ascended for about 65 miles when it is left at Mont a Peine Portage, from thence you follow from one lake to another—most of them very small. The country, from Mont a Peine Portage, as far as the Little Seal Lake, is as barren and as miserable as can be seen anywhere ; the trees are all burnt, and nothing but stones and dry stumps to be seen—there is not even earth or moss enough, in most of the carrying-places, to make a foot path. Beyond the Little Seal
Lake, the country becomes a little better ; a few green trees are met with, until the Portage called Shepay taw-wa Kaw, or Seven Mile Portage, where the country becomes still more barren and burnt— this continues to be the case as far as Meshagamou Lake, where, on the First of July, the ice was still firm— there is no wood to build there ; it is only at Gull Nest Lake where wood to build could be found ; this Lake is but a short distance from Lake Meshagamou. From the North-west River House to the latter lake there are 45 Portages, two of which are from 5 to 7 miles long, and several are 2 miles. Of the lakes passed through, 10 were from two miles and a-half to 12 miles long, and from 5 to 6 miles broad ; these were the largest— the others were from 2 acres to one mile and a-half ; most of them are destitute of fish and all very shallow. On the 22d, 23d, and 24th June, we found the lakes full of ice ; we advanced by making portages over the ice or through the woods, and by creeping along the small lanes of water near the shore—the borders of the River Nascapee, when we ascended it, were still lined by ice, some of it ten feet thick.”
Such is the nature of the country to the northward of Esquimaux Bay ; to the southward of it, the country, though in some respects similar, is much more level and is more clothed with trees. After passing the first range of mountains, on leaving the Bay, an elevated plateau is gained, which continues until the shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence are approached, when the country becomes more mountainous and slopes rapidly to the seaside ; the breadth of the plateau may be about 140 miles—it abounds with lakes, some of them of considerable size, but so shallow, that according to the gentleman who explored it by my orders, “ they might rather be called swamps overflowed with water than lakes” ; the rivers likewise that traverse this part of the country though broad are exceedingly shallow. The whole of the interior of it is covered with wood, though it is very stunted and thin in some places ; but, as you approach the coast of the Gulf, the wood diminishes until it disappears altogether on the coast.
The Valley of the Grand River, for about 100 miles from its entrance, presents a pleasing contrast to the barrenness of every other part of the country round the Bay. This valley is very well timbered, and some of the trees are of a large size ; intermixed with the spruce is a considerable quantity of white birch, and a few poplars are also to be seen ; a light loamy soil is also, frequently to be found on the points of the river. There is a difference of 20 days in favor of this valley in the spring and fall, this difference of climate is to be attributed, in a great degree to its favorable aspect, to the south and west, and also, in some measure to the superior warmth of the water coming from the westward.
The trade of Esquimaux Bay, formerly of some consequence, has been gradually diminishing for some years past, and is now extremely limited—it is confined to a trifling, bartering trade in cloth, blankets, guns, ammunition, and provisions, with the Planters and Esquimauxs, who in return give a little seal oil, salmon, codfish, and a few furs—this trade is principally carried
on at the Post of Rigolet, about fifty miles from the sea. The trade with the Mountaineers, as already mentioned, is carried on at the head of the Bay—cloths, blankets, guns, ammunition, and a little flour, are given to them, in exchange for the skins of martens, foxes, deer, lynxes, wolverines, minks, beaver, &c.—the quantity procured is very small in proportion to the number of Indians, and the trade is very far from being a profitable one, on account of the expense attending it. It is at present, entirely monopolized by the Hudson's Bay Company, as well as the trade of Rigolet.
At the entrance of the Bay, are situated two small codfishing establishments, carried on by people from Newfoundland, who likewise have a little trade with the Planters and Esquimauxs, but the amount of business thus done is very trifling. During the codfishing, a few American vessels visit the Bay—of late years the catch has not been great—the fish appear to be more numerous further north, where the Americans generally follow them—a solitary trading-vessel, from Nova Scotia, now and then finds its way as far as the Bay.
The salmon fishery is principally carried on in the neighbourhood of Rigolet—the nets are set at the different points of the Bay when the current is strongest. The catch is now very small—the total export of the Bay hardly exceeding 120 tierces when formerly it surpassed 400. Nearly all the seal oil exported from the Bay is the produce of the hunt of the Exquimauxs ; the Bay not being advantageous for carrying on fisheries for the animal. One small vessel is employed by the Hudson's Bay Company in the trade of the Bay—it is found more than sufficient for it, and it is sent every second year, as far as Ungava Bay, in Hudson's Straits, to collect the returns of that district.
10th Oct., 1902—LETTER FROM SECRETARY FOR DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR TO GRAND RIVER PULP AND LUMBER COMPANY.
16th Feb. 1926— AFFIDAVIT OF W. E. SWAFFIELD.