The Labrador Boundary

Privy Council Documents

Volume V

      Atlantic         highlands.

      Elevation of         land fronting         Hudson Bay.

      Summary of         elevation.


      Great depths in         lakes.


      Koksoak River.

      Western rivers.

      Drainage-basin of         Hamilton River.

      Division of         river into upper         and lower.

      The river-valley.

      Origin of         Bodwoin Cañon.

      Descent of         the river near the         Grand Falls.

      Volume of water         at Grand Falls.

      Characters of         the upper         Hamilton River.

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beyond which the country is comparatively level, and somewhat lower. On the Romaine and St. John rivers, the high lands formed from a great mass of irruptive rocks, begin about twenty-five miles from the coast, and are about fifty miles broad. The general level of this belt is nearly 2,000 feet and many of the summits are more than 2,500 feet above sea-level, while the general level of the country immediately behind them is not much over 1,600 feet. H. Y. Hind* mentions similar high lands on the Moisie River, where the general level is above 1,500 feet, and some of the mountain ranges are 3,000 feet above sea-level.
Along the Atlantic coast, the land rises abruptly inland, almost everywhere, to altitudes varying from 1,000 feet to 1,500 feet, from the Strait of Belle Isle to the vicinity of Nain. To the northward of Nain the coast range is much higher, and, in the neighbourhood of Nachvak Bay, ranges of sharp, unglaciated mountains rise abruptly from the sea to heights varying from 2,500 feet to 4,000 feet ; while farther north they are reported to culminate in peaks of 6,000 feet, a few miles inland. With a slight decrease in height, this range continues northward to the barren islands at Cape Chidley. This mountain range appears to be confined to the coast region and probably is under fifty miles in width, the country on the western side sloping rapidly down to the level of the interior plateau. About Ungava Bay, the general level of the plateau is probably somewhat under 1,000 feet, and the land rises gradually towards the interior. Little or nothing is known definitely of the great northern area between Ungava and Hudson bays, but, from observations by Dr. R. Bell, made along the coasts, the land appears to rise rapidly for 1,000 feet, and then more gradually to elevations between 1,500 and 2,000 feet. From information obtained from the Eskimo at Ungava, there would seem to be a low tract of country extending westward from Hope's Advance towards Mosquito Bay on the Hudson Bay coast, and also another area of comparatively low country westward of the Leaf Lakes and of the Koksoak River valley.
The land fronting the Hudson Bay coast, as far south as Cape Jones, reaches the 1,000 feet level within a short distance from the sea, and then rises quickly to a general level between 1,500 and 2,000 feet, the latter being the maximum of elevation in this region, as determined by the few explorations in this portion of the peninsula. The gradual rise from the seaboard of the country to the east and south-east of James Bay, has already been mentioned.
To sum up the foregoing statements of levels,—the interior of the peninsula is almost flat, so that in an area of 200,000 square miles, there is not a difference of general level of more than 300 or 400 feet, and the highest general level of the interior is under 2,500 feet. A belt of land somewhat higher than the general interior follows the St. Lawrence coast, a short distance inland. The northern half of the Atlantic coast rises in a chain of mountains, considerably higher than any other portion of the peninsula. Along the northern

*Explorations in Labrador, vol. 1, chap. ix.

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and western coasts there is no evidence yet obtained to show the existence of a coastal ridge, but rather a probability that the general elevation increases towards the interior.
Like the other portions of northern Canada underlain by glaciated Archæan rocks, the interior of the Labrador Peninsula is covered with myriads of lakes that occupy, at a moderate estimate, at least one-fourth of the total area. In size, these vary from small narrow ponds, to lakes with surfaces hundreds of square miles in extent. Great Mistassini and Michikamau lakes have areas considerably exceeding 500 square miles. Among those of which the area is between 200 and 500 square miles, may be mentioned Manouan Lake, on a tributary of the Peribonka River, Pletipi Lake, at the head of the Outardes River, the Manicuagan lakes, on the headwaters of the river of the same name ; all sending their waters into the St. Lawrence. Discharging into the Atlantic are Winokapau, Petitsikapau, Ashuanipi and Attikonak lakes on the Hamilton River, and Grand Lake on the Northwest River, which also drains Lake Michikamau. On the rivers discharging northward, Lake Kaniapiskau is the only one yet partly explored, but reference to the map will show a number of large lakes on the various tributaries of the Koksoak and George rivers, which have been located from information derived from Hudson's Bay Company employees and Indians.
Besides the lakes mentioned, there are hundreds having a surface area between 20 square miles and 100 square miles, while smaller lakes are numberless.
It follows, from the great number of lakes, that the country must be covered with a perfect network of streams discharging them. The discharges and lakes interlock so closely that, with a knowledge of the country, it is possible to travel with canoes in any direction, the longest portages never exceeding two or three miles.
There are four principal watersheds to the peninsula : of these the southern is the smallest, its rivers rarely exceeding 300 miles in length ; the most important are the Saguenay and its branches, Bersimis, Outardes, Manicuagan, Moisie, Romaine, Natashquan and St. Augustine. The eastern watershed drains chiefly into Hamilton Inlet, three large rivers flowing into its head. Of these the Hamilton River is much the largest, taking its rise near the middle of the peninsula and draining an area extending from latitude 52° to latitude 54° covering seven degrees of longitude. Its longest branch rises nearly 600 miles from its mouth. The other rivers of Hamilton Inlet are the Northwest and Kenamou, the former draining a large area to the north of the Hamilton River, the latter flowing in from the south-west. Apart from these three large streams, no other rivers of importance are found along the Atlantic coast, on account of the high lands of the coast cutting off the drainage of the interior and forcing it to flow northward into Ungava Bay.
The Koksoak River is the largest stream flowing northward, and is pro-

p. 2597

bably the largest river of Labrador. Besides the main stream, there are a half dozen tributaries, each of which drains an important basin. The longest branch flows out of the northern end of Summit Lake, on the 53rd parallel of latitude, while a branch of the Manicuagan River flows out of the southern end of the same lake, thus connecting by water the Gulf of St. Lawrence with Ungava Bay. The total area drained by this river and its tributaries is about 60,000 square miles. The George River, is another great stream which rises in large lakes close to Lake Petitsikapau on the Hamilton River, and drains a wide area westward of the Atlantic coast range. The Whale River is a smaller stream lying between the George and Koksoak rivers.
The western drainage basin is the greatest in Labrador and is emptied by large rivers, that rise far inland, close to the head-waters of the Koksoak and Saguenay rivers. Proceeding from the northward, the larger rivers flowing into Hudson Bay are :—The Nastapoka which flows out of several large lakes to the eastward of Clearwater Lake and near the head of the Stillwater branch of the Koksoak River ; the Little and Great Whale rivers, that rise close to the western branches of the Koksoak ; the Big River which rises in the mountainous area south and east of the head of the East Main River, in about latitude 52°, and close to the sources of the Peribonka, Manicuagan and Outardes rivers tributaries of the St. Lawrence. From its source the Big River flows northward nearly one hundred and fifty miles, passing through Lake Nichicun, and then turns westward four hundred miles, emptying into James Bay, near latitude 54°.
The East Main River takes its rise in a number of lakes close to Lake Nichicun and flows nearly west, discharging into James Bay a short distance north of latitude 52°. The Rupert River forms the discharge of the Mistassini lakes, and, having such large reservoirs at its head, is not subject to the same fluctuations of volume, as the other rivers. It empties into Rupert Bay close to the mouth of the Nottoway River, which drains a wide area to the south-east of Hudson Bay, and rises in a number of large lakes close to the height-of-land dividing it from the St. Maurice River, which joins the St. Lawrence at Three Rivers.

Hamilton River.

The Hamilton River is the most important stream of the eastern watershed of the Labrador Peninsula. Its drainage-basin embraces a wide area of the country extending from the head of Hamilton Inlet westward to longitude 68°, or nearly half way across the peninsula. To the northward its tributaries interlock with those of the Northwest River which also flows into Hamilton Inlet, and with the headwaters of the George River and branches of the Koksoak River that empty into Ungava Bay. The southern limit of its large tributaries is very irregular, and may be roughly taken to be near the fifty-second parallel of latitude, where the watershed separating them from streams flowing southward into the St. Lawrence, is extremely sinuous and almost impossible to trace or define.

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Westward of the Hamilton basin, the general slope of the country is northward, and the drainage is in that direction from about latitude 52°, the water reaching the ocean by the Koksoak River, which drains a considerable area of the central interior between the head of the Hamilton River and the Big River flowing into Hudson Bay.
Owing to the great difference in physical character between its upper and lower portions, the Hamilton River is naturally divided into two parts at the Grand Falls some 250 miles above its mouth. The lower part occupies a distinct valley, cut out of Archæn rocks, with the present river-level from 500 to 800 feet below the general level of the surrounding country. The valley varies in width from 100 yards to more than two miles, and the river flows down it between banks of drift, with a strong current broken by rapids in several places, especially along the upper stretches, but only in one place does it fall over an obstruction of rock.
This valley is well wooded where unburnt, and the timber is all of fair size and of commercial value, in marked contrast to the small stunted trees found partly covering the rolling country of the tableland, on either side of the valley.
Low describes the canyon through which the river flows for a distance of some eight miles below the Grand Falls, before it enters the main valley of the river, as follows:—
The cañon is cut sharply into the surface of the table- land without any appreciable dip of the ground towards it, and there is so little indication of its presence from above, that the gorge is seen only within a few yards of its edge ; and its walls are so steep, and the bushes along the top so thick, that in most places it is necessary to hold on to an overhanging tree and lean far out in order to see the narrow white line of broken foaming water that rushes along 500 feet below. As the country slopes gently towards the main valley, the cañon does not deepen with the descent of the river in it, and the walls are everywhere from 500 to 600 feet high, varying with the undulating surface of the table-land.
There is little doubt that the cañon is a valley of erosion in an unfinished state of formation, and probably previous to the glacial period was the valley of a much smaller stream than the one at present flowing through it. At that time the main stream in all likelihood followed the main valley. There is no evidence that the valley has been cut back, or otherwise eroded since the close of the glacial period, beyond the removal of the drift, which then filled it nearly to the top, as patches of drift still remain on the inner sides of the sharp bends. From the above facts some idea can be had of the great length of time required for the erosion of the main valley of the river, from the falls to the mouth of Hamilton Inlet, which is really a submerged portion of this river-valley.

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In his description of the Grand Falls, Dr. Low speaks of the magnitude of the fall which occurs and of the volume of the discharge of the river at this point as follows:—

“ Eight miles in a straight line north-north-west of the mouth of the cañon, the main branch of the Hamilton River issues from a small lake-expansion, almost on a level with the surrounding surface of the table-land, and begins one of the greatest and wildest descents of any river in eastern America. A large number of barometric readings taken in the vicinity, in conjunction with regular readings at the Hudson's Bay Company's post, at Northwest River, give the height of the river as it issues from the lake as 1,660 feet above sea-level. The height of the valley at the mouth of the gorge, determined in the same manner, is very close to 900 feet above sea-level. Consequently, in twelve miles, the total fall is 760 feet. Such a fall would be nothing extraordinary for a small stream, in a mountainous country, but is phenomenal in a great river like the Hamilton, which has been estimated to discharge at this point about 50,000 cubic feet per second, or nearly the mean volume of the Ottawa River, at Ottawa, that stream having a mean volume of 85,000 cubic feet per second at Grenville, where it includes the waters of the Rideau, Gatineau and Lièvre rivers. The descent includes a sheer fall of 302 feet, the rest being in the form of heavy rapids.

Upper Hamilton River.

“ Above the Grand Falls, the character of the river changes completely ; it no longer flows in a distinct valley cut deep into the surrounding country, but nearly on a level with the surface of the table-land, spreading out so as to fill the valleys between the long, low ridges of hills that are arranged in echelon all over the country. The river in passing around the ridges is often broken into several channels by large islands formed by separate ridges, and in other places, where there are wide valleys between the hills, it fills long, shallow lakes, with deep bays, and often studded with islands. The river is, now so divided into channels and so diversified with island- covered lakes, that without a guide it is almost impossible to follow its main channel, and much time is lost tracing its course through the lakes, which often have several channels discharging into, as well as out of them. The current instead of flowing regularly, now alternates between short rapids and long lake stretches.
“ The banks are often low, and covered with a dense growth of small willows and alders, that form a wide fringe between the water and the conifers of the higher ground behind. In other places, generally at rapids, the stream has cut a channel into the sandy drift that forms the low ridges on one or both sides. The shores of the lakes are very often low, with an interval of flat land between the water and the hills



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