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The Stories of the Counties of Ontario

“And here a gorge, all reft and rent,
With rocks in wild confusion,
As they were by the wood-gods sent
To guard them from intrusion.”

Alexandrr M'Lachlan.

TILL a few months ago the districts of Nipissing and Sudbury included a region bordering on James Bay ; now this northern territory has been divided from the southern portions and has become the new district of Timiskaming.

Nipissing is named from the lake, by which, almost three centuries ago, Champlain travelled to Lake Huron, and by a strange, roundabout course visited Lake Ontario. Closely following the direction of the ancient Indian canoe route of the River Mattawan, taken by the intrepid French explorer, the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway between Ottawa and Winnipeg was traced a generation ago through this wild and broken country. To all intents and purposes it is still a wilderness, where sportsmen may find fish and game in plenty, though it is dotted sparsely with small farms and little hamlets, in which the sawmill is usually the most conspicuous building.

Moreover, at commercially strategic points in the wilds there is situated, here and there, some town of fair size and more impressive activity. Such a one is North Bay, on beautiful Lake Nipissing. It was made by the “C.P.R.,” and is becoming more and more of a railway centre. It now has a population of about 6000, a good proportion of whom arc supported by industries connected with the mine and the forest. From North Bay the state-owned railway of Ontario, known as the Timiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway, striker in a northwesterly direction, two hundred and fifty miles to Cochrane, giving ready access to the Cobalt silver district, the Porcupine gold fields, and the great “Clay Belt,” with all its rich agricultural possibilities. A large proportion of the passengers it carries are prospectors, miners, and sportsmen, but when it is pushed on to James Bay (as no doubt it will be in a few years’ time), it will surety stimulate, or create, a great salt-water fishing industry.

Twenty-four miles west of North Bay, still on the “C.P.R.," is another growing town, Sturgeon Falls. The most important industry of this place is the manufacture of wood-pulp and paper, but it owes everything to the river, which not only brings to the huge mill the spruce that "feeds its ponderous grinders,” but also “supplies the power which makes the wheels revolve.”

Within the bounds of Nipissing District is Algonquin Park, the first of Ontario’s many "Forest Reserves.” As long ago as February 1892, a commission was appointed by the Provincial Government to consider the question of the creation of such a reserve. The commissioners reported favourably on the plan, on the grounds not only of the conservation of the forest itself (part of the territory, by the way, was already under license for the cutting of timber), but also for its beneficial effect on the water-supply of the surrounding country, six important rivers taking their rise within its limits. A third very important object was the protection of fur-bearing animals and game, which, unless special means were taken to prevent it, were in danger of extinction at the hands of careless and greedy hunters. It Was also pointed out that the Park would serve as a delightful health resort and as a school of experiment in conservation methods. It was accordingly set apart and named after the ancient inhabitants of the land in 1893.

The Park is fifty-six miles long by forty-eight miles broad, comprising the whole or parts of thirty-one townships, and has an average elevation of 1500 feel above sea-level. It is under the charge of a superintendent and a staff of rangers, whose duty it is to guard the forest against fire, whether started by lightning or the carelessness of man, to see that the game-laws are duly observed, and as far as possible to protect the denizens of the woods and streams from the depredations of all enemies, human and otherwise.

Wolves give the rangers a good deal of trouble, having discovered that the Park affords them fine hunting. In one recent year the rangers killed about a hundred, but the protected animals are increasing, and Algonquin Park is an ideal field for the hunter with camera instead of gun. There, for instance, he may get pictures of Canada's emblem, the beaver, busily building his dams and his domed mud-dwelling.

Many of the rangers are educated men, attracted to the life by love of the open air, or for the opportunity it offers of the study of the ways of beasts and birds and of the life of plants, and some of these men rarely leave the forest from year’s end to year’s end. Of course visitors go to the Park chiefly in summer; but there are people who find its enchantment greatest in the winter. Then it is very silent in the daytime, though at night it is vocal with the “yelps of the wolf-pack,” or “the shriller bark of the trailing fox."

Part of another great “Forest Reserve,” Temagami, including the lake from which it takes its name, is in the Nipissing District. This lake is not set amidst heather-covered mountains, yet an enthusiastic and imaginative Scottish tourist felt that it would have made a fit setting for the appearance of Scott’s “Lady of the Lake,” in “her fairy shallop.” “But,” he added, “this first flash of a comparison between Loch Katrine and Lake Temagami must quickly give way to a feeling of awe. The islands of Temagami are numbered by at least a thousand, its shore lines by thousands of miles, and its area by hundreds of miles. Visitors to the Dominion are probably better acquainted with the thousand islands of the St. Lawrence just above the Montreal Rapids than with those of Temagami.”

But Ontario’s railway now gives easy access to this pleasant holiday-country; and visitors who wish to explore its maze of land and water can be assured of reliable guides in the Indians, who reside in several of the islands, and know every nook and corner of the great lake. These Indians, by the way, are mostly half-breeds, and, coming from Hudson Bay, have a large dash of Scottish blood amongst them. The names of MacLeod and MacPherson and Campbell are quite common. Of this fact one of a party of British journalists who sailed for a long day on Temagami without seeing one tithe of the vastness of its territory had a significant experience. Having lost touch with his colleagues in a tramp over Bear Island, he timorously inquired his way of a dusky native, who, from his appearance, might have had a tomahawk concealed in his belt. But the reply was as reassuring as amusing. ‘Yer freens ha’e iust got ayont the tap o’ the brae, and dinna forget that ye’ve been telt that by Sandy Macleod!’”

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