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The Stories of the Counties of Ontario

“Our hearts are as free as the rivers that flow
To the seas where the north star shines,
Our lives are as free as the breezes that blow
Thro’ the crests of our native pines.”

Robert K. Kernighan

THE map of Algoma shows a vast territory, stretching some three hundred and sixty miles northwards from “the Soo” to the Albany River. Its southern portion is checkered with townships, already numerous enough to make several counties after the pattern of those of old Ontario, but bearing a small proportion to the huge blank spaces of the north, marked only with the names of the lakes and rivers that plentifully water that “Great Lone Land.” The lines of the townships run on the north into the larger oblong of the Mississauga Forest Reserve. Indirectly the Canadian Pacific Railway’s advertising agents had a hand in the setting apart of the vast reserve by calling the attention of "canoe travellers” to the Mississauga River. This flows through a large block of pine timber, and the authorities, fearing that the coming of tourists would cause increased danger of forest fires, decided to take measures to protect the valuable pine. Accordingly, on February 24, 1904, an Order in Council was passed, creating the Mississauga Forest Reserve, which comprised about 2900 square miles.

Dotted along Algoma’s two hundred miles or more of coast-line on Lakes Huron and Superior are a few villages and towns, the largest and most important of which is the historic Sault Ste. Marie, It was first visited, says Dr Bain, by the French traders, who named the Indians Saulteaux, from the falls in the St. Mary’s River.” Jesuit Fathers soon followed, and P6re Marquette established a mission there in 1669. Two years later the Intendant Talon sent Daumont de St. Lusson, accompanied by the interpreter, Perrot, to seek for the copper mines, of which there were rumours, on Lake Superior. The expenses of the expedition were to be paid by trading in furs. St. Lusson wintered with the Indians, claiming in the name of his Sovereign the whole land as far as the western and southern and northern seas. As a visible token of these stupendous claims, a cross bearing the Royal Arms was planted at Sault Ste. Marie, and the Jesuit Allouex harangued the assembled Indians, representing several tribes, on the power of the King of France. But the red men, probably actuated by superstitious fears, pulled down the cross as soon as the backs of the French were turned.

The troublesome Iroquois caused the abandonment of the mission in 1689. Sixty-one years later, La Jonqidere, then Governor of Canada, gave his nephew and the Chevalier de Repentigny a grant six leagues square at Sault Ste. Marie, so that—“at their own expense”— they might build a palisade fort to prevent the Indians trading with the English. “The palisade was 110 feet each way,” and enclosed three small houses and a “redoubt of oak 12 feet square.” A Canadian, Jean Baptiste Caueau, or Cadot, was put in charge; and there, long after the French lilies "had ceased to float over the ramparts of Quebec,” this trader kept the old flag flying by St. Mary’s River, though ultimately he accepted the changed situation, and even fought gallantly for England. He had married an Indian woman “of great force of character, energy, and uprightness,’’ and in his house only Chippewa was spoken.

Alexander Henry visited Cadot in 1762, and this notable trader and explorer was much interested by the spectacle of the Indians—two in each canoe—scooping up whitefish with a long-handled net from the turbulent waters of the rapids. At times the fish (some of which weighed 15 lbs.) were so crowded together in the water that a skilful fisherman could catch five hundred in two hours, but some winters the usual supply of fish failed, and the traders and Indians - had hard work to fight off starvation. Henry was at Michillimackmac, or Mackinaw, during Pontiac’s war, when the fort was taken by the Indians, but after many hair-breadth escapes he fell in with Madame Cadot, who was on a journey, and with her reached Sault Ste. Marie in safety. Two years later Henry took Cadot into partnership.

The story of the first success in the War of 1812 belongs, in a sense, to the district of Algoma. On St. Joseph's Island there was at that time a blockhouse commanded by Captain Roberts, to whom Brock had sent orders that if war were declared he was immediately to attack the American fort at Mackinaw. Roberis had only forty-five regular soldiers available, but traders and voyageurs eagerly volunteered, and the North-west Company furnished the brig Caledonia as a transport. The surprise was so complete that there was no bloodshed, and Mackinaw remained in British hands till the end of the war.

Amongst the volunteers was John Johnston, a well-to-do Irish trader of Sault Ste, Marie, who had wedded a Chippewa, During his absence his house was raided and burnt by Americans, while his wife and children looked on from the woods. Later he took his wife and a daughter, a beautiful girl, home to England. The Duke and Duchess of Northumberland were so charmed with the latter that they wished to adopt her, but she preferred to return home, and ultimately became the wife of Henry Schoolcraft, the famous historian of the Indian tribes.


Another pioneer who took part in Roberts’ expedition, and had also married an Indian woman, was Charles Ermatinger, a trader, of Swiss extraction. His post was on the south side of the river, and in 1822 the Americans took possession of it and made it into a fort, but afterwards gave compensation to its owner, who had removed to the British side.

In the days of trouble between the North-west Company and the X. Y. Company there was a hot dispute over the portage past the rapids. The latter company, says Dr. Bryce, “forced a road through the disputed river-frontage, while the North-west Company used a canal half a mile long on which was built a lock, and at the foot of the canal a good wharf and store.” Remains of the tiny old lock are still to be seen, near an old blockhouse lately used by the directors of the Algoma Steel Company for a lunch-room. The voyageurs in their little boats often had perilous voyages along the rugged coast of Lake Superior, to which clung many a legend of terror, and not a few bold fellows went down to death in its chill depths. Here and there along its grim shores were dotted little trading posts, that at Michipicoten, where Henry once tried unsuccessfully to grow potatoes, being within a few miles of what is now the western boundary of Algoma.

In 1870, when the Red River expedition was working its difficult way westward, there was no Canadian canal at Sault Ste. Marie by which vessels could pass the rapids, and the Americans would not at first permit the force to use their canal, built in 185 5, so guns and stores had all to be “portaged” three miles and a half. After urgent remonstrances, however, the embargo was removed, and then the American officers at Fort Brady became very civil to the British officers. Of course, when the troops had embarked for Sault Ste. Marie, that stately name was often on the lips of the officers, and it was told that the old skipper of one of the steamboats grew obviously uncomfortable at its repetition, and at last protested: “Call it the Soo, sir—the Soo! . . . We always calls it the Soo; it’s ever so much shorter, and everyone will understand ye!” And “the Soo” it most often is to this day, when its population has passed 11,000. and when millions of dollars are invested in its huge iron and steel works, its great paper factories, and other vast industrial enterprises, to say nothing of its world-famous canal.

To many people, indeed, the canals are the most interesting feature of "the Soo.” It was in 1888 that the Dominion Parliament passed a measure for the building of the canal which was to make Canada independent of the good-will of her neighbour for the passage of her vessels between Lake Huron and Lake Superior. Plans were at once prepared, but the engineer died before they could be carried into effect.

For the lock the final design was made in the autumn of 1892, and the contractors agreed to complete it by 1894. But in the summer of 1893 the United States Government ordered the collection of tolls on all vessels passing through the American lock. Upon this the Dominion Government offered the contractors a bonus of $90,000 to complete the work by the end of the year, and, except for a very small portion, the whole of the walls of the lock, from 20 to 25 feet in thickness, was built in five months, the last stone being put in place on November 16, 1893. The lock is 40 feet deep, 60 feet wide, and 900 feet long. Vessels go through as well by night as day, only fog, which sometimes makes it hard to find the narrow channel leading to the lock, stopping the procession. The canals on both sides of the international boundary are now free to the vessels of both nations. The larger vessels, however, often choose the Canadian canal, and the tonnage which annually passes through it is three times as great as that passing through the Suez Canal.

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