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The Stories of the Counties of Ontario

“And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold;
And ice mast-high came floating by,
As green as emerald. . . .

The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around,
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like voices in a swound.”

S. T. Coleridge,

THE story of the counties and districts of Ontario is now all but completed as it has been found possible to tell it in the very limited space available for each. There remains to be spoken of one district only—the last, but (very literally) “not the least”—for Patricia— so named in honour of the popular young princess then resident in Canada—was added to the Province by Act of the Dominion Parliament only in 1912. In extent it compares with all the rest of Ontario—Old and “New," as we have been accustomed to call its northern portion— as 55 or 60 to 100. In fact the area of the new district is about one and one-fifth times the size of the British Isles, and being bounded on the east and north by James and Hudson Bays, it lengthens out Ontario's salt-water shore to 600 miles in all.

It is true that many people regard the region as hopelessly frozen and inhospitable to man ; but the reports of the explorers sent out in connection with the Geological Survey tell of indications of mineral wealth; of forests which, though the trees are rarely of very large size, and though some districts have evidently been burnt over more or less recently, may furnish large quantities of pulpwood and timber for other uses; of fish in lakes and rivers and in the vast salt-water bays; of fur bearing animals, still numerous in spite of the depredations wrought by hunters and traders for nearly two and a half centuries ; of great navigable rivers, of water-powers, chiefly inland; and of possibilities (proved by the cultivation of vegetables in the gardens of many generations of Hudson’s Bay Company’s factors) not small even in agriculture. It is not easy for most of us to realise that the new district is by no means Arctic in its latitudes; but its most northerly and most southerly points are (roughly) in about the same latitudes as the most northerly and southerly points of the British Isles. It has been well said, however, that the agricultural value of the land is “of less immediate interest,” whilst there still remain “such vast unsettled areas in other more readily accessible parts of northern Ontario.”

It may well be, indeed, that the question of comparative accessibility may have to be revised, when the long-discussed railways are built to Hudson Bay, and that ancient waterway from the heart of the West to Europe is restored to the importance it had in the palmy days of the fur trade. The consensus of opinion of sea-captains who have had experience of the navigation of the Bay seems to be that for three months of the year at least “Hudson Strait and Bay afford a safe commercial route to Europe.” It is stated, moreover, that “in the course of a century and three-quarters (to 1870) 750 vessels, ranging from 70-gun ships to 10-ton pinnaces, crossed the ocean, passed through the straits, and sailed the bay in the service of the (Hudson’s Bay) Company. And only two were lost. A marvellous record, when it is remembered that all the craft were sailors, and most of them small and of crude construction, and that the bay and strait afforded none of the modern accessories to navigation in the way of coast aids.”

But not all the navigators of the Bay were so fortunate as the Company's servants. The very name reminds one of a tragedy in which indeed the treachery of man played part as well as the cruelty of the sea. Sailing in 1610 in his little Discovery to seek the elusive North-West Passage to the East, Henry Hudson entered the hay which bears his name and wintered on what was later called James Bay. Curiously enough, Hudson and the navigators who immediately followed him represented this smaller bay on their charts as cut in two by a great peninsula running up from the south. During the winter provisions ran very low, and Hudson had hardly set forth on his return voyage, when, according to the account of one of the mutineers, some of the crew conspired against “the master,” whom they bound and forced with eight other men into a shallop, to shift for themselves. One man alone, John King, the carpenter, elected to leave the ship, if he might take with him his chest of tools; and one fancies that in this he played the hero, for all the rest were sick or disabled. Fearing lest the doomed men should overtake the ship, as they seem to have tried to do, the mutineers crowded on all sail, and the last chapter in Hudson’s story was never known to mortal man.

About six months after the mutineers reached England (themselves having suffered terrible things), Hudson’s little Discovery sailed again with a larger consort, the Resolution, under command of Sir Thomas Button, who was commissioned to make another search for the “North-West Passage.” He was provided by King James with a letter to tne Emperor of Japan, and was bitterly disappointed to iind the western shores of the great bay utterly impenetrable. At Port Nelson, which he named after his sailing-master, Button and his company spent a wretched winter, somehow losing the Resolution, for it was in their smaller vessel that the survivors sailed for home. Two years later, "the good and luckie ship Discovery" carried Bylot and Baffin into Hudson Bay, and in 1619 a Danish navigator, Jens Munk, came with two ships to Port Churchill, but his crews suffered so terribly that, of sixty-four persons, only himself and two others survived the winter, and managed, in their smaller vessel, with great difficulty to reach Norway.

The stretch of coast recently added to Ontario was almost the last to be explored; but in 1631 two expeditions, commanded respectively by Luke Foxe, of Hull, and Thomas James, of Bristol, sailed from England within two days of each other in the Charles (a pinnace of something less than 150 tons, lent to Foxe by the King) and the Henrietta Maria (of 70 tons, fitted out by James's fellow-citizens). The two vessels met at the mouth of the Winisk River off the coast of “Patricia," and the captains dined together, on August 29, on James’s ship, whose guest and rival seems, however, to have treated him with scam politeness, holding him to be “no seaman.”

Both sailed on to Cape Henrietta Maria, so named by James; but from this point Foxe sailed northwards to the channel now bearing his name, and then home, while James sailed along the west coast of the bay called after him, to winter on Charlton Island, where in the spring the adventurers were sorely tormented by an “infinite abundance of blood-thirsty Muskitoes.” Leaving his winter quarters on July 3, 1632, James sailed back to Cape Henrietta Maria and planted a cross, bearing the royal arms and those of the city of Bristol. It was he who discovered and named the new “Severne,” after the English river; and it is said that the account of his “strange and dangerous voyage” suggested to Coleridge his weird, beautiful poem of “The Ancient Mariner."

Henceforth seekers for the “North-West Passage" came no more into Hudson Bay; but some thirty-five years later the ships of the Hudson’s Bay Company began to frequent it for the sake of the furs collected by the Indians scattered through the surrounding wilderness. It is still largely an Indian country, though the red men are probabiy much less numerous than they were two and a half centuries ago. There are other changes, wrought not only by the coming of the traders, but also by the self-denying labours of both Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries. There are now few pagans amongst them, and, thanks to the wonderfully simple syllabic alphabet, invented by the Methodist missionary, Rev. James Evans, “practically all the Indians can read and write.” In fact, “every Indian camping-place and every point where canoe routes diverge become local post-offices, where letters written on birch-bark’" are left for the information of persons coming after. A few of the Indians of Patricia have built, for use in winter, log-huts “with fireplaces and chimneys of wattle: and mud," but most still cling to the bark teepees. In the matter of clothing the present-day Indians are scarcely as well off as their forefathers, who dressed in the skins of the animals they hunted or trapped, for they sell everything marketable to the traders, and in place of furs garb themselves in manufactured cloth, net always of good quality. There is, however, no sale for rabbit j skins, and these, cut (spirally) into long strips and sewn together at the ends, are woven and fashioned into warm, rough blankets and coats.

By 1685 there were five trading posts on the bay, and in the following year it began to be the scene of the daring exploits of D’Iberville. In 1694, and again in 1697, he captured Fort Nelson, which then remained in his countrymen’s hands till the resignation of all French claims on the Hudson Bay territory by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Afterwards, as York Factory, it was the headquarters on the bay of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and as such was the stage for many interesting scenes. But just now the people of Ontario are thinking rather of the future of this old port than of its past, for, though not properly within Patricia, it is to be connected therewith (for the building of a railway) by the “Five-mile Strip” through the territory of Manitoba. Nor is this all. At the mouth of the Nelson River an additional space of five miles by hall' a mile will bring Ontario’s water-frontage up to ten miles, so that the Province may construct a full equipment of docks, warehouses, and grain-elevators at this new “Archangel of the West."

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