The Great Fresh-water Seas Of Canada

A sentimental journey in Canada is not like Sterne's, all about corking-pins and remises, monks and Marias, nor is it likely, in this utilitarian age, even if Sterne could be revived to write it, to be as immortal; nevertheless, let us ramble.

The Welland Canal naturally leads one to reflect on the great sources of power spread before the Canadian nation; for, although it will never, never be la nation Canadienne, yet it will inevitably some day or other be the Canadia
nation, and its limits the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.

President Polk—they say his name is an abbreviation of Pollok—can no more dive into the course of time than that poet could do, and it is about as vain for him to predict that the American bald eagle shall claw all the fish on the continent of the New World, as it is to fancy that the time is never to come when the Canadian races, Norman-Saxon as they are, shall not assert some claim to the spoils.

Canada is now happier under the dominion of Victoria than she could possibly be under that of the people of the States, and she knows and feels it. The natural resources of Canada are enormous, and developing themselves every day; and it needs neither Lyell, nor the yet unheard-of geologists of Canada to predict that the day is not far distant when her iron mines, her lead ores, her copper, and perhaps her silver, will come into the market.[6]

I see, in a paper lying before me, that Colonel Prince, a person who has already flourished before the public as an enterprising English farming gentleman, who combines the long robe with the red coat, has, with a worthy patriotism, obtained a very large grant of lands from the government to explore the shore of Lake Superior, in order to find whether the Yankees are to have all the copper to themselves; and that, in searching a little to the eastward of St. Mary's Rapids, a very valuable deposit has been discovered, which has stimulated other adventurers, who have found another mine nearer the outlet of the lake and still more valuable, the copper of which, lying near the surface, yields somewhere about seventy-five per cent.[7]

We know that rich iron mines exist, and are steadily worked in Lower Canada; we know that a vast deposit of iron, one of the finest in the world, has lately been discovered on the Ottawa, a river in the township of M'Nab; and we know that nothing prevents the Marmora and Madoc iron from being used but the finishing of the Trent navigation. Lead abounds on the Sananoqui river, and at Clinton, in the Niagara district; whilst plumbago, now so useful, is abundant throughout the line, where the primary and secondary rocks intersect each other. Mr. Logan, employed by the government, ex cathedra, says there is no coal in Canada; but still it appears that in the Ottawa country it is very possible it may be found, and that, if it is not, Cape Breton and the Gaspé lands will furnish it in abundance; and, as Canada may now fairly be said to be all the North American territory, embraced between the Pacific somewhere about the Columbia river, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, for a political union exists between all these provinces, if an acknowledged one does not, coal will yet be plentiful in Canada.

Canada, thus limited, is now, de facto, ay, and de jure, British North America; and a fair field and a fertile one it is, peopled by a race neither to be frightened nor coaxed out of its birthright.

The advantages of Canada are enormous, much greater, in fact, than they are usually thought to be at home.

The ports of St. John's and of Halifax, without mentioning fifty others, are open all the year round to steamers and sea-going vessels; and when railroads can at all seasons bring their cargoes into Canada proper, then shall we live six months more than during the present torpidity of our long winters. John Bull, transported to interior Canada, is very like a Canadian black bear: he sleeps six months, and growls during the remaining six for his food.

Then, in summer, there is the St. Lawrence covered with ships of all nations, the canals carrying their burthens to the far West and the great mediterraneans of fresh water, opening a country of unknown resources and extent.

These great seas of Canada have often engaged my thoughts. Tideless, they flow ever onward, to keep up the level of the vast Atlantic, and in themselves are oceans. How is it that the moon, that enormous blister-plaster, does not raise them? Simply because there is some little error in the very accurate computations which give all the regulations of tidal waters to lunar influences.

Barlow, one of the mathematical master-spirits of the age, was bold enough once to doubt this vast power of suction on the part of the ruler of the night; and there were certain wiseacres who, as in the case of Galileo, thought it very religiously dangerous indeed, to attempt to interfere with her privileges.

But, in fact, the phenomenon of the tides is just as easy of explanation by the motion of the earth as it is by the moon's presumed drinking propensities, and, as she is a lady, let us hope she has been belied. The motion of the earth would not affect such narrow bodies of water as the Canadian lakes, but the moon's power of attraction would, if it existed to the extent supposed, be under the necessity of doing it, unless she prefers salt to fresh liquors.

One may venture, now-a-days, to express such a doubt, particularly as Madam Moon is a Pagan deity.

The great lakes are, however, very extraordinary in their way. Let us recollect what I have seen and thought of them.

We will commence with Lake Superior, which is 400 miles in length, 100 miles wide, and 900 feet deep, where it has been sounded. It contains 32,000 square miles of water, and it is 628 feet above the level of the sea.

Lake Michigan is 220 miles long, 60 miles wide, and 1,000 deep, as far as it has been sounded; contains 22,400 square miles, and is 584 feet above tide-water; but it is, in fact, only a large bay of Lake Huron, the grand lake, which is 240 miles long, without it averaging 86 miles in width, also averaging 1,000 feet deep, as far as soundings have been tried, contains 20,400 square miles, and is also about 584 feet above the tidal waters.

Off Saginaw Bay, in this lake, leads have been sunk 1,800 feet, or 1,200 feet below the level of the Atlantic, without finding bottom.

Green Bay, an arm of Michigan, is in itself 106 miles long, 20 miles wide, and contains 2,000 square miles.

Lake St. Clair, 6 feet above Lake Erie, follows Lake Huron; but it is a mere enlargement of the St. Lawrence, of immense size, however, and shallow: it is 20 miles long, 14 wide, 20 feet deep, and contains 360 square miles.

Then comes Lake Erie, the Stormy Lake, which is 240 miles long, 40 miles wide, 408 feet in its deepest part, and contains 9,600 square miles. Lake Erie is 565 feet above tide-water. Its average depth is 85 feet only.

Lake Ontario, the Beautiful Lake, is 180 miles long, 45 miles wide, 500 feet average depth, where sounded successfully, but said to be fathomless in some places, and contains 6,300 square miles. It is 232 feet above the tide of the St. Lawrence.

The Canadian lakes have been computed to contain 1,700 cubic miles of water, or more than half the fresh water on the globe, covering a space of about 93,000 square miles. They extend from west to east over nearly 15 degrees and a half of longitude, with a difference of latitude of about eight and a half degrees, draining a country of not less surface than 400,000 square miles.

The greatest difference is observable between the waters of all these lakes, arising from soil, depth, and shores. Ontario is pure and blue, Erie pure and green, the southern part of Michigan nothing particular. The northern part of Michigan and all Huron are clear, transparent, and full of carbonic gas, so that its water sparkles. But the extraordinary transparency of the waters of all these lakes is very surprising. Those of Huron transmit the rays of light to a great depth, and consequently, having no preponderating solid matters in suspension, an equalization of heat occurs. Dr. Drake ascertained that, at the surface in summer, and at two hundred feet below it, the temperature of the water was 56°.

One of the most curious things on the shallow parts of Huron is to sail or row over the submarine or sublacune mountains, and to feel giddy from fancy, for it is like being in a balloon, so pure and tintless is the water. It is, like Dolland's best telescopes, achromatic.

The lakes are subject in the latter portion of summer to a phenomenon, which long puzzled the settlers; their surface near the shores of bays and inlets are covered by a bright yellow dust, which passed until lately for sulphur, but is now known to be the farina of the pine forests. The atmosphere is so impregnated with it at these seasons, that water-barrels, and vessels holding water in the open air, are covered with a thick scum of bright yellow powder.

A curious oily substance also pervades the waters in autumn, which agglutinates the sand blown over it by the winds, and floats it about in patches. I have never been able to discover the cause of this; perhaps, it is petroleum, or the sand is magnetic iron. Singular currents and differently coloured streams also appear, as on the ocean; but, as all the lakes have a fall, no weed gathers, except in the stagnant bays.

The bottom of Ontario is unquestionably salt, and no wonder that it should be so, for all the Canadian lakes were once a sea, and the geological formation of the bed of Ontario is the saliferous rock.

I have often enjoyed on Ontario's shores, where I have usually resided, the grand spectacle which takes place after intense frost. The early morning then exhibits columns of white vapour, like millions of Geysers spouting up to the sky, curling, twisting, shooting upwards, gracefully forming spirals and pyramids, amid the dark ground of the sombre heavens, and occasionally giving a peep of little lanes of the dark waters, all else being shrouded in dense mist.

People at home are very apt to despise lakes, perhaps from the usual insipidity of lake poetry, and to imagine that they can exhibit nothing but very placid and tranquil scenery. Lake Erie, the shallowest of the great Canadian fresh-water seas, very soon convinces a traveller to the contrary; for it is the most turbulent and the most troublesome sea I ever embarked upon—a region of vexed waters, to which the Bermoothes of Shakespeare is a trifle; for that is bad enough, but not half so treacherous and so thunder-stormy as Erie.

Huron is an ocean, when in its might; its waves and swells rival those of the Atlantic; and the beautiful Ontario, like many a lovely dame, is not always in a good temper. I once crossed this lake from Niagara to Toronto late in November, in the Great Britain, a steamer capable of holding a thousand men with ease, and during this voyage of thirty-six miles we often wished ourselves anywhere else: the engine, at least one of them, got deranged; the sea was running mountains high; the cargo on deck was washed overboard; gingerbread-work, as the sailors call the ornamental parts of a vessel, went to smash; and, if the remaining engine had failed in getting us under the shelter of the windward shore, it would have been pretty much with us as it was with the poor fellow who went down into one of the deepest shafts of a Swedish mine.

A curious traveller, one of the inquisitive class, must needs see how the miners descended into these awful depths. He was put into a large bucket, attached to the huge rope, with a guide, and gradually lowered down. When he had got some hundred fathoms or so, he began to feel queer, and look down, down, down. Nothing could he see but darkness visible. He questioned his guide as to how far they were from the bottom, cautiously and nervously. Oh, said the Swede, about a mile. A mile! replied the Cockney: shall we ever get there?—I don't know, said the guide. Why, does any accident ever happen?—Yes, often.—How long ago was the last accident, and what was it?—Last week, one of our women went down, and when she had got just where we are now, the rope broke.—Oh, Heaven! ejaculated the inquisitive traveller, what happened to her? The Swede, who did not speak very good English, put the palm of his right hand over that of his left, lifted the upper hand, slapped them together with a clap, and said, most phlegmatically—Flat as a pankakka.

I once crossed Ontario, in the same direction as that just mentioned, in another steamer, when the beautiful Ontario was in a towering passion. We had a poor fellow in the cabin, who had been a Roman Catholic priest, but who had changed his form of faith. The whole vessel was in commotion; it was impossible for the best sea-legs to hold on; so two or three who were not subject to seasickness got into the cabin, or saloon, as it is called, and grasped any thing in the way. The long dinner-table, at which fifty people could sit down, gave a lee-lurch, and jammed our poor religioner, as Southey so affectedly calls ministers of the word, into a corner, where chairs innumerable were soon piled over him. He abandoned himself to despair; and long and loud were his confessions. On the first lull, we extricated him, and put him into a birth. Every now and then, he would call for the steward, the mate, the captain, the waiters, all in vain, all were busy. At last his cries brought down the good-natured captain. He asked if we were in danger. Not entirely, was the reply. What is it does it, captain?—Oh, said the skipper, gruffly enough, we are in the trough of the sea, and something has happened to the engine. The trough of the say?—my friend was an Irishman—the trough of the say? is it that does it, captain? But the captain was gone.

During the whole storm and the remainder of the voyage, the poor ex-priest asked every body that passed his refuge if we were out of the trough of the say. I know, said he, it is the trough of the say does it. No cooking could be performed, and we should have gone dinnerless and supperless to bed, if we had not, by force of steam, got into the mouth of the Niagara river. All became then comparatively tranquil; she moored, and the old Niagara, for that was her name, became steady and at rest. Soon the cooks, stewards, and waiters, were at work, and dinner, tea, and supper, in one meal, gladdened our hearts. The greatest eater, the greatest drinker, and the most confident of us all, was our old friend and companion of the voyage, the Trough of the Say, as he was ever after called.

Such is tranquil Ontario. I remember a man-of-war, called the Bullfrog, being once very nearly lost in the voyage I have been describing; and never a November passes without several schooners being lost or wrecked upon Lakes Huron, Erie, and Ontario; whilst the largest American steamers on Erie sometimes suffer the same fate. Whenever Superior is much navigated, it will be worse, as the seasons are shorter and more severe there, and the shores iron-bound and mountainous.

Through the Welland Canal there is now a continuous navigation of those lakes for 844 miles; and the St. Lawrence Canal being completed, and the La Chine Locks enlarged at Montreal, there will be a continuous line of shipping from London to the extremity of Lake Superior, embracing an inland voyage on fresh water of upwards of two thousand miles. Very little is required to accomplish an end so desirable.

It has been estimated by the Topographical Board of Washington, that during 1843 the value of the capital of the United States afloat on the four lakes was sixty-five millions of dollars, or about sixteen millions, two hundred thousand pounds sterling; and this did not of course include the British Canadian capital, an idea of which may be formed from the confident assertion that the Lakes have a greater tonnage entering the Canadian ports than that of the whole commerce of Britain with her North American colonies. This is, however, un peu fort. It is now not at all uncommon to see three-masted vessels on Lake Ontario; and one alone, in November last, brought to Kingston a freight of flour which before would have required three of the ordinary schooners to carry, namely, 1500 barrels.

A vessel is also now at Toronto, which is going to try the experiment of sailing from that port to the West Indies and back again; and, as she has been properly constructed to pass the canals, there is no doubt of her success.

Some idea of the immense exertions made by the government to render the Welland Canal available may be formed by the size of the locks at Port Dalhousie, which is the entrance on Lake Ontario. Two of the largest class, in masonry, and of the best quality, have been constructed: they are 200 feet long by 45 wide; the lift of the upper lock is 11, and of the lower, 12, which varies with the level of Lake Ontario, the mitre sill being 12 feet below its ordinary surface. Steamers of the largest class can therefore go to the thriving village of St. Catherine's, in the midst of the granary of Canada.

The La Chine Canal must be enlarged for ship navigation more effectually than it has been. I subjoin a list of colonial shipping for 1844 from Simmonds' Colonial Magazine.


Countries. Vessels. Tons. Crews.


Malta, 85 15,326 893


Bathurst, 25 1,169 215

Sierra Leone, 17 1,148 111

Cape of Good Hope,

Cape Town, 27 3,090 265

Port Elizabeth, 2 201 10

Mauritius, 124 12,079 1,413


Bombay, 113 50,767 3,393

Cochin, 15 5,674 275

Tanjore, 33 5,070 257

Madras, 32 5,474 248

Malacca, 2 288 13

Coringa, 17 3,384 126

Singapore, 13 1,543 289

Calcutta, 186 51,779 2,004

Ceylon, 674 30,076 2,696

Prince of Wales Island, 7 996 51

New Holland—

Sydney, 293 28,051 2,128

Melbourne, 29 1,240 147

Adelaide, 17 864 60

Hobart Town, 103 7,153 724

Launceston, 42 3,150 257

New Zealand—

Auckland, 13 305 42

Wellington, 2 262 32

Countries. Vessels. Tons. Crews.


Canada, Quebec, 509 45,361 2,590

Montreal, 60 10,097 556

Cape Breton, Sydney, 369 15,048 1,296

Arichat, 96 4,614 335

New Brunswick, Miramichi, 81 10,143 509

St. Andrews, 193 18,391 918

St. John, 398 63,676 2,480

Newfoundland, St. John, 847 53,944 4,567

Nova Scotia, Halifax, 1,657 82,890 5,292

Liverpool, 31 2,641 163

Pictou, 60 6,929 354

Yarmouth, 146 11,724 637

Prince Edward's Island, 237 13,851 857

West Indies, Antigua, 85 833 220

Bahama, 140 3,252 587

Barbadoes, 37 1,640 305

Berbice, 18 854 89

Bermuda, 54 3,523 323

Demerara, 54 2,353 250

Dominicia, 14 502 85

Grenada, 48 812 198

Countries. Vessels. Tons. Crews.

Jamaica, Port Antonio 5 95 22

Antonio Bay, 2 70 13

Falmouth,, 5 107 29

Kingston, 68 2,659 359

Montego Bay, 18 849 105

Morant Bay, 9 251 51

Port Maria, 3 86 18

St. Ann's, 1 20 5

Savannah la Mar, 3 153 22

St. Lucca, 2 64 10

Montserrat, 4 100 19

Nevis, 11 178 45

St. Kitts, 35 546 114

S. Lucia, 19 *013 132

St. Vincent, 27 1,164 180

Tobago, 7 182 46

Tortola, 48 277 127

Trinidad, 61 1,832 378

—— ——— ———

Total, 7,304 592,839 40,659

[* Transribers note: This figure is not correct]

It will be seen, from the foregoing statement, that the tonnage of the vessels belonging to our colonies is about equal to that of the whole of the French mercantile marine, which in 1841 consisted of 592,266 tons—1842, 589,517—1843, 599,707.

The tonnage of the three principal ports of Great Britain in 1844 was:—

London 598,552

Liverpool 307,852

Newcastle 259,571


Total 1,165,975

On Lake Erie, the Canadians have a splendid steamer, the London, Captain Van Allen, and another still larger is building at Chippewa, which is partly owned by government, and so constructed as to carry the mail and to become fitted speedily for warlike purposes.

Lake Ontario swarms with splendid British steam-vessels; but on Lake Huron there is only at present one, called the Waterloo, in the employment of the Canada Company, which runs from Goderich to the new settlements of Owen's Sound.

Propellers now go all the way to St. Joseph's, at the western extremity of Lake Huron; and the trade on this lake and on Michigan is becoming absolutely astonishing. Last year, a return of American and foreign vessels at Chicago, from the commencement of navigation on the 1st of April to the 1st of November only, shows that there arrived 151 steamers, 80 propellers, 10 brigs, and 142 schooners, making a total of 1,078 lake-going vessels, and a like number of departures, not including numerous small craft, engaged in the carrying of wood, staves, ashes, &c., and yet, such was the glut of wheat, that at the latter date 300,000 bushels remained unshipped.

Upwards of a million of money will be expended by the Canadian Government in protecting and securing the transit trade of the lakes; and the Canadians have literally gone ahead of Brother Jonathan, for they have made a ship-canal round the Falls of Niagara, whilst the most enterprising people on the face of the earth, who are so much in advance of us according to the ideas of some writers, have been, dreaming about it.—So much for the welfare of the earth being co-equal with democratic institutions, à la mode Française!

The American government up to 1844 had spent only 2,100,000 dollars on the same objects, or about half a million sterling, according to the statement of Mr. Whittlesey of Ohio. But that government is actually stirring in another matter, which is of immense future importance, although it appears trivial at this moment, and that is the opening up of Lake Superior, where a new world offers itself.

They have projected a ship-canal round, or rather by the side of the rapids of St. Marie. The length of this canal is said to be only, in actual cutting, three-quarters of a mile, and the whole expense necessary not more than 230,000 dollars, or about £55,000 sterling.

The British government should look in time to this; it owns the other side of the Sault St. Marie, and the Superior country is so rich in timber and minerals that it is called the Denmark of America, whilst a direct access hereafter to the Oregon territory and the Pacific must be opened through the vast chain of lakes towards the Rocky Mountains by way of Selkirk Colony, on the Red River.

The lakes of Canada have not engaged that attention at home which they ought to have had; and there is much interesting information about them which is a dead letter in England.

Their rise and fall is a subject of great interest. The great sinking of the levels of late years, which has become so visible and so injurious to commerce, deserves the most attentive investigation. The American writers attribute it to various causes, and there are as many theories about it as there are upon all hidden mysteries. Evaporation and condensation, woods and glaciers, have all been brought into play.

If the lakes are supplied by their own rivers, and by the drainage streams of the surrounding forests, and all this is again and again returned into them from the clouds, whence arises the sudden elevation or the sudden depression of such enormous bodies of water, which have no tides?

The Pacific and the Atlantic cannot be the cause; we must seek it elsewhere. To the westward of Huron, on the borders of Superior, the land is rocky and elevated; but it attains only enormous altitudes at such a distance on the rocky Andean chain as to render it improbable that those mountains exert immediate influences on the lakes. The Atlantic also is too far distant, and very elevated land intervenes to intercept the rising vapours. On the north, high lands also exist; and the snows scarcely account for it, as the whole of North America near these inland seas is alike covered every year in winter.

The north-east and the south-west winds are the prevalent ones, and a slight inspection of the maps will suffice to show that those compass bearings are the lines which the lakes and valleys of Northern America assume.

In 1845, the lakes began suddenly to diminish, and to such a degree was this continued from June to December, when the hard frosts begin, that, at the commencement of the latter month, Lake Ontario, at Kingston, was three feet below its customary level, and consequently, in the country places, many wells and streams dried up, and there was during the autumn distress for water both for cattle and man, although the rains were frequent and very heavy.

Whence, then, do the lakes receive that enormous supply which will restore them to their usual flow?—or are they permanently diminishing? I am inclined to believe that the latter is the case, as cultivation and the clearings of the forest proceed; for I have observed within fifteen years the total drying up of streamlets by the removal of the forest, and these streamlets had evidently once been rivulets and even rivers of some size, as their banks, cut through alluvial soils, plainly indicated.

The lakes also exhibit on their borders, particularly Ontario, as Lyell describes from the information of the late Mr. Roy, who had carefully investigated the subject, very visible remains of many terraces which had consecutively been their boundaries.

It is evident to observers who have recorded facts respecting the lakes, that but a small amount of vapour water is deposited by northeasterly winds from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the great estuary of that river, of which the lakes are only enlargements, as the wind from that region carries the cloud-masses from the lakes themselves direct to the valley of the Mississippi. For it meets with no obstacle from high lands on the western littorale, which is low. A north-east gale continues usually from three to six days, and generally without much rain; but all the other winds from south to westerly afford a plentiful supply of moisture. Thus a shift of wind from north-east to north and to north-west perhaps brings back the vapour of the great valley of the gulf, reduced in temperature by the chilly air of the north and west. If then an easterly gale continues for an unusual time, the basin of the Canadian lakes is robbed of much of its water, which passes to the rivers of the west, and is lost in the gulf of Mexico, or in the forest lakes of the wild West.

Perhaps, therefore, whenever a cycle occurs in which north-east winds prevail during a year or a series of years, the lakes lose their level, for, their direction being north-east and south-west, such is the usual current of the air; and therefore either north-east or south-westerly winds are the usual ones which pass over their surface.

The parts of the great inland navigation which suffer most in these periodical depressions are the St. Clair River and the shallow parts of those extensions of the St. Lawrence called Lakes St. Francis and St. Peter, which in the course of time will cause, and indeed in the latter already do cause, some trouble and some anxiety.

The north winds, keen and cold, do not deposit much in the valley of the lakes, whose southern borders are usually too low also to prevent the passage of rain-bearing clouds.

From that portion of the dividing ridge between the valleys of the St. Lawrence and Mississippi, only seven miles from Lake Erie, says an American writer, there is to Fort Wayne, at the head of the Maumee river, one hundred miles from the same lake, a gradual subsidence of the land from 700 to less than 200 feet.

From Fort Wayne westward this dividing ridge rises only one hundred and fifty feet, and then gradually subsides to the neighbourhood of the south-west of Lake Michigan, where it is but some twenty feet above the level of that water.

The basin of the Mississippi, including its great tributary streams, receives therefore a very great portion of the falling vapour, from all the winds blowing from north to north-east.

The same reasoner agrees with the views which I have expressed respecting the probability of the supply to raise the level, which must be the great feeder derived from the south and south-westward invariably rainy winds, when of long continuance, in the basin of the St. Lawrence, and generated by the gulf stream in its gyration through the Mexican Bay, being heaped up from the trade wind which causes the oceanic current, and forces its heated atmosphere north and north-east, by the rebound which it takes from the vast Cordilleras of Anahuac and Panama; thus depositing its cooling showers on the chain of the fresh water seas of Canada, condensed as they are by the natural air-currents from the icy regions of the western Andes of Oregon, and the cold breezes from the still more gelid countries of the north-west.

The American topographical engineers, as well as our own civil engineers and savans, have accurately measured the heights and levels of the lakes, which I have already given; but one very curious fact remains to be noticed, and will prove that it is by no means a visionary idea that, from the great island of Cuba, which must be an English outpost, if much further annexation occurs, voyages will be made to bring the produce of the West Indies and Spanish America into the heart of the United States and Canada by the Mississippi and the rivers flowing into it, and by the great lakes; so that a vessel, loading at Cuba, might perform a circuit inland for many thousand miles, and return to her port via Quebec.

From the Gulf of Mexico to the lowest summits of the ridge separating the basin of the Mississippi from that of the St. Lawrence or great lakes, the rise does not exceed six hundred feet, and the graduation of the land has an average of not more than six inches to a mile in an almost continuous inclined plane of six thousand miles. The Americans have not lost sight of this natural assistance to form a communication between the lakes and the Mississippi.

My attention has been drawn to the subsidence of the waters of the lakes of Canada by the unusual lowness of Ontario, on the banks of which I lived last year, and by reading the statement of the American writer above quoted, as well as by the fact that in the Travels of Carver, one of the first English navigators on these mediterraneans, who states that a small ship of forty tons, in sailing from the head of Lake Michigan to Detroit, was unable to pass over the St. Clair flats for want of water, and that the usual way of passing them eighty years ago was in small boats. What a useful thing it would have been, if any scientific navigators or resident observers had registered the rise and fall of the lakes in the years since Upper Canada came into our possession! An old naval officer told me that it was really periodical; and it occurred usually, that the greatest depression and elevation had intervals of seven years. Lake Erie is evidently becoming more shallow constantly, but not to any great or alarming degree; and shoals form, even in the splendid roadstead of Kingston, within the memory of young inhabitants. An American revenue vessel, pierced for, I believe, twenty-four guns, and carrying an enormous Paixhan, grounded in the autumn of last year on a shoal in that harbour, which was not known to the oldest pilot.

By the bye, talking of this vessel, which is a steamer built of iron, and fitted with masts and sails, the same as any other sea-going vessel, can it be requisite, in order to protect a commerce which she cannot control beyond the line drawn through the centre of the lakes, to have such a vessel for revenue purposes? or is she not a regular man-of-war, ready to throw her shells into Kingston, if ever it should be required? At least, such is the opinion which the good folks of that town entertained when they saw the beautiful craft enter their harbour.

The worst, however, of these iron boats is that two can play at shelling and long shots; and gunnery-practice is now brought to such perfection, that an iron steamer might very possibly soon get the worst of it from a heavy battery on the level of the sea; for a single accident to the machinery, protected as it is in that vessel, would, if there was no wind, put her entirely at the mercy of the gunners. The old wooden walls, after all, are better adapted to attack a fortress, as they can stand a good deal of hammering from both shot and shells.

But to revert to matters more germane to the lakes.

Volney, the first expounder of the system of the warm wind of the south supplying the great lakes, has received ample corroboration of his data from observation. The fact that the deflection of the great trade-wind from the west to a northern direction by the Mexican Andes Popocatepetl, Istaccihuetl, Naucampatepetl, &c., whose snowy summits have a frigid atmosphere of their own, is proved by daily experience.

Whenever southerly winds prevail—and, in the cycle of the gyration of atmospherical currents, this is certain, and will be reduced to calculation—the great lakes are filled to the edge; and whenever northern and northeasterly winds take their appointed course, then these mediterraneans sink, and the valley of the Mississippi is filled to overflowing.

But the most curious facts are, that the different lakes exhibit different phenomena. The Board of Public Works of Ohio states that, in 1837-38, the quantity of water descending from the atmosphere did not exceed one-third of that which was the minimum quantity of several preceding years.

Ontario, from the reports of professional persons, has varied not less than eight feet, and Erie about five. Huron and Superior being comparatively unknown, no data are afforded to judge from; but what vast atmospheric agencies must be at work when such wonderful results in the smaller lakes have been made evident!

People who live at the Niagara Falls, and I agree with them in observations extending over a period since 1826, believe that these Falls have receded considerably; and, although I do not enter into the mathematical analysis of modern geologists respecting them, as to their constant retrocession, believing that earthquake split open the present channel, yet I have no doubt that the level of Lake Erie is considerably affected by the diminution of the yielding shaly rocks of their foundation. Earthquake, and not retrocession, appears to me, who have had the singular advantage, as a European, of very long residence, to have been the cause of that great chasm which now forms the bed of the Niagara, from the Table Rock to Queenston, in short, a rending or separating of the rocks rather than a wearing; and this is corroborated by the many vestiges of great cataracts which now exist near the Short Hills, the highest summit of the Niagara frontier, between Lakes Erie and Ontario, as well as by the great natural ravine of St. David's. But this is a subject too deep for our present purpose, and so we shall continue to treat of the Great Lakes in another point of view.

Chemically considered, these lakes possess peculiar properties, according to their boundaries. Superior is too little known to speak of with certainty—Huron not much better—but Erie, and particularly Ontario, have been well investigated. The waters of these are pure, and impregnated chiefly with aluminous and calcareous matter, giving to the St. Lawrence river a fresh and admirable element and aliment.

The St. Lawrence is of a fine cerulean hue, but, like its parent waters of Erie and Ontario, rapidly deposits lime and alumine, so that the boilers of steam-vessels, and even teakettles, soon become furred and incrusted. The specific gravity of the St. Lawrence water above Montreal is about 1·00038, at the temperature of 66°, the air being then 82° of Fahrenheit. It contains the chlorides, sulphates, and carbonates, whose bases are lime and magnesia, particularly and largely those of lime, which accounts for the rapid depositions when the water is heated.

A very accurate analysis gives, at Montreal, in July, atmospheric air in solution or admixture 446 per cent; for a quart of this water, 57 inches cubic measure, evaporated to dryness, left 2.87 solid residue.


Sulphate of magnesia 0·62

Chloride of calcium 0·38

Carbonate of magnesia 0·27

Carbonate of lime 1·29

Silica 0·31



The waters of the Ottawa, flowing through an unexplored country, are of a brown or dark colour. Their specific gravity is only (compared to distilled water) as 1·0024 at 66°, the temperature of the air in July being 82°.

The 57 cubic inches of this water gave

0·99 sulphate of magnesia.

0·60 chloride of lime.

1·07 carbonate of magnesia.

0·17 carbonate of lime.

0·31 silica.



The difference of the colours of these waters is so great, that a perfect line of distinction is drawn where they cross each other; and there can be no doubt that it is caused by the reflection of the rays of light from the impregnation of different saline quantities.

Thus as, in the old world, the waters of the Shannon are brown, and Ireland, speaking generally, as Kohl says, is a brown country;[8] so, in Upper Canada, St. Lawrence and the lakes are blue and green; and in Lower Canada, St. Lawrence and the Ottawa are brown of various shades, a very slight alteration of the chemical components reflecting rays of colour as forcibly and perceptibly as, in like manner, a very slight change of component parts develops sugar and sawdust. Nature, in short, is very simple in all her operations.

Before we proceed to the lower extremity of these wonderful sheets of water again, let us just for a moment glance at what is about to be achieved upon their surfaces, and place the Sault of St. Marie or St. Mary's Rapids, which separate Superior from Huron, before an Englishman's eyes. There at present nothing is talked of but copper mines and silver or argentiferous copper ores.

The Falls of St. Mary are only rapids of no very formidable character, the exit of Lake Superior into Lake Huron. Fifteen miles from the end of the Great Lake, as Superior is called, are the American village of St. Mary and the British one of the same name, on the opposite bank of the River St. Mary.

The Americans have so far strengthened their position, that there is a sort of fort, called Fort Brady, with two companies of regulars; and in and about the village are scattered a thousand people of every possible colour and origin, a great portion being, of course, half-breeds and Indians. The American Fur Company has also a post at this place, one of the very few remaining; for the fur trade in these regions is rapidly declining by the extirpation of the animals which sustained it.

The American government have projected a ship canal to avoid these rapids; and, if that is completed, a vast trade will soon grow up.

About a mile above the village is the landing-place from Lake Superior, at the head of the rapids; there the strait is broad and deep; but, until steamers are built, sailing vessels suffer the disadvantage of being moveable out of the harbour by an east wind only, and this wind does not blow there oftener than once a month. It is probable that a proper harbour will be constructed at the foot of the lake, fifteen miles above.

These rapids have derived their French name Sault from their rushing and leaping motion; but they are very insignificant when compared to the Longue Sault on the St. Lawrence, as the inhabitants cross them in canoes.

I cannot describe them more minutely than Mrs. Jameson has done in her Summer Rambles. She crossed them, and must have experienced some trepidation, for it requires a skilful voyageur to steer the canoe; and it is surprising with what dexterity the Indian will shoot down them as swiftly as the water can carry his fragile vessel. The Indians, however, consider such feats much in the same light as a person fond of boating would think of pulling a pair of oars, or sculling himself across the current of a rivulet. I was once subjected to a rather awkward exemplification of this fact. Being on a hurried journey, and expecting to be frozen in, as it is called, before I could terminate it; I hired an Indian and his little canoe, just big enough to hold us both, and pushed through by-ways in the forest streams and portages. We were paddling merrily along a pretty fair stream, which ran fast, but appeared to reach many miles ahead of us; when, all of a sudden, my guide said, Sit fast. I perceived that the water was moving much more rapidly than it had hitherto done, and that the Indian had wedged himself in the stern, and was steering only with the paddle. We swept along merrily for a mile, till The White Horses, as the breakers are called, began to bob their heads and manes. Hold fast! ejaculated the Red Man. I laid hold of both edges of the canoe, firm as a rock, and in a moment the horrid sound of bursting, bubbling, rushing waters was in mine ears; foam and spray shut out every thing; and away we went, down, down, down, on, on, on, as swift as thought, until, all of a sudden, the little buoyant piece of birch-bark floated like a swan upon the bosom of the tranquil waters, a mile beyond the Fall, for such indeed it might be called, the absolute difference of level having been twelve feet.

When at ease again, I looked at the imperturbable savage and said, What made you take the Fall? was not the détour passable?—Yes, suppose it was! Fall better!—But is it very dangerous?—Yes, suppose, sometime!—Any canoes ever lost there?—Yes, sometime; one two, tree days ago, there! pointing to a large rock in the middle of the narrowest part above our heads.—Did you come down there?—Yes, suppose, did!

Then, thought I to myself, I shall not trust my body to your guidance in future without knowing something of the route beforehand; but I afterwards got accustomed to these taciturn sons of the forest.

The Falls of St. Marie are celebrated as a fishing place; and the white fish caught there are reckoned superior to those taken in any other part of Lake Huron. The fishery is picturesque enough, and is carried on in canoes, manned usually by two Indians or half-breeds, who paddle up the rapids as far as practicable. The one in the bow has a scoop-net, which he dips, as soon as one of these glittering fish is observed, and lands him into the canoe. Incredible numbers of them are taken in this simple manner; but it requires the canoemanship and the eye of an Indian.

The French still show their national characteristics in this remote place. They first settled here before the year 1721, as Charlevoix states; and, in 1762, Henry, a trader on Lake Huron, found them established in a stockaded fort, under an officer of the French army. The Jesuits visited Lake Superior as early as 1600; and in 1634 they had a rude chapel, the first log hut built so far from civilization, in this wilderness. At present, the population are French, Upper Canadians, English, Scotch, Yankees, Indians, half-breeds.

The climate is healthy, very cold in winter, with a short but very warm summer, and always a pure air. Here the Aurora Borealis is seen in its utmost glory. In summer there is scarcely any night; for the twilight lasts until eleven o'clock, and the tokens of the returning sun are visible two hours afterwards.

The extremes of civilized and savage life meet at St. Mary's; for here live the educated European or American, and the pure heathen Red Man; here steamboats and the birch canoe float side by side; and here all-powerful Commerce is already recommencing a deadly rivalry between the Briton and the American, not for furs and peltry, as in days gone by, but for copper and for metals; and here a new world is about to be opened, and that too very speedily.

Here are Indian agents and missionaries, with schools, both the English and the United States' government considering the entrance to the Red Man's country, whose gates are so narrow and still closed up, to be of very great importance, both in a commercial and a political point of view; but it is notorious that, after the French Canadians, the Red Man prefers his Great Mother beyond the Great Lake and her subjects to the President and the people, who are rather too near neighbours to be pleasant, and who have somewhat unceremoniously considered the natives of the soil as so many obstacles to their aggrandizement.

I shall end this sketch of the lakes, by a few observations upon the magnetic phenomena regarding them, and respecting the variation of the compass.

Fort Erie, near the eastern termination of Lake Erie, and close to the Niagara river, presents the line of no variation; whilst at the town of Niagara, on the south-west end of Lake Ontario, not more than thirty-six miles from Fort Erie, the variation in 1832 was 1° 20' east.

The line of no variation is marked distinctly on the best maps of Canada, by the division line between the townships of Stamford and Niagara, seven miles north of Niagara.

At Toronto in 43° 39' north latitude, and 78° 4' west longitude, twenty-four miles north-east of Niagara, the variation in 1832 was more than 2° easterly.

The shore of Lake Huron at Nottawassaga Bay, forty miles north-west of Toronto, is again the line of no variation.

Thus a magnetic meridian lies between Fort Erie and Nottawassaga.

A magnetic observatory is established by the Board of Ordnance at Toronto, near the University, and placed in charge of two young officers of artillery, which says a good deal for the scientific acquirements of that corps. I shall perhaps hereafter advert to this subject more at large, as the volcanic rocks have much to do with the needle in Canada West.

[1] Brevis et admiranda descriptio REGNI GVIANÆ, AVRI abundantissimi, in AMERICA, sev novo orbe, sub linea Æquinoctilia siti: quod nuper admodum, Annis nimirum 1594, 1595, et 1596 per generosum Dominum Dr. GVALTHERVM RALEGH Equitem Anglum detectum est: paulo post jussa ejus duobus libellis comprehensa. Ex quibus JODOCVS HONDIVS TABVLAM Geographicam adornavit, addita explicatione Belgico sermone scripta: Nunc vero in Latinum sermonem translata, et ex variis authoribus hinc inde declarata. Noribergæ. Impensis LEVINI HULSII. M.D.XCIX.

[2] That is, to those portions of the London and western district where American settlers abound, who have so generously repaid the fostering care which Governor Simcoe originally extended to them. One of those rabid folks indebted to the British government, who kept an inn, padlocked his pumps lately when a regiment was marching through Woodstock in hot dusty weather, that the soldiers might not slake their thirst.

[3] Some time afterwards, during the period in which Lord Glenelg held the Colonial Office, I was appointed to report upon the state and condition of the Indians of Canada, by his lordship, without my knowledge or solicitation; this was never communicated to me by the then Lieut.-Governor of Upper Canada, and I only knew of it last year, by accidentally reading a report on the subject made by order of the House of Assembly, after I left Canada. I do not know if his lordship will ever read this work, or the gentleman to whom I believe I was indebted for the intended kindness; and, if either should, I beg to tender my thanks thus publicly.

[4] This puts me in mind of the vulgar received opinion that my godfather Fuseli supped on pork-steaks, to have horrid dreams. Originally said in joke, this absurd story has been repeated even by persons affecting respectability as writers. His Greek learning alone should have saved his memory from this.

[5] One of the speakers against time, in a late debate on the Oregon question, quoted those fine lines, about The flag that braved a thousand years the battle and the breeze, and said its glory was departing before the Stars and Stripes, which were to occupy its place in the event of war, from this time forth and for ever.

[6] Since I penned this, a company is forming to work valuable argentiferous copper-mines lately discovered on Lake Superior. The Americans are actually working rich mines of silver, copper, &c.

[7] A recent number of The Scientific American, published in New York, contains the following:—Some of the British officers in Canada have lately made an important discovery of some of the richest copper-mines in the world. This discovery has created great excitement. Some of the officers, en route to England, are now in the city, and will carry with them some specimens of the ore, and among them one piece weighing 2,200 lbs. The ore is very rich, yielding, as we learn, seventy-two per cent. of pure copper. Some of the copper was taken from the bed of a river, and some broken off from a cliff on the banks. The latter is six feet long, four broad, and six inches thick.

[8] Canada is a blue country; for, a very short distance from the observer, the atmosphere tinges everything blue; and the waters are chiefly of that colour, the sky intensely so.


Frederick Shoberl, Junior, Printer to His Royal Highness Prince Albert.

51, Rupert Street, Haymarket, London.

End of the Project Gutenberg EBook of Canada and the Canadians, by

Sir Richard Henry Bonnycastle


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