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North West Territories, Canada

NORTH WEST TERRITORIES.— This large possession of the Dominion if Canada include., all that portion of British North America outside the Provinces of Ontario. Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba, British Columbia, and Prince Edward Island, and the island of Newfoundland. It is bounded on the N. by the Arctic Ocean, on the E by the Atlantic, on the W by the Pacific, and on the S. by parts of the Dominion of Canada and the United States Area estimated at 2,750,000 square miles.

This immense district was, until 1870, known as the Hudson's Bay Territory, so named after Henry Hudson, who discovered the Bay in 1610, and perished on its shores. It was governed by the Hudson's Bay Company, by whom it was divided into four large departments or regions, subdivided into 33 districts, including 155 posts. The government was administered by a Chief Governor and Council; and the various departments by Chief Factors and Chief Traders. The Northern department, which included all the establishments in the far north and frozen region, comprised the valley of the Mackenzie river, and the country between that sterile region and the Rocky Mountains, north of Lake Athabasca. The Southern department extended on both sides of James's Bay, and along the south shores of Hudson's Bay, as far north as Cape Churchill, and inland to the ridge which forms the northern boundary of Quebec and Ontario, and to the Lakes Winnipeg, Deer and Wollaston. The Montreal department included the country in the neighborhood of Montreal, up the Ottawa river, and along the north shore of the St. Lawrence to Esquimaux Bay; and the Columbia department, comprehended all that immense extent of country to the west of the Rocky Mountains, now the province of British Columbia. The country on the E. side of Hudson's Bay, forming the peninsula of Labrador, was called East Main!; that on the south-west, New South Wales.

In 1870 the North West Territories came into the possession of the Dominion of Canada. Out of the Southern department the province of Manitoba was created.

The territories now outside Manitoba and British Columbia are governed by the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba, who is styled "Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba and North West Territories," and by a Council of 11 members. Fort Garry is the seat of Government.

The North West Territories are watered by numerous lakes and rivers. The principal rivers are the Churchill, Nelson, Severn, Albany, Abbitibbi, East Main, and Great Whale rivers, flowing into Hudson's Bay; the Mackenzie, Coppermine, and Great Fish Rivers, flowing into the Arctic Ocean; the Saskatchewan, Assinniboine and Red Rivers, falling into Lake Winnipeg; and the Caniapuscaw (or Koksoak) and Natwakame Rivers, falling into Hudson's Straits. The Mackenzie is one of the greatest rivers in the world. It is 2,500 miles long, and flows through a fertile and finely wooded country skirted by metalliferous hills, and with coal measures cropping out near the surface through-out three fourths of the area drained by it. According to the bests computation, it drains an area of 443,000 square miles. The Coppermine river is very rich in copper ore and galena. The Saskatchewan, 1,300 miles long, and its tributaries, drain an area of 363,000 square miles. The principal lakes are the Great Bear, Great Slave, Athabasca, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Lake of the Woods, Winnipegoos, Clear Water, Nelson, Deer, Wollaston, North Lined, Mistassini and Abbitibbi. Great Bear Lake is 250 miles long and about as wide. Great Slave Lake is 300 miles long and 50 wide. Lake Athabasca is 200 miles long and 20 to 40 wide. Lake Winnipeg is 280 miles long and 5 to 57 miles wide; Lake of the Woods 75 miles long by 60 miles wide, and Lake Mistassini about the size of Lake Ontario.

The agricultural capabilities of at least 600,000 square miles of the North West Territories are very great. The fertile belt of the Saskatchewan alone contains an area of 64,400 square miles, in one continuous strip 800 miles long, and, on an average, 80 miles broad But the best and largest wheat area is beyond the Saskatchewan, viz: the valleys of the Athabasca and Peace Rivers to the very western ( the Pacific) slope of the Rocky Mountains, along the Peace River pass to lat. 60° N., near the foot of the Rocky Mountains, an area of three hundred million acres beyond the supposed limit of the fertile belt of the North West. (Authorities on this point, Archbishop Taché, Harmon and McLeod.) The Saskatchewan was formerly a wooded country, but successive fires partially cleared it's forest growth; it, however, abounds with the most beautiful herbage, and generally possesses a deep and rich soil of vegetable mould. This extraordinary belt, more/than one-third of which is at once available for the purposes of the agriculturalist, is capable of sustaining a population of 90,000,000. This region in winter is not more severe than that experienced in Ontario; and in the western districts, which are removed from the influence of the great lakes, the spring commences about a month earlier than on the shores of Lake Superior, which is five degrees of latitude farther to the south. The depth of snow is never excessive; while in the richest tracts the natural pasturage is so abundant that horses and cattle may be left to obtain their food during the greater part of the winter: in fact up even to lat. 56° N., (Dunvegan on the Pence River,) the horses winter out the whole season. Travelers who have visited this region describe it as magnificent, and the late Sir George Simpson, who had been for over thirty years Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, speaks of himself and fellow travelers, "brushing the luxuriant grass with our knees, and the hard ground of the surface was beautifully diversified with a variety of flowers, such as the rose the hyacinth and the tiger lily;" and again he describes it as "a beautiful country, with lofty hills, rolling prairies, sylvan lakes, bright green sward, uninterrupted profusion of roses and blue bells, softest vales and panoramas of hanging copses."

The Mackenzie river country is well wooded, and the soil well adapted for cultivation.

The rivers and lakes west of Lake Superior are bordered by rich prairies and luxuriant woods, and the splendid stream, (Rainy river, 100 miles, long) which empties Lac la Pluie into Lake of the Woods, is crowned in many places with a plentiful growth of birch, poplar, beech, elm and oak. Sir George Simpson thus concludes his remarks on this beautiful stream: "Is it too much for the eye of philanthropy to discern through the vista of futurity, this noble stream, connecting as it does the fertile shores of two spacious lakes, with crowded steamboats on its bosom, and populous towns on its borders?"

On Peace river groves of poplars and pine woods in every shape vary the scene, and their intervals arc enlivened with vast herds of elks and buffaloes.

About 150 miles east of the Rocky Mountains the great coal bed commences. So far as has been ascertained it is over 300 miles in width, and extends continuously over 16 degrees of latitude, to the Arctic Ocean. The lignite (or tertiary coal) formation is still more extensively developed. At the junction of the Mackenzie and Bear Lake rivers, the formation is best exposed; it there consists of a series of beds, the thickest of which exceed three yards, separated by layers of gravel and sand, alternating with a fine-grained, friable sandstone, and sometimes with thick beds of clay, the interposing layer being often dark, from the dissemination of bituminous matter. The coal, when recently extracted from the led, is massive and most generally shows the woody structure distinctly. Beds of coal also crop up to the surface on various parts of the Arctic coast.

The Hudson's Bay Company were chartered by King Charles II. in 1670. Since that period they have used this country as hunting grounds from which to obtain supplies of furs for all markets in the world. There are probably upwards of 20 different kinds, the most valuable of which is that of the black fox. The other articles of commerce are oils, dried and salted fish, feathers, quills, and walrus ivory. About 18,000 seals are annually taken on the Labrador Peninsula.

The Canada Pacific railway will run through the great Saskatchewan country, crossing the Rocky Mountains through the Yellow Head Pass, and opening up one of the richest countries on the globe. This railway will be the great highway between Oriental countries and Western Europe. It will be 633 miles shorter than the American Pacific railroad, the distance from New Westminster to Montreal being 2,730 miles, as against 3,363 miles from San Francisco to New York city. On its construction depends the rapid growth and prosperity of this rich inheritance of the Dominion of Canada, now peopled principally by Indians but destined before many years to become the happy home of millions of inhabitants.

Malcolm McLeod, Esq., Advocate, Aylmer, Que., son of the late Chief Trader John McLeod, senior, Hon. Hudson's Bay Company, and author of "Peace River," &c, has kindly furnished the following estimate as to Dominion lands in the North West Territories and Rupert's Land.

Wheat area 370,000 square miles. General boundaries: From Lac Seal (say lon 92° W. lat 50° N.,) to foot of Rocky Mountains, lat 60° N , thence along base of Rocky Mountains lat. 60° N., thence to the south bend of Moose River, thence to the Lake of the Woods, lat. 49° N . thence along Rainy River, and thence to Lac Seal. This area, unbroken by mountains or rocks to any material extent, with streams and small lakes which but fertilize, may be slated at 320,000 square miles Beyond it, northwards, however, are also areas of richest vegetable mould (humus) on warm Silurian and Devonian, bituminous, and with marly clays of utmost fertility They are to be found on the lower reaches of the Rivers Peace, Hay and Aux Liards, an aggregate say of at least 50,000 square miles Total wheat area 370,000 square miles or 236,800,000 acres.

Vegetable and grass (economic) areas beyond (and not included in) the above, and with sufficient timber, &c.:


Sq. miles

1. Hudson's Bay Basin (portion Silurian, so far as known, aid fairly predicable,) east side (E of meridian 80° W ) 100 000 sq. miles west side (W. of meridian 8° W) 300,000 sq. m 400,000
2. Winnipeg Basin, east side, from English river to Nelson river 80,000
3. Beaver River (middle and lower parts) 50,000
4. Methy Lake & river Clear Water river, and Athabasca River from Clear W. river to Athabasca Lake, east side 30,000
5. West of McKenzie river (Devonian with coal measures) to wheat line as above stated, and from Fort Chipeweyan to Fort Resolution on the Great Slave Lake. 10,000
6. East side of McKenzie river to Fort Good Hope, or say lat, 68° N 100,000
7. West of McKenzie river to American (late Russian) boundary, lon. 141° W. and American Pacific shore strip, viz.: all north of lat. 60° N. 160,000
8. Rocky Mountain slope beyond wheat line 30,000
9. Outlying areas, amongst others, the extensive but undefined ones between the Hudson's Bay Silurian, and the northern rivers of the St Lawrence valley, say from Lake Mistassini to Lake Nipigon 100,000
10. Add also the by some called, "American Desert" of our latitudes say between 49° and 50° N where maize well grows buffaloes fatten, and Indians ever hunt, ''a happy hunting ground." 40,000

Total area




The Bailey area of the above may be stated at two thirds.

The rest of our North West and Rupert's Lands, including the immense "Barren Grounds of our Laurentian Labrador Rocks, of our Western Ruperts Land, and the great wilds and islands of our Arctic, with their whales, may be fairly estimated at another million square miles.

Lovell's Gazetteer of British North America, Edited by P.A. Crossby, 1873


Lovell's Gazetteer of British North America

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