Navigation of Hudson's Bay and Straits
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The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 14 Apr 1904, p. 164-172


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Stupart, R.F., Speaker
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A description of Hudson's Bay and straits. The fishing grounds of Hudson's Bay and its dollar value. The possibilities for making Hudson Straits the chief outlet for Canadian grain to the markets of Europe. The Hudson Straits the best and cheapest outlet to those markets, if they are navigable. Overcoming the obstacles imposed by nature. The Federal Government's endeavours to find out the truth as to this route. A brief history of navigation of Hudson Straits. Details of two expeditions which have been sent to the region by the Federal Government. A reading of a few of the memoranda taken from the reports of the officers of these two expeditions. Words taken from the speaker's own book of observation during the autumn of 1884. Gordon's summation of navigation of Hudson Straits, from 1886. Captain Wakeham's experience and words from 1897 which show the character of the ice which vessels must be prepared to meet in Hudson Straits even in early July. Fixing the dates for possible navigation through the Hudson Straits.
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14 Apr 1904
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English
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NAVIGATION OF HUDSON'S BAY AND STRAITS.
Address delivered by Mr. R. F. Stupart, F.R.S.C., Director of the Meteorological Survey of the Dominion of Canada, at the Empire Club Luncheon, Thursday, April 14th, 1904.

MR. PRESIDENT,--Hudson's Bay, as you know, is an immense inland sea lying in Northern Canada. It is a vast expanse of salt, water, surrounded almost wholly by lands which form part and parcel of our great Canadian Dominion. It is connected with the Atlantic by a strait 450 miles in length. As yet we know very little as to the wealth that these waters contain. We know that they contain the whale, the porpoise or white whale, the seal, the walrus, the salmon, the cod and trout and many smaller fishes. So far the only fishing industry that has been to any extent developed is the whale fishery, and that by the Americans. The whale fishing grounds of Hudson's Bay are in the north-western part of the Bay; and for the past fifty years whalers from Massachusetts and Connecticut have been annually visiting the Bay and taking out oil and bone to the value of about $100,000 per annum.

Some years ago the Hudson's Bay Company conducted quite a successful business in oil by the purchase or killing of a large number of white whales and seals and erecting oil refineries at their northern posts, and, after refining the oil, sent it to Great Britain in their ships. This industry, I am told, has been discontinued of late owing to the low commercial value of the oil. The rivers which run into Ungava Bay, which, as most of you are aware, is on the southern side of Hudson Straits, abound in salmon-of a flavour quite equal to that killed in New Brunswick. This fish was so abundant that for a great many years the Hudson's Bay Company sent out a ship for the purpose of taking home a cargo of salmon in cold storage. This ship, I believe, has not visited Ungava during the past few years. I cannot think, however, that this is owing to the failure of the fisheries, but is probably owing to some other causes. The walrus, which is hunted by the Eskimo in kyak and from ice flow, is also sought after by the Hudson's Bay Company, and is hunted by the Company's employees in small vessels sailing out of Churchill.

Were there no reason other than the development of the resources of Hudson's Bay, Canadians must take an interest in that region. But other considerations have arisen to induce our Government to use every endeavour to find out as to the term and period in each year when the outlet from the Bay to the Atlantic is open for navigation. We Canadians have taken a long time to find out the wonderful productiveness of our Canadian North-West Territories, but we now know that in the North-West and in Manitoba we have the finest wheatgrowing country on the globe. Last night I was reading an article by Dr. Saunders, of the Central Experimental Farms at Ottawa, in which he says that in the Canadian North-West we have 171,000,000 acres suitable for cultivation. This being the case what wonder that the Manitoban and the North-West farmer has been inquiring as to the possibilities for making Hudson Straits the chief outlet for Canadian grain to the markets of Europe. Certainly if Hudson Straits are navigable it would be the best and cheapest outlet to those markets.

Edmonton is but 830 miles from Churchill; Prince Albert 620 miles and Winnipeg 64o miles; and Churchill is but 3,38o miles from Liverpool. This being the case it has been worth inquiring as to the possibilities of navigation; and certainly if the obstacles imposed by nature could be overcome, then the Straits would be the best outlet from the North-West Territories. But I shall show you that Nature for nearly three parts of the year does place a barrier in the way. The Federal Government has been in no way remiss in its endeavour to find out the truth as to this route, and I am convinced that the Reports made by the Government officers sent out in the years 1884-2885 and 1886, and again in 1897 are in every way to be relied upon. Both the officers in question were capable and efficient, and in addition to using their utmost efforts to arrive at the truth from personal experiences, they both sought further information in such quarters as it might be obtained.

The navigation of Hudson Straits is not a new thing. Vessels had ploughed those northern waters before Champlain had crossed Lake Ontario in a canoe, and ships were plying backwards and forwards between the Hudson's Bay posts and Europe, while the birch bark canoe was still the only means of transportation across the Great Lakes. It was in Hudson's fourth voyage to America that he entered Hudson Straits and went down into James Bay. He wintered in the Bay, and you all know the result of that expedition. We have from the mate, who brought the vessel home to England, the account of the difficulties which had been experienced in the ice in passing into the Bay. We are told of the horrors of scurvy and the terrors of mutiny, and how in the spring of 1611 the villainous crew placed the Captain and several others in a boat and cast them adrift. Hudson's idea in visiting the straits was, of course, not to determine or find out anything about the resources of Hudson's Bay; it was rather to find a new route to Cathay-to China; and such was also the object of most of the navigators who followed him during the next one hundred years. But a new territory had been discovered, and almost year by year, after Hudson's voyage, the Straits were navigated by various hardy navigators who were searching for the route to China.

The original Charter of the Hudson's Bay Company was granted in 1668, and in that year Prince Rupert sent an expedition to the Bay and built a fort at the mouth of the Rupert River. Since that date the Hudson's Bay vessels have been passing to and fro through the Straits from Europe across to the posts; and during that time, as far as we can find, they have not met with an unusual percentage of loss or disaster. Of course, it must be borne in mind that these ships have been wooden ships; they have simply had to make one trip per annum, and have timed themselves so as to arrive at the entrance to the Straits about the first of August. This leaves them lots of time to go through the Straits across to the Hudson's Bay Posts, on the other side of the Bay, and in returning be well clear of the Straits, and homeward bound before the end of September. Hence their experiences in the Straits have been during such times as, without doubt in nearly every year, the waters are fairly clear of ice.

Now, what has the Federal Government done to inquire into the navigation of these Straits? Let me tell you something of the two expeditions which have been sent out to that region. The first was an expedition of most elaborate conception. A Dundee whaler, or perhaps I should say, a Newfoundland sealing ship, was chartered; she was fitted out in Halifax in 1884, and about the end of July started for Hudson Straits taking aboard her six observers, who were to be left at various points along the Straits, spend the winter there and watch every movement of the ice and take meteorological observations. Each observer had a small house built for him ashore. The ship returned to Halifax in the month of October. In the following year the ship again left Halifax in the beginning of June taking observers who were to relieve those who had spent the last winter in the Straits. This ship arrived at the mouth of the Straits early in June, and I will tell you in a moment or so of some of her experiences in endeavouring to get into the Straits. The new observers spent the winter of 1885-6 there, and when, in 1886, the ship again visited Hudson Straits the observers were taken away and the expedition was completed. The whole thing was con ducted with great thoroughness and with perfect success.

The other expedition was sent out in 1897, and was of a somewhat different character. A Newfoundland sealing ship, the Diana, was secured from Newfoundland and was placed in charge of Commander Wakeham, of the Canadian Fishery Protection Service. While he had command of the expedition, the ship was in command of a very experienced sealing captain of Newfoundland, whose instructions were to get to the entrance to the Straits as early as possible in the season, and force his way through to the Bay at the very earliest moment, come out again, and return and go through again as often as he thought he could learn anything from his passages to and fro. This expedition, 1 may say, was also most thorough, and the officer in command most efficient.

Now, I will read you a few of the memoranda that I have taken from the reports of the officers of these two expeditions. The Neptune, which was the first ship that went out in 1884, entered the Straits on the 4th August and passed through considerable loose scrub ice between Cape Chudleigh and the Upper Savage Island. I might tell you that the Upper Savage Island is about half way through the Straits. During the last week of the month-and this was the month of August, bear in mind-when near the western end of the Straits the ship met such heavy pack ice that she could make no progress; some of it was forty feet thick, solid blue ice. In speaking of the ice in the Straits, Capt. Gordon says: " It is only fair to state that had I been making the passage direct from Cape Chudleigh to Churchill I do not consider that I would have been delayed more than forty-eight hours, but no ordinary iron steamship built, as the modern freight-carrier is, could have got through the heavier ice that we met without incurring serious risks, if not actual disaster."

I take the following from my own book of observations made by me during the autumn of 1884. My own ice report in October of that year says: " Ice began to form in the Straits on the 22nd, and by the 28th was from three to five inches thick, with very little water in any direction." In 1885 the ship again returned to Hudson Straits. She was fast in the heavy ice field from June 15th till July 6th. I have told you that in that year Capt. Gordon was instructed to get into the Straits at the earliest possible date, and he started from Halifax; I think it was about the first day of June. He got into the ice fields and was in the heavy ice fields from June 15th to-July 6th. Some of the plates were knocked off the bows of the ship, and he returned to St. John's for repairs, and it was not until August 4th that he again entered the Straits, and even at that date met considerable ice. Capt. Gordon states that if he had simply been trying to force his way through the Straits-this was in August, remember-he thought it probable that he would not have been detained more than five days. That is in the month of August and on his second trip into the Straits.

In 1886, Gordon entered the Straits on the 9th July, and the ice being very much packed down to the southward at that time, he reached the Upper Savage Island, at which Island was placed one of the regular observing stations, on the 11th, but was unable to visit the station on the other side of the Strait, there being a solid field of ice occupying the whole southern half of the Strait. He therefore decided to go into the Bay without visiting the station to the southward, but it took him over a fortnight, between the 14th and the end of the month before he got into Hudson's Bay. In his journal, written on the 14th July, we find the following: "No ordinary ship that could be used as a freight-carrier, even if strengthened to meet the ice, could have stood the pounding this ship had this afternoon." Now in summing up his ideas as to the navigation of Hudson Straits, Gordon wrote as follows

"In considering the question of the navigability of the Straits by steamships for the ordinary purposes of commerce, I am of the opinion that steam will lengthen the season at the beginning more than a month to five weeks, so that our own experience, and that of the Hudson's Bay ships, points to the first half of July as being the earliest date at which the Straits may be considered navigable for the purposes of commerce, by steamships fortified for ice navigation, and at the same time capable of being profitable as freight-carriers. I give the following as the season during which navigation may, in ordinary years be regarded as practicable for the purposes of commerce; not, indeed, to the cheaply built freight steamer, commonly known as the ocean tramp, but to vessels of about 2,000 tons gross, fortified for meeting the ice, and of such construction as to enable them to be fair freight carriers. These vessels must be well strengthened forward; should have wooden sheathing, and be very full under the counter; the propeller should be of small diameter and be well down in the water. I place the limit of size at about 2,000 tons, because a larger ship would be somewhat unwieldy, could not make such good way through the loose ice; and being unable to turn so sharply she would get many a heavy blow that the smaller ship would escape. I consider that the season for. the opening of navigation to such vessels as the above will, on the average, fall between 1st and loth July. The position and movements of the ice I have already discussed and need not here repeat. The closing of the season would be about the first week in October, partly on account of the descent of old ice from Fox Channel into the western end of the Straits; this old ice being rapidly cemented into solid floe by the formation of young ice between the pans; in such ice, no ship, however powerful, could do anything to free herself. At this time, too, the days are rapidly shortening, and snowstorms are frequent though not of great duration."

Capt. Wakeham, in the Dundee whaler Diana, entered Hudson Straits in 1897, on June 22nd, and from the 24th June to July l0th the ship was jambed hard and fast in the solid ice flow, and on July 4th the ship was so badly squeezed that the crew were all ordered out on to the ice with provisions, thinking that they would have to go on shore; the decks bulged and the rigging was all hanging loose. This shows the character of the ice which vessels must be prepared to meet n Hudson Straits even in early July. Having got clear of this ice flow on the l0th July, however, she passed westward and was comparatively free of ice and did not meet ice flows to anything like the same extent at the west end of the Straits that Gordon had met in 1884 and 1885.

Wakeham says: "From the 23rd June to the 8th July, when the ice began to go abroad slightly, the Strait was blocked from a line running from about Icy Cove over to Cape Hope's Advance-Cape Hope's Advance is the north-west point of Ungava Bay-on the eastward, right up to Salisbury Island to the westward, a distance of nearly 250 miles." This you will see is an enormous area of ice flow. "This ice jam consisted of heavy ice, mostly in rafted pans, running from three to thirty feet in thickness. Through this jam no ship could have penetrated any faster than the Diana did. A large and more powerful vessel, such as the Arctic, or the Terra Nova, might have made more headway in light, close, brashy ice, but among the large pans, of which the jam was mostly made up, the Diana, owing to her handiness and ability to turn quickly, possessed an advantage which was worth more than weight. Into such a jam it would not be safe to put a deeply-laden vessel or to allow her to be caught."

He further says: " I now conclude this part of the Report by saying that I absolutely agree with Captain Gordon in fixing the date for the opening of navigation in Hudson Straits, for commercial purposes, by suitable vessels, at from 1st to the 10th July. I do not consider that the Strait can be successfully navigated in June. Such ships as the Diana might force a passage through, but these vessels would be useless for commercial purposes. They have to be so braced and strengthened that they would be impossible freight carriers. Therefore, for all the reasons I have enumerated, I consider the 20th of October as the extreme limit of safe navigation in the fall."

I might add to this in the year 1900 a Hudson's Bay Company's steamer left England on the 6th June, and, I think, speaking from memory, arrived at the mouth of Hudson Straits probably at the end of a fortnight, and spent nearly two months in the ice trying to get through Hudson Straits, and did not arrive at York Factory until the 28th August. This shows what the ordinary ship, even if she is going to Churchill to bring out a cargo of Manitoba No. r hard, must expect to meet. She must be prepared for the same experience as the Hudson's Bay ship going for a cargo of furs. In judging of the suitability of Hudson Straits as a commercial trade route we have not to consider during what period of each year a Dundee whaler or a specially constructed ice crusher can navigate the Straits, but rather during what period an ordinary well found iron ship, with a master of the usual experience, can navigate them with an ordinary degree of safety. The result of investigation is not uncertain-such a ship may with safety enter the Straits early in July, and should she have good luck, she may get through to the Bay with but a few days' delay in the ice; but delays of a week or ten days will not be infrequent. At the close of the season ships should not leave Churchill later than the middle of October, because at that date winter has set in, and being caught in the icefields is a serious matter when the flows become cemented together by the increasing cold.

I feel sure that the Straits will be one of the outlets from the Canadian North-West. The facts regarding its navigation being known it is for men of commerce to say when the time shall have arrived for utilizing the route. There are other points that I might speak upon. For instance of the tremendous tidal currents caused by the tide, which rises and falls thirty-two feet in the Strait, of snowstorms, and so on, but I see that the hour of two o'clock has just arrived. I will simply add to what I have said, the fact that the good whaler Neptune, the ship which went out in 1884, is again in Hudson Straits in charge of one of the best and most experienced ice captains that sail out of Newfoundland; and in command of the expedition itself is Mr. A. P. Low, than whom no better man could have been obtained in the whole Dominion of Canada to conduct an expedition successfully. This expedition is in Hudson's Bay for the purpose of investigating into its resources and asserting the sovereignty of Great Britain.

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Navigation of Hudson's Bay and Straits


A description of Hudson's Bay and straits. The fishing grounds of Hudson's Bay and its dollar value. The possibilities for making Hudson Straits the chief outlet for Canadian grain to the markets of Europe. The Hudson Straits the best and cheapest outlet to those markets, if they are navigable. Overcoming the obstacles imposed by nature. The Federal Government's endeavours to find out the truth as to this route. A brief history of navigation of Hudson Straits. Details of two expeditions which have been sent to the region by the Federal Government. A reading of a few of the memoranda taken from the reports of the officers of these two expeditions. Words taken from the speaker's own book of observation during the autumn of 1884. Gordon's summation of navigation of Hudson Straits, from 1886. Captain Wakeham's experience and words from 1897 which show the character of the ice which vessels must be prepared to meet in Hudson Straits even in early July. Fixing the dates for possible navigation through the Hudson Straits.