There was a time, when Canada was growing politically and geographically, that the government couldn't wait for nature to takes its course. A larger population base was needed to maintain sovereignty, create an agricultural based economy in the western provinces and supply the thousand of labourers used in the building of the transcontinental railways, the political promise to those same provinces for the reciprocal transportation of goods and services.
Work is work in any language and work they did. The Canadian Pacific Railway was completed and work was underway on the Northern Trans continental Railway. This was part of a deal that Laurier announced in 1903 to link a rail line from Moncton to the Grand Trunk Pacific at Winnipeg, the route of which had been surveyed beginning in 1871, twenty miles north of Lake Nipigon. Surveyors are the men who go before the builders and after the explorers. They had very simple instructions. Find a route East and West north of Lake Nipigon with easy grades and light engineering. This mandate was likely the result of the extreme geological conditions along the proposed Lake Superior route of the Canadian Pacific.
The surveyors were sent north of Lake Nipigon in 1871. They came in by side-wheeler from Collingwood to Nipigon's Hudson's Bay Company Post, Red Rock House. They camped on the waterfront until their supply boats arrived, then they set off up the Nipigon River to South Bay on Lake Nipigon, a distance of about fifty kilometers. Johnson's survey party of 38 men and one dog required a lot of provisions. All these provisions and the boats, which were twelve to fifteen metres long Ottawa Lumberman's Bateaux, had to be dragged and carried over the many portages that by-passed the seven cataracts of the Nipigon River. The Long Portage around Cameron Falls and its associated rapids was four kilometers.
|The mighty Nipigon River in any season.|
Once they reached Lake Nipigon they took passage on a sailing boat to Ombabika Bay, one hundred and ten kilometers to the north. The Johnson survey team continued north from Ombabika Bay and commenced plotting a route east to meet with Henry Armstrong's survey team coming west from the Pic River access route. Both teams ran out of provisions by October and had to make hungry treks over one hundred and sixty kilometers to find a cache that actually had food. Running a supply line from Ottawa to the northern wilderness didn't work in 1871.
By the turn of the century the C.P. Rail had blasted and bridged its way along the north shore of Lake Superior and united Canada East with Canada West. Commodities and people were moving. The immigrants were stopping at Nipigon. Their reasons were as varied as the weather: some would be put off trains for lack of funds; others planned on a winter's work in the bush to bankroll their prairie homesteads; while still others fell in love and settled here for life.
In 1903 survey teams went north of Lake Nipigon again to re-evaluate the route plotted thirty years previously. The route remained the same but a new railroad would be using it.
Nipigon Village became a major operation and supply centre for The Northern Transcontinental Railroad.
Kenora contractors, McCaffrey, Russell, Chambers and McQuaig, who formed the Nipigon Construction Company, got the contract for that portion of the N.C.R. north of Lake Nipigon from about English River to Hearst.
The Engineering Office for Division E of the Transcontinental Railway, built beside St. Mary's Anglican Church, became the home office for Dr. Herman Bryan who was hired in 1905 to look after their railway camps, some as far away as Hearst. Nipigon had its first doctor.
The first order of business for The Nipigon Construction Company was building a narrow gauge railway for Alexander Landing to South Bay, Lake Nipigon. Next was a short track along the Little Jackfish River, from Ombabika Bay to the mainline construction site (now Ferland).
Scows that could hold nine flatcars were loaded from the warehouses just upstream from the C.P.R. Bridge at Nipigon. It was a three hour push to get them to the Alexander Landing staging area. That was done by the steam tug Nipigon. From Alexander it was a 30 km pull by donkey engine to the South Bay Depot. Horses were used to move the flat cars from the warehouses to the scows that would be pushed over a hundred kilometers across Lake Nipigon by the steam tugs Ombabika, captained by Mr. Patten of Sault Ste. Marie, and the Pewabic. The powered barge, Minewa, operated by Captain Moore , formerly of Huntsville, also plied these waters with livestock, hay, railway construction supplies and other commodities for settlements along the coast of Windigo Bay and Ombabika Bay. Timber Barons took advantage of this transportation route to move their men and equipment ans set up lumbering camps.
At the Little Jackfish depot, horses hauled the loaded flatcars off the scows and exchanged them for empty flatcars to return to South Bay and thence to Nipigon. In 1908, 60 tonnes of supplies a day were moved north before freeze-up: horse food including hay, coal, track materials and food for the campsites. Once winter set in tote roads built from various points on the C.P.R. would have to be used by teams of horses to haul supplies over a hundred kilometers to the construction sites. Some winter roads already were in existence such as the H.B.Co. road from Nipigon to Orient Bay built in 1892. The supply lines were operating year round. No one was going to be left hungry again.