Getting to Lake Temiskaming in 1886

Getting to Lake Temiskaming in 1886

In the 1880s, the Ontario government sent out teams of land surveyors into northern Ontario hinterland to establish township boundaries in preparation for settlement. Given the primitive state of transportation, they often proceeded by foot, rail, and canoe.

Alexander Herkes Telfer was a member of the Alexander Niven party which was responsible for establishing township boundaries on the west shore of Lake Temiskaming. Here follows a section of Telfer’s diary account of his experiences with this survey party in 1886.

Telfer left Toronto at 10:30 a.m. on 19 July 1886. The CPR train took him to Peterborough and then to Carleton Junction (Carleton Place) about 6 p.m. Telfer left by train for Mattawa the next morning at 1 a.m. arriving eight hours later. He spent the next eight hours procuring food and supplies before he and twelve other men (including three recently-hired French Canadians and one Aboriginal) left in “one large, strong boat and three birch bark canoes.” Telfer’s diary described the arduous nature of the trek to Lake Temiskaming:

July 21st: Started up the river, which is about a quarter of a mile wide, with steep banks from 250 to 300 ft. high…. The Ottawa would be a most magnificent public highway were it not for the many rapids, which seem to break the navigation. When we get to these rapids, if they are bad ones, we have to land, unload all our stuff and carry it past the rapids, then carry the canoes. In other places a rope is fastened to the bow of the canoe and from 3 to 5 men pull on the rope on shore, while one or two wade by the side of the boat and keep it out of the rocks and boulders till the rapid is passed. At other times, all hands have to plunge in to the water to their waist and pull on the ropes, stumbling over the large, slippery stones, where it would be almost impossible to stand without the rope: by that means, each man helps to hold up his companion.

Made 6 miles today….  

July 23rd: … a team took us to the commencement of Lake Temiscamingue about 4 pm. The bark canoes were carried over the road; the last mile of that road beat all I ever saw – a wagon load drawn over large boulders, and so close together that the wheels rarely touched the ground. The Frenchmen took the large boat up the rappids [sic]; we then  loaded up again. Just then, a steamboat came in sight with a raft of square timber in tow.”

Telfer later noted that the rate for freight per hundred pounds from Mattawa to the HBC fort on Lake Temiskaming was $1.00, and passenger fare was about $4.00, but he expected that competition the next summer would lower these rates.