RSS .92| RSS 2.0| ATOM 0.3
  • Home
  • Subscribe
  • Privacy Policy

    Joyous winter sleigh ride to Porcupine gold mines

    Development of mines that would make the Porcupine Lake area of northern Ontario one of the world’s great gold-producing areas was still in its infancy in 1910 when the Montreal Star described winter travel to a  new mining camp. Excerpts from the Montreal Star, January 31, 1910.


    Winter travel, circa 1910. Bi-weekly  stage service on the  160-km trail between Edmonton and Athabasca Landing (now Athabasca Town). Glenbow Archives NA2974-8

    Special staff correspondent. Bannerman’s Camp, Porcupine Lake, New Ontario, January 28.

    Every man, woman and child of the 250 people who live at Matheson is proud of the sleigh road which the citizens of that place claim to have built from “the steel,” as they call the railroad, to Porcupine Lake.

    They put up a sum of $2,000 between them to build the road and now that they have got it open they have scattered the North Country with bill-heads describing the hotel accommodations and other advantages of Matheson in flattering terms, announcing that four-horse stages run daily between Matheson and Porcupine Lake, and cover the entire distance in one day; that the road is a splendid one, so well settled that there are thirty-nine farms along the first portion, and, crowning achievement of all, that there is telephone communication from Matheson to Porcupine…

    The fare varies from $4 by stage to $5 or $6 by ordinary sleigh. When I had seen the stages, I decided to make the journey by sleigh, for one wants a little comfort on a forty or fifty-mile drive through the bush. In a sleigh you can sit facing the way you are going and have a back to your seat to rest against. The stage, on the other hand, is built of rough lumber, with a seat down each side, the back of which is only six inches high. Twelve people sit in each wagon, facing each other, and very tired they must be before they are far out on the trail.

    Matheson itself is situated in a stump lot, and the whole route to Porcupine, forty miles to the west of it, lies through an unbroken forest of green timber. This is part of the famous clay belt of New Ontario, already proved in the Matheson district, I was told, to be the equal of any land in Canada for wheat raising…

    Considering that the road has only just been cut through the forest, it is quite as good as anyone may reasonably expect, but it falls short of the descriptions in Matheson’s bill-heads.

    For instance, the thirty-nine farms exist only in the imagination. Doubtless 39 settlers have located their homesteads there, but as yet not a single farm exists on the route. I counted about a dozen tiny log huts, each in a rough clearing of about 50 feet square…

    The trail — it can hardly be dignified by the name of a road — winds in and out among the trees and it is very seldom that one can see more than 50 feet ahead. It is so narrow that thousands of trees along the sides have already been half felled by being struck by the whiffle-trees of passing sleighs.

    Naturally there is often considerable excitement when two sleighs pass each other. The drivers have to watch for a place where the trees are thin and then one of the teams has to break away into the bush, the struggling horses almost disappearing in the deep snow.

    The trail is fairly level but there are a few steep hills that are only negotiated with great difficulty.

    As for the telephone communication of which Matheson is already boasting, that at present is only in process of construction…

    From the point of view of sheer beauty, this trail through the forest is one continuous delight. In the bright sunshine of a 20-below-zero day — just enough cold in this dry, northern climate to give uplift and buoyancy to the spirits — the forest, stretching away to infinitude on either hand, appeared like a fairyland. The tall and slender spruces with their feathery branches heavily laden with snow, were like a vast multitude of cathedral spires, tapering away above the white birches and balm of Gilead.

    Everywhere it seemed as though some supreme artist had been at work obliterating every harsh outline with the billowing snow…

    Enveloping all was the deep tingling silence of the Frozen Northland. As long as you keep going you carry with you a busy atmosphere of life and sound. But stop for a moment, and then nothing but the breathing of your horses disturbs the death-like stillness. A dozen yards away, even that sound is hushed and smothered.

    The tingling silence of the Frozen Northland — how well that phrase describes it. For actually you can hear the silence — hear it tingling like myriads of silver bells, each no bigger than an atom.


    THE PERFECT GIFT. A signed copy of my latest book, About Canada. Plus your message of up to 10 words to your gift recipient, personally inscribed by the author. For details, and to order, click here. For your free Sampler Issue of About Canada, click this. Sandy


    TAGS: Winter travel, Sleigh rides, Stage coaches, Northern Ontario, Porcupine Lake gold mines.


    Leave a Reply

    You must be logged in to post a comment.