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pictures-r-865 Landing at Sault Ste Marie red river expedition Armstrong William 1913

Armstrong, William, 1913. Landing at Sault Ste. Marie on the Red River Expedition. Photo source: Toronto Public Library

pictures-r-1285 Armstrong william 1882 Otter Head watercolour touches of gouache over pencil TPL

Armstrong, William, 1882, Otter Head. Photo source: Toronto Public Library

pictures-r-1151 Johnson William Arthur 1873 Jesuit mission immaculate conception Thunder Bay on the Karninistiqua River McKays mountain in the distance

Johnson, William Arthur, 1873, Jesuit mission Immaculate Conception on the Kaministiqua River. Photo source: Toronto Public Library.

I have a great love of the north shore of Lake Superior, the lake originally known as gichigami by the Ojibwe, or le lac supérieur by the French (“the upper lake”). It’s generally known as the largest freshwater lake in the world, by surface area, and third largest by volume; it presents as a great inland sea. The shoreline is awe-inspiring in its rugged beauty and the frigid waters terrifying during a storm. I have memories of pastel sunsets reflected perfectly on the still, frigid waters, imposing granite cliffs, and most of all an intense sense of smallness and aloneness in a powerful natural space.

912-71v134 Vaugondy Robert de Didier 1753 Lake Superior map TPL

Vaugondy Robert de Didier, 1753. Map including a scrunched version of Lake Superior in the northwest quandrant. Photo source: Toronto Public Library

During the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, fur trading posts were established on the northernmost shore of the lake, at the start of great canoe routes into western Canada. One of these posts was founded at the entrance of the Kaministiqua River to Lake Superior and today forms a part of the modern city of Thunder Bay. Originally established as a French trading post in the late 17th century, and later abandoned by the French around the time of the English conquest of New France (1760), an English post on the site was established by the North West Company in 1803, as a midway trans-shipping point between their outlying posts and Montreal. This post, later named Fort William, lost its importance when the North West Company merged with the Hudson’s Bay Company in the 1820s, with major trade shifting to Hudson’s Bay to the north, although it remained a trading post.

pictures-r-943 Fleming John arnot 1857 pencil touches of watercolour scraping out, on graduated light blue tinted paper TPL Fort William from Lake Superior

Fleming, John Arnot, 1857. Fort William from Lake Superior. Pencil with touches of water colour scraping out, on graduated light blue tinted paper. Photo source: Toronto Public Library.

pictures-r-2530 Fleming John Arnot 1857 ship Colingwood on rock near Michipoicoten Island watercolour TPL

Fleming, John Arnot, 1857. The Collingwood on a rock near Michipoicoten Island. Photo source: Toronto Public Library

Wrecked ships under water are still being discovered in the lake.

pictures-r-1406 Frances Hopkins 1873 TPL engraved by Charles MOttram Canoes in a fog lake superior 1869 watercolour and oil painting in Glenbow collection

Engraving by Charles Mottram, 1873, after an oil painting by Frances Hopkins, 1869 (now in the Glenbow collection, Calgary). Canoes disappearing into mist on Lake Superior. Photo source: Toronto Public Library

Frances Hopkins, an English painter, was married to a Hudson’s Bay Company official. She accompanied him on several canoe trips and became a well-known painter of canoe scenes depicting the final period of the fur trade. She lived in Canada following her marriage in 1858, mostly in Montreal, and returned to England permanently in 1870 where she died in 1919. She showed frequently in England, including with the Royal Academy in London from 1869.

Despite the decline of the fur trade, Fort William’s growth was reinvigorated in 1870s when it was selected to be the eastern terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway line to Winnipeg to the west. It was incorporated in 1907 and amalgamated with the adjacent town of Port Arthur in 1970. Port Arthur had been founded in the 1870s as a depot of the Department of Public Works of the newly confederated Canada, which had the aim of developing land transportation to a developing Western Canada. Port Arthur’s growth was stimulated by a silver mining boom in the 1880s and later on as a transshipment grain handling port for the Canadian Northern Railway line to and from Winnipeg.

pictures-r-1407 Johnson William Arthur 1873 Thuder Cape or Sleeping Giant

Johnson, William Arthur, 1873. Thunder Cape, with the Sleeping Giant visible in the background. Photo source: Toronto Public Library

pictures-r-927White George Harlow 1876 entrance to Thunder Bay

White, George Harlow, 1876. Entrance to Thunder Bay. Photo source: Toronto Public Library

na-2856-2 Temporary bridge over Pic River Lake Superior Ont 1884

Temporary bridge over Pic River, Lake Superior, 1884. Glenbow Archives, Calgary, AB

souv_pic-r-295 The CPR hotel Fort WilliamThe Kaministiquia Hotel JL Meikle pub photo by Evans

The Kaministiqua or Canadian Pacific Railway Hotel, Fort William, 1900. Photo credit: Evans. Publisher: JL Meikle. Photo source: Toronto Public Library.

Northern hotel Port arthur 1900 JL Meikle pub TPL

Northern Hotel, Port Arthur, 1900, “Overlooking one of the most magnificent scenes in the world, the glorious Thunder Bay, which has been compared to the Bay of Naples.” Photo: Evans. Publisher: JL. Meikle. Photo source: Toronto Public Library.

souv_pic-r-289the twin towns of port arthur and Fort william 1900 JL Meikle pub TPL

Panoramic view of Port Arthur, 1900, “showing Northern Hotel at Thunder Bay on the right.” Photo: Evans. Publisher: JL. Meikle. Photo source: Toronto Public Library.


Ten years later, Rockwell Kent and I would discuss the glamour of a north shore, how everything opens and clears there, sky, various winds, water; how light lingers long after it should in summer, as if trying to announce something vital that has been overlooked or refused.

~ Jane Urquhart, The Underpainter

pictures-r-1184 Robillard Albert 1871-1934 1900 watercolour canoeing on Lake Superior TPL

Albert Robillard, 1900. Canoeing on Lake Superior (?). Photo source: Toronto Public Library