Temagami's Gateway 1881-1904

Trail of the first surveyors and earliest tourists

In 1881, when the Canadian Pacific Railway reached Mattawa, Temagami was the home of the hundred or so members of the Temagami First Nation and a few trading posts serving the only industry, the fur trade. Like the slow drip of an intravenous tube, the CPR nurtured the first wave of non-aboriginals in this the time between Temagami pre-historic and Temagami historic.

Below: Frontier town of Mattawa c.1900, looking southeast over the village,

Mattawa River (middle ground), and the Ottawa River (left background).















Photo: 131-foot S.S. Meteor, built in 1887, on Lake Timiskaming

The 131-foot S.S. Meteor built in 1887 (originally the La Minerve), and crowned as the queen of the lake, ran passengers and freight from Gordon's Landing.        HAP WILSON


  PRIMARY SOURCE: The Keewaydin Way: The story of the world's oldest canoe-trip camp by Brian Back. More info

The Ottawa River and Lake Timiskaming above Mattawa formed a portion of the major trade route between Montreal and James Bay. Entrepreneurs saw profits upstream of the railroad station, particularly on Lake Timiskaming. They immediately upgraded the route with trams around rapids, bateaux between them and steamers on Timiskaming. This not only provided support to the old fur trade, but served the burgeoning timber industry chopping its way northward and new settlers digging into the rich farm soil at the top of the lake.

In 1894, the CPR laid steel rails to the lake from the main line at Mattawa, replacing the trams and bateaux. Temagami, off the main north-south waterway, was still largely ignored by both the  homesteaders and loggers, leaving it to a few traders, prospectors, surveyors and a smattering of adventurous tourists. They were dropped by steamer at the sandy beach at Montreal River Landing, within walking distance of the mouth of the Montreal River. The landing consisted of little more than a post office, a small farm and possibly, a storage building for freight heading to the Hudson's Bay Company's Temagami post.

From here they had to use their own means to finish the journey. In birchbark canoes that they would have brought with them and most of the supplies they would have needed, they paddled up the Matabitchuan River and grunted up its portages. A few more lakes and portages brought them to Lake Temagami.

The focal point was Bear Island at the lake's center where the trading post and the Nishnabai village were located. If their flour or other basics got wet getting here, they could buy more, but little else. The post served the local needs, not the visitors, and wouldn't until after the T&NO's arrival changed everything in the summer of 1904.


Map: Pre-rail steamer/canoe route to Lake Temagami from Mattawa via Lake Timiskaming, Matabitchuan River and Rabbit Lake, 1881-1904, with photo of early canoeists

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