The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Montreal Gazette (Montreal, QC), April 15, 1845

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The Buffalo Commercial Advertiser furnishes an interesting article on this subject, of which the following is the greatest portion. There is at present but one schooner on Lake Superior, but three other vessels are shortly to be transported over the rapids which separate it from Lake Michigan, one of which is the propeller Vandalia.

The fisheries of the western and north-western lakes form one of the prominent peculiarities of our inland region. Abundant, easily taken and of fine flavour, they have been a permanent and substantial source of relief to the aboriginal angler as well as to those who have usurped his early homestead and hunting grounds. From the brink of Niagara's precipice to the remotest inlet of Superior's broad sheet, fish of the most delicious flavour abound, and the first Europeans who visited the lakes were among their greatest admirers. Around Isle Royal, which rears its rocky, time-beaten pallisades beyond Copper Harbour on Lake Superior, is found sisquette, trout and whitefish of extraordinary size; and at Whitefish Point, some forty miles above the Sault, may always be caught the largest and best variety of whitefish to be found in our waters, which of all others seem to be most esteemed, for the richness and delicacy of their flavour, eliciting a universal acquiescence in the opinion advanced by Charlevoix, almost a century and a half ago, "that whether fresh or salted, nothing of the fish kind can excel it." A certain portion of Lake Huron, between Drummond's Island and the North Canadian channel, is noted for trout, and indeed almost all the deep waters from Detroit to the Straits of Mackinaw, are good fishing grounds for this variety.

It would be useless to give the names of the prominent kinds caught on the lakes, but among the different varieties of trout, maskinonge, sisquette, whitefish, bass, perch, catfish and sturgeon - enough are found to hold strong competition with the best taken along the Atlantic. There are innumerable other species of small fish to be found in the lakes which are highly prized, but for extensive packing and profitable investment as an article of traffic, whitefish stand conspicuous. No more delicious repast can be offered than a fine Mackinaw trout, caught from the depths of his cool retreat; but when pickled and packed for future market, much of the flavour is lost or so incorporated with the brine that they lose caste in competition with their smaller and more numerous rival, the whitefish. These fish range in weight from three to six pounds, and in some rare instances even attain double that weight. In size and general outline they resemble the eastern shad, but upon close examination prove more symmetrical and striking. During their season, they move in great shoals, and are taken in large quantities at the Sault Ste. Marie, Mackinaw Straits, and most of the connecting waters above Niagara. The salmon trout predominates we believe in Ontario, below the cataract; but of the good

characteristics of the lower lake fisheries, we can speak very limitedly.

The first combined efforts to render the lake fisheries lucrative were commenced in 1835, when they were prosecuted with some vigor; but after four years experiment on the part of those who projected the scheme, it was found to be less profitable than expected. A general depreciation of almost every article brought down with it that of fish; and since 1840, although the business has been carried on by individual enterprise, with limited means and no facility to extend it beyond the Sault, a very large amount is annually caught and prepared for market. It is somewhat difficult to arrive at the precise quantity annually taken, yet we may approximate it by a little reflection and the acknowledged avidity with which travellers and emigrants generally partake of these delicacies when traversing the lakes.

In 1835, all caught and accounted for was 8,000 bbls., valued at $80,000. The season following, 12,200 bbls. were taken; in 1837, over 14,000 bbls. and in 1840 the aggregate caught reached 32,000 bbls. Of course the three last years within the above period found the value much reduced, and the consumption augmented by the increase and rapid settlement of the lake country. In 1841, at Mackinaw alone, 12,000 bbls. were exported, the value of which, was $84,000.

In addition to the large amount thus shown - the value of which must have reached $250,000 - there is a large incidental aggregate consumed by our lake marine. Three thousand seamen, with a constant floating population of as many more, must consume quite a large number during the season; and when we find on examining the imports and exports of fish at the several points west of us to be some 25,000 bbls. for each of the past two or three seasons, it is very apparent the total now taken must approximate to, if it does exceed 40,000 barrels, now worth $260,000. Why, Cleveland alone, has during the past three seasons exported into the interior of Ohio over 25,000 bbls. Indeed, one year, 10,000 bbls. were so disposed of.

At the upper end of Lake Erie, during the winter season, when the bays are closed with ice, the system of spearing fish is carried on with much success......

(using a small house, from four to six feet square, on runners, a fish spear, an axe to cut hole, and an assortment of small decoy fish - method described)

[St. Catharines Journal]

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April 15, 1845
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Rick Neilson
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Montreal Gazette (Montreal, QC), April 15, 1845