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Oskelaneo Route 

Map: Oskelaneo brigade canoe route to Mistassini

Oskelaneo Canoe Brigade  With the arrival of the National Transcontinental Railway (later CN) in 1910 it was cheaper to use the rail than to ship goods to and from Hudson Bay. In 1911, the Hudson's Bay Company began supplying the Mistassini post (later Mistissini) by canoe brigade from the new station at Oskelaneo. Furs however did continue going down the Rupert to Rupert's House until 1925. In 1926, the HBC constructed a post at Oskelaneo, which doubled as the supply depot for the brigades. The last brigade run to Mistassini used the route in 1948.

The route itself was never limited to brigades for Mistassini. There were also brigades supplying the posts at Obiduan and Chibougamau. 

Oskelaneo Canoe "Highway" Cree families traveled the route to buy supplies at the cheaper stores in the south. Copper had been discovered at Chibougamau about 1903 and prospectors, who had been coming up from Lake St. Jean took advantage of the new route. The route was also used to supply Obiduan Post and by the Attikamek aboriginal people of the area. A few recreational canoeists also passed through on their way to Lake Mistassini, Rupert River or Waswanipi River. The route became so popular that manually-operated locks were constructed on the Oskelaneo River between the rail station and Bureau Lake (later Gouin Reservoir) see photo below. 

Temagami Camp Expeditions  Camp Keewaydin in Temagami was always seeking to extend its own exploration. It ran an annual trip down a river to Hudson Bay or James Bay. The construction of the National Transcontinental meant it could travel farther north and east. In 1934, 1935, 1937, 1938, 1939 and 1940 it used the route to travel either to the Waswanipi River or the Rupert River. It also used the route in 1964 and 1966 to reach the Rupert River. Camp Wabun, another youth camp in Temagami, did it in 1963 and 1965 and Camp Temagami paddled the route in 1966. In 1967, Keewaydin began using the new road to Lake Mistassini.

Photo: old locks on the Oskelaneo River One of the manually-operated locks on the Oskelaneo River. When this shot was taken in 1966 by a Camp Temagami trip, the locks were badly deteriorating and almost non-functional.

 

 

Photo: Jon Berger

Decline  Once the road arrived in Chibougamau in or about 1948, prospectors stopped paddling and the HBC too, adopted the road. Traffic fell off quickly. Only the route between Oskelaneo and Gouin stayed in use supplying natives at Obiduan and hunting and fishing camps. Motorboats took over from canoes, logging roads crept around Gouin, and eventually the locks were abandoned and the HBC closed its Oskelaneo store in 1962.

 

Sources:  Canoeing North into the Unknown by Bruce Hodgins & Gwyneth Hoyle, Carl Williams, Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Jon Berger, Keewaydin Archives, Peter Leney, The History of the Chibougamau Crees by Jacques Frenette, The Keewaydin Way by Brian Back, The Rupert That Was by Heb Evans

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