Moisie, QC

1978 Ė History of the Area Ė Deanna Gilbert

History of the Area - Sailing Directives - St. Lawrence River


Magnetic Anomalies

In some area of the Gulf and River St. Lawrence, magnetic compasses of vessels are disturbed. These magnetic disturbances have been attributed to the magnetic ores of iron in the hills, particularly those of the north shore. Magnetic oxide of iron exists abundantly and very powerfully attracts the needle of a magnetic compass, particularly along the shore east of Sept-Iles. In some places the variations range from 28 to 37 degrees west.


Approaches to Sept-Iles

Sept-Iles is situated close NW of Pointe aux Basques, the east entrance point of Baie des Sept-Iles. The islands of Sept-Iles in the approaches to the bay are high and steep unlike any others in the area. There are actually six islands in the group, plus East Rock (Cayes de LíEst) and West Rocks (Iles Dequen), but the peninsula forming the West Entrance point appears as an island from the distance and is 736 feet high making it higher than the islands of the group. Middle Channel to the bay is wide and clear except at Pointe a la Marmite off which a reef extends for 1 Ĺ cables. East Channel is rendered dangerous by Basque Reef. West Channel is ĺ mile wide and deep however rocks lie 1 cable north of West Rocks.


Riviere Moisie

Riviere Moisie flows into the sea on the east side of Pointe Moisie, which is low and sandy. The river discharges sand in spring run-off which forms a shifting bar extending up to 1 mile beyond the river mouth. Moisie Shoal extends in a triangular sandy patch for 1 ľ miles south of Pointe Jolliet with several spots with less than 6 feet over them and Moisie Rocks at the outer end of the shoal are 1 Ĺ miles from shore. These rocks usually break in a sea.

Less than 45 years after the European discovery of North America by Columbus, Jacques Cartier hazarded the above and it is a good thing he didnít know what he was up against as he visited the bay of Sept-Iles. His log shows that he arrived here on the 12th of June 1534, and returned again on the 20th of August 1535. ImagineÖ a bright, sunny day, (if it were foggy his compass would have had him on the rocks), a caravelle all sails flying coming to Sept-Iles. He was heading for China but got stopped by the Lachine rapids (the China Rapids) just outside of Montreal.

So 43 years after Columbus arrived in the New World, Sept-Iles was on the map. Jacques Cartier made a mistake of course; he counted the islands as seven, in fact there are only six proper islands. There are, however, several reefs which could qualify as islands at low tide and your editor, being a sailor, agrees with the sailing directions that Pointe Noire when approached from the seaside appears to be an island by itself and that it is probable that Cartier counted Pointe Noire as an island.

The history of Sept-Iles and Moisie are very much intermingled, for the next 400 years. The first inhabitant of what is now known as Sept-Iles was a Francois Bissot (1614-1673). The daughter of Francois, Claire, married Louis Joliette, the famous explorer who sailed the Mississippi with Father Marquette in 1673. In 1680, Governor Duchesneau granted Joliette a large landholding comprising the Mingan archipelago, and Anticosti Island.

The Vieux Poste of Sept-Iles was originally the place where the Indians had their meetings with the trappers. As you know now, it is a historical site and houses a renowned restaurant of the Sept-Iles area. In 1679, Joliette fortified the Vieux Poste but English troops took it and destroyed it in 1692. It was rebuilt in 1695. However, in 1746 the Vieux Poste was once again destroyed, this time by the English battle fleet, in the Bay of Sept-Iles. The site was again reconstructed as a fort on the order of General Murray in 1761. In 1803 the fort and surrounding area were transferred to the Northwest Company.

The 18th century saw the battles between the Northwest Company and the Hudsonís Bay Company for dominance in the fur trade. Eventually, the HBC took over all of the fur trade in this area, and finally had exclusive privileges for the fur trade.

It was also at this time that the cod industry began to develop and there were merchants from as far away as Jersey and Guernsey, who became the proprietors of fishpacking plants. Cod fishing remains a favorite summer sport of personnel at CFS Moisie. It is not unusual for a boat with three or four people to go out in the morning and bring back 200 pounds of cod by noon. By the early 18th century, a few families had started to settle near the Moisie and St. Margaretís rivers and until 1875, Moisie village was much more important to the North Shore area than Sept-Iles which had remained a trading post until this time. The 1871 census for example, counted 108 families in Moisie against only 6 in Sept-Iles.

It is interesting to note that Iron production for the North Shore started in Moisie in 1865, not Sept-Iles. The beginning of the Iron Age is a story that sounds more fiction than fact. But the reality is that there were characters in this story with such unusual occupations as: 4 bank robbers, a chief of police from Montreal, a commander of a schooner on the St. Lawrence river, and a Lt. Governor of the province of Quebec.

The story is as follows: Four Americans who robbed a bank in St. Alban, Vermont were arrested in Montreal and imprisoned. Threatened with deportation to the United States they confessed their story to the Chief of Police of Montreal promising to split the stolen money with him, (several hundred thousand dollars) if he helped them escape. Guillaume Lamothe, the Montreal Chief of Police, told the bank robberís story to the Lt. Governor, Luc Letellier de St. Juste. Letellier considered their act legitimate, since the "soldiers" had performed the act to fight the rebellion of their state. Letellier decided to help them escape and even found them a hiding place at the Escoumains on the North Shore where he had friends. The bank robbers were taken by a schooner, whose commander was David Tetu. He brought them up the St. Lawrence River. Among the "soldiers", "bank robbers" were Captain Collins and 3 soldiers, Bruce, Doty and Scott. One of these latter was a mineralogist, it is not certain whom.

After having spent a winter at the Escoumains the escapees asked David Tetu to take them to Sydney and during their journey they stopped at Moisie, (where Tetu had lived and been the first commercial salmon fisherman). The mineralogist was astounded by the vase amounts of magnetic sand in Moisie. He convinced David Tetu to take samples of the sand to a Quebec laboratory. The analysis there revealed a high percentage of iron ore.

Tetu, Letellier and Lamothe then sent samples of the ore to American forges for experiments as to its worth. It was high grade and the adventure had begun. The partners began dreaming of their future prosperity and searched and found the support of powerful politicians to get the project started. After raising the money and finding associates they incorporated their company under the name of the "Moisie Mining Company". Soon after they obtained land concessions for the construction of their project on the north side of the Moisie River and started drawing up construction plans. History does not say why but shortly after in 1867, they sold their interests to the Molson group which operated under the name of the "Moisie Iron Company".

Using Moisie sand and clay the Molson group made the bricks for the construction of the buildings, chimneys and kilns of their smelter. The limestone necessary for the project was extracted from a mine on one of the islands in Sept-Iles Bay. The blast furnaces were constructed and fuelled with charcoal made on the premises. The 12 furnaces, each 40 feet in diameter, could take 100 cords at a time, and were built at the bottom of a hill to allow the charcoal to be dropped directly into the furnace.

Large communal huts were also built to accommodate the some 400 workers who were employed here during the peak period. They were paid between 10 and 50 cents per day in a monetary unit that was known as "Blue Tokens". This money could not be spent anywhere except the company counter. When the plant was fully operational each furnace was producing a ton a day. Several years later, William Molson discovered that the Moisie ore mixed with titanium which was extracted from La Riviere des Rapids near Sept-Iles, produced a very high quality iron which compared favorably with Swedish steel. Much of this excellent Moisie steel was used in the fabrication of wheel axles for the streetcars of Montreal, but the majority was being melted into iron bards for shipment to the USA. Unfortunately, the company was too successful in providing cheap and good quality iron ore. The Americans erected their tariff barriers to protect American metallurgy companies, and specifically the Iron Ore Industry of Minnesota; Washington imposed protective measures against the import of Canadian steel. The customs barrier jumped from $7.00 a ton to $35.00 a ton. On March 2nd, 1875, the Moisie Iron Company closed its furnaces and kilns for the last time. Soon after, the village that had sprung up around the Iron Ore facility, the "Village des Forges" was deserted.

The original occupants of the area once again took up their occupations of fishing and trapping on the South Shore of the Moisie River. At the end of the century, Moisie and Sept-Iles amalgamated for a short time to form the municipality of Sept-Iles. Later, however, Moisie separated from the municipality.

Sometime between 1892 and 1895 Hugh P Lowe a geologist, for the Canadian Geological Survey discovered large iron ore formations throughout Quebec and Labrador. In 1942 Hollinger Consolidated Gold Mines acquired control of the Labrador Mining and Exploration Company which owned exploration and mineral rights to the area.

By 1947, times were ripe to begin the exploitation of the iron ore fields in the northern lands. The Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway Company was formed in 1947, and in 1949 Hollinger and MA Hanna Company joined with Republic National Armco of Youngstown, NY and Wheeling VA to form the Iron Ore Company of Canada. Besides the financing provided by these companies 19 American and Canadian Insurance Companies loaned One Hundred and Forty-five Million Dollars to the project Hollinger Hanna Ltd. was formed to manage the affairs of Iron Ore Company of Canada. In 1950 the first ship arrived in Sept-Iles with the construction equipment necessary to begin construction of the Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway Company and mines.

The project required a fantastic outlay of effort and men. They had to build 357 miles of railroad through wilderness to the Knob Lake mining area. Because of the operational support required and maintenance problems over the same wilderness area the largest civil airlift in history up to that time was begun. This included transporting materials for the building of base camps and way stations required to house and feed the over 6,900 man labour force. Along the route there are still several scattered wrecks of aircraft which didnít manage to complete the round trip. In 1954, the railroad was completed and the first shipment of Ungava iron ore left Sept-Iles in the holds of the freighter "Hawaiian".

In 1964, exactly 10 years after the initial shipment, 100,000,000 tons had been loaded in ships at the terminal in Sept-Iles. The loading facilities at the Iron Ore Company could load 8,000 tons an hour into a ships hold.

In 1974, Moisie village began to disappear. As a result of provincial decisions which were concerned with the erosion of the breakwaters that had been established and the erosion of the protecting bluffs and cliffs by the St. Lawrence River at high tides as well as the difficulty of providing good drinking water to the village, it was decided to abandon Moisie.

For the next 4 years the village was in the process of being abandoned. The houses and the church were bulldozed and now where once stood a village of 130 people there is nothing. Even the graveyard has been moved to Sept-Iles.

So Moisie has disappeared, but Sept-Iles has grown. Today Sept-Iles is one of the busiest ports in Canada handling almost as much tonnage as Montreal. Its size is approximately 35,000 people and the mining sites to the north have also grown in both modern accommodation and facilities.

The editor of this quarter century book has visited Labrador City and found it to be an astonishing experience. Everything is gargantuan. I watched as they were tearing down a mountain, and asked where they would find ore after that. My guide explained to me that the biggest problem they had in Labrador city was determining where to put the city. That each place selected interfered with an ore body. I said to him, "Thatís fine, but after you tear down that mountain what are you going to do"? And he pointed in the distance and he said "Do you see that mountain, and that mountain, and that mountain, and that mountain? They are next".

Itís just amazing to watch the local diesel trains which donít have any engineers and are completely run by computers. You see approaching a modern diesel with no one in the cab and it stops, blows its horn and proceeds again until it finally arrives at its destination, the crushing mill. The crushing mill is in itself an experience. Two cars at a time are picked up, turned over, and dumped into a great mortar and pestle which crushes the rock as if it were pumice. All the while you are standing in a glass cage overlooking this event and wondering what would happen to you if the glass under your feet broke and you happened to fall into the mortar.

And so the area lives for and is dependent upon the mines. It is unfortunately a one commodity economy and in 1978, there are other areas in the world which are producing ore at a better price. It is unlikely that this complex could have been built today. The cost of the railway and the cost of mining in the north would negate the attempt. But it was done and is still providing a large portion of the iron ore requirements of Canada, the Northern United States and Japan. What the future will bring is anyoneís guess but there are a lot of quiet men in town now who are careful to say nothing and to hide their geiger counters before boarding their rented helicopters. Their destination (and ours) unknown.


This detail was obtained from Section One of the 1953-1978 Moisie Anniversary - 25 Years of Service Book. A copy of the 1953-1978 Moisie book was loaned to us by Deanna Gilbert and the material has been typed for use on the Pinetree Line web site in December 1998.