Canada’s Newest Railway

The Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway will be opened shortly to transport ore from the great ungava iron development to seven Islands on the St. Lawrence, where docks and facilities have been constructed to load it on great ore carriers. These freighters will carry it in an endless stream to the steel mills of Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. The Ungava iron development has already created two very rapidly growing towns and a great hydro plant to supply electric current for the towns and the mining of the iron ore.

The construction of this 358 mile railway began in 1949. When completed, it will be the first large railway project undertaken in North America during the century. It is to operate six trains of 100 cars powered by fours diesel engines each, to move 80,000 tons of ore per day from the iron mines near Burnt Creek to the docks on the St. Lawrence at seven Islands. Sidings for the passing of these immense trains have been built at intervals of twenty miles along the route to provide for future requirements.

Canadian national train at no. 6 mine yard. (Source: Cumberland Museum and Archives Flickr)

It has been said that: Without oil, this project would be impossible.” The diesels will continue to use great quantities of oil in moving the ore to the coast, however, the Hollinger Ungava Transport Company that up to the present have been that means of transportation used to move men and equipment, by planes to and from this Ungava projects, have used a million gallons of aviation gasoline a year. The project as a whole used oil products amounting, in 1953, to 13,000,000 gallons. Oil and oil products have been used in the flame throwers to cut ice jams, drive power machinery in drilling rock, creosoting railway ties, spraying vicious northland insects and in every possible way, even for cooking food. Two aircraft tankers, carrying 1,000 gallon loads each, have been used solely to ferry oil to the construction crews.

The airlift has taken to Burnt Creek and other points during the six years, everything that was needed, from furniture and food to bulldozers. They have carried as much as 300 tons of material a day, and from the Seven Islands airfield the planes have taken off at and average rate of twelve planes per hour, which exceeds in number the take-off per day of any of the large airports in Canada.

The manager of the Hollinger Ungava Transport Company has his headquarters at Mont Joli on the C.N.R., on the south side of the St. Lawrence River. He has from 70 to 75 crack pilots to service the airlift of the mining area. There are 13 airfields and strips linking Ungava with the outside world. These are continuously lighted and serviced. The airport at Menihek, some months ago, was the means of saving the life of an Arabian pilot, flying from Europe to the United States, who overshot the Goose Bay airport, and became lost in Ungava with only half an hour’s gasoline in his tanks. It was then that he saw the lights of a modern airport, and landed safely at Menihek.

The building of this railroad has been quite unusual, in that four contracting firms are joined together to complete the job. They operate under the title of Cartier McNamara-Mannix-Morrison-Knudesen, which they have simplified to CMMK. They have overcome obstacles that have presented baffling problems to the manger and his experienced crews. Within eleven miles of Seven Islands, and before they had reached the “Noisy Moisie” River, they had to drive a tunnel half a mile long through a mountain of solid rock, and as the railway emerges from the mountain, it crosses a gorge on a steel 708 ft. trestle. From there the tracks follow along the face of cliffs where dynamite cyr notches for them 100 to 150 feet above the roaring river, and with sheer rocks overhead from 40 to 60 feet above the right of way. From there for 140 miles the railroad climbs steadily until it reaches an elevation of 2056 feet above sea level.

Montague PEI, First Train (Source: PEI MHF Flickr)

The greater part of the 358 miles of right of way had to be stripped of muskeg, that almost impassable barrier of the northland of land travel, it varied in depth, but for 180 miles there was under the muskeg a granite hard layer of frost that had to be broken through, and under that an old lake bottom of shifting sand was found. Before they finish, they will have laid 100,000 tons of steel rails.

Seven Islands for several hundred years had just been a fishing village. It was named by Jacques Cartier, because of the seven Islands that guard its natural harbour. One of these was used during World War II to satisfactorily develop a protective serum against the dread Rinderpest disease of cattle, which it was feared the enemy might spread on this continent.

The population of Seven Islands did  not exceed 600 for three centuries, and many of these were Indians from a nearby reserve. It has probably over 5,000 people today, and is being rapidly built up. It has all the earmarks of a frontier boom town. Real estate prices have climbed on a single lot in one year from $2000 to $13000. A modern hotel of 24 rooms with a bath has been built at a cost of half a million dollars. The great docks at Seven Islands can accommodate at one time two 35-foot draft, 32,000 ton, oil fired ore-carriers. Imperial Oil has docks for its own oil tankers. The town is run on oil, the homes are heated with oil. Uncut wood is priced at $20.00 per ton.

Stationary locomotive. Date: 1940 (Source: Cumberland Museum and Archives Flickr)

Burnt Creek has the reputation of being on of the busiest towns of its size. Construction men, geologists and miners often work 98 hours a week. It is said to have: “The richest Main Street in the world.” Some workmen, in testing a drill, discovered that Burnt Creek, whose main thoroughfare was a rutted, muddy road, with makeshift bunkhouses and Quonset hut offices, set in uneven lines on either side, was right on top of the most valuable iron ore deposit in Ungava. The entire town is to be moved to a new site of Knob Lake, near an airfield and a seaplane base, and will be called Schefferville, after Bishop Scheffer.

Burnt Creek is as far north as Edmonton and Copenhagen. It has had temperatures down to 50 degrees below zero each winter, and usually has more than one snowstorm in July, It has central heat, electricity and running water. The country to the north and southeast has enormous potential water power, estimated at two million horse power. Thirty miles south of Knob Lake, at Menihek Rapids, a great power plant is being constructed, and the 12000 horse power hydro station is nearing completion. There seems to be no doubt but that will be shipping “iron ore in ‘54”

– Newsy Notes, May 15th, 1954.