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Hudson River to Hudson Bay (or Polar Express, canoe version)

November 27, 2014

Here in NY, the name “Hudson” is associated with the great River that anchors our harbor. There are of course streets, highways and towns that hold the name as well. I always wondered how far up it went.

Then, seeing a globe or world map, it was a bit strange seeing another body of water with the name, way in the distant dismal northern wilderness lands of Canada; the huge Hudson Bay, which empties out into the Atlantic near Greenland, and has a branch, called the “northwestern passages” that leads pretty much to the Arctic.

I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting if that was the source of the Hudson River. But I quickly realized that the St. Laurence Seaway, which cuts across between the US and Canada, would cut that off, if nothing else.
The movie “The Polar Express” and other Christmas portrayals of continental travel to or from “the North Pole” (Rudolph, Frosty, Powerpuff Girls “Twas The Fight Before Christmas”, etc. piqued the interest along the way. It would be interesting if there was a railroad that went all the way up. Or, a river!

Finally tracing the Hudson at one point, made even more accurate with the NY Gazetteer atlas, which shows detailed land features, the river runs up near Glen Falls (near Lake George, where I once went with my parents to pick up my brother, at a camp, when he was staying with our mother in Albany). It then turns from its northerly alignment, and becomes a small winding stream that enters the Adirondacks and winds up at a lake near Mt. Marcy, the highest mountain in the state, and just 10 or so miles shy of ’80 Olympics area Lake Placid.

You would think it became Lake Champlain, which sort of “replaces” it as the separating the bulk of NY state from New England. But recently, I happen to look to see if there is a connection, and sure enough, a canal and river runs from where the Hudson turns west, to the tip of the lake. The lake enters Canada, becoming a regular river again, and then runs into the St. Lawrence.

Glancing at the landscape of Canada, it is very irregular, and full of little lakes and winding rivers, with hundreds of miles to go to get to the Hudson Bay. There did not seem to be anything flowing straight north.
What happens, is you run up against what’s called the “Laurentian Divide“; which seems to be a highland region, running east/west, that contains the headwaters for many of the rivers. But they will flow either one direction towards the St. Lawrence, OR the other direction toward the Hudson Bay.
So on some maps, I would see rivers connecting to either, that came close, but did not connect. Google maps, which is about as detailed as the old Gazetteer, it was impossible to make out what was what, because the landscape in northern Quebec and Ontario (and much of the rest of northern Canada) is a spongelike or “foamy” array of lakes, islands, rivers and peninsulas. To rivers in particular looked like they ended only a few miles from each other. I also looked at more western routes, to connect through the Great Lakes, but found pretty much the same thing.

Of particular interest was Gouin Reservoir, which is a massive maze of little lakes and landforms (lined with Native American villages!)
One river (St. Maurice) that comes up straight from the St. Lawrence (and not too far from the Richelieu, which becomes Lake Champlain; and so would be the perfect northern “extension” beyond the St. Lawrence) ran to the reservoir. It looked like several rivers connecting to the Bay ends near the reservoir’s other end, but again, it was impossible to make it out what was what on the map, and many times, whether what looks like a river or connecting body of water really connects to another.
The nearest big river that definitely connects (eventually) to the bay was the Bell River, and a bigger one a bit further west was the Harricana, but again, it was impossible to tell if they connected to the reservoir.

I had to search a bit, and found that the invading Iriquois, and various canoers in the 1800’s did in fact use to take the trip across the Gouin from the St. Lawrence and St. Maurice to the Nottaway “across the height of the land by various lakes and portages” (Canoeing North Into the Unknown: A Record of River Travel, 1874 to 1974 Bruce W. Hodgins, Gwyneth Hoyle p.65), which connects to the bay via the Bell and another lake (Mattagami).
(the whole area is a big canoeing destination. I take it those would be the biggest boats that could navigate much of the route. I also read that parts of it freezes, and it may be dangerous in bad weather).

The missing piece was a barely discernable river, called the Mégiscane, which runs east from Lac Parent (which the Bell River flows out of), then turns south near the Goiun. Apparently, a little stream runs from the southwestern corner of the reservoir, and then joins this southerly portion of the Mégiscane. (This doesn’t seem to be shown on most maps which again make it look like a series of little lakes that may or may not connect. The route through the Gouin can be seen here: route: The Mégiscane can be seen here:

So you basically head downstream from the reservoir, until you join up with this other river/lake series, which you turn upstream on, to head across. Once you reach the lakes to the west, it’s downstream to the bay. (Another possible route might be to head north from around the reservoir, to Lac Father, from where you can pick up a string of lakes west to the Matagami).

Hudson River to Hudson Bay

Hudson to Ft. Edward, NY 175 mi.
Champlain Canal/Mettawee River (Whitehall, NY) 23 mi.
Lake Champlain (100 mi. to border, then becomes smaller river, but name change not shown on map until further up)
Richelieu River (border to St. Lawrence) 72 mi.
St. Lawrence River [35 mi. Sorel – Trois Rivieres; E-NE]
St. Maurice River 160 radial mi average N/NW (N for 100mi, then begins veering W)
Gouin Reservoir (outfitters Barrage Gouin – Pourvoirie-Martin 1 61 radial miles through winding maze of lakes, W)
Lac de la Tete / Megiscane River 75 radial miles (N through lake, then W)
Lac Parent 17 mi. (N)
Bell River 80 mi. (N) – Lac Matagami (7 mi. E)
Nottaway River 120 mi. to mouth @ Rupert Bay (30 mi. – James Bay (279 mi.) – Hudson Bay

About 1000 miles (including winding paths calculated radially) to get to the final opening to the bay, and then another 280 miles of James Bay (the little piece of water that sticks down to the south) before it opens up into Hudson Bay proper.

The “Super Hudson” trail, from River to Bay, and beyond

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