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James Bay
James bay in summer.jpg
A satellite image of James Bay
Location Southern end of Hudson Bay, between Ontario and Quebec.
Basin countries Canada
Max. length 443 km (275 mi)
Max. width 217 km (135 mi)
Surface area 68,300 km2 (26,400 sq mi)
Average depth 60 m (200 ft)

James Bay (French: Baie James, Cree: Wînipekw) is a large body of water located on the southern end of Hudson Bay in Canada. Both bodies of water extend from the Arctic Ocean, of which James Bay is the southernmost part. It borders the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario. Islands within the bay, the largest of which is Akimiski Island, are part of Nunavut.

Numerous waterways of the James Bay watershed have been modified with dams or diversion for several major hydroelectric projects. These waterways are also destinations for river-based recreation. Several communities are located near or alongside James Bay, including a number of Aboriginal Canadian communities, such as the Kashechewan First Nation and nine communities affiliated with the Cree of northern Quebec.

As with the rest of Hudson Bay, the waters of James Bay routinely freeze over in winter. It is the last part of Hudson Bay to freeze over in winter, and conversely the first to thaw in summer.

History

Human presence along the shores of the bay began after the retreat of the glaciers at the end of the last ice age, around 8,150 years ago. A variety of indigenous cultures have lived in this area. At the time of contact with Europeans, the indigenous peoples along both shores of the bay were ethnically Cree peoples.

Henry Hudson is believed to have been the first European to enter the bay, when he explored it in 1610 as part of his exploration of the larger bay that was named for him. This southerly bay was named in honour of Thomas James, a Welsh captain who explored the area more thoroughly in 1630 and 1631.

James Bay is important in the history of Canada as one of the most hospitable parts of the Hudson Bay region, although it has had a low human population. It was an area of importance to the Hudson's Bay Company and British expansion into Canada. The fur-trapping duo of explorers Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Médard des Groseilliers convinced the English Crown, primarily Prince Rupert of the Rhine, a favoured nephew of Charles I and cousin to Charles II, that a colonial enterprise in the north would yield wealth in minerals and fur. Des Groseilliers accompanied Captain Zachariah Gillam on the ketch Nonsuch and they jointly founded Charles Fort, the first European fur-trading post on James Bay.

Their success was such that the company was chartered by Charles II on their return, although they did not bring any minerals. This charter granted a complete trading monopoly to the company of the whole Hudson Bay basin (including James Bay). At the same time, the first English colony on what is now mainland Canada, Rupert's Land, was formed, with the first "capital" designated at Charles Fort. The first colonial governor, Charles Baley (various spellings exist, including but not limited to "Bailey"), was a Quaker, and this is believed to have been a factor in his respectful relations with the company's trading partners, the First Nations.

Significant fur trapping has continued in the region. In general, the east coast or East Main of James Bay was too easily accessed by French and independent traders from the south. The Hudson's Bay Company emphasised from an early period trading relations with tribes in interior trapping grounds, reached from the west coasts of James and Hudson bays. East Main was, nevertheless, the gateway to British settlements in what would become Manitoba (Winnipeg, for example) and as far west as the Rocky Mountains.

Geography

Hannah Bay
Hannah Bay at the southern end of James Bay.

James Bay represents the southern extent of the Arctic Archipelago Marine ecozone. While the coastal areas are primarily in the Hudson Plains, the northeastern coast bordering Quebec is in the Taiga Shield ecozone. This rocky and hilly eastern shore forms the western edge of the Canadian Shield in Quebec and as such, the main habitat is boreal forest of the Eastern Canadian Shield taiga ecoregion. The western shore, however, is characterised by broad tundra lowlands that are an extension of the Hudson Bay Lowlands, and the vegetation is mostly muskeg bog. A large portion of this area is part of the Polar Bear Provincial Park. Ringed seals are common elsewhere along James Bay and polar bears can be seen hunting the seals as prey. Beluga whales within James Bay basin could be distinct from those found in Hudson Bay.

Hundreds of rivers flow into James Bay. The geography of the region gives many of them similar characteristics. They tend to be wide and shallow near the Bay (in the James Bay Lowlands), whereas they are steeper and narrower farther upstream (as they pour off the Canadian Shield). For a larger list of waterways in the region, see list of Hudson Bay rivers.

Hannah Bay

Hannah Bay is the southernmost bay of James Bay. Here the Kesagami and Harricana Rivers flow into James Bay. About 238 km2 is protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act of Canada as the Hannah Bay Bird Sanctuary. This sanctuary has also been designated as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention since May 1987.

The shores in this area are a mixture of intertidal mud, sand, and salt flats, estuarine waters, intertidal marshes, freshwater ponds, swamps, and forested peatlands. These elements make an abundance of wildlife.

Islands

James Bay contains numerous islands. The largest of the islands is Akimiski Island, which covers 3,002 square kilometres (1,159 sq mi).

All of northern Ontario and northern Quebec were part of the Hudson Bay Company's proprietary colony of Rupert's Land, and after Rupert's Land was purchased by Canada in 1869, the area became part of the North-West Territory. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Canada transferred much of the North-West Territory to Ontario and Quebec, thus forming modern northern Ontario and northern Quebec. However, all of the islands in Hudson Bay and James Bay remained part of the North-West Territory. Following the partition of the North-West Territory in 1999, the islands in Hudson Bay and James Bay were transferred to the new territory of Nunavut.

Recreation

Canoeing

Many of the rivers flowing into James Bay are popular destinations for wilderness canoe-trippers. Among the more popular rivers are:

Two less-travelled rivers are the Groundhog River and the Harricana. The Groundhog is less travelled in modern times due to a series of seven dams that are about a day or two up-river from the Moose. Canoeists can contact the dam company and arrange to be towed around the dams on company trucks, but they must make arrangements specific to the hour, and they cannot be late. The Groundhog flows into the Mattagami. The Mattagami then flows into the Moose; it is at the meeting of the Missinaibi and Mattagami rivers that the Moose river begins, marked by an island known as Portage Island. This point is about two or three days travel by canoe to Moosonee. Though the Missinaibi and the Groundhog are both fairly high in the summer, the Moose is often quite low. Depending on the tides, groups have had to walk long stretches of the river. Rapids on the Groundhog tend to be bigger and more technical than those on the Missinaibi, but the campsites are few and poor, because the volume of travel is so much less.

The Harricana River is wild, powerful, dangerous river that flows into James Bay 40 miles (64 km) east of Moosonee after two infamous sections of river known as 1-mile and 7-mile island. Consistent whitewater and waterfalls make these sections of river extremely dangerous. Anyone wishing to take this route must allow about two days to cross the bay, an extremely dangerous proposition if the tides and the weather are unfavourable.

The most common access point for paddlers to this area is Moosonee, at the southern end of James Bay. A campsite at Tidewater Provincial Park provides large campgrounds with firepits and outhouses on an island across the river from the town. Water taxis will ferry people back and forth for about C$20 each. Many of these rivers finish near Moosonee, and paddlers can take the Polar Bear Express train south to Cochrane at the end of a trip. This train regularly features a 'canoe car' enabling paddlers to travel with their canoes.

Waskaganish, Quebec, is a town farther to the north and east on James Bay. It is accessible via the James Bay Road, and is the most common end point for trips on the Broadback, Pontax, and Rupert rivers (the town itself is situated at the mouth of the Rupert).

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