The North American Frontier.The Illustrated London News, vol. 39, no. 1121, p. 593.
December 14, 1861
The latest intelligence from the United States, although not quite so unsatisfactory as that previously received, still leaves strong grounds for apprehension. There is no disguising the fact that most of the leading journals, and public opinion in that country generally, are against yielding to any demands that may be made by her Majesty's Government to restore the citizens of the Confederate States recently taken by force from the deck of a West India mail-packet carrying the English flag. Looking, at the same time, to the opinion and temper of the English people upon this subject, we see such sufficient cause for alarm that our attention is immediately drawn towards the position of the British colonies in North America, and particularly to the boundary line tha[t] separates them from the United States.
It would be useless now to discuss the question as to how the frontier line of Canada and New Brunswick has become what it is, or whether it might not have been, by more judicious management, better than we now find it; but it is certain that the boundary line of the States of Maine and New York does so cut into the British territory that United States' armies may encamp within exceedingly short distance of our principal cities and yet be on their own soil.
Newfoundland being an island, and Nova Scotia nearly one, we may safely calculate on our naval supremacy ensuring them protection from molestation; but with the important province of New Brunswick, the Canadas, and the British North-west Territory, our position is by no means so satisfactory, as in many instances in these latter provinces there is no physical boundary whatever, the British possessions and those of the United States being separated by little more than an imaginary line. The trees have been cut down where it passes through the wilderness, and a few stones have been set up at long distances apart, and that is the only division that marks the territories of two peoples who, though coming of a common stock, speaking the same language, and worshipping God in the same manner, yet are intent only on doing each other the largest possible amount of mischief. There is yet hope that it may not be so, but the threatening aspect of affairs compels us to look narrowly at our position on the frontier.
The city of Quebec, our great stronghold in North America, is only sixty miles from the United States' territory; and River de Loup, the eastern terminus of the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada, and of the Canadian sytem of railways generally, although 120 miles lower down the St. Lawrence, is within thirty miles of the international boundary line.
Montreal, the capital of the Canadas, is only forty-four miles by railway from Rouse's Point at the head of Lake Champlain—a point where the States of New York and Vermont meet. Several of the United States' railways focus to this place, and it will become an important position should war break out: it was so in 1814, a great battle being fought in this neighbourhood, the victory being claimed by the Americans.
From Rouse's Point for neary 300 miles eastward are what are called the eastern townships of Canada—districts containing many important towns and much cleared and cultivated land; these abut upon the States of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, without any marked physical boundary, the St. Lawrence lying on their northern or western edge. West of Montreal, nearly opposite the Canadian town of Cornwall, the boundary line of the United States hits the St. Lawrence, and the river then separates them from Canada until it receives its waters at the outlet from Lake Ontario, many good towns lying on each side of it. On the Canadian banks the principal are Cornwall, Morrisburg, Prescott, and Kingston; on the United States' side the principle town is Ogdenburg, exactly opposite Prescott. These latter are large and important places, situated pretty much as Gravesend and Tilbury Fort are; both are important railway termini. Prescott is the point of junction of the Grand Trunk Railway with the line to Ottawa, the intended seat of the Government of Canada; while Ogdensburg is connected by railway with Rouse's Point to the eastward and with the New York Central Railway to the southward and westward. Kingston, in Canada, is situated at the point where Lake Ontario pours its waters into the St. Lawrence through a thousand channels formed by a number of beautiful islands. Kingston is a fortified place, and adjoins Fort Henry, a military position second only in importance to Quebec. Fort Henry is built on the site of the old French Fort Frontenac. In a war with the United States this place would become most important as a dápôt for troops, as well as a naval station, where craft would be built to act upon Lake Ontario and the upper waters of the St. Lawrence. On the north shore of Lake Ontario is situated the large, rich, and flourishing city of Toronto, the capital of Western Canada. It is built close upon the waters edge, is utterly unprotected by art, but nature his done much for it. It is a peculiar characteristic of Lake Ontario to have formed in particular situations long banks of sand and shingle, locally called beaches. At a considerable distance from the shore, in front of the city, is a long narrow bank of this description, upon which batteries could be formed with rapidity, that would effectually protect this important city from all attacks on the lake side, while direct railway communication with Fort Henry would secure it landwards. Toronto , therefore, though apparently so exposed, may be safely expected to take care of itself when the time arrives for its doing so. At the western end of Lake Ontario is situated another large and important city, Hamilton, and protected from all attacks from the lake by a beach similar to that which lies in front of Toronto. A single vessel sunk in the canal which connects the waters of Burlington Bay (on the south shore of which Hamilton is situated) with those of Lake Ontario renders it impossible for any vessel to approach within three or four miles of Hamilton. Its dangers, therefore, must be sought for in the oppsitosite direction.
On the south shore of Lake Ontario there are situated several important United States' towns; and between the mouth of the Niagara River and the point where the lake becomes the River St. Lawrence are no lees than six railway termini to lines which are connected with the New York central line. In the Genesee, at Oswego, and Sackett's harbour, in the event of hostilities, armaments would be fitted out to operate upon the opposite shore, in which case Lake Ontario would again become the scene of remarkable naval exploits. Across the lake, nearly opposite to Toronto, and within sight of it on a fine day, upon a high hill, stands the monument recently erected to General Brock, who fell there, after having gained a victory over the American troops.
The international boundary line, having passed up the centre of Lake Ontario to opposite this point, turns suddenly inwards and then follows, the centre of the deep river which enters the lake here, pouring out in one unbroken mass the accumulated surplus waters of the great Lakes Erie, Huron, Michigan, and Superior, white and foamy after the great leap they have made at Niagara, only a few miles higher up the stream. The Niagara River is a secure barrier for either nation. It may be crossed at its mouth, it is true, but not with impunity if an enemy occupied the precipitous hills on either side. At the foot of the Great Falls it may also be crossed, but a thousand men having done so could not land if fifty occupying the heights chose to prevent them. A magnificent bridge spans the terrible rush of waters down the gorge of the Niagara—a triumph of engineering skill which the arts of peace have produced, and which, doubtless, the art of war will destroy.
Above the Falls of Niagara the boundary line keeps the centre of the stream until it enters Lake Erie. The north shore of this lake is British, and contains some of the best districts of Western Canada. On the American side is the large city of Buffalo; also, Dunkirk, Erie, Cleveland, and Sandusky, the whole of which are railway termini.
The international boundary line is up the centre of Lake Erie and through the River St. Clair and Lake St. Clair into Lake Huron. Between Lakes Huron and Erie the United States and British territory is divided only by a fine navigable river, much like the Thames at Erith; the large American city of Detroit is situated on its west bank and the Canadian town of Windsor opposite to it. The latter is the western terminus of the Great Western Railway of Canada; the former the focus of a system of railways. From the upper end of the River St. Clair, the boundary line divides equally the waters of Lake Huron, and enters Lake Superior through the St. Marie. The larger portion of this lake belongs to the Americans. From its northern shore the line follows the direction of the water communications until it reaches the parallel of 49° north latitude, along which it is continued across the Rocky Mountains until it reaches the Pacific Ocean.
On the north side of the forty-ninth parallel of latitude, adjoining the State of Minnesota, there exists a very valuable country known as the North-west Territory. Although in the occupation of the Hudson Bay Company, it is a tract of exceedingly fine land, and contains some settlements known as the Red River or Selkirk settlements. This is a far-off, outlying property of the British Crown, exceedingly valuable to us, and much coveted by the United States, it has been sadly neglected by its owners, and we may soon find it the most difficult to protect.