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James Bay
James Bay - A satellite image of James Bay.
A satellite image of James Bay.
Location Southern end of Hudson Bay
Coordinates 53°41′48″N 80°35′04″W / 53.69667°N 80.58444°W / 53.69667; -80.58444 (James Bay)Coordinates: 53°41′48″N 80°35′04″W / 53.69667°N 80.58444°W / 53.69667; -80.58444 (James Bay)
Countries Canada

James Bay (French: Baie James) is a large body of water on the southern end of Hudson Bay in Canada. Both bodies of water extend from the Arctic Ocean. James Bay borders the provinces of Quebec and Ontario; islands within the bay (the largest of which is Akimiski Island) are part of Nunavut. The James Bay watershed is the site of several major hydroelectric projects, and is also a destination for river-based recreation. Several communities are located near or alongside James Bay, including a number of Aboriginal communities such as the Kashechewan First Nation and nine communities affiliated with the Crees of northern Quebec.



The bay first came to the attention of Europeans in 1610, when Henry Hudson entered it during his exploration of the larger bay that bears his name. James Bay itself received its name in honour of Thomas James, an English captain who explored the area more thoroughly in 1630 – 1631.

James Bay is important in the history of Canada as one of the most hospitable parts of the Hudson Bay region (despite its low human population), and as a result its corresponding 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 Bavaria, a favoured cousin of both Charles I and 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 the first fur-trading post on James Bay, Charles Fort. Their success, though lacking in minerals, was such that the company was chartered by Charles II on their return. This charter granted a complete trading monopoly of the whole Hudson Bay basin (including James Bay) to the company. At the same time, the first English colony on what is now mainland Canada, Rupert's Land, was formed, with the first "capital" being at Charles Fort. The fact that the first colonial governor, Charles Baley (various spellings exist, including, but not limited to "Bailey"), was a Quaker might have been an important factor in the style of relations established between the company and its "trading partners", Canada's First Nations.

Significant fur trapping has continued in the region, but in general the east coast or East Main of James Bay was too easily accessed by French and independent traders from the south so early Hudson's Bay Company emphasis was quickly placed onto interior trapping grounds reached from the west coasts of James and Hudson Bays. It was, nevertheless, the gateway to British settlements in what would become Manitoba (Winnipeg, for example) and as far west as the Rocky Mountains.


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, whereas the northeastern coast bordering Quebec is in the Taiga Shield ecozone. The eastern shores of the bay form the western edge of the Canadian Shield in Quebec. As such, the terrain here is rocky and hilly with boreal forest. The western shore is characterised by broad tundra lowlands that are an extension of the Hudson Bay Lowlands. Its vegetation is mostly muskeg. A large portion of this area is part of the Polar Bear Provincial Park.

Hundreds of rivers flow into James Bay. The geography of the area 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 further 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.[1]

Human development

James Bay, near Chisasibi, Quebec.

Coastal communities

The shores of James Bay are sparsely populated. On the eastern shore in Quebec there are four coastal communities belonging to the Crees, the indigenous people of the region (from south to north):

On the western shore in Ontario there are five coastal communities (from south to north):

Economic development

Possible scenario of the GRAND Canal scheme, showing the initial water capture and diversion into Lake Huron. Water would be pumped south from the newly-formed James Lake into the Harricana River, crossing into the Great Lakes watershed near Amos, into Lake Timiskaming and the Ottawa River, crossing near Mattawa into Lake Nipissing and the French River to Lake Huron.

James Bay has returned to prominence in recent decades due to the James Bay hydroelectric project. Since 1971, the government of Quebec has built hydroelectric dams on rivers in the James Bay watershed, notably La Grande and Eastmain rivers. Built between 1974 and 1996, La Grande Complexe now has a combined generating capacity of 16,021 MW and produces about 83,000,000,000 kWh of electricity each year, about half of Quebec's consumption. Power is also exported to the United States via a direct transmission high voltage line. The James Bay Project continues to expand, with work beginning in 2007 on a new phase that involves the diversion of the Rupert River.

A proposed development project, the Great Recycling and Northern Development Canal, centres on constructing a large dike to separate southern James Bay from Hudson Bay. This would turn the bay into a freshwater lake, due to the numerous rivers that empty into it. The main benefit expected from this would be to redirect this freshwater for human use. It seems very unlikely that the GRAND Canal will actually ever be built.



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 after a set of rapids known as Seven-Mile. 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 flows into James Bay several miles east of Moosonee, so 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$10 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 further 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).


Further reading

  • Dignard, N. Habitats of the Northeast Coast of James Bay. [Canada]: Environment Canada, Canada Wildlife Service, 1991. ISBN 0662189477
  • Francis, Daniel, and Toby Elaine Morantz. Partners in Furs A History of the Fur Trade in Eastern James Bay, 1600-1870. Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1983. ISBN 0773503854
  • Kenyon, Walter Andrew. The History of James Bay, 1610-1686 A Study in Historical Archaeology. Archaeology monograph, 10. Toronto, Canada: Royal Ontario Museum, 1986. ISBN 0888543166
  • McCutcheon, Sean. Electric Rivers The Story of the James Bay Project. Montréal: Black Rose Books, 1991. ISBN 1895431182
  • Niezen, Ronald. Defending the Land Sovereignty and Forest Life in James Bay Cree Society. Cultural Survival studies in ethnicity and change. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1998. ISBN 020527580X
  • Reed, Austin. Goose use of the coastal habitats of northeastern James Bay. Ottawa, Ont: Canadian Wildlife Service, 1996. ISBN 0662250338
  • Salisbury, Richard Frank. A Homeland for the Cree Regional Development in James Bay, 1971-1981. Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1986. ISBN 0773505504
  • Siy, Alexandra. The Eeyou People of Eastern James Bay. New York: Dillon Press, 1993. ISBN 0875185495

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Baie-James article)

From Wikitravel

North America : Canada : Quebec : Baie-James

Baie-James is in Canada.



The weather seems to vary quite a bit. In June of 2009, it was hot (80F) during the day and cool (50F) at night. It would be best to be prepared for colder weather, as June nighttime temps in the 30's F are not uncommon. Hot temperatures present more of a challenge than cold temperatures. You must have some kind of bug protection, and in hot temperatures, one must find a way to keep cool while inside a bug screen of some kind. In a vehicle, about the only way to be comfortable is to keep driving with open windows. Luckily, there are frequent rivers which while somewhat chilly, are good for swimming.

Get in

By plane

All air transportation is done to and from La Grande Rivière Airport (IATA: YGL, ICAO: CYGL) near Radisson, which has direct connections to Montréal by the airlines; Air Inuit [1] and Air Creebec [2], there is usually at least two daily departures on this route, one by each airline. Air Inuit also serves several small Inuit communities further north from the airport.

By bus

There is one daily bus on weekdays from Val d'Or to Matagami the starting point of the James Bay Road, it takes about 3½ hours and is operated by Autobus Maheux [3].

Get around

The James Bay Road is a paved road leading north along the lower reaches of Hudson Bay. It provides access to four Cree communities located along the shore of James Bay, and extends north to Radisson, located at a large hydroelectric dam project. There is paved road to the Cree community of Chisasibi. To reach the three Cree communities of Waskaganish, Eastmain and Wemindji, one must traverse long stretches of gravel road, generally about 90 km of gravel road each.

The James Bay Road passes through a vast and unpopulated region. There is not much traffic. While driving, one sees nothing but trees, rivers and rocks for long periods of time. Wildlife that may be seen include black bear, fox and moose. The most common wildlife to see during June are ravens and dragonflies. There are mosquitos in most places, and deer flies in some places. The bugs do not seem to be more agressive or annoying than in more southern areas such as Michigan or Ontario, however because the whole area is bush, there are few or no built up areas to escape to, to avoid the insects. Having a place to rest with bug screens is a must. Bug headnets and bug jackets are a good idea to preserve one's sanity. Long pants, socks and long sleeve shirts are good to help protect from insects. Staying away from trees and brush, and finding spots in the open in windy areas will help reduce the annoyance of insects.

The quiet and isolation along the James Bay Road can be unnerving. People who are not used to such a vast wilderness may feel some discomfort and fear. In some people, it can lead to exhiliration. After a day or two, one gets used to the isolation. There is traffic along the James Bay Road, but most vehicles are driving very fast to try to cover long distances quickly. The James Bay Road officially begins in Matagami, however the transition from northern Quebec farm country to boreal forest happens between Amos and Matagami. As you travel north out of Matagami, you will notice that the trees become smaller and smaller as the hours and days pass. The further north you go, the fewer people you will see.

Fuel is available 24 hours a day in Matagami, Relais Routier and Radisson. If you fill your tank whenever you pass through these locations, you should not have to worry about running out of fuel (depending on your vehicle's range!). Fuel prices in June 2009 were about CAN$1.24 per liter, or CAN$4.70 per gallon. Fuel is also available in the Cree communities of Waskaganish, Eastmain, Wemindji and Chisasibi.

In order to best travel the James Bay Road, here are a few suggestions. Drive slowly to allow the driver to enjoy the view and to reduce fuel consumption. Plan on taking two or more days to drive from Matagami to Radisson. Stop at all major rivers and take a walk along the river. Spend time at all waterfalls and climb the rocks a bit. Quite often the natural impulse is to drive as fast as possible to a destination, however, when you reach the James Bay Road, you should take time to enjoy the trip.


Visit a Cree community. Chisasibi has a paved road to the village, however Chisasibi is somewhat industrial. It is not the best village to learn about Cree life and culture. There is a gravel road from Chisasibi to the James Bay Coast. When you near Chisasibi, do not take any of the side streets, and follow signage to the barge. As you approach the barge site, take a left and continue on to a boat launch. Most boats there are freighter canoes.

Wemindji is an excellent location to observe a Cree village. One must travel 96km of gravel road from the James Bay Road to Wemindji. In 2009, there was an exhibit of how the Cree tipis were constructed near the boat launch in town. Wemindji appears to be a prosperous town with a great deal of construction. Wemindji is surrounded by islands and a chain of lakes that are connected to James Bay.

North of Chisasibi is Longue Point, a dramatic location which appears to be the furthest north that one can drive to the coast of James Bay. It is a launch site for freighter canoes and in winter is a starting point to snowmobile on the ice of James Bay. To find Longue Point, cross the LeGrande 1 dam near Chisasibi and follow the gravel road to the end. This is truly the end of the road and about as far as you can drive north along the bay.


Fishing in the rivers and lakes along the James Bay Road is permitted with a Quebec fishing permit. In the areas surrounding the Cree communities, one must have a guide to fish. Generally there are signs in areas where fishing is prohibited to non-natives.


There are grocery stores in Matagami and Radisson. There is a grocery store in the center of Chisasibi. There may be grocery stores at Wemindji and Relais Routier. When entering the James Bay region, you must carry enough food and water for several days (minimum). Most campgrounds have no water wells. You may wish to take water directly from the rivers. A pail with a rope tied to the handle makes fetching water from rivers much easier.


There are a number of official and unofficial campsites along the highway which as of 2009 were free (with a requested donation of $5 per day). The official campsites will typically have a picnic table and pit toilet. Many of the official campsites are located near rivers or lakes, and in some cases are next to beautiful waterfalls. Most campsites are gravel, which is not particularly suited for tenting. If you plan on tenting, take a sturdy groundcloth. There are numerous logging roads and turn-offs that one could take and overnight in the wild along the way. A self contained camper van or motorhome are ideal for travel in the James Bay region.

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