White Fish Island Reserve 15
Actual picture taken of Indians Dip Net Fishing at the St. Mary’s River Rapids
- Historical records on the use of Whitefish Island (WFI) by the native Indian population date back almost to the first French exploration of the area, in 1621.
- The first detailed description of the fishery at the rapids adjacent to Whitefish Island is contained in Jesuit reports of 1669-1671. The reports note that the Indians carried on extensive fishing at the foot of the rapids, from spring until onset of winter, for whitefish.
- Reports describe the Indian method of fishing the rapids, using a scoop net from a single canoe, which was the most productive method of obtaining whitefish from these rapids.
- In 1837 and 1838, the Hudson’s Bay Company shipped 300 barrels and 276 barrels of whitefish, at 200 lbs. of fresh fish per barrel, or (60,000 lbs. and 55,200 lbs) from the Sault.
- These fish were purchased from the Indians and were in excess of the amounts caught by the Indians and dried for their own use.
- Commercial fishing records for 1872 and 1873 state that 1,875 barrels (375,000 lbs.) and 2,455 barrels (491,000 lbs.) of whitefish were caught in the St. Mary’s River alone.
- By the early 1800s, commercial harvesting, packing and export of fish had begun.
- Man made modifications began in the rapids area with the Northwest Fur Company’s navigation lock on the Canadian side in 1779.
Later developments which influence water use within the rapids include:
- Raceway & Sawmill (U.S.): 1822
- First American Lock: 1855
- Weitzel lock (U.S.): 1881
- International Railway Bridge: 1887
- Canadian Gov’t Canal & Lock: 1888
- Construction of Poe Lock (U.S): 1896
- Eddison Sault Electric Power Canal and Plant (Can.): 1916
- Construction of Sabin Lock (U.S.): 1919
- Compensation Works Completed: 1921
- Weitzel lock replaced by MacAuthur Lock (U.S.): 1943
- International Highway Bridge Completed: 1965
- Great Lakes Power redevelopment (Can.) 1982
The combination of development, filling and water allocation has greatly reduced the availability of quality spawning areas and fisheries habitat within the rapids. Their preservation is extremely important for maintaining or improving the existing fishery in the upper St. Mary’s River.