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Stock# 68610

The Search for a Canadian Trans-Continental Route

This is a fantastic report of the findings of the Dawson Expedition, which was sent to determine the suitability of the lands west of Lake Superior to colonization and to find the most easily navigable route through the continent. Dawson served as a surveyor and naturalist for this expedition which traveled from Port Arthur on Lake Superior to Fort Garry (later Winnipeg). The expedition focused on the area around Portage la Prairie, Lake Winnipeg, Lake Winnipegosis, the Saskatchewan River, Swan River, and Fort Pelly, returning by way of Fort Ellice and the Assiniboine River.

Simon James Dawson was one of the first advocates for colonization of the territory west of the Red River. The report includes a discussion of the Hudson's Bay Company's establishments and the native tribes of the region, and how these have settled the land. Included as well are extensive discussions on the climate, hydrology, indigenous populations, terrain, and many other subjects pertinent to the region.

Interest in an improved transcontinental route would have grown contemporaneously with this expedition when gold was discovered in the Fraser River. The growing population of British Columbia would soon look to other ways of traveling across the continent, and the ascension of British Columbia to the Canadian Confederation in 1867 would stipulate the creation of a transcontinental railroad. However, until that was completed, the route here proposed was likely used by many travelers. Dawson would continue to explore the region of central Canada with the intention of attracting more settlement.

The work was published contemporaneously in English as Report on the Exploration of the Country Between Lake Superior and The Red River Settlement.


  • Map Showing the Route By Road & Navigation for Connecting The Atlantic & Pacific Oceans. To Accompany S.J. Dawson's Report on the Red River Expedition.
    • This is an important map showing a transcontinental route across southern Canada, a quarter of a century before the country's first transcontinental railroad would be completed. Past Lake Superior, a series of roads, colored in red, connect the many lakes and rivers of the region to weave through the land. The proposed route starts by following the Boundary Waters, then swings northwards in Lake Winnipeg. The route continues a long way up the navigational part of the Saskatchewan river, before starting a long across the Rocky Mountains road at Acton-Ho. The route finishes down the Thompson River, floating by Ft. Langley and "Albert City", with Vancouver as yet unnamed. While many of the "roads" were as yet unimproved, it is proposed as the most useful connection between the Atlantic and Pacific. In addittion, railroad lines existing and proposed are shown as far south as Indianapolis and throughout Canada. "Russian America" can be seen in the upper left of the map.
  • Profile of Route by the Grand Portage and Pigeon River from Lake Superior to Rainy Lake. | Profile of Route between Lake Superior and Rainy Lake by the Kaministiquia and Riviere La Seine.
    • These are two cross-sectional views showing routes between Lake Superior and Rainy Lake, now in the heart of Voyageurs National Park. The upper map follows a southern route, through the Pigeon River and the area commonly known as the Boundary Waters, while the lower map goes northwards, via the Riviere La Seine. Both of these show precise estimates of the altitude change in various portages and currents, so as to try and estimate relative altitudes. Numerous lakes, rivers, and features are named in each of these cross-sections. 
  • Plan Shewing the Region Explored by S. J. Dawson and his Party Between Fort William, Lake Superior and the Great Saskatchewan River, from 1st of August 1857 to 1st November 1858.
    • This is a wall map of the region spanning from easternmost Lake Superior to the start of the Saskatchewan plains. The few towns, missions, and other settlements of the area are dwarfed by the many lakes, rivers, and mountains of this vast region. In all, a very attractive map.


Pages 1-47 including title. 


The first page bears three stamps. These read: "Peres Oblats Eglise St. Pierre | Don de Montreal" (also present on title page), "O.M.I. | Scolasticat St-Joseph Ottawa Est", and "Proprietes de Peres Oblats Eglise St. Perre Montreal". Evidently the work passed through the hands of several Canadian parishes over its history. The Church of St. Pierre in Montreal stands just north of Chinatown and was built by the Missionary Oblates starting in 1850. Scolasticat St-Joseph is more difficult to cross-reference, though there is a St. Joseph's Parish in eastern Ottawa, founded in 1856. However, this is an English-language parish, so it is unclear if they would have used a French-language stamp.

Several other annotations relating to provenance occur in the first few pages of the text. A pastedown reads "MC b 9." An adjacent notation reads "Cova diaua A 9". The verso of the title page has a library decimal-based cataloging system.

Condition Description
Small folio. Contemporary half-calf binding. Complete with 47 pages and 3 maps. One map has been separated though is still the original example from the text.