James Bay

James Bay (French: Baie James, Cree: Wînipekw) is a large body of water 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 provinces of Quebec and Ontario. Islands within the bay (the largest of which is Akimiski Island) are part of the Nunavut territory.

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.

James Bay
James bay in summer
A satellite image of James Bay
LocationSouthern end of Hudson Bay, between Ontario and Quebec.
Coordinates53°05′N 80°35′W / 53.083°N 80.583°WCoordinates: 53°05′N 80°35′W / 53.083°N 80.583°W
Basin countriesCanada


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.


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.[1] Beluga whales within James Bay basin could be distinct from those found in Hudson Bay.[2]

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.[3] These elements make an abundance of wildlife.

Human development

Baie James1
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 Cree, 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

GRAND Canal proposal (James Bay to Lake Huron)
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.

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, the James Bay Project 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 that began in 2010 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$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).


  1. ^ "Sustainable Development in the Hudson Bay / James Bay Bioregion". Archived from the original on 2016-07-14. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
  2. ^ Beluga whales in James Bay: a separate entity from eastern Hudson Bay belugas?
  3. ^ Southern James Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary fact sheet

Further reading

  • Dignard, N. Habitats of the Northeast Coast of James Bay. [Canada]: Environment Canada, Canada Wildlife Service, 1991. ISBN 0-662-18947-7
  • 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 0-7735-0385-4
  • Kenyon, Walter Andrew. The History of James Bay, 1610-1686 A Study in Historical Archaeology. Archaeology monograph, 10. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Royal Ontario Museum, 1986. ISBN 0-88854-316-6
  • McCutcheon, Sean. Electric Rivers The Story of the James Bay Project. Montréal: Black Rose Books, 1991. ISBN 1-895431-18-2
  • 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 0-205-27580-X
  • Reed, Austin. Goose use of the coastal habitats of northeastern James Bay. Ottawa, Ont: Canadian Wildlife Service, 1996. ISBN 0-662-25033-8
  • Salisbury, Richard Frank. A Homeland for the Cree Regional Development in James Bay, 1971-1981. Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1986. ISBN 0-7735-0550-4
  • Siy, Alexandra. The Eeyou People of Eastern James Bay. New York: Dillon Press, 1993. ISBN 0-87518-549-5

External links

Akimiski Island

Akimiski Island is the largest island in James Bay (a southeasterly extension of Hudson Bay), Canada, which is part of the Qikiqtaaluk Region of the territory of Nunavut. It has an area of 3,001 km2 (1,159 sq mi), making it the 163rd largest island in the world, and Canada's 29th largest island. Akimiski Island is only 19 km (12 mi) from the province of Ontario. From the western side of the island, one can see the Ontario coastline.

The island's name is Cree for "land across the water".The island has no year-round human inhabitants; however, it is part of the Attawapiskat First Nation's traditional territory and is frequently used for traditional purposes. The surface of Akimiski is flat and slopes gradually to the north. Most of the vegetation that covers the island consists of lichen, moss, sedges, and dwarf black spruce. The island is a coastal wetland that includes mudflats, tidal marshes, and tidal mudflats. Freshwater streams that flow into southwestern James Bay carry sediments and abundant nutrients that help to sustain the productive waterfowl habitat around Akimiski Island.

The Akimiski Island Group includes Akimiski, Gasket, and Gullery Islands; Albert Shoal; and the Akimiski Strait Isles.

Big Island (James Bay, Nunavut)

Big Island is a small, uninhabited island located in James Bay near the community of Chisasibi, Quebec, Canada. The island, one of three named "Big Island" in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut, is part of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

Cape Hope Islands

The Cape Hope Islands are an uninhabited Canadian arctic islands group located within the midsection of James Bay in Nunavut, Canada. They are situated south of Vieux-Comptoir (Old Factory).

Carey Island (Nunavut)

Carey Island (variant: Cary Island) is one of several uninhabited Canadian arctic islands located within the midsection of James Bay in Nunavut, Canada. It is situated south of Vieux-Comptoir (Old Factory).

Boatswain Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary is nearby.

Charlton Island

Charlton Island is an uninhabited island located in James Bay, Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, Canada. Located northwest of Rupert Bay, it has an area of 308 km2 (119 sq mi).Thomas James, who gave his name to James Bay, wintered here in 1631 and named the island after Prince Charles. The founders of Fort-Rupert (1668) must have seen it and Charles Bayly was nearly driven ashore here in 1674. Some time before 1679 Bayly proposed making Charlton Island a central depot and meeting place for the three posts around James Bay. This seems to have been done until 1685 or later. After the Hudson Bay expedition (1686) the French planned to send their prisoners there. Little is heard of the island until 1803.

About 1802 the North West Company chartered the heavily armed Eddystone and placed it under Captain Richards, a former Hudson's Bay Company man and John George McTavish, the younger brother of the Chief of Clan McTavish. In the summer of 1803 it left Montreal for Hudson Bay. At the same time a force under Angus Shaw left the Tadoussac area for James Bay. They met at Charlton Island in HBC territory and claimed the island for the NWC. They built Fort St. Andrews there and two forts at the mouths of the Moose River and Eastmain River. The purpose, in part, was to pressure the HBC into granting the NWC transit rights through Hudson Bay. What happened after that is not clear.

Gull Island (Nunavut)

Gull Island (Cree language: Kee-Yah-Sh-Koh Mah-Nah-Woo-Na-N) is one of the many uninhabited islands in Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, Canada. It is a Canadian arctic island located within the midsection of James Bay, south of Vieux Comptoir, Quebec (Old Factory, Quebec).

The island is approximately .5 km (0.31 mi) long and 50 ft (15 m) wide. Though it is small and grassy, it has sufficient vegetation to sustain a large seagull colony.

Jacob Island

Jacob Island (variant: Wood Island) is one of several uninhabited Canadian arctic islands located in James Bay, Nunavut, Canada. It is situated outside the mouth of Rupert Bay, 11.5 km (7.1 mi) from Quebec's Pointe Saouayane on Péninsule Ministikawatin.

James Bay (singer)

James Michael Bay (born 4 September 1990) is an English singer-songwriter and guitarist. In 2014, he released his single "Hold Back the River", which has been certified platinum, before releasing his debut studio album Chaos and the Calm (2015). The album went to number one in the UK and number 15 in the US. In February 2015, Bay received the Brit Awards "Critics' Choice" award. At the 2016 Brit Awards he received the award for Best British Male Solo Artist. Bay also received three nominations at the 2016 Grammy Awards, for Best New Artist, Best Rock Album, and Best Rock Song. In May 2018, he released his second studio album, Electric Light.

Paint Hills Islands

The Paint Hills Islands are located in James Bay, a part of the Qikiqtaaluk Region, in the Canadian territory of Nunavut. They are southwest of Wemindji, Quebec (Cree for "red ochre mountain"), a Cree community on Paint Hills Bay, and northeast of Solomons Temple Islands.In 1950, Thomas Henry Manning studied high tide and driftwood strand lines on Paint Hills Islands.

Solomons Temple Islands

The Solomons Temple Islands (variants: Solomon's Temple Islands; Solomons Temple Island) are an uninhabited Canadian arctic islands group located within the midsection of James Bay in Nunavut, Canada. They are situated north of Charlton Island, and southwest of Paint Hills Islands, Pointe au Huard and Andrew Moar Bay (52.8°N 78.8°W / 52.8; -78.8),Solomons Temple Islands are 4 km (2.5 mi) in size.

South Twin Island (Nunavut)

South Twin Island is an uninhabited Arctic island located east of Akimiski Island toward the center of James Bay. The larger, similarly-shaped, North Twin Island is located approximately 10 km northwest. South Twin Island has more mossy tundra and fewer trees than North Twin Island. The two islands are referred to as the Twin Islands, and are part of the Qikiqtaaluk Region of the Canadian territory of Nunavut.

South Twin Island is an important breeding site for Canada geese and semipalmated plovers.

Spencer Island

Spencer Island is one of several uninhabited Canadian arctic islands in Nunavut, Canada located within James Bay. It is situated 19 km (19,000 m) northwest from North Twin Island. During surveys in James Bay, polar bears were sighted using the island for summer refuge.

Stag Island (Nunavut)

Not to be confused with Ontario's Stag Island.Stag Island is an uninhabited island in the southern part of James Bay, in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut, Canada. Located at 51°39′01″N 79°04′28″W, it is the southernmost island and point of land in Nunavut.

Strutton Islands

The Strutton Islands are an uninhabited Canadian arctic islands group located within the midsection of James Bay in Nunavut, Canada. They are situated south of Vieux-Comptoir (Old Factory).

Sunday Island (Nunavut)

Sunday Island is one of several uninhabited Canadian arctic islands in Nunavut, Canada located within James Bay. Nearby are the Bear Islands.

The island is surveyed for polar bear summer refuge.

Timmins—James Bay

Timmins—James Bay (French: Timmins—Baie James) is a federal electoral district in Ontario, Canada, that has been represented in the House of Commons of Canada since 1997. Its population in 2011 was 83,104.

The district includes the extreme eastern part of the District of Kenora, all of the District of Cochrane except for the central western part, and a small part south of Timmins, and all of the District of Timiskaming except for the extreme southeastern part.

Trodely Island

Trodely Island (variant: Trodley Island) is an uninhabited Canadian arctic island located in the southeastern part of James Bay in the territory of Nunavut. It is 16.75 km (10.41 mi) northwest of Charlton Island.

Twin Islands (Nunavut)

The Twin Islands (Cree language: Mah-Nah-Woo-Na-N) are similarly shaped Arctic islands in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut, Canada. They are located in central James Bay, 56 km (35 mi) north east of Akimiski Island, and 58 km (36 mi) west of Quebec. The group includes North Twin and South Twin islands.

Walter Island

Walter Island is one of several uninhabited Canadian arctic islands in Nunavut, Canada located within James Bay. It is 3 km2 (1.2 sq mi) in size, and is situated 15 km (9.3 mi) east of North Twin Island.The island takes part in surveys for polar bear summer refuge.

Arctic Ocean
Atlantic Ocean
Indian Ocean
Pacific Ocean
Southern Ocean
Endorheic basins
Marginal seas of the Atlantic Ocean
Bays of Nunavut
Kitikmeot Region
Kivalliq Region
Qikiqtaaluk Region

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