Wheat, the Wizard of the North
“ Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation, rousing herself like a strong man from sleep, and shaking her invincible locks.”
TO-DAY the young men of Canada see visions where the old men dreamed dreams. Five years ago a far-sighted farmer from Alberta journeyed to Ottawa, to interest the Dominion Government in the sending of Canadian wheat to Japan. “Wheat for Japan!” was the pettish response from the seats of the mighty. “Why in the world can’t they grow their own wheat?” Here was a brain of the same vintage as that of the boarding-house keeper who could not see the sense of killing his fat pig and getting another when that pig ate all the table scraps he had.
The fur-trader of Canada was no colonizer; the herder followed the trapper, and both looked askance at the farmer; wheatfields cannot flourish on fur preserves or cattle ranges, and the interests of Jean Baptiste and Piebald Pete and J. Solid Smith, the grain-grower, are felt to be antagonistic. But Solid Smith is winning out. The prairies west of Winnipeg produced in 1906 no less than 201 million bushels of grain, and the farmer driving in his 40-bushel wheat to the elevators snaps his whip at the cattle-man with, “Johnny Bowlegs, you must pack your kit and trek.”
The Canadian cattle exported in 1907 put over $12,000,000 into the pockets of the cow-men, but the cow-men have to get out of the way of the wheat elevators and whirring binders. A man rides away debonair to a round-up, and coming back ten weeks later rubs his eyes to see a brand new town with popcorn stands and His Majesty’s Post Office where he had left bare range. It is swift work. One day the wind in the prairie, the next a surveyor’s stake, two weeks later the sharp conversation of the hammer on the nail-head, the chartered bank, the corner grocery, another little blotch of red on the map, and a new city of the plains. For between the parallel of 49 and Arctic ice a nation is developing which will be able to furnish the world with bread as unfailingly as its vast territory for two centuries has furnished the world with fur. The evolution of modem Japan represents the progress of the last half of the nineteenth century; the awakening of Canada is the index of the genius of the twentieth.
Western Canada in 1906 had five million acres sown to wheat, — but one thirty-fourth part of her total 171 million acres suitable for wheat-production. In 1870, grain crops in Western Canada were a negligible quantity, the cultivated spots meagre fringes on the posts of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and wheat elevators unknown. These great red storehouses of grain now dot the prairies north, east, south, and west, representing (terminal elevators included) over fifty million dollars of invested capital. One hundred and eighty-seven new elevators were built within the last two years, making a total elevator capacity of over fifty-five million bushels. There are 956 elevators on the Canadian Pacific railway lines and 297 on the Canadian Northern, with twenty on other lines. Canada’s exports for 1906 showed an advance of fortyfour million dollars over those of 1905; her total foreign trade for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1907, was $617,965,110, an increase of sixty-seven million dollars over the previous year. The three prairie provinces had 55,625 farms in 1901; last year they had one hundred and twenty thousand. And such farms!
Dreams of pay-dirt and golden nuggets drew with magnetic power young manhood to the Yukon, yet a surer harvest of gold lies at the feet. Manitoba, the smallest of the three wheat-growing provinces of Canada, produced in the year 1906 eighty-seven million bushels of wheat, which at seventy-five cents a bushel represents sixty-five million dollars. The Klondike, the richest gold field in the world, yields a yearly harvest of a scant ten million dollars, with cruelty and cupidity and cunning as necessary accompaniments.
The town of Indian Head, Saskatchewan, is an example. It proudly boasts that it handles more grain in the initiative stage than any other point in the world, for in 1906 over ten million bushels were harvested here. When the train sets you down at the station, you are confronted with a long row of elevators, twelve or thirteen in all, having a combined capacity of a third of a million bushels. The Government Experimental Farm here has, by summer fallowing and careful rotation of crops, secured for the last five years the splendid all-round average of 46.12 bushels of wheat to the acre. By actual measurement wheat has grown here two inches in twenty-four hours, and in mid-summer there are eighteen hours of dazzling sunshine in each twenty-four, giving to growing “No. 1 hard ” its virtue and its value.
At Lethbridge, Alberta, last year, the writer saw a wheat farm belonging to a Mormon from Utah. As far as the eye could reach, wheat, wheat, wheat, two thousand acres of it in one field, the heavy heads ripening for the harvest. A stalk pulled at random into our buggy as we drove along measured five feet six inches in height; the ear was nine inches long and contained 101 kernels. In this stalk we see the magician’s wand that beckons the people of four continents to the last unoccupied half of the fifth.
As we drive on in silence through a landscape of wheat, beyond those nodding heads we divine acres illimitable of virgin soil with magnificent possibilities. And something else we see. Not very long ago the Daily News put before the thoughtful people of London a haunting object-lesson. The interior of Queen’s Hall was divided into little stalls, each the model of a squalid London apartment, In these boxes of rooms sat women working at their usual day’s task, each woman the type of hundreds of her kind. The maker of boys’ shirts provides her own thread and her own machine and makes shirts at four cents a dozen. The manufacturer of matchboxes earns four cents for each 144 boxes she makes, and finds her own paste, and hemp for tying up. By toiling twelve hours a day she earns a dollar and a half a week, sixty cents of which goes for rent.
Workers who stitch buttons on their cards are paid two cents for each four hundred buttons, at the rate of seventyfive cents per hundred gross. Tennisball-coverers receive nine cents a dozen. Compare this with growing forty-bushel wheat on the Canadian prairies.
That tumble as they run! ”
Is there any way of bridging the gulf between this soul-stifling sweat-shop and the all-sweetness of the prairies ? The labor-unions have not found it and church organizations miserably fail. One is jealous for man’s material interests, the other seeks to save the soul. The Salvation Army attempts both, and it seems within the range of possibility that the great body militant called into existence forty years ago by General Booth may prove the most powerful force in solving the social and economic problems which have risen out of our complex civilization, for in 1907 it brought over twenty-five thousand assisted immigrants into Canada. For this purpose eight steamships were chartered. A labor-bureau is opened on shipboard, and so far as possible the destination of each newcomer is settled before he lands; officers of the Army accompanying each incoming contingent, every member of which is a “ picked ” man.
What kinds of people hear the call of the wheat and where do they come from ? When the Dominion Liner Canada arrived in Halifax with a sample cargo of 1379 would-be Canadians, all bound for the West, the second -class and steerage passenger-lists showed Scots, English, Irish, Italians, Austrians, Russians, Norwegians, Welsh, Swedes, Greeks, and Hebrews. What could they do ? Anything and everything one would think, except growing grain. In the little groups on shipboard, eagerly scanning maps and talking wheat, are cabinet-makers and upholsterers; machinists, engine drivers, and electricians; gardeners and goldsmiths; bricklayers, shoemakers, and stone-cutters; bookkeepers and butchers; clerks and cooks and sailors.
A lecturer on Canada and things Canadian accompanies each contingent, and many and diverting are the questions he struggles with. To Swiveller even some of them would prove “staggerers.” “Are the Indians very dangerous?” “Do you consider moccasins or snowshoes the best for winter?” “Is it ’Igh Church, or Low Church?” “Do the game-keepers interfere with your shooting ? ”
But more important than Church or State, more insistent than anything social or ethical or aesthetic, is the question of money. The woman who all her life has covered gay sunshades in an attic at twelve cents a dozen does n’t think overmuch of prairie sunsets; her inquiry is, “An’ ’ow does the oof go, you know? ’Ow do they brass up? Wot’s the wages ? ” And following out some old primal law of self-preservation, the immigrants, as they approach the dock, gather in clusters according to their nationalities. It’s good to hear your own speech in a land where even the birds twitter in a strange tongue.
The placard on the Halifax Inspection Building is a striking commentary on the cosmopolitan nature of Canada’s citizens in the rough, who all summer long in thousands are knocking at her eastern gate. Here it is. If he who runs cannot read, he can follow the crowd: —
To INSPECTION AND RAILROAD TICKET OFFICE.
Au BUREAU D’INSPECTION ET DE BILLETS DE CHEMIN DE FER.
TILL INSPEKTIONEN OCH JERNVAGARNAS BlLJET TKONTOR.
TUTKINT DON SEKA RAUTATIC-PILETTI KONTTORIIN.
Do BIURA INSPEKEVINEGO, I KASY BILETOW KOLEJOYCH.
ZUM UNTER SUCIIUNGS BURAU UND BILLETTE-AUSGABE.
The extent of the Salvation Army Canadian immigration work is realized when one learns that in 1906 alone eighty-three thousand letters of inquiry reached the London headquarters and twenty-five thousand personal applications. Out of these, fifteen thousand men and women were selected and helped to a start in the Land of the Willing Hand, and of this number but nineteen were subsequently rejected by the Canadian authorities as unsuitable citizens. In fact there is room for every one on the broad wheatfields of Canada, but the Dominion Government is anxious to get the best. As part of its immigration policy, a score of successful farmers, who have themselves made good among the wheat, lour England, Scotland, and Ireland, interesting the best people in this New Empire of Opportunity. Besides these, there are resident agents at York and Aberdeen and other centres.
Many philanthropic bodies are transferring the human overplus from the glutted centres of the old to the waiting fields of the new world. The Church Army brought out ten thousand people to Canada in 1907; the Self-help Emigration Society continues its work, the British Women’s Emigration Association, and the East End Emigration body, with which Lord Brassey is prominently identified. Zangwill is anxious to get help to transplant a colony of Jews, and Peter Verigen promises the railways ten thousand Russian Doukhobortsi from the Caucasus.
The Salvation Army, in addition to its own charter of special ships, made reservation for immigrants on all regular passenger boats sailing from Great Britain to Canada during 1907. A labor bureau was conducted on board each ship by experienced Canadian officers, who secured for each incomer a position before he set foot on the new land of his desires. On landing, all the passenger had to do was to pass the Government Inspection Officers, and then board the train waiting to take him to his destination. In each case a Salvation Army officer accompanied the man until employer and employed met and consummated the tentative bargain made on shipboard.
From the Governor General of Canada come the highest words of praise regarding the organized work of brotherly kindness. Earl Grey, on the occasion of the fourth departure of the steamship Kensington from Liverpool, wired to the Chief of Staff of the Salvation Army, “ Glad to hear you are sending another really good selection of emigrants to Canada. They will be heartily welcome, as will others of the same kind, for whom there is plenty of room.”
For 1908, the Army has chartered ten steamships. Brigadier Howell says, “We will look after, and bring to Canada, all who apply to us, provided they are healthy and of good character, and will supply them with situations independently of their creed or nationality.”
Among the devices which Canada employs to educate her mother country is the electric advertising car. This Canada-onwheels, furnished with samples of grains, grasses, cheese, honey, oil, salmon, and the various kinds of woods, runs through the villages of rural England. At night the rustics swarm around this blaze of electric light as moths surround a candle, and scramble for the gay information booklets on Canada with a greedy celerity. Every precaution is taken by the Canadian government agents to keep the stream of immigration pure, and with faces turned toward the Wheat Belt, that great bread-yielding plain a thousand miles long and five hundred miles wide, the peoples of the earth are crowding into Canada.
The Atlantic portals are Halifax and the river-ports of Quebec and Montreal. Soon they will be landing away up the map at Fort Churchill on lone Hudson’s Bay, where short steel lines will carry them into the very heart of the wheat country. On the Pacific side, at Prince Rupert, the Grand Trunk will open another gateway; and Vancouver and Victoria daily pay their tale to the prairies, — Australians, New Zealanders, and Orientals. The Orientals are a problem, these people alien in color and strange in speech. What is British Columbia going to do with them ?
When half a dozen faultlessly frockcoated young Chinese in Eton accents volunteered for service in South Africa, offering to find their own equipment, matters were a little complicated at the Victoria recruiting office; and the imperialist is puzzled to see a dozen thin, turbaned Sikhs, veterans in many an Indian frontier sortie, trudge the streets of a Canadian town, cold and ill-clad and marked “ scab ” by the unions. The Hindoo Sikh claims our respect and sympathy; just now he is a square peg in a round hole; but he had grit enough to face new conditions under a new sky, and looking at the fine lines of that lean face one feels that this man will eventually make good.
When, early in March, 1907, the transatlantic steamship companies gave out that every available space on Canadabound steamers was booked up to the end of July, and when the Immigration Department published its forecast that the year’s immigration would total three hundred thousand, one looked in vain for the prophet-pessimist who coined the phrase, “Bauble Bubble of Winter Wheat!” The influx of 1906 shows an increase of five hundred per cent over that of 1896. Canada’s 252,038 actual immigration for the year ending June, 1907, is a greater number than came into Canada from all sources during the wdiole decade from 1886 to 1896. For the first four months of 1907 the arrivals were over eighty thousand, an increase of forty-three per cent over those of the corresponding period of the previous year ; for the month of April alone the rate of increase over April, 1906, -was about seventy per cent, and for the year ending June, 1907, the increase over the previous year was thirty-three per cent.
Quality is more important than quantity, One man of the right sort in a new country is worth ten of the inert disgruntled kind, the supine misfits. And to those who have a wise look ahead there is encouragement in the fact that the preponderance of the incomers are of Anglo-Saxon stock. For the twelve months ending June 30, 1907, Canada received 120,779 new citizens from the mother land, 56,652 from the United States, as against 74,607 from continental Europe, and of these last a large percentage are of the hardy nations of the North, — Norwegians, Swedes, Germans, Danes.
For all those willing to swing pick and shovel there is construction work on the railroads. The pay is good. This gives the newcomer a nest-egg and a substantial step onward toward that day when he shall be lord on his own soil. “A free farm in Canada via the railway route” is what each sturdy young chap is squaring his shoulders for.
What of the trek from the south ? The Secretary of the Edmonton Board of Trade last season received no fewer than 6560 inquiries from American farmers desirous of settling in the one province of Alberta, most of them not homesteaders. They are anxious to buy, and some of them have spot-cash to pay for whole sections. Over the three wheat provinces these Americans spread, stepping across the imaginary parallel of 49 at Emerson, Gretna, North Portal, Contts, — whereever the railways cross. Many of them do not go far from the great concentrating point of Winnipeg. Why should they? Land in the Bed River Valley, the finest wheat land in the world and as good land for general crops as can be found in America, can be bought within a day’s drive from town for ten dollars to twentyfive dollars an acre.
At the railway station in Regina it is again the American element that predominates, for here is the emerging point for the come-outer from Iowa, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. Regina, the capital of the new province of Saskatchewan, is the wealthiest corporation in Canada, having recently come into possession of real estate holdings that the Dominion Government paternally held in its keeping from the days of the town’s inception. It comes like the gift of a fairy godmother now, and Regina gets its roads paved, builds a new city hall, constructs water-works and sewerage, without the addition of one cent to the taxes.
But Winnipeg remains the great distributing centre for Canadians in the making. Close to the Canadian Pacific Railway station at Winnipeg is the new Immigration Reception Hall, big enough to provide temporary sleeping room and housekeeping facilities for a thousand souls. Women willing to enter upon domestic service need go no farther than Winnipeg. Five thousand female domestic servants came into Canada from Europe during the last nine months, and the Commissioner of Immigration for the West reports there are not fewer than 2500 Galician hired girls in Manitoba alone.
There is no better field for women servants to-day. One tries to imagine the effect on those pale anemic workers of the sweat shops of such an advertisement as this, cut from the files of a Winnipeg paper: “Good general servant wanted. Highest wages paid. Every night out and a season’s ticket at the rink.”
More than farms are making on the prairies of the Last West. Here, on a wheat plain wider than those of Russia, richer than those of Egypt or India or the Argentine, out of strangely diverse elements a new Anglo-Saxon nation is springing, and to the finished entity every country in the world contributes its quota. The very names of the towns are a commentary on the polyglot elements of the new civilization of the North. Strathcona perpetuates the name of that picturesque and venerable figure who at eighty-six still does active service for Canada as High Commissioner in the motherland, and Lacombe does fitting honor to that pioneer Roman missionary who, coming out here half a century ago from Old France, gave up his life to the children of the plains, and thinks in Cree and talks in English. Carstairs is crystallized history. Lady Carr three generations ago joined names and fortunes with an Englishman, Stairs; their descendant, a young Carstairs of the Royal North-West Mounted Police, writes his name on the topography of the West. Saskatoon, the name of an Indian berry, Rat-Portage and Medicine Hat, and that other Indian name, Moosejaw (abbreviated for everyday use from ThePlace - on - the - Prairie - where - the -ManMended-his-Cart-with-a-Broken MooseJaw-Bone), all point to the days of the buffalo and the vanishing tepee. Prince Albert and Regina and Edmonton suggest Buckingham Palace and Old Westminster. Calgary harks back to a Scottish shooting-box in the Plighlands. Lloydminster stands an appropriate monument to the revered archdeacon who preached patience and brought peace to the illstarred Barr Colony.
Little bits of Europe dot the prairies. Up in Alberta is the thriving Swiss settlement of Stettler. Out from Edmonton is the French village of St. Albert, an archepiscopal see of the Roman Catholic church, with a foundation counting back sixty years to a day when wheatfields were a thing unknown and long before the railroad was dreamed of. In this ecclesiastical centre of the northland the happy French and Indian half-breeds have built a flour-mill, a little elevator, and a saw-mill surrounding the spue of their thirty-five-thousand-dollar cathedral, and here, guided by the good Fathers, the little community works out its own destiny, has its own loves and hopes and sorrows. And not far away is the Scandinavian town of Wetaskiwin, which has built a forty-two-thousanddollar school for its five hundred children. Quakers have opened schools for the young Doukhobors in their own villages of the commune, and the Mormon boys and girls of Magrath and Raymond and Cardston work among the sugar beets between sessions.
What is going to be the resultant amalgam of these coalescing races ? One thing is certain, — adaptability is the quality vital to the widest success in the West. Each person coming in has his own problem to work out, different from that of his neighbor, with conditions widely varying from those left behind. Even to the Scot, the Englishman, and the Irishman there is no one thing familiar that touches him, with the single exception of the language, and even that in terms and tones and accents has an alien sound.
A day or two more and the prairies will have swallowed them; and next day others follow, and thousands after thousands succeed these, and still there is room. “Not one per cent of them fail,” says the commissioner, and then, after a moment’s thought, “If by failure you mean final, ultimate failure, I should say but a small fraction of one per cent.”
Wise men who come from the East stay in the West, and the wisest is he who, starting a fresh page, treats his neighbors to no post-mortems of his former greatness. And this is where the English brother often misses it and the American scores. The British settler is very loath to part with Iris own ways and methods; he tries to square all things by an English ell-measure, in the process managing to rub his Canadian blood-brother the wrong way.
Many an Englishman has failed to grasp the meaning of Imperial Unity,— he regards Canada merely as a colony or outpost of empire. It is with him like a Roman citizen going up into Helvetia to settle, a century and a half after Csesar’s conquest, and in his speech and attitude one is reminded of that “certain condescension in foreigners ” which Lowell noted years ago. Yet the gilded youths of Britain have much to learn in “the Colonies.”
The American farmer does not take so long to adjust himself. Used from the cradle to regard the United States as the “land of the free,” he is inclined at first to consider all other peoples, and especially British people, as being in hopeless bondage. At first there are a few gasps of astonishment when he realizes that Canadians do not pay taxes to England or send annual tribute for the upkeep of “Edward’s ” throne. “Monarchical institutions ” at first hand are not the formidable things that his youthful history text-book told him about, and in short no one is looking for the chip on his shoulder. The man to the right hand of him and the one to the left are not hunting for chips, they are busy growing fortybushel wheat.
The American farmer is a practical man; there is no cleverer-headed citizen in the world, and, moreover, he is frankly honest. When he finds in Canada a system of jurisprudence under which law is everywhere respected, when he learns that Canada has never seen a lynching, that Canadian history tells of no Indian wars, he is very willing to acknowledge that there is little here he would wish to change. The fact is that in his general views and attitude toward life no one is more like a Canadian than an American. The fact that they are subjected to similar environment and to the same broad sweeping continental forces readily explains how, by merely crossing north or south an imaginary boundary line, Canadian and American alike pass from one citizenship to another with far less friction than an Englishman can be transplanted to either American or Canadian soil.
The American in Canada can scarcely be called an immigrant; he is rather a solid citizen. He considers that Western Canada offers him better opportunities than his own northern tier of states affords, and so he comes in, bag and baggage, heart and soul, to the number of fifty thousand or sixty thousand a year. In 1906 he brought with him ten thousand dollars’ worth of horses and cattle and mowers and steam ploughs and reapers,— what Wemmick used to designate “ portable property,” and he finds his welcome awaiting him. He says he discovered Western Canada. The Immigration Department of Canada in its turn has discovered him, and wants an increasing consignment. There is room for American and European and Canadian pluck and enterprise and initiative, all the way from ocean to ocean, from boundary line to ice-barriers.
The construction of the Grand Trunk Pacific is beginning to open the eyes and understanding of the world to the size the fertility, and the latent power of New Canada. How many of us realize that the Mackenzie basin covers an area one hundred thousand square miles larger than that of the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes ? “ The Peace River country ” is to most people a somewhat loose term for an undefinable and undefined region “away up north,” somewhere in the neighborhood of circumpolar ice. Yet there are at a conservative estimate thirty-one thousand square miles of the Peace River country where Dr. Dawson in midsummer 1875 rode tlnough vetches eight feet high and wild grasses to the saddle-top.
The vision of a prophet is not needed to see within a half-decade a large prosperous pastoral population occupying that almost level plateau with its slight dip to tlie valleys of the Peace and the Smoky. The St. Lawrence basin was at first considered frost-bound and sterile, the Fraser lands rocky and inaccessible, and the valleys of the Red and the Saskatchewan too far north to support a wdrite population. The sons of the men who saw these pleasant lands blossom as the rose, following a creation-old instinct for expansion, are already laying strong hands upon the basins of the Peace, the Mackenzie, and the Athabasca, and platting townships in the latitude of 59. Colonization is no handmaid to doubting, and the kingdoms of this earth are taken by the right kind of violence.
Four years ago a Yukon miner with a mind big enough to take in more than gold nuggets sent down to a Canadian experimental farm three kinds of wheat grown in Dawson City in the latitude of 64J north. He wanted it tested for vitality. The official report returned to him was, “ 100 grains planted, 100 grains sprouted, 100 grains vigorous, and no weak plants produced.”
The first atlases pictured Canada as an icy waste fertile to the south; the map of to-day show’s us a wide wheat plain dotted by the people of the earth, with an ever-lessening region of barrenness. Year by year, these maps change their complexion, and the “edge of cultivation,” with the advance of colonization, moves steadily northward.
A farmer last year at Fort Providence, twelve hundred miles north of Montreal, grew a bumper crop of wheat in three months from seed-grain to seed-threshing. The Canadian West is capable of producing twenty times Britain’s import of wheat; before 1912 is past there will be ten million acres under wheat there, yielding two hundred million bushels. And it is the best wheat grown; “Canadian No. 1 hard ” is the highest priced wheat in the world, the relative values in the Liverpool market being: —
Canadian No. 1 Northern $1.14
Best Russian 1.05
The fertility of this plain is now known, the people are crowding in, and the wheat is growing. The great question is transportation of the ripened grain, for all channels of egress are choked. Calgary is shipping her famed Alberta Red westward to the Orient, but the bulk of prairie wheat seeks Liverpool as distributing centre, the route being by the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence. This is perhaps Nature’s most wonderful waterway, supplemented, enlarged, and deepened by the hand of man.
To date Canada has spent over one hundred millions of dollars on her one hundred miles of canals, now maintained free from tolls. Through this portal pours the wealth of wheat. Three times as much tonnage in a year passes through the Sault Sainte Marie canals as through the Suez. But this route is long and expensive; by it the wheat needs storing at terminal elevators, rehandling, and trans-shipping. Moreover the facilities are inadequate, — some more direct way must be found. And the eyes of the commercial world, for a solution of the tradeproblem, turn to a route north of the St. Lawrence and its lakes.
Here lies a hitherto neglected waterway, a great inland sea, Hudson’s Bay, scarcely better known to-day than it was when three hundred years ago its intrepid name-father perished in its waters. Hudson’s Bay ranks third among the inland seas of the world, being exceeded in size only by the Mediterranean Sea and the Caribbean. The Mediterranean counts a million square miles, and Hudson’s Bay more than half that area; and as the Mediterranean was the centre of the Roman Empire, so destiny decrees that Hudson’s Bay shall be the heart of an empire larger and infinitely more fertile than that of imperial Rome.
But whereas the Mediterranean is fringed by three continents and ten times three nations, speaking two scores of diverse tongues, Hudson’s Bay lies entirely within British territory, and no other power of old world or new extends here its sphere of influence. Hudson’s Bay spreads far into the centre of the wheat belt of Canada, and transportation by water is ever cheaper than by land. We fail to realize the vastness of this inland sea; the Great Lakes with their connecting rivers contain more than half of the world’s fresh water, and Hudson’s Bay is six times the size of the combined Great Lakes.
The Hudson’s Bay Company years ago built here Fort Churchill and a small trading post, York Fort, at the mouth of the Nelson, but for the most part the great waterway has remained through the years an ignored factor of commerce, a mere name on the map. Ignorance, indifference, and more than a touch of interested envy are responsible for the fact that this northern highway has been so long neglected; it is just one phase of the sleep of a giant unwitting of its own strength.
In 1884 and 1887, government exploring expeditions reported the straits leading out of Hudson’s Bay blocked with ice for nine months of the year. Believing this report to be colored by the undue influence of Montreal capitalists jealous of a northern rival, further exploring parties were sent out in 1905-6. They denied the land’s leanness and declared the navigation of Hudson Strait practicable for four or five months of the year. The railroad builders are not slow to grasp the importance of this pronouncement.
What does a rail route to Hudson’s Bay and direct steamship communication with Europe mean ? It means the canceling of one-fourth of the distance from wheatfield to wheat mart; it means two hundred million bushels of grain finding itself just a thousand miles nearer to its ultimate destination, and the consequent cutting in Half of the cost of its transportation . The carrying rate per ton-mile on the Great Lakes is just one-tenth of the rate charged by American railroad lines. To the European consumer the newroute means a bigger loaf, and perishable produce delivered in better condition coming over a colder sea-way.
From Regina to Fort Churchill the mileage is the same as from Regina to Port Arthur at the western end of Lake Superior. The salt-water transit from Churchill to Liverpool is the same length as from Quebec to Liverpool, so the Hudson’s Bay route annihilates the distance between Port Arthur and Quebec, the whole of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence haul.
Great latent wealth all around the shores of this Baltic of Canada will be brought to view when the search-light turns upon this corner of the empire. Already a Scottish concern is developing deposits of mica schist on the north shore of Hudson’s Strait; in the Labrador region are found Silurian limestone, granite, and gneiss; and all round Hudson’s Bay the Eskimo exhibit household utensils hammered out of native copper. It is altogether likely that the history of all Canada will be repeated and another decade see here villages, towns, and bustling cities, while the trade journals of two continents give quotations on Hudson’s Bay copper and iron, lumber and coal and fish. We hear the rumble of coming trains and see Liverpool-bound steamers lying at the docks awaiting their cargoes of wheat. The Dominion Government has granted no less than eight charters to lines headed for Hudson’s Bay.
The present is one of unprecedented activity among the railway kings of Canada. The Canadian Northern, originated by Mackenzie and Mann, with the Manitoba government as sponsor and fairy godmother, is essentially a twentieth-century growth. Beginning at Port Arthur and running by way of Winnipeg and Edmonton, through a thousand miles of prairie literally bursting with fatness, it has paid its way from the start. This line has a lower bonded indebtedness and consequently lower fixed charges than have to be faced by any similar railroad on the American continent. The entire system is free from objectionable grades and curves. From Pas Mission on the Canadian Northern to Fort Churchill on Hudson’s Bay is only four hundred miles, and Mackenzie and Mann for years have been firm believers in the Hudson’s-Bay-Liverpool route; the seaboard extension of this line would seem an assured fact.
The Canadian Pacific Railway, operating now 9000 miles under one management, continues building with characteristic activity. The Grand Trunk Pacific prosecutes its trans-continental trunk line, and Hill hopes to divert some portion of Canada’s wheat to United States funnels. President Hill has said, “The Great Northern has all the land we need for years in Portland and Seattle; we are now trying to secure mammoth terminals in Chicago, Minneapolis and Winnipeg. If our Canadian plans do not miscarry I expect within the next ten years to have a railroad system there the full equivalent of the Great Northern system in the United States. We wall touch Winnipeg, Brandon, Regina, Calgary, Edmonton, Port Arthur, and traverse the Peace River country with a line several hundred miles farther north than any contemplated Canadian road. Winnipeg will be our general Canadian centre, and we start out with a Canadian developing fund of ten millions.”
The Grand Trunk Pacific and the Canadian people, a people of seven millions, are building, from the Atlantic to where the Japan Current breaks on the shores of British Columbia, a natural highway to cost as much as the Panama Canal, a work which the ninety millions of the United States characterize as gigantic and stupendous and wonderful, every shovelful of progress being greeted with firecrackers and every dump-cart of dirt with fanfare of trumpets.
The Secretary of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce explained the “Seattle spirit” in the words, “We get what we go after.” The Canadian does too, but he is somewhat slower in the going and decidedly less demonstrative in the getting. Fertile soil, unminted mines, giant forests, untold wealth of the sea, and the “white coal” power of lakes and glacial-fed streams, all these will play a part in the commercial greatness of the Coming Canada,
It was Isharn Randolph, the Chicago expert, who declared that the Winnipeg River alone is capable of forming for propulsion and mechanical purposes a million-horse-power. Canada is as big as Europe. Ignore Ungava and the unexplored north, and south of the 60th parallel (that is, below the parallel of St. Petersburg) in this great plain each of the two new provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan is bigger than the German Empire. We place Germany, the Republic of France, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland within these two provinces, and they fail to cover the territory of the rolling mesas, more fertile than the richest plains of Hungary.
The wheat plains of Canada are bigger than that rectangle in the United States extending from Ohio to the Great Lakes and from the Atlantic to the Mississippi. To him who would rightly read the signs of the times, nothing is more encouraging here than the activities of the railroads. The sanest and most conservative men in the world are railway men. Sentiment is eliminated as a factor from all their equations; it is a matter of dollars and cents with them. They know as no one else knows the country, its resources and its possibilities. President Hill, and Sir Rivers Wilson, Mackenzie and Mann and the president of the mighty Canadian Pacific Railway are not making million-dollar appropriations and hurling away money for the sake of spending it. I see no greater tribute to the country than the fact that from sixty thousand to one hundred thousand men were employed in the preliminary railroad construction work in Canada in 1907, and that the whole economic condition of the country is about to suffer a sea change with the opening of competitive lines to Hudson’s Bay.
The white ghost of Henry Hudson revisiting the glimpses of the moon, if still to be touched by earthly issues, would seem to say, —
Dumb, yet in labor with a mighty fate !
Open the Bay ! Humanity intrudes.”