THE reader of the preceding chapters will have wandered, in imagination, with us over an immense region of country. First, we went down the valley of the Red and Nelson Rivers, to the shores of the Hudson Bay, then turning westward we climbed the slopes of the continent into the shades of the Rocky Mountains.
Traversing the big plains and woodlands, situated immediately to the east of these mountains, we camped southward on the banks of the Missouri, and went northward, on to the tributary streams of the great McKenzie, flowing into the Arctic Ocean.
And yet we have placed upon record but little concerning the natural resources of this big country. From father's letters we readily learn that he valued these resources, and always prophesied a grand future for this, the land of his adoption, and however sanguine his faith, none the less is ours in the solid material worth of this portion of our great Dominion. Our reasons for thus believing are as follows;
1st. Size.—From Rat Portage to the summit of the Rocky Mountains, and from the forty-ninth parallel to Great Slave Lake, we have a block 1,000 miles square; beyond this we leave a large margin to be prospected and experimented upon by posterity. Confining ourselves to the above square block, we have an acreage of 640,000,000. Because of swamps and water and unarable parts, let us discount this by half. Mind you, I do not discount any portion; long since I learned to believe that any part of God's creation would eventually fall into line, it being man's mission to discover and utilize. All came from one great Mind. Each is wealthy in its kind. However, deducting half, we have 320,000,000 acres, which would give a population of 3,200,000 souls 100 acres each. No small inheritance this for any people.
2nd. Climate.—All over this big stretch of country, spring opens from the first to the twentieth of April, and winter begins from the first to the twentieth of November. Altitude and latitude are such that in the summer season there is very little night, thus there is a large percentage of sun, which to a great extent does away with the probability of frost in summer. Then its situation puts it on the northern slope of the Continent, and thus it is always dropping away from the height of land which lies east and west and south of the forty-ninth parallel. And this fact is to us a very sufficient reason for our not being nearly so subject to storms, blizzards and cyclones in this country as they are in the states and territories south of us. By experience we know that, as other parts of America have been subject to climatic changes consequent upon settlement and occupancy by civilized man, so has this in the portions already thus occupied, and we have no doubt that these changes will multiply as the development and settlement of the country moves on. We believe that nowhere else in the Dominion is there so large a percentage the year round of clear sky and sunshine.
3rd. Soil.—Of course, in so vast a territory, there is variety. Light and heavy soils alternate according to geographical position and antecedent conditions. But we believe we are safe in challenging the North American Continent anywhere else to show as much good arable soil per acre as Manitoba and the North-West is possessed of. At Hudson Bay posts and mission stations everywhere in spots through the country, the soil was tested many years since, and the fact practically demonstrated that all the hardier kinds of cereals and roots could be grown, and does not the crop this year satisfy even the most unbelieving as to the possibilities of our western country as a bread producing land.
4th. The Pasture.—Here we have one of the largest and best pasture fields in the world. The natural grasses are rich and varied in their quality. In the prairie sections the autumn winds and dry weather, characteristic of that period of the year, cure the grasses and prepare them for winter fodder. Along the base of the mountains there are large sections which are pre-eminently suited for winter ranges. For fifteen winters I have had cattle running at large all the year, with no other provision than that provided by nature. For seventeen years our principal food was buffalo meat, and of course the only food of these animals was the natural pasture to be found all over the North-West. When I first came to the plains, the migrations of these vast herds were north and south; north in fall and winter, and south in spring and summer. It would take 1,000 railway trains, each carrying 500 head of stock, to move the number of God's cattle I have seen at one time from the summit of one hill by a glance of my naked eye over the country stretching from my feet in every direction. Interspersed among them were thousands of antelope, also feeding upon this big pasture. All these lived and thrived and grew fat without the expenditure of any thought or labor on the part of man; and when, in the order of Divine Providence, these wild animals, having served their purpose, disappeared, they left immense rich pasture for the occupancy of the economic and thrifty civilized man, who can, if he will, herein raise and graze his flocks and herds away up into the millions in multitude. To-day we have in Manitoba and the North-West, of stock of all kinds, about 350,000 head. At twenty acres per head we have room and pasture for 10,000,000 head.
5th. Water.—A very small portion of the North-West Territory may be termed arid, and even here there is considerable surface water, and through this the South Saskatchewan flows, and every here and there are to be found living springs, so that what is generally looked upon as the dry portion of our country is not really so, but west and north, and east of this, there is abundance of splendid water.
There are very many small lakes, and the perennial rivers and creeks that flow through the country in every direction are simply "legion." Among all the big ranges of hills general through the country, but more especially along the immediate base of the mountains, magnificent springs of the finest water are to be found on almost every quarter section.
The drop of the continent to the east and north is such that every stream is a succession of water powers. The rain-fail in the months of June and duly is as a rule large, and the dew is also plentiful. Many times have we been wet through and through while hunting stock in the early morn, amid the rank growth of pea vine and blue joint, common to the whole of the Saskatchewan Valley. In twenty-eight years' sojourn north and west of Winnipeg, I have experienced but one season of drouth.
6th. Minerals.—That gold, silver, iron, copper, lead and coal form part of the wealth of this country is a well-known fact.
As yet, with the exception of coal, very little has been done towards developing these natural factors in the material advancement of a country. Some placer digging for gold has been carried on among the bars of the North Saskatchewan and Peace Rivers, and for more than a score of years the sands of the Saskatchewan have been made to yield a revenue to a number of men, who have every spring and fall, with the crudest machinery, washed the glittering gems from the black sands; and though these deposits are continually going on, no one has up to this time found the source. Some day this will be discovered; in the meanwhile quartz leads have been found in the mountains, rich in copper, silver, gold and lead, but the capital for the opening of these has not yet come to the front. The country is young and capitalists are careful; but presently some of the enterprise of the older parts of the world will turn this way, and our mountains and foot-hills will become "hives of industry."
As to coal, it is everywhere. All the larger rivers, and many of the creeks, cut through and run over beds of "black diamonds." Both bituminous and anthracite mines are already being worked, and we have no doubt that as railroads penetrate this hitherto wilderness land, the coal industry will assume vast proportions.
The states and territories to the south, and our own prairie section, will need an immense amount of fuel, and here in the North-West we have an unlimited supply of good coal, and the mining and transport of this will furnish employment for thousands in the near future.
I have traced what seems to me to be one immense coal bed from within a few miles of the boundary line to the northern end of Lesser Slave Lake, a distance of 500 miles.
7th. Timber.—While Manitoba and the North-West cannot challenge either the Eastern Provinces or British Columbia in this respect, yet our timber supply is not to be overlooked. With the exception of the most southerly portion, a region of about 400 miles long by 200 miles wide (and in this there are the Moose, Woody, and Cypress Mountains, which are well wooded), all the rest of the country is more or less timbered, prairie and woodland alternating the one with the other everywhere.
The settler, with very little exception, will find on his own homestead fencing and fuel, and material for pioneer buildings, and in many parts he will find himself adjacent to spruce forests, which will attract sawmills, and thus his lumber supply for the future will be assured. The further north and east one travels the denser is the timber growth, and when settlement and legislation put a stop to prairie fires, this growth will travel southward, for there are valuable kinds of timber indigenous to the soil of the North-West, which only want a chance to grow.
8th. Appearance.—This is a land of beauty. There is nothing monotonous about the North-West. The scenery is as varied as the country is large. Here is opportunity for the indulging of every taste. Do you want a flat, even expanse to stand on, a vast level, and let the horizon drop ail around you, like unto an inverted bowl? Then Manitoba, from Rat Portage to Portage la Prairie, and from the boundary line to Lake Winnipeg, will suit you. Would you rather a gently un-undulating land, small hills, broad valleys and graceful slopes? From Portage la Prairie to Calgary, and from the boundary Kne to Edmonton and Battleford, in a vast area, you have your choice in almost bewildering variety. Do you hanker after water and headland and bay, after gems of islands and labyrinths of intricate waterways? Is it music to your ear to listen to the rippling of currents, and tumbling of cascades, and roaring of rapids? Take the country to the north of Rat Portage, and about Norway House and the north shore of Lake Winnipeg, and on, on to Hudson Bay, and westward into the Athabasca country. Here you may paddle and portage "your own canoe" for thousands of miles and never need to sigh, "Oh! for a lodge in some vast wilderness."
Do you like to ride or drive to the height of some grand range of hills, and from thence look out upon a wondrous panorama of the beauty and variety of God's creation? Come with me to the Nose, or Eye, or Ear, or Sickness Hills, ranging along in distances from the South Branch northward to the Saskatchewan, and from the summit of any one of these your eye will reach out forty and fifty miles in every direction, and will gradually accustom itself to taking in the rich landscape scenery which in grand profusion is before us.
Hills and valleys, shapely as they have fallen from Nature's lathe. Islands of timber and fields of praire, artistically arranged, and so placed that however cultivated your taste, you would not change them if you could. Glistening lakelets and winding creeks, like threads of silver intersperse the scene. In season the smell of rank vegetation, and the aroma of thousands of wild rose beds, is wafted to your nostrils, and to crown all, you expand your lungs and breathe a most glorious atmosphere; for you are on the Highlands of America and in the garden of the Dominion, and strange to say, that, as yet, from any one of these high places I have mentioned, you will look in vain for the smoke from a settler's chimney, for up to the time of my writing none have reached thus far.
Perhaps you crave something vaster, grander, more majestic still; let us stand on one of the ranges of hills running north and south, about 150 miles east of the base of the Rocky Mountains; if the day is clear and bright, we will look upon a painting worth making an effort to behold. Yonder, rising range beyond range, and stretching north and south and giving us the compass of an immense region, are the Grand Mountains,
to cloudland and glory
God transfigures the sod."
The forests as they climb the steeps and the perpendicular rocks as they stand heavenward darken the scene, but above them the snow-clad fields and glaciers, that never melt, glisten in the sun. Perhaps, as we look, a fleecy cloud catches on some peaks, and for a little veils these from our vision, or lower down a thunder-storm rolls up against the mountains, and while we see the lightning and hear the distant roar of thunder above the dark cloud, we see the summits shining with reflected rays, unmoved and unnerved by the force of electric shock and storm upon their sides.
Let us draw nearer, and presently we begin to notice the Foot Hills. Like many an aesthetic Christian, we had been looking above, and missed seeing the beauties and duties of lower life. Now these great hills attract our attention, their wooded slopes and summits finely shaded by Douglass and spruce trees, with the prairie sod growing in among their roots, strike us as very genis of picnic grounds. Take the Foot Hills from the Old Man River to the Athabasca, and they rival the most perfect natural scenery. Here we have mountains, prairie, woodland, river, lake, all harmoniously blended by nature, into a great, grand and ever-changing picture
Going into the mountains, we find that they are not all rock and snow, but that intersecting them everywhere there are charming valleys and thousands of ready-made camping grounds, and an infinitude of streams and lakes, all more or less full of fish, so that for years we might spend the whole summer, and by changing our routes, always have fresh fields and scenes.
Just one thought more. When you hear any one say, "I know all about the North-West," please discount that statement; do so largely, for no man living knows all about this great, big, wonderful land. Geological, geographical and botanical surveys may continue for years to come (and it is proper they should), but after all "the half will not have been told."
My opportunity has been a good one, perhaps better than that of any living white man, especially as to what is termed "the Fertile Belt," and yet I am free to confess, I know but little. The field is so large, the problem so great, it will take time to discover and solve; but here let me place on record that I firmly believe in the capability of this part of our great Dominion for the maintenance of a large population, which will be in no wise disappointed in the heritage God has reserved for them.
Morley, April 6th, 1888.