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Twenty Years on the Saskatchewan, N.W. Canada
Chapter XX. The Saskatchewan Country

THE Earl of Southesk, who travelled in the North-West years ago, speaks of the country as the 'pleasant Saskatchewan country.' No description could be more apt, until you arrive at the mountains, when of course the scenery is magnificent. From Winnipeg' to Edmonton the aspect of the country for hundreds of miles has a great sameness; it is gently undulating, and studded with clumps of poplars and spruce firs, and gives the impression of peacefulness and rest, with a sense of neatness and cultivation, as if the traveller were in the outlying parts of an old English park, too far from the house to receive particular attention. All the scene gives a picture of pleasant freedom. The calm blue sky overarching vast distances in the daytime; the sunrise, pompous and glorious, with rich golden colours variously mingled with the blue of the sky, gives an idea of sweet majesty; and in the eventide the sunsets are unsurpassed for graceful splendour. In sky-scape, or the varied scenery of the heavens, few skies in the world can surpass these, and, as nature is full of harmony, not only to the ear but also to the eye, the impression is unique and pleasant, and it is not to be wondered at that the natives of the Saskatchewan love their land, and return to it from their journeyings with gladness. Besides the vastness of the scenes above and below, on the banks of brooks and rivers, there are innumerable broken, hilly spots, filled with vegetation, generally well wooded, where poets might make homes of beauty and rest. It is as if Nature had said: 'The plains are made for agriculture, and the toil of brave hands; but I have also made spots where the thinkers of a nation may live to idealize the common life, and thus make a perfect nation.'

On ascending to the mountains, the hills are steeper, and the views are more extensive, but there is much the same vegetation. Only in some places do the Rockies show their full height, because of the gradual ascent for hundreds of miles. Yet they seldom disappoint the beholder. When the sun is shining, and the mists are lifted to reveal God's splendour, they entrance the attention, and charm the mind to reflection on the awful silent forces which of old placed them there, and now seem to guard them continually, by night and day, by summer and winter, through long ages as men reckon time, saying to every mood of the human spirit, 'One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.' The name of the mountains rather jars upon the mind, and the inexperienced traveller might expect to see a bare and almost repulsive scene when he beholds them. The 'Rockies,' however, are as beautiful as any of the great mountain ranges which the world possesses--certainly as seen from a distance. The impression they make is that of graceful majesty. I can imagine the mountains of India as being more gorgeous in the lower scenery, but not as of a majesty more graceful in the higher regions.

The far West country has hill and dale, gentle brooks, flowing rivers, broad plains, and magnificent mountains; and these indicate great natural advantages, and almost illimitable possibilities for that portion of mankind which may make it a home, and help on the march of human history.

The geology of our country speaks of immense changes which have been preparing an abode for man, and is in itself a prophecy of certain fulfilment. Our soil is of unexcelled richness; beneath it are almost boundless coal-beds; gold is washed down from the mountains in sufficient quantities to make a paying industry. Our wheat is equal to any grown in the world, when proper care is used in its cultivation. Around us are lakes stocked with an abundance of fish. There are indications of salt, petroleum, and kindred substances, such as naphtha, etc. Iron, probably in abundance, is evident over large distances, as I have proved, from the Eagle Hills to the Mountain Fort, and also in the Edmonton district, over a country hundreds of miles in extent.

Then, as to home-life, and the possibilities of it in the Saskatchewan, we have many advantages, with, of course, our drawbacks. We have no ants or insects which eat up our furniture and our books, as there are in Africa; no loathsome reptiles to destroy, as in South America; we have innocent pests in our gardens and fields, such as the gopher and the mole, but what are these in a new land which only contained hunters for many ages? The climate is extreme in summer and winter; during the other parts of the year it is healthy and very pleasant, and fitted to produce and sustain a manly race. Our seasons are much the same as in England, only we are in extremes; our latitude somewhat corresponds with that of Great Britain, yet our seasons are later, because we are far to the west. Our springs are late in coming, because the nights are cold while the days are warm; when they do come it is with a rush, as if Nature hastened to make up for lost time. Then, at the end of May, and during June, the roses bloom in wild luxuriance, and fill the air with fragrance. The saskatoon and wild cherry-trees are covered with their white blossoms, and charm the sight on all sides; then come on, in their course, innumerable wild flowers--asters and others decking the earth everywhere with graceful loveliness. Then our autumns--who can picture them with their gaudy colours, their dreaminess, as if they were bestowing a benediction on the departing summer; their warm days, and cool evenings, and long nights; after the work of the day the gentle firelight giving invitation to gentle friendships, and the quietude of family life?

As yet the capabilities of our soil and climate have not been properly tested, so as to show what fruits and flowers and shrubs will thrive best in our gardens; for, as yet, out of the towns gardens are seldom made around our dwellings: the farm reaches up to the doorstep, and almost invades the house. In the country we are at present a slovenly people, and a taste for flowers is at a discount; the work is so hard and incessant for the men, and the women are so occupied with their poultry, and their cows, and their butter-making, and their housework, that they are all too much engaged to work leisurely in a garden, or even to enjoy the luxury of one. Hence, our log-houses are bare places, and their surroundings are commonplace beyond description. But although we may not manage orchards on a large scale, there seems to be no reason why, in the future, the hardy apples should not grow, as our climate is not more severe than Quebec, where the finest apples are grown with ordinary care. So with plums and some kinds of pears; probably, also, the hardier grape-vines may ripen around our dwellings in the days to come. Anything which grows in Northern Russia ought to grow here, for the conditions are much the same as those from St. Petersburg to the Sea of Okhotsk. We have many delicious wild fruits which, with cultivation, serve for summer and winter use. Preserves are made of our wild cranberries, strawberries, gooseberries, black and red currants. The wild raspberry especially is a fine fruit, useful both in summer and in winter-time. The saskatoon is a delicious berry for summer use, and, when served with cream and sugar, makes a dessert fit for a queen. These fruits may all be had in most years for the picking, so kind is Nature to our first necessities.

Some of the people have grown the cultivated strawberry. In my garden the rhubarb plant comes to perfection, and the different red currants live, and often bear enormous crops. Potatoes, peas, beans, asparagus, cabbages, etc., and the small salads grow here as well as in any country, and the simplest home need not be without an abundance of them. A little care will grow the herbs of Europe, such as mint and thyme, but parsley must be sown year by year. Simple annual flowers remind us of the sweet cottage gardens at home, the sweet-williams flourish, and sow their seed as they have opportunity, and the pinks and carnations thrive with a little trouble. There is a hardy candytuft, with an exquisite white blossom, which is not willing to leave our gardens when we have once placed it there; the English marigolds willingly sow themselves without any protection; and the pansies come up and flower early in the springtime, and all through the summer.

Our many shrubs, when in flower, would grace a lawn in England, and, if trained, they would rival the hawthorn, which we have wild here, or the laurel. For years the common lilac has blossomed with me, and once or twice the white lilac, but the latter is always sickly, and comes to very little, perhaps because the moles eat the roots. As for roses, I have tried to grow them until I became very discouraged, and I fear the labour will be in vain unless they are newly planted year by year.

In many cases I do not blame the climate so much as the insects and vermin for the failure in my experiments. I planted the Canadian sugar-maple seed, with many other tree seeds, and the maple seed grew; but the saccharine matter attracted one insect after another, and they ate the leaves as fast as they could grow. I raised some fine Austrian fir-trees from seed, and brought them on splendidly through two winters, but in the third winter the wild rabbits ate them all up in one night, and thus my hopes of rearing this beautiful tree, as a magnificent ornament to our North-West, were destroyed. In a catalogue issued by a Toronto firm of experienced nurserymen they say, in speaking of hardy shrubs for hedges: 'The Osage orange would make an excellent hedge, but it is too tender for the climate around Toronto.' But I have reared here, and still have, the Osage orange thriving as if it were native to the soil, and it has never had protection, nor does it in the least require it. When hedges are wanted in the North-West, this will prove the tree for that purpose, being quick of growth, prickly, dense; and it can be pruned to any extent; it is also very handsome in its foliage. Besides the above, I expect, from present appearances, to cultivate as shrubs the syringa, the privet, and the guelder rose.

As for the common clovers, they are not likely to be used much in the North-West for hay; they flower in the garden, but are of slender growth, and soon die out; however, the timothy, in low rich situations, makes good crops and seldom fails. With me the Bokhara clover has lived for years, and sown itself; it is able to survive our winters, and it would yield large crops several times in the summer. Farmers should give it their attention, for seedsmen recommend it, and it is certainly adapted to our North-West. It is, I have observed, also excellent for bees, which delight in its white flowers, and would make exquisite honey from them.

Some of these matters may prove useful and interesting to a large class of immigrants, and those contemplating emigration, who have the home feeling, and who, in going to another land, wish to make homes and enjoy them. With many this is a great motive in crossing the sea, and beginning life afresh; they wish to keep their children around them, and to take with them some of the graces and refinements of civilization, and I hope I have made it evident that this, however difficult, is certainly possible.

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