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THE NEW NORTH
_Being Some Account of a Woman’s Journey through Canada to the Arctic_
BY AGNES DEANS CAMERON
_WITH MANY ILLUSTRATIONS FROM PHOTOGRAPHS BY THE AUTHOR_
_Published November, 1909_
[Illustration: A Magnificent Trophy]
TO THE MEMORY OF MY MOTHER
JESSIE ANDERSON CAMERON
TO ALL THOSE WHO TRY TO LIVE OUT HER SIMPLE RULE “WE MUST JUST TRY TO DO THE VERY BEST WE CAN”
It is customary to write a preface. Mine shall be short. Out of a full heart, I wish to thank all the splendid people of the North who, by giving me so freely information and photographs, and chapters out of their own lives, have facilitated the writing of this story. For their spontaneous kindness to me and mine no acknowledgment that I can here make is adequate. What we feel most strongly we cannot put into words.
AGNES DEANS CAMERON.
THE MENDICANTS REACH WINNIPEG
The Mendicants leave Chicago–The invisible parallel of 49 where the eagle perches and makes amorous eyes at the beaver–Union Jack floats on an ox-cart–A holy baggage-room–Winnipeg, the Buckle of the Wheat-Belt–The trapper and the doctor–Mrs. Humphry Ward speaks–Boy Makers of Empire–The vespers of St. Boniface
WINNIPEG TO ATHABASCA LANDING
The 1,000-mile wheat-field–Calgary-in-the-Foothills–Edmonton, the end of steel–The Brains of a Trans-Continental–Browning on the Saskatchewan–East Londoners in tents–Our outfit–A Waldorf-Astoria in the wilderness–The lonely cross of the Galician–Height of Land–Sergeant Anderson, R.N.W.M.P., the sleuth of Lesser Slave
Athabasca Landing, the Gateway of the North–English gives place to Cree–Limit of the Dry Martini–Will the rabbits run?–The woman printer–Hymn-books by hand in the Cree syllabic–Baseball even here–Rain and reminiscences–The World’s Oldest Trust
DOWN THE ATHABASCA ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY-FIVE MILES TO GRAND RAPIDS
“Farewell, Nistow!”–The rainy deck of a “sturgeon head” under a tarpaulin–Drifting by starlight–The wild geese overhead–Forty-foot gas-spout at the Pelican–The mosquito makes us blood-brothers–Four days on our Robinson Crusoe Island in the swirling Athabasca–Nomenclature of the North–Sentinels of the Silence
NINETY MILES OF RAPIDS
The _Go-Quick-Her_ takes the bit in her mouth–Mallards on the half-shell–We set the Athabascan Thames afire–Sturgeon-head breaks her back on the Big Cascade–Fort McMurray–A stranded argosy, wreckage on the beach–Miss Christine Gordon, the Free Trader–A land flowing with coal and oil and gas and tar, timber and lime
FORT CHIPEWYAN PAST AND PRESENT
Old Fort Chipewyan–In the footsteps of Mackenzie and Sir John Franklin–Sir John turns parson–Grey Nuns and brown babies–Where grew the prize wheat of the Philadelphia Centennial–Militant missionaries fight each other for souls–The strong man Loutit–Wyllie at the forge–An electric watch-maker–Where the Gambel sparrow builds–“Out of old books”
LAKE ATHABASCA AND ITS FOND DU LAC
Farewell to the Mounted Police–Our blankets on the deck–Fern odours by untravelled ways–Typewriting and kodaking in 20 hours of daylight–Navigating Lake Athabasca by the power o’ man–A 23-inch trout–First white women at Fond du Lac–Carlyle among the Chipewyans, a Fond du Lac library–The hermit padre and the hermit thrush–Worn north trails of the trapper–Caribou by the hundred thousands–The phalarope and the suffragette
FOND DU LAC TO FORT SMITH
World’s records beaten on the Athabasca–Down the Slave to Smith’s Landing–Priests sink in the Rapid of the Drowned–The Mosquito Portage–Fort Smith, the new headquarters–Lady-slippers and night-hawks–Steamer built in the wilderness–Last stand of the wood bison–The grey wolf persists–Fur-trade and the silver-fox–Breeding pelicans.
SLAVE RIVER AND GREAT SLAVE LAKE
“Red lemol-lade” kiddies–Tons of crystal salt–Great Slave Lake and its fertile shores–Yellow-Knife and Dog-Rib, subjects of the Seventh Edward–Hay River and its annual mail–Ploughing with dogs–Bill balked–The Alexandra Falls–Bishop Bompas as a surgeon; amputations while you wait.
PROVIDENCE TO SIMPSON, ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY MILES DOWN THE MACKENZIE
Drowning of De-deed–Fort Simpson, the old headquarters–A mouldy museum–The shrew-mice that were not preserved in rum–The farthest north library–Gold-seekers and grub-staked brides–Bishop Bompas, the Apostle of the North–Owindia, the Weeping One–Fort Simpson in the first year of Victoria the Good.
FORT GOOD HOPE ON THE ARCTIC CIRCLE
Tenny Gouley tells us things–Mackenzie River, past and present–The fringed gentian at Fort Wrigley–The fires Mackenzie saw–The weathered knob of Bear Rock–Great Bear Lake–Orangeman’s Day at Norman–The Ramparts of the Mackenzie–Fort Good Hope under the Arctic Circle–Mignonette and Old World courtesy–We meet Hagar once more–Potatoes on the Circle–The Little Church of the Open Door
ARCTIC RED RIVER AND ITS ESKIMO
Arctic Red River–Wilfrid Laurier, the merger–Mrs. Ila-la-Rocko, the danseuse–Marriage as the Oo-vai-oo-aks see it–Orange-blossoms at Su-pi-di-do’s–Trading tryst at Barter Island–Floating fathers–By-o Baby Bunting–Wild roses and tame Eskimo–Midnight football with walrus bladder and enthusiasm–Education that makes for manliness
FORT MACPHERSON FOLK
Sir John Franklin’s lobsticks at Point Separation–We reach Fort Macpherson on the Peel–Sergeant Fitzgerald, R.N.W.M.P., eulogizes the Eskimo–An Eskimo wife must make boots that are waterproof–She ariseth also while it is yet night and cheweth the boots of her household–Cribbage-boards the link between Dick Swiveller and the Eskimo–Linked sweetness long drawn out–Chauncey Depew of the Kogmollycs
MORALIZING UNDER THE MIDNIGHT SUN
The Midnight Sun–Our friend the heathen–“We want to go to hell”–Catching fish by prayer–The Eskimo and the Flood–Pink tea at the Pole–Always a balance in the Eskimo Bank–Marriage for better and not for worse–Christmas carols even here
MAINLY CONCERNING FOOD
Jurisprudence on ice–The generous Innuit–Emmie-ray, the Delineator pattern–Weak races are pressed south–Roxi, a re-incarnation of Sir Philip Sidney–Blubbery bon vivants–Eskimo knew the Elephant–We write the last chapter of the story of McClure, the navigator–Cannibalism at the Circle
THE TALE OF A WHALE
Circumpolar Bowhead makes his last stand–Whales here and elsewhere–The Yankee peddler at Canada’s back-door–Thirteen and a half million in whale values–Wind-swept Herschel, the Isle of Whales–One wife for a thousand years–Baleen, Spermaceti, and Ambergris–Save the Whale
SOUTH FROM THE ARCTIC TO CHIPEWYAN
Lives lost for the sake of a white bead–The stars come back–The Keele party from the Dollarless Divide–“Here and there a grayling”–Across Great Slave Lake–The first white women at Fort Rae–Land of the musk-ox–Tales of 76 below–Two Thursdays in one week–Rabbits on ice
TO MC MURRAY AND BACK TO THE PEACE
The nuptials of ‘Norine–Ladies round gents and gents don’t go–The fossil-gatherers–I give my name to a Cree kiddie–A solid mile of red raspberries–The typewriter an uncanny medicine–The Beetle Fleet leaves for Outside–Shipwrecked on a batture
UP THE PEACE TO VERMILION
Ho! for the Peace–One break in 900 miles of navigation–A grey wolf–Bear-meat and the Se-weep-i-gons–Ninety-foot spruces–Tom Kerr and his bairns–The fish-seine that never fails–Our lobsticks by Red River–The Chutes of the Peace
The farthest north flour-mill–The man who made Vermilion–Wheat at $1.25 a bushel–An Experimental Farm in latitude 58 deg. 30′–An unoccupied kingdom as large as Belgium–Where the steamer _Peace River_ was built–The hospitable home of the Wilsons–Vermilion a Land of Promise Fulfilled–Culture and the Cloister–Thomas of Canterbury on the Stump
FORT VERMILION TO LESSER SLAVE
Se-li-nah of the happy heart–My premier moose–The rare and resourceful boatmen of the North–Alexander Mackenzie’s last camp
PEACE RIVER CROSSING TO LESSER SLAVE LAKE
Pleasant prairies of the Peace–We tramp a hundred miles–The Angelus at Lesser Slave–Poole coats and Norfolk shooting-jackets–Roast duck galore–Alec Kennedy of the Nile–Louise the Wetigo, she ate nineteen
LESSER SLAVE LAKE TO EDMONTON
Jim wins: Allie Brick can’t run–100,000,000 acres of wheat-land–Jilly-Loo bird still lacks a rib–100 moose in one month–Peripatetic judges but no prisoners–The best-tattooed man in the Province of Alberta–The-Man-Who-Goes-Around-and-Helps
HOMES AMONG THE YELLOW WHEAT
Edmonton again–Wyllie goes out on the Long Journey–Donaldson killed by a walrus–Two drowned in the Athabasca–Steel kings and iron horses–Wheat-plains the melting-pot of a New Nation
ROUTES OF TRAVEL
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
A magnificent trophy
Map showing the Author’s Route
Sir Wilfred Laurier
Earl Grey, Governor-General of Canada Winnipeg, the Buckle of the Wheat Belt
The Canadian Women’s Press Club
A section of Edmonton
The Golden Fleece of Saskatchewan
Irrigation ditch, Calgary, Alberta
A Waldorf-Astoria on the prairie’s edge Athabasca Landing
Necessity knows no law at Athabasca The Missionary Hymnal for the Indians
C.C. Chipman, Commissioner of the H.B. Co. A “sturgeon-head” on the Athabasca
Grand Rapids, on the Athabasca River Portage at Grand Rapids Island
Our transport at Grand Rapids Island Cheese-shaped nodules, Grand Rapids Island Scouts of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police Towing the wrecked barge ashore
The scow breaks her back and fills
Miss Gordon, a Fort McMurray trader The steamer _Grahame_
An oil derrick on the Athabasca
Tar banks on the Athabasca
Fort Chipewyan, Lake Athabasca
Three of a kind
Woman’s work of the Far North
Lake Athabasca in winter
The modern note-book
Tepee of a Caribou-eater Indian
A bit of Fond du Lac
Birch-barks at Fond du Lac
Fond du Lac
Father Beibler carrying water to a dying Indian Smith’s Landing
A transport between Fort Smith and Smith’s Landing Lord Strathcona, Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company The world’s last buffalo
Tracking a scow across mountain portage The “red lemol-lade” boys
Unloading at Fort Resolution
Coming to “take Treaty” on Great Slave Lake On the Slave
Dogs cultivating potatoes
Hudson’s Bay House, Fort Simpson
A Slavi family at Fort Simpson
A Slavi type from Fort Simpson
Interior of St. David’s Cathedral
Fort Simpson by the light of the Aurora Indians at Fort Norman
Roman Catholic Church at Fort Norman The ramparts of the Mackenzie
Rampart House on the Porcupine near the Mackenzie mouth A Kogmollye family
Roxi and the Oo-vai-oo-ak family
Farthest North football
Two spectators at the game
An Eskimo exhibit
Constable Walker and Sergeant Fitzgerald in Eskimo togs Two wise ones
A Nunatalmute Eskimo family
Cribbage-boards of walrus tusks
Useful articles made by the Eskimo
Home of Mrs. Macdonald
Eskimo kayaks at the Arctic edge
A wise man of the Dog-Ribs
A study in expression
We tell the tale of a whale
Two little ones at Herschel Island
Breeding grounds of the seal
The Keele party on the Gravel River The first typewriter on Great Slave Lake The bell at Fort Rae mission
A meadow at McMurray
Starting up the Athabasca
On the Clearwater
Evening on the Peace
Our lobsticks on the Peace
The chutes of the Peace
Pulling out the _Mee-wah-sin_
The flour mill at Vermilion-on-the-Peace Articles made by Indians
The Hudson’s Bay Store
Papillon, a Beaver brave
Going to school in winter
My premier moose
Beaver camp, on Paddle River
The site of old Fort McLeod
Jean Baptiste, pilot on the Peace
Fort Dunvegan on the Peace
Fort St. John on the Peace
Where King was arrested
Alec Kennedy with his two sons
Cannibal Louise, her little girl and Miss Cameron A Peace River Pioneer
A family at the Lesser Slave
A one-night stand
A rye field in Brandon, Manitoba
Charles M. Hays, President of the Grand Trunk Railway William Mackenzie, President of the Canadian Northern Railway Donald D. Maun, Vice-president of the Canadian Northern Railway William Whyte, Second Vice-president of the Canadian Pacific Railway In the wheat fields
Hon. Frank Oliver, Minister of the Interior Threshing grain
Doukhobors threshing flax
Sir William Van Horne, first President of the Canadian Pacific Railway
[Illustration: Map of the Author’s Route]
THE NEW NORTH
THE MENDICANTS REACH WINNIPEG
“We are as mendicants who wait
Along the roadside in the sun.
Tatters of yesterday and shreds
Of morrow clothe us every one.
“And some are dotards, who believe
And glory in the days of old;
While some are dreamers, harping still Upon an unknown age of gold.
“O foolish ones, put by your care!
Where wants are many, joys are few; And at the wilding springs of peace,
God keeps an open house for you.
“But there be others, happier few,
The vagabondish sons of God,
Who know the by-ways and the flowers, And care not how the world may plod.”
Isn’t it Riley who says, “Ef you want something, an’ jest dead set a-longin’ fer it with both eyes wet, and tears won’t bring it, why, you try sweat”? Well, we had tried sweat and longing for two years, with planning and hoping and the saving of nickels, and now we are off!
Shakespeare makes his man say, “I will run as far as God has any ground,” and that is our ambition. We are to travel north and keep on going till we strike the Arctic,–straight up through Canada. Most writers who traverse The Dominion enter it at the Eastern portal and travel west by the C.P.R., following the line of least resistance till they reach the Pacific. Then they go back to dear old England and tell the world all about Canada, their idea of the half-continent being Euclid’s conception of a straight line, “length without breadth.”
[Illustration: Sir Wilfred Laurier]
But Canada has a third dimension, a diameter that cuts through the Belt of Wheat and Belt of Fur, beginning south at the international boundary and ending where in his winter-igloo the Arctic Eskimo lives and loves after his kind and works out his own destiny. This diameter we are to follow. To what end? Not, we hope, to come back like him who went from Dan to Beersheba to say “All is barren,” but to come near to the people, our fellow-Britons, in this transverse section of a country bigger than Europe. We want to see what they are doing, these Trail-Blazers of Commerce, who, a last vedette, are holding the silent places, awaiting that multitude whose coming footsteps it takes no prophet to hear.
We will take the great waterways, our general direction being that of all the world-migrations. Colonization in America has followed the trend of the great rivers, and it has ever been northward and westward,–till you and I have to look southward and eastward for the graves of our ancestors. The sons and grandsons of those who conquered the St. Lawrence and built on the Mississippi have since occupied the shores of the Red, the Assiniboine, and the Saskatchewan. They are laying strong hands upon the Peace, and within a decade will be platting townships on the Athabasca, the Mackenzie, and the Slave.
There has always been a West. For the Greeks there was Sicily; Carthage was the western outpost of Tyre; and young Roman patricians conquered Gaul and speculated in real estate on the sites of London and Liverpool. But the West that we are entering upon is the Last West, the last unoccupied frontier under a white man’s sky. When this is staked out, pioneering shall be no more, or Amundsen must find for us a dream-continent in Beaufort Sea.
Kipling speaks of “a route unspoiled of Cook’s,” and we have found it. Going to the office of Thos. Cook & Son, in Chicago, with a friend who had planned a Mediterranean tour, I gently said, “I wonder if you can give me information about a trip I am anxious to take this summer.” The young man smiled and his tone was that which we accord to an indulged child, “I guess we can. Cook & Son give information on _most_ places.” “Very well,” I said, “I want to go from Chicago to the Arctic by the Mackenzie River, returning home by the Peace and the Lesser Slave. Can you tell me how long it will take, what it will cost, and how I make my connections?” He was game; he didn’t move an eyebrow, but went off to the secret recesses in the back office to consult “the main guy,” “the chief squeeze,” “the head push,” “the big noise.” Back they came together with a frank laugh, “Well, Miss Cameron, I guess you’ve got us. Cook’s have no schedule to the Arctic that way.” They were able, however, to give accurate information as to how one should reach Hudson Bay, with modes of travel, dates, and approximate cost. But this journey for another day.
Leaving Chicago one sizzling Sunday in mid-May, we (my niece and I) stop for a day to revel in bird and blossoms at Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota, then silently in the night cross the invisible parallel of 49 deg. where the eagle perches and makes amorous eyes at the beaver.
With the Polar Ocean as ultimate goal, we cannot help thinking how during the last generation the Arctic Circle has been pushed steadily farther north. Forty years ago Minneapolis and St. Paul were struggling trading-posts, and all America north of them was the range of the buffalo and the Indian. Then Fort Garry (Winnipeg) became Farthest North. Before starting, I had dug out from the Public Library the record of a Convention of Wheat-Growers who, fifteen years ago in Chicago, deliberately came to the conclusion (and had the same engrossed on their minutes) that “Our Northern tier of States is too far north to successfully grow wheat.” For years Winnipeg was considered the northern limit of wheat-growth, the Arctic Circle of endeavour. Then that line of limitation was pushed farther back until it is Edmonton-on-the-Saskatchewan that is declared “Farthest North.” To-day we are embarking on a journey which is to reach two thousand miles due north of Edmonton!
In the train between Minneapolis and Winnipeg an old man with a be-gosh beard looks worth while. We tell him where we are going, and he is all interest. He remembers the time when Montreal merchants wishing to reach Fort Garry had to bend down by way of St. Paul to gain their goal. These were the days of Indian raids and bloody treachery. “But,” the old chap says, “the Hudson’s Bay people always played fa’r and squar’ with the Injuns. Even in them days the Injun knowed that crossed flag and what it stood for. I mind one Englishman and his wife who had come from Montreal to St. Paul in an ox-cart. The whole plains was covered with sneakin’ red cusses on the war-path. But that darned Britisher was stubborn-set on pullin’ out that night for Fort Garry, with his wife and kid, and what did the cuss do but nail a blame little Union Jack on his cart, poke the goad in his ox, and hit the trail! My God, I kin still see the old ox with that bit of the British Empire, wiggling out of St. Paul at sundown. And the cuss got there all right, too, though we was all wearing crape beforehand for his sweet-faced wife.” This incident was not unique. In the early ’60’s an English curate, afterwards to be known to the world as Bishop Bompas, passed north through St. Cloud on his way from England to the Arctic. When the Sioux were reported on the war-path, Mr. Bompas improvised a Union Jack with bits of coloured clothing and fastened it on the first ox-cart of his cavalcade. Seeing this, the hostile Sioux turned bridle and rode away; and, protected by the flag of the clustered crosses, the Gospel-cart passed on.
[Illustration: Earl Grey, Governor-General of Canada]
What Cook & Son failed to supply, the Hudson’s Bay Company in Winnipeg furnished. This concern has been foster-mother to Canada’s Northland for two hundred and thirty-nine years. Its foundation reaches back to when the Second Charles ruled in England,–an age when men said not “How cheap?” but “How good?”, not “How easy?” but “How well?” The Hudson’s Bay Company is to-day the Cook’s Tourist Company of the North, the Coutts’ Banking concern, and the freshwater Lloyd’s. No man or woman can travel with any degree of comfort throughout Northwest America except under the kindly aegis of the Old Company. They plan your journey for you, give you introductions to their factors at the different posts, and sell you an outfit guiltless of the earmarks of the tenderfoot. Moreover, they will furnish you with a letter of credit which can be transmuted into bacon and beans and blankets, sturgeon-head boats, guides’ services, and succulent sow-belly, at any point between Fort Chimo on Ungava Bay and Hudson’s Hope-on-the-Peace, between Winnipeg-on-the-Red and that point in the Arctic where the seagull whistles over the whaling-ships at Herschel.
For a railroad station, the wall-notices in the baggage room of the Canadian Northern at Winnipeg are unique. Evidently inspired for the benefit of employes, they give the incoming traveller a surprise. Here they are as we copied them down:
Let all things be done decently and in order. 1 Cor. xiv, 40.
Be punctual, be regular, be clean.
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Be obliging and kind one to another.
Let no angry word be heard among you Be not fond of change. (Sic.)
Be clothed with humility, not finery. Take all things by the smooth handle.
Be civil to all, but familiar with few.
As we smile over this Canadian substitute for the American,–
“Hang on to your hand-baggage. Don’t let go your overcoat. Thieves are around,”
the baggage-master with a strong Scottish accent says over our shoulders, “Guid maxims, and we live up t’ them!”
A big Irish policeman is talking to a traveller who has stepped off a transcontinental train, and who asks with a drawl, “What makes Winnipeg?” Scraping a lump of mud from his boot-heel, the Bobby holds it out. “This is the sordid dhross and filthy lucre which keeps our nineteen chartered banks and their one and twenty suburban branches going. Just beyant is one hundred million acres of it, and the dhirty stuff grows forty bushels of wheat to the acre. Don’t be like the remittance man from England, sorr,” with a quizzical look at the checked suit of his interlocutor, “shure they turn the bottom of their trowsies up so high that divil of the dhross sticks to them!” As Mulcahey winks the other eye, we drift out into this “Buckle of the Wheat-Belt.”
What has the policeman’s hard wheat done for Winnipeg? Well, it gave her a building expansion, a year ago, greater than that of any other city of her population in America. One year has seen in Western Canada an increase in crop area under the one cereal of winter wheat of over one hundred and fifty per cent, a development absolutely unique in the world’s history.
Winnipeg, having acquired the growing habit, expands by leaps and bounds. No city on the continent within the last thirty-three years has had such phenomenal growth. In 1876 the population was 6,000; it now counts 150,000 souls. This city is the greatest grain-market in the British Empire, and from it radiate twenty-two distinct pairs of railway tracks. Architects have in preparation plans for fifteen million dollars’ worth of buildings during the coming year. The bank clearings in 1903 were $246,108,000; last year they had increased to $618,111,801; and a Winnipeg bank has never failed. Western Canada cannot grow without Winnipeg’s reaping a benefit, for most of the inward and outward trade filters through here. During the spring months three hundred people a day cross the border from the United States. Before the year has closed a hundred thousand of them will have merged themselves into Western Canada’s melting-pot, drawn by that strongest of lures–the lure of the land. And these hundred thousand people do not come empty-handed. It is estimated that they bring with them in settlers’ effects and cash one thousand dollars each, thus adding in portable property to the wealth of Western Canada one hundred million dollars. In addition they bring the personal producing-factor, an asset which cannot be measured in figures–the “power of the man.”
[Illustration: Winnipeg, the Buckle of the Wheat-Belt]
Not only from the United States do Winnipeg’s citizens come. This City of the Plains is a human mosaic to which finished pattern every nation of the Old World furnishes its patine. The Bible Society of Winnipeg sells Bibles printed in fifty-one different languages–Armenian, Arabic, Burmese, Cree, Esth, Korean, Persian, Sanscrit, Slavonic, Tinne, Urdu, Yiddish, and nine and thirty other tongues. It is to be supposed that some buy their Bible not because it is the Bible but in order to feast the eye on the familiar characters of the home tongue. So would Robinson Crusoe have glutted his sight with a copy of the _London Times_, could the goat have committed the anachronism of digging one out from among the flotsam in the kelp.
Going into a hardware store to get a hatchet and a copper kettle, we cajole the proprietor into talking shop. He has orders for six hundred steam-ploughs to be delivered to farmers the coming season. We estimate that each of these will break at least fifteen hundred acres during the six months that must elapse before we hope to return to Winnipeg. This will make nearly a million acres to be broken by the steam-ploughs sold by this one concern, and practically the whole number will be used for breaking wild land. A peep into the ledger of this merchant shows in the list of his plough-buyers Russian names and unpronounceable patronymics of the Finn, the Doukhobor, and the Buckowinian. It is to be hoped that these will drive furrows that look straighter than their signatures do. “But they are all good pay,” the implement-man says. Looking at the red ploughs, we see in each a new chapter to be written in Canada’s history. The page of the book is the prairie, as yet inviolate, and running out into flowers to the skyline. The tools to do the writing are these ploughs and mowers and threshers, the stout arms of men and of faith-possessed women. It is all new and splendid and hopeful and formative!
We get in Winnipeg another picture, one that will remain with us till we reach the last Great Divide. At the Winnipeg General Hospital, Dr. D.A. Stewart says to us, “Come, I want to show you a brave chap, one who has fallen by the way.” We find this man, Alvin Carlton, stretched on a cot. “Tell him that you are going into the land of fur,” whispers the doctor, “he has been a trapper all his life.”
Crossing soft ice on the Lake of the Woods, Carlton broke through, and his snow-shoes pinned him fast. When dragged out he had suffered so with the intense cold that he became partially paralysed and was sent here to the hospital. Hard luck? Yes, but the misfortune was tempered with mercy. Within these walls Carlton met a doctor full of the mellow juice of life,–a doctor with a man’s brain, the sympathy of a woman, and the heart of a little child. The trapper, as we are introduced to him, has one leg and both hands paralysed, with just a perceptible sense of motion remaining in the other leg. His vocal cords are so affected that the sounds he makes are to us absolutely unintelligible, more like the mumblings of an animal than the speech of a man. Between patient and doctor, a third man entered the drama,–Mr. Grey, a convalescent. Appointed special nurse to the trapper, Grey studied him as a mother studies her deficient child, and now was able, to our unceasing marvel, to translate these sad mouthings of Carlton into human speech.
Who is this patient? A man without friends or influence, not attractive in appearance, more than distressing to listen to,–just one more worker thrown off from the gear of the rapidly-turning wheel of life. The consulting doctors agreed that no skill could perform a cure, could not even arrest the creeping death. Winnipeg is big and busy, and no corner of it more crowded than the General Hospital, no corps more overworked. Dr. Stewart had two men’s work to do. He worked all day and was busy well into the night. A doctor’s natural tendency is to see in each man that he ministers to merely “a case,” a manifestation of some disease to be watched and tabulated and ticked off into percentages. But in the Stewart-Carlton-Grey combination, Fate had thrown together three young men in whom the human part, the man element, loomed large.
The doctor guessed that under that brave front the heart of the trapper was eating itself out for the cry of the moose, the smell of wood-smoke by twilight. We are happiest when we create. So he said to Carlton, “Did you ever write a story?” The head shook answer. “Well, why don’t you try? You must know a lot, old chap, about out-door things, that nobody else knows. Think some of it out, and then dictate it to Grey here.”
The outcome was disappointing. The uncouth sounds, translated by Grey, were bald, bare, and stiff. Soon the stiffness worked off. With half-shut eyes Carlton lived again in the woods. He lifted the dewy branch of a tree and surprised the mother deer making the toilet of her fawn, saw the beaver busied with his home of mud and wattles, heard the coyote scream across the prairie edge. Easily the thought flowed, and the stuff that Grey handed in was a live story that breathed. In that brave heart the joy of the creator stirred, and with it that feeling which makes all endeavour worth while–the thought that somebody cares. A close observer at this stage of the game may read, too, on the face of Grey the kindly look that comes when we forget ourselves long enough to take the trouble to reach out for another man’s viewpoint.
Carlton’s short stories, submitted to a publisher, were pronounced good, were accepted, and brought a cash return. They struck a new note among the squabblings of the nature-fakers. Favourable comment came from those who read them, who, reading, knew naught of their three authors. Before this Carlton had never written a line for publication; but he had been a true observer. He had felt, and was able to project himself into the minds of those living things he had seen and hunted.
I leave the hospital cot with a strange lump forming in my throat, although every one around me, and the patient most of all, is gay and blithe. I say to Carlton, “I wish I could take your knowledge and your eyes with me into the North, there is so much I will miss because of my lack of knowledge.” With Grey’s kindly interpretation I get my answer, “You must take your own mind, your own eyes; you must see for yourself.”
During the last day in Winnipeg, while the Kid (like faithful Ariovistus) is looking after the impedimenta, I snatch half an hour to look in at the Royal Alexandra upon the reception which the Women’s Canadian Club is tendering to Mrs. Humphry Ward. Rain-bespattered, short-skirted, and anchored with disreputable rubbers gluey with Winnipeg mud, I sit on the fringe of things, fairly intoxicated with the idea that we are off and this North trip no dream. Mrs. Sanford Evans presides with her usual _savoir faire_ and ushers in the guest of the day, beautifully-gowned and gracious.
Like a bolt from the blue came the summons from the president, and I, all muddy, am called to the seats of the mighty. I have never seen a more splendid aggregation of women than the members of the Winnipeg Canadian Club, tall, strong, alert, and full of initiative. To face them is a mental and moral challenge. I try to hide those muddy shoes of mine. The Winnipeg women are indulgent, they make allowance for my unpresentable attire, and shower upon me cheery wishes for the success of my journey. Mrs. Humphry Ward calls attention to the lack of playgrounds in England. She wants to bring more fresh air and space to the crowded people of the Old World. I submit that my wish is the mathematical converse to hers. My great desire is to call attention to the great unoccupied lands of Canada, to induce people from the crowded centres of the Old World to use the fresh air of the New.
[Illustration: The Canadian Women’s Press Club]
To those who bid us good-bye at the train, the Kid and I yell exultantly, “All aboard for the Arctic Ocean and way ports!”
A group of Galicians sitting by the curb, two mothers and seven small children, one a baby at the breast, make the last picture we see as the train pulls out. It was the end of their first day in Winnipeg. The fathers of the flock evidently were seeking work and had left their families gazing through the portals of the strange new land. In the half-sad, altogether-brave lines on the young mothers’ faces and their tender looks bent on the little ones we read the motive responsible for all migrations–“Better conditions for the babies.” In the little fellows of seven or eight with their ill-fitting clothes and their dogged looks of determination one sees the makers of empire. Before a decade is past they will be active wheat-growers in their own right, making two grains grow where one grew before and so “deserving better of mankind than the whole race of politicians put together.” I think it was President Garfield who said, “I always feel more respect for a boy than for a man. Who knows what possibilities may be buttoned up under that ragged jacket?” It doesn’t take long for the foreigners to make good. A young Icelander, Skuli Johnson, of all the thousands of Winnipeg students, this year captured the coveted honor of the academic world–the Rhodes scholarship.
We slip out of Winnipeg as the bells of St. Boniface ring the vespers from their turrets twain. Whittier, who never saw this quaint cathedral, has immortalized it in verse. The story is one of those bits of forgotten history so hard to get hold of in a day when Winnipeg measures its every thought in bushels and bullion.
The settlers who came to Selkirk on the outskirts of present Winnipeg just a hundred years ago were sturdy Scots, weaned on the Psalms of David and the Shorter Catechism. There were English missionaries here and priests of the Church of Rome, but the disciples of John Knox wanted some one to expound Predestination to them. A religious ceremony performed by any man who was not a Presbyterian seemed scarcely binding. One old lady, speaking of the nuptials of her daughter, said, “I wudna have Janet marrit by the bishop. She maun wait till we can have a properly-ordained meenister.” And he was coming. Even now he was floating in on the Red River with Indian and half-breed boatmen, having reached St. Paul from Scotland via the Atlantic seaboard some weeks before.
When a Scot and an Indian get in a boat together, to use a Will Carleton phrase, “they do not teem with conversational grace.” Straight from Aberdeen, the young Dominee coming into Winnipeg little dreamed that the Church of Rome had established its Mission on the Red River decades ago. In fact, he knew as little about Canada as he did about Timbuctoo, and in his simplicity thought himself “the first that ever burst into that silent sea.” When the evening breeze brought to his ears a muffled sound, he was in doubt how to place it.
“Is it the clang of wild-geese?
Is it the Indian’s yell,
That lends to the voice of the North-wind The tones of a far-off bell?”
The Indian boatmen _said_ nothing, but thought deep, like the Irishman’s parrot.
“The voyageur smiles as he listens
To the sound that grows apace;
Well he knows the vesper ringing
Of the bells of St. Boniface.”
Once the young Scot had reached his flock, he wrote back to a friend in the States telling how he came across on the edge of the wilderness
“The bells of the Roman Mission,
That call from their turrets twain To the boatmen on the river,
To the hunter on the plain.”
That friend was a fellow-townsman of the “Quaker Poet.” The story was told to Whittier and inspired the lines of _The Red River Voyageur_.
WINNIPEG TO ATHABASCA LANDING
“To the far-flung fenceless prairie
Where the quick cloud-shadows trail, To our neighbor’s barn in the offing
And the line of the new-cut rail;
To the plough in her league-long furrow.”
Place a pair of dividers with one leg on Winnipeg and the other leg at Key West, Florida. Then swing the lower leg to the northwest, and it will not reach the limit of good agricultural land.
From Winnipeg to Edmonton, roughly speaking, is a thousand miles, and two railway lines are open to us,–the Canadian Pacific and the Canadian Northern. We go by the former route and return in the autumn by the latter.
Pulling out from Winnipeg, we enter a prairie wheat-field one thousand miles long and of unknown width, into which the nations of the world are pouring. “The sleeping nation beyond,” is what General Sherman in a moment of pique once called Canada. The sleeping giant has awakened. We are on the heels of the greatest economic trek this world has ever seen. The historian of to-morrow will rank it with the world migrations.
The flourishing centres of Portage la Prairie, Brandon with its Experimental Farm, Regina, the headquarters of the Mounted Police, Moose Jaw, and Medicine Hat are passed, and with these the new, raw towns in the tar-paper stage, towns that smell of sawdust, naked stand of paint. Never in the world’s history did towns spring into life as these do. To-day the wind on the prairie, to-morrow the sharp conversation of the hammer on the nail-head, next week the implement warehouse, the tent hotel, the little cluster of homes. In England it takes a bishop to make a city, but here the nucleus needed is a wheat elevator, red against the setting sun.
The ploughs that we saw in Winnipeg are at work here among the buffalo bones and the spring anemones. As day breaks we catch a glimpse of a sunbonneted mother and her three little kiddies. An ox is their rude coadjutor, and through the flower-sod they cut their first furrow. It is the beginning of a new home. Involuntarily one’s mind jumps to the crowded cities of the Old World with their pale-cheeked children and fetid alleyways. Surely in bringing the workless man of the Old World to the manless work of the New, the Canadian Government and the transportation companies are doing a bit of God’s work.
Half way between Winnipeg and the Pacific we reach Calgary, breezy, buoyant Calgary, the commercial metropolis of the foothills, already a busy mart and predestined to be the distributing point for many railroads. The biggest man-made thing in Calgary is the C.P.R. irrigation works, the largest on this continent. The area included in the irrigation block is twice as big as the Island of Porto Rico and one-eighth the size of England and Wales; and the ultimate expenditure on the undertaking will reach the five million mark.
Calgary is the centre of a country literally flowing with milk and honey and fat things. The oil-fields of Pincher Creek, with their rich promise of becoming a second Pennsylvania, are contiguous to the city. The winter wheat grown in Southern Alberta was awarded first prize and gold medal at the World’s Fair in Oregon in 1905. The hackney carriage horses which took first prize at the last Montreal and New York horse-fairs were foaled and raised near Calgary. If we were to continue going due west from this point, all the scenic glories of the Rocky Mountains would be ours–seventy Switzerlands in one. But that journey must stand over for another day, with the journey to Prince Rupert, the ocean terminus of the Grand Trunk Pacific.
Turning sharply to the north, we travel two hundred miles, and draw into where Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, sits smiling on the banks of her silver Saskatchewan. As he sees us digging out our tents and dunnage, the porter asks, “Then yer not comin’ back?” “No.” “You _are_ goin’ to the North Pole, then, the place you wuz hollerin’ fer!”
With the exception of Victoria, Edmonton has the most charming location of all cities of Western Canada. High Hope stalks her streets. There is a spirit of initiative and assuredness in this virile town, a culture and thoughtfulness in her people, expectancy in the very air. It is the city of contrasts; the ox-cart dodges the automobile; in the track of French heel treads the moccasin; the silk hat salutes the Stetson.
Edmonton is the end of steel. Three lines converge here: the Canadian Northern, the Canadian Pacific, and the Grand Trunk Pacific. The Canadian Northern arrived first, coming in four years ago. Now that Edmonton has arrived, it seems the most natural thing in the world that there should have sprung up on the Saskatchewan this rich metropolis, anticipating for itself a future expansion second to no city in commercial Canada. But some one had to have faith and prescience before Edmonton got her start, and the god-from-the-machine was the Canadian Northern, in other words, William Mackenzie and D.D. Mann. Individuals and nations as they reap a harvest are apt to forget the hands that sowed the seed in faith, nothing doubting. When this railroad went into Edmonton, as little was known of the valley of the Saskatchewan as is known now of the valley of the Peace. Without exception, Canadian men of letters go to other countries for recognition, but not so all our men of deeds. Mackenzie and Mann, “the Brains of a Trans-Continental,” stayed in Canada and put their genius to work here. The Canadian Northern is the product of Canadian minds and Canadian money.
[Illustration: A Section of Edmonton]
We walk Edmonton streets for ten days and see neither an old man nor an old woman. The government and the business interests are in the hands of young people who have adopted modern methods of doing things; single tax is the basis of taxation; the city owns its public utilities, including an interurban street railroad, electric lighting plant, water-works, and the automatic telephone. Mr. C.W. Cross, the Attorney-General of Alberta, is the youngest man in Canada to hold that high office. During the first session of the first legislature of this baby province less than three years ago, an enabling act was passed for a university. Nowhere else have I been sensible of such a feeling of united public-spiritedness as obtains here.
Down in the river valley are hundreds of people living under canvas, not because they are poor but because building contractors cannot keep pace with the demand for homes. As we pass these tents, we are rude enough to look in. Most of them are furnished with telephones and the city water; here a bride bends over a chafing dish; another glance discloses an oil-painting that was once shown in the Royal Academy. From the next tent float the strains of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and, as we stop to listen, a gentleman and his wife step out. An auto picks them up and off they whirl to Jasper Avenue. The Lord o’ the Tents of Shem disappears into his bank and Milady drives on to the Government house to read before the Literary Club a paper on Browning’s _Saul_. To the tenderfoot from the South it is all delightfully disconcerting–oxen and autos and Browning on the Saskatchewan!
The Sunday before we leave Edmonton I find another set of tents, put up by the Immigration Department, where East-End Londoners are housed pending their going out upon the land. In the first call I make I unearth a baby who rejoices in the name of Hester Beatrice Cran. “H.B.C.,” I remark, “aren’t you rather infringing on a right, taking that trade-mark?” Quick came the retort, “Ho! If she gets as good a ‘old on the land as the ‘Udson’s Bay Company ‘as, she’ll do!”
Another lady in the next tent proudly marshalled her olive branches. “D’isy and the baiby were born in the Heast Hend. They’re Henglish; please God they’ll make good Canaidians. They’re tellin’ me, miss, there’ll be five ‘undred more of us on the ‘igh seas comin’ out to Hedmonton from the Heast Hend, all poor people like ourselves. I often wonder w’y they don’t bring out a few dukes to give the country a touch of ‘igh life–it’s very plain ‘ere.”
By the first day of June we have our kit complete and are ready to leave. We have tried to cut everything down to the last ounce, but still the stuff makes a rather formidable array. What have we? Tent, tent-poles, typewriter, two cameras, two small steamer-trunks, bedding (a thin mattress with waterproof bottom and waterproof extension-flaps and within this our two blankets), a flour-bag or “Hudson’s Bay suit-case” (containing tent-pegs, hatchet, and tin wash-basin), two raincoats, a tiny bag with brush and comb and soap–and last, but yet first, the kodak films wrapped in oilcloth and packed in biscuit-tins. The bits of impedimenta look unfamiliar as we take our first inventory, but we are to come to know them soon by their feel in the dark, to estimate to an ounce the weight of each on many a lonely portage.
[Illustration: The Golden Fleece of Saskatchewan]
At seven in the morning the stage pulls up for us, and it rains–no gentle sizzle-sozzle, but a sod-soaker, yea a gully-washer! The accusing newness of those raincoats is to come off at once. Expansive Kennedy looks askance at the tenderfoots who climb over his wheel. His Majesty’s Royal Mail Stage sifts through the town picking up the other victims. We are two big stage-loads, our baggage marked for every point between Edmonton and the Arctic Ocean. Every passenger but ourselves looks forward to indefinite periods of expatriation in the silent places. We alone are going for fun. Our one care is to keep those precious cameras dry. This is the beginning of a camera nightmare which lasts six months until we again reach Chicago.
And the fellow-passengers? Law is represented, and medicine, and the all-powerful H.B. Co. With us is Mr. Angus Brabant going in on his initial official trip in charge of H.B. interests in the whole Mackenzie River District, and with him two cadets of The Company. On the seat behind us sit a Frenchman reading a French novel, a man from Dakota, and a third passenger complaining of a camera “which cost fifty pounds sterling” that somehow has fallen by the way. Sergeant Anderson, R.N.W.M.P., with his wife and two babies are in the other stage.
Kennedy, the driver, is a character. Driving in and out and covering on this one trail twelve thousand miles every year, he is fairly soaked with stories of the North and Northmen. The other stage is driven by Kennedy’s son, who, tradition says, was struck by lightning when he was just forgetting to be a boy and beginning to be a man. Dwarfed in mind and body, he makes a mild-flavoured pocket-edition of Quilp.
The roads are a quagmire. The querulous voice of the man who lost his camera claims our attention. “I thought I would be able to get out and run behind and pick flowers.” Turning and introducing ourselves, we find the troubled one to be an English doctor going north off his own bat with the idea of founding a hospital for sick Indians on the Arctic Circle.
[Illustration: Irrigation Ditch, Calgary, Alberta]
The girlish figure of a teacher struggling through the awful mud in gum-boots indicates that we have not travelled beyond the range of the little red schoolhouse. Stray wee figures splashing their way schoolward look dreary enough, and I seem to hear the monotonous drone of “seven times nine,” “the mountains of Asia,” “the Tudor sovereigns with dates of accession,” and other things appertaining to “that imperial palace whence I came.” All the summer afterwards, when mosquitoes are plenty and food scarce, a backward thought to this teacher making muddy tracks toward the well of English undefiled, brings pleased content.
[Illustration: A Waldorf-Astoria on the Prairie’s Edge]
At noon it clears, and as we “make tea” at Sturgeon Creek (the Namao Sepee of the Indians), the first of the “stopping-places” or Waldorf-Astorias of the wilderness, the Doctor has his will and gathers violets, moccasin flowers, and the purple _dodecatheon_. As we pass Lily Lake he remarks, “This reminds me of the Duke of Norfolk’s place at Arundel; it is just like this.” South Dakoty returns, “I don’t know him.”
Here and there we pass clusters of Galician huts. Instead of following the line of least resistance in the fertile plains to the south, these people, the Mark Tapleys of the prairies, choose cheap land up here for the pleasure of conquering it and “coming out strong.” They are a frugal people, with a fondness for work, a wholesome horror of debt, and the religious instinct strongly insistent. Off on a hillside near each little settlement a naked cross extends its arms. These are their open-air churches, and in all weathers, men, women, and children gather at the foot of the cross to worship the God of their fathers. By and by, when the soil has yielded to their labours, with their own hands will they build a church and without debt it will be dedicated. The idea of raising an imposing church and presenting God with the mortgage does not appeal to the Galician.
The clean sheets at “Eggie’s,” the second stopping-place, are attractive, and we sleep the sleep of the just. We acknowledge with inward shame that two years of city life have given us the soft muscles of the chee-chaco; we’ll have to harden up a bit if we are to reach that far-away ocean.
Next day, midway between Edmonton and Athabasca Landing, we water our horses at the Tautinau. We are standing at the Height of Land, the watershed between the Saskatchewan and the Athabasca. This little ridge where the harebells grow divides the drops of rain of the noon-day shower. Some of these drops, by way of the Saskatchewan, Lake Winnipeg, and Hudson Bay, will reach the Atlantic. Others, falling into the Athabasca, will form part of that yellow-tinged flood which, by way of Great Slave Lake and the mighty Mackenzie, carries its tribute to the Frozen Ocean. These last are the drops we follow.
To save the horses we walk the hills, and I try to match giant steps with Sergeant Anderson. Kennedy, Junior, joins us and has a knotty point to settle regarding “the gentleman wot murdered the man.” It is hard to induce a Mounted Policeman to talk. However, to be striding Athabasca Trail with the hero of the Hayward-King murder-trial is too good an opportunity to lose, and, reluctantly rendered, bit by bit the story comes out.
Most people looking at a map of Northwest Canada would think it a safe wilderness for a live man or a dead man to disappear in with no questions asked. In reality, it is about the worst place in America in which to commit a crime and hope to go unpunished.
In September, 1904, the Indians reported to the Mounted Police that they had seen two white men in the early summer, and that afterwards one man walked alone, and was now at Lesser Slave. An observant Cree boy added, “The dog won’t follow that other white fellow any more.” Sergeant Anderson, going to their last camp, turned over the ashes and found three hard lumps of flesh and a small piece of skull bone. Convinced that murder had been done, he arrested the suspected man and sent him to Fort Saskatchewan for trial. No one knew the identity of either the dead man or the living. In front of the old camp-fire was a little slough or lake, and this seemed a promising place to look for evidence. Sergeant Anderson hired Indian women to wade in the ooze, feeling with their toes for any hard substance. In this way were secured a sovereign-case and a stick-pin of unusual make. The lake was systematically drained and yielded a shoe with a broken-eyed needle sticking in it. Sifting the ashes of the camp-fire and examining them with a microscope, Anderson discovered the eye of the broken needle and thus established a connection between the camp with its burnt flesh and the exhibits from the lake. The maker of the stick-pin in London, England, was cabled to by the Canadian Government, and a Mr. Hayward summoned to come from there to identify the trinkets of his murdered brother. A cheque drawn by the dead Hayward in favour of King came to the surface in a British Columbia bank. Link by link the chain of evidence grew.
It took eleven months for Sergeant Anderson to get his case in shape. Then he convoyed forty Indian witnesses two hundred and fifty miles from Lesser Slave to Edmonton to tell what they knew about the crime committed in the silent places. The evidence was placed before the jury, and the Indians returned to their homes. A legal technicality cropped up and the trial had to be repeated. Once more the forty Indians travelled from Lesser Slave to repeat their story. The result was that Charles King of Utah was found guilty of the murder of Edward Hayward and paid the death penalty.
This trial cost the Canadian Government over $30,000,–all to avenge the death of one of the wandering units to be found in every corner of the frontier, one unknown prospector. Was it worth while? Did it pay? Yes, it paid. It is by such object-lessons that to Indian and white alike is forced home the truth that God’s law, “Thou shalt not kill,” is also the law of Britain and of Canada.
We are still on foot, when a cry from the Kid hurries us to the hilltop. Reaching the crest, we catch our breaths. Down below lies the little village of “The Landing.” That sparkling flood beyond proves the Athabasca to be a live, northward-trending river, a river capable of carrying us with it, and no mere wiggly line on a map.
“I am the land that listens, I am the land that broods; Steeped in eternal beauty, crystalline waters and woods; I wait for the men who will win me–and I will not be won in a day; And I will not be won by weaklings, subtle, suave and mild, But by men with the hearts of vikings, and the simple faith of a child.”
[Illustration: Athabasca Landing]
Athabasca Landing, a funnel through which percolates the whole trade between the wheat-belt and the Arctic, is the true gateway of the North. Seeing our baggage tucked away in the bar-room of the Grand Union Hotel, and snatching a hasty supper, we walk down to the river, its edges still encrusted with fragments of winter ice. It is an incomparable sunset, the light a veritable spilt spectrum, spreading itself with prodigality over the swift river.
The Athabasca, after dipping to the south, here takes a sudden northward bend. Its source is in the crest of the continent far back in the Committee’s Punch-Bowl of the Rockies, the general trend of the river being northeasterly. It is the most southerly of the three great tributaries of the mighty Mackenzie, and from its source in Rockies to embouchure in Athabasca Lake it is about seven hundred and seventy-five miles long; through a wooded valley two miles wide it runs with perhaps an average width of two hundred and fifty yards.
We are in latitude 55 deg. North, and between us and the Arctic lies an unknown country, which supports but a few hundred Indian trappers and the fur-traders of the Ancient Company in their little posts, clinging like swallows’ nests to the river banks. The wheat-plains to the south of us are so fertile and accessible that the tide of immigration has stopped south of where we stand. But that there stretches beyond us a country rich in possibilities we know, and one day this land, unknown and dubbed “barren” because unknown, will support its teeming millions. Chimerical? Why so?
Parallels of latitude are great illuminators. When we run this line of 55 deg. westward what do we strike in Asia? The southern boundary of the Russian Province of Tobolsk. Superimpose a map of that Province on a map of Canada and we find that the great Mackenzie waterway which we are to follow cuts Tobolsk almost directly through the centre. In the year 1900, Russian Tobolsk produced twenty-one million bushels of grain, grazed two and a half million head of live stock, exported one and a half million dollars’ worth of butter, and supported a population of one and a half million souls. There is not one climatic condition obtaining in the Asiatic Province that this similar section of Canada which we are about to enter does not enjoy.
Off a little jetty some lads are fishing. There is a camaraderie felt by all fishermen, and soon I have a rod and access to the chunk of moose-meat which is the community bait. Within half an hour, rejoicing in a string of seventeen chub and grayling, we wend our way back to the little village. The elements that compose it? Here we have a large establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company, an Anglican and a Roman Mission, a little public school, a barracks of the Northwest Mounted Police, a post office, a dozen stores, a reading-room, two hotels, and a blacksmith shop, and for population a few whites leavening a host of Cree-Scots half-breeds.
Athabasca Landing is part of the British Empire. But English is at a discount here; Cree and French and a mixture of these are spoken on all sides. The swart boatmen are the most interesting feature of the place,–tall, silent, moccasined men, followed at the heel by ghostlike dogs. From this point north dogs are the beasts of burden; the camel may be the ship of the desert, but the dog is the automobile of the silences. The wise missionary translates his Bible stories into the language of the latitude. As Count von Hammerstein says, “What means a camel to a Cree? I tell him it is a moose that cannot go through a needle’s eye.” The Scriptural sheep and goats become caribou and coyotes, and the celestial Lamb is typified by the baby seal with its coat of shimmering whiteness. Into the prohibition territory that stretches north of this no liquor can be taken except by a permit signed by an Attorney-General of Canada, and then only “for medicinal purposes.” By an easy transferring of epithets, the term “permit” has come to signify the revivifying juice itself.
[Illustration: Necessity Knows No Law at Athabasca]
One illusion vanishes here. We had expected to find the people of the North intensely interested in the affairs of the world outside, but as a rule they are not. There is no discussion of American banks and equally no mention of the wheat crop. The one conjecture round the bar and in the home is, “When will the rabbits run this year?” The rabbits in the North are the food of the lynx; cheap little bunny keeps the vital spark aglow in the bodies of those animals with richer fur who feed upon him. Every seven years an epidemic attacks the wild rabbits, and that year means a scarcity of all kinds of fur. As surely as wheat stands for bullion in the grain-belt, little Molly Cottontail is the currency of the North.
It is at this point we join the Fur-Brigade of the Hudson’s Bay Company making its annual transport to the posts of the Far North, taking in supplies for trading material and bringing back the peltries obtained in barter during the previous winter. The big open scows, or “sturgeon-heads,” which are to form our convoy have been built, the freight is all at The Landing, but for three days the half-breed boatmen drag along the process of loading, and we get our introduction to the word which is the keynote of the Cree character,–“Kee-am,” freely translated, “Never mind,” “Don’t get excited,” “There’s plenty of time,” “It’s all right,” “It will all come out in the wash.”
When the present Commissioner of the Hudson’s Bay Company entered office he determined to reduce chaos to a methodical exactness, and framed a time-table covering every movement in the northward traffic. When it was shown by the local representative to the Cree boatmen at The Landing, old Duncan Tremble, a river-dog on the Athabasca for forty years, looked admiringly at the printed slip and said, “Aye, aye; the Commissioner he makes laws, but the river he boss.” It is only when ice is out and current serves that the brigade moves forward. Old Duncan knows seven languages,–English, French, Cree, Chipewyan, Beaver, Chinook, Montagnais,–he speaks seven languages, thinks in Cree, and prevaricates in them all.
[Illustration: The Missionary Hymnal for the Indians]
At the foot of the hill we visit the English parsonage, with its old-time sun-dial at the garden-gate. Within, we find what must surely be the farthest north printing-press. Here two devoted women have spent years of their lives printing in Cree on a hand-press syllabic hymns and portions of the Gospel for the enlightenment of the Indians. We wander into the school where a young teacher is explaining to his uneasy disciples the intricacies of Present Worth and Compound Interest. Idly we wonder to what use these bare-footed half-Cree urchins will put their exact banking knowledge.
Everywhere around us the wild flowers are a great joy; we hail with the gladness of released children the posies that sweetened childhood meadows–the dwarf cornel (Cornel Canadensis), dandelions, strawberry blossoms, wild roses, the pale wood-violet on its long stem, and amid these familiars the saskatoon or service-berry bushes, with blueberry vines, and viburnums of many kinds. On the street the natty uniforms of the Mounted Police are in evidence, and baseball has penetrated as far north as this. In the post office we read,
“It is decided to hold sports on the first day of July. The Committee promises a splendid programme,–horse-races, foot-races, football match, baseball game. There will also be prizes for the best piece of Indian fancy-work. Dancing will be in full swing in the evening. All welcome.”
Opposite the hotel is a reading-room built by a Methodist parson who also made the furniture with his own hands; magazines, books, writing-material, games are available to all. This practical work of one man who accepted the responsibility of being his brother’s keeper appealed to us. In a store near the hotel we see a Cree boatman purchasing a farewell present for his sweetheart. As he turns over the fancy articles, we have bad form enough to observe his choice. He selects a fine-tooth comb, for which he pays fifty cents, or as he calls it, “two skins,” and asks, as he tucks it into his jerkin, if he can change it “if she doesn’t like it.”
In the evening it rains, and the room assigned us becomes a living illustration of the new word we have just learned,–“muskeg,” a swamp. Putting the precious cameras on top of the bureau, we let the rest of the things swim at their pleasure. Starting with the rest of the unattached community of Athabasca Landing to go down to the pool-room, we catch sight of Dr. Sussex and the Cree priest, who have found a little oasis of their own around a big stove in the upper hall and, with chairs tilted back, are enjoying some portable hospitality from below. The doctor arises to escort us through the flood, and when I rally him about his liquid refreshment, he says, “Oh, I had lemonade.”
“I see. And the priest?”
“He had–what he liked.”
If local colour and local smell is what we have come north for, we find it here. Mr. Brabant comes up with “I wonder if that bunch of nuns is going to get here in time to take scows with us,” and we pass into the billiard-room and watch the game. The players gliding round in moccasins are all half-breeds. The exclamations are for the most part in Cree or bad French, and as I crowd in looking for some local terms all that I hear intelligible is, “That is damn close, I think me.”
For thirty-six hours on end it rains. That roof was full of surprises; you never knew where it would spring a fresh leak. One room is a little better than the rest, and we all gather there and make the best of it,–smoking, writing, telling yarns. A bumping noise from across the hall and the cry of a child startles us. It proves to be Sergeant Anderson’s baby whose cradle has started afloat, and there is a general rush to rescue Moses from his bulrushes. Everybody is in good humour.
As we calm the baby, South Dakota says “It reminds me of the Englishman and his musical bath.” We demand the story. “Well, a rich American took a great liking to an Englishman he had been travelling with, and sent him for a birthday present a Yankee invention to set up in his country-house–a musical bath. As you turned on the spigot, the thing played a tune while you were washing, and sort of relieved the tee-deum. The two gents met next Christmas in New York, and the Yankee he sez, ‘And how did you like the bath?’ ‘Oh, thank you very much, it was kind of you indeed, but I found it a little irksome standing all the time, you know.’ ‘Standing, what the blazes do you mean?’ asked the Yankee. ‘Well,’ says the Britisher, ‘the tune you furnished, you know, with the bawth, was _God Save the King_, and as soon as it began, you know, I had to stand, and it’s rather tiresome taking your bawth standing, you know.”
Sergeant Joyce tells how at a Mounted Police dinner at Fort Saskatchewan a parson, who was a guest, in proposing a toast, facetiously advised his entertainers to have nothing to do with either a doctor or a lawyer. It was interesting to watch the parson’s face when there arose to reply a lawyer and a doctor, each a constable in the rank and file.
Mrs. Leslie Wood of Athabasca Landing adds her quota to the Tales of a Wayside Inn. We could have listened to her for a week and regretted neither the rain nor the waiting scows. As a girl she remembers being shocked at seeing men hold tin cups to the throats of newly-slaughtered buffalo, drinking with gusto the warm blood.
“What are the two greatest things on earth?” Mrs. Wood, as a young girl, asked the dusky disciples of her Sunday School class. “The Queen and The Company,” was the ready response. “And of these, which is the greater?” Little Marten-Tail rubbed one moccasin over the other, and the answer came thoughtfully in Cree, “The Company. The Queen sometimes dies, but The Company never dies.”
“The Company,” of which the little girl spoke, “The Governor and Company of Adventurers trading into Hudson’s Bay,” deriving its charter in 1670 from the Second Charles of England, is the oldest chartered concern in the world, with a present-day sphere of influence as large as Great Britain, France, Spain, and Germany combined. From lone Labrador to the Pacific littoral and from Winnipeg to the Frozen Ocean are scattered the two hundred and fifty fur-trading forts of this concern in charge of its two thousand strong silent servants. Last year it paid to its stockholders a profit of forty-five per cent on the invested capital, and for two hundred and thirty-nine consecutive years it has been declaring dividends. The motto of the Company, _Pro Pelle Cutein_, is prominently displayed at Athabasca Landing. Literally translated, the phrase means “Skin for skin”; but why the promoters should have chosen as war-cry the words which Satan used when fighting with the Lord for the soul of Job, is not so apparent.
As we watch the trading goods being carried in the rain from warehouse to scows, we think how, weaving its cross-Atlantic way through the centuries and joining the periwigged days of the Stuarts to this day, the one man-made thing that has persisted is this commerce-shuttle of the H.B. Co.
In the days when The Company had its birth, the blind Milton was dictating his message and the liberated Bunyan preached the spoken word, the iniquitous Cabal Ministry was forming in England, and Panama was sacked by Morgan the buccaneer. New York merchants of Manhattan met every Friday at noon on the bridge over the Broad Street Canal for barter, South Carolina was settled on the Ashley River, Virginia enacted that “all servants not being Christians, imported into this country by shipping shall be slaves,” and her Governor, Sir William Berkeley, was inspired to exclaim piously, “I hope we shall have neither free schools nor printing these hundred years, for learning has brought disobedience and heresy and sects into the world, and printing has divulged them. God keep us from both!” It was not until two years later that Addison was born, and that Marquette and Joliet sailed down the Mississippi, even as we now are essaying the Athabasca.
Unique in commercial annals is the Royal Charter which gave, with power of life and death, to the Company of Gentlemen Adventurers, less than twenty in number, “forever hereafter” possession and jurisdiction over a country as large as Europe. Liberty here for utter despotism, the widest of excesses. We marvel that from the first Prince Rupert of the Rhine to the latest Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, the Governors of the Ancient Company have, with Duncan-like demeanour, borne themselves so meek in their great office.
It has been fashionable to paint the H.B. Co. as an agrarian oligarchy. Organized for the purpose of “making fur” before the time of the Habeas Corpus, two decades ahead of the Bank of England, sixty-two years before Benjamin Franklin began publishing “Poor Richard’s Almanac,” and a century in advance of Watt’s steam-engine, it is true that The Company, throughout the years, devoted itself to peltries and not to platting town sites. This was its business. From the beginning it has consistently kept faith with the Indians; the word of The Company has, for reward or for punishment, ever been worth its full face value. It was not an H.B. Scot who exclaimed feelingly, “Honesty _is_ the best policy, I’ve tried baith.”
The feeling of devotion to The Company is as strong today as it ever was. When the present Commissioner took office he penetrated the North on a tour of inspection. At Athabasca Landing, since it was not known just when the Head would arrive, the local official charged all his clerks and minions to be ready at the sound of a whistle to salute and fall into line for inspection. The call to arms came on Sunday morning during divine service. Every attache of The Company with one exception obeyed the signal. Young Tom Helly, the paid organist, stuck to his post; and next day he was called on the carpet. “It was a special service; I was in the middle of the anthem, sir, and didn’t like to leave the House of God.” “Couldn’t you show some respect?” roared the local officer. Man was near in Athabasca Landing and God far away. Down in the big office at Winnipeg is a Doomsday Book where the life-record of every servant of The Company is kept, for no man who has ever served The Company is lost sight of. When there is a good fur-winter, every employe of The Company is handed an envelope which contains a bonus-cheque,–ten per cent of his yearly salary.
[Illustration: C.C. Chipman, Commissioner of the H.B. Co.]
The Commissioner of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the head of one of Canada’s big department stores were dining together at a Toronto Club. “After six o’clock I don’t want to see or hear of an employe–he doesn’t exist for me until eight o’clock next morning,” said the head of the department store. “Well, I’m more curious than you,” smiled the Commissioner of the H.B. Co., “I want to be reasonably assured of what every man-Jack of my people is doing all the time. I want to know what he reads, and if he treats his wife well, and how his last baby is getting along–you see, he’s a working-partner of mine.”
There came out of Northern British Columbia last year the Indian wife and half-breed daughters of an H.B. Co. Factor. They were bound for Montreal and it was their first trip “outside.” The Commissioner at Winnipeg contradicts the old saw, and surely has “a soul above a beaver-skin”; like Mulvaney, too, he “has bowels.” Quickly went forward a letter to a tactful woman in the border-town through which the visiting ladies must pass–“Meet them, and see that they get the proper things to wear in society circles in Montreal. I don’t want them to feel ill at ease when they get there.” Stories like these give us glimpses of the kind of paternalism exercised by the Ancient Company, the one trust that has never ground the faces of the poor, and in whose people to-day appears the “constant service of the Old World.”
The big books of The Company a year or two ago in unmistakable round-hand declared that one Running Rabbit, lawful widow of Blueskin, was entitled to draw from the coffers clear-side bacon and a modicum of flour. But one quarterly paysheet, returned to Winnipeg from Fort Churchill, showed that Running Rabbit in addition to her food allowance had been handed out forty cents’ worth of cotton. Stern enquiry, backed by red-tape and The Company’s seal as big as a saucer, was sent up to the Churchill Factor. Why had the allowance of Mrs. Blueskin (nee Running Rabbit) been exceeded? By “return mail” nine months later the Factor reported,
“The widow’s gone,
Her tent’s forsaken,
No more she comes
For flour and bacon.
N.B. The cotton was used for her shroud.”
The Ancient Company was penny-wise, but in spite of the copybook line, not pound-foolish, as its dividend paysheets conclusively prove.
There is no desire to show forth these silent ones of the North as infallible men and immaculate. They make many mistakes; they were and are delightfully human, and we couldn’t picture one of them with a saintly aureole. But in the past, as in the present, they were large men; they honoured their word, and you couldn’t buy them. Men of action, whether inside fort walls, bartering in the tepee of the Indian, or off on silent trails alone,–it has been given to each of them to live life at firsthand. In every undertaking the determining factor of success is men, and not money or monopoly. And because the North still breeds men of the H.B. type, the eye of The Great Company is not dimmed, its force not abated.
We spoke with no fewer than three men at The Landing who came into the North in the year of the Klondike rush, that is, just ten years ago. Into the human warp and woof of the Great Lone Land of Northern Canada the Klondike gold-rush intruded a new strand. The news of the strike on Yukon fields flashed round the world on wires invisible and visible, passed by word of mouth from chum to chum, and by moccasin telegraph was carried to remotest corners of the continent. Gold-fever is a disease without diagnosis or doctor–infectious, contagious, and hereditary; if its germ once stirs in a man’s blood, till the day of his death he is not immune from an attack. The discovery of gold-dust in Dawson sent swarming through the waterways of sub-Arctic Canada a heterogeneous horde,–gamblers of a hundred hells, old-time miners from quiet firesides, beardless boys from their books, human parasites of two continents, and dreamers from the Seven Seas.
Coastwise they sought the North by steamers from ‘Frisco, Seattle, and Vancouver Island, and of the numbers of these the shipping offices have some records. But of that vast army who from the east and from the south travelled inland waterways towards the golden goal no tabulation has ever been made. Singly they went, in groups, and by partnerships of two and three. There was no route marked out by which they were to reach the glittering streams of which they dreamed; the general direction of north and west was all that guided them. Athabasca Landing was the portal through which they passed, and by every northward stream they travelled,–down the Athabasca toward the Mackenzie and up the Athabasca to the Peace, leaving stranded men and stranded boats on every shore. By raft and dug-out, scow and canoe, men essayed to travel rapid waterways who had never handled craft before, and the Indians still point out to you near Grand Rapids on the Athabasca the site of the Mounted Police Station where Sergeant Anderson rescued a dozen tenderfoots from drowning.
To the Indians of this vast country the unwonted inundation of the whites was a revelation. Before this, their knowledge of Europeans had been limited to men of the Hudson’s Bay posts and the few black-robed Fathers of the missions. The priests had told the Indians that in the outside world French was the accepted language of the white man and that only the degraded and debased spoke English. Most of the Northern Indians who speak English will tell you that they got their first lessons from the Klondike miners.
And what of the men who followed the gleam? Some reached Dawson. These were few. Those who gained fortunes, were fewer still. In the old books of the H.B. Co. a favourite phrase of the Factor is “a band of Indians _cast up_ from the east,” “the Express from the North _cast up_ at a late hour last night.” On the way to Dawson, and filtering backward from that point, hundreds of gold-miners are “cast up” on every interior shore. Acting as attaches to Hudson’s Bay posts, engaging as free traders, manipulating missionary boats for Protestant and Roman Catholic seekers for souls, trapping off their own bat, and, in one instance at least, marrying the missionary, they were constantly passing us. Round the home hearths wives wonder about them, and the old bent mother still prays for her absent son. A silence like this once entered upon is hard to break, and the wanderer in the silence wraps tighter about him the garment of the recluse. Outcropping from the strata in striking individuality, they belong to a different race to the plodding people of the Hudson’s Bay posts, and are interesting men wherever you meet them. Keen of vision, slow of speech, and with that dreamy look which only those acquire who have seen Nature at her secrets in the quiet places,–they are like boulders, brought down by the glacial drift and dropped here and there over the white map of the North.
DOWN THE ATHABASCA ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY-FIVE MILES TO GRAND RAPIDS
“Set me in the urge and tide-drift
Of the streaming hosts a-wing!
Breast of scarlet, throat of yellow, Raucous challenge, wooings mellow–
Every migrant is my fellow,
Making northward with the Spring.”
If you have to do with Indian or half-breed boatmen in the North you plan to begin your journey in the evening, even though you hope to run only a few miles before nightfall. This ensures a good start next morning, whereas it would be humanly impossible to tear men away from the flesh-pots (beer pots) of Athabasca Landing early in any day. It took these chaps all the afternoon to say good-bye, for each one in the village had to be shaken hands with, every dog apostrophized by name.
The Athabasca Transport of which we form joyous part makes a formidable flotilla: seven specially-built scows or “sturgeon-heads.” Each runs forty to fifty feet with a twelve-foot beam and carries ten tons. The oars are twenty feet long. It takes a strong man to handle the forty-foot steering-sweep which is mounted with an iron pivot on the stern.
Our particular shallop is no different from the others, except that there is a slightly raised platform in the stern-sheets, evidently a dedication to the new Northern Manager of the H.B. Co. We share the pleasant company of a fourth passenger, Mrs. Harding, on her way home to Fort Resolution on Great Slave Lake. The second sturgeon-head carries seven members of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, jolly laughing chaps, for are not they, too, like us, off duty? Inspector Pelletier and three men are to go with our Fur Transport as far as Resolution and then diverge to the east, essaying a cross-continent cut from there to salt water on Hudson Bay. For this purpose they ship two splendidly made Peterborough canoes. The other three members of the force are young chaps assigned to Smith’s Landing on the Slave River, sent there to protect the wood bison of that region, the world’s last wild buffalo. The third craft we observe with due respect as “the cook boat.” The remaining four scows carry cargo only,–the trade term being “pieces,” each piece from eighty to a hundred pounds, a convenient weight for carrying on the portages.
[Illustration: A “Sturgeon-head” at Athabasca]
[Illustration: “Farewell, Nistow!”]
June 6th at a quarter of seven saw the whole populace of Athabasca Landing on the river bank–dogs, babies, the officials of the Hudson’s Bay, parson, priest, police, and even the barkeep,–and with the yelping of dogs and “Farewell, Nistow!” we are off. We are embarked on a 2500-mile journey, the longest water route on the continent, down which floats each year the food, clothing, and frugal supplies of a country as big as Europe.
The river is running five miles an hour and there is no need of the oars. The steersman is our admiration, as with that clumsy stern-sweep he dodges rocks, runs riffles, and makes bends. The scow is made of green wood, and its resilience stands it in good stead as, like a snake, it writhes through tight channels or over ugly bits of water. Everybody is in good humour; we are dreamers dreaming greatly. Why should we not be happy? Mrs. Harding is homeward-bound, Mr. Brabant on a new rung of the fur ladder of preferment, Inspector Pelletier and his associates starting on a quest of their own seeking. Sitting low among the “pieces” of the police boat, with only his head visible in the sunset glow, Dr. Sussex builds air-castles of that eleemosynary hospital of his on the Arctic Circle. The cook is whistling from the cook-boat. Five years ago he graduated from a business college, but the preparation of bannock and sow-belly appeals to the blood more insistently than trial balances and the petty cash book. As for ourselves, the Kid’s smile is almost audible as she runs a loving hand over the oilskin cover of the camera. A favourite expression of mine in the latitudes below when the world smiled was, “Oh, I’m glad I’m alive and white!” On this exclamation I start now, but stop at the word “white.” North of Athabasca Landing white gives place to a tint more tawny.
A hundred yards out, the Policemen are boyish enough to launch those shiny Peterboroughs just to try them, and in and out among the big sturgeon-heads, debonair dolphins, they dart. Then comes the rain, and one by one the clumsy boats turn toward shore. There are some things that even the enquiring mind cannot run to ground, things that just happen out of the blue. For fifteen successive springs I have tried to discover the first boy who brought marbles to school when marble-season came in, and I have never yet been able to put my finger on that elusive history-maker. So on this voyage, the fleet is started and stopped, landings are made, camping-places decided upon, and no ear can detect the sound of command.
The scows tie up, and without undressing we sleep on board, pulling a tarpaulin over us and letting the rain rain. At 5:30 next morning we hear the familiar “Nistow! Nistow!” of the awakened camp. This word literally means “brother-in-law,” but it is the vocative used by the Cree in speaking to anybody he feels kindly toward. The cook makes a double entry with bacon and bannock, and there is exulting joy in our soul. Who would napkins bear, or finger-bowls? We had put them far behind, with the fardels.
It is the season of lengthening days and fading nights. At seven o’clock we are in the river again, and for three glorious hours we float, first one scow in front, then the other, social amenities in Cree being shouted from boat to boat. Then, in one voice from three boats, “Mooswa!” and far beyond white man’s vision the boatmen sight a moose. There is a little red tape about the ethics of taking off those precious Peterboroughs which were to make history on the map, and in the delay the moose wandered into pleasant pastures. The boatmen were very much disgruntled, as the moose is treasure-trove, the chief fresh meat that his world offers the Indian. From here to the Arctic are no domestic animals, the taste of beef or mutton or pork or chicken is unknown, bread gives place to bannock (with its consequent indigestion “bannockburn”), and coffee is a beverage discredited. Tobacco to smoke, strong, black, sweetened tea to drink from a copper kettle,–this is luxury’s lap.
The bowsman points to a rude cross on the right bank where a small runway makes in, “Gon-sta-wa-bit” (man who was drowned), he volunteers. Yesterday a Mounted Policeman buried there the body of an Indian man, his wife and his baby, who fell through the ice in a dog-sled this spring,–three in one grave, Lamartine’s trinity, the Father, the Mother, and the Child.
It is Sunday, and we have music from a li’l fiddle made by a squaw at Lac Ste. Anne. Lac la Biche River we pass, and Calling River, and at five in the evening are at Swift Current, Peachy Pruden’s place, and then Red Mud. Sunday night is clear and beautiful, and we float all night. Making a pillow of a squat packing-case consigned to the missionary at Hay River, and idly wondering what it might contain, I draw up a canvas sheet. But it is too wonderful a night to sleep. Lying flat upon our backs and looking upward, we gaze at the low heaven full of stars, big, lustrous, hanging down so low that we can almost reach up and pluck them. Two feet away, holding in both hands the stern sweep, is the form of the Cree steersman, his thoughtful face a cameo against the shadow of the cut-banks. At his feet another half-breed is wrapped in his blanket, and from here to the bow the boat is strewn with these human cocoons. The reclining friend breaks the silence with a word or two of Cree in an undertone to the steersman, a screech-owl cries, from high overhead drops down that sound which never fails to stir vagrant blood–the “unseen flight of strong hosts prophesying as they go.” It is the wild geese feeling the old spring fret even as we feel it. In imagination I pierce the distance and see the red panting throat of that long-necked voyageur as he turns to shout back raucous encouragement to his long, sky-clinging V.
Floating as we float, it is no longer a marvel to us that this North holds so many scientific men and finished scholars–colonial Esaus serving as cooks, dog-drivers, packers, trackers, oil-borers. The not knowing what is round the next corner, the old heart-hunger for new places and untrod ways,–who would exchange all this for the easy ways of fatted civilization!
At five in the morning there is a drawing-in of the fleet to Pelican Portage. Before two hours have passed the grasshopper has become a burden, and it is 102 deg. in the shade, and no shade to be had. We are now a hundred miles from Athabasca Landing. On the left bank we come across a magnificent gas-well with a gush of flame twenty or thirty feet in height.
It seems that eleven years ago, seeking for petroleum, the Dominion Government had a shaft sunk here; their boring apparatus was heavy, the plunger with its attachment weighing nearly a ton. At eight hundred feet the operator broke into an ocean of gas, and the pressure blew him with plunger and appliances into the air as a ball comes from a cannon-bore. The flow of gas was so heavy that it clogged his drills with maltha and sand, and from then to now the gas has been escaping. To-day the sound of the escape ricochets up and down the palisaded channel so that we cannot hear each other speak. There is gas enough here, if we could pipe it and bring it under control, to supply with free illumination every city of prairie Canada. It has destroyed all vegetation for a radius of twenty yards; but, oddly enough, outside this range of demarcation the growth is more luxuriant and comes earlier and stays later than that of the surrounding country. One redheaded Klondiker, ignorant of gas and its ways, ten years ago struck a match to this escaping stream, was blown into the bushes beyond, and came out minus hair, eye-brows and red beard–the quickest and closest shave he ever had. The shells of birds’ eggs, tea-leaves from many a cheering copper-kettle, tufts of rabbit-hair, and cracked shin-bones of the moose, with here a greasy nine of diamonds, show, this Stromboli of the Athabasca to be the gathering-place of up and down-river wanderers. You can boil a kettle or broil a moose-steak on this gas-jet in six minutes, and there is no thought of accusing metre to mar your joy. The Doctor has found a patient in a cabin on the high bank, and rejoices. The Indian has consumption. The only things the Doctor could get at were rhubarb pills and cod-liver oil, but these, with faith, go a long way. They may have eased the mind of poor Lo, around whose dying bunk we hear the relatives scrapping over his residuary estate of rusty rifle, much-mended fishing-net, and three gaunt dogs.
We pass House River, and the devout cross themselves and murmur a prayer. The point is marked by a group of graves covered with canvas. Here years ago a family of four, travelling alone, contracted diphtheria, and died before help could reach them. There is another legend of which the boatmen unwillingly speak, the story of the _Wetigo_, or Indian turned cannibal, who murdered a priest on this lonely point, and ate the body of his victim. The taste for human flesh, Philip Atkinson assures us, grows with the using, and this lunatic of long ago went back to the camps, secured an Indian girl as bride, carried her to this point, took her life, and ate of her flesh. It is a gruesome story.
[Illustration: Grand Rapids on the Athabasca River]
Now begin the rapids, ninety miles of which we are to run. This rough water on the Athabasca is one of the only two impediments to navigation on the long course between Athabasca Landing and the Polar Ocean. These first rapids, frankly, are a disappointment. The water is high, higher than it has been for ten years, so the boiling over the boulders is not very noticeable. The Pelican Rapid and the Stony we shoot without turning a hair; the Joli Fou is a bit more insistent, but, as the cook says, “nothing to write home about.”
We drift in a drowsy dream of delight, and in the evening arrive at the head of Grand Rapids. If we had looked slightingly on the rough water passed, what we now see would satisfy the greediest. We tie up and get a good view of what lies ahead, and get also our first real introduction to the mosquito. In mid-stream he had not bothered us much, but after supper it rained a little, the day had been warm, and with cymbals, banners, and brass-bands, he comes in cohorts to greet us. The scows have their noses poked into the bank, the men have built smudge fires in front, but we decide that the best way to escape the mosquito is to go to bed. We lie down in the stern-sheets with our clothes on, make night-caps of our Stetson hats, pull the veils down over our necks, and try to sleep, but it is no avail. Each one of these mosquitoes is a Presbyterian mosquito and it has been ordained that this night he is to taste of white blood. It rains incessantly, and that hot hole in which we lie is one brown cloud of mosquitoes. The men on the bank have finally given it up as a bad job, and they set round the fires smoking and slapping different parts of their persons, swearing volubly in English. For the Cree language is devoid of invective. In the morning we are a sorry crowd, conversation is monosyllabic and very much to the point. It is the first serious trial to individual good-humour. When each one of your four million pores is an irritation-channel of mosquito-virus it would be a relief to growl at somebody about something. But the sun and smiles come out at the same time, and, having bled together, we cement bonds of friendship. What did Henry the Fifth say on the eve of Agincourt,–“For he to-day who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother”?
Who would worry about mosquitoes with that splendid spectacular of the Grand Rapids at our feet? The great flood (Kitchee Abowstik) is divided into two channels by an island probably half a mile in length, with its long axis parallel to the flow of the river, and this island solves the question of progress. The main channel to the left is impassable; it is certain death that way. Between the island and the right shore is a passage which on its island side, with nice manipulation, is practicable for empty boats. Then the problem before us is to run the rough water at the near end of the island, tie up there, unload, transfer the pieces by hand-car over the island to its other end, let the empty scows down carefully through the channel by ropes, and reload at the other end.
Between the bank where we are and the island ahead is a stretch of roaring water dangerous enough looking. We have learned ere this, however, to sit tight and watch for events. The careless Indians have straightened into keen-eyed, responsible voyageurs, each muscle taut, every sense alert. Our boat goes first, one half-breed with huge pole braces himself as bowsman, the most able man takes the stern sweep, the others stand at the oars. Fifteen minutes of good head-work brings us to the island and we step out with relief. The other boats follow and anchor, and we have opportunity at close range to inspect these worst rapids of the Athabascan chain. The current on the west side of the dividing island looks innocent, and we understand how the greenhorn would choose this passage-way, to his destruction.
[Illustration: Portage at Grand Rapids Island]
The transportation of pieces occupied four days, every moment of which we enjoyed. Grand Rapids Island is prodigal in wild flowers,–vetches, woodbine, purple and pink columbines, wild roses, several varieties of false Solomon’s seal, our persisting friend dwarf cornel, and, treasure-trove, our first anemone,–that beautiful buttercup springing from its silvered sheath–
“And where a tear has dropt a wind-flower blows.”
I measured a grass-stem and found it two feet three inches high, rising amid last year’s prostrate growth.
[Illustration: Our transport at Grand Rapids Island]
At Grand Rapids Island we overtook two scows which had preceded us from The Landing and whose crews had waited here to assist in the transport. It gave us opportunity to observe these sixty representative half-breeds from Lac la Biche. Tall, strong, happy-go-lucky, with no sordid strain in their make-up, they are fellows that one cannot help feeling sympathy for. A natural link between the East and the West, the South of Canada and the North, they have bridged over the animosity and awkwardness with which the Red race elsewhere has approached the White.
[Illustration: Cheese-shaped Nodules, Grand Rapids Island]
In a glade our camp is made, inside our tents we arrange the mosquito-bar (a tent within a tent looking something like a good-sized dog-kennel), and here we lie in our blankets. The hum of the foiled mosquito is unction to our souls. It is a relief, too, to remove the day’s clothing, the first time in ninety-six hours.
The Athabasca here cuts through a cretaceous sandstone,–soft, yellowish, homogeneous. In passing Grand Rapids Island it has a fall of ninety feet. The river has weathered the banks into vertical cliffs four or five hundred feet high, imbedded in which are wonderful cheese-shaped nodules, some the size of baseballs, some as big as mill-stones. The river-bed is strewn thick with these concretions from which the swift current has worn the softer matrix away, and many of the stones are as spherical as if turned out by a hand-lathe. The sandstone banks opposite the island are overlain with a stratum of lignite three or four feet thick, which burns freely and makes acceptable fuel. Sections of fossil trees are also seen, and the whole thing is fascinating, one’s great wish being for a larger knowledge of geology so as to read aright this strange page of history in stone.
Timber along the Athabasca has suffered much from forest fires. What we see is largely second growth,–Banksian pine, fir, spruce, birch, and aspen. The aspen is the first deciduous tree to leaf. Tall, slender, delicate, its bole is clean as an organ-pipe and its terraced feathery branches seem to float in air.
Across the roaring water swallows are nesting in the clayey cliffs:–
“This guest of summer,
The temple-haunting martlet, does approve, By his loved mansionry, that the heaven’s breath Smells wooingly here: no jutty, frieze,
Buttress, nor coign of vantage, but this bird Hath made his pendant bed and procreant cradle: Where they most breed and haunt, I have observed, The air is delicate.”
We learn that half-breeds share the Scottish superstition that it is unlucky to disturb bank-swallows.
Others of the migrant host travel in upper air more quickly than we on water, and have left us far behind,–swans, the Canada goose, great flocks of brant, waveys by the millions, followed by their cousins of the duck tribe,–spoon-bill, canvas-back, mallard, pin-tail, ring-neck, wood duck, and merganser. The geese will not stop until they have passed the Arctic Circle. Why people use the word “goose” as synonym for stupidity is beyond the ken of the ordinary observer. The text-books tell us tritely that the goose lives to be a hundred years. If she does, she may exclaim with the Churchmen, “Yet are my years but labour and sorrow.” The little chaps who have their birthday parties among sub-Arctic reeds are surrounded with enemies from the first day they crack their baby shells. Lynx and raccoon prey upon them by land, eagles and owls swoop upon them as they swim; and as with one eye they scan the sky above them, a greedy pike is apt to snap their web-feet from under them and draw them to a watery grave.
The cadets of the Hudson’s Bay Company exchange courtesies with the Mounted Police, each considering himself a distinct cut above the other. One Mounted Policeman, whose duty it had been to escort the crazed Russian Doukhobortsi on one of their “altogether” pilgrimages, is hailed across the circle, “Here, lend us your knife, you nursemaid to the Douks.” “Who spoke?” yawned the Policeman. “Was it that fur-pup of the Hudson’s Bay?” “Yes,” retorted the first, “and I’m glad I’m it; you couldn’t pay me to wear a red coat and say ‘Sir’ to a damned little Frenchman, even if you are going to blaze a trail to Hudson Bay.”
Some one asks Sergeant Joyce to tell his Bible story. He says, “Oh, about Coal-Oil Johnnie! It was the cub’s first year in the service, and he got off with some civilians and was drunk for a week. When he was in the Guard Room awaiting court-martial he had lots of time ‘to sit in clink, admirin’ ‘ow the world was made.’ Likewise he was very dry. There was nothing for him to amuse himself with but a paper of pins. He took the pillow of his cot and used the whole bunch of pins in working on it the one word ‘Hagar,’ in letters six inches high. The inspecting officer came in and the pin sign caught his eye. He spelled it out letter by letter, ‘H-a-g-a-r,–what was the matter with him?’ Johnnie retorted, ‘The him was a her, and she died of thirst in the wilderness.’ The inspecting officer says to Johnnie, ‘Well, that would never happen to you.'”
A peculiar drumming wafts from the shore-line. “Pa-pas-ku,” says one of the Cree lads, pulling his pipe from his mouth and listening. Young Hudson’s Bay to my enquiring look returns, “The Canadian ruffed grouse,” which Sussex elucidated, “_Bonasa umbellus logata_,” at which we all feel very much relieved.
The Kid was pressing specimens, and, holding up a branch, the Mounted Policeman next her said, “Young jackpine, I think.” “It belongs to the Conifer family,” corrects the Doctor. “Oh!” says the Mounted Policeman, with a sniff, “then we’ll give it back to ’em the next time one of the Conifer boys comes round.” The man of the river and the woods hates a Latin name, and any stray classic knowledge you have is best hidden under a napkin. The descriptive terms men use here are crisp and to the point. The vicious habit of giving birds bad names is one that grows, and you never know when the scientific have come to a finality. For instance, little Robin Red-Breast _(“the pious bird with scarlet breast_” whose nest with four eggs the Kid discovered to-day), has successively lived through three tags, “_Turdus migratorius_,” “_Planesticus migratorius_,” and “_Turdus canadensis_.” If he had not been an especially plucky little beggar he would have died under the libels long ago. For my own part I cannot conceive how a man with good red blood in his veins could look a chirky little robin in the eye and call him to his face a “_Planesticus migratorius_,” when as chubby youngster he had known the bird and loved him as Robin Red-Breast. One is inclined to ask with suspicion, “Is naming a lost art?” Any new flower discovered these days, every clever invention in the realm of machinery, is forthwith saddled with an impossible name. If it had not been easy to clip the term “automobile” down to the working stub “auto,” the machine would never have run our streets. Again, the decimal system is conceded to be far ahead of the asinine “five and one-half yards make one rod, pole or perch”; the only reason why the commonsense thing does not supersede the foolish one is that the sensible measurement has the fool tag on it. Who could imagine ever going into a store and asking for seven decimetres and nine centimetres of picture-moulding, or dropping into the corner grocery to buy a hectolitre of green onions? When man dug gold and iron and tin out of the earth he made things with them. Now when we discover a new mineral we dub it “molybdenum” and let it rust in innocuous ease. When man loses the art of nervous speech, his power of action goes with it. And as we ruminate, the _Bonasa umbellus togata_ drums on.
When we pass the parallel of 55 deg.N. we come into a very wealth of new words, a vocabulary that has found its way into no dictionary but which is accepted of all men. The steep bank opposite us is a “cut bank,” an island or sandbar in a river is a “batture.” A narrow channel is called a “she-ny,” evidently a corruption of the French _chenal_. When it leads nowhere and you have to back down to get out, you have encountered a “blind she-ny.” The land we have come from is known as “Outside” or “_Le Grand Pays_.” Anywhere other than where we sit is “that side,” evidently originating from the viewpoint of a man to whom all the world lay either on this side or that side of the river that stretched before him. When you obtain credit from a Hudson’s Bay store, you “get debt.” A Factor’s unwillingness to advance you goods on credit would be expressed thus, “The Company will give me no debt this winter.” From here northward the terms “dollars” and “cents” are unheard. An article is valued at “three