October 30, 1869
Vol. I, No. 1
(By Rev. A. E. McD. D., Ottawa)
Now that Canada has obtained possession of the vast regions of the North-West, and has appointed a Governor and organized a Government in order to bear rule in her name over territories comparatively little known, it may not be out of place to enquire, cui bono? — whether an acquisition, apparently so rich and great, will meet the public expectation. If there be truth in all that has been related, concerning soil and climate, in the North-West, no doubt valuable settlements and happy homes for many millions of the human race, will, ere long, be found there, and the cause of humanity will be more effectually served than it has ever been as yet, by any event in connection with our country. There is no reason to disbelieve what has been stated regarding the favorable nature of the climate in many parts of the North-West Territory. It is not pretended thant it is everywhere alike good, or that the soil everywhere presents the same facilities for cultivation. Throughout regions extending from the boundary of the United States northwards, as far as the Arctic Ocean, there must be great varieties of climate. But, that in many places, it is moderate and advantageous to gardening and agriculture, we have no difficulty in believing, when we consider, that on this continent climate improves as the influence over it of the frozen lands of Northern Labrador, the great North Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, diminishes. Along with this diminution of deteriorating influences which is so noticeable as we proceed westward, must be taken into account another cause which tends to modify climate in the same direction. The power of the cold and stormy weather can be but little felt beyond the higher grounds which separate Lake Superior from the countries of the North-West, whilst as this power decreases, the genial influence of the calm and warmer waters of the Pacific Ocean begins to be felt. Towards the Rocky Mountains, and within the wide range of those fastnesses of British Columbia, it becomes the ruling power. Hence, the luxuriant vegetation of those regions which has no parallel in the same latitudes towards the eastern coasts of the North American continent.
The beneficial action of the warmer winds of the Pacific Ocean, being duly weighed, it is not difficult to understand how ingenious men of science have been able to describe across so great an extent of the continent, isothermal lines, which shew, in more northern latitudes of the North-West Territory, a climate quite equal to that which is remarked in countries much farther to the south in the north-eastern portion of the continent.
One of these lines which passes between the 50th parallel of N. latitude and the south branch of the Saskatchewan, points to an equal summer temperature of 70°, thus giving as warm a summer on the Saskatchewan as is enjoyed in any part of Canada. Another isothermal line, according to Prof. Dove, of Berlin, indicates a mean annual temperature of 35° - 36°, at about 60 degrees N. latitude, towards the Northern extremity of the Rocky Mountain chain. This may appear extraordinary. But it must be borne in mind that the region, which enjoys this very moderate temperature, is very far west as well as very far north, about 122° long. W., — where the mountains are not so high as they are farther south in the same longitude.
There is, notwithstanding, however, direct evidence which shews that the climate in the high latitude referred to, is pretty much the same, as in those countries of Northern Europe, where excellent wheat is raised about the 60th degree of N. latitude. At Fort Liard on Mountain River, a tributary of the McKenzie, at 60° N. latitude, wheat may be cultivated, if reliance can be placed on the testimony, given on oath, before a select committee of the House of Commons. This fact, it must be admitted, wonderfully corroborates the conclusions at which those men of science have arrived, to whom we are indebted for the isothermal lines. Let it be granted that these lines alone do not afford a satisfactory proof of temperate climate in the higher latitudes of the North-West Territory; when taken in conjunction with such facts as the production of wheat crops in those latitudes, there is no questioning the force of their testimony. Mr. Isbister, in his evidence before the select committee of the House of Commons, (question 2648) says that wheat has been occasionally raised on the River Liard, that the soil is of better quality there, and that the more hardy cereals can be produced in abundance. Sir J. Richardson (q. 3124) states that at Fort Simpson, two degrees to the north of Fort Liard, they cultivate barley and rear cattle. If this can be done, it must be possible to raise hay. The Hudson Bay Company find it more economical, however, to bring the hay necessary for their stock in winter, 150 miles down the river. Not being agriculturists, they must find it more easy to reap the produce of natural meadows at some distance, than to cultivate the "better" land around their post.
In these northern latitudes of the North-West Territory, the subsoil is permanently frozen. But this does not hinder the raising of grain, the summer thaw extending to the depth of eleven feet. Siberia, in the same latitudes, produces excellent wheat.
Such facts as these admirably sustain the theory, otherwise apparently well founded, that the climate of the North-West Territory improves towards the west. What could be more conclusive, for instance, than the circumstance that whilst the summer thaw at York factory, on Hudson's Bay, towards the eastern limit of the Territory, penetrates to the depth of three feet only, it softens and warms the ground, as far as eleven feet below the surface, at Forts Liard and Simpson? These places, it must be observed, are not more to the south than the less hospitable lands along the shores of Hudson's Bay. Still farther north, at Fort Norman, (64° - 65°) oats, barley, and potatoes have been raised. Such crops as can be cultivated, although they could never be such a source of wealth as to encourage purely agricultural settlements in those northern regions, would, nevertheless, afford valuable resources to the trading population that may, one day, come to be established along the banks of the McKenzie River. This fine river is navigable for ships of large tonnage, with only a slight obstruction near Fort Simpson, as far as Great Slave Lake — a distance of nearly 1,200 miles. This facility of navigating one of the greatest rivers in the world will, at some future time, be of the highest value if only on account of the whale fisheries in the neighbouring sea. These fisheries have been already opened by the enterprising citizens of the United States, and it is known on the best authority, that of an official report by the Secretary of the United States navy to the Senate, that in two years there was added from this source alone more then 8,000,000 of dollars to the national wealth of America. The fisheries of the McKenzie River itself are capable of being developed in connexion with the sea fisheries. There is already a very valuable salmon fishery, and herrings are in the greatest abundance. The lakes and rivers, tributaries of the McKenzie, are well stored with fine fish; and as salt is abundant, they may yet become an important resource of trade. The whole valley of the McKenzie River is described by men of science, who have traversed it, as being a mass of minerals. The banks of the river are composed of deep beds of bituminous shale, associated with alum and beds of iron clay. The soil is said to be actually plastic in many places with the transfusion of mineral tar. Near Great Slave Lake, there are immense quantities of salt in a pure state, and not very remote from the mouth of the McKenzie; at the Barry Island, there are inexhaustible seams of excellent coal. Some rare vegetable productions, also, abound in those northern wilds.
Sarsaparilla of superior quality grows spontaneously all over the territory. Great Britain imports 180,000 lbs. of it yearly from Russia, the Honduras and other countries. May it not become, some day, an article of trade with the North-West? Russia supplies the British with 40,000 gallons of cranberries every year. What would they think of employing some of the hands for which they have so little to do at home, in gathering a few bushels for them, along the shores of Hudson's Bay, where this fruit grows in abundance? The Labrador tea plant might also be found to be a not unacceptable luxury. It grows in such quantities that, in one year, the Hudson's Bay Company sent to the London market, and sold there, no less then eight hogsheads of this North-western tea. But the painted teas of China must be preferred to the productions of any country that we can call our own.
From these few remarks it will be seen that the more northern portions of the North-West Territory may be rendered available for many purposes. If the extreme north promises so well, what may not be said concerning the countries which are situated more to the south and enjoy a more genial climate? But of these anon.