OUR NORTH THAT NEVER WAS

VILHJALMUR STEFANSSON December 15 1921

OUR NORTH THAT NEVER WAS

VILHJALMUR STEFANSSON December 15 1921

OUR NORTH THAT NEVER WAS

N THIS second article Mr. Stefansson removes several popular misconceptions of the North. His third article will be constructive and he will proceed to demonstrate that Northern Canada and Alaska, because they are vast grasslands, are already beginning to be what they must by nature eventually become —the greatest meat producing sections of the world. The argument is clinched by showing what the United States Government has already done in Alaska and the Hudson’s Bay Company in Canada.

VILHJALMUR STEFANSSON

IF THE average Canadian, American or European university graduate has ten ideas about the North, nine of them are wrong. So far as the victims of Canadian and American education are concerned, I know from experience.

As to the Europeans, I judge them by their books and conversation.

I was born of British parents in Manitoba but my parents moved to the United States when I was only a year old and I have been through the regular mill of American education—common school, high school, and university to

the Bachelor of Arts degree at the State

When I was a student at Harvard, there was preaching just across the way from us Samuel McChord Crothers. It was a delight to listen to him, whether in church or in the lecture room, and from that delight I passed to the equal joy of reading his essays and books. The reading of one of these essays may not have been exactly a turning point in my life, but it certainly was an event. The essay was'on the advisability of founding a university of unlearning. Wherever I have gone since, but especially in the polar regions, the opening of each new vista has brought a further endorsement of the general wisdom of that proposal.

University of Iowa. I then had three years of postgraduate study at Harvard, held a scholarship and two fellowships there, and even became an instructor in a minor capacity. It is, therefore, reasonable to suppose that during the period of my formal and informal education, I absorbed the same general type of misinformation as does the average American. When I went North and became an explorer I found that nine out of ten of my ideas about the polar regions were wrong,and from that I infer that if you are an honor graduate of some university you are probably in as bad a case. Though the university be Canadian, you are not necessarily better off.

Doctor Crothers said that every “civilized” land is filled with schools and colleges engaged in teaching us things that are not so and that it would be a highly desirable thing if there would be established in each country at least ene v ellknown institution v here you might go and unlearn a few of them. This he proposed to call in each country the National University of Polite Unlearning.

History

T?OR many years it has " been a large part of my activities to say in lectures and writings and convex ation that the Far North, both in the western and eastern hemisphere-;, is destined to be colonized In the same general way as were the Western prairies of Canada half a century ago by the same type of people, and with a resulting civiliza-

tion not fundamentally dissimilar. This assertionis met in the minds of readers or listeners by small armies of objections. The things you think you know about the North arise in a body to declare that the contention is absurd. On such occasions I think of myself as a professor in Doctor Crothers’ University of Unlearning. With the initial advantage of knowing what the reader or listener thinks he knows about the North, (for I knew those things myself once and believed them until I went North and found they were not true) I proceed as follows to demolish his misknowledge.

1. Nearly if not quite the most fundamental wrong idea about the North is that the North Pole is the coldest place in the northern hemisphere, and that the polar regions are far colder in winter than any countries that are now inhabited by the average kind of civilized European or American. Let us see if that belief is as nearly true as it is nearly universal.

Besides minor considerations, there are three maift factors that determine what the possible minimum temperature of any place may be. These are latitude, altitude and distance from the ocean. We see at once that the North Pole has in a high degree only one of these three qualifications for being extremely cold. Certainly it is at a high latitude. But the North Pole does not lie high above sea level, for it is located in an ocean which Admiral Peary, at the time he visited it, found to be more than twelve thousand feet deep. And if it is not above sea level neither is it far away from the ocean, for it lies in the ocean. Possessing only one of the three main qualifications for being extremely cold, it naturally is never extremely cold. Those who theorize about it generally agree that the minimum temperature there seldom if ever drops below sixty below zero, Fahrenheit. However, that is a matter of theory. No one has as yet spent an entire year at the North Pole. It need not be more than a year or two, and in my opinion it will not be more than a decade or two, until somebody goes to the North Pole, stays there a year and brings back to us a coherent account of how cold or warm it is there from day to day for twelve months. The main handicap in an attempt of this sort would be the mobile nature of the fractured floating ice that covers the vicinity of the Pole. It seems probable that after being formed in the part of the ocean that lies between the North Pole and Alaska, the ice masses drift across the polar area at the rate of perhaps half a mile per day. They are bound for the Atlantic; their destination is the ocean to-the north of Iceland and

Norway, where they meet the Gulf stream, are melted, and disappear. Any one who made his camp at the North Pole would learn through astronomical observations after a few weeks that he was no longer at home and would have to pick up his bed and walk back to the North Pole. Apart from that, living there a year would be easier than some polar achievements that are already history.

Our Record of Cold.

TF THE actual minimum temperature of the North * Pole is a matter of theory, we are in no doubt about the temperatures of the north coast of Canada or Alaska. For more than twenty years in the case of Canada and about forty in the case of the United States there have been weather bureau observatories on the north coast of North America. I have spent in the polar regions ten winters and

thirteen summers myself and during most of that time I have carried reliable thermometers, so that I could say from my own experience how cold it is up there in winter, but I prefer to quote the records of the Canadian and American weather bureaus. I have written both of them and asked them to give me the lowest temperature ever recorded in the

Canadian station, Herschel Island on the north coast of Canada near the mouth of the Mackenzie River, and the American station near Point Barrow, at the north tip of Alaska, about 300 miles north of the arctic circle. The. replies in both cases were identical: “We have never recorded anything lower than 54 degrees F. below zero.” The other day I was reading over a report of the meteorological observations of my arctic expedition of 1913-18, made by the second-in-command, Dr. R. M. Anderson. He says, “The lowest temperature of the winter was 46 degrees below zero,” or about like Saranac Lake, New York State, which is a winter resort. Temperatures as low as 50 degrees below zero are rare on the north coast of North America and there are many winters when 45 degrees or 46 degrees below is the lowest record.

After asking the United States weather bureau for the lowest record applicable to the north coast of Alaska, I inquired for the lowest temperature ever recorded in some settled portion of the United States in some average American community. They replied that in a small town near Havre, Montana, they had registered 68 degrees below zero. Almost as low temperatures have been recorded in Havre itself, and Havre is a typical town of three or four thousand inhabitants, with storés and shops, with schools

and little children going to school, with churches and people going.to church at a temperature fourteen degrees lower than it ever has been known to be on the north coast of North America and about ten degrees lower than it -probably ever is at the North Pole. And Havre is not by any means the only place in Montana where the minimum cold is lower than on the north coast of North America.

Colder

in Dakota at Pole

Than

I LIVED for fifteen years in Pembina County at the northeast comer , qf north Dakota, and as à small boy I used' to go two and a half miles to the little red schoolhouse at a temperature as low as I bave ever seen in my journeys along the coastline or over the moving sea ice in the polar regions. All the other little boys and girls did

Coming back to the principle enunciated above, we see that we have always known that Montana ought to be colder than the North Pole for of the three factors which determine extreme winter cold, latitude, altitude, and.distance from the sea, the North Pole has only latitude while Montana is reasonably far north, is reasonably high above sea level, even in the towns where people live and is far away from any ocean. The combination, accordingly, produces extremely low temperatures in winter.

likewise and none of us realized that we were heroes doing it. Since then, much better dressed and outfitted and in every way better able to take care of myself I have done the same thing as a polar explorer, and have been counted a hero for doing it. At my birth-place in Manitoba the minimum Government record is 55 degrees below zero, one degree lower than the minimum for the north coast of North America. Accordingly, if you happen to be living in Manitoba or Dakota or Montana and want to become a polar explorer, about all you have to do for a proper outfit when you start north is to leave at home a few of your clothes.

A moments thought will show, however, that on the basis of these factors the coldest point in the northern hemisphere cannot be in North America, for the same factors have a higher value on the larger continent of Eurasia. Accordingly, we find the _ cold pole of the northern hemisphere in Siberia, north of the city of Yakutsk, where, by figures published by the Royal Geographical Society of Great Britain, the temperature goes down to 92 degrees below zero in winter. Other sources equally respectable give the minimum temperature at degrees below zero. And this is a settled community. In the province of Yakutsk they do not cultivate tropical fruits nor, indeed, wheat or indian corn, hut they do have oats and barley and rye and garden products, and the people are the blond type of European, very much ike the rest of us in complexion and characteristics, although showing possibly just now an increasing percentage of Bolshevism.

Continued, on page 45

and produces proof that vast areas in what is known as the far north of Canada are potential live stock and agricultural assets awaiting development. He points out that map-makers and other authorities never go in advance of pioneer endeavor. As an illustration of this very fact, maps and descriptions given of Canada’s great wheat-producing prairies at one time designated them as huge deserts, unfit for anything but hunting and cattlegrazing. The difference between the explorer and the map-maker is that the former visualizes (he future from present-day indications, while the lntter takes cognizance only of that which" has been actually demonstrated.

Our North That Never Was

Continued from page 16

■>. A complement of the idea that the North is dreadfully cold in winter is the notion that it is also cold through the entire summer. It is possible to maintain (hat the winters are dreadfully cold, hut ,,niv by agreeing that the winters of Manitoba and Ontario, and Minnesota and Montana are also dreadfully cold. But no one can even glance at the Weather Bureau records for summer temperatures in polar regions and maintain that in any sense of the English language the summers there are cold.

It is true that, other things being equal, it gets colder the farther you go north. But other things arc never equal. The mountain ranges divert the air currents and deprive them of heat and moisture; the oceans also affect their temperature and humidity. Some places in the tropics are cool because they are high; others are cool because they are near an ocean. The like, or rather the reverse, is true of the polar regions. Akeley is commonly warm enough in Africa hut he complains of the cold nights in the desert and on Mount Kenia; Peary was commonly cool enough in the Arctic but he complains of the summer heat of nortlv Greenland fin his “Northward Over the Great Ice”i. Their complaints are no mere matters of psychology, for the thermometer cannot be suspected of temperament and yet it bears them out. It is all according to meteorological laws that are no more remarkable than other laws of nature.

Climate may be classified in various ways. One of them is to make a division between continental and insular climates. The ocean is a great stabilizing influence. In the south it acts generally as a refrigerator and in the north as a radiator. Even the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico are colder than the surface of the land in Texas in summer, and accordingly the sea breezes keep Galveston and Corpus Christi reasonably cool. I was told at Fort Bragg, on the west coast of California, last summer that since the town was built the temperature there has never risen above 85 degrees in the shade, for the ocean breezes are continually blowing across it. But fifty miles inland beyond a range of mountains they frequently have a temperature of 110 degrees in the shade. Remembering that this is true of Texas and California, we are prepared to hear that the coastlines of the polar regions are never warm in summer. Then five miles from the ocean at Point Barrow the temperature probably seldom if ever rises above 75 degrees in the shade, which is ten degrees colder than the similar record for Fort Bragg, California, both places being at sea level and near the sea. But fifty miles inland in California gives you a temperature of 110 degrees in the shade and a hundred miles inland in Alaska will give a temperature approaching 100 degrees in the shade. I inquired from the American Weather Bureau last fall as to the highest temperature ever recorded under ordinary weather bureau regulations by their observatory at Fort Yukon in Alaska, four miles north of the arctic circle. They replied that the highest temperature at that particular place was 100 degrees in the shade. New York City and Montreal are both places recognized as frequently uncomfortably hot in summer. Yet either of them is likely to be cooler on a given July day than is Fort Yukon in the Arctic.

Anyone can find out from the Weather Bureau that the temperature in Alaska north of the arctic circle hàs been known to rise to 100 degrees in the shade and any one can find out by writing to the officers of the Episcopal Church of the United States just how it feels in Alaska when the temperature is 100 degrees in the shade. The summer of 19211 was at Yuma, Arizona, when the temperature -was 111 degrees in the shade and nobody seemed to be suffering. In Montreal or New York it is common to see streams of perspiration on people’s faces, but in Yuma the air is so dry that the perspiration is evaporated as fast as the mechanism of the skin pours it out. In Chicago at 93 degrees in the shade I heard much complaining and believe there was a deal of actual suffering.

97 In Shade In Yukon

THE climate which is intolerable in Chicago at 93 degrees is the same kind of steaming heat you have at Fort Yukon, Alaska. The summer of 1918 I was convalescent from typhoid at St. Stephen’s Hospital of the Episcopal Church at Fort Yukon. That summer the temperature did not go to 100 degrees but it did go to 97 degrees. ,The hospital is a three-story building and on that day most of us moved out of the upper two stories into the cellar, and I remember particularly that Archdeacon Hudson Stuck and I not only slept in the cellar but as near to the cool and damp cellar floor as we possibly could.

In Canada, our arctic weather bureau stations are as yet either on the sea-coast or in the Mackenzie valley. The coast stations are cool in summer for the reasons given above; the Mackenzie stations are never as hot as the stations equally far north on the Yukon in Alaska. This may be because the Yukon flows generally west but the Mackenzie north. This trend makes the Mackenzie valley a trough through which cool sea breezes blow persistently. Ninety degrees in the shade seems no commoner in the arctic Mackenzie basin than 100 degrees at the same latitude in Alaska. Thus it chances that it is seldom hotter on a corresponding July day at Fort Good Hope near the arctic circle than it is in Toronto.

I have just consulted a new edition bf a widely-used American school geography and have found the statement that “north of the arctic circle it is always cold.” Either the author is unfamiliar with the Weather Bureau records or «lse he has a peculiar idea ot the meaning of ordinary English words.

3. After considering the minimum temperatures cf winter and the maximum temperatures of summer, we come next to a consideration of the length of the seasons. It is true, generally speaking that the farther north you go in the northern hemisphere the longer the winter and the shorter the summer. However, this has far less of a “practical” meaning than is commonly supposed. A Sicilian may think that a winter of three months' length is intolerable and if be insists that it is intolerable you can’t very well argue with him, but you can at least prove to him that numerous prosperous people live in a climate where there are three months of winter. There are those who are used to three months of winter who insist that six months of winter would be intolerable, but you can similarly show them that there are prosperous cities (such as Winnipeg, for instance) where you have wintry weather nearly half the year. But in Winnipeg you will in turn meet people who say that while five or six months of winter is no serious handicap to economic development, nine months of winter would be insuperable and intolérable. The argument is of the same nature and in its essence no more tenable than that of the Sicilian who thinks that even the shortest winter is unbearab 'e.

it will be said that you cannot raise wheat or corn where the winter is nine months long. That is true, but this dpes not necessarily form a serious argument against the value of the North. You cannot raise cotton in Iowa, but you can raise corn; you cannot raise corn profitably in most parts of Manitoba, but it is one of the greatest wheat countries in the world; and you cannot raise wheat profitably on the arctic circle, but you can find something to take the place of the wheat. What that something is, we shall leave to be specifically answered in a later chapter. The general objection must, however, be answered at this point, if only partially and tentatively. This can best be done by suggesting a new version' and a new application of an idea similar to the one Tennyson had when he said “Better twenty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.” I shall not contend here, although I may later on, that the climate of the North is such as to make life delightful but shall for the moment consider a lower form of life, that of the plant kingdom.

A botanist (I hope the reader will not mind my not hunting up his name, for the war is recent and he was a ‘ German) some decades ago laid down the general principle that the growth of plants depends not on the number of months of suitable climate but rather upon the number of hours of sunlight. It can be shown mathematically that the total number of hours of sunlight in a year (if we disregard cloudiness) is least at the equator and becomes greater (because of tefraction) as you go north. Undoubtedly temperature has an effect upon rapidity of growth but still sunlight as light rather than as heat seems to be the main factor. This explains the rhapsodies of the ordinary tourist who comes back from the Yukon and the Mackenzie with stories which the stay-at-home does not believe, but which are nevertheless true, about the wonderful size and marvelously rapid growth of the ordinary garden flowers when they are planted under the midnight sun.

Where Plant Growth Is Magical

NOT being a botanist I do not vouch for the statement, which I believe to be true, that plants not only stop growing during the hours of darkness but also are sluggish in resuming their growth when the first beams of the morning sun strike them. It in something like starting a motor car that has been allowed to get cold. In midsummer a plant has thirteen growing hours out of the twentyfour in Texas, fourteen or fifteen in Manitoba, twenty up on Great Slave Lake, and twenty-four hours on Great Bear Lake. Another way of stating it is that in the south the plants work single shift and in the north double shift. A plant in northern Canada, therefore, ha? almost as much growing time in one month as it has in two months in the southern United States. The northern summer when measured by plant opportunities for growth is much longer than it may seem to be when you glance carelessly at the calendar.

And even by the calendar the northern summer is longer than most people imagine. On the Coppermine River north of Great Bear Lake, about fifty miles north of the arctic circle, I remember one period of three weeks when there was not a cloud in the sky, the sun beat down upon us the twenty-four hours through, and the heat rose to the vicinity of 90 degrees in the shade every afternoon without dropping lower than 70 degrees or perhaps 60 degrees at night. Those three weeks were certainly equal in opportunity for plant growth to six weeks of Texas, and they were by no means the whole summer. The mosquitoes came out early m May and we did not cease [being tormented by sandflies until in September. The mosquitoes did come out at the earliest spring, but the summer lasted beyond the sandflies, and the lakes did not freeze over until late in October. Then it is to be remembered that grass does not ordinarily spend all the summer in growing. Most plants, especially those of a semi-arid climate, grow for only a few weeks and then ripen and turn yellow. From the point of view of grazing animals they may be nourishing and valuable the whole year though they grow for only a few weeks or perhaps months. It is obvious, then, that the northern summer is amply long enough for the development of the wild forage plants, and so it is. This is the consideration which shows that the North is one of the greatest potential grazing areas of the world, but that is a point we can develop fully only a little farther on in this argument.

4. That the ground in the polar regions is always covered with snow, whether winter or summer, is another of the widely-spread wrong notions. Before going further we must realize that there are two ways of looking at this question. If I meet a Mexican and ask him, “Is there always snow in Mexico?” he can answer me either yes or no and defend either answer. If he says yes, he is thinking about the mountain tops; if he says no, he is thinking about the vast average of his country.

Even in the tropics there is permanent •snow on the mountain tops if the mountains are high, and even in the remotest arctic regions the snow all disappears from t>e land in summer, unless it is very high land. Take, for instance, the north coast of Alaska. There is a range of mountains commonly considered a branch of the system of the Rockies which runs about straight east from Cape Lisburne, toward the mouth of the Mackenzie River, leaving to the north a triangular coastal plain with a total area a little more than that of England and Scotland put together. This is a real prairie. In winter it is thinly snow-covered and the grass in most places can be seen sticking up through it. In summer it is green with grass, and golden with flowers and there is never a speck of snow. The mountains to the south of this coastal prairie rise from low land and look as high as the British Columbia Rockies although their actual altitude is less than six thousand feet. In this range you may find some small snowbank in a deep ravine or in the lee of a hill that faces north, but nothing large enough to justify in ordinary usage the name of glacier. You cross this first range of mountains and come to a second one nine or ten thousand feet high. This altitude is great enough and here we do have permanent glaciers, although probably none nearly as large as those found in southern British Columbia, the B.C. glaciers being larger not merely because of greater altitude but also because of much heavier precipitation.

Case of Poetic Accuracy

WE LEARN from the school books a great deal about the iciness of Greenland, and if we did not learn it from the school books we should learn it from the hymn books. “From Greenland’s icy mountains to India’s coral strand.” But the hymn book is more correct and more careful in its statement than the ordinary geography, for the geography says that Greenland is icy and lets it go at that, but the hymn book specifies “From Greenland’s icy mountains,” and that is exactly correct.

The mountains of Greenland are icy and Grönland i.s mostly icy because it is mostly mountainous. It is a mass of high mountains in a region of heavy precipitation. Just to the east is the Gulf Stream and from the warm waters of the Gulf Stream there continually rise clouds of vapor that arc carried to the west and condensed into snow against the mountain tups, somewhat, as we have a nearly perpetual snowfall upon the high slopes and tops of the Cascade Mountains in Washington or British Columina. We have in fact as well as in the hymn books Greenland's icy mountains.

But the Greenland mountains are icy not primarily because they are northerly, hut rather because the precipitation upon them is heavy and because they are high. Admiral Peary proved this about thirty years ago. Somewhat north of the middle of Greenland he climbed into the interior and found, as everybody expected, that Greenland there as well as farther south is covered with inland ice. He travelled north and the season was summer. He was going toward the region which is popularly supposed to be coldest and iciest, but he tells us that when he came nearly tq^ the north tip of the iand the ice disappeared. He found before him large stretches of prairie land, green with grass and golden with flowers, with bumblebees and butterflies and birds and herds of grazing animals. Peary was near the north coast of the most northerly land in the world, but because it was lowland it was free of snow in summer.

Since then the north of Greenland has been further explored and we know now that the only part of Greenland where there are extensive areas of snow-free land in summer is the northern part. It is the most northerly possible land, so far as we yet know, and that emphasizes the generalization which I shall repeat, for it is important and admits of no exceptions: Any land, even in the tropics, is permanently covered with snow if it is very high, and no land, even in the polar regions, is covered with snow unless it is high.

Generally speaking, an altitude of five thousand feet in the Arctic is not enough for perpetual snow where the sun can ■shine, but ten thousand feet is enough. If a glacier is found at a level less than five thousand feet above the sea, it is either ice sliding down from a higher mountain nearby or else the region is one of heavier precipitation than the average of arctic lands. There is a great deal more snow at the ten thousand foot level in the State of Washington or the province of British Columbia than you have at that level in northern Alaska or the northern Yukon. This is because of difference in precipitation.

5. A corollary of the idea that the North is covered with snow even in summer is the one that the North is a region of heavy snowfall. This is far from being true. If you take a map of North America and place your pencil near the southwestern corner of Alaska on the coast of Bering Straits, you may draw a line east, along the south coast some fifty miles inland. When you oome east to British Columbia your line turns south, still keeping fifty or a hundred miles inland. When you oome near the international boundary your line will run east following the boundary between the United States and Canada roughly. This is the line of heaviest snowfall. South of that line, generally speaking, you have less and less snow and north of it you also have less and less snow.

By the figures of the United States Weather Bureau, snowfall in winter in St. Louis, Missouri, or in Richmond, Virginia, is three or four times as great as for the north coast of Alaska, while we believe that the snowfall in Toronto or the Highlands of Scotland is ten times as great as on the north tip of Greenland or on thq northerly islands discovered by my expedition of 1918-18. In the north polar regions there is, to begin with, very little snow on the ground at the end of winter. We have already said that in some part's of the polar regions the temperature is 100 degrees in the shade in the summer. It would have to be a very peculiar kind of snow if a little of it more or less covering the ground in winter would last far into the spring. Of course it does not last long but disappears like magic. For three or four or five months, according to just where you are, you have green prairies and flowery meadows that are a delight to the eve and would be delightful

to every sense hut for the unbelievable plague of insects—mosquitoes, sandflies, horseflies, and the like. These will prove a drawback next in seriousness to the wall of ignorance that surrounds the northern

lands. China’s wall of masonry was never a very efficient barrier. A wall of misinformation is more effective and more difficult to tear down.

(Article 3 will appear in issue of Jan. 1 )