ARCHIBALD J. TROTTER
CANADIANS—and others—have fought for Canada before this; but it looks as though Canadians now have a major fight on their hands to save a large part of this country. Canada and the United States
will join in this fight. Nearly half of the arable land in Canada, and entire States in the wheat belt of the United States, are threatened.
The menace hangs over Southern Saskatchewan and part of Southern Alberta. It is drought, the worst enemy of the farmer. Already for several successive seasons, stark famine has stared the people of this area in the face. It has not been a case of crops damaged by drought, but the total destruction of crops. Assistance by their governments has kept some of the people going. Others in thousands have “moved north,” with or without assistance from the Government.
It is a pitiful sight to see these people moving away from their homes with all their personal effects piled in a wagon, their farm machinery following behind, and last of all the boy or boys herding those of their animals that have not
already vanished in the famine.
Behind them is their abandoned home, which has taken perhaps twenty or thirty years to develop. The work of two generations. Ahead of them—what? Perhaps a chance to make a new home in the Northern parts, where so far at least drought has not crept in and where they may be able to carve a homestead out of wooded land. Where they will at least have water for their animals without having to haul it for miles.
The stricken area is a huge one, greater than all of the inhabited farming area of Ontario or of Quebec. Its loss would be a dreadful blow to the country. Hence the battle to save it.
Let us first of all consider the area known in Canada as the Western Prairies. To many people, perhaps to most Canadians, all of the settled country in the Prairie Provinces is alike. It consists, to them, of great plains stretching for hundreds upon hundreds of miles. Plains so rich that, when opened to cultivation, they produced the finest wheat in the world. Produced it in such quantities that this area became the “bread basket of the Empire.” These people know that their country is huge. They have heard that half of the roads in Canada are in Saskatchewan. They have read that there are more arable acres in Western Canada’s plains than in the whole of the United States, where fifty million people live by agriculture.
But the matter is not so simple as all that. When the sea subsided from what is now Western Canada and exposed the sea bottom to the sun, it did not do so all at once. There are three distinct levels or steppes. Three lands, as it were, of different ages. The first, and oldest, comprises all of Southern Alberta and all of Southwestern Saskatchewan. The
second, known as the Second Prairie Steppe or the “Great Wheat Plain,” was covered by the waters of the sea until much later on. It embraces the principal part of the occupied areas of Northern Alberta and a strip running northwest and southeast through Saskatchewan. The last-made land is lower again than these two, and was released from the sea at the time of a still later disturbance. This lower steppe was the last of the three to be exposed to the sun. It embraces Northern and Eastern Saskatchewan and all of settled Manitoba.
Location of Drought Areas
NOW, IF YOU look at the map, and carry these lines or divisions of the steppes on a bit into the United States, you will see a picture which will explain, or at least clarify to you, the news you have been reading about entire states of that Union suffering from a major catastrophe in the form of drought. The greatest suffering in Canada has been experienced in the oldest, or first formed steppe. This steppe goes on, across the line, where the suffering has been appalling.
In those portions of Saskatchewan and of Alberta falling within that oldest steppe, grain farming has always been precarious. Until the land was broken up by the plough, those highland prairies furnished magnificent range for cattle and horses and for sheep. It was the great ranch country of the West. When it was ploughed up it gave reward to its farmers in bumper crops of wheat—sometimes. The “sometimes” was just frequent enough to spur the farmers on. In between the bumper crops were periods of crop failure and despair. Drought was the cause—and now there is a drought greater in intensity and more widespread than any since cultivation began.
While the first steppe has been hit the hardest by this calamity, the damage has spread over a large part of the central steppe, the Great Wheat Plain. For some years now, that area has suffered, and last year its crop was a total failure through drought. Large sections of it are badly hit this year.
The newest or lowest steppe has not yet suffered generally. Unlike the others which consist mainly of bald prairie, this steppe is dotted with scattered clumps of trees. In the West we call it park country. The growth in these clumps or “bluffs” of trees consists largely of poplar. Still farther north, beyond the settled areas, we come to the wooded lands where evergreens abound.
Before the adventof cultivation all three steppes abounded in sloughs and lakes. The word “slough” as used in the West means a pond or small lake, not a swampy marsh. Each of these small bodies of water measured from a
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fraction of an acre to a square mile in area. Particularly in the first and second prairie steppes, thousands upon thousands of sloughs dried up, and thousands of lakes lost their water as cultivation pressed every available acre into production.
In the rainy springs these old slough bottoms were perforce skipped when wheat was being sown in April or May. They were then seeded later to oats for purposes of green feed. In the drier springs the wheat was sown right through them. The technique of bringing the land into cultivation seemed to include the early clearing out of these sloughs. It was considered good practice to work a little closer each year until they disappeared. But disappear they did, except in a few cases where springs of water or surface formation kept the odd slough alive. Perhaps, if no farmer had been permitted to plough near a slough—who knows?
Now we come to the battle, if there is going to be one. It may well be called a battle, and one may well say “if.” If we don’t take this blow for the count and lose a huge area of our Western wheat lands—if we decide to fight—then we can look forward to a fight lasting ten or even twenty years before it can possibly be won. The fight will have to be waged along a tremendous front.
No individual can accomplish anything alone. No township or municipality can accomplish anything alone. I doubt whether any province can alone achieve the desired result. Canada alone might do a great deal. This problem calls for a concerted and coordinated effort in every part of the area affected, and that area embraces most of Western Canada, and many of the States of the Union, including all of those bordering on the prairie provinces.
How to Conserve Rainfall
r"PHE WEAPONS to be employed? Tree planting and directed agriculture. The rainfall in those parts of Canada affected varies from twelve inches to seventeen inches per year. It is logical to suppose that such rainfall will continue. The problem is how to put the country in a condition to conserve and utilize the rainfall.
It must be remembered at this point that, of the annual rainfall, only a portion, perhaps a little more than one-half, falls during the grain-growing season. The water that falls upon the country during the remainder of the year must also be conserved. The
main point, then, is how to conserve the moisture that falls upon the country in the form of rain and snow. Obviously the first step would be to rehabilitate as such the millions of lakes and sloughs which have been dried out. Take these lakes and sloughs out of cultivation and ring them about with trees. Let this be the first point of attack.
This work must be carried on in the park country of the Third Prairie Steppe and in the Great Wheat Plain or Second Prairie Steppe, as well as in the First Prairie Steppe which has already been so hard hit. It must in fact be carried on also in all that area between the Mississippi and the Rockies in the United States. Prevention is always better than cure; but in this case it is part of the cure. As surely as fate, the fortunate park country and the already menaced Great Wheat Plain will shortly find themselves in the same straits if the situation is not faced and prevention methods applied at once and without exception everywhere within their borders. They must become able to conserve their moisture if they are to continue as important units in the life of Canada.
A secondary step that will prove essential and profitable is the planting of strips of trees or hedgerows north and south across
all the farms at proper intervals. A tremen dous loss of crop is experienced today in the First and Second Prairie Steppes by soil drifting and by seed “blowing out.” This could be stopped by sufficient strips or hedgerows being created, and these belts of trees would add their acres of woodland toward the millions of acres required for proper moisture conservation in the country. Who can say what England’s farming lands would look like today were it not for her countless hedgerows? These hedgerows could be made solid and nearly impervious to the wind by planting rows of carragana or other bushes outside of the rows of trees. In time they would be filled in by drifting soil, and the ridges so formed would add to their effectiveness. With a number of such shelter belts on every farm, the velocity of the drying Western winds would be lessened. A reduction in evaporation is, therefore, another benefit that could be counted upon.
One can readily see now why the battle must be continued over a period of ten or even twenty years. Steady planting must go on for that time, and perhaps for long after, and it would be ten years or so before the first effects would be discernible. It
will also take ten years or so to remove the inhabitants from those areas which should never have been cultivated. Undoubtedly they will have to be removed from many such sections. One great error of the Government of Canada (which had control of these lands) was the encouragement of settlement in such areas. Many people have known all along that these lands should never have been opened up to homesteaders, but should have been left for use as grazing lands. If these lands could be turned back at will into grazing lands the problem would be simplified; but it will take many years and perhaps generations for the prairie sod to oust the mass of weeds that will follow the abandonment of these farms. They must be abandoned, however, in the end.
Government Will Provide Trees
WHERE WILL the trees come from?
Fortunately, a wise Government has been engaged for many years in paving the way for that. The Dominion Forestry Stations at Saskatoon, and at Indian Head, both in Saskatchewan, have each been providing annually some six million trees gratis to farmers who would accept them and care for them for the purpose of beautifying and improving their homes. This work has been successful, and in developing it an excellent technique has been evolved. Devoted men at the head of each station have had a lifetime of experience in the growing and care of trees on the prairie.
Six million trees annually is only a drop in the bucket ! Granted. In an emergency such as this, however, each municipality might be expected to have its own station or stations. From each of these hundreds of stations could come a million young trees each year. Only a certain number could be planted each year on prepared land, and that number they could furnish. It is the mature tree that we are after, remember, and there is no use in planting more than can be properly planted by the farmers, and cared for by the farmers themselves. Probably eighty acres would be sufficient for the growing of the young trees required by each municipality. Whether the municipal forestry station should be a separate entity, or whether it should be allotted to a successful farmer of the district to care for on his own farm is a question which can be settled later. Probably the latter would be best and most economical.
Once the trees were available, the farmers of each community or municipality would be required to set out so many each year on previously determined and previously prepared ground. The safety of all would compel the enforcement of this. An inspection service would settle the kind of trees to be planted, what sloughs are first to be encircled, and so forth. Nonresident owners would be required to have the work done for them, for no land must escape the treatment, and no gap be permitted in the front to be presented to the common foe.
IT WILL BE argued that you can force a landowner to plant the trees, but that you cannot force him to care for them properly even under a system of supervision and direction. There is, however, a means of securing their proper care. Allow a credit for each acre of planted trees properly brought to maturity in assessing the land. The saving of taxes by the farmer will reward him for the care given the trees. The trees themselves will furnish another reward in the form of firewood and of fence posts. Still another and perhaps a greater reward
will be found in the prevention of soil drifting and blown-out seed and crops. The actual labor of caring for the growing trees will not amount to more than three to four days work per year for a man and team on the average farm, and most of it can be done “between seasons.” The cutting of mature trees for firewood and for fence posts will be permitted upon their being replaced by seedlings. This alone should mean a lot of money per year in pocket to the average farmer, who now has to pay cash for coal for fuel.
It will be seen that much hinges on the matter of supervision and direction. This work should be in charge of an inspection department of the Dominion Forestry Branch. The department should be supported and managed entirely by the Dominion Government. Its inspection staff would consist of field men trained specially for the work. Its uniform official records would be preserved for the correlating of the work throughout the country. With one copy of these records at headquarters and a duplicate filed with the municipality, every purpose would be served. The local inspectors would have charge of the work of the farmers in one or two municipalities each. They would reside in the district, and their work would in turn be supervised by general inspectors from headquarters, who would also have supervision of the work being done in the municipal forestry stations.
To sum up then, we have statutory forestry work required from all landowners on their own land in planting and caring for trees. We have the municipality responsible for the growing of the seedlings to be planted each year by the farmer. We have, lastly, the Dominion Government responsible for all the supervision of the work. This is a simple division of the load, and places the responsibility where it should fall.
As a reward—what? In the part of
Canada affected we have an area which has produced, and should produce in each year, farm products worth half a billion dollars. Five hundred million dollars of new wealth each year ! If reward must be had in dollars, if profit must be the objective, is that not a sufficient amount? Think then of the sense of security that would be afforded to a large population of farming people. The happy homes that would result. If this country is allowed to go, and go it surely will, the loss to Canada will be irreparable. We will have a sandand dust-strewn desert across the plains which were but lately the pride of the country.
Under present conditions, no enormous expenditure can be considered, whether well or ill-advised. We cannot emulate the efforts of the Government of the United States, which has commenced its part of the battle and has begun to pour millions into the work. I do not know that we should if we could. I have a feeling that more can be accomplished by the plan suggested. It is an inexpensive way of attacking the problem, and what little expense there is, will be so distributed as to be hardly felt. The whole plan can be put under way without delay, and it should be, for each year’s delay will tremendously increase the problem.
There is no doubt that as time goes on, and perhaps as conditions improve, other steps can be taken to speed up the desired results. Water courses can be dammed, and the spring freshets impounded in artificial lakes. Whole areas may be flooded to create additional water surface to aid in the work. These things will cost a great deal to accomplish, however, and they are, after all, a secondary method of attack.
The first thing is the tree-planting.
Doesn’t Like R. T. L.
In the current issue of Maclean’s appears an article entitled “Mr. Gardiner” by R. T. L. Very strong exception is taken to this article by the public generally. Personally, I am surprised that Maclean’s would allow such stuff to smear the pages of an otherwise reputable magazine. If the gentlemen named in the article referred
to were a bunch of criminals of the worst type, we could expect something of this nature. The writer of that epistle must have been greatly relieved when he delivered himself of such an effusion, which can only be described as the product of one afflicted with a badly disordered brain.—J. Waddington, Moose Jaw.