Edmonton: The World’s Greatest Fur-Mart
A. DEANS CAMERON IN THE PACIFIC MONTHLY
The following is a very clever pen picture of our Canadian Northwest. The reader is given a glimpse of this vast territory whose resources are attracting people from all parts of the world.
ISN’T it Theophile Gautier who says that the only differences between country and country lie in the slang and the uniform of the police? This dictum would scarcely hold regarding Edmonton in the Canadian Northland, the world’s greatest fur-mart. Away up on the map it lies, three hundred and twenty-five miles north of the international boundary, on the silver Saskatchewan, a wonder-town of past glamour, present intenseness and immi^ nent realization. It was a Hudson Bay post ; it is a railway metropolis on the edge of a wheat-field nine hundred miles long and four hundred miles wide.
On September 1, 1905, a new province entered the Canadian Confederacy, the Province of Alberta, and Edmonton is its capital. Alberta is two und one-hulf times the size of Great Britain and Ireland, and is bigger than all the New England states combined ; it has more wheat lands than Minnesota and the Dakotas, more oats and flax lands than Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska, hive ^ ears ago Edmonton rubbed her eyes and realized her destiny. Nature, Fate, and the faith of man decreed that she should become a great city, a big, populous, prosperous, solid city, and her mur icipal foundations were laid accordingly. 4 here will have to be no surprised stretching of swaddling-bands here, no frenzied widening of streets, no buving-in of public utilities. Young men own Die town and control its destines, men who have brought here municipal experiences from every big city on the continent, experiences invaluable.
The city owns its electric-light, with the result that the domestic flat-rate runs as low as fifty cents a light for ten lights. It owns, too, its waterworks and telephone services. In addition to the elected aldermanic body the work of the city is done by two appointed and well-paid city commissioners, one of public works and one of finance. The
Mayor is the channel of communication between council and commissioners and directs the work of the latter. This duplex organization is self-evolved and seems to answer admirably. In the body corporate the single-tax idea is the basic principle of assessment, the land only and not the improvements it carries being taken as value for taxes.
This as it is. Standing on the wide asphalted streets and looking at magnificent bank buildings that would do credit to Montreal or Chicago, of quaint interest is an old book written by one Paul Kane, a wandering artist, away back in 1847. Kane was ambitious to produce a series of type pictures of Canadian Indian chiefs and found lis way into the old Hudson’s Bay post ; Edmonton at Christmas-time just fiftvnine years ago. He says :
Outside, the buffaloes range in thousands close to the fort, which is visited at least twice in the year by the Crees, Assiniboines, Blackfeet, Surcees and Blood Indians, who come to sell the dried buffalo-meat and fat for making pemmican. The big ice-pit for the summer meat will hold seven or eight hundred buffalo carcases. On Christmas day the flag was hoisted, and the thermometer showed 10 to 50 degrees below. At the head of our table was a large dish of boiled buffalo-hump ; at the foot smoked a boiled buffalo-calf. Start not, gentle reader, the calf is very small, and is taken from the cow by the Ceasarean operation long before it obtains its full growth ; this, boiled whole, is one of, the most esteemed dishes amongst the epicures of the interior. My pleasing duty was to help a dish of dried moose nose ; the gentleman on my left distributed the white fish, delicately browned in buffalo marrow ; the worthy priest helped the buffalo tongue, whilst Mr. Rundell cut up the beavers’ tails. Such was Edmonton’s jolly Christmas dinner. In the evening the hall was
cleared for a dance, in which joined painted Indian, gay-sashed voyageur, glittering half-breed and canny Scot. The next day I joined in a buffalo-hunt.
So, although the búhalo has given place to the Shorthorn and the Hereford, Edmonton still has its past of romance and hardihood and the shrewd old employes of the Hudson’s Bay Company builded wiser than they knew. The exchanging of the creaking Red River cart and the York boat for palace car and steamer, the laying aside of trap and flint-lock for modern steam plows and self-binders, and the transition from Mary Ann shack to Queen Anne frontali this has not discredited the far-seeing judgment of the shrewd traders of the ancient and honorable company.
Edmonton is to-day the world’s greatest fur-mart. As far back as 1660, in the reign of the second Charles, England granted governing powers and a monopoly of the fur-trade to the Hudson Bay Company, and that great colonizing agency engaged in the exclusive sale of peltries for two centuries, in that time handling millions of skins. A generation ago the Canadian Government bought back the political and govcring rights from the Hudson Bay Company for $1,500,000 and 150,000,000 acres, i.e., one twentieth of the wheatbelt, leaving them their trade in furs. But the big pioneer company is now not without rivals ; the concern that pushes it hardest is that of Revillon Freres, the great Parisian furriers with an experience of 175 years back of them and a capital of fourteen millions.
What are the staple furs to-day ? Much what they were 200 years ago—the fox, muskrat, otter, mink and beaver. The world’s furs come from the North Temperate Zone, the greatest part of the supply and the best from Northern Canada, and London is the distributing centre.
On the backs of men from port to port the furs are carried before they reach Edmonton, dragged by husky dogs over snowy wastes and ice, paddled by Indians in canoes down stream. The Hudson Bay Company sends ships once a year down the Mackenzie to its mouth gathering furs, and from England across
the Atlantic boats come once a year to the frozen Ultima Thule, the posts on Hudson Bay. Modern innovations crowd out romance even here. This season a gasoline launch will carry peltries as far as Athabasca. The hand on the throttle-valve is the hand of Colin Fraser, a bronzed and grizzled Highlander, who went half a century ago into the silent north to trade with Cree and Blackfoot, and whose seamed and silent face may well stand type for the
spirit of that White North. We are apt
to think of Edmonton as the Last North, but Colin Fraser’s port is at Fort Chippewayan on the east end of Lake Athabasca ; a full three weeks’ journey up, up, up toward the top of the map, 400 clear miles north of Edmonton. Few of us have seen Fort Chippewayan, but it was from this historic post on
this lonely Athabasca Lake that
the dour and daring Scot, Alexander Mackenzie, in 1789, sailed in birchbark canoe down the river that bears his name, to where Herschel Island guards the entrance to the frozen Arctic.
Colin Fraser’s this year’s pack contained 741 beaver, 181 skunk, 126 weasel, 360 red fox, 163 cross fox, 31 silver fox, 674 mink, 616 marten, 57 bears, 120 otter, 39 pounds beaver castors, 3,089 muskrats, and 558 lynx, and he sold it in Edmonton for $27,750. We try to guess the thoughts of the grim old Highlander puff-puffing down the Athabasca, cogitating on the days and the years of the gone decades when he heard the North a-callin’, and steam and he were young.
The proudest animal in the world should be the silver fox. (In reality, often it is the fat policeman on parade ; in Dickens’ day it was the beadle. The silver fox is a freak in nature, only in a' blue moon is one borne into this vale, but when he does appear he wraps the drapery of his couch about him to the tune of $1,500. This is the skin that the Russians so dearly prize. The motto of the Hudson Bay Company, as is fitting, refers to the trade in peltries. It is “pro peile cutem,” skin for skin, quid pro quo, value for value. It sounds fair, but the way the old fort traders work-
ed it out shows more of sophistry than of ethics. The long flint-lock musket that the Indian coveted was stood on the floor of the fort and the hunter was invited to pile his furs in a neat pile till they measured up to the height of the gun, then the even trade was made. Poor Moon-Face-of-the-Mottled-Squaws got his rifle and his experience and the ancient and honorable got $1,000 worth of furs, and the consciousness of what Roosevelt calls -“the motto of the square deal.” A skin-game, surely !
The Cree still barters his furs with the Christian, but much fleecing has left him sensitive and most suspicious. He is also a great glutton—the Cree can abstain from food a longer time than any other man. He is like a snake. The exigencies of his life make it possible for him to accept and substitute to Charles Lamb’s restrictions regarding “Grace Before Meat.” In many odd ways the Edmonton Cree takes up the white man’s burden. Recently one mighty hunter sent to Montreal for a $1,000 piano, and immediately did the boy-and-the-drum act, seeking the bottled harmony.
Walking along Michigan avenue, Chicago, in the teeth of the east wind and cogitating the pros and cons of a winter great coat, an elegantly7" attired lady whizzed by me in her automobile. From her fob, outside a magnificent set of martens, dangled a lucky rabbit foot. I wonder if the pleasant-faced wearer guessed that one of these furry favors made possible the other ? The fur-bearing animals in some of these northern sections feed almost entirely upon rabbits. At intervals of every five or six years, a foot-and-mouth disease breaks out which kills the rabbits off by thousands, and following such seasons come lean fur-years. So milady’s chances for a fur sacque depend upon the number of humble Molly Cottontails born the previous year into the starry stillness of the Canadian north-land.
Edmonton is the objective point of three big transcontinental railroad systems, the Canadian Northern, the Canadian Pacific, and the Grand Trunk. And the Great Northern is already casting longing eyes over the promising field of Alberta.
When we spill ourselves loose on the all-out-doors of this big new empire in the making, we have to reconstruct all our half-formed ideas of the relative size of things. For instance, the wonderful Peace River country is perhaps the world’s greatest game-preserve. The Peace, which rises in British Columbia and flows into the Slave River, rivals the Mississippi in size. This great unknown land is about to be tapped. The Grand Trunk Pacific, west from Edmonton, will strike across the southern portion of the Peace River district. It is a wonder-country. The Japan current, and the resultant warm Chinook wind which filters through the Rocky Mountain passes, make of this a milder country than that which immediately surrounds Edmonton. Here the tall grass waves like serried wheat, and the winflower blooms in the coulees. Fat cattibrowse belly-deep in the lush meadow, and across the surface of a lost lake comes the weird cry of a lone loon, in the lonely vastness one stops and listens for the tramp, tramp of the millions who, urged by a world-wide instinct, are even now beginning to come out from easy conditions to conquer and occupy the last Frontier. It is the lure of the west, the lure that Columbus heard and which will make uneasy the pillows of softness from his day to the last curtain-fall. The cry of the west is irresistible, and while there is a west to conquer, nor boundary line, nor sagt1 advice of fore-elders, nor caution of the conservative will keep back the “feet of the young men.”
Edmonton is the distributing centre of hundreds of thousands of square miles of the most fertile land to be found anywhere in the world. That is a strong statement to make, but it is true. Nowhere in any part of the world in which cereal grains grow is there any such area of uniformly rich land as surrounds this northern capital. It is a deep, rich, black loam usually over a clay sub-soil, soil which repeatedly produced crops w over forty bushels of number 1 hard wheat to the acre ; over 100 bushels of oats to the acre (every measured bushel from nine to ten pounds over standard weight), and forty bushels of prime bar-
ley to the acre, and this can be done, and has been done for twenty consecutive years without manuring. The report of the Provincial Department of Agriculture on last year’s crop gives the average yield of spring wheat throughout the Edmonton district as 24.75 bushels to the acre, and of winter wheat, 25.89 bushels..
The first foot of soil in the three western provinces of Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, is its greatest natural heritage. It is worth more than all the pine forests from the forty-ninth parallel to the ice-bound Arctic, and more than the combined mineral wealth held in the rock embrace of the continental backbone from Mexico to Alaska. And next in worth to this heritage is the three feet of subsoil which underlies the first. The value of a soil cannot be estimated by surface-measure ; its unit of value is the amount of nitrogen and potash that it contains, in other words, its productive power. An acre in Alberta is worth more than twenty acres on the Atlantic coast.
“But the winters,” I hear some one say ; “they must be the limit.” There is much misapprehension regarding the climate of Canada. During the fifteen years that the Calgary and Edmonton railroad has been in operation, the train service has never been stopped nor even delayed on account of snow, and there never has been a snow-plow over the road. Edmonton is so far north that the sun shines for more than eighteenhours a day at mid-summer. The nights are cool, but it is just this alternation of warm summer days and cool nights that makes Canadian number 1 hard wheat worth more than any wheat that any other country can grow. Is it fanciful to suggest that these same climatic conditions harden the fibre both physical and moral of the clean-limbed people who occupy these fruitful north-lands ? Edmonton is in the same latitude as Liverpool.
In leaving this subject of climate it is worth while to remind the reader that western Canada is in the same latitude as the great wheat districts of Russia. St. Petersburg is much farther north than any city in Canada. Winnipeg is
south of London, and almost in the latitude of Paris. All of the British Isles, all of Scandinavia, Holland, Belgium, part of France, most of Germany, a large part of Austria, and by far the larger part of Russia lie north of the forty-ninth parallel, the boundary between the United States and Canada. The bulk of Europe’s population is to be found north of that parallel. There is no reason why western Canada should not be as densely populated as Germany and Russia. That being the case, think for a moment of the immense development that is irfipending in the great provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta, where as yet there is not one person in a square mile.
In Edmonton, at mid-summer, one can readily read in the open air at 10 p.m., and while the world is still asleep the sun is up again. “The huntsmen are up in America,” wrote Sir Thomas Browne, over a hundred years ago, when he wanted to persuade himself that it was time to go to sleep in England. The huntsmen would have to be up betimes to beat the sun in Edmonton. The sun woos the wheat with so fierce a warmth that measured shoots of the green plants have shown a two-inch increase in the twenty-four hours by actual and impartial measurement. The glory of a prairie sunset is something to feel rather than to talk about ; it is a daily repeated miracle that grips the heart of a man, he watches it till sky and prairie melt together and the horizon line is lost when the great sun sinks, a veritable apple of gold in a picture of silver.
Our car was pulling into Edmonton. “I represent two millions,” said Mr. A. Walsh, of Walsh Brothers, Clinton, Iowa. “I am going to see what it’s best for us to put in into. I am surely going to buy some more wheat land up here. It’s exactly like Iowa used to* be. We used to get big crops, but the land played out, and now all we can raise is corn. You can’t raise corn up here because it’s too cold nights, but I have looked up the record of the land and find that the land does not play out here around Edmonton. I have records going back twenty or thirty years, and the yield to-day is just as great as ever.”
And we saw that man with the millions driving a span, hunting investment facts, within fifteen minutes of the time we struck Edmonton. The rest of the carload was eating lunch ; like the Cree Indian and the apostle of old, Mr. Walsh could “keep his body under.” He has chasing golden opportunity ; dinner could wait.
Mr. F. T. Fisher, of the Board of Trade, was interrogated about coal and natural gas.
“From fifty miles west to twenty miles east, we know coal underlies all the ground. It’s under the city itself. It’s so near the surface we don’t tunnel any deeper for it than a hundred and fifty feet in any case, but usually only fifty or seventy-five. It’s only worth $1.25 to $1.75 a ton in the bunkers, with our present mining system, but with up-to-date plants it would be even cheaper.”
“Lignite coal ?”
“What is it good for ?”
“For almost everything except locomotives. It’s used for them, too, but it is not really very good. It is splendid coal for steam-making and all domestic uses. There’s an enormous market for it. There is no coal between here and Winnipeg or at Winnipeg. For a hundred miles east of that city, people will be dependent on coal for fuel. They will not be able to use wood, for it’s too scarce. And this coal will make Edmonton a great manufacturing centre.” It is the voice of the optimist. We have heard about natural gas and wonder.
Mr. Fisher reassures us :
“A boring is made for natural gas in the very heart of the city, and already we have struck gas that comes up odorless and colorless, and burns as white as electricity—it is never yellow, even in the day time,—while as fuel, it can be run right under the boiler or into the cylinder and used for direct power.” Surely, this frontier town, on the edge of things, England’s last vedette, is favored.
Canada was once a shy and modest maiden, as Mulvaney has it, “One of thim lamb-like, bleatin’, pick-me-up-andcarry-me-or-I’11-die girls.” But that is
all over and done with. Daughter is she in her mother’s house, but mistress in her own. The saucy Canuck is now paddling her own canoe and calling her wares in the market-place. At Liege, last year, the attractions of Canada were placed directly before the people of Belgium, Holland and Germany, and from June until November of 1906, the people of Italy, Austria and Southern France are being made Canada-wise at the great Milan exposition, the Hsposizione Internationale del Sempoine. Daily from 5,0ff0 to 25,000 amazed sightseers pass through the Canada exhibit, and when the doors close, at least one million of the people of Europe will have seen with their own eyes what the Canadian north and west can produce.
The word “Canada,” the sign of the beaver and the maple, mean nothing to the European sightseer, nor do the legends “Padiglione Canadese” or “Mostra del Canada.” But when he enters the portals and sees the sheaves of wheat and barley, of grains and grasses, his quick imagination conjures up the big agricultural country from which they came. A vivid object lesson awaits him in a spectacular exhibit of stuffed buffalo, moose, elk, antelopes, bears and beaver standing out as background to a gigantic picture of the prairie with the modern binders and reapers laying low a field of grain. It takes no printed brochure to fix upon his mind the fact that the whizz of the bullet has given place to the whirr of the binder and that “Canada,” that strange new word, is a land of peace, plenty and promise. In creating an entente cordiale with Italy, Canada builded wiser than she knew. Canada is Britain’s bread-basket. But her rolling prairies within a decade will provide bread for the nations both east and west. Italy imports yearly thirty million bushels of wheat, none of which comes now from Canada. Home-grown Italian wheat is a very soft grain and requires an admixture of at least forty per cent, of foreign flour before it will make good bread. In the year 1904 Italy paid out $27,000,000 for wheat. Of this $23,500,000 went to Russia, and $1,500,000 to Argentine. A quarter of a million dollars’ worth of wheat, mostly
of the macaroni variety, was brought in from the United States. Agrarian troubles in Russia make the Odessa output uncertain and unreliable, and this is Canada’s opportunity. During the present month (October) Mr. Paolo Lorenzetto, representing the biggest grain commission concern in all Italy, is making a tour of this unknown Canada to see the growing source of this number 1 hard, “the best wheat that ever came into Italy.” If there was not the enormous import duty of forty cents on every bushel of foreign wheat that enters Italy to-day, the national peasant might enjoy a much bigger daily dish of macaroni under his paternal vine and fig-tree. The average price of Italian wheat for the past six months has been 25.75 francs per hundred kilos, about $1.40 per bushel ; while imported wheat, during the same period, brought 26.50 francs per 100 kilos, or nearly $1.45 per bushel.
Canadian wheat that can be taken to Genoa and sold at a seaboard price of a dollar a bushel, will find purchasers in Italy. Not only can Edmonton hand to the swarthy Italian seductive macaroni sticks ; she also offers to clothe himFlax growing in and around Edmonton is an infant industry , with a lusty childhood and a mature mid-age before it.
To this great wheat country tramp come-outers of north, east, south and west, and the other eight and twenty points of the compass—they go back to the hinterland and farm, or they pitch their Ebenezer in the new raw towns by the side of the railway, the towns “ihat smell of sawdust—naked stand of paint.” Come into one of those little red schoolhouses, which is church and undertaker’s shop and postoffice incidentally, and let us look at the school register. There are thirty names on the roll, the teacher considerately has jotted down the nationality of each member of her little flock. We read the words, Ontario, England, Scotland, Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, France, Bohemia, Galicia, United States, Roumania, Austria-Hungary, Cape Colony. Truly, we have found the melting-pot of the nations, and here comes the teacher, surrounded by her uneasy disciples, the
boys bare-footed, and blue-clad of denims, the girls with pantalets of nankeen and surreptitious gum. Don’t smile that superior smile. These, and not the grain-fields, with their forty bushels to the acre, are the hope of western Canada, and it is round-faced Mary Murphy, fresh from her Normal school, “back east,” now gathering in her heterogeneous flock, and not the big bank manager with his monthly clearings turning yellow' grain into yellow double-eagles, that is to make the new big west a great nation.
Life in a half-continent peopled from the ends of the earth cannot but be complex. In its complexity is the charm and the hope of Canadian life. Not a replica of any of the old-w'orld nations, but a composite out of which a new type of national character may emerge, the Canadian type is the opportunity and the ambition of this latest born among the nations.
The elements in our national life, the factors that make for material wealth, or for social betterment, or for moral culture, must all be drawn upon, each to contribute its quota for the nation that is to be. The railways and the steamship lines, the great manufacturing industries and the institutions of commerce and trade, the farmer and the miner and the lumberman, the inventor and the artisan, the philosopher, the poet and the artist, the scientist and the preacher and the statesman, all who in any way add to the wealth or increase the worth of Canadian citizenship—to them the call comes to build up a clean, sane commonwealth, a nation that shall be “four-square.”
And if this Canadian type is to survive it must stand for more than mere wealth, more than bigness. Greater Canada must have a soul as well as a body. For in the last analysis the destiny of a country depends not upon its material resources, but upon the character of its people, and as the big selfbinders whirr among the wheat, into the hands of Mary Murphy piling up a record of “work done squarely and unwasted days,” is this great trust put.