John Bull’s Bread-Basket

Herbert Vanderhoof July 1 1907

John Bull’s Bread-Basket

Herbert Vanderhoof July 1 1907

John Bull’s Bread-Basket

Herbert Vanderhoof

in Metropol tan Magazine

WITH a long-drawn “Whoa!” the driver pulled up. We were on the slope of a low pass which seemed to separate two vast vales. To the south were bluffs covered with poplar, just turning from green to gold. To the north, perhaps a hundred feet below, lay a lake dotted with wooded islands, and along its farther shores we could see the scattered homes of many settlers. Fine cattle were feeding in fertile fields, where grass, wild, peas and Saskatoon berries grew knee high.

This, then, was the gateway to the Saskatchewan Valley, famous buckle of the hard wheat belt. The scene should be known for one of the fairest in the world. Here at our feet lay the heart of Canada’s grain fields which stretched east and west for 900 miles, north and south for 500. “Canada lies west”—gazing, one realized the force of the prophecy. In these rich, black, waxy lands., magnificent with potential harvests, lay the newfound strength of a nation. In this one-time wilderness where Indians had lurked in ambush, now smiled neat homes, white-walied, with green shutters and deep verandahs. This valley, which was once a famous hunting ground, the scene of fierce tribal wars, had become a place of peace. To the north, not so many miles distant, and pushed but a little way back since the earliest day of the voyageur and courier du bois, lay the primeval forest, trodden no longer by the waiting red man, but untamed yet, almost unhandseled ; where the winters closed down, wrapping them in a silence broken only by the loon’s cry or the crash of a snow-laden tree—• the same sounds, the same aching silence endured in the old day by the family of the factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company post.

“So this,” said I to the driver, “is what vou call ‘John Bull’s breadbasket?’ ”

‘‘Who has been telling you that?” questioned the big-boned Canadian, flecking a fly from the neck of the cayuse. “Some newspaper chap or poetry writer, I’ll bet—not any of our people. You see, there are fellows in every country who are never satisfied to tell the truth—just natural-born liars, so to speak. The fact is there is as much wheat grown in the State of Kansas as we raise in all of western Canada. But we haven’t started yet, and Kansas has been at it a long time. We’ve got the climate and the soil, but we need farmers. Canada ain’t any nation’s bread-basket yet, but it may be some day. The Government crop experts tell us we can produce one billion bushels of wheat each year, and if the time ever comes when wo do, not only Great Britain, but Uncle Sam and all the other nations on earth will just naturally keep their eyes on Canada.”

As the driver shook the lines and the lithe little cayuse scampered away down the slope, I remembered the statement of my host of the night before to the effect that western Canada’s grain crop alone in 1906 had yielded approximately one hundred million dollars—nearly four times the value of the entire gold output of the whole Dominion—and at present in the wide stretches of the grain provinces were only 805,000 men, women and children. One hundred million dollars in grain produced by less than one million persons, who do various other things in the meantime —build railways, dig canals, irrigate small empires, rear fifteen-storey buildings, bridge great rivers, sleep, eat, drink and saw wood—was not bad, even if that happy day when the eyes of Uncle Sam and all the other nations on earth should be turned upon Canada were still a thing of the future.

Then I thought of other millions which my host did not mention : the

millions wrought from the forests and out of the mines, and still other millions from cattle, sheep, hogs, honey, fruit and garden truck. And I remembered that the work had only just begun, that only a few trees had been felled in the forest, only a few acres of a vast domain of wheat land had been broken, and I asked myself whether, in five or sx years, when 3,000,000 people are working away where less than one-third that number work today, when the railways now in course of construction have been completed, when unexplored areas have been opened up—whether the annual production would not be more then treble what it was in 1906.

Have you ever noticed the farmboy let down the bars into a new fresh meadow, while the cows impatiently crowd around him, craning their necks, reveling in anticipation? The bars down, they do not remain to graze near the gate, neither do they begin at one side and work painstakingly across the field. North, east, south, west, they scatter over their new preserve, trampling down more than they eat. It is the embarrassment of riches.

And here is your simile from the grass and the herd: Western Canada was the big, new meadow reaching from the international line to the Peace River of the north eastward to Hudson’s Bay, and westward to the rockies. As it is with the cows, so it was with the pioneers when the barriers between east and west, north and south, had been removed by the extension of railway facilities. Into the meadow poured the pioneers, reveling in the great good land which for a century and a half had been the domain of fur monopolists, fortified by Government influence and armored arrogant conviction that for them alone had nature evolved the immense potentialities of half a continent. The first settlers, on reaching the prairies from the south and east, spurned the land that lay nearest at hand, scattering far and wide to the utmost corners of the new-old world. Many sought a hardy livelihood trading in

peltries with the company ; others fished or cut timber, and still others prospected for gold. But a vast majority turned to cattle raising. It became the dream of the early pioneers that one day western Canada would become the beef market of Old England. And not till the coming of the wheat did the dream change. When the trail of the Hudson’s Bay Company was still over the country the rancher was not welcome—yet he came. The cowman did not want the farmer, but the farmer in turn ousted him.

The day of the fur baron passed; the day of the cattle grower was done. Canada at last had come into her own.

Here, as elsewhere, the coming of real civilization waited upon the railroads. Nature gave to western Canada, in her magnificent lakes and riverways, an unequaled system of interior communication, but they were like unto the separate links of a chain until man undertook to connect them and to cover the whole face of the vast country with a network of steel tracks.

In 1881 there was not one single track of railroad in Manitoba and the West. To-day 8,000 miles are completed and in service. Out of the country, which these lines tap came 85,000,000 bushels of wheat in 1905 and nearly a 100,000,000 in 1906. The farmers on these prairies in 1905 shipped for export 55,000 head of cattle, averaging 1,325 pounds each; in 1905, 80,000 head. To harvest the crops of the prairie west an army of 23,000 men was imported, and more were needed. This was the country which was slow to find itself! From the Atlantic to the Pacific Canada operates 24,000 miles of railway ; from the tidewater to the Great Lakes she has built a system of canals which cost her approximately $1,000,000,000 —a sum which she paid courageously with a promptness entirely out of keeping with the fact that her population to-day is less than ours was more than a century ago.

And despite the fact that her railway mileage per capita already is

greater than that of any other nation on earth, there are to-day in Canada under contract, or in actual construction, 9,000 miles of new lines.

In the work of widening the field for personal rights and personal opportunity the Canadian Pacific was the pioneer. It was the road which opened to the traveler the last wilderness, to the world the last west. In the years that have sped since Lord Strathcona, on November 7, 1885, drove the last spike in the transcontinental line, a new nation has been born. What part in the accouchement ceremony has the railroad played? Remember this was Prince Rupert’s land —a world of mystery over which the “fur trust” held sway. Is it not something to win and build an empire, to make it ready for the occupancy of the people of the earth? It it not a great and significant thing to institute competition where the most exacting of monopolies had reigned supreme, to substitute democracy for an absolutism, to offer a fair chance for all in place of special privilege for the few? Take a peep at the big map in the land commissioner’s office. A bright-headed tack shows every settler in every district in this new-old land of virgin prairies, forests primeval, singing rivers and laughing lakes —and the railroad brought him here. Study the tacks. They tell the story of the most remarkable population movement known to history.

In the last ten years Iowa has sent nearly twenty thousand of her sons and daughters to settle in western Canada. From Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Washington, Idaho, the farmers came. Minnesota sent eight or ten thousand a year, North Dakota seven thousand a year, Mchigan, Illinois and Wisconsin, say, five thousand each. The Canadian Pacific is building nineteen new branches—it is spending six million dollars for rails and seven and one-half millions for rolling stock. But build as it will, it cannot keep pace with the needs of the day; the crops threaten to swamp all transportation. The railroad is moving fast, fast—but the inrushing thousands are moving faster.

The Canadian Northern, following where the older company led, has reached out into rich fields. Its new line to Edmonton goes straight through the heart of the Saskatchewan Valley and taps as fertile an agricultural district as the world has ever known. The rapidity with which towns have sprung up in this district is inconceivable to the man who has never listened to the song of the saw or the sharp conversation of the hammer with the nail in the building of an empire.

The Grand Trunk Pacific, a giant project, just now is engaging the energies of the Government and the genius of Charles M. Hays, the Yankee railroad man who rebuilt the old Grand Trunk. Other railways have been built by adding one rail to another; five thousand miles of the Grand Trunk Pacific are being completed simultaneously, and branch lines are taking, form before the main line has known an engine. And recently “Jim” Hill, with a great Canadian enterprise, returned to his native country to get a share of. the good things. Verily, these be brave days for the railroad man in western Canada.

When the railroads came the means of transporting wheat suggested the growing of wheat, and rapidly the grain trade assumed size and loomed up on the horizon as a new big factor in the country’s development. In 1877 the Hon. William Hespeler built western Canada’s first grain elevator at the town of Niverville, in Manitoba. In 1886 official authoritative statistics of Canada’s yearly crops began to be compiled. In that year western Canada’s wheat exports amounted to only 4,000,000 bushels. In 1890 they were 11,500,000 bushels, and by 1900 the total had jumped to 17,000,000 bushels.

Six years ago western Canada began to attract notice by exporting to the outer world annual grain values of 50,000,000 bushels and over. It was a beginning. This year the western Canadian wheat crop has neared the hundred million bushel mark, and as vet the plow has scratch-

ed merely the edges of the great rich grain belt.

My driver in the .Saskatchewan Valley had given me a clue, and by following it I got a somewhat adequate grasp of the situation by instituting a comparison between the State of Kansas and the whole of western Canada. It was then that I saw what a mere pittance the 100,000.000 bushels of to-day are compared with the harvests which the years of the future will reap.

Since 1901 the wheat crop of Canada’s prairie provinces has amounted year by year approximately to the same total as that of Kansas, but against the 53,000,000 acres in the State of Kansas, the possible wheat belt of Canada boasts a total area of no less than one hundred and seventy million acres. Of this about five million acres were sowed to wheat in 1906. If Canada ever utilizes the whole of her wheat-growing possibilities, and if her present average yield per acre is maintained, she will turn into the world's bread-basket more than thirty times her present annual production. But there are “ifs” here, you say. Very well—for argument’s sake cut 170,000,000 acres in half. This leaves 85,000,000 acres. Then, to be on the safe side, reduce the average allowance per acre to 10, a reduction of 50 per cent. Multiply 85,000,000 by 10 and your answer to this little problem in simple arithmetic is 850,000,000 bushels.

So much for quantity. Fortunately quality in products is an attribute upon which Canadians particularly insist, and endeavor to produce. To them as a nation, and to one man in particular, the whole flour-consuming population of the world is under obligation for the separating from a host of other varieties one that is pre-eminently a high-class milling wheat. The discovery of the celebrated Red Fife was made some sixty years ago by a Canadian farmer named David Fyfe, and by him propagated until its value as a milling wheat had been demonstrated and seed secured sufficient to supply first a íew townships, then counties, then

the Northwestern States, and, finally, all the Spring wheat country of North America. The standard of the quality of Canadian wheat is most rigidly maintained by an act of Federal Parliament, called the Grain Inspection Act. This act fixed the standards of different grades of wheat very much upon the same basis as they are fixed in the States, but with this difference, that the standard for Canadian No. 2 northern is as high as the standard No. 1 in the United States. Above this grade there is No. i northern and No. 1 hard.

A week ago, at Indian Head, I talked with a man named Wilson. In 1897 he had bought 320 acres at $5 an acre. “It was more land than I had ever dreamed of owning, but I had the money and I wanted to spend it,” he said. “I was scared a little at first, afraid I had bitten off more than I could chew. But I needn’t have worried.

Of a truth he need not have worried. Those acres which he had purchased were so unexpectedly fertile and, in the first season of his ownership, they yielded so bountifully of their wealth that prosperity smote him hip and thigh. He bought more, and again more. “This last season I took 22,000 bushels of wheat and 9,000 bushels of oats from my farm,” he told me. “I own 1,700 acres, onethird of which I have always allowed to lie fallow. The farm I paid $5,000 for is now worth $60,000. But my case is one of many. There are hundreds of farmers around here who have done better than I. From Indian Head station alone more than a million and a half bushels of wheat are shipped every year.”

A year or two ago Hugh McKellar, formerly Deputy Minister of Agriculture for the Province of Manitoba, and recently an active force in the upbuilding of Moose Jaw, a thriving city which the recent census declares is the metropolis of the Province of Saskatchewan—a year or two ago, I say, this Hugh McKellar raised a smile in eastern Canada by declaring that the west would some day yield wheat for the world to the tune of one

billion bushels each year. Gradually this smile is fading. The rapidity of development is necessitating a constant revision of the old figures, not on the yield alone, but on the possible acreage—and always to the advantage of the west. For instance, the irrigation works of the Canadian Pacific Railway, near Calgary, have brought into the market 1,500,000 acres of cultivable land at one time counted valuable for the grazing only. And during 1904 a new element entered mto the calculation of ultimate wheat production through the demonstrated success of Winter wheat; that is, wheat planted in the Fall and harvested three weeks before wheat planted in Spring matures. Phenomenal yields of Winter wheat, forty to fifty bushels to the acre, were shown in parts of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. But large as these were they were not so astonishing as the success achieved in southern Alberta on land previously employed as a cattle range. The variety of Winter wheat known as “Kansas Turkey Red” developed remarkable productiveness.

Estimating an annual increase of 20 per cent, for several years in the acreage under wheat, an estimate fully attained by the actual conditions of 1904, 1905 and 1906, we have a

total acreage of 8,580,000 in 1910, which, at an average yield of twenty bushels to the acre, would give a crop of 171,600,000 bushels. This is about the amount annually imported by Great Britain, and it does not seem unreasonable to assume that Canada may soon be able to feed the Mother Country. Of course not all the wheat can be exported. Beside the item of home consumption—a growing feature, with the expansion of city life —there is an amount needed for seeding, requiring on the average a bushel and a half to every acre cultivated. We shall not, therefore, have 171,000,000 bushels to export as soon as that amount is harvested, but each year the golden stream of wheat flows wider and swifter and deeper down to the lakes, and the development of only one or two additional years would cover the shortage. Thus it will be seen that the day when western Canada has fully earned its title of John Bull’s bread-basket is not remote.

If it is true, and few will gainsay it, that the seat of the new-found strength of our neighbor to the north lies in the prairie country, then it may be stated without fear of question that the story of Canadian wheat is, in fact, the story of Canada.