The Message of the Flour Barrel
The Rich Productivity of the Acreage in Western Canada Sets at Naught all Fear of There Ever Being a Shortage in the Breadstuffs of the World—All Progress goes Back in the Last Analysis to the Wheat
Herbert Vanderhoof in the Cosmopolitan Magazine
NOT long ago the Manitoba Free Press sent to each of a number of representative American publications a sou-
venir of Western Canada in the form of a miniature barrel. It is a pretty bit of workmanship, complete to its wooden hoops, and as a toy would delight the heart of a child. But the inscription it bears takes it out of the domain of children’s toys and makes it the striking symbol of a great new nation. This is the inscription: “Peace River Flour made at Vermilion, Four Hundred Miles South of the Arctic Circle.”
The booklet that accompanies the barrel explains that on its journey from the mill this llour traveled first some three hundred miles in a Hudson Bay stern-wheel steamer down the Peace River to Lake Athabasca and across to the mouth of the Athabasca River, thence by the Athabasca River to Athabasca Landing, nearly four hundred miles, in a York boat. It was then brought
by pack train one hundred miles to Edmonton, and from Edmonton it traveled 1,032 miles to Winnipeg. From Fort Vermilion to Minneapolis is 2,280 miles; to Chicago, 2,690 miles; to New York, 3,603 miles— and fifty years ago John H. Klippart, whose book on the “Wheat Plant” is still in many respects authoritative, stated that the northern and western boundaries of Ohio marked the limits of the wheat-producing area of northern America !
Here, then, is the tale the barrel tells: Because the wheat stayed not within its ancient boundaries a new country has arisen, a new member, bearing lavish gifts, has come into the family of nations.
For something like five thousand years wheat has satisfied the hunger of mankind. In the tombs of the men who reaped and wrought, loved and hated, lived and died in ancient Egypt, grains of it have been found, and down through the years that history has
gathered into her grasp, the record of the people has had to do with the growing and the grinding of the wheat. The wider the areas of civilization become the larger grows the number of those who have learned to know white bread, and the dependence of the people upon the wheat continually increases. Shortages in the supply have made and unmade governments and caused wars that changed the map of the world. To-day huge buildings in the great cities are devoted to buying and selling this grain, and men “make or break,” according to the size of the visible supply in the wheat-growing areas of the world. Whole railway systems are built to carry the wheat crops, and yet always there are men and nations, Oliver Twist like, asking for more.
The number of people in the world is increasing so fast and the standard of living is being so rapidly raised that to the most superficial thinker it was evident long since that the old wheat-growing countries, Russia and Egypt, the Argentines, and the United States, were not going to be equal to furnishing a tithe of what would soon be needed. Malthus, and others of his way of thinking, advocated a hundred years ago or more what we call “race suicide” as the only solution, and they proved by facts and figures that in the natural order of things the increase in the production of breadstufifs could not keep up with the increase in population. It was a very plausible and most depressing theory they formulated. But Malthus and his followers had not all the factors of the problem. They were reckoning without Manitoba and Alberta and Saskatchewan. They could not “keep their eye on Winnipeg,” and what she points the way to, while they figure. That much-epithe'ted city, “the gateway to the West,” “the buckle of the wheat belt,” did not exist. So far as the world was concerned there was no Canadian West. Nor was it given to Malthus and his followers to see in visions a wheat belt stretching northwesterly from the Great Lakes on and up to where the famous Peace River wheat paints the ground pale gold. To a world wanting white bread, and wanting it not only for themselves, but for their children and their children’s children, the little flour barrel is the bearer of a message of the utmost significance.
For more than two centuries Canada, between the Pacific and the Great Lakes, was
of interest to the outside world only as a source of stirring tales of adventure and of handsome furs. The population within these bounds asked nothing better than to remain unknown and undisturbed, and as late as fifty years ago this state of afifairs was little changed. With the exception of a small settlement of Scotch in the Red River Valley in Manitoba, the few people who were in the country lived by hunting and trapping, and agriculture was left to the missionaries and to the Hudson Bay Company factors, whose small patches bore witness to the richness of the soil.
Finally came the Confederation of Canada and the railroad to connect the Provinces of the East with far-away British Columbia. The men who built the Canadian Pacific Railway were thought by the people in general to be dools, for the people in general did not know that the prairies stretching for nine hundred miles along the route were not semiarid, and, at the best, fit only for grazing cattle, as popularly believed, but were of a most surprising fertility and capable of supporting a population as large or larger than that of the States to the south. They did not know that thirty and forty and even fifty bushels of wheat had been harvested from a single acre. But such were the facts and the true state of things had only to be advertised to the world and a great migration began.
As far as the fertility of the soil was concerned, it was simply a question of informing ignorance, but in regard to the climate the most positive and persistent and erroneous ideas prevailed. Because Canada was north of the United States it was cold. That was the fundamental reasoning with the majority of Americans until reports began to come back of a wonderful wind that came from the west and found its way through the passes in the mountains and put the cold to flight, and of days eighteenhours long and every hour full of the most glorious sunshine, and of an air so packed with ozone and so free from damp that one had to look at the thermometer to realize that it was winter.
In 1900 Col. A. D. Davidson, a Canadian, who had lived most of his life in the United States, recrossed the forty-ninth parallel into the silent hoodooed prairies of Western Canada. He looked about him and what he saw inspired big thoughts. “This ’and,”"
he declared, “is going to be a vast field of wheat. It is worth more than the unmined gold-fields of the Yukon. It wifi make Canada great and rich.” This announcement heralded a new frontier, which a Yankee newspaper man in a happy phrase designated a little later as “The Last We^t."
It is the last W est, and it is a West that holds in its possession mines and forests, fish and furs, and—making all this other vast wealth as nothing in comparison—an almost limitless stretch of wheat land. It is not strange that from the older crowded countries many men and women are going to Canada, and that the majority of the immigrants settle in the West. The three prairie provinces, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, which eight or ten years ago had a combined population of some 200.000, now have more than 800.000. The following table shows the increase of immigration in the last six years, and shows also a very interesting phase of the situation, the increase in the number of English-speaking immigrants :
Total EnglishYear. Immigrants. Speaking.
1901 ............ 49,000 31,000'
1902 ............ 67,000 46,000
1903 ............ 124,000 89,000
1904 ............ 131,000 98,000
1905 ............ 150,000 118,000
1906 ............ 216,000 164,000
1907 ............ 280,000 210.000
In the bringing in of all this population and in opening up new territories for settlement, the railroads have played a most important part. At first the newcomers stuck close to the main line of the Canadian Pacific until that pioneer road began to push out branches in all directions, when they quickly followed in its wake. Then, eleven years ago, came the Canadian Northern, which stretched its long tentacles far to the north of the older road, right into the wilderness, bringing life and crops and towns wherever it touched. Now the new Government road, the Grand Trunk Pacific, is taking its course straight across the prairie while eager men watch its growth, ready to settle in its territory and raise wheat to ship in its new red cars.
Villages, towns and cities have sprung up beside the shining rails, and the first large building in most of them was a grain ele-
vator. But the farmers had to be supplied with all the necessities of life, so that each shipping point for wheat became also a distributing centre for its district. Stores, hotels, warehouses and even factories appeared across the track from the elevator, and a town equipped with all the complex machinery of modern commerce stood where yesterday an Indian camp-fire burned. The older settlements, because of the enormous wheat territory each held tributary to it, rapidly developed into real cities, with business far out of proportion to the size of their population.
This growth has been the result of no transitory “boom” ; in fact, some early booms that broke, as is the way of booms, leaving ruin behind them, taught the Western Canadian a lesson, and every effort has been made to hold things within bounds. Even so the growth in population, in products, in railroads, and in business generally, has been like that of a snowball rolling down a hillside, collecting a larger amount of snow at each new revolution. Thus each year has added more than any previous year to the growth of Western Canada.
Last year, 1907, was no exception to the rule, although the severe winter made it a bad year for most agricultural countries. The average yield of wheat per acre, was, indeed, smaller than is usual in Western Canada, but it was about fifteen bushels, which is considered very good in older wheat countries, like Russia and the United States. Then the high price more than made up for the smaller yield. The total wheat crop for the three prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta was seventy-five million bushels from an acreage of about five millions. This sold at an average price of sixtv-five cents a bushel, bringing some fifty million dollars into the farmers' pockets. In addition to the wheat there were 84.000,000 bushels of oats, 20,000.000 bushels of barley, and about 1.000.000 bushels of other grains, which added $48.000.000 to the revenue of the grain farmers. An interesting corollary of the large grain crops is the activity that was shown in the building of llour mills during this same year. On December 31. 1906, the mills west of Lake Superior had a total capacity of 32.677 barrels. One year later this capacity had been increased nearly forty per cent., the increase repre-
senting seventeen new mills and three enlargements.
One oatmeal mill of two hundred barrels capacity has also been built in Alberta, bringing the total in that class up to 1,115 barrels ; and there are also feed-mills having a capacity of 3,290 barrels in Western Canada. Four of the flour-mills are unusually large, and are equipped with the best machinery money can buy. Even the smallest of them is fully modern and capable of making the best flour.
The Northwestern Miller, of Minneapolis, which compiled these figures, says: ‘‘The fact that Western Canada has carried out such a large construction programme this year shows that there is some warrant for the opinion which has become firmlv established in flour-importing countries, that Canada is to figure more largely hereafter in the world’s flour trade. In both transpacific and transatlantic countries there will be an increasing quantity of Canadian flour offering as a result of the construction of these new mills. When the difficulties that hamper transportation in Canada have been removed, as they are sure to be before long, there will be nothing to prevent a steady and profitable trade be-
tween the prairie provinces of the West and all parts of the world wffiere American flour is in' demand.”
The transportation problem is being solved as fast as men, steam shovels, trackcarrying machines, and equipment factories can build road-beds and turn out engines and cars. During the year ending in November, 1907, nearly fifteen hundred miles of railroad were completed west of the Great Lakes, and another fifteen hundred were under construction.
The Canadian Pacific built 570 miles of road, the most important part being the line from Straasburg, past the upper end of Last Mountain Lake, through Saskatoon. This line will be completed to Wetaskiwin on the Calgary-Edmonton branch before the end of this year.
A good long start was made on the line from Moose Jaw northwestward to Stettler to join the Calgary-Edmonton branch at Lacombe. When these two lines are competed at the end of this year the Canadian Pacific will have, with its main line, three lines almost parallel across the richest wheat district in the world.
The Canadian Northern built 275 miles of road, the most notable achievement be-
ing the completion of the direct line from Winnipeg through Brandon to Regina, connecting with the Regina-Prince Albert branch. This gives this country three lines from Winnipeg to Prince Albert, including between them a roughly described segment of a great circle of magnificent agricultural lands. The Hudson Bay division was graded from Etoimami to the Pas, and during the past winter the rails have been laid preparatory to pushing on to Fort Churchill.
The new transcontinental, the Grand Trunk Pacific, completed 565 miles of new road, in addition to an immense amount of construction work all along the 700 miles between Winnipeg and Edmonton. The road-bed westward from Portage la Prairie was graded into Edmonton, and the steel laid as far west as Saskatoon, bringing the completed mileage between Winnipeg and Edmonton up to 320. By autumn of this year the trains will be running between these two cities. Early in 1908 the contract for 100 miles west of Edmonton was let for $5.000.000, and the grading is now under way, so that by the time the construction trains reach Edmonton the road-bed will be ready for them to push on toward the \ ellow Head Pass. The whole transcon-
tinental line from Moncton, on the Atlantic, to Prince Rupert, the new town owned by the company on the Pacific, a distance of 3,000 miles, is to be completed by December i, 1911.
The future holds some very interesting possibilities for Western Canada in the way of new routes to foreign countries. The efifect of these on the growth of cities and channels of trade will surely be great. If Prince Rupert, the western terminal of the Grand Trunk Pacific, stands at the eastern end of the shortest route to Asiatic ports, what will be the effect of the completion of this road on the towns along its line?
The Canadian Northern is rapidly pushing a branch from its Prince Albert division to Fort Churchill, on Pludson Bay. Fort Churchill is on tidewater somewhat nearer than Montreal to Liverpool, and averages 976 miles nearer the cities of Western Canada than Montreal. When the Panama Canal is finished it will be cheaper to ship from points west of the middle of Saskatchewan. via Vancouver, the terminal of the Canadian Pacific, and the canal to Europe than by the present way via Lake Superior and Montreal. This route will be open all the year round, and the shorter Hudson Bav route will be closed part of
«ach winter. It would take a wise head indeed, to prophesy the exact effect of the ■opening of all these new channels of trade. But it is easy for any observer to see that as fast as each one is open there will be plenty of business for it. The Canadian prairies are capable of producing a billion bushels of wheat each year, and the railroads apd ship lines will not only have to export this vast mass of grain, but will have to bring in materials for the industries and provisions for the cities—in short, •do the carrying for the population required to cultivate such a crop.
With tjie growth in the country population and the increase in transportation facilities, there has been a corresponding development in the towns and cities. Winnipeg, the largest city in Western Canada, increased in population from 101,057 in 1906. to 111,717 in 1907. Calgary and Edmonton continued their growth of from three to four thousand a year, so that Calgary now has some twenty-two thousand and Edmonton over eighteen thousand people. Regina, Moose Jaw and the smaller cities increased in proportion, while a number of brand-new towns sprang up along the new lines of railroad. The building operations kept pace with the growth in population. Winnipeg issued building permits for $6,455,350, and her assessment increased from $80,511,725 to $106,188,833. In the wholesale district a number of warehouses can be seen with a streak running around them between the old bricks and the new, where additional storeys have been put on, and the old bricks are not more than two or three years old in most cases, only just enough soiled to mark the line of division. The very general activity of business is shown in the bank clearings, which amounted to $608.000,000, an increase of 20 per. cent, over those of 1906.
During the last few years there has been a marked increase in the manufactories of this region ; in fact, it is not such a very long time since there were no factories at all between Eastern Ontario and British Columbia. Almost unnoticed, industries began to creep into the towns, until last year Winnipeg woke up and found itself the fourth manufacturing city of Canada, and no one was more surprised than the loyal Winnipegger himself. In 1906, Win-
nipeg put out about $18,000,000 in manufactured products, and during 1907 a rolling mill, brick-yards and other industries were added to the city’s factories. We have already noted the enormous increase in the^ flour-mills in the West; almost every industry made large strides, and some entirely new ones were established. Especially noteworthy were the building of a milliondollar packing plant at Edmonton by an American firm, because it is the first step in the invasion of this country by American packing interests, and the establishment of a woolen-mill at Lethbridge, because this is the first step in the establishment of textile factories west of Ontario.
In spite of the growth of manufactories, Western Canada is still obliged to import the greater part of the manufactured products which it consumes. It gets much from the factory districts of Eastern Canada, but the East is not able to supply the Canadian market by any means. The imports of the country have increased steadily, as indeed have the exports, the chief items among the latter being the products of the forest, of the mines and of agriculture.
The year 1907 was a very trying one in almost all parts of the globe. The peculiarly severe and late winter was disastrous to crops, and money was “tight,” a bad combination for all agricultural countries. Western Canada stood the test nobly. The crops were so good that, with the high prices, they brought the normal amount of money into the country and business was merely slowed down by the money situation. Immigration was larger than ever before, and development in all lines went on steadily and serenely, regardless of the financial difficulties in other countries.
And all of this progress, the cheerful rush of new settlers, the making of the towns into cities, and of small cities into larger ones, the new industries springing up and the old ones increasing their scope, the financial soundness of the country, the energy and enterprise of the railroads, all of it goes back, in the last analysis, to the wheat. Because of the wheat is the country great, the wheat that is ground into flour to make the people’s bread. The message that the little barrel brings is a promise of future plenty, and it comes straight from the Canadian wheat-fields.