WAITING FOR THE RAILROAD
EDCAR WILLIAM DYNES
IN the west there are always a goodly number of people waiting for the railroad. There is the speculator who is holding land for the rise in value which will follow the laying of the shafts of steel. There is the business man who is looking for a location, and who realizes the benefits to be derived from getting in on the ground floor in a new town. There is the settler, who is weary of hauling his grain forty or fifty miles to a railroad, and who watches the nearest local paper week by week for news of proposed construction.
The railroad is the backbone of the west. It has made it what it is ; it will yet make it what it is to be. The Hon. Richard McBride, Premier of British Columbia, said recently that it seemed to be impossible to build up a settlement or a community away from good transportation facilities. He was right. The time was when such was not the case. In the years back in the past settlers were willing to locate a long way from civilization, and would hew out a home in the wilderness ; but that day has passed. The great cities offer too many allurements. The railroad is to-day a necessity.
The settler is the man who really does the waiting. He waits right on the ground ; the others, like Peter, wait afar off. It is not necessary for a business man to go into a new district until a few days before the iron horse pulls in. The speculator may rest at ease in his far off home, while the railroad is coming, but not so—the settler. If
he is ever to have a homestead close to good transportation facilities he must locate years before the coming of the railroad. A crowd of anxious land hunters waited forty-two hours outside the Edmonton land office for their turn to file on land in the Saddle Lake country, the choicest locations of which were forty-two miles from a railroad. They knew that the land they were filing on was good ; with the good land would come good crops; and with the good crops would come the railroad to carry them. The railroad man is always watching for more business —for a greater tonnage and larger passenger receipts.
A close student of western affairs remarked a short time ago that he would sooner have a homestead within forty miles of a railroad than one within twenty miles of a modern locomotive. His reason was a simple one. He contended that with a homestead forty miles from transportation there was a chance that some day the plough horses might be alarmed at the approach of a swift express, but that in the case of the one twenty miles away there was little likelihood of a railroad near for a long period of years. The country would have to be very thickly settled and the per acre production very high before a railroad company would thus attempt to gridiron the country with roads. There were too many new districts without railroads at all for this to be possible.
The average man takes his turn at guessing where the next new
line will be built. He keeps his ear to the ground, smiles blandly at all the politicians supposed to be in the know, gets all the tips he can, and then sifting out the information thus gathered he draws his own conclusions, makes his guess, and plants his stakes.
Very often he makes a rather shrewd guess, but there are a number of instances on record where the locators were several hundred miles astray. At the time the main line of the Canadian Pacific was built, there were a number of very poor guessers. Before it was definitely decided that the road would be built through the Kicking Horse Pass, there were many who thought the route would be through the Yellow Head Pass, much further north. They made their calculations accordingly. In one instance a number of ambitious prospectors and land seekers located land and mineral in the path of the proposed route. As soon as they found how wide of the mark their guess had been they trekked out in disgust. Perhaps some homesteader along the line of the Grand Trunk Pacific or the Canadian Northern may find the ruins of the cabins they erected.
Others occupied themselves with guesses as to where the coast ter-
minal wrould be. Some said Vancouver, but there were not a few who pinned their faith to Port Moody. One eastern capitalist looking for an investment came out and after looking over the situation wrent strong on Port Moody. He bought all he could. When the announcement was made that Vancouver would be the terminal he was a much disappointed man. He never fully recovered from the shock and—all because he was a poor guesser.
If all the proposed railroad lines for which charters have been secured had been constructed the map of Western Canada would look not unlike a spider's web. The prairie country would now' be linked with Hudson’s Bay. The Dawson miner, who has made a stake w'ould be able to board the south bound express and take a berth for Edmonton. A conductor on a north bound train w'ould be able to step on the platform at Winnipeg and holler, “All aboard for Edmonton and Fort McMurray.” The resident of Kootenay wrho might desire to spend a few days in a city of metropolitan aspirations wrould have long since been taking in the best things supplied by Vancouver, instead of helping to make profit for Spokane. The men
who have the charters haven’t the money. The men who have the money, and who turn to Western Canada as the scene of their operations in the railroad world very often find their projects are covered by some charter secured years before.
Almost ten years ago a number of “go ahead” westerners with more enterprise and ambition in their make-up than money in their jeans, secured a charter to build a road from Midway to Vernon. It was afterwards bonused by the Federal and Provincial Governments to the extent of eleven thousand four hundred dollars a mile. After five years of hard work the promoters made
an arrangement with a New York company to finance the project. Construction was commenced and the prospectors and homesteaders in a rich mining and fruit-growing territory felt that the railroad which would give them the long looked for start was coming at last.
But trouble came soon. The original charter, which carried with it the bonus from the Provincial Government, had run out. It had been extended as far as construction was concerned, but the members of the
B. C. Government were in doubt as to whether under the extension of time agreement they were liable for the amount of the bonus. Almost ten miles of grading had been done and the time was drawing near when the payment of the bonus on this portion would be due.
In some mysterious way, through a careless remark, it is presumed, a gentleman high up in banking circles received the information that the Government proposed to refuse to pay the bonus unless forced to do so by the judgment of the courts. Unfortunately this information reached the intelligence office of the New York concern, who were financ-
ing the road. They backed down and construction was stopped immediately. The wages of the railroad gangs had not been paid. Merchants who had supplied contractors with provisions and other equipment had to jot down some pretty stiff figures on their books. That was in the fall of 1905, and neither men nor merchants have been paid yet.
When the matter of whether or not the Government was liable for the amount of the bonus came up in
the courts some weeks later, a decision was handed down in favor of the holders of the charter. This decision, however, came too late to be of any assistance to the project as construction had ceased some three months previous.
A short time before the general election of 1908, advertisements signed by a local trust company appeared in all of the local papers, asking for a rendering of all accounts against the Midway & Vernon Railway Company. It stated, however, that no obligation for payment was assumed by the insertion of the advertisement. The trust company received many memorandas of the amounts owing, but the interested parties are still waiting for their money.
In July, 1909, a construction gang suddenly appeared on the scene west of Midway, and intimated that they had received instructions to begin work on the grade of the Midway & Vernon. Again the hopes of the various interested parties rose high, but again they were doomed to disappointment. It is estimated that in the neighborhood of one thousand dollars’ worth of work was done, when the construction gang disappeared as quietly as they had come. The only information a patient public has been able to get with regard to the matter is that it was necessary for the company to do some work this year in order to hold the charter. It is iptimated that next year construction will be commenced in earnest. In the meantime the development of a very rich district has been held back, and two enterprising young merchants, who eight years ago built a large store at Beaverdell, a point half way from Midway to Vernon, are still waiting—away out there in a wilderness rich with mineral—waiting as they have been for over eight years —for the railroad.
All over the west there are men living in mansions, who have made
fortunes in real estate, the enhanced values in city and town property being the direct result of the coming of the railroad. In Edmonton there are said to be over one hundred men who have each made from fifty thousand and upwards since the Alberta Express first nulled in. Numerous other cities — Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver, Spokane, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and many others have been profitable fields of operation for the man with long nerve, who bought early 01 who staked his last dollar in covering options.
When the Calgary and Edmonton line was first built it stopped at Strathcona. William Mackenzie, whose contracting firm had built the road, went over to Edmonton and tried to persuade his friend, John McDougall, of fur trade fame, that staying with Edmonton was a forlorn hope. In vain he attempted to prove to him that it was almost useless to expect that any railroad would ever build across the river. The far-seeing fur trader thanked his friend, but intimated his intention of remaining in the place where for so many years he had made his home. Strangely enough, the railroad did come fourteen years later, and stranger still, it was built by the man who had said that a railroad would never be likely to build to Edmonton. The coming of the Canadian Northern lifted John McDougall into influence. He now lives in an imposing red brick mansion on a beautiful height of land overlooking' the windings of the broad Saskatchewan.
When it was definitely decided that the Grand Trunk Pacific would build through northern British Columbia the attention of thousands of investors and land seekers was focused upon this portion of our great western heritage. Prince Rupert, the terminal, held most of the honors, but there were not a few who plunged into the great interior. Hun-
dreds of mineral locations were made in the rich Telkwa country. Further inland the agriculturist found a new Eden in the Nechaco Valley. Thousands of acres of land were staked. In view of the possibilities of this great interior the eyes of speculators were drawn to Fort George, which lies in the centre of the district. A Nelson syndicate surveyed a townsite not long since. When the time is ripe they will be placed on the market.
How history does repeat itself ! Barkerville had a boom in the old days, which made the Cariboo road look like a modern land rush. And again it is destined to be the highway that will be the path of profithunting pilgrims rushing — ever northward—sixty miles past Barkerville to Fort George.
The lure of Fort George has been great enough to draw John Houston from Prince Rupert. He will have a paper running in Fort George as soon as he can get his presses in. But there is nothing strange about this veteran editor hitting the trail for a new location. He quit writing editorials in Nelson over four years ago, and in the interim is said to have made two fortunes — one in Nevada and the other in Prince Rupert. The wanderings of John Houston would make a story in themselves. We must leave him. In the meantime he will be found
with the trail blazers of Fort George -—waiting for the roar of the locomotive to come and tell them that once more in the conquest of the west the van of civilization has come.
Over ten years ago it was announced that a railroad would be built from Golden down through the Windermere country and connecting with the Crow’s Nest branch of the Canadian Pacific. Immediately the “waiting-for-the-railroad-people” began to get busy. The little town of Fort Steele rose up in a few months. It expected to be on the new line. The line was not built then, nor is it built yet. The latest report is that it will be built next year. Who knows? But disquieting news has come to the residents of Fort Steele. It is rumored that it may be side-tracked a few miles when the line is built. If this be so—what luck? Ten years waiting and given the “mitten” in the end.
At Fairmount Springs, a short distance south of Windermere, an energetic rancher has had fruit trees bearing for over a dozen years. He located in the early days, when a railroad un the valley was first suggested. Perhaps he won’t smile a little, when some day on in the future the whistle of the locomotive will bid him look up as he picks the big red apple. But what a weary job it is—waiting for the railroad!
Perhaps no district in Canada has suffered more because of a lack of transportation facilities than the district which will be served by the proposed Coast-Kootenay extension of the Canadian Pacific. This has been a proposed line for upwards of ten years. During that time millions of dollars in trade have gone *to American centres, which might have been diverted to Vancouver, had this line been in operation. The great smelters of the Boundary country look eagerly for the time when the construction of this line will bring them into touch with the great coal areas of the Similakameen and thus provide competition in the coke business. The fruit growers, some of them who have been growing fruit for a quarter of a century—one orchard near Keremeos is quite this old —will have a means of marketing their fruit without making use of freight wagons and pack horses.
Yes, there are a large number of people in southern British Columbia who are eagerly waiting for the construction of this much needed line. When that day comes this great southern country will boast a string of smelters from Fernie to Princeton. The conductor will be able to board his train and run from one end to the other without ever being very long out of sight of a fruit
ranch. The great timber areas will disappear before the axe of the woodsman, and the stumps will follow suit when the settlers come along with a stump puller and dynamite. “It is ten years, Mr. Railroad Man, since you proposed,” say the old residents. “We accepted you on the spot. Is not a ten-year engagement long enough? We want to see the dirt fly and the grade rising. How much longer must we wait ?”
There are not a few evidences that the waiting days are passing. The time was when the railroad man hesitated because he feared a new branch line woidd not pay. But heavy tonnage and increased earnings have given a new impetus to construction. Several American railroad kings have their eyes on the railroad opportunities of the west. Four big systems are headingfor the coal region of the Crow’s Nest in order that they may be in touch with an abundant fuel supply. And so they are coming. But in the meantime, there are here a few and there a few waiting; speculator, settler, business man—all waiting; some patiently, more impatiently— but all with their eyes ready to soften at the appearance of “the finallocation-survey-party”—the forerunner of the iron horse.