The Third Chapter of Western Growth

Trend of Settlement is Now Toward the MacKenzie Basin, a Land of Wonderful Promise

W. D. ALBRIGHT May 1 1914

The Third Chapter of Western Growth

Trend of Settlement is Now Toward the MacKenzie Basin, a Land of Wonderful Promise

W. D. ALBRIGHT May 1 1914

The Third Chapter of Western Growth

Trend of Settlement is Now Toward the MacKenzie Basin, a Land of Wonderful Promise

THE agricultural development of the Canadian West, apart from ranching, divides into three chapters. First was the settlement of the Red and Assiniboine watersheds in eastern and southern Manitoba. The second was the development of the two Saskatchewan valleys, south and north, respectively. The third epoch, on which we are now entering, is the opening of the Mackenzie basin, commencing with the valleys of the Peace and the Athabasca. Will the third chapter exceed the second as the second did the first?

The Peace River country is on every man’s tongue in the West. No longer is it the dread, rather mysterious and almost unattainable land of Arctic rigors and natural obstacles. It has become instead a country of commercial and agricultural possibilities, and as such is now the objective point of the pioneer.

This article is written in the new North, after an adventurous, exciting and decidedly laborious trip down the circuitous and risky waters beyond Athabasca Landing. We have passed the Grand Rapids of the Athabasca, run the Grand Cascade, struggled over many a weary portage ; and we have begun to see the new North with new eyes—with eyes that glimpse the greatness of this wonderful land, which cannot fail but convey to the mind a sense of prophetic certainty. Beyond the Landing one starts to see visions of a new empire.

We of the East have had an idea that the region north of Edmonton was wholly unsettled. What was our surprise to find at St. Albert, Clyde, and various other points along the C.N.R.’s hundred-mile line from Edmonton to Athabasca, extensive settlements where half a dozen stacks of grain marked many a homestead, and oat stooks studded the fields as thick as on the Saskatchewan plains.

The black-loam soil of the prairie extends all through this territory. Barring a few jackpine ridges and some rough country along the north shore of Lesser Slave Lake, we saw nothing else on a five-hundred-and-fifty-mile journey from Edmonton to Grand Prairie, via the Athabasca River, Lesser Slave Lake and Peace River Crossing.

A stream of people of the very finest class that ever developed a new country have been pouring into the North. The train to Athabasca had twelve freight cars and twelve passenger coaches. The train agent informed us they had been

carrying a hundred and sixty or seventy passengers a day.

Many thousand homesteaders and holders of scrip have already located in one part or another of the great region traversed. Think of hundred-acre fields of oats at Athabasca Landing, Peace River Crossing, and Dunvegan ! Behold extensive settlement along the south shore of Lesser Slave Lake ; on the plateau north of the Peace between the Crossing and Dunvegan; again in Spirit River prairie fifteen miles south of Dunvegan ; south of this again in Grande Prairie, and yet again in the newer section of Pouce Coupee, sixty miles northwest of Grande Prairie and divided by the British Columbia boundary. The most thickly settled district of all is Grande Prairie, situated over a hundred miles north of Edmonton b y latitude and between two and three hundred miles west. It lies within view of the snowclad Rocky Mount a i n peaks, through the passes between which i t receives many tempering Chinooks. The first con-

siderable quota of settlers reached Grande Prairie in the mid-summer of 1909, treking by oxteams the whole five hundred and fifty miles from Edmonton, the nearest railroad station and base of supplies. Even yet, machinery, provisions, clothing, furniture and seed other than that now produced in the district have to be freighted from Edson, Athabasca or Smith, opposite Port Cornwall. Thus, in addition to the usual handicaps of pioneer farming, operations have been seriously hampered by lack of machinery to do seeding and harvesting with dispatch. Yet in Grande Prairie this past autumn and early winter, five threshing outfits winnowed three hundred and seventy-five thousand bushels of grain, besides which enough had been fed out of the sheaf or reserved for such use to have run the total crop close to half a million. Barley threshed thirty-five to fifty bushels per acre, and was nearly all ripened hard. Wheat yielded variously as to quantity and quality, but as much as forty bushels of good milling grain per acre were obtained. Oats averaged perhaps sixty, though yields of seventy were common and one acre turned out a hundred and twenty. The proportion of grain to straw is well nigh incredible. It is not at all unusual to bag a bushel from six or seven binder sheaves, whereas in the East a bushel from ten sheaves is counted satisfactory. At the risk of

The 7'hird Chapter of Western Qroicth opens with the readers attention fixed on the Peace River district. A wonderful country lies to the north in the basin of the MacKenzie, not a land of ice and snow, but a district where agriculture is possible, where the best of icheat is grown. The rush to the Peace River, which is now on in

real earnest, will be the last trek of the pioneer in Canada—and some say the greatest. Edmonton, once the “ultima tliule” of the settler, is now becoming a “halfway place’’ to the northern land of great promise.

In the accompanying article a brief summary of the possibilities of the land ts given. It is well worth reading.

m y reputation I will add that I assisted i n threshing one

load of oats grown on late spring plowing which turned out a hundred and one thirty-five-pound bushels according to the machine weigher. Count of the sheaves indicated a bushel to each four and a half sheaves. Yet these oats, being sown late, had been frosted before being cut. The sample, nevertheless, was superb, as the editor may judge from the small quantity submitted.

I came to Grande Prairie well informed and therefore confident of the future of this particular area, but open to conviction regarding most of the other sections within what we have broadly styled the Mackenzie basin. I am already convinced beyond all hesitation that many million acres of prairie and bush land will soon be occupied and gradually brought under profitable cultivation. Who knows but that Marquis and Preston and Prelude wheat and sixty-day oats may yet do for the New North what Red Fife did for the West? If that hope be too sanguine, great stock-raising possibilities remain. Oats and barley ripen well beyond the wheat line and, what is more, oats cut in the milk make excellent feed. Clearing and drainage will gradually reduce the danger of frost so that what is now being accomplished in Grande Prairie may be taken as an earnest of what will soon be duplicated

in other tracts—is being duplicated in fact. One of the surprises of our trip was a large frame barn with shingled hip-roof at an extensive settlement just north of Dunvegan. At this same neighborhood we saw a bin of Marquis wheat said to contain fifty-four bushels, grown from one bushel sown on an acre. Near here a township thrown open to entry last summer was all filed upon in three days.

Before leaving for the North, I saw George Harcourt, Alberta’s deputy minister of agriculture and got him talking about the new empire of the North.

“I want to give you a vision of the West,” he said, unrolling a ten-foot map with red buttons stuck upon it here and there. The buttons represented places where wheat has been grown in the North, and were distributed within a line running from Fort McMurray, on the Atha basca River, sharp1 y northwestward t o Fort Simpson on the Macke n z i e, six or seven

hundred miles north of Edmonton.

“This line,” he explained, “takes in all of Alberta, even its north-east corner, as well as land a hundred and fifty miles north and a hundred and fifty miles west of the Provincial boundary. How small the Maritime Provinces or the old-settled

portion of Ontario seem in comparison with the tremendous sweep of territory from the international boundary north to the wheat line which this map shows!

“The fact of grain production in the North is no mere dream of to-day or yesterday. The wheat that won first prize and the bronze medal at the Centennial Exhibition in 1876 was grown at Fort Chippewan, on Lake Athabasca. It weighed sixty-eight pounds to the bushel. The prize wheat at the World’s Fair, Chicago, in 1893, was raised at Peace River Landing (now called Crossing). A Hudson’s Bay Company factor tells me that twenty-five years ago he saw Ladoga wheat ripened at Fort Laird. Oats, barley and potatoes can be grown successfully much farther north than wheat, thus promising a great future for much of the Northland as a stock-raising country.

“Then look at the river systems. The many tributaries of the South and North Saskatchewan, whose waters taste the salt of Hudson’s Bay; of the Athabasca and the Peace, whose mingled volume reaches Arctic brine through the mighty Mackenzie, all take their rise on the Eastern slope of the Rockies. This watershed has been set aside as a forest reserve, ensuring a steady stream flow. What perfect conditions for stock raising on the plains through which they

“Climatologists have figured out that a thousand feet reduction in altitude is equivalent to between three hundred and three hundred and fifty miles of latitude. Calgary district is about three thousand feet above sea level, Edmonton a little over two thousand; Dunvegan, on the Peace, is thirteen hundred, and Fort Vermilion farther down the river is only nine hundred and fifty.”

These figures, considered along with the tempering influence of the warm Japan current, whose soft breath is wafted across the Rocky Mountain range on the wings of the far-famed Chinook, go to explain the miracles of production now heard of from what was once supposed to be the frozen and forbidding North.


Who can set limits to the future of such a land? As J. D. McArthur, the well-known railway contractor, put it in conversation not many months ago— “Every prediction that has yet been made about the West has been gone one better.” Mr. McArthur has been building railways in Canada for over thirty years, commencing west of Winnipeg on the C.P.R. He has constructed part of every Canadian transcontin entai and if all his sections were pieced together they would span the continent. He is at present constructing the Hudson’s Bay Railroad under contract for the Dominion Government, and incidentally pushing through a line of his own from Edmonton to the Peace River b y way of Lesser Slave Lake, to which the road is already graded and partly in operation. At least it is purported to be his own, although speculation has been rife as to whether the C.P.R. or the G.T.P. would not operate it when completed. At all events, Mr. McArthur has been building it. He is also president of the Canada Central, which will branch off from the E.D. & B.C. near Grouard to Peace River Crossing and thence to Dunvegan. Since our interview he has also completed negotitions with the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway.

Here is a project to fire the imagination. The Alberta and Great Waterways is projected from Edmonton to Fort McMurray, at the head of uninterrupted navigation on the Athabasca River. Scows ply between Athabasca Landing and Fort McMurray, but they have to be tracked back up the ninety-odd miles of rapids above the Fort. Practically, therefore, McMurray is at the head of navigation to the Arctic. From here on,

it is interrupted only by a portage around the cataract at Fort Smith. The chain of lakes and rivers thus to be tapped is almost inconceivable in possibilities. Athabasca River discharges into the lake of the same name, drained by the Great Slave River, into which the Peace empties near its head.

Of these three rivers Ernest ThompsonSeton writes, “The Athabasca is a great river; the Peace is a greater and the Slave is worthy of its parents,” or words to that effect.

The Slave pours its flood into Great

Slave Lake, which feeds the mighty Mackenzie, which swings north-westwardly toward the base of the mountain range that supplies its upper waters and then bears northward to the Arctic Ocean. Of this magnificent system of watercourses, J. K. Cornwall said, referring to the present C.N.R. spur to Athabasca Landing: “Thirty-six hundred miles of navigable water connect with steel at this point.” Perhaps the most wonderful feature of these northern rivers is their immense navigable stretches, though water powers of great potentiality are available at certain places, while minerals of known and u nknown value await exploitation by the capitalist. The A. & G.W. will place Calgary and Edmonton on one of the main crossings of the continent. At these junction points, east-andwest traffic will be intercepted and switched toward the New North. Globe trotters will change cars here for a thousandleague rail and water trip to summer resorts on the Arctic Sea where blubber soup and caribou steak will be features of the menu and whalefishing a favorite pastime.

Of the Peace River climate I

speak from three months’ personal knowledge. These have been the pleasantest, most healthful and most favorable for accomplishing work outdoors of any

corresponding period I have ever e xperienc e d, whether in New

Brunswick, O ntario or Alberta. With just enough snow for sleighing since early November, with many fine days ranging from freezing to zero and with no storms as yet (writing the fore part of

February, equal to what I have ex-

perienced elsewhere, we have been

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The Third Chapter

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favored indeed. So far there have been no days but people and teams were moving, though two or three were hardly fit for driving. The few nights of forty or fifty below zero were not really so unpleasant as one or two others in December when a zero temperature was accompanied by hoar frost in the air and fanned by a light east wind. True, we have had what the old-timers call an exceptionally fine winter, but it could afford to be much worse without being at all unendurable. In Grande Prairie the extreme weather has never been of long duration. In most other sections of the North I suppose it is more continuous, but over large areas the climate seems to compare favorably with that of Saskatchewan. When one hears dozens of settlers from as far south as Oklahoma, California and Texas praising the climate unstintedly and making light of the Peace River winter after several seasons’ experience, he can only conclude that its rigors are not to be particularly dreaded.

At Athabasca Landing, which is too far east to experience any very marked effect of the Chinooks, was an Englishman who had lived for some years in Ontario and Ohio. His remark when told we were from the Banner Province was startling.

“The only thing I don’t like about Ontario is that miserable climate.”

“What, do you prefer this climate?

“Yes, very much.”

Markets? The markets of the Pacific will be the future outlet for our surplus produce and we shall be nearer to them than any other important area of the prairies. Besides the E.D. & B.C. Railway heading for Spirit River Prairie; the Canada Central branching toward the Crossing and the north side of the Peace ; the Alberta and Great Waterways striking north-east from Edmonton to McMurray, and the C.N.R. projected from Edmonton through Grande Prairie, the G.T.P. and the C.P.R. both have proposed lines directed toward the Peace. The C.P.R. has bridged the Saskatchewan at Edmonton and erected a fine depot on the north side. A British Columbia railway is building up the Fraser valley. This will give connection with Vancouver. Thus export outlets are only a question of time.

Meanwhile the influx of settlement and general development of the country have been affording remunerative prices. Beef by the carcass commands ten to sixteen cents a pound. Pork was, until recently, twenty cents, but now is fourteen to fifteen; butter, sixty cents a pound, and eggs fifty cents a dozen. Oats for feed and seed are thirty-five to fifty cents a bushel, and wheat $1.25 to $150. Food is dear, costing five cents a pound above Edson prices, but as it is usually purchased wholesale, meat being bought by the quarter and evaporated fruit taking the place of fresh or canned, the cost of provisioning a table is not, after all, so much higher than in the East.