Putting a Yardstick on Canada
Who wrote “Putting the Crop Across," etc.
B. D. Thomley
GOING to the Coast" is an old story to the Canadian of to-day. He's accustomed to put the yardstick of his diner bills against the Forty-ninth Parallel of latitude until he realizes in his pocketbook that the Dominion of Canada is three thousand miles across as the crow flies, and even more than that as Lord Shaughnessy follows.
But the Canadian who says casually, ‘Tm just back from Fort St. John—or Fort Liard—or the Mackensie River.” is a to be listened to.
✓ If you cían make him talk. North-travellers haven’t the garrulity that grows close to the. border. Unfortunately, too, for us ordinary mortals Vho might desire to trek and find out for ourselves, the Great Bear, which is a lake, is almost as hard to get at as its namesake that swings in the night sky.
It's little more than a thousand miles due north of Calgary, to be sure, but much of the space between is as uncharted for common folk as the mountains ot the moon.
The only way for the decorous and be-suitcased traveller to find out the* north and south extension of this creamof-the-Empire dominion — which the Germans were so thoughtfully willing to skim off for themselves — is to take ship at Vancouver for the thousand mile coastline trip to Skagway, topping it off with a five hundred mile run to Dawson, or a thousand mile jaunt to Fort Yukon to see the midright sun. if the sightseer isn’t so strictly allred in his proclivities as to object to sailing down the vast Alaskan artery into American territory for a convenient glimpse at alsoCanadian conditions.
In this way the besuitrased will gain the horizon-broadening advantages enjoyed by the chap with the dog team who goes to the Mackenzie, without experiencing an hour’s discomfort. He can get his hot bath, have his clothes pressed, turn on the electric fan and enjoy his chef-cooked dinner at any and all stages of the trip. Also he can save an immense amount of time and the harrowing long chances of doctorless wastes and treacherous rapids and the
combat with that blind uncertainty which is the untamed North.
WE STARTED on the liner Princess Charlotte, the biggest boat that ever takes the Alaska run, from either north or south of the border. Here and there among the passengers you could pick out a man to whom this trip was an old tale—a eteady-eyed coastwise captain, a new Y'ork mining engineer, a capitalist from Washington interested in the Tread-
well properties, a representative of the Mofgan-Guggenheim syndicate going to Cordova, three red-coated dare-devils of the Mounted Police bound for Dawson. These were the exceptions, however. The rest were Americans who couldn’t play around in Europe this year, and Canadians — physically unfit, over age or women—who were too restless to stay at homç>^
Some of them danced and tea-ed and bridged just as they’d have done in Mu»koka or Newport. More of them, let us hope, felt the loom of that immensity which is Canada, that wonder of vast forest, unknown mineral tract, ungauged river-depth, that lay to the right of them through all the sombre, unforgetable miles that stretched toward the shaking fingers of the Northern Lights.
British 'Columbia is the biggest province of Canada. You could take the whole toiling Gemían Empire and lose ht in B.C. You could throw in France afterward and there’d be very little to spill over into the Yukon. Or you could make three GreatBritain - and - Irelands, with enough left over for a couple of Spritzerlands. According to the 1914 report of the Minister of Lands, one little survey party was sent out in the current season to reconnoitre a trifling area the size of New Brunswick previously unexplored) in the extreme upper right hand corner of the official map, which proved to be quite incorrect when checked up with the result of the summer’s work.
British Columbia has the greatest compact area of merchantable timber on the continent and her coal measures would supply the world for centuries. The everlengthening chain of solemn mountains fading into the south will mean more to the oceangoing observer who realizes the banked possibilities of the four hundred east - and - west miles of practically untouched hinterland.
IF YOU’RE wise on * shipboard, you’re up betimes in the morning. There is u grey chill-spring nip in the air. Put on a sweater and a big coat too if vour blood runs slowly and come out on deck.
There isn’t any Chicago where you sweltered through dog-tired, dust-cursed office hours last week. There isn’t any -Toronto where the jnercury climbed up to the top of the tube a§d broke through, according to yesterday' morning’s paper. There’s just this clear, healthy tingling air, cold from the mighty refrigerating plant at the North Pole—no artificial fan-stuff—just the air to walk in, to walk faster, head up, chest out, arms swing—faster! By the time you’ve been rpund the deck for the third lap the only reason you don’t fly is because walking is so much more fun!
There are mountains on both sides of you, sheeted up in spider-grey veiling. They’re miles away, but they’re there, mainland and island, and they’ll be there, rugged or sloping, silent, tree-covered, utterly unresponsive, immemorially sad, straight up to Alaska, 'he water between is as smooth as a lake. It just breathes, in a long, slow pulsation, the echo of the island-broken wide Pacific roll.
You wouldn’t know there were so many shades of grey in the world— slate of the sea, burnished here and there with bright calm and darkened with ripples—purplish-grey velvet of the nearer mainland — misted-bluegrey of the farther mountains—and the sky, everything from silver back to slate again.
By and by the mist lifts and the sun pours down over the hills and into the green depths below you. And yet the scene is never what a city-bred southerner could call cheerful. It’s'too big.
It’s commonplace to talk of the mystery of the North, and yet that’s all that you can say. The same tones are endlessly repeated, like an unknown, ominous word. There is the utter silence, the movelessness of it, too— not even a whirling gull with his lone call, not a prowling animal on the lifeless shores, not a single settlement hacked into the forest, not a fisher-boat heading into the wind. The land is asleep.
YOU’RE almost glad to get into Alert Bay with its salmon cannery toned up three degrees redder than a blueblooded lobster, its square-built Esquimaux houses and its totem poles t^t
scream gaudily in an unknown tongue. This is Sunday and the whole town is on the wharf, preparatory to going off to the little Anglican church whose bell calls from the lower end of the one street there is.
Nobody who hasn’t seen a real totem growing inits native queemess can imagine the effect of these more than mansize birds and. beasts, standing atop one
another to a height of thirty or forty feet, to form the genealogical tree of the carver. There is the bear clan, and the wolf clan, the clan of the crow, the fish, the man — so far, so good. But what, O friend, is the meaning of a well-started family tree that suddenly sprouts bare pole for twenty feet and ends with a lonesome eagle? Did -the family hibernate during the uneventful period, or is it the Alaskan’s way of signifying the necessity of silence about the life and character of his maternal grandfather?
On the wide board flooring that is sidewalk and street for the village we meet two Indian belles in their Sabbath bravery. They wear pale blue China silk skirt9 trimmed with the flimsiest of Valenciennes lace, and crimson sweaters. Their hair is as sheeny as a blackbird’s wing and their shy brown eyes under the big black shawls gaze curiously at all these other women—especially at Miss Montreal, whose high-pitched giggle proclaims that she’s having the red-andgoldest time of her life with the three Dawson Mounties all in tow. The Indian girls find her as strange, as full of novelty and unreasonability, as she finds the kayaks, bright-painted and curved up like gondolas, that lie beached on the sand. And yet when you come to think of it, observers and observed.they’re all Canadians together.
Not long after the cable is cast off at Alert Bay — the town Tige hanging growling onto the end of it till thé last exciting minute—we begin to feel the freshening breeze and the long roll that tell9 the initiated that we’ve reached Queen Charlotte Sound, and for an hour or more, until we find the lee of Calvert Island, it may be a trifle rough, though not enough to bother any one who considers himself even a fair sailor.
You remember the ancient dictum that never a law of God or man goes north of Fifty-Three? Well, Prince Rupert is an appreciable distance above Fifty-Four, and a more1 respèctable town it would be hard to locate outside of a Sunday School book. It’s stark and it’s new; it’s mostly rock and water where it isn’t twenty miles of board-vfalk. The sixteen-foot streets are built on posts but they’re quite safe and satisfactory enough for all comers, including the first object seen which happened to be a busy little motor car .chugging around under the toes of the solemn-cedared mountains that slide up two thousand feet behind the town.
Prince Rupert has a cute little baseball park made by blowing chunks off the top of one of these hills at a cost of $25,000. The grandstand is a ring of other hills and when Ketchikan comes down to play the home team they pass the hat around to reimburse the players, in lieu of dividing the gate receipts, there not being any gate. Incidentally Prince R upe rites are stuck up whether they win or lose. Their park is some park compared to Ketchikan’s, where the diamond is laid out cm the beach so that st high tide the kids fish on it.
There is a magic in that word “fish” alL up and down these waters. Prince Rupert has $5,000,000 invested in the business; she has thirty-five canneries and seven cold storage plants; and when she isn’t looking over her left shoulder up the three hundred miles of the Skeena and planning where to locate farmers along the Grand Trunk Pacific, she’s scowling due north at Ketchikan, whose halibut industry she intends to hook and hang on to.
To date $220,000,000 worth of fish has been taken out of Alaskan waters. The shipp i n g question would be greatly simplified and much time saved, by putting the catch through a railconnected port, argues Prince Rupert, instead of letting it go south by water to Seattle.
Whereat Ketchikan gnashes her perfectly good teeth. For Ketchikan has no less than five canneries.
NOT far above Prince Rupert the vessel sails out of red-and-white-andofelue waters into a star-spangled sea, and nobody who hasn’t his immigration papers made out to the last uncomfortable question will be allowed to go on shore at Ketchikan. The scenery changes, too, showing more and more of that strange northern formlessness, that callous indifference to waste of material. It looks as though the Great Architect had grown
tired and left Alaska just a9 it happened. All the mountain-stuff not needed elsewhere in the world, was dumped onto this endless shoreline. The forest waves washed over some of it, but for the most part it is just as it tumbled out of chaos— vast burnt-cinder chunks of rubble, whose height is impossible to estimate uniess there happens to be a drifting gnat of a fishboat to put a tape line against immensity.
In the late evening the steamer draws into Ketchikan and ties up to take on— not coal, but oil in fat black pipes that slide over the side like snakes and allow the vessel to get the equivalent of two hundred tons of the old fuel in a couple of clean, unhurried hours. All the coastwise Pacific steamers now draw their motive power out of the drums that make such cosy stoves when they’re empty. The first year that the Charlotte became an oil burner she saved forty thousand dollars and carried twelve less in her crew.
While'the ship gets her stock of lunch on board, the tourists dance down the gangplank for the first chance at a real Alaska basket in its native—and expensive—haunts.
Ketchikan is like Prince Rupert, only more so. The part of it that isn’t going upstairs is sliding down again; the roads
are all plank over hard rock and high tide; there are Indian belles with rouge on their cheeks; and cedar baskets for sale on the street cornera by squaws whose faces would assay a hundred wrinkles to the square inch.
NOT FAR from Ketchikan lies Annette Island, thé home of Dr. Dun^ dan, the veteran Anglican missionary to the formerly-cannibal Tsimpsean Indians, who now own the biggest church in Alaska and one of the best brass bands, to say
nothing of a model village with Dr. Duncan in the centre of it, an eighty-four year old Santa Claus of a man who has lived with and for them for some sixty years.
Thirty years ago their civiliz ition had advanced to its present high-water mark, but they were Canadians and the doctor was — now what do you sup wse? — a Scotchman of course. Unluckily, however, for their future adherence to the Land of the Maple, the Churci of England made the mistake of send ng out a Bishop who knew not Joseph, a Bishop moreover who was said to be scandalized at his subordinate’s use of un^ermented wine in the communion service. The missionary held that it was crimina ly tempting to the man who had forsworn firewater during the week, to put it before him on Sunday, so, as this was but one disputed point in a long series, Dr. Duncan appealed to the United States to please send him an island for C hristmas, and, as soon as he could read his title clear to Annette, he and his fleck moved across with the. aforementioned results. Many of the baskets for sale in Ketchikan come from the hands of his protégés, and exhibit a high degree of skill in the odd designs seen nowhere ehe on the coast.
That word coast reminds m>; that we musn’t forget that, tlough the shorelin ? is American, ffty miles would see us through into Brit i s h Columbia again, for all this strip of territory is just t íe famous “Panhai die of Alaska” w lieh many Canadians believe should rever have come c nder . the stars and stripes at all. Behind it lies the vast division of Cassriar, with Peace River farther on across the mountains.
But ti e tourists are ¡ traggling back o 11 o the boat, bearing little íetchikan totem p ales, baskets an i picture posteare s. Some of them won’t spend money so far soi th, however. They’re warily laving up fo.r the shops in Skagwa % White Horse o * Dawson toward which we continue our journey throughout the night
DASSING the mouth of th? Stikine *■ River north of Wrangell with its totems and its “chief’s house' we ran into a most picturesque ph ?nomenon known as a “Stikine River fog. ’ It was a misty night with a full n con that turned the water into a grea* polished steel mirror. Blue and white J; panesque mountains blocked their way into the black velvet sky. Slowly they were blotContinued on page 73
Putting a Yardstick on Canada
Continued from page 30.
ted out as the vessel sailed into a bank cf spun silver, where the moon and the cloud played an April shower of light on the dripping deck. A moment more and we were out into clear moonlight, a fat white cloud behind us, as definite as a puff of swansdown ; before us a similar round-edged and opaque bubble. We could see others floating lightly on the water—not fog, not mist, just ordinary up-in-the-air clouds, freakishly determined to sit on the water and sail.
Another long day of sun brings us to Taku Inlet dow’n which the scared white icebergs drift. Instead of going bn past this mouth of mystery to Juneau with its electric lights and its nickel show’s, we turn eastward and slip between huge w^tlls into a river of malachite, the greener for the ghostly little bergs. ;
The Inlet is the den of that most extraordinary monster Taku Glacier which winds for ninety miles southeast from Lake Atlin in a huge stream of ice from seven hundred to a thousand feet thick to bury its nose in the ice cold sea water and send off avalanches of bergs to vex the soul of our captain.
For hours we sail up the narrowing inlet until at last we come into a vast round bay. There are immense charred cliffs to the right, dropping steeply a thousand feet to the water; there is a great grey “dead” glacier, rubble-covered, to the left. Across the opaque emerald of the water there are dozens of bergs of all shades from snow to blue vitriol. And in front—three hundred feet high in places, and a mile long—lies Taku, blue-green, shining, with more bergs piled in heaps at its feet on a frozen shelf.
As if the cinder cliffs hadn’t enough color within their sombre frame, the Alaska sunset flared into bloom—coral pink from west to east, intense, goldpointed, heavy with ribbed fire. And in the middle of this great silent opal, drunk with light, mad with the unbelievable color of the thing, the folk on board the little Charlotte went round and round the decks, saying to each other that they could never, never see the like again.
A FEW hours later we were in Juneau, the capital of Alaska, a town of five thousand people and two of the biggest mountains you ever saw. In fact they are so big, so looming, that the whole scene looks out of drawing and you car. hardly believe that such a place can own. the reputed ten miles of the now-familiar board streets. Lumber, by the way, is one of the cheapest commodities in Alas ka, and labor is one of the dearest. It’s much more economical, therefore, to lay a floor over a yawning chasm than to blast out a level roadway.
You can buy all sorts of fruits and vegetables, home grown, in Juneau, and the boat’s commissariat department will certainly scout around for strawberries, which are anywhere up to as big as an egg and of a most exceptional flavor. Raspberries. salmonberries and huckleberries are also on sale of unbeatable grade.
Across the—I was going to say rivet, for that’s what it looks like, but it’s name is the Gastineau Channel — across the Channel, then, from Juneau lies Douglas Island dotted over with the Indian red buildings of the Treadwell, one of the most famous Alaskan mines, located in ’81 by “French Pete” and sold to John Treadwell for the sum of five dollars. Seventy million dollars’ worth of gold has been taken out of the huge “Glory Hole” into which the Charlotte’s passengers will gaze on the downtrip, and out of the Glory Hole’s lineal descendants, the under-ocean passages of to-day.
Eight tons of ore are hauled up from a depth of 2,300 feet every minute and a half, and 6,000 tons go under the 960 stamps in the mill every twenty-four hours. The tourist isn’t allowed to go down in the cage and walk about under the Pacific, but the whole crowd is taken through the stamp mills where they gain some idea of the Somme drive from the point of artillery-racket.
Each stamp weights a ton and a half, falls onto its iron block one hundred times a minute, and not only reduces the quartz to powder, but puts the eardrums of the tourists on strike for half an hour after the infernal noise has become a memory. The present profit realized from the Treadwell is said to be in the neighborhood of $5,000 a day.
LEAVING the vicinity of Juneau, we enter the Lynn Canal, which isn’t the man-made passageway that its name would seem to indicate, but a long and ever narrowing funnel with towering banks and stiff tides, at the end of which lies Skagway, once the maddest goldtown on the continent, where the pack trains left for the Yukon with all that “Soapy” Smith and his gang allowed to slip through their trigger-quick fingers.
The traveller who stops here makes a mistake, with another thousand Canadian miles beckoning him northward up over the curve of the world. But nowadays, in this rush-racketing, tele-dictaphoning age.,be may lack time. That isn’t what we lack, nor words either, but plain, white paper. We can’t expect to cram Canada, sombre woods and rushing salmon, garnered wheat and secret gold, scenery, history, prophecy and touristry—into the limits of a single article. We’ve just put up our little yardstick—a thousand miles of sample wonderland — against the colossal heritage which is ours.