Must We Freeze This Winter?
A Review of the Coal Situation
Charles W. Stokes
"ISN'T it the darndest thing,” said a man in a smoking car who had been studying a compilation of Canadian statistics, “that when we possess practically one-sixth of the world’s total known and estimated coal resources, as it says here, we should always have to import at least half the coal we burn?”
It is the darndest thing—especially since Canada is now reduced to the position of humble suppliant at the foot of its chief source of imported supply. He might have added:
“Doesn’t it seem impossible that Canada, which has approximately 1,300 billion tons of coal within its own borders, was on the verge of a coal famine last winter and faces the prospect of a coal famine next winter?
“Doesn’t it seem unnecessary that Canada, which has enough coal to last, at the present rate of consumption, until about 43,918 A.D., must adopt the most stringent conservation to avert the dread spectre of coal shortage?”
The answer, off-hand, is obvious. Buy your coal now! Last winter we practically wiped out existing stocks on hand, and this year imported coal will be scarcer and dearer. If you put off ordering your coal until you begin to want it, you probably won’t get any, for it has to be transported while the transportation is good. So, once again, buy your coal now !
DUT this isn’t the real answer. Our ■*-' enormous coal resources, up to a year or two back, were one of our greatest sources of national gratification. They constituted one of the most convincing evidences of our future greatness; because
of them, in fact, our future greatness was seen to lie not only in the vast agricultural possibilities of the north-west, but also
in the development of an extraordinary industrialism. But simultaneously with the entrance of the United States into the war an entirely new element obtruded itself, throwing out of gear both our industrial organization and our gentle boasting proclivities. If you can imagine Old Mother Hubbard, not only discovering that her cupboard was bare, but also learning that the butcher from whom she had been in the habit of getting emergency bones wanted them all himself, you have a more or less analogous picture.
Whether we shall be forced to declare
days” next winter is on the knees of the gods, depending upon the severity of the weather, the kindness of the United States, and the daily developments of a dilemma that takes on fresh complexities with each morning. Three things, however, can be predicated. Firstly, anthracite is a luxury and not a necessity; secondly, that if we desire any kind of ?oal at all we must get it in quickly; and thirdly, that it would not be at all a bad idea to marshal some emergency fuel, such as wood. We begin to realize, in fact, how fortun-
ate we have been in having the United States as a neigh-
bor. It is not at all a secret that the fact did not pass unnoticed in the United States that Canada was warmer indoors last winter than most of that country.
It is scarcely reassuring, in view of the fact that every ounce óf coal must be meticulously conserved, that we really and truly have the coal resources of which we bragged. But, like unwise strategists, we have failed to grasp the cardinal fact that geography cannot.be monkeyed with. It has very cogently been said that one of the principal reasons that impel modern nations to warfare is not to make history but to overcome geography—to wit, the unequal distribution of economic minerals. This reason is also why Canada, in defiance of its resources, has a coal shortage. Following up this geographical clue, it may be submitted as a broad proposition that if the present imvasse were to continue indefinitely—i.e., two-thirds of the nation living a hand-to-mouth existence in regard to coal supplies—there might conceivably come a tremendous readjustment such as either to depopulate Canada or shift its industries and population a clear thousand miles.
ÎF coal were equally distributed throughout Canada, there would be no coal problem. To get coal you would, as heretofore, simply have to find a phone number and mail a cheque; the black diamonds might even be found in your own backyard. But Canada has coal at its ends only, and it is the middle where more people want coal. This hiatus, which contains about seventy per cent, of Canada’s normal industrialism and practically all its war industrialism, is called by fuel experts the “acute fuel area.” It stretches, roughly speaking, from Sherbrooke, Quebec, to Moose Jaw, Sask.
Canada, for all its splendid natural endowment, has thus, unfortunately, no
coal for 2,000 miles. Only five of its provinces produce coal, and two of them combined produce only four per cent, of the gross total. The situation, not so wellknown as it should be, is here reproduced: Nova Scotia produced in 1 9 1 7 6,325,000
tons; Alberta produced in 1917, 4,723,000 tons;
British Columbia produced in 1917, 2,419,000 tons; Saskatche-wan produced in 1917,
355.000 tons; New Brunswick pro•duced in 1917,
¡however, is far
from tallying with the actual resources, •except that it indicates the three great coal fields into which non-Arctic Canada may be divided. Neither the Alberta nor the Pacific coast fields are within easy access of a dense population, although .Alberta has twenty times more bituminous coal than Nova Scotia and all the subbituminous coal of Canada (nearly a trillion tons) and nearly all the anthracite (four-fifths of a billion tons). British Columbia has nearly eight times the bituminous coal of Nova Scotia. The •prairie provinces have enormous deposits of lignite, which it is now proposed to briquette.
THERE were two ways open in the past to combat this uneven distribution.
One was to co-ordinate coal with other fuels and power producers and try to live on our own production ; the other was to import. The second was easier. Therefore, for many years Canada has imported large quantities of coal from the United States. In the year 1917, these importations—the highest of any year—reached
20,857,000 tons, of which 5,320,000 tons were anthracite. The province of Quebec got about 23 per cent, of this American anthracite and 17 per cent, of American bituminous, the province of Ontario about 53 per cent, and 50 per cent, respectively,
and the prairie provinces the balance. Quebec has been in the habit of importing sufficient Nova Scotia bituminous to supplement its American supplies. There is a slight trickle of Canadian coal exported, mainly British Columbia mainland coal going out on the J. J. Hill lines, and a little Nova Scotia coal going to New England, etc. The net balance of production, import and export shows that from 1909 to 1916 the average total consumption of native and imported coal was about 24% million tons and that in 1917 it was about 34 million tons.
The relation of each province to the coal shortage can be gleaned from the diagram. The problem, as will be seen, sifts down from one of national resources to local limitations and adaptiveness. In fact, the coal question, while it is an urgent national one, both in its dual aspect of immediate relief and future policy, will be solved largely by local ingenuity coordinated with a national master-policy.
THE first ominous fact is that Canada is still waiting, with bated breath, for what the United States will do. Dr. Garfield, the Fuel Controller of the U.S., has already stated emphatically that in the allocation for next winter he will treat Canada on the same basis as a state or the union. He has signalized that de-
cisión by reducing our appropriation of anthracite, which suggests that our total allotment will be relative to U.S. stocks instead of what we want, as heretofore. It is, of course, open to argument that Canada, because of the greater severity of its winter, should be treated better than most states of the union; but anthracite, for which Eastern Canada is entirely dependent upon the United States, is doomed anyway. With the known deposits of this kind of coal within easily measurable distance of exhaustion-—one hundred years, say some—the United States could hardly treat us more preferentially. But not only anthracite, all United States coal may be short, if last year’s acute situation in the United States is repeated—a situation that arose less from inadequate production than from inadequate transportation and distribu-
But it would obviously seem that the unequal geographical distribution of Canada’s own rich coal deposits could be overcome very easily by railway transportation. In fact, the hauling of coal for themselves and the public amounts to about one-fifth the total freight carried by all the railways of Canada. It requires the service of approximately one thousand freight engines and 23,000
freight cars for one year to haul Canada’s coal supply. But cannot this be amplified? If Western grain sustains the Torontonian, why should not Western coal-—or Nova Scotia coal—the Winnipegger?
Although the war has killed distances when very important things have had to be done, Government money has paid the bill. Whether the Torontonian would pay the price of coal hauled from Nova Scotia in competition swith coal hauled from a nearer point—probably by water —is problematical in the last degree. Because every available car and every available lake steamer is wanted, when coal is beginning to regain its popularity in the fall, to carry grain—which must be carried—it is impossible to haul coal from the West to the East even if it were feasible economically. The same peak of grain traffic, indeed, prevents the hauling of Western coal even as far east as Winnipeg in the winter. But on the other hand, lake steamers, returning westbound empty after discharging their grain cargoes, can and do carry American coal very cheaply to Fort William for shioment by returning empty grain cars throughout the West until the competition of Alberta coal is encountered.
One of the largest mines in Nova Scotia has lost by enlistment 35 per cent, of its men actually engaged in coal cutting. It is not remarkable, therefore, that the total production of the province in 1917 was 570,000 tons less than in 1916. But a much more worrying condition than this has caused havoc in the most easterly section of the “acute fuel area.” This is the shortage of steamers. In normal times, the majority of Nova Scotia coal exported from Sydney to Montreal, Quebec and other St. Lawrence points, as well as to St. John and Halifax, was moved by water; but the steamers have now all been diverted from coal carrying to military service. The loss of these ships has thrown the onus of moving some extra fifty thousand cars upon the already overburdened and congested railways. Inevitably, it has been impossible to move them all ; so that the province of Quebec, which received only 6 per cent, of Nova Scotia’s output in 1917 against 34 per cent, in 1913, has had to draw upon imported coal to a degree unnecessary before the war.
pRACTICALLY the whole of Ontario 1 has been affected by the same shortage of water-carriage. In addition to this, “the congestion of American railroads last winter” (according to the Canadian Railway War Board) “was such as to render it impossible to send coal cars south of the line on account of the danger that they would be lost down there even before they could be loaded at the mines.” The railways have endeavored to meet the loss of water-carriage by building more coal cars, impressing and converting other types of cars, using economy themselves in their own consumption and trying to
move as much coal as possible during the summer season.
The final division of the acute fuel area comprises the stretch from the head of the Great Lakes to the middle jf Saskatchewan. This * region has been almost entirely dependent upon Amer%i ican coal, brought up,
as has already been said, in empty westbound steamers and grain cars. The greatly reduced supply of anthracite that we are promised very forcibly affects this division. The middle-west will have to use Alberta coal, whether it likes it or not— and it affects r.ot to—in the proportion of fifty-fifty; indeed, the Fuel Controller has already notified the people of that country that they must have the fifty of Albeita coal on hand before the fifty of anthracite will be delivered. At the same time, the railways have served notice that, owing to the peak-load of grain traffic after September 30th, they will be unable to haul any coal from Alberta; so obviously it is up to the Manitoban to order before that date or go without. What the less affluent classes, there and elsewhere, who have not the ready cash to stock up their cellars now, will do is another problem.
Relief from the tremendously dangerous situation that confronts such a large proportion of the Canadian public divides into three parts—immediate (i.e., for the winter of 1918-9), middle-background (winter of 1919-20) and the future. Although large resources of bituminous coal in Pennsylvania will be available to the acute area for many years, to say nothing of the Nova Scotia field that will one day come back into water carriage possibilities, immediate relief imples first and foremost conservaton. It can be submitted that the larger consumers of coal have grappled with the situation much r lore sincerely than the small. By reduction in train services, especially passenger train services, the Canadian railways have eliminated enough train miles to save 600,000 tons of coal per annum. Many industrial establishments which have used coal for power production have switched over to water-power. It is the small consumer, which is to say the householder,
who has taken the omens least to heart.
Do you doubt this? Here is another quotation from the Canadian Railway Board.
“The mines in Canada are being held up by lack of orders from dealers. The dealers are holding their orders till the public itself gives them orders. This delay on the part of the public and the labor on the part of the public and the labor shortage are combined to defeat the patriotic plan of having 50 per cent. of C a n a d a’s coal supply
for next winter moved this summer. Some time ago we pledged ourselves to supply the cars and engines; yet our western mines are shipping less than half their shipping capacity every week, although the cars, the engines and the good weather are there.”
HpHERE are ways in which coal can be -*• saved by the use of substitutes immediately available. Wood is an emergency fuel that may help out in Ontario— strictly an emergency fuel—and costlv. Gas can supersede coal for cooking. Oil is a supplementary fuel of great value. Large users of coal for industrial purposes who otherwise would refuse to switch to electric power when it is easily available can be “persuaded” by the cancellation of their import licenses.
Now, too, is the time for making preparations for averting the possible famine of 1919-20. These preparations include the utilization of the above, dropping some of the desperate substitutes and speeding up the installations of machinery to provide others which investigation has demonstrated to be feasible. Such, for instance, as peat and briquetted lignite. About 49 million gallons of oil per year are now burned by railway locomotives in British Columbia which may be eliminated if a recent ruling that B.C. gets no more American oil is enforced.
The man-in-the-street has regarded the coal shortage as affecting only his little selfish share of heat. I shall have failed in my argument if I have not suggested that the present shortage affects the very foundations of our industrial life, that the real problem, in fact, is not immediate but distant, and that the basic principle is the future rational use of coal and the development and co-ordination of other sources of power. If, from the present
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debacle, the master fuel-policy shall be evolved, good will have come out of evil.
First and foremost there must be a better use of coal. The consumption of raw coal, writes the editor of the Coal Age, is the most barbaric practice of our industrial life. A ton of gas coal will yield 10,000 cubic feet of gas, 1,350 pounds of coke, 10 gallons of tar, from which may be recovered oil, acids, and dyes, and ammonia. Peat, briquette, lignite, natural gas and oil will have local bearing in alleviating distress, reducing the consumption of coal by great quantities.
BUT most of all, water-power will take a much greater share in power problems, especially in the “acute” area. After the sorry results of boosting our coal resources, it may seem like inviting trouble to say that we have in Canada ■enormous water-power resources; but this must be said, that not more than ten per cent, of Canada’s available water powers have been developed, and that within economic transmission range of practically every important city from the Atlantic to the Pacific, except those in the central western prairies, there are clustered power sites which will meet the probable demands for hydro power for generations. The production of coal may be speeded up; research and experimental work, and the more honest exoloitation of coal substitutes may result in relief from implicit dependence upon coal; but hydro-power will alone substitute an inexhaustible source of power for an exhaustible one.
The Devil, says the old rhyme, was sick -—and a monk would be; but when he recovered, the devil a monk was he. In other words, this is the good old summer time. But it may be suggested that the whole coal problem, mining, transportation, wholesale and retail distribution, is a circle revolving on the axis of individual orders. The deeper you probe into the coal shortage, present and future, the more its complexities are revealed ; but the sum and substance of immediate relief from a coal famine within the next three or four months, a conclusion that it is criminal folly to ignore, is—Buy your coal now!