FAR NORTH REALLY LIVEABLE

VILHJALMUR STEFANSSON February 1 1922

FAR NORTH REALLY LIVEABLE

VILHJALMUR STEFANSSON February 1 1922

FAR NORTH REALLY LIVEABLE

VILHJALMUR STEFANSSON

IT HAS been commonly supposed that snowfall in the North is heavy, but I have shown that the snowfall of Virginia or Germany is heavier than that of northern Canada or of northern Alaska. Of course the snow of Virginia, or Missouri, remains on the ground only for moments or days or at the most weeks and is then turned into delightful mud and slush. But on the north coast of Canada the snow that falls in September lies on the ground beautiful and clean and white till May. But it is so far from being everlasting that it is entirely absent from vast areas north of the Arctic Circle for five months in the year and from even the most northerly islands for at least a month or two. It is permanent on the high mountains, but that feature applies to high mountains in every part of the world.

I have pointed out that the growth of grass and other plants is measured not by the length of the summer in months but by the number of hours of sunlight, and that there are as many hours of sunlight in three months of arctic summer as in six months of a tropical summer, giving the plants, therefore, in reality twice as long a growing time as the careless reasoner assumes them to have. This is one of the fundamental considerations which explain the universality and luxuriance of vegetation in the North that is always so startling to the traveler who goes North with a mind furnished with ideas derived from the school geographies.

It seems to be light rather than heat that makes a plant grow fast. But if it were heat, the polar plants would not be badly off. A fairly simple mathematical calculation shows that from the first week of June to the second week of July the earth at sea level receives from the sun more heat per square mile per day at the North Pole than at the equator. In mountainous regions such as Greenland there is left over from winter stored snow to counterbalance locally this tremendous downpour of heat upon the polar regions; but on the far more extensive polar lowlands of Siberia, Canada. Alaska, and the Canadian Arctic islands there is no stored up snow to temper the summer heat, which explains the stories travelers from these regions tell of the unbearable swelter of the arctic summer and explains such Weather Bureau records as 100 degrees in the shade for Fort Yukon, Alaska.

I have reviewed in previous articles the chief beliefs as to detrimental qualities of the North and have shown that at least ninety per cent, of them are merely misimpressions inherited from the Greeks, Romans and the rest of our ancestry.

But there still remains the fact that the polar winter at its coldest is about as cold as the winters of Montana, Manitoba, or Russia and that they are even longer, and I accordingly still have to deal with people who say that no ordinary Europeans or Americans will ever live in large numbers in a climate where the winter lasts through considerably more than half the

When the West Was “Cold, Unknown”

MY FATHER moved into Manitoba several years ahead of the railway and at a time when the Government in England had about the opinion of Manitoba that Grant’s administration had of Alaska. The Canadian Pacific Railway was being planned, however, and the question arose in Great Britain whether Manitoba might possibly prove a suitable country for British colonists. To determine the facts in the case a commission of learned men was selected. It sat in England and had the power to summon witnesses from Manitoba and the Canadian West generally to determine the climate and resources of those districts and to decide the probability of their ever becoming the home of a considerable number of British colonists. These witnesses were explorers, trappers, traders, and missionaries who had most of them spent several years in the Middle West of Canada and who testified about the climate and resources truthfully from ample knowledge.

To inquiries about the minimum temperature of winter the committee received the answer that the thermometer

drops to fifty and fifty-five occasionally. “This,” said the polar temperature,” and that years of Government weather bureau observation of the north coasts of Alaska and Canada have confirmed this committee on their opinion that minimum winter temperatures there are no lowerthan insouthern Manitoba.

With regard to the storminess of winter the witnesses testified that now and then there are dreadful blizzards. At the beginning of the storm the ground may be covered with a foot or two of feathery snow. In the violence of the gale this snow fills the air so thickly that if you hold your hand before your face you cannot count your fingers. Of course, you could count them if you had goggles on. When anyone says you cannot count your fingers in a blizzard he means that the instant the eyes are opened they are filled with the flying snow and have to be closed again. This testimony was correct. There are such storms in certain parts of the northwestern prairie states and of the midwestern Canadian prairie provinces, not every year but once or twice a decade. The committee were justified in concluding that the blizzards of Manitoba and Saskatchewan are typical polar blizzards. Many others have verified that and I can add my testimony, for after spending twenty years in North Dakota and ten north of the Arctic Circle, it is my best opinion that at least one blizzard which I remember from North Dakota was worse than any that I have yet seen in the Far North. This is testimony amply confirmed by the men from Dakota, Montana and Manitoba who now live in northwestern Alaska or northern Canada.

No Place for Average White, but—

ON THE basis of reliable testimony which fills a huge volume, the British, committee concluded in substance that the climate of southern Manitoba and the Saskatchewan is unsuitable for colonization by average Europeans and that in such a country no people will live

permanently except fur traders because they are eccentric, missionaries, because they are selfsacrificing, and Indians because they do not know any better. But since then there has grown up in the country which was the very centre of all the testimony the city of Winnipeg with more than two hundred thousand people, the third largest city in Canada, the Chicago of the Canadian west, and growing as rapidlv and substantially as any city in Canada.

The truth to be deduced from all this is that people will live in any place if the financial returns are adequate. If I could promise the readers of this article a twenty-five per cent, increase in their wages or a twenty-five per cent, increase in the profits of their business, a considerable proportion of them (by no means all, of course) would move to Winnipeg. However, that city is at present having almost, if not quite, its share of the prevailing commercial depression, and I make no recommendation of any general migration to Winnipeg.

It seems reasonable that even a commission of wise men in Britain would be more easily deceived about the true future of Manitoba than the Government of Canada itself at Ottawa. But eastern Canadian opinion even in 1922 is being swayed by great newspapers, the editors of which in some cases have never been west of Lake Superior, and in other cases have never been there except in summer. It is not in reality remarkable, therefore, that the Government at Ottawa in the ’70’s was misinformed. Even so, one has to appreciate the principle that the South has always been misinformed about the North and fearful of it to be able to realize that some of the speeches made in the Canadian Parliament against the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway were at the time seriously intended and generally believed to be sound. We must get that opinion, however, not only in order to have a true view of the history of that time but also to understand and to honor as they deserve the pioneers of the Lord Strathcona group who had the vision to build the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Blake’s Unconscious Humor

'T'HE speeches in Parliament of Sir Edward Blake and others are now classics in Canada and are there the best known examples of unconscious humor. The English language was taxed to its capacity in showing the absurdity of the building of the railway. The argument said in substance that the expense of building the road would be so great that even were we to accept the most optimistic view of what the resources of the prairie province might develop into, even so a reasonable freight tariff for carrying them to the Atlantic would never pay for the axle grease of the freight cars. Opponents of the road were willing to concede that if anybody had the incredible folly to squander that much money the road could be built. They admitted further that it could undoubtedly be operated in summer, but they submitted that it was preposterous to suppose that it could be operated in winter and there followed the self-evident conclusion that the railway could never be profitable, for “no enterprise can be profitable if it is operated only half the year.”

It is hard now to realize that this argument was applied in good faith to the district which is now with some justice called “the bread basket of the world” and to a railway which is commonly conceded to be the greatest of all railway systems. Few investors in railway securities are more fortunate than those who own Canadian Pacific shares. The enterprise made many of its builders fabulously rich, laid the basis of a prosperity on the average high for tens of thousands of homes, and maintains passenger and freight schedules as reliable and a service in every respect as good as any of the great railway systems of the world.

It seems to be about the most fundamental proposition in esthetics that we like what w'e are used to. Being people of a southern origin, it follows from this principle that on the average we prefer

warm climates, fóï most Europeans and Americans live in countries where there is summer mc.Ve than half of the year. There is also in such places as Italy and Florida a carefully planned campaign, to “sell climate” to the rest of us. It is, therefore* not strange that the words “a good climate” should bn synonymous with "a warm climate” in the public mind. But when one stops to think about it, there appear at once doubts of the appropriateness of this manner of speaking and thinking.

On the principle of '‘By their fruits shall ye know them,” climates should be judged no less than cabbages and kings.

Loaf Where it Is Warm

WHEN we stop to analyze the expression “a good climate” we fiad that what we really mean is a good climate for loafing. Secondarily we mean a climate where all sorts of vegetation flourish rankly,

Without denying the value to the world of coffee and cotton and sugar, we are constrained to admit that the most important crop of any country is the people. No climate can truly be considered good, though bananas and yams may flourish, if men decay, Human energy, mental and physical, is developed to the highest degree in the northern climates.

It may also i® -some cases be developed to a high degree in southern cowntries, ndtahlv on plateaus awd where the sea breezes blow ’freshly,

On the principle cff ’esthetics referred to above*--that, generally speaking, we like what we are -used to'-we would expect t® find a substantial majority the’poputaticm preferring summer to winter in any cormtty where we have summer more than half 'the year, and u substantial’majority preferring winter to summer in any country where we have winter more than half the year. TIf you make due allowance foT the powerful effect ■of the organized advertising of the South through commercial mediums and the unintended glorification df the South'through the'fact that the literature we'have inherited was ’mostly composed in southern countries—when you have ¡made these and some other just -allowances 'for forces that influence opinion, you will see in a canvass df any'country that summer or winter are preferred by the population roughly in accord with the principle laid down. Se ¡as mot to burden the argument with too much proof, ■we shall consider merely the two typical northern communities the information about which is most readily accessible to the readers of this series of articles. We shall tahe one community from the northern prairie and another from the northern forest.

Judge John G. Lomen has recently been appointed by President Harding judge for the Western District df Alaska. He ¡is.a typical American, bom in the Middle West, educated at the State University of Iowa, and wasforsometime a resident of 'Minnesota and a member of the Legislature of that state. But he had the pioneer spirit, andtdie fever of the 1900 gold rush got into his blood., so he -moved to Name, Alaska, : and has lived there for twenty years. A year ago 1 had ¡a conversation with him from which T gained the information about to be given. For fear any memory might -not'be quite correct, I have checked it 'by submitting the draft of the present article to bis son, Cari Lomen, who 'has ¡also lived in Nome for twenty years, belt who happens to ibe ¡now in New York.

Climate 'Nome and Dawson

AT THE i>eak of the gold rush Nome was a city of thirty or forty thousand inhabitants. Later, when substantially normal conditions prevailed, it was a city of ten thousand or more. Property passed gradually into the hands of larger and larger corporations, and machinery began more and more to take the place of hand labor, reducing the population of thecommunity correspondingly. Then came the war with its rise in prices of goods, which means a drop in the value of gold and there had to follow an exodus from the gold country'.

When Nome had dropped to a town of about two thousand inhabitants, it was so well known to Judge Lomen that his conversations and inquiries practically amounted to a taking of a vote of the whole population as to whether they preferred winter or summer, and he assures me that while no actual count, was made, the opinions expressed to him indicated that with men, women and children all voting, at least three out of four would have cast a ballot in favor of the winter climate of the North as compared with

the summer climate. It must be remembered t'hkt in point of btrth and ancestry of its citizens Nome is a typical American town-—its people born in the United States, Canada, and the various European countries. There are also a few Negroes and Asiatics.

There are many who have business in Alaska but who live in San Francisco or other southerly places. It is common to hear these people say that the summer climate of Nome is delightful, but that they would not for any money live there in winter. They have either never tried it or have wintered there only once. No one will like a northern

climate the first year who is brought up in a southerly one and it is merely in accord with our principle that these people would not like their one northern winter. That they do consider the summer climate pleasant is the significant thing, for the people who have lived in Nome for fifteen or twenty years and who know the winter aswell as they do the summer are seventy-five per cent, in favor of winter. If you admit the testimony of those who have been in Nome only in summer to prove that the summer climate is pleasant, you will have to allow the testimony of those who have lived there many years to prove not only that the winter is to them pleasanter than summer, but also that the winter is entitled to be considered from an absolute point of view a pleasant season.

Nome has in summer a climate strongly affected by the ocean. In winter Bering Sea is in the main frozen over and at that time the climate is that df a northern prairie, or substantially that of Dakota. The temperature is in fact nearer to that of South Dakota than of North Dakota, for fifty below zero is rarely recorded and there are few winters that go lower than forty-five degrees below zero.

But the city of Dawson in the Yukon is in the mountains and in a forest. The temperature there in winter drops about fifteen degrees lower than it does at Nome and lower than any inhabited part the United States ■except certain cities and towns in Montana. In talking with the “sourdoughs” of the Yukon you may get the impression that seventy and even eighty degrees below zero •have been recorded, but the Canadian weatherbureau which ’has maintained observation stations there for more than twenty years, will vouch for nothing lower than sixtyeight below, which is the same figure as that given by the American weather bureau for the village of Gladstone, near Havre, Montana. Dawson, then, has the “continental” type of winter climate and it also has that type of summer climate, for the thermometer goes to the vicinity of one hundred in the shade. This is the time when flowers and vegetables grow so rapidly at Dawson that their development seems magical even to those who know the tropics.

Mr. Cameron’s Opinion

HPHE weather bureau records of Dawson are not significant from our present point of view', for they are in stark figures and these have no direct bearing On the question of whether people do or do not like the weather. I have talked with hundreds of men who have lived there, but shall quote the typical opinion of D. A. Cameron, today the manager of the Canadian Bank of Commerce in Toronto, but formerly, for many years, manager of the

branch of that bank in Dawson. Being a great city, Toronto has a climate that is well known. It is generally considered to be similar to that of Cleveland, which many consider better than Chicago, for instance. At dinner in Mr. Cameron’s home I once inquired whether he preferred the winter climate of Toronto to that at Daw'son and received the reply, “There are no two opinions in this family. My wife and daughter agree with me; we all prefer the climate of Dawson.” Mr. Cameron went on to say that that was the general opinion of those whom he knew who had lived in Dawson two or more years, or in other words had lived there long enough to get over the predisposition in favor of a summer climate they had brought with them from a country where summer is longer than winter.

While we have for Dawson no systematic inquiry like that of Judge Lomen for Nome upon which we can base a statement of probable percentage of a vote as between theclimates of summer and winter, we have for Dawson adequate evidence to show that not only do the residents prefer the polar winter to winter on the Great Lakes ih such places as Toronto and Chicago, but they also, as a matter of personal comfort, prefer the extreme cold of the Yukon winter to the extreme heat of the Yukon summer.

Obviously the reason why those who are used to both prefer extreme cold to extreme heat is not that cold is in itself pleasanter. The reason is rather that we have made nearly perfect a series of inventions which protect us against the cold. Within doors and even without we can neutralize the cold by lighting a fire; we can shut it out by building houses and by putting on clothes; and we can keep warm by eating suitable food for internal fuel and by taking exercise to speed up the bodily functions. But what can we do against the heat? We may wear a helmet or carry a parasol; we may dress in palm beach suits and live mainly on tomatoes and lettuce, and even at that there are few who, bear the heat of midsummer without com plaint, whether it be in Texas or Iowa, in Winnipeg, Edmonton or Dawson. The poorest hovel has a suitable means of dealing with the winter cold, but there are not half a dozen of the most luxurious hotels in the western hemisphere that have an adequate cooling system to meet the distress of July. Even the poor can fight the cold successfully; it is only the rich whose circumstances allow them to flee the heat.

It is my experience that when I tell a man that two, thousand people in Nome prefer winter to summer, I thereby do not succeed in proving to him that winter ist pleasant, but only that there are two thousand exceedingly eccentric people living at Nome.

Some Annoying Questions

A NY one who is a specialist is continually astounded by the colossal ignorance of the whole world upon specialty, be it epidemiology, electricity, or polar research. On railway trains I ride in drawing rooms, which I cannot afford, and in hotels I shut myself up in my room to avoid answering everlastingly the same series of questions, one of the most obnoxious of which is whether I do not suppose that I like the North chiefly because I am of Norse descent. For one thing, my descent is partly Irish and that much at least of my blood is not particularly northerly. For another thing, there is no real reason to suppose that Norwegians or Swedes or any other northern nationality get along better in the North than those from southern countries, except insofar as they are less obsessed by a fear of the North and are in the beginning a little more familiar with the technique of how to remain comfortable in that sort of climate. And still it cannot be supposed that people brought up in Norway or Iceland would know how to deport themselves in really cold weather, for they do not meet cold weather in-their own countries, except perhaps a few who live in the higher mountains.

If you want any evidence to show how little Norwegians understand about being comfortable ina polar climate,take the narratives of their polar expeditions. The best example is Nansen’s “Farthest North,” a delightful book, full of adventure and illumined by literary charm. By his own telling, Nansen must have been extremely uncomfortable in the North; and if that is clear it is no less clear that his discomforts lose nothing in the telling. Then turn to Peary, whose immediate preparation for his northern work

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Far North Really Liveable

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was surveying in Nicaragua. Peary did have hard times at first, but he got through that stage of his work more quickly than his Norwegian competitors. But perhaps that may not seem quite so striking as the fact which ought to be well known that the Duke of the Abruzzi with an expedition largely Italian followed in the footsteps of the Norwegians, and in a short voyage, which did not give them time enough to acquire in the North muchknowledge of the technique of northern work, nevertheless exceeded the best Norwegian records.

From my own experience I could tell many stories of the adaptability of southerners to the North, a thing that is well known also from the writings of other northern travelers. Peary tells us again and again in his books, and he emphasized it to me personally, that the best traveling companion he ever had was Matt Henson, a typical American Negro. Nearly every whaling ship in arctic waters, whether on the Atlantic or the Pacific side has carried in its crews one or many men born in Portugal, the Cape Verde Islands,fthe Canaries, Hawaii, and Samoa, in addition to large numbers of Negroes, from the Southern States. These men have usually averaged as high as north Europeans in their ability to stand cold and in their enjoyment ôf the northern climate.

But none of these stories is more striking than that of my old friend Jim F whom I first met on the north coast

of Canada in 1906 when he had already been there for many years.

When the World’s Fair was held in 1893, one of the exhibits was a young man who had grown to maturity in the Samoa Islands and had been brought to Chicago as a part of the exhibit of “native races.” This young man was James Asasela. When the Fair was over, he drifted to San Francisco with an idea of getting back to the Samoas. He could not speak much English, so he went down to the waterfront to see if he could find a ship that looked as if it would take him home. He saw a small sailing ship that had several “Kanakas” aboard, natives of the Hawaiian Islands. He could not speak to these Hawaiians, but he knew what people and country they belonged to, so he went to the officers of this ship and askedfor a job. for he thought they were sailing for the Hawaiian Islands. Two or three months later he found himself in the Arctic. “Jim Fiji” from the tropics now had to spend the winter with a whaler at Herschel Island, two hundred miles north of the Arctic circle, on the north coast of Canada. He found it hard, for he did not know how to take care of himself in the cold. He froze his face and his fingers and shivered and was miserable, and hé has told me that he would have given anything to be out of it and home. But it was a threeyears’ voyage, and during the next two years he learned how to clothe himself properly and how to protect himself from frost, and he liked the last year so well

that when the vessel got down to San Francisco he immediately shipped on another whaler to go north again. And at the end of this three-year voyage he liked the north so well that when the ship turned home he asked permission of the captain to remain behind.

Jim Fiji has lived in that country ever since, trapping and occasionally working for whalers or traders, and he worked three years for us on our expedition of 1913-18. I have known him since 1906 as one of the finest men in the North, and consider him one of my good friends.

I He has been industrious and frugal, has I caught many foxes, has sold his furs at ! favorable prices, and pow he has money j in the bank. The amount is a subject on j which he is reticent, for he has in that i respect the instincts of a miser. He will give you any food or clothing or other j articles he has, but when anything has once been turned into money it never gets away from him. Some say he is worth ten thousand dollars and others say forty thousand.

Won’t Return to Samoa

TN 1917 his hair had turned nearly

white and he was getting to be an old man. Although I am a great believer in the North, it struck me one day that it might be no bad speculation for Jim Fiji to go back with some of his riches to the Samoa Islands and settle down. I suggested to him that a good thing to do would be to go south with us to San Francisco, put most of his money into Liberty Bonds, take a few thousand dollars to the Samoas and buy an estate on which he could live. This idea struck him very favorably and thereafter we had many talks about what he was going to do. He told me how you could get a man down there to work for you all day for five cents and he had great visions of what he was going to do as a landlord. Among other things, I was to come and visit him some time down there. He knew how fond I was of the Eskimo foods and he described in detail the peculiar Samoan foods which he was going to give me to see how I liked them.

At the end of my 1913-18 expedition I * came east to Ottawa and New York and Jim Fiji went to San Francisco. Some months later I went out to San Francisco and the day after I got there Jim Fiji called on me. I was surprised to find him still there, but he explained that when he got there he heard that one of his cousins was on the way from the Samoas and so he thought he would await his arrival before starting for home. When this cousin arrived he told him, among other things, that wages had gone up and that you no longer were able to hire a man for five cents per day. Various other things had changed for the worse, but the main thing that worried Jim was that he found he did not like the winterlessness of San Francisco, and, as the Samoas were in that respect even worse, he had decided that he did not care to go back after all and his intentions now were to buy another trapping outfit and go back to the Arctic.

This is what he has done. In the spring of 1919 he was taken north by Captain Pedersen of the Herman, and Captain Pedersen tells me he landed Jim on Cape Bathurst, the second most northerly point on the Canadian mainland. He expects to live there the rest of his life.

It seems to me impossible to deny that in such countries as Missouri or Scotland winter is unpleasant, and that in such ! countries as Northern Canada or Alaska j summer is unpleasant. I have often argued with Eskimos who know summer only as j unpleasant, but have never succeeded in j proving to them that any reasonable perI son could like Florida or Italy. I do expect to have better luck with the readers oi MacLean’s magazine in trying to prove to them that many reasonable persons like winter better than summer, for their minds have had more opportunities for broadening. But I don’t expect much better luck.

Stories without number and with the same moral as the foregoing will still leave many unconvinced that you can ever get any large number .of southerners to become fond of winter and to colonize the Far North. These people are the intellectual children and grandchildren of those who said there never would be anything but a fur-traders’ village where now stands I Winnipeg with its 200,000 inhabitants. All j we can do with such is to urge them to take I good care of their health so they may live I to see history once more repeating itself.