OUR RECEDING WEST
HORACE GREELEY, after all, wasn’t so far wrong. It’s a great thing to go west. But it’s an even greater adventure to swing about the Big Circle, as I have just done, clear from our Atlantic gateway of Montreal on the East to our Pacific porte-cochere of Vancouver on the sunset route and then, going north to Prince Rupert and touching the lower tip of Alaska, to turn home again along the valley of the Peace and on through the brand new wheat-belt and the new NorthWest, and in doing so grow into a renewed knowledge of the greatness and the wealth of this Dominion of ours.
Yet when you do a thing for the second or the third time you do it under certain disadvantages. You miss the primal glow. The thrill of surprise is gone. You are no longer a discoverer, standing in the shoes of stout Cortez, ön his peak in Darien. And among other things, you run the risk of being preoccupied with subsidiary features rather than with main facts. You face the danger of failing to react to primary aspects. You pay the price of sophistication, with its cramping tendency to be over-interested in the secondary and accidental issues.
Because of this fact, I suppose, it now seems easier to write, not about the vastness of our western prairie or about the growth of the cities so miraculously strung along its three-stranded necklace of shining steel, or about the grandeur of the Selkirks or about the beauty of the Olympics seen through a sea-haze from the garden slopes of Victoria, but about those derivative things which pertain more to the drama of life than to the panorama of the continent itself. For, as I grow older, I find that it’s humanity hits me hardest. I’m more interested in men than in mountain views. I’m more intrigued, for some reason or other, by the casual accidents of the comedie humaine than by the dimensions of our new wheat elevators. And I find that much greater men have occasionally been subject to the same affliction. When Kipling recrossed our West not so very long ago he talked a great deal about manure, which he described as the mother of all good things. He reverted to this fimetarious theme, in fact, much oftener than he reverted to the Rocky Mountains. And he was much more impressed, apparently, by stumbling across a group of Hindoo navvies in British Columbia than he was by the beauty of the Fraser Valley. It was, indeed, the mosses of that valley which most attracted him, when he should have been reporting the magnitude of the salmon fishery— with a pack of over ninety million dollars, I’m told, in the last eleven years—and graphically enlarging on the dimensions of the coastal lumbering trade.
That Newton Pippin
SO, loath as I am to acknowledge it, one of the things that stand out clearest in my mind is old JimBlanner, who is now growing fruit, and incidentally growing rich, in the Okanagan Valley. Someone had very foolishly told Jim that I was writing up the West, when, in reality, I’d stopped “writing up things twenty long years ago. And Jim, after the manner of the children of the widening groundswell, launched into a vehement eulogy of British Columbia fruit. The Okanagan Valley, asseverated Jim, was the greatest fruit country under the sun. It grew strawberries you had to cut with a cheese-knife. A whole habitant family could live off one plant of its logan-berries. And as for its apples, they were the best apples in the world. Take a Newton Pippin, for example. There was * nothing on God’s green footstool that could stand beside a Newton Pippin. It was the king of ’em all, bar none. And before long B. C. would be feeding the world on'em.
“Jim,” I finally asked, suspecting a vague echo, of Ontario out of these oratorical intonations of his, “where d’you come from?”
“I’m from western Ontario,” acknowledged Jim. “Born and brought up on the Jenner Side-Line in little old Kent County!”
“Then, in the matter of apples,” I began. But Jim cut me short.
“This here B. C. fruit,” he determinedly pursued, shaking one of his pippins under my nose—but it was my turn to cut in.
“Jim, ” I said, fixing my eye on his, “did you ever sit down and eat a Raleigh Township Northern Spy?
Jim stopped short. Then his face worked. Then he led me solemnly off to one side.
“Partner,” he said, ‘I’ve et those old Northern Spies afore you was born.”
“And, man to man, you still say you prefer a Newton Pippin?”
Jim was silent for a minute or two. He glanced carefully about before he spoke again. Then he took hold of my coat-lapel. n
“Between you and me and the packin’ shed over there,” he finally confessed, “I’d give this hull fruit-ranch to git my teeth into a Kent County Spy agin. For a Spys a Spy, son, and when you’ve said that you’ve said it all. But in business hours, remember, I’m agoin’ to boom the Newton Pippin, and I’m agoin’ to boom it strong! (
The Lost Frontiers
BUT IF, from this, I tend to give the impression that the west is still a scattered frontier made up of boomsters and boosters, I err in so doing. The thing that rather took my breath away, in fact, was the discovery that there was no longer any West. The old raw edge, as we were wont to think of it, is no longer there. The frontier, as a frontier, has gone, and gone forever. Gone forever, too, seemed the discomforts and isolation and inadequacies of the cow-town and the steel-end camp and
the sod-hut of the land-squatter. What I found was a busily preoccupied country, imperial in extent, with its asphalted towns linked up and an air of finish and
friendliness about its cities and a touch of sophistication about their town-cars and country-clubs and skyscrapers and boulevarded residential suburbs. Already, in some mysterious way, they have taken on finish, acquired the mellowing tone of time, stepped into the solemnity of the firmly established. Look, for example, at Vancouver, born several years after I, who am still in my forties, came into this world. Consider this far-flung out-post of our Dominion, the jumping-off place at the end of the abruptly ending steel, this city on her crowded hills, shower-washed and Devon-green in their equable soft air so like the breath of Sussex, with her lordly skirts resting in a lordlier harbor-forty square miles, mark you, of protected anchorage and eighty-four miles of tide-water frontage with the Stanley Park segment of it making as lovely a Marina as you’d find anywhere on the storied Mediterranean—a city affluent and important and competitive and cosmopolitan, set four-square in the full tide way of the Pacific world, the teeming gateway to the East, the nearest sidedoor to the Panama Canal, with white coal and black coal close behind her, with fish and fruit and lumber and grain and mine-stuff to send out to the four corners of the earth. But she is acquiring, I find, something more than all this. She is acquiring a voice of her own. She begins to find herself the center of a Coast colony of authors and artists who sniff the dawning breath of bigness in their make-up, a colony which carries every promise of equalling and perhaps eclipsing that kindred colony which some twenty years ago brought fame to California. Futile and foolish it is indeed for the effete Easterner to talk hereafter of the “raw West.” I realized that on dining in Winnipeg, where my hostess, after the uniformed footman had served coffee in the library, produced a brocaded silken bag of tobacco and then a tiny jewelled pipe, which she proceeded to fill and light and puff at, as her red-skinned sisters of the prairie must once have puffed on their teepee dhudeens. It was quite new to me. But they were doing it, I remembered, along Park Lane. There, I believe, it stood la dernier cri of the ultra-fashionable. And westward the course of empire and of woman’s up-to-dateness seems to take its way.
Entering Wedge of Competitions
ANOTHER thing that stands out in my mind, oddly enough, occurred as we were crawling up the backbone of the world, on the observation car of a C. P. R. train. Two oil-burning engines were making the valley echo with their staccato grunts as they climbed, and the eternal snows were all about us. We were above the clouds at times, brushing elbows with the pale green of glacier-ice and tunneling under snow-slides as hard as Carrara marble. We were corkscrewing half way up to Heaven, with flimsy little ribbons of river tinkling a mile below our thumping and whining car-wheels, and if you looked about you could imagine yourself in the finest part of the Bernese Oberland. But that isn’t what I especially remember. What has so particularly and so perversely remained in my mind is the English tourist in tweeds—we don’t get so many of them as we used to— who studied the landscape through binoculars and eventually noticed, not far from Field, a lonely stretch of timber scaffolding, high above the track, where some adventurous miner had obviously started after copper and had long since given up.
“Pardon me,” ventured the nice old gentleman in tweeds, “but could you possibly tell me the nature of that extraordinary framework up there?”
“Sure,” said the mendacious American who was conducting his family home from Banff. “That’s some of the scaffold-work this old C.P.R. forgot to take down after they got through building these Rockies!”
But make the most of it, Gentle Reader, while you can, for it won’t be long before the incident loses both its punch and its point. I assert this because my swing about the circle persuades me the C.P.R., for all its service and all its strength, at last has a rival in the field. It is no longer the careless conquistador of the Canadian West. It is watching with a vigilant eye, its step, and with an equally vigilant eye is watching the step of its neighbor to the north, the once amorphous Canadian National, which man so ingloriously messed up in the making but which God so generously redeemed by fringing with the finest wheat-lands in the world. And reason is once more coming back to the delirious giant. The road of the people is being rehabilitated. A system is being evolved out of a snarl of mistakes and a tangle of incompatibilities.
Even the old viewpoint, I find, is changing. For anyone who knows the west will not have great difficulty in recalling the time when the two systems now incorporated into The Canadian National stood as much the target for proletariat jocularity as the head of the circus coon is a target for the cigar-seeker’s baseballs. They made grist for the joke-monger, just as the old Erie once did in the East, and the red-whiskered Irishman once did on the stage, and Farmer Corntassel once did in the josh-column of the urban press. But history has the habit of slitting the vertebra out of our humor. The United Farmers seem to have become the Intelligentsia of our era, and the shoe-string of the capitalist is solidifying into the trade route of a nation. They are forgetting to laugh at the old Canadian Northern.
The period of casual contempt is passing away. And the source of that change impresses me, not so much as the dignifying influences of an incomparably solemn economic experiment, but more as the hearteningly definite discovery that Canadian brains and Canadian energy can save Canada from what gave every promise of proving a premature sclerosis of the traffic arteries. One of the older stalwarts of the Conquistadors even complained to me, with tears in his voice, that these unmentionable Government Road rooters were coming right into his own territory and trying to take business away from him, business that had been his for the last twenty-five years! There was, he claimed, no excuse for it. But as my old school-friend Beatty once remarked, Competition, after all, is the soul of Success.
A Pullman Anomaly
MY RECENT and undignified use of the word “coon” reminds me of yet another human anomaly which I encountered early on my journey. And that was a C.P.R. sleeping-car porter with a copy of Ross’s “Social Psychology” sticking out of his hip pocket. Yet that quietmannered porter, it so turned out, was a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, the ex-editor of an uplift weekly, and an eloquent expounder of the rights of his dusky brethren. My attention was first directed towards him when I found him expostulating with the editor of MacLean’s Magazine over the latter’s use of the word “nigger” in a title for one of Archie McKishnie’s stories. “Nigger it appeared, was invariably a fighting word with the gentleman of color. He was not averse to “negro,” and he did not seriously object to “darkey,” but the use of “nigger” marked the moment for—well, for the ubiquitous razor to appear, only our ex-editor expressed it in a much more Johnsonian manner than that.
This porter, I might add, later discoursed to us on the injustices meted out to the negroin modern creative efforts, 1 is causerie extending all the way from Conrad’s “Children
of the Sea” to Eugene O’Neill’s “Emperor Jones.” And it may not be unworthy of record that before the berths were let down on the first day westward the astute editor of MacLean’s had duly contracted for a magazine article on, I believe, the Romance of Pullmaning, from this modest-looking scholar who read Brieux after doing
up his beds and could talk to us about Schopenhauer while engaged in polishing shoes.
Bears vs. Bank Clearings
BUT something disturbs me, and disturbs me seriously, as I ramble on in this fashion. For I find myself unable to recall the exact population of Saskatoon and the bank clearings of the city of Calgary for the week preceding my visit. Nor can I pride myself on the meticulous care I took of the extensive and diverse data so generously handed over to me by many different Boards of Trade and individuals engaged in the exchange of real estate. I’m not and never will be, I’m afraid, a business man. Yet, culpably enough, I carry with me an indelible memory of the baby-bear which raced our train through three miles of wooded valley-shelf in northern British Columbia. It was a glorious race, a sprint for the pure love of sprinting, and the way that bounding cub padded from rock to rock, the way he leaned in on the short curves and Irene-Castled over loose gravel and humped himself down the long slope of the last mile, a bouncing and joyous bundle of four-legged athleticism, will remain with me as one of the great events in crossing and re-crossing a great continent. May spirit such as his long survive, and may speed such as his long save him from the bullet of the pot-
hunter, and agility such as his eternally deliver his shaggy brown body from the snapping steel of the trap. I can see him still, eying our thundering “fish-special’’over one shoulder and bobbing his jocund bodyatrifle more frenziedly at each intermittent blast from the locomotive-whistle. And he turned aside, when it was all over, with a gesture which clearly said, “What’s the use? when you get in my class, folks, I’ll sign up for a real sprinting-mateh!”
Culture in Overalls
SPEAKING of bears, I should remember'more than I do about Jasper Park, that national preserve of stately mountains and sweeping valleys and highland lakes carved out of pure jade and ridiculously overcrowded with rainbow trout. It lies, I remember, just where the Canadian National Railway cuts across the border of Alberta and is towered over by Mount Robson and is walked over by caribou and moose and black-tailed deer and mountain sheep and goat and American tourists. There is, if I remember correctly, some four thousand four hundred square miles of it. But the balsamic Alpine air of that majestic playground up on the knees of Mother-Nature went to my head like the champagne of an earlier and happier generation, and I was too happy there to take a single note. Instead of enumerating the different peaks and their relative altitudes, and instead of remembering the geological eccentricities of the famous Pot-Holes of Malign Canyon, I merely recall the perfect English gentleman with the Oxford accent and the unstudied graciousness of manner* with whom I took tea. He was in overalls and a flannel shirt of an ancestry quite as remote as his own, and the tea was served in a ranger’s shack where a soda tin did duty as sugarbowl. And the young ranger spoke rather wistfully of Magdalen and rather off-handedly mentioned the Jung Frau and somebody eise referred to his war-service in the Navy and we fell to talking about the devilled chops they used to serve at the Cecil, and on the way back from the lonely little wooden hut up among the clouds it came home to me how Culture quite often mounts like a wave, mounts too ambitiously and comes tumbling down on itself, so that the seeming heir of all the ages can find himself quite satisfied to philosophize alone with the eagles and brew afternoon tea where the jack-pines stubble the unanswering rock-walls.
Nor can I forget an incident on the way up to Lake Malign, so egregiously ill-named. We came to a stretch of the trail where the going was a bit rough, and I turned and asked Colonel Rogers, the proud superintendent of that Park, the reason for the hiatus in an otherwise satisfactory mountain-road. The Colonel explained the matter by casually announcing that a ground grouse had chanced to nest along their survey. This remained Greek to me, for I didn’t know the Colonel so well then, until Mrs. Rogers de-coded the mystery. That ardent lover of wild-life, it seems, had promptly ordered all work stopped on his mountain-road, to the end that a four-inch nest might not be destroyed and a family of baby-grouse might not be disturbed. That’s a way these dyed-in-the-wool naturalists seem to have, for I remember how Jack Miner, of bird-sanctuary fame, once shut down his tile-works for a good part of a summer. When I inquired as to the reason for this, Jack’s idle and none too sympathetic foreman jerked a thumb towards a beam above his stationary engine, where a barn-swallow had been foolish enough to build her nest. “Jack won’t have them dickey-birds upset!” was the brief but incommunicably derisive explanation.
And that brings me to my Prince Rupert sail. I take it that nowhere in America, perhaps nowhere in the world, could one enjoy a more beautiful coastal trip than that by inland waterways from Vancouver up to Prince Rupert. To cruise for three days between pine-dad hills that open Mid close in panoramic vistas of purpletíáted wonder, is something of which the ST yet unappointed Poet Laureate of Canada alone should sing. I learned much about fisheries and totem poles and harbor facilities and timber exports and cannery conditions. I even found shark fishing to be a flourishing new industry in the Gulf of Georgia, where the once despised s ark is practically caught by machinery Md dragged up from the sea-bottom by a hook that works on a swivel, and where the week’s catch, last May, was averaging about eighty fish, each in turn averaging over a ton in weight. And nothing is wasted about those wolves of the sea, from the fins which go to the Chinese chowhouses and the teeth which go to the polishling-wheel of the jeweler and the bodymeat which i-’ taken care of in the canneries, down to the hides which are used for Seattle-made hip-boots and the headgristle that is turned into glue, to say nothing of the bones which become fertilizer and the liver which yields over sixty per cent, of the world’s so-called “cod liver oil”
He invariably and easily, when l;~ deteet~d I hat I was winded from mountain-clirnliiig, lingered for a previou8 minute or two to enlarge on the heaWy of the scenery immediately before us. ft was thiF and this alone, that saved my life!
BUT the item about that northern Pacific Coast which remains with me is a foolish little item regarding a babyseal, a baby-seal which is now a playful and much indulged pet of Prince Rupert. For the skipper of a battered small fishing launch going out from the city found this baby-seal being attacked by four hungry eagles. He rescued the seal, and took it aboard his boat. But before they headed for home, remembering certain cast-iron laws regarding such things, the crew duly and dolorously committed their foundling to the deep. They said good-bye and dropped him gently overboard. That foundling, however, was not to be thus disposed of. He stubbornly followed his foster-parents. He tugged along behind, mile by mile. He followed his new-made friends like a bad habit, followed them right in to port. He nosed about the launch, whimpering to be taken aboard. And aboard he was finally taken, and to Prince Rupert he was formally introduced, and some day, I suppose, he will graduate into vaudeville and walk a tight-rope or learn to play “Home Sweet Home” on a slide t roinbone, after the Japanese wrestlers have gone off.
And I have one final memory quite without economic value, I’m afraid. Yet it stays with me more distinctly than do divers figures relative to the irrigation area of southern Alberta and the halibut shipments out, of Prince Rupert. It is a memory of the buffalo herd at Banff, lying before me in a mountain snow-storm. ‘ I stood and watched two-score of these solemn bisons squatted like Sphinxes of porphyry on their upland pasture slope, with the driving snow blotting out the mountain peaks above them. They rested there, motionless, with their shaggy bodies headed against the streaking dun veils of the storm. They lay there in the universal driving greyness of things, as impassive and as reticent as glacial rocks. The snow whitened the grass-lands about them. It whitened even their own soliloquizing rough brows, heading into_ the wind like battered promontories. It whitened their taurine rough shoulders, like battleships huddled together in companionable anchorage, whitened their receding withers until the mottling dark bodies merged into the landscape about them. But they neither stirred nor protested. They dozed there, patient and impassive. They lay there, heavy-lidded and taciturn, as silent as uncouth figures carved out of the eternal rock about them, neither waking nor sleeping, neither happy nor wretched. They seemed, as I watched them through the slanting grey silence, to have crouched there from the centuries when the Red-Man first rode the plains, from
lonely spaces of time long before Columbus dared the Atlantic or Champlain crept up the Great Lakes or the eyes of the first white wanderer stared out over the illimitable prairies. They seemed to have crouched there from the very childhood of a new-spawned planet, from the era of the Gorgosaurus and the mastodon and the duck-billed dinosaur, from the faroff centuries before man himself was known to the world. They seemed survivors of armies lost in the twilight of the years, suggestive, in their immobility, of something long dead and laboriously disinterred, untouched forever, by the fever of life, as remote and timeless and inarticulate as the misted peaks above them.
Once, and only once, I saw a heavy head dappled with snow m.ove in the driving grey storm. It swung about slowly, ponderously, like the bow of a liner, and then swung slowly back. But that solitary movement merely accentuated the death-like immobility of the herd over which the wind was cracking its futile whips. The snow whirled on. The obliterating white mantle hung heavier across the shoulders of the mountains. But no head moved again. Melancholy and majestic and self-immured, they kept their couchant watch, wanderers from unknown Yesterdays, derelicts untouched by the momentary desolation of a trivial mountain tempest, solemn with the knowledge that aeons and aeons ago this earth of ours knew one Ice Age, and in the fullness of time will know yet another Ice Age.