Canada's New Treasure Trove

ANTHONY RICH February 1 1923

Canada's New Treasure Trove

ANTHONY RICH February 1 1923

Canada's New Treasure Trove


The Mackenzie River Basin is open for travel and commercial enterprise. Mr. Ru h has recently returned from the North and tells of its potential resources.

IS ONE of the court battles against the legality of the Hudson’s Bay Charter, the great Canadian hinterland. part of which is the Mackenzie River Basin, was described as “a m re waste and howling wilderness, where half-famished birds of prey wage eternal war with a sparse population of half-starved savages; where the drought is more than Saharan, the cold more than Arctic; and woe betide the mad and unfortunate individual who might so far be diverted from the paths of prudence as to endeavour to settle in those

But as Alaska, step-child of Russia once, turned out to be a golden Cinderella, repaying an hundredfold the labor and money invested, so also the Mackenzie Basin gives promise that it will prove to be a vast sto ehouse of wealth when the many resources found there during late years are exploited.

The Mackenzie Basin is about 1,350 miles long and from 100 to 900 miles wide, with a total area of some 6T2.000 square miles. It is only a question of time before man’s ingenuity will have solved the transportation difficulties which have baffled, until now, all but the hardiest men of the North. Large blocks of native copper have been found, and, up to the advent of the white man, Indians and Eskimos used native copper for spear and arrow-heads, knives and hammers. Gold has been found in placer deposits in the Bear Lake district, and throughout the Basin, from the Athabaska to the Arctic, oil seepages indicate the presence of large oil-fields. In the Barrens. as the Laurentian Plateau Ls common! y called, millions of cariboo roam during the summer months—and where cariboo can go men can follow.

The water area of the Mackenzie Basin is estimated at 40,000 square miles, and the length of the river, from the head-waters of the Finlay which, with the Parsnip, forms the Peace river, one of the main tributaries of the Mackenzie, is 2,500 miles. This makes the Mackenzie second in length of the rivers of the North American continent. The next important tributary of the Mackenzie is the Athabaska and, since the completion of the Alberta Great Waterways Railroad to the Clearwater river, only a few miles from its confluence with the Athabasca, this river offers the best and safest transportation route to the Slave and Mackenzie rivers, and to the Arctic Ocean.

Up to recent times all supplies for the North were transported from the Hudson’s Bay over the Methy portage, as they were since Alexander Mackenzie made

his discovery trip. The consequent high cost of every article, together with the dependence on the good-will of post managers, kept out very effectively all those not wanted by the fur companies, and to them this very isolation meant large profits.

After a railroad was completed to Athabaska Landing, supplies were shipped from there, but as ninety miles of bad water had to be passed, cost and risk were still high, although quite a number of free traders went “down river” at that time and established posts at convenient points.

When the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railroad reached Peace River considerable freight went that way, but this route necessitates a five-mile portage at the Vermilion Chutes. So, when the Alberta Great Western Railroad reached Clearwater last year, where

freight can be transferred from car to boat, the other routes were virtually abandoned. Clearwater is a typical frontier town and, where last year was wilderness, there is now a prosperous village with sidewalks, hotels and store buildings.

Boats from here on have a clear stretch of navigable waters to Fitzgerald, on Slave River, a distance of 320 miles.

Fitzgerald is at the head of the Slave Rapids, which

form the only obstruction to navigation between the railroad and the Arctic Ocean. A Government built road, sixteen miles long, runs overland from here to Fort Smith, the end of the rapids. All freight, boats and scows for “down river” are hauled over this portage by tractors and teams, and thence boats drawing from four to five feet of water can go to the ocean. The distance from Fort Smith to the Mackenzie Delta is 1425 miles, and thousands of tons of freight are shipped yearly for northern points by the three large transportation companies. Passenger accommodation on the steamers is surprisingly good, considering that only during the last few years has the traveling public become interested in seeing this country, where the sun never sets during summer.

IT IS unfortunate that most travelers see the Mackenzie during the fly season, but as the Great Slave Lake is not ice-free before the beginning of July, and fierce storms in the Fall make navigation dangerous, the boats travel only in midsummer, and adequate protection against the vicious mosquitoes, and “bulldogs,” of the fly family, becomes a bothersome necessity. Early spring and late fall are really the best seasons for traveling in the North. The building of a railroad from Peace Point to Hay River on the Mackenzie would add two months to the navigation season, and also .would open up one of the finest agricultural districts in Northern Canada. The Fort Vermilion settlement on one side and Hay River on the other have shown that wheat and vegetab es can be grown as successfully there as even now in the prosperous farming districts of the Upper Peace region and Grand Prairie country.

At present a round trip from the railroad to Aklavic on the Mackenzie river Delta can be made in a month, and the boats make three round trips every summer. After leaving the railroad the only settlements are found around the furposts, which were established near the old Indian camping grounds along the river and lake shores. The distance between posts ranges from 16 to 225 miles, and stops are usually made by boats and dog trains at the following points: Clearwater, McKay,

Chipewyan, Fitzgerald, Fort Smith, Resolution, Hay River, Providence, Simpson, Wrigley, Norman, Oilwell, Good Hope, Arctic Red River, MacPherson and Aklavic.

The town of McMurray, at the confluence of the Clearwater and Athabaska rivers, was formerly the starting point for all travel northward, and will likely resume importance when the Alberta Great Western Railroad is extended. The panoramic view from the hill back of the town is one of the finest in the North.

Chipewyan, on the shore of Lake Athabaska, is headquarters for the fur trade on this lake, and extensive fisheries and a canning factory were established last year, providing added revenue for those of the native poDulation who can be induced to work. The posts and the

settlement of Chipewyan are strung out on a rocky, sandy shore line, against which the white buildings stand out in vivid contrast. Anglican and Catholic missions, with resident bishops, maintain schools here, and the Catholics have there a large hospital.

The Farmers’ “Free Trader”

BESIDES the fur posts of the large companies, there are numerous free traders, Colin Fraser easily ranking first among them. He is the son of the famous Fraser, who came from Scotland as official piper for the chief officer of the Hudson’s Bay Company, with whom he made all inspection trips. Clad in highland garb, he was the first to enter the stockades, to the tune of the martial bag pipes, and he was looked upon by the Indians as a man from another world. Like many of the Hudson’s Bay men of the early days, he married a native woman, and his descendants to-day are a splendid type of mixedblood Northerners and famous for their hospitality.

Colin Fraser was in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company as a young man, but later took up a homestead, where part of the present city of Edmonton is now located. After a disastrous venture in a retail store business, which cost him every cent he had realized from the sale of his homestead, he left for Chipewyan. Making and losing fortunes in the fur trade since then, he is now very prosperous, and his yearly dealings in fur run into large figures.

Fitzgerald and Fort Smith are important points, as all freight and passengers for down river make the overland portage past the Slave Rapids. Formerly all but one, the Mountain Rapid, were run by scows, but owing to serious accidents the government graded a good road from Fitzgerald to the end of the rapids at Fort Smith. The boundary line, between Alberta and the North West Territories,is about six miles from Fort Smith, and in 1921 headquarters for the North West Territories administration were established here.

Fort Resolution is the centre of the fur trade on Great Slave Lake, and during treaty time approximately 2,000 Indians camp along the lake shore, and stay until cash and credit are gone. Free traders reap at that time a golden harvest, although freight for their wares costs ten cents per pound from Edmonton. Great Slave Lake, with a water area of about 12,000 square m'les, is one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world and is famed for its fine fish. The icy waters impart a firmness and flavor to the fish which make them unexcelled anywhere, and trout, whitefish and inconnue often are found tipping the

scales at a good forty and forty-five pounds weight.

Indians always hug the shore closely on fishing trips, as the lake is often visited by sudden squalls, causing short, choppy waves, in which the light canoes cannot live. Even large boats seek refuge during squalls.

Resolution has no harbor, so boats bound for there often wait weatherbound for days before they can unload their freight and passengers. Hay River has the largest Anglican mission in the North, and is at present the centre of oil drilling activities. Providence has large fisheries, and Simpson is a very important fur post, as all the Indians from the Liard and Nahanni trade here. Owing to its location at the mouth of the Liard river, where valuable deposits of placer gold and gold-bearing quartz were found, numerous prospecting parties started out from here during the Summer of 1922, and should the reports of last winter be verified, Simpson will see many gold seekers this year.

Norman, at the mouth of Bear river, handles the fur catch of the Great Bear Lake and, since peace was made between Indians and Eskimos, parties of the latter call yearly at Norman to trade fur and bows and arrows, and anything else the traders will take, for guns and ammunition, knives and iron, and sometimes even for a phonograph.

Forty-two Years in Arctic

ARCTIC Red River, MacPherson and Aklavic are other trading posts where Eskimos from the Mackenzie Delta and Coronation Gulf visit, and nearly all the catch of white Arctic foxes is marketed there. Captain Klinkenberg of Victoria Island came to Arctic Red River last year with 1,200 white fox skins, which were bought by' one of the large fur dealers. The Captain was formerly master of a whaler, lost his boat in the ice-pack, and fell in with a tribe of Eskimos. He married one of the women, and has lived in the Arctic continuously for forty-two years since. His son, Patsy, came out as interpreter a few years ago for the Eskimos who killed two Catholic priests on the Coppermine, and one of Klinkenberg’s daughters is married to Storker Storkerson of the Stefansson expedition. A naturalized Canadian, the Captain was born and educated in Denmark, and he is possibly the best-informed man in the world on Eskimos and Arctic life.

The Indians of the North, called by Sir Alexander Mackenzie a degenerate and improvident race 120 years

ago, have not improved since then; although christianized for sixty years, plenty and famine still alternate with frightful regularity. Disease is ravaging among them, and even slight attacks of sickness are fatal, as they have no recuperative powers.

Comparatively few full-blood Indians are living to-day, and with a few notable exceptions the half-breeds have adopted the vices of the Indians and of white men much

more thoroughly than the white man’s religion. There are many little-known tribes in this territory.

Loucheux and Hare Indians were formerly implacable enemies of the Eskimos, and as the Indians were in possession of guns long before the white trader reached the Eskimos, whole bands of them were wiped out, despite their superior bravery and strength. Now, most of the Eskimos have guns, and peace has been made between the two races through the influence of traders, explorers and missionaries.

The white men living in the Mackenzie Basin are true Northerners, and whether city bred or frontier born, few care to return to the “Outside,” except for a visit, after they have tasted the care-free life of trading post or trapper’s cabin. The Indian population is rapidly diminishing, while the fur-bearing animals are on the increase, and with prevailing high prices for fur, a trapper is far ahead financially' comparing his earning power with that of the office or industrial worker in the city. The only prerequisites of success are strength and woodcraft. Hardships and danger sometimes go with the work, but the true Northerner loves the country' for its glorious wildness, he loves to pit his strength against the fierce moods of nature, and he plays the game with a happy' heart and undaunted courage.

Oil has been known to exist in the Basin since Mackenzie’s discovery' trip, and the Imperial Oil Company brought in a gusher in 1920. This w'ell caved in last year, but was later continued and a strong flow of oil again encountered.

On Great Slave Lake two companies have done development work on quartz claims. One, the Aurous Gold Mining Company, erected a fifty-ton mill last Summer on Little Cariboo Island, and the other company is developing some valuable claims of lead, zinc and silver ores. Immense deposits of iron ore have been found on Lake Athabaska, running sixty'per cent, iron oxide, and according to government reports silver ore, running as high as $750 per ton, has been discovered on some claims near Fort Smith. Large coal deposits are distributed throughout the Mackenzie Basin, as are immense beds of salt, sulphur and gy'psum.

Along the Athabaska are the largest known deposits of bituminous sands in the world, extending over a known area of 750 square miles. Several companies are installing machinery for the extraction of the high oil contents. Laboratory and practical tests have proven that the residue will make excellent road material.

Continned on page 40 Waterpower for all purposes, especially mining, is available on nearly all the tributaries of the Mackenzie, some of the streams haying a sheer drop from 100 to 300 feet, with open water throughout the year.

Canada’s New Treasure Trove

Continued from page 27

Wheat has been successfully grown as far as Simpson, but only a few isolated gardens are found around posts and missions. The average vegetable crop as far north as Hay River is equal to any grown in Canada, and the Mackenzie district could easily raise enough for home consumption.

Lo, the Lazy Indian

'T'HE Indian will not till the soil, al-*though he likes canned vegetables and potatoes well enough, for he will buy dried fruit when thousands of bushels of delicious wild berries are rotting in the bush. Some of the tribes live on meat alone, while others eat nothing but fish. The amount of fish put up for winter use is astounding, the average settlement using more than 150,000 pounds. Chipewyan alone puts up 80,000 fish. While White men and Eskimos fish through the ice, the Indian is either too lazy or ignorant to do any winter fishing, and when his provisions run low, as they usually do toward the end of Spring and Fall, they rely on the bounty of fur posts and missions.

There are two fishing seasons,—before the ice sets and after the break up. The spring catch is smoked or sun dried, and in the fall the fish are thrown into a stockade and frozen. As dogs offer the only means of transportation in the North during winter, and as each dog is fed from six to ten pounds of fish per day, the

enormous consumption of fish is easily understood. Indians feed their dogs regularly only in winter, because underfed dogs cannot work. In Summer they are often shamefully neglected, and may starve to death. Ferocious as they are, one cannot help admiring them for their loyalty to ungrateful masters, who abandon them without a thought when they become weak or footsore on a hard trip.

Heritage of To-morrow?

LAW and order prevail in the North.

Although there are only twentyseven Mounted Police stationed between Fitzgerald and the Arctic Ocean, there were less than a dozen criminal investigations during 1922. Undesirables, who find their way into the country occasionally, are kept moving toward the “Outside.” Only picked men of the force are detailed to the district, and their courage, endurance and persistence in hunting down law breakers is proverbial. The matter-offact reports of long trips into unknown country to investigate reports of criminal actions, and to bring back the guilty make stranger reading than fiction, and the “Mounties” to the natives are omnipotent, and command the respect and admiration of the white man.

Canada as yet hardly realizes, that the Mackenzie Basin promises to tum out a veritable treasure house, as the proven wealth so far has been found more or less by accident and as investors have been too timid to exploit the resources so far away “from home.” The Mackenzie Basin will prove a splendid inheritance for the Canada of to-day or to-morrow.