“Watchman, What of the Ice?”

TOM WAYLING July 15 1923

“Watchman, What of the Ice?”

TOM WAYLING July 15 1923

“Watchman, What of the Ice?”


MACLEAN’S MAGAZINE published an article in the April 1st issue entitled "Is the Hudson Bay Route Feasible!" by T. AI. Fraser. In this article it teas designed to give fads only, but many of the facts brought out by Mr. Fraser were unfavorable to the Hudson Bay route. In order that both sides of the question may be brought before our readers, in this issue we publish an article by Tom Wayling, which brings out very clearly the facts in favor of this route. Or* this question, MacLean’s has no axe to grind, and to those who read Mr Fraser’s article, as well as those who did not read it—no matter what their personal views—this article is recommended as a clear exposition of the views held by the protagonists of the route.

THE Timid Passenger stopped dead in his tracks. The Ancient Traveller had transfixed him where he stood.

"B-b-but it can’t be so.” pleaded the Timid Passenger. "They couldn’t take a chance with a big ship like this.” “Poppycock,” snorted the Ancient Traveller. “We ain't no more in Hudson Straits than we are in Hoboken. Lookit that there coast line: lookit the blue water; lookit that whale. You can’t tell me our compass ain’t bedevilled and we’re not still off the coast of Labrador.” "B-b-but—”

"Bububut nothin’.” snapped the Ancient Traveller, "Hudson Straits? This ain’t no Hudson Straits; where’s yer fog; where’s yer ice? There must be fog, there must be ice. Lookit!” and he lugged out a wad of clippings. "Lookit. I took this ’ere trip because I was fed up on Hawaii an’ Honolulu an’ Buenos Ayres an’ all them other ar.te-rooms to ’ell-in-August. These ’ere clippings promised me ice. an’ polar bears, an’ seals an’ walruses. An' we ain’t seen a thing but that dam whale. Hudson Straits. Hudson Bay. Pshaw!”


Bubublazes nothin’,” said the A. T. “Lookit. Lookit this 'ere report from yer own blessed House o’ Commons.

Didn't this 'ere feller say they was ice floes an’ ice bergs and fogs an’ everything up here in July and August. This is August ain’t it. an' where's yer ice, where’s yer fog. Phoo, a howlin’ swindle, that’s what it is.”

"Lookit!” he demanded again.

“This is a copy of Hansard,

March 12. 1923. an’ what does this feller say? .Just look at this. Plain enough isn't it?

Seems so to me. Lookit—Page 10S6:

“ 'In every one of these photographs where the Minto, the Acadia, the Bonarenture und. che Boethic are trying to get through the ice, it will be observed that this ice is not merely five or six inches thick, but extends to a thickness of ten or twelve feet, and it is impossible for any steamers to get through such a solid obstruction without a great deal of difficulty.

These photographs were taken in -July and August right in the height of the season when if this route was feasible there would be no ice in the bay or the strait, yet every one of these photographs shows a h e a v y field of ice covering practically the whole of the bay.'

"Br-r-r-r,:' he shivered. "ice and fog, and polar bears and walruses. The man’s gone bugs.”

Fortunately for the Timid Passenger he had not read the whole of the epic from Lunenberg. Dante’s vision of the realms of ice could not have been more realistically described when a Nova Scotian put his telescope to his blind eye and looked over the fogs and ice of Belle Isle straits in the general direction of Hudson Bay. “I can-

not see how the route is feasible, said the gallant mariner, and he squashed in his telescope and turned back from the quest.

The occasion of the lugubrious description of Hudson Straits and Hudson Bay was during the debate on Andrew Knox’s resolution dealing with the completion of the Hudson’s Bay railway, the line of railway travelling north from The Pas, Manitoba, to tidewater at Port Nelson, and intended to give to the prairie provinces their own ocean port.

This project was originally started in 1908, though much debated long before that. Men with the vision and enterprise of pioneer Canada had seen in that deep, wide incision in the northern coast line a new route overseas. “The strongest argument for the route is the map as shown on the globe,” said the Manitoba Free Press, and every statesman, business man and agriculturist west of Winnipeg plumped solid for a line to Europe that would bring Liverpool and the British market a thousand miles nearer to the western farm.

Naturally such an enterprise,

diverting from the old channels of trade thousands of tons of profitable freight in and out of the West, was met with some opposition. Like every new project it was looked upon as a crazy imagining. It could not be done, said one. The north is all muskeg, said another. The straits are not navigable, declared a third. Your ships will be smashed in the ice, said a fourth. It isn’t feasible, chimed in the chorus. “It never will pay,” came the final jab. But the empire builders went on planning, projecting, surveying, constructing. The Hudson Bay railway was on its way.

Borden, Laurier, Meighen, King, a long list of railway ministers, a longer list of prairie premiers, a still longer list of commercial, industrial, political and agricultural leaders in the West, all put the impress of approval on the project. Perhaps they had in mind the opposition which met the proposals for the building of the C. P. R. in the days when the West was reached from the south. “It can’t be done,” they said of the transcontinental railway. But it could be done and was done, despite the learned book published by a clever engineer who sought to save Canada from the “folly” of building the C. P. R. The erudite Mr. Munro declared in all seriousness that there was only one strip 46 miles wide along the American border suitable for agriculture west of the Great Lakes; that everything north of that line was locked in perpetual ice, that the Gulf of Georgia, between Victoria and Burrard Inlet was “impossible for navigation to sea-going ships.”

Is There an Ice Barrier?

ONE would not accuse a member of parliament of distorting the facts, especially after he had declared his kindly intentions toward the aspirations of the West. According to Mr. Duff however, the Hudson Straits suffer from everything but prickly heat, while at the very time he was speaking in the House a tourist syndicate^

Winnipeg was drumming up trippers for a Cook’s Tour in “the Mediterranean of the North” a phrase, by the way, coined by Earl Grey after a visit to the Hudson Bay. The syndicate planned to send a C. P. R. 9,500-ton steamer into the Hudson Straits at a time when Mr. Duff declared by his nautical gods that nothing existed but a desolate waste of deadly ice.

The Hudson Straits have naturally become the point of

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“Watchman, What of the Ice?”

Continued from page 20

attack by the oppositionists, for most of ■the myths about Port Nelson harbor and the Bay itself have been long exploded. The Straits are 450 miles long and an average of 100 miles wide, narrowing to 45 miles at one point. The channel is from 100 to 200 fathoms deep, with a 35 foot tide. Neither Hudson Bay nor Hudson Straits are ever actually frozen solid, so that the chief difficulty, when and where it exists lies with the floating ice which drifts down from the north.

The inference that the Straits are not navigable because of ice is the height of absurdity when one considers that since Henry Hudson entered the straits in 1610 and cruised about the Straits and Bay until November of that year, British mariners have entered and cruised at will, no matter how poor and light the ship. The Hudson’s Bay Company itself in the last century and a half has sent in 750 ships, ranging from the 70-gun man-owar to the ten-ton cockle boat. In the early days of western settlement, the Red River settlers received much of their supplies via Nelson and Hayes. Fort Prince of Wales stands a monumental ruin to-day to point the hand of time back to the days when seamen sailed the northern seas without fear or qualm; sailed in wooden ships at the vagary of wind and weather. They started from the shores of the old land for Port Nelson— and they got there; through a channel which a modern mariner declares is unsafe and dangerous to steel ships which have navigation aids unknown to the old seafarers.

Some Data on the Great Bay

SINCE 1886 a dozen or more expeditions have been sent under the aegis of the Dominion government into Hudson Bay. Some of these expeditions reported adversely, and much has been made of these reports. But taken as a whole, what is the consensus of expert maritime opinion? The Low Expedition of 1903-4 declared in its report, “The period of safe navigation for ordinary ships may be taken to extend from July 20 to November 1. This might be increased without much risk by a week in the beginning and two weeks at the close. There is little doubt that specially constructed ships for ice navigation could pass through the straits at any time."

The italics are for emphasis; to emphasize the use being made of that “specially constructed ship” phrase, and its reference to continuous navigation. Says Mr. Duff: “The ordinary cargo steamer would not be suitable for this route on account of ice conditions. A special kind of ship would have to be constructed. They would cost twice as

much as the ordinary cargo boat.” ' No reference here to year-round navigation for special ships. As for the period of navigation for ordinary ships one refers to the various reports of experienced northern navigators as to the duration of the season and date of close of navigation Captain Bernier, 138 days, Nov. 1 Captain Bartlett, 112 days, Nov. 20 Capt. Anderson, 123 days, Nov. 15 Captain Webb, 83 days, Oct. 15

Captain Wakeham, 112 days, Oct. 21 Captain Keen, 92 days, Oct. 30

Captain. F. Anderson, 92 days, Oct. 30.

Taking into account other expert opinion, an average of 106 days is arrived at, the longest estimate being 150 days and the shortest 76. And no reference is made to specially constructed ships. Sir James Lougheed recently pointed to the fact that 36 ordinary ships have taken in 20,000 tons of freight since 1914.

Another picturesque bugaboo to scare navigators is the story of the wobbly compass, which is said to become unreliable by reason of its proximity to the magnetic pole. To the uninitiated there is only one north pole, and to it the compass always points. As a matter of fact the magnetic north is many degrees east or west of the true north, the variation changing with the locality and creeping east and west year by year. -These the mariner must take account of, and so the story started that the proximity of the magnetic pole to Hudson Bay played hob with the compass. This is dealt with in the Hydrographic Survey report of 1910. “Danger from proximity of the magnetic pole is a myth.”

While on the subject of navigation it is interesting to note that up to the present there are no land aids to navigation on the Hudson Straits and Bay. Yet the Hudson’s Bay Company only lost two ships in 150 years. On the other hand one stops to think of the fact that $126,000,000 has been spent on the St. Lawrence in aids to navigation, and every year of late Montreal and Quebec have been given $5,000,000 from the Dominion treasury for their port maintenance. Every year big sums are voted for aids to navigation around the Nova Scotia coasts. Take away these aids, restore these routes to their original state; and then draw the comparison with the Hudson Bay route for safety’s sake.

The Argument for the Project

IS THE Hudson Bay route needed? is the plaint of the oppositionist. We have wonderful ports at St. John, Halifax, Quebec, Montreal, Vancouver, Esquimalt; what can a country want more? Then there is the slogan now going the rounds “Every lakeport a seaport.” Why

not bring the ocean vessel to Fort William and tap your western cargoes there? Why spend money on a new and untried route with so many old and tried routes already available?

These questions are not difficult to answer. In the first place, Canada will in the near future need every outlet she possesses. In the second place the lake port-seaport project is more contentious than the Hudson Bay route. In the third place, the western provinces are entitled to their own port, under their own control, and for their own business. One might also add that being willing to pay for it themselves, the matter might be considered at an end.

“But you are not paying for it yourselves,” say the oppositionists, “the East is being taxed to pay for your road as well as its own.” This plaint has a reminiscent note. It is the same old plaint that was voiced when the C. P. R. was built, and is still being voiced with reference to the C. P. R. As a matter of fact the C. P. R. was built largely on the potential value of 100,000,000 acres of western Canadian lands, in which the East had no moral nor legal interest. But that’s another story. Suffice to point out that the financing of the Hudson Bay railway has been derived from the sale of western homesteads and pre-emptions. Over 8,000,000 acres have been sold, the revenue being over $24,000,000. There are 2,500,000 acres not yet paid for in full. It was the distinct understanding in 1908 that the money from these lands was primarily intended for the construction of the Hudson Bay railway. About $20,000,000 has been expended; $4,000,000 would have completed it, but it will now take about $12,000,000 to $16,000,000 to finish the road, terminals, and harbor facilities.

This year $15,000,000 has been handed by the Dominion parliament to Montreal,

Quebec and Vancouver for their port development. The whole Dominion, the West included, pays that $15,000,000 and has contributed to all the moneys that have gone to other ocean ports in this and other years. When the West asks for leave to pay its own money for its own development, protest arises and will not down.

Condemnation of false economy has often been the justification for expenditures which were believed to be necessary for natural development. Did ever such false economy exist as that which prevents the completion of the Hudson Bay railway? It has been estimated that the opening of the route would save $12,000,000 annually to the western agriculturist.

One naturally asks, what is the justification for the huge expenditures on Montreal harbor works, when the port is only open seven or eight months, and there are excellent ports at St. John and Halifax?

Simply that Montreal is so much nearer to the point of origin of ocean cargoes, extending the cargo distance and lessening the land freight distance, which is approximately ten times as costly.

The Hudson Bay route brings Liverpool one thousand miles nearer to western Canada than the all-rail and lake and rail route.

In 1921 for instance, November and December average prices for wheat No. 1 Northern, was $1.51 in Liverpool and $1.07 in Canada. Most of that wheat cost more than $1.07 to produce, and the 43 cents that was taken off between the western farm and the British port represented freight and handling cost, and somewhere in it was the farmer’s slender profit. The Liverpool market will not pay more than world-regulated price, so the western farmer must get his profit somewhere in the gap between production and the consuming market.

The Hudson Bay railway was started in 1908. At present the grade is practically completed from The Pas, Manitoba, its starting point, right to Port Nelson, including two costly steel bridges over the northern rivers. The rail has been laid to within 92 miles of Port Nelson, and all that remains is the completion of this track, the restoration of the roadbed to its original state of excellence and the completion of the harbor works. Twenty million dollars has been sunk in the enterprise. A late day to call it off for economy’s sake. Work was suspended in 1917 because of the war, and the roadbed has been deteriorating ever since.

The interest on twenty millions is wasting, the recoupment of the initial outlay is being postponed, the deterioration loss is increasing, and the natural development of the northland is held up.

Most important of all, the western farmer is being robbed of a birthright; the

provision of a natural port to take to the markets of the world the natural products of soil, forest and mine.

The Vital Need of Transportation

IT IS admitted that regard must be had for the financial condition of the country. But this condition will not improve so long as the producing power of the West is curtailed so that each year, more and more people are unable to pay their taxes, more and more municipalities are unable to collect their levies. In one municipality in Manitoba 85 farms exist in a pioneer district where not many years ago three hundred homesteaders were

making a living and sharing the burden of taxation. The others simply couldn’t make farming pay. There was no profit in it.

This cost of transportation is a vital issue to the West. There is no home market for his products so far as the westerner is concerned; and unless and until he can get his products to overseas markets at a cost low enough to leave a margin of profit for himself, he is doomed to pile loss upon loss. The effect of transportation on profit is shown by the disgraceful affair of lake and rail freights last year. Upon pressure of western members, parliament last session sent western freight rates in the general direction laid down in the Crow’s Nest Pass agreement. The railways protested and prophesied loss in operation, but as a matter of fact the increased freight resulting from lower rates gave them instead a greater profit.

This was all very nice, and the farmer looked for a little profit to pay something on his debts. But what happened? What he saved from the railways was shamelessly filched from him by the lake carriers and every cent of profit he would have made through the saving in freight, (and it would have been about all the profit he would have had) was grabbed by the lake freight interests. The lake men were able to get in their nasty jabs because of the coastal laws governing lake traffic. The active competition of the Hudson Bay route would have made this impossible, because competitive rates would have put a speedy end to their manipulations. It is true that increased insurance rates on the Hudson Bay route, pending proper aids to navigation, would have increased the cargo rates, but there would have been active competition and the elimination of the rail and lake haul would have left a margin for that.

In addition to grain the route would j improve the cattle export business pra1

ticularly now that the British trade is reviving, with the elimination of the embargo. In addition to cutting the cost of freight there is still another saving in the short haul for cattle. From the time a beef is loaded at the country siding, there is a steady shrinkage in weight, and the sooner the animal stops travelling the bigger the price it will bring at the end of the journey. A trainload of cattle can be landed at Port Nelson in one third the time it takes to reach the eastern seaboard and the weight retained is so much actual cash to the producer. A short quick trip will also enable the Canadian farmer to compete more successfully with the Irish cattle man.

There is of course the argument that the route will only be open a few months. But as it happens these few months make all the difference in the world to the grain and cattle exporter. They are the months when time is real money. The world’s supply of grain is rushing across the seven seas and the price is dropping steadily. What matter if the time is short? It is not much longer on the Great Lakes and in the grain business it is the rush business in the fall that really counts.

The Question .of Profits

AS TO the route being profitable from the agricultural industry standpoint, it is a significant fact that the grain men of the West are with the farmers in their endorsation of the route. Probably the two biggest initial grain firms in the world are the United Grain Growers, Ltd., and the Saskatchewan Co-operative Elevator Company. Both do a strictly grain handling business; speculation is taboo. These companies have been built up by hard-headed farmers, led by farm men with business instinct as well as accurate farm knowledge. They were built by hard work and on sound business principles, and with but little initial capital.

Enterprises such as these, handling grain by the millionbushels, by the trainload and the shipload, must of necessity know something about the transportation question. On it their success depends, on it the security of their enterprise hinges. Yet without exception Hon. T. A. Crerar, president of the United Grain Growers, Ltd., Hon. J. A. Maharg, president of the Saskatchewan Co-operative Elevator Company, and all their Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta associates and officials have endorsed the Hudson Bay project. There is not much sentiment in the grain business. Competition is the keenest in the world; yet these men know better than any others that a thousand miles saved is a thousand miles gained. Port Nelson is a thousand miles nearer to Liverpool ; that missing thousand miles would spell twelve millions yearly to the farmer; it is the difference between profit and loss.

There remains little to be said; but that little has a tremendous significance. Quote Dr. Corless, president of the Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, as the first reference as to the local influence of the Hudson Bay railway:

“We can well afford to stand off for a few moments in order to estimate

the probable significance to mining of the enormous region surrounding Hudson Bay, with an area of two million square miles occupying considerably over one half of the surface of Canada.... In the only parts where any detailed geological examination and prospecting have been carried out there have already been discovered fabulously rich deposits of iron, nickel, gold and silver, containing many billions of dollars in gross values of these metals.”

Great Natural Resources

THE Hudson Bay railway will tap these areas. Need one say more? And yet— quote the Hon. Jacques Bureau’s enthusiastic eulogies of the power development of the St. Maurice river, the Laurentide enterprise, Shawinigan and so on. Must be nearly half a million horse power pulling out where the river is harnessed at its falls and rapids. Power exported as far as Boston. Power running their own pulp mills, with pulp coming as much as 200 miles to the mill.

Then think of the Kettle Rapids on the Hudson Bay railway route, with a million horsepower dashing itself wastefully over the falls. According to W. F. MacLean, M. P., Sir Adam Beck estimates the potential power on the whole Hudson Bay slope to be something like 4,000,000; a western estimate puts it at 6,000,000 horsepower.

In one mine near The Pas, two million dollars worth of copper has been taken out under most difficult conditions. To-day copper ore is being taken by the trainload from the Mandy Mines near The Pas, across four provinces to Traill, B. C., to the smelters, and despite the staggering freight charge this must entail, the mine is operated at a profit.

There it is, untold mines waiting to be tapped, unmetered current waiting to operate electric smelters; waiting to operate railways.; waiting to energize a thousand industries. Can we afford the Hudson Bay railway? Can we afford to be without it?

Any story of the Hudson Bay railway project would not be complete without mention of the men who since construction was stopped in 1917 have worked in and out of season for its resumption. The federal ridings of Nelson, Manitoba and Prince Albert, Sask., are directly affected by the route, and the untiring efforts of Jack Campbell, former M.P. for Nelson, and Andrew Knox, M.P. for Prince Albert, have done much to keep the project from slipping into neglectful oblivion. T. W. Bird, who succeeded Mr. Campbell as M.P. for Nelson, has taken up the parliamentary torch thrown to him, and is pursuing the clear trail. A successful effort was made at the present session of parliament to get a parliamentary reaffirmation of the project and work is to be resumed to a limited extent this year. Limited, it should be pointed out, only by the financial stringency which prevails at the present time. The step gained, however, was a step in the right direction, and the next decade will settle once for all the answer to the cry, “Watchman, what of the Ice?”