JOHN NELSON October 15 1926


JOHN NELSON October 15 1926



Wherein does the charm of the West differ from that of the East? What subtle quality is there in it that “when once you ’ear it callin’, why you won’t ’eed nothin’ else?” Herewith are the explanations of a Westerner who, becoming an Easterner, finds his thoughts still West-bound.

THESE lines are being written on the Trans-Canada flier bound for Montreal.

The train is rythmically ticking off the miles as we thunder out of the Gap and race the Bow down the foothills to the plains. The purple shadows are beginning to shroud the hills, and the half light of evening is shortening the long horizons. All that is meant by “the West” is falling behind—fading physically into the memories and experiences of the weeks that have passed.

Though hurrying Eastward, I feel that in a real sense I am still West-Bound. There are heart ties that are superior to distance and direction. The thrall of the land still grips me. Its bonds cannot be broken, nor its charm dismissed at will.

For to be West-Bound one need not travel westward. It is not always a physical trend. It is as well, an abiding, incurable mental state. In midwinter, a few months ago, I saw a commuter in a depot in an eastern city stop and turn for a moment or two as the warning cry rang through the great concourse: “All aboard for Fort William, Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria, and all points west.” He gazed absently for a few minutes, as the departing train slowly gathered momentum, and saw, far beyond the snow banks and the dingy station walls, long stretches of plain, great summits losing themselves in the clouds, and the shimmer of the sun on a western sea. And, as he picked up his grip and turned back to his task with reluctant steps, like a slave scourged to his dungeon, I am sure he sighed. He was sick for the sunset. His spirit was WestBound.

Why the Call?

CEATED on the back platform in that complete de^ tachment which Bob Stead (quoted by the editor of MacLean’s recently) rightly claims is best obtained among strangers on a moving train, I have been trying to analyze this feeling—this wistfulness which tugs at men and women, and lures them, sometimes against their best interests, to the lands which I am leaving. It differs vastly from the call which beckons men irresistibly back to the family hearthstone. That has its roots in the past —often the remote past. One whose forefathers came from the misty isles, but who himself has been born elsewhere, cannot visit the Old Land without sharing to a degree that “dumb loving of the Berkshire loam, as breaks the dumb hearts of the English kind.” He is a strange creature, too, who can re-visit, unmoved, his own

early haunts—the streams he fished, the schoolground, scene of his earliest battles, even the little God’s acre where his forefathers of the hamlet sleep. Family ties and blood-call are, however, the compelling motives here. That curious pride of place which causes men to boast of their home location as though they had made the country, is, so far as the East is concerned, largely an inherited possession.

Wherein does the charm of the West differ from that of the East? What subtle quality is there in it that “when once you ’ear it callin’ why you wont ’eed nothin’ else?” Why does a singer’s reference to a little grey home in the West cause a tightening of the heart strings among those who have never been there, and start many a tear among those who have? And why should a mature man, who thought he had mastered the lure, leap to his feet with a schoolboy shout as he catches a glimpse once more, leagues ahead, as the train toils up the foothills, of the Rockies thrusting their great shoulders in dim outline far into the blue?

For Westerners betray not alone pride of possession, but almost of discovery. I have heard some of them talk as though they had seen the Rockies earlier than Verendrye, and gazed on the Pacific before Mackenzie. Some years ago, when a party of British journalists were touring Canada, I remember entering into a simple wager with some friends as to the exact date and place where some mid-Canada host would undertake to indicate that “this is where the West begins.” As a matter of fact the announcement broke on shipboard before we had crossed Lake Huron, and it recurred with more or less virulence as far as the Rockies. An Alberta editor demanded of the visitors what they thought of “my province,” without any consciousness that the boundaries of his property

were too ambitious for personal possession. These things cause Easterners to smile. But they are held seriously enough in the West.

Here is no appeal of tradition— just the joy of possession, discovery, creation. Perhaps it is the absence of tradition that gives piquancy to western life. It is like the lure of the woodland road, with the unexpected constantly awaiting you round the next bend.

For the West is constantly changing. Geographically it has always been a flexible term. When our first ancestors came out of the dim birth places of the East, it was westward that they turned. Britain at one time was in the western world. The discovery of America gave the phrase a new meaning. Ox teams and prairie schooners pushed steadily in the same direction, till a final frontier for the Anglo-Saxon’s west seems at last to be fixed on the shores of the Pacific.

The Vanishing Trail

NOW, denied geographical change, the West is evolving in other ways. My seat mate on the back platform lights his pipe and moralizes on its altered character. Eight years ago he was homesteading in Alberta. To-day he is a professor in an eastern Canadian university.

“I don’t like it any more,” he says. And his dislike is born of resentment because he found all the old trails cut off. “We used to be able to ride out from town in any direction,” he went on to say, “and after the first ten or fifteen miles we could wander at will. Now there are fences everywhere, and you have to keep to the road allowances.” He doesn’t like that. He says he prefers to live east. If you must have convention, have it in the home of convention.

Yet such changes, to some, constitute part of its charm. When I first saw the plains the old buffalo wallows were still plainly visible. The bones of the bison bleached by the track and Indian women sold the polished horns of these prairie monarchs at Medicine Hat and other points. Great herds of antelope were common. Bare elevators only marked sites which are thriving communities to-day.

But the change is not one of mere population. Winnipeg, then a modest prairie town, is now a tree embowered metropolitan city. Like all wise communities, it has preserved landmarks like the old Fort Garry gate to help enrich its civic history. Regina, long a bleak huddle of houses, has reared a noble parliamentary pile and has created in Wascana lake, on which yachts can sail, a

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new, pleasing, and daring variation to the accepted ideas of a prairie. The shadow of Louis Riel’s gallows, if it still stood, would fall across one of the fairways of the golf course which now adjoins the old N.W.M. Police barracks.

Calgary is not a large city, judged by eastern standards, but it has distinction and character of its own. Vancouver is a giant, and Victoria a dream. It is hard to visualize the huge stumps that, twenty years ago, occupied the places where some of the skyscrapers of the Terminal City stand to-day. And it is almost as difficult to realize that it is little more than a score of years since the grounds of the Empress Hotel in Victoria, glorious to-day in rose pergolas, waterfalls, tennis courts, and swimming pools, was a malodorous tidal mud flat, made more offensive at low water by a soap factory at its upper end. Across its muddy waters a hairy, dishevelled creature, locally known as Bill Nye, used to paddle in his barrel dugout to the amusement of the McBrides, Martins, Cottons, Turners, and other leading statesmen of that time who daily crossed the old causeway to the Parliament buildings and who have long since passed to where, beyond these voices, there is peace.

Beauty is Shared

THE west is surrounded in beauty but it refuses to allow even its uncomely parts to remain unlovely. Just as a stagnant slough has become a fine lagoon at Regina, an unsightly stone quarry pit just outside of Victoria, has become world famous as Butchart’s Gardens. Almost everyone has seen these grounds by personal inspection, in picture cards, or on the screen. It was an unlovely spot when, only a few years ago, I drove out with R. P. Butchart to see the beginnings of his cement industry there. The pit was deeper and its dust more pervasive still in 1910, when Benny Nicholas, now editorin-chief of the Victoria Times, and I, landed Lord Northcliffe at the foot of the little garden after boat-pulling him for two hours on Saanich Inlet before he got his desired, but unseasonable salmon. He signed his name in an album for the young daughter of the house. The other day when I went back, the children of this girl^ now a matron—were romping on the wide and glorious lawns. The homely pit had become a sunken garden, with exotic plants, waterfalls, and millions of bloom—a Mecca for beauty lovers from all over the world. “R.P.” happened to be at home, and threw his house—as marvellous as the surrounding gardens—open for the delight of his callers. Tens of thousands of visitors throng these lawns during the season. The host puts no check on them, and says he never misses a plant or flower. Mr. Butchart expresses in this hospitality one of the charms of the west — a love of beauty and a readiness to share it with others. That trait marked pioneer days in eastern Canada when it, too, was still “the west” and when the latch string always hung from the door There is no part of all Canada that lacks beauty. The expanse of the Bras d’Or lakes; the view down the St. Lawrence from the Citadel; that across the Queenston valley below Brock’s monument; the gorge of Niagara, and the sweep of the Great Lakes; the pastoral beauty of Chambly Basin and the Eastern Townships; the rural charm of hundreds of lanes and valleys in old Ontario—these are difficult to surpass. There is an alchemy in prairie air, however, whereby even drab things take on a curious charm. Even the waste of golden stubble with the grey goose overhead, the rush of a prairie wind, with the flowers bending gracefully before it, the far figures of cattle in the distance, and the blur of thresher smoke against the sky, these make the mid west very alluring in the summer. The path of light on the Arrow Lakes, the great bosom of the Nechacko in the north; the giant slash of the Saskatchewan gorge at Edmonton; the seventy mile prospect from a famous hill in the Peace; the pretty bungalows embosomed in orchard on the Okanagon lake; the dog trains one hundred miles from the Bay; the canoes and snowshoes at the Height of Land; the great light at Point Atkinson; the fish tail wind across the fragrant broom on Clover Point; the siren hooting its dread from a

liner bound up the Straits in the fog; the lap of waves and the low croon of the tides —these things so familiar to the resident of the West haunt his memory when he is exiled from them.

Moreover, the West is the land of the sun. The moon is a popular luminary, especially among maidens, all over the world. But the sun is supreme in the west. The title of Sunny Alberta is no misnomer, for there the great orb blazes happily no matter what the temperature.

I took a party of easterners for a hundred miles south from Vancouver that on the return journey we might see the sunset on Puget Sound. For a dozen miles the famous Chuck-a-Nut drive is hewn out of the face of the cliffs that skirt and overhang the sea, and the color effects in the evening from this Drive are incomparably beautiful. No one can appreciate the sunset until he has seen it sink into the sea.

Likewise, none have seen a sunrise who have not witnessed that sight in the Hills. At Lake Louise I was awakened one morning by the ringing of my telephone. It was the switch board operator saying “The sun is just coming up.” The summons is as mandatory as is, under other circumstances, the announcement that sap is running or the fish biting. It was then about four o’clock. At first the spectacle was disappointing, and one felt like Charles Reade’s hero when he visited the lark at the diggings—that it was scarcely worth the time or the trouble. For half an hour an ambient light suffused first one cloud and then another, sometimes glowing softly over the whole of the east, yet always disappointing when it seemed about to promise the best results. But, suddenly, a marvellous thing happened. The glory focussed at one point, and grew and grew in intensity till it flickered and flashed against the overhanging clouds like the play of the aurora borealis. Then, so quickly and so brilliantly that the eye scarcely followed it, the Lord of Life leaped like a conqueror from behind the sombre ridges and sent his reveille of light flashing down the valley. The giant Victoria glacier at the western end was bathed in a golden glow, and an inverted pyramid of light across the emerald waters of the lake caught the great snowfield as in a mirror, every edge and crevasse etched as if on canvas, while the shadows of the flanking peaks shrunk back into deeper gloom. It was as though a great solar shout had shaken the hills and all life had leaped wide-eyed to salute and obey the monarch of the Day. Such sights are not seen on level lands.

The West saves for us other sights not to be seen elsewhere and indeed only in sanctuary even in the mountains. Some years ago Chris Spencer of Vancouver, and I, with an Indian guide, rode our ponies eight thousand feet up to the summit of Mount McLean in the Lillooet country in a vain quest. It was and is a famous goat country. From the summit we counted three hundred peaks—but saw never a goat! Yet at Banff the other day what might have been a passable golf score was spoiled by the distraction of a herd of goats bleating lustily immediately above one of the greens. A Big Horn and its young disputed the road with our motor between Lake Louise and Banff. A large timber wolf, shyest of animals, stood motionless and unafraid just off the road and a moose swam the river as we crossed the bridge. In the preserves elk and buffalo are becoming embarrassingly numerous. The sanctuary which has been created in our national parks is assuring to this country an asset of priceless value. Even Izaak Walton’s mouth would have watered to see the fine platter of Dolly Vardens, fresh drawn from a mountain torrent, that such a friend of epicures as Armeldo Carmine at Lake Louise displayed for our admiration one morning before dedicating them to the oven for a delectable repast later in the day.

Where Men Are Bills OF RECENT years service clubs have helped to abolish much that was formal in our salutations by reverting to the use of Christian, instead of surnames. The West never lost that intimate habit. One who has lived on the coast will hear his first name oftener in a day when

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he returns home than he would in a year in the more formal atmosphere of the east. The East this summer has seen some superb riders and shares with the west pleasurable memories ot thundering hoofs, of bellowing cattle, of the vibrant cries of the cowboys, of sombreros and spurs and chaps, and of the honest homey smell of perspiring animals and men. Calgary furnishes all these but it adds as well the realistic touches of tepee and brave, and Nation’s great back curtain— the distant foothills and the serrated ridges of the everlasting hills. Perhaps the West is changing because its men are changing. The cowboys who slouched about the streets of Calgary twenty-five years ago were doubtless as good riders as those of to-day, but they were very different in other ways. Most of these crack riders are very young; many of them in the best sense are gentlemen. I saw Harry Knight, the eighteen year old lad from Banff, shoot from the chutes as from a catapult, three times in one afternoon on plunging, gyrating equine bundles of ingenious wickedness, and, without touching his hand to leather, retain his equipoise and ride the deviltry out of them. Then as the whistle blew, he threw his hat in the air in token of his triumph, and was lifted from the back of the conquered outlaw on to the saddle of a galloping attendant. Shy, modest, unassuming, Knight rode this year for the first time in such contests and captured the Canadian championship. “Say, boy,” cried Breezy Cox, of Arizona, last year’s international champion, in generous admiration, after one of these tests, “I’ll forfeit my belt to no other rider on the grounds. But if it’s between me and you to-morrow, youngster, the belt goes to you.”

Thousands danced at the Old Timers Ball during the Stampede. No hotel could contain such a throng, and streets for a whole city block were roped off, and waxed for the occasion. It was a merry throng—a marvellous sight. But those who think such a “round-up” means disorder, drunkenness, flashing of six shooters and other traditions of another day would marvel had they seen how well, under the liberty of such special conditions, the men of the plains behave—and dance.

I saw a very happy boy at Calgary. He

L only eleven years of age, and he was being put to bed before his parents had their dinner, for he was dog tired. He is Bobby Hunt, son of Frazier Hunt, a wellknown United States editor. Mr. and Mrs. Hunt spent the whole week at the Stampede, and Bobby was initiated as a Piegan tribesman. He took his new relationship very seriously. He adopted the little son of the chief as his foster brother, loaded the parents with gifts, sat for hours in the tepee listening to the red men talk in their broken gutturals, decked himself in the habit of a young brave, ate smoked meat, cooked over the open fires of the tribe, and entered fully into the charm of his new environment. His father has determined that every year he shall be taken away from the enervating atmosphere of New York and be brought back to the corrals, the tepees and the ranges to see life in the raw. As I write, Bobby is riding the trails in the Rockies with competent guides, but having as his special guest Harry Knight, the boy champion of the recent Stampede. Harry is teaching him a sure seat in the saddle; how to throw a diamond hitch and hurl an unerring lariat; and a hundred other things that some of us only longed and hoped and sighed for an opportunity of doing and seeing, over the pages of Henty or Ballantyne.

And if you ask wherein is the charm of the West, perhaps it is best answered by this reference to Bobby Hunt. In the most sedate of us it calls up again all the natural boy that lurks behind grey hair and wrinkled brow, because while the west is changing it still retains much of the glamor, much of the romance, and much of the charm of the primitive and the unspoiled. There are still purple ridges beyond which the Red Gods beckon. There are still sylvan streams unwhipped by the fly of the angler where the furtive trout lurks. There are long leagues of level land that fade slowly into the sunset. Nature is still able to “strut her stuff’’from prairie hen to buffalo. There men still take deep breaths, have far horizons, still fret against the impost of convention. There the frontiers are never conquered; the lure of the unknown lies constantly beyond the sunset, and over the peaks of the unclimbed hills. It is a land of mystery, a land of charm, a land of glorious vistas, of stout hearts and real friendships.

Ah! a dear, dear Land.