Being the record of a trip down Canada's 2,000 mile river highway to the Arctic Ocean
AT THE present time you can travel 300 miles direct north from Edmonton by the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway to the head of steel at Waterways, which is situated on the Clearwater River, about three miles above Fort McMurray, and about four above the confluence of the Clearwater and the Athabaska.
For the first seventy-five miles north of Edmonton the railway traverses a fertile country, and most of the rest of the country to Lac La Biche,
125 miles out, apparently has agricultural possibilities. Lac La Biche is at present the largest town between Edmonton and Waterways. The lake, on the shore of which the town is situated, is about twenty miles in extent, twelve miles broad at its widest point, and is dotted with a number of fresh green islands. Its shores are wooded with spruce, birch and black poplar, and there is a sufficiency of sandy beaches. The waters of most of the smaller Alberta Lakes are murky, but Lac La Biche is as clear as Lake Huron.
The A. & G. W. Railway Company runs one train weekly to Waterways, winter and summer. I had always been under the impression that the country between Lac La Biche and Waterways was swampy and full of muskeg, but judging from the rank growth of grass and plants along the right-ofway, one concludes that, apart from perhaps forty or fifty miles immediately south of McMurray, the rest of the country along the line of the A. & G.W. Railway has possibilities for agriculture, especially mixed farming and stockraising.
The only places of importance between Lac La Biche and McMurray are Conklin and Cheecham. There is a fair amount of trapping out from these points, and thirty-five carloads of fish, mostly caught at Buffalo Lake, were shipped out of Conklin last year.
As you approach Waterways you get a glimpse of the famous asphalt formation, popularly known as the “McMurray Tar Sands.” The sands, as Nature has left them, look like solid banks of dark asphalt rock, and banks of dark asphalt rock, and the same formation appears again along the banks of the Athabaska down the river from McMurray. I cannot speak as an engineer or geologist of the possibilities of this vast formation, but if the substance is suitable for roads and streets in Western Canada, the task of running in spur tracks and the delivery of the asphalt formation on cars should be an easy one. It would appear that the largest deposits of tar sands are down the Athabaska below McMurray, where the sheer, black rocky formation rises to a height of 300 feet above the river and extends for many miles. But there are sufficient quantities on this side of Waterways and adjoining the railway track to build thousands of miles of streets and roads in the western provinces.
Waterways is the jumping-off place where passengers and freight leave the train and are transferred to the boats for the north. Here you have a comfortable and well-kept railway station, railway freight sheds, and, at the waterfront on the Clearwater River, the large freight warehouses of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Athabaska Shipping Company, Limited. Here, too, are the large warehouses of the two big fish companies, the Mclnnis Fish Company, Limited, and the Athabaska Fish Company, Limited. Each of these companies will, perhaps, ship out sixty cars of fish this year, the fish for the most part being caught in Lake Athabaska which is some 200 miles north of Waterways, brought up the river in boats and barges to be stored in the large warehouses there, and shipped out to the markets of the world in the summer season. Apart from the railway station, the large warehouses, the postoffice, one store, a couple of restaurants and Colonel Cornwall’s house, there is nothing at Waterways. The town, so to speak, is at McMurray, which is some four miles distant by a clay road through the bush, and about three miles by river. At McMurray there are churches, a two-roomed school, an hotel, several large general stores, an establishment of the Alberta Provincial Police, a post of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a doctor, a resident nurse, the homes of a number of traders; and that is about all, except the salt works just below McMurray.
I am told that the source of the salt supply is large and the quality first-class. However, the plant is at present closed down, because of the difficulty of maintaining a road round the mountain side and the expense of transporting the salt from the plant to the railway at Waterways. If the supply has been reasonably ascertained, and if it is sufficient to furnish the three,western provinces indefinitely, surely a means can be found by the co-operation of the company and the Government to provide for transportation from the works to the freight cars.
There are no wharves either at Waterways or McMurray. The boats or barges simply pull into the shore and tie up. Gangways are then thrown out to shore to land the passengers, as well as to take the freight aboard in handtrucks. At Waterways the channel of the Clearwater is quite deep clöse inshore, and the boats or barges pull right up to the bank. At McMurray the channel of the Snye is not so deep, but there is practically no freight taken on at this point, and you step off the end of the gangway into the mud—if it is wet weather.
Incidentally, apart from the stairways of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Athabaska Shipping Company leading down from the warehouses to the water’s edge, the only sidewalk in Waterways is from the Alberta and Great Waterways Depot down to the Hudson’s Bay Company’s warehouse, a distance of 100 yards. In McMurray, of tar-sand fame, there is only one stretch of sidewalk on the Main Street.
As already pointed out, all the passengers and freight for the Far North are transferred to the boats at Waterways. .From this point you have an unbroken line of navigation following the course of the Athabaska River to Lake Athabaska, then across the end of Lake Athabaska and down the Slave River to Fitzgerald, a total distance from Waterways of 300 miles. Practically the whole passenger and freight service over this stretch of the northern waterways is in the control of the Alberta and Arctic Transportation Company and the Athabaska Shipping Company, Limited. The former is a subsidiary of the Hudson’s Bay Company, while the latter is the successor in the shipping business of the Northern Transportation Company, Limited. The Alberta and Arctic Transportation Company operatos one large passenger and freight boat over this stretch of water, called the Athabaska River, and the boat of the Athabaska Shipping Company is the Northland Echo. Both are stern-wheelers, steam-driven, of the standard river type. The greater part of the freight is carried in barges, which are not towed behind, but are pushed ahead of the steamboats.
Adventures in Navigation
THE time made by the Athabaska River is, with the current, about thirteen or fourteen miles an hour. That is about as fast as the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway train used to travel to Peace River a few years ago. The 400-horsepower engine is driven by steam, and the same fuel is used today that the Mississippi boats used in Jim Bludsoe’s time—dry spruce wood. At points along the river, forty or fifty miles apart, there are large piles of spruce cordwood. When the supply in the engine room gets low, the captain pulls his boat into the bank at the woodpile, the deck hands—who are, on the Hudson’s Bay boats, almost entirely half-breeds and Indians—jump ashore, swing out the gangway toward the woodpile, and carry on the wood, either in armfuls or on handtrucks. The process may last from one to two or three hours, depending on where the next stop is and how big a supply the captain may require.
And here one makes the acquaintance of a new fellow —if it is your first trip north— the mosquito. You see nothing of them when you are out in midstream, but once you pull into the woodpile they are there to greet you by the thousands.
If your skin is tender you will beat a retreat to your stateroom and get behind the screened doors and windows. The mosquito prevails throughout all the north country and is still as great a pest as it was in the days of Alexander Mackenzie. Some oldtimers will tell you that the mosquitoes disappear about the end of July. Mickie Ryan, of the firm of Ryan Brothers, who handle practically all the freight on the Fitzgerald-Smith portage, told me that the mosquitoes are there before the ice goes out in the river and lakes, and that a few of them stay till the second snowfall in October.
But to go back to the boat. The boat itself does not usually carry more than 100 tons of freight, but in addition to that load it can readily push a barge ahead with 400 tons of freight and make the same speed. The Athabaska River is in charge of Captain Conrad Myers, who was born in Switzerland, but who came to the Pacific Coast thirtyfive years ago and has long been in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Captain Myers knows every bar in the river from Waterways to Fitzgerald, and they change readily and often.
AFTER leaving McMurray, the banks of the Athabaska River appear to be straight walls of yellow sandstone for a few miles; then the black asphalt rock formation crops out again, extending for, perhaps, thirty or forty miles. From then on, down to Lake Athabaska, you pass through a rather swampy country, the low banks being wooded with spruce and black poplar. The Athabaska from McMurray onward is a large river, with an average width of 500 to 600 yards. The river course for the last twenty miles before entering Lake Athabaska is through a very flat country wooded with small poplar, a sort of delta formation with many channels into the lake. Only one or two of them are navigable.
You enter the lake at the southwest end, about eight miles west of the site of old Fort Chipewyan, established about 1785 by Alexander Mackenzie of the Northwest Company and his cousin. From this point Mackenzie set out on his historic voyages of exploration, one taking him north through Great Slave Lake and down the course of the great river, which bears his name, to the Arctic Ocean; the other taking him up the Peace to its source, thence west across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, on a rock overlooking which he wrote the words “Alexander Mackenzie from Canada by land 1793.”
The site of old Fort Chipewyan is historic ground, for here, too, Franklin stayed for a time on one of his early voyages. The old fort was well built, and after the absorption of the North West Company by the Hudson’s Bay Company there was established here the finest library to be found in any of the posts in the north. I understand that some of these books can still be seen in the Hudson’s Bay Company’s museum at Winnipeg.
The present Fort Chipewyan is just across the northwest corner of Lake Athabaska, about eighteen miles from the site of the old fort. The waters of the lake, as you enter it from the main channel of the Athabaska, are very shallow, due to the deposits of sand and silt brought down by the current. The course for four or five miles is marked out with buoys, and through this course the captain steers his way warily. Then suddenly you get into the deeper water, the engine shifts to full steam ahead, you slip in between two of the three island rocks that guard the entrance to the harbor, and the town of Fort Chipewyan is unfolded to your view, a fringe of settlement around the circular harbor—a bowl of brown granite rock rising up from the water’s edge.
It was “treaty” time when we were going north, and as the steamer drew near the landing of the Hudson’s Bay Company one saw scores of Indians in their picturesque costumes sitting in groups on the brown ledges or lining the crest of the hill.
The most noticeable thing at Fort Chipewyan is the brown granite rock that forms the sloping harbor wall around the settlement. This is the same pre-Cambrian formation that you see at Sudbury and all along the northern shore of Lake Superior, running northward into Northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan. This at once brings up to mind the subject of mineral development. In Northern Alberta and in the country north of Alberta, while there have been some discoveries of zinc and lead south of Great Slave Lake, there have not to date been any large discoveries of copper and precious metals. But as Colonel Cornwall said to me at Waterways: “I do not think the Lord has given all the mineral wealth of Canada to Ontario and Manitoba;” and with that same geological formation at Fort Chipewyan, which again crops out at Fitzgerald, one cannot but think that it is only a matter of time, exploration and development, for this northern region to make its full contribution to the mineral wealth of Canada.
Fort Chipewyan, like Fitzgerald, Resolution and other places in the north, is a centre of the fur trade. This means that a large number of trappers and hunters, the majority of whom are half-breeds and Indians, bring their fur catch into the place twice a year, the first time about December and the second time before the ice goes out in the spring. The individual hunters and trappers bring in their catch and sell or turn it over to the Hudson’s Bay Company or the Northern Trading Company or to some individual trader, and receive merchandise, provisions or cash for their furs..
Among prominent buildings at Chipewyan may be noticed the beautiful Anglican Church and the group of buildings of the Roman Catholic Mission School where there are about a hundred or more half-breed and Indian children in residence. A full course of instruction is given in these places, from the primary department up to the last grade of the public school course or beyond.
The Slave River
AFTER leaving Fort Chipewyan, the - next lap of the northern journey is down the river to Fitzgerald, a distance of approximately 100 miles. The Athabaska loses itself and its name when you get into Lake Athabaska. When you get out of the lake by the northern watercourse which carries its surplus water toward the Arctic, you are in the Slave River.
Practically all the land on the west bank of the Slave River from a point 100 miles north of the boundary of Alberta upstream, a distance of 200 miles, and extending westward a distance of 100 miles, has been set apart as a range for the buffalo, and those taken north from Wainwright have been put on this range at or near the Dominion Government hay camp about thirty miles this side of Fitzgerald. As you approach Fitzgerald, there is a better growth of spruce on either side, and as you reach the post you again see cropping out the same brown granite formation as at Chipewyan.
Fitzgerald marks the end of navigation on this portion of the Slave River, for between this point and Smith, which is just over the boundary line in the Northwest Territories, and about sixteen miles distant as the crow flies, there is a succession of rapids or chutes, the passage of which no ordinary river craft could survive. Accordingly, all passengers and freight must leave the steamer here, and for points beyond must be taken over the portage.
FITZGERALD is the most northerly town in the Province of Alberta. The river at this point is over half a mile wide, and curves in such a way as to form a sheltered and natural harbor. The total population of the place is about 200 souls. Apart from being a shipping point, the place is an important fur-trading centre. Besides the posts of the Northern Trading Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company, there are a number of individual traders at this point. The white residents of the place have at least two grievances at the present time. One is that the Provincial Government has closed up the Alberta Provincial Police establishment at this point and the settlement has no police protection. The other is that no school facilities are provided here. I do not think the closing up of the Provincial Police post is a serious matter, since the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are stationed at Smith, just sixteen miles distant, but the lack of school facilities is of more importance. There is the same problem at Smith, where a primary school in a small way is being carried on through private efforts and the assistance of the Anglican Church. Smith, of course, is in the Northwest Territories and beyond the Provincial jurisdiction, but there are a sufficient number of white children in the two settlements to engage the energies of a first-class teacher, and the question of conveyance of the children to school from one place to the other would not be a serious one. Means should be found to establish one school that would serve both communities. This is a matter that might well engage the attention of the Minister of Education for Alberta and the Government of the Northwest Territories.
As already pointed out, the Slave River is not navigable from Fitzgerald to Smith because of the rapids, and the road between the two places is the neck through which all traffic must pass to the North. The volume of trade, of course, is not sufficient at the present time to justify the expense of putting through a ship canal or of building locks around the rapids, but is sufficient to justify a first-class, allweather road from Fitzgerald to Smith. Although the present road is in fair condition, it is too narrow and has too many “kinks” in it. As part of the road is in Alberta and part in the Northwest Territories, this is another case for co-operation between the two authorities.
Capital of the Territories
FORT SMITH, which is at the other end of the portage and in the Northwest Territories, about two and one-half miles beyond the Alberta boundary, has, perhaps, the most commanding situation of any “town” in the north. It is situated on a plateau about 200 feet above the river level, and about one mile below the “Rapid of the Drowned,” the last of the great rapids on the Slave River. The place is well laid out, with regular streets and roads according to a plan of survey that makes full provision for future growth. You might say that Fort Smith is the capital of the Northwest Territories, though it is not so designated officially. The District Agent of the Northwest Territories resides here, his place of residence, “Government House,” being a fine, comfortable home, built of peeled pine logs, electric lighted, with modern conveniences, beautifully furnished, and having in the living room the finest fireplace that you will see in the whole north country. This residence is surrounded by ample grounds, provided with excellent tennis courts, and contains also a firstrate library.
At Smith also are the offices of the Dominion Government, a model of neatness, order and efficiency, a tribute to the staff as well as to their chief, Hon. Mr. Stewart; for, so far as I know, no Minister of the Crown has ever visited Fort Smith except Hon. Frank Oliver, when he was Minister of the Interior, and the Government offices were not established there at that time.
Fort Smith is the headquarters of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for a district that extends from McMurray in the south to Fort Rae in the north, and from Fort Providence on the west to Fort Reliance on the east, the district being in charge of Inspector Trundell, an excavalry officer, and Inspector Gagnon, a grandson of the late Lieutenant-Governor Royal of the Northwest Territories. The well-kept grounds of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are twentyfive acres in extent; the residence of the Inspector and the barracks are new and commodious buildings; and there is a golf course on the grounds open to all citizens or visitors.
The Hudson’s Bay Company has a post at Smith, and the residence of the Company’s agent is a huge, two-story, square house built of hewn timbers, painted white, as are all the buildings of the Great Company in the north, with green window shutters and spacious verandahs. Besides the Hudson’s Bay Company, there are several other general stores—the Northern Trading Company’s store, the Conibear store—one of the best stocked in the north— and the store of York and Lyle, the “York” being Fred York, son of Archibald York, well known in Edmonton. Here, too, is a large hotel, where the judicial party had the pleasure of attending a ball on their return journey. There is a sort of double ballroom on the ground floor of the hotel, with just an archway between. In one room the white people danced the modern dances, but in the other room, beyond the archway, the natives and half-breeds danced to the music of two violins, the old-fashioned square dances, which were “called off” with great gusto.
BEFORE leaving the capital of the Northwest Territories, I would like to say a word about the rapids in the Slave River between Smith and Fitzgerald. In a river distance of twenty-five miles there is a drop of 109 feet in a succession of rapids. The four principal rapids in this distance are the Casette, near Fitzgerald, with a drop of twenty-nine feet; the Pelican, nine miles away, with a drop of twenty-seven feet; the Mountain Rapids, about fourteen miles below, with a drop of twenty-one feet; and the Rapid of the Drowned—suggestive of the grim tragedy just before Mackenzie’s time—about one mile above the Hudson’s Bay post at Smith; besides a number of lesser unnamed rapids in between.
There are several side-roads into the rapids from the main portage, and it is no exaggeration to say that the view from any of the major chutes reveals one of the most magnificent pieces of scenery in Canada. In its ordinary course the stream is turbid, but here the great river foams and dashes itself into white spray as it rages and roars over the falls of its rocky bed and rushes against the island rocks and by the wooded shores. And just below the rapids, where the waste of waters begins to level itself out again, you can see, on any summer day, hundreds of white pelicans with their yellow bills, swimming as if playing with death, to catch the fish as they come over the falls. And you think of the hidden power of that mighty stream—sufficient latent energy in the falling waters at any of these great rapids to turn the wheels of industry, to illuminate great cities, to drive railway coaches, to supply a whole province with electrical energy. But there are no factories or cities within hundreds of miles, and for the.present that vast reservoir of power must remain unused. Yet you cannot contemplate the scene and the future without a vision.
A Gallows Tree
DID you ever see a “gallows tree?” There are two genuine gallows trees at the settlement of Smith, near the road that runs out from the town to the radio station. While passing along this road I noticed two fairly stout spruce trees, conspicuous by the fact that all the lower branches had been trimmed off for a distance of twenty-five to thirty feet from the ground. Upon enquiry I was informed that a murderer, convicted in the north a few years ago, was hanged from these trees by the official hangman, and the trees were left after the scaffolding was pulled down.
The radio telegraph station at Smith is located on Dominion Government property, about three-quarters of a mile west of the Hudson’s Bay Company store. This is the first big radio station north of Edmonton. An operator is on the key every day from five o’clock in the morning up to ten o’clock at night, and all messages from the small station at Resolution must be relayed from this station at SmPh.
Yhm the Hudson’s Bay Company steamer Distributor pulled out of Fort Smith, it carried on its decks, besides a full passenger list, one hundred tons of freight, and pushed ahead of it a barge laden with 420 tons, making a combined freight load for boat and barge of 520 tons, consigned to points all along the route down to Aklavik. A large part of this freight was flour and provisions, gasoline and oil; but, of course, there were all sorts of merchandise. The barge carried a considerable quantity of lumber, including all the material for a new Dominion Government radio station at Simpson. The barge also carried on its roof a large number of row boats and big canvascovered canoes for use in the North. Four horses for the Indian Agent at Fort Resolution were enclosed in a temporary stall on the rear of the barge, and two nice fat steers were tethered in a stall adjoining the enclosure for the horses. These steers were for the supply of fresh beef on the return journey, and would be butchered at convenient places on the way, and the meat stored in the refrigerators on the lower deck.
In a securely locked room on the main deck, the boat carried the first through summer mail for all points north of Fort Smith to Aklavik, including many parcels from the big mail-order houses, and on the passenger deck, just in front of the lounging room, there were 115 cases of hard liquor going into the points north of Fort Smith, under permit. Some of this was pure alcohol for the hospitals, but most of it was “Scotch” purchased from the Government Liquor Vendor at Edmonton.
This was the first trip to the Arctic for the season —the ice is not out of Great Slave Lake till the middle of June or after —and the passenger list all the way down and connecting with the boat for the first trip to the Arctic is the biggest and the most interesting of the year. Members of the R.C.M. Police, explorers, missionaries, travellers, prospectors, students—all these men go in on the first boat as they come out on the last.
As the Distributor moved out toward the centre of the river, which at this point is nearly a mile in width, flowing between high, wooded banks, with the roar and tumult of the rapids in the rear, and a clear course ahead to the Arctic, Louis Romanet, the District Manager of the Hudson’s Bay Company and head of the Alberta and Arctic Transportation Company, stood on the front of the promenade deck, perhaps the most striking character on the steamer. Dressed in a modest, dark-gray suit, his fedora hat tilted at a saucy angle, with compressed lips and piercing, inscrutable gray eyes and a lower jaw like the base of a block of granite, he looked like an adventurer or a buccaneer of the time of Jean Bart. I am not using the word “buccaneer” in an uncomplimentary sense, for what I mean is that had Mr. Romanet lived three centuries ago, he has a face and carriage indicative of that courage and daring that would have taken him away from the confines of sunny France—where he was born—and carried him to the ends of the earth to explore new lands and sail new seas. Manager of a trading post for Revillon Frères in a remote part of Labrador, the news that the World War had broken out came to Louis Romanet about a year after the great struggle began. Romanet was not long in deciding what to do. He closed up the post, made his way out to the eastern coast, left his young wife and family in a place of safety, took the first boat he could get for Old France, joined the colors again, and was soon in the thick of the fight with his comrades, the defenders of Verdun.
Romanet bears the marks of this bloody contest. In a sally made by the defenders down the sloping escarpment he received a gunshot wound in the face and a bayonet thrust in the abdomen, but was carried back behind the lines by his comrades and made a complete recovery. He fought through to the end of the War, then felt the call of the wilds again, resumed his work with Revillon Frères and later joined the Hudson’s Bay Company. And he is still a comparatively young man at the climax of his physical and mental powers. Mr. Romanet makes one trip to the Arctic every season.
Some twelve miles below Fort Smith you reach Cunningham Landing, the shipyard of the Hudson’s Bay Company for the navigation beyond Smith. A few miles farther on, you pass the mouth of the Salt River on the left, near which there are deposits of salt, not “brine,” but pure salt ready for use, coming right to the surface.
It is about 200 miles down the Slave River from Fort Smith to Fort Resolution on Great Slave Lake. Along the river banks for fifty or seventy-five miles below Fort Smith you see a fair amount of goodsized spruce mingled with poplar and balm of gilead, but as you get farther down the river, and particularly in the last fifty miles before entering Great Slave Lake, the country is flatter and the only timber along the low banks is the poplar. The entrance of the main channel of the river into Great Slave Lake is through a delta formation.
After entering the Lake, you pass over shallow water for five or six miles, the course for the steamboats being marked out by buoys as in the entrance to Lake Athabaska. Then you swing round a point or headland on your left, and the town of Fort Resolution with its circular harbor and long line of white buildings is spread out before you. The settlement of Fort Resolution is on sandy ground, not many feet above the water’s edge. The harbor is well sheltered by its natural formation, and rough seas do not often run here. The long pier is a substantial structure, built by the Dominion Government a few years ago. Chipewyan and Fort Resolution are the only places I saw in the north where piers have been constructed; at the other places the boat just pulls in and ties up by the shore.
"pORT RESOLUTION is the most
important trading post on Great Slave Lake, and in population the settlement is the largest north of Smith and Fitzgerald. In addition to the stores of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Northern Trading Company, several private traders have stores at this point. Here are the headquarters of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for a large district, and here Dr. Bourget acts as Postmaster, Indian Agent, Medical Health Officer and private practitioner. Here, too, the Roman Catholic Church has a large Mission School where over a hundred Indian and half-breed children were in attendance at the time of our visit. And here are the homes of a large number of Indian and half-breed trappers.
John Howey, of the Edmonton Bulletin, has said that there are more dogs according to population in the City of Edmonton than in any other place in Canada. Mr. Howey has not been in Fort Resolution, for it has about as many dogs as there are men and women, and you should hear those dogs howl! The dog-team is the only mode of winter travel beyond Fort Smith, and in the summer season, which is a close season for all the fur-bearing animals, the trappers stay around the settlements and keep their dogs either about their own yards or chained up at convenient places on the shore or in corrals. Then there are the dogs belonging to the Police, the Northern Trading Company’s dogs and individual traders’ dogs, and as it takes five dogs to make up a dogteam, you can understand why there are so many dogs about these settlements in the North. These dogs are all “huskies” and are worth from $50 to $125 apiece. A fair estimate of the number of dogs in Fort Resolution would be 200 or 250, which is about equal to the total population of the place, exclusive of the half-breed and Indian children at the Mission School.
The main body of Great Slave Lake lies between the sixty-first and sixty-second parallels of latitude and between 800 and 900 miles due north of Edmonton. The length of the main body of water, excluding the north and eastern arms is approximately 150 miles, with a width of about seventy miles at its widest point. Then there is the north arm running up to Fort Rae, a distance of two hundred miles from Fort Resolution, and the east arm extending through a rather low swampy country to Fort Reliance, nearly two hundred miles from Fort Resolution. The lake abounds in what many consider the best fish in the world, and the shores of the rivers running into the lake—some of considerable size—are covered with a sturdy growth of spruce, with great pulpwood possibilities at some time in the future. On your way north, you enter Great Slave Lake by way of the Slave River, and after taking a westerly course for a distance of about one hundred and twenty miles, you leave the lake by way of the Mackenzie River on your way down to the Arctic. The principal points on the Mackenzie River between Great Slave Lake and the Arctic Ocean are Fort Providence, just below the western limit of Great Slave Lake; Fort Simpson, Fort Norman, Good Hope, Arctic Red River, and Aklavik in the Delta. The Liard River, which rises in northern British Columbia and is navigable for hundreds of miles, flows into the Mackenzie just above Fort Simpson, a distance of 200 miles from Great Slave Lake, and the Great Bear River, draining the Great Bear Lake area on the East, flows into the Mackenzie just a little below Fort Norman.
The Future of the North
TXTHAT about the future of the north? ** Will there be great changes or development or greater settlement in these lands and along the watercourses? Or will things remain as they have been and as they are? Apart from the fishing on Lake Athabaska, the great industry of the north country, from Waterways to Aklavik at the mouth of the Mackenzie and along the Western Arctic, is the fur trade, and although traders will tell you the fur catch is diminishing at certain points, yet this business is likely to continue in the north much as it is at present. The total value of the fur brought out of the Mackenzie basin last season from the Arctic up to Waterways was around $2,000,000. This is really a large business when you remember that according to the last census, the total population, white and native, in the Mackenzie basin from Waterways to the Arctic, was not over 600 souls.
What about the possibilities for agriculture? In the Far North, beyond Great Slave Lake, agriculture—except in a favorable year for vegetable-growing for the local demand—would be impossible because of the shortness of the summer season, but apart from some stretches along the Slave River between Chipewyan and Fitzgerald, I did not see any piece of country where there seemed to be any practical possibilities of real agricultural development. There is, however, one considerable area of virgin land in the North with farming possibilities. This is a stretch of country commencing about forty miles south of the point where the Hay River flows into Great Slave Lake and extending southwesterly to near Fort Vermilion in Alberta—the home of Sheridan Lawrence, pioneer farmer and rancher. Roughly speaking, this is a stretch of country three hundred miles in length and two hundred and fifty miles more or less in width. Y ou will remember that some of the finest wheat ever grown in Canada was grown near Fort Vermilion, which is in the valley of the Peace River, several hundred miles north east of Peace River Crossing. There will, of course, be no great agricultural development in this area without transportation facilities, and transportation facilities must first be provided in the upper Peace River country and in other more accessible parts. But a day is coming when there will be well-cultivated farms in that fertile stretch of country north of Vermilion Chutes, when a railway will run down the Peace River Valley to a point near Fort Vermilion, then northward through the Hay River Valley to Great Slave Lake; and in addition to agricultural products, out-coming trains will bring paper for Canadian presses and trainloads of fish from Great Slave Lake for the American cities. All this in the future—but its realization is only a matter of time.
From a scenic standpoint, the trip from Edmonton to the Arctic, following the great waterways, is a remarkable one, not only because of the beauty and grandeur of Nature, but because the scenes are new —something out of the beaten path of travel. Under present conditions the volume of tourist traffic to the north will not be likely to increase greatly, for while with the present transportation facilities the passage down the waterways is thoroughly enjoyable and attended by all the ordinary comforts of travel, if you will except the mosquito pest and the bulldog flies on the stretch from Fort Fitzgerald to Fort Resolution, yet the trip back from the Arctic would to most people undoubtedly be tedious and monotonous. At present, it takes from eighteen to twenty-one days to make the trip from Fort Smith to Aklavik and return on the best boat now running down the Mackenzie, the Hudson’s Bay Company’s boat, S. S. Distributor. But the day is fast approaching when these conditions will change.
I have pointed out that, of necessity, there is not much chance for agricultural development in the north beyond the confines of Alberta, excepting in the area between Vermilion and Hay River, and that there is not likely to be much change in the development of the fur trade; but we must not shut our eyes to the possibilities, or shall I say the probabilities, of extensive mineral development in Northern Alberta and in the Northwest Territories. While at Fort Smith I met Dr. Macintosh Bell, the well-known geologist and mining engineer of Ottawa, and president and managing-director of the Atlas Exploration Company, Limited— accompanied by Dr. F. G. Banting of insulin fame, and Mr. Jackson, the wellknown Canadian artist, both the latter on a holiday trip—going in to do some development work on the Company’s zinc and lead holdings about thirty miles south of Fort Resolution. An increasing number of explorers and prospectors have gone into the north country this season, some by airplane. While we have not yet made discoveries on any large scale of the precious metals, or of lead, zinc or copper in Alberta or the territory north of Alberta, yet you see in the country around Fort Chipewyan, two hundred miles north of McMurray, and again at Fort Fitzgerald, the same dark-brown granite rocks that you see North of Lake Superior along the line of the Canadian Pacific Railway; and this is just a continuation of the same geological formation—the pre-Cambrian Shield—that has given to Northern Manitoba and Northern Saskatchewan their new wealth. So one naturally concludes that it is just a matter of bringing science and the intelligence and daring of man to bear on this area, in order to make it yield up a mineral wealth equal to that of the adjacent provinces.