Wanted: A New Road to the Sea
“The Peace River country must have an outlet to the Pacific.” But by what route? The alternatives are described here
REECE H. HAGUE
THAT the time is rapidly approaching when some definite action will be taken to link up the grain areas of the fertile Peace River country with the Pacific Coast seems assured. Exactly what route will be followed from the terminal of the Northern Alberta lines to the coast is, however, a vastly different matter, and is causing grave speculation on the part of residents and supporters of such rival ports as Vancouver, Squamish, Prince Rupert and Stewart—to name these ports in their geographical position running northward along the Pacific Coast, and not necessarily with reference to the merits or demerits of their claims to be the logical Peace River outlet.
Prime Minister Mackenzie King, in the course of an address at Edmonton, toward the end of last year, stated that an outlet from Peace River to the Pacific Coast must come, and the sooner the better for all concerned. He stated that he had personally discussed the Peace River outlet with the presidents of the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railways and found that they were not yet wholly satisfied as to the best route, but were making surveys. He had pressed them to lose no time in completing the surveys and arriving at a decision, and had expressed the hope that any outlet decided upon would be available to both systems, just as they were co-operating in Northern Alberta.
The officials of the two great Canadian railway systems are going about their investigations dispassion-
ately and, at least outwardly, are displaying a spirit of co-operation that augurs well for the consummation of the hope expressed by Premier King that the outlet decided upon will be one which will serve the interests of both organizations.
The fact that during the summer and fall of 1929 the two railways combined with the Provincial Government of British Columbia in conducting an exhaustive survey of the territory lying between Prince George, the interior metropolis of the Pacific Coast province, and the Peace River, and also of thé countny lying adjacent to the provincially owned Pacific Great Eastern Railway— commonly known as the P. G. E.—lends some weight to the theory that Prince George will enter somewhere into the picture when a route from the Peace is decided upon, and that the destiny of the P. G. E. may be closely entwined with any coast outlet which is chosen.
The River Ports
"DEFORE going into details of the alternative routes which have been discussed, it may be advisable, for the benefit of readers unfamiliar with the Pacific Coast of British Columbia, to describe the location and some of the principal features of various ports, any one of
which may be the ultimate tidewater outlet for the Peace.
The growth and importance of Vancouver, strategically situated as it is on Georgia Inlet, are so well known as not to necessitate any description, and it is sufficient to say that the over-sea trade of this port, both with Europe via the Panama Canal and with the Orient and Antipodes, is of ever increasing value.
The chief claim to fame of Squamish is that it is the ocean terminus of the P. G. E. railway. Squamish is situated at the head of an ocean inlet known as Howe Sound, and is less than fifty miles from Vancouver. At the present time it is not of any considerable industrial importance.
Prince Rupert is located on a fine natural harbor which is open for navigation all the year around, and is the largest city in what is known as Central British Columbia. It is some 500 miles northwest of Vancouver, and is nearer the Orient than any other North American Pacific port. The fact that it has direct transcontinental communication, through the medium of the Canadian National Railways, gives it advantages as an industrial centre. It is the chief fishing port on the Pacific and has a large cold storage plant, where catches are iced before being shipped to Eastern markets to be marketed fresh. United States fishing boats are permitted to land their catches at Prince Rupert for shipment in bond. Tributary to Prince Rupert is an extensive territory of great potential wealth, particularly in regard to timber,
minerals and agriculture. A grain elevator of 1,250,000 bushels capacity provides facilities for exporting grain. There is a floating drydock of 20,000 tons capacity and 600 feet in length, fully equipped for marine repairs, and the wharves and docks can accommodate ocean liners.
Stewart is situated on the British Columbia-Alaska boundary at the head of an ocean arm called Portland Canal, and is only a few miles south of the 56th parallel of latitude. The town is the outfitting point for a large mineralized district where considerable exploration and development work is being carried on by powerful mining companies, including the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company. Near Stewart is the famous Premier mine, which has paid more than $14,000,000 in dividends on a capitalization of $5,000,000 in the past few years.
The mileage in a direct line from the competing Pacific Coast ports to Pouce Coupé, near the British Columbia Alberta boundary, is approximately as follows: Vancouver, 488 miles; Squamish, 441 miles; Prince Rupert, 425 miles, and Stewart, 385 miles. Too much attention, however, should not be paid to these figures, as, owing to the physical nature of the country, any route followed from the coast to Pouce Coupé, or any other point in the Peace River area, would necessarily be much longer, the matter of finding suitable grades for railways in a mountainous country being a difficult one which frequently involves circuitous routes being followed.
No matter which of the alternative routes a railway from Peace River to the coast might follow, unless it went direct to Stewart it would cut the existing Canadian National Railway at some point.
Thus, if the P.G.E. railway was completed to Prince George, a distance of sixty miles from its present terminus at Quesnel, and a new line was built northeast from the former town to the Peace, when grain reached Prince George on its way west it could be shipped either over the Canadian National Railways td Prince Rupert, a rail distance of 467 miles; by the P.G.E. to Squamish, a distance of 430 miles; or by the P.G.E. to Clinton, 242 miles from Prince George. By building fifty miles of railway from Clinton, connection could be made at Ashcroft with both the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railways, necessitating a further journey of approximately 200 miles to Vancouver by either system, or about 492 miles from Prince George in all.
If, instead of going from Prince
George, a new line was built either from Hazelton or Fort Fraser on the C.N.R. to the Peace, the actual haulage distance to Prince Rupert would be shorter than to the same port via Prince George. In the case of Hazelton a greater length of new railway would be required than if the last link of the P.G.E. was built to Prince George and a line carried on from that point to the Peace.
New construction necessary from Fort Fraser would be about the same as from Quesnel via Prince George to Pouce Coupé.
It is not surprising that the Prince Rupert people are strongly in favor of having the Peace River railway built from either Hazelton or Fort Fraser, and eliminating the possibility of grain being shipped by the P.G.E.
to Squamish or by some alternative route to Vancouver. It is also perfectly natural that the residents of Prince George should staunchly oppose any route which would result in connections being made elsewhere than at their city and are consequently aligning themselves with the Vancouverites in the dispute which is raging over this vexed question of a Peace River outlet.
H. G. Dimsdale, a well-known northern railway engineer and former Alberta highways commissioner, has recently come forward with a suggestion for still another route, which would also miss Prince George and would run from near Grande Prairie in the Peace River section to Quesnel on the P.G.E. This route would be approximately the same distance as going via Prince George and while it would do away with the necessity of completing the P.G.E. to the interior city, it would involve about the same amount of construction work that would be entailed in building the P.G.E. to Prince George and then running a line to Pouce Coupé. Less new line would be required on this route than would be necessary from Hazelton to Pouce Coupé, and about the same amount as from Fort Fraser to the Alberta boundary.
Mr. Dimsdale claims that British capital is ready to finance this project, providing the necessary charters are granted by the Alberta and British Columbia governments.
While Stewart is, in actual mileage, nearer to the Peace River district than any of the other ports desiring to serve as the outlet, there is no railway operating from the Portland Canal town at present. Construction difficulties from Stewart through the interior to the Peace Riverwouldbeasgreatasand probably greater than those existing on the alternative routes, and the shorter distance would be counteracted by the fact that a greater length of new line would have to be built.
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j.n the event of a railway being built from Stewart, the probability is that it would strike northeast to give access to the anthracite coal deposits in the Ground Hog area, about 100 miles from Portland Canal, before turning east toward the Alberta boundary.
Hopes oi Stewart Aroused
ONSIDERABLE interest was 'k-y' aroused, and the hopes of Stewart of becoming the port of outlet for the Peace River district were temporarily buoyed up in July last, when the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company, which is closely allied with the C.P.R., purchased the charter for the Canadian Northeastern Railway from Vancouver Holdings, Limited.
The Canadian Northeastern Railway, as built by Sir Donald Mann, extended about fourteen miles up the Bear River from Stewart. The original charter provided for its extension to the Alberta boundary. This charter lapsed, but a new one was granted at the last session of the British Columbia Provincial Legislature, empowering the road to be built from Stewart to the Finlay River in North Central British Columbia, and from a point at this line to the northerly boundary of the Province, which would enable it to tap the Ingenika district that has been attracting the attention of mining men, and where mining operations were carried out last summer by parties who journeyed into the section by air from Prince George.
Vancouver Holdings, Limited, with which are associated financial interests in England, purchased Sir Donald Mann’s title in the Canadian Northeastern in 1927, but the line has not been operated in recent years. A considerable portion of the roadbed has been washed away, and it will all have to be reconditioned before it will be possible to utilize the short stretch of line previously built. Survey work in connection with the extension of the railway was conducted last summer, and while the reason generally attributed for the purchase of the line by the Consolidated is that it will give access to properties in which this company is interested in the Bear River and other sections, it is felt in some quarters that the C.P.R. is behind the deal and may ultimately utilize the railway as a connecting link with Peace River.
The Alberta lines reach the Peace River block on the east, while the projected route of the Canadian Northeastern comes within 100 miles of the western boundary of the block.
A New Treasure Trove
TRRESPECTIVE of what route is
eventually selected as the one to connect the Peace River district with the coast, a country rich in mineral, lumber and water power will be opened up, and in the case of most of the suggested lines considerable grazing and agricultural land will also be rendered available for settlement. While the length of the haul and cost of construction will be important
factors in deciding the route eventually followed, attention will also be paid to the nature and wealth of the country through which the line will pass. One thing that will certainly be taken into consideration is the fact that one-way traffic is not sufficient to keep a railway going and that return freight will have to be provided from whatever port is chosen as the Pacific terminus of the line. Prince Rupert being closer to the Orient
Prince Rupert being closer to the Orient than Vancouver, a line from the former city connecting with eastern railways would be of considerable advantage in the silk trade, as it is claimed that before a steamer from the Orient could reach any southern port, silk landed at Prince Rupert would be on its way from Edmonton to New York. On the other hand, Vancouver at present controls the great bulk of the Pacific trade, and it might be expensive and difficult to build up this trade at Prince Rupert and more expensive and difficult to build it up at Stewart.
Premier Tolmie’s Attitude
7’HILE it is only natural that ’ ’ Premier S. F. Tolmie, of British Columbia, would like to see a route from Peace River which would benefit the P.G.E., thus permitting the government either to run their railway at a profit or dispose of it, he refuses to play favorites as far as the various suggested routes are concerned. Speaking recently of the rivalry between coast ports for establishment as the coast terminus of a Peace River railway, Premier Tolmie declared that if the road was built to Vancouver it could only reach that city by crossing the Canadian National line to Prince Rupert. In the circumstances, Vancouver need not be alarmed about securing its fair share of the Peace River business and should not begrudge what business Prince Rupert might obtain.
Premier Tolmie contends that the more one looks into matters concerning the P.G.E., the more one realizes its value to British Columbia. He avers that if the P.G.E. is linked up with the Peace River district the Provincial railway will become one of the most important lines in Western Canada. Irrespective of whether this comes about or not, he claims that by the end of 1930 the expenses of the railway will be being paid out of income.
“The Prize White Elephant”
p OR a number of years the Pacific Great
Eastern Railway has been the prize white elephant of the Pacific Coast Province, and a paean of joy arose from taxpayers when, in December, Premier Tolmie announced that for the first time in its history this railway had, for four consecutive months, shown a profit in revenue over operating expenses.
Few railways have been the subject of more dispute and contumely than the P.G.E., and, with the possible exception of the Hudson Bay Railway, I know of no line in the Dominion which served so long as a political football.
The Hudson Bay Railway has been completed to the coast and the grade ballasted to Churchill. The rotten ties
have been replaced by brand new ones, and good, sound steel has been placed on the roadbed. But the P.G.E. still comes to an ignominious end at Quesnel, some distance from its intended terminus, and every year the growth on the disused grade extending on from that point becomes thicker and the general air óf dilapidation and neglect greater.
It is not hard to understand why there was a note of jubilation in Premier Tolmie’s announcement to the world at large that at last the P.G.E. was in a fair way to become a revenue producer, for, as an instance of his implicit faith in the line, one of his first actions after assuming office in the latter part of 1928 was to interest the Canadian railway companies not only in the present line of the P.G.E., but also in an extension of the road into the Peace River country.
As a preliminary to an effort to solve the future of the railway which his Government had inherited, Premier Tolmie entered into an arrangement with the C.N.R. and C.P.R. for a joint survey of the territory served by the P.G.E. and of the country north of Prince George, also of the character of the lands set aside by the legislature for subsidy purposes.
In 1925, the late Premier Oliver introduced legislation in the British Columbia parliament for the purpose of setting aside four land grants with the object of attracting buyers and colonizing the land contiguous to the P.G.E. Premier Oliver hoped that the passengers and freight thus provided would remove from the shoulders of taxpayers the burden which had long been reposing there, due to the failure of the P.G.E. even to pay operating expenses, let alone return anything on the capital expenditure.
The anticipated result was not forthcoming and it was with the object of finding out the reason why that the Tolmie government decided to authorize the Minister of Lands, Hon. F. P. Burden, to carry out a survey of the four blocks set aside by law and also of the whole region tributary to the P.G.E. from Clinton north to the Peace River country.
Prince George was decided upon as the logical place for the headquarters of the survey party-—or rather parties—and during the whole of last summer 140 men were engaged in making a detailed examination of an area more than 20,000 square miles in extent.
Premier Tolmie informed me that the results of this survey would be laid before the legislature during the 1930 session, but added that, of course, the Government had partners in the enterprise; which created the impression that details of the survey would not be made public until they have been thoroughly considered by the C.N.R. and C.P.R. When the result of the survey is made generally known, the public will for the first time be given some idea of just what the potentialities of the country giving access to the Peace River country are, without having to rely, as has been the case in the past, on vague generalities.
The men comprising the survey parties worked on foot, on horseback, by river boat and from the air. Ground and aerial work were co-ordinated. The results of the photographing, surveying and mapping from the air will be made a permanent record and the photographs will be housed in Victoria, creating the nucleus of an aerial photographic library of the Province.
In addition to surveying the four blocks comprising the provincial land grant, which cover in all more than 16,000,000 acres, attention was devoted to the Peace River Block, at present owned by the Dominion Government, but which may soon be again owned by the Provincial Government and may play a determining part in the whole P.G.E. and Peace River
situation. The Peace River Block is a little over 3,000,000 acres in extent.
If, as a result of this survey, it is decided to extend the P.G.E. on into the Peace River country, the first difficulty to be overcome will be the completion of the line to Prince George, a feat requiring no mean engineering and construction skill. At the present time, the grade comes to an abrupt termination a few miles north of Quesnel, at what is known as Cottonwood Canyon on the Cottonwood River, a tributary of the Fraser, which follows closely along the route of the P.G.E. The crossing of Cottonwood Canyon involved difficulties and expense which the various governments carrying out work on the P.G.E. were not prepared to face, but these difficulties are by no means insurmountable.
Providing that Prince George is decided upon as the point on an existing railway from which construction will be pushed through to the Peace River section, at least three alternative routes from the interior city northeast to the British Columbia-Alberta boundary have been under discussion, all of which appear from a cursory examination to have certain merits. Two entirely different routes have also been proposed from both Hazelton and Fort Fraser, so it can be seen that the matter of a port is by no means the only thing appertaining to the Peace River railway on which the people of British Columbia are not agreed.
At the Provincial Conservative caucus held in November, Premier Tolmie intimated that the government had negotiations afoot with a company which was desirous of purchasing one million acres of land in the northern part of British Columbia. The Premier did not let the members of his party,any further into his confidence than by making this bald statement, but it is generally conceded that the territory in question is a part of the interior land grants. He further informed the caucus that a careful investigation was being made of the proposal, as the Government wanted to be sure about the purchasers and the proposed deal before taking any definite steps. His government, he said, did not propose to bring out a lot of settlers and turn them loose on the land. Everything must be arranged to give new arrivals a fresh start, and the government wanted to see industries develop jointly with land settlement. With this object in view, exhaustive information on industrial possibilities in the Province was in the course of compilation.
In addition to the wealth of interior British Columbia which will be tapped by a railway from the Pacific Coast to Peace River, and the extraordinary fertility of the Peace River valley itself, there is a vast country of remarkable potentialities lying north of the proposed junction of lines at the British ColumbiaAlbert boundary. This country, extending as far as the Liard River, will undoubtedly be opened up by rail connection in the years to come, but the immediate necessity seems to be to provide a short haul to the coast for Peace River grain.
With all the conflicting routes, both from the coast and from points on existing lines under consideration, and the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railway authorities maintaining an impenetrable silence regarding their feelings in the matter, it would not seem judicious to make predictions at this stage as to what will be the final outcome of the controversy raging around the choice of a route from the Peace to the Pacific. That the line will come is beyond doubt.
Editor’s Note—A second article on the Peace River Outlet, dealing with the situation from the Alberta point of view, will appear in an early issue.