The Far North Won’t Wait
Transportation is available for the exploitation of the North’s riches, says this writer. Then why hesitate?
THE Far North Can Wait.” Certainly it can. Is there anything under the sun which is live and vital that cannot wait? Death and decay are the only things which cannot be postponed, and neither word describes the hitherto unexploited North. Yes, the Far North can wait, but is there any object in making it do so?
The author who discussed this question in a recent issue of Macleans may be a clever mining engineer, but he is not well informed on the Far North. His article chiefly criticized unfortunate enterprises not related to the present imixxtant discovery at Bear Lake, with the exception of a hypothetical parallel which his remarks on a railway constituted. The little actually said about the Far North had apparently been gleaned from reports and statistics as to population, weather, etc. Even this information gave an erroneous impression as he failed to quote in full. On the strength of this, he has criticized and opjxjsed development of a country he really does not know. As a Northerner, I resent it.
My knowledge of geology and mineralogy is limited, but there is no dispute on one point.
Mr. Campbell admits that high grade ore has been found in the Far North. There is no doubt as to the richness of the ore from the Bear Lake field. The assays have proved that. The Bear Lake formation pre-Cambrian, profusely cut by dykes, has interested geologists since *1821, when Sir John Richardson, who passed through that country in company with Sir John Franklin, commented on it.
Thirty-five years ago, J. Burr Tyrell, in a paper read before the British Association for the Advancement of Science, told of this area.
While he personally had investigated only a portion of this formation to the south and east, with which he was favorably impressed, he confidently expected that the same set of conditions he had found would prevail farther north, and by summing up the information recorded by other competent men and assigning values it possessed, predicted that silver would possibly be found in this area on account of the evidence of the presence of Animikie slates and limestone.
I do not pretend to know all about the Far North, but for many years I have lived in various places along the Slave and Mackenzie nvers, including Fort Norman at the junction
of Mackenzie and Bear rivers. I know the people, both white and native, am fairly familiar with the country and its possibilities, and certainly do know conditions; the route to be travelled, for instance; and the details of the obstacles which the rapids present. There are two places, not three, between the end of the railroad and Bear Lake, where rapids interfere with the passage of boats.
Freight Can be Handled
rPHH) first is a series of rapids in the Slave River between Fort Fitzgerald and Fort Smith. Years ago boats used to run these rapids, making only one jxirtage, a mile in length, around an impassable stretch of water. This running, however, was done at great risk. Many outfits were lost and frequently people were drowned. In 1922 the Ryan brothers, Micky and Pat, who had been operating on the short portage, undertook to haul freight and scows overland for a distance of sixteen miles, entirely eliminating the rapids. They started with a few teams, using a very rough wagon track. As this method was found to be much safer and cheaper than trying to run the rapids, their venture was a success. Shipments to all parts of the Far North now go over this portage. As the North grew and shipments increased, the Ryan brothers found that their business warranted the expense of building a good highway and putting motor cars, trucks, and tractors on it. They co-operate with the steamship company, and are equipped to handle a considerable amount of freight of any description. With a week’s notice, they could handle almost unlimited tonnage.
The other rapids are in the Bear River, and are caused by a limestone ridge extending across the river. The water at this place is shallow and there is no channel, the rapids being strewn with boulders. Flowever, one who knows the river does not have a great deal of difficulty getting through with a boat of shallow draft.
A. W. Boland, of Fort Franklin, on Great Bear Lake, has for a number of years operated a transport company on this river and on the lake. His equipment is a power barge and scow for taking freight from Fort Norman to the rapids. There it is relayed by a small boat, designed especially for the rapids, to a lake boat with a capacity of from fifteen to eighteen tons. The trip from Norman to Echo Bay generally takes about three weeks, as ujxan arrival of the Mackenzie River steamer, which brings the freight as far as Norman, all of the Bear Lake freight— which makes a number of loads for the river boat—is ferried to the rapids and transferred to the smaller boat to be taken through. The lake boat waits until it has a full load. That has been found to lx the most economical way of handling it, but the trip can lx made in three days if the one load is taken right through. The necessity of handling freight in this manner, of course, causes delay in delivery and increases expense. The only reason the steamers do not go up the Bear River to deliver freight at the rapids and that a jxxtage road has not been built around the rapids, is that until the present time the amount of freight would not have justified the expense.
Bear River has not been one of the main arteries of travel, but with the development of the Bear Lake mineral field it will become one of the principal highways of the North, and with a little work, which will soon pay for itself, the rapids in the Bear will not hamper traffic any more than do those in the Slave River at F'ort Smith. Mr. Boland is progressive, and has foresight, with faith in a country he probably knows better than any other white man d;xs, having lived there for the past twelve years. Fie will be adequately equipjxd to handle all shipments. Freight from Bear Lake can easily be handled by the water route.
“What about the prohibitive freight rate?”
some one may ask.
The rates are high, the chief reason for this being that until now the tonnage has been practically all one way—into the country. The Far North dejxnds on the outside world for every commodity with the exception of fuel, and, in parts of the barren lands, even including fuel. An average of 5.000 tons of freight goes north across the Smith portage every summer, but the only outgoing freight so far has been fur which, while of value, is light in weight and not great in bulk when baled. Four large trucks will handle the total catch of the North for a year and always does, the fur being shipped out on the return of the first steamer.
For the balance of the season, steamers with a capacity of from 300 to 500 tons make the return journey from Aklavik, 1.661 miles, empty. Therefore, the one-way freight rate must be high enough to cover the entire cost
of the operation of all equipment. If there were outgoing shipments of ore, the rates would soon drop. Enquiry will show that the rate from Echo Bay on Great Bear Lake to Waterways, Alberta, the end of steel, has already been cut in half, and there will 1«: further reductions when shipments increase.
Railroad Not Needed
npiIE chief objection to developing the mineral ^fields in the Ear North at the present time seems to be the fear that a great deal of money will be wasted for a railroad. Most of the talk alxiut a railroad is being done by people who think of the North as a new s|X)t on the map, a wild and woolly place; people who rio not realize that the Far North has several efficient, transport systems. A railroad is not needed and has not been requested. It undoubtedly would furnish a more economical method of shipping, and a line is Ix'ing visualized for some time in the future when the volume of freight demands it. If it is eventually built, in all probability it will traverse a jx>rtion of the Peace River country which could use a railroad to advantage right now, and from there through gorxl farming country to Hay River on Great Slave Lake, from which jx>int there would lxshipments of lead zinc ore from Pine Point; and from there to Bear Lake through country which is hopeless for agricultural purj>oscs.
On this jxirtion of the road, at least, there would be heavy incoming shipments lx-causc, as mentioned previously, this district is de|x*ndent on the outside world for practically every article, both food and manufactured gtxxls. As the outgoing tonnage of ore increased, there would lxa proportionate increase in the incoming tonnage of commodities to supply the needs of a growing population. The two would probably balance as closely as shipments on any railroad do, and this would lxa big factor in making it a success. But the railroad is only a side issue, not to be considered in the preliminary stage of development. If it is needed it will come naturally, but for the present there are ample trans|X>rtation facilities.
Four recognized airplane transportation companies are operating into this district. Several of these companies are planning to put large freighting planes into service on Bear Lake this summer in addition to the planes already being operated, so in any cases where it is desirable to get a shipment out quickly it can be sent by the air route at a very reasonable charge. These shipments can be taken all the way to Edmonton, but the projxjsed manner of handling them is by airplane to Fort Rae on Great Slave I-ake. from there to Waterways, Alberta, by steamer, and the balance of the trip by rail.
The Canadian Airways are quoting a rate of eighteen cents jx-r jxmnd from Fort Rae to the Bear Lake mineral field, and fourteen cents coming out. Passengers are included in this rate, although, of course*, there is a minimum weight six-citied on shipments. As any one going into Bear Lake has to take in everything he will need during his stay, this simply means that a |x-rson wishing to get into the country weeks sixiner than he could by travelling the water route can take advantage of the extremely low airplane passenger rate byshipping some of his outfit via the air route at moderate cost. They could not be expected to carry the small number of passengers to which they are limited by law at this special price unless there were freight enough to supply a load for the plane.
On outgoing shipments of ore, the airplane rate is only live cents per jxmnd from Echo Bay to Fort Rae. The rate by boat from Fort Rae to Waterways. Alberta, is $-1 jx.-r hundred jxnmds on general merchandise, 82 jx-r hundred on outgoing shipments of ore. The railroad will handle these shipments at a sjx*cial rate of fifty-four cents jx*r hundred pounds, making the total rate from Bear Lake to Edmonton by the combined air, water, and rail route slightly over 7*2 cents jx-r jxmnd. If shij)jxxl from Bear Lake to Waterways entirely by boat, the rate to Edmonton would lxjust over 81 cents, but this will lx* reduced if the jx>rtage road around Bear Rapids is built. Comjxire these with the rates to some of the so-called “close" mineral fields from which low grade ore is being shipjxxl at a profit, and try to think of a single reason why extremely high grade ore from Bear I-ake—which, of course, will be concentrated before shipment will not yield a jrrofit.
Improved Steamer Service
"PROM the earliest times it has been known that there was native copjx-r along the Coj)jx*rmine River. The Eskimos were using it for implements when white men first went into the country. Since then there have lx*en many discoveries of mineral in various jxarts of
the territories and it has been no secret, but it was not worth while to investigate the value or the extent of the unknown dejxwits. The North was too remote and inaccessible; the time was not rijx; and no one knew it better than the Northerners. They did not want a boom with a subsequent slumj), which they knew would be the case if they advertised their mineral wealth prematurely. That would have been a knock which would have deferred real develojnnent for years. They knew the time would come when imj>roved methods of communication and transjx>rtation would make it jxjssible for reputable mining corjx>rations to come in and establish mining on a solid, substantial basis, and they preferred to wait for that time. Now that it has arrived the Far North is ready fordevelopment, and it is the result of steady growth and progress. I will go back a few years and give a brief sketch of the events which brought the North to her present position.
Until eight years ago the Far North had no communication with the outside world excej>t for one dog-team mail each winter the aggregate amount of mail for all jxjsts lx-ing limited to 300 j)ounds—and two boat mails in summer. '1'he North was growing so that it was imperative to operate more Ixxits in order to handle the freight required jDrojuerly to maintain the jx>pulation; but with no way of learning what the ice conditions might be farther north, the steamers dared not leave their southern terminal until all danger was j)ast, usually well into July. The round trij) took three or four weeks, and with no information as to conditions at the northern end, they could not risk making a second trip, that is, not all of the way. It was costly to ojx-rate two steamers for such a short season, and putting on a third one at that time was out of the question.
In addition to the jxoblem of transjxjrtation, it was becoming more and more aj)parent that daily weather rejx^rts from the Far North were required by the Meteorological Department in order to make accurate forecasts, as so many conditions affecting the weather in the provinces originated in the North.
Added to this, was the necessity for rajnd communication for the extensive silver mining operations in the Iveeno district of the Yukon, near Mayo on the Stewart River. In the summer of 1923, radio-telegraph stations were established by the Department of the Interior, and installed and operated by the Royal Canadian Signals, at Mayo Landing and Dawson City, Yukon Territory. By the summer of 1924, it had become apparent that much better service could be given the Yukon Territory by providing a
channel through the Mackenzie River district to Edmonton. Consequently, stations were established at Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories, and at Edmonton, Alberta.
These stations proved so successful in the handling of commercial traffic and the providing of daily weather rejxirts that it was decided to establish further stations as money was available. In 1925 stations were installed at Fort Smith, the southern terminus of the Mackenzie River route to the Arctic, and at Aklavik, the northern terminus of the same waterway. In 1927 Resolution, on Great Slave Lake, was added to the chain, and in 1930 Fort Norman. The fall of 1930 and the summer of ’31 saw further additions to this system, until now there are fifteen stations located at strategic jxfints throughout the North, covering all of the air and steamer routes to the Arctic and to Bear Lake.
With these stations in operation, the steamers can leave as soon as they receive word that the rivers and lakes along the route are free of ice, and they can also operate much later in the fall, knowing that they will be warned if the ice starts running. Each steamer can usually make three complete round trips a season instead of one. This, of course, has reduced rates, encouraged more people to come into the country, and stimulated business.
WI RELESS communication also paved the way for the operation of airplanes into the North. Being able to get complete and accurate weather rejxorts by radio from men trained to take observations was an inducement for mineral exploration companies to send airplanes into the North to place men in promising localities to prospect for the summer. In this way they could get in a full season’s work, which they could not have done formerly, using boats as a means of transportation, as practically all of their time would have been required to come into the country and to get out again during the short season of navigation.
The first mineral exploration plane was sent in by the Northern Syndicate and was piloted by the late Captain Caldwell. This was in 1926, and they made certain investigations in the Hill Island Lake district. In 1928 the Northern Aerial Mineral Exploration Company sent three planes in to investigate the South Nahanni River district. The results were encouraging enough so that each succeeding summer has seen an increasing number of planes operating into this country in the interests of various mining corporations.
C. H. “Punch” Dickins is the pioneer commercial pilot of the North. He felt that the North was ready for commercial airplane service and persuaded his company, the Western Canada Airways—now the Canadian Airways—to let him try the e.xpxjriment in the winter of 1928. That his belief in the North was justified is proved by the fact that planes have been flying on this route ever since. “Punch” is now in charge of Northern operations for Canadian Airways. This company has six planes on this particular branch of their service, and the number will be increased after the spring “break-up” of the Northern rivers.
At first “Punch” carried mail to and from the North more as a favor, but December, 1929, saw the inauguration of an air mail service. The Far North now receives a mail practically ever month—in the summer time more often than that—instead of three mails a year; and the letters are received a number of days after they are written instead of a number of months. The Government contracts for only a certain number of mails a year, but the airplanes do not wait for scheduled dates. They carry mail on practically every trip.
Wireless communication and airplane transjx>rtation have brought the North close to civilization. Mining companies in the field are not obstructed in their work by being in a distant place when they have these.
Then why should the Far North wait? To say that during this time of depression money should not be spent in such a far-off field is absurd. Does it not give employment both directly and indirectly to many who need it? It is also a source of revenue to Canada, not an expense. The money for mining licenses and recording fees is running into a large sum to go into the Government exchequer. The only appropriation requested has been to help defray the exjxmse of building about nine miles of road around the rapids in the Bear River. The North asks no favors. The Northwest Territories is not an organized district; its citizens are not exempt from taxation, but they have no vote and no representation. Without politicians to pull strings, it gets only what it merits. No one should
Continued on page 43
The Far North Won’t Wait
Continued from page 20
complain because the Government gives the North fair play.
Development Not Rushed
THOUGH evidences of mineral had been noticed over a huge area at Bear Lake since the earliest times. Charlie Sloan was the first person to stake a claim in the field. He became enthusiastic enough to stake some high grade copper ore—bomite and chalcopyrite—on Hunter Bay in 1922. but on thinking it over decided not to record. He knew the North was not ready for it yet, and after arriving at this conclusion made up his mind to prostet elsewhere for a few years and come back later. He left and went to the Flin Flon and to the States. Always keeping his eye on the North, in 1929 he felt that it was time to return; which he did. He staked and recorded the same claims he had staked and abandoned seven years earlier, and stayed in the country to search for silver which he had not found previously but felt confident was there. He was not disappointed; he has staked his silver since. A prospector by the name of Bruce actually found silver and gold on Bear Lake in 1917, but contracted pneumonia on his way out and died before any one learned the exact location. The wonderful samples in his packsack gave evidence of the value of his find.
Now an outsider comes along and says that “finally” important finds of sulphide copper ore and silver were made, and that the Far North is being developed prematurely; that rush and haste will spell ruination and deplete our natural resources. There has been no hurry about exploiting the Far North. It has waited patiently to come into its own. Concerning the exhaustion of the resources, there is no need to ' worry. Only a small portion of this vast mineralized area has been touched; that lying along some of the watercourses. The interior has not even been scratched except by a few “dyed in the wool” prospectors who love remote places and get a thrill every time they discover mineral, even though they know that it will not bring them riches, as the interior is still inaccessible and will probably not be considered for many decades unless free milling or placer gold is discovered.
Aside from this, is it good policy to retard natural progress in one part of the Dominion in order that the time, effort, and money may be available for an extensive and systematic search to find, drain, and utterly exhaust the resources of another portion? It was suggested that the Wilberforce pitch-
blende property in Ontario be given a trial before Canada considered going farther North. This particular property is not exactly a ‘‘new' find.” With its favorable location, it probably would have been developed long ago if it had been worth while. Why keep a valuable deposit of radium-bearing ore waiting while attempting to do something with a low' grade deposit? It can be kept as a reserve until such time as the demand for the mineral contained makes it possible to operate at a profit.
Speaking of prospecting in the “near” North. Mr. Campbell says, “the limited results from prospecting—the last twentyyears of which have been of the most . intensive kind—have cast some doubt on j the belief that we will ever be able to 1 maintain ourselves as far as mineral needs ; are concerned.” If this is conceded, why j advocate further prospecting in these areas ! instead of letting the Far North show her stuff, when only six years of intermittent prospecting of a methodical nature in the latter place has produced not only encouraging but definite results?
The mining companies would not be investing capital in the Far North unless they expected a return for it. and they are not going into this blindly or in haste. They have been investigating the Bear Lake area for the past three years. Copper j at first, but they had no intention of work| ing that at present; it was just being plotted ! out for the future. Then Gilbert La Bine made his sensational find of pitchblende ore on Echo Bay in 1930, which put Bear Lake on the map. This radium find and the tremendous deposits of high-grade silver ore which have been discovered since, and which development work to date show's to be even richer and more extensive than the ; surface showings indicated, prove that this ! is the greatest mineral discovery on the j North American continent.
To say that it should be abandoned because it is far aw'ay. and that the moneybeing invested at Bear Lake should be spent in an effort to locate something along a railway, does not seem reasonable. If you were walking along a dusty road on a hot day and felt that you would like to have a swim, would you plunge into the ditch simply because it happened to be close to the road, or would you w'alk a little distance through the bush to get to a pool of clear, cool water? Well, the same thing applies to Bear Lake. It may be slightly off the beaten path, but w'hen you get there, you’ve got something.