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Ten Thousand Miles Through Canada
Chapter VIII

The province of Manitoba—The realization of “Sea Dreams”—Civic and agricultural growth—Winnipeg—Railway enterprise—The Canadian Pacific and Grand Trunk Railways —System of Government—Schools—Public Park—Prices of produce—“Ralph Connor”—The Canadian Northern Railway —Winnipeg to Edmonton—The chance of a millionaireship —Edmonton—The lady and the “ gentleman ” bus conductor— Colleges and schools—Churches and drinking saloons— Vegetable products — Edmonton to Calgary — Flourishing agriculture.

WHEN we think of the years necessary to achieve the wealth and splendour of nations, and look at the Province of Manitoba, it almost seems as if some good genius had waved her wand, and lo, a barren lonely marsh and wild prairie are suddenly changed, and golden harvest-fields, lowing cattle, model dairies, comfortable homesteads and happy children rise as if by magic before our eyes. We not unnaturally ask, “Whence came these?” and then think of the city clerk’s vision in Tennyson’s “Sea Dreams,” of a woman grown to enormous strength by “working in the mines,” and like him wake to realize that honest toil—hard and matter-of-fact—is the secret of collective as well as individual growth.


The wealth that lies in the rich soil of this vast territory justifies the legend. Its output is seen in prosperous cities and towns, rapidly spreading far and wide. When Manitoba incorporated itself in the Confederation in 1870, it had 17,000 inhabitants, and now upwards of 400,000 English-speaking people form its population. In 1870, its agricultural produce was not even recorded. In 1881, an acreage of 51,300 yielded 1,000,000 bushels of wheat, and 1,270,268 bushels of oats. In 1905, these odd millions jump up to over 55,000,000.

Only 5,000,000 acres of land are at present under cultivation, a patch compared with the actual possibilities, as Manitoba is larger than Scotland, Wales and Ireland combined, and contains 74,000 square miles of territory. Of this 30,000,000 acres are arable land.

Winnipeg is the seat of the Government, and holds a foremost place amongst the cities of the great continent. It is called The Gateway to the West. Its growth has been extremely rapid, and it possesses all the modern conveniences of a great centre. London has nothing to compare with its spacious streets, and New York can scarcely out-do it in sky-scraping buildings. Electric cars run in every direction, and public parks and promenades are provided for the pastime and enjoyment of its thriving citizens. Its thoroughfares are daily crowded with busy merchants, many of whom are the descendants of the early Scotch colonists who reside in imposing residences on the outskirts of the town. A walk in that direction shows that Winnipeg, like all great cities, is cultivating suburban life.

New towns and villages are quickly springing up, contiguous to agricultural and manufacturing districts, and in the rapidity of their growth make Winnipeg the Chicago of the Dominion.

The great incentive to development has come from railway enterprise. The Canadian Pacific running from east to west has many branches which bring settlers within reach of rich agricultural soil, The Grand Trunk system, and the Canadian Northern, each exploring different territory, have done much in opening easy avenues for the transit of grain and stock to Winnipeg and other important centres where traders find remunerative markets. Indeed, one can see, in addition to provincial economic advantages, the possibility of new routes by land and sea to and from and across the Dominion through what is now a daily event—the extension of these great railway systems.

Amongst other valuable services rendered by the Government is the issue of reliable information on trade and agriculture. There are annual returns from the Provincial and Dominion Board of Trade which can be accepted as bona fide. Emigrants and settlers are no longer the dupes of advertising agents and others with axes to grind. The returns are too

good to need embellishment or exaggeration, and any figures which are quoted here have the imprimatur of the high authority to which I have referred.

The Government of Manitoba is administered by a single Legislative Chamber, and executive Council on practically an electoral basis of manhood suffrage. The public school system is excellent, and entails the largest expenditure in the annual budget. Public works come second, and the administration of justice third. Schools are free to all children between the ages of five and fifteen. In larger towns resident pupils are free to the high schools and colleges. They are maintained largely by Government, who set apart sections of land in each township which yield part of the revenue; the rest is provided by a land tax. The growth of these schools is an index to progress. In 1886, the number in the province was 422, with an attendance of 16,834. In 1906 there were 1,847 schools and 64,123 scholars. Schools of agriculture are also provided, and associations for instructing the settlers’ children in live stock, fruit growing, dairy farming, and practically every branch of industry within the province requiring skilled labour.

There is an excellent tram service to the outskirts of the city, where there is a fine park, containing zoological gardens which hold good specimens of bear, wapiti, mountain goat, beaver and other animals. The Red River flows through the park, on which motor boats and yachts were sailing. The wild features of the place are preserved intact, and shady nooks and vistas of spreading trees lend their charm. It was intensely hot, and seeking a cool retreat I lay down and went fast asleep. A singular sensation awakened me, and on opening my eyes I got a glimpse of a brown animal scuttling into the grass, about the size of a gopher. He did not give me time to classify him, but left a distinct impression on my face, over which he ran.

Commodities in Winnipeg vary in price according to the supply ; apples very cheap ; oranges very dear, 2\d. each ; plums of an inferior quality, 5d. a pound. On the other hand, restaurants which almost jostle each other in the streets, provide an excellent luncheon for ij. 3d. Hair cutting is a luxury ; half a dollar, or 2s. 1d. in English currency, is charged for trimming one’s beard, which had the effect on one forlorn traveller of making him vow that henceforth he would become a Nazarene.

I spent a couple of delightful hours with “Ralph Connor”—Rev. Charles W. Gordon—who, in addition to his literary career, is a distinguished leader in the Presbyterian Church. He has seen Winnipeg grow from the day of small things, and watched men on the spot develop from obscurity into opulent merchants.

I have alluded elsewhere to his place in literature.


He is an ardent disciple of Isaac Walton, and as we had travelled over similar ground it was pleasant to compare notes. He is saturated with the mystery and grandeur of the Rocky Mountains, the full aroma of which pervades his books. His influence in the higher walks of his profession has made him the original of “The Sky Pilot” he has so well portrayed.

Singularly enough, another leader in the religious life of Winnipeg is the Rev. J. L. Gordon, with whom the novelist is often confused. The former, upon whom I also called, narrated a number of cases of mistaken identity between the minister and the author. The error is by no means uncomplimentary to “Ralph Connor,” as his namesake is a strong personality and one of the most popular preachers in Canada. Each has cut deeply in his own line, and both possess a charming grace and simplicity.

A railway recently constructed by the Canadian Northern runs from Winnipeg to Edmonton, a distance of iooo miles. It traverses an undeveloped territory through the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. With the exception of an occasional farm homestead between the stations, at which the train stops, its course is through virgin soil.

The advent of the railway gives an enhanced value to the adjoining land. It is the philosopher’s stone, which turns base metal into gold, or, better still, the wilderness into a fruitful plain. It affords facilities, for the opening up of markets, the transportation of agricultural implements which are absolutely indispensable in a region where labour is scarce at best, and at times altogether unavailable. Without the railways, the wealth of the prairies, as well as of forest and mine, is a locked-up good, as unreachable as the gem of “ unfathomed caves of ocean.” Men may buy the land, sell it, gamble in it, but it does not become a workable asset until it is linked up with the towns and cities near and far. The great waterways, valuable as they have been, can never become substitutes as a means of transit. The method is slow, and if it affords easy access to a district, it is in the same proportion difficult of egress. A farmer may look at the golden grain and the smiling fruit, and the fattening kine, and eat his heart out for the long-delayed opportunity of exchange, which is the basis of all commerce.

The Canadian Northern Railway, extending from Port Arthur to Edmonton via Winnipeg, has opened up important territory. The effect was to be noticed in the activity at every stopping-place along the line. There were houses newly erected, and others in the course of construction. Barn-like structures advertised themselves in large letters as hotels. Telephone wires stretched from hut to hut, and agricultural implements, fearfully and wonderfully made—at least to the lay mind—were piled near the stations.

Every platform was a mart where farmers, agents, and speculators were there and then willing to sell desirable sites and thriving farms. Judging from what I heard, I might have been a millionaire, had I only the temerity, half a dozen times over before reaching my destination. This spirit of disinterestedness on the part of vendors has been checked of late years by the formation of reliable bureaus under Government supervision. There is no longer any necessity for a purchaser of land to find himself in possession of a swamp, a by no means uncommon experience. The Prairie is not a uniform El Dorado. It has its arid wastes, its thin substratum of fertility, as well as its deep rich loam, and there hover over it all, hawks which are ready to pluck any unwary bird about to stretch its speculative wings.

The journey to Edmonton is in itself an object lesson in inequalities. Great rivers are crossed, cutting their sinuous way through vast plains, pregnant with the highest possibilities of agriculture. Rocky soil comes into view of a different order and more limited in productive qualities; lakes with great stretches of marsh, out of which flocks of wild duck rise, attesting its suitability for their habitat and little more.

It was late when we arrived at Edmonton, the capital town of Alberta. A number of omnibuses were drawn up at the station for the convenience of passengers. Choosing that more archaic method of travel rather than the electric trams, I found myself in company with half a dozen others, rattling over the worst roads possible to imagine. The outskirts of Edmonton, like most new Western cities, have to wait on their betters. The broad well-kept streets in the town have had undue attention paid to them, to the neglect of more remote thoroughfares. The bus stopped at various hotels, the conductor arranging to deposit his passengers in the order which suited his own convenience sooner than theirs. He took me a couple of miles out of the way sooner than go round the corner at an earlier stage. The reason was obvious—my hotel happened to be in the district where the horses were stabled, and he left that for the last.

He had several passages of arms with his fares, to which I listened with interest, as showing the high point and fine shading that labour had reached in the Dominion. Like everything else, it has the defect of its virtues.

“You must get down here,” he said to a lady burdened with parcels and a valise; “the horses can’t go up the hill.” The lady looked up with surprise, and replied with great politeness, “A hill! There is no hill, gentleman! This is So-and-so Street. I have parcels, gentleman, and it’s late.”

The “gentleman,” nonplussed at this display of topographical erudition, banged the door, and the omnibus went on.


It was close on midnight when I reached my destination. Rate of travel, three miles in two hours!

Edmonton is situated on the Saskatchewan River, well raised above its banks, and commanding an imposing view. The population is nearly 25,000, almost double the total of the 1906 census. It is the seat of government and the official place of residence of the Lieutenant-Governor. The Alberta College has its headquarters there, with 400 students attached. The educational system is admirable. Large elementary schools have sprung up in a few years, and a high school for advanced knowledge and university preparation. The property is valued at over £100,000; all public requisites—water, electric light, telephones and tramways — are municipalized. The system of taxation makes no distinction between prairie land and land built upon. A vacant lot is assessed at exactly the same valuation as one with a five-storied building or factory on it. There is also a business tax determined by floor space and nature of the industry.

There are twenty-four churches, and twenty-one drinking saloons. The Secretary of the Board of Trade, in commenting on this, said: “Churches are allowed an unlimited margin of growth, but drinking saloons cannot be increased.” The proportion in some of the provinces is one to a thousand of population.

The evidence of a great coal industry is at once noticed on reaching Edmonton, in the blackened track near the station, the elevated railway with its sidings, and the inevitable row of coal wagons. The discovery of this mineral, which is said to be a high-grade lignite, places the city in a unique position in relation to the Dominion. So far it holds the monopoly of the trade. The report of Government experts puts the area of the coal-bed at 11,000 square miles, and the quantity at 60,000,000 tons. The value of the find to the inhabitants is most important, as the fuel can be purchased at 13½. per ton delivered, or ys. at the pit mouth.

Over 25,000 tons per week are transmitted on the Canadian Northern Railway from the Morinville mines, and the companies’ projected extension is planned to traverse the Brazeau River valley, where further vast deposits of coal have been discovered and only await railway facilities to become a cheap and marketable commodity.

At the Board of Trade offices I saw samples of various agricultural products, grown in different parts of the province, which showed the versatility and richness of the soil.

From Edmonton to Calgary is another section of the Canadian Pacific Railway. It has been opened up long enough for agricultural interests to take more definite shape. Near Edmonton well-tilled farms are to be seen and herds of cattle browsing on


the pasture. It is a section of the prairie, the severe flatness of which is broken by undulating hills.

Flax is cultivated in large quantities, which is used in the manufacture of oil cake and ropes.

The ground was being broken up for the winter wheat as I travelled along the line, and from the train we could see the steam ploughs busy at work. The grain is threshed in the field where it is reaped, and the straw in that locality is burned, as it finds no market. In other parts of the agricultural districts it has an economic use, and commands a good price.

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