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Romantic Canada
Chapter XXVII The Pas: Gateway of the Great Northland

ROMANTIC Canada is never halted by natural obstacles. Like the true diplomat, she wins over hindrances to become aids. High mountains, large rivers with swirling rapids and falls, immense lakes, inland seas, have thus become to Romance, mere stepping-stones. So the cold of the Great Northland, from being a barrier of conquest, has simply inspired Madame Romance to call for her heaviest and finest furs, her dog-team and sled, her snow-shoes, and a supply of good pemmican. Snow is to her but Nature's cosmetic for rosy cheeks.

"Trade" long ago, claimed The Pas, in Manitoba, as "The Gateway to the Great Northland" and at once Madame proclaimed that "solemn-faced Business" was justified in this; but at the same time she herself reserved the right to spread her pelts for a mat, and sit in this Gate at all times. And Trade, which always walks hand-in-hand with Romance, was very glad to hear her fiat, knowing that the Romantic and business are so close interwoven as to be almost one and inseparable.

The Pas, as a town, is new; but its site was a Trading Post ages upon ages ago. Old in this particular, to the Indians before the advent of the Hudson's Bay Company in these parts, it was an objective of the Crees, perhaps before Leif coasted from Greenland to Newfoundland. The Pas is still remarkable for the absence of ordinary roads. To get to and from the Pas of old there was only the broad bosom of the Saskatchewan inviting the canoe. But of late years advancing civilization has pushed northward the Hudson's Bay Railroad. Pioneer wit and humour, with its gift for nomenclature, at once personified the trains for this romantic adventure in rails. The train from the South was christened the "Tamarack". The sub-Arctic Explorer conquesting to the North they aptly called the "Muskeg". These two names speak for them- selves concerning the nature of the country.

Anyone, who has watched the indomitable "Muskeg" go forth from the Pas station in the thick of a driving snowstorm, knows, beyond doubt, that Canadian courage is a driving force practically at work to subdue to the service of the nation all that vast coastline of Hudson's Bay which has hitherto been allowed to run to waste.

For all this great enterprise "The Pas" is the "Gate". Nevertheless when one goes down to the bank of the Saskatchewan and looks up and down the silvery bosom of this ribbon of water, which makes its start somewhere out there in the Rockies, one knows that The Pas has a waterway which must always place it in the first ranks among the busy centres of the country. The river is to The Pas what the Grand Canal is to Venice. The gondola here is the canoe or the old stern-wheel passenger boat, tapping the neighbouring country.

There was a time when The Pas knew that romantic flotilla, the York Boats of the H.B.C., which periodically passed here with cargoes of pelts between York Factory and the Old Stone Fort or Lower Fort Garry. The York Boat has long ago "cleared" for her last long voyage and, with her passing, passed also that old Character of the Canadian Northland—usually come hither out of the Shetlands or the Orkneys—the H.B.C. boat-builder. No more are heard either, the chansons of the rowers. In the place of these old boats of the fur-trade there is now the flotilla of Ore-boats; for The Pas, the gate to the fur-country, is likewise the water gate for receiving the rich mineral wealth of northern Manitoba. Copper comes down the river and steps ashore here, destined for the smelter away off at Trail, B.C. This is indeed a long, long trail for ore to take; but it is an admirable illustration of the unity between widely separated parts of Canada. Today there is more inter-provincial business, and more universal assistance from one section of the same Province toward the development of some other section, than has hitherto existed. In this, Canada has caught the National stride with remarkable celerity. What helps one helps all. The Pas is the natural gateway to the opening-up of the mineral wealth of the New, Old North.

Sitting in this Gate a long caravan of prospectors files past, carrying in their packs "supplies" furnished by the local out-fitting stores. Strangely enough, Pas stores are among the finest in Canada. It is claimed that in them anything from a miner's shovel to embroidery-silks is in stock. These things, though commonplace on Yonge or Saint Catherine's Streets, become romantic, indeed, in this far Gateway to the Great Northland; the more so when the woman who goes to the H.B.C. or any of the other stores, for a hank of embroidery-silk or cerise or art-blue horse-hair, put up especially for her use, is a light-stepping Cree, whose habitat is across the river, but who roams the vast stretches of the hinterlands as other women walk in their gardens. The Crees are especially artistic. They take beads, embroidery silks and the horse-hairs in hand as other women take pen or brush. But their embroidery is not wrought on cambric or linen, but on skin of moose or caribou shot by their family hunters and cured and tanned or "smoked" by their own hands.

The Factor will tell you that it is one of the interesting sights of the Christmas Season at this northern town to see the young braves turn out to the English Church, adorned in richly embroidered skin-gloves, edged perhaps with a border of plucked-beaver, the gift of their fiancees. Nevertheless, the Cree women still make their infants' little beds of reindeer moss, carefully washed and picked clear of all grit, and on the road they still carry their babies in a tikanagan strapped to their backs. The "tikanagan board" is often decorated by the mother in stains of reds, blues and browns, and the reindeer-moss nest, on which the baby reclines, is held in place by facings of smoked moose-hide neatly thonged together. This cradle of the Cree-baby is always provided with a handle, so that the mother, unstrapping the contrivance from her back, can hang it up in some tree and be sure that the gentle swaying of the bough by the breeze will keep her baby asleep, while she herself fishes or cooks a meal for the rest of the family. This Cree mother and the Japanese woman in the salmon factories of British Columbia have never heard of one another, yet it is interesting to note that both strap their babies on their backs while at work.

The Hudson Bay Railway crosses the Saskatchewan on one of the finest steel bridges in Canada. It is some 850 feet in length and of ample width for vehicles and pedestrians, as well as for the railroad. It is a bridge of the most up-to-date type, yet the tikanagan sways from the trees on either bank where this Colossus plants its feet as it bestrides the river. And when the "Muskeg" thunders by, it is a signal for Eskimo dogs in the yards of the Big Eddy Reserve to set up a howl of protest against the invader of their transportation-copyright in the great Northland.

To the old-order-of-life represented by the tikanagan and the dog-team, belongs the canoe on the river. Come the "Muskeg", come the "Tamarac", come the automobile, the steamboat, the barge, ore- or grain-laden, the canoe holds its own on the river. Playing with the paddle is an inheritance. As has been said "A canoe represents not only Cree but Creed in this Northern-Gate "

But the Pas has many sweet as well as strong touches. Surprise awaits the traveller in the beautiful flowers in the gardens of Pas homes. Flowers are always a surprise in the Northland, and when encountered they have an especial appeal created by their very rarity.

On a bluff of the river-bank stands the historic old Church of England, first church in these parts. Dropping in to matins here of a Sunday morning is to find one's self surrounded by the "atmosphere" that is the Northland's Own. Here, the old pews, pulpit and reading-desk were carved by men belonging to a Sir John Franklin Relief Expedition which wintered in these parts and at Cumberland House, while they waited for the ice to break up. Sitting in one of these old pews brings back to life all that long stirring period of the Nation's history involved in Arctic Exploration. Sir John and Lady Franklin become personal to you sitting here in a pew fashioned by the hands of men who adventured their lives in noble effort to bring back news of England's great Explorer.

The atmosphere of Arctic Exploration brought to life by the old pew, appears mysteriously amplified and fulfilled in the Ten Commandments in Cree on the right and left walls of the little Chancel. The Crees are the children of that Northland into which the pew-carver ventured. Old Chief Constant sits over there in the corner of one of these pews, the Assomption belt, a gay dash of colour, about his portly waist, attentively listening to the service, which is the tribal "Voice of 'Mahneto'—The Great Spirit".

In the wake of the church are the schools for the Crees. There is a boarding-school at the Big Eddy under the management of Archdeacon MacKay. The fine school building, with accommodation for eighty pupils, was erected by the Government and opened in October, 1914. The Woman's Auxiliary of the Diocese of Ottawa furnished the parlor as a memorial to their one-time Corresponding Secretary, Helen Josephine Fitzgerald. This Body also built the pretty little stone church in the grounds; but the fine hospital was the gift of the Government.

Archdeacon Mackay, the principal of this Indian School, is a Canadian and an octogenarian, who has spent fifty-six years in Missionary work in this North. The Archdeacon paddled us the five miles down the Saskatchewan to The Pas in his canoe, with two of the Indian boys to assist, as nonchalantly as any young man of twenty. All through his long ministry, beginning between fifty and sixty years ago, he has been able with the canoe's aid, to carry the double Message of the Gospel and Canada to a remote and savage people. He has lived to see The Pas become the centre of the Northward-urge of Canadian life and development, now so much a part of the national ambition.

On the North bank of the river, not more than halfway to the Big Eddy boarding-school, is a little, whitewashed schoolhouse, which is kept by a young Indian woman, a graduate of the Elkhorn School; and here all the little local youngsters pursue "the Three R's." The school garden is laid out in tiny beds; but the true atmosphere of the life is tellingly indicated in the small bows-and- arrows which each little boy carries in hand as he comes through the woods to the schoolhouse. The Cree is a born hunter. These bows and arrows of childhood are, after all, but stepping-stones like Readin', 'Ritin' and 'Rithmetic. It is as a hunter the Cree must make a living.

The Cree, having trapped the wary fox, or other furred animal, brings the pelt to be smoked in the yard of the little homes that radiate in the woods from the schoolhouse. In the smoking and curing the women take the pelt in hand. A green and pliable branch is cut from a tree. The skin is then turned under side out and stretched tightly over the green and springy wood. The ears and legs are stuffed with hay. After the process of stretching the skin, it is laid over a frame of sticks like the ribs of a tepee, and a fire is made underneath and kept going with half green wood to make plenty of smoke. The Indian woman keeps turning the skin from time to time so that all parts are evenly cured, and, every once in a while, the man comes out and takes a look, fingering the skin, and then, when it is pretty well cured an old man or old woman, grandfather or grandmother, a living manual of pelts, comes out, and grunts a last opinion. Thus is cured the pelt, that, finding its way from Cree hands to the fur-markets of the world, sooner or later graces the shoulders of some lady of the land.

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