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Romantic Canada
Chapter XXVIII British Columbia

NO greater contrast can be afforded by Nature than that between level Prairie and the Rocky Mountains. It is at the moment of the change from one to the other that one realizes both are Characters, each separate, individual and eternal. Here, as the train swings along by the banks of the Bow River, one looks up to those towering peaks, their gray and aged cheeks flushed with the wine of the air into perpetual youth, the Character that is Nature dominating all others. One cannot think of those peaks as still and dead matter only. They must be alive! There is the sharpness of the Craig, the smoothness of the scumbled bloom upon it, head after head against that faultless blue that one has hitherto thought of as exclusively Italian. But there it is—Capri inverted.

And so one comes to Banff, or drops down at Lake Louise, or bestrides a pony to the Valley of the Ten Peaks, or watches the Mountain Goat a riotous snowflake against the blue sky or wanders at the end of a rope about the face of the Great Glacier and, doing these things, feels it good just to be alive. That must surely have been the thought behind the preservation of this section of the Rockies as a national playground in perpetuity when it was reserved by the Dominion Government as a great Park.

But British Columbia, in addition to being a land of Mountains, is also a land of large tumbling rivers and fingerlike lakes pushing out into the fruitful valleys. It was the West of early days that enriched the language with that word "Trail". British Columbia is the land of the Trail. The Trail or mere thread-road of the early pioneer from the Prairie to the Coast has now been completely metamorphosed into the orderly double-track of the railroad; so that hardships have vanished and, in their place, positive luxury attends a trip to the Pacific Coast via the Canadian Rockies.

Yet there is more than enough of the "primeval" remaining to give sauce to the voyage. Romance still clings to the Columbia and the Fraser Rivers. The mere names of Sun-Dance Canyon, The Crow's Nest, Glacier, Jasper Park and a dozen others but faithfully record the existing charm and atmosphere. They suggest, too, that these Ranges were once the Hunting Grounds of Indians. Some old-timer says that these now have headquarters "down about MacLeod". Nevertheless the Indian still comes back to the hot sulphur springs at Banff which it is quite probable he knew and used long ages ago, before even the discovery of the American Continent.

The Indian in British Columbia, like the Indian all through Canada, is still a romantic figure of the atmospheric background. He is still and always will be a page from the tome of the simple life, retiring before the advance of that form of society which involves living indoors. He still clings to the wigwam, to the canoe and to fishing and hunting for a living. (Although, of course, even among the Indians there are many notable exceptions and some of them carry on business and own fine homes of their own).

Romance, however, clings to the blanket of the old-timer. The web of fancy is not confined when a bend in the road reveals a group of Indians spearing salmon from a flat rock, perilously over-hanging the swirling, canyoned cauldron of the Fraser. There is something bizarre in the simple arrangement of the bleached wooden poles whereon their salmon swings a-drying in the wind. One feels that if anyone knows the secrets of the great Ranges, the towering peaks, the vast stretches between the Pacific and that faraway Northern mysterious Arctic, it is that man, a ragged- spot-of-brown above the swift cascade; too steep for all navigators except the salmon, madly daring every obstacle in efforts to reach the very highest pools where her spawn will be safe. A well of tradition is stored up in that old squaw's head down there by the calmer waters, cooking the evening meal where the spiral of blue smoke trails upward.

These folk know the Nature-book of these parts by heart. For long centuries there trails in these old hearts and minds a survival of the fittest in picture. And that is all there is in history and Tradition ... a series of pictures, a few outstanding facts and figures. Time in the aggregate is like that. As a Figure, the Indian is a Synopsis.

The land embraced by British Columbia is elemental—big. Every form of it, rivers, peaks, lakes and valley, is grand in the sense of bigness. It is a land of big trees, big mines, big ranches, big outlook. And the big outlook not only glances Eastward across a Continent, but wings its way outward across the Pacific with its ships touching the shores of Asia and Australia.

The co-relation of interests between those most widely separated of Canadian Provinces, British Columbia and Nova Scotia, has been strikingly increased by the prominence acquired by the Pacific since 1914. Canada has now a Pacific Maritime Province as well as the Atlantic group which for so long has held exclusive rights to the term. But the craft of the Pacific coast are laid down on different lines from those of the East. Nova Scotia started with sails and she still stands by the halyards of Banker and Coaster. Vancouver came into the race at a later date. Steam, now oil-burners, and the Panama Canal, have opened her way to European as well as Oriental ports. Truly the Canadian Trader is a big ship!

But British Columbia has its little 'longshore boats too. And the Westerner, with Cowboy breeziness, looks upon these half- indulgently and dubs them the "mosquito fleet". In this lesser fleet are found the halibut-fisherman and the whaler, cruising, the one, many hundred miles out in the Pacific; and the other off the Queen Charlotte Islands or along the Alaskan shore, in fact anywhere a skipper deems he can raise the cry of "Thar she blows" from the lookout. A whaler out of the Pacific ports is a steamer with mechanical devices and bombs for killing and inflating the whale at once, so that the carcase floats and can be brought in to market. Her counterpart in Newfoundland and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence is the sturdy old "sealer"; but what a difference in model! The Sealer is old. But with her staunch, wooden timbers and planks and roomy deck, with a "crow's-nest" for the lookout, her ocean-wisdom for seals, is every bit as keen, as the Westerner's for oil.

In British Columbia great stress is laid on the proper "smoking" of fish and delicious indeed is the flavour attained by the Western process. A range of characteristic atmosphere follows in the long trail of "smoked" salmon and herring. Scotch lassies have come out from fishing-towns of Old Scotland to give the proper "Scotch Cure" to the Pacific bloater in the curing houses at Vancouver. It is a far cry from these girls, and the big plant, with its chill-rooms for freezing the halibut, the latter with its own private car to Boston, to the old Indian woman, who has her little "smokehouse" on the shingle at Alert Bay and trusses up her salmon on splints in the shadow of the wet piles of some old boat-landing.

These are sea-pictures and pictures of 'longshore life. British Columbia in its valleys is a land of farms. It raises its own famous apples around its lakes, as Nova Scotia brings Bellefleurs and other beauties to perfection, round the Bay of Fundy. Okanagan, Arrowhead, Kootenay, all have their ranches with their acres of meadow, bench-lands and climbing fields. And here, on these Ranches beside the Lake, backed by mountains from whose peaks the snow never melts, are perched the homes of the ranchers.

Each of these homes presents its own epic, each family tracing it to the chosen spot from somewhere in Eastern Canada—Nova Scotia, Quebec or Ontario—or coming here to this Alpine region of the Dominion from somewhere over-seas, the British Islands, France, and indeed, all other countries of Old Europe, even reaching a finger into Asia at India and Japan. Truly the human-interest element of British Columbia is as big as its outlook.

Each little homestead and ranch stands for a family uprooted from old associations, whether Eastern Canadian, British or Foreign, transplanted here to the West, on the edge of things: but now—within the past ten years—coming to a consciousness of itself as no longer on the edge of wilderness and remoteness, separated from its fellows of the East by the great barrier of the Mountains, but a part of the beautiful curve of the World-circumference of the British Empire. Each little log-cabin in its forest or surroundings of stump-land (and the big trees of British Columbia make an endless number of big stumps) is a stake in the land. Practically it represents the bombardment of the black and unfriendly wilderness with a home and a family—the best ammunition in the world for the pioneer.

There is a long list of miniature cities and little towns, with a hotel, a bank, a couple of grocery shops, a butcher, a drug-store with week-old newspapers from Winnipeg or Calgary, yesterday's Vancouver Sheets and the Newspaper from the nearest Over-the- Border large city; all these business places with large single-pane show-windows, in utter contrast to the little old-fashioned shop-windows of the small towns and villages of rural Quebec. The arrival and departure of trains once or twice a day is a thing as personal as the letter which comes into the hand of the butcher, the banker, the druggist, from that same adventuring train that kicks the level dust of the Prairie miles behind it, with the ease of a thoroughbred, and climbs the gorges, the canyons and the steeps of the passes, and enters the black mysteries of the long tunnels as nonchalantly as a cowboy, hand on hip, sits astride his pony.

These little towns may be rather dull, with a society only partly stirred into life by an occasional Movie, but there is always more than appears on the surface, since, behind them somewhere out there in the miles, threaded up sometimes by mere trails, are the little homes of the ranchers converting the soil to agriculture, "making land"—a curious phrase—where every ranch is a stage of dramatic action, and every little simple act of everyday life takes on heroic proportions from the very closeness of success or disaster constantly stalking the adventure on which the rancher has staked his all.

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