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Making Good in Canada
Chapter IV - Cutting Trails and Building Roads through the Bush

The frontiersman on his journey of discovery through the wilderness of virgin forest, makes his way as best as he can. He has no compass ; very often lie has not even a watch to serve as a makeshift to enable him to pick up his bearings. The heavens constitute his sole guide. Axe or jack-knife in hand, he blazes his way as he goes, so that if a retreat is compulsory by the appearance of some difficult obstacle, he can retrace his footsteps fairly easily and quickly. Otherwise his tracks are w<)lnigh indiscernible. He crashes through the bush blindly, shielding his face from the whipping leashes of branches with his armed hand, and the undergrowth closes up behind him as waves engulf a wreck. To attempt to follow in his tracks is wellnigh hopeless, as 1 have found from bitter experience. The blazes on the trees at places are as thick as leaves in Summer, and they appear to lead off to all points of the compass. You follow one blazing laboriously, only to find that it is a blind lead to the brink of a ravine. You retrace your footsteps, and, picking up another blazing, trudge off in the opposite direction. That comes to a full stop beside the wicked, impassable rapids of a skeltiring river. Back once more to make a third attempt with the same fruitless results. You may have boxed half the compass before you succeed in picking up the only trail leading out of the difficulty, at the end of which time many miles have been covered laboriously. Yet you have only wandered faithfully in the footsteps of the frontiersman. He made every one of these abortive journeys, with infinitely more difficulty than you following in his wake, in search for a passage, and naturally blazed his way every time from the central point.

Should that trail become generally used subsequently, the man following it is saved fruitless expeditions. The blind trails are blocked up by throwing trees across them, or by forming a rude barricade of brush, while the true path is blazed more prominently than ever. In course of time, the trail becomes easier to read, as the signs on the trees are seconded by the churned-up ground.

Yet the time that can be lost over blind leads is amazing. Time after time, in making slow progress through the forest, I have been lured away from the true path by a promising side trail, and have only found out the mistake when several miles have been covered to no purpose. The difficulty of picking up a trail becomes somewhat intense when it leads down to the edge of a wide, shallow stream. The bushes on the opposite bank press so closely together, and kiss the water so unbrokenly as to reveal no sign of where the track re-emerges from the creek. Should a path be seen to lead along the bank, it is naturally taken only to come to an abrupt termination. On one occasion no less than six hours were spent in trying to follow a will-o’-the-wisp trail through a swamp. A trail ran through the morass, and we followed it to find ourselves wandering round in circles, and cutting other geometrical designs in 3 feet of stagnant water and towering sugar-cane grass.

When the country beyond has opened up, and tho speculators and settlers are surging resistlessly towards the new magnet, a way must be carved through the silent dark forest to facilitate their forward movement. First, it is merely a trail, a narrow pathway cleared of trees, and with the brush cut back, just wide enough to permit laden pack-horses to walk in Indian fils. So far as the surface of the ground is concerned, the beasts must boat it down with their own feet. When the trail lies over high ground, the going is generally easy, but when it swings down into depressions and dabs in which the water drains, then the feet of the creatures generally succeed in churning the mass into quagmires and mud-holes, in which it is not a difficult matter to sink up to the waist in the stickiest slime found outside a liquid glue factory.

Cutting the trail is the first task in the opening-up of a new territory. In the early days, when the Hudson Bay Trading Company became established in the country, they drove their own trails from post to post, and these have since proved invaluable highways through territory in which the company carries out its operations. But for every mile which this company has driven through the wilderness, twenty miles of new trails have had to be cut, and this, when there are no Indian tracks to assist in the enterprise, is heart - rending work. The cutting gang generally comprises devil-may-care young fellows, or sourdoughs willing to earn from 8s. to 20s. or more a day, according to the situation ox the country to be traversed. They sally out with a small pack-train laden with provisions, tents, and other necessaries. Their tools comprise for the most part axes, large jack-knives, with edges as keen as razors, and coils of rope. As they advance somewhat quickly through the country, they are lightly equipped to facilitate progress, provisions being sent in periodically, and cached at frequent intervals, from which immediate supplies are drawn as required.

It seems a simple calling where there is no demand for any particular skill. This may be the case, but, on the other hand, the work is hard, the life is exceedingly rough, and there is always the risk of accident. The majority of men who have taken one ium at trail-cutting generally make a vow to avoid it in future, as the loneliness of the forest, the monotony of the daily round, and the silence that can be felt, knocks all the sense out of the tenderfoot. On the other hand, there are many individuals who prefer this type of labour. It is out of doors, healthy, and full of excitement, especially when the bush is well - filled with game and there is the likelihood of meeting some spirited encounters with bears. As a means of drilling the raw material into the ways of the wilds, it would be difficult to excel. The tenderfoot is brought up against it at every turn, and the difficulties, piling up on one another with startling frequency, bring out the man’s temperament to an acute degree. It gives him such a taste of the bush as to make or mar his future in the West. If he goes under, he returns to the city with his air-castles of romance and glory shattered like glass.

In British Columbia the majority of the roads have been built from a gold rush. When the wonderful news of rich strikes in the Cariboo country filtered through in the ’sixties of the last century, gold-seekers, human vultures, gamblers, and speculators pushed northwards. The prospect confronting them was even worse than that in the Klondyke half a century later. There were no railways in the e our try. The fever-stricken pushed their wav up the Fraser River frc m Vancouver as far as Hop3 or Yale, and there had to leave the waterway as the endless string of canyons loomed directly ahead. From that point they had to proceed as best they could, and how many went, under in the ordeal no one knows. They had to wind along the brinks of the terrible, deep cracks in the mountains, through which the river thunders, climbing up and down steep cliffs hand over hand, in the manner ox the Indians, many slipping and breaking their necks in the process. At last the Government came to the rescue. A waggon road was built from Hope into the heart of the Cariboo country. It was a gigantic undertaking, stretching for several hundred miles. The grades were terrific, and at places the pathway way hewn out of the face of the cliff a thousand feet above the foaming waters below. A slip over the edge, and there was a straight headlong dive into the river. As one rolls through those gorges in the cars of the Canadian Pacific Railway, one may catch glimpses of this pioneer road perched on the' sky-line above.

In a way this road was useless expenditure, for shortly after it was completed, the gold strike petered out, and the Cariboo became little more than a memory. During the past few years, however, its last lap of 150 miles extending northwards from Ashcroft on the Canadian Pacific Railway, has resumed a touch of its former activity and bustle. The stage - coach, motor-car, pack-horses, and freight waggons, jostle and hustle one another on its surface from morning to night, because the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway is being built through the heart of the country to the north, where the wonderful agricultural riches of New British Columbia have been revealed. Farmers, speculators, traders, and a host of other pioneering spirits are burging forward to be in on the ground floor, disputing the passage along the highway with the lumbering waggons taking in provisions and necessities not only for the new railway, but also for the numerous communities rising up like mushrooms throughout the length and breadth of this wonderful mountain-locked, fertile plateau.

When Skookum Jim, the Siwash, and his colleague, Dawson Charley, discovered the glorious Klondyke, and the wealth of their discovery hypnotized the whole world, causing hundreds of gold-eeekers from every country between the two Poles to hurry to Skaguay, to reach the Bonanza, where gold was to be picked merely for the stooping, as they thought in their mad delirium, the thousands of early arrivals trailed over the Chilkoot Pass. The ranks were so dense that the gold-seekers became a vibrating, heaving mass of humanity standing out black, like an ugly gash, against the white background of snow, packed so closely together as to tread almost upon one another’s heels, and moving forward with mechanical precision and slow, rhythmic speed. The trail was so narrow that two men could not walk abreast, and if one dropped cut from exhaustion, those around him could not pause to render aid, as they were pressed forward relentlessly from behind. The speed of movement was governed by the pace of the leading seekers. If they spurted forward, the whole line quickened its pace ; if they lagged from fatigue, there was an accompanying diminution in speed behind. The fresh spirits at the tail, fuming at the slow pace, and anxious to press forward, had to curb their impetuosity. To venture from the confines of the footprints -winding up over the Lump was to court disaster ; to leave another batch of bones to bleach in the following summer’s sun.

The law of the Klondyke trail was harsh, but it is a country where kid glove methods were impossible, especially in those days. Horses were prossed freely into service, being purchased at prohibitive figures at Skaguay, and were always laden to well above the “Plimsoll” mark of the trail. The animal surged forward. They could not pause for a breather on the steepest slopes, but had to keep going somehow. When a beast dropped down from sheer exhaustion, it had to be got on its feet at once, or it was lost. The line behind pulled up if it could, and the man was given just enough time to slip the packs from his horse and no more. If he fumbled on the task or took too long, he was swept cut of the way, and the procession moved on. The chances were a thousand to one that the man who had fallen never reached the Klondyke. The gold-seekers passed him without a thought of pity, deaf to his entreaties, and blind to his struggles. Sympathy was wasted. Those who pushed on while he writhed in the agonies of death never know whether their turn might not come next. At one point, where the trail was particularly wicked, and where the horses fell down by the score, it wound round the edge of a fearful ravine. It became s>o littered with the bones and corpses of the fallen animals, that the spot received the lugubrious nickname of “Dead Horse Gulch,” by which it is known to this day, and serves to recall the memories, the excitement, the castles in the air, and the blasted hopes and miseries of the Yukon fifteen years ago.

When the rush was at its height, CaptainMcore, an old pioneer who had navigated the waters of the Stickine for more years than he could remember, sought for another entrance to the goldfields from the coast. He knew that the Indians were following an easier route, and questioned them closely, but they were astute. They were making money at the expense of the gold-seekers. They were packing goods and supplies into the Klondyke on their backs for the miners. With their loads they scurried out of Skaguay, and were not seen again until they arrived at the Golden City. Where they traversed the mountains no one knew, and the white men were not sufficiently daring to attempt to track them, as the Indian reads the forest like a book, and never gets lost, while the white man was liable to get stranded, and to be played out before he had gone two score miles. Captain Moore knew the Chilkoot Pass through and through, having traversed the country long before gold was discovered, but he was bent on discovering the red men’s secret, as he was convinced that it was better than the Chilkoot Pass. The red men hesitated to betray their path, because they feared that the white man would come along with his pack-trains, and put them out of business.

Not to be discouraged, Captain Moore started oxE, and trailed over the mountains, following in the tracks of the Indians, which he picked up quite easily, and the White Pass route was found. Then he sailed south to Victoria, and unfolded his plans to a Development Company. This organization lost no time in profiting by the discovery. Men were enrolled, and with pack-horses bearing provisions and tools, they hacked a way from Skaguay to Lake Bennett. The trail-cutters made money out of the transaction, as wages ruled high, some of the boys netting a comfortable 16s. per day, with everything found, during the short Northern summer. It was a trail in the fullest sense of the word, being a mere clearing about 2 feet wide, through the bush, with corduroys, or log bridges, over the mud-holes, and stones thrown into the beds of creeks or rivulets through which the pack-trains splashed their upward way.

Directly this trail was opened a rush set in. The fact that the White Pass was easier than the fearful Chilkoot, with its blood-freezing winds, was noised far and wide. The volume of traffic was tremendous, and, as may be supposed, owing to the trail having been cut very rapidly, it broke down. Horses floundered in the morass, breaking limbs and irrevocably damaging packs men slipped down steep slopes to pull up with broken necks at the bottom of rifts; and the contents of packages were scattered in all directions against tree stumps and boulders. The trail became a churned-up mass of mud, stones, and falls of de ad wood, and man] pack-trains were held up for hours while the process of fixing was carried out, to enable the animals to go forward. Yet, despite these drawbacks, over 3,00(' miners wrestled with the difficulties during the first season the trail was open, in their mad haste to gain the coloured creeks and waters of the Yukon. The Chilkoot Pass slipped from favour, and only the most daring ventured to scale its summit. And to-day even the White Pass trail is only a haunting memory. The iron horse has entered the country under British enterprise. and carries the miners and their belongings to and fro quickly and in comfort.

Although the building of the railway wiped out the hazardous track over the mountains, it comes to a dead stop at White Horse, and from this point there extends a “road” to Dawson City, over -which the Royal Mail is carried during the winter to the isolated city on Parallel 64°. It is a busy highway, too, for the traffic has increased so much that the dog-sleds which formerly sufficed to carry the letters to and fro, are now replaced by horse-drawn vehicles.

Yet it is a wicked road. It exists for the most part in imagination. For sixty-five miles it extends over an upper layer of moss and decayed vegetation resting on subterranean springs and lagoons. It is as soft as a halfcooled jelly, and everything sinks as easily into it as if it were quicksand. It can onlj be used by the mail for a few months in the year, when the boggy mass is frozen as hard as a rook to a depth of several feet, and there is a good layer of snow on top to form an excellent surface for the sleighs. The grades are back-breaking, and the devastation wrought by wash-outs has caused the road to be built several times over. It coat the Canadian Government a solid £5,000 to run those sixty-five miles, if just merely clearing away the brush over a certain width, easing banks, and corduroying the worst patches may be termed building a road, and the men engaged in the task had one ox the stiffest fights against Nature that has ever been accomplished.

But probably the worst trail ever carried out in the annals of Canadian history was that from Edmonton overland to the Klondyke. It involved one of the hardest journeys on record, tracing a way through unknown country for hundreds of miles. Private initiative shrank from the perils; men willing to risk their lives and limbs in cleaving a 2-foot way for the passage of gold-fever stricken fools were not to bo found at any wage. So the task fell upon the North-West Mounted Police. This famous corps has achieved many brilliant exploits, but the cutting of the Klondyke trail stands out pro-eminent. One of my companions on the trail had assisted in that undertaking, and had vowed that never more would he be seen swinging an axe to cut a way through the virgin forest for any pack-train on this earth. It was a nightmare from start to finish, and the only wonder is that the task was ever completed. When the police set out, it was hoped that they would be assisted by the Indians, but the country traversed proved to be as void of human life as the ice fields around the poles. The monotony and silence nearly drove the trail-cutters mad. Only at very rare intervals did they see a face outside the members of their own party—when the pack-train came up with provisions. Accidents were numerous, but they had to patch up the sufferers as best they could, aa there was not a doctor within 2,000 miles. On one occasion, while one of the party was swinging his axe to bring down a spruce, his numbed fingers played him false. The razor-edge missed the track and pulled up short and sharp against his foot, cutting through the leather boot as if it were paper. His limb was cut wellnigh in half. His comrades picked him up, and with the cleanest pieces of rag they could find dust-laden lining tom from their clothes—they bound up the wound, and staunched the flow of blood. The sufferer grew worse, the loss of blood precipitating what promised to be a fatal illness. Ha was in need of delicate foods, but they had nothing but the rough trail fare to offer him, comprised for the most part of pork and beans. They dreaded blood poisoning, but were spared this scourge fortunately, as they persistently washed the wound with pure hot and cold water.

The patient’s steel constitution, tempered by the blasts of winter, and the open air, and hard life, pulled him round. In the course of a few weeks, he was about and once be felt his feet he mended rapidly, so that it was not long before be was once more wielding his axe with his companions.

It is not surprising, under these circumstances, that men are difficult to obtain for cutting trails. The wages are high---anything from 8s. to 20s. per day may be earned, with food—but silent Nature very soon bludgeons the trail-cutter back to civilization. Some men seem born to this work, but backing brash from misty morn to dusky twilight in a very short time plays havoc with a man.

As the new country is opened up, the traffic becomes too heavy for the pack-train. The 2-foot pathway must be widened cut to admit of the passage of wheeled vehicles. The road-builder then appears upon the scene. At the present moment the driving cf frontier roadways is very active. Both the Dominion, the Provincial, and the British Columbia Governments are laying out considerable rum? in this direction. The general practice is to build the road by direct labour, but now and again private enterprise is entrusted with the task. The scale of payment varies according to the country in which the work is being carried out, and the characteristics of the employer.

The pioneer or frontier road differs very considerably from that to which the city dweller is accustomed. In comparison it is not a road at all, but merely a swathe through the forest. The standard width is 60 feet, and the first operation is the clearing of the brush and the levelling of the trees within the confines of this band. The scrub is levelled to within a few inches of the ground. The undergrowth and tree stumps cannot break out into fresh growth as the parsing traffic kicks the life out of them. When the swathe has been driven from point to point, the grading commences. The tree stumps are pulled out in much the same perfunctory manner as a dentist removes offending molars, banks have the humps scraped off by machines hauled by horses so as to reduce the gradients to facilitate the passage of waggons, while creeks and rivers arc bridged or equipped with current ferries. The backwoods bridge is a crude, cheap structure, though extremely serviceable. Long strong logs are laid athwart the waterway, be that the ends rest on either bank. Upon this foundation other logs, sawn to the right length, are laid crosswise and close; together. Then two other long logs are laid on either side parallel to the foundation, and immediately above, with the ends of the cross piece between. The whole fabric is clinched together by long, wooden, wedge-like pegs, placed at frequent intervals. The read surface is formed by the rounded sides of the logs, which, under the passing traffic, become smoothed off level as if given a Hat surface by an adze or plane.

Every spring these bridges have to be overhauled. The creeks, swollen by melting snows, rise, and either lift the structure off its foundations or else break it up more or less, while the logs themselves, forming the deck, suffer from the ravages of wear and weather. Then the roadway has to he renewed at the end of winter, ad it becomes obstructed by the tall 1hick trees, which have been brought to earth by the wind. Every spring a gang has to go out to fix the primitive highway. As for its surface, this is as Nature left it—the day when the steam-roller and macadam will be required is very remote. The passing wheels of vehicles ram down the ground on either side, and in time carve out deep ruts, so that no difficulty is ever experienced in keeping to the right-of-way, though trouble may be experienced in trying to turn suddenly at right angles. The muskeg is overcome by means of “corduroying’’—that is, fashioning a structure similar to that of the log bridge, and laying it upon the surface of the bog.

In Now Ontario where the new transcontinental line crosses a 200-mile spur running up from the south, gold was discovered at Porcupine. Instantly the inevitable rush set in. When I was there shortly after the strike, the countryside was littered with goods waiting to go in, but impossible to transport because the trail was so difficult. The Ontario Government came to the rescue, and pouring gangs of men up-country, the forest soon resounded with the savage strokes of the axe, as brawn and muscle cleared the 60 foot wide swathe through the trees for the worst nine miles.

In the West the authorities, realizing the significance of the boom of the Peace River country, have widened out and improved the old execrable trail to a highway, along which a motor-car can rumble so long as it carries rope and tackle, to haul itself dear of mud-holes, and is fitted with powerful springs capable of withstanding a mechanical hopping, skipping, and jumping. In New British Columbia roads are being driven in all directions, this Government having embarked upon a very frightened and broadminded road-building policy. The most important highway is the 420-mile track running through the length of the country northwards of the Cariboo Road. When we swung off the rock-strewn trail and hit this primitive thoroughfare, we blessed the Government. The pace of the pack-train quickened from two to nearly three and a half miles per hour. Numerous laterals are being built on either bide, tapping promising points, so that the settlers, when they surge in during the next two years, will find excellent vehicular canals striking through the bush.

The men mot on these frontier road-building operations are of a peculiar type. Many have tried their hands at nearly every occupation, and have struck bad luck at one and all. They could get a better job down in the cities, but they resent the confinement. Some will tell you harrowing stories cf the trail in the search for gold, and what an illusion the quest is when the fields are reached. Others have been out prospecting without spiking a sign of anything but black sand, which never gave a reflection of colours; or have been trapping, but the animals could always scent their traps a mile away, and accordingly gave them a wide berth. Some have put their hands to farming, but their crops would not grow; or at fruit-raising, but the trees appeared to be disgusted with the land in which they were being reared-and died. Some of the younger fraternity are out to get their first experience of the wilds.

The men roll out of their tents about seven in the morning, swallow a good hearty breakfast, and then are on the road hacking down trees, pulling out stumps, or grading until about six in the evening, with an hour’s break for the midday meal. Supper over, the time is frittered away according to individual inclination, a good many sitting round the camp fire swapping stories of ill luck, between puffs of tobacco, and enlightening the younger members on the caprices of Fortune.

The pay averages about 11s. per day in the Government employ up-country. The men have to board themselves, although the services of a cook are supplied at the Government’s expense, inasmuch as no frontier working camp can be kept going without an expert master of the canvas kitchen and the wood-burning range. The men, as a rub, depute the cook to the additional honorary office of housekeeper, one and all subscribing an equal amount per day for their upkeep. The Government supply the goods required at cost price, but when the men are working in a remote territory suffering from lack of transportation facilities, the freightage charges are liable to enhance the prices by 50 or more per cent. Still, striking the average, about 2s. per day per head (to which fund the cook also contributes) generally suffice to meat the requirements of the table, giving a varied and plentiful menu. The men themselves in their spare time arc able to contribute to the fare by means of fish, far, and feather from the woods and streams, at the same time gaining excellent sport. Taken on the whole, employment among the road builders in the frontier districts can be relied upon to bring in a steady 8s. a day; and as there is no social position to maintain, incidental expenditure being confined to the purchase of little luxuries such as tobacco, a single season’s employment should bring in about £80.

On the Government contracts the cost of building the first road averages from £70 to £80 per mile, this expenditure being represented almost entirely by labour. Now and again the cost will be inflated by the necessary erection of a somewhat pretentious bridge—in timber— over a river, or the installation of a ferry, but this is abnormal expenditure. In the first instance the Government sometimes prefers to permit private enterprise to carry out the bridge, subsequently settling the bill with those who participated in the scheme, such as, perhaps, a band of farmers, or settlers, who have co-operated together in the project to meet general convenience.

At times the construction of a new road is carried out by contract, and then the private individual striv3s to make the most out of the undertaking. Some of these contractors attempt to cut the scale of wages hoping to enrol Norwegians, Russians, and other foreigners who are not familiar with the conditions of the country, or will even endeavour to press the Chinaman into service. But at times these carefully-laid schemes are sent to the four winds.

There was one contractor in the West -who, having had his tender accepted, thought he saw himself well established on the road towards being a millionaire. He figured it up very carefully, and the paper results were highly gratifying—to himself. He came to the conclusion that 6s. a day would be ample for labour, notwithstanding the fact that the ruling scale in his vicinity was 10s. per diem for the lowest grades of unskilled labour.

He started work, and the labourers appeared on the scene thinking the general wage was certain to be paid. When they learned the actual scale a riot almost broke out. The contractor dared them to do their worst, and he collected some hard-up emigrants searching for work in a neighbouring town. When they appeared on the job, the dissatisfied workmen rounded up the new arrivals, explained the situation, and wooed them away. The contractor was furious. This was a contretemps ho had not anticipated. He scorned farther afield, and brought in another large gang of foreigners, even paying their railway fares. They were intercepted in the same way, and throw down their tools. The original workmen hung about the contractor’s place and jeered him “to get a move on” with his job. Thoroughly infuriated, the latter resolved to employ Chinese labour, and that acted as the red rag to the bull. Directly the yellow-men, who aro notorious in undercutting white labour, arrived, there was one long howl. The contractor laughed and jelled out that he had got the best of the bargain. But the white men were not going to bo overridden so easily. Each returned to his shack, routed out his shotgun. revolver, or what other firearm he could command, and returned to the scene. Things looked ominous, but there was no intention to promote bloodshed. Ono of the workmen, a tall, athletic English fellow, was deputed to explain to the Chinamen that they had belter clear out as soon as they could, or else his pards would be compelled to indulge in the gentle sport of “chink-chasing.” The Chinamen took the hint and threw down their tools.

At last the contractor saw that he would have to cut his paper profits down so he gave in; he would pay 10s. a day. But the English spokesman shook his head: “No. you son of a gun! You’ve held us up trying to sweat prices. Now we’re going to hold you up. Not a move is made on that jot until you agree to pay sixteen shillings a day. You see, we’ve lost time in hanging out, and we’ve got to make geed our losses.”

The contractor stormed, threatened, and cursed. He pointed cut that he would lose over the job on that scale of pay, but his remonstrances were of no avail. “Sixteen shillings or nothing,” was the ultimatum. He held out for a few hours, and then reluctantly agreed. Instantly the dirt began to fly. “We didn’t see much of the boss on that job,” the young Englishman chuckled. “I guess he put in most of his time figuring how he would come out of it when we had finished ”

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