Peace River Country Opened—Treaty No.
9—Social Condition of the Indians Concerned—Organization of Local
Improvement Districts—Excessive Rain Fall—First Serious Grain Blockade—
Visit of the Duke of Cornwall—Educational Progress—Railway Development.
The opening up of the district of
Athabasca by Indian Treaty Number Nine in the first year of Air.
Forget's administration is indicative of the continued advance of
settlement throughout the West.
It will be remembered that 1897 and
1898 were the years of the first great stampede for the Yukon. The
desirability and possibility of opening up an all-Canadian overland
route was widely discussed, and this enterprise was made the occasion of
establishing colonization roads ;n far away Athabasca. Air. James Ross
was entrusted with these important public works and upon his return he
also presented a noteworthy report in reference to the resources of the
Peace River country and its suitability for settlement. As a preliminary
to this settlement and as a preventative of friction with the Indians,
another great Treaty was vigorously advocated by Mr. Ross. In the
following year its consummation was entrusted to a commission of three,
consisting of Air. Laird, the former Lieutenant-Governor; Air. Ross and
Air. James McKenna. The work of treaty-making among the Indians of
Athabasca was very different in many respects from the task that had
been faced in dealing with the tribes of the South. The northern Indians
can scarcely be said to have any definite tribal organization. and there
were therefore no powerful chiefs to deal with as the representatives of
their tribes. The forest hunters lived in isolated small groups of
families, rarely brought into contact with other Indians or with white
men, except when marketing their furs. Each of these miniature clans of
families held in hereditary possession a well defined tract of country,
which constituted their hunting preserve, and they rarely moved beyond
its narrow limits. There were, however, in every community, some hunters
of special distinction, and Air. Ross did preparatory work of special
importance in securing the selection of some of these more prominent
Indians to act as the spokesmen of the rest in the negotiations of the
The territory ceded by Treaty Number
Nine was enormous. The boundaries were extremely irregular, but it
extended from about 105° to 130° West Longitude and from 520 North
Latitude to MacLeod Bay on Lake Chipewayan. The Indians included several
tribes of the Chipewavan Indians, as well as Crees and Iroquois.
Mr. Charles Mair, one of the Dominion
Commissioners subsequently appointed for the issue of scrip to
Halfbreeds in Athabasca, in his work entitled "Through the Mackenzie
Basin," has given a striking picture of the conditions that hitherto had
existed in these remote regions:
"It was a region," said he, "in which a
primitive people, not without faults or depravities, lived on Nature's
food and throve on her unfailing harvest of fur; a region in which they
often left their beaver, silver-fox or martin packs—the envy of
Fashion—lying by the dog trail, or hanging to some sheltering tree,
because no one stole, and each took his fellow's word without question,
because no one lied. A very simple people indeed, in whose language
profanity was unknown and who had no desire to leave congenial solitudes
for any spot on earth. Solitudes which so charmed the educated minds who
brought the white man's religion or traffic to their doors, that, like
the Lotus-eaters, they. too. felt little inclined to depart. Yet they
were not regions of sloth or idleness, but of necessary toil; of the
labourous chase and the endless activities of aboriginal life; the
region of a people familiar with its fauna and flora, of skilled but
unconscious naturalists who knew no science.
"Such was the state of society in that
remote land in its golden age, before the enterprising 'free trader'
brought with him the first fruits of the Tree of Knowledge; long before
the half-crazed gold hunters rushed upon the scene, the 'Klondikers'
from the saloons and music halls of New York and Chicago, to whom the
incredible honesty of the natives, the absence of money and the strange
barter in skins (the wyan or aghti of the Indians) seemed a
phantasmagoria, an existence utterly removed from 'real life'— that
ostentatious and vulgar world in which they longed to play a part. It
was this inroad which led to the entrance of the authority of the.
Queen— the Kitchi Okemasquay—not so much to preserve order, where,
without the law, the natives had not unwisely governed themselves, as to
prepare them for the incoming world, and to protect them from a new
aggressor with whom their rude tribunals were incompetent to deal. To
this end the Expedition of 1899 was sent by the Government to treat for
the transfer of their Territorial rights, to ascertain, as well, the
numbers and holdings of a few whites, or other settlers, who had made a
start at farming or stock-raising within its borders, and to clear the
way for the incoming tide of settlement when the time became ripe for
its extension to the North."
In his first speech from the Throne.
Air. Forget announced that the work of organizing the settled portion of
the country into "local improvement districts"—rudimentary rural
municipalities—was nearly completed, four hundred and fifty districts
being ready to commence work. Throughout his regime the social and
industrial history was one of steady progress. Immigration continued to
flow rapidly into the country, and upon the whole, agriculture, its
fundamental industry, was distinctly prosperous.
As illustrating the nature of the.
stream of immigration flowing into the Territories at this time, the
following figures, taken from the records of the Prince Albert Lands
Office for the twelve months ending October 31, 1904, are of interest.
One thousand seven hundred and twenty homestead entries were registered.
The homesteaders and their families included 1,200 Americans (of whom
many were former Canadians); 1,000 Germans from the United States; 700
Scandinavians, also from the American Republic; 500 Eastern Canadians;
300 Mennonites; 200 from the British Isles; 104 German-Russians, and 86
It is noteworthy that where serious
loss of crops occurred during this period, it was as a rule resultant
from a cause far removed from that usually responsible for such disaster
in earlier years. The country now suffered, not from drought, but from
excessive rainfall. Great floods had marked the Spring of 1897,
especially in Alberta. These caused the destruction of many bridges
along the line of the Canadian Pacific Railway, drove many settlers from
their dwellings and entailed heavy financial loss upon the country. In
the records of the Assembly and the newspapers of the day one finds
frequent reference to unprecedented rains and disastrous floods until
In 1902 a new source of vexation
presented itself, which ever since has been a serious grievance among
the farmers of the West. This, however, arose in reality from the
increased prosperity and rapid development of the country as it
consisted in a grain blockade. In 1902 it was considerably relieved by
the extensive shipment of grain to Duluth via North Portal.
This same year was marked by the visit
of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall, who were destined a few years later
to become the King and Queen of the United Kingdom.
A deplorable calamity occurred in the
Territories on April 29, 1903. This was the memorable landslide by which
the lower portion of the town of Frank was obliterated. In this sad
disaster sixty-three men, women and children lost their lives.
During the period under review the
school system of the Territories continued to show marked growth and to
attract increasing numbers of highly qualified teachers from Eastern
Canada. In a considerable number of districts in which the settlers were
Halfbreeds or newly arrived Europeans, the local interest in education
was not satisfactory, however, and in a number of cases it was found
necessary to remove the schools from the control of local trustees and
to appoint commissioners to administer them under
direct government supervision. This
involved increased expense, but was amply justified in the interests of
both parents and children. Partly as the result of the ingenious system
of school grants,—based upon regularity of attendance, the equipment,
the length of the school term and the grade of the teacher's
certificate,—a most encouraging improvement is recorded in all these
respects. In 1898 there were in the Territories four hundred and
twenty-six schools in operation, with sixteen thousand, seven hundred
and fifty-four pupils. In 1904 there were five hundred and forty-five
schools, including six hundred and thirty-three departments, and between
January ist and September 1st, when the new Provinces were inaugurated,
two hundred and thirty-one school districts were added.
An event of special importance to
western Canada was the passing of a measure by the Dominion Parliament
in 1904 providing for the building of a second transcontinental railway,
the Grand Trunk Pacific. The measure was severely criticised by the
Opposition, but it passed its third reading by a majority of forty-six.
The Canadian Northern Railway System was also rapidly developing into a
third transcontinental line, and on April 3, 1905, the first through
train on this railway left Winnipeg for the Saskatchewan Valley. The
Pasqua or Souris branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway, giving direct
communication with St. Paul, was opened for traffic on September 25,
1893, an event of great importance in the development of Southern