This territory, adjoining Saskatchewan on the west and extending west to the Athabasca River, though having many characteristics of the last described, has yet a personality of its own. The northern section is much smaller than the northern section of the Saskatchewan, and quite different in character. From the southern shore of Athabasca Lake southward for a considerable distance, the country is a sort of plateau, deeply covered with a sandy soil on the surface, many parts being underlaid by Cambrian rock, locally called Athabasca sandstone. It will be inferred from this that the northern section of this territory is not pre-eminently fitted for agriculture; it is, however, forested with pine and other varieties of trees. This feature, however, disappears in the west as the valley of the Athabasca River is approached, where a better agricultural region is found. The chief value of this northern section, it would seem, must be associated with its timber, though, doubtless, there are limited sections favorable to agriculture.
As Lake Athabasca lies to the north of this territory, a brief description may here be appropriate.
This magnificent sheet of water, something over 200 miles in length, is nearly 40 miles in width in the central part. About 50 miles of its eastern extremity is quite narrow, averaging about five miles in width. This lake is of considerable depth, it has an extensive coast line, and is 690 feet above the sea level. The Athabasca, and many other rivers of lesser importance, empty their waters into this lake, all of which find an outlet by way of the Slave River, while the great Peace River joins the Slave not far from the lake. On the coast pinkish sandstone cliffs, sand dunes and beaches and marshy plains with occasional islands, may be said to characterize the southern shore.
These sandstone cliffs recede from the lake and gradually increase in height and assume the form of round, sandy bluffs and hills. Towards the eastward they increase in height and are locally known as the Fish Mountains. This unaltered Athabasca sandstone formation rises to a height of 400 feet in some places above the surface of the lake. The country at the west end of the lake is much flatter and gentle in aspect, the shores in places are marshy and the water shallow, especially the mouths of the rivers. On the northern coast the country is broken and the coast line rocky, though the rocks north of the lake differ from the south, being gneissoid in character.
This northern lake has much beauty, is abundantly stocked with fish, and is a splendid feature of this northern country. Connected as it is by so many noble rivers, which make navigation possible through distant and fertile countries, important transportation and general commerce must, in time, be centralized somewhere in the vicinity of this lake, probably in some city on its shores. The rich deposits of iron are important features of this section of the country, a veritable mountain of iron being situated close to the north shore of this lake.
The central portion of this territory is much larger than the corresponding section in the territory of Saskatchewan. The basin of the Churchill is here much wider than farther east, and is supplemented on the north by the Clearwater, a tributary of the Athabasca. This may be spoken of as a wooded agricultural region. Similarly, on the south of the Churchill, the Beaver River, a tributary stream, flows through a splendid country far to the south-west. ” Its course northward was alone surveyed. Here it is a rapid stream from 100 to 200 feet wide, running between low clayey banks beautifully wooded with spruce and poplar; much of the land along its course seems well adapted to agriculture, and the vegetation gave evidence of abundant harvest.”
Many of the lakes in this system are of large size and of great beauty, while water power privileges of the greatest value everywhere abound.
The prairie section in the south of this territory is quite valuable. It was here that the mistaken and fanatical Louis Biel and his metis friends plotted to set up their republic, and as a consequence it represents the scenes where Canadian valor was displayed by her native soldiers, who fought and died for the integrity of their country. As yet the population of this territory is comparatively small, though in the near future it is likely to increase with great rapidity and is capacities for population are, comparatively speaking, unlimited.