This is, for the most part, a higher and more broken country, yet not so much so as those sections bordering on Lake Superior. It contains within its borders the source of many of the streams and rivers which flow both into the Hudson Bay and Lake Winnipeg, and is, therefore, on the height of land between these two basins. Indeed, it may be regarded as an extensive, though not elevated, plateau, excepting in the extreme north. Perhaps no part of the Dominion is so well watered with lakes and rivers as this. Many of the lakes are of great beauty, and some are of considerable size. The most notable are God’s Lake, Island Lake and Trout Lake, in its central portion ; while Lac Seul and Lake St. Joseph are large sheets of water on its southern border.
Though the country on its extreme north and south has for over two hundred years been the highway for the Hudson’s Bay Company’s trade, yet so far as permanent settlement is concerned, absolutely no progress has been made. Possibly its population may be less, either white or Indian, than it has been in years past. This settled condition of neglect seems to have confirmed the opinion that the country is worthless as a home for white men. In many respects nothing could be more misleading.
Though the winters are severe, they are not more so than in many settled portions of the NorthWest, while it has the advantage of the shelter afforded all forested countries. The seasons, though, perhaps, a little shorter than those of the prairie regions to the westward, are equally. delightful and warm beyond belief, making agriculture quite within the range of possibility. Since we have regarded the principle of agriculture as the true basis of any country’s fitness for permanent white settlement, we will consider Keewatin from this standpoint, and in reaching our conclusions we will not depend alone upon the latitude in which the country is situated, or its relation to the continental isotherms, but will hear the statements made from actual experience and reports of Government inquiry, It will be seen, however, that its latitude, both north and south, is almost identical with that of Germany, while the isotherms, so far as summer temperature is concerned, indicate a similar climate. It is also largely within the northern wheat belt. These facts in themselves should indicate its right to be regarded as an agricultural territory.
Actual experiment is, however, always better than theory, and we will extend our observations with this in view, first, along the southern border. Mr. Thomas Fawcett, D.L.S., made a survey of this region in the year 1885, and some extracts from his report will be given. Ascending the English River on the southwest extremity, he notes the soil and vegetation, and remarks that ” wild pea vines were growing six feet high on some of the portages.” He further says : ” Good land suitable for farming purposes could be obtained, and I believe all kinds of grain and vegetables could be grown successfully. . . . We found strawberries ripe, raspberries ripening and blackberries turning color on the 12th of July, which is not much later than these mature in many parts of Ontario. Since I left Winnipeg (18th June) there have been no indications of frost. Up to date the temperate has been uniform to a surprising degree, varying from 60 to 80 degrees F., with several showers, yet very little rain on the whole.” The timber in this region is largely composed of poplar, which, however, is described as large, tall and straight, while spruce, pine, oak and ash also occur.
On the 15th of July, of an Indian village that was visited on this river, the report says ” They had planted one hundred bushels of potatoes, which were growing well, and also some onions, carrots and turnips, all of which were attaining a good growth. I examined the land in the vicinity and found it to be a loamy clay. Along the ridge is seen some large pine, the trees having attained a growth from thirty to forty inches in diameter and being straight and free from branches. About two miles south some first-class pine of large size is seen ; good spruce is also found here scattered among the poplar timber along the shores of lakes. It is estimated that there are considerable tracts of this heavy timber in the immediate vicinity.”
At Oxford House, two hundred and fifty miles south-west of York, productions of the Hudson Bay and mission gardens have been a matter of frequent surprise. Mr. Cochrane, of the Geological staff, says of this region: ” The higher ground, where not rocky, presents usually a stiff, light-colored clay, and soil of this description, with more or less loam, is found along the valley of the Trout River. Oxford House is situated on a stiff clayey soil, which here produces barley and all kinds of vegetables in perfection. A similar character would seem to prevail with more or less uniformity over this section generally. Its adaptation to the growth of small fruits and berries is particularly noted, all varieties of which grow wild and in great abundance.”
The forest growth of this section is also indicative of favoring conditions of soil and climate. ” Balsam fir is common around the lakes, and of good size, sometimes attaining a circumference of four feet. Ground maple, mountain ash and other varieties of deciduous trees are found to grow in this apparently favored locality.”
Rev. John McDougall, the well-known missionary, bears testimony to the beauty and the possibilities of this secluded country at God’s Lake:
” While breakfast is cooking we inspect the garden and are glad to note how full of plenty it is, and though this is but the 23rd of August everything is well matured. Onions, carrots, beets, beans, peas, turnips, potatoes, all well on, the latter quite ripe and dry and mealy. What a breakfast? Fresh white fish, just out of the lake, and fine, dry, sweet potatoes, both steaming hot. We had been passing through thousands of acres of similar soil; we had experienced days and nights and weeks of similar climate; we had doubtless passed over millions of fish such as this, but had not the time nor the means to grow the potatoes or catch the fish. Here we are by the boat route fully 800 miles from Winnipeg, even by the shortest canoe route between six and seven hundred, and all this is north-east of Lake Winnipeg, far from the Great Plains, and the big Saskatchewan and Peace Rivers and Mackenzie River and Athabasca countries. Truly we as Canadians have a great mission before us, to govern and occupy this big and rich country.”
Many of the lakes of the central region of Keewatin are of great beauty, and may be said to be literally filled with fish of the very finest varieties. Of these, Island Lake is one of the largest and most beautiful, and may, therefore, claim our attention for a brief space. This beautiful sheet of water is forty-eight miles in length, with an average breadth of twelve miles. It is, like Lake Joseph in the south, literally filled with islands of varying size all through its entire extent. They number many thou-sands, some of which are of wondrous beauty, and nothing could be more charming to the eye of the pleasure-seeker in the depths of nature than the prospect which is spread out on the bosom of this lake. No doubt the day will come when thousands of passengers will thread their way through these enchanted isles in comfortable and swift gliding steamers, as they visit the various villas upon its shore.
The Rev. Dr. Taylor, Methodist missionary, who visited this region, gives the following glowing description of this Canadian paradise. He says : ” I know all the lochs of my beloved Scotland, for in many of them I have rowed and fished. I have visited all the famed lakes of Ireland, and have rowed on those in the lake counties of England ; I have sailed often on our American lakes, and have seen Tahoe in all its crystal beauty. I have rowed on the Bosphorus, and have travelled on a felucca on the Nile. I have lounged in the gondolas on the canals of Venice, and have traced Rob Roy’s course on the Sea of Galilee and on the old historic Jordan. I have seen in my wanderings in many lands places of rarest beauty, but the equal of this mine eyes have never gazed upon.”
This is high praise from high authority, but doubtless not too high, and it is impossible that a place of such rare beauty could be long hidden in this age of progress from the eyes of thousands who seek the beautiful in nature.
Fort York is situated in the northeastern section of this territory, and must, in time, attain new importance, based on a surer foundation than the limited resources, though romanatic career, that it has had in the past. It is the natural ocean port of this section and will doubtless one day assume the dignity more befitting a city than an isolated Hudson Bay post. Such seems to be the promise of the twentieth century for the development of these northern lands.