In Europe, when the sixtieth degree of north latitude is reached, we have only come to the southern border of several prosperous and extensive nations, and to the south border of a large number of extensive provinces in still another country. Stockholm, Copenhagen, Helsingfors and St. Petersburg, the capitals of four different nationalities, are situated on, or very near, the sixtieth degree of north latitude, while north of this point are hundreds of towns and cities, and from eight to ten millions of highly civilized people.
It is generally admitted that the summer climate of the Mackenzie Basin is superior to the summer climate of any other region in the same latitude, while the winter climate does not greatly differ from similar latitudes in the old land. This being the case, it is only reasonable to suppose that, acre for acre, this part of the Canadian north can support as many people as any other country similarly located. At the present time this portion of Canada, east of the Rocky Mountains, except for a few missionaries and fur traders, is absolutely without white population. In view of the conditions which prevail in Northern Europe, it is to be expected that as the Canadian west fills up, the trend of human life will be constantly toward the north, until it reaches in permanent settlement the Arctic Ocean, at the mouth of the Mackenzie River.
Our first section or territory of this more distant northland is that bordering on Great Slave Lake, for which reason we call it Slavonia. This great territory we will consider as stretching from the north shore of Lake Athabasca to the south shore of Great Bear Lake, having its western boundary near Fort Providence, on the Mackenzie River. As thus bounded it would contain, probably, about 180,000 square miles, an area not much inferior in size to the republic of France.
This immense region is heavily timbered with evergreen and deciduous trees. Even at the eastern extremity of Great Slave Lake, heavy pine is reported to exist. The minerals of the region are also of much promise; copper and iron ore are said to exist in large quantities in different parts of this territory, besides other important mineral deposits. A high authority gives the following description:
” There is copper, and one river bears the name of Copper Mine River. It is found there in great quantities. I have seen little crosses of it made by the savages themselves when they were not able to have other metal. Sulphur abounds in several places. I have seen it on the Clear Water River, and above all, on the Great Slave Lake. It is there in such large quantities that the odor is annoying to those who pass by. Near Fort Smith there is a salt mine which is probably the most beautiful and most abundant in the universe. There is there a veritable mountain of salt. By digging a little in the earth, from six inches to a foot, rock salt can be found. In addition to that there are salt springs, where, during the winter, salt runs from these springs and forms little hills of salt. You have only to shovel and you can gather a fine salt, pure and clean. On the borders of the Peace River stones are found which are sufficiently precious to make rings of them. I have seen gypsum along the Mackenzie river, and a little below Fort Norman.” It is said that petroleum fields occur in this northern country greater than any now known to man.
The fisheries of the country are, perhaps, hardly inferior to any source of natural wealth in this region. The various lakes and rivers give it a large water area, and consequently extensive fishing grounds. Great Slave Lake is in itself an inland sea, said to rival in size Lake Superior, while Great Bear and Athabasca are also touched by this territory. All of these great inland seas abound in the finest varieties of fresh water fish. Dr. Dawson states that the Hudson’s Bay Company took at their station at Great Slave Lake in the season of 1883, seventy-five thou-sand white fish, giving two hundred thousand pounds of food. Besides the white fish, the other principal varieties are blue fish, carp, speckled salmon, arctic trout (some weighing fifteen pounds), salmon, dog salmon, pickerel, pike, perch, goldeyes, and the celebrated inconner. This latter is a fish little under-stood, not being found in southern waters. It has some peculiar characteristics, is of great economic value, and about the size of a small salmon. Another strange fish is the oolachan or candle fish. This fish is rich in a palatable oil, and when dried, it is said, will burn like a candle, hence its name. This may give some idea of the value of the fisheries of these great northern lakes. Their importance must become more and more evident as access to the country becomes more easy.
The agricultural possibilties of this territory up to the present time have not been thought to be very great; ignorance and prejudice, however, in this respect, are beginning to give way before the force of well established facts. Much of the land is of excellent quality, and the only question to decide the practicability of agriculture in these regions is that of the climatic conditions which prevail there. This question, however, has been pretty fully settled by experiments, which are quite in keeping with the trend of the continental isotherns. These indicate a summer temperature similar to that of parts of Ontario; and observation has shown that the deciduous trees north of the Great Slave Lake are in full leaf quite as early as the same varieties are in Winnipeg, St. Paul or Ottawa. Where wheat is success-fully grown, it is not necessary to demonstrate the growth of the other grains and roots. This important or delicate cereal has been, and is, successfully grown in the Mackenzie Basin, north of the Great Slave Lake.
Ninety-one days after sowing, what was termed a very fine wheat crop was harvested (1900) at Fort Providence. All the products of a Canadian farm can be successsfully grown in that country, and it would seem that the agricultural population in time might be expected to be very numerous.
Great Slave Lake being the chief physical feature of this extensive territory, it may here be briefly described. This great fresh water sea is over three hundred miles in length, and in places over fifty miles in breadth. It has many deep arms and bays, and in parts is studded by numerous islands, varying in size. It ranks among the great fresh water lakes of the world, and is the largest body of fresh water wholly lying within the Dominion. Its shores are varied in character, sometimes high and rocky, and in other places low, skirted with marshy and sandy beaches. Its scenic beauties are regarded in places as being very fine. A recent visitor says, concerning the east end: ” This is by far the prettiest part of the country I saw in the north; scattered timber, spruce and birch, clothed the sloping banks down to the shores of the lake, berries of many kinds grew in profusion, and caribou were walking the ridge and swimming in the lakes in every direction; a perfect northern fairyland it was, and it was hard to believe that winter and want could penetrate here.”
Surely nature’s Architect has not located the beauties of nature here with so prodigal a hand for naught. Surely in time the forts of the Hudson’s Bay Company here must develop into towns and cities, as they have in the Red River, and in the plains in the south. So far as Canada is concerned, Northward ” The Star of Empire” must take its way.