This great territory occupies the whole of the Mackenzie Basin traversed by that great river, and includes all north of the 60th degree of north latitude to the shores of the Arctic Ocean and west of the great Slave Lake to the Rocky Mountains. Its area would be about two hundred thousand square milesabout equal to Germany.
While this territory is richly supplied with varied resources, it is chiefly of its agricultural possibilities that we will here deal. The same causes which contribute so largely to the modifying of the climate in these high latitudes are undiminished here, and to a surprising degree the climatic conditions of the south are duplicated here in the extreme north.
No other part of the known world is so favored with the climatic conditions found here in so high a latitude. This surprising fact makes agricultural pursuits possible for a distance of six hundred miles north of the 60th degree of north latitude along the Mackenzie Valley. Professor Macoun says that spring seems to advance from north-west to southeast at about the rate of two hundred and fifty miles per day, and that in the fall winter begins in Manitoba first and goes north-westward at the same rate. Thus, it would appear that these high latitudes are more favored than some of the southern sections of the Dominion.
An official report, made in 1889, says: “Through this arable and pasturable area, latitude bears no direct relation to summer isotherms ; the spring flowers and buds of deciduous trees appearing as early north of the Great Slave Lake as in southern Canada and earlier along the Peace and Liard Rivers. The native grasses and vetches are equal and, in some respects, superior to those in Eastern Canada. The prevailing southwest summer winds in the country in question bring the warmth and moisture which render passible the far northern cereal growth, and sensibly affect the climate of the region under consideration as far north as the Arctic Circle, and as far east as the eastern rim of the Mackenzie Basin.”
A well-known writer says : ” There is still another advantage in these northern regions of Canada incident to the climate, and that is, that while these latitudes apply to the short winter days they equally apply to the long days of summer. There is an advantage of two hours per day more sunshine during the period of the growth of wheat in the Canadian North-West than is vouchsafed in any other locality where wheat can be produced. Not only is two hours of sunshine in each day an inestimable advantage, but the sun is stronger and more forced at this period, and in this region not only helping rapidly forward the ripening process, but the heat is also continually sufficient to cause the exudation of the moisture from the ground beneath. So that in this far northland, despised in the minds of many for its cold and sterility, conditions combine to make it the most productive.
It would seem as if a conjunction had been formed by the heavens above, and the earth beneath, to illustrate in the highest degree the productiveness of nature where man least expected its development.”
Another circumstance favorable to agriculture in this region is that spring here, unlike in many parts, sets in with marvellous regularity ; the transition from winter to summer is sudden, and in five or six days trees come into full leaf. The fact that the Mackenzie River valley is wooded to the mouth of the river, far within the Arctic Circle, is an indication of the favorable climatic conditions in these parts.
While the possibilities in all parts of this wonderful valley are worthy of attention, perhaps the section favored above all others is the district through which the great Liard River flows. Strange as it may seem, it is claimed that prevailing conditions here are superior to those of Alberta, while one re-port declares that fruit grows well in the Liard River valley. However this may be, there is ample testimony in support of the general excellence of the region, The growth of the timber is phenomenal. The Liard, or balsam poplar, grows to a height of one hundred and twenty feet, with a stump diameter of from five to six feet. Spruce is said to attain the same height, with a diameter from four to five feet at the stump, while the larch is about the same size. Pine attains magnificent growth, and is tall, straight and free from limbs. The climate and soil producing this variety of timber in this excellent quality must be first-class as an agricultural region, and this is proven by the products of the gardens of the missionaries and Hudson Bay people.
It must be borne in mind, too, that agriculture in high latitudes has never seriously engaged the attention of people in western lands. In certain sections of Northern China, where population is dense, the demands of human existence have not only led to experiments, but to successful attainments in agriculture under conditions that would seem impossible with us. Certain cereals are cultivated by the Chinese on the headwaters of the Yangtse River, at an elevation of thirteen thousand feet above the level of the sea. ” They grow wheat there in some places at an altitude of twelve thousand feet, whereas in this country (the United States) very little can be raised at an elevation of eight thousand feet, and that is in Arizona, where it is very warm. But the real test of the ability of the Chinese in this direction is afforded by a comparison of cereal elevation with the timber line. They raise wheat within fifteen hundred feet of the timber limit on the plateau of Turkestan, while in Arizona the timber line is four thousand five hundred feet above the wheat. A timber line furnishes- a very definite basis of climatic measurement the world over, just as the sea does for the measurement of altitude.”
One thousand feet below the timber line in Arizona would mean substantially the same temperature as one thousand feet below the timber line in New England, and so when it is said that the Chinese raise wheat within fifteen hundred feet of that line, it means that they’ have developed a grain which is far more resisting of cold and drouth than any in the United States or Europe. Their civilization is so much older than ours that the gradual development of these grains has been brought about, and we could to advantage bring some of them into use here.
There seems no doubt that this section of Canada must yet take its place as an agricultural country. Its fisheries are quite equal to those of the Slave Lake district, with the addition of the Arctic whale and seal fisheries of the north. It is thought by many that the mineral resources of this land are quite equal to any other section of Canada, and though gold is not now found in any paying qualities, the following has been expressed concerning its possibilities : ” The Eldorado of this region will be the eastern slope of the Great Rockies, near the Arctic Circle, where the Great Divide between the Yukon streams and the western tributaries of the Mackenzie is found. The country is an extremely difficult one, and a recent expedition was forced to return after reaching within one hundred miles of their desired field. From evidences collected, how-ever, it is felt certain that gold exists equally plentiful on the eastern as well as on the western slope.”
The great Mackenzie River, with its associated lakes, constitutes the chief physical feature of this district. This river alone is over one thousand miles in length, and navigable from end to end for vessels of considerable draught. The Hudson’s Bay Company run a steamer during the open season, from Fort Smith, on the Slave River, to Fort McPherson, on the Peel River, near the mouth of the Mackenzie. It is thought by the improvement of navigation at a few points that vessels of a much deeper draught could easily navigate these waters. This fact gives peculiar interest to this section of the country, and some point near the delta of the Mackenzie is likely in time to become a port of considerable importance.
Without taking into consideration the strategical importance of this situation, it is evident that it has an importance as viewed from the stand-point of commerce. The Arctic fisheries, if properly prosecuted by Canadians, must in the future have their headquarters here ; then, again, as the Mackenzie Basin becomes populated, the mouth of the Mackenzie affords them the cheapest means of import and export to the outside world. For three or four months in the year, and perhaps longer, the Arctic Ocean .is quite navigable as far east as the Mackenzie River, and the steamers trading with Siberian, Japanese and Chinese ports would find their journey shortened by three hundred miles, comparing the mouth of the Mackenzie with the distance from Vancouver. Interior freight would consequently seek the sea by way of the Mackenzie River. No cheaper route of export could be given it, and it is not impossible to believe that in time a city of considerable importance may be situated at some deep water harbor at the mouth of the Mackenzie River.
This would only be in keeping with conditions which exist in other countries. The city of Arch-angel, in northern Russia, for instance, would be nearly as far north, while the city of Tromso, in northern Norway, is about one hundred and fifty miles. farther north than the delta of the Mackenzie, yet both of these European towns carry on extensive shipping and have from ten to twenty thousand inhabitants. The only need of this great territory at the present time is more intimate communication with the outside world and a population in some measure worthy of its vastness and wealth, and both of these will come in time.
While the chief benefit of the Mackenzie and Behring Straits route would probably be for the central north, it will, perhaps, be surprising to some to learn of its advantages generally when necessary railway connection is made. The following is a summary of distances : From Liverpool to Yokohama, via Hudson Bay, Mackenzie River and Behring Straits, 8,140 miles ; from Liverpool to Yokohama, via Hudson Bay and Port Simpson, 8,406 ; from Liverpool to Yokohama, via Chicoutimi or Quebec, about 8,800 ; from Liverpool to Yokohama, via the Grand Trunk Pacific, about 9,330 ; and from Liver-pool to Yokohama, via the C.P.R., 10,030.
This, it will be observed, gives the Mackenzie River route via Hudson Bay an advantage over the C.P.R. of about 1,890 miles, and over the G.T.P.R. about 1,190 miles, and over the Hudson Bay, Port Simpson route about 265 miles-the shortest Pacific coast route possible. Even the Quebec and Mackenzie River route is shorter than the C.P.R. by 1,230 miles, and G.T.P.R. by 530 miles. To Vladivostock the advantage would be still greater.
All this seems incredible, and yet it is about the truth. It also furnishes a strong inducement for carrying railway construction down the Mackenzie River to the shores of the Arctic Ocean. Even the four months of its summer operation would abundantly justify its inauguration. By making use of the Mackenzie River and suitable steamers, connections could be made with only seven hundred and fifty miles of railway, namely, from Hudson Bay to Fort Smith. This might be put in operation almost at once, as it is needed for local and development purposes. Distances that are not officially stated are, of course, approximate ; probably nearly correct.