The Canadian Prairie Province – Climate

MR. BLODGETT, in his well-known work on the Climatology of the United States, says :—” The increase of temperature westward from the sources of the Mississippi in Northern Minnesota, is quite as rapid as it is south-ward to New Mexico; and the Pacific borders at the 50th parallel are milder in winter than Santa Fe. In every condition forming the basis of national wealth, the continental mass westward and north-westward from Lake Superior is far more valuable than the interior in lower latitudes, of which Salt Lake and Upper New Mexico are the prominent known districts.” The elevation of Lakes Traverse and Big Stone, into which gather the streams that form the sources of the Minnesota and Red Rivers is 960 feet. The sources of the small streams here joining, and much of the State of Minnesota, are fully 1,400 feet above sea level.

Where we embarked at the crossing of the North Pacific Railway the river was 100 feet lower than Lake Traverse, and it enters Lake Winnipeg at an elevation of 710 feet. As the Province is a plain, seldom many feet above the river, we are led to trace the effect of this position of its surface as compared with that of lands having a higher level. We quote from the interesting work of Dr. Hurlburt, published in 1872 :* The summer isothermal of 70°, which at the Atlantic coast crosses Long Island in latitude 41°, passes through Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Cleveland and Chicago, rises on the Saskatchewan to latitude 52° (in longitude 110°), but sinks again on the high plateau of the desert areas of the United States to latitude 35°, in longitude 105°; rises to latitude 47° in Oregon and falls again to latitude 30° through California. The isothermal of 65° for the summer, which, on the Atlantic coast, is off Boston (in latitude 42°), rises through Canada to the north of Quebec, crosses the Red River at latitude 50°, in the 97th meridian, and Mackenzie’s River near the 60th parallel.

” The continent, which is nearly two miles high in Mexico, spreads out like a fan northward, retaining a high altitude through the United States, but falling to 800, 600 and even to 400 feet in British America.

One mile in height (5,280 feet) causes a fall of fifteen degrees in temperature. Hence the anomaly of a milder climate going north.”

Between the Laurentian highlands in the east and the Rocky Mountains a great summer wave of warmth passes far to the north, reaching the highest latitude near the eastern base of the latter range ; while in winter a compensating and long continued flood of cold air invades the whole region of the plains and the eastern and western flanking ranges. Mr. G. M. Dawson’s report, 1875 ; sec 646.

We learn from the same source that, at Winnipeg, the average fall of rain during the spring and summer months is 16 inches. Mr. Dawson adds : ” It would appear not only on theoretical grounds, but as the result of experience, that the rainfall of the Red River Valley, assisted by the water remaining in the soil from the spring floods, is, as a rule, amply sufficient for agricultural purposes ;” sec 662.

The summer temperatures are those of chief importance for agricultural purposes. The cold of winter has no effect upon those annuals for which the summer is long enough and warm enough to secure their maturity. But the frosts of winter have a powerful effect in pulverizing the soil, and the snowy covering protects the ground from the winds and sun of the late months and early spring ; then the gradual melting of the snow fills the soil with moisture, so necessary for seeds and plants, presenting such a contrast to many countries in the south of Europe and many Western States, where the ground, exposed for months without such a covering, is too dry for vegetation, or, if the wheat does spring, it is exposed on the bare surface and ” winter-killed.” As to the rainfall, Dr. Hurlburt adds (page 12) : ” Through the valley of the St. Lawrence it is for the three summer months from eight to ten inches ; many parts of it, with Manitoba and British Columbia, have nearer twelve than ten. With the greater heat, which causes a rapid evaporation, these copious rains are of vast importance, and explain the extraordinary growth of vegetation throughout these countries.”

The Mississippi marks the Eastern boundary of the great treeless region that extends thence to the Pacific slope. The dryness of the air, want of regular rains, cold nights and alkaline soils, render most of this vast region of the United States unsuited for the growth of the most valuable grains and grasses. Fifteen years ago, one of their own writers, Professor Wharton, stated that they had reached the western limit of arable land. Such has been the uniform testimony of their scientific men, save such as wrote in the interest of the promoters or unfortunate bond-holders of the North Pacific Railway, and endeavoured to guide emigration to their almost worthless land west of Red River. Gen. W. B. Hazen, wrote thus in a letter which was widely published by the United States press, and remains uncontradicted, from Fort Enford in Dakota Territory, January 1, 1874—” Respecting the agricultural value of this country, after leaving the excellent wheat growing valley of the Red River of the North, following westward 1000 miles to the Sierras, excepting the very limited bottoms of the small streams, as well as those of the Missouri and Yellow Stone, from a few yards in breadth to an occasional waterwashed valley of one or two miles This country will not produce the fruits and cereals of the east, for want of moisture, and can in no way be artificially irrigated, and will not in our day and generation sell for one penny an acre, except through fraud or ignorance. I will say to those holding the bonds of the Northern Pacific Railroad, that, by changing them into good lands now owned by the road in the Valley of the Red River of the North, and East of that point, is the only means of ever saving themselves from their total loss.”

In a late letter to the New York Tribune, General Hazen wrote fully and to the like effect as above stated. We extract as follows, from his long communication

” Much has been said of the agricultural advantages of the Black Hills, but Prof. Jenney’s expedition reports that on the 11th of June they encountered a snow storm there ` of such severity as to “baffle all efforts to proceed,’ and on the 10th of September, ` ice on still water froze half an inch thick.’ With these facts, remembering the altitude of this region is 1,000 feet above the sea, intelligent men are able to judge for themselves the desireableness of this section for agriculture The reports in the office of the General Land Commissioner at Washington show that the Surveyor-General of New Mexico and Arizona estimates that an amount not to exceed one acre in seventy can be cultivated in those Territories, and that ‘ cultivable is synonymous with irrigable.’ In Colorado, the various Surveyors-General have placed their estimates from one acre in thirty to one in sixty, while Mr. IN. C. Meeker’s letters would appear to put it somewhere within these limits. The grazing interests here are, however, much more valuable than the agricultural, a fact just dawning upon the Greeley colony. The arable lands of Utah correspond in quantity very nearly to those of New Mexico, while the report of General John Day, Surveyor-General, places those of that State as one acre in sixty. The proportion of arable land in Montana and Idaho is somewhat greater than in the other middle territories, but the same necessity for irrigation exists in all of them alike, as well as in the western half of Texas, Indian Territory, Kansas, and Nebraska. The eastern portion of Dakota, including the Valley of the Red River of the North, is most excellent and requires no artificial irrigation. The pastoral interests are valuable all over this region.”

General Hazen concludes thus :—” The building up of new and populous States, such as Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri, will no more be seen on our present domain, and all calculations based upon such a thing are false while all extraneous influences brought to bear upon emigration to carry it west of the 100th meridian, excepting in a few very restricted localities, are wicked beyond expression, and fraught with misery and failure.”

Surely if emigrants from the British Isles were honestly advised, they would seek our well watered valleys of the fertile belt, whose climate is in no place too cold for the development and comfort of an active race ; they would not turn from the territory where exist the free laws and settled Government of the British Dominion, to try experiments of irrigation in Colorado, or to trust to the fitful climate and arid soil of Kansas and Nebraska.

Another American writer says :—” The United States embrace nearly the entire desert areas of North America, so merciful have they been to their northern and southern neighbours in drawing the boundary line.”

The Hon. Alex. Ramsey, then Governor of Minnesota, visited the Selkirk Settlement in 1851, and in an address delivered at St. Paul, on his return, gave a glowing picture of what he had seen and learned of our Fertile Belt. He further said :—” I hesitate not to ascribe to the whole of the upper plains on both branches of the Saskatchewan river, an agricultural value superior naturally to the fields of New England in their pristine conditions. It has mineral coal in abundance to supply fuel for a population of the densest character.”

It is beyond the limits of this work to discuss this interesting subject more minutely. We only ask our readers to remember that Manitoba is, though the coldest part of it, still well within the great Canadian Fertile Belt, which extends northward above Lake Winnipeg and westward through the vast Saskatchewan, Bow. and Peace River Valleys to the Pacific. Besides the European emigrants each season entering the Province, there are many from the United States who pronounce themselves uniformly satisfied with our land for the production of grain and root crops. The Emerson Colony, settled near the southern boundary of Manitoba, is a case in point, being composed of former residents of Northern Wisconsin. Professor Hind gives an interesting account of various farms on the Assiniboine, in 1857. One of these was Mr. Gowler’s, ten miles from Winnipeg, since that deceased. ” His barn, which was very roomy, was crammed with wheat, bar-ley, potatoes, pumpkins, turnips and carrots.” He had grown fifty-six measured bushels of wheat to the acre, had a splendid crop of melons, and smoked strong tobacco cropped in the neighbourhood. page 150, vol. I.

It is as growers of cereals and root crops that the Manitoba farmer will excel. It is hoped that in time hardy varieties of apples, pears and the like fruits, may be introduced, but, as may be remarked in our notes elsewhere, few such trees have yet succeeded ; nor has their loss been felt so much as might be supposed, the supply of small fruit being abundant. Mr. Taylor, the excellent American Consul at Winnipeg, and other gentlemen of intelligence, do not despair of success in this department ; but it is useless to expect roots and slips from comparatively warm regions to thrive or pass through the trials of the Nor’-west winters. Plums, cherries and the like small fruit grow luxuriantly. The success of the country as a grower of grain is evidenced on all sides. Specimens of its wheat lately sold in New York were pronounced worth fifteen cents per bushel more than eastern grain. The soil, an alluvial deposit of great depth, is rich in the necessary qualities. It is ploughed in the fall, and the seed is sown as soon as the frost is out of the upper crust in the spring. As the season advances the frozen ground below gradually melts and supplies refreshing moisture to the roots. When summer has once set in, the days are long and warm, but the nights have always an exhilirating coolness. The samples of grain exhibited have equalled the best in Ontario. The average production of wheat is between thirty and forty bushels to the acre. Weary months have not to be spent in chop-ping, logging and burning trees and stumps. Two pair of oxen will, with a strong plough, break the sod which a winter’s frost mellows and prepares for the harrow and seed. Reaping machines are used to great advantage on the level fields. Vegetables and roots are of wonder-flu size. Hay is cut on the prairie, self sown. Though the raiser of stock in Manitoba will require to lay up a large amount of dry fodder for the winter, yet he can do so at the cost of curing only. In the rich grass meadows of the Roseau and other places, where protected by trees from the wind, Indian ponies pass the whole winter under the open sky without injury. Elsewhere stabling is necessary. Farther west, in the Saskatchewan valley, the snow-fall is less, and cattle live all winter on the uncured herbage in the field.

It is a theory that seems established by experiment, that all grains reach perfection at the northern limit of their growth. Two is the average of grains to the cluster in the Eastern States, but three in Manitoba. Recent accounts by Professor Macoun, who, in the summer of 1875, visited the Peace River country, prove that in that far Nor’-west, wheat, the most important of crops, reaches its highest perfection, though cultivated but rudely by half-breeds, producing five and even six grains to the cluster. Comparing the productiveness of Manitoba, wherewith we have within our limits mainly to do, with that of the States of North America, in which wheat is largely grown, and we there find the production as follows :

Red River Valley, 30 to 35 bushels to the acre.

Minnesota ” 17 to 20 ”

Wisconsin cc 14 ”

Pennsylvania 15 ”

Ohio 15 ”

It will be remembered that the quality of the grain is also superior to that of the more southern latitudes. Mr. G. M. Dawson (sec. 644 of Report) makes this calculation :—Taking one half of the area of the Red River Valley, 3,400 square miles, equalling 2,176,000 acres, and for simplicity of calculation, supposes it to be entirely sown with wheat. Then at even 17 bushels to the acre, the crop of this valley would amount to 40,992,000 bushels.


People of lower latitudes are disposed to shrug their shoulders when they speak of Manitoba winters, and to think them a succession of Nor’-westers. Wits among our southern neighbours too jest with this for a theme. The Danbury Newsman says, in a modest postcript to a letter from Fort Garry, in amusing exaggeration, which in some localities passes for wit :—” The weather is so cold up here that a young man of industrious habits requires sixty cords of hard-wood for courting a Red River girl during the month of January. The stoves are fourteen feet long and nine high.”

Minnesota with a climate as cold and more subject to winter winds, or blizzards, has long been the resort of invalids, the dryness of the atmosphere being especially favourable to consumptives. We met many in Manitoba of weak constitution who had been induced to settle there by reason of the uniformity of the climate, and can record the satisfaction with which they, and indeed, nearly all we met spoke, especially of the winter. The snow falls to a depth of from one to three feet, and remains dry and crisp for five months, without the frequent thaws that occur in the Province of Ontario and Lake States. Senator Sutherland, from Kildonan, stated before a committee of Parliament in March, 1875, in effect that the people of Manitoba had not of late raised more grain than was needed for home consumption, but they would soon be. able to raise great quantities for export ; grain-growing would be most profitable for many years ; in Manitoba the. average yield of wheat was fully thirty bushels per acre ; root crops yielded enormous returns ; frost seldom affected the growth, except slightly in the spring. Grasshoppers had affected the crops within the last few years ; but for forty years previous to that time he had not known them to be in the country to any great extent, and he did not think they would return this year.

The report of the Committee on Immigration and Colonization, of the House of Commons, at Ottawa, presented on the 10th of April, 1876, contains some matters of interest and importance regarding the region under discussion, the result of careful inquiry. We take from the report as follows : — ” The Committee have carefully examined Professor John Macoun, of Albert Uuiversity, Belleville, who accompanied Mr. Fleming, Chief Engineer of the Pacific Railway Survey, across the Continent to the Pacific Coast, in the capacity of botanist, with reference to the agricultural capabilities of the North-west Territory, particularly including the Peace River districts and the Province of British Columbia. He showed very clearly that vast areas in those hitherto but little known regions, contain agricultural resources of unbounded fertility, coupled with climatic conditions favourable to their development. He also showed the presence of very large deposits of coal and other valuable minerals.

” The Committee also examined Mr. Henry McLeod, an Engineer of the Pacific Survey, who crossed the Continent to the middle of the Rocky Mountains. He corroborates the evidence of Professor Macoun, in reference to the great fertility of the soil and adaptability of the country for extensive settlement.”

A complete report of this region has not been published by Professor Macoun ; but we may state that the result of his evidence, and of statements made by him is as follows :—He had found that the entire district along the Peace River for a distance of seven hundred and sixty miles, in a belt one hundred and fifty miles wide on each side was as suitable for the cultivation of grain as that of Ontario. He had brought samples of wheat weighing sixty-eight pounds, and of barley weighing fifty-six pounds, to the bushel. The climate was even more suit-able than in Ontario, for there were no wet autumns nor frost to kill the young grain. There were but two seasons —summer and winter. He said in illustration, that on a Thursday last October, 1875, the heat was so great that he had to shelter himself by lying under a cart, while on the next Sunday winter set in in full vigour and continued steadily. The plants he found in that region were the same as those on Lake Erie, and further discoveries satisfied him that the two areas were similar in every respect. The ice in the rivers broke up in April. Stock raising was not difficult, because the grass remained fresh and green up to the very opening of winter. He had seen thousands of acres of it three and four feet long on levels two hundred feet above the Peace River. He estimated that there were 252,000,000 acres of land in that region adapted to the growth of cereals. He had tested the temperature and showed by figures that the average summer heat at Fort William, Fort Simpson, Edmonton, and throughout that region, was similar to that of Toronto, Montreal, and higher than that of Halifax. He was positive that the climate was uncommonly suitable for agriculture, and stated that the farther one went north the warmer the summer became. There was no doubt they were abundantly long enough to ripen wheat thoroughly. Besides the peculiar excellenee of that country for cereals, he had found thousands of acres of crystalized salt, so pure, that it was used in its natural state by the Hudson Bay Company. Coal abounded in the richest veins, and was so interstratified with hematele or iron ore, yielding fifty per cent., that no locality could be better for manufacturing. Thousands of acres of coal oil fields were found. The tar lying on the surface of the ground was ankle deep ; miles and miles of the purest gypsum beds cropped out of the river banks ; coal beds abounded on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains and extended in large seams throughout the country at their base for a distance of one hundred miles. In short, Professor Macoun believed the North-West to be the richest part of Canada, and prophesied that it would yet be the home of millions of people prosperous and happy.

The Committee proceed to refer to the evidence of Senator Sutherland to the effect above stated, and conclude thus :—” The winters in the North-West, except on the Pacific Coast, appear to be rigorous ; but the climate is reported to be singularly healthy, and the seasons for . agricultural operations do not appear to be widely different in the Province of Manitoba, from what they are in Ontario, but in fact very similar. The presence of what are termed summer frosts in the North-West Territory, appears to be precisely similar in character to those which prevail over a very large extent of the northern part of this Continent.”

People along the St. Lawrence, will be surprised when they learn that on the eighteenth of April, 1876, when the ice was yet piled mountains high, round Victoria Bridge, ploughing had begun at Battle River, and the steamer Northcote was getting up steam for Edmonton, on the Saskatchewan, near the Rocky Mountains, and on the Red River, the season’s navigation was also begun. So quickly does the winter pass into summer, that there were then at Winnipeg trotting races on the ice of the Assiniboine ; boating on the Red River, skating in the rink, and cricket playing on the prairie ; all within the radius of a mile.

Red River navigation opened about the same time the previous year.

Though navigation will close annually about the end of October, yet there will be no difficulty in running the railway trains over the track on the plains of the Province. The frost and snow so open the soil that the labour expended upon it goes much further than in Europe and elsewhere where the surface is not covered with snow. There is abundance of work that can be better done in the winter than in summer, such as fencing and cutting wood from swamps, into which horses and men easily penetrate on the ice-bound surface, and conveying produce to market, with a speed and in quantities which would not be possible on wheels. Saw mills cease working, but the men employed are soon off to the logging camps, hewing and hauling the logs to the ice-bound streams that will in spring carry them to Winnipeg or Emerson.

We have elsewhere stated the favourable report which Colonel Crofton gave, after a year’s residence at Fort Garry, and could readily multiply evidence of the like impartial and intelligent persons. In the vessel in which our party went down the river to Winnipeg were several farmers, one an old Scotchman from near Miramichi in Quebec.

He seemed charmed with the country, nor had he tired of it when we afterwards met him in our wanderings. He lamented the time he had lost on the banks of the St. Lawrence in clearing his poor land of trees and in years since, removing the stones, the only sure crop, for they came up with every ploughing. He heard all about the grasshoppers and what they had done, and yet was determined to take up a free claim, erect his cabin on a quarter section, and having done that, and made such other preparations as were deemed needful, he would sell out his old farm for what could be got, and let the family follow. This, he said, would without doubt lead to many of his former neighbours soon joining him.

Mr. Lilies, of West Pilkington, Ontario, in the autumn of 1875, received a letter from one of his four sons then in Manitoba, which is so life-like that we will copy it. He says : “Don’t fear of us starving in Manitoba ; we are doing better here than we could do in Ontario, despite the ravages made by the grasshoppers. Two of us have cleared one hundred and sixty dollars per month all summer, burning lime and selling it at 45c per bushel ; an-other has averaged $5 per day with his team, sometimes teaming to the new penitentiary, and sometimes working on the railroad. The fourth works at his trade, waggon making, in Winnipeg for $60 per month, steady employment. Our potato crop is splendid, our peas are excellent, and we had one field of wheat that suffered no intrusion from the pest. The weather is mild, prairie chickens are very numerous, and our anticipations as regards a good time next year are big.”

Mr. Jacob Y. Shantz, an old and respected resident of Berlin, in Ontario, was consulted by his persecuted countrymen in Russia as to a home in the West. A few samples of Manitoba soil were sent to Senator Emil Klotz of Kiel, who had them analyzed by Professor Emmerling, an eminent chemist, who, in April, 1872, gave an analysis of this soil as compared with the richest in Holstein. Senator Klotz wrote with the result. Part of his report we copy as follows;

” KIEL, 4th May, 1872.

” After considerable delay, I succeeded in obtaining the analysis of the Manitoba soil from Professor Emmerling, Director of the Chemical Laboratory of the Agricultural Association of this place. Annexed I give you our analysis of the most productive soil in Holstein, whereby you will see how exceedingly rich the productive qualities of the Manitoba soil are, and which fully explains the fact that the land in Manitoba is so very fertile, even without manure. The chief nutrients are, first, nitrogen, then potash and phosphoric acid, which predominates there ; but what is of particular importance is the lime contained in the soil, whereby the nitrogen is set free, and ready to be absorbed in vegetable organisms. The latter property is defective in many soils, and when it is found defective, recourse must be had to artificial means by putting lime or marl (a clay which contains much lime) upon the same.

” According to the analysis of the Manitoba soil, there is no doubt that, to the farmer who desires to select for his future home, a country which has the most productive soil and promises the richest harvests, no country in the world offers greater attractions than the Province of Manitoba, in the Dominion of Canada.

We now know how satisfactory this has proved to the intelligent immigrants. The facilities of Manitoba, as compared with Minnesota, are being put to a practical test by the Mennonites while many have settled in the Red River Valley, others have selected homes, for the present at least, in Minnesota and other Western States.


Canada fell heir to a great estate when these Western plains became hers. Her duty was proportionately great. She was, however still struggling to complete the Inter-colonial Road, to connect the older Provinces with the Atlantic sea-board. Each Province was also heavily en-gaged in works of internal improvement. The whole, population of the Dominion was exceeded in number by that of each of several of the United States, yet the construction of a railway to the Pacific, through a region, of which little was known, was urged as a necessity to be undertaken at all hazards and at any cost. It cannot be denied that much lias been done in gathering definite information, as to this immense undeveloped territory, and discovering practicable routes. An army of geologists, surveyors and engineers is still at work on the various sections into which the great route is divided. It will be seen how disadvantageously Manitoba must struggle until she obtain direct steam communication with Ontario. Her development is retarded and the farther West is left isolated and comparatively valueless. Farmers may sow and reap, but the country will, to a great ex-tent, ” smother in its own fat.”

Before steam was used on Red River, thousands of carts went yearly to Minnesota, untroubled by customs officers. Now, that means of traffic is almost entirely stopped, much to the annoyance of the half-breeds formerly so engaged. The free navigation of Red River was unfortunately not provided for in the treaty of Washington. The Yukon, Porcupine and Stikine, in the distant and sterile wilds of Alaska, were opened, but this great commercial road was not thought of, or its consideration was tabled by influence of the ” Adventurers of England ” and Kittson & Co.

Coasting and trade restrictions are onerous, and the result is that the St. Paul Company charge what they please, and their vessels are loaded to the water’s edge. Produce not required for home consumption will scarce repay the cost of removal to markets by the present ex-pensive and crowded ways of transport. The “Dawson Route,” in its present state, and until immensely improved, with its many necessary changes, risks and de-lays, can be practically of little use for freight. Few passengers, save those interested in the works at Fort Frances, the lumber business at the Lake of the Woods, and a company of soldiers passed through by this road in 1875. The Minnesota Railroad, with its dangerous, stilt-like structure, and the monopolist ” Kittson Line ” being preferred. As a Minnesota newspaper states :—” The freights from Moorehead, Minn., to Manitoba increased from barely 1,400 tons, in 1874, to more than 3,800 tons, in 1875 more than doubled : and all the travel to and from Winnipeg went with the freight by rail and over the Northern Pacific road.”

The Pembina branch first, and so soon as through connection to Lake Superior can be made with the American North Pacific road, is looked to as the means of immediate relief. This line was referred to in debate in Parliament on 14th February, 1876. Hon. Mr. Letellier de St. Just, Minister of Immigration, said : “The rails will be at Pembina in the spring, the Northern Pacific Railway only having fifteen miles of embankment and fifty miles of track-laying to do.”

Senator Girard—” They have only fifteen miles from Glyndon to Crookston to build.”

Hon. Mr. Letellier—” To reach the boundary line. If when the American line was laid, the Canadian Government were not prepared to go on with their work, then gentlemen opposite might well reproach them for not having the rails.” He described the different links in the road to Manitoba, and said that this continuous road and water way would do all that was required for some time to come. ” Even with the accommodation that existed at present, immigration had been pouring fast into Manitoba, and when all links in the road were completed the Government would have two very fine modes of communication, sufficient to bring any amount of population, and at a lower cost than by rail alone. This showed that the Government had done something, and that the facilities were far ahead of those of old Upper and Lower Canada.”

But the patriotic Canadian cannot with patience see much of the trade of this immense region drawn, as it will be, to enrich our southern neighbours. Sympathies, too, would soon follow the path of interest.

The branch of the great Canada Pacific Railway to the harbours of Lake Superior must be pushed to completion, and the natural advantages offered by the water stretches of the Kewatin and Thunder Bay districts must also be made serviceable to commerce.


As to the present ” Dawson Route,” the main stages and the distances from Prince Arthur’s Landing, are to

Clandeboye 16 miles.

Matawin 24 ”

Brown’s Lane 32 ”

Shebandowan 45 ”

Kashaboiwe 64 ”

Height of Land 74 ”

Baril 93 ”

Brulé 101 ”

French 115 ”

Pine & Deux Rivières 132 ”

Maligne 152 ”

Island 162 ”

Nequaquon 187 ”

Kettle Falls 207 ”

Fort Frances 252 ”

N.-W. Angle 377 ”

Winnipeg 477 ”

These distances were those given to Government by Mr. Dawson ; people living along the route say they should be about five per cent. more.

It will be noticed that the greater part of this road is by water. When the canal is completed at Fort Frances there will be uninterrupted water communication beginning at one hundred miles from Winnipeg of about 200 miles through Rainy Lake and River and the Lake of the Woods. The distance will be from Winnipeg but half that by the crooked Red River to Lake Superior.

Steam tugs of various sizes are now used on the larger water stretches, open row boats large enough to hold twenty persons are also employed. Better vessels will in due time be supplied. To construct, equip and keep up the Dawson Road has occasioned great annual outlay, epecially in some of its early years, so the offer of Messrs. Carpenter & Co. to work it for an annual bonus of $76,000 was accepted, but their contract has terminated, Government having again, very wisely as we think, taken the working into their own control, and intending to use the water stretches in connection with the railway till, at any rate, the latter be completed.

The vast interests involved in the region between Thunder Bay and Red River, the fact that during the present and the next few years public money to the extent of so me millions of dollars will be spent to open up communication through this region, as part of the national highway from ocean to ocean, and from the greatest granary of the continent to the lakes, make it proper to ask the intelligent reader’s further attention to the subject.

The Dawson route has already had an interesting history. It was not long since deemed a military necessity. Its existence was demanded in order to secure the North West to Canada. The Hudson’s Bay Company looked on its construction with jealousy, as is abundantly evident from the correspondence between the Company’s officers and Government officials, in 1868-9, when the hundred miles between Red River and the Lake of the Woods were in part constructed.

Had this Dawson route not been available for Colonel Wolsely’s little army, Rupert’s Land might have fallen a, prey to Riel and O’Donoghue’s French half-breeds and Fenians, or perhaps have remained in the hands of the ” Adventurers of England.”

The accompanying plan and sectional view, in so far as they relate to this route, and some of the following statements of fact are furnished by Mr. Oliver A. How-land, who passed over and spent some time upon it, in 1874, and has given the subject careful consideration.

On the plan the reader may see at a glance the old North West voyageurs’ track from the Grande Portage off L’Isle Royale, westward, the Dawson road and the line of the Canada Pacific Railway as now proposed. The ideal route during the season of navigation, for cheap transportation of the produce of the North West, would seem to be one consisting of, first, a link of railway of 100 miles long over the level country between Red River and the Lake of the Woods ; next, by steamers over the waters of that lake and of Rainy River and Lake to the first falls of the Seine River, making 200 miles of excellent navigation, broken only by the twenty-eight feet of lockage at Fort Frances, and scarcely inferior in capacity to that of the Upper St. Lawrence, and thence by rail 180 miles to Thunder Bay. This would involve transhipments at the termini of the water stretch ; but when grain can be and is daily transhipped by the elevators, at Montreal, at a cost of eight cents per ton of thirty-three bushels, it is difficult to discover how an item of sixteen cents per ton could turn the scale in favour of the all-rail route. Even immigrants and other passengers might be carried on such a line, without disadvantage in point of time, and at a saving of cost in competition with an American rail route via Duluth. From a common point on Lake Superior the distances would be, to Fort Garry via Duluth, 150 miles lake navigation and 480 rail ; to Fort Garry via Thunder Bay, 250 miles lake and inland navigation and 280 miles rail ; in other words, an excess of 100 miles of navigation on the Thunder Bay route against an excess of 200 miles of railway by Duluth.

As passenger steamers travel at rather more than half the speed of passenger trains, there would thus be a slight advantage in point of time in favour of the suggested route ; so that practically a highway over which our immigrants could travel to the prairies as quickly and more cheaply than by the American route, and by which grain and other freight could be carried thence on terms defying competition by any all-rail route on our own territory or elsewhere, could thus be obtained by the construction of 280 miles of rail. The ” public mind,” perplexed by a confusion of motives on this subject, desiring to forward the colonization of Manitoba, and anxious, on the other hand, not to be diverted from the project of a direct line to the Pacific, has permitted the latter motive to have the greater weight. The feeling and clamour so raised have the tendency to drive on the construction of the ” all-rail ” route with, perhaps, too little regard to our present capacity and to the neglect of other and natural advantages. In the meantime, and until some Canadian route is completed, the Northern Pacific and the ” Kittson Line ” continue to carry the traffic of Manitoba through Minnesota and down Red River for $40 per ton, pocketing $500,000 per annum by the process and crippling the progress of settlement in that Province. The point must not be overlooked that, in adopting the through line, 450 miles long, as the colonization route in preference to one nearly 200 miles shorter (as regards construction), we delay the opening of the route in about the same proportion.

Guided by the experience of the Intercolonial road, it seems as likely to be seven years as four before a train will pass on the rails from Thunder Bay to Fort Garry, and therefore for so long we shall be unable to interfere and raise the siege of Manitoba. Is this prospect satisfactory ? The best remaining hope of alleviating the position of the Province, for some years to come, is by making the most of that part of the Dawson route between Lac des Mille Lacs and Rat Portage, where it is tapped by the terminal sections of the railway sections which are likely to be completed far in advance of the remainder of the road. A lock of nine feet lift would join Nameaukan Lake to Rainy Lake, and extend that noble chain of waters to a point 220 miles eastward of Rat Portage, and within 130 miles of the eastern extremity of Lac des Milles Lacs. This length of 130 miles is practically broken into three subdivisions by three tremendous accumulations of lock-age (for particulars of which we refer to the plan), and which render a continuous canal too serious an under-taking to be entered upon at present ; but by the construction of seven locks of about ten feet lift, three on the Maligne River, and four at the outlet of Baril Lake, with a cutting of about a quarter of a mile in length to join Baril Lake to Lac des Mille Lacs, and a dam at the outlet of the latter lake to raise it (two feet) to the level of the former, and some channel improvements, the navigation may be rendered otherwise continuous. The three great portages — Nequaquon, between Nameaukan and Nequaquon or Cross Lakes, Pine Portage, between Sturgeon and Kaogasikok Lakes, and Great French Portage between Kaogosikok and the Windegoostigon Lakes, would, in the aggregate, require the building of about nine miles of railway.

The main obstacle to the success of this route, the transhipments, amounting in all to eight in number between Rat Portage and Lac des Mille Lacs, at the estimate of eight cents per ton, would involve only a charge of sixty-four cents per ton of thirty-three bushels on the carriage of wheat, supposing that no improvement be found practicable in the manner of transhipment. But, if the cars could be ferried over the broken sections from Lac des Mille Lacs to Nameaukan Lake, running over the intermediate portages, the actual transhipments would then be reduced to two in number, one at the beginning and the other at the end of the great water stretch of 220 miles terminating at Rat Portage. But even without this improvement, a route consisting of only 180 miles of rail-way and 340 miles of excellent navigation, though broken into four sections and burdened with the full addition of sixty-four cents per ton for elevating, should still be able to carry grain and passengers at rates which would be an immense improvement on the terms of the present monopoly.

It is improbable that there will be anything in the construction of these nine miles of railway and seven or eight locks to prevent these works being accomplished by the time the Pacific Railway sections to Lac des Mille Lacs and from Rat Portage to Fort Garry are ready for the iron; and it is certain that by the simultaneous opening of the line proposed in connection with those two sections of the Canada Pacific Railway, a competitive reduction would be at once accomplished in the traffic rates up-on all routes to Manitoba, such as, in a few years, would amply recoup an expenditure of $500,000 on the water stretches and their intermediate links, besides immensely facilitating the early settlement and development of the Prairie Province and the other Provinces which will be created out of the great Nor’-West.

The water route, once established to this extent, would certainly never be suffered to fall into disuse. The trade of the North West, growing incessantly, would not only encourage its maintenance, but would soon demand its further improvement. The examples of all great parallel rail and water routes on this continent suggest the probability of the much abused Dawson route, now regarded as but the humble precursor of the railway, becoming in the end the almost unrivalled carrier of the trade of the great North West. The possibility of attaining such results by using the means nature has placed before us, seems to make the subject, at all events, worthy of more patient consideration than it has yet received.

It should be remembered that the magnificent Winnipeg River, through which the Lake of the Woods empties into Lake Winnipeg, has, for ages, been used as a high-way by voyageurs. As Mr. Dawson remarks * :—” Men, women and children have passed by hundreds up and down the Winnipeg, and the boats of the Hudson’s Bay Company, some of them the most unwieldy tubs imaginable, are constantly used on its waters. In former times the whole trade of the northern posts of the continent passed by the Winnipeg. At the very time the expeditionary force was passing, two frail and poorly manned canoes, the one occupied by a very fat newspaper editor, and the other by a gentleman who had his wife with him, passed over all the rapids, portages and whirlpools of the Winnipeg without its occurring to the occupants that they were doing anything extraordinary.”

That the navigation of this river may in time be opened to grain vessels, which will thus carry the produce of the Red River and Saskatchewan Valleys to the water stretches of the Dawson route, is confidently alleged by engineers of ability. Thus the reader will at once see the immense importance and interest which will, in the near future, attach to the development of the natural resources of this region.

We may probably be referred, in answer, to the reports published by those interested in writing up the glory of the expedition of 1870, especially to the extraordinary

Narrative ” by an ” Officer of the Force,” published in an Edinburgh Magazine. We have only to say that, so far as facts are concerned, we prefer to rely on the statements of the able engineers of Canada and of the civil servants who accompanied the expedition, rather than on those of an officer who does not hesitate to slander the public men of Canada, and that in terms too gross to be repeated. It is well known that if that officer had not been ably supported by the civil force and the many intelligent British and Canadian officers with the expedition, and had his judgment in some important matters not been overruled by the General in chief command, he would never have got further than Lake Shebandowan.

The difficulties of the route are not to be compared to those of the expedition of 1847, when Colonel Crofton took 383 persons, men, women and children, with cannon and heavy stores, from Fort York in Hudson’s Bay to Fort Garry. In his evidence before the Imperial House of Commons, elsewhere referred to, Colonel, now Lieut.-General Crofton, says of the route in question :—” I would undertake to take my regiment by it. I did worse than that, for I took artillery from Fort York in Hudson’s Bay, to Red River, 700 miles by the compass, over lakes and rivers, and that is a much worse route than the other. I am quite sure of it, for I have gone both.”

Had Colonel Crofton been in command in 1870, he would not, despite the earnest advice of those who knew that of which they spoke, have insisted on dragging boats up the rocky foaming bed of the Kaministiquia, where they were torn and bruised, their equipments lost, the men wearied with such arduous and worse than useless labour, and a great additional expense occasioned. When he returned to England he would, we think, also have avoided exaggerating the difficulties of the expedition, in order to raise his own merits in public esteem, and even though Governor Archibald held the seat for which his ambition craved, his pen would not have been employed to lampoon our statesmen, nor would it have endeavoured to detract from the well-earned praise of those who, with him, carried the expedition to a bloodless and successful issue.

We refer thus shortly to the article mentioned, as seems necessary. It must be considered cum gran. The writer is a very gallant officer, though his feats have not yet been those of a Hannibal, or even a Napier of Magdala. He has doubtless since seen cause to regret his ill-advised statements and aspersions, if indeed he condescends to think at all about that summer trip over the Dawson Route.

As misapprehension exists with regard to the past expenditure on the Dawson Route, much being, in Parliament and elsewhere, charged to management, which be-longed to the account for construction, building of boats, gratuities paid to Indians, losses by the Red River insurrection, and conveyance of troops and police, we will here give a synopsis of the figures relating to the period when Mr. Dawson was Superintendent.

Let us look on our maps, and we will see, parallel to this route, the great railway from Duluth, westward, to Red River, over which now passes practically all the traffic of our North-West. It was begun at about the same time as our Dawson road, but 8,000 men were put to work upon it, whereas 300 men only worked on our line, and they for very broken and limited periods.

Any account of the projected routes for the through transit of this region would be very defective, if it did not refer to the more southern railway route proposed by various engineers, and notably by the gentleman from whom the ” Dawson Route ” took its name Mr. Simon J. Dawson, civil engineer, and now member of the Legislature of Ontario for the Algoma District. He led the exploring expedition, of which Professor Hind was a member, in 1857 ; and in 1870 had charge of the 700 men voyageurs, boatmen, raftsmen, teamsters, whites, red men and half-breeds, forming the pioneers and working force that accompanied the little army. The course suggested by him is shown on our chart.

The more northerly line cannot be considered as so definitely determined on, that some deviation may not be made in its course before its main construction is proceeded with. It will be noticed that Mr. Dawson’s line uses the Narrows of the Lake of the Woods, at a place about two miles north of the American boundary, in. preference to Rat Portage. The numerous islands in the channel render bridge construction at the Narrows, in Mr. Dawson’s view, a matter of but little difficulty, and the rocky land on either side of Rat Portage, with much necessary tunnelling and blasting, would be avoided.

In an able report on ” The Shortest Route for a Rail-way between Lake Superior and Fort Garry,” dated 22nd December, 1873, and which Mr. Dawson still refers to with confidence, he states that from Thunder Bay to Sturgeon Falls on the Seine River, a distance of about 160 miles, the ground is in some parts rather broken, but that from reports of surveyors, he is warranted in saying. that it is quite practicable, and that he has himself been over a great part of it. Mr. Dawson says that the line referred to should have the preference if, as he thinks will be the case, it be found practicable, and among the advantages to be probably obtained in adopting this route he enumerates the following :

” 1st. It would be the shortest which could be adopted between Lake Superior and Fort Garry.

” 2nd. It would be further south, on a lower level and, consequently, in a better climate than any other line which could be projected, within British territory, between the same points.

“3rd. It would lead to the development of a country rich in timber, having valuable minerals and, in some parts, presenting fine agricultural land, and thus create a local traffic, which it would be needless to look for in lines further to the north.

” 4th. At some points, it would touch on and for a great part of the way be contiguous to navigable waters which would render a wide extent of country tributary to its traffic.

” 5th. It would be easy of construction, inasmuch as the present line of communication would afford the means of carrying men, supplies and materials to various points, thus admitting of work being carried on simultaneously, at moderate intervals of distance throughout its whole extent.

” 6th. Every link of it would become available and yield a re-turn, as made. Thus, when Shebandowan was reached, on the one side, and the Lake of the Woods on the other, the expense at present involved in maintaining teams of horses, for transportation, would be done away with. Fort Garry would at once become easy of access, and the traffic would rapidly increase as the road was extended.

” 7th. It might be made to form a portion of the Great Pacific road, by being extended to Nipigon Bay and the eastward, and, even between Nipigon Bay and Fort Garry it would still, I am warranted in believing, be the shortest practicable route.

” Moreover, it should not be lost sight of that, in bringing the main Pacific line by the route indicated, the expense of a branch would be altogether avoided.

” 8th. In the summer season, the shortest line between Fort Garry and Lake Superior, other circumstances being equal, would command the traffic of the West. Now, a line from Thunder Bay to Fort Garry, by the route suggested, would be 375 miles in length, or to make full allowance for deviations, say 390 miles. This would on the one hand be shorter, by about fifty miles, than a line from Nipigon Bay, and on the other nearly, if not quite, a hundred miles shorter than the route by the Northern Pacific and projected Pembina line. In fact, as regards Fort Garry, the Thunder Bay line would have an advantage of 300 miles over the route by Duluth. That is, taking Thunder Bay as the starting point, to go by water to Duluth 200 miles, and thence by rail to Fort Garry 500 miles, would be 700 miles as against 390 miles by the route under consideration.

” But other circumstances would not be equal, for there is a tract of navigable waters on the Thunder Bay route which, when heavy and bulky articles of agricultural produce come to be carried, can-not be left out of consideration, and I do not hesitate to say that, if a railroad is run from Lake Superior to the North-West Territories, at a distance from and in a way to ignore these navigable waters, the day will come when the error will be seen and felt.

” Apart from the comparative advantages arising from a saving in distance, probable easier grades, a lower general level, a better climate and a region in which are mines, forests of valuable timber and areas of agricultural land to be developed, there are others of scarcely less importance ; and among these, I would call attention to the excellence of Thunder Bay as a harbour. Well sheltered on all sides, it is at the same time easy of access to sailing vessels, as well as steamers. It opens early in spring, as compared to most of the other ports on Lake Superior, and, in the fall, never freezes to an extent to impede navigation, till the middle of December.

” Last spring was unusually late, but Thunder Bay was open on the 9th May, while Duluth was blocked with ice for a fortnight longer, and Nipigon Bay did not open till the 23rd of May.”


The line of this railway from Fort William towards Lake Shebandowan, for a distance of twenty-two miles, and at the Red River end, eastward from Selkirk to Cross Lake, twenty-five miles, has been graded and made ready for the rails, and so the matter of actual construction rests, at the beginning of the season of 1876. As the road will not follow the windings of lakes and rivers, but run north of the ” Dawson Route,” its length from Red River to Fort William is estimated at but 414 miles. The telegraph line has already been erected all this distance and still farther westward 500 miles past Fort Pelly or Living-stone to Battle River, or, following the curves of the pro-posed railway track, nearly 700 miles from Selkirk. The first telegram from that far-off station was received at Winnipeg on the sixth of April, 1876. The telegraph will so follow the surveyor and precede the laying of the Iron.

Connection through the ” Narrows ” of Lake Manitoba with the interior water system and summer communication on it by steamers, would fully meet the requirements of the case for many a day, so far as the Red River country is concerned. Companies of surveyors locating the road bed at various points between Fort Pelly and Nipissing give gratifying reports that the engineering difficulties in construction will be much less than anticipated. Forty mile stretches on either side the Winnipeg River unfortunately offer great difficulties, and render progress there slow. It may possibly, on this account, be yet deemed advisable to swerve southerly from the line between Rat Portage and Selkirk, as laid down on our map, and strike the Pembina branch nearer Winnipeg. However delayed may be the route westerly from Manitoba through the passes of the Rocky Mountains, yet a continuous steam route through British territory to Red River should be practicable before the end of this decade. The United States have mainly grown for many years through railway enterprise opening up their western lands. But foreign capital and imported muscle built most of their railways. The Canada Pacific Road is destined to pass through a region unsurpassed for fertility, and by a route of more than two days travel from ocean to ocean shorter than any other to the Pacific. Much of the young Canadian population has for the last ten years or more been lured over the Border, and may be found in Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Colorado, Kansas and California.

Our prairie land was locked up by the Hudson’s Bay Company ; now, as we see, it is admitted to be the best of all. Open it to the world by steam communication over our own soil, and let our countrymen know that they can carry their grain to Fort William steamers at moderate cost, and they, and many Americans with them, will swarm over and soon fill up the Prairie Province. They will be but the more patriotic after experiencing the ” new civilization ” of the Western States, with trials by Judge Lynch, the sad and ill effect of American-Indian treatment and more ” politics to the acre ” than are for the good of any country.

It is estimated that the amount of money brought into Canada by immigrants during the year 1875 was $906,000, and the amount of settlers’ effects entered $433,000, making a total of $1,339,000 ; but, of course, the amounts not reported would very considerably swell this sum. Of the whole amount $380,000 was brought in by the Mennonites. It cannot be denied that true economy would advise a generous expenditure to prepare the country for the reception of such additions to its inhabitants.

The British Commissioners of Emigration, in 1871, re-ported that ” Canada can not absorb more than between 30,000 and 40,000 emigrants a year, and the excess beyond that number can obtain employment only in the labour market of the United States.”

It appears from the admissions of their most reliable men that emigrants can no longer obtain good wheat lands in the Western States at first cost, certainly none so good as in our great Fertile Belt. It is in the interests alike of the Mother Country and of the older Provinces to guide their surplus population to these possessions, which only need to be made known to be appreciated, and strong arms to develop their riches. With steam communication, the land would at once rise in value, and all near railroads would be eagerly sought for. Thus a great part of the cost of construction would be made by sale of the large reserves which the Dominion Government hold. In parts of Ohio, where wheat brings ninety cents per bushel, unimproved land sells, as we learn, ai from $3O to $50 per acre. In Iowa, where wheat was but fifty cents per bushel, such lands of equal fertility can be bought for one-sixth of the price paid in Ohio. Elsewhere the result has been much the same as to all lands worth cultivating, when traversed and opened to market by railways. What cause for doubt then can there be as to the rich river valleys of our Fertile Belt ?