The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 44
Chapter IV. — North-West Territory. — Professor Macoun's Evidence
Professor Macoun's Evidence.
Professor John Macoun, of Albert University, Belleville, appeared before the Committee and, in answer to questions, said :—
A continuous farming country extends from Point du Chien to the Assiniboine, at Fort Ellice. a distance of 230 miles, without a break. Beyond this there are twenty-five miles of dry, gravelly ground, of little account for anything except pasture. Then follows a very extensive tract of country stretching westward to the South Saskatchewan and extending indefinitely north and south. This wide region contains many fine sections of rich fertile country, interspersed with poplar groves, rolling, treeless prairie, salt lakes, saline and other marshes, and brackish or fresh water ponds. What is not suited for raising cereals is excellent pasture land. Only a few of the salt lakes would be injurious to cattle or horses; and fresh water can be obtained without doubt a little below the surface.
The soil of this whole region is a warm, gravelly or sandy loam. The surface soil, to a depth of from one to three feet, is a brown or black loam. The subsoil, being generally either sand or gravel, consisting principally of limestone pebbles; many boulders are found in some sections. The land between the two Saskatchewans is nearly all good. Prince Albert Mission settlement is situated in this section. At Carleton I crossed the North Saskatchewan, and therefore know nothing personally of the immense region extending west and south thence to the Boundary. All accounts, however, agree in saying it is the garden of the country. Good land, generally speaking, extends northward to Green Bake, a distance of 170 miles from Carleton. How much further eastward this good land extends I am unable to state; but Sir John Richardson says that wheat is raised without difficulty at Cumberland House. The good arable land is about twenty-five miles wide at Edmonton, but possibly not so wide at Fort Pitt, more to the east, but further north. This region is bounded on the south by the North Saskatchewan, and on page 26 the north by the watershed between it and the Beaver and Athabasca Rivers. Within this area there are five settlements where wheat is raised regularly without difficulty, viz: the Star Mission, (Church of England,) sixty miles north of Carleton on the Green Lake Road; Lac La Biche Mission, (R. C.), 100 miles from Fort Edmonton; Victoria Mission, (Wesleyan,) eighty miles east of Edmonton, and St. Albert Mission, (R. C.), nine miles north of Edmonton, and at Edmonton itself. Edmonton seems to be the coldest point in the district in question, and suffers most from summer frosts.
Next is a very extensive district forming the watersheds between the Saskatchewan and Peace Rivers, and through which the Athabasca River flows for its whole course, and from which it receives its waters. This region is all forest, and consists of muskeg (swamp) spruce and poplar forest. Very little is known of this region, but the soil where I crossed it is generally good where not swampy. West of Edmonton, whore the railway crosses the section, there is said to be much swamp, but between Fort Pitt and the Forks of the Athabasca there is scarcely any swamp, although it is nearly all forest.
Next comes the Peace River section, extending along the Rocky Mountains from a little north of Jasper's House to Fort Liard, Lat. sixty-one north; and from the former point to the west end of Little Slave Lake; thence to the Forks of the Athabasca, and down that River to Athabasca Lake, and from thence to Fort Liard. The upper part of this immense area is principally prairie, extending on both sides of the Peace River. As we proceed to the north and east, the prairie gradually changes into a continuous poplar forest with here and there a few spruces, indicating a wetter soil. The general character of this section is like that of Manitoba west from Portage La Prairie to Pine Creek.
Wheat was raised last year at the Forks of the Athabasca, at the French Mission, (Lake Athabasca,) at Fort Liard, and at Fort Vermillion in this section.
The following observations and extracts will speak for themselves. I was on Peace River during the whole month of October, 1872; part of my work was to note the temperature, which I did with care. The average reading of the thermometer, at eight o'clock p.m., for the ten days between the 10th and 19th October, was 42° in Lat. 56°, while at Belleville, Ontario, in Lat. 44°, it was only 46° at 1 p.m., being only 4° higher with a difference of 12° in Latitude. (For details see Pacific Railway Survey Report for 1874, page 96).
Captain Butler passed through the same region in the following April, and states that the whole hillside was covered with the blue page 27 anemone (Anemone patens) on the 22nd of April. See Wild North Land.
Daniel Williams (Nigger Dan,) furnished the following extracts from his notebook:
"Ice began to run in river November 8th.
"River closed November 28th.
"First snow October 28th.
"April 23rd, ice moved out of river.
"Planted potatoes April 25th.
"First permanent snow November 2nd.
"River closed November 30th.
"River broke up 19th April.
"First geese came 21st April.
"Sowed barley and oats April 22nd.
"River clear of upper ice May 3rd."—N. B. Upper ice from above the Rocky Mountain Canyon.
"Planted potatoes May 5th.
"Potatoes not injured by frost until 22nd September. Then snow fell which covered them, but soon went off. Dug over 100 bushels from one planting." This is possibly too large.—J. M.
"Ice commenced to run in river October 30th.
"River closed November 23rd.
"Snowed all night November 4th.
"Ice broke up in river April 15th.
"Warm rains from north-west; blue flies and rain, February 18th.
"Ice cleared out in front of Fort, April 16th.
"Potatoes planted 8th, 9th and 10th May.
"Barley and oats sown May 7th.
"Snow all gone before the middle of April. This applies to both the river valley and the level country above." Difference in level 746 feet.
The potatoes were dug out in quantities, and were both large and dry. On the 2nd August, seventeen men got a week's supply at this time. These men were traders from down the river who depended on their guns for food. The barley and oats were both ripe about the 12th August. (Both on Exhibition at Philadelphia).
Extract from the Hudson Bay Company's Journal, Fort St. John, Peace River, for a scries of ten years. Lat. 56° 12 North, Long. 120° west. Altitude above the sea, nearly 1,600 feet.page 28
|Opening of River.||First ice drifting in river.|
|1866—April 19||November 7|
|1867—April 21||November 3 or 8|
|1868—April 20||November 7|
|1869—April 23||November 8|
|1870—April 26||November No record.|
|1871—April 18||November 10|
|1872—April 19||November 8|
|1873—April 23||November 4|
|1874—April 19||October 31|
In a pamphlet published by Malcolm McLeod, Esq., in the year 1872, he shows that the summer temperature at Dunvegan, 120 miles farther down the river, is about half a degree less than that of Toronto, the one averaging 54° 14′ and the other 54° 44′
At Battle River, over 100 miles further down, Indian corn has ripened three years in succession, and my observations tend to show that the summer temperature at this point is greater than it is higher up.
At Vermillion, Lat. 58°. 24′, I had a long conversation with old Mr. Shaw, who has had charge of this Fort for sixteen years; ho says the frosts never injure anything on this part of the river, and every kind of garden stuff can be grown. Barley sown on the 8th May, cut 6th August, and the finest 1 ever saw. Many ears as long as my hand, and the whole crop thick and stout. In my opinion this is the finest tract of country on the river. The general level of the country is less than 100 feet above it.
At Little River I found everything in a very forward state. Cucumbers started in the open air were fully ripe; Windsor, pole beans and peas were likewise ripe, August 15th. Fort Chipweyan, at the entrance to the Lake Athabasca, has very poor soil in its vicinity, being largely composed of sand; still, here I obtained fine samples of wheat and barley—the former weighing 68 lbs. to the bushel, and the latter 58 lbs. The land here is very low and swampy, being but little elevated above the lake. At the French Mission, two miles above the Fort, oats, wheat and barley were all cut by the 26th August. Crop rather light on the ground.
Mr. Hardisty, Chief Factor in charge of Fort Simpson, in Lat. 61° N., informed me that barley always ripened there, and that wheat was sure four times out of five. Melons if started under glass ripen well. Frost seldom does them much damage.
Chief Trader Macdougall says, that Fort Liard, in Lat. 61° N., has the warmest summer temperature in the whole region, and all kinds of grain and garden stuff always come to maturity. He has page 29 been on the Yucon for twelve years, and says that most years barley ripens under the Arctic Circle in Long. 143° W.
The localities mentioned were not chosen for their good soil, but for the facilities which they afforded for carrying on the fur trade, or for mission purposes. Five-sixths of all the land in the Peace River section is just as good as the points cited, and will produce as good crops in the future. The reason so little is cultivated is owing to the fact that the inhabitants, whites and Indians, are flesh-eaters. Mr. Macfarlane, Chief Factor in charge of the Athabasca District, told me that just as much meat is eaten by the Indians when they receive flour and potatoes as without them.
At the Forks of the Athabasca, Mr. Moberly, the gentleman in charge, has a first-class garden, and wheat and barley of excellent quality. He has cut an immense quantity of hay, as the Hudson Bay Co. winter all the oxen and horses used on Methy Portage at this point. He told me that in a year or two the Company purposed supplying the whole interior from, this locality with food, as the deer were getting scarce and supplies rather precarious. This is the identical spot where Mr. Pond had a garden filled with European vegetables when Sir Alexander Mackenzie visited it in 1787.
The following extracts are from Sir Alexander Mackenzie's travels. He passed the winters of 1792 and 1793 near Smoky River, and writes as follows:—" November 7th. The river began to run with ice yesterday, which we call the last of navigation. On the 22nd the river was frozen across, and remained so until the last of April." Between the 16th November and the 2nd December, when he broke his thermometer, the range at 8.30 a.m. was from 27°'above to 16° below zero; at noon the range was from 29° above to 4° below; and at 6 p.m. it was from 28° above to 7° below. "On the 5th January, in the morning, the weather was calm, clear and cold, the wind blew from the south-west, and in the afternoon it was thawing. I had already observed at the Athabasca that this wind never failed to bring us clear, mild weather, whereas when it blew from the opposite quarter it produced snow. Here it is much more perceptible, for if it blows hard from the southwest for four hours a thaw is the consequence. To this cause may be attributed the scarcity of snow in this part of the world. At the end of January very little snow was on the ground, but about this time the cold became very severe, and remained so to the 16th March, when the weather became mild, and by the 5th April all the snow was gone. On the 20th the gnats and mosquitoes came, and Mr. Mackay brought me a bunch of flowers of a pink colour and a yellow button (Anemone patens,) encircled with six leaves of a light purple. On the other side of the river, which was still covered with ice, the plains were delightful—the trees were budding, and many plants in blossom. The change in the page 30 appearance of the face of Nature was as sudden as it was pleasing for a few days only were passed away since the ground was covered with snow. On the 25th the river was cleared of the ice."
I consider nearly all the Peace River section to be well suited for rasing cereals of all kinds, and at least two-thirds of it fit for wheat. The soil of this section is as good as any part of Manitoba, and the climate if anything is milder.
The Thickwood country, drained by the Athabasca, has generally good soil, but it is wet and cold. At least one-half is good for raising barley and wheat, while much of the remainder would make first-class pasture and meadow lands.
I am not so well acquainted with the Saskatchewan section, but from what I know of it, it has generally good soil and a climate not unsuitable for wheat raising. Between Fort Pitt and Edmonton there is a tract which I consider subject to summer frosts, but it would produce immense crops of hay. This district is the only dangerous one in the Saskatchewan country.
Of the high country between the South Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and south to the boundary, I know but little. If it could be shown that summer frost did no injury in the region in question, I could say that from its soil and vegetation the greater part would reduce wheat. At all events barley and peas will be a sure crop.
I cannot speak decidedly of this large area, as from its exposed position and height from the sea, there is a danger of injury to the crops from frosts. The future will decide the point.
Q. Referring to the cultivable parts of the central or prairie regions between the Province of Manitoba and the Rocky Mountains can you state whether there are early or summer frosts, which would be likely to prove detrimental to the cultivation of wheat ?
A. In answering the last question, I stated that I could not be certain from my own observations, but I incline to the opinion that many largo areas will be found altogether free from frosts, while others will be injured by them. While crossing the Plains with Mr. Fleming in August, 1872, the thermometer fell to 30° on the morning of the 14th, and ice was formed in some of the vessels, but I saw no injury done to vegetation. This was about ninety miles east of the South Saskatchewan. Captain Palliser records the thermometer frilling below freezing point on the 14th August, 1857. in the neighbourhood of Fort Ellice, but vegetation did not seem to suffer. It seems that the first frost to do any injury comes about the 20th of this month, and that it is just as likely to affect Manitoba as the country further west.
I have noticed the large claims, as respects the yield of wheat in the valley of the Red River, advanced, but doubt their accuracy. From what I could learn, I should think thirty-five bushels per acre as pretty near the average. Cultivation like that of Ontario would page 31 give a much greater yield, as there are more grains to the ear than in Ontario. The grain is heavier. Peas will always be a heavy crop in the North-West, as the soil is suitable, and a little frost does them no harm.
All my observations tended to show that the whole Peace River country was just as capable of successful settlement as Manitoba. The soil seems to be richer—the country contains more wood; there are no saline marshes or lakes; the water is all good—there are no summer frosts—spring is just as early and the winter sets in no sooner. The winter may be more severe; but there is no certainty of this.
I would not advise any attempt to settle this region until after the settlement has extended at least to Edmonton, as there is at least 150 miles of broken country between the two.
From my former answers it will be seen that about the 20th of April ploughing can commence on Peace River, and from data in my possession the same may be said of the Saskatchewan regions generally.
It is a curious fact that spring seems to advance from north-west to south-east, at a rate of about 250 miles per day, and that in the Fall winter begins in Manitoba first and goes westward at the same rate.
The following data selected from various sources will throw considerable light on the question of temperature. It is worthy of note that Halifax on the sea coast is nearly as cold in spring and summer as points more than twelve degrees further north.
Spring, summer and autumn temperature at various points, to which is added the mean temperature of July and August, the two. ripening months.
|Latitude north||Summer.||Spring.||Autumn.||July and August.|
|Belleville||44.10||temperature nearly that of Toronto.|
|Dunvegan, Peace River.||56.08||average summer six months||54.44|
Any unprejudiced person making a careful examination of the page 32 above figures will be struck with the high temperatures obtained in the interior. Edmonton has a higher spring temperature than Montreal, and is eight degrees farther north and over 2,000 feet above the sea. The temperatures of Carleton and Edmonton are taken from Captain Palliser's explorations in the Saskatchewan country, during the years 1857 and 1858. It will be seen that the temperatures of the months when grain ripens is about equal throughout the whole Dominion from Montreal to Fort Simpson north of Great Slave Lake.
The country, in my opinion, is well suited for stock-raising throughout its whole extent. The winters are certainly cold, but the climate is dry, and the winter snows arc light, both as to depth and weight. All kinds of animals have thicker coats in cold climates than in warm ones, so that the thicker coat counter-balances the greater cold. Dry snow never injures cattle in Ontario. No other kind ever falls in Manitoba or the North-West, so that there can be no trouble from this cause. Cattle winter just as well on the Athabasca and Peace Rivers as they do in Manitoba; and Mr. Grant, who has been living on Rat Creek, Manitoba, for a number of years, says that cattle give less trouble there than they do in Nova Scotia. Horses winter out without feed other than what they pick up, from Peace River to Manitoba. Sheep, cattle, and horses will require less attention and not require to be fed as long as we now feed them in Ontario. Owing to the light rain-fall the uncut grass is almost as good as hay when the winter sets in, which it does without the heavy rains of the east. This grass remains good all winter as the dry snows does not rot it. In the spring the snow leaves it almost as good as ever, so that cattle can eat it until the young grass appears. From five to six months is about the time cattle will require to be fed, and shelter will altogether depend on the farmer.
Q. Could, in your opinion, the arid portion of the Central Prairie region, and particularly that part supposed to be an extension of the" American Desert," be utilized for sheep grazing or any other agricultural purpose ?
A. Laramie Plains, in Wyoming Territory, are spoken of by all American writers as eminently fitted for sheep and cattle farming, and our extension of the "Desert" has, from all accounts, a better climate—is at least 4,000 feet lower in altitude, and from the able Reports of Mr. George Dawson (1874,) and Captain Palliser (1858,) I am led to infer that our part of the "Desert," besides being first-class pasture land, contains many depressions well suited for raising all kinds of grain. Mr. Dawson specially remarks that its soil is generally good, but that the rain-fall is light. Speaking of the worst part, he says:" It scarcely supports a sod," but this tract is not fifty miles wide. This is the winter home of the buffalo, and hence cattle and sheep can live on it in the winter without difficulty. I have seen page 33 the Laramie Plains and the cattle upon them—I have examined the flora of both regions, and believe ours is warmer in winter and certainly not so dry in summer.
Mr. George Dawson speaking of this region says:" In July, of last summer (1873,) I saw a band of cattle in the vicinity of the Line south of Wood Mountain, which had strayed from one of the United States forts to the south. They were quite wild, and almost as difficult of approach as the buffalo; and notwithstanding the fact that they had come originally from Texas, and were unaccustomed to frost and snow, they had passed through the winter and were in capital condition." Comment is unnecessary.
Whatever desert region there is, lies between the Souris and the Milk River on the boundary, and the Qu'Appelle and South Saskatchewan on the north.
Q. Is there any other wood than poplar in the Peace River country ?
A. Five-sixths of all the timber is poplar, and is invariably a sign of dry soil and good land. Balsam poplar is very abundant on the islands in all the north-western rivers, often attaining a diameter of from 6 to 10 feet, even as far north as Fort Simpson. White spruce grows to a very large size on all the watersheds and the slopes of the south bank of the Peace River, on islands in all the rivers, and very abundantly on the low lands at the west end of Lake Athabasca. I have often seen it over three feet in diameter, but the usual size is from one to two feet. Banksian pine was not observed on Peace River, but it occurs at Lake Athabasca, and is abundant as you approach the Saskatchewan from the north. Its presence indicates sandy soil unfit for cultivation.
White birch is not abundant along the Peace River, but is common on the Athabasca and Mackenzie Rivers. The Northern Indians make large quantities of syrup from its sap in spring.
These are the most important trees. There are no beech, maple, ash, oak, elm, white or red pine in the country.
Q. What fruits grow spontaneously in the Peace River country and Athabasca regions?
A. The berry of the Amelanchier Canadensis (Service Berry of Canadians, Poires of the French Half-breeds and Sas-ka-tum berries of the Indians) is collected in immense quantities on the Upper Peace River, and forms quite an article of food and trade. When I was at Dunvegan last summer the Indians and Half-breeds were camped out collecting the berries which were then in their prime (August 6th.) Bears are very fond of them, and resort to the sunny slopes of the Peace River at this time in great numbers to feed upon the berries. The Indian women press them into square cakes while fresh, and then dry them for future use, but those intended for the Hudson Bay page 34 Company's post are dried in the sun and mixed with dry meat and grease to form pemmican, or are fried in grease for a dessert.
Strawberries and raspberries are very abundant in most districts on Peace River, especially at Verrmillion.
Another raspberry (Rubus Arcticus), of an amber colour, is very abundant at Lake Athabasca and up around Portage La Loche and the Valley of the English River. Its fruit is converted into jellies and jams, and gives a relish to many a poor meal.
High bush cranberries (Viburnum pauciflorum and Opulus) are very abundant in the wooded districts on both sides of the Athabasca, and Clear-water rivers and around Lake Athabasca.
Gooseberries and currants of many species are found, but are not much sought after. Blueberries, low bush cranberries, and the cowberry (Vaccinium Vitis Jolæ), are abundant in particular localities in the above district. Two species of cherries—the bird cherry and the choke cherry—complete the list.
The Peace River is navigable from the Rocky Mountains for at least 500 miles by river,—in none of this distance is it less than six feet deep. A canal of two miles would overcome the obstructions at this point. For two hundred and fifty miles below this there is no obstruction except a rapid, which I think is caused by boulders in the channel. Their removal would probably overcome the difficulty.
The Athabasca is navigable for one hundred and eighty miles above Lake Athabasca. Mr. Moberly, an officer in the Hudson Bay Company's service, sounded it all the way from Fort Mac-murray, at the Forks of the Clear-water and the Athabasca, to Lake Athabasca, and no spot with less than six feet at low water was found. Between Lake Athabasca and the Arctic Ocean only one break exists, but this is fourteen miles across by land; after that is overcome, 1,300 miles of first-class river navigation is met with, which takes us to the ocean.
The Hudson Bay Company purpose opening a cart road from Fort Pitt on the Saskatchewan to the Forks of the Athabasca, and contemplate having a steamboat on the Athabasca and the Peace and Slave Rivers. By this means ingress and egress will be obtained, and their goods will be more easily distributed to distant points. This road will be made and the steamer built in time for the trade of 1877.
The moose is still abundant on both sides of the Peace Piver, and the wood buffalo is still found between the Athabasca and the Peace River about lat. 57°. From five hundred to one thousand head is the estimate of the hunters. Black bears are very numerous on the upper part of Peace River, and furnish the chief food of the people in July and August. Cariboo are north and east of Lake page 35 Athabasca, and are the chief food of the Indians and Half-breeds of that region. Rabbits are in immense numbers wherever there is timber, and are easily taken. Waterfowl are beyond computation, during September, in the neighbourhood of Lake Athabasca, and large flocks of Canada geese are found on Peace River all summer. Lynx, beaver, martin and fox make up the chief fur-bearing animals.
Large deposits of coal have been observed, by Mr. Selwyn, on the Saskatchewan, between the Rocky Mountain House and Victoria, a distance of 211 miles. He speaks in one place of having seen seams. 20 feet thick, and in his report for 1873 and 1874, he gives a photograph, on page 41, of this seam.
Rev. Mr. Grant, in "Ocean to Ocean," speaks of a seam of coal on the Pembina River—a tributary of the Athabasca—ten feet thick, and from which they brought away specimens that were afterwards analysed by Professor Lawson, and found to contain less than 3 per cent, of ash.
While on my trip to Peace River, in company with Mr. Horetzky in the fall of 1872, I discovered coal in large quantities in the bank of one of the rivers which flow into Little Slave Lake. It was also seen in small quantities in a number of other localities in the vicinity of the Lake. It is also reported from the upper part of Smoky River, and I have seen it in small quantities on the upper part of Peace River and its tributaries on the right bank. I observed no indications of coal below Smoky River, but Sir John Richardson speaks of lignite being abundant on the Mackenzie.
Clay ironstone is associated with the coal wherever it has been observed, although possibly not in paying quantities. Coal, then, and ironstone may be said to extend almost all the way from the boundary to the Arctic Ocean. Gypsum of the very best quality, and as white as snow, was seen at Peace Point on Peace River, and for a distance of over 20 miles it extended on both sides of the river, averaging 12 feet in thickness. Sir John Richardson says in his "Journal of a Boat Voyage to the Arctic Ocean," Vol. I, page 149, that he found this same gypsum associated with the salt deposits on Salt River, about 70 miles N.N.E. from Peace Point, and he infers that the-country between is of the same character.
Sir John examined the salt deposits at Salt River and found that they were derived from the water of salt springs, of which ho found a number flowing out of a hill and spreading their waters over a clay flat of some extent. The evaporation of the water leaves the salt incrusting the soil, and in some places forming mounds out of which the purest salt is shovelled.
For many miles along the Athabasca below the Forks there are outcrops of black shale from which liquid petroleum is constantly- page 36 oozing. At various points, at some distance from the immediate bank of the river, there are regular tar springs, from which the Hudson Bay Company get their supply for boat building and other purposes. 'The tar is always covered with water in these springs, and something like coal oil is seen floating on this water. Besides those mentioned other springs are known to exist on the Clear-water, a tributary of the Athabasca, and on Peace River, near Smoke River, and Little Red River on the same stream. Sulphur springs are frequent on the Clear-water, and large metalliferous deposits are said to exist near Fond du Lac on the north shore of Lake Athabasca. Gold is found in small quantities on the upper Peace River, but it is of very little; account. Immense quantities of first-class sandstone occur for over 300 miles along Peace River, and other minerals will be discovered when the country is better known.
Grasshoppers from their very nature cannot be yearly visitors, but arc almost certain to be occasional ones. It seems to be a law that insect pests eventually breed their own destruction, This seems to have been their history in the past, and I believe will be the same in the future. A few reached the South Saskatchewan in 1875, but none have ever been seen on Peace River. Owing to the belt of timber which intervenes between it and the Saskatchewan, they can never injure that fine country, nor will they ever do much damage in the Saskatchewan country, as they are likely to move towards the east and north, which takes them away from it. I know of no mode of prevention except tree planting, which will be at best a slow process.
|Total.||Belleville.||Quebec.||West of||Mountains.||Western Plains.|
|Little Hed River||128||88||1||0||39|
The only plants that show any signs of a boreal climate are those from Quebec. The two at Vermillion were Yellow Rattle (Rinanthus Cristagalli) and High Bush Cranberry (Vibernum paucijiorum). The most prominent feature in the whole region was a richness in the soil and rankness in the vegetation never seen in Ontario.
Where Peace River leaves the mountains, it is at least 800 feet below the level of the plain. At Fort Chipewyan, on Lake Atha-basca, the country is on a level with the water.