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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 47

Popular Names for Lands—a Word to Intending Settlers

page 9

Popular Names for Lands—a Word to Intending Settlers.

Most countries have peculiar names of their own for agricultural lands, and the immigrant, on arriving in British Columbia, will hear men talking of "prairies," beaver-dam lands," "bottom lands," "tide lands," and "flats." A few words to explain these terms may assist him in selecting a proper location. The term "prairie," on the "Pacific slope," does not mean the treeless sea of grass which is called by that name in the centre of America, east from the Rocky range. The Pacific slope prairies may be classed, broadly, as "wet" and "dry" prairies.

"Wet prairies" are level spaces at the meeting (forks) of rivers. They are often overflowed in early summer by river "freshets." This kind of prairie is also found at the mouths of tidal rivers, where the land is overflowed in winter by high tides raised by wind. Extensive specimens of both these kinds of "wet prairie" may be seen on the lower part of Fraser River. They are generally free of timber, except perhaps some alder shrubs, and produce a coarse grass called "swamp hay." Cattle do well on the wet prairies, but cows not so well on the salt-water marsh. These prairies need dyking and draining in some parts. The soil generally is very rich, and they are considered desirable "locations." In British Columbia they are free from malaria and ague.

The choice pieces of land scattered through forests, and known as "alder land" (or easily-drained swamp), seem to be, in fact, "wet prairies," on which the alder bushes have grown to be trees. Another kind of "wet prairie" is "beaver-dam land," that is, flat land made marshy by beavers having dammed small streams which run through it. This is very good land generally. Small marshes also are common at the head-waters of streams—grassy spots among the rough mountains, which are very pleasant to the traveller and to his horse. We may also class as "wet prairies" the open marshes ("tide lands" or "flats") where the sea-coast is low and shelves back. These appear to be portions of the raised coast-line. The sand-drift encroaches on the wet ground, and the plants of the two localities grow almost together. It is sometimes difficult to get fresh water for cattle on these "tide lands."

"Dry prairies" are open spaces generally near rivers. Some have very rich soil, but they are not generally so rich as the wet prairies. They have fine grass, beautiful flowers, and often a dense crop of ferns not liked" by farmers. The pine forest bounds them abruptly like a regiment of trees called to a halt, suggesting to the observer that the 44dry prairie" is the remnant of larger open tracts which existed in some age with a different climate, and that the pines have encroached. The dry prairies are seldom extensive in the West Cascade region.

"Bottom lands" are flat lands in river-valleys or adjoining rivers, dry enough to be classed as 44dry prairie" land. They generally bear such trees as the maple, ash, crab apple, with a stray fir. These trees are easily cleared, and as the alluvial soil of the bottom lands is often highly productive, these lands are desirable places to settle upon.

The term "dry prairie," or simply "prairie," seems to be popularly applied in the East Cascade region (comparatively an unwooded region) to any open flat tract, not distinctively a valley, and not large enough to be callcd a plain page 10 or plateau. The "Grand Prairie," north-west from Okanagan Lake, is 16 miles long, and about 2 miles wide, bounded on cither side by mountains, between which flows a river. It is in fact the piece of a valley, and would be called one, were it longer.

I need not mention names given to the high lands in British Columbia, as there is nothing peculiar in these name except, perhaps, the term "bench," which is applied to the raised level spaces, or terraces, in some of the river-valleys. These terraces run at intervals along both sides of the rivers for miles in length; and they recede where the mountains retire, for distances back varying from a few acres to a few miles in breadth. They are objects of curiosity and speculation, and, from the regularity and evenness of their structure, add much to the beauty of the rude scenes in which they occur. They generally appear on both sides of the river, and in some places are multiplied into several successive level plateaux, rising one above the other as they recede from the bank.*

* Names of places in this Handbook are spelt as in the Map of the Province, 9th May, 1870, with additions January 1871.