conflagrations—Outposts of the Rockies—Drab flats and purple crags—In
the glacier track—Geological action— The Three Sisters—Between Canmore
and Bankhead—The National Park—Surviving specimens of big game—Rundle
Mountains—Minnewauka Lakes—Laggan—Lakes in the Clouds —The glacier
region and its rivers—Hector monument—The Kicking Horse River—A great
engineering feat—Douglas pines —Victims of forest fires—The Selkirks—The
track of the avalanche—The Eagle River—The Fraser and Thompson— The
Pacific—The flora of prairie and mountains—Vancouver— Shipping and
ALL along the railway
track a wide furrow is ploughed on both sides. Its object is to check
the spread of fire caused by sparks from the engine. Prairie
conflagrations are terrible scourges. Travelling between Calgary and
Edmonton on my return, the sky was clouded with the smoke of one that
must have been ten miles away. For hours we were within sight of it, the
air was laden with the smell of burning. With a strong wind it travels
at enormous pace, licking up everything in its way, and sending birds,
cattle and wild beasts before it in mad flight.
It was early morning
when the outlying ranges of the Rocky Mountains came into view.
Gradually they broke upon us, as if adapting themselves to eyes too long
accustomed to uneventful flatness. Nature intensifies her effects by
contrasts. One thousand miles of flat are succeeded by one thousand
miles of mountain, but it is difficult for the insular mind to grasp the
meaning of it. Our familiarity with minute details is an indifferent
preparation for things so vast, and here we have the plains and hills of
England scaled up to the prairies and Rockies of British Columbia. Our
faculties are not equal to it. We can no more see in thousands of feet
than we can think in millions of figures—without practice. But nature
trains us in her own way. She satiates the eye with the drab of a
monotonous flat, in order to whet it for the purple of crags that “kiss
high Heaven.” And how cunningly she does it! In her hints, in foothills
coming at intervals with prairie lying between. First bare rocks, then
verdure-clad, followed by detached ranges, like stray notes and
introductory chords to full-souled music. The murmuring of rivers is
faintly caught in the distance to-day, which to-morrow will be heard in
full-throated roar. Pioneer mountains prove to be only links in ranges
which divide in clear-cut peaks amongst the clouds.
The solid stone and
timber of the railway line rests on nothing less than the track of an
ancient glacier which once crawled down the descent and discharged
itself in thundering avalanche as its fellows do to-day.
Geological action can
be clearly traced out in stratified rocks, some crushed beneath heavy
burdens, others leaning as if a touch would topple them over into the
abyss. In places deep ravines, in which mysterious shadows lurk,
penetrate their sides ; jagged crags, clean-cut and resplendent, crown
their summits. The Three Sisters between Bankhead and Canmore are a
conspicuous feature of rock formation. They stand equidistant, and rise
to an altitude of nearly 10,000 feet. The valley was putting on its
autumn tints when I saw them, and the young silver birch and poplar made
a golden pathway up to the skirts of the White Maidens, which looked as
if they had been just startled out of sleep. Hog’s-back ridges rose
between them, and a glacier river flowed at their feet. Between Canmore
and Bankhead there is a National Park, where surviving specimens of the
buffalo, once ubiquitous in the North-West, are to be found penned in,
and, like their original masters the North American Indians, shorn of
their wild romance. Bankhead is a favourite place to break the journey,
and exploration may be carried on amongst the Cascade and Rundle
Mountains, and Vermillion and Minnewauka Lakes. There is a comfortable
hotel there, equipped with all modern conveniences, where efficient
guides may be obtained.
Laggan is romantically
situated near the Lakes in the Clouds, marvellous insets of water high
up the mountain-side. Behind them, there is an extensive glacier region,
source of some of the great rivers which irrigate the valleys of British
Columbia. Verdure and fruitfulness spring up in their tracks. The
principal are the Mackenzie, rising in the Great Slave Lake, which flows
to the Arctic Ocean; the Saskatchewan, with its North and South
branches; and the Columbia, which empties itself into the Pacific, south
of Vancouver Island. The Valley of the Ten Peaks is one of the most
beautiful in this mountain district. The latter shape themselves into a
crescent round Lake Morine, rearing their heads in pairs, with great
snow-drifts lying between. The green tint of the glacier stands out
distinctly against the dazzling snow and dark mountain bases.
Further north a
monument is erected to the memory of Sir James Hector of the Palliser,
1858 Expedition, the first intrepid explorer of the Rockies. A more
imposing monument calls to mind his distinguished services, in the
colossal pile that bears the name of Mount Hector. The first president
of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, another celebrity, is honoured
in the name given to Mount Stephen, which is separated from the Hector
Range by a river. At this point the collective streams again separate
into two branches, the one taking the Pacific Ocean direction, the other
. Hudson Bay. A deep gorge of the Kicking Horse River is crossed where
Hector’s steed is said to have proved recalcitrant at the shock of the
ice water in fording the stream. The finest piece of railway engineering
of modern times has been accomplished at this juncture. The Canadian
Pacific train enters a tunnel 3200 feet long and begins a gradual climb
to a high level hundreds of feet above. It passes through a second
tunnel, 2910 feet, which pierces Wapiti Mountains, taking curves so
sharp that it is said an engine driver once pulled up before a red lamp,
which he afterwards discovered to be on the tail wagon of his own train.
Twice the Kicking Horse River is crossed, and when the highest ledge of
the spiral cutting is reached, four rows of railway track can be seen
rising in tiers above each other. The enterprise cost £300,000, the
price, by the way, of the whole pile of Government buildings at Calgary.
£50,000 were spent on explosives alone. The work was only completed in
When the line was first
constructed, there was a very steep declivity at this point, by no means
unattended with danger. Four engines were then needed to draw the train
; only two are required now. When descending, under the old arrangment
there was a series of side trackings, with switches for the purpose of
diverting the train when the driver lost control. These tracks branched
off the main line and slightly up-hill. On hearing the distress whistle
a man was ready to
switch off the train and so prevent a catastrophe which might be
terrible in its consequence. That danger is only a memory, and happily
few were aware of it at the time. Now the gradient is reduced from 4'S
to 2'2, and risks have practically disappeared.
From the high level
there is a wonderful sight of mountain valleys and yawning gorges. We
passed close to the tops of Douglas pines, which vie with the rocky
heights, and put forth all their strength to equal them in altitude.
Larch and spruce, in themselves magnificent, are dwarfed into
insignificance by their side. But everywhere amongst the dense forest,
solitary dead trees stand stripped of every vestige of foliage,
blackened and charred by destructive fires. There is a melancholy
desolation about them, but the thick undergrowth of their progeny wraps
them round, as if to hide their nakedness.
On the opposite side of
the gorge rise majestically the Selkirks, their glaciers so near that
the ice crystals dazzle. Deep in the mountain crevasses they are locked
fast, until higher temperature releases them, when they plunge down in
roaring avalanches that sweep everything out of the way. The deeply
scored cliffs show where ice slips have taken place, and the clear
passage where rocks and trees have been uprooted.
The railway cutting
again dips into the valley, and pursues its course along a narrow creek,
between Macdonald and Tupper mountains. So close is the line that they
rise in a sheer wall a mile high. Shelters are constructed at intervals
to break the fall of the snow. They are comprised of huge blocks of
timber, roofed over sufficiently to break up and divert the avalanche.
Without some such provision these slips would prove a serious obstacle
to locomotion, and trains would be constantly snowed up.
The river which the
line skirts, divides and unites as obstacles intervene or are removed.
The milky colour formed by the glacial silt sediment shows how much of
its volume comes from the ice regions. Picturesque cascades are formed
on the way, and foam-crested rapids, and now and again the roar of the
pent-up river amongst the rocks echoes from height to height. The Eagle
River divides into a number of branches, like the many pinions of the
birds wings, until through the wide-spreading valley it reaches Shuswap
Lake. The Thompson similarly grows into the Kamloops.
The moon was rising
over the water as we approached, and in the evening light gave an added
touch of romance to the peaceful scene. The Thompson River finds a new
setting in the famous canon through which it flows. The mountains mass
closer together, and their intimate features can be marked as the train
passes along the ledge.
The eye fastens on
colours rich and varied ; brilliant green far down the valley, red loam
streaking the banks, maple trees touched with premature autumn tints,
shimmering water, and all overarched by a deep blue cloudless sky.
The Fraser joins the
Thompson at the canon, which throws wider apart its rocky banks as if to
welcome the greatest of all the Columbian watersheds. The wear and tear
of long travel stains it, and the Thompson’s emerald tint is soon lost
in its muddy, surging currents. For miles the train and Fraser run pari
passu through Yale, Agassiz, and Harrison Mills to Westminster, where
the river lags, and slowly as a tired giant quietly sinks into the open
arms of the Pacific.
transcontinental line terminates at Vancouver, which in itself only
marks a new starting-point for the shipping service to China, Japan,
Honolulu, Fiji, and many other ports in the far-off Orient.
The prairies, arid
though they appear, are not wanting in the adornment of floral life.
Even as the train rushes by, patches of buffalo plants and grass may be
seen. These are less abundant than when the buffalo trod the plains in
great herds. The stamping of their feet hardened the ground, which
together with manuring formed a more favourable environment. Near the
foothills the dwarf creeping plants and the wormwood are seen.
Among the canons and
timbered slopes, brilliant castilleias lift their crimson bracts in
adornment of the forest woodlands. High amongst the rocky crags Alpine
flowers grow; the yellow-eyed purple prunella, the deep violet phacelia,
a plant indigenous to the American soil.
Amongst the snow there
flourish the circular-leafed yellow buttercup and the white globe
flower, both of the crowfoot family. Amongst clusters of moss spring the
little blue forget-me-not, with Alpine penny cress and yellow Iceland
poppies. The flora of the Rocky Mountains, like its fauna, have much in
common with the Arctic regions. Professor Asa Gray identified 102
distinct Arctic region species, 81 allied species, and only 14 peculiar
Vancouver is one of the
most English towns in the Dominion. There vehicular traffic keeps to the
left, the rule in the Eastern provinces being the same as in the United
States and the European continent generally.
Mail steamers run from
its port to Nanaimo, San Francisco, and various ports on the coast. Its
returns give it a prominent place among great Western cities. In 1908
they reached £36,616.689. Property in 1909 was assessed at £14,800,000.
The shingles and lumber
trades and fisheries advertise themselves along the docks and railway
stations in the city and vicinity. Foundry and steel works are carried
on extensively. It is the centre of land speculation, and real estate
offices are numerous in every street.