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Across the Canadian Prairies

The letters which are collected in this little volume were written during a two months’ visit to Canada in the autumn of 1894. They are reprinted by permission of the proprietors of The Colonies and India, in which journal they first appeared. It has been thought that they might be interesting, not only to persons who are acquainted with the districts in which I travelled, but to those who take an interest in the progress of the country.

Of course, much of what was written of 1894 applies equally to 1895; but the condition of things now is even brighter and more prosperous than it was then, in view of the revival of trade, and of the magnificent harvest with which Canada has been favoured this year. The letters, however, even in their collected form, merely contain the impressions of a traveller, and are not in any way intended to be a “book” in the usual sense of the term. There are, no doubt, many matters which I have omitted, deserving of attention, while others that are referred to deserve more extended treatment than they have received.

I should like to have devoted much more space to the development of steam communication, and to the work of the various steamship companies whose vessels, plying between British ports and Canada, have done so much to promote the development of the country and its commerce. The same remark applies to the railways and canals of Canada, of which only passing mention has been made. The growth of the railways in the Dominion in the last twenty years has, for instance, been marvellous, and their effect upon inter-provincial development can hardly be realised, much less over-estimated. There is also the excellent banking system, which has done so much to preserve the country from the dangers of the financial and commercial depression that has been passing over the world since 1890. Apart from their ordinary commercial business, the growth of the deposits in the banks, and particularly the expansion of the deposits in the Post Office and Government Savings Banks, form a valuable object-lesson in themselves of the wonderful improvement in the social condition of Canada since Confederation.

Then, again, there is the old Hudson Bay Company, which has played so important a part in the history of Canada for over 200 years. It seems only yesterday that it handed over to Canada the administration of a territory—now Manitoba and the North-West Territories— almost as large as Europe. So well did its officers administer it that the task of dealing with the Indians subsequently, and of preparing the way for settlement, was a comparatively easy one, notwithstanding the difficulties that occurred in 1870 and 1885, owing to the eccentricities and vanity of some of the half-breeds. The company still occupies a prominent position in the country as a trading concern. Its fur trade in the Far North remains unimpaired; and it has, besides, a large stake in the great NorthWest, in the shape of the many millions of acres of land of which it is the owner.

I might also, perhaps, have laid greater stress upon the scenic attractions of Canada, and upon its charms for the sportsman. No good purpose, however, will be served by attempting to make up in an introduction for the deficiencies of the letters, especially in regard to matters that are somewhat outside their scope. I can only hope that they may be of some interest to those persons into whose hands they may fall.

London: November 1895.

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