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Across the Canadian Prairies
To the West

The boundary of Manitoba is about 210 miles from Winnipeg; and, except for the first 40 miles, where the district is but sparsely inhabited, owing to the land being largely in the hands of speculators, the agricultural industry of the country is seen at its best from the line of railway route. In the autumn the journey affords a sight that must be seen to be realised, as it is impossible to adequately describe the fields of golden grain that are to be seen stretching away on either side, as far as the eye can reach. The country is apparently as level as a billiard table—an expression that has been used before in descriptions of the prairie—but still there is a gradual and imperceptible ascent as we go west. Between Winnipeg and Portage-la-Prairie (56 miles), for instance, there is a rise of about 100 feet, and Brandon (133 miles) is 453 feet higher than Winnipeg; and when we get to the limits of the Province, the plain is about 700 feet higher than it is at the capital.

Portage-la-Prairie (population 4,200) is the first place of importance after leaving Winnipeg. It is the centre of what is known as the Portage Plains, an extensive and famous wheat-field. There are several large elevators in the vicinity of the station, also flour mills and other manufactories, and it is the junction of the Manitoba and North-Western Railway, already laid to Yorkton, in the direction of Prince Albert— which it is destined some day to reach. The completion of the line, the company owning which is just now in rather low water, will open up a beautiful stretch of country in what is known as the Fertile Belt. From Portage-la-Prairie to Brandon, stations occur at every few miles. They are generally surrounded by stores of various kinds, which form the source of supplies for the district, and these apparently prosperous little villages are also the local grain markets, the huge elevators at most of them being landmarks for miles round.

Brandon, next to Winnipeg, is the most important town in Manitoba. It has a large and fertile district tributary to it, its streets and stores present a busy appearance, and it is not only the leading market in the Province, but an important railway junction. About a couple of miles from the town is the Government experimental farm, under the able management of Mr. Bedford. It consists of about 1,000 acres, and is cut up into small plots, on which various experiments are annually made in the growth of the many varieties of grain, fruits, trees, &c., likely to be of economic value to the farmers of the Province. There is no doubt that all the cereals which can be produced intemperate climates will grow in Manitoba, but it is very important to get the hardiest and earliest-ripening varieties, with a view to avoid the frosts which sometimes occur at inopportune seasons. The experiments in fruit-growing are especially interesting, and in the case of the smaller fruits have been most successful, but, so far, it has not been found possible to raise apples and pears. As, however, these fruits are raised in Russia, in latitudes even higher than Manitoba, the question of finding and acclimatising suitable varieties will probably only be a question of time. Special efforts are being made to grow trees, which are not common on the prairies, owing to the prairie fires that, before settlement took place, periodically swept the country. Considerable success is attending the efforts of the director of the farm in this direction, and too much importance cannot be attached to the matter, as trees are both useful for shelter and shade purposes, apart from their ornamental advantages. Thoroughbred live stock and poultry are also kept for breeding purposes, and as object-lessons for the farmers in the surrounding districts. There is constant communication between the director of the farm and the agriculturists of the Province. Samples of seeds are distributed annually to farmers who wish to have them, and are prepared to carry out the experiments on the lines laid down, and the privilege is largely availed of. Then, again, parties of farmers frequently visit the Government farm, and take that opportunity of exchanging views with the experts who are in charge of it. Altogether, the system of the experimental farms has been a great success, and the efforts of the Dominion Government to improve the condition of the farmers is deserving of every encouragement.

The country from Brandon to Regina, the capital of the North-West Territories, a distance of about 225 miles, is of very much the same description as that already mentioned— flat, with here and there a little wood, chiefly poplar and scrub oak; occasionally, also, a few miles of undulating park-like land is crossed. Villages are found as before in the neighbourhood of the various stations, and farmhouses are never out of sight. Wheat growing is the staple industry, but the farmers are engaging now more largely in mixed farming every year, and greater numbers of cattle are to be seen about the farms than was the case a few years ago. Indian Head is the site of another of the Government Experimental Farms, to which the remarks made about that at Brandon apply equally. In the neighbourhood are the the largo farms of Lord Brassoy, and the Bell Farm, which is being worked by Major Bell himself, to his own satisfaction and profit, it is said. The farmers in the district are said to be doing very well, although they naturally feel the low prices that prevail. It is no uncommon sight in this district to see the Indians working on the farms side by side with their pale-face brethren, and, if report be true, they work well and earn their wages, many of them becoming quite expert in the handling of farm machinery. A little further on Qu’Appelle is reached—also the centre of a fine farming country. From that place the old Northern trail used formerly to start, but it has now been largely superseded by the railway from Regina to Prince Albert. At Qu’Appelle the prairie loses some of its flatness, becomes more undulating, and clumps of fair-sized trees are to be seen here and there, giving rise to the park-like appearance which has been often described.

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