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Across the Canadian Prairies
The Rockies and the Selkirks

After a short stay at Banff we took the train again for the West, fully prepared to enjoy the magnificent scenery through which we were to pass on our way to the Pacific Coast—a distance of about 560 miles. Any attempt to describe the panorama, with its ever-changing view of valley and mountain, must appear ridiculous to any persons who have had an opportunity of making the journey. It is truly a sight that must be seen to be appreciated or understood. The “Annotated Time Table” issued by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, which contains descriptive notes of the country through which the line passes, is of much use to passengers, and is generally read a little in advance, as a preparation for the wonderful sights that continually unfold themselves. In many parts of that pamphlet the scenery is described in terms which at first appear to be exaggerated, and are therefore sometimes held up to ridicule on the cars, but in the end the verdict always is that the language, no matter how glowing it may be, is totally insufficient to convey to the mind any adequate idea of the beauty or grandeur of the scenery.

After leaving Banff, the line gradually ascends until the summit is reached. The summit is named “Stephen,” after the first president of the company, and its altitude is 700 feet higher than Banff. One becomes in a sense bewildered in gazing at the various snowy promontories, and the magnificent ranges that appear in every direction. At Laggan, about seven miles this side of the summit, the first view of the great glaciers is obtained. Laggan is a favourite place for a short stay. Within easy reach of the station, high up in the mountains, there are Lake Louise and the Mirror Lakes, one above the other. The ascent has been made comparatively easy by the thoughtfulness of the railway company; the lakes are said to be marvels of beauty, and the pictures reflected upon their broad waters are, in certain states of the atmosphere, of the most beautiful description. It is a very favourite place for artists, and it is the opinion of the President of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company that these lakes are among the most beautiful and picturesque scenery along the line. On leaving Banff it was our intention to see them for ourselves, but the fates were not propitious, a snowstorm interfering with our good intentions.

Everyone has heard of the famous Kickinghorse Pass, down which the railway descends after leaving the summit. In the course of 10 miles, between Stephen and Field, the level of the line falls nearly 1,300 feet. The following is a quotation from the descriptive notes before referred to, issued by the railway company, and it can truly be said that its description of the part of the road in question is in no sense exaggerated:—

“The scenery is now sublime and almost terrible. The line clings to the mountain side at the left, and the valley on the right deepens until the river is seen as a gleaming thread a thousand feet below. Looking to the right, one of the grandest mountain valleys in the world stretches away to the north, with great white glacier-bound peaks on either side. Looking ahead, the dark familiar peak of Mount Field is seen. On the left the Duomo-like head of Mount Stephen, and spires of Cathedral Mountain still further to the left occasionally appear over the tree tops. Near the head of Mount Stephen is a ridge, and on its shoulder almost overhead is seen a shining green glacier, 800 feet in thickness, which is slowly pressing forward and over a vertical cliff of a great height.”

At Field there is one of the pretty chalet-like hotels which are to be found at intervals along the road, and a day or two may be passed pleasantly enough there, amid the solitude of the mountains and the grand scenery with which the valley is surrounded. From Field the line ascends again for a short distance, but soon commences the descent of what is called the Lower Kickinghorse Valley, down which, to use the words of the book before referred to, “the river disputes the passage with the railway. The canyon rapidly deepens until, beyond Palliser, the mountain sides become vertical, rising straight up thousands of feet, and within an easy stone’s throw from wall to wall. Down this vast chasm go the river and the railway together, the former crossing from side to side to ridges cut out of the solid rock, and twisting and turning in every direction, and every minute or two plunging through the projecting angles of the rock, which seem to close the way. With the towering cliffs almost shutting out the sunlight, and the roar of the river and the train increased a hundredfold by the echoing walls, the passage of this terrible gorge will never be forgotten.”

The lowest point of the descent of the western slope of the Rockies is reached at Beavermouth, the altitude of which is 2,500 feet, and for some little distance the train traverses the valley between the Rockies and the Selkirks. It is not long, however, before the train again begins its climb. The Beaver River is soon left, and in the course of a few miles the track reaches to an altitude of 1,000 feet above the valley, the roadway being on a ridge cut out of the side of the mountain. The principal difficulty in the construction of this part of the road was occasioned by the torrents, many of them splendid cascades, which rush down through narrow gorges cut deeply into the steep slopes along which the railway creeps. The bridges which cross these torrents are apt to make the traveller giddy to look over, and one of them deserves special mention—that over Stony Creek, which is 295 feet above the level of the creek. During this part of our journey we were not, in some respects, fortunate as regards the weather. In the absence of sunshine we had mists and heavy rain and snow, but these served to increase the volume of the cascades and mountain torrents, and gave a weirdness and a grandeur to the scene which would not be obtained even in brilliant sunshine. The Valley of the Beaver is four or five miles wide, and the river winds in and out among the forest which ranges far up the sides of the mountain. It would be a magnificent site for a national park, even rivalling that at Banff; but the beauty of the scene has been somewhat marred by the effects of the forest fires, which, since the advent of the railway, periodically devastate the country. How they arise it is difficult to say. Sometimes they are started by the camp fires of hunters and trappers. At other times the undergrowth is set on fire, possibly by sparks from the engines, and fires have been known to commence by the concentration of the sun’s rays through pieces of bottles and glass that have boon left about. It would naturally be expected that in a country like this there would be considerable danger from avalanches and snow slides, but these have been guarded against in the most perfect manner by the railway engineers, and massive snow sheds, which, as built, are almost as solid as tunnels, are seen at frequent intervals. At every few hundred yards, also, there seem to be men continually on the watch, and one cannot help appreciating, in making this journey, that every precaution is taken to prevent accidents. That the measures are effectual is evident from the fact that the through trains are very rarely delayed, oven in the worst weather—a thing which cannot be said of the trans-continental lines that have been constructed south of the boundary line. To quote again from the railway guide book of this part of the journey:—“Beyond Stony Creek Bridge the gorge of Bear Creek is compressed into a vast ravine between Mount McDonald on the left and the Hermit on the right, forming a narrow portal to the amphithertre of Rogers Pass at the summit of the Selkirks. The way is between enormous precipices. Mount McDonald towers a mile and a quarter above the railway in almost vertical height. Its base is but a stone’s throw distance, and it is so bare and stupendous, and yet so near, that one is overawed by a sense of immensity and mighty grandeur. This is the climax of mountain scenery. In passing before the face of this gigantic precipice tho line clings to the base of Hermit Mountain, and, as the .station at Rogers Pass is neared, its clustered spires appear facing those of Mount McDonald, and nearly as high. Those two matchless mountains were once apparently united, but some great convulsion of nature has split them asunder, leaving hardly room for the railway.”

The roadway at the summit of the Selkirks is at an altitude of 4,300 feet, and two miles further the Glacier House is approached. It is near Mount Sir Donald, named after Sir Donald A. Smith, one of the chief promoters of the Canadian Pacific Railway. This is the site of another of the railway hotels at which the train stops for meals, and it is also a favourite resting-place for tourists who desire to spend a little time among the mountains. The great glacier is only a mile and a half from the station, and a few hundred foot above the level of the hotel, and is quite accessible. It is said to be larger than all the glaciers in the Alps together, and on a clear day the sight is most impressive. Continuing the descent from the Glacier House, the railway passes out of the valley over a loop which winds in and out and round about, until at length four tracks of the railway may be scene above the other. The descent still continues until Revolstoke is reached - a mining town on the banks of the Columbia River. It is important as a divisional point of the railway, and also as the stopping place for those who wish to visit the Kootenay and Nelson country, the immense mineral wealth of which is being gradually exploited.

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