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Summer Suns in the Far West
Chapter XI. Northwards to British Columbia

FROM San Francisco you may reach the Atlantic coast either by the Northern Pacific Railroad, which is the more direct route, or by the Canadian Pacific, to reach the terminus of which, at Vancouver, you have a preliminary journey of eight hundred and ninety miles, through the northern part of California, the state of Oregon, and Washington Territory. For various reasons I preferred the latter route. The first part of the railway run has some glorious scenery. The Sierra Nevada on the east and the Coast Range on the west are running towards each other; the railway runs between them, skirting for a long stretch the banks of the river, passing through wooded ravines and rocky gorges and green meadows in endless succession; while in the background a chain of mountains as high as the Alps towers heavenward—Mount Shasta, the queen of the range, being about the same height as Mont Blanc, although to my eye far from as interesting or impressive. At one point the train obligingly stops to give you the opportunity of drinking a glass of soda-water from the soda-springs which you see bursting quite near out of the side of the hill, and rolling to the river in clear, cool streams.

The state of Oregon and Washington Territory are interesting, chiefly from their endless forests. Here certainly you must be about the head-quarters of the lumber world. The railroad has made these timber treasures of priceless value, and has placed the remark of the English commissionaire, that these territories were not worth a pluck, on a level with that of the French general who ceded Canada to Britain, that he had given up only some acres of snow. But even to the rapid railway traveller these forests are apt to become a little monotonous, though single trees are often a study, from their vast magnitude and perfection of form; and the mountains are wildly picturesque. But very often the havoc of forest fires makes black and ugly gaps along the line, and the eye longs for a change. There is little cause for the most patriotic Briton regretting that these territories are not in the British Empire; for British Columbia is not less abundant in timber treasure, and for beauty of scenery it beats them all.

Forest fires are picturesque enough to see by night; the clear, bright blaze contrasts splendidly with the surrounding darkness, and it is pretty to see the nimble flame running up the tree so deftly, and leaping from branch to branch, as if it were possessed by the spirit of the squirrel. But they have their drawbacks too. The day may come when the vast amount of wasted timber will be grievously deplored, although as yet it is not missed. But the day has come when the smoke of these fires so clouds the atmosphere in the heat of summer that the beauty of the distant scenery is lost to the traveller. This was our unhappy experience. While quite able to appreciate the nearer beauty, all that lay beyond a mile or two was lost in the haze. We never had a glimpse of the far-famed Mount Baker or Mount Tacoma; for about a week we had to deplore the smoke. From Tacoma to Victoria we expected a sail of surpassing beauty through the wooded banks of Puget Sound: we seldom even saw the shore-line. Passing Seattle, the town recently reduced to ashes (as our insurance companies know too well), we expected a sensation in the sight of the new city rising from the ashes of the old: for anything we saw we might have passed it at midnight. As we drew near toward Victoria, on the third day of our journey, the atmosphere cleared considerably, and we could see the Union Jack waving a good way off. And pleasant though our three months’ stay in the United States had been, and little though we had found to remind us of a foreign country, it was with a peculiar feeling of satisfaction that we stepped on British soil, and, though still six thousand miles from our fatherland, seemed to smell the freshness of our native air.

Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, is a beautiful and thriving little city, not on the mainland, but on the island of Vancouver. Till the Canadian Pacific Railway was opened in 1885, it was so remote and inaccessible as to have little or no vital connection either with the rest of Canada or the rest of the British Empire. This was indeed true of all British Columbia. Being on an island, Victoria is a few hours from the terminus of the railway, which is at the town of Vancouver, on the mainland. It enjoys a splendid harbour, the Esquimalt, and will soon, doubtless, command an immense traffic with Japan, China, and the whole east coast of Asia. This traffic has already begun. The route to Japan and China is shorter than from San Francisco, while the land journey from the east is also considerably less. The inexhaustible lumber stores of British Columbia, the mass of valuable minerals, the agricultural produce of the numerous districts which are adapted to farming, indicate plainly enough what its destiny must be.

Of all the places I had seen on the American continent, Victoria seemed the city where it would be most pleasant to live. The climate is charming, with hardly any winter; the sea comes rolling in among the wooded bays and headlands with a refreshing breeze which carries no bitterness in its blast, and answers to that sea-loving taste which seems natural to us islanders. The whole look-out is bright and lively.

Scotsmen have had a good share of the prosperity of Victoria. I am afraid that they have not kept themselves in all cases unspotted by the vices to which a new place is subject, far off from civilizing and Christianizing influences. Being so much cut off from the Old World, Victoria, in its early days, followed in the wake of the cities of the American Pacific in certain habits which have not been for its good. Of recent years there has been a moral advance which is very gratifying, and encourages the hope that it will have a bright future in all that makes for the prosperity of a community.

There are two other towns in this part of British Columbia, close to the western terminus of the Canadian Pacific, that deserve a passing notice. New Westminster, on the Fraser River, besides its great sawmills, enjoys a pre-eminence as the centre of the salmon canning business. Apropos of sawmills, I ought to say something of the marvellous timber produce of these regions. It is not merely the abundance but the excellent quality of the timber that is so marvellous. A gentleman told me that near Seattle he had seen a plank, to be made use of in the palace at Honolulu, upwards of a hundred feet long, that was in its entire length absolutely without flaw. A single sawmill in that region cuts up three hundred thousand cubic feet a day. If ever nature formed ground for trees, it is in these regions of the west. As for the salmon, I hardly expect that the statements I am to make will be believed. I did not do what a fellow-traveller did—put down certain facts in a note-book, and get two fellow-travellers to sign an affidavit that they were correct. On the wharf of a cannery at New Westminster I saw salmon piled much as herring are piled at home after a good night’s fishing, and I was told that twelve thousand had been caught that day. In the cannery itself fifty thousand cans are filled daily by a large staff of workers, some Canadian, some Indian, but chiefly Chinese. I did not feel that my love for canned salmon was greatly stimulated by the sight of the process. I was told that the owner of the cannery would probably net £20,000 as this year’s profit. But the most remarkable fact I have to mention is that, as we passed among the banks of the Fraser River by the Canadian Pacific Railway, we saw the water literally black with salmon for about a hundred miles. It is their habit, in going up the river, to keep near its edge; and whenever a piece of rock projects from the bank and makes broken water, the salmon, instead of going round it, go right through the foam with a leap and a splash, while a shoal are gathered in the rear waiting their turn. At other places you see shoals moving slowly upward. The quality of the fish at this season is not very good. What we got at the hotels was generally of very inferior flavour to the salmon at home. I'm told, however, that earlier in the season the flavour is excellent. It is said, too, that such as they are in summer, thy are better adapted for canning than the other fish.

Vancouver is the youngest city of the three. Its site was unmitigated forest in 1885, and in June 1880 every building that had been erected was burned to the ground. The city is literally only three years old. And much though I have been used to the sight of cities of rapid growth, I must say that Vancouver beats them all. It is already a city of long erects, big blocks, handsome churches, and elegant villas, the Vancouver Hotel, built by the Canadian Pacific Railway, is as commodious and handsome a house as you could desire. Many persons connected with that railway have bought lots and built blocks in Vancouver, of course with the object of “booming” the place. And now the price of land is simply ridiculous. I was told of a couple of building stances that had been sold lately for thirty-two thousand dollars. Whether this boom will last is doubtful; but the town seems to grow apace meanwhile. More than one church is in its second edition, the first having proved too small. It is difficult to tell the present population of Vancouver—probably twelve thousand. It is not any special industry, but the fact of its being the terminus of the railway, that has given birth to it. It seems to me that this interesting young city will be moulded more according to the wholesome pattern of the Canadian cities than the more excited and feverish example of San Francisco. Its zeal for churches is very remarkable. Besides the Presbyterian, there are Methodist, Independent, Episcopal, Baptist, and Roman Catholic churches in it; and it will not be behind other places in the quality of its schools.

In all these three cities I was able to do a little service. The minister of the Reformed Central Presbyterian Church in Victoria, Rev. P. M. Macleod, was an old student and personal friend. I preached in his church, and likewise in that of the Rev. Mr. Fraser; and in Victoria, New Wesminster, and Vancouver respectively I gave a lecture on the Pan-Presbyterian Alliance. I am happy to say that this lecture was well attended and well received in all these places the more especially that I sought to divest it of all sectarial tendency, and to direct it not merely to making the audience better Presbyterians but better men. The people had much to learn both of the history of Presbyterianism since the Reformation and of the extent and diffusion of the Presbyterian Church. I always tried to impress on them that we lay under great responsibilities in being members of the Presbyterian confederation—members of a Church of such extent, and that had no cause to be ashamed of its history, no cause to be ashamed of its martyrs, no cause to be ashamed of its leading ministers and missionaries and laymen; and that we ought all to feel impelled by this consideration to walk worthy of our brotherhood and our ancestry, and strive to emulate them in self-denying efforts to advance the glory of God and the welfare of men. In most cases, ministers of other denominations were present, and thanked me cordially at the end. In one case, the Prime Minister of the Province, a zealous Presbyterian, moved a vote of thanks. All the Presbyterian ministers I met seemed to be active and earnest men: three out of five had got, or were getting, new churches built; and their flocks appeared to be in sympathy with their spirit.

Before bidding a final adieu to the Pacific coast, I must emphasize what I have hinted at before as to the great importance which this region seems certain to attain in the not very distant future. It is hardly to be questioned that in a few generations hereafter the shores of the Pacific—both American and Canadian—will be as densely peopled as the shores of the Atlantic have been, and will be the homes of peoples not less prosperous, not less intelligent, not less important as factors in the history of the world. This belief rests on obvious considerations. Nature has been far more bountiful on the western seaboard. These mountains are full of treasures of which but a fraction has yet come to light. In British Columbia, Washington Territory, and Oregon, you have forests of the finest timber, so inexhaustible that though enormous tracts have been destroyed by forest fires, the loss hitherto has not been so much as felt. Throughout these regions you have many tracts remarkably adapted for agriculture. The Pacific coast—especially the Canadian part of it—has admirable harbours. The fishing-grounds, as we have seen, are unrivalled. Southern California is unsurpassed for its climate and its fruits. On many of these parts the chill fingers of frost are seldom or never laid—the rigours of winter are unknown. A lady in Victoria informed me that her maid-servant (who had been brought up near the moors of Carnwath) asked her, somewhere about the month of February or March, at what season of the year it was winter there, as it had been nothing but summer since she came! Regions like these must have a remarkable future. The only unfavourable consideration is, that the very luxuriance of nature and the very sweetness of the climate may enervate the inhabitants, and keep down the spirit of enterprise and perseverance that bleaker climates and more barren soils have had not a little to do in stimulating.

Then the question presses itself on one, What will be the moral and religious future of this region? Now, if the beginning were to be held necessarily to represent the future, there would not be much to encourage one in dealing with this question. The beginning of Northern California was the gold discovery, with all its habits of rowdyism, ungodliness, and immorality. We have seen how unworthily the Sabbath is kept in Southern California. And British Columbia likewise had a poor beginning. It was long before any provision was made for religious ordinances. 1 regret to say that some Scotsmen in these parts became notorious above others for habits the very opposite of those in which they were trained at home. Sabbath-breaking, drinking, and licentiousness were often found linked together, like a threefold cord not easily broken.

But on the other hand one is encouraged at the testimony one hears on every side that a great improvement has taken place in recent years. Whatever may be the state of San Francisco to-day, it is not as it was in earlier years, when a murder a day indicated the temperature of crime. If there was little salt in the early community, a good deal has been imported in recent years. This is the hope of the Pacific coast. The emigration of recent years has poured into New America hosts of the best Christian families from the eastern states, from the east of Canada, and from other countries. A new leaven has come in to leaven the lump. Already in many instances the change has become quite apparent. Except in saloons and other dens of sensuality, life and property are as secure in these parts as in the most orderly regions at home. Churches abound; and though there are too many instances of ministers coming there who have been failures or worse at home, there are many of them full of earnestness and activity. When Mr. Moody was in these parts his meetings were thronged by eager multitudes, and a great impression was made. Such of the week-day prayer-meetings as I attended had, in proportion to the congregations, a much larger percentage present than at home. All this gives encouragement; and yet one has the feeling that unless a more aggressive and powerful combination of forces is brought to bear on the citadels of evil, their power will not be broken.

What, then, is the prospect of such a combination? The zeal for ordinary church arrangements has been great, but I confess I did not find the clergy and other earnest Christian people I met with in a very aggressive mood. But one must remember two things. In the first place, there has been an immense amount of effort employed recently in church-building, in paying up debt, and other necessary arrangements for Church work in a new community. And in the second place, every second minister and every second inhabitant has but come the other day. This is especially true of cities like Los Angeles that have sprung up like Jonah’s gourd. Most of the people are new-comers, and total strangers to the rest. Few ministers have been there more than five or six years. It is rare to find a settler of twelve years’ standing. In Los Angeles, after preaching to some seven or eight hundred people, I asked the minister whether one in twenty would be a native of the state. Not one in fifty, was the reply. This makes all slow to accept responsibility, or to look all round and devise measures for the good of the whole community. I cherish the hope that in a few years there will be more mutual acquaintance, more mutual confidence, and more sense of responsibility. On one point there is special need of concentrated attention—the state of the Sabbath. Unfortunately, unlike the other states, California has no Sabbath law. Nor will it be easy to secure such a law. In Oakland, which is to San Francisco what Birkenhead is to Liverpool, a meeting was lately held on the subject of a Sabbath law. When the meeting divided, one hundred and five were against any such thing, and only ninety-six in favour. The hundred and five included several members of a sect called “Seventh-day Adventists,” who believe in the second advent and in the seventh day of the week as the true Sabbath. There are many Jews in San Francisco who are against the Christian Sabbath. There are many Germans who are practically the same. There are many Irish Catholics who despatch religion in the morning, and care not what they do after that. There are many nominal and indifferent Protestants. The true lovers of the Sabbath are but a fraction of the population. I have been urging on the ministers that even where success is for the present hopeless, they ought to try to keep alive the consciences of their people on the sanctity of the Sabbath. And I had a striking proof of the benefit of this from a brother who, soon after being settled, found a Sunday trip advertised by a company of which some of his own people were leading members. He forthwith preached on the claims of the Sabbath, and though he did not defeat the trip, he killed it, very few having gone, and he made it impossible that such a thing should be proposed again.

Two things, I think, must be apparent from this sketch — the vast importance of the whole Pacific coast, and the difficulties that exist in thoroughly Christianizing it. I hope our people at home will think of these things, and as they sing and pray, “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun,” will bear in mind the sunny shores of the Pacific.

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