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Summer Suns in the Far West
Chapter XII. The Great Canadian Highlands

FROM Vancouver we took places in the Canadian Pacific, leaving at noon on a Friday, with the purpose of reaching Banff about midnight on Saturday, and of spending the Sunday there, the most attractive spot in the Canadian Rockies. We had not gone far when we were struck with wonder at the marvels of the railway. It is not possible to conceive a tract of country less adapted for such a road. Along the banks of the Fraser River, and far beyond, it is carried over the wildest and roughest country you can conceive. It is one continuous series of excavations along the sides of mountains, of high trestle bridges over ravines and chasms, tunnels through projecting shoulders of rock, with hardly a chance of any of nature’s levels. And this really goes on for more than six hundred miles, until the prairie is reached, east of the Rockies. The succession of beauty and interest is endless, and the wooded mountains are magnificent. One does not know the grandeur of the British Empire until one has been whirled in the railway across British Columbia. Without disparagement of our Scottish mountainous regions, they must yield the palm to these magnificent stretches of highland scenery. You do not ascend any point as high as Sheppard’s Pass in the Colorado Rockies, of which T have spoken, although you have to “loop’’ the line at one point and get to the watershed by the “circumbendibus” process. The greater part of the six hundred miles is almost without inhabitants, with the exception of those whom the railway itself has brought. And the railway villages are generally very rude and primitive. I believe that to tourists and sportsmen the country is exceedingly attractive, and doubtless it will fill up in many ways as time rolls on.

Glacier Point is a most interesting spot, about five hundred miles east of Vancouver. I wished much to spend a day here, but could not have done so without trespassing on the Sabbath rest. Extraordinary exaggerations have been circulated about the glacier, which some would make out to be larger than all the Swiss glaciers put together. This is out of the question, but all accounts testify that it is one of extraordinary magnitude and interest. I heard a great deal of it from fellow-travellers, but need not produce their accounts at second-hand. A few stages beyond Glacier Point is Banff, often called Banff Springs and Banff National Park. This is worthy of an ampler description.

Banff is situated very near the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, and was named after the little county town at the mouth of the Deveron through the influence of Sir George Steven, one of the railway magnates, who was a native of the place, or at least of the county. We cannot grudge this distinction to Banff; but if the character of the scenery had determined the name, Braemar would have been more appropriate. Its situation is superb. The Bow River, passing through the Rockies, affords to the railway a means of penetrating the mountains at about 4,500 feet above the sea-level. The domain which has been constituted a National Park for Canada is upwards of twenty miles in one direction and ten in another; but the Canadian Pacific Hotel may be taken as the centre of the Park, and the view from it is superb. The Bow enlivens and beautifies the wooded strath, from which ranges of mountains rise to great heights on either side. But, indeed, on all sides there is quite an amphitheatre of mountains, some clothed with pine almost to their tops, but most of them conspicuous for their masses of bare rock, suggesting the origin of the name “Rockies.” When we reached Banff we were afraid that the haze which had shut out so many fine mountains from our view was to play us the like trick again. But a heavy rain had fallen between Saturday and Sunday, and when we came out of the little church on Sunday—where, by the way, we heard a most excellent sermon—the whole sky had cleared wonderfully, and the sun, shining in all his strength, poured his glory on the wonderful panorama that stretched on all sides around us. And this weather continued till we left the Rockies, and in a great degree reconciled us to the loss of the “Selkirks” and of other ranges that ought to have been seen, some of them in the glitter of their perpetual snow.

Undoubtedly, Banff is a place of unrivalled capabilities, and in days to come will be looked on with delight by many a Canadian and other eye. The Sulphur Springs which gush from the rock near it are said to be a powerful remedy for rheumatism; but it is the lovers of wild, lovely, picturesque nature that will form its great constituency. The Dominion Government is liberally disposed towards it, but even the handsome grant of 25,000 dollars at a time cannot do much in the way of constructing mountain roads and otherwise opening up the glories of the scenery. We look forward to a time when the whole Park will be intersected with beautiful drives, and the place visited by hundreds of thousands. Already one pretty drive of ten or twelve miles has been opened to Miniwonga, “the lake of the evil spirit,” roughly rendered in common parlance “the devil’s lake.” It is said to be a fine lake for fishing. This year the medical men of Canada chose Banff for their annual congress. Between one and two hundred attended, just about the time of our visit. We met many of them, all very kind and pleasant, and we heard no difference of opinion as to the unrivalled beauty and interest of the place.

As we arrived only at midnight on Saturday, there was no time for the minister to discover me, and for once I had the privilege of hearing a sermon. The entire service was very admirable—devotional exercises, sermon, and delivery being nearly all that one could desire. Mr. Macleod is a young man, but seems admirably fitted for the place. The stated membership of the congregation is but fifteen; the rest come from the hotels. I should have thought his situation rather trying, especially as there was no manse, and he and the schoolmaster lived together in very plain lodgings. But I was delighted to find the minister in excellent spirits. As a Canadian student he had been accustomed to a pioneer ministry, and now he felt quite at home. His presbytery extends from east to west five hundred miles, and in the other direction its limit is the North Pole!

The secret of his happiness is his public spirit, his interest in his work, and readiness for every feasible undertaking. Besides Banff, he had other stations to supply. The nearest of these was fifteen miles off. He usually had evening service there, and the only way of reaching it was by walking along the railway track. Another station was seventy miles away. At one time he had to supply a vacant charge more than a hundred miles distant; but Canadian energy thinks nothing of a hundred miles.

This young congregation showed a catholicity of spirit not always to be found. There are some Episcopalians at Banff who as yet have no church. The Methodist congregation accommodates them in the morning and the Presbyterian in the evening. Where can the mother country produce such an instance of the brotherly spirit?

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