Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

Summer Suns in the Far West
Chapter XIII. The North-West, Manitoba, and Toronto

AFTER we left Banff (at midnight), and emerged from the Rocky Mountains, we found ourselves at daybreak on the vast prairie that stretches across the North-West Territories and the province of Manitoba on to Winnipeg. The first part of the prairie is rather desolate. The soil is thin, and at some places so impregnated with alkali that in the distance you would suppose you saw a lake of milk or a meadow of snow. It is here that one might have expected to see the buffalo, of which there were myriads a few years ago. But the buffalo is rapidly approaching to the condition of an extinct animal. There were plenty of bleached buffalo bones gathered in heaps by the Indians to be used by the sugar-refiners, and at some stations there were sets of buffalo horns for sale by Indians, who seemed to be doing a very good business in the article; but of live animals we saw none. The farms at first are few and far between, although I believe that much of these North-West Territories (Alberta, Athanaska, Assiniboia, and Saskatchewan) is admirably adapted for agriculture. After a day and night of hard travelling, we were in Manitoba. This is the vast agricultural region which is believed to be capable of supporting millions. The outlook was different now. Neat farm-houses, well-tilled farms, churches, and towns indicated a region much further advanced. The great drawback is the severity of the winter; but many people say that they get used to the cold, and that many places are colder.

Our destination was Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba. It is a city of between twenty and thirty thousand inhabitants, very recently begun, but a most thriving and attractive place. The unusual width of its streets—one hundred and twenty feet, if I remember right—gives them a spacious and distinguished appearance. A few years ago Winnipeg was the scene of one of those gambling “booms” which are sure to be followed by a great reaction. Capitalists at a distance ran up the price of land to a ridiculous figure, and when the illusion was scattered many were ruined. Crowds came to Winnipeg only to be disappointed, and were obliged to leave it, go where they might. The city now seems to have recovered from the effects of that movement, and is advancing at a sure and steady pace. I was delighted to see the orderliness of Winnipeg, and especially its high standard of church-going and Sabbath observance.

I preached (as usual) in two of the churches—St. Andrew’s and Knox’s. In both I had congregations of from one thousand to twelve hundred; and I understand that this was not much in excess of the usual.

Manitoba College, founded by the Presbyterians almost as soon as Winnipeg itself, is the most considerable institution for advanced instruction in the province. Along with an Episcopal, a Roman Catholic, and now (I believe) a Methodist college, it forms the University of Manitoba, and has contributed more graduates than all the others put together.

In Manitoba a great struggle has just begun for another object. When “confederation” took place, it became legal for the Roman Catholics to have separate schools supported by rates, and it also became legal to make use of the French language in these schools. Against this arrangement a strong resistance has arisen, as being likely to perpetuate a condition of things which in Quebec has been very disastrous. I have a strong conviction that that resistance will prevail, and that the unfair advantages to Roman Catholics and the unpatriotic use of the French language, which in a province like Manitoba are entirely out of the question, will soon cease and determine.

Hospitality in Winnipeg took the form of carriage drives. Our landlord of the Clarendon Hotel, Mr. Bennett, an enthusiastic Scotsman, took us to the gate of Fort Garry, the only remains of the station of the Hudson Bay Company before Winnipeg was built, and to the suburb of St. Boniface, where the Roman Catholic colony of French Canadians have their schools and other establishments. Professor Bryce took us to Kildonan, the old Sutherlandshire settlement, peopled by Highlanders about the beginning of the century, under the auspices of the Earl of Selkirk; and the Rev. Mr Hogg took us to Sir Donald Smith’s, where there is a small herd of living buffaloes that, in the absence of the wild animal, every traveller likes to see. There was an entertainment going on in the city of a peculiar kind. A hall, beautifully decorated with flowers and evergreens, was given over for each evening of the week to one or other of the congregations of the city, who undertook to provide songs, recitations, piano and other performances, for the enjoyment of the audience. On the night when we were there the great sensation was a Japanese marriage. Some thirty young men and young ladies of the church were dressed in Japanese dresses, and went through the ceremony with great correctness. The presents to the bride were not very costly, generally toys, but every person brought something. The object was to provide funds for a children’s home, and if all the meetings were as crowded as the one we attended, the success must have been great.

In the North-West Territories and in Manitoba the law of prohibition prevails. I understand that this arrangement was adopted first with a view to the Indians, who would have ruined themselves, body and soul, if they had had free access to liquor. The law, I believe, has had an excellent effect on the whole, especially in new mining communities, where the temptation to drunkenness is usually so great. There seem to be some exceptions, however, to its enforcement. The Canadian Pacific Hotel at Banff, for example, has a license, obtained through the influence of the railway company, to which it belongs. What precisely is the law in Winnipeg 1 am not quite sure. I have heard that the Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba has power to confer licenses in exceptional cases. Certainly there are very few saloons in the city. I was told that if a license were asked for a particular place, and five out of the twenty nearest inhabitants objected, the license was refused. This gives rise to some murmuring against the power conferred on minorities; but it keeps down the number of licenses, and it contributes to the peace, the good order, and die prosperity of the city.

It is a long cry from Winnipeg to Toronto. First a land journey of more than twenty-four hours through a rich and interesting region to Port Arthur, then a day’s sail through Lake Superior, another through Lake Huron, and four hours of land journey to Toronto. The lake scenery was sometimes beautiful, especially that of Lake Huron; and the passage through the canal that connects the two lakes, with the setting sun illuminating the two villages—the American Sault Ste. Marie on the one side, and the Canadian Sault Ste. Marie on the other—was exquisite. Provincially “Sault” is pronounced Soo, and the passage is always spoken of as going through the Soo.

One experience of an unusual kind may be noted. In the middle of the night, in the first part of the journey, we came to a trestle bridge which had in some degree subsided. The authorities knew of it, but not the passengers. To those of us who were struggling hard to woo sleep, it was hard to be constantly conscious of something impeding our progress— going forward a little bit and back a little bit, as if our engine were disabled and could not drag its load. The explanation we got in the morning was that the carriages had been detached from the engine, which had been placed behind and had pushed them on to the edge of the bridge. Then a wire rope had been attached to the carriages and fastened to an engine on the other side of the bridge, which slowly drew them over. Two or three hours were consumed in this operation, but we had cause to think ourselves fortunate in comparison of some previous passengers who had had to walk over, and others who had been detained for many hours. The Canadian Pacific Railway crosses hundreds of trestle bridges; and I have counted as many as ten stories of trestles, one above the other. Every bridge is watched and examined daily, which makes travelling over them comparatively safe. If an unobserved subsidence should take place the consequences might be awful.

As you draw near to the capital of Ontario you get a better idea of the productiveness and comfortableness of the province. The farms and farm-houses are very attractive, as if they were all the abodes of peace and plenty, as many of them no doubt are. 1 will not linger over the city of Toronto, nor speak of its marvellous progress since I last visited it nine years ago. But this I will say, after visiting many American cities, and especially those of the Pacific coast, that Toronto is very different from most of these. No streetcar runs on the Lord's day through its streets. No saloon is open for drinking. No newspaper is published on the first day of the week. No theatre or place of amusement is open. Toronto is a very Scotch city, and Ontario is a very Scotch province; and among the points in which this feature is most apparent is the tone of Sabbath observance.

I had expected to pass through Toronto unobserved, but I found that where the carcass is thither the eagles are gathered together. The eagles were ministers desiring pulpit help; so I preached in two churches, in both cases to large and imposing audiences. The newspapers were more than usually eager to make out that far-off fowls have fair feathers, and at my hotel I had no fewer than three visits from editors wishing for my manuscripts and anything else they could fish out of me.

I was extremely gratified at the many proofs of the progress of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, and its great activity. It has paid especial attention to the North-West, and is undoubtedly the leading Church in those parts. Wherever I was I made inquiry as to how the union of the three Churches was working. Generally I got a very gratifying answer. All were practically one, and it was almost forgotten with which section ministers had been previously connected. Some were not so sure about this; but it is beyond doubt that the Church has made extraordinary progress since the union.

It happened that the American Association for the Advancement of Science were holding their annual congress at Toronto, and we were in time to hear a little of their wisdom. We were naturally attracted to a lecture on Niagara by a Washington professor. I am afraid 1 must say that he contrived to make a grand subject dry and uninteresting. He brought out one important fact, however—that since reliable observations began to be taken, the cataract had receded at the rate of from four to six feet per annum. This is about a mile in a thousand years. The cataract seems to have receded in all about seven miles, but there is no certainty that it has done so at a uniform rate. We were delighted in calling on an old Edinburgh friend, the Principal of the University, to greet him as Sir Andrew Wilson, and to shake hands in his house with his brother Principal of Montreal, Sir William Dawson; and to find them occupying places of honour in the association, and enjoying in a high degree the esteem of their brother savants of America.

A question that is absorbing an extraordinary amount of interest in Canada at the present day is connected with what is called the Jesuits’ Bill. There is an excellent statement of the whole case in the October number of Macmillan's Magazine by Professor Goldwin Smith. Two years ago the Society of the Jesuits got itself incorporated, with the right of a corporation to hold property, and then they instituted a claim to property in Quebec amounting to two million dollars, which, it was said, had once belonged to them. The Quebec authorities, after a correspondence with the Pope, in which the Pope was allowed to determine to what parties the money should be given, passed a measure—avowedly a compromise—giving them four hundred thousand dollars. Then it came before the Dominion Government to determine whether this was competent, and with the exception of thirteen members they voted that it was. The Governor-General, and also the Crown authorities in England, have both successively upheld this decision. But it is very generally felt that if technically competent, the act of the Quebec legislature was morally wrong, and that it was most humiliating to let the Pope have his finger in the pie. A powerful association has been formed, called the Equal Rights Association, to protest against unfair advantages being given to Roman Catholics, or any other religious denomination, over the rest. Principal Cavan of Toronto has taken a leading part in this movement. Many in Canada are disgusted with the way in which the Church of Rome has not only made the Quebec Government a tool in her hands, but obtained a kind of controlling influence in the Dominion Government also. This last is one of the effects of federation. Now that federation is un fait accompli, it would be difficult to undo it. But it is surely very unwise to weaken the bond. I have no idea that Canada as a whole has any desire for union with the United States, although I am told that the younger generation is less opposed to this than their fathers. But it seems a possible thing, if Quebec is to rule the Dominion, that the confederacy will be broken up. And it would be a very serious matter if Ontario were to dissever itself from it. It may seem disloyal even to hint at such a possibility. But the people of Ontario are men of spirit, and cannot abide truckling to the Pope. I cannot help thinking that it is a dangerous experiment that is being tried with them, and one that it would be well not to carry too far.

Return to our Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus