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Ocean to Ocean

Travel a thousand miles up a great river; more than another thousand along great lakes and a succession of smaller lakes; a thousand miles across rolling prairies; and another thousand through woods and over three great ranges of mountains, and you have travelled from Ocean to Ocean through Canada. All this Country is a single Colony of the British Empire; and this Colony is dreaming magnificent dreams of a future when it shall be the "Greater Britain," and the highway across which the fabrics and products of Asia shall be carried, to the Eastern as well as to the Western sides of the Atlantic. Mountains were once thought to be effectual barriers against railways, but that day has gone by; and, now that trains run between San Francisco and New York, over summits of eight thousand two hundred feet, it is not strange that they should be expected soon to run between Victoria and Halifax, over a height of three thousand seven hundred feet. At any rate, a Canadian Pacific Railway has been undertaken by the Dominion; and, as this book consists of notes made in connection with the survey, an introductory chapter may be given to a brief history of the project.

For more than a quarter of a century before the Atlantic was connected by rail with the Pacific public attention had been frequently called, especially in the great cities of the United States, to the commercial advantage and the political necessity of such connection; but it was not till 1853 that the Secretary of War was authorized by the President to employ topographical engineers and others "to make explorations and surveys, and to ascertain the most practicable and economical route for a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean." From that time the United States Government sent a succession of well-equipped parties to explore the western half of the Continent. The reports and surveys of these expeditions fill thirteen large quarto volumes, richly embellished, stored with valuable information concerning the country, and honestly pointing out that, west of the Mississippi Valley, there were vast extents of desert or semi-desert, and other difficulties so formidable as to render the construction of a railroad well nigh impracticable. Her Majesty's Government aware of this result, and aware, also, that there was a "fertile belt," of undefined size, in the same longitude as the Great American Desert, but north of the forty-ninth degree of latitude, organized an expedition, under Captain Palliser, in 1857, to explore the country between the west of Lake Superior and the Rocky Mountains; and also "to ascertain whether any practicable pass or passes, available for horses, existed across the Rocky Mountains within British Territory, and south of that known to exist between Mount Brown and Mount Hooker," known as the "Boat Encampment Pass." It was unfortunate that the limitation expressed in this last clause, was imposed on Captain Palliser, for it prevented him from exploring to the north of Boat Encampment, and reporting upon the "Yellow Head Pass," which has since been found so favourable for the Railway and may soon be used as the "gateway" through the mountains to British Columbia and the Pacific. The difficulties presented by passes further south, and by the Selkirk Mountains, led Palliser to express an opinion upon the passage across the Mountains as hasty and inaccurate as his opinion, about the possibility of connecting Ontario or Quebec with the Red River and Saskatchewan Country is now found to be. After stating that his expedition had made connection between the Saskatchewan Plains and British Columbia, without passing through United States Territory, he added,ó"Still the knowledge of the country, on the whole, would never lead me to advise a line of communication from Canada, across the Continent to the Pacific, exclusively through British Territory. The time has forever gone by for effecting such an object; and the unfortunate choice of an astronomical boundary line has completely isolated the Central American possessions of Great Britain from Canada in the east, and also almost debarred them from any eligible access from the Pacific Coast on the west." The best answer to this sweeping opinion, is the "Progress Report" on the Canadian Pacific Railway exploratory survey, presented to the House of Commons, in Ottawa, in the Session 1872, in which the advantages of the Yellow Head Pass over every other approach to the Pacific are shown; and as complete an answer to the second part will be furnished in the Report to be presented in the spring of 1873. The journals of Captain Palliser's explorations, extending over a period of four years, from 1857 to 1860, were printed in extenso by Her Majesty's Government in a large "Blue Book," and shared the fate of all blue books. There are, probably, not more than half a dozen copies in the Dominion. A copy in the Legislative Library at Ottawa is the only one known to the writer. They deserved a better fate, for his own notes and the reports of his associates, Lieutenant Blakiston, Dr. Hector, M. Bourgeau and Mr. Sullivan, are replete with useful and interesting facts about the soil, the flora, the fauna, and the climate of the plains and the mountains. M. Bourgeau was the botanist of the expedition. On Mr. Sullivan, an accomplished mathematician and astronomical observer and surveyor, devolved the principal labors of computation. Dr. Hector, to whose exertions the success of the expedition was chiefly owing, had the charge of making the maps, both geographical and geological; and, whenever a side journey promised any result, no matter how arduous or dangerous it might be, Dr. Hector was always ready. His name is still revered in our North-west, on account of his medical skill and his kindness to the Indians, and most astonishing tales are still told of his travelling feats in mid-winter among the mountains.

After printing Captain Palliser's journal, Her Majesty's Government took no step to connect the East of British America with the Centre and the West, or to open up the North-west to emigration, although it had been clearly established that we had a country there, extending over many degrees of latitude and longitude, with a climate and soil equal to that of Ontario. In the meantime, the people of the United States, with characteristic energy, took up the work that was too formidable for their government. Public-spirited men, in Sacramento and other parts of California, embarked their all in a project which would make their own rich State the link between the old farthest East and the Western World on both sides of the Atlantic. The work was commenced on the east and west of the Rocky Mountains. Congress granted extraordinarily liberal subsidies in lands and money, though in a half sceptical spirit, and as much under the influence of "Rings" as of patriotism. When the member for California was urging the scheme with a zeal that showed that he honestly believed in it, Mr. Lovejoy, of Illinois, could not help interjecting, "Does the honorable member really mean to tell me he believes that that road will ever be built?" "Pass the Bill, and it will be constructed in ten years," was the answer. In much less than the time asked for it was constructed, and it is at this day as remarkable a monument to the energy of our neighbours as the triumphant conclusion of their civil war, or the re-building of Chicago. Three great ranges of mountains had to be crossed, at altitudes of eight thousand two hundred and forty, seven thousand one hundred and fifty, and seven thousand feet; snow-sheds and fences to be built along exposed parts, for miles, at enormous expense; the work, for more than a thousand miles, to be carried on in a desert, which yielded neither wood, water, nor food of any kind. No wonder that the scheme was denounced as impracticable and a swindle. But its success has vindicated the wisdom of its projectors; and now no fewer than four different lines are organized to connect the Atlantic States with the Pacific, and to divide with the Union and Central Pacific Railways, the enormous and increasing traffic they are carrying.

While man was thus triumphing over all the obstacles of nature in the Territory of the United States, how was it that nothing was attempted farther north in British America, where a "fertile belt" stretches west to the base of the Rocky Mountains, and where the mountains themselves are pierced by river-passes that seem to offer natural highways through to the Ocean? The North American Colonies were isolated from each other; the North-west was kept under lock and key by the Hudson Bay Company; and though some ambitious speeches were made, some spirited pamphlets written, and Bulwer Lytton, in introducing the Bill for the formation of British Columbia as a Province, saw, in vision, a line of loyal Provinces, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the time had not come for "a consummation so devoutly to be wished." Had the old political state of things continued in British America, nothing would have been done to this day. But, in 1867, the separate Colonies of Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, became the Dominion of Canada in 1869 the Hudson Bay Company's rights to the North-west were bought up; and, in 1871, British Columbia united itself to the new Dominion; and thus the whole mainland of British America became one political State under the aegis of the Empire. One of the terms on which British Columbia joined the Dominion was, that a railway should be constructed within ten years from the Pacific to a point of junction with the existing railway systems in the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec, and surveys with this object in view were at once instituted.

What did this preparatory survey-work in our case mean? It meant that we must do, in one or two years, what had been done in the United States in fifty. To us the ground was all new. None of our public men had ever looked much beyond the confines of their particular Provinces; our North-west, in some parts of it, was less an unknown land to the people of the States along the boundary line than to the people of the Dominion; and, in other parts, it was unknown to the whole world. No white man is known to have crossed from the Upper Ottawa to Lake Superior or Lake Winnipeg. There were maps of the country, dotted with lakes and lacustrine rivers here and there; but these had been made up largely from sketches, on bits of birch-bark or paper, and the verbal descriptions of Indians; and, as the Indian has little or no conception of scale or bearings; as in drawing the picture of a lake, for instance, when his sheet of paper was too narrow, he would, without warning, continue the lake up or down the side; an utterly erroneous idea of the surface of the country was given. A lake was set down right in the path of what otherwise was an eligible line, and, after great expense had been incurred, it was found that there was no lake within thirty miles of the point. In a word, the country between Old Canada and Red River was utterly unknown, except along the canoe routes travelled by the Hudson Bay men north-west of Lake Superior. Only five or six years since, a lecturer had to inform a Toronto audience that he had discovered a great lake, called Nepigon, a few miles to the north of Lake Superior. When so little was known, the task was no light one. Engineers were sent out into trackless, inhospitable regions, obliged to carry their provisions on their backs over swamps, rocks, and barriers, when the Indians failed them, to do their best to find out all they could, in as short a time as possible.

Far different was it with our neighbours. They could afford to spend, and they did spend, half a century on the preparatory work. Their special surveys were aided and supplemented by reports and maps extending back over a long course of years, drawn up, as part of their duty, by the highly educated officers of their regular army stationed at different posts in their Territories. These reports, as well as the unofficial narratives of missionaries, hunters, and traders, were studied, both before and after being pigeon-holed in Washington. The whole country had thus been gradually examined from every possible point of view; and, among other things, this thorough knowledge explains the success of the United States' Government in all its treaty-making with Great Britain, when territory was concerned. The history of every such treaty between the two Powers is the history of a contest between knowledge and ignorance. The one Power always knew what it wanted. It therefore presented, from the first step in the negotiation to the last, a firm and apparently consistent front. The other had only a dim notion that right was on its side, and a notion, equally dim, that the object in dispute was not worth contending for.

Was it wise, then, for the Dominion to undertake so gigantic a public work at so early a stage in its history? It was wise, because it was necessary. By uniting together, the British Provinces had declared that their destiny wasónot to ripen and drop, one by one, into the arms of the Republicóbut to work out their own future as an integral and important part of the grandest Empire in the world. They had reason for making such an election. They believed that it was better for themselves and for their neighbours; better for the cause of human liberty and true progress, that it should be so. But it is not necessary to discuss the reasons. No outside power has a right to pronounce upon them. The fact is enough, that, on this central point, the mind of British America, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, is fixed. But, to be united politically and disunited physically, as the different parts of Prussia were for many a long year, is an anomaly only to be endured so long as it could not be helped; and when, as in our case, the remedy is in our own hands, it is wise to secure the material union as soon as possible.

On the twentieth of July, 1871, British Columbia entered the Dominion. On the same day surveying parties left Victoria for various points of the Rocky Mountains, and from the Upper Ottawa westward, and all along the line surveys were commenced. Their reports were laid before the Canadian House of Commons in April, 1872. In the summer of the same year, Sandford Fleming, the Engineer in Chief, considered it necessary to travel overland, to see the main features of the country with his own eyes, and the writer of these pages accompanied him, as Secretary. The expedition started from Toronto on July 16th, and on October 14th, it left Victoria, Vancouver's Island "on the home stretch." During those three months a diary was kept of the chief things we saw or heard, and of the impressions which we formed respecting the country, as we journeyed from day to day and conversed with each other on the subject. The diary was not written for publication, or, if printed at all, was to have been for private circulation only. This will explain the little personal details that occur through it; for allusions and incidents that the public rightly consider trivial, are the most interesting items to the private circle. But those who had a right to speak in the matter said that the notes contained information that would be of interest to the general public, and of value to intending immigrants. They are therefore presented to the public, and they are given just as they were written so that others might see, as far as possible, a photograph of what we saw and thought from day to day. A more readable book could have been made by omitting some things, coloring others, and grouping the whole; but, as already explained, the object was not to make a book. The expedition had special services to perform in connection with one of the most gigantic public works ever undertaken in any country by any people; it was organized and conducted in a business-like way, in order to get through without disaster or serious difficulty; it did not turn aside in search of adventures or of sport; and therefore an 'exciting narrative of hair-breadth escapes and thrilling descriptions of "men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders" need scarcely be expected.

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