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Pacific Coast And Alaska

( Originally Published 1924 )



ON JUNE 8th, 1916, I married Elizabeth Van Hook Thomas, only daughter of Mr. Edwin Ross Thomas and Mrs. Thomas, of Buffalo. Mr. Thomas was formerly vice-president of the Canada Cycle and Motor Company, of Toronto, and afterwards president and owner of the Thomas Car Company, of Buffalo, from which position he retired some years ago. My wife was born in Memphis, Tennessee, her grandfather, Mr. Joseph Thomas, being one of the pioneer coal mine owners of the South, but like all Southerners he suffered greatly by the Civil War, his family being Union sympathizers, in consequence of which they had to fly to Indiana. He owned a. line of steamboats on the Mississippi, which were seized by the Secessionists, to his great loss. Mr. E. R. Thomas, while only a boy of fifteen years of age, ran away and joined the Union Army, but as he was only a boy he was enlisted as a drummer. went South with the army, but in Texas he was discharged as being under the enlistment age. fie was left to his own resources to find his way home, but so resourceful was he, that after walking across a great part of the State of Texas, which was in a very unsettled condition, he managed to make his way home to Indiana and his family. Mrs. Ryerson's maternal grandfather was a banker in Aurora, Indiana, and built the first stone house in that State, a house which is still standing, so substantially was it built. Mrs. Ryerson, a gifted and charming woman, passed away, after years of suffering, borne with great fortitude and patience, on September 4th, 1924.

In November, 1917, I received an invitation from the American Red Cross to speak for them in the Atlantic Division, and as I had retired from the presidency of the Canadian Red Cross and had no specific duties to perform, I was glad to accept.

I accordingly proceeded to the States and spoke at Rochester, Albany and elsewhere to immense audiences. I was much struck by the efficiency of their organization in the membership campaign, for many factories and business houses showed 100 per cent. membership. The enthusiasm displayed at the meetings was inspiring and I was treated with the greatest kindness and hospitality.

In February, 1918, I received another invitation from the American Red Cross and this time it was to hold a series of meetings on the Pacific Coast. Hence, in March we went out Vest and after holding meetings at Vancouver, B.C., we went to Seattle, where I addressed a large meeting in the auditorium of the University of Washington. I afterwards spoke in various localities, going to San Francisco and as far south as Los Angeles.

My most interesting experiences were in lecturing to the "Four-Minute Men." These gentlemen appeared on the stage in theatres, in pulpits and other meeting places and spoke on some subject connected with the war, for four minutes; hence their name. I told them that there were three ways of getting subscriptions for the Red Cross; first, an appeal to sympathy; second, an appeal to self-interest (for the people had sons and brothers in the service); and third, an appeal to patriotism.

An important meeting which I addressed was a representative meeting of all the local managers of the Red Cross in the Pacific States, which was held at San Francisco. The enthusiasm, energy and intelligence of the audience was remarkable.

Early in June I returned north to Tacoma and while there I was asked to go to Alaska. I accepted the invitation and with my wife and my stepson, sailed from Seattle early in July.

Meetings had been arranged and I spoke at Juneau and Wrangel. The Alaskan people are very generous and it is a fact that the Alaska Red Cross subscriptions were larger per capita than in any other part of the United States. I do not wish to infer that this was due to my visit, hut Alaskan generosity is unequalled.

I had visited the Fiords of Norway in 1911 and did not expect to see anything so grand again, but the Alaskan scenery is far grander and more beautiful than that of Norway.

The voyage is made through waterways sheltered from the Pacific Ocean by Vancouver and other islands, with the exception of fifteen miles between Vancouver and the Charlotte islands, when one is exposed to the full sweep of the ocean. This passage is often rough.

The scenery is of the grandest description.

Towering mountains capped with eternal snow guard the narrow and tortuous channels, which at night or in rain and fog are navigated by the echoes of the ship's whistle, different localities giving different reverberations.

One of the most beautiful spots I have seen in the world is Seward, situated on gently-rising ground in a landlocked bay, and ringed about with snow-capped mountains.

We went as far north as Sitka, the former capital of Russian America, which the Russians sold to the United States for thirteen millions of dollars. Twice that amount has been since taken out in a single year, in gold.

There are still some remains of the Russian occupation—the former Government House, built of great logs and now in a ruined condition ; the Russian Greek Church and the Russian cemetery. The church is built in the Greek or Russian style with bulbous cupolas, and contains some interesting and valuable icons, plate and vestments, which are in charge of a Russian priest, who willingly shows them for a fee.

There is also a public park in which have been collected a large number of totem poles. These totem poles are the coats of arms of tribes and families. They are adorned with the figures of the bear, wolf, fox, deer, and often the salmon and the seal.

The government has an experimental agricultural station at which barley, but no wheat, thrives. The vegetables were very fine and in considerable variety.

A few Indians were to be seen, but they did not look very attractive. When I was at Alert Bay some years before I went into some of the lodges of the Chinook Indians. Eight or ten families live in these large wooden buildings, each sitting around its own fire, the smoke escaping through holes in the roof. There is no privacy and no conventional idea of modesty obtains. They will not live in separate lodges like the other Indian tribes. The missionaries work hard to civilize them, but do not make much progress. Their greatest trouble is the " potlatch." On the occasion of a potlatch an Indian will give away everything he has blankets, guns, fishing gear and even his wife. It is an orgy of giving and the one who gives the most is the most highly considered in the tribe. They are most unattractive looking people, having flat noses, small, beady eyes, set in a yellowish-brown face, in fact quite Mongolian in appearance. There seems to be little doubt that these people crossed from Asia by way of the Aleutian Islands at some remote period.

I have already alluded to the wonderful scenery of the Alaskan coast, but nothing exceeds in beauty the Taku Glacier. Our ship sailed close to this marvel of nature. In front of it is a wide moraine bordering a deep bay, in which floated masses of ice. On the shore were stranded icebergs and behind for the extent of about a mile, the glacier. Imagine a crystal palace of blue ice—all the shades of blue—adorned with turrets, towers, battlements, copings and cornices which glittered and sparkled in the bright sunshine. No more gorgeous spectacle could be produced at Drury Lane.

From time to time masses of ice broke off with a thunderous roar and a new berg was born. I have seen other glaciers in Alaska (the Muir for instance), in the Rocky Mountains, and in Switzerland, but they cannot compare with the Taku for sheer magnificence.

Alaska must be seen to be understood. Here is Muir's description of the canon of the Stickeen River: "The Stickeen was perhaps the best known of the rivers that cross the Coast range, because is was the best way to the Mackenzie River Cassier gold mines. It is about three hundred and fifty miles long, and navigable, for small steamers, a hundred and fifty miles. It enters the Coast range, and sweeps across it through a magnificent canon three thousand to five thousand feet deep and more than a hundred miles long. The majestic cliffs and mountains forming the canon walls display endless variety of form and sculpture, and are wonderfully adorned with glaciers and waterfalls, while throughout almost its whole length the floor is a flowery landscape garden, like Yosemite. The most striking features are the glaciers, hanging over the cliffs, descending the sides of the canons and pushing forward to the river, greatly enhancing the wild beauty of the others. "

I cannot leave the subject of the Pacific Coast without writing a few paragraphs about the salmon industry, for I happen to have seen it in all its phases.

While returning from a tour in the Olympic Mountains we came to a small stream, across which had been built a weir, about five hundred yards from the Puget Sound. In this short stretch of shallow water were to be seen scores of salmon swimming madly about. On the shore were hundreds of dead fish. Some men came along, placed and drew in a seine filled with a writhing mass of fish. On the shore were large milk cans. As they seized a fish they cut her open and emptied the eggs into a can. When it was nearly full they caught a male salmon and squeezed the milt out of him into the can of eggs. As each female salmon held about three thousand eggs it can be imagined how many millions were collected during the run. These eggs were taken to the government hatchery and in time became young salmon, which, when about three years old, are released in the waters of the Sound.

When at Sooke Harbour, Vancouver Island, I went to see a catch of salmon brought in. The catch that morning comprised four thousand fish, mostly spring salmon. Some of these fish were between five and six feet long and weighed 150 to 200 pounds. It was not a sock-eye year, for the sock-eye salmon run only once in four years. Where they go in the interval is an unsolved mystery.

I visited two or three canning factories on the Alaskan coast. The fish were brought in in scows, landed and sorted. They were then run up by an endless belt to the butchering tables, where they were cleaned and beheaded with great speed by Indian women and Chinamen. They then passed into a machine which cut them in portions, dropped them in cans and passed them on to trays on a small iron cart. The cart was then drawn into an oven where the closed cans were cooked for sixty minutes. They were then taken out, passed through water and placed in the cooling room, after which they were labelled and ready for market. The value of the salmon packing industry is about $25,000,000 a year.

I saw little of the gold industry in Alaska, save huge refining plants, to which admittance is denied. The day of the placer miner is over. The industry is now in the hands of great eompanies, as gold mining has become a crushing and cyaniding proposition, except where dredging of old river beds is carried on on a large scale.

While at Aberdeen, Washington, I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of an ex-Canadian who is a lumberman on a large scale, his mills cutting 500,000 feet of lumber a day. I He took me for a tour of his limits and it was to me a great revelation of the wonders of the forests of the Pacific slope. We drove through many miles of primeval forest, amid trees rising from 150 to 300 feet in height and a diameter at the base of from six to twelve feet. Ht was profoundly impressive and awe inspiring. He told that on one occasion he had attempted to count the rings which indicated the age of a tree. When he reached seven hundred and fifty he stopped. The tree must have been over a thousand years old.

At one point, I saw a log jam in a river which was estimated to contain 5,000,000 feet of lumber.

Before I leave the subject of the North-western States I want to say something about Nature's beauty spot, the Ranier National Park.

In the centre of this park, twenty-eight miles square, is the gigantic volcanic mass of Mount Ranier. It stands almost clear from foot-hills and raises its snow-covered head 14,500 feet up into the air. It seems larger than most mountains because it stands alone and is not dwarfed by its neighbors.

No more gorgeous spectacle can be seen than its snowy summit of rose and silver when lit up by the setting sun. For days together it is wrapped in impenetrable clouds and then suddenly it emerges from the surrounding mist in all its splendor.

One reaches the mountain easily by automobile from Tacoma by way of Long-mire, passing through a beautiful primeval forest of gigantic Douglas firs.

Gradually rising, the road skirts the cliffs so that looking down one sees the valley 1,000 to 1,500 feet below . At length one reaches a gate where the road narrows and where automobiles are held, so that only one at a I ime ascends or descends the narrow road, which creeps around the face of the mountain. It finally debouches in a lovely valley, Paradise Valley, 5,700 feet above the sea. Looking up one sees the extinct crater of the volcano, covered with ice and snow. Looking around the meadows are carpeted with incredibly beautiful flowers bluebells, roses, white and yellow heather, dogwood, forest anemone, blue speedwells, pale laurels, and curious Indian basket flowers. They hardly seem real, so gorgeous is their coloring.

From Paradise Valley and the spurs of the mountain, one obtains very lovely views.

In the valley is an inn, capable of housing 200 to 300 people, with every modern convenience. One can only reach the valley in July and August, for the snow is so deep that the road is only open for those months. In July, winter sports are held, skiing and tobogganing, and attended by crowds of jolly young people.

From Mount Ranier twenty-eight glaciers arise and from them come as many streams, which meander through the natural park and form lakes and ponds. The streams abound with rainbow and silver trout and in the park itself are to be found deer, hear, lynx and mountain lions (cougars).

When I was in Alaska I met an old-timer named Jack L . I asked him if he did not have a rough old time getting in and out in winter by dog sleigh. He said " Yes, I have been nearly starved more than once, and talk about cold, why a man who was bunking with me got his fingers frozen so hard he just broke them off and threw them away. One time we were travelling to Dawson when we ran out of grub, so we cut off the dogs' tails and made soup of them, then we gave the bones to the dogs. " The air of Alaska is stimulating and evidently excites the imagination and the desire to startle the tenderfoot

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