Canada - Arctic Ocean
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THOUGH we have spoken of the various sections of the Dominion where climatic and agricultural conditions would seem to permit of a permanent white population, there remains a very large and important section of the country still undescribed. This, as the heading of this chapter indicates, is represented by the northern barren lands and the islands of the Arctic Sea. The area of this great outlying portion of the country is very great, and cannot accurately be expressed in square miles. If we take the map of the Dominion and start in the extreme east, on a point of land just north of Hamilton Inlet on the Labrador coast, and follow the northern borders of the territories already described, until we reach the north-east angle of Great Bear Lake, we will have travelled 2,400 miles; and if we start at the same point and follow the coast in its north-westerly trend till we reach the island of North Lincoln in Baffin's Straits, we will have travelled a distance of 1,800 miles; to unite this line with the Arctic Coast north of Great Bear Lake would require a line some 800 miles in length.
Marvellous as it may seem, the land area, alone within these lines is not less than 1,600,000 square miles, or about one-half the extent of the continent of Europe. It is true that a large portion of this great territory lies within the Arctic Circle, and the whole of it is but imperfectly known, yet it must be remembered that this large area of Canadian territory, though unfitted for any considerable agriculture, is rich in many resources, and is capable of considerable population and development. As compared with European latitudes, much of the country should not be considered as being extremely north, and possibly a great mistake is made in regarding it as the inhospitable wilderness it is supposed to be. The following, doubtless, is quite true of very much of these regions:
Who knows that the country is all barren and rocky, and that the great solitude is only broken by the terrible rumble of the avalanche? Why is it that all these islands and peninsulas north of the mainland have been classed as `bleak and barren, rocky and rugged, with perpetual ice and snow' ? Has anyone explored Baffin Land thoroughly? Has any-one penetrated the wilds of Prince Albert Land, or Victoria, Wollaston, and Bank's Land, Prince of Wales and Melville Islands, Southampton, Grant and Cumberland, Cornwallis and King William's Land, Boothia, Milne and Somerset Land, Cockburn, Green and Hoppner Land, Melbourne, Kent and Adelaide Land? No. Explorers have repeatedly sailed by those rugged shores, without even making an attempt at discoveries in the interior."
"Now, again, referring to the chart, you . will notice that the 65th parallel of latitude passes through Baffin Land, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia and Siberia. All of these countries are inhabited, and that by civilized beings—why not Baffin Land? In the interior, away from those bleak and desolate shores, there may be a fine country. The Czar of Russia has made a capital of his great Empire not two degrees of latitude south of it; so also has the King of Sweden. The Shetland Islands lie hardly one degree south of it, while exactly in the same latitude Swedes and Norwegians grow grain and vegetables and lead a most enjoyable life. In the dead of winter, when the shores of Baffin Land are thronged with seal, bear and walrus, and the great country within lies still and silent, the revels in Christiania and St. Petersburg are in full sway." With the 'exception of eastern Labrador "not one civilized being, according to the world's knowledge, is living upon this vast tract of land to-day. Not a settlement, trading post or whaling station upon the whole of its surface. A few wandering tribes of Esquimaux, who have seldom or never seen or heard of a white man, are the only inhabitants."
The Ungava section of this great northern region being surrounded by water, and, therefore, more accessible, is more fully known, though its interior has as yet hardly been penetrated by an explorer. Its great richness, however, in minerals and products of the sea, has impressed itself upon all who have visited this region. The following is a result of careful observation in that distant territory:
"Ungava is the home of speckled trout. There are, perhaps, not less than 100,000 lakes in Ungava, with tributaries in and out of them, say of ten miles to each lake, making about 1,000,000 miles of creeks and rivers, which is simply a breeding and feeding place for fish. Millions of dollars' worth of fish could be shipped every year from this region without lessening the quantity in the waters, providing the large ones only were taken out. The trout run from one-half to five pounds, and some run to seven pounds. Most of them run from one to two pounds. Other merchantable fish are equally plentiful, one feature of it all being that a fish caught here after lying out for two days is as hard and firm as our fish caught fresh. The fish is very much finer in quality than what we get in the Georgian Bay or Lake Superior. Salmon trout are very plentiful and very fine, running up to forty pounds. There is also a sea trout that can be caught in immense quantities. The natives use a short net, about fifty or one hundred feet in length, set out along the shore or around the islands, and they get all they can use. The same mode here would not catch one where they catch a thousand. There is also said to be cod and other salt water fish in abundance. Seals are very plentiful, and form one of the principal foods of the Esquimaux. There are immense numbers of whales and many walruses in the northern part of Hudson Bay.
" This great source of natural wealth must in time attract the attention of capitalists, and engage considerable capital in its development."
The section of the far northwest of Hudson's Bay is still more extensive, and probably still more interesting. The fisheries and other sources of wealth found in the Ungava region are probably not less in this section, while the American reindeer and musk-ox abound in numbers probably not equalled in any other part of the world. These animals, mysterious as it may seem, thrive on the great islands hundreds of miles from the mainland in the Arctic Ocean.
Myriads of water fowl also make their summer home in these far distant regions.
It is the presence especially of these large wild food-producing animals that suggest the future usefulness of these regions. When we consider the characteristics and general features of Laplanders, and other tribes of northern Europe and Asia, and their comparative prosperity and success with the domesticated reindeer, we think of the possibilities of these people in these northern sections of Canada. Certainly this country affords them more scope and better opportunities for reindeer grazing than are to be found in their native Lapland. Many European Laplanders keep as many as one thousand reindeer, from which they make not only a good living, but have much cheese and butter to dispose of, and rein-deer meat is also quite a feature in the markets of northern Europe. It is easy to imagine what importance would attach to these far distant regions of Canada if they were occupied by hardy people. They would then contribute materially not only to the population, but to the national wealth.
This country is freckled with lakes and scarred by streams both small and great, and though for the most part bare of trees, is in many parts a pleasant rolling country, with eskers and buttes, rounded hills, covered in summer by a growth of most nutritious grass, and bright with many colored flowers. Mr. Pike said of the country between the Great Fish River and the. coast: " We had a long day's walk through a pleasant grassy country, and towards evening crossed an unusually high range of hills, through which the river canyons. Finding a few willows here, we left our blankets and walked on along the bank for an hour or two, finally climbing a solitary sand butte at sundown for a last survey of the country before turning our faces to the south. . . . Below us lay a broad valley, so green and fertile in appearance, that we could hardly realize that for many months of the year it lay frost bound and snow covered under the rigors of an Arctic climate. . . . This was the end of our voyage of discovery, though I should have liked to have pushed on for a day or two to see what lay beyond the blue hills in the distance."
All along the coast, from eastern Labrador to the Mackenzie River, and on the islands of the north it may be regarded as the land of the Eskimo. These mysterious people are most intelligent and capable of easy civilization. Because of their very northern location they have been brought very little in touch with the outside world, and for the most part they still live in the crudeness of their aboriginal condition. Their love for their native north, and their adaptation, through long centuries of life there, is an illustration of how man may be inured to the conditions by which he is surrounded, and even learn to prefer what to others might be death.
There are very many points of resemblance between the Eskimo and the Lapp, though the Eskimo is probably the better type of physical man. He, how-ever, has never sought the domestication of the rein-deer which frequent his country, and here is where the Lapp may be regarded as being in advance of the Eskimo. Recent experiments in Alaska with Laplanders and reindeer show that these men and animals thrive well in North America. It would seem to be a wise policy to seek to instruct the Eskimo, of whom there are many thousands in the north, in the domestication of this useful animal. It is, indeed, quite within reason to believe that the Lapp and the Eskimo might easily be fused into a new and superior race of Eskimo-Lapp, to take possession of these vast northern plains, rich in the possession of their flocks and herds. The development of the barren lands, and the causing of them to contribute to the general prosperity of the country, is worthy of the best efforts of our philanthropists and statesmen.
Certainly these lands have a beauty and a charm which is deeply fixed in the hearts of those whose homes are within their borders. The Indian's reply to the priest, who was speaking to him of heaven, is significant of this, and is a worthy tribute to these distant regions. He said: "My father, you have spoken well. You have told me that heaven is very beautiful; tell me one thing more. Is it more beautiful than the land of the musk-ox in summer, when sometimes the mists blow over the lakes, and sometimes the water is blue, and the loons cry very often? That is beautiful, and if heaven is still more beautiful, my heart will be glad, and I shall be content to rest there until I am very old."