( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Misconceptions and General Description
In the consideration of Canadian topics that of climate is amongst the most important ; we shall, therefore, treat it at some length, chiefly because of the great misconceptions obtaining abroad concerning this subject. Indeed, so greatly have these misconceptions impressed themselves upon the public that they are, to a certain extent, reflected in the minds of Canadians themselves. It is a fact that the so-called "rigors of the Canadian climate" have been so dwelt upon that many of the inhabitants of this country think of our climate as being the worst in the world, while other lands are bathed in perpetual sunshine.
The fact is that there are few countries in the world, when all things are considered, that have so favorable a climate as Canada. The reputation of a country, like that of an individual, is a matter of importance, and when prejudices or slanders become current they are hard to live down. Canada has suffered much from misrepresentation in this respect.
The French king may have consoled himself in his loss of Canada by referring to her as a few square miles of snow and ice," but the calumny has had a long life and dies hard. This is witnessed in the absurd notions entertained concerning Canadian climate in England, even at the present time.
" Immense frozen plains of morasses covered with icy lakes," is a sentence purporting to be descriptive of Canada. It occurs in a school geography intended for the use of candidates for the Oxford and Cambridge local examinations. The late Mr. Gladstone said that Canada was a country of perpetual ice and snow."
The London Outlook, in one of its bright and clever articles, uses this expression : "In lands where snow is a condition of nature for half the year, in Canada, Russia, and the Alps, it never fails to bring to the people an exhilaration and sense of beauty." When thinking of this country, it is safe to say that the majority of Englishmen have visions of icebergs, frozen lakes and snow-clad wastes. The Yankee was a little more complimentary when he referred to us as " a country where they had nine months winter and three months bad sleighing."
For the most part these misconceptions have grown up in a simple but yet not unnatural way. A glance at their source is, perhaps, necessary, that we may the better counteract them and guard against their repetition. The Hudson's Bay Company has, to a considerable extent, unconsciously contributed to these misunderstandings. For many years that great company represented the largest industry of this country, and the very fact of furs suggests cold, just as the spices of the East India Company suggested warmth. Moreover, the winter was the season for the great fur harvest, and all its pursuits spoke of that season of the year. The chief centres of the trade were for many years situated in the coldest and most northern parts of the country about Hudson Bay, and the stories and souvenirs carried back to England all savored of the far north, and seemed to speak of a country of almost perpetual winter.
Many missionaries have also inadvertently contributed to these misconceptions by giving great prominence to the scenes and hardships peculiar to the winter. Illustrations have been largely made up of howling blizzards, dog teams, and winter camps, all of which have had their part in producing misconceptions in the minds of strangers.
Canada herself has contributed considerably, and with quite as little intention, to these wrong impressions. The ice palaces and winter carnivals, once so popular in the chief cities of the Dominion, the glories of which have been heralded to the ends of the earth in our newspapers, have aided in this work of peculiar education to a surprising degree, all of which has done harm to the country.
Another fruitful source of this peculiar delusion is the ignorance concerning the tremendous area of the country, and the consequent diversity of its climatic character ; this is true of all large countries, and no more true of any than of Canada.
" If it be true that Canada owns the North Pole, as is seriously claimed by some, then there are very long and cold winters in Canada. Even this side of the unexplored end of the world we have some Arctic territory where pretty warm clothing can be comfortably used for a good many months of the year.
There are even places on the tops of mountains where perpetual ice and snow can be found. Excursionists go thousands of miles to see the strange sight, and travel through millions of acres of the finest wheat-growing land in the world in the course of their journey."
A leading London newspaper somewhat recently referred to Canada as a " genteel Siberia." The following fitting reply is a fair presentation of the facts :
" The larger part of Canada is somewhat warmer in summer than the mean temperature of Great Britain during the same season, and somewhat colder in winter. But Canada covers such a vast area that the settler can have almost any climate he wants. There is enough of Canada where winter as it is understood in England is unknown, to cover the whole British Isles. There are parts of Canada where cattle enough to keep the whole of the United Kingdom constantly supplied with beef and butter and cheese, can graze out of doors all winter.
" It would be a good idea for some of our British journalistic friends to appoint a commission to come out to Canada, see the country they are talking about, and ascertain whether we are within the temperate zone and what kind of people and crops grow in that genteel Siberia.' "
The following general summary of Canadian climate may be regarded as giving a good general description :
" In the Dominion of Canada, a country embracing one-half of the continent of America, we naturally find a very diversified climate. On the Pacific coast, with the ocean on the one side and lofty mountain ranges on the other, it is moist and temperate, while on the east side of the Rocky Mountains, on the high level plateaux of the North-West Territories and in Manitoba, is found a climate with large extremes of temperature, but withal bright, dry, bracing and healthy atmosphere. In the valleys of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers a cold but bright, bracing winter is followed by a long, warm and delightful summer, while the Maritime Provinces, lying between the same parallels of latitude as France, and with shores laved by the waters of the Atlantic, rejoice in a climate the praises of which have been sung by successive generations of their people from the old Acadians to the present day."
" The climate of those portions of the territories which lie near the mountains is one of peculiar interest, presenting, as it does, features which are unknown in countries nearer the sea and away from the mountains. Among the marked features are the rapid changes of temperature, which frequently occur in short intervals of time, the great variability in different years, both of the mean temperature of the winter season and of the summer rainfall, also the fact that the summer season in the great Mackenzie Basin, just under the Arctic Circle, is nearly as warm as in Alberta, on the south border."
The following, which relates to the Province of Ontario, is given verbatim :
" The Province of Ontario can boast of as many distinctly different climates as can any country in the world. That part of the province which lies immediately north and northeast of Lake Superior, and which forms the northern watershed of that great lake, has a long cold winter, and at times extremely low temperatures are recorded. As a rule the snow does not disappear from the woods until the beginning of May, after which time, how-ever, the summer advances very rapidly, and four months of superb weather follow. Travelling east and south-east the climate quickly improves, and in the valleys of the Ottawa and Upper St. Lawrence we find a moderately cold winter, but a singularly exhilarating, bracing atmosphere, which makes a zero temperature by no means unpleasant. Signs of spring are not wanting. Early in April and by the beginning of May foliage is well advanced, and then follows a decidedly warm summer. The whole of this region is between the middle of May and the middle of September included between the same isotherms as the greater portion of France, and after a protracted autumn winter sets in again in November." The mean annual temperature of Mont-real is 41.8 degrees, and of St. Petersburg, 38.7 degrees.
" In the peninsula of Ontario, or that portion of the province which lies east of Lake Huron and north of Lake Erie, and the western portion of Lake Ontario, the winters are by no means severe, and the summers are seldom oppressively hot, this being due to the tempering influence of the lakes by which this part of Ontario is surrounded. In the western counties the April mean temperature corresponds nearly to that of Southern- Scotland, and in May the mean temperature of the whole district is slightly higher than for the south of England. The temperature conditions during the summer months may, as in the Ottawa and Upper St. Lawrence Valleys, be compared with those of France, the nominal temperature for July ranging between 66 degrees and 72 degrees. September and October are generally delightful months, and seldom does snow remain on the ground until well on in December, except on the high lands of the interior counties. That portion of Ontario which lies immediately east of the Georgian Bay, the district of :Muskoka, at an elevation of 700 feet above the sea, abounding in small lakes, possesses a wonderful bracing atmosphere, which, with a very high percentage of bright sunshine and a pleasant temperature, has made this region a summer resort much frequented by people from the cities and towns further south.
" The summers in the southwestern part of Quebec are as warm as in the greater part of Ontario. In July the 70 degrees isothern passes not far south of Montreal, the 65 degree line passes through Quebec City, and most of the Gaspe Peninsula has a mean temperature somewhere below 60 degrees. The winter throughout the province is cold, and between December and March the ground has usually a deep covering of snow."
The concluding paragraph runs thus: " The Great Lakes never freeze over, but usually most of the harbors are closed by ice by about the middle of December, and remain frozen over until the end of March or the beginning of April. The average date of the closing of navigation on the St. Lawrence river is December, and of the opening, April 21st. Harbors on the Gulf of St. Lawrence are likewise closed by ice during the winter months, but on the Bay of Fundy and the coast of Nova Scotia they are open all the year round, as are all the harbors on the Pacific coast as far north as Alaska."