Tuesday, 1 December 2015
By Car and Cowcatcher
By Car and Cowcatcher.
Agnes MacDonald (The first First Lady of Canada)
Murray's Magazine, Vol. 1, 1 January 1887. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, Nov. 2015.
The evening is warm and moonlit, the wide Ottawa's dark water glides swiftly between high wooded banks; the pale foam of a rapid gleams in mid-distance; the Chaudière Falls break the silence with their muffled roar, and above them, in dim outline, on a cedar-covered cliff, stand the tall towers of the stately building where Parliament assembles in the Dominion of Canada.
It is the 10th of July—long anticipated as the day of our departure for the Pacific coast, and now everything is ready and the hour is at hand. All sorts of luggage, necessary for convenience and comfort, during a journey extending over many thousand miles, is already on its way to the Ottawa Station of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and our party, six in number, is only waiting for coffee and the evening papers before bringing up the rear. All day long each intending traveller has been diligently employed in making special packing arrangements suited to his or her particular taste, and while the writer, in capacity of general manager, has given particular care to hampers and grocery lists, others of the party have selected new books, illustrated papers, maps, games, and embroidery, mindful that for at least three weeks during our absence we shall have no home but the railway car.
Off at last! a town clock is striking eleven, and the moon, unsteady with moving clouds, lights us to the station. There a long row of gleaming lamps marks out the whereabouts of our "Special," which, five minutes after we have stepped on board, has glided out among the soft shadows of a summer night, and is bearing us swiftly westward.
How pleasant it is to recall the sense of novelty and of freedom which delighted at least one of our party as we walked through the length of the train and inspected our accommodation. The "Special" (consisting of a large private car named the "Jamaica," a Pullman and a baggage car, with engine and tender complete) looked very cosy. In the baggage car our larger trunks were neatly set in rows; and in the brightly lighted Pullman, curtained bed-places alternated with velvet-cushioned seats, while travelling bags, writing-cases, small portmanteaus, and alas! tobacco-boxes too, were symmetrically arranged on small fixed tables. In the rear end a separate enclosure looked very like a smoking-room, and a tell-tale embroidered cap already graced a peg.
The "Jamaica"—her large fixed lamps brightening each little sitting-room—had a very homelike effect. Baskets of flowers stood on the narrow tables, already heaped with books and newspapers; comfortable sofas lined her polished sides, and wide arm-chairs stood on either side of the entrance-doors. In a tiny kitchen the white-aproned cook stood superintending the stowage of sundry useful packages into a neat little cupboard fitted behind two cosy bedrooms placed dos a dos in the centre of the car, with a door opening into each parlour. These small apartments contained excellent beds, good washing apparatus, with taps for hot and cold water connecting with the kitchen-stove and a tank overhead; lockers, drawers, a mirror, and a large fixed lamp—all somewhat resembling the cabin of a fine ship, everything being as richly coloured and effective as black walnut and gilding could make it.
Eighty feet over all, and wide in proportion, smoothly painted and varnished outside of a deep golden brown colour, the "Jamaica," though more spacious and certainly safer in its accommodations than the "Cowcatcher" of days to come, was, as will be seen in the sequel, not half so much fun! But that glorious ride through the wild passes of mighty mountains, round curving banks of magnificent rivers, under towering snow-tipped peaks, and amid the rich green gloom of endless valleys—surrounded on all sides by scenery of striking grandeur and beauty—was a thing of the future, for twenty-three hundred miles of woodland, river, rock, lake, and prairie lay between us and the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains, where the soft ineffable beauty of those blue and white summits shall first gladden our longing eyes.
For a moment let us pause to talk of the great railway on which we are travelling. Finished only a few months ago, the Canadian Pacific, in less than six years, has been completed from Montreal, the head of Atlantic navigation on the St. Lawrence, to Vancouver, on the Pacific Ocean. Three thousand miles are traversed by this main or trans-continental line, and, as I write, rails are being rapidly laid which will unite Montreal to Halifax, so that in a short time this gigantic railway system will in truth cross, in its own actual length, the entire breadth of the North American Continent. Then the traveller, leaving Halifax, will see from his car window McNab's Island, Fort Clarence, and the York Redoubt on the cold, clear waters of the North Atlantic; and a few days later, will, from the same car window, behold those softer hues of the blue Pacific which rest on an exquisite tracery of islands beyond English Bay at Vancouver, and hear the wash of waters that have touched the coast of China and flowed round the empire of Japan.
Many branches diverge from the Canadian Pacific proper. Shorter lines, unfinished or not extended, bought or leased by the Canadian Pacific Company, are being rapidly completed and many are already in good working order. At this moment the opening train is passing from Gravenhurst, on the Northern Railway, to Thorncliff, near Lake Nipissing, which will connect the richest part of Western Ontario with the great highway to the Pacific. American traffic from the States of Minnesota, Dakota, and Wisconsin will soon find its way to the Atlantic by that branch of the Canadian Pacific, which, leaving the main road at Sudbury Junction, 445 miles from Montreal, touches Sault St. Marie, where the waters of Lakes Superior and Huron meet. In one direction the line has a terminus at Brockville, on the St. Lawrence; in another, it will soon cross that river by a bridge at Lachine, near Montreal, and connecting with shorter lines to be amalgamated and extended at once, will stretch away eastward across the beautiful "Townships" in the Province of Quebec, pass through the State of Maine, and touch the Atlantic on the New Brunswick coast.
At Owen Sound, on the Georgian Bay; at Toronto, on Lake Ontario; at St. Thomas, on Lake Erie; at Algoma, on the North Channel of Lake Huron; at Fort William, on Lake Superior; and at Quebec, where the tide waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence ebb and flow, the busy stations of the all- embracing Canadian Pacific Railway are to be found making connections by lines of steamers, by ferry transfers, by canals, and by bridges, with a network of Canadian and American railways extending over a vast area of country.
Almost magical is the rapidity with which this wonderful line has been built. Talked of at first about seventeen years ago as a line which should clasp the Dominion from ocean to ocean, the idea was generally laughed at. Discussed from time to time, projected, and at last definitely decided upon, the subject became a bone of contention. The general opinion seemed to be that a railway passing along the north shore of Lake Superior to reach the western prairies, and from thence across the Rocky and Selkirks ranges, through the canyons of the Fraser and Thompson rivers down to the sea, was utterly impracticable. Politicians quarrelled over it, speculators shook their heads about it, engineers doubted it, and railway authorities expostulated against it. The scheme broke up one Government, embarrassed another, set everybody by the ears, and bade fair to become a chronic quarrel between rival political parties who might be expected to build the railway as a Government work. The road would be too dangerous, too difficult, too costly, the general public said—but above all, it was quite impossible! Happily for the Dominion, she had sons whose clear intelligence, far-sightedness, pluck and love of country knew no discouragement. A few very wealthy men, whose lives might have been easily spent in that fashionable pleasure-seeking common to so many of their class, faced the situation, formed a Company, took the Charter, and set to work. Before any one had time to think much about it, the line was finished to the summit of the Rockies in January last, and by June all was open from Montreal to the sea.
But it is time to return to the "Jamaica" and her consort the "Ignace," which, with their peacefully sleeping occupants hurry along in the moonlight. My closely curtained sofa, with its mattress and soft pillows, was very comfortable. My maid slept opposite. Both the little bedrooms were occupied, while the porter, who also acted as cook, was ensconced in a tiny berth opposite the kitchen. The rest of our party had retired to the "Ignace." It was a very warm night. Towards morning a heavy rain-storm broke over us, followed by loud thunder, and flashes of lightning that shone brilliantly over the undulating farming country through which we were passing. It glared on many a snug homestead and fruit-laden orchard, and glanced whitely on the occasional glimpses of the broad Ottawa that lay to the right of our way.
Wakened at daylight by the sound of rushing water, I found we were stationary near a long bridge, below which a mass of foaming water poured through a green ravine full of alder-bushes and bracken. Great uplands thickly timbered, with their dark green shining wet in the sun's first rays, rose sharp against a pink morning sky. A few scattered wooden houses stood on a half-cleared hillside; a neat little mill, made of the newest possible boards, overlooked the torrent; and far away, through distant woods, the silver stream leaped white amid heavy foliage.
Breakfast bell rang as the train stopped near the blue dimpling waters of Lake Nipissing, at North Bay, a divisional railway point where we changed "hands" and engines. The air was warm and delicious. Standing on the end platform of the "Jamaica" as we steamed off again, I marvelled at the rapid growth of this settlement since I had visited North Bay on my trip to the Rockies last January. In fact, as we journeyed all that day and the next the improvement and progress in many of the cultivated spots were very remarkable; but for the most part this section of the country is wild and rough. Fuel for all time covers great rounded hills, that rise in endless succession; forest trees of fir, pine, hemlock, and cedar stand gloomily on long stretches of rolling land, broken with rocky spurs.
Sometimes the line passes close to prettily leaping streams, which widen into little rivers presently, and then foam into rapids, plunging over rocklets bright with olive-green weed. Here, a small saw-mill, some piles of "lumber," and a few rude huts mark the site of a future village; there, a rough hole in the upheaved rock of the hillside, with some tents among the debris, show where a camp of miners is "locating" to seek the treasures of gold, silver, and copper which are supposed to lie hidden away in that newly-penetrated region.
Noon was hot and bright at Sudbury Junction, where we again stopped to change engines, and to look out on a very new settlement in all its early simplicity. Since the time of which I am writing, Sudbury has become beautiful in the eyes of speculation. Masses of valuable copper ore have been found in the rocky surfaces extending over many miles, and silver is announced farther north near Lake Temistemanque. Fifty miles beyond Sudbury we followed the beautiful Spanish River, where many a lovely "bit" of scenery appeared as we wound about its sparkling tree-fringed curves, and through meadow land bright with waving grass and wild flowers.
Presently the country changed its face, and we travelled many miles through a wild forbidding land of tumbled rocks, scorched trees, and thickets of scrub. There was little sign of habitation within sight, except the abandoned huts used by the navvies during "construction," and an occasional solitary railway-station, with a huge water-tank alongside, both smartly painted and cared for by a few hardy employes, who ran out to stare at the "Special" as it hurried by.
We pass Onaping, Straight Lake, Pogamasing, Woman River, Nemegosenda, Otter, Grasett—a strange medley of names; and even now, as I write, these tiny settlements seem to pass before me again, with their wild, wooded surroundings, and their warm green solitudes, under a tranquil, hazy summer sky.
All day long we travelled at an easy pace, which afforded opportunity for almost any employment. A warm night followed. I was glad to dress early, and take my folding-chair to, the rear platform of the "Jamaica"—about 5.30 A.M. We had just reached the eastern end of that wonderful portion of the Canadian Pacific, which for a hundred miles or more follows the sharp curves of Lake Superior's wild north shore. The roadway, in many places, is cut in solid rock far above the water's edge, and in others, leaps across mighty ravines on wooden trestles that rest—a network of beams—on the rocky bottom far below.
For a few moments we halted near one of the longest trestles. It was a delightful morning, and the scene that lay before me was magnificent. In the glow of early sunrise, undulating forests stood darkly against the northern sky-line, and cliff ranges, scarred and frowning, rose straight into the clear sky overhead. Masses of tumbled rock, shaded red and grey, lay scattered far and wide below the mountain ledge on which our train was standing, and a vast expanse of shining water stretched to the southern horizon. The effect of the scene was considerably heightened by the appearance of a very small child, with chubby cheeks and blowing curls, who trotted out of the station house and across the rock to a high promontory, where he stood, a veritable atom of humanity outlined against the sky. I think he was anxious to discover what I was so earnestly gazing at, for with much deliberation he turned his wee head in every direction, beginning with a steady look at a shining cliff's summit, 1500 feet in the air, his eyes then travelling slowly down to the green wavelets that broke on the red sands of an opposite bay, and finally resting on the toes of his own little boots. Finding nothing remarkable to demand his attention, he probably concluded that it was time for breakfast, and trotted home again, returning my kiss of the hand with a bright little smile as he disappeared.
At Schrieber a series of trestles bridged numerous valleys amid unbroken forest, and the lover of wild scenery could desire nothing more in that line than Schrieber and Jackfish afford. At Jackfish a tunnel, leading to a very long trestle which curves round a deep bay, is exactly on a line with a second tunnel on the opposite shore. The whole scene in this neighbourhood is one of stern grandeur.
Rossport looked like a huge quarry, and Gravel River recalled a little adventure which I had last winter, too long to tell here. Nepigon also brought back a bit of the past. At the broad river's mouth on Lake Superior stood an old Hudson Bay post, known as Red Rock, one of that Company's trading stations where so much money was made long ago. In future, I believe it is intended to be more a rendezvous for sportsmen and fishermen than a place for money-changers. Game in plenty is reported to roam among those dark forests, and the only fault of the trout fishing in the Nepigon, I am told, is that the fish are too numerous;—as if any one could catch too many four-pound trout!
At some of the stations we chatted with the railway officials, who dwell in stately seclusion amid the fastnesses of Superior. One of these, a jolly-faced Englishman, was most agreeable. He welcomed me as if I were an old friend; talked "primrose" politics, showed me his wife's picture, and became quite confidential. His duties were to look after trestles in the neighbourhood, see that sparks from the engine did not set them on fire, and that all the beams held fast.
At a remote spot in an angle of stern rock, solitude had evidently told heavily on the care-taker of one of these bridges. "Winter," he remarked, "was long and dreary, and as nothing ever happened to his trestle, he had nothing to do!" His grave displeased air impressed me with the idea that he considered me frivolous. I offered him a "Graphic," and hoped, rather indiscreetly, that occasion might soon arise for his services on the trestle. His grim reply, "that means a smash," made me feel small. The next official I talked to, who was a Norwegian with flaxen hair, profited, I hope, by my more lofty style of conversation.
Before we reach Port Arthur, where business begins, I must introduce some of our travelling party. Our "Chief"—who among many other offices holds that of Superintendent-General of Indian affairs—I shall sometimes call by the translation of an Indian name given him by Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfeet, Kis-ta-mo-ni-mon, or "Our Brother-in-law." First then comes "Our Brother-in-law," a very well known personage in Canada, who is taking this special trip for a "special" purpose. He has come to see the realization of the darling dream of his heart,—a railway from ocean to ocean, the development of many million acres of magnificent country, and the birth of a new nation. During seventeen years, in and out of Parliament, he had battled for these changes, through discouragement, obloquy and reverse, and with a strong patience all his own, had bided his time until, as years went on, men, resolute like himself, had arisen to take the aid his Government were determined to offer for the development of this vast territory by the completion of this railway. During the forty years and in the various capacities he had tried, in his poor way, faithfully to serve Queen and country, no happier hours had come to him, I think, than these, as he sits thoughtful in the "Jamaica," looking on the varied scenes through which we pass.
Next comes the "Comptroller," an official of high standing, as useful as agreeable and kindly, who has travelled constantly in Manitoba and the North-West since they became part of the Dominion, and who knows all about everything there—the buffaloes and the coyotes, the soil, the climate, the savages, the prairie hens, and the Mounted Police—but I should have put the Mounted Police first!
Then the Secretary—best of men; never absent from his post: furnished not only with every good quality, but also with the loveliest writing-cases and despatch boxes of delicately perfumed leather, to say nothing of red memorandum-books and glossy new knives, the last style in elastic bands, and the sweetest thing in pens!
Then comes a gentleman connected with the Press, a great favourite with us all; and, last—for I have nearly forgotten the ladies—two delightful women, universally admired! Three servants completed the party, besides an "intelligent conductor," whose special duty it was to take care of us.
Time fails me to say much of Port Arthur, a pretty little town on Thunder Bay, at the head of Canadian Lake navigation. It is a central point, and bids fair to be large and important. A remarkable variety and quantity of minerals are found in the vicinity, and several silver mines are now opened within a distance of eighty miles. We saw fine specimens of gold, silver, copper, lead and iron, as well as of marble and sandstone, and were told that the lands where more of these treasures are supposed to lie, have been offered by the Ontario Government at eight shillings an acre!—so I suddenly interrupt the Chief, who is in grave and earnest talk with a large circle of welcoming friends, and propose that we should all stay at Port Arthur and turn miners immediately!
The view is striking and beautiful as we steam away from Port Arthur, and look back on stretching water and sweeping bay. Three bold headlands rise high into the clear air, Thunder Cape, 1400 feet high, being especially fine; and out there on the horizon lies Silver Islet, said to be one of the richest deposits of silver in the world; but, I understand, most difficult to work, from the fact that the veins of ore lie below water-level; and so Lake Superior walks into the shaft with the miners, which complicates proceedings considerably.
During the night we pass from Ontario into the Province of Manitoba; and early next morning reach Winnipeg, the Capital of Manitoba, a new, smart, handsome, busy town, rising sharply from the flat green prairie, all lighted up now with brilliant sunshine. We steam into the station amid loud and ringing cheers, for this is the Chiefs first visit, and all parties meet to welcome him. The mass of upturned faces is one kind smile as he steps out on the front platform to say a few words. Then follows a long interval of handshaking and pleasant greeting, after which we drive away to Government House, and there receive another warm welcome.
Winnipeg, now sixteen years old, is a prodigy among cities. She has grown rapidly into a bright, enterprising life: is rich in fine buildings, excellent shops and very pleasant residences. We greatly enjoyed two days' sojourn here, and a rest in the handsome rooms of Government House with the best of hosts. Every one seemed in good spirits, and hopeful of the future; and Winnipeg's only grief seemed to be want of rain. The Red and Assiniboine Rivers, forming an angle round the city, were both very low, and the prairies—so green when I saw them in June last—were grey and dry now. The Chief was busy from morning to night, surrounded by his many friends, and always adding, in every possible way, to his store of knowledge about the country and its necessities, the people and their requirements.
Between Winnipeg and Regina lie some 356 miles of prairie land. Warm and shining those stretching, soft-hued plains lay in sunshine, on the cloudless morning when we left Winnipeg. Our party was increased by the welcome addition of an important officer of the Company, in his private car, Mr. E, who kindly offered to travel with us as far as his Division extended, namely to Donald, more than a thousand miles distant from Winnipeg.
Fresh and delicious was the unbreathed air of the morning. A gentle quiet rested on these endless fields, where cattle browsed near the homesteads; and settlements large and small, with every sign of progress and coming prosperity, met the eye at intervals during our journey to Regina. Our programme was to hurry forward across the mountains on the outward expedition, and to visit all available places on the return trip. This plan was adhered to as much as possible, but wherever the least hint of the Chiefs arrival had been received along the line from Winnipeg to Vancouver, at all places large or small, there was always assembled a crowd (according to the capabilities of the place), warmly welcoming us, and enthusiastic, almost affectionate in its reception of the old man, whose name is so well known among them.
We had made great speed across the prairies, and early reached Regina. The baby Capital of the North-West Territories received us with kindest greetings, albeit so few knew we were then to arrive, and we drove to Government House—a long, low wooden building about two miles from the town—charmed on entering to find how bright and cheerful are the small rooms, so fresh-looking and pretty, full of flowers, pictures and dainty things.
Our stay at Regina was a busy one. The Chief, untiring as usual, was at work all day with a constant stream of visitors, from the last English settler, bluff, hearty, and red-cheeked, to the dark, stolid Indian. Two delightful Sioux boys were brought to Government House by the priest who is educating them at his Mission School near QuAppelle. Their bright black eyes alone gave sign of life as, during a long visit, they stood perfectly rigid in brand-new broad-cloth, never stirring a finger. They sang in turn at their priest's gentle command, each breaking out into a hymn quite mechanically, in a clear, treble voice, but without the slightest intonation of any kind, and without a wink! I longed to hear them speak; but they looked so fat, and were so motionless, I feared such an effort might bring on an attack of indigestion. While they were still singing there came a great clatter of horses, and a sweeping rush of uniformed men, followed presently by piled-up baggage waggons, drawn by strong steeds across the prairie—a division of the North-West mounted Police corps, returning from outpost duty at Prince Albert, 250 miles away, to head-quarter barracks at Regina. Very smart, trim, and business-like the troops looked, their red coats brightening the faint green of the prairie as they rode compactly together, and wheeled into the low enclosure of the Police fort not far away. They form part of a body of mounted men a thousand strong, who are stationed in the North-West at Government expense, to keep order among the Indians, and to prevent the selling of liquor, which is forbidden by law in the North-West Territories.
I am lingering too long, however, at Regina, perhaps because we were so happy there, and every one was so good to us; but lack of space prevents me from telling of many things we did and saw, which I must reserve for another occasion.
From Regina to Gleichen, where a conference had been arranged between "Our Brother-in-law" and Crowfoot, chief of the Blackfeet, we passed over 330 miles of prairie, having stations and settlements from ten to twenty miles apart. Near Medicine Hat, on the South Saskatchewan, the prairie rolls in beautiful, low swelling undulations, touching the sky-line in graceful curves in one place, and falling gently down to the horizon in another; and as we travel swiftly onward in the warm evening air, we feel that we are ascending steadily to a higher level of country. Large fires have passed over much of the prairie we look upon, leaving great tracts black and bare.
At Gleichen the sky is dull and grey with distant smoke. The Conference has been fixed for next morning, and our Special is placed on a siding, where we are to stay for the night.
The Chief is soon standing bare-headed on the little platform at Gleichen, with all his staff about him, listening to the usual address. The population of Gleichen is not large, but it is most kindly, and by the time the dinner-bell rings out from the "Jamaica," we seem to have made many new friends.
At Regina the Lieutenant-Governor of the North-West Territories had joined our party. He is also Indian Commissioner, and now he is going to drive twelve miles to an Indian Agent's house near Blackfoot Crossing. I beg to go also, and at 9 P.M. we clamber into a high waggon, drawn by a swift, strong pair of blacks, and soon speed away. Dimly mysterious lies the prairie all round us in the faint light mist, enveloping soft, rolling, greyish land, with not a twig or stone to break the absolute sameness. A road track, rough and broken, winds away before us, and it is not easy to keep one's seat as we sway rapidly along. We drive for an hour, and then from the gloom of a lower dip than usual the Governor, who has the reins, peers into the shadows far away. We can see a light twinkle in the distance, and in a few minutes we are at the Agent's little house, a smart new cottage standing bolt upright—a square block in a large fenced enclosure. Here Mr. lives all alone—a sad sort of arrangement which I exclaim against when he smilingly informs me he is to be married in a week!
Very early next morning I looked out of the car, and found the mist had cleared eastward. The prairie glistened white with dew as the sun just peeped above its distant edge—a faint gold spot, shining like a star, widening—widening to a streak—growing into a crescent with darting beams, and presently rising into a huge red globe, that, hanging over the boundless one-tinted plain, had a magnificent effect.
The soft rapid tread of many moccassined feet passing near the car warned us that the Blackfeet were assembling about 6 A.M. It was a pretty sight to look at soon afterwards as we watched them coming, mounted and in gala dress, tearing across the prairie in the early sunshine, their wild hair streaming, their coloured trappings flying, their strong, large dark faces framed in fantastic head-gear. On the slopes round the station and car hundreds of men were already grouped. They had formed a large square, packed in rows one behind the other, stolid and silent. A few were smoking slowly, and the curl of a smoke's breath here and there was the only movement visible in the wild picturesque crowd that squatted on the prairie. Their garments of many colours were striped and fringed, and rudely decorated with quills and feathers, coins, shells pebbles, fur, and even scalps, with their long locks tangled together. Leggings of deer-hide, with a fringe on the outside edge, met moccassin tied with thongs round the ankle. All had long, unkempt black hair. Some wore it braided, or falling in strings, or drawn across the forehead, as fashionable dames used to wear it forty years ago. Many faces and breasts were painted or dyed in broad wavy lines of red and blue, with little crescents of colour on the forehead, producing a most sinister effect. A few wore ornaments, ear-rings, and even nose rings of silver, made, most likely, of the shillings they receive from the Government as Treaty money. On some heads a single feather stood erect, bound on by a fillet; others had strips of red cloth across the forehead. Though the morning was apparently warm, very many wore blankets drawn squarely round the shoulders, and even over the head. All sat listless, and if the crowd, as a whole, seemed pervaded by any special sentiment, it certainly was that of a rather bored nonchalance. A-field about the prairie, at some little distance from their lords, a large number of squaws, young and old, with children of all ages among them, swarmed leisurely about while tethering horses, putting up tents, or making fires. Many more sat, or rather squatted, on the short grass, with blanketed heads and shoulders. Babies, brown, shining and healthy, cuddled about these women, wearing, generally, the smallest, shortest possible garment, made of thin print. Squaws and papooses were alike decorated with coloured beads in strings and loops, and I saw one fat, black-eyed infant whose sole vestment was a string of pale blue beads round the left leg!
In an hour all was ready for the Conference to begin. The Lieutenant-Governor, the Chief, and the ladies had seats on a low platform; behind, and on each side, stood the officials who accompanied them, with a few English settlers living near Gleichen—one, an English general whose extensive cattle ranche is in that vicinity. Before them the Blackfeet sat massed together, their dark faces and strong square forms outlined against the prairie's low green wave. In the first rank all the Chiefs had taken their places,—Old Sun, Three Bulls, Medicine Shield, Lone Horn, Eagle Rib, Running Wolf, Running Rabbit, White Pup, &c. &c, all minor chiefs in war-paint and feathers. Head-chief Crowfoot, being in mourning for his adopted son Poundmaker, wore nether garments of greyish tweed, a flannel shirt, a wide felt hat, and a large brown blanket drawn round his shoulders. Behind Crowfoot stood the interpreter, by name Bill Gladstone, a French and Indian half-breed.
The Council was opened by the Lieutenant-Governor. He instructed the interpreter to tell Crowfoot that the Chief, a man in authority, and having the Indians particularly under his care, had stopped on his long journey to the sea on purpose to hold this Council at Gleichen, to know the mind of his red brothers, and to hear what they had to say. Further that he (the Governor) hoped that they (the Blackfeet chiefs) would speak plainly, and tell out such grievances as they felt or feared, opening their hearts to him on such subjects as they wished to speak about, so that all might be satisfactorily arranged as far as possible.
All listened attentively while Mr. Bill Gladstone rendered the message into the Blackfoot tongue, then nodded approbation, with an emphasis of low sounds in assent, as Crowfoot, removing his hat and laying aside his pipe, proceeded to business. In loud tones, and with a somewhat excited manner, he first turned to the assembled band and addressed them vigorously. The interpreter explained he had bidden them to pay strict attention to his forthcoming words, and not to forget them, so that in future they might have nothing to complain of or blame him for. This exhortation Crowfoot repeated three or four times during the Conference, as one who dreaded being called to account for sins of omission. Then turning to the Chief he began an oration in short loud sentences, translated by the interpreter as he uttered them. First he spoke of his own loyalty, and that of his tribe. Bad men, he knew, had said they were not loyal. He begged his white brother not to believe any such stories, for the Blackfeet were good men and true. Then he complained of fire, which had burned their crops near the line of railway. The fire-waggons, he explained, had caused this devastation, and it was a great "vexation." He next alluded to a rumour he had heard, also of a vexatious character. Was it true, he demanded, that the Government intended stopping the Indians' rations? He had been told they did, and his tribe were much frightened lest they might starve, as all the buffalo were gone;—they had sold some of the potatoes they raised, but for a great many potatoes they only got a small "bit" of money (evidently thinking that they should receive a "bit" of money for every potato).
We had heard the Indians had many grievances, and expected a long list; but though Crowfoot talked at length, and repeated the same things many times over, these were his only complaints. While he spoke, the minor chiefs kept up a low chorus of apparent approbation, as they sat smoking stolidly with half-shut eyes.
After a pause, "Our Brother-in-law" answered. His voice was low, his words calm and measured. Knowing that an Indian never forgives a broken promise, every syllable was carefully weighed. Crowfoot watched and listened with keen attention. Bending forward, he fixed his bright black eyes on the speaker's face as if he would read his very soul. But the white man, practised in diplomacy, was masked. Nothing could be read in his quiet, kindly face, as his reply came in short clear words. He knew Crowfoot and his tribe were loyal and quiet men, obedient to Treaty obligations. They had proved themselves so when only a short time ago other tribes rose in rebellion, led on by bad men who only thought of their own evil ends. He wished to do what he could for his red brothers who were under his care, and he was glad to see so many face to face. If it was possible to remove the grievance caused by fire-waggons passing across the prairie, he would do so; but the Blackfeet must not forget the railway did good as well as harm, and the damage, unless in very dry seasons, must be small. Then he went on to explain that the Government wished the Indians to try and help themselves. The Treaty did not promise food, but the Government had given it, because they were in want. They must dig and plant and sow, like white men, to get good crops; then sell some of the produce of their reserve, keeping what was necessary for their own support. White men worked hard for their food and clothing, and expected Indians to do the same. They would not agree to give money to the Indians unless the Indians would also try and help themselves. The Government had given seed and grain and farming implements; the reserve was fine, rich land; they must work and till it.
Crowfoot replied. The Chief again spoke, but the subjects were hardly much varied. The Indian evidently tried to extract promises; the white man carefully abstained from committing himself, knowing how quick is the Indian to suppose a promise, and how bitterly he resents anything like a broken one. Speaking kindly and strongly, he assured the Blackfeet of the warm interest felt by all their fellow-subjects in their welfare, at the same time pressing the necessity for self-help and industrious habits, and encouraging them in every right direction. Their wishes, he said, should always be listened to, carefully considered, and acceded to when it was possible.
During this harangue, as well as when Crowfoot was speaking, the chiefs and some of the Indians sitting towards the front row—probably prominent men among them—testified their approbation by exclaiming frequently an Indian translation of "Hear, Hear,"—the word meaning, I believe, more exactly, "it is right" or "just."
By this time I, for one, was dreadfully hungry—nearly mid day, and nothing yet but a cup of tea! With much satisfaction I observed signs of approaching end to the Conference.
Soon after, the presents were brought in, and a general gift-giving commenced. Rolls of stout cloth, sheeting, strong woollen material, canvas for tents, pipes, hats, and all sorts of useful articles were produced from the baggage car, and presented to each chief for division among his people. They were all accepted with quiet indifference!—valuable as such gifts are to the Indian. Some faces relaxed into an expression of satisfaction, however, when cases of tea and boxes of tobacco made their appearance.
Before we rose, Crowfoot desired to explain why no war dance or other welcoming festivity had been held to celebrate this great occasion. He said the death of his adopted son Poundmaker (he had been choked while eating berries a fortnight before) must account for these omissions, but no disrespect was intended. Some of the younger chiefs, however, would like to show us a sham fight, if "Our Brother-in-law" approved.
While they were preparing for the fray, some of our party walked about the camp—for camp by this time it was—giving small moneys to squaws and papooses, and trying, by signs, to communicate with them. Many of the girls were tall, bright-eyed, and handsome. The women, generally, looked healthy. Some had very expressive faces, and smiled shyly as we passed, but for the most part they were as phlegmatic as their lords, and showed very little feminine curiosity.
Suddenly a loud drumming noise attracted our attention—the tom-tom, or call to arms. In a round shallow hole dug in the prairie four braves crouched, violently beating a large, roughly made drum, and uttering strange, shrill cries. Soon the drumming grew more rapid, the cries louder and more vehement as, rising to a state of high excitement, the drummers, shouting wildly, wielded their short sticks and brandished their long naked arms. The effect on the Indians was magical. The prairie, so still in the warm veiled sunlight a moment before, now swarmed with hurrying figures. The tribe sprang into life at the well-known call to battle. The braves, mounting rapidly, and carrying every kind of fire-arm, from the trader's musket to the Winchester rifle, galloped madly about, whooping and shouting, their stately, impassive faces fierce with angry scowls.
A scene of wild acting followed. Ranging themselves in hostile lines the Blackfeet, breaking into savage war-whoops, surged and rushed together with such fury that it was hard to believe the whole proceeding was only a good sham, and not "down-right earnest," as the children say. Fierce and desperate indeed seemed these wild men as they galloped hither and thither, loading, firing quick rounds, reloading, firing again and again, till the solitude echoed with noise of battle. Hanging too, rather than bestriding, their horses, these strange figures, with streaming blankets and swinging adornments, tore over the prairie, the air ringing with their cries and yells.
I could not understand the plan of battle. A great deal of "doubling" and scouting went on, and it was a pretty sight to see the vanishing riders, as they swept along in their bright attire, rein in suddenly and stand like statues. To my eyes the feint of scalping prostrate enemies was very alarming. It was impossible to help reflecting what would be the consequence if that sharp bright knife slipped when in such close proximity to that defenceless crown. Indeed, I thought one of the young braves looked quite regretfully at the long scalp-lock he held, as if he half wished the jest were earnest.
Crowfoot took no part in these warlike proceedings. He sat among his white-faced guests, still wrapped in his blanket, mourning, as we must suppose, for the lost Poundmaker.
During an interval, when the tide of battle flowed away from our position, Mrs. Crowfoot was presented. She, like her husband, wore poor European clothes as mourning, and formed a sad contrast to her gay-beaded, red-blanketed sisters. I made her a little gift, which was received with much solemnity. She bade me welcome—of course by aid of an interpreter. Scanning, with something of disdain, my plain travelling dress and dusty appearance, she enquired if I were not a great "chief lady." I assured her I was but a humble individual brought to the prairies only to look after the travelling comforts of my lord and master. I am sure Mrs. Crowfoot appreciated this reply, as she remembered the weary days of plodding over snow and sun-baked earth, drawing a heavy sled by a thong passed round her forehead, while her lord stalked on in front, with only a gun as encumbrance.
We steamed away from Gleichen soon after noon. Never did I enjoy a breakfast as on that day, after such long fasting, and so much exercise in prairie air. On those delicious, balmy, far away plains, one is always well and always hungry!
During my journey last winter, so gloriously clear and bracing was the extreme cold here, that I could feel the very life-blood flowing through my veins when I walked swiftly, as with winged feet, over the stretching prairie, glittering with crisp, dry snow, under a glorious deep blue speckless heaven! On such a day as this, in January last, I first saw the Rocky Mountains, nearly one hundred miles off. It was a sight never to be forgotten, those exquisite peaks of pearl and blue sweeping round nearly half the horizon of an unbroken level prairie; but as we travelled now, in July, to my great disappointment, the smoke of many fires had obscured our view, and nothing could be seen of all that beauty lying before us.
Calgary, our next stopping-place, is charmingly situated. The wide green valley in which it stands is bright with long waving grass. Softly rounded, smooth low hills encircle the valley, and two placid blue rivers, the Bow and Elbow, wind through its rich meadow land.
As a specimen busy day during this trip, I will give the programme carried out on this particular Wednesday.
Beginning with the Blackfeet Conference at Gleichen, from 6 A.M. till noon, we had then fifty miles of travel to Calgary; a reception on arriving there; a long drive; a review of the Mounted Police; addresses in the Town Hall; an hour for visitors in the car; the ceremony of laying a foundation stone; another long drive; more speeches, and to wind up, towards morning, two hours at a large "Social" or Church entertainment, where, on a carpeted platform in a big highly decorated skating-rink (converted by its summer-flooring of boards into a fine ball room) we drank tea, listened to music, and were made welcome by new friends, so kind and cordial, that it seemed almost ungrateful to admit that we were very tired.
Dawn was breaking as I pushed up a window in the "Jamaica" before retiring, and the last sound I heard, as I fell asleep, was the sharp tone in which a man standing in the station informed his companion that he "guessed them Canady folk had about enough of it!"—alluding, no doubt, to our possible exhaustion.
How beautiful is the country in which I find myself on awaking a few hours after! We are among the "Foot hills," or lowest range of the Rockies—great, mound-like, smooth, softly-tinted hills that swelled into many a lovely curved shape, holding in their wide folds winding blue rivers and great stretches of fine grazing land, over which, as the sweet morning air stirred through the grass, little billows of pale green seemed to pass. These are some of the cattle ranches of which we have "heard tell" so often lately.
As we travel slowly onward—slowly, so as to enjoy all to the fullest extent—these plains widen and stretch away into flat quiet distances, soft and misty, lying below farther hills outlined against the sky. Sharper risings and rougher ledges appear. By and by the wide valleys change into broken ravines, and lo! through an opening in mist made rosy with early sunlight, we see far away up in the sky, its delicate pearly tip clear against the blue, a single snow-peak of the Rocky Mountains! There is a general rush to see it;—perhaps general disappointment. Surely that fragile, almost quivering point rising so high over the pink drapery that sweeps to the valley below, can have nothing to do with the rugged heights and mountains we have come to see!
Our coarse natures cannot at first appreciate the exquisite aerial grace of that solitary peak that seems on its way to heaven; but as we look, its fading, gauzy mist passes over, and it has vanished.
On again we go, now through long stretches of park-like country, now near great mountain shoulders, half-misty, half-defined, with occasional gleams of snowy peaks far away before us like kisses on the morning sky.
The Kananaskis River flows directly across the pass that leads into the mountains which here begin to close in round us. We stopped at the Kananaskis Station, and walking across a meadow, behold the wide river a mass of foam leaping over ledges of rocks into the plains below.
We reach Canmore,—sixty-eight miles from Calgary. Here the pass we are travelling through has narrowed suddenly to four miles, and as mists float upwards and away, we see great masses of scarred rock rising on each side—ranges towering one above another. Very striking and magnificent grows the prospect as we penetrate into the mountains at last, each curve of the line bringing fresh vistas of endless peaks, rolling away before and around us, all tinted rose, blush pink, and silver, as the sun lights their snowy tips. Every turn becomes a fresh mystery, for some huge mountain seems to stand right across our way, barring it for miles, with a stern face frowning down upon us; and yet a few-minutes later we find the giant has been encircled and conquered, and soon lies far away in another direction.
Mount Cascade is perhaps one of the most remarkable of these peaks. Approaching its perpendicular massive precipice-front, streaked with a thousand colours which glow in the sun shine, we half shrink from what seems an inevitable crash! From this precipice falls a narrow cascade making a leap of about 1800 feet. Surely it will presently burst over us!—but no; a few minutes later Mount Cascade has mysteriously moved away to the right, and its silver waterfall soon gleams in the distance.
Many of the mountains were skirted with low dark forests. Some had a vegetation of small evergreens marking out wide ledges; but beyond a certain height, fissured rock, in which tiny glaciers and snow-beds found a resting-place, rose alone into the sky. Sometimes this bristling beard of rugged trees was sharply defined against great walls of white and grey above, with crags and peaks and ledges, in all sorts of fantastic forms, breaking the outline. Below, all was in deep shade, but above, sunlight fell in a sharp, bright line across those mighty walls, and glistened, with beauty inconceivable, upon fairy-like points in the sky.
At Banff, six miles from Canmore, sulphur springs of great medicinal value had been only lately discovered; but already, from our car window, we can see the timbers for an hotel awaiting transportation up the winding road to the springs. One of our party informs us that the Government has reserved 20,000 acres for a public park in this beautiful place, and that arrangements are already being made to render it available for this purpose. It is an enchanting spot, encircled by mountains—said to contain many more valuable springs—the air fragrant with sweet odours from low spruce-trees clothing their sides.
Here the Bow River, which we have skirted since leaving Calgary, winds through the wide green plateau, its waters of a dull China blue. About five miles farther on Castle Mountain is before us, standing a sheer precipice 5000 feet high—a giant's "keep," with turrets, bastions, and battlements complete, reared against the sky.
As we rise toward the summit, near Stephen, about thirty-five miles farther on, the railway's grade gets steeper, tall forests gather round us, and a curious effect is produced by glimpses of snowy spurs and crests peeping through the trees, and of which, though apparently near us, we see no base. This conveyed to me an idea of our elevation, and it was delightful to think of oneself as hidden away among those solitary mountains, even for a few short hours, with all the troubles and worries of life left in noisy bustling cities far away!
At the Laggan Station, more than thirty miles from the summit, a huge engine,—in curious black contrast to a small white house near by,—stood on a siding with all steam up, waiting for our train. I then learned that this monster is necessary for the steep grades, both ascending and descending, over which we have to go.
The General Superintendent (whom I have already mentioned as having joined our party at Winnipeg—Mr. E.) in an unlucky moment suggested I should walk forward, examine this big "mountain" engine, and see its heavy proportions and fine machinery. I say "unlucky," because from the instant my eyes rested on the broad shining surface of its buffer-beam and cowcatcher, over which a bright little flag waved from a glossy brass pole, I decided to travel there and nowhere else for the remaining 600 miles of my journey!
(To be concluded next month.) http://stillwoods.blogspot.ca/2015/12/by-car-and-cowcatcher-part-2.html
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.