Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Cent Belt

Cent Belt - A definition

‘Cent Belt’ is derisive term used about 1910, in Alberta and Western Canada to describe Ontario and Eastern Canada. At that time in the West, they had no use and would never use the penny which was common in the East.

(The term is used in a few of the ‘Blue Pete’ novels which started appearing in 1921, written by ‘Luke Allan’, who was W. Lacey Amy, a former editor/owner of the Medicine Hat Times newspaper.

A photo of Canadian coinage from 1911 with the ‘cent’ coin to the right. The remaining coins had silver content, 5, 10, 25, and 50, proceeding left.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

The Wrecked Town

The Wrecked Town
Essex, Ontario
Reported in Wide World Magazine 1908

THE town of Essex, in Ontario, was, some months ago, a thriving little place of some two thousand five hundred population. At present, however, it is recovering from a fearful catastrophe which befell it on August 10th, 1907, when some five thousand pounds of nitro-glycerine and dynamite, packed in a freight-car standing on a siding, exploded, by some means unknown. The town was practically wrecked, but, wonderful to relate, in spite of the fact that stout buildings were torn to shreds and the very earth shook, only two men were killed outright; many people were injured, however, and countless miraculous escapes were recorded. The damage was estimated at two hundred thousand dollars. The nitro-glycerine, it is thought, dripped upon the rails and was exploded when the car was moved. The car, it is further alleged, was not properly labelled or of the special construction required by the Canadian explosives laws. The striking picture here reproduced shows the wrecked town just after the explosion.

One Christmas Day

Told by Edward Burton and Set Down by H. H Powell
From The Wide World Magazine, 1908. Vol. xx.—49.
So popular were the series of “Queer Fixes” which we recently published, detailing out-of-the-ordinary happenings and remarkable predicaments, that we have decided to continue them. Below will be found the second instalment of a fascinating collection of narratives.

I AM hardly likely to forget my first Christmas in Canada; it came so perilously near being my last upon this terrestrial sphere that the memory of my thrilling experience is still responsible for my nastiest form of nightmare.
Fresh out from the old country in the previous spring, with all the average emigrant young Englishman’s enthusiasm for an open-air life, spiced with the prospect of a little sport and adventure, I had gladly jumped at a job as chainman on a railroad survey party—one of those hardy little bands of nomadic tent-dwellers, continually engaged in extending the civilizing influence of the steel highway ever farther into the wilds of the Dominion. And a pleasant life it proved in many ways, though very far from the easy-going semi-picnic I had innocently imagined.
It was not till the snow came to stay in late November, and the mercury evinced an un­pleasant disposition to drop daily farther below zero, that I began to favourably compare the joys of civilization with the various discomforts of life under canvas, but unexpected promotion to the post of rodman more than determined me not to funk the severities of the winter.
After several months in the bush we had approached a comparatively settled neighbourhood, and much to the general satisfaction were enabled to shift camp again just before Christmas and pitch our weather-beaten tents in the wind-screened shelter of a pine-clump not more than a dozen miles from the rail. All the boys had been eagerly calculating upon this move to enable them to take advantage of the two consecutive days’ holiday occasioned by the twenty-fifth falling upon a Saturday. By quitting work a little earlier than usual on the Friday there would be time to board either the east or west bound cars, pay a flying visit home, and be back to a latish breakfast on Monday. Even our ambitiously energetic chief, who grudged every minute of the working hours, was favourable to the scheme, to which it seemed there was only one awkward drawback. Someone of responsibility must remain in charge of the camp, for, in addition to stores and personal effects, there were all the valuable professional instruments and the whole result of many months of labour in the shape of plans and notes representing an expenditure of many thousand dollars.
“How about old Jim?” suggested the leveller, when the question was first seriously discussed. “I hear he means staying in camp, anyway.”
“Daren’t trust him, worse luck,” said the chief, decidedly. “Heaven only knows what the drunken old sweep would be up to. If he wasn’t such a dandy cook I’d have fired him months ago.”
“We’ll have to draw lots for it, I reckon,” put in Laurie, the transit man. “If my luck’s anything like what it’s been at poker the last month, the job’s a cinch (certainty) for me.”
But here I came to the rescue and dispelled the dawning apprehension depicted in half-a-dozen faces by volunteering for the task myself, a very minor sacrifice considering that I had no friends within reach, and little inclination to spend the festive season in a strange hotel. My offer was gratefully accepted, and thus it came about that Christmas Eve saw the whole party, barring Jim and me, sleighing gaily off to the station, shouting “Merry Christmasat us until the rig was out of hearing. They meant well, no doubt, but I couldn’t help feeling the irony of the familiar words as l gazed over the lonely expanse of snow whitened landscape before turning back into my deserted tent.
Old Jim, however, did his best to rise to the occasion. We had mince-pies for supper, and I was actually promised goose and plum-pudding on the morrow. It was perishingly cold outside, but over a red-hot stove we made ourselves pretty snug while my companion yarned of the days when he cooked for a big lumber-camp far north up the French River —a job, as I happened to know, from which he had been finally “fired” for “runningamuck” armed with a meat-chopper, during one of his periodical bouts of hard drinking.
At breakfast next morning Jim announced his intention of “slipping over to the village for a flash of rye.”
It wasn’t above four miles, he said, and he’d be there and back in no time on snow-shoes; anyway, he must have “a finger or two” to make it feel like Christmas. Knowing his reputation, I was not without misgivings as to the results of an expedition it would have been futile to remonstrate against, and they changed to conviction as hour after hour went by and he did not reappear. Well, I was certainly not going to cook goose and pudding for myself, and so the promised Christmas banquet resolved itself into a handful of soda crackers and a cup of cocoa. All the dull grey afternoon I read and smoked; evening came, but no Jim, and being by this time pretty peckish, and feeling it was useless to wait longer, I went across to the cook-tent to fry a slice or two of pork for supper.
It was while splitting kindling for the stove that the catastrophe happened. The heavy, keen-edged axe-blade glanced off a frosted notch in the log and gashed me deeply between the toes of the left foot, slicing through my thin deer-hide moccasin like paper.
Sick with pain, I rapidly pulled off my instantly-ensanguined footwear, and saw at a glance that the injury was a most serious one. By the horrible way in which the blood gushed out I knew that I had severed an important artery, and though it flowed less rapidly after I had bound my handkerchief about the wound and drawn a moccasin lace tightly around the ankle, I felt only too sure that, without speedy surgical assistance, I must inevitably bleed to death.
And I candidly confess that it was with a sinking heart that I realized how well-nigh hopeless were the prospects of help of any sort. Jim’s return was, of course, a broken reed to trust to; four miles of deep snow lay between me and the village where he was doubtless carous­ing; and dark and late as it was not a soul was likely to pass within shouting distance of our isolated camp.
Every moment the situation grew more desperate. A frightful feeling of faintness was gradually creeping over me, and, though I strove hard to collect my thoughts and hit upon some feasible means of attracting attention, I racked my fast-clouding brain in vain. Once a desperate hope crossed my mind that I might possibly win as far as the concession road, that lay about a mile or so distant, and take the chance of being picked up there. But the mere effort of limping a few yards brought on the haemorrhage so profusely that I was forced to abandon the idea.
I had become so weak and giddy that I doubt if I could have staggered even a hundred yards.
And yet it was horrible to lie there absolutely helpless in that silent solitude with one’s life-blood fast ebbing away, and with no hope, no remote possibility of rescue.
More than once I made clumsy attempts to bind the wound to greater advantage, but all I could do seemed of little avail to stanch its persistent flow. Twice at least I fancy I must have lapsed into a semi-swoon; at any rate, I seemed to lose count of time for a space, only to wake again to all the horrors of the situation. I was getting a little light-headed, too; I actually caught myself laughing hysterically at a grotesque shadow cast upon the canvas by something in the tent.
Pulling myself together, I looked round to try to discover the object, and it was in doing so that the gleam of the coal-oil can attracted my attention, and Heaven sent me inspiration reply to my prayers. A mad, wild scheme seemed at the time, but, desperate as my plight was, I felt it the only chance of salvation.
With an infinitely painful effort—so weak had I become by this time—I dragged the heavy can across the tent, saturated with paraffin the foot-deep layer of straw upon which Jim and his mate spread their blankets, and, after searching vainly for a match, knocked off the lamp-glass and flung the blazing wick into the centre of the inflammable pile. It was my final effort. All I remember after that was a leaping sheet of flame, that singed my hair and enveloped everything within reach in its fiery embrace, while I somehow stumbled into the open and collapsed upon an adjacent snow-drift within dangerous distance of the wind-fanned flames.
It was, I learnt afterwards, an elderly settler sleighing home with his wife from a Christmas gathering who first noticed the conflagration. “Jee!” he exclaimed; “them surveyor fellers up yonder must have set their camp afire somehow, or else some prowling hobo’s done it for ’em. Best drive over and see if we can lend a hand.” And so they found me, apparently lifeless, upon a blood-stained snow-bank, still licked by a hundred fiery tongues. Quickly they put me aboard the sleigh and galloped to the abode of a young surgeon who had recently set up practice in the neighbourhood.
“A miracle—nothing short of a miracle he hasn’t bled to death,” was the medico’s verdict. “Another ten minutes, and I could have done nothing for him. As it is, I doubt very much if he’ll pull through.”

But I did, you see, though only after a long, long struggle, complicated by an attack of brain fever, in which I raved deliriously of my awful experience. The boys behaved like bricks when they came back, and even the autocratic company treated me as well as I could expect—thankful, perhaps, for the comparatively unimportant nature of the damage. Whatever suspicions were entertained by the officials at head-quarters, I was never called upon to explain exactly how I came to fire the tents. They contented themselves with “firingme.

Friday, 3 November 2017

The Land of Sleep

The Land of Sleep.
By Lacey Amy.
The Wide World Magazine VoL xxxvii.—6.  1916.
Courtesy of Public Archives of Nova Scotia, Halifax, N.S.
Digitized by Doug Frizzle for Stillwoods.Blogspot.Ca, November 2017.

Though it is one of the oldest parts of Canada and its coast has been settled for two hundred years, Nova Scotia to-day is among the least known and visited regions of the great Dominion. Its interior is still dense forest, railways and roads are few and far between, and there are practically no industries. In this article Mr. Amy describes a trip along the railwayless southern coast, through a sparsely-inhabited, wonderfully beautiful country, full of memories of an historic past, but now slumbering and decadent. That this veritable “Land of Sleep” exists in the twentieth century will come as a surprise even to many Canadians.
(This article, like Tramping in Unfrequented Nova Scotia, is about the Eastern not Southern shore of Nova Scotia/drf)

FROM a high board fence a large weather-beaten sign, Eastern Shore Coach,” broke in hopefully on sundry misgivings as to the small coastal steamer covering the first stage from Halifax eastward along the railwayless south coast of Nova Scotia. It suggested an unexpected and therefore doubly welcome alternative. To the Canadian mind it pictured a double-decked vehicle of the time of Dickens, with four horses, spectacular yards of flourishing whip in the hands of an expert driver, a winding horn, a boot, a guard, and other pleasantly-antiquated associations of our forefathers across the water. We made inquiries. The coach would leave the yard the next morning at six, the woman said. We could picture it—whip and horn and outside seats and all. We would coach, by all means.
At six-fifteen, in the remnants of a night’s fog, two ordinary double-seated two-horsed light wagons crawled into the narrow streets. There was no whip, no horn, no guard, no choice of outside or inside seats. It was disappointing.
Half an hour later we were on the ferry to Dartmouth, the unoccupied seats of both wagons piled with mail-bags. We were “coaching” for the first time in our lives.
Ahead of us stretched a thousand miles of zigzag coastline, two hundred miles of winding road, leading through the oldest part of Canada, a coast with more than two centuries of active habitation to its credit, and still without a railway—unvisited, unknown, more sparsely peopled than a century ago, sleeping after generations of industry. The time was when Halifax was the symbol of British authority in North America, and the south-east coast was its recruiting-ground, sending thousands of hardy sailors to man the warships that warded off French aggression and American privateering. Most of the rest of Canada was unheard of and uncared for then. Now the scanty population of this strip of Nova Scotia coast sits back and listens hungrily to the tales of its sons who have deserted it for the “call of the West” or the cities that did not exist when it was in its prime.
Our first goal, twenty-eight miles ahead, was Musquedoboit Harbour—a typical assortment of the alphabet discouraging the efforts of the novice and pronounced according to no rule known outside the locality. The French and the Indians were about when names had to be selected in this region, and the resultant compromise with the succeeding English demands experience for pronunciation. Chezzetcook, Petpeswick, Jeddore, Mushaboon, Necumteuch, Ecumsecum, Newdy Quoddy are samples of unconventionality calling for delicate treatment. We—the Woman-who-Worries and I—modestly exhibited a large Government map when making inquiries. It saved time and prevented confusion.
That first score of miles presented us with a fair sample of the country ahead. It was a dreamland of solitude on the left hand—the north—with crowding bush, beautiful lakes, and ragged hills; on the south was a narrow fringe of fishing villages, with decrepit orchards round grass-grown ruins where stone houses had once stood. Everywhere there were glimpses of island-dotted ocean—and throughout the way bumps and rocks and uncontrolled streams and blazing sun. It was generally delightful, with sufficient physical consciousness to preclude, disinterested dozing—perhaps the ideal combination for the appreciative traveller.

At “Fourteen and a Half Mile House” we changed horses. For two hundred miles the coach carries to the residents their tri-weekly mail, changing horses every fourteen miles or thereabouts at roadhouses that honourably admit such discrepancies in distance as half a mile. Simple honesty is in the atmosphere here, and the right kind of traveller sighs with satisfaction—except where the honesty is backed by nothing more substantial than ignorance. Every two or three miles we dropped mail-bags bulging with the evidences of a popular parcel-post system, but since we were loaded for two hundred miles of such post-offices, the relief of the first twenty-eight miles was not material. We swung into Musquedoboit Harbour at noon with our wagons still top-heavy.
That harbour is the first settlement of consequence east of Halifax, and promises in the future to attain some popularity as a summer resort for the weary Haligonian. Like all the coastal villages it is strung along the road for several miles, but it glories in two stores and a first class stopping-place. It is also exceedingly picturesque, with its deserted sawmill, its precipitously-banked river, and its fourteen miles of harbour. It also affords the lure of a mill-dam where speckled trout of four, or five pounds can be hauled out simply by jerking a bare hook up and down. “Jigging” may not be a sportsman’s recreation, but the fish gave no signs of it on the table.
The sawmill was idle. Therein lies one of the tragedies of this ancient coast. All along stand huge sawmills, representing many thousands of pounds of English capital, controlling many hundreds of thousands of acres of bush-land—the one at Musquedoboit alone possessed the rights to three hundred and fifty thousand— and almost all of them are silent and going to ruin. Except where the large timber is cleared out, it is the old story of overcapitalized enterprises, recklessly managed by men inexperienced in Canadian requirements, and suddenly dropped when profits failed to appear. Sawmills were constructed at a cost many times what wisdom would warrant, expenses were incurred out of all reason, and British methods were forced upon a district that would not accommodate itself to them. At Sheet Harbour, Ship Harbour, and many other points we came upon deserted buildings that had once given employment to hundreds of men, their rotting timbers now rattling idly in the wind.
At Musquedoboit we bade farewell to the “coach.” Our plan was to tramp, stopping where we wished as long as pleased us, handing over to the coach the transportation of our baggage. We discovered that we had done better than we thought in avoiding the boats. The wharves were in every case miles from the stopping-places, and a horse could not have been hired for any price at more than one or two places. Horses, in fact, were a novelty, and even oxen were rare; road traffic of any sort was scarce. And it must be remembered that the road we were travelling was the only land trail within seventy-five miles. Northward, right to the north shore district of Nova Scotia, lay nothing but untracked forest where moose and bear abound—the best moose country in America. That road is a thing to marvel at. Throughout its entire length it is doubtful if one can find a straight quarter of a mile. The south coast of Nova Scotia is a saw-toothed meeting of land and water, with sea-arms jutting in every half mile, often to the depth of fifteen miles or more; and, carelessly meandering along, with no apparent regard for anything but that the sea be somewhere within range, the road progresses, wandering over hills that might easily have been avoided with a saving of length and trouble, dipping into steep valleys that offer no excuse even for approach, jogging in and out along the shore, crossing sea-arms by means of embankments and short bridges, beneath which the tide rushes at times like a millrace. A village, therefore, but a few hundred yards away across the water may be five miles distant by the road. That is one of the reasons for the lack of appreciation of this one lone thoroughfare. During our tramp we walked for days without a sign of any vehicle but the coach, and in places the road was grown over with grass that showed only the marks of the tri-weekly passage of the mail. Reaching a settlement is so much more rapid by water, and there is so little need for horses among these fisher-folk, that the highway is a monopoly of the stage and the telephone wire that clings to it every mile of the way. In two hundred miles we met but six vehicles, apart from the stage.

It was a bad road. A superlative adjective could not go too far. The favourite occupation of the Government seemed to be the employment of gangs of men every five or ten miles, whose duty it was temporarily to cover up the worst spots. In eight miles I counted twenty bridges and culverts gone, although in certain sections progress was under way towards the construction of permanent cement bridges. How the mail- driver manages to get along at all hours of the night would puzzle the uninitiated. He claims that the horses do it, but it would seem that Providence must have an extensive hand in the phenomenon. Limpid little streams flowed unimpeded across and down the roadway until the bed they cut for themselves almost blocked the way. We had but to stoop at scores of places to obtain a clear, cold drink. Boulders a foot high were met with frequently, and in one place, in the heart of an important settlement, the rocky way led us to imagine for a minute that we had wandered into a dry stream-bed. It was all very unconventional and natural—but not the best of walking, and hideous to ride over. Everybody complained; nobody used the road. Pretty nearly every family was drawing Government pay for pseudo repairs that left opportunity for more pay next year.
Setting out from Musquedoboit Harbour one afternoon on a short walk of eight miles to Jeddore Oyster-Ponds, the Woman-who-Worries and I fell immediately under the spell of the coast. In and out of the unbroken bush, flashing every now and then into full view of the ocean, with tiny villages breaking in unexpectedly and ex­tending themselves for miles under modifications of the same name, we passed along to the accompaniment of distant cowbells, tumbling water, dashing breakers, and sighing trees. We learned to listen for the cowbells, for they told of approaching settlements long before we burst on them suddenly from close forest. Every few miles a white church steeple peeped above the hills. It was the most “churchy” district in Canada, and every church a wonderful touch of quiet peace and simplicity in a rugged view. Whatever the builders may have omitted in the ways of expensive windows and architecture, they more than made up for by the selection of the sites. Mile after mile we would tramp, with not a sign of man’s handiwork in view save the half-hidden steeple of a church. We came to believe, when we knew the people better, that the outward form may have its influence.
After a long, lonesome tramp we suddenly opened up an exquisite arm of the sea, with a little picnic under way on its shore—a dozen children and as many adults. It was a touch of life we were in a mood to appreciate.
At Jeddore we experienced the first inconvenience of uncertain road-houses. In all Nova Scotia, save in the city of Halifax, there is no licence to sell liquor. Elsewhere the traveller suffers little from that in the way of accommodation, but along the south-east coast it left no excuse for an inn. In the vicinity of Halifax there was no lack of roadhouses, But farther along the problem of finding a place whereat to sleep and eat became the nightmare of the trip. We had been told of a stopping-place at Jeddore, and there the coach had dropped our baggage, as directed. From the steps before a chilly-looking door it faced us when we arrived—as did a woman who stubbornly refused to take us in. Her obstinacy, we discovered later, was largely due to the occurrence of a wedding in the house the day before. With hearts filled with foreboding we plodded along, begging a bed. Finally, we got it. When we returned for our baggage the inhospitable woman informed us that she would not have seen us suffer for a place to sleep.
Jeddore Oyster-Ponds is one of the beauty-spots of the coast. But they are all picturesque. Each has its peculiar claims. The oyster-ponds are no more. A sawmill came along, built a dam, and the oysters died from the sawdust and from lack of salt water. Their bleached shells still lie there as relics of an ancient industry.
The following day another typical experience faced us. Starting out for Ship Harbour with instructions to stop at the four-mile point for dinner, we found ourselves at four miles (by my pedometer) a mile into the heart of the most desolate wilderness of bush and rock encountered along the entire route. We kept on, mile after mile, weak with hunger—for we had eaten no meat for a day and a half, and little else—until we began to fear that we had drifted into a trail through the interior. Shortly after two, as we were debating whether to turn back, a road-gang came into view, and, immediately beyond them, Ship Harbour. Instead of four miles for dinner we had come twelve.
But the dinner we ate was worth travelling for: Breaking unexpectedly on a Mrs. Newsome, burdened with a husband stricken only the previous day with a paralytic stroke, we were served the best meal of our trip. The Mrs. Newsomes are too few in this world.
Ship Harbour drowses on the memories of past glories. There is the wreck of a mill, the wreck of an imposing wharf, a wrecked dam. It still retains a reputation for its salmon-fishing, but little else except its stopping-place. It tops the end of a harbour that provides everything in the way of scenery. Setting out one morning down one side of the harbour we wound through four miles of an exquisite blending of water and bush and tree-crowned island. Out in the mirrored waters herring-boats were counting their spoil. Hanging on the fence was the horn used to call the ferry that would put us across the three-quarters of a mile of inlet at the coach-road. We had dinner at Tangier, where a couple of gold-mines introduce an unsightly element into the landscape, and supper at Spry Bay, in home-like surroundings that offered sufficient attraction for a visit of weeks. We had come twenty-three miles of rocky trudging since morning, but not a foot of it was uninteresting.

But gradually the roughness of the wav began to tell. The new shoes of the Woman-who-Worries showed unmistakable signs of protest. Something must be done, or our walking expedition was over. There was not a shoemaker within fifty miles, and no shoes to buy. A fisherman drove in a few tacks. Ten miles farther we came to the largest settlement in the eighty miles from Halifax—Sheet Harbour. An imposing Catholic church stands aloft at the tip of the harbour, a huge, deserted sawmill beyond; there are three stores in the village, and two stopping-places. Surely there would be a cobbler. We learned of a citizen who worked in the mine by day and cut hair by night. He had been known to mend shoes as well. He mended ours. What was lacking in finish proved to be made up in staunchness of leather and multitude of tacks. We could understand why he worked all night on the job.
From Sheet Harbour the country changes. Everything is wilder, more barren, more lonely, and with it the accommodation deteriorates. There might be a reason for travelling westward towards Halifax; there can be no excuse for facing the rising sun, for in that direction lie the outskirts of everything and, farther east, scores of miles of roadless coast. The highways became worse in spots than ever before, and sometimes better from sheer lack of usage. The bush was more dense and frequent, with here and there stretches of wild barrens that grew nothing but rocks and small spruce trees.
At the end of one day’s walk we intended to spend the night at Harrigan’s Cove, but the disjointed, tumbledown settlement offered no inducement for better acquaintance. In a dense ocean fog, with the fog-horns from the coast lighthouses sending out their booming, dismal signals, we moved on in the gathering darkness into a country new to us, along a road that was difficult to follow even in daylight, the fog so thick we could scarcely see each other. It was only five miles, but it was a dripping, lonely, indefinite distance that might, in the way of locally-estimated distances, have spun out into eight or ten. But we got there, and our reward was the only modern bed we slept in along the coast.
The following morning we came on one of the not unusual incidents of that stormy region—a schooner ashore. In the fog it had struck and was now lying on its side, with a chance of life should the waters stay quiet. The record of wrecks on that dangerous coast can never be written. It was a few miles away at Liscomb Harbour that only a few weeks before an ill-fated lightship had gone down with all on board. A new boat, on its way under its own steam from its builders in England to the Canadian Government, it had encountered one of the south-coast storms. The wreckage was found off Liscomb, and a few bodies, and nothing more is known of the details of the disaster.
Once a bear-cub stood in the middle of the road and stared at us, gambolling off into the forest at our approach. Through Ecumsecum and Necumteuch and their like we trudged in a cold, raw wind. It was six miles to Marie Joseph, we were told. Again and again it was “just along a little.” We found that it was close to thirteen miles, and when, by heedless directions, we were sent another two miles around a headland, we were prepared for our dinner by two o’clock.
The life of Marie Joseph is one of strict simplicity and trust in Providence. Cod, herring, lobsters, swordfish, anything in the way of fish is the fisherman’s game, and most of the citizens were doing well enough without over-exertion.
The setting-in of cold, wet weather here drove us to the “coach” again. Our first stage was one to remember. In the care of a driver who had suffered no apparent deprivation from the lack of licensed bars we dashed along a road that, for roughness, eclipsed the worst we had hitherto covered. Wildly up and down ungraded hills we swayed and surged, the horses lashed to greater effort in the middle of slopes that threatened to throw us on the animals’ backs. To protect ourselves from the flying lash we opened an umbrella; from the stones and ruts there was no protection within our control. A narrow shave of hitting a rock that, had we struck it, would have landed us in the adjacent barrens was acknowledged only by an oath. “This isn’t the life for me,” explained our Jehu; “I’m a sea-going man. If this road gets any worse I’m going back to it.” We were ready to regret just then that Nature had not hastened its operations. In half an hour, over such a road, we did five miles. Next time we decided we would sooner traverse it on hands and knees than trust that driver again.
Twenty miles with another driver saw us at Sherbrooke, the largest village east of Halifax, beautifully situated in a deep valley beside the river of the same name.
From there eastward the country is largely barrens. We preferred to strike the railway, away to the north, by a forty-two mile stage. That morning’s drive was over a road that would do credit to any country, both for condition and scenery. For miles it clings to a river, for miles more it skirts a lake nestling in the hills, and three miles of it is a continuous stiff climb to the brow of a hill where local tradition claims a daily rain all the year round. Eight of us were packed in a “rig” with two seats, the driver and myself clinging precariously to the dashboard for twenty miles. At that point lived the stage-owner—a most obvious provision for “milking” the traveller. The stage left Sherbrooke at 4 a.m., before breakfast was possible. At his home the driver changed horses, collected the fare, and invited us in to the most impossible, most expensive breakfast in southern Nova Scotia. It is a warning to the traveller to carry a biscuit. But even that breakfast could not spoil the pleasures of the seven hours’ ride.

The eastern half of the south coast of Nova Scotia is not a tourists’ paradise. There is as yet no need for the accommodation the holiday-maker demands. The beds are not of the kind most people prefer, but the meals, as a rule, are surprisingly eatable. The difficulty of securing fresh meat is the most serious obstacle in the way of satisfying fare. There is little stock, and a “killing” is an event. At the outskirts of one settlement we came upon the last rites, and happened to mention it at the next roadhouse. The proprietor rushed away, and three hours later we ate a steak from the animal. It was, without doubt, “fresh” meat. There was a pretty uniform cleanliness and an evident desire to be hospitable and kindly. The scenery cannot be beaten, and the natural wildness of the country is especially attractive.
Habitation confines itself closely to the water’s edge, for there is no industry but fishing, save for two or three gold-mines and a very few working sawmills. One confusing characteristic is the length of the villages, which necessitates inquiring for the house you want rather than for the village. Some settlements extend four or five miles, and the situation is further complicated by the adoption of a nomenclature that recognizes as essential certain qualifications, usually of location. For instance, there are in succession, Ship Harbour Lake, Ship Harbour, Lower Ship Harbour, and Lower Ship Harbour East, the whole covering by road a distance of more than twelve miles, with great stretches of intervening bush and water. It demands a minuteness of inquiry that is in itself confusing.
In their unplastered houses the fisherfolk entertain the stranger with a kindliness that makes one eager to overlook the limitations of the accommodation. Dependent entirely on the run of fish, they accept everything with a resignation that is not always convincing, but is invariably becoming. Adversity finds them unprepared. The story of one fisherman is typical. Burnt out by a bush fire, he was unable to pay for the repair of his boat; and he would not borrow. So the boat was sold, and now he shares a herring-boat with a relative. He is still hopeful at sixty-five.
Sickness claims its heavy toll among the helpless villagers. There are but a couple of doctors in as many hundred miles, their transportation being by motor-boat. A patient who can be moved is taken to the hospital at Halifax. An operation demands a surgeon from the same city, and is therefore usually prohibitive. Tuberculosis and cancer are dread scourges for which there is no local relief.
And yet the people are cheery and pleasant, and they have their local amusements. A sign on the side of a building announced one of them: “There is going to be a pie sochel and ice cream and Fuge war the good of the church thursday even at the Hall, 23 July, and anyone wishing a dance can have one at Mr. Samuel Breens at the Lake side.”
My camera was a never-ending source of interest. I discovered that a photographer had passed along the coast a couple of years before, taking pictures of school groups and selling them to the eager children. Everywhere I was bombarded with requests, all the people offering to pay. One boy chased me for a mile—I could see him running far back on the road—with a request from his mother that I would return to take a picture of the family. “There’ve been two new babies since the last man was along,” he urged. A fisherman begged for a picture with the mournful reminder that he had a “fine family back there, and one never knows when something might happen one of them.” He won his point.
The coast is dotted with evidences of better times. All along the way the grass-covered ruins of houses stand as mute testimony of the time when this coast was the best part of Canada. And added to them are newer houses by the score, their windows boarded up, their paint gone; and little stores that have long since ceased to traffic. So many of the younger generation have gone west, leaving the old homes to fall to ruin with the death of the old people. The little steamers plying along the coast fetch from Halifax almost everything the people think they need, and they and the parcel-post between them have sounded the death-knell of the local merchant. In two hundred miles there are not more than a dozen stores.
At fall of dusk we came, at a lonely part of the road, on a tumbledown shack, with a ruined group of buildings about it. Many, many years ago it had been a fine residence, with its stables and outhouses. But now not a sign was to be seen that it was not deserted like the rest. As we looked, however, an old, bent man came tottering through a door with a broken hinge. He glanced at us with aimless wonder, gathered a few sticks in his thin hands, and tottered back. Through the curtainless window we could see him place the faggots in the stove, slowly, indifferently, and presently a puny smoke twined from the chimney. He leant down to the window to stare lifelessly at us once more, in his eyes the vagueness of the memories that are now his only possessions. It was an epitome of the atmosphere of the coast.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

On the Roof of the Western World

From The Wide World Magazine, 1908,
Digitized October 2017 by Doug Frizzle for Stillwoods.Blogspot.Ca
Mrs. Henshaw is a well known mountaineer, and in this article she describes the first ascent of one of the mighty peaks in that paradise of the climber, British Columbia, where hundreds of summits remain untrodden by human foot. Mrs. Henshaw illustrates her narrative with some impressive photographs.
Julia W. Henshaw also wrote the article, Vancouver a twelve year old city.(1898)

THE Rocky and Selkirk Ranges, which separate British Columbia from the rest of Canada, form without doubt the finest untrodden field for the Alpinist in the Western world. I say untrodden advisedly, for in spite of the records achieved by such eminent men as Mr. Edward Whymper, Dr. J. Norman Collie, Mr. James Outram, and other intrepid Britishers, only the merest fringe of these glorious ranges of mountains has as yet been explored. Every climber knows the pride of a “first ascent,” and in Western Canada there are hundreds of unconquered peaks, each awaiting its Napoleon of the ice-axe to build the “stone man” on its summit.
Just north of fifty-two degrees north latitude, at an elevation of ten thousand feet, lies the vast Columbia ice-field, two hundred square miles in extent, forming the central source of many important rivers, and probably the largest glacier in the world outside of the Arctic Circle. This particular ice-field heads the long list of those which lie within the boundaries of British Columbia, for even the most cursory survey of the region forces upon the attention of the traveller the fact that a wonderful wealth of névés and glaciers gleams and glitters like a priceless parure of diamonds upon the mighty breast of the Western hills.
The variation in the scenic setting of the mountain pictures is extremely fascinating. The strong contrasts which exist between the warm, flower-strewn valleys; the deep green, conifered slopes, cleft by many a vagabond rill; and the terrific cliff's and snowy crests, bring with them a new surprise at every turn; while the beauties of snow-crest, wood, and water entrance the sight and inspire the mind with high and happy thoughts. Whether you are an expert climber or only an ardent lover of the out-of-doors, the joy of a summer holiday spent among the Canadian Rockies brings an equal appeal. There are several excellent climbing centres in the Rocky and Selkirk mountains, where chalet hotels form the basis of operations and offer comfortable accommodation to travellers, and where climbing and camping outfits and the services of expert Swiss guides are obtainable. Each locality offers special attractions of its own. At Glacier, in the Selkirks, Sir Donald (10,645ft.), named after Lord Strathcona, formerly Sir Donald Smith, and now High Commissioner for Canada in London, is a capital climb, offering a variety of experiences on rock-work, glacier, snow-slope, arête, and couloir; while near by Mount Bonney (10,625ft.), Mount Fox (10,000ft.), Mount Purity (10,100ft.), Mount Dawson (10,800ft.), and The Hermit (9,222ft.) are all delightful ascents in which more or less difficulties are encountered, and from which all danger is eliminated under the splendid guidance of the Swiss. As its name denotes, there are many ice-fields in the vicinity of Glacier, the chief ones among them being the Great Glacier and the Asulkan, and from the summit of Mount Sir Donald alone one hundred and twenty-five ice-fields are visible.
At Kield, in the Rockies, the choice of ascents is unlimitedMount Stephen (10,428ft.), The Chancellor (10,400ft.), Mount Vaux (10,600ft.), Goodsir (11,400ft), Cathedral Mountain (10,100ft.), Mount Collie (10,500ft.), and Mount Assiniboine (11,860ft.) all being fine climbs, while dozens of other first-rate peaks which have been climbed, and hundreds of peaks which have not been climbed, rise up on every side.
But it is the Lake Louise district in particular that I set out to describe in this article. The turquoise lake, whose waters are like fluid light, lies cradled in the arms of magnificent mountains; at one end stands the chalet, a fleck of human civilization amid a world of Nature in her most majestic mood; at the other rises Mount Victoria, on whose ledges rests a glacier green and grim, cloaked by a glittering névé. At either side stand ranks of fir trees, and about the shore the shrubs of the Labrador tea and white rhododendron shelter masses of blue-eyed veronicas, saxifrages, and purple garlics. Lake Louise is a spot of matchless beauty, one of those perfect pictures painted by Nature upon the canvas of the world, in colours borrowed from the rainbow. Artists and poets have sung its praises, men have marvelled and admired, but no one has ever wearied of the peace and perfection of the scene.
It is to this place that many people journey in the golden days of summer, to climb thence the glorious peaks whose ice-architraves and snow-domes, guarded by frozen gates, form temples fit for the gods. Only those who have stood on the topmost pinnacle of a hitherto unclimbed crest can fully realize the feeling of exultation and pride which fills the breast of the enthusiast who achieves a first ascent.” This is the reason why the Rocky Mountains form such a favourite playground for Alpinists. Switzerland has been so thoroughly exploited that there is little or nothing left in that land to tempt adventurous spirits in search of fresh fields to conquer. But in British Columbia mountain after mountain rears its untrodden heights to heaven, and offers to the traveller the lure of the most magnificent scenery in the world.
Having spent a few days at the Lake Louise Chalet, and got into good training by means of long scrambles up Mount St. Piran, the Beehive, and the stiff crags of Mount Aberdeen, our party set out early one morning, accompanied by two Swiss guides, bound on a mountain-climbing expedition. It was our intention to ride as far as was feasible along the mountain trail, and to camp for the night on the shore of a small lake some fifteen miles distant, so as to make the desired ascent thence with comparative ease on the following day. The cavalcade was, in consequence, a long one, headed by four pack-ponies carrying a couple of tents, food, blankets, and the minimum of personal impedimenta, and driven by a “packer,” mounted on a splendid black cayuse, whose duty it was to look after the horses and to “make camp.” A few yards behind him the travellers ambled lazily along on their comfortable Mexican saddles, allowing the ponies to set the leisurely pace, for the trail, which ran steeply up and down hill, cross­ing numerous gullies and streams, occasionally rose to a great height in order to cross some projecting shoulder of the cliffs. My own outfit consisted of a flannel shirt, a short tweed skirt and knickerbockers, heavy nailed boots, puttees, and a soft broad-brimmed hat, while from the horn of my saddle hung a woollen sweater and a pair of good field-glasses. The men, too, wore strong, serviceable clothes, nailed boots, puttees, and soft felt hats. In the rucksack slung across the shoulders of one of the guides lay a folding Kodak, a compass, aneroid, and smoked glasses, while the other guide carried the ice-axes; the Manila rope being safely stowed away in one of the pack-saddles.
So we jogged along the narrow stony trail, winding up through thickly-forested ravines and down the beds of brawling brooks, catching here and there, between the trees, exquisite vistas of the Valley of the Bow and the snow­capped range of the Ten Peaks beyond.
Having covered some five or six miles, we crossed a large creek, pausing for a while to water the horses and to enjoy a glorious glimpse up Paradise Valley, flanked by the crags and peaks of Hungabee, Aberdeen, and Mount Temple, and hemmed in at the upper end by the Horseshoe Glacier. Then began a long ascent up grassy slopes, where the pine trees grew sparsely, and the cotton-woods were already turning to gold, until, presently, the high Alpine meadows, gay with flaming castilleias, vetches, and columbines, were reached, and, turning sharply to the right, we espied the lake lying five hundred feet below us, like a tiny turquoise clasped in the golden setting of the sun-steeped valley. Who could ever forget the first glimpse of that lovely pool sheltered amid the oppressive solitude of the hills? Its warm, waveless waters, fringed with tall larkspurs, are fittingly named the “Mirror of the Flowers.”
Down the narrow trail cut out of the precipitous hillside we rode, where the crumbling path was scarcely a foot wide, and where to round each cliff one seemed fairly to launch out into space above the tree-tops of the valley below, until in half an hour the shore of the lake was reached, just in time to allow a catch of a dozen fine trout to be made before supper.
While the packer “hobbled” the horses, turned them out to graze, and made camp the guides reconnoitred the locality with a view to the ascent on the morrow, and presently the whole party turned in to sleep as one can only sleep pillowed on fragrant pine-boughs and sentinelled by the stars.
“Four o’clock and a fine morning!” The cry of the guide awakened everyone to the importance of the day, and an hour later all of us had breakfasted, after first stowing away our belongings beyond the reach of thieving porcupines; then, leaving the packer to take care of the camp, we started out rich in the hope of conquest. One guide put the lunch, Kodak, and field-glasses into his rücksack, the rope being coiled about the shoulders of the other man, so that we climbers “travelled light,” carrying only our ice-axes, and tying our sweaters by the sleeves around our waists.
Clouds of crimsoned mist were drawn like curtains around the helmet-shaped snow summit of the peak which was our goal, for the sun lay somewhere behind the rim of the horizon and crowned the head of each mountain monarch with a shining nimbus. One guide led us; the other brought up the rear. No words can describe the patience, good humour, and skill of these Swiss; their quick eyes see every danger, their prompt actions avert it; when “on the rope ” one has a feeling of perfect security, and on steep arétes and rotten ice, on crumbling rocks and abrupt precipices, one has implicit confidence in their strength, judgment, and endurance. Bidden to jump, I have lightly crossed crevasses and rock-rifts, aided by a firm hand or a steady pull on the rope, which, had I been alone, I should have shrunk from in terror and dismay. With sobbing breath and set muscles I have scaled perpendicular cliffs, roped to and encouraged by a guide, which, in his absence, I would have deemed as difficult to conquer as all the tasks of Hercules combined. That these guides possess a sixth sense is indisputable; one might almost call it “acute premonition,” for it warns them in advance of all dangers incident to mountaineering, and, combined with a marvellous dexterity and an intrepid courage, serves to avert calamity and ensure success.
Through the woods we wended our way upward, hope high in our hearts and the smell of the pines in our nostrils. Soon the route lay across a scree slope, where stonecrops grew, and a wonderful vision of blue gentians met the gaze. Then, suddenly, a golden ball shot up from the horizon, and the world awakened in the smile of the sun. The earth began to pulse with light and life. Marmots whistled shrilly from behind the boulders, a pica ran across the trail and, with a melancholy squeak, disappeared in terror beneath some stones; a few butterflies flitted past, and the Lyall’s larches shook their feathery branches in the strengthening breeze to tell that “tree line” was reached — the spot where green gives place to grey and the bounds of foliage are set.
Here we paused to rest for a few moments and to take some observations and photographs before attacking the steep rock-work which lay ahead of us, and which was likely to prove a nasty climb, while sliding stones and insecure boulders might render the task both difficult and dangerous. At times a single step would send a shower of scree hurling down into the valley, or dislodge some huge rock which crashed away with terrific force and noise, only to be lost in the desolate gorge below. Extreme caution on the part of the guides, who tested and tried each foothold in advance, saved us from all accident, however, and after several hours of ceaseless effort we stood on the pass between two mountains, at a considerable height, and paused to gaze westward, where a grand view of Hungabee, Biddle, Victoria, Lefroy, Temple, and the Ten Peaks lay stretched out, gilded by the level rays of the sun. The haggard outlines of the hills, crisp-etched against the blue, looked cruel in the morning light, but where the fir trees fringed the warm, wet valley flowers and shrubs grew in abundance, their sweet odours floating up to the cliffs above.
Here we “roped up,” and for the next thousand feet picked our way up steep ravines, across shale banks, and among great grey rocks —a wild and desolate climb. It was now that the gallant fibre of the guides bore with perfect equanimity and patience the strain of our stumbling steps, our occasional timidity, and our sudden jerks on the rope, as if their nerves were woven of steel.
If I faltered, a steady encouraging pull, a cheery “Houp,there!” poured the red wine of courage into my veins; did the man slip, the rope held taut gave him certainty of safety, so that fear and fancies were left far behind, and success came ever nearer step by step.
The edge of eternal snow! What a thrill it gives one to stand on the Rubicon and watch the bulwarks of the stone bastions hemming back a mighty rolling sea of ice and snow! There Nature’s last outposts sentinel the great white land, a place of awful purity, a clear, cold, calm country.
Only about seven hundred feet now lay between us and the summit. A long snow-field, agleam on the eastern face, sloped up to the top of the mountain and by cutting steps here and there in the steeper angles the ascent was at length accomplished with comparative ease, and we stood conquerors on the summit.
What a panorama greeted our eyes! We beheld crest upon crest sparkling under an azure tent, range upon range of grand and glorious peaks, snowy domes and frosted valleys, and Alpine streams weaving silver webs from the crystal outpourings of a hundred glaciers.
To the north stood the giants Columbia (14,000ft.), Bryce (13,500ft.), Forbes (14,000ft.), and Saskatchewan (12,500ft.); to the south, Assiniboine (11,830ft.); to the east, Cascade and the Banff district; and to the west, the Lake Louise, Field, and the Yoho Valley districts, the whole forming a sea of mountains unsurpassed anywhere else in the world, a scene of matchless beauty.
On the actual summit where we stood, some slanting rocks, coated with dangerous verglas, protruded in places freshly powdered with light, loose snow. Others were completely windswept, while all around was flung a thick, frozen mantle fringed with glaciers great and small. The wind blew keenly and bit to the bone, so we hastened to build the traditional “stone man ” and to plant a tiny Union Jack (brought for the purpose) on its crown; then, after securing some photographs and recording a few important observations, we started downwards to seek a warmer temperature and shelter for lunch. A magnificent glissade brought us to the beginning of the rocks, where we soon found a nook screened from the wind and, ensconcing ourselves behind a big boulder, began to eagerly devour sandwiches and chocolate, washed down with whisky and water. Never did bread, butter, and beef taste so good, and never was John Barleycorn a truer friend than on this occasion, for the long climb in the crisp Alpine air had whetted our appetites to a keen edge.
After lunch some more photographs were taken, and then the descent began in real earnest. A long scramble over the rocks was followed by another short glissade. Then came a bad bit of precipice where the guides were forced to lower us one at a time from ledge to ledge, and afterwards a long plunge down the shelving shale banks. Next came a halt in the flower-strewn meadows, and, finally, a tramp along the forest trail beneath the sweet-scented pines brought the tents into view.
As hour after hour passed by that night our camp lay asleep beneath the star-spangled sky, enfolded in the peace of the purple hills, while we tired climbers dreamed of our conquest “On the Roof of the Western World.”

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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.