Project Canterbury

Dayspring in the Far West
Sketches of Mission-Work in North-West America

By M. E. Johnson

London: Seeley, Jackson and Halliday, 1875.

Chapter I. A Glance at the Country

British Possessions in North America, Extent.--Boundaries.--Climate.-- Minerals, Animals.--Future of the Country.--Responsibility of Britain.

THE British possessions in North America comprise an area of four millions of square miles. The extreme length from the Atlantic to the Pacific is 3000 miles, and from north to south 2000 miles; a territory larger than the whole of Europe, over which the British Queen reigns supreme. On the north, east, and west, this great territory is bounded by the ocean, excepting, however, the north-western corner, which formerly belonged to Russia, and now constitutes the province of Alaska, belonging to the United States. On the south it is separated from the American States by a line running along the 49th parallel of latitude as far as the Lake of the Woods, then along the south shore of Rainy Lake and River to Lake Superior, thence to Lake Huron, to the river and lake of St. Clair, through Lake-Erie, across Lake Ontario, down the St. Lawrence, until near Montreal, whence it runs along the 45th parallel of latitude as far as the 71st meridian of longitude; then it bends north till it meets the St. John's River, and once more bending south, it terminates in the Bay of Fundy, separating the State of Maine from New Brunswick. On the east is the Island of Vancouver, with several smaller islands.

What was formerly known as the Hudson's Bay Company's Territory is now included in the Dominion of Canada, comprising the whole of Central British America to the Pacific and the River Youcon on the west, and the Polar Sea on the north. "It has been calculated that the whole territory belonging to Britain is capable of supporting forty millions of inhabitants, of which Central British America might of itself maintain nineteen millions. As this is more than ten times its present population, this country will for many years to come present a magnificent field for colonization, and for the employment of British capital, and for the exercise of that energy and enterprise for which the British race is renciwned."

Considering the vast extent of this region, a remarkable uniformity of climate prevails; the western part is, however, warmer than the eastern, even at a higher degree of latitude. It is well adapted for English constitutions, and even for delicate persons the climate of the Peninsula of Western Canada is in many respects suitable.

The climate of the southern districts is much superior to the northern, yet extreme cold often prevails throughout the whole of British North America, the ground being sometimes covered for three or four months with several feet of snow. Nevertheless, the absence of fogs, and the serenity of the atmosphere, render the cold less felt, while the snow keeps the ground warm and enriches the soil, and when beaten down, timber and other things can be conveyed considerable distances on sleighs. The winter is longer than that of Europe, but it passes away quickly; the heat in summer is great, and cereals and fruits ripen rapidly. Even the winter in these colonies has its peculiar pleasures. Sleigh driving, skating boats, sailing on the ice, afford out-door amusement, while the long winter evenings afford time for the reading and study of God's Word, as well as for the cultivation of the mind. "So serene is the atmosphere," writes one who resided in this country, "that when the thermometer is at the lowest, the lumberer will work with no other covering on his shoulders than his flannel vest. The heat in summer is for a short time excessive, but the air is pure and dry, hence it is not oppressive. Spring is the most unpleasant part of the year, when the snow begins to melt, and mud prevails, but the hot sun and wind soon dry up the mud; the soil fertilized by the snow is soon arrayed in the tender hues of spring; the grass springs up immediately, and flowers and fruits come quickly to perfection.

"But if spring and summer were less pleasant than they are, ample amends would be made by the temperature which is enjoyed in autumn. This season, peculiar to North America, is called the Indian summer. Words cannot adequately describe the elasticity of the atmosphere, the exhilaration it produces; it must be felt to be understood. The face of nature assumes a new aspect. The green which clothes the forests in summer is replaced by the most gorgeous tints; the maple assumes the brightest red and yellow of many shades, the oak a bright copper, the beech a delicate colouring of the purest gold and amber. While some trees assume various colours, the beech takes but one, the most beautiful imaginable; the ground is covered with golden leaves, while overhead a canopy of the same flutters in the breeze, through which the sun's rays stream, shedding a joyous light through this most fairy-like of nature's halls. The first rude blast of winter strips every branch and spray, and as if by the rod of the magician the whole scene is changed. Winter, too, has its beauties, it is bright and full of interest as the joyous spring, the glowing summer, and the unspeakably delicious autumn."

The natural resources of the country are great. The soil, throughout a large extent of country, is abundantly fertile, the extensive ramification of streams and lakes covering the face of the country afford water communication with the most remote districts, and when the land shall become more populous, and smiling farmsteads shall dot the face of the country, the produce of the farm can thus be conveyed to market at a small expense.

The mineral treasures arc rich beyond computation. Coal formations are found from Mackenzie River to the point where Red Deer River joins the South Saskatchewan. The gold fields of British Columbia are now attracting a large population; gold has also been found in the neighbourhood of the Peace River on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, and probably it exists in other portions of British territory. The northern shores of Lakes Huron and Superior abound in copper and iron. Large coal-fields exist in Nova Scotia on the east, and in Vancouver's Island on the west. In the centre of the country salt-springs are found.

Multitudes of wild animals are found in Central British America. Thousands of buffaloes are recklessly slaughtered for their tongues, and skins, or robes, as the fur traders call them, while the carcases are left lying on the ground for want of a market for their flesh. The fur trade is highly important, and has materially influenced the destinies of the country.

The greater number of the fur-bearing quadrupeds live in the northern forests-, as the racoon, ermine, badger, black bear, red fox, the lynx, the beaver, the musquash, or musk rat, and the moose deer, whose northern range terminates where the aspen and the willow cease to grow. The grizzly bear, the largest and most ferocious of its kind, is found in the Rocky Mountains. The prairie wolf, the grey fox, the Virginian hare, live in the prairies. The wapiti, a large stag, is found on both sides of the Rocky Mountains. The prong-back, an antelope, fleeter than the horse, roams over the western part of the continent, and migrates in winter to California and Mexico. There are thirteen species of the ruminating order in North America. There are five hundred species of birds, a great proportion of them being aquatic. In consequence of the vast expanse of water and marshy ground, innumerable water-fowl and waders are found in North America.

The fisheries of North America are very valuable. Salmon is plentiful in the rivers. There are five species of perch; pike and sturgeon also abound, and numberless other species of fish.

There are three hundred and thirty-two genera of plants peculiar to North America. One hundred and sixty varieties of trees yield excellent timber. There are seven species of wild grapes, nuts, mulberries; raspberries and strawberries grow well. Melons and other fruits which will not ripen out of doors in England come to perfection without artificial forcing, while tobacco, hops, and flowers have been cultivated with success.

The mineral wealth of this magnificent country, its water communication, its abundant fuel, its wood, stone, and clay for building, its rich pastures for cattle, and fertile lands for the growth of cereals, the game of its woods, and the fish of its rivers, its climate so conducive to health and cheerfulness, show it to be pre-eminently adapted to be the habitation of men; and doubtless the time is not far distant when those vast solitudes shall be peopled by our own countrymen, who, taking with them their labour and their skill, and what is still more important, the plodding industry which distinguishes the sons of Britain, shall find in the Far-West prosperous and happy homes--homes, we trust, in which the fear of God will rule paramount--homes where fathers and mothers will train up their children in the fear of the Lord--homes in which no greed of gain will tempt their occupants to deeds of injustice and cruelty to the Red man, who still roams over the prairies of the West. When the settler shall take possession of the fertile lands which stretch from the western shore of the beautiful Lake of the Woods to the foot of the Rocky Mountains, it is to be hoped that the Gospel will go with him, that the faithful minister of Christ will accompany the emigrant, and that those now desolate wilds shall reverberate with the sound of the church-going bell, that God's sacred day will be hallowed, and from many a now lonely spot shall ascend the sweet sounds of prayer and praise to Him who has clothed the earth with beauty, and caused it to bring forth fruit for the use of man, and oh! wondrous love, has given His only beloved Son to die for us, that we, through Him, may inherit a home too glorious for the heart of man to conceive--a home prepared alike for the red man and the white man, but a home into which "shall in no wise enter anything that defileth, or worketh abomination, or maketh a lie."

God has laid great responsibilities on Britain by giving this rich country into her hands. The pioneers of the Gospel have gone thither, and the success which has attended their efforts abundantly proves that these red men are capable of being civilized and evangelized. How incumbent is it upon us, then, to care for and instruct the immortal souls of the wild men who once called the land their own! This hitherto little known country is about to become one of the great highways of commerce between England and Asia. The Canadian Pacific Railway, for the construction of which the British Parliament has guaranteed a loan, will attract towards those fertile regions a vast tide of emigration. Will Britain be faithful to her trust? will she send the standard-bearers of the Cross with those who go forth from her shores to make fortunes in those fair lands? will she, mindful that it is righteousness which exalteth a nation, provide for the religious instruction of her sons, who shall perhaps lay the foundation of a powerful nation in the rich prairies of the West? It is said, that to the piety of the little band who colonized New England the United States owes even now all that is found there of true religion; the spirit and the influence of those God-fearing men who, persecuted in their own land, sought a home across the waters of the Atlantic, where they might worship God according to their conscience, is to this day felt through the length and breadth of that now powerful nation. In a far wider sense may such be the case with the colonists who shall in future leave our own country to people the wilds of America. May gratitude for the signal blessings which the Lord of heaven and earth has conferred on Britain, animate her to make efforts commensurate to the needs of the vast territory she owns! May there be many whose hearts constrained by the love of Christ shall willingly offer themselves to go into this portion of the Lord's vineyard! Let us pray that "great may be the company of preachers" who shall dispense the Word of life both to red and white men in those far-off regions. Let us pray that there may be many who, hearing the Master's call, "Whom shall I send? and who will go for us?" will respond, "Here am I, send me."

"How beauteous are the feet of those who bear
Mercy to men, glad tidings to despair!
Far from the mountain's top, they lovelier seem
Than moonlight dews, or morning's rosy beam."

John the Baptist. (Prize Poem.)

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