THE TRAIL OF '35
AN ADDRESS BY CHARLES CAMSELL C.M.G., LL.D, F.R.S.C.
Friday, March 13th, 1936
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: On behalf of the Members of The Empire Club, it gives me much pleasure, indeed, to welcome our 'distinguished guests who grace our head table Those of you that are visitors know you are wel come-we are always glad to have you here. We leave the latch off the door in this Club in the hope that some day you will enjoy our company sufficiently to become members of. it.
As our Constitution calls for the appointment of a nominations Committee at this particular meeting, it will be in order to receive that motion.
MR. DANA PORTER: I have much pleasure in moving that a Nominations Committee be appointed for the purpose of nominating the officers and executives for next year, to consist of the following gentlemen:
MR. J. H. BRACE,
MAJOR W. JAMES BAXTER, MR. HUGH EAYERS,
MR. GEORGE C. GALE, MR. R. M. HARCOURT, MR. ARTHUR HEWITT, MR HOWARD WEB'STER.
The motion was seconded by Mr. F. Beverley Matthews. CARRIED.
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: Our mining industry, as you all know has reached very significant proportions in this country. It has undoubtedly contributed much in the last five or six years to the prosperity of Canada. It has been a most effective economic stabilizer in all our transactions and to give you some conception of the vastness and the ramifications of this particular business, it may be of interest for you to know that last year the entire expenditures of our mines equalled more than the total value of our exports to Great Britain of wheat, grains, vegetables and fruits. To give you a further conception of the vastness of the mining industry the total expenditure of our mines in. 1935 exceeded the value of the combined exports of the following countries - China, Japan, Germany, Italy, France and Sweden. We have heard a great deal of the value of our exports from this country and I commend to you, that you turn your eyes to the industry of mining which really undoubtedly has reached proportions where it is one of our chief primary industries.
For the last month, we have had the unique experience as members of this Club of being taken through the air with the greatest of ease, with Colonel Billie Bishop at three hundred miles an hour, and of following some fifteen miles into the stratosphere with Captain Stevens. of being taken by Dr. Dafoe to the north country last week and introduced to five of the most prosperous gold diggers, possibly, that Canada has ever known, and this week we are going to be taken down in mother earth and see gold in the raw, by none other than Dr. Charles Camsell, who is Deputy Minister of Mines in the Federal Government.
You will be interested to know that this gentleman has attained greatness. You know some people consider that they do not attain greatness until they have a cigar or a street or a cocktail named after them. Dr. Camsell already has named after him a river, `a vast bay and at least one mountain. He has Fellowship in some seven of the leading mining, geological and engineering institutes on this continent. He has been President of three of them. He has for his services been decorated by His Majesty, the King. He has received degrees from three universities on the continent and there has been no major engineering project instituted in Canada for the last thirty-five years that has not had in some way Dr. Camsell called into consultation on it, whether it be railways, engineering or power.
With all these honours showered upon him, I submit, however, he is such a true Canadian that he is far more proud of the fact he was born in Fort Liard in the Northwest Territory, and that his father was Captain Julian Camsell, the Chief Factor in the Hudson's Bay Company.
I have much pleasure in introducing Dr. Camsell. (Applause.)
DR. CHARLES CAMSELL: Mr. Chairman, Honourable Sir, and Gentlemen: Regardless of the fact that the Minister of Mines for Ontario, and his Deputy Minister are on either side of me, it is not my intention to address you on mining, but rather on geography.
May I first express my pleasure in accepting this invitation to speak before your Club. Geography, as some of you may be aware, is a subject in which I am intensely interested. As I stated to my Minister this morning, I should like to have it said of me after my life's journey is ended, that I had made a real contribution toward bringing the various parts of the country into closer relationship. Incidentally that is a primary objective of the Canadian Geographical Society, with which I have been actively associated since its foundation. Should you be in agreement with that objective may I request that you support the Society.
I wish today to give you an account of a 4,000-mile aerial trip I made last summer through northwestern Canada, and to show by a series of slides something of the character of the country along the course of the flight. The expedition had a three-fold purpose (l) the inspection of several geological parties (2) the investigation of a number of matters on behalf of the Administrative Council of the Northwest Territories, of which I have been a member for some fifteen years, and (3) observing and photographing from the air a large area of unknown country in northern British Columbia and southeastern Yukon. This latter was to provide us with information for use in completing a large scale relief map of Canada being constructed by the Canadian Geological Survey, and to enable us to determine the nature of the country north of latitude 60 degrees, where Liard river cuts across the northern extremity of the Rocky Mountains.
The trip commenced at Prince Rupert and ended at Edmonton. It took us through the northern part of British Columbia, southeastern Yukon, and the Mackenzie river district. Plans were made in cooperation with the Civil Aviation Branch, Department of National Defence, and the flight was carried out by Canadian Air ways. The personnel of the party consisted of the pilot, Mr. C. H. Dickens and a mechanic, W. Sunderland„ Mr. A. D. McLean, Superintendent of the Civil Aviation Branch, and myself. We used a Fairchilds 71 plane, with a lifting capacity of 6,000 pounds inclusive of its own weight, and with a range of about 500 miles. Its equipment included an aerial camera and a radio.
The map (slide) shows the course of our trip. Commencing at Prince Rupert, we followed the coast to Wrangell, Alaska. From there we turned inland along Stikine river, landing eventually at Dease Lake, one of the headwaters of the Liard River. From Wrangell to Dease Lake was by far the most spectacular portion of the whole trip, taking us up the deep valley of the Stikine, past great glaciers which flow slowly down to the water's edge, over snow-capped mountains into the interior, and across the divide which at Dease Lake is only 2,500 feet above sea level. We then followed the Dease river to its junction with the Liard, from where we commenced our photographic survey, which continued down the river to the eastern side of the mountains, a total distance of 300 miles. From here we took photographs at minute and a quarter intervals of the immediate valley of the river, and of the Grand Canyon in particular.
We then returned west, and from an elevation of 10,000 feet, photographed the unmapped country north of Liard river. Occasional pictures were taken to the south to show the change of topography between the Rocky Mountains and the plateau country to the north of the river.
Landing at the notorious, so-called "Tropical Valley," we made numerous observations and then continued our flight westward almost to the mouth of Dease River. From there we proceeded directly north for about 75 miles, and then right-angled eastwards across the unmapped country. This was the most critical portion of the trip as there were no suitable landing places.
We stopped at Fort Liard, just within the Northwest Territories, and on the second day set out to return to the unknown Liard River country. We soon encountered adverse weather conditions which drove us back zigzag fashion north and east, until we came out on the Liard River. We followed the river to Fort Simpson and from there we proceeded northward along the Mackenzie river to its junction with the Great Bear river. After a four day delay due to bad weather at Fort Norman we continued eastward across Great Bear Lake to the Eldorado property at Cameron Bay. Two days later we made the flight across the barren lands to the mouth of the Coppermine river at the Arctic Ocean. It was the most northerly part of our trip.
Turning southward we proceeded to Edmonton, by way of Great Bear and Great Slave Lakes, stopping en route at Fort Smith, the Lake Athabasca gold area in Saskatchewan, and at Fort McMurray. The whole trip from Prince Rupert to Edmonton was made in seven teen days or actually ten days of flying time. The flight was of particular interest to me as in my younger days I had covered most of the ground by canoe or on snowshoes taking three years however to complete the trip.
Recently I was asked as to the conditions that obtained in respect to cost of supplies, living accommodations and related matters. We obtained a supply of gasoline at Wrangell for which we paid eighteen cents a gallon, and replaced it at two points namely Dease Lake and Fort Liard. At Dease Lake we paid $l.70 a gallon. We were equipped with a camp outfit, which was not used, as we stayed overnight at trading posts, missions, and R.C.M.P. quarters. We were received most hospitably, but visitors are a rare occurrence, and it was often long past midnight before we retired. I was afforded little opportunity to write up my observations at night, consequently this task was attended to early in the morning before the others were awake. One can do with much less sleep in the north during the summer season than is required in this part of the country, and I understand that it is the practice in the north to accumulate a reserve supply of sleep in the winter months for use during the summer months.
Our principal geographical observation was to find that the Rocky Mountains, which run as a continuous range through a thousand miles of Canadian and U.S. territory, level off to the north as plateau country near latitude 60 degrees and that to the northeast the Mackenzie mountains rise gradually, continuing as a solid mountain range to the northeastern edge of Alaska. Between the two ranges is a sixty-mile gap, where the country rises gradually, and where entry is afforded into the Cordillera region.
Incidentally Mr. McLean joined our party principally because of the interest of his Branch in planning an air route from Toronto to Japan. Following the line of a great circle the route would be directly through the area of the sixty-mile gap. Knowledge of the occurrence of this gap then is of real practical interest to aviators, as through it they would have a direct means of access to the Pacific Ocean and to Japan, unobstructed by high mountain ranges.
The Mackenzie Mountains are perhaps the largest single group in Canada. They are a solid range, with a maximum width of nearly 300 miles and a length of 600 miles. So far these mountains have been traversed on only two occasions. Mr. Keele, then with the Geographical Survey, crossed over the middle of the range in 1906, and I made the traverse farther north. Apart from the knowledge gained on these two traverses, the whole range is practically unknown, and it offers perhaps the best field in Canada for geographical exploration.
Our observations in respect to the so-called "Tropical Valley" are of perhaps the greatest popular interest. Having camped in the valley in February 1896 I have never been able to appreciate why it has been described as "Tropical," especially as during the two weeks I spent there the temperature ranged from 20 degrees to 40 degrees below zero. I recorded these extremely low temperatures with the Government, but it did little to dampen the enthusiasm of writers, who insisted that tropical conditions obtained in a far northern latitude.
On our first flight in a westerly direction from Fort Liard we landed in the valley and after scouting around the shore we found a trail leading inland. Following.it we reached a broken down cabin, the roof of which had been crushed by a tree, and on the door of which was a note reading "Moved to the Hot Springs." Continuing on the trail northward, we arrived at an open meadow with luxurient vegetation. Picking up the trail on the far side of the meadow we arrived shortly at two other cabins. Here we found evidences of the occupation of the valley area by Tom Smith and his daughter some years ago. The "Tropical Valley" has been associated with their names since they entered the locality from the Yukon side in 1924.
After remaining in the valley for some two years they decided to dispose of their catch of furs at Fort Liard. To the east of the valley is the most tortuous portion of the Liard river, a canyon forty miles in length, which during the season of high water, is not regarded as being navigable. Smith and his daughter got safely through the dangerous waters of the upper gorge, Devil's Gorge, and the canyon, and had passed the rapids when their canoe was capsized. The father was drowned, and the daughter, then only about sixteen years of age, was stranded on a bar with the empty canoe in the middle of the river. Using her hands as paddles she reached the main shore, and from there, using a stick as a paddle she proceeded down the river. Later she was taken by the Indians to the Hudson's Bay Post at Fort Liard. On the door of their cabin we found written what was undoubtedly Tom Smith's last message to the world. It read simply "We are leaving for Fort Liard." In and about the cabin we found pots and pans, a whip-saw and a broken sled, the things associated with most prospector's cabins.
In the course of, our visit to the Tropical Valley we located the "hot springs" that have attracted so much attention. They are not at all hot, some having a temperature of 46 degrees F., against 60 degrees F for that of the water in the main river. At other points the water is warm enough to prevent the little ponds surrounding the streams from being frozen even in winter, a fact I observed during my visit to the district in February 1898.
The flight between Wrangell and Fort Simpson on the Mackenzie river was as I have stated the most spectacular portion of the trip. For, though planes not infrequently enter the upper Liard country from the west, and the lower Liard ,from the east, I could find no record of a single direct flight over the whole width of the Cordillera area in this region. The physiographic conditions across that section are very different from those across any other section of the Rockies south to the International boundary. On crossing the lofty mountains of the Coast Range one sees below him the Dease lake plateau, which has an elevation of about 4,000 feet. Continuing along the course of the Dease river, we reach the Cassiar mountain range, some fifty miles wide, beyond which is another plateau of, lower elevation than the Dease lake plateau. Finally we arrive at the gap near Fort Liard.
The Liard river is 700 miles long, and is comparable in size to the Ottawa river. It cuts through the northern end of the Rocky Mountains at the point where they begin to flatten off to a plateau, forming the Grand Canyon, a forty-mile length of water which is exceedingly difficult to navigate.
The Liard river country was first explored about 100 years ago by Robert Campbell who entered it from the east. Trading posts were established at different points by the Hudson's Bay Company, but the Company was forced to abandon the region in 1865 owing to the difficulties encountered in persuading Indians to navigate the dangerous waters of the river. Other travellers entered the region in later years, among them being Mr. R. G. McConnell, who in 1887, as an officer of the Canadian Geological Survey, made the trip up the Stikine river and down the Dease, and thence down the Liard to the Mackenzie river. I consider it one of the most remarkable expeditions ever made by an officer of the Survey, and I feel that sufficient credit has never been given him. He travelled with one man in a crude boat during the extremely dangerous high water season.
My own travels in the area date back to 1897, at a time when I was youthful and filled with the hope of making a fortune in the Klondike. Four of us, including my brother travelled some 300 miles by boat until the freezeup and then made the remainder of the journey on snowshoes, pulling our toboggans until we reached the head waters of the Frances river, where we remained for two months on the verge of starvation. Between the mouth of Dease River and Telegraph Creek a stretch of 250 miles, I have tramped in summer with a pack on my back. I covered the distance between Telegraph Creek and Wrangell several times during the winter of '98-99, when I had the honour of carrying Her Majesty's mail, making the round trip once a month. Having long before travelled this country on foot and by canoe it was indeed interesting during my recent flight to watch the river below, picking out spots here and there where in bygone years something interesting, amusing, or perhaps tragic had happened. It was an experience, which because of memories of the past, I was able to enjoy perhaps more so: than did my companions.
Since my visit thirty-five years ago there have been few travellers down the Liard river. The Grand Canyon has proven an effective barrier both to white and to Indians and those on either side of the Cassiar range know little or nothing of each other.
We will now have the series of, slides, which will illustrate something of the nature of the country along the course of the trip.
(Slide.) This is a photo of our party.
(Slide.) This view shows the four members of our 1897 expedition - my brother, Wright, Pelly and myself. This is our dog team.
(Slide.) This is Tom Smith's cabin.
Our next stop was to be at Fort Liard, a distance of some 600 miles from Dease lake. This meant that we had to carry a full load of gasoline, and we experienced some difficulty in taking off, particularly as Dease lake is about 2,500 feet above sea level.
Following along Dease river we reached McDame creek where we spent the first night in our trip from Wrangell. The McDame creek area is practically abandoned today except for a few prospectors, a Hudson's Bay trader, and B. C. police officer, whereas in the late seventies and early eighties it was a prosperous mining camp.
(Slide.) This is a typical view of the plateau country immediately to the east of the Cassiar river. It has an elevation of about 3,000 feet, and is well forested with good timber. Flying over the country, no mountains are seen for miles ahead.
(Slide.) This is the junction of the Dease and the Liard rivers, from where we descended to Fort Liard, a practically isolated Hudson's Bay trading post, with little signs of habitation beyond a few cabins. News from the outside world is received by radio but there are no means for sending out messages.
I recall an incident of my early travels near Fort Liard. As we were passing an Indian encampment in a canoe a woman came screaming to the river, and on enquiry we found that she had been accused by her people of bringing bad luck to them, and that they wished to be rid of her. We learned later that they drowned her the following winter.
(A series of slides showing the route followed.) (Slide.) This is a view of the Eldorado camp, at La
Bine Point, Great Bear Lake. It is Canada's most northerly mining enterprise.
At Cameron Bay, the administrative centre, there is a good air harbour and the bay has an excellent sandy beach, one of a few along the east shore of Great Bear Lake.
That completes the slides. (Hearty applause.) CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: Gentleman, I am quite confident that you will agree with me that you know of nobody better qualified to be Governor of the Northwest Territory than Dr. Camsell. (Applause.) I am confident also that I can assure him that his name will go down in Canadian history as one who has played a major part in the development of our country in bringing together the remote districts with which he is so familiar.
On behalf of The Empire Club, Sir, it gives me much pleasure to extend to you our sincere appreciation of a most interesting and brilliant address and we thank you. (Applause.)