THE ALASKA HIGHWAY AND POST WAR RECONSTRUCTION AND REHABILITATION
AN ADDRESS BY JOHN R. MACNICOL, M.P.
The President, John C. M. MacBeth, Esq., B.A., K.C.
Thursday, November 12, 1942
MR. JOHN C. M. MACBETH: Gentlemen of The Empire Club: As was the case last Thursday, so is it today, that our guest-speaker needs no introduction to a Toronto audience. He began his career as a school teacher expounding the rudiments to children in Algoma
District and Grey County. Commerce and finance beckoned and he came to Toronto and joined the staff of the Dominion Radiator Company Limited, where he remained for some twenty years, and then retired into active life. He has represented the Riding of Davenport (Toronto) in the House of Commons continuously since 1930, and, during the recesses of the House, he has made it his chief business, by means of travel and personal investigation, to learn more about this great Dominion and its people and its resources. It is the country's natural resources that latterly have claimed his especial attention, and, in particular, the natural resources of the great, Northwest, that vast expanse of unknown country lying north of a line drawn from Winnipeg to Edmonton across to the Rockies, the country of the Lakes--Great Bear, Great Slave, Athabasca--the country of the great Rivers--Saskatchewan, Mackenzie, Coppermine. This has been his interest; this has been his study.
We recall that in 1937 he addressed this Club on the subject of The Great Lakes Diversion, commonly referred to as the Chicago Drainage Canal. Since then he has gone far afield. In the last three years he has travelled 30,000 miles in Canada by rail, by boat, and often by canoe with a solitary Indian as his guide and companion. He has been there; he has made his own investigations; he knows. He has a great story to tell and it will be some relief to our minds in these troublous times to think of these things as part of the heritage which is Canada. His knowledge and experience have made him a practical idealist, and his reputation as a practical idealist has brought him an appointment as a member of the Parliamentary Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Committee.
He was joint Chairman of the Conservative Convention in 1938. He was once a politician. He is now a statesman. Gentleman, I have much pleasure in asking my friend, John R. MacNicol, M.P., to address us. (Applause.)
MR. JOHN R. MACNICOL, M.P.: Mr. President and Gentlemen of The Empire Club: I am indeed grateful for the very flattering introduction given to me by your Chairman and I value very much the high honour conferred upon me today of addressing this Club.
Now, if you will permit me to omit any further preliminary amenities, I will proceed.
Today I shall foundation my remarks, as the preachers do, on a Biblical text: "The Earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof". Now, if I may interpret "fulness" to mean the richness of the material resources, then I can say that God did love Canada in the creation of the world, because He endowed her with incomparable riches and vast resources and He loves her today and during the recent generations because He has peopled Canada with a strong and vigorous people to develop and protect these vast natural resources.
First I would ask you to take a look at your maps which I have prepared so you may the more easily follow what I have to say, for I, myself, would find it difficult to follow a speech pertaining to geography if I didn't thoroughly know the country. You will observe in the northwest corner of the map the situation of Alaska and Fairbanks which is the central city and the centre of the territory highway system. You will notice the 121st Meridian, the boundary line between Canada and the United States, more especially between Alaska itself and our own Yukon.
The broad line represents the outline of the Alaska Highway from Fairbanks in Alaska to Dawson Creek, B.C. You will observe the location of the airports along the Alaska Highway, because the Alaska Highway itself was laid out to contact the airports. Notice White Horse, in the Yukon, further down, Fort Nelson, Fort St. John and Dawson Creek.
Observe at the left the location of Prince George on the railway to Prince Rupert. To the east of the main highway you will observe Fort McMurray, at the junction of the Clearwater and the Athabasca Rivers, the centre of the vast oil sands to which I will refer in my remarks.
Observe the position of Norman on the Mackenzie River. Observe too the dotted line running north from Peave River town, at which point is the only bridge across the river at the moment, towards Providence on the Mackenzie River just after it flows out of Great Slave Lake. The United States Government is building that road, too. It is being built to obviate the delays that occur in crossing Lake Athabasca and Great Slave Lake. I myself was held up some twelve hours on entering lake Athabasca. The lake is shallow and the boats in that part of the country cannot navigate it if a storm were raging at the time. It shows how kindly they are to build two magnificent highways, one 1600 miles long from Dawson Creek to Fairbanks, at least 1200 miles in Canadian territory; and the other 650 miles long, from Peave River to Providence on the Mackenzie River.
Then see at the right the position of Churchill on Hudson Bay and the position of Edmonton, the focal point for all roads, east of the mountains, to the United States from Canada. West of the mountains see Seattle from which at present there is no direct connection to the Alaska Highway, but there will be if our American friends carry out what they propose to day, that is to extend the roadway north from Prince George.
South of the boundary line, you see the position of St. Paul and Minneapolis. All roads east of the mountains connect with Edmonton and from Edmonton a road runs some 500 odd miles to Dawson Creek and 1,600 miles further to Fairbanks in Alaska.
You might ask what was the origin of the highway. That invites a description of Alaska itself. Alaska is that great peninsula that extends off the northwest corner of North America, some six to seven hundred miles west of the 141st Meridian, the boundary, and generally situated within the 60th and 70th parallels of north latitude and extends to a little less than a hundred miles from the coast of Asia.
Off the southwest corner of Alaska another peninsula projects into the Pacific Ocean, the Aleutian Peninsula, and off that peninsula is a chain of islands, the Aleutians, that project toward Japan for another 1,500 miles.
Unless there were a roadway to Alaska, our American cousins would have difficulty, because from the 141st Meridian to the 49th Parallel, the International boundary, is a distance of about 2,000 miles of Canadian territory and from Seattle, in the State of Washington, to Seward, one of the ports on the south coast of Alaska, it is a distance of about 2,000 miles by sea. Seward is connected with Fairbanks by a railway, the distance being 450 miles. From Valdez, a nearby ocean port, a motor highway connects with Fairbanks. Thus, if the Americans had a roadway east of the mountains they would have a thoroughly protected inland route to their own Alaska, so they asked Canada for the right to build the Alaska Highway.
We have in the United States the best neighbours of any country in the world, and we gladly gave them the right. The road will belong to us after the war.
Just a word about the road. It is a military road. During the war it is wholly controlled by our American cousins on its course through Canadian territory from Fort St. John to the international boundary, the 141st Meridian. The importance of this road during the war is readily observed. It allows a protected inland route all the way from the United States to its dependency, Alaska, for promoting the war against Japan. It is an ideal route to transport supplies and troops without danger, instead of by the sea, where they are subject to torpedoing by the Jap submarines.
In the event of the Japs attacking Siberia, it would be a major munitions route for supplies from the United States to Alaska and over to Siberia. It is a military route at present, but after the war it will be a vast route of immigration into our own great northwest containing a million square miles or more, north of the 55th parallel, filled to overflowing with incomparable resources. And with the completion of the other roadway now building, from Peace River to Providence on the Mackenzie River, you can see at a glance how these roads would assist in opening up that great country after the war.
The Alaska Highway permits the opening up and rolling back of the business frontier to beyond Fort Nelson, one of our airports. That will be a great business incentive for our Western Provinces, and it will mean prosperity to the Eastern Provinces, as well.
The right-of-way of the Alaska Highway is very wide. I don't think I should tell the width. I can tell all the other figures. The United States engineers let nothing stop or obstruct them. They went through anything and everything to make the straightest possible road they could and in my judgment, having been over a good distance of it, it is, considering the natural difficulties, incredibly straight. It is wide to allow vision for fast motor traffic. I travelled fast myself-and the width of the road gives ample vision. The centre part of the roadway is 24 feet. It is very substantially constructed to carry the heaviest possible machines of every description at a swift rate of speed.
On each side of the centre 24 feet there is a six foot shoulder, also substantially constructed, so if any machine is more than 24 feet wide, it will have another 12 feet to run on. Beyond that is a wide easy crowning off to the drainage ditches, and past the drainage there is still a wide space on each side of the fences that mark the right of way.
Great bull-dozers just bowled over trees as if they were pipe stems and vast sized boulders were bowled off the roadway as if they were mere pebbles. These machines were followed up by great mechanized ploughs, scarifiers, scrapers, grading machines, and vast revolving hammers that pounded down the centre of the road, to make it a mighty fine fast highway, built especially so military machines can go rapidly from any place in the United States to Alaska for the defence of that country.
I want to compliment the United States engineers, not only for their courtesy-they were courtesy personified to any who asked them questions-they were a credit to their universities and training schools like West Point, Staunton, Harvard, and other great schools-they have done a wonderful job in less than eight months' time.
Most folk have read of the eight wonders of the ancient world, the Great Wall of China, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Pyramids of Egypt, etc., but after having been over that road, a good portion of it, and observing the stupendous difficulties the engineers overcame, of high mountains rolled down, of valleys filled in, and muskegs overcome as though they weren't there at all, hundreds of miles of forest cleared off, and all in eight months' time-the longest, straightest, widest road I know of, I call it the Ninth Wonder of the World. It is a tribute to the people who built it, and to the schools that trained the men who engineered it.
I was greatly pleased to hear the United States officials--all of them very courteous men, the personification of courteousness--praise their own contractors and engineers, but they were also loud in praise of those who came from Toronto. I am glad to tell you some of the contractors up there were Toronto contractors. The Dufferin Construction Company, McNamara, Tomlinson, Jupp all of these construction companies have done a marvellously fine job. They are a credit to themselves. Mr. R. Melville Smith, whom many of you know is the Deputy Minister of our Ontario Department of Highways, has done a marvellous job in connection with the Alaska Highway. I heard him particularly praised for his work and assistance.
You have read that the road started at Fort St. John. That was really the jumping-off place, but our American cousins found they had to start at Dawson Creek fifty miles south of Fort St. John because the roadway south of Fort St. John was almost impassable. I tried to motor over it a year ago last summer, but found it too difficult. This year the American engineers made it passable, and in addition they had to build a new roadway from Dawson Creek to Fort St. John.
Now, perhaps that is enough to say about the Alaska Highway. Next year, they tell me, it is to be asphalted on the centre 24 feet--if Canada can supply the asphalt to do it with--and that is one thing I am particularly interested in trying to bring about, and that brings me to the subject of oil.
If I say anything about oil I hope no one will say I am interested in any oil company. I am not. I retired from business years ago. My only interest is Canada. I am going to do my best to bring about the production of oil in a big way up in that country--if it is there and I believe it is.
What is the oil situation in the world today? When the war broke out the Allies possessed all the oil in the East Indies-approximately 100,000,000 barrels of production a year in Java, Borneo, Sumatra, Burma, and the other island of the East. We lost all that. The Japanese, who only had a production of 2,500,000 barrels per year, took the East India oil fields from us. We will get them back, but have lost them temporarily, and today the British Armies in the Far East have to be supplied with oil shipped from the United States or from the western part of Asia, from Iraq, Iran and Bahrein. Are we going to retain control of the Western Asia oil fields? I hope so, I believe so. The Germans, however, have started in that direction, as you know. They have got to the Caucasus and they have taken from the Russians one-third of the Caucasus production, approximately 70,000,000 barrels a year, leaving the Russians about 140,000,000 barrels to themselves: If they are able to take the rest of the Caucasus, we might have great difficulty holding Iraq, Iran and Bahrein oil. Suppose we lost that, what would the Empire have left? We would have the production of a few million barrels, about 6,000,000 in Egypt, and about 20,000,000 in Trinidad, and about 12,000,000 a year in Canada, the latter principally from the Turner Valley.
It is true our American cousins have and do produce the largest supply of oil, yearly, in the world. They produce 1,350,000,000 barrels of oil a year and would supply us too. We could get some from Peru and Venezuela, that together produce about 200,000,000 barrels a year. But in the name of common sense, why go outside of Canada, if we have, as the expert engineers of the United States and Canada tell us we have in the Athabasca oil-sand area, five times as much as the other known oil resources of the world, not less than 100,000,000,000 barrels, and up to 250,000,000,000 barrels of oil. A little, approximately 600 barrels per day, have been produced from the oil sands on the Athabasca River, during the past summer.
I hold in my hand a piece of oil sand. Every little particle of sand is surrounded by a film of oil and from every cubic yard of that sand a barrel of oil can be extracted and that oil sand area covers 10,000 square miles, not all as rich as where I got this--at Fort McMurraybut in the aggregate there is said to be more oil there than in all the rest of the world combined, several times over.
It is easily extracted from the sand. The first thing they do is to take off the overtop, ten feet or more of dirt, which is easily removed by steam shovels. They blast the sand, the same as they blast any other mine, and the sands are conveyed by belt into the mill. There the oil is removed by passing the sand through long horizontal revolving cylindrical steel tanks containing 180 degrees hot water which disintegrates the sand. The fluid then passes to flotation tanks in which the sand falls to the bottom and the oil floats to the top. Within twenty minutes the oil is fully extracted and on its way to the refinery. That is pretty fast work.
At Fort McMurray the oil sand is 40 feet thick, and every cubic yard represents a barrel of oil and it is apparently inexhaustible. As I said, a small mill at McMurray produces up to 600 barrels per day, but we should be producing oil in a big way. I brought the matter up in Parliament two years ago and endeavoured to persuade the authorities to get behind any responsible producers, it matters not whom-but for goodness' sake, let us get on with producing oil when oil is so badly needed. Look at the situation in Canada. We have an Oil Controller. I have a sympathetic feeling toward the Oil Controller--he has a very hard job. I wouldn't want it at all. But is it oil control we need in Canada, or is it oil production?
Many within the sound of my voice are being compelled to remove their domestic heating-plant oil burners, at a great expense and most large buildings are removing them. There are, I am told, 50,000 or more oil burners in Canada-and the public is being compelled to remove them at an expense of perhaps $25,000,000. That is a huge expense to put the Canadian people to, to remove domestic oil equipment. If the country has the oil, as our geologists say we have, and there is ample evidence of it, why not produce oil? If $25,000,000 had been spent in erecting oil mills on the Peace and Athabasca Rivers it would have produced not only all the oil Canada requires for domestic heating equipment, but millions of barrels to fight the war with.
We want oil production and I am going to advocate, as strongly as I can, that we appoint an Oil Producer, and clothe him with whatever power is required to erect whatever mills are required to produce oil in whatever quantities are required to take care of our oil requirements. If the oil is there why shouldn't we be producing it? Fancy--10,000 square miles, most of it highly impregnated with oil. If you hold a piece of oil sand in your fingers a moment or two your fingers become oily. One barrel from every cubic yard, and you can take if out in minutes of time.
I would say, that to start with, we erect one 10,000 barrel per day mill. The Government are erecting all sorts of plants. Why can't we do the very same thing with oil and get on with the business and save the country the distress it is in now for want of oil. There is lots of oil in the United States, but they can't get the transportation equipment to bring it here, hence our shortage. But we could erect an oil mill on the Athabasca and pump the crude oil out to Edmonton. That would only require a short pipe-line. In the United States they have pipelines from 1,400 to 1,500 miles long. We could easily pump it the 250 miles to Edmonton, or perhaps the 450 miles to Calgary. With additional mills perhaps we could run one line to Churchill and convey it in tankers to Moosonee, the head of steel, on James Bay, and thence to refineries in Toronto, for eastern distribution.
The point is this: Canada has the oil. If a strong business man were appointed to produce it he could produce it alright. I have in these bottles samples of the gasoline and of the Diesel oil made from the oil sands. The miners in Yellow Knife and Goldfields told me there is no better oil in the world.
Now, over in Peace river area, there is a lot of oil too-so I am told. I am not authority enough to know whether it is actually there or not. I had read a great deal about the flaming gas fires on the Peace river that have been burning for the past 25 years from oil and gas that shoot up around the casings of the oil wells that were drilled there some 25 years ago. So I visited that area too to see for myself. I was amazed to find how many wells are capped. What we want is uncapped wells and oil out of them. It was a weird sight to see on both sides of the Peace river flames shooting as high as 50 feet in the air, corning from around the casings.
An American colonel told me they plan to asphalt the Alaska Highway next year. I suggested to him that he get asphalt at the junction of the Athabasca and the Clearwater Rivers at Fort McMurray, and perhaps on the Peace, and I am glad to say they are making investigations. We have been asleep at the switch in not developing those oil fields.
Here is a sample of almost pure asphalt (sample shown by Mr. MacNicol) that I got at what is called MacArthur Well No. 2 on the Peace. It has to be heated with a torch to melt it. Our American cousins want 1 y2 to 2 million barrels of asphalt next summer to hard-surface the road from Fort St. John to Fairbanks. Why shouldn't we produce the asphalt for them, if we can? I am going to advocate that as strongly as I can.
A local engineer in Peace River town, Mr. H. A. George, a former Hudson Bay factor, told me there is a lot of oil on the Peace. I can only say I saw the flames shooting up 50 feet into the air, and oil running into Peace river. The gas is burning and has been burning for some 25 years.
Now, I see my time is getting along and I think perhaps I should interest you in one or two stories connected with the Alaska Highway. A lot of United States soldiers, there, were coloured troops and the Indians were amazed at the coloured troops. You would see them looking at them as, if mystified. I didn't ask an Indian myself, but another gentleman did, "What do you think of them? How do you like- them?" His answer was, "Black white men". He couldn't describe them any other way.
At Fort McMurray a coloured military policeman walked down the street swinging his baton and with buttons polished, and all dolled up. He had a smile of satisfaction. He was six feet tall. An Indian on the sidewalk thought he would take a rise out of him, and he said, referring to his colour, "How you like it up here, Midnight?" And he recovered himself, the policeman said, referring to the Indian's colour also, "Oh, I like it pretty well, Half Past Eleven".
A boy from Texas writing home to his mother told her about the mosquitoes on the Alaska Highway. They are big ones. I had to wear a helmet all the time myself. You almost have to use machineguns to keep them away. He wrote to his mother, "The mosquitoes are so big up here I can hardly describe them. I am acting on the ground crew on the airfield and the other day I saw what I thought was a plane landing on the field and rushed out to service it and after I had pumped 87 gallons of gasoline into what I thought was an airplane, I found out it was a mosquito."
Somebody asks how old the oil sands are. They go back to the beginning of time. I can best tell their geologic age by an incident that occurred at Drumheller. The earth at Drumheller is turned upside down. One sees all kinds of relics of petrified wood and petrified dinosaur bones and so on, in that coal mining area. I was in a coal mine office and a tall, stately man said, "Mr. MacNicol, I am going to give you a piece of petrified wood." (I am going to give it to the President in a minute.) He said, "Would you believe it that piece of petrified wood is 60,000,000 years old." That is a lot of years. I stood back in order to accord such great age due respect. Then the boy in the office broke right into the conversation and said, "Mr. MacNicol would you like to know exactly how old that piece of petrified wood is?" I was knocked out completely. He paused a minute and said, "To be exact, it is 60,000,003 years and 18 days old, because when I came here three years and 18 days ago, Mr. 'X' told me it was 60,000,000 years old".
I see my time is about up. I haven't had an opportunity at all to more than refer to the vast resources north of 55. I motored west to Fort St. John, about eighty miles. At Bull Head Mountain it is said there are 600,000,000 tons of the finest coal in the world. It is right alongside the Peace River. I hope after the war is over, and perhaps our good friends, the Americans, may do it while they are here-they have both the men and the money to do it-we will be able to project a railroad west from Fort St. John past Bull Mountain coal and on right through the mountains. A good roadway should be projected through the mountains to the coast now because if the Japs attack the Pacific Coast how could we go from the Peace River area to the support of Prince Rupert? There isn't a roadway through the mountains in that latitude today.
I am going to advocate that a roadway be built through the mountains to connect up with the roadway to Prince Rupert from Prince George, and I recommend also that a road go west from Hines creek, the end of steel on the north side of the Peace river, to connect with the Alaska Highway. On the south side of the Peace river, Dawson Creek is the end of steel. I have no doubt that in due course, all these roads will be connected.
After the war these roads will open up hundreds of miles of most arable land for cultivation, land that grows vegetables of every description in the greatest abundance, and fruit-not so much fruit-vegetables and grain and all sorts of flowers. It is a wonderful country and after the war we should settle some of our farming soldier men up there. After this war, the men who come back from overseas must not be asked to stand for what the boys who came back from the last war stood for during the last depression. It was unworthy to have men standing on street corners begging for jobs in a country filled to overflowing, figuratively speaking, with milk and honey. There are thousands of opportunities to place men. From long experience with men I can see 500,000 jobs staring us in the face up there, north of the 55th parallel. After the war we have got to put men to work opening up the country, providing settlements, and opening up vast resources for development.
Some say, let us win the war first. Well, we are going to win the war. I am a firm believer in God, and every time I think of Dunkirk I think of an occasion on which I went over to France. The -sea was very rough, I was sure the world was coming to an end. I thought the ship couldn't possibly get through the storm. It was a terrific storm and everybody on board was sick, everybody was worse than sick. But at Dunkirk for five days that sea was calm. That was a miracle. God performed that miracle, just the same as He performed a miracle when He led the children of Israel through the Red .Sea, just the same as He performed a miracle when He separated the waters of the Jordan so Joshua could cross into the Promised Land. Dunkirk was a miracle.
Those braggarts, Mussolini, Tojo and Hitler say they will destroy St. Paul's Cathedral. Well, every time I go to London I visit St. Paul's Cathedral to see the tomb of Nelson, and I never forget to read Nelson's prayer, but it is not Nelson's prayer I am now going to repeat in closing, but a verse about his grave in St. Paul's:-
0, Little Land of England, O, Mother of hearts too brave, Men say the trust will pass from thee Who guardeth Nelson's grave; Aye, but these braggarts shall learn, Who hold the world in fee, That the sea is God's, God made it, But England shall keep it free.
After the war, when our men return, we must provide them with work. So I say in conclusion, we should be thinking of after the war, as well as the war itself. (Applause.)
Mr. JOHN C. M. MAcBETH: Mr. MacNicol, you started your eloquent address this afternoon with a Biblical quotation, "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof". I am going to add something to that and say, "He shall have dominion also from Sea to Sea and from the river unto the ends of the Earth".
You have given us an amazing picture this afternoon, Sir, a picture that will rest long in our memories. You have drawn two pictures; one of the wonderful highway, the breadth of which you didn't feel disposed to reveal to us, but which you described in such a way that we can probably estimate something of that breadth, because you described the middle section as being 24 feet, and you described other things about it that gave us the opportunity of drawing upon our mathematical knowledge and coming to certain definite conclusions. You have drawn also an amazing picture of the wealth of oil that is in our Canadian sands, there for the purpose of the taking. It seems also to me, Sir, and you are a believer in Providence as also am I, that the fact that Canada and the United States are so closely related, that they are so friendly, that the United States is permitted, may I say, to run a 1600 mile roadway through the midst of Canada, and that there is so close to that roadway such an amazing and abundant supply of oil and asphalt to surface that road, is not mere chance. There is Divine Providence in that, as you and I, Sir, believe.
We thank you very much, Mr. MacNicol--Friend John-for coming here this afternoon and giving us this interesting talk.
I read a few days ago this: "I go about the country a deal and talk with people of all kinds, but I can never cease to be fascinated by the expression of almost physical pain, as of a slug beneath the salt, that comes over the faces I see before me when I suggest that their owners should think about the affairs of their country for themselves, study the actions of their member and the party to which he belongs, discuss these with others, set a ball rolling and do something."
You have given us the incentive, Sir, this afternoon, to do something, and, before I close my remarks I want to make some reference to this little trophy you have so very kindly presented to me personally. This is supposed to be 60,000,003 years and eighteen days old, but that, Sir, was about five months ago, because I think it is only about six months since Parliament recessed.
We thank you, Sir, for this instructive and illuminating address and we hope that you will be with us as a member of the Club when we next meet, which is next Thursday. (Applause.)
The meeting is adjourned.