CANADA'S NEW NORTHWEST
AN ADDRESS BY JOHN W. DAFOE, WINNIPEG, MAN.
21st November, 1929
PRESIDENT EAYRS introduced the speaker, who said
I am very happy to be with you today, to try and talk about the new factors in Canadian national development, the factors of transportation. All history has shown that nothing affects the course of history more than discoveries in transportation, new routes or new mediums, which create ties of business that make and unmake countries and citizens. Historical applications of that principle will occur to you all. For instance, the glories of Genoa and Venice passed away when they found an easy way to Cathay, giving to the northern ports of Europe that primacy which they have still maintained. And we are still trying to readjust ourselves to the transferring power of the Panama Canal, which has changed the geographical relationship of the whole of North America, and not only that, but the other parts of the continent, to the world. We in Winnipeg can speak feelingly upon that subject. I do not suppose there was anybody in Winnipeg who sensed in the least what the opening of the Panama Canal would do. We had an academic interest in it in relation to the shipment of wheat, but we did not realize that the practical effect of the opening of that canal was to put Vancouver nearer to Europe in respect of freight, and in some respects nearer to the Atlantic seaboard, than Winnipeg was. The great strip of territory of which we were the entrepot, and in which I suppose we felt we had a vested right, was suddenly cut through the middle, the western half of it becoming subject to Vancouver, envolving us in a long period of readjustment.
Now, if the economic doctrine that governs the Canadian thinking had been sound, that there is only so much business, and if you lose it you lose it forever, the injury to Winnipeg would have been almost mortal. But perhaps under the philosophy of necessity we realized that if those portions of the west which we lost were to be benefitted, as they were, by being placed in a more advantageous relation to the world, we would in the long run indirectly profit from that fact; and that is something which all the provinces of Cauada need to bear in mind in this far-flung country, because there will continually be readjustments going on which will affect the current of trade and which will disrupt what some people regard as vested business rights.
It is upon development of that kind that I would like to speak to you, because the relationship of western Canada, by which I mean the prairie country plus the northern part of it, the wilderness, to the rest of Canada and to the world, is being profoundly modified by new developments in transportation which are not only in prospect but in some respects already in operation.
The traders and sailors of Great Britain have always thoroughly understood the great advantage in transportation rates of what the mariner called the Great Circle, that is, the farther north that you can sail the greater the saving in distance and the greater the cheapening in freights. With the idea of utilizing the Great Circle, Great Britain was set on discovering the NorthWest Passage. That was a passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific which would give the merchants and sailors of Great Britain an avenue of approach to the Orient that was far shorter, cheaper and more effective than the longer sea-route which had to take account of the rotundity of the globe. For 200 years the search for that North-West Passage governed British activities in that part of Canada which is now Western Canada.
The Hudson Bay Company did not come into existence simply to collect furs. Embodied in its engagement with the British Government was the obligation to locate, if possible, the North-West Passage; and from first to last they spent an enormous amount of money in trying to find it, and you know something of the risks and hazards of their efforts to solve that knotty problem. Well, that problem has been actually solved, although it is not in itself a factor of any moment; that is to say, ships can navigate the North-West Passage today. It has been navigated twice; once, twenty years ago by Amundsen, and once last year by a little ship of the Hudson Bay Company which, passing through Davis Straits, Baffin's Bay, and Lancaster Sound, found its way from the Atlantic to the Western Arctic, and turning south came to harbour in the Bay of King William Land, which is an island off the north coast. Now, King William Land was the scene of the tragedy of Sir John Franklin, whose ships sailed into the north and were lost, and a generation passed before anything was found of their fate. Then it was found that they had reached King William Land, and there had perished miserably one by one. This Hudson Bay ship, which carried a radio, tied up at the Bay, and it was from there that news was flashed of the discovery of the MacAlpine party. That tells its own story of how men are conquering the fortresses of the north.
As indicating the opening of the new transportation to the North, I have here a document which I think will have a most important place in the trade history of Canada. It is not very imposing. It is a freight bill for $25.84, and it represents the freight on three bales of blankets which were shipped by the Hudson Bay Company last September from Churchill to Winnipeg. These blankets came out in the Hudson Bay ship, the Ungava, to Churchill, and the road being completed to Churchill they were shipped over the railway to Winnipeg and were put in the Hudson Bay stores. To each was attached a tag showing it was the first shipment from Great Britain to Winnipeg, and those blankets passed into the possession of various people in Winnipeg and are kept as souvenirs. The ship Ungava on its return carried 1,000 bushels of western grain, which they deposited at Ardrossan, two highly significant transactions, although small in themselves, because that was the first movement of this shuttle in that northern route which is going to build up an immense web of commerce binding Western Canada and Great Britain more closely together.
I shall try to give you some idea of what I conceive to be the possibilities of that route. In the old days when we were discussing and fighting about whether the Hudson Bay road should be built or not, one of the arguments which I met with everywhere was that you could not ship wheat out by that route because you could not store it over winter at Fort Churchill or Fort Nelson and get it out of the play of commercial forces. I never found it possible to make people realize that wheat would go out the season it was harvested. Now, let us remember what might have happened this year if the route had been formally opened and in operation. Of course the road was there, but it has not been operated yet, and the harbour will not be completed until 1931. At the middle of September this year there were 100,000,000 bushels of wheat ready for market in Western Canada. The crop came in early, and it was threshed early and marketed early; and that is a condition which will continue to exist every year now, because year after year we are using to a larger degree the "Combine", which threshes as it cuts. So by the 15th of September we had placed in a strategic position in Western Canada 100,000,000 bushels of wheat which was nearer to Fort Churchill than to Fort William, and it could reach Churchill sooner. When it was at Churchill it was as near Liverpool as it would have been if it was at Montreal. That is to say, it cut out the whole trip by lake and canal from Fort William to Montreal. You cut out the time and cut out the cost.
Canada is now considering the probability and practicability of deepening that waterway, and it is argued, very justly as I think, that if you deepen the waterway you will cut out half or two-thirds of the cost. But the northern route cuts it all out; and assuming-and there is no reason why the assumption is not well based-that while the season is open the freight rate from Fort Churchill will be substantially what it is from Montreal, it is perfectly obvious that from the time the wheat begins to go into the elevator until the last possible date in which ships can operate out of Fort Churchill, there will be a concentrated pressure to put wheat through that funnel. Why? Because there will be the saving of time and the saving of expense, and it will have the primary call on the handling of wheat not only as against Montreal but as against Vancouver.
As a result of political pressure applied by the West, the Government decided that they would have to build the Hudson Bay road, as you give a toy to a crying child. One of the Ministers said to me, "Well, we have got to build the road, there is no alternative. No doubt that the route is all right, but I am very much afraid that it will be a long, tedious business educating the people to the possibilities of the route." I do not think the Government have any apprehensions whatever on that point now, because the Dominion Government and the Manitoba Government are kept very busy in keeping the people out of Churchill. (Laughter.) They are absolutely deluged with demands for all kinds of opportunities to open up business there. Wharf accommodation, yardage accommodation, all kinds of business, including some of a very significant character, which suggests that Churchill will be a great assembling point for business on a large scale.
Well, there are other things that will go out by the Bay. Scattered through that country, as you know, there are great mining prospects for base metal. Now, those mines which are being developed now are developed on the basis of a freight rate to the sea by Montreal. If over a considerable portion of the year their product can come out through Hudson Bay, which is next door, just 200 or 300 miles away, not only will it add enormously to the profits of those particular mines, but it will make possible the development of other mines. We have, for the moment, entirely lost our cattle trade with Great Britain.
We may find it necessary to recover it. Our cattle from Western Canada have been going to the United States, but they may be shut out from that country, and the probabilities are that they will; but through the coming northern route, saving about 1,200 miles as against Montreal, it will make possible the re-entry for one of our primary agricultural industries into the markets of Great Britain.
A gentleman who has been making a study of the possibilities of that route for the Government told me there was no question of ample outward business for the route. But what about business coming in? Well, I would hazard the statement that there is nothing that is imported into Western Canada from England or from the continent of Europe which will not come in by that route to its carrying capacity during the season. I was in Alberta a month or so ago, and I was quite interested to find that the miners there were very much disturbed over the opening of the Hudson Bay route. They asked, "what will become of the coal from the Alberta mines?" It has been shown that with the freight rate, which is about twice what it is from Welsh coal mines to Montreal, the Welsh coal will take possession of that country over 500 miles from the Bay; and if the freight rates are identical with those from Montreal, which I think they will be, Welsh coal will be a factor all over Western Canada, and I have no doubt that Welsh anthracite will run Pennsylvania anthracite out of the market in Winnipeg.
There you have the beginning of an enormous prospective English trade of which, theoretically at least, we are all in favour, and in its development really leading inevitably to the opening up of further routes of transportation. This may be a long shot, but I am willing now to go on record that one of the early consequences of the establishment of the practicability and economic utility of the Hudson Bay route will be the building of a line due west from Churchill to a port on the Pacific. At one time it would have been recorded as going through the wilderness. For the first 400 or 500 miles that road would run through a country that is all being combed for mining possibilities, and in which there are a large number of prospects of first-class mines. Then you come into the waterway district containing tar sand, in which, once they find a means of extracting it, there will be one of the great oil reservoirs of the world. Then in a hundred miles or so you get into the Peace River country, of which I suppose you gentlemen have been hearing a good deal.
The agricultural area in that country begins where it leaves off in Manitoba and Saskatchewan; that is, it is further north. It starts at latitude 50 and goes on almost indefinitely to the Arctic Circle, owing to the fact which people have been -so slow to realize that the further north you go the longer the summer day. The most moderate estimate of land in that area is 47 million acres, which is the Dominion Government estimate, and the real estate boosters think that it contains 100 million acres. But even if it is only 47 million acres, that represents twice the acreage that is given up to wheat in Western Canada. There you have an immense Empirethe Last West-bound to be developed in the next fifteen or twenty years, and quite likely to duplicate in production the whole area of Western Canada today. The western States, Vancouver and Prince Rupert, are looking to Peace River for their future greatness. The Peace River will be much nearer to Great Britain by Liverpool than it will by the West.
These transportation routes are subject to one further serious limitation, that they can only be used part of the year; they freeze up. But transportation is now taken through a medium that never freezes up; it has taken to the air, and when you get in the air this principle of the Great Circle limiting distance becomes a hundred percent operative, and the transportation routes by air, passenger and freight, because freight follows passenger as is being established in Europe, will proceed by the northern routes. The major air route of the world will follow the Great Circle; it will come from Europe by way of Great Britain, the Faroe Islands, to Iceland, to Greenland, to the western shores of Hudson Bay, to the mouth of the Mackenzie River, to Nome, over the Behring Straits, and into Asia. All the major air routes on the North American continent, whether directed towards Asia or to Europe, will hitch on to that northern route, and somewhere in the northern part of western Canada, possibly Churchill, or possibly further north, Chesterfield, there will be the greatest air port in the northern hemisphere. There will come in to that port the air-lines from the Atlantic seaboard to the Orient, which will go north of that city over James Bay and hitch on to the route around the world. The air-lines from western Canada and from the western States will go up in the neighborhood of Winnipeg and join wherever this junction is, which will probably be about Churchill.
Two months ago I was talking to some Winnipeg business men on this subject, and I said to them, "The time is not far distant when some of you gentlemen will leave Winnipeg on Monday morning and dine in London on Tuesday evening." Well, I was kidding a bit about that. Some of my friends thought that I made that statement by virtue of my editorial license, which will permit a slight exaggeration of the truth. (Laughter.) Naturally I was very much interested to see that Mr. King, when he came west, made a reference which bore me out. The press report says that the speaker called attention to the new routes which were being opened up and said that only a night or two previously he was discussing seriously at Ottawa the possibility of some assistance being given to the great undertaking of linking up the British Islands with the prairies through some means of aerial navigation which would bring London and Winnipeg and Saskatoon together. There were those who were dealing with practical aviation who thought that it was only a matter of a short time before it would be possible to take one's breakfast on the morning of Thursday in Winnipeg and dine in London on the evening of Friday. (Laughter.) I have the first claim on that particular prophecy. I do not know whether Mr. King stole it from me or not, but it is quite within the range not only of possibilities but of practicability, and of immediate practicability.
We had in Winnipeg within the last two weeks a gentleman, an engineer from Chicago, I do not know what his backing is, in the interest of an aviation proposition planning to lay out a route from Chicago to Winnipeg, from Winnipeg to Churchill, and from Churchill to Great Britain. Now, to a person familiar with distances from a flat wall map, what I have been saying to you would seem to be the most absolute nonsense, for why should people go north, and along that way and down that way in order to get between two points? Why not go straight?
Well, of course, you are misled by the Mercator projection, which is an absolute distortion of distance. If you look at a map of the northern part of the world with the Pole in the center and the continents grouped around it, or if you take a globe and look at it, you will find that those routes that I have been marking out do not even curve; they are routes as a swallow flies, straight; and in addition to having the quality of directness and efficiency they have another great advantage, that Providence, no doubt with a view to these aviation routes, carefully distributed land at intervals over the whole distance. At no place is there a jump of more than 300 miles on sea; which means that aeroplanes, in place of loading up with gas, can give that space to freight, and can replenish. You can see that from the map yourself, that the direction from Asia gives you a very narrow turn to Nome; then you can cross northern Canada to Hudson Bay; then you have Baffin's Land; then you have Greenland, then Iceland, then Faroe Islands, then Scotland, a completely direct run .
Now, when these routes are open, the Hudson Bay route, which is a land-and-water route, and which will be in operation next year, partly, and in full blast the year after; and when you have subsidiary railways which will inevitably follow the opening up of the route, a direct line to Winnipeg in order to reach the Western States; when you have a line west connecting with the railway system which is already in that Peace River country; when you have these aviation routes all north of the present belt of settlement, so that all the routes will go north to join them, western Canada will not be the hinterland of the Pacific Ocean, and it will not be the hinterland of the Atlantic Ocean, but it will be right athwart a dozen avenues of transportation of the world, and instead of being away at the back of the theatre it will be right up in front.
I think it possible, of course, that some people in the East may say, "well, where do we get off? What is going to happen us?" You think about the West as we people in Winnipeg thought about Alberta, that we had a God-given right to supply the people of Alberta with their goods, and suddenly they turned and brought them in from Vancouver. Well, I think you have got to a state that indirectly the benefit to yourselves will be not less than that which you have now, and directly the benefit to Canada in the development of that great country will be beyond calculation.
Canada is a federation of great sections, and our national greatness must depend upon each section developing in the way which best serves its advantage; and if I am not too optimistic, if what I think is true, if western Canada in place of being a narrow settlement along a national boundary is to be a country 800 miles wide and 800 miles north, full of enterprise, pulsing with life, and opening up a district through Canadian capital, providing homes for Canadian people, the east is not going to suffer from that fact. (Hear, hear.) I do not think anybody east who has any vision or imagination would think so for a moment.
I am one of the venerable, not as far advanced yet, I suppose, as my friend Dr. Goggin, whose 80th birthday next Monday has been announced, but I think the outlook for the younger men, many of whom are here, and the mental attitude of Canadians, can see a prospect different from that with which I was familiar as a young man. We felt that we had a narrow strip of possible settlement along the American boundary, and we were consumed with anxiety lest it would be broken into sections and sucked into the United States so that we could not do business with them, or we would be halted by our apprehensions. Well, Canada is not a narrow strip along the United States any more. The phrase has been used by some American writer that we are "cracking open the north", and having cracked it open we find it not a wilderness, but almost a treasure-house of the world in respect of minerals and of agricultural development as well. So we are going to have on the North American Continent a country comparable to the United States in its own way, not only in length but in depth; and with that conception and with the development which will go on, we will forget these megrims and these fears that we are not competent to maintain our existence in the face of any influence which may be brought to bear upon us, and that we will go forward with the assurance of our greatness and the greatness of our future.
Sir Wilfrid Laurier, as you all know, said that the twentieth century was Canada's century. I suppose some thought that the old boy was out again, that it was a fine phrase, but that they need not take it seriously. But there spoke the man of reason and the man of imagination. What we want in Canada more than anything is vision and imagination, and courage; given those, and I think we have them, I do not think we will need to go much further into this century to realize that Sir Wilfrid Laurier spoke the absolute truth when he said that while the nineteenth century was the United States', the twentieth century was Canada's. (Loud applause.)
The President thanked the speaker, in the name of the Club.