HUDSON'S BAY: ITS CONDITIONS AND PROBLEMS.
An Address by Mr. L. S. Amery, recently Colonial Editor of the London "Times," before the 'Empire Club of Canada, Toronto, on Sept. 22, 1910.
Mr. President and Gentlemen
It is a very great pleasure as well as a great privilege to me to be allowed to address your Club today. I had hoped to have had that privilege just a year ago; but unfortunately, the day before I came here I broke my leg--consequently my engagement. The subject which I am asked to speak on, Hudson's Bay, is a very large one, and for me to deal with it at all adequately would require a far greater knowledge of the details of the transportation business of this country than I possess, and a great deal more time than you can spare from your business today.
All I will attempt to do is just to suggest or outline same of the main paints raised in connection with the operation, first of all, of what is known as the Hudson's Bay Route for the accommodation of transportation between the West and the outside world. Secondly, with the economic possibilities of the vast, almost unexplored region which lies around the shores of that great inland sea.
Now, I might, perhaps, begin by reminding you that the Hudson's Bay Route is not a new experiment, for very nearly a century that was the predominant trade route to the west of the continent. You may remember that there was a period, lasting very nearly 50 years, of the acutest commercial rivalry between the Hudson's Bay Co. and the North West Fur Co., with headquarters at Montreal. During that long struggle the Hudson's Bay Co. enjoyed the advantage of being able to get goods to the interior about a month earlier than their rivals, because in those days of slow sailing vessels and canoe journeys it was far easier to go to the Rocky Mountains from England by way of Hudson's Bay, York Factory, Hays River, than to bring goody from Montreal, up the Ottawa, across the Great Lakes, up from Ft. William, along the Savannah, to Rainy Lake and across Lake of the Woods and up Lake Winnipeg.
As far as I am able to learn from studying history the Hudson's Bay Co. forced an amalgamation of the two great companies, and for the next 40 or 50 years the whole trade of the West was collected and came down the Hays River by canoe and portages to Winnipeg over the old Hudson's Bay route. Simpson would go up that route, Franklin went by that route on his great exploration trips, and the description he left applies admirably to what we saw on our trip down there the other day. I2 was by that route that the British troops-Infantry, Artillery and Sappers-were sent in 1846 to help the Hudson's Bay Co. guard the great frontier country of Manitoba against the possibility of American aggression. It has often been said that the Hudson's Bay Co. on that occasion saved the North-west to Canada, and I would not for a moment dispute the claim. It might be well to say that the North-west was owned in those days by the Hudson's Bay Company; as it were in a double sense, on account of difficulties of transportation; and I believe from my observations that the present Far Northwest of Canada can be reached from Liverpool by the Hudson's Bay route quicker than from New York.
Hudson's Bay affords a back door to this continent, which might be easily used by the British in case of imminent need, and possibly mean, again, the saving of the North-west to Canada; and that route which has been so important in the past, may, therefore, not be unimportant in the future.
After the incorporation of the North-west Territories into the Dominion of Canada railways began to push into the West, steamers were put on the Great Lakes, and eventually the historic C. P. R. line was built into the interior, and the Hudson's Bay route, which was once the highway of commerce, began to be forgotten. There were few vessels passing the shores of Hudson's Bay, only one small sailing vessel arriving each year, and the people of Canada practically ceased to realize the existence of this mighty inland ocean in their very midst. True, in the last few years interest has revived in the Hudson's Bay route, and as the West is now quite a political power, the Government of Canada has given a definite promise that the Hudson's Bay Railway shall be constructed.
Still, I do not think we can say the question of the Hudson's Bay Route, is, as it has been regarded, of supreme interest to the Prairie Provinces alone. I maintain that if this route is opened up it will be of great national interest to Canada--to the whole of Canada-and of great Imperial interest as well. I think this was the thing in his mind, the bringing out of the National and Imperial importance of this route, when Lord Grey (one of the most enthusiastic Canadians that Canada has ever produced) decided this summer to travel over a great part of the Route himself and see with his own eyes what that region was like, to help interest the people of Canada in that great, heretofore neglected, part of their own inheritance. Now, I do not know whether I should say much about that trip myself, but we canoed from Lake Winnipeg in twelve days, through as pleasant scenery as you will find in any of the lake scenery in the eastern parts of Canada. We had the finest of warm weather, permitting us to bathe two or three times a day. Coming down Hudson's Bay we went from Fort York at the mouth of the Nelson, up the Churchill anal across the Bay without encountering a vestige of ice, and enjoyed weather which, I think, the newspapers have already informed you, allowed us to dine on deck in our pajamas! Not until we entered the harbour did we see any ice. There were a few icebergs there, driven up by the tide from the Atlantic, just such as you would see a few weeks earlier in the Strait of Belle Isle. I shall try but very slightly to consider the commercial possibilities of that route, but I have studied this feature on our recent trip, and would like to submit to you the results of these studies during the next few minutes.
First of all, I would like to draw your attention to possibilities of the Hudson's Bay route as a channel of transportation. Now, you are all, no doubt, aware of the main arguments in favour of that route. Owing to the shape of the globe the distance from Liverpool to the western shores of Hudson's Bay is practically the same as the distance from Liverpool to Montreal, just under 3,000 nautical miles. Then, the western shore of Hudson's Bay is nearer the great grain-growing area by anything from 1,000 to 2,000 miles than fit is to Montreal; and that primary fact makes a very strong case for the building of the 400 miles of railway required to connect Hudson's Bay with the Prairie Provinces. In view of the way the country continues to push farther north in Saskatchewan, I think there ought to be a line extending east across the northern part of the Prairie Provinces, for the handling of grain, coal, etc., for I believe the cultivated land will eventually extend as far north as the Churchill River, or from one to two hundred miles beyond the present limit.
The arguments in favour of the Hudson's Bay route are very strong indeed, and while it is well to keep in mind the various difficulties and objections which shave to be met, I may say there is no difficulty in the way of actual construction. The country is level except for some patches of muskeg, but there is nothing to prevent the Line from being constructed. There is one great difficulty, that of finding a harbour, and this is a very formidable obstacle, for with the exception of Churchill there are no harbours on the western shore of Hudson's Bay; and under present conditions no ship drawing 20 feet of water can get within ten miles of the shore--it would not be safe. The Earl Grey lay fifteen. miles out from shore when she came to meet Lord Grey's;.arty the other day. The only natural harbour is Fort Churchill about 470 miles from Hudson Strait. It is a very good natural harbour with a narrow entrance, while rocks almost completely enclose it in a semi-circle. It is not very large-would not hold more than three or four dozen good-sized ships-and the question not yet determined is whether it could be enlarged without very great expense. There is certainly plenty of room if the channel were enlarged, but if it is found that the bottom is rocky, the cost would be very considerable.
The other harbour is at the mouth of the Nelson in Saskatchewan. The Nelson goes through a perfect wilderness of shoals, but it is believed by men of authority who have lived there for some years that if a proper channel were opened the harbour would accommodate any number of vessels. On the other hand, all the sailors who have heretofore navigated the Bay prefer Churchill, and I think myself it will make the best harbour, but until the Government survey is completed, of course, it is hard to determine that. One thing in favour of the Nelson is that it is 50 to 60 miles nearer, and goes through a better country.
Then comes the question of the navigation of the Bay itself. I may say it never freezes over in winter. Hudson Strait freezes for some distance from the shore. In spring there is a good deal of loose ice floating about the Bay, but nothing to impede navigation. As far as the Bay is concerned, there is no reason why ships should not go in all the year round. The real problem lies in the Strait. Nothing feasible has been found whereby the Straits can be made open to the ordinary tramp steamer in winter. Some people suggest icebreakers. If these proved successful, it would mean navigation could be kept open six to seven months a year; as for ordinary traffic the Straits are only open from the middle or 20th of July until some time in November. I have spoken to people who have been the Straits for some years, and they tell one they are open well into December. A ship ought to leave Churchill or Nelson the first week in November to get out the same year. As far as I can make out, the navigation of Hudson's Bay and Straits is just as safe as navigation on the St. Lawrence. According to observations made on the Neptune Expedition some years ago, the ice encountered in the Straits during August and September was less than is met with in Belle Isle farther south, and the storms were .about in the same proportion. During November heavy snowstorms are of considerable danger to navigation.
Another danger I think will disappear with closer study, I refer to that caused by the compass acting in a very erratic manner for two or three hours at a stretch. I think, given proper Marconi stations along the Straits, lighthouse arrangements and so on, you will have at least four months' effective navigation on that Bay. This practically means that a ship could leave England before the middle of July, and with proper facilities for handling the traffic at Churchill or Nelson, could make three complete trips before the close of the season. Now I think that disposes of the argument that the insurance would be cut off, for I have no doubt when it is proven that there is at least four months of safe navigation, although the rates will be somewhat higher than the ordinary rates, shippers will not lose the benefit of marine insurance altogether.
Of course, the route would not pay if it were confined to the export of grain alone, as the freight rate on grain is an extremely low one, and it would only be through having a full cargo each way that the route could be made a paying one. Another benefit to be derived from this route would be the overcoming of the congestion in freight during the harvest time. Not more than 20 per cent. of the grain from the West can leave Port Arthur before the close of the season, and while the cars are being sent out collecting the harvest, the Western merchants are unable to get their merchandise shipped to them to fill up their stocks, just at the very time they could dispose of their goods-the time when the farmer has the money do his pocket, from the sale of his grain, to make his purchases. One other point in favour of this route might be mentioned here; when the demand for harvest hands is at its height, instead of draining Ontario, they could be brought out from the Old Country in July by this route, work through the harvest, and return to England in the same season by the same route.
There are a great many people in the West who think this is to be a great grain-carrying route. So far, I cannot say that I share their optimism. I think a great deal of grain will still be carried as at present, but I do believe it will form a very valuable subsidiary outlet, keep down the cost to the shippers, and ease the situation at the time of the greatest pressure, while it will also be of great benefit to the West, and by so doing benefit the whole of Canada.
Now, there are several questions which arise in connection with the possibilities of this route. There are people who think that its opening will be injurious to established interests in Eastern Canada. I cannot believe that for a moment. If the opening of the new route increases the population and increases the cultivated area in the West, the bulk of the benefit will go to the people of Eastern Canada who supply the major part of the needs of the West during the balance of the year. I have no hesitation in saying that the opening of this route will help British trade, as it will bring the Northwest as close to England for those four months of the year, at least, as she is to Montreal at present. I think if British trade gains anything it will not be at the expense of Canadian trade, but possibly at the expense of your neighbours to the South. If it benefits British trade it will also benefit other portions of the British Empire, including Canada, and especially the Eastern portion of Canada. At the present time the Maritime Provinces are at a disadvantage compared with you here in Ontario as regards the Western trade. During the season that the Hudson's Bay route is open they will be practically on an equal footing, and it appears to 'me that if trade is developed between Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and the West, it will be of untold benefit to those Provinces, and will contribute materially to the unifying of the Dominion.
Many people seriously hold that there is a danger of the West, of that portion lying north of Lake Superior, on account of its rapid growth, gradually beginning to look upon the extreme Eastern provinces as a part of another country; but, in fact, the opening of this route will do much to unify all the Provinces. I will go even farther and say I think direct communication between the West and England will make for the unifying of Canada, because there is a danger to the unity of Canada-only one danger, and that is the danger that the West may be drawn nearer to the great Republic to the South. Anything which keeps the West British keeps it for Canada. It is just our British ideals and constitution which make Canada what she is, and make it different from the United States to the South of us.
I have already spoken at very great length. At present the whole region round about Hudson's Bay may .be called unexplored country. I do not mean that geologists have not given us considerable information, and that the maps are not pretty well marked out, but very few parts can be reached under existing conditions when it becomes time to clear out before the winter sets in. Once it is possible for the business men of Toronto to go to the shores of Hudson's Bay or up to Fort Churchill and be back in three of four months, prospecting, looking for timber, or acquiring soil for cultivation or speculation, we will know a great deal more about the country than is possible at present. I wish to tell you that north of the Saskatchewan for nearly 200 miles there is soil capable of being used for agriculture. There is about 10,000 miles of good clay country which ought to be opened up, immediately to the west of Fort Churchill. Then, farther south around Hudson's Bay, there is a broad belt of deep glacial clay originally covered by the old Keewatin glacier, and 200 miles wide. This is admirable soil. Then, around James Bay, as far as I can learn from the climatic records and enquiry, the land is .as fit for cultivation as any part of Canada; and also up along the west coast as far as Fort York. Though it will not be a great wheat-growing country, it will grow splendid hay, potatoes, etc. I believe you will yet have farms extending all the way to Hays River.
There is another industry which will be developed, that is fisheries. I believe there will be a considerable trade worked up between Hudson's Bay and the Prairie Provinces. This industry in Winnipeg and the surrounding country is no mean item at present, and as Hudson's Bay is a territorial part of Canada, according to the recent Hague decision, the fish belong to Canada, and we must insist that the whole benefit of the fishing goes to Canadian fishermen. There is still another industry, becoming increasingly important, that is the pulpwood industry. Now, in the region around Hudson's Bay, along the west shore from Churchill and Nelson Rivers, down around James Bay, and up the coast of Ungava, you have the largest area of pulp-wood in the whole world. Coupled with that there are innumerable waterfalls forming abundant water-power. I feel certain that once this region becomes accessible, inside of ten years you will find pulp and paper mills on almost every big river running into Hudson's Bay.
And lastly, there is the question of minerals. You cannot tell what may be unearthed in the way of minerals in this vast country. Some time ago the Ontario Government, in building a colonization railway, turned up something which turned out to be cobalt-so Cobalt was discovered. You also remember the history of the discovery -of the greatest nickel mines in the world-Sudbury. Geological surveys prove that there are large bodies of the same rock formation as you get around Sudbury, Ontario, -on the shores of Lake Superior, where you have one of the biggest bodies of iron and copper ore in the world--a very valuable asset to Canada.
It has been said that the Prairie Provinces of Canada are equivalent to the whole of Russia; well, I believe that the Hudson's Bay region is equivalent to the whole of Scandinavia and Finland-a country capable of considerable development and of sustaining a hardy, energetic and prosperous race of people. So much for the economic side of it. A few words about the political aspect.
The first advantage to Canada will be that of defence. Canada is a country of length without depth, stretching from ocean to ocean, practically without defence. It is easy to get into from the south at many points, and it is apparent that for defence alone she should build the Hudson's Bay Railway. That region would help to give her depth, and give her a back door which could be used in time of possible danger. Then, as I pointed out just now, for the Unity of the Empire it is a very desirable thing indeed. It will bring Great Britain much nearer to the West, bring Newfoundland-which we hope one day will be an integral part of the Dominion-closer to Canada. It will bring the West Indies closer to the Prairie Provinces, and the Prairie Provinces closer to the West Indies.
Take a more local problem, the tariff. The West, or some of the people there, are worrying about the tariff, or rather the high cost of certain articles, and they talk about lowering the tariff. What they want to do is lower the cost of transportation, then they will not need to worry much about the tariff. I certainly was greatly impressed coming through that great region the other day. I have travelled through Canada from East to West and through South and East Africa and other parts of the world, but have never been so enthused with the possibilities that lie before the people of the British race as when I viewed this great possession in which we all share alike, and the seriousness of the problems of which we have all got to face in the future. It may be that in the near future we can devise some constitutional form on which we all can agree, in accordance with the national aspirations, be it of Canada, Australia, or South Africa, by which these problems can be solved and each country find a noble place in the administration of the whole British Empire.