THE CANADIAN ARCTIC REGION
AN ADDRESS BY VILH JALMUR STEFANSSON
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto,
November 11, 1918
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN,-I come before the Empire Club with more than usual gratitude, for I think you did more than any other organization in Canada to induce the Government to take up the expedition which has now come to a close. The glorious news you have received today puts the seal of finality upon the territorial expansion of the Empire by force of arms in Africa, the South Seas, and elsewhere. While those territories were being acquired by force of arms, we in the north went ahead trying to extend the bounds of Empire without knowing that the War was on. We did not learn it until over a year after Britain had entered on the struggle, and then it was only by accident, when a whaler, who was looking for the possible wreck of one of the vessels of our large expedition, and not looking for me at all, (for two members of my party and I were then supposed to be dead) brought us the news, about the twentieth of August, 1915.
Seeing that the expedition was in many ways the most extensive polar enterprise that has ever been undertaken, it is manifestly impossible to go over its history in half an hour. The credit for the size and the thoroughness of its equipment belongs chiefly to our Government and to the Minister and Deputy Minister of Naval Service, who spared no pains to see that we had everything that was wanted, and who have taken a continued and grateful
Mr. Stefansson is the well-known Arctic Explorer. He has made several trips to the Arctic regions and his last, from which he had just returned, furnished the material for his address.
interest in us during the entire time of our absence, in spite of the cares of War. In fact, I may say parenthetically, that I believe the Deputy Minister and myself are about the only two people who know just what has been done, and we are certainly the only ones who know whether the things done were intended, or accidental, or how they came about.
The thing of greatest consequence about our expedition I can explain in five minutes: it is that we have introduced a new method into polar exploration. We had a sumptuous outfit, a large scientific staff, all the equipment that forethought could devise, and the advice of all our friends. To give an idea of the special nature of some of the equipment, I will say that some of the scientific instruments used in oceanography were not on the market anywhere in the world, and were to be had only from the Prince of Monaco, the greatest of living oceanographers. It would not be compatible with royal dignity to write him saying, "Dear Sir,-Enclosed please find so many dollars; please send so and so." We had to go about the matter in a more diplomatic way, and finally the Prince of Monaco presented us with the oceanographic equipment which no money could have bought for us anywhere. In order to get our scientific staff we had to go to nearly every country in the world. Although we first preferred Canada, we could get only five men from the scientists of Canada, for they had to combine a thorough training-in most cases equivalent to the Ph.D. degree from a University-with youth and health, and sufficient private means to be able to give to science several years without large money compensation. Besides our five Canadians, we had to go to New Zealand for one-an Oxford man, but born in New Zealand, to Australia for another, to the University of Paris, in Prance, for another-our most distinguished scientist, Mr. Beuchat, who unfortunately died on our expedition. We went to Denmark for the marine biologist, we went to Norway for one of our staff, we got three in the British Isles, and one in the United States.
In the early stages of the expedition, the Karluk, the largest of our three vessels, was taken out of our hands by the iorce of circumstances; she drifted in the ice from Alaska northwestward, and her equipment and her staff of men (some of our very best) were taken out of the sphere of operations. We then faced the problem of doing, without our equipment and without many of our men, the things that we had intended to do with the help of those men and by the use of that equipment. It was then necessary for us to alter our methods. Hitherto the Arctic explorer had hauled food with him wherever he went. The typical case is that of Admiral Peary, who started on the four hundred and fifty miles from Cape Columbia to the North Pole with about four hundred dogs and over a score of sleds, and the necessary men to handle that sort of equipment. He loaded on his sleds primarily food, and everything else-scientific equipment, clothing and things of that sort-was cut to the lowest minimum; everything made way for premmican, one of the best-known of condensed foods. In a few days the men and dogs had eaten the food out of three or four sleds, and these were sent back to land, travelling fast because they were light, with just enough food left to take them home. In a week or so, three or four more sleds would be nearly empty, and sent back to shore. This was repeated until Admiral Peary found himself within striking distance of the Pole with three or four sleds, three or four of the best men, and the best dogs. That was the highest point of efficiency to which the condensed food system of exploration ever attained, and it resulted in the greatest achievement which ever crowned that system of exploration.
But here we were, with our ship taken away from us, about seven hundred miles away front where we wanted to be; in other words, where Peary had to go four hundred and fifty miles to the Pole we had to make a trip of six or seven hundred miles if we were to do our work; otherwise we had to come home, and the expedition would have been a failure. Of course that was scarcely to be thought of. Another method had been suggested to me by my experience in my first and my second expeditions, which covered respectively one and a half, and four and a half years in the Arctic. On those expeditions we had sometimes for a year at a time lived on the animals of the land-Caribou mainly. It occurred to me that perhaps on this third expedition we could do our work by relying on the animals of the sea, as we had previously lived on those of the land, for the Government had assigned to us the task of exploring the ocean that lies north of Alaska, and west of the previously known British Islands in the Canadian archipelago. I therefore put before the remaining men of our expedition a proposition. (These were the men on the two small ships that had been kept near shore and never got into the ice, and their men and equipment were safe.) My proposition was this:-"In my belief, seals in the Polar sea live mainly on shrimps and similar animals; the shrimp is not confined to the vicinity of land, but will be found anywhere in the upper layers of the ocean; seeing, then, there is food for seals everywhere in the Arctic ocean, I believe we shall find seals wherever there is ocean, because they will follow the food. We know that the frequent winds are sure to break up and readjust the polar ice every few days; the polar ice is always in motion, always breaking in different sized cakes, with open lanes of water between; I feel sure that in those lanes we shall find seals feeding on the shrimps that are sure to be there, and we can live on those seals or even on the shrimps directly." To all this the men replied that it sounded very interesting, but it was academic, and that they did not think they ought to be called on to risk their lives on a proposition of that kind. "We will go with you," they said, "as far as half the food will go, and we want to have half the food in our sleds when we start back for shore. We think that is taking risk enough." The work would have stopped then if there bad not been two Norwegians on the coast of Alaska, who thought a certain money equivalent would compensate them for the risk that they would have to undergo; and for $25.00 a day I engaged those men to take the chance of a journey, with me. Members of our own party supported us to the distance of 50 miles from shore. At that point I sent back instructions saying that if we did not return to Alaska whence we had started, our non-return was to be considered presumptive evidence that we had gone to Banks Island; that was a journey of about 700 miles in the direction we intended to go. But so strong was the impression with every whaler who was then wintering on the north coast of Alaska, and with every Eskimo and white man who was there, that we could not live on food provided by our rifles, that when we did not come back to Alaska, the story grew up that we were dead. It was everywhere believed, because it everywhere coincided with the common opinion; and in Parliament in April, 1915, the Minister of Naval Service announced that it was regrettable that no longer could any hope be held out that we were alive. That only shows how firmly people held the old belief that the Arctic is a barren country where you cannot make a living, and where, if you want to live, you must bring with you from more southern lands and carry with you all the food you want to eat. As a matter of fact we made our journey of 700 miles in 96 days, 40 days with food we brought from home, and 56 days securing the food as we went. We landed where we said we would land, without losing a day, with everyone of our six dogs fat, and without having missed a meal ourselves. (Applause.) We had three sleds at the start, but two went back 50 miles from shore. We could have carried a great deal more than 40 days' provisions, but we would then have had to cut our equipment to the lowest possible terms, which we preferred not to do. Peary sawed off half his rifle barrel in order to lighten his rifle, but we actually carried our rifles in wooden cases steelbound, to be sure the rifles would not be injured. Peary carried no bedding; we carried ample bedding, so as to be comfortable. In fact we carried everything we actually needed. We did not carry any luxuries. For in, stance, in our snow houses, which are comfortably warm, we undressed, but did not have pyjamas or dressing= gowns.
Some people think that a variety of food is necessary for health. It is a curious idea, in view of what ought to be well-known of the condition of the world. There are millions of people on the earth who have practically no variety. For instance, the Eskimo and the northern Indians have only protein and hydrocarbons; they have no starches, no sugar, no vegetables or cereals; they have only the fat meat, which is the hydrocarbon, and the lean meat which is the protein, and that is all that is necessary. I lived, for instance, during the winter of 1906-7 on nothing but fish. We used to eat it raw in the morning and at noon, hot cooked in the afternoon, and the cold remnants of that meal at night; and at the end of that winter I weighed ten pounds more than I ever did before, or since, and I was mentally and physically in excellent condition. You may have theories that go counter to this, but I am sure that the facts will not bear out those theories.
With us in our work, the problem was the same that faced you and your armies in the present War; it was a question of suitable food and enough of it; a question of comfortable dwellings and of suitable clothing. When you have these you have all the physical bases of health, and everything that will enable you to do your work. We were able to secure all these from the Arctic environment. It was mainly from two animals, the seal and the caribou, we got our clothing, our fuel and our food, and from the snow on the shore or on the ice we got our house-building materials. It did not use to freeze enough at night in our snow houses to prevent me from writing every entry in my diary with a fountain pen. I am not advertising fountain-pens, so I shall not tell you the name of the pen; but I am advertising the snow house. Its advantages are-basic to our success, but that can be much better explained with pictures, so I shall not enter on that subject till tonight.
But more interesting to me than the things we have done on the Expedition are certain things which our experience on it has led me to see ought to be done, and I am going to tell you of some, which I think the Government of Canada ought to do.
More than twenty years ago, a missionary in Alaska named Jackson, began advocating the introduction of reindeer into Alaska. It was an up-hill fight, but finally, about twenty years ago, the United States Government put 1,000 reindeer in Alaska at a cost of about $750.00 per head. Those reindeer have increased until now there are about 100,000 head. The Eskimo who herd them and own most of them, kill every year a large number for clothing and use the meat for food, but in spite of the large number locally consumed, the Eskimo sold to the markets in 1917, $100,000 worth of meat and skins. In other words, on an investment of $750,000 the return is $100,000 per year and it will soon be far in excess of that. Reindeer meat is now being sold as far east as St. Paul and Minneapolis; they pay as much for it as for beef, the demand far exceeds the supply, and the trade has been profitable.
In Western Alaska, there is a man named Lindeberg, whose career is one of the most remarkable in America. He was in Northern Norway when the Americans were buying the reindeer there, with which they intended to stock Alaska. They wanted about a dozen Lapps to come along and teach the Eskimo how to take care of the reindeer, and Lindeberg, who is a Norwegian, represented himself as a Lapp and got a job to come over to America to help develop the reindeer industry. He shifted from that to gold mining, and the company of which he is president now owns most of the gold mines around Nome, and he is the chief owner of a bank in Seattle and another in Tacoma, and the best hotel in Seattle. He owns mines and properties here and there and everywhere, and owns among other things 13,000 reindeer in Alaska. He told me when I saw him in Seattle the other day, that the most profitable of all his investments is the reindeer, and that they are the one thing he is going to develop in the future more than anything else.
It sometimes irritates me a bit to be asked: "Supposing you have found a little land up there, what is the value of it?" To show how I look upon that question I must go back to history a little, which I am somewhat fitted for doing by being an anthropologist by profession. Some fairly-educated people do not think that Europe was inhabited 150,000 years ago, but most of us know that there was a civilization of high type in the tropical lands about ten thousand years ago. If at that time the wisest men of Egypt or Chaldes had met in a Club, somewhat as we are doing today, they would probably have said in their speeches, "Yes, we have an excellent country here, a wonderful civilization which is based on our remarkable climate; a little farther north where the climate is not so good, there are barbarians now, and doubtless always will be, because those countries are not suited to a high civilization." Pass on to a thousand years or so before the birth of Christ, and you find the people of Crete saying, "We have developed a wonderful civilization here, but farther north, in Italy and places like that, where the barbarians live, the local conditions are hostile and you could never expect much of those chilly lands." We know that at the time of Christ there was held in Rome a similarly low opinion of lands beyond the Alps. We know that in Spain, when Columbus was a boy, a similar opinion was held about the northerly island which later, through Bacon and Drake and Darwin, was to take from her more southerly forerunners their dominion over the seas and over the minds of men. For Draper, the historian of the Intellectual Development of Europe, tells us that a little before Columbus, the stables of the Moors in Spain were better than the palaces of the Kings of England. No doubt the Moors were in the habit of saying to each other, "We have a wonderful condition of things in Spain because the climate is favourable here, but up north in England, where it is foggy and cold, you can never expect a rich nor a high civilization." Trench by trench the ramparts of ignorance have had to be conquered, as civilization has spread north.
Farther and farther north the tide of civilization has spread, but in each new centre of culture you always find the opinion that the belt of the earth next to the north is worthless. In 1763, when after a war, a peace was being concluded between Great Britain and France, the plenipotentiaries of Britain said. "Gentlemen of France, among other things we want from you the Island of Guadaloupe." But the French replied, "We would hate to give that up,-there are sugar plantations there of great value,-we would much rather give you Canada," to which the British replied, in substance, "Well, of course, Canada is much larger than Guadaloupe, but what is it good for? There are a-few furs up there and there may be a few fish on the Newfoundland Banks, but as a whole the country is a frozen, unproductive wilderness." I think it was Franklin who put the case to the British representatives about as follows:--"Guadaloupe, while immensely valuable, is a distant island, while Canada, worthless as it is, is at the very door of the American colonies, and if we have the French colony so close to us we shall have continual friction with them. So while the country is not, worth much, I think it is better to take it, because it is nearer." That was the opinion, which after long haggling, prevailed with difficulty, and we kept Canada. And now Canada has been one of the controlling factors in winning a great War, and has a place of assured importance in the history of the world, while not one in ten of even the educated inhabitants of the Empire, can tell off-hand whether Guadaloupe is in the Eastern or Western hemisphere.
You see, the ramparts of ignorance had to be conquered, trench by trench. Time passed on, and a century later the intelligent people of Eastern Ontario and Quebec held an opinion ivhich ran about as follows: "We have a good climate and a land of great possibilities, but out at Port Garry the climate is severe and the land not worth much," and they were surprised to find that potatoes could be grown where Winnipeg now stands, the wheat capital of the world. When I left home five years ago, the magazine writers had discovered in the far north of the Peace River country, "The last frontier," just as the people of the Euphrates and the Nile discovered in the Mediterrean lands to the North of them, the last country of possible value, some five thousand years ago.
Now I have come to the point of telling you a little about the economic value of the north of Canada. It does seem that northern climates are conducive to a high degree of civilization. Local conditions, the richness of a country, sometimes have developed a high civilization in the south. But while southern lands seem suited to the beginnings of high culture, the test of experience shows that the south is not suitable for civilization's highest development, and as each particular type of development has been succeeded by the next higher, the centre of the new civilization has in general been found to be north of the civilization is supplanted. We have not come to the ultimate northward movement of the centres of civilization when we have come to London or New York, nor have we at length discovered the ultimate northern frontier of civilization at the Peace River.
The "barren grounds" of Northern Canada are barren only in the same sense in which parts of Manitoba are barren; that is, no trees grow there. Certain sections of it are very rocky, for geological reasons they may be barren, but they are not barren by reason of the climate or latitude. I have known hay being made 200 miles north of the Arctice circle, for feeding horses that were kept by some miners in the Meckenzie Delta. In Northern Canada there are as many tons of food edible to grazing animals to the square mile as there are on ordinary grazing lands anywhere. I do not mean to compare the Canadian North to Iowa or Ontario where cereals flourish, but I do mean to compare the North favourably with the semi-arid grazing lands anywhere.
The progress of irrigation and dry farming is continually cutting down the grazing lands of the world. They are being turned into cereal lands and orchards, and while the grazing lands are being so decreased, we have a continually increasing demand for the production of more meat, more fats like butter, more milk. Towards the satisfaction of these demands, the reindeer is a demonstrated success in Alaska. I now want to mention an even more valuable animal-the musk-ox. Imagine that you had a cow with a coat of wool that could be shorn once a year and sold. Would that not be a more valuable cow than any you ever saw? Or imagine that your sheep were three or four times as large as they are, and gave milk like the cows, then they would be much more valuable than any sheep you ever saw. And you have a wild animal that meets identically those conditions,-with beef identical in taste with your beef, and milk with difficulty distinguishable from Jersey milk, and wool like the domestic sheep. That animal needs no barn to shelter it, no hay to feed it for the winter, for in the farthest islands of the north they now live untended, and they are fat in any season of the year. In extreme cases, they weigh over 600 pounds, producing 100 pounds of tallow when butchered. They produce about half as much milk, and about the same quality, as a Jersey cow. They are practically domestic now. I was brought up in the cattle country of Dakota, although I was born in Manitoba (my parents moved across the line when I was young) and I know the wild cattle and horses there were less manageable than the undomesticated musk-ox; and I know from watching my mother work wool, and helping her work wool,-we were very poor, and my mother used to knit socks to sell them-I know the wool is as good as any wool. The only thing against it is that it is brown in colour; apart from that I think it is in every way superior to domestic sheep's wool, and you get from one animal about twice as much wool as you would from a sheep.
The thing to do, then, is to get for experimental domestication a thousand or so musk-oxen, which is easy to do, though I shall not go into details as to how. There are perhaps 100,000 musk-oxen on the main land of Canada. There are another 100,000 on the islands. By cultivating the musk-ox and the reindeer as our ancestors cultivated the horse, the sheep and the cow, we can turn the whole northern half of Canada into grazing lands that shall produce to the square mile as much meat, tallow, milk and wool as do the grazing lands of the Argentine and Australia.
The north has other great resources-its mines, its fisheries. We have found tremendous copper deposits north of Great Bear Lake. I do not know just how valuable they are, but there will be other minerals found here and there, and there are other times coming that will develop values in things and places that we do not dream today -at least such has been the whole history of the past, and we have no reason to think w e have come to a point where the course of history is to be reversed. Just think of the advantage it would be in a country where mining is going on, to have a stockraising community all about you. Living in Dawson was very difficult in the early days, because the meat and the milk and the other food had to come from so great a distance, but that sort of condition would not have to exist more than a year or two if any mines were discovered farther north, because the development of the northern grazing animals would allow large herds to be driven in to be cultivated locally, and to provide locally in any mining community an adequate amount of fresh meat and milk.
I am not advocating the musk-ox for the extreme south of Canada. It may be that bacterial disease will keep them out of the country where now the sheep are; if it were not for that, I am sure the musk-ox, if cultivated, would crowd the sheep off the map of Canada. We can assume the musk-ox can live wherever their bones are found, which means all of Northern Canada and northern Europe and Asia. They defend themselves against wolves, but human enemies always exterminate them, so the geographic ranges of the musk-ox and man are mutually exclusive. Their only idea of the correct attitude toward an enemy is the British square. They stand up and fight. At any sign of danger, they form in a circle with calves and weak ones on the inside, and the strong, shaggy ones on the outside. Their horns then form a wall impregnable to wolves and to any natural enemies, but you see these tactics are the reverse of the needed defence against man. The Eskimo run up to them where they stand on the defensive and stab the whole herd with the spear, and we with our rifles run so close to them that the powder burns the hair on the backs of their necks. They do not charge. It is butchery, of course, but we shoot them through the spine where they stand on the defensive with lowered heads.
All the protection that the musk-oxen need is protection from human enemies. Neither climate nor natural enemy can prevent them from spreading all over northern Canada.
I now propose to go to the Government, and I want the backing of your good-will, as I had it five years ago, to get the Government to undertake this broad-minded thing for the benefit of Canada. When I first got this idea two or three years ago, I was at Melville Island. We had been a year and a half away from our base, had been living a year and a half on the product of our rifles, partly on musk-oxen. We were the first white men who have lived intimately with these animals. For a year and a half we supported seventeen men and sixty dogs on musk-oxen. I wanted to interest people in this project, and I wrote to four of the most influential and public-spirited men I knew, and sent them samples of the wool. I wrote to Sir Richard McBride, who died a year before the letter could have been delivered, to Sir Robert Borden, who can always be trusted to be interested in anything that is broad and public-spirited so far as my experience goes; to Colonel Roosevelt, one of the marvellous men interested in everything, and to a man of a similar temperament who now sits near me-Sir Edmund Walker. I received a kind personal reply the other day from Sir Robert Borden when I was in Ottawa. I received an equally cordial reply by letter from Sir Edmund Walker, but I shall not read that letter as I hope he will give you his opinion of the project himself after a minute or two. But I shall read a section of Colonel Roosevelt's letter:-
"Now as regards the--musk-oxen, T most emphatically wish your project well, not merely as regards this War but as regards the future of our countries. Our domestic animals are merely those of Asia, because it was in Asia that civilization first arose, and in consequence, as it penetrated into other continents, man found it easier to use the animals already tamed than to tame new ones. It is a capital misfortune that the musk-oxen has not been tamed. To tame it would mean possibilities of civilization in northernmost America which are otherwise utterly lacking."
So that you may not forget the thing that is really of greater importance than any particular scheme of development, I shall emphasize, by repetition, the fact that while this is about the most important project, in my opinion, that is now before Canada in our period of reconstruction after the War, this particular possible development of the whole of Canada as a grazing country, still the more interesting thing I think, is the fact that the climate of northern Canada is not at all disagreeable. It is by no means prohibitive of further development. I take it as certain that just as the people of the Euphrates and Crete and Greece and Italy and Spain progressively made mistakes about the countries north of them, and always undervalued them, so we still undervalue the country north of us. A civilization as high as that of Ontario is certain to be developed farther north than Ontario, to a distance where it would be foolish for the wisest of us to try to estimate.
President Coombs asked Sir Edmund Walker to express the thanks of the Club to Mr. Stefansson.
SIR EDMUND WALKER: I feel greatly honored in being allowed to break the rules of the Empire Club in regard to the man whom I have for many years regarded as one of the greatest Canadians. (Applause.) It is not given to the men of many parts of the world to bring into the civilization of Canada a new element, but when Stefansson was born in Manitoba of Icelandic parents, he remained somehow sufficiently near to the parental stock to bring to this country the feeling of attraction towards the north, as opposed to what he has himself been speaking about-the average repulsion of the British stock towards the north. I have spent part of my life the last thirty years in trying annually to put before the people of Canada the industrial possibilities of this country, and I know that one of the things we have always fought is that man is very much like the dog-he loves the fire, hates cold, and hates the north. It is one of the most difficult things to make Canadians believe in the value of their own country. What Mr. Stefansson has said about the musk-ox and what can be done in our northern country is no dream. It is a thing of the most tremendous significance, and something that we ought to weigh and make up our minds about as strenuously as he does. We have reached the time when the packers of Canada and the United States will be going to the Argentine to see what can be made of the vast herds of animals in that country. We have talked quite glibly of having as large an area as the United States, and we talk about having as large a population, in years to come, as that country. We can never have that until we take hold of the resources of this country on which man can exist. Mr. Stefansson has presented a great subject, a great problem which should be tried out by the Government. If it is a failure, it will not cost us as much as other things in which mistakes have been made, while if it is successful it will add to our food supplies for all time to come. (Hear, hear.) How can we doubt the north when we know that the sea in the north is more filled with pelagic life than anywhere else? There is life of the most vigorous kind all over that north country. We as a people have found out what northern blood means. Surely we have learned in this war that we are not like the friends to the south certainly we have learned that the hysteric quality that does not lead so much to action, that has distinguished some of our cousins, has been more absent in this country; surely we know that the reserve and strength of character that is in our northern blood has meant victory in this War. We ought to be proud of the fact that we are a northern people, and we ought not to be afraid to breast the wave. We should take hold of the north, and of the one thing that is suggested, which will not cost much to demonstrate, and which would be of great benefit to this country if successful. But I rose for another purpose. Mr. Stefansson was in my house perhaps a year before he went away, and presented to me the fact that he was to go north in the interests of, I think, the American Universities, unless he went in the interests of Canada; and it was suggested that he would undoubtedly find the land that he has found. His mind was quite made up that he would add something to the map; and, if added to the map, to whom would it belong? And would it not be desirable that Canada should be a partner in what he was doing? I suggested that if he went to the Government of Canada he should not present the idea of Canada being a partner, but of Canada being behind what he was doing. (Applause.) The result was that he went on this Canadian Expedition of which he has told us. On this great day, when we are celebrating the peace of the world, it does not seem to me a minor event that we are also able to celebrate the return of a man who has risked so much and done so much for this country. (Hear, hear, and loud applause.)