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NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE.
THE NEW GREAT HIGHWAY FOR NATIONS.*
Central Pacific Railroad-Route through British North America-Geographical Facilities-Country North of Lake Superior-Winipeg District-Red River Settlement-Saskatchewan Territory-Rocky Mountains-The Upper Fraser -Bute Inlet-Temperate Climate-Fitness for Settlement-Clayey Level of Hudson's Bay-The Fertile Belt-Chilcoaten Plain-Navigation of the Pacific-Central Water Communications-Long Line of Frontier-Hostility of America-Expense of the Undertaking-Progress of Settlement on American Railways-Estimated Returns-Anti-Colonial Theorists-Commanding Position of Vancouver's Island-The Struggle for the Commercial Superiority of the Future.
WITHOUT entirely superseding the old routes to the East, by the East, the opening of a railway from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, across the continent of North America, will unquestionably have a most important effect upon the future history of commerce. and of the intercommunication of nations, quite as great as the doubling of the Cape of Good Hope by Vasco da Gama on the 20th of November, 1497. The most ancient lines of communication between the East and the West were by the Persian Gulf, Babylonia and Assyria, and Tyre and Sidon. The Macedonians and the Saracenic khalifs maintained a somewhat similar line. Rome, when mistress of the world, assailed Carthage simply because she attempted to rival her in the trade of the Orient. In the middle ages, the more central routes by Asia Minor and Byzantium, and by the Caspian and Astrakhan, came into vogue, and whatever changes are brought about by opening routes to the East by the West, Central Asia will still always pour a certain amount of her produce into Europe by Russia, the development of which commerce is the secret of the progress made by that nation in the direction of Samarkand and Bokhara, of the Issi Kul and Yarkand, of the Amur, the Ussuri, and Manchuria. These are points which, with the comparative advantages offered by westerly routes, we have in the steadfast and unswerving, and, we
* Overland Route through British North America; or, the Shortest and Speediest Road to the East. With a Coloured Map. By Alfred Waddington. Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer. 1868.
Jan.-VOL. CXLIV. NO. DLXXVII.
hope not unenlightened, regard for the imperial interests of the realm which have always guided and influenced us in the geographical articles which have appeared in the New Monthly Magazine, not failed to expose and discuss at length upon previous occasions.
But it is not only by Russia, by Persia, and by Asia Minor, with their old Venetian and Genoese emporiums, that commerce will ever find a modified outlet, it must not be lost sight of that a railway by the Euphrates or Tigris valleys would reduce the distance from London and Western Europe to Calcutta by more than one-half. Calcutta may indeed be assumed to be three times the distance from London by the western route, taken at the bulk of the spheroid, than by the Euphrates line, and two and a half by the more northerly parallel of approach, or by British North America.
But this does not apply to Japan, to China, to the East Indian Archipelago, nor to Australia and New Zealand; and apart from the inevitable fact that San Francisco will become, in a very brief space of time, the emporium of the east for all the New World, as it will be by railway with all the eastern states, whatever products found their way from the East to America by Europe, will now be swept away as if with a magician's wand.
There are times and tides in the affairs of nations as of men, which, if not taken before the ebb, flow away into disaster, decadence, and ultimate ruin. Assyria, Greece, and Rome, are historical examples of the fact. Unite India with China by railway (we will in a future article point out how the progress of Russia towards Pekin by Manchuria can be baffled, in a commercial point of view, on the coast of China), and unite India with the Mediterranean by railway, and it will be long yet before the supremacy of Great Britain in the eastern seas will have to give way before that of either Russia or America. But, in the mean time, as Providence has, in its infinite kindness, reserved to us a continuous line of country across the continent of North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific, with a vast region open to colonisation, no end of mineral as well as of agricultural wealth, admirable ports, and, what the Yankees would call a world of water-power, we should be the veriest dolts that ever existed if we did not strain every nerve and muscle to compete with the Americans in opening a trade with the East by the West, at the same time that we did our best to develop and uphold the old lines by the East. As is the case with all nations wrapped up in the frivolity and egotism of insignificant political personalities and party questions, the country is too often agitated from one end to the other by matters which in reality possess as much importance in regard to the future wealth, welfare, and power of Great Britain, when compared with
the maintenance of our commercial superiority over the world, as the strut of a jack in office does to the dignity and force embodied in the enterprise and fortitude of our commercial marine, and in the indomitable spirit and courage of those who have founded, peopled, and subjugated new countries and nations by the arts of peace.
The publication of a little work on the Overland Route through British North America, by Mr. Waddington, a gentleman who has, we understand, personally explored a large portion of the region through which the proposed route would have to pass, without any advantage to himself, beyond the consciousness of labouring in a patriotic cause, affords too good an opportunity for reopening a question of such paramount importance, that it should be passed over. Mr. Waddington takes up the subject in the sense of meeting objections not a bad way of eliminating the truth of the matter. These are as follows: 1st. The supposed geographical difficulties to the north and west of Lake Superior, and those much more real through the Rocky Mountains and British Columbia. 2nd. The supposed severity of climate and general unfitness of the country to be traversed for settlement. 3rd. The greater distance across the Continent to the north, as compared to the south. 4th. The difficulty of constructing a railroad through a wild unsettled country. 5th. The opposing rights of the Hudson's Bay Company. 6th. The possibility of difficulties at some future day with the United States, combined with the existence of a sparse population and a long line of defenceless frontier; and, consequently, the little confidence placed by English capitalists in anything appertaining to Canada. 7th. The enormous expense of the undertaking. 8th. The cost of railroad traffic across the Continent, and, consequently, the small amount of traffic to be expected. 9th. And last, not least, the anti-colonial theories of the day, and the growing dislike to spend money on our foreign possessions.
First, then, as to the geographical difficulties. It has hitherto been generally believed, for want of more ample information, that the country north of Lake Superior was broken and barren in the extreme, thus rendering it unfit for settlement, and consequently to serve for an overland communication with the west. Such a conclusion can only have been founded upon the forbidding aspect of the mountains which form the northern shores of Lakes Superior and Huron; and which, as seen by travellers from the water, with their bold naked sides and peaks, treeless and bare of vegetation, present, it is true, a scene of thorough desolation. But the explorations which were made last year in that direction, by the Canadian government, prove that this apparently formidable range of mountains has no breadth, and is as circumscribed in a northerly direction as its southern flanks are precipitous. So much so, that at one
point the watershed towards Hudson's Bay comes within eight miles of Lake Superior; whilst to the north lies a vast level country of clayey formation, extending with little interruption to Hudson's Bay. Good crops of wheat are raised at New Brunswick House, on Moose River, in lat. 49 deg. 35 min.; and as the level tract of country south of this is (with the exception of some portions north of the Montreal river, which are poor and sandy) much the same quality as that of the Ottawa country, it may be safely inferred that the whole country is fit for settlement.
The facilities for a railroad through this country are remarkable. From Ottawa to the mouth of the Montreal river-two hundred and eighty miles-the country, which is well known, presents no serious obstacle; and the highest point between Ottawa and Nipigon river, at the head of Lake Superior, is supposed not to exceed eight hundred and thirty feet above the sea. Superior itself being six hundred and twenty-seven feet. A direct line could indeed be carried from Quebec to Nipigon river, along the watershed between the St. Lawrence and Hudson's Bay, thus avoiding three hundred miles of frontier; but this is altogether out of the question, the length of road would be increased two hundred and fifty miles, and Halifax is open throughout the year, whilst the port of Quebec is closed. The railway from Halifax to Montreal must then constitute the first portion of an interoceanic railway in British North America.
We had, in common with others, always imagined from Professor Hind's, and other reports, that the great difficulties of the vast lake district lying between Lakes Superior and Winipeg consisted in marsh; but we are now told that the country between Nipigon river and Sturgeon lake, and between the Lake of the Woods and Winipeg, is essentially rocky! Further, south of this line a route four hundred and ninety-nine miles in extent, of which three hundred and eight are navigable by steamers, has been laid down by the Canadian government, extending from Thunder Bay on Lake Superior (where a silver mine of surpassing richness has lately been discovered), and Fort Garry on the Red River. The opening of this line, and the building of a dam at Dog Lake, were commenced last year, but suspended soon after the installation of the New Dominion.
"These geographical facts," says Mr. Waddington, who exposes them at greater length, "some of which are laid before the public for the first time, settle the question as to the supposed preference to be given for any future road to a line through the State of Minnesota (whence the Red River Settlement at present gets its supplies), and which, instead of being the true and only practicable route from the North Atlantic to the Pacific,' as some parties have maintained, would in all respects be by far the most round