Theo Gwin Goes to Canada, 1903

From the July 31, 1903 Skidmore Standard, page 1:

Theo. Gwin Writes Interestingly of His Northern Trip.

To the Skidmore Standard:

At the solicitation of a representative of the Standard, I will try and give the readers some impression of the North West Territories of the Dominion of Canada as were made upon me during my recent short visit to that country. I will not give any details of the trip or attempt any description of the country that I passed through from home to the boundary line between the United States and Canada, which we crossed at Portal, about fifty miles east of the northwest corner of North Dakota.

At some distance south of Portal our train was boarded by two officials, one who examined our credentials as to who was entitled to reduced rates over the Canadian Pacific railway, the other, a typical little Englishman in scull cap and knee breeches — the scion or sprout of the nobility with an enlarged and growing sense of his own importance largely out of proportion — to others estimate of him, however most of us wisely kept our opinion to ourselves or spoke in whispers especially after a certain Yankee from North West Missouri butted in with a question about some important matter and was politely told in pure double distilled old “hinglish” that “I cawn’t talk to you sir and make change.” He was the man that took our “long green” and gave us in lieu thereof tickets from Portal to Edmonton and return — 800 miles, which cost us $16, or one cent per mile each way.

We left Portal at 7:10 a.m. 9th inst. From there to Moose Jaw on the main of the Canadian Pacific, 170 miles the country is all open prairie. What settlements from there on are all new — apparently all having been made this summer. The soil, when broken up seems to be productive but is mostly underlaid with a gravely subsoil, and, judging from the lay of the land and the most reliable information that I could get, there is a scarcity of water and timber in this tract that would make it a very undesirable place to locate. There are however quite a number of rather prosperous little towns settlements starting up.

From Moose Jaw to Galgary the country is a little more broken and the character of the soil is still less inviting. There are however no hills, along this run of 440 miles, as large as you can see between here and Bigelow. This section is very sparcely settled. There are several small towns, the principal one being Swift Current, Maple Creek, Medicine Hut and Edulin. The others just being mere stopping places and water tanks. This section is better watered, having many little lakes and ponds with occasionally a clear running stream. The Swift Current river is a stream about the size of the Nodaway and gets its name honestly.

We arrived at Galgary at 6:15 p.m., July 10th. This is a city of probably four thousand inhabitants, possibly more, and is a very nice little city with many fine buildings, a number of which are equal in size and architectural beauty with the best buildings in St. Joseph. They have an excellent quality of gray sandstone, not more than half a mile from the business center of the city, of which most of the buildings are constructed.

Left Galgary at 8:45 a.m. for Edmonton, 192 miles, where we arrived at 5:30 p.m. For 25 or 30 miles out of Galgary the railroad runs up a little creek or valley from there on to Edmonton the country is mostly level with many little ponds and swampy places — the last 50 or 60 miles being mostly covered with little groves of poppell, tamaric and spruce grows very thickly and from 10 to 10 to 40 feet in height.  The rest of the land is mostly brush, willow, hazel and alder. The soil in this section has a rich black loam will grow any kind of crop that will grow in that climate. The nights though are too cold and the season too short to grow corn. When I was there the wheat was just beginning to head out. I seen as nice looking gardens as you see in Nodaway, better in fact than they are now for they have an abundance of moisture in the soil and frequent rains; but most of the garden truck is late — no new potatoes or cabbage when I left.

Stratcona is a city of about 2,000 population and quite a number of new buildings in process of erection. They have a machine shop and a round house, a large oat meal and flour mill, 2 saw mill, 2 brick yards, a brewery, a tannery and some very fine stocks of goods.

The cost of the necessaries of life are somewhat higher than in the states except wool blankets and ready made wool clothing which is from 25 to 33 per cent cheaper in the states. The following prices will give your readers some idea of the relative cost of living; granulated sugar 15 lbs for $1; coal oil 45c per gallon, lumber 15 to $45 per M., brick 8 to $10 per M., wagons 75 to $80 each, binders $150, mowers $60, barbed wire $4.25 per cwt., coffee 25 to 50c per lg., Battle Ax tobacco $1.20 per lb. Hotel rates 1 to $2 per day. Beef steak 10c to 15 per lb., breakfast bacon 15c per lb.

There are also two packing houses here that I forgot to mention above, each with a capacity of about 150 hogs per day, I should think. I don’t know where they get their hogs to slaughter as they don’t ship them in and you scarcely ever see any of our old friends, “the hog,” but they have them.

I found John Powell the evening I got to Strathcona and stayed with him all the time I was there. John is evidently doing well, financially. He is in the transfer business, has two good teams — his partner has also two teams and they are busy all the time. They are making from four to five dollars average daily to the team. John also has a pony driving team and five cows — have a hand separator and get 30c per quart for cream.

The next day after I got to Strathcona, John hitched his ponies to the hack and drove to Edmonton. Passed the old Hudson Bay log forts and trading posts which have something of a historical interest in connection with the developments of this country. Edmonton is a city of about five thousand inhabitants has many fine brick buildings, a large Catholic hospital and church, and I was told that some of the business houses carried one hundred thousand dollar stocks, and that was one thing I was told that I have no reason to doubt. The people generally seem happy, prosperous and contented and everybody hustling for business — especially the land agents, of which there is a plenty. Real estate in Edmonton is higher, both in latitude and price, than in Chicago. Vacant lots on main street with little
or no improvements held at $200 per front foot.

I took a couple of short drives into the country and it looked much better to me than it did from the railroad.

My impressions at first were not very favorable and I have strong reasons for believing that ’tis true that “distance leads enchantment to the view,” for when I was in Canada old Missouri, and especially old Nodaway county, looked better to me than ever. Now that I have returned to this country, to its heat and drouth, the pure air, cool nights and mild sunshiny days of Alberta seem more attractive.

There is one thing I like especially — the absence of anything in the nature of rowdyism or disorderly conduct. There are no saloons, but every hotel (of which there are six or seven in Strathcona) have open bars where all kinds of liquors are sold. Those places are never open for business on Sunday or after a certain hour at night. The laws are strictly enforced. There is no city police except a marshall. The mounted police attend to the enforcement of the laws and while they are, so far as I saw, gentlemanly, courteous young men quiet and reserved in their manners, they are prepared to do rough work if necessary and rarely, if ever, fail to do their duty no matter how dangerous and difficult that duty may be. There are two or three reasons for this; first they are well armed, second they are not dependent on somebody’s vote to hold their position and third they are supported and upheld by the magistrates and court.

Friday morning, July 17, I bid John Powell and his good wife good bye and board the train for Galgary. Stayed all night there. Next morning, at a few minutes past eight, took the train for the Rocky mountains, from which can be seen very plain from Galgary. Run up 82 miles to Baniff, a pleasure and health resort, about 30 miles into the Rocky mountain range. There were several places there of interest I did not visit, among which was the hot springs and the park where the animals were kept, but I went through the museum of curiosities peculiar to that latitude. Visited the Sulphur Springs and a little cave about one hundred feet under the spur of the Sulpher mountain. This cave was once a spouting geyser, is about 35 or 40 feet in diameter and I should think about 35 or 40 feet in height with an
opening in the crust of the hill or mountain, about two feet in diameter. The cave is egg shaped with some jagged rock about the sides and a pool of beautiful clear water about four feet deep that covers the bottom.

But the one thing of the greatest interest to me, was the mountains which I shall not impose upon you and your readers. To try to describe further than to give you the names and latitude, as was given to me. Mt. Cascade, 5,000 feet above the level of the Bow river; Mt. Rundle, a little less; Mt. Vermillion, about the same as Mt. Sulpher. Many peaks were covered with snow and all were grand and sublime, to me at least. I could have stayed many days lost in wonder and admiration of this pile of rocks and natural curiosities.

Perhaps to a more experienced traveler those things that I seen would have seemed commonplace and uninteresting, but to me it was simply grand.

Had I had more time to spare and more money to spend, I should have went on farther west to the summit and on to the coast, but maybe there will be another opportunity. At 9:40 p.m., Saturday, 18th inst., we started home, made close connections and arrived safely, without any incident worthy of note, on the
evening of the 21st.

Theo. Gwin.

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