The salvation of the prairie farmers has been brought about by the work of the plant breeder. The work is still going on and the splendid efforts of the experimental stations, scientists and individual breeders throughout the world are gradually making both the frozen north and the arid sections of the universe productive. With these factors in mind, who can foresee the possibilities of the future?
World championships in wheat, oats and rye have been won repeatedly by farmers of the Peace River District. These repeated winnings are evidence that it was not a flash in the pan brought about by exceptionally favourable conditions during an odd season. Here I would like to pay tribute to William S. Simpson, the international Rye King for 1946. His winning sample, known as “Hurricana”, was bred by himself at his farm near Dawson Creek. It is a cross between and the Storm and Tempest varieties. Incidentally it is his second rye crown, having won previously with Storm. He has a number of other new plants to his credit, including alfalfa, peas, wheat, and potatoes. To do him justice would take up a special article.
I have at hand two pamphlets on the North. One is by the late W. D. Albright, for many years superintendent of the Beaverlodge Experimental Station, the other by B.A. McKelvie, a well-known journalist from Vancouver. Dr. Archibald, Director of the Dominion Experimental Farms sent Mr. Albright to make a survey of agriculture possibilities of the Mackenzie Delta, 101 miles north of Edmonton or 1329 miles north of the international boundary. A very fine report, illustrated by splendid photographs, was printed in The Geographic Review, January 1923, and reprinted in pamphlet form. Mr. McKelvie’s pamphlet is titled “Challenge From the North” and is a reprint of articles originally appearing in the Vancouver Province. This pamphlet deals with the general resources of northern British Columbia. Anyone who has any doubts about the possibilities of the northland should read these.
With these facts in mind, what shall we say about the future! Grain, tomatoes and garden truck have been ripened outside all down the MacKenzie Valley to right inside the Arctic Circle. Canada has agricultural possibilities in its northland which in the future may exceed the wealth of its mineral and oil. Once the minerals and oil have been removed, there is an end to that wealth but agriculture, properly applied, should last forever. To get some idea of the possibilities of the Peace River District of British Columbia, let us see what has been done in the past. The first white settler came here in 1911. There were Hudson Bay factors, trappers and traders before that date, but Hector Tremblay was the first white man to settle here, taking up land near what is now the village of Pouce Coupe. Owing to transportation difficulties, settlement was slow until after the First World War. A few adventurous spirits walked over the Edson Trail and others came in by way of Athabasca and Grouard. Settlement on a commercial farming scale is only about twenty-five years old, but today this district leads the whole of British Columbia in the production of grain, as some figures from the Annual Report of the Department of Agriculture for 1944, will show.
The Peace region produced almost 78% of the province’s spring wheat, 63% of the oats, 54% of the barley, 7% of the rye and 96% of the flax. On average, the region produced nearly 70% of the total grain harvest of the province in 1944.
The figures for the whole of the Peace River area, including the Alberta section, are not at hand at this time, but twenty million bushels of grain would be a very conservative estimate.
When we consider the size of the Peace River country in comparison with the Province of British Columbia, some idea of its potential can be visualized. The whole province covers 372,630 square miles. According to F.H. Kitto the area which by reason of geographic and economic conditions can be classified as Peace River Country covers 145,000 square miles (this includes the Alberta and B.C. sections). This may mean much or little, according to the amount suitable for agriculture. According to the British Columbia Manual for 1930 some 35,325 square miles of B.C. are estimated available for agriculture. This is 22,608,000 acres. Kitto states that the best informed men suggest ten to twenty million acres are suitable for GRAIN GROWING in the Peace River District, and adds that perhaps 15 million acres would be sufficiently conservative.
As mentioned earlier, plant breeders are rolling the farming belt northward continually so that it would be well within the bounds of possibility to suggest that there are at least as many acres of farm land in the Peace River District as in the whole of the rest of British Columbia.
The logical outlet for the products of this land would be the coast cities when the Pacific Great Eastern is completed to serve this area. In addition to this potential agricultural wealth there are billions of tons of the finest coal to be found anywhere in Canada right in the B.C. section of the Peace River District. Geological surveys report favourably on other minerals as well as oil and natural gas. Just over the Alberta boundary gas has been struck, one well producing 10 million cubic feet per day. While not a timber country when compared with the coastal areas, some 25 million board feet of lumber was shipped from the B.C. section during 1946, giving employment to many homesteaders and farm workers during the winter months.
Threshing returns have not all been received at time of writing this article, but sufficient returns have been received from various sectors to safely make the following estimate of crops for 1945:
Wheat 1,320,000 bushels; Oats 1,500,000 bushels; Barley 200,000 bushels; Flax 48,000 bushels, Alfalfa 500,000 lbs.; Alta-Swede clover 180,000 lbs.; Alsike 15,000 lbs.; sweet Clover, 130,000 lbs.; and Timothy 12,000 lbs.
During 1946 the following additional acreage has been seeded: Alfalfa 2.500 acres, Brome 100 acres, Alsike 150 acres, Timothy 25 acres, Creeping Red Fescue 400 acres. As well, contracts have been signed for 500 acres of field peas.
Between 25,000 and 30,000 acres of new land was broken during 1946 and about 10,000 acres cleared ready for ploughing next spring. If this land were all seeded to wheat it would double the present wheat yield. As long as grain and grass seed prices stay steady there will continue to be large acreages broken each year and it is easy to visualize the Peace River District of B.C. producing many times as much grain and grass seed as all the rest of the province. Lack of heavy land clearing machinery and shortage of labour during the war years held up land clearing in this district. Even so, between 1941 and 1946 wheat production increased by 300,000 bushels, oats 900,000 bushels, flax 39,000 bushels, legume and grass seed 710,000 pounds. More legume seed was produced here in 1946 than all the province produced in 1942. In 1942 no legume seed was reported as being grown in the Block and less than 15,00 pounds of grass seed.
Who can make a guess at what the north country will be like sixty years hence?
Who would have predicted in 1887 the development that has taken place between the Great Lakes and the Rockies, or even in B.C. itself? Those who prophesied that the C.P.R. would never make enough to pay for the axle grease have been badly confounded and even the most optimistic never expected the marvelous expansion that has taken place. Today many who have not learned from the history of the West are still belittling the last great West and see nothing but a frozen waste north of the C.N.R. line. Had MacKenzie & Mann been able to continue their line from Edmonton to Stewart, the Peace River District and the country west of Hudson’s Hope would have seen a development similar to that which followed the C.P.R. on the prairies. Facts prove that to the east of the Rockies soil and climate are suitable for agriculture. Apples and other fruits are now ripened regularly. Crab apples and the new hybrids are yielding crops comparable to the more favoured sections, without the multitude of insects plaguing the milder districts. Small fruits abound, both wild and tame. Game and fur are plentiful and splendid fishing can be had in the mountain streams and lakes. While it is true we have cold weather — and this winter was the worst for many years — I would wager that the average person in Vancouver was in more misery from the elements than the average resident in the Peace River country.
We have the soil and climate to produce the crops and gardens. We have an abundance of coal and wood and we have natural gas waiting to be piped to the consumers on the coast. We have in our rivers potential waterpower sufficient to electrify the whole district or even the whole province. We have the finest hunting and fishing within a few hours by car from railhead and lakes large enough for boating. Our scenery is unsurpassed anywhere. There are educational facilities and a variety of churches to satisfy anyone. What more can we need?
Well, there are still a few things needed. These are mostly things that man can supply. First would be the extension of the P.G.E. Railway north from Prince George. This would be a wonderful boon, not only to the residents here but also to the whole of British Columbia. Those who live here predict that this provincial white elephant would get a lovely black coat once it was connected with the Northern Alberta Railway and started to haul our coal, grain and livestock to the Pacific ports. Instead of fruit growers distributors and manufacturers at the coast and interior having to ship their goods through Alberta, they could be sent directly here and save many hundreds of miles of hauling. This railway has been promised and we hope and believe that the Hon. John Hart will implement his promise. But so much has been promised in the past and nothing done that it is no wonder a certain amount of skepticism is noticeable. The completion of the all-weather highway to the coast — now under construction — will also help. This road, which will connect with the Alaska Highway at Dawson Creek, should then be carried on to the Alberta boundary and a highway constructed via Whitecourt to Edmonton by the Alberta government, thereby cutting the distance to the prairie highway system by about one-half. Another grievance which should be remedied is the exorbitant telephone rates in the Block and outside points. These are a handicap to business. To telephone from Dawson Creek to Fort St. John (50 miles) costs $1.50, between Edmonton and Dawson Creek (500 miles) the rate is $3.00. Compare these rates with the following: Edmonton to San Francisco $2.25; Edmonton to New York $3.00. How long would Vancouver businessmen stand for this kind of discrimination?
With the coming of the railways and highways, most of our other troubles could be eliminated. The building of the Alaska Highway has given the district world-wide publicity and the thousands of construction workers and soldiers who were stationed in the district during the war has resulted in witnesses of the possibilities of the country spreading all over the North American continent. What this means to the future of the country depends almost entirely on the question of transportation. Given this, the future is assured. What the results will be to the rest of Canada can only be gauged by seeing what the development of other new districts has done. While there is no part of Canada that would not feel the impetus of increased business, either directly or indirectly, the place to receive the most benefit would be Vancouver. Are the businessmen and politicians of that city big enough to take a long-range view of the possibilities living in their backyard? If they continue to fight against any extensions of transportation facilities and a fair appropriation for our inadequate road system there will be only two alternatives left. The choices seem to be either affiliation with Alberta or carving out a new province consisting of northern B.C., northern Alberta, and the Mackenzie Valley district. We prefer to stay as we are politically, but the people that pioneered this country are not afraid to do a little more pioneering. Perhaps the Vancouver Board of Trade could spare time to make an official trip next year when the new Hart Highway is open. They could then see for themselves what the possibilities of this vast Inland Empire really are.