The Canadian Pacific Railway
We have thus seen how the Canadian Pacific Railway and its "scandal," or stone of stumbling, nearly broke Sir John Macdonald, our greatest statesman. We have now to see how it came within an ace of beggaring Donald Smith. But we have also to see how in the end, by Heaven's blessing on man's labour and valour, it made both of them and many larger things. That a money-maker should have well-nigh come to grief in such a business was natural enough. But people in England used to find it hard to understand what there was in "that galley" to lure one of the primest ministers of the Crown so near to shipwreck; to explain why the leading spirit in Confederation should have risked political extinction and permanent exile into an ignominious privacy in connection with a mere thing of stocks and shares, boards, bonds and dividends. They were inclined to regard the phenomenon as one of the many symptoms of colonial inferiority. For a period of some fifteen years the burning question in Canada in the fire of which the greatest public reputations were reduced to an unsavoury cloud of smoke, was only a railway after all. At home it took wide questions of principle or policy to stir the national pulse. Over there across the water passions were excited to the boiling point, general elections were fought with fury, murderous tragedies hung poised, upon an issue which in St. Stephen's would have its knots cut at the fag-end of a session by the pen-knives of holiday-making Alexander, would have been treated as a little local business which could be smuggled through amid yawns in five minutes by application of the far from celestial machinery of a private bill. The fact is, however, as everyone knows now, that this particular Canadian Railway was one of the greatest constructive triumphs of our race; it changed men's minds; it rang the knell of an economic superstition; it was, too articulus stantis vel cadentis Imperii—the integral article and vital hinge of standing or falling Empire. The Crimean War was a coalpit explosion in comparison. Just one man on our side knew in every fibre of him by the early 'seventies' what it meant. The man who had done most to make Confederation, the first step to organic Empire, a reality so far as it had gone, was naturally the most alive to the absolute necessity of rounding it off into a full and effective reality by taking the last hard clinching step at the top. Hence the Pacific scandal. It was in a desperate clutch at the salvage of his life-work that Sir John Macdonald got caught upon the rocks between the Devil and the deep sea. He sinned and suffered,—but surely in a cause where the end, if any end ever did, went a long way to justify the means.
Just one man on our side was quite alive and awake. On the other side both insight and foresight were sharp enough. That infallible instinct for the horse-trade, brought over from Yorkshire, surely, in the Mayflower, had swiftly scented out the eve of a race for Empire-stakes with Vancouver Island for goal, to be entered for and run with horses of iron and brass. That on the south half of the course there was no lack for the contest in mines of the latter sort of ore at least, or in a perfectly lucid and well-skinned eye for the stakes and the conditions, we have the best of all possible evidence, a public paper which must be unique of its kind even in the archives of Washington. Goethe, prophetically anticipating the later practice of his own countrymen, in a generalization characteristically suggested by reflection on the ancient and less regenerate chapters of the history of England, finds a fundamental identity of aim and method in trade, war and piracy. Nowhere, surely, in all the unblushing annals of "peaceful penetration," does a more childlike acceptance of the poet's maxim as a simple axiom of all life shine out upon the student of slowly evolving international decencies with quite such an engaging smile of simple woodland cunning as in the Report on Pacific Railways presented to the Upper House of Congress on the 15th of February, 1869. In the projected route of these railways to which the memorialists have the honour to draw the attention of the Senate, that august Assembly, it is pointed out, has a golden opportunity to steal a march on Downing Street and its notorious sand-hatching ways with colonial eggs. That line on the map running close to the 49th parallel represented a short-cut big with commercial and imperial destiny, a reduction on the journey to Canton and Liverpool via San Francisco by a matter of fifteen hundred miles. Puget Sound was the true point for the fabled North-West Passage, the predestined spot for a great harbour and land-terminal to command the new trade with the east, and at the same time—to tap the wheat of the Red River and Saskatchewan valleys, as well as the gold and other minerals of the Fraser, Thompson and Kootenay. But, it was respectfully submitted, it was a case of now or never. The Britisher might wake up. He might open his eyes, see there was emergency, read the flaming letters on the wall, and get into this flowing land of Canaan first. After all, it was for the present his own. Not for long, if God's own people hurried up. "The opening by us first of a Northern Pacific Railway seals the destiny of the British possessions west of the ninety first meridian. They will become so Americanized in interests and feelings that they will be in effect severed from the new Dominion, and the question of their annexation will be but a question of time."
Now this was not the attitude merely of spread-eagle promoters. Sir John Macdonald had reason to know that it was the view current in the most responsible quarters. "It is quite evident to me," he writes in a letter to C. I. Brydges dated from Ottawa, January 28th, 1870, "from advices from Washington, that the United States Government are resolved to do all they can, short of war, to get possession of the western territory, and we must take immediate and vigorous steps to counteract them. One of the first things to be done is to show unmistakably our resolve to build the Pacific Railway." No wonder they thought so in Washington. It is hard for us Canadians now to read such cool forecasts coolly. But we must try to remember the all this happened before the Flood, as it were, and before the C. P. R., in a world where Cobden and Bright were the Mammoths if not the Messiahs. Their Gospel of Kitchen Love promised the Millenium on the easy terms that everybody should simply be left to make as much money as possible by letting a perfectly free trade strictly along natural geographical lines have free course and be glorified. If we are to understand the difficulties of building the C. P. R., which did more than anything else to shake this doctrine, we must take the pains to realize what a cast-iron orthodoxy it was in those days. To deny it was a kind of atheism. In Scotland, especially, it ranked in point of infallibility quite side by side with "effectual calling." Colonies from this point of view were a mere ornamental irrelevance if not worse. They were almost as hopelessly out of date as armies. It took a man bold to the point of temerity to doubt that the manifest destiny of Canada was just what Washington chalked out for her, to gravitate towards the mass to the south of her, whether she liked it or only lumped it, with a velocity proportional to the square of the merely imaginary distance. right. Gladstone for instance, who disagreed with Abraham Lincoln about the destiny of the Southern States, did not substantially differ from the framers of the Northern Pacific report as to the future of Canada. He was quite ready to make up to Americans for his south hand's tenacious grip upon hereditary slave-grown cotton by the flaccid generosity of the other hand with what did not belong either to him or them; to compensate for secession by winking at annexation. It was a good thing for us that Sir John was not the kind of bloodless doctrinaire. He was an old fashioned Briton, a practical politician who sat pretty loose to political and economic theory and very tight indeed to British possessions. Above all, he was an artist in political architecture. He could not endure that a work already carried half-way to completion should be left a mutilated fragment, hanging in the air. Confederation must be crowned and finished. The second limb of the giant body politic that was in his mind was still to seek, the limb which must be planted on the western shore. What material had he to work up into a nation? Some five millions of hard-living and very unimaginative people at the most rudimentary stage of industrial development, farmers, lumbermen and small traders, strung out, not at all like pearls, along a line 3,000 miles long, and that gaping with two impracticable deserts, one of thick forest and unscaled Alps of 400 miles, another of a thousand miles of bottomless quagmires and the hardest rock on the face of the globe; all this under skies which froze the waters solid for five months of the year. This thin-sown straggling poverty-stricken population, each sitting at his own fireside and hard enough put to it to keep it glowing, separated by the rigours of their climate as well as by mountains, muskegs, mutual ignorance and diversity of interests, were to be joined together under a manufactured yoke of administrative and fiscal unity, one end of which rested on the Atlantic, the other on the Pacific Ocean. They must strain their eyes to look and their throats to shout east and west across the span between the rising and the setting sun, instead of comfortably chatting and bargaining with the good kind English-speaking people right at hand. For along that endless frontier they had next-door neighbours divided from them by no fundamental disparity whatever, whether of blood, speech, traditions, religion, institutions or ideal, by nothing at all, in short, except the unnatural Procrustean violence of political artifice; a thick continuous block of them spread out pretty evenly by that time from sea to sea over good land uninterrupted by any serious barriers and lying under comparatively genial skies, rich, industrially well developed, free and adventurous people, now indissolubly united by a great war and bursting with the consciousness of election to a great destiny and a leading rôle among the nations. Surely Mr. Gladstone and the promoters of the Northern Pacific were right after all. Why should man break his mortal back in a vain endeavour to sunder what nature had joined, to unite where her eternal barriers had disjoined? The obvious solution of the continental transportation problem was the one set forth said clearly before the Senate at Washington—to build a railway along the primrose path for engineers that lay south of Lake Superior almost every mile of which could give its trucks something to carry, and wait quietly for the Polypus tentacles to grow from its main-trunk in unforced response to the nourishment they reacted to as they felt their way northward into the more juicy parts of British North America, drawing its inhabitants little by little by an entirely painless process into an increasingly close and vital attachment to the vaster body of a higher, more complex and more richly equipped civilization. A very pretty programme, and quite according to Bright, Cobden, and Gladstone!
Such was not the destiny of the Dominion according to the pattern shown on the mount of vision to Sir John Macdonald, Donald Smith and George Stephen. They saw quite a different fate within reach for the new Dominion. The plains were hers already. Why should she not make a supreme effort to add their natural complement, the forests, mines, climate and sea-shore of British Columbia and round herself off with her proper frontage on the Pacific? That was needed, as the Washington pacifists saw so clearly, not only for the full stature of her completion but for the maintenance of her integrity as she then stood. The two hemispheres of the west, the one on this, the other on that, side of the Rockies were clearly segments of an integral whole. They must stand or fall together. If the new Dominion stopped short of the Rockies it could scarcely fail to break off at "the ninety-first meridian." The question was just what it was represented to be in the lucid exposition set forth to the American Senate, whether there was room or not upon this continent for two distinct though perfectly friendly and mutually fertilizing types of Anglo-Saxon civilization. Was it possible for a new nation to arise in the north which should hold up its head and speak a word of its own among the nations, in an accent characteristic of its new ambitions? Or was it the irrevocable decree of fate that the great Union should be all in all, and recognize no limits on that side except the Arctic Ocean and the Day of Judgment, with nothing to the north but a geographical expression, a backyard for dumping, peopled by a scattered retinue of receptive helots, hewers of wood and drawers of water to their rich patrons in the south? Both Sir John and the shrewd authors of the Washington Report were completely at one in recognizing that this was the question, and that the answer was essentially a question of time.
Therefore he did not let the grass grow under his feet, but took the very first opportunity of picking up the challenge thrown down by the patriots of the Northern Pacific and "showing unmistakably" to all the world that Canada did not mean to drop out of the running, but was resolute by hook or crook to have her own British Transcontinental Railway, and every foot of every rail of it on Canadian ground. In the same year in which he wrote to Brydges he concluded a provisional treaty with British Columbia that this latest and most labouringly born of all the Provinces should enter the household of Confederation, on the understanding that within two years of the ratification of the terms of this covenant by the Federal Parliament the railway necessary to make the Union a working reality should be begun, and that it should be finished within ten years of that same date.
A bold bargain! There were only 10,000 white people in British Columbia at that time. Would they not keep for a while? Was it necessary to climb the Rockies at that break-neck pace to join hands with them? No one knew for certain in 1870 that it was even physically possible to make good such a bargain at all, much less to do it within such narrow limits of time. Could the railway be built? If so, how long would it take to build it? The steam whistle among the Rockies, "the trip from Halifax to Vancouver," had long been a theme of post-prandial eloquence in Canada. Even in England the imagination of such a solid person as Mr. Roebuck had been kindled by the inspiring idea. But it was plain that the practical difficulties would be tremendous. Along the way to be traversed, if there was to be no trespassing into alien ground, there were two deadly stretches, perhaps totally unbridgeable, certain in any case to hang like a millstone for generations upon the working of the road if ever it was finished,—the four hundred miles from the Rockies to the sea, and the thousand miles to the north of Lake Superior. Of the latter of these stretches nothing at all was known. No white foot had ever left a print upon more than an infinitesimal fringe and fraction of its illimitable bog and scaur; the glimpses seen from rare canoes gliding along its few fur-trading waterways were all of it that human eye had lighted upon since the foundations of the world. Only one thing was pretty clear about it. It could never feed a pig, or grow a load for a wheelbarrow. As for the other stretch, that was known only too well. It had been subjected to an authoritative examination. The English Government had sent out a thoroughly competent person, Captain Palliser, R.N., to look carefully into it with a view to its possibilities as a route for emigrants. After four years' laborious exploration that most capable officer had in 1863 handed in an admirable report which shut the door conclusively on all hopes of steam whistles ever arousing the echoes of the British Rockies. So the provisional bargain was very much of a leap in the dark, if not worse. The fact is, Sir John went on the principle that the thing must be done and therefore that it could be done, and that if it was to be done at all nothing but loss of every kind and perhaps disaster could come of putting it off. Therefore he was glad to have his own burning sense of the need for speed reinforced by the exigencies of Mr. Waddington, the inspired prophet and gad-fly of British Columbia. The definite time-limit insisted on by British Columbia did no more, in his view, than represent the actual urgency for Canada. Besides, he wanted a spur for his countrymen. He wished to commit them as he had done in the matter of Confederation, to confront them with a fait accompli without giving too much time for talk beforehand. That was a great principle of his horsemanship with the democracy. His tactics were to put them at it in hot blood—this last deep ditch that yawned before they had time to cool, and shake, and stand quivering on the brink, with an ever rising roar of factious wrangling tolling deterrence in their ears and croaking dismal despair from the deep black waters, which there was no hope of clearing except by squeezing all the heart and mind and soul into one invincible spring.
Unfortunately Sir John paid the penalty of his own indispensableness. For in 1871, just at the time when his provisional bargain with British Columbia came up for ratification in Ottawa, he was not there to steer it through. Sorely as he was needed at home to look after the most vital interests of Canada at its western end, and sadly as these suffered by his absence, this Atlas of ours, on whose shoulders lay both of the far-sundered pillars of our State, was at that moment still more urgently employed in holding up the eastern gable under difficulties. He was busy with the famous Washington Treaty, the seal of a new era of permanent peace and brotherhood between the great English-speaking peoples, and the first effective introduction on a large scale into international quarrels of the beneficent principle of arbitration. Everybody knew he was the one man for the momentous occasion. All with one voice urged him to seize the opportunity. They were right. The issues involved were far greater even than the railway. Indeed a satisfactory settlement was the indispensable basis of that and everything else. He went, but with an almost invincible reluctance. Never did he set out on any of his journeys with so sore a heart, or with such heavy forebodings. There was so much to do at home. No one knew how much. No one could be counted upon to get it done except the man who knew how much it was. There was nothing for him to gain in Washington. At a juncture when he had a task in hand for his people which all their faith and trust in him at its highest point would barely suffice to make them look steadily in the face without balking, he could scarcely avoid, whatever he might do there, coming home shorn of the fascination that was his country's best asset at this crisis a withered attraction, a spent sky-rocket. His going was an act of pure self-sacrifice. "Canada," he said, "had done much for him. It was but right that he should do this much for Canada." Some called him an old ruffian, but he "loved much," nor did his prophetic soul deceive him. He did much for Canada, indeed, but got little thanks for it and no help at all, but, as it proved in the end, in spite of the richest vista of advantage, sheer hindrance for his own immediate work in the wets. Washington put a bad spoke in the wheel of the C. P. R. Sir John's pilgrimage there was the real cause of the Pacific Scandal.
One citizen of Montreal who was an interested spectator, much more deeply interested than he knew, of the Washington negotiations was Donald A. Smith. Here, too, he had his usual luck in intersecting the orbit of Sir John at all its really critical points, now for collision, anon for coöperation, and in turning up at all the great games in a front seat. One of the English delegates was Sir Stafford Northcote, Lord Iddesleigh as he afterwards became, then Governor of the London Chief Council of Adventurers to the Hudson's Bay. It was primarily to confer upon business of that Company that the member for Selkirk had left his place in the House, where he too could ill be spared at the time, to meet this envoy of England. But here again, as in many other cases, his more private duties happened in a very remarkable way to fall in with and open out into the larger current of a wide public serviceableness. As with Sir John, it was a pity that he could not be in two places at the same time; but there was certainly no spot on earth except Ottawa where his peculiar gifts could be so useful in those days as in Washington. At one point in the negotiations Macdonald was moved with such acute nausea by Northcote and his other colleagues that he had made up his mind to throw the whole thing up and go to Cacouna for a rest-cure. Here was the sort of situation in which Smith could especially shine. With perfect understanding of the irreconcilables, with both of whom he was then on the best of terms, he played the congenial rôle of mediator, and Sir John Macdonald did not go home until he had made what turned out in the long run to be an astonishingly good bargain for his country. But greatly as his share in the Washington treaty redounded to his ultimate reputation, Sir John's immediate influence was severely damaged. The most damaging of all reproaches was fastened upon him, desertion of his own people to truckle to the authorities in London. Other real sins of his, too, found him out just then, especially the aftermath of the Riel Rebellion. He left Washington, as he had justly feared, not half the power in Canada he had been on the day of his arrival there. But an overwhelming weight of substantial results had been gained which might easily have swept away all offences. First, and by far the greatest of all, the temple of Janus on the forty-ninth parallel was shut, let us hope, for ever. The menace of war, by which Canada would have been the immediate and by far the heaviest sufferer, had blown by. She might go on building her own and England's railways in perfect peace. Donald Smith was quite free now to step across the border and bring in his settlers that way in the meantime, while collecting by the same stroke Dutch bonds and Philistine tribute for the means to open up a more excellent way.
The bargain included one apparently insignificant item, the right to navigate the Yukon River from mouth to source. As the Yukon is now well known to be the modern Pactolus, that little clause has turned out to be worth uncounted tons of gold to us. It was directly due to the presence on the spot of the member for the Hudson's Bay Company whose comprehensive knowledge and foresight does not seem to have left out one single point in the future of his extensive constituency. Apart from the supreme benefit of peace—the one thing then needful, after all—that was something, even the sagacious picker up of fragments and caretaker of the pennies to whom it was suggested by his intimate acquaintance with Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, Chief Factor of the Hudson's Bay Company, and daring explorer of those auriferous streams, did not dream how much, to set against much that was not flattering to our national pride in the terms of the Washington treaty.
Unfortunately, Her Majesty's Opposition chose the question of the C. P. R. on which to make their début in opposing. So far, they had kept step for step with the Conservative leader and worked loyally and energetically with him in the making of a nation. The credit of Confederation was as much theirs as their opponents.' But now, before the last decisive step, rigorously exacted as it was in the logic of the process which they had hitherto followed with conviction and fervour, their hearts failed them. They had become weary of following a procession which began to look too much like a triumph for Sir John Macdonald. A distinctive policy had become the great Liberal desideratum. They were in the mood to welcome even a poor thing which they could call their own. So the Liberal party made up its mind to unfurl the banner of a penny-wise economy. The cautious negative virtues, "go slow," "let well alone," "cut your coat according to your cloth," were adopted as watchwords when sanguine and audacious action was the one salvation. They figured as the advocates in Canada of the economic theory, the dominance of which in England left her colony in the lurch at the crisis of its destiny, a theory, embarrassing in England chiefly to the nobler functions and higher commitments of the state, but fatally out of place, even in its immediate bearings in the accumulation of lucre, in a country in the making like Canada. Governments, so the doctrine ran, ought not to build railways. If they could not be built on their own bottoms to pay at once, they should wait; and as for that particular railway, it was not only heresy, it was sheer insanity to think of it. Whether it could be built at all was a very doubtful question. There could be no doubt whatever that it was altogether outside the range of physical possibility to build it in ten years. The bargain was preposterously one-sided. All the chaffering instincts revolted against it. The other side did not occur to them—the fate of those wiseacres who have put their hands to the plough and then, where a great stone juts or a gap in the earth yawns, not only look back but leap back; the costliness of sparing the cup of water needed to make the pump flow. Such considerations did not weigh at all. The essence of the proposal from that point of view was—an impossible rate of speed in an impracticable task, the old task and tale of ricks without straw, demanded of four million poverty-stricken people for the profit of a comfortable ten thousand, at a cost which spelled national bankruptcy for all. The destructive railway would be a mere white elephant, too. If ever it could be acquired it could not be operated. To anticipate the picturesque expressions in which the standpoint, then for the first time set forth, precipitated and immortalized its own eloquent ineptitude at a later stage, the C. P. R. would "never pay for axle grease," it would run "a streak of rust across the prairie." Industrious Canada, that happy and virtuous young giant among the nations, would be crushed by it, like the other giants of old, under a burning mountain of debt. The general election of 1872 was near. The hardy tillers of the soil, threatened by wicked and reckless rulers with an overwhelming load of taxation, might be well excused if they were inclined to think they had earned a rest from nation-building, and had already done enough for the imperial idea by extending from Halifax to Niagara, like a very emaciated foot in seven-league boots, without the further stretching out upon the political rack required to carry their stride across weary leagues of muskegs and wild "seas of mountains" to such totally unknown quantities as the plains of the Saskatchewan and the redwood forests of British Columbia. Their sorrows became the commonplaces of lamentable eloquence on the Liberal side of the House before they dissolved into a sheer flood of heart-subduing pathos under the still more glowing inspiration of the hustings. It was easier, and in many cases quite honestly more congenial, to sympathize with the natural lassitude than to enlighten the ignorance and kindle the embers of courage and imagination in such a constituency.
Never, surely, was there such a concert of howls to hail the sunrise of a fresh and hearty workaday morning, never such an orgy of lugubrious vaticination so signally and superbly falsified by the event. As usual in such cases, it was not the resistance of nature, tough enough as that was, it was the little faith and malice of man that really stood in the way. In spite of yeoman's service on the prophets' part at every stage to load the dice and help their predicted woes come true, the horrible thing did get built—none the more quickly or smoothly because the gratings on those scrannel pipes of straw managed to drag out its overture for seven years—once the first step of all had been taken in the teeth of wails, it got built not in ten years but in six. The prairies are a garden now and a bead-oven, with the Canadian Pacific for a gridiron over them. Canada and the man who had faith in Canada have survived "its fashioning." Even if they had not, it would have been a very respectable mausoleum! In magnis voluisse sat est. In such great things merely to will is more of a deed than to have been the wisest, sharpest-eyed of prophetically buzzing and hindering "flies on the wheel." In this C. P. R. deal Sir John did some things that need forgiveness. No true Canadian will withhold it, quia multum amavit.
That Greatheart was right. We can all see now that the safe and economical policy would have been the bold and generous one. The merit was to see it then. England might and should have helped. At Washington Macdonald pleaded for an Imperial Guarantee, which would not have cost the old mother a penny, but would have enabled us to borrow our money at a cheaper rate. She wavered, but at length refused. The milk was spilt when it was as good as in the pail. Well, it was no use crying over it. The thing had to be done. To leave it undone was to leave a long seam without its knot, to save money on the last stone which keeps your costly temple, already past its battlements, from falling to pieces like a house of cards. Canada was quite abundantly able to do it, for herself and England, "on her own." There never was a moment afterwards when it could have been done more cheaply. To weep over difficulties was to create the greatest of all, despair of the republic, bankruptcy of belief in the country's power, after she had already gone so far, to climb to the peak and key of the arch of her destinies and fix the flag there. Delay might well have been deadly. No thanks to the watchful waiters that it only proved in the highest degree expensive. It retarded the development of the North-West by a decade at least. Tens of thousands of Britons, whom we wanted more than the excellent foreigners who have since come in their place, many men of our own blood and speech went further and fared no better, for the simple reason that England would not stir a finger, and Canada was afraid to break her back in making the road which would no doubt have shocked John Bright, but would certainly have bred a great accession, not only to the crop of wheat, but to the still more needful Cadmus crop of fighting young John Bulls.
Sir John had left the C. P. R. on his departure to Washington a thorny question enough. On his return with diminished prestige, he found it had grown into a perfect bramble thicket with his railway hopelessly entangled in it. He resolved to hack his way through and save the political child of his old age at all costs. He had no intention of leaving it to the tender mercies of the Grits. They had made it clear that they would not break their hearts about its fate. He foresaw that their way with it would be to retire a bow-shot off, to attend to more interesting business, and quickly let that child die. By fair means or otherwise, he decided that the next election must be so conducted as to keep them out of office and send him back to it. Meantime, there was one more session to come and go upon and to make the most of. Something had been done already. Preparations had been made for a survey of the ground. Mr. Sandford Fleming, favourably known as the engineer of the Northern Railway connecting Toronto with Lake Huron and also of the Intercolonial, had been named as the head of it, and on the twentieth of July, 1871, the very day when British Columbia formally entered Confederation, exploring parties had begun their work in the heart of the new province which had got such a desperately bad name from Captain Palliser.
Sandford Fleming was more fortunate than he. By 1873 he had handed in a report establishing the feasibility of the railroad. Though he had not traced a clear line through the sloughs, he found no fewer than ten openings in the mountains by any one of which the railway could be carried to the sea. Among these he gave the preference to two, both by the Yellowhead Pass. One ran along the North Thompson and the Fraser to Burrard Inlet, a route which he had explored sufficiently to make certain that work could safely be begun there at once with good hope of bringing more light as it advanced; the other, preferred by the people of Victoria, made its way from Tête Jaune Cache northwards by the course of the Fraser, then curving southwest by a series of river valleys to Bute Inlet, whence by bridge over the Valdar Strait it could go on to the great naval base of Esquimalt. This was good tidings indeed from those dread mountains. Their secret had been wrung from all the terrors of earth and sky—jutting rocks, raging rivers tangles of huge trunks and undergrowth over which no mule and scarcely a cat, not to speak of a horse, could creep along, failing supplies, driving rain and untimely snowfalls. A good beginning had been made, which is the full half of any work and the light brought in without which no man can work. The gift was doubled by being given quickly. the bold terms of the bargain were so far justified. By the end of the two years specified it was now known that construction could begin without the fear of encountering insuperable obstacles as it went on. It was quadrupled by the tone of ringing cheer in which it was given both by Sandford Fleming and by George Monro Grant, chaplain to the chief engineer's party, afterwards principal of Queen's University. No better book has ever been written about the North-West than this bold chaplain's "From Ocean to Ocean." It makes good reading for Canadians. From cover to cover it is an expansion of the words of cheer once spoken long ago, at a like turning point by those other real men and true spies who had also to inspire with faith and shame the crawling spirit that dare not seize its own:—"'Tis a goodly land. Go up and possess it. Ye are well able."
There followed the unsavoury Pacific Scandal, and the advent to power of the Liberals under Alexander Mackenzie. This canny Scot was not long in making clear his determination to go slow. The bait thrown out by the new ministry to any would-be company, with its characteristic substitution of retail for wholesale methods—$10,000 in cash and 20,000 acres of land for every mile of rail laid, along with a rather indefinite guarantee—did not bring a single nibble. Reluctantly the public works department, directly under the mild and searching eye of the master himself, began to tackle the long job. Beginning at home with a line which then already ran from Ottawa to Pembroke, they prolonged it to an angle of Lake Nipissing, letting out at the same time a contract, afterwards cancelled, for a branch diverging from the Pembroke Junction towards the Georgian Bay. The next point pierced by the very thin end of their wedge, or say rather by the other leg of their far-straddling compass, was Thunder Bay at the western end of Lake Superior, the weary endless gulf of cliff and moorland that yawned between being left to a more convenient season in the blue distance of the future. From there to Fort Garry there was a comparatively soft snap of 422 miles with innumerable waterfalls and reaches well known to old Vérendrye, in more recent times explored and reduced to a communicable system of sorts, at least for summer travel, by the immortal Dawson. Contracts were let out for the bulk of this portion. It was a remarkable case of patching an old garment with a beautiful new piece of cloth. The Dawson road was beyond redemption. Had not soldiers, in the eyes of that government, been the most foolish of all the frills of the dark ages, they might have saved some of their tightly-grasped coppers by asking Sir Garnet Wolseley's opinion of that sweet summer road. He knew every foot of it to his sorrow. He knew its exact value for the reels when they were summoned by a pressing call to Red River, as his had been, to deal with a summer fire there. A winter one would have been as accessible in Kamschatka.
These well meant efforts were aimed at Donald Smith's constituents of Selkirk. Winnipeg was the first mark, being the one fairly populous centre in the West and, therefore, the one place there which had any sort of political-economical business with a railway. However, such an extremely tentative and deliberate approach of their aspirations towards connections with the East did not stir any very fervent gratitude towards their Canadian rulers, especially as somewhat inconsistently, on his own theory of following population, the premier had decided upon a line for the C. P. R. which was going to give them a very wide berth indeed. That line had been so laid down by Mr. Sandford Fleming, simply concentrating, of course, on his own engineer's point of view, and looking for the very shortest possible cut, so as to cross the Red River at Selkirk, thirty miles to the north of them, and Mackenzie had no intention of deviating from that shortest distance between his two points which also had the advantage of sticking close to his beloved waterways. So far as intercourse with the great cities of Canada was concerned, Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie and the few other little settlements already in the West were to be sidetracked forever and stranded high and dry away from the currents of Eastern civilization; and this, too, by the stern economists to whom no doubt their very existence was an irksome embarrassment, but who might, on their own principles, have been expected to have a warm side for the only bits of towns—handfuls of minnows in a great mere as they were—which had ever shown the slightest signs of becoming centres of population in the whole vast British wilderness between Ottawa and the Pacific Ocean. How then could they escape being thrown into the arms of their Southern neighbours? Must not Winnipeg become to all intents and purposes a city of Minnesota? That contingency was contemplated with philosophic clam by those cool-headed Cobdenites. The administration was quite free enough from all narrow national prejudices. Only they must not be hurried. They would extend a branch from their main line at Selkirk southwards to St. Boniface and from there to Emerson on the border just as soon as the American Northern Pacific system had on their side completed their projected spur. They were quite well aware that the business end of that branch would be the southern half of it, not the portion between Selkirk and Winnipeg. What of that? It was the scientifically necessary conclusion from the geographical and economic premises, and who were they to kick against such pricks? Enough for Winnipeg that the glorious Pembina branch, so long the vision of their mere eupeptic dreams, was soon to become a sober certainty of waking bliss. The old sorrow of Fort Garry, the immemorial isolation which had been the burden of the half-breeds' complaint to Governor Simpson, was to be rolled away. That would keep the Selkirk voters true to Alexander Mackenzie's very good friend and "independent" supporter, Donald Smith. No more plaintive ox-carts, or lumbering stage-coaches, or flat-bottomed Internationals "that could float on a heavy dew," on the long way to good old St. Paul's! The great Northern Pacific net-work would pretty soon throw out its steel threads to whisk them in a trice into its parlour—its stores, and saloons—and the great spider should have every possible facility to make sure of catching them that an enlightened devotion to the purest milk of the doctrine of unfettered international exchange could supply.
Now, by a curious turn, just at this point came in the chief service done to our transcontinental railway by the Mackenzie administration—whose strong point, as we have already seen, can scarcely be said to have lain in railways. The service consisted largely in that spacious leisureliness we have had occasion to remark on. It was in the highest degree fortunate for Canada that a policy which was no doubt well calculated in some respects to serve the immediate interests of Winnipeg, but still better to accelerate the development of the American West, should have been so wonderfully free from the reproach of precipitancy. No unseemly rush was made by our board of works upon the long-expected Pembina branch. In 1874 a start was made with it; a contract for grading was let; operations soon languished, however, and in 1876 they were discontinued, pending the still missing link and hook on the frontier needed to give full effectiveness to the chain. As a matter of fact, the impartial Winnipegers had to wait till the ninth day of December, 1878, before the half-breeds' petition to Governor Simpson was granted at last, and the first regular train from St. Vincent puffed into the station hard by their ancient cathedral of St. Boniface.
Montreal had come to the rescue both of Winnipeg and of Seattle. Mackenzie's real contribution to the C. P. R. was at last apparent—the benevolence with which he encouraged, or at least refrained from active interference with, the zeal of his independent supporter, the member for the Hudson's Bay Company, who had done more than anyone to help him into his seat, in the promotion of transcontinental communication and especially in bringing his own sequestered constituency into living contact with the great world. Smith's knowledge of the country and unshakable belief in it, his unerring power of picking out the man to work with, had enabled him at a trifling expenditure of money to lay the true foundations of the C. P. R., and of the American Great Northern as well, in the capacity and character of their heads, the only rocks in the last resort on which any work of human hands can be made to stand. Our neighbours could easily have supplied the brains required; they had to import the honesty. Smith met their sore need. Much to their profit as well as ours, and not without a commission for themselves, he and a group of very judiciously selected friends of his, Hill, Kittson, George Stephen and R. B. Angus, then general manager of the Bank of Montreal, got firm hold of the St. Paul and Pacific railway, christened by them, after the good Washington it loudly called for in consequence of its long contact with the complicated defilements of its parent stock the Northern Pacific, the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba railway. Smith, Hill and Kitson, who had for some time been doing their best, mainly by means of steamers of the lightest conceivable draught, to enliven commerce along the banks of the Red River, had fixed their eyes ever since August of the year 1873 on that hopelessly water-logged prairie-schooner rushing on short-circuited rails. Now, with the help of the true Montreal financial potentates which they had long solicited in vain, they had firmly closed the fingers of both hands around it.
In August of the year mentioned, the forlorn waif they felt moved to take to their fostering bosoms had fallen under the tutelage of a certain Jesse P. Farley, well named by the United States authorities as its "receiver." Reception proved to be this gentleman's strong point. His energy in receiving was indefatigable. The enterprising riverside trio, on looking more closely into the details, soon found that he could be useful to them. The property they wished to acquire had come by that time to consist chiefly of mortgage bonds. Some quaint caprice, such as the soundest usurers are prone to have, led certain Dutchmen to lend a vast amount of money on the security of the lavish land-grants held by the railway. Holland was not so familiar with locusts as Egypt and the north-west of this continent, and these rich tulip-growers had not counted on such rude forestalling of their harvests as had often left Selkirk's Highland settlers mourning. These years happened to be marked by an unusual virulence of the old plague. The Dutchmen had quite lost heart and were in such a state of thorough disgust with their wretched bargain that their one object in life was to hear the last of it, and Farley, who knew just where the bonds could be picked up, was perhaps still more serviceable on account of his precise acquaintance with his clients' state of mind as to the worth of the land upon which their value rested. All this knowledge he put freely at the disposal of his customers. He was doubtless well paid for it. One might not be so sure of this had he dealt with Donald A. Smith alone. Smith had learnt in the Hudson's Bay Company to give and take service very coolly, and especially was not inclined to over-estimate the debt due on account of that sort of work. But George Stephen had at length in 1877, along with Angus, seen with his own sharp eyes the country Smith had always raved about; the two had gone there to look after a bad debt of the Bank of Montreal, Stephen being its president and Angus its general manager. They had tossed a coin to decide whether they should visit St. Louis or St. Paul, had gazed upon the prairie whither the lot had happily sent them to the kindling of imagination and the hanging up in their minds of a picture that was never to fade there; and any one who has the faintest impression of George Stephen, that least niggling of mortals, will see in that single fact a perfect guarantee that Farley was fully compensated for all the substantial help his position as receiver had enabled him to give, as well as for all the moral wear and tear involved in giving it. No one ever bestowed his brass upon George Stephen without getting gold back for it. Our confidence in Stephen's belief that Farley had got quite enough is not in the least shaken by Farley's own conviction that he had not. He was a people ranking in the scale exactly with our former friend McMullen, according to whose lights the standard for estimating his own share of honey was fixed by what he thought he could produce in the way of malodorous smoke to dislodge the bees. The courts, however, naturally declined to accept their petitioner's view of their judicial functions in the fair division of swag and refused to go into the pathetic claim of the self-accused "fence" that decent men had employed his services in a burglary. The profits of the alleged collusion were disallowed. Repeated trials failed to establish it, and in any case the claim was vitiated by the "inherent turpitude of its basis." The poor man made nothing by his tearful proclamation from the house-tops that he had sold himself as well as his trustful Dutchmen, and had been paid for it at an even lower price than he had got them for their bonds.
A higher kind of aid than Farley's, which has been the subject of even more stupid comment than his, came from the Bank of Montreal. That was of course secured, though not without stormy opposition from some of the directors to whose full consideration it was duly commended—through the president and general manager of that main pillar of our national prosperity. The bank soon got its money back. It had never in all its history done such a stroke of business for the country, or flushed the mill-lades of such a fabulous success. There had never be anything approaching to it, even on the Eldorado of this continent. The grasshoppers, who had scared the Dutchmen into dropping their pie-dish, vanished forever the very moment Smith and his friends had caught it ere it reached the ground. Two days after the railway, which had been aimed at the conquest of Canada, had come into the safe hands of those five Canadians, three of whom were to use it as a basis for still vaster operations in the architecture of Canada and Britain, its sleepy platforms hitherto rank with weeds were piled high with settlers' baggage and full of the buzz and murmur of swarming, fervid, sanguine human life, as a lime tree on a summer noon is all one round and leafy hum of bees. On one side, at least, Winnipeg was pen to the keen life-giving tide. The profits of the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba railway were the wonder and envy of all American and England. They were as wisely laid out in the improvement and consolidation of the road as they had been fortunately acquired. In spite of setbacks, due to later American follies, the Great Northern became the solidest asset in the whole vast total of American railways. James J. Hill might well say of it in his valedictory address to its shareholders on July 1st, 1912: "Most men who have really lived have had in some shape their great adventure. This railway is mine."
On that side, then, Manitoba's dream had come true; and a great step had been taken as well, though that did not yet appear, towards its still unfulfilled aspirations on the eastern side. Without earning any gratitude for it, Mackenzie had contrived for them to "build better than he knew." their feelings towards him may be guessed from a scene in which Donald Smith took part. In March, 1875, the prime minister was visited by a deputation, which had come all the way from Winnipeg headed by his good friend and admirer, the member for Selkirk, and which proved that it reflected an absolute unanimity of opinion prevailing there by including John Christian Schultz as one of its members, running for once in couples on the same quest, and lifting up his voice in unison, with Donald Smith. They might as well have bayed the northern star, at least on one of the subjects that came up. The main business was a much desiderated bridge over the Red River. On that point their host was, not indeed expansive, but still fairly amenable. But when they referred to Winnipeg's loss by the choice of Selkirk, thirty miles to the north, as its metropolitan junction, the incorruptible premier told them he was sorry, but that a straight line being the shortest distance between two points, the main line of the Canadian transcontinental railway should not deflect for Winnipeg, or even for Smith, one inch south of its bridge at Selkirk. As to that, Fleming and he were both immovable. He would not satisfy the thousands of Winnipeg by dissatisfying the hundreds of thousands of the rest of the Dominion. He would rather give them a present of $1,000,000 out of hand than turn aside to the right hand or the left. It is not strange that the iron man had no equestrian statue to commemorate his upright rigidity in Winnipeg.
On the whole, then, one may perhaps venture to say with some confidence that the showing of the Liberal administration was rather a poor one for their five years shift. One hundred and four miles of railway west of Thunder Bay, some miles again east of Selkirk, and the Pembina track laid but very far, indeed, from approaching real completion and sound working order—that was about the sum total of their achievement in this business. The real knots in the log, the Lake Superior and the Rocky Mountain cruces had not been touched at all. The Liberals had served to point a moral if they had not done much to adorn our Canadian story. The vastly greater facility of criticism than of production had once more been signally demonstrated by them. It was soon seen that if they had displayed much energy and resource in upsetting the Conservative apple-cart—a load of somewhat tainted apples, it is true—they were likely, too, on their side to let much good fruit rot that might have gone into our market-basket, and to drive many of our labourers away to take the wages of alien vineyards. During these lean east-windy years one-third of our Canadian-born had to seek their corn and living in the Egypt to the south of their own native land. And who shall say how many Britons born, lured away by the touts that swarmed in the snug, well-heated cars of the Northern Pacific, wandered abroad to enrich the heritage of the stranger.
In 1878 Sir John Macdonald returned to power. He had always been too busy with political practice to think very deeply for himself about political theory, and was even less tempted to bolt whole formulas of other thinkers. So he instituted his picnics. As they went on he convinced others and waxed more and more bold in his own conviction that the hour had struck for that great Canadian economic sacrilege and defection from the authority of academic "by-standers," which threatens now to become an epidemic. It was, of course his National Policy that won the day for him; but he had not forgotten his railway.
For a time he went on in the ruts he found. The C. P. R. was still under the board of works. The force of the legacy of stagnancy seemed to some extent to be unbroken. But there was for all that behind the old methods a new energy which inconspicuously transformed them, and an obvious rise in the temperature generated by them soon made itself unmistakably felt. It was the same pool, but it had begun to boil; the same old road and coach for some two years, but with quite another hand at the ribbons. For one thing, as early as 1879 the general public rubbed its eyes one morning to discover that Montreal—no less!—had been fixed as the terminus of the C. P. R. Hitherto it had always been understood that that honour was irrevocably reserved for the angle of Lake Nipissing. In other words, the outside limit of projection to the East which the maddest projector had ever dared to think of fell short, it appeared, of the new administration's scale. "Well," said they, "is not this an interoceanic railway? Interoceanic it shall be, too, both literally and, if one may coin a new adverb to do justice to an unheard-of railway, litorally as well. It shall justify its name all the way up to the foot of the letter and up to the very edge of the litoral, so nearly, at least to the wash of the sea shore that great ships after once loading from its freight-trucks shall not unload again on this side Liverpool."
This brings us to the second change in the movement along the old grooves that let the new cat out of the inherited bag and betrayed the stirrings of quite a different spirit. In the summer of 1879 Sir John, accompanied by Tupper, now his minister of public works and railways, made one of his pilgrimages to London. An idea had occurred to these two. By the act, if not by the choice, of the Liberals the railway had once more become what Sir John had originally meant to make it, and, as we saw, could once have made it to considerable advantage, a national undertaking. Why, then, should it not be owned in its real character as an Imperial undertaking also? Why should not Canada reap the benefits of the new position, as well as suffer all the undeniable and great losses necessarily inherent in it? England had as much at stake here as Canada. Why should she not pay her just share? So they boldly applied for help at headquarters. Had their petition been made in 1871, the day after the Washington treaty was signed, when the front treasury bench had been almost persuaded for a moment to drop the orthodoxies of their Gladstonian mammon worship, in that one happy hour of generous shame the prayer could scarcely have been made in vain. But all that had been forgotten long ago. What politician's memory of benefits received goes back eight years? It was too late. The same weighty considerations which had prevented Mackenzie and Cartwright from making it cut off all hope and possibility that the request could be granted when for the first time it could at length be made.
So, the disappointed suitors saw there was nothing for it but to turn their backs upon those churlish stores of bursting wealth, and with empty hands but undaunted hearts, to help themselves and their refusers out of the widow's cruse at home. They set to work with renewed vigour. Quite on the old lines to begin with, though not at the old snail's pace. Accepting, as Mackenzie had, Fleming's route by the Yellowhead Pass to Burrard Inlet, they made the long-expected start upon the British Columbia bogey and pushed lines from Yale eastward to Kamloops and westward toward Port Moody, thus tackling the plainest bit of their sailing in that quarter by way of encouraging commencement. Next they turned their attention to the needs and cries of Winnipeg. Rainy Lake was one of the long reaches of Dawson's road of two-fold sorrow which had been assigned to the miseries of water-carriage. This bridge of tears was now traversed by consolatory steel rails, and so one sad gap of the pilgrimage between Thunder Bay and old Fort Garry was fitted up for winter as well as for sparse and woeful summer traffic. To the delight of many a mourner in Winnipeg, too a more excellent way was taken with the Pembina branch. Smith and his Montrealers had reached the forty-ninth parallel at last. Now, in March, 1879, most advantageously to Winnipeg, they got the arrangements made which in Mackenzie's day had been somewhat spitefully foiled, as we have seen, by Sir John and his dregs of irreconcilable conservatism in the Senate. A bargain was concluded which gave them running-powers and the right to put and keep things in decent order on the Canadian track, which Upper & Company had graded, ditched, and laid, but left without ever a water-tank or a turn-table and generally in an intolerably half-baked condition.
To retrace that story in a few sentences: In February, 1878, all the outstanding bonds of the St. Paul and Pacific railway, that sink-hole of the Amsterdam guilders, consisting as it did then of a road not more that 360 miles in length, were in the hands of Smith, Stephen & Company. In that same year, while the road was still in the hands of our friend Farley, the new bondholders obtained an order of court giving leave to extend the line from Glyndon, its then northern terminus, to St. Vincent on the border. On the third of December following they were met by the C. P. R.; the last spike of the Pembina branch was driven on that day. On the ninth of that eventful December, as has been mentioned already, the first train from St. Vincent steamed into the station at St. Boniface. It was a great day in Winnipeg, celebrated there with good reason as a decisive turning-point in the history of transcontinental transportation. But there was still much to do. A line without water-tanks could scarcely be called a perfect convenience. The fur-trading philosopher and sage of Fort Garry was not yet in the saddle astride of his own iron horse. The St. Paul and Pacific had not yet suffered its change into the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba. The blithe event took place no sooner than the twenty-third of May, 1879. On that fair May morning—end of a long winter of discontent and earnest of much more amazing summer and harvest joys than could yet be foreseen by any presaging soul of mortal reach—the mortgages were foreclosed and purchased by the new company, Smith and his associates. Thenceforth Winnipegers could breathe more freely an air that must be for ever the air of British freedom. This whole American system with its twin lines, the one from St. Paul running north-westerly to St. Cloud and then west and north to St. Vincent, the other from Minneapolis due east to Benson first, thence northerly to Breckenridge, was now in the hands of Canadians. The London Times of those days spoke more truly than it knew when with a felicitous stroke of English ignorance it nicknamed the road which had at last fulfilled the aspirations of Governor Simpson's unproductive but importunately petitioning half-breeds "an obscure Canadian railway." But the end was not yet. Six full years had still to come and go before the links of union between Manitoba and the mighty world were fully forged and finally made fast. That did not happen till Smith's "crowning mercy" at Craigellachie, in 1885, on the fifth day of November—no less pregnant a date for him than the third of September was for Oliver Cromwell—when the owners of the "obscure Canadian railway" had been swept on by its impetus and their own valour all the way up to the coup de grâce in the despatch of another Canadian railway which even by the standard, of The Times can not be called obscure by any man.
However, all this invasion of hostile territory, as well as the other progress nearer home which has been faithfully detailed, though good enough as far as they went, were not enough to satisfy the protagonist in Ottawa and amounted to no more than a successful début and promising send-off for the Montrealers. In 1880 a fateful step was taken which at length brought these two sorely estranged but indispensably complementary powers together. In that year Sir John grew weary of government construction. That had been withdrawn, then, not the very nick of time when he was caught in the split of the tree that grew the fairest fruits of it, which he could have had by stretching out his hand to take them, spoilt for him by his rivals. It had next been taken up reluctantly by them and had been left him as a rather embarrassing bequest in their last will and testament. But now that he had found, to his grief but beyond all question, that the one great incidental gain, once, as it had seemed to him, easy to extract from this otherwise cumbrous and unexpeditious method, had turned to sour grapes on his hands, this shifty reynard bethought him of the other way, the shorter one, of private contract, which also the Liberals and McMullen had barred against him for a season. They could not, as we saw, entice capital to flow into it by any allurements they ventured to offer. Sir John knew well enough that slave-driving was not the forte of any Canadian government. Gangs of navvies need, besides plenty of pork and potatoes and the tongue of an Irish boss, the master's eye and shove—the eye that is sharpened and the shove that is weighted by the lure of quick returns and the spur of steep ruin. They will not and cannot do their best for the talking and walking gentlemen in top-hats who are keener to pull their ballots than to get them to push their wheel-barrows and ply their pick-axes with might and main. Then in public works there are the tardy government contractors, apt to be spoilt children of the government, with their long rakes—terrible consumers of axle- and as sparing of elbow-grease. So the premier's fancy began of nights to turn to thoughts of syndicates. This direction of his meditations was encouraged by his minister of railways. Tupper was quite willing to get this particular sleepless item of his portfolio taken off his hands as much as possible. So, in July, 1880, these two took ship once more for England.
That they were steering a course, not for Downing, but for Threadneedle Street this time, appeared to be indicated by the company they kept on board. To see them one by one or both together, as sea-legs varied, pace the decks with John Henry Pope, who was Sir John's shrewd Eastern Township confidential legal adviser and, except, perhaps, his brother-in-law Dr. Williamson, of Queen's College, his very best friend, was no surprise to anyone at all acquainted with them. But when some inquisitive saloon passengers from Montreal observed that two faces which they knew very well indeed as familiar ornaments of their own streets had been elevated all of a sudden to converse cheek by jowl in that high fellowship, they began to smell a rat. What had happened to George Stephen and Duncan MacIntyre, both of wholesale cloth-importing fame, that they were walking day by day and hour by hour arm in arm with the two foremost ministers of the Crown? Was there any mysterious virtue to confer a patent of nobility in dry goods? Perish the thought! Not the sort of carriage that a sweeping lady's train can improve, but railway trains and carriages were the key to the enigma. George Stephen, simple as he seemed in his handsome neatness, was president of the last golden wonder of the age, the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba, as well as of the Bank of Montreal, which also was very much to the point, while for many years past it had not been so much the draper's yard-stick as the stock-quotations of the Central Canada railway, the tight little line that ran from Brockville to Pembroke, which had filled the auriferous hours of Duncan MacIntyre. Railway business then it must be that was which these great ones were daily and nightly whiling away the tedium of the voyage. What railway? By heavens, 'tis the C. P. R.!
John Henry Pope's quick sight had caught the gleam of millions. This Joey Bagstock of the Canadian bar had pointed out to his illustrious client that the Minnesota victors were the very men for Tupper's syndicate. They had just cut their juicy pie. Now, while they were in the humour for railway pie, was the time to take them. Their pockets were bursting with American Pacific eagles. "Let us grab the lion's share of them," said he, "instead of freezing, at the very moment that it is hottest, that good metal that is burning holes to drop out in richest lard upon the axles of our Canadian Pacific railway." "So far, so good," was his cautious leader's reply. These Canadians would do very well to start with. Along with MacIntyre to make the Pembroke and Brockville link of the eastern extension tight, they would be invaluable so far as they could be stretched to go. But they could hardly be reckoned to go the whole long way. "Let's come to a provisional understanding with them, then take Stephen and MacIntyre—they, on the whole, are the most presentable—to London, and grope about there for more money." Hence, the resplendent quincunx of political fixed stars and financial planets that seemed to be reflected a million times over in the phosphorescent furrow of white and green which boiled and hissed along the bows of that good bark of Allan's and roused such curious speculations in the saloon.
For any immediate luck they had in the city, the distinguished visitors might have spared themselves their portion of mal de mer. The government had fought shy of them last time. This time the bankers proved little more sympathetic. Captain Palliser's report had not been published in a corner. A wild-cat mine in the Cordilleras would probably have gained a more attentive hearing just then that a Rocky Mountain railroad. The Rothschilds and Barings both shook their heads. The only London house which could be prevailed upon to go in at all with the Canadians was the secondary one of Morton, Rose & Company, whose example was followed by the Parisians, Cohen, Reinach & Company, drawing along with them the Hamburger tail of their Hebrew kite. Not until the railway had already come to stand there visibly as an almost completed asset—by the time, in fact, when only a gap of one hundred miles of it still remained for filling in—did English financiers begin to assist, or English investors to buy stock at all freely. The fact is that scarcely a yard of the most crucial of the railways of the Empire was paved with English money, or even with English good intentions and good-will. From that quarter no boon winds blew—only the chilly old blast that bade us look before we leapt, and not only reinforced the discouragement of which we had enough and to spare at home here, but almost blew our heads off besides with positive material hindrance. The credit of the achievement belongs exclusively to this continent of our own. For though the names of the London Morton and Rose were on the company's paper, the green-backs came at the peril of Morton and Bliss, the relatively independent American end of the house. So far, then, as the direct outcome of his journey in such fine company went, George Stephen might just as well have been trying as usual, instead of wasting his salt, elsewhere acquired, on these shy birds' tails, to catch salmon in the pool afterwards called Sir Donald after Smith, his wisely-latent cousin, and breathing the briny pine-scented air of his fishing lodge where the Grand Métis River leaps from its high water-fall into the sea. However, he did have something more that his trouble for his pains. The London bankers had got to know him a little, and to know him even a little was to trust him for life. The way had been paved for "better luck next time"—the many next times he came back well-laden from their reluctant doors. That day, however, there was "nothing doing" there.
One last desperate attempt in another quarter met with no better success. The Grand Trunk railway was the most English thing in Canada, not merely in ownership, but also, to the sorrow of its shareholders, in point of place and manner of management, being then worked entirely by the omniscience of London. Naturally enough, then, as it had only too good reason to think that Canada had barely room in it for one railway and could only bankrupt two such, the G. T. R. was all along the most bitter enemy of the C. P. R., in relation to which it repeated at all points with astonishingly precise exactitude the ancient rivalry of the unregenerate Hudson's Bay Company with the bold Montreal Nor'-Westers, who taught it its trade, reduced it first to impotence, and then, by joining it, to efficient working order. In spite of all this, those latest-born Nor'-Westers, pilot-birds of the C. P. R., resolute as they were to catch worms even under the most unlikely stones, were so hard put to it after their repeated failures that they applied to the president of the opposition, Sir Henry Tyler. It was precisely like one of the great MacTavishes or MacGillivrays at the brazen gargoyle of "tap-root" Governor Behrens' door knocker, come with hat in hand from his wilds to solicit alms for the erection of that high hall adorned with Thompson's map on the banks of the Kaministiquia River. Tyler did not rudely turn his back upon them. If they would only consent to drop the Lake Superior section and build south of the Lake instead—that is to say, in United States territory—he would think of it. Otherwise he flatly told them he could not touch the thing at the end of the longest pole that could be cut among the tallest cedars of the Rockies. How pleasant it would have been for Louis Riel and his second litter of rebels in Saskatchewan—not to say for our good friends the Americans, who had held up Garnet Wolseley at the Sault for the benefit of the first batch—if they had consented to this patriotic modification, we shall see. It was not Tupper's merit that they did not. For the first and last time his heart quailed. Things had got to look so blue that he strongly urged the necessity of giving way.1 But Sir John, to his eternal honour, stood like Craigellachie. No more Chicora incidents for him! It was a Canadian Pacific railway. Every foot of it must be Canadian and British. So monstrous a slab of gilt must not be taken off any gingerbread of his baking. That was a fine stand of the Chief's in the face, pale for once, and in the teeth, that had just that one time lost their hold, of his trustiest and boldest henchman. Let us not forget that this fatal and ignominious condition, now for the second time1 demanded by the most English of Canadian railways at the heart of our Empire as the price of coöperation in the greatest of Imperial enterprises, which it would have shorn of all its strategic value and more that half its lustre, would have been tamely swallowed even by the most resolute of allies, and was repudiated only by the indomitable faith that stood foremost and alone.
There was one other much less objectionable clause suggested by some of the English capitalists as a sine qua non to any bargain; viz., a four per cent. guarantee from the Canadian government. From the English government they knew it was no good to look for such a thing. Whether with good reason or not, this, too, was declined. We know now there would have been no danger in it. At that moment nobody could say so with confidence. The guarantee would no doubt have been formally inconsistent with the stage of the proceedings which had now been reached. The thing had become a private affair, at least on the face of it. But in point of fact Canada the colony, if not the Empire, was really behind it, whether or not the fact was acknowledged on paper. There was, perhaps, some remnant of the prevalent economic pedantry in the dread of financial contamination and mixing up of disparate quantities, which shrank from a proviso that was substantially inherent in the nature of the case whether it was put down in black and white or not.
By October the seekers after corn had made the port of Montreal again. The sacks they brought from Egypt were flaccid, but no disappointment was allowed to lower out of those cheerful faces bronzed with the breeze and sanguine with the sea air. A contract was speedily drawn out, dated October 21st, 1880, and subscribed on the one part by Charles Tupper, on the other by George Stephen, Duncan MacIntyre, James J. Hill, John L. Kennedy, Morton Rose & Company of London (really New York), and Cohen, Reinach & Company of Paris. One signature seldom lacking by the side of Stephen's and Hill's was felt to be conspicuous by its absence. It was not yet Smith's appointed time. Ninety-nine per cent. of Sir John's rank and file would have spurned the faintest suggestion that their idol could possibly be on as much as nodding terms with the renegade "independent." Sir John was, however, perfectly well aware that his favourite stone of stumbling, which he never missed a chance to chip in passing with the light hammer of his rather inexpensive jeers, was there all the time at the foundation of the favoured company. He was very well resigned to the unflaunted fact. He had reason to know that there was not another man in Canada who could more ruinously be spared from a task which needed every ounce of energy, steadfastness, sagacity and wealth that could possibly be brought to bear upon it. He was much more sensitive to the colour of money than to the odour of it. Where he saw a clear public advantage his pride seldom refused good council or good coin.
This contract, signed in October, was submitted to the Assembly of colonial kings on Parliament Hill as soon as they had returned to their labours in December. The terms were found generous to a fault. There is nothing like a bargain to rouse all the corruptions of our fallen nature, even where otherwise they lurk unseen for the most part. All bargains are like horses bought by somebody else at a fair. The most generous of mortals runs by instinct to look them in the mouth at once and after a moment's glance cries out for a veterinary dentist. But bargains made with individuals by the State, if they awaken any attention at all, are quite sure to excite among all other individuals, who may reasonably be computed to be concerned as much as ten dollars each on an average, a fury of repudiative reflex action such as no other sort of proposal shall easily provoke. And this particular bargain did seem one-sided. There remained about 1,900 miles of rails to be laid. Governments past and present had already built, or let out contracts for buildings, some 710 miles. The worst bits, indeed, had not been touched and nobody could know how bad they might be. The charter of the Canadian Pacific railway was what Smith's countrymen call a "pig in a poke." There was, in reality, only one thing quite clear about that agreement. If it could be carried out, Canada would in ten years be raised out of the category of the invertebrates. She would have her back-bone and attachments. She would cease to be a series of detached and imperfectly continuous geographical expressions with more gristle and bone and plashy hydroptic maw than firm flesh, sinew, nerve and muscle; she would become a decently constituted political system and structure of a country, respectably equipped with the machinery of inter-communication from other end to the other and with full egress into the outer universe. If the bold anatomists who undertook to bring the dry bones together and drain the wet wastes should show themselves equal to the feat, it was quite likely in the long run to pay them very well indeed, that is if the prairies turned out to be what they believed them to be and if they could attract settlers to work them up and, finally, if they could make a shift to live long enough to get their percentages out of these settlers. They were to have 25,000,000 acres, which ought to make a very snug little estate. Then there was $25,000,000 in cash. Along with the government money well spent on Fleming's surveys and on the construction of the parts already finished, this mounted up to a very stately sum total. But besides all that there were various valuable and in some cases rather questionable privileges, immunities and monopolies. Exemption from import duties on all materials—admirable! But what of the National Policy? From all taxation on land for twenty years, and from assessments on rolling stock and other property forever—this was really a very large order. Besides, what was after all only a reduction upon the fixed perquisite of all railways in Canada, they had a free hand with freight charges until such time as the total capital invested should bring a return of over ten per cent. Finally—and this gave a really formidable point to the innocent condition last-named—in the interest of the new railway that old incubus of the north-west—monopoly—was resuscitated once more. The C. P. R. took that place upon the back of the colonist's cow which the Hudson's Bay Company had long occupied on the haunch of the half-breed's buffalo. They were to be monarchs of all they surveyed in this land of their own creation, the only carriers and, therefore, the only kings. None should dispute their right. No railway must be built south of the C. P. R. track within fifteen miles of latitude forty-nine degrees, and no line traced between them and the American frontier except such as should run south-west or westward of south-west. "All passengers bound for the U.S.A., this way!—to the wickets of the St. Paul, Minnesota and Manitoba Railway Company. No other tickets for the south are good." The best one can say for this arrangement is that it could not last. Manitoba, whose provincial rights among other things were violated by it, could not and did not put up with it very long. The company was at length driven by unceasing agitation to surrender a prerogative so intolerably restrictive and obsolete in face of the rapidly developing power and self-consciousness of the province which its own railway did more than anything else to create.
Of course the object which explained, if it did not altogether excuse, this invidious and bare-faced piece of mediævalism—the one seriously objectionable item in that charter—was to feed the hungry Lake Superior section. As has already been made clear enough, that bit of the road was vital But it could never be expected to pay. The West must carry it. It could be no more than a bridge over a howling waste, a bridge one thousand miles long. Sure to swallow up untold millions in the making, it could be counted upon to absorb a frightfully unceasing stream of dropping dollars for its upkeep. What was a gulf now must be a millstone forever. One of two millstones. The other was the Rocky Mountain terror. Was Manitoba buoyant enough to swim with two such sinkers fastened to her neck? On the one Canadian side of her, a sheer sky-cleaving wall; on the other a wide black moat of unplumbed quagmire. To the sunny south, on the contrary, where the Fowl of Freedom soared with lewd eyes against the morning ray, no hedges or ditches wherever. There lay, wide-open and smooth for her, the course of true love and the true course of traffic along the short perpendicular channels to the best of market-basins. Must she handicap herself for all time and scare all immigration away by wrenching open a long thin trickle of a line east and west—and Heaven only knew whether East or West was the deadlier—at violent right angles clean athwart the grain of Nature's wildest bristles! The Superior section, or rather the tumbled dump-heap of the Infernal Impotences falsely so-called, was meant to be a link between British East and West. It was likely to be, and did in fact for a long time prove, a wedge of embittered cleavage.
This purely economic question—the other aspect we know was paramount in the mind of Sir John—was really a question of bridges, which resolves itself into two questions. First, "What do they take you to?" and second, "Can not what they take you to be more cheaply come by?" There could be no doubt about the answer to the second. The Canadian North-West could beyond peradventure be got at most easily and comfortably from the American frontier. But in that case what about many things, among others what of the grain elevators at the port of Montreal? The problem could not be reduced to the sweet simplicity of L. S. D., or even to the immediate results upon peace and pleasantness with Manitoba. A temporarily strained footing there was not past cure and might end in a richer and more full-toned harmony. It was not necessarily a dilemma of two irreconcilable horns. A synthesis embracing both the seemingly incompatible alternatives might come in time. There might be, in short, enough in the North-West, as indeed the event shows there was, to keep both channels of traffic busy. And even from the narrower point of view it might in the long run pay well, as in fact it did, to force things along the less natural line for such a space of time as would suffice to tear open and fix the grooves of the very desirable habit of commerce which was much the harder to form, in the secure confidence that the easier and more natural slope of communication to the South would in the end look after itself. So that in the last resort our first question—"What is there beyond the bridge?"—was the fundamental point, the pivot on which the second turned. The West was an unknown quantity. Nobody could tell what its possibilities were until the railway then in process had brought them to light. How much arable land did it contain? How much of that again had a climate that would ripen wheat? What about late and early frosts, rust, mildew, floods, fires and grasshoppers! How far would cultivation change these chances and conditions? Could white men live in decent comfort and content in such a country? Nobody knew. A man like Smith had a large faith. Given the choice between chalk and cheese, his answer was cheese—cheese, milk and honey, and a flow of them. Having grown cauliflowers, kept chickens and made a carriage-road in Labrador, he knew that man's persistence can make a new earth and a new heaven too—alter the very clouds and seasons—and by judiciously diligent interference transmute the barest minimum of niggard Nature's data into a rosy marvel. That was why Smith was such a useful person to have as a rock and refuge in the background, a reservoir of courage, coin and counsel in the tough business. But there was the chalk answer, too—disseminated far and wide by the G. T. R. and Her Majesty's Opposition. They did not lack adherents. One is interested to discover that in 1885, when the railway was within sure sight of its end, and there could no longer be any doubt that whatever there might be on the plains could be got away to the sea, C. P. R. shares sold in London for 38¾, in Montreal at a trifle under.
But we must return for a moment to view the reception by Parliament of the whole bargain made by the minister of railways on the twenty-first of October. When, in the course of the following December, the charter signed by him and accepted by Stephen & Company came up for the passing of its examination, the only criticism offered by the Opposition which, at this time of day still retains upon its face some gleam of sense, was just the one whose pros and cons we have been trying to appraise in the foregoing remarks. It is, however, only fair to add that on that side, an idea already quite familiar to us—Tyler's indeed Tupper's own not so long ago, and afterwards Hill's,—was thrown out. Run a "road," they said, "through northern Michigan and Minnesota. That will cut out the bogs and bring the produce of rich fields through Montreal." The C. P. R. has since done this very thing. But, for the reasons indicated above, the hour for such lucrative duplication had not yet struck. In other respects one can hardly find a grain of either salt or wheat, of wit or helpful wisdom, in the bushels and piles of amendments solemnly deposited with a gushing and a rustling thud upon the suffering floor of the House. Having exhausted all the tactics of obstruction to block a measure every single feature of which was honestly anathema to him, Edward Blake, who had succeeded Mackenzie as Liberal leader, filled the Christmas vacation with heart-rending cries of academic Cobdenite Jeremiads. But he did much more. At last he took to building a dam against the blue ruin of his own predictions. He showed them that syndicates were no Conservative monopoly. When Parliament came back from mince pies to the order of the day he had the names of a brand-new extemporized outbidding full-blown Corporation in his breeches pocket. Good names, too! Howland, MacMaster, Hendrie, Wood, Gilmour, Cox, a perfect galaxy to twinkle on the first page of any prospectus from creameries up to rolling or cotton mills. The one thing that not a single one seemed to rhyme with it at all was railways! It was an extreme instance of the continental faculty for genial versatility in improvisation. The government, however, had made up their minds to get this thing done and were inclined to suspect that if only it were done when 'twas done, then 'twere well it were done quickly. They can scarcely be blamed for preferring, as they did, to stick to a personnel who possessed the humbler merit of experience, knew the ground, or at least part of it—what part of it did Smith not know?—and were not unfavourably known upon it, having done something there already, and had connections firmly established with just these American railways whose aid might not well be wanting—decent, solid persons, besides, with whom they had tied the knot of their pledged word so tight that Blake knew well he did not run much risk in undercutting it. So they were deaf to the Howland siren-song. The sight of $1,400,000 certified to lie in chartered banks as guarantee of simple faith and plighted troth left their chops dry as bone. The generous offer to accept with gratitude twenty-two instead of twenty-five millions respectively in money and acres without any invidious exemptions, immunities, or monopolies—the manly constancy of these free-traders to the government's own peculiar National Policy, their staunch resolve to pay protective duty on every pound of nails, their full confidence in the government's all-searching and weighing eye, contented to take any freight rates that government might fix—the subtle and strong appeal of all hardly resistible allurements did not move their stony hearts. They remembered that they were not conducting a Dutch auction—especially as they had already knocked the booty down. And they were by now quite eager to begin work. A good deal of grass had grown under a five years' Liberal Scotch mist. It cannot be said that they ever had much reason to regret the decision. However respectable Cox and Hendrie and Howland might be, and however difficult it may be to say what they would have done in that particular case, none of their mightiest works in other and more congenial directions affords much ground to suspect that they could have done better, more promptly, valiantly, faithfully and honourably than Charles Tupper's Montreal syndicate. Sir John was not left lamenting by the wild waves over the jettison of this bargain. Next to the Washington one it was the best he ever made. Not even legend, otherwise so busy with his name, has floated down to us any story of his wringing his hands over his callous destitution of responsive sympathy towards the one single proffer of original suggestion or aid, the one real perspiring endeavour towards a constructive contribution to this laborious public business ever made by the learned jurisconsult and eminent statesmen who not long after, when the minister of railways and the premier had at long last clanked the first hammers at Yale, deliberately presented a waggon-road from Edmonton as his own and his party's alternative policy for appeasing the indignation of British Columbia.
The old cheap wisdom of Epimethus, enlightened by the event, wherewith this chapter is saturated to the point of surfeit, whispers in one's ear no small wonder that none of the Liberal luminaries, Blake, Cartwright, Laurier, or any other should in all that spilth of amendments have left out one that seems to us rather obvious. Why did not a hint or glimpse occur to any of the that a guarantee of dividends on stock for a certain term of years, such as we shall hear of presently, might with considerable prospective advantage to posterity be substituted for part of the enormous land-grant? Land was what the emigrants were crying for, and the North-West was a desert howling an echo for immigrants. To the desiderated settler land was the one thing needful. Yes, but strangely enough, at first sight, it was also dirt-cheap just when it was most needed. The demand was not of the kind that gives value to the supply. The latter was a drug on the market, obscured by all sorts of drawbacks, partly quite real though considerably modifiable, and partly fancied. A fraction of it would make a fine ager publicus or common patrimony now, and if we wanted to raise a few dollars by disposing of it, would go off like hot cakes. Americans would be among our best and foremost customers—so wonderfully has the C. P. R. changed all that. But in those days people set little store by land on our side of the water, and, besides, every politician with even a slight experience of railways, having been once bitten, was twice shy of this kind of dividend guarantee. The G. T. R. was still a recent wound.
Thank heaven, we have at least reached the page that can wave its lily sheet towards Ottawa and the noisy crew of politicians there. We shall still have to take occasional trips there—from Montreal with George Stephen, the best of company. Donald Smith is out of it by now. Sir John has banished him from the capital. Henceforth, our fixed centre will be Montreal. That city revives its old rôle as fructifier with brains and bawbees of our West, and magazine for the "wintering partners." It becomes more and more the solitary source of the sinews of the great war that really begins from this point on. For, of course, the great problem for the charterholders of the C. P. R.—a problem that proved all but insoluble at several repeated pinches—was to raise the very large sums of money necessary to lay 1,900 miles of rail, 1,400 of it over the toughest bit of country that ever contractor scratched his head over.
1Sir Charles' own story of this will be found in his "Recollections," p. 140.
1The G. T. R. had been tried by the Macdonald ministry soon after their entry into office in 1878 and had then insisted on the same obnoxious stipulation. Hill revived it for the third and last time, as we shall see.