The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Seeds of Stories from Other Countries

Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 134-140

[From the book "Clear Round!" by Elizabeth Anna Gordon, 1851-1925. Gordon was fascinated by the link between Christianity and Buddhism, and spent much of her life in Japan.]


She makes frames of birch bark, embroidered with sweet-scented prairie grasses, and beads the deerskin mocassins, saddles, & e., for her lord. He is called the "Brave," and always goes in front, riding on the horse which draws the poles of the wigwam. (A friend reminds me that in English villages the old-fashioned husbands always precede the wives into church, and they speak of him as "Master.") The children and dogs are both loaded, and walk behind. A man becomes a "brave" in a very ordinary fashion.

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It is noteworthy that Herodotus mentions the ancient Scythians using the same kind of vapour-bath that the Indian delights in to-day. He shuts himself up in his "teepee" (wigwam), pour boiling water over red-hot stones, and steams himself.

The Indian legend of Hiawatha has been embodied in a beautiful poem by the American poet Longfellow, describing the Peace-Message (or Evangel) from the Gitche Manitou (the Great Spirit), and His promise to send them (who are so torn by war and strife) a prophet, a deliverer, a suffering Saviour, who should bring peace among them and heal their quarrels, and teach them to live as brethren; and how He came and gave them the maize (the bread of life), and how the corn had to fall into the ground and die, in order to bring forth fruit; and of His mighty conflict with Hahma, the King of Fishes. I must leave you to read for yourself that wonderful poem, and compare with it Our Lord's words in St. John xii. 24, and St. Matthew xii. 40; and I know you will love the verses which tell about the boyhood of the little Indian child.

Our Scotch friend inquired if we knew the story of the French missionaries who, more than two hundred and fifty years ago ventured up the river St. Lawrence in frail Indian birch canoes, and made their way through "the wilderness," by the chain of great lakes, to the Red River, and found their way around to the head sources of the Mississippi, and traced the river to its outlet in the Gulf of Mexico. It was all new to us; and the story of the "Black Robes," as the Indians called them, is so thrilling and pathetic that I cannot resist giving you a sketch of their self-denying labours.

For nine hundred miles they travelled, wearing no shoes, for fear of injuring the frail vessels, carrying their canoes and baggage over thirty-five portages, round rapids, and though the gloom of savage forests, amid wild beasts and savage tribes. Over fifty times they had to wade through currents, dragging their canoes, or pushing them through dense thickets and over sharp cutting rocks and precipices. They had no time to read their Prayer-books, except by the dim light of the moon or wood fire, and although annoyed by the ill-humour, insolence, and snobberies of their Indian guides, displayed the most Christian charity and courtesy.

These were some of their rules: "Love the Indians like brothers, with whom you are to spend the rest of your lives. Never make them wait for you in embarking. Take a flint and sticks (there were no matches in those days) to light their pipes, and kindle their fires at night. For these little services win their hearts. Try to eat 'sagamite' as they cook it, bad and dirty as it is. Fasten up the skirts of your cassock, that you may not carry water or sand into the canoe. Do not make yourself troublesome to a single Indian. Do not ask too many questions. Bear their faults in silence, and appear always cheerful. Be very careful when in the canoe that the brim of your hat does not annoy them. Perhaps it would be better to wear a night-cap. Remember that it is Christ and His Cross you are seeking. . . To convert savages it does not so much need science as goodness and virtue très solide. The four elements of the Apostolic man are affability, humility, patience, and a generous charity. Too zealous zeal burns more than it warms, and spoils everything. Savages do not understand our theology, but they do understand perfectly well our humility and our affability. Above all, it requires a sweetness unutterable, and a patience proof against everything."

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Such was the spirit which animated these holy men.

From Thunder Bay to Winnipeg is 600 miles, over lakes, swamp, rapids, and dense forests; and hence Capt. (?) Wolseley [Colonel Garnet Joseph Wolseley] led his troops in 1869-1870. The "Red River Expedition" was looked upon in those days as the wonder of the age, and Fort Garry as the Ultima Thule of civilisation. For 600 miles, then, Wolseley had to convey 1200 men, carrying all their food supplies for three months, some twenty-seven times having actually to lift their canoes between lake and lake, from Superior through the mazy intricacies of the Lake of the Woods, and bear them, with the stores and cannon, across long portages to the Red River. It took the expedition three weeks to reach Fort Garry, and our train twenty-four hours! In 1886 the Central [or Canadian] Pacific Railroad reached Winnipeg, and so the dream of ages was realised, and the North-west Passage found--but by land, not by sea. I have taken you a very long journey through from Rat Portage into the past ages; but in reality a few minutes brought us on to Keewatin, the station for the fairy-like "Lake of the Woods." We longed to jump out and pitch our tent on one of its innumerable islands--rocky, heather-covered isles, valuable for their timber and gold-ore. Here is a "mammouth grain elevator," built of granite quarried on the spot. In English this means a gigantic lift, which turns out daily 2000 sacks of finest flour; lifting the corn out of the trucks, it weighs and pours it back, "milled," into the railway wagon without touch of man's hand. This being the nearest point to the great rolling prairies, where rocks, trees, and fresh water are to be found, it is likely to become the watering-place of the future, and I can imagine no more charming "Modern Venice" than these islands when crowned with picturesque frame houses, the only access being by canoe or bridge from isle to isle.

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By degrees the country flattens out, the hills become smaller and smaller, the trees decrease in number and stature, till even the scrubby brushwood disappears. We cross the broad sky-blue Red River just before arriving at Winnipeg--the "Prairie City." As we were to spend an hour here, the negro porter insisted upon giving every lady, gentleman, and child a thorough good brushing, and when M. declined, he exclaimed: "But for the honour of my car, sir, please!" Was not that a comely spirit in a man whose colour was inky black--to feel that the credit of his car was at stake if travel-stained, unkempt passengers should be seen emerging from it?

Winnipeg is a specimen of the mushroom growth of the cities of the New World. Twenty years ago there were a hundred inhabitants, and it was literally "the other end of nowhere," or the "back of beyont"--simply a frontier trading-post. To-day it is five years old, and has a population of 36,000, with churches, colleges, banks, and a splendid City Hall. Electric tramcars whirr past, steamboats ply on its rivers for thousands of miles, north, south, and west, and railways radiate from it in all directions.

In winter the mails used to be sent every three weeks on sledges drawn by dogs to stations north of Winnipeg, and even for 2000 miles to the far outposts of the Mackenzie River twice a year.

This "Prairie City" is the capital of Mannitoba, and the centre for distributing the immigrants to the farming districts, and gold, silver, and coal mines.

Of child-emigrants (such as those emigrated by Miss Macpherson, Miss Rye, Dr. Barnardo, &e.), we were again and again assured any number would be welcomed, from eight years old and under, throughout the Dominion.

Till we saw the prodigious size of the country we could not conceive or realise that there is room for thousands upon thousands. Every ship brings over hundreds of people, who are absorbed like raindrops in the ocean. It takes one's breath away to hear of the distances, and see those boundless plains, these immense rivers. "Seeing is believing" in this case; and no pen can give a faint idea of what that unsealed land is, which has only been opened up to Great Britain, with its inexhaustible riches, during these last twenty years, just when commercial difficulties, agricultural distress, strikes, bad harvests, bad climate, depressed land-values, and the state of our over-populated, million-peopled cities have caused the deepest perplexities to thinking and practical people. Many who emigrate in the steerage return to England in two or three years' time and bring out their families, taking them first-class in the palace cars. Old maps of the sixteenth century represent Central America as a vast inland sea. A book was written by Major Butler, so recently as 1870, under the title of "The Great Lone Land," and the map bound with it is a picture of the very country lying between Lake Superior and the Rocky Mountains, the thousand miles which we are now traversing, and which is rightly called "the granary of the world." Manitoba alone is ten times as large as England. It contains nine millions of acres, and yet it is the smallest province of the Dominion--just as it were one square on the 300,000,000 of acres. Barley is at its best 1500 miles north-west of Winnipeg; and wheat and potatoes grown 600 miles north took the prize-medal at the Philadelphia Exhibition.

This autumn the harvest between it and Mineapolis could not be lifted for lack of human hands, and free transport was offered to all labourers, besides 2 dols. 50 c. a day, or 10s. 5d. of our money, wages. Not far from Winnipeg, on each side of "the track," the horizon was lined with stacks.

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I no longer wonder at Americans "talking tall," after only seeing a bit of that stupendous continent. It is told of a Yankee that he was afraid to go out of doors at night in little England for fear he should step overboard! The soil of the prairies is of richest vegetable mould, and so dark in colour that it vies with the blackness of wedding-cakes!

The prairies can be compared to nothing less than the ocean--a vast illimitable expanse. To be "lost on the prairies" is very easy, for trails are most difficult to find. The wagons are called "prairie schooners," and the drivers steer by the stars, as mariners did in the olden time, for the prairies are as trackless as the sea. Before the dawn of history, the space now occupied by the prairies was covered by the ocean.

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On the fourth evening the sunrise-like tints in the east were most remarkable; it seemed as though the prairies were on fire; more and more lurid the sky became, and at length the moon arose--the "hunters' moon;"--and we understood the wherefore of its Indian name, "The Night Sun." At the same time, the great blaze of glory had not died away in the western horizon of that "land of the sunset."

On, and on, and on we sped--"rolling along the track"--ever, Ever west, chasing the sun. In the morning, still nothing but the pathless prairie; the transparent "luisant" atmosphere mellowed the "land of far distances"; the light invigorating air was so tonic, so exhilarating, we were not travelling, but flying on the wings of the morning!

This was the home of the buffalo, of which [George] Catlin's and [Robert Michael] Ballantyne's books for boys tell such exciting stories. It is so sad to see the huge skulls of these noble beasts whitening the plains, and the immense stacks of their bones at stations waiting the exportation to sugar refineries, &e.

The names of the stations* will tell you the character of the country round us: Rush Lake, Swift Current, Goose Lake, Antelope, Gull Lake, Cypress, Side Wood, Crane Lake, Maple Creek, for here steamers [or streams] recommence, and groves of timber. "Ferres" and "Dunmore" tell of Highland settlers. Coal underlies the plains in this district.

* See Map, March number.

It was just growing dark as we reached "Medicine Hat," 18.45 o'clock (6.45 p.m.) Several stalwart Indians quite startled us in the gloaming by marching past in single file so stealthily we could not hear a footfall--they glided by like shadows. Their blankets gave them the appearance of Roman soldiers. Under the wall stood a silent motionless group, offering buffalo horns, war-clubs, and tomahawks for sale. A little English girl asked: "May I stroke them?" evidently thinking they were some strange wild animals.

The name "Medicine Hat" is derived from an old battle between the Crees and the Blackfoots, when the medicine-man's hat was lost; but we were in the middle of hearing the legend when the cathedral bell of the engine began to toll, and the "All-aboard" to sound; and so I can't tell you what did happen.

But the people at Medicine Hat, came anxiously to our train to see if a new doctor had arrived, and were disappointed to find that the only doctor on board was not destined for them. There are always two doctors at Medicine Hat. After this we crossed the South Saskatchewan, or "rapid-flowing river," which flows for 1300 miles from its glacier cradle down to Lake Winnipeg. The "fertile belt of the Saskatchewan" embraces 65,000 square miles, of which 45,000,000 acres are richest soil. In the clear sky above, the Great Bear, the Pole Star and the Evening Star shone brilliantly, "brightening all the pole" (Homer), and from time to time we saw natural gas burning.

During the night we passed Calgary, the centre of the ranching district; between this and Lethbridge the horses, sheep, and cows are numbered by millions. This is the home of the cow-boys, familiar to us through "Buffalo Bill and the Wild West." Numbers of young fellows who fail to pass "exams" in the old country, and will not work, fancy it will be "awfully jolly" to come out and lead a life like Buffalo Bill's cowboys in the Wild West; they imagine it consists in hunting, shooting, and fishing--sport in general, and galloping around all day long on Indian ponies in particular. "Work?" Yes, they are willing to work.

"Eight hours a day?" "Well, perhaps." "What do you say to fourteen hours? For there is no 'eight hours' movement' on the prairies?"

Proofread by LNL, Sept. 2023