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. 216-222

[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.]

                                         III. OUT WEST.

First, the log cabin must be built, and next comes the day's programme--to rise about 4:30 AM., light the fire, prepare the breakfast, go round and fodder the horses, afterwards breakfast, put the house in order (if two young men dwell together, then they divide the work); there is wood to be chopped, clothes to be washed, darned and mended, food to be cooked, bread to be made; to ride around and tend the flocks during the daylight hours, and then--the long, lonely evenings! Salt pork from barrels is the staple food, with potatoes. Bread is generally baked on Sunday to last four days; something else fills its place till next Sunday. A real cowboy told me this, and said he would thankfully take £100 to live at home; though he is a brave noble fellow who does his duty manfully where his lot has fallen. He wished that English boys knew the reality of cowboy life, and would believe it, and put their hearts and minds into the preparations for examinations and the daily duties at home with half the zeal they are willing to expend in doing grooms' and herdsmen's work "Out West." They could then easily make their way, and earn sufficient to live as gentlemen in their own land.

How strongly he urged that all boys from the age of twelve should be taught carpentry and farriery thoroughly, and serve an apprenticeship in their holidays to an experienced workman, for, he said, they can never know to what shifts they will be put. Sewing, cooking, bootmaking, all most valuable to be learned; it is easy to leave off, but hardship to begin in a strange land. The Princes of the German Imperial Family learn a trade. How important it is, as a part of education, the lives of General Gordon, Bishop Steere, Mackay of Uganda, all show.

We heard of a Kensington lady, who, on the prairies, has to work for her husband and twenty men, doing the sewing, washing, ironing, cooking, &c. No help is to be had at any price.

Canadian girls are brought up to be useful. They receive a splendid education at school, and, at home, a thorough training in housekeeping. When they go to the Wild West it is no hardship to rough it. An untrained English bride alighted from our car, at a desolate wayside station, for her new home, eighty miles off, to whom these facts came as a revelation, a rude awakening.

A Nova Scotian lady related to me her own experience of a mother's strictness in allowing no pleasure to be indulged until the homely duty was performed, and added, "I didn't think so then, but I see the beauty of it now." In Canadian families, if the cook falls ill, or walks off in a huff, the family is not "thrown on its beam ends," for all the girls know how to fill her place and so they can rise above, and be independent of, disagreeable circumstances. An officer told us that owing to his love for, and practical knowledge of, carpentry, he made all the furniture required in his colonial home, and when he was ordered away it was sold at a handsome profit. Another case came to our knowledge where the little daughter of twelve had, owing to a lurch, to bathe and dress the few-days'-old baby sister. So efficiently did she do it that her mother wisely entrusted her with money to supply its wardrobe, &c. and gave her the entire charge of the infant. That girl grew up, and her training was of the utmost value to her in the foreign land where her lot was cast in bringing up her own large family.

Our cowboy friend said that the truest kindness an English father can do his son when he starts West is to allow him no spending money, but let him work under a practical man, until, by his own economy, he has saved enough to buy a farm, and gained sufficient experience to manage it. To buy a farm without the experience means ruin.

Another point upon which he speaks most emphatically is, that whatever a young man does in England, out West he must make up his mind to foreswear drink in any form or quantity, and never to touch a card; and this is not upon religious grounds, but as a common prudential safeguard.

On Saturday morning we reached the foot of the Rockies, which only a few years ago it had taken three months to reach in the cumbersome old ox-waggons, or six weeks by "express."

The Rocky Mountains! The "Kingdom of the West Wind," the "Bridge of the World," the "Mountains of the Setting Sun," such have been their various titles. They were discovered in 1742-3 by a Frenchman, [Pierre Gaultier de La] Vérandrye.

The Indians say that the Rockies were thrown up in order to drain off the water at the time of the Deluge; and that on the other side lie the glorious shores of Paradise. They have an amusing tradition about the Creation:

"In the beginning the Great Hare was on a raft surrounded by animals. No land could be seen. Anxious to create the world, the Great Hare asked the beaver to dive for mud, but the adventurous diver floated to the top fainting. The otter also tried and failed. The musk-rat then offered himself for the perilous task. After remaining a day and a night beneath the water, he reappeared, floating on his back, to all appearances dead, with his paws fast closed. On opening them, a grain of sand was found in one, and of this the Great Hare made the world." Some add that the tortoise offered his back as the foundation for the sand to be laid upon.

The Castellated Mountains first dawned upon us in the grey morning light amid the mists. Their towers and pinnacles, and exquisitely tender colourings of grey and blue, red and green and yellow from the limestone, sandstone, and shale stratas were very striking. Then the huge moraines, which show how busily "Madam How" has worked with her ice-plough.

One is awestruck at the first sight of those giants, at the awful stillness of those solitudes, broken only by the roar of cataracts and the rushing of our own train.

Banff Hot Springs is passed: a very lovely place, with beautiful excursions round, one of which is to Lake Louise, where the glaciers are indescribably grand--finer than anything in Switzerland. The rain cleared off before we reached the summit of the Pass, 5296 feet high, the mountains towering 3000 to 4000 feet above that. Here is a large signboard, the stand and letters are formed of trunks in log-cabin style, the words are "THE GREAT DIVIDE." It looks so like an hotel advertisement--so out of place there!

It means that this is the top of the great watershed which divides the continent into the Atlantic and the Pacific slopes. The Rockies are the backbone of North America, as the Andes are of South America. Close by there is a sweet, calm, clear lakelet, another of those wonderful small beginnings one loves to trace out in their grand developments. It sends forth two streams, one (the Kicking Horse) flows down the Pacific slope, and joins the Columbia River. The other becomes the Saskatchewan, whose waters find their way into Hudson's Bay, near the Arctic circle. "All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full," said the Wise Man [Ecclesiastes 1:7]. We, too, proceed, descending through the narrow precipitous gorge of the Kicking Horse Pass (so called from Dr. [James] Hector, the explorer's, accident), crossing its pawning chasms, while the river plunges madly far below, till it broadens out into the beautiful Wapta Lake. Our descent is to the base of a stupendous mountain, which has a glacier of shining green ice, 800 feet thick, hanging directly overhead. On the face of Mount Stephen is a giddy little tramway, apparently high up in the clouds, leading to silver mines. Now we note the dampness of the Pacific slope, from the rank vegetation and luxuriant mosses clinging to the rocks and to the gigantic trees.

At Field we alight for breakfast, and the resinous perfume of the pines is perfectly delicious. We sign our names in the visitor's book for the benefit of future friends who shall pass this way, and then get into the "Observation Car," which is provided for the sake of better views. The snowfields are entrancing in their dazzling whiteness, and the effect of the mists rising from the valleys, and nestling to the mountain-sides, is truly ethereal. We never saw anything like those mighty rock terraces, broad ledges on which the snow lies thickly where it finds no resting-place on the face of the steep rocky cliffs. We enjoyed tracing the "tree line" from the thin border line not far above us just below the everlasting snow, gradually increasing and developing into one vast sea of verdure, from all sides descending or ascending till the trees united in a dense billowy green ocean, embosoming the mountains, and hiding the bare rocks, yet themselves crowned with snow and ice, their feet bathed by the silver river.

Glaciers clung to the peaks, which towered on every side, while the sides of the hills were riddled by avalanch [avalanche] tracks. Swinging round the curves at a terrific rate, our engine looked like some fiery serpent, rushing us through the endless chains of mountains, raising the echoes by its horse whistle, and leaving legacies of cloud-wreaths from its steam. Could Watts, the inventor of the steam-engine, and Stephenson, the originator of that toy-like "Puffing Billy" (which is now in the South Kensington Museum), but have seen this fiery monster, this iron high-road through the inaccessible wilderness to the far East, how amazed they would have been. Oh! The omnipotence of "little"!

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Then came the Otter-tail Mountains, stretching away and away, in twenty-eight peaks, to our left. Marvellous, everchanging views, baffling one by their superb beauty!--scenery each bit of which one would come leagues to see; and here every inch of hundreds of miles surpassed imagination.

And above all and through all, the overwhelming truth made itself felt: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." "His hands prepared the dry land." The song of Moses: "Before ever the mountains were brought forth, or ever the earth or the sea were made, Thou art God from everlasting and world without end." The creed of the Catholic Church:

"I believe in God.
The Father                                         > "A faithful Creator."
Maker of Heaven and Earth."

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The Selkirk range is a most magnificent panorama--a fellow-traveler said it was "the Himalayas in miniature." (The Himalayas are more than twice as high, ranging from 23,000 to 29,000 feet high, and are more covered with snow, and stretch in a semicircle for 300 miles from Darjeeling to far Thibet.) Forward are fresh vistas of snow-clad Rockies as far as the eye can penetrate. This is a splendid country for all kinds of sport.

Some useful cures were mentioned: One, a match to take a cinder out of the eye; another, that to gargle when thirsty is better than drinking; a third, to paint the eyes round in a half-circle with a charred stick as a precaution against snow-blindness.

At Donald a notice-board proclaims that we are 2445 miles from Montreal and 4581 miles from Vancouver; also that "two girls are wanted at the hotel--wages, 20 to 25 dollars a month," £3 to £6.

Time again recedes one hour, and becomes "Pacific."

After this, the train crosses the Columbia, and goes through the deep narrow gorge formed by the Selkirks and Rockies crowding down together and forcing the river through. It enters the Selkirks through "the Gate of the Beaver River." The colour of the Beaver is pea-green, from the glacier mud it brings down, boiling, eddying, surging, tumbling, and rolling, like the wave [or waves] of a stormy sea, in its frantic haste to join the Columbia River.

                    *                     *                     *                     *                     *                     *

We got on to the platform of the last car at this point, Sambo thoughtfully providing a camp-stool, and for 138 miles rode outside, at the back of the train, amidst the most wondrous scenery imaginable. We enjoyed it through and through, and never expect to live out such another day! Every turn brought some fresh unthought-of development of beauty. As the train slowly mounted, climbing the mountain-side, the Beaver wound ever further below us, like a thread of silver amidst the dense forests of dark conifers. Blue smoke curled occasionally from some unseen wigwam. Decimated forests, with charred hollow trunks strewed the hillsides like split matches, the work of the forest fires which have been kindled by engine sparks, signal fires, or the lightning, which is severe in the mountains. Picture, if you can, the cypresses and cedars of immense height, Douglas firs measuring 300 feet by 10 feet, which furnish masts and spars to the largest vessels; the enormous roots of uprooted giants, trees hearty with dense fringes of grey lichens. One by one snow peaks appear, and, gradually unveiling, reveal their superb beauty. Magnificent trestle bridges (one containing 1,500,000 feet of timber) span the roaring torrents, which are fed by the seas of ice above. A spot beyond Cedar Creek so impressed the builders of the line with its loveliness that they named it "The Surprise."

We "roll along the track," turning up the Bear Creek next, and cross over Stony Creek "on the highest bridge in this world," at the dizzy height of 296 feet.

                    *                     *                     *                     *                     *                     *

The way narrows, and there is barely room to pass between the two glorious Titans, Mount MacDonald, which rises perpendicularly one mile and a quarter sheer into the air above us, and the cathedral-spired Hermit Mountain. Still further on is an unmistakable pyramid called "Cheops." We feel, after seeing this pyramid of Nature, that the Cheops of man in Egypt will pale. Now we cross Roger's Pass, 4275 in altitude. It was discovered by a Major [Albert Bowman] Rogers in 1883, previous to which no human foot had penetrated it. The silence of these vast solitudes can be felt.

After Selkirk Summit, the train suddenly and swiftly descends at a terrifying rate, rushes outside the one mile shed overlooking the Illicelliwaet Valley, and pulls up opposite the great glacier of the Selkirks. The majesty of this ocean of silver ice is inconceivable. St. John must have had one such in mind when he wrote about the Great White Throne.

At Glacier House we were supposed to have 50 minutes; but suddenly the cry rang out, "All aboard." . . . [Add this text: Mount Baker, with its snowy crown, is seen seventy miles away in the United States.] A thousand feet higher than the Peak of Teneriffe, and amid fertile fields, mammouth trees and giant ferns 6 to 8 feet high, we drew near with real regret to Vancouver (where close by the Empress steamship lay awaiting us in the Burrard Inlet), having crossed that immense New World from east to west in six days, and arrived at our destination "punctual to a minute," or rather seven minutes before the advertised time, 13:30 P.M., and within an hour the ship weighed anchor, and we had to start without three pieces of baggage, notwithstanding the check system! It reached us three weeks after our return to England. Crowds of Chinese were shouldering the baggage and the mail-bags; the cry, "Any more for the shore?" sounded, whilst pigtailed China boys rushed about furiously beating gongs, to strike terror into the evil spirits before putting to sea; the "siren" whistled in an excruciating unearthy manner, the inlet looked its calmest--most "pacific"; and we were off in search of Niphon, "the place where the sun comes from." The last shore-sight was typical of the fin-du-siècle days of this nineteenth century; as the cables were slipped a little girl on the quay unstrapped a "Kodak" from her shoulders, and photographed the Empress of India.

[The first Kodak camera was introduced in 1888.]

(To be continued.)

Proofread by LNL, Sept. 2023