The geographical colossus, known as Canada, is comprehensible only by the careful study of a map or globe. The average citizen of the United States regards it as a somewhat lengthy strip of territory bordering the northern frontier of the great republic. Even of this, the only part which seems to him important is that adjoining some of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence, or, roughly speaking, the region between Toronto and Quebec. Indeed, until one carefully considers the extent of continent which has, since 1867, constituted the Dominion of Canada, or, better still, until one has actually traversed its enormous area, stretching across the widest part of North America, from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia to British Columbia and Vancouver Island, he cannot understand how vast a section of the New World is still dominated by Great Britain. With the exception of Russia, the whole of Europe, from Scotland's northernmost island to the end of Italy and from the coast of Portugal to Poland, if placed within the limits of Canada, would so far fail of filling it that there would still be room for another Europe of the same dimensions. Canada is, moreover, a little larger than the United States and Alaska combined; and a line drawn from Torbay Head on the eastern coast of Newfoundland to the stupendous ice-crowned mass of Mount St. Elias, eighteen thousand feet in height, which faces the Pacific as the western sentinel of the British Empire, would measure, in that latitude, nearly one-fourth of the distance round the globe. Hence, to attempt to write of all the interesting features of a land so varied and gigantic, within the space allotted to it in a portion of this volume, would be but little more than to catalogue its most remarkable points of scenery and principal historic epochs. Yet even partial glimpses of a realm so vast that it is bounded by three oceans, are not without a certain charm and benefit, as merely a slight acquaintance with the names and nature of the shining orbs that sweep through boundless space enables us to look with greater admiration and appreciation on the midnight skies.
Torbay Head, Newfoundland.
Mount St. Elias, Canada's Western Sentinel.
Canada's crowning glory is the St. Lawrence River. Up this unknown and awe-inspiring stream, - originating, as he thought, in the Indies, - sailed, in the fall of 1535, the Canadian Columbus, Jacques Cartier, who named it after the saint upon whose fete clay he first entered it. Through the primeval forests which then framed it, subsequent explorers crept to conquest. By means of its deep, navigable channel, the great Dominion has developed most of her resources; and on its banks her largest cities have been built. Its praises have not been as loudly sung as those of many less important rivers.
In The Gulf Of ST. Lawrence.
But, whether worthily eulogized or not, it offers the sublimest avenue of approach to North America; and as a waterway, extending, in connection with the lakes which nourish it, almost half across the continent, it is unique among the liquid highways of the world. For, though the great fresh-water seas supporting the St. Lawrence system contain more than half the unsalted water found upon our planet, all this, together with the large amount contributed by subsidiary streams, is brought to the Atlantic by this mighty aqueduct. It is, moreover, glorious to the last.
Its exit is not lost in marshy lowlands. No delta finally divides its mass to make its ending multiple. With undiminished volume, and with broadening banks clear cut and sheer to a great depth, it moves majestically on, drawing a score of tributaries in its train, until in kingly dignity it greets the sea.
For these and other reasons, notably the strength and swiftness of its tides, it is one of the most navigable of rivers. Not only was the harbor of Quebec, though situated eight hundred and forty-six miles from the ocean, one of the very few American ports possessing water deep enough to receive the "Great Eastern"; but now large transatlantic liners steam one hundred and seventy-five miles farther inland than that city, directly to the piers of Montreal. Accordingly, if nature had been uniformly kind to the St. Lawrence, this stream would probably have become the favorite gateway to the western continent; and the short route between the Old World and the New at this high latitude would doubtless have secured for Canada the best and fastest service on the North Atlantic. But in the evolution of our globe, a certain impartiality seems to have been shown. Even its finest portions have their drawbacks; and nowhere is this law of compensation seen more clearly than in the obstacles, which for a part of the year render so difficult and dangerous the otherwise easy access to Our Lady of the Snows. Near the Canadian coast two currents wage perpetual warfare. The Gulf Stream, blue in color, thrilled with warmth and life, and bearing on its bosom plants and driftwood from the tropics, sweeps northward from its equatorial cradle. The Arctic Current, green in hue, frigid in temperature, and often freighted with a fleet of icebergs, glides southward from the polar seas. Just off the Gulf of St. Lawrence, these antagonistic forces meet in a terrific struggle, resulting in a partial victory for the colder, heavier stream, which finally succeeds in pushing its opponent eastward one hundred miles from the American coast. The cliffs of Newfoundland, sheer, savage, and in places several hundred feet in height, look down in stern neutrality upon the conflict of these ocean rivals. Too frequently both combatants and their field of battle are shrouded in the fogs created by their contact, much as the movements of two hostile armies are hidden by the smoke of cannon. Hence, during certain portions of the year, the floating caravans of commerce shun the "Banks" of mist which brood so sullenly upon the surface of the sea in this locality, dreading the haze-enveloped currents and inhospitable rocks, which at the openings of the mighty estuary exact their annual hecatomb of human lives.