The Arctic Prairies By Ernest Thompson Seton


















































































































































 - The Arctic Prairies

A Canoe-Journey

OF 2,000 MILES IN SEARCH OF THE CARIBOU

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The Arctic Prairies

A Canoe-Journey

OF 2,000 MILES IN SEARCH OF THE CARIBOU

BEING THE ACCOUNT OF A VOYAGE TO THE REGION NORTH OF AYLMER LAKE

By Ernest Thompson Seton

Author of "Wild Animals I Have Known", "Life Histories", Etc.

DEDICATED

TO

THE RIGHT HONOURABLE SIR WILFRID LAURIER, G. C. M. G. PREMIER OF CANADA

PREFACE

What young man of our race would not gladly give a year of his life to roll backward the scroll of time for five decades and live that year in the romantic bygone-days of the Wild West; to see the great Missouri while the Buffalo pastured on its banks, while big game teemed in sight and the red man roamed and hunted, unchecked by fence or hint of white man's rule; or, when that rule was represented only by scattered trading-posts, hundreds of miles apart, and at best the traders could exchange the news by horse or canoe and months of lonely travel?

I for one, would have rejoiced in tenfold payment for the privilege of this backward look in our age, and had reached the middle life before I realised that, at a much less heavy cost, the miracle was possible today.

For the uncivilised Indian still roams the far reaches of absolutely unchanged, unbroken forest and prairie leagues, and has knowledge of white men only in bartering furs at the scattered trading-posts, where locomotive and telegraph are unknown; still the wild Buffalo elude the hunters, fight the Wolves, wallow, wander, and breed; and still there is hoofed game by the million to be found where the Saxon is as seldom seen as on the Missouri in the times of Lewis and Clarke. Only we must seek it all, not in the West, but in the far North-west; and for "Missouri and Mississippi" read "Peace and Mackenzie Rivers," those noble streams that northward roll their mile-wide turbid floods a thousand leagues to the silent Arctic Sea.

This was the thought which spurred me to a six months' journey by canoe. And I found what I went in search of, but found, also, abundant and better rewards that were not in mind, even as Saul, the son of Kish, went seeking asses and found for himself a crown and a great kingdom.

Four years have gone by since I lived through these experiences. Such a lapse of time may have made my news grow stale, but it has also given the opportunity for the working up of specimens and scientific records. The results, for the most part, will be found in the Appendices, and three of these, as indicated - namely, the sections on Plants, Mammals, and Birds - are the joint work of my assistant, Mr. Edward A. Preble, and myself.

My thanks are due here to the Right Honourable Lord Strathcona, G. C. M. G., Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, for giving me access to the records of the Company whenever I needed them for historical purposes; to the Honourable Frank Oliver, Minister of the Interior, Canada, for the necessary papers and permits to facilitate scientific collection, and also to Clarence C. Chipman, Esq., of Winnipeg, the Hudson's Bay Company's Commissioner, for practical help in preparing my outfit, and for letters of introduction to the many officers of the Company, whose kind help was so often a Godsend.

ERNEST THOMPSON SETON.

CHAPTER I

DEPARTURE FOR THE NORTH

In 1907 I set out to journey by canoe down the Athabaska and adjoining waters to the sole remaining forest wilds - the far north-west of Canada - and the yet more desert Arctic Plains, where still, it was said, were to be seen the Caribou in their primitive condition.

My only companion was Edward A. Preble, of Washington, D. C., a trained naturalist, - an expert canoeist and traveller, and a man of three seasons' experience in the Hudson's Bay Territory and the Mackenzie Valley. While my chief object was to see the Caribou, and prove their continued abundance, I was prepared incidentally to gather natural-history material of all kinds, and to complete the shore line of the ambiguous lake called "Aylmer," as well as explore its sister, the better-known Clinton-Colden.

I went for my own pleasure at my own expense, and yet I could not persuade my Hudson's Bay Company friends that I was not sent by some government, museum or society for some secret purpose.

On the night of May 5 we left Winnipeg, and our observations began with the day at Brandon.

From that point westward to Regina we saw abundant evidence that last year had been a "rabbit year," that is, a year in which the ever-fluctuating population of Northern Hares (Snowshoe-rabbits or White-rabbits) had reached its maximum, for nine-tenths of the bushes in sight from the train had been barked at the snow level. But the fact that we saw not one Rabbit shows that "the plague" had appeared, had run its usual drastic course, and nearly exterminated the species in this particular region.

Early next morning at Kininvie (40 miles west of Medicine Hat, Alberta) we saw a band of 4 Antelope south of the track; later we saw others all along as far as Gleichen. All were south of the track. The bands contained as follows: 4, 14, 18, 8, 12, 8, 4, 1, 4, 5, 4, 6, 4, 18, 2, 6, 34, 6, 3, 1, 10, 25, 16, 3, 7, 9 (almost never 2, probably because this species does not pair), or 232 Antelope in 26 bands along 70 miles of track; but all were on the south side; not one was noted on the north.

The case is simple. During the past winter, while the Antelope were gone southward, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company had fenced its track. In spring the migrants, returning, found themselves cut off from their summer feeding-grounds by those impassable barb-wires, and so were gathered against the barrier.

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