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CHAPTER VIII.

Peace River.

Position of the Lands Described—Area of the Region in Question-Character of Rocks

and Soil—Its Composition and Disposition—Peace River Prairie Location of Prairie-Sandy Soils along Athabasca—Origin of Peace River Prairie-Wonderful Vegetation-Climate of Peace River-Summer of 1879—All Sorts of Grain and Vege. tables Mature-Ripening of Grain at Dunvegan and other Points-Depth of SnowSetting in of Winter-Opening of Spring-Breaking up of the Ice—Difference in Climate of Valley and Plateau-Occurrence of Frost-Comparison of TemperaturesPeace River Spring as Early as in Manitoba—Cause of Exceptional ClimateChinook Winds—Length of Day and Increased Sunlight give Warm SummersImmunity from Grasshoppers—Description of Little Slave Lake-Ripening of Grain at this point-Whitefish in the Lake-Abundance of Beaver-Climate Unchanged to the North-Soil of the Northern Plain—Ripening of Grain at Vermilion-Summer Climate of that Region-Milder Climate Farther North at Little Red RiverVicinity of Fort Chipweyan-Extraordinary Wheat on Poor Soil-Crops at Fort Simpson on Mackenzie's River-Climate and Crops at Fort Liard, Lat. 61o-Barley Ripens under the Arctic Circle-Farming on Peace River a Success—Lakes Teeming with Fish-Birds in Countless Flocks-Rocks of Peace River, Limestone, GypsumAbundance of Salt Bituminous Shales on Athabasca River-Tar Springs-Description of the River - Appearance of its Banks-Land Between the Athabasca and the Peace Rivers.

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DR. GEORGE M. Dawson, F. G. S., was sent out by the Dominion Government in company with one of the C. P. R. surveying parties in 1879, and spent the greater part of the summer in exploring the Peace River country, and the following extract is taken from his official report. I prefer giving his report to my own as he takes up the whole subject :

“The portion of the Peace River country, for which the exploration of last season enables pretty accurate general information to be given, may be considered as extending eastward from the Middle Forks of Pine River. West of this point, as already stated, the areas of fertile land are small, being confined to certain river valleys, which penetrate the foot hills of the Rocky Mountains and high plateau

attached to them. With this western limit, the region now to be described may be considered as bounded on the north by the fifty-seventh parallel, to its intersection eastward with the Peace River. Thence the boundary may be assumed to follow the Peace River southward to the mouth of Heart Brook, near the confluence of the Smoky River. Thence to run southeastward to the extremity of Lesser Slave Lake, to follow the western border of the hilly region lying to the south of the lake to the Athabasca River; thence to follow the Athabasca westward to the foot hills, and skirting the foot hills to run northwestward to the first men-, tioned point on Pine River.

“ The tract included within the limits above given has an area of about 31,550 square miles, and by far the larger part of this area may be classed as fertile. Its average elevation may be stated as little over 2,000 feet, and this is maintained with considerable uniformity, for though the general surface slopes slightly from the north and south toward Peace River, the region as a whole may be considered as a plateau through which the great gorge-like valley of the Peace has been excavated. This valley has in general a depth of 600 to 800 feet below that part of the plateau bordering it, with a width of two to three miles from rim to rim. Its tributary streams, at first nearly on the plateau level, flow in valleys of continually increasing depth as they approach that of the Peace River. Those from the southeastern portion of the region rise either in the Rocky Mountains, or near the Athabasca, the tributaries received by the latter stream from the north and northwest beingwith the exception of the Batiste-quite inconsiderable in this part of its course.

“ The ridges and hills by which this region is occasionally diversified, appear in all cases to be composed either of the generally soft rocks of the Cretaceous and Tertiary, or of arenaceous clays containing erratics, and representing the

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boulder clays of the glacial period. These elevations are generally slight, and with exceedingly light and gradual slopes, the scarped banks of the streams constituting much more important irregularities. These ridges, however, often resemble detached portions of a higher plateau, and spread widely enough to occupy in the aggregate a considerable area,

of which the soil is not so uniform in character as elsewhere. With these exceptions, the soil of the district may be described as a fine silt, resembling the white silts of the Nechacco basin previously referred to, and not dissimilar from the loess-like material constituting the subsoil of the Red River Valley in Manitoba. This silt, at a short distance below the surface, is greyish or brownish in color, but becomes mixed superficially with a proportion of vegetable matter to a varying depth. It has evidently been deposited by a comparatively tranquil body of water not loaded with ice, probably toward the close of the glacial period, and has either never been laid down on the ridges and undulations above referred to, or has been since removed from them by natural processes of waste. As evidenced by the natural vegetation its fertility is great.

“West of the Smoky River, both to the south and north of Peace River, there are extensive areas of prairie country, either perfectly open and covered with a more or less luxuriant growth of grass, or dotted with patches of coppice and trees.

“The northern banks of the Peace River Valley are also very generally open and grassed, and parts of the Valley of the Smoky and other rivers have a similar character. The total area of prairie land, west of the Smoky River, may be about 3,000 square miles. The remainder of the surface is generally occupied by second-growth forest, occasionally dense, but more often open and composed of aspen, birch, and cottonwood, with a greater or less proportion of coniferous trees.

Some patches of the original forest, however,

remain, particularly in the river valleys, and are composed of much larger trees, chiefly coniferous, among which the black spruce is most abundant.

is most abundant. Handsome groves of old and large cottonwoods are also to be found in some of the valleys. Where the soil becomes locally sandy and poor, and more particularly in some of the more elevated parts of the ridges before described, a thick growth of scrub pine and black spruce, in which the individual trees are small, is found; and in swampy regions the tamarac is not wanting, but grows generally intermixed with the black spruce.

“ East of the Smoky River, and southward towar the Athabasca, the prairie country is quite insignificant in extent, the region being characterized by second growth woods of the character just described, which, on approaching the Athabasca, are replaced by extensive and well-nigh impassable tracts of brulé and wind-fall, in which secondgrowth forest is only beginning to struggle up.

“Though the prairies are most immediately available from an agricultural point of view, the regions now covered with second-growth and forest, where the soil itself is not inferior, will eventually be equally valuable. The largest tract of poor land is that bordering the valley of the Athabasca on the north. This rises to an elevation considerably greater than most of the region to the north and west, and appears during the submergence to which the superficial deposits are due, to have been exposed to stronger currents, which have prevented the deposition of the fine silt, causing it to be replaced by a coarser silt which passes in places with actual sand, and alternates with ridges of boulder clay. This region is also often very swampy, and for a width of twenty to twenty-five miles on the trail from Sturgeon Lake to the Athabasca is quite unsuited to agriculture, though still in many places capable of yielding good summer grazing when the forest has been completely removed by fire. To the northward, more particularly to the east of Smoky River, peaty and mossy swamps occupy part of the surface, and these may be regarded as permanently unsuited to agriculture.

“There is also a sandy tract, though of small width, along the lower part of the Elk River near its junction with the Smoky Deducting, as far as possible, all the areas known to be inferior or useless, with about 20 per cent. for the portions of the region under consideration, of which less is known, the total area of land, with soil suited to agriculture, may be estimated as at least 23,500 square miles. In the absence of complete maps, such an estimate cannot be otherwise than very rough, but may serve to give some idea of the fact.

“Whatever theory be adopted, and may have been advanced, to account for the wide prairies of the western portion of America further to the south, the origin of the prairies of the Peace River is sufficiently obvious. There can be no doubt that they have been produced and are maintained by fires. The country is naturally a wooded one, and where fires have not run for a few years, young trees begin rapidly to spring up. The fires are, of course, ulti

. mately attributable to human agency, and it is probable that before the country was inhabited by the Indians it was everywhere densely forest-clad. That the date of origin of the chief prairie tracts now found is remote, is clearly evidenced by their present appearance, and more particularly by the fact that they are everywhere scored and rutted with old buffalo tracks, while every suitable locality is pitted with the saucer-shaped “ buffalo wallows.” It is reported that a few buffaloes were seen last year near Pine River, but the animal has now become in the Peace River country practically extinct; an event which, according to the Indians, happened at a date not very remote, owing to a winter of exceptional severity, during which the snow 'reached to the buffaloes' backs.'

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