Of course eastern cities may fight a diversion of traffic to the seaboard of the West, but they can not stop it. Portland is already one of the big grain shippers and will bid for a share of Canada’s west-bound grain, if Vancouver and Prince Rupert do not prepare for the new conditions.
Not only terminals but elevators must be prepared on the Pacific. Terminals mean more than railroad company tracks. They mean city-owned trackage, so that the tramp steamer seeking cargo at cheap rates shall have every inducement and facility for getting cargo. They mean free sites for manufacturers, not sky-rocket boom prices that keep new industries out of a city. Elevators and terminals have been announced time and again for Vancouver, but up to the present the announcements have not materialized. Regular grain steamers must be put on, steamers good for cargo of three hundred thousand and four hundred thousand bushels, as on the lakes, and with devices for such swift handling as have made Montreal one of the best grain ports in the world, in spite of high insurance rates and half-season. As long as there are no elevators at Vancouver, grain must be sacked. Sacking costs from five to six cents extra a bushel, and more extra in handling. The remedy for this is for the Pacific ports to build elevators; and even when they haven’t elevators, the saving in rates over and above the extra sacking has already been from eight to fourteen cents a bushel on grain billed for Liverpool via the one hundred ninety miles of rail over Tehuantepec, or via the Panama railroad, where bulk need not be broken twice.
An objection is that in the humid Pacific Coast winter climate there is danger of grain heating. This has been overcome at Portland, and against this must be set the incalculable advantage that Pacific Coast ports are open all the year round. One year, of 65,000,000 bushels of grain from the prairie provinces that passed over the Great Lakes forty-three per cent. went out by way of Buffalo to American ports. Why? Because the glut was so great, the facilities so inadequate for the enormous crop, the insurance so high, that the grain could not be rushed seaward fast enough before close of navigation. Through Vancouver during this very period there passed only 750,000 bushels of wheat. Why not more? No facilities.
“We could have shipped millions of bushels of wheat to Liverpool by way of Vancouver,” said the head of one of the largest grain companies in Calgary, “but there were simply no facilities to take care of it. On 16,000 bushels, which we shipped by way of Vancouver and Tehuantepec, we saved eight cents a bushel, as against Atlantic rates. You know how much handling the Tehuantepec route requires. Well, you can figure what we should save the farmer when Panama opens and the cargo never breaks bulk to Liverpool from our shore.”
Rates, not heating nor sacking, are the real cloud in the Canadian mind regarding Panama; and if Canada continues to stand twiddling her hands over rates when she should be hustling preparations, the inevitable will happen—Portland, which sends millions of bushels of her own wheat to Liverpool, is ready to take care of Canada’s traffic; so is Seattle. There is nothing these cities hope more than that Canada will continue to shun the question of rates.