To the argument—shorter distances by half by the northern route—is added the argument cheaper rates as eight to one.
That is why for twenty years Canada has gone sheer mad over a Hudson Bay route to Europe. For obvious reasons the ports in Eastern Canada have fought the idea and ridiculed the whole project as “an iron tonic from rusting rails” for the cows. That has not stopped the West. Grading is under way for the railroad to Hudson Bay from the grain plains. The Canadian government is the backer and the builder. Construction engines, dredges, steamers now whistle over the silences of the northern inland sea; and Port Nelson, which for three centuries has been the great fur entrepot of the wintry wastes, now echoes to pick and hammer and blowing locomotive intent on the construction of what is known as the Hudson Bay Railroad. Should the war last for years as wars of old, and Port Nelson become a great grain port as for three centuries it has been the greatest fur port of the world, the navies of Europe may yet thunder at one another along Hudson Bay’s shallow shores, as French and English fought there all through the seventeenth century.
The Hudson Bay railroad hung in mid-air for almost a quarter century. It was regarded by the East as one of the West’s mad impossible “boom” projects. Hadn’t Canada, a country of seven million population, a railroad system of 29,000 miles? Hadn’t the Dominion spent $138,000,000 on canals heading traffic to the St. Lawrence? Why divert half that traffic north to Hudson Bay? Surely three great transcontinental systems for a country with a population not larger than New York State were enough. So argued the East, and a great many conservative people in the West. Better make haste slowly, especially as it was becoming more and more evident that Canada would have to come to the aid of two of the transcontinentals or see them go bankrupt.
Then something happened. In fact, two or three things happened.
The population, which had remained almost stationary for half a century, jumped two million in less than ten years. Immigrants began pouring in at the rate of four hundred thousand a year—they were coming literally faster than the railroads could carry them.
It sometimes takes an outsider’s view of us to make us realize ourselves. Do you realize—they asked—that your three grain provinces alone are three times the area of the German Empire? Here is a grain field as long as from Petrograd to Paris and of unknown width north and south. You have 480,000,000 acres of wheat lands. (The United States plants only 50,000,000 acres a year to wheat.) You are cultivating only 16,000,000 acres. If there is a grain blockade now, what will there be when you cultivate 100,000,000 acres? Yes—we know—you may send Alberta grain west by Panama to Liverpool; but even with half going by Panama,