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William Edwards
In to the Yukon

In to the Yukon
William Edwards

William Seymour Edwards

In to the Yukon


These letters were not written for publication originally. They were written for the home circle and the few friends who might care to read them. They are the brief narrative of daily journeyings and experiences during a very delightful two months of travel into the far north and along the Pacific slope of our continent. Some of the letters were afterwards published in the daily press. They are now put into this little book and a few of the Kodak snapshots taken are given in half-tone prints.

We were greeted with much friendliness along the way and were the recipients of many courtesies. None showed us greater attention than the able and considerate officials of the Pacific Coast S. S. Co., the Alaska S. S. Co. and the White Pass and Yukon Railway Co., including Mr. Kekewich, managing Director of the London Board, and Mr. Newell, Vice-President of the Company.

At Atlin and Dawson we met and made many friends, and we would here reiterate to them, one and all, our warm appreciation of their hospitalities.

    William Seymour Edwards.

    Charleston-Kanawha, West Virginia,
    August, 1904.



    Steamer Northwest, on Lake Superior,
    August 11, 1903.

We reached Cleveland just in time to catch the big liner, which cast off her cables almost as soon as we were aboard. A vessel of 5,000 tons, a regular sea ship. The boat was packed with well-dressed people, out for a vacation trip, most of them. By and by we began to pass islands, and about 2 P. M. turned into a broad channel between sedgy banks – the Detroit River. Many craft we passed and more overtook, for we were the fastest thing on the lakes as well as the biggest.

Toward 3 P. M., the tall chimneys of the huge salt works and the church spires of the city of Detroit began to come into view. A superb water front, several miles long, and great warehouses and substantial buildings of brick and stone, fit for a vast commerce.

The sail up the Detroit River, through Lake St. Clair, and then up the St. Clair River to Lake Huron, was as lovely a water trip as any I have made. The superb park “Belle Isle,” the pride of Detroit; the many, very many, villas and cottages all along the water-side, hundreds of them; everywhere boats, skiffs, launches, naphtha and steam, all filled with Sunday pleasure excursionists, the many great pleasure excursion steamers loaded down with passengers, gave a life and liveliness to the water views that astonished and pleased us.

The Lake St. Clair is about twenty miles across, apparently broader than it is, for the reason that its sedgy margins are so wide that the trees and higher land further back seem the real border of the lake. What is called the “St. Clair Flats” are the wide, low-lying lands on each side of the long reaches of the St. Clair River. Twenty miles of cottages, hotels, club-houses, are strung along the water-side, each with its little pier and its boats.

Towards dark – eight o’clock – we came to Sarnia and Port Huron, and pointed out into the great lake, second in depth to Superior – larger than any but Superior – a bit of geography I had quite forgotten.

At dawn on Monday, we were skirting the high-wooded southern shore, and by 11 A. M. sighted the fir-clad heights of Mackinac where Lake Michigan comes in. Here is a beautiful protected bay, where is a big hotel, and the good people of Chicago come to forget the summer heats. After half an hour, we turned again and toward the north, in a half circle, and by 4 P. M. were amidst islands and in a narrow channel, the St. Mary’s River.

Huron is a deep blue like Superior, and unlike the green of shallow Erie. The channel toward the Soo is very tortuous – many windings and sharp turns, marked by buoys and multitudinous beacon lights. All along we had passed great numbers of steamships and barges – ore carriers, but nowhere saw a large sailing craft, only a sail boat here and there. This entire extensive traffic is a steam traffic, and though we see many boats, they are black and sombre, and burdened with coal and ore.

It was late, nearly seven o’clock, when we steamed slowly into the lock basin at the Soo. High fir-clad hills on either hand; a multitude of channels among wooded islands. A new and vigorous manufacturing community growing up on either shore where the electric power is being harnessed. Many buildings, many new residences, some of them large and imposing, covering the sloping hillsides. The rapids are a mile or more in length and half a mile wide. The American canal with its locks is on the south side. One, the old lock, small; the other, large and deep for modern traffic. We were here delayed more than two hours by reason of the pack of boats ahead of us. It was dark when we came out of the lock – a lift of twenty-one feet. But meantime, the hills on either hand had burst out into hundreds of electric lights, betokening a much greater population than I had conceived. As we entered the American lock, a big black ship, almost as large as ours, crept in behind us to the Canadian lock on the river’s further side – one of the Canadian Pacific line going to Fort William.

It was a full moon as we came out of the upper river and lost ourselves in the blackness of Lake Superior. A keen, crisp wind, a heavier swell than on the lakes below. We were continually passing innumerable craft with their dancing night lights. The tonnage that now goes through the Soo canals is greater than that of Suez. How little could the world have dreamed of this a few years ago!

To-day when I came on deck we were just entering the ship canal that makes the short cut by way of Houghton. A cold mist and rain, fir-trees and birches, small and stunted, a cold land. A country smacking strongly of Norway. No wonder the Scandinavians and Finns take to a land so like their own.

At Houghton we were in the center of the copper region. A vigorous town, many handsome residences. But it has been cold all day. Mercury 56 degrees this morning. A sharp wind from the north. The bulk of the passengers are summer tourists in thin gauze and light clothing, and all day they are shivering in the cabin under cover, while we stay warm out on deck.

The food is excellent, and the famous planked white fish is our stand-by.

This whole trip is a great surprise to me. The splendid great ship, the conveniences and luxury equalling any trans-Atlantic liner. The variety and beauty of the scenery, the differences in the lakes, their magnitude, the islands, the tributary rivers with their great flow of clear water, the vast traffic of multitudinous big boats. The life and vigor and stir of this north country! Many of the passengers are going to the Yellowstone. We will reach Duluth about 10 P. M., and leave by the 11:10 Great Northern train for St. Paul.



    St. Paul, Minnesota, August 13, 1903.

We have spent two delightful days in St. Paul, great city of the Northwest that it is. We came over from West Superior by the “Great Northern” route, very comfortably in a new and fresh-kept sleeper – a night’s ride. I was early awake and sat for an hour watching the wide flat farming country of Minnesota. Not much timber, never a cornfield, much wheat and oats and hay land. A black, rich soil. Still a good deal of roll to the landscape, and, at the same time, a certain premonition of the greater, more boundless flatness of the land yet further west. And a land, as well, of many picturesque little lakes and pools. I now the more perfectly comprehend why the Indian word “Minne,” water, comes in so often among the names and titles of Minne-sota.

The farm houses and farm buildings we pass are large and well built, and here and there I see a building which might be along the Baegna Valley or the Telemarken Fjords of Norway, it is so evidently Norse. There are, as yet, but few people at the way-stations. We are a through flyer, and the earlier commuters are not yet astir.

About the houses and barns, also, I notice a certain snugness, indicative of winters that are cold.

Now, we are nearing the city, there are more men at the way-stations. It is evident that the early morning local will follow us close behind.

We came into the big Union Depot on time. The air was crisp and dry. There was much bustle and ado. These people move with an alert vigor, their cheeks are rosy, their eyes are snappy, and I like the swing of their shoulders as they step briskly along the streets. Mankind migrates along earth’s parallels of latitude, so ’tis said – and Minnesota and the great Northwest is but another New England and New York. Vermont and New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York have sent her their ablest sons and daughters, while Ontario and Quebec and the Maritime Provinces have contributed to her population of their force and power. Upon and among this matrix of superior American and Canadian stock, has also been superimposed many thousands of the more energetic and vigorous men, women and children of Europe’s ancient warlike breeds – the viking Northmen of Norway and Sweden and of Denmark, of all Scandinavia. A still great race in their fatherlands, a splendid reinforcement to the virtues of Puritan and Knickerbocker; while there have also come cross currents from Virginia and the South. The type you see on the streets is American, but among it, and with it, is prominently evident the Norse blue eyes and yellow hair of Scandinavia.

St. Paul is surely a great city, great in her present, great in her future. St. Paul is builded on several hills, out along which are avenues and boulevards and rows of sumptuous private residences, while down in the valleys are gathered the more part of the big, modern business blocks and store houses and manufacturing establishments, where are centered the energies which direct her industries and commerce. St. Paul is a rich city, a solid city. The wild boom days of fifteen and twenty years ago are quite gone by, the bubble period has been safely weathered, she is now settled down to conservative although keen and active business and trade. She supplies all of that immense region lying west and north of her, even into the now unfolding Canadian Far Northwest. The continent is hers, even to the Pacific and the Arctic Seas. Minnesota and the Dakotas and Montana have already poured their wealth of grains and of ores, of wheat and of oats, of rye and of barley, of iron and of copper, of silver and of gold, into her capacious lap, and now Manitoba and Alberta and Assiniboia and Saskatchewan and Athabaska, and all the unfolding regions between the Hudson Bay and the Rocky Mountains, the fertile valleys of the Saskatchewan and Peace Rivers, are to contribute even yet more lavishly to her future commercial predominance as unrivalled mistress of the North. She and Minneapolis will have this trade. She and her twin sister city are entitled to it. And if I mistake not the spirit of the men I have talked with upon her streets, in her shops and banks and clubs, she and Minneapolis will secure of it their full and certain share.

Here in the splendid stores of St. Paul we have made the last few purchases of the things we shall need for our going into the distant Yukon. H. has bought a perfectly fitting sweater – a garment that we searched for and ransacked through the town of Antwerp, in Belgium, two years ago, and could not find, while I have laid in some woolen garments, so fit and warm that they make one hanker for an Arctic blizzard just for the joy of trying them on.

And we have been feted and wined and dined as only mortals may be, who have fallen among long-time and well-tried friends. A sumptuous lunch has been given us at the Merchants’ Club, where old chums and classmates of my Cornell College days did make me almost believe that it was but yesterday that we went forth from our Alma Mater’s Halls.

Later in the day we have taken one of the many suburban trains and journeyed down ten miles to the summer country home of another old-time friend, along the shores of White Bear Lake, and all the afternoon have enjoyed a sail in the crack yacht of the fleet that parades these waters. A new design of boat. Conceived and perfected in St. Paul, and which has this summer carried havoc and defeat to every competing yacht club of all the wide country of the western and northern lakes, and even caused perturbation among the proud salt-water skippers of the east. I send you a snap-shot of the prize yacht as she lies floating at her little pier.

And when we came back and landed from our voyage, we found assembled an even greater company than we had yet met, to again give us welcome without stint. We gathered in the commodious dining-hall of our host, a delightful company, these men who once with me were boys, and their cultivated wives! Long and late we sat, and old college songs we sang, until the eastern sky was already lightening with the approach of dawn. Many of us had not met for nigh twenty years, when we had parted to go forth to fight life’s battles and to win or lose.

Then, in the second afternoon, yet other friends, of yet later knowing, have taken us in hand and have trollied and driven us to see St. Paul’s twin sister, Minneapolis. With her monstrous flouring mills along the Mississippi, she is become the wheat milling center of the world, but she has never succeeded in rivalling St. Paul in the reach and volume of her jobbing trade. Once bitter enemies, rivals for the supremacy of the trade and commerce of the Northwest, their borders have now met, their streets have coalesced, and it will not be many years before the two will have fused and melted into one, even as Canada will one day inevitably become knitted and commingled with the great Republic, for there is room for but one nationality, one English-speaking nationality upon the northern continent of the western world.

In the long gloaming of the waning eventide we were driven in an easy victoria behind a pair of spanking bays and threaded our way among and along the lawns and lakes and avenues of the twin cities’ splendid parks. The deciduous trees do not here grow as large as with us further to the south. The conifers, the pines and firs, are here necessarily more frequently employed by the landscape artist to perfect his plans, but the flowers seemed just as big, just as fine in coloring and in wealth of leaf.

The day was ended with another elaborately served dinner, with other intelligent and cultivated friends, and then, before the night quite fully fell, we were driven to the big station which first we had entered, and were bidden a hearty farewell. We have boarded the sleeper for Winnipeg. A white porter now makes up our berths, and tells us we shall travel in his company some sixteen hours, so long is now the journey to Canada’s nearest city in the north.

    Winnipeg, August 14, 1908.

We left St. Paul in the Winnipeg sleeper on the Great Northern Railroad at 8:06 P. M. When we awoke this morning we were flying through the wheatfields of North Dakota, passing Grand Forks at about 9 A. M., and reaching Neche, on the Canadian border, at eleven, and arriving at Winnipeg at 1:40 P. M., a longer journey to the north – 440 miles – than I had realized. It was my first sight of a prairie – that vast stretch of wheat country reaching 1,000 miles west of St. Paul, and as far to the north of it. In the States it was wheat as far as the eye could reach in all directions – ripening wheat, waving in the keen wind like a golden sea, or cut and stacked wheat in innumerable piles, in countless shocks. A few miles north of the boundary the wheat land gradually changed to meadow and grass land, with many red cattle. Huge hay stacks here and there – the country flat.

Winnipeg holds about 60,000 people, they tell me. Wooden houses mostly, but some fine modern ones of stone and brick. Hundreds of new houses built and houses a-building. Fine electric tramway system, on which we have been riding all the afternoon. Many paved streets, some wood-paved, but mostly the native black earth of all this northland. A vigorous, hustling town, with now a big boom on, owing to the rapid development of the far north wheat lands – “the Chicago of the far Northwest,” they call it. We go on to-night by 6 P. M. train, and should reach Banff in two nights and a day. There we rest a day.

    Banff Springs Hotel, Banff, Canada,
    August 18, 1903.

We had intended leaving Winnipeg by the through train called the “Imperial Limited,” which crosses the continent three times a week each way, but to do so we should have had to lie over in Winnipeg a full day and a half longer, and we had already seen the shell of the town in our first afternoon, so we mended our plans, paid our modest dinner bill of fifty cents each at the Clarendon Hotel, and took the ordinary daily through Pacific express which, leaving Winnipeg at 6 P. M., would yet bring us to Banff, even though it would take a half day longer in doing it, earlier than the Imperial Limited train. A good many people seemed to be of our mind, and so the railway people attached an extra sleeper to the already crowded train. We were fixed in this. A sumptuous car, finished in curled maple and brass, longer, wider, higher than even the large cars run on the N. Y. C. & H. R. R., that traverse no tunnels. These Canadian Pacific Railway cars are built by the railway company, owned and run by it. No “Pullman conductor;” the porter, be he white or black, runs the car and handles the tickets and the cash.

The company were mostly Canadians, going out to Regina, Calgary, Edmonton, etc., large towns toward which Winnipeg bears the same relation as does Cincinnati to our country (West Virginia), and many Australians en route to take ship at Vancouver.

For a long distance the track seemed to be perfectly straight, and miles and miles west of Winnipeg, the city still peeped far distant between the rails. We rose a little, too, just a little, but steadily, constantly. And on either hand and before and behind spread out the wonderful flatness of the earth. The real prairie now. Not even a tree, not a bush, not a hill, just as smooth as a floor, like an even sea, as far as the eye could reach and out beyond.