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