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.