Vancouver — Banff, 8 September 1893

As the train that was to drive us on the Canadian Pacific railway through the Rocky Mountains was only set to depart towards 11 o’clock in the morning, I quickly went to see two fur traders who also offered stuffed animals. This happened to a lesser intent for acquisitions but more to get a cursory overview of the fauna of Northern Canada. We saw here mighty sea lions from Vancouver island, Wapiti antlers and heads, buffalo horns, mule deer whose heads with the hanging ears made them resemble mules, blacktails — the latter two species noticeable for their short but very strong pearled antlers whose numerous ends were turned upward and forward — mountain sheep and white mountain goats; among the birds were various Arctic loons and Northern long-tailed ducks, geese and white-headed sea eagles.

One of the two traders, a German named Zimmer, is an original character: He calls himself Indian doctor and carries the title of „professor“ in his ads. His medical activities however is limited to giving the most unbelievable medicines and mixtures to the Indians in exchange for furs. These are mostly not tanned and of a quite deficient quality. The shop presents a state of extreme disorder. The oiled furs are piled up, among them are medicines and healing herbs. An engraving showing a life-sized Emperor Wilhelm is hanging above a pile of mammoth bones and wapiti antlers; some thick-bellied spiders and scorpions are grouped around a Prussian Pickelhaube; various dogs and rabbits are milling around in all rooms. Finally I still started to buy some things and came to an agreement with the old man who owned also beautiful furs of grizzly bears, sea otters and mountain goats. At the end, he grabbed a bleached wapiti antler and said to us: „Whoever among you is the Royal Highness, I offer this as a present.“

We left Vancouver on the daily passenger train of the Canadian Pacific Railway to encounter one of the most interesting railway lines of the world. This railway leads across the whole of Canada from Vancouver to Montreal and forms the quickest connection between the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean, crossing first the most beautiful parts of North America, namely the famous Rocky Mountains, the American Switzerland, before it descends into the almost endless prairies. Then it leads North of the Great Lakes and finally reaches its Eastern destination of Montreal; the length of the railway including the side tracks is 4677 km.

The government transferred 1140 km of completed railway lines valued at 33 million dollars to the company without compensation and handed it 25 million dollars in cash in order to build this enormous line as well as land of 10.116 km2 which will in perpetuity free from taxation and fees. In 1884 the company was further awarded 22,5 million dollars. The total cost of the Canadian Pacific railway were 250 million dollars. In 1884 the top of the rocky mountains was reached from the East by the Kicking Horse pass and in the following year the connection to the line leading to Vancouver was established.

What enormous difficulties had to be faced for this audacious enterprise! The high mountain ranges with their steep slopes, the avalanches and rock slides, the numerous rivers and gorges and not the least the climatic conditions seemed to stop the advance of the audacious engineers. Technical marvels had to be created in areas where near and far no human being was living, apart from some nomadic wild Indian tribes. The track laying sons of the 19th century were in some areas the first White people to set foot in valleys and mountains that were now to become the location for a triumph of modern technology. The construction was eased only by the fact that it was not difficult to supply and transport the material as the mighty cedars provide excellent wood for rail road ties. Water and stone was missing nowhere. In contrast labor was very expensive as it could only procured with difficulties. The struggle against nature was constant.

Our train consists of a long row of sleeping cars that are equipped with seats that can be turned down at night to form beds which are a bit short but overall quite nice. A central corridor connects all wagons so that one can circulate freely in the full train. As no restaurant wagon can be taken along due to its weight on the steep passages of the rocky mountains, from time to time such a wagon is attached to the train. The observation car permits a better view of the beautiful nature than from the compartments so that those who do not fear the nasty coal dust and the cold have a splendid sight from this wagon. A mighty locomotive with strong headlights and a plow mounted in front pulls the train. For some stretches a second and yes, even a third machine have to be added. Guard houses, barriers and other safety installations are unknown here. Three hours before the actual passage of the train a man on a hand car drives along the line to clear away any obstacles and report them. What eventually happens later is left to the attention of the train driver and — good luck.

The otherwise so well equipped sleeping and parlor cars also have their disadvantages: The windows are low and small due to the upper folding beds, so that one always has to stoop deeply to have a look on the passing scenery. The known ruthlessness of the Yankees makes that the agreeable opportunity of free circulation through all wagons is lessened by the fact that everyone is running here and there, romping and shouting children create a constant chaos and there is always a draft.

Fortunately the railway director had assigned me my own wagon so that I had not to endure this and also was not affected by the otherwise general prohibition of smoking. Usually there is only one class of wagons but there are also so called colonists‘ wagons attached that form a sort of second class.

First the railway track follows alongside a long sea arm that reaches far inland and out of which cheerfully jump salmon while herons stand on the shore and fish and small quacking flocks of ducks fly up. Then the track turns into a small plain that extends over a cultivated area of meadows along the shores of the Fraser or Thompson rivers. Soon however a fresh invigorating air is blowing towards us. The mountain lands engulf us. On both sides we see green heights that are ornamented with a full complement of forests. Now and then a small calm sea or a small river is glittering in the dark green space.

The further we advanced the higher the mountains rose. Mighty rock formations are overhanging and the valley walls were moving close together, the valley getting narrower. wir Unfortunately we soon passed through a zone of burned trees whose bare erect trunks are sad reminders about the senseless destruction for the railway construction. The fires created then were often carried further by the winds and took on horrible dimensions, burning whole ledges and mountain tops so that we drove for hours through regions where the forests were dead. Now and then the destruction has spared a small spot where like an oasis in the desert a beautiful green patch looks down upon us. Now too one can see pillars of smoke rise from forest fires caused by hunting Indians or other forest rangers. How many millions of the most beautiful trees have been thus destroyed in vain!

About an hour later the train reached a station. These stations actually serve only to restock the water for the locomotive boilers around which in time small settlements of workers or trappers grew. Some miserable wooden hovel with two or three rooms always claims the name of „hotel“. Mostly poor or rather depraved looking fellows, a short pipe in the mouth, stand around the station and observe the travellers in the carriages with curiosity.

At nearly every station I left the carriage to refresh myself with the gorgeous mountain air that we found truly exquisite after the numerous hot days spent in the tropics.

Unfortunately we were pursued by unfavorable weather. It rained for nearly the whole day ad the mighty peaks of the rocky mountains were almost continuously engulfed in fog and clouds. We passed through many tunnels and many narrow gorges created by steep rocks standing very closely, while below us Fraser River, a true mountain child, was crashing down into the deep and its splashing revealing the snow water by its milky white color. Automatically it reminded me of our our Enns, that features in some parts a similarly splendid wild water. On the rocks and stones at the shore one often sees crouching Indians who are with a rare calm and endurance fishing salmon. The animals caught are cut into strips and hanged on poles in small open huts and smoked. Hundreds of these smoke huts with beautiful red salmon flesh are visible alongside the river.

Towards the evening the rain stopped, the fog lifted and the mighty forms of the mountains become visible. On the heights we could see the first snow. The mountain suddenly changes completely in character that — if this comparison is permitted — reminds of African forms: sandy ledges without any undergrowth and sparsely covered with pine trees create quite a desolate impression. High and steep rock walls, irregularly layered and all appearing in yellow rise up into the air while in the valley only miserably meager herbs grow.

Until it became completely dark we were driving through such a bleak monotonous landscape.

Links

  • Location: Glacier Park, Canada
  • ANNO – on 08.09.1893 in Austria’s newspapers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is closed for summer until 15 September. The k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is performing the opera „Freund Fritz“

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