On the Canadian prairie provinces the name John Palliser is well recognised for a recommendation he made in 1860 about the suitability of the area for agriculture. The Canadian government at that time wanted settlers to come to the prairies and begin agriculture. They had watched development further south in the United States and they wanted a piece of the action. They also wanted settlers so that the United States would not be tempted to take over the Canadian prairies. John Palliser was hired to do an exploration of the areas and make a recommendation.
So a few days ago I was talking to a friend who is taking what is called a Palliser tour. Tours are made of the area and sites noted by Palliser are visited. This conversation reminded me of an excellent book I read a few years ago. Irene M. Spry wrote The John Palliser Expedition of Discovery. This was a great read.
Spry researched very thoroughly and reported in great detail what these explorers did.
John Palliser was an English military officer. He put together a large group of experts to spend three years combing over every detail of the Canadian prairies. Botanists discovered and named as many plants as they could find. Most of the specimens were carefully preserved and shipped to England where they are to this day. Other scientists studied the weather so temperature, rainfall, and sunlight were recorded in detail. Extensive mapping of the area was done. The skies were observed on a regular basis. Animals were observed. They consulted with the aboriginals and used the aboriginals to help them in their observations and travel. They discovered a certain amount of coal.
Most of Palliser's people were on the prairie for about three years. The story of their travel and survival is amazing. There were times when people were lost for weeks. In the dead of winter they travelled back and forth across the prairie. It took tremendous effort for them to obtain food supplies. They used pemmican
to their advantage.
There are four areas which come together to make this story fascinating. First, I was raised on a farm so I am keenly interested in agriculture. Growing up I heard about Palliser on a regular basis. Second, I have backpacked for years and couldn't help but admire the success these people had as they lived outdoors most of the time. There were short times when they were at Ft. Edmonton or other places where they lived inside. Third, I have a great interest in western Canadian history so this is as good as it gets. Fourth, I am a naturalist so I was eager to find out what the prairie looked like before it was destroyed by the plow. I like stories that bring distant things together. This story brings together some very prominent interests of mine.
I highly recommend Irene M. Spry's book and I hope you will take a look at it. If anybody has read this book I hope you would share your opinions with me on Hiawatha House.
So what did John Palliser recommend? He recommended that a large portion of southern Saskatchewan and Alberta was not suitable for agriculture. The debate over the years rages on as to whether Palliser was right or wrong.