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On a just and equitable solution of the so-called San Juan Water Boundary Question depends the future, not only of British Columbia, but also of the entire British possessions in North America.
The contention on this subject between Great Britain and the United States has extended over a period of more than twenty years, but the papers relating thereto have been, with the exception of a few selected documents, and extracts from documents, carefully concealed. I am at a loss to find any reason for this reticence, unless it has been caused by a dread of calling public attention to the subject. It is evident, therefore, that if any difficulties or complications now arise, or any misfortunes befall the colonies interested in the question, or any dishonour attach to this country, the blame cannot be said to rest upon the nation or upon the Houses of Parliament, but upon those individual members of successive Governments who have taken upon themselves the responsibility of refusing the information which has been repeatedly called for in the House. I have myself for many years taken a great interest in this and other cognate questions, and
I now feel it my duty to the colonies and to the British public to lay before them as full and as accurate a statement of the facts as I can draw up from the materials I have been able to collect.
Vancouver's Island takes its title from the discoverer of that name, who sailed through some of the seas by which it is surrounded, and drew up a chart of his voyage, being the earliest map of that portion of the globe. A glance at the map will show that the island is situate on the western coast of North America, and that a portion of it lies to the south of the forty-ninth parallel of north latitude.
It is separated on the north from British Columbia by St. George's Sound, or, as the United States geographers term it, the Gulf of Georgia. The Sound in the north is a broad open channel, tolerably free from islands, but towards its southern extremity it is divided into a number of channels by a large cluster of islands, of more or less extent respectively, termed by United States geographers the Haro Archipelago, which were formerly thought to be a part of the mainland of Vancouver's Island. The channel used by Vancouver, and laid down in his chart—being the straightest course from north to south, and, indeed, the channel best adapted for sailing vessels, if not for steamers—is the Rosario Strait, which intervenes between this cluster of islands and the Territory of Washington in the United States. Another channel was subsequently discovered, viz., the Canal de Haro, which separates this cluster of islands from Vancouver's Island; and, on account of its tortuous course, and the absence of anchorage ground therein, except at its northern extremity, that channel is little used by sailing vessels.
These two channels meet at the south of the cluster of islands above mentioned, and join the Pacific Ocean through the Straits of San Juan da Fuca.
The important colony of Victoria—the capital of British Columbia—with the harbours of Victoria and Esquimault, is situate at the southern and eastern extremity of the Island of Vancouver; and the communication between these harbours and the eastern coast of the island, as well as with the mainland of British Columbia, is now carried on mainly by the Canal de Haro.
The entrance to this strait or canal is, however, commanded by the Island of San Juan, one of the islands of the group, and it will be seen that it is of the very last importance to the citizens of Vancouver's Island, and of the mainland of British Columbia, that in case of any disagreement with the United States they should hold possession of this key to the strait.
The Strait of Rosario is commanded by several of the islands which immediately fringe the mainland of Washington territory, as, for instance, by Cypress Island, and should the island of San Juan, commanding the Canal de Haro, fall into the hands of the United States, the inhabitants of Victoria and the inhabitants of the mainland of British Columbia could be cut off from intercourse with each other by the batteries of the United States erected on San Juan.
Further, the command of these two channels would give to the United States the entire control of the communications of our colonies on the mainland with the Pacific, which must be made through the Straits of San Juan da Fuca by one of the channels above mentioned, the northern passage, viá Queen Charlotte's Sound, being narrow, intricate, and perilous in the extreme.
The Island of San Juan has, for the reasons given above, been aptly termed “the Cronstadt of the Pacific.” Its conformation is such that a few batteries, skilfully placed, would render it, almost impregnable. Imagine the position. Victoria, the capital, with the adjacent harbour of Esquimault, cut off from communication with British Columbia, and the Canadas, or “the Dominion,” cut off from the seaboard of the Pacific !
There are at this period four railroad routes (one completed and three projected) on the continent of North America, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. They run throughout their entire course within United States territory.
Consider the exclusiveness, the protective policy, the jealousy of British commerce, evinced by the people of the United States, and, I would ask, is it probable that, when British trade has established a route through United States territory from west to east, from London to China and Japan and Australia, it will be allowed to pass free of impost by the United States ?
Do we now compete on equal terms with the
merchants and manufacturers of the United States ? Is not a tariff imposed on our goods entering United States territory which is intended to be absolutely exclusive? Do the lessons of the past or present teach us to confide in the generosity and magnanimity of future legislators ? Is it not the duty, the interest, of Great Britain, to establish a route at any cost through her own territory, and shower down the rich blessings of her trade upon her own rather than upon the subjects of another Government ?
Such a route was projected many years ago, running through some of the wealthiest territory in the world, capable of supplying us with corn at the cheapest rate; rich in coal, iron, copper, lead, and in gold; abounding with timber, stone, limestone, and brick clay ; whose inhabitants enjoy a delightful and bracing climate, and in which it has been prophesied a race of men will grow up, vigorous, healthy, and energetic, to be the rulers of the destinies of the North American continent. Starting from the magnificent harbour of Halifax, the line would run to Quebec, along the northern shore of Lake Superior, between Lake Winnipeg and Fort Garry, to New Westminster, near the mouth of the Fraser river, on the Gulf of Georgia, or to Bute Inlet. To modern engineering the Rocky Mountains present no invincible obstacle, and the projected line, shorter by some hundreds of miles than the present Pacific Railroad, would be the most direct route for the commerce between London and China, Corea, Japan, and the Eastern Archipelago.