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Such an undertaking might relieve the overstocked labour market of England, and the workmen employed upon it would develop the resources of a territory which would afterwards become their own. But of what use such hopes as these, if the gate of the Pacific is to be closed to Great Britain and the Dominion by United States forts? Shut out from the Pacific, the territory of which I have spoken must perforce join its interests with those of the United States, and be added to the great protective federacy against the commercial energy of the people of Great Britain.
If British interests on the North Pacific coast of America are to be protected from the possibility of injury, the Island of San Juan will form a portion of British territory, and will be strongly and skilfully fortified.
Having endeavoured to depict the gravity and importance of my subject, I shall sketch the history of the dispute which has been termed the.“ San Juan Water Boundary Question.” I shall, wherever it is possible, allow the actors in the same to describe their deeds, and the views by which they were actuated, in their own language, occasionally drawing my own conclusions therefrom, and sometimes qualifying such descriptions when they appear to conflict with the information which I have been able to collect, both on the spot and since my return to this country.
The Haro Archipelago, or cluster of islands above mentioned, has been described by a Government official of the United States in the following words O):
- The Haro Archipelago is bounded on the north by the Canal de Haro and the Gulf of Georgia, on the east by Rosario Strait, on the west by the Canal de Haro, on the south by the Straits of Fuca. It contains seven prominent islands—viz., San Juan, Waldron, Orcas, Shaws, Blakely, Decatur, and Lopez, besides many small ones, some of them scarcely large enough to be worthy of special notice. The combined area of the island is about 170 square miles.
“ The Archipelago occupies an important position in its relation to the other parts of this region. Lying just north of the eastern end of the Straits of Fuca, through which the currents of Paget Sound, and perhaps, also, of the Gulf of Georgia, flow during the rise and fall of the tides, it obstructs the currents flowing to and from the Gulf of Georgia, giving them various courses by deflection, and often producing, in many places, tide-rips sufficiently extensive to endanger small craft.
“ The islands are separated by narrow, but very deep channels, so deep, indeed, that the largest class vessels can pass through almost any of them. This is the character of almost every narrow channel separating islands lying between the continent and Vancouver's Island, and has led many a sailor to compare these waters to the Straits of Magellan, where it is often difficult to find anchorage.
“ In circumnavigating the Archipelago, scarcely a harbour
(1) American State Papers, p. 132.
is to be found capable of accommodating vessels of even ordinary size, although there are many places where anchorage may be found, and where vessels could lie in safety under the lee of some island during storms from certain quarters. But within the nest, as it were, there are some of the most beautiful harbours in the world. There is among them a perfect network of channels, all sufficiently deep to be navigated by the largest vessels, and unobstructed by rocks, except in a few localities, which are marked on the chart.
“Of the entire area of the islands, it is estimated that about sixty square miles is arable land, and about eighty square miles is pastoral land, covered with nutritious grass, which retains its verdure nearly throughout the year. The remainder is principally covered with forests of the coniferous trees of that region, consisting of fir, pine, and cedar, which, on some portions of the islands, attain great size and beauty. Part of that which is described as arable and pastoral land is also timbered to some extent, and would necessarily have to be cleared before the soil could be cultivated. The islands are well watered by lakes and running streams. Although the portion of open country is small, yet, distributed over the whole group, are patches of prairie land ; smooth swelling slopes and mountain sides, covered with luxuriant grass to their summits, giving to the wild and solitary tracts a pleasingly rural aspect.
“A noticeable feature in the topography of these islands is the peculiarity that the mountains at the northern end are almost universally the most elevated, and gradually diminish in height toward the south.
“Another striking feature is that the southern slopes are almost invariably destitute of timber, but are covered with a luxuriant grass. This peculiarity is so striking as to attract the attention of all who traverse these waters; and in the spring time and early summer, when the grass is green, and the flowers are in bloom, the prospect is enchanting.
“The absence of trees in these localities may be attributed to the fact that the soil is very shallow, overlying masses of rock, but sufficiently deep to sustain grass assisted by the direct rays of the sun. These islands are particularly adapted to raising of sheep, as has been fully demonstrated by the Hudson's Bay Company on San Juan Island. The mutton of Vancouver's and San Juan Islands is remarkable for its delicacy of flavour, which may be accounted for by the peculiar properties of the grazing.
“The same favourable circumstances exist in the other islands : a mild climate, absence of beasts of prey (except on Lopez Island), and the abundance of sweet nutritious grass, even to the summits of the mountains, during the entire year. The deer on the islands are found in mid-winter in most excellent condition. On San Juan Island the sheep increased so rapidly, it was difficult to find fresh pasturage for them near the Hudson's Bay Company's establishment. The average net weight of the sheep, when full grown and fat, is fifty pounds ; of the fleece, three and a half pounds.
“ Coal and limestone are found on several of the islands.
“ Fisheries were formerly carried on at the several localities, and they could easily be made very productive and profitable.
“ Trees, of great value for their timber and resinous properties, grow on all the larger islands.
“Although much of the land is mountainous, and only adapted to grazing purposes, these islands are as valuable, agriculturally, as the settled portions of Vancouver's Island, which they resemble in general character. (1)
“It might be mentioned, incidentally, that these islands, for the most part, belong to the Indians of the Washington Territory; the Lummies claiming Orcas, Blakely, Decatur, and part of Lopez; and the Clallams a part of San Juan. The whole inside of the north-eastern part of San Juan formerly belonged to a tribe kindred to the Luminies, and now extinct.
“ It is in a military and naval point of view, however,
(1) It is clear that these islands are “natural appendages” of Vancouver's Island, which they so narrowly resemble.
that this Archipelago possesses the greatest value, embracing, as it does, some of the finest harbours in the territory; commanding Bellingham Bay and Admiralty Inlet; and, in fact, forming the key to the whole of the Puget Sound district. The interior passages and bays are capable of being entirely closed by fortifications, which is not the case with our other possessions on the Sound; and the islands themselves command all the adjacent waters. They are, in fact, the only check upon the preponderance which the ownership of Vancouver's Island gives to Great Britain in this quarter.”
The island of San Juan (named by Capt. Wilkes during his survey. Rodgers' Island; and sometimes also called Bellevue Island), the largest, and, from its geographical position, the most important, of the group, has been described by the same United States official as follows (1):
"San Juan Island is the most western (2) of the Haro group, and has an area of about fifty-four square miles. Its greatest length is about fourteen and a half miles, its general shape being very irregular; the width varies at different localities, its widest part is about six and a half miles. Low ranges of hills trend along its eastern and western shores, those on the western side being the highest, Mount San Juan, in this range, having an elevation of about 1,000 feet. These ranges slope out towards the north, and there are no elevations of any consequence on the northern shore of the island. Between these hill ranges near the centre of the island, lies a basin-like country, gently undulating in its character. There are extensive prairies in several localities, and from the south end of the island to within a short distance of its northern extremity, flocks can feed on green grass almost throughout the year. The greatest amount of arable land is found within the southern third of the island.
(1) American State Papers, p. 136.
(2) This is not strictly true; Henry Island and Stuart Island lie to the west or north-west of San Juan.