British Columbia and the United States: The North Pacific Slope from Fur Trade to Aviation

Excerpt

This volume is unique in the Canadian-American series. It was originally intended to match it with a parallel volume dealing with the history of the northwestern states, with especial reference to their contacts and their joint interest with Canada in international problems. It has not been possible as yet to add this volume to the series, however, and the need for it is materially lessened by the wide sweep of the narrative of Judge Howay's history of the pioneering days. Indeed the most notable fact in the history of northwest exploration is the absence of a clear sense of the political border. The trappers and fur traders followed their hazardous trails in lands that still belonged to the Indian. Boundary lines become fixed when settlements appear and the forest gives way to the farm and the market town. When law and order have to be established according to set rules and with recognized magistrates, people begin to think in terms of the thing called government, rather than of rivalries of trading companies pushing into the open stretches of the wilderness. It is only then that politics steps in, bringing to the fore a different set of interests, those of sentiment and prestige as well as of national advantage. Sovereignty that brooks no rival tends to speak in unyielding tones of territorial claims and the prerogatives of power.

Nowhere else in the series of Canadian-American studies has this transition from the earliest exploration of the wilderness to the settlement of pioneering days been so fully documented as here, in the story of the trails through and beyond the Rocky Mountains. It is true that there are variations in the narrative from this general pattern of the emergence of political interest as a secondary stage of development. The sea captains of Spain and Britain were fully conscious of their mission as agents of the sovereigns overseas, and Lewis and Clark were commissioned rather as political explorers than as a part of the fur-hunting penetration of the wilderness then taking place. Nevertheless the story of the rivalries in the Northwest did not take on the dangerous tone of national challenge until political leaders conceived of vast areas for settlement in terms of empire. As one follows the fortunes of the frontiersmen one sees how subordinate were their political interests to their interest in . . .

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