1902 Encyclopedia > Canada > Canada - Climate

(Part 3)

Climate. – The variations of the Canadian climate are less than in many countries of much smaller extent. But throughout nearly its whole area, Canada is characterized by greater heat is summer and a much lower temperature in winter than in corresponding European latitudes. Its general character is level, though it includes the Rocky Mountains, with the picturesque and diversified region lying between them and the Pacific, and the Laurentian range, continued northward to the Arctic Ocean.

Besides the great lakes which find their outlet through the St Lawrence to the sea, there are thousands of lakes throughout Canada, many of them of large dimensions. Foremost among those is Lake Winnipeg. The two great branches of the Saskatchewan take their rise in the Rocky Mountains, and after uniting their streams, flow into this lake, which also receives the Assiniboin, the Red River, and other smaller rivers. The St Lawrence and the great lakes, of which it is the outlet, are estimated to contain 12,000 cubic miles of water; and the Niagara Falls, which constitute the main feature in the descent from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, are on a scale commensurate with this vast fresh water system of rivers and lakes. The River Niagara issues form Lake Erie in a broad, tranquil stream, varying in breadth from one to three miles, and continuing through a course of about 15 miles, with a fall of little more than a foot per mile. But on reaching the rapids, the descent is suddenly increased to about 80 feet in less than a mile, before the waters reach the grand leap of about 165 feet perpendicular over the great falls. The Horse-Shoe Fall, on the Canadian side is upwards of a third of a mile broad. Between this and the American Fall Goat Island intervenes; and then another volume of water, about 600 feet wide, plunges with like abruptness into the abyss below. The great breadth as compared with the height of the falls tends in some degree to mislead the eye in the first impressive produced; and it is only by slow degrees that the mind is brought to an adequate estimate of the grandeur of the scene. Sir Charles Lyell thus describes the effect produced on his mind, at a first glance, and after prolonged study of all their remarkable features: - "We first came in sight of the Falls of Niagara when they were about three miles distant. The sun was shining full upon them – no building in view-nothing but the green wood, the falling waters, and the white foam. At that moment they appeared to me more beautiful than I expected, and less grand; but after several days, when I had enjoyed a nearer view of the two cataracts, had listened to their thundering sound, and gazed on them for hours from above and below, and had watched the river foaming over the rapids, then plunging headlong into the dark pool, and when I had explored the delightful island which divides the falls, where the solitude of the ancient forest is still unbroken, I at last learned by degrees to comprehend the wonders of the scene, and to feel its full magnificence." The river passes over the center of the Horse-Shoe Fall in a solid column of water of 20 feet; and it is estimated that fifteen hundred millions of cubic feet pass over the falls every minute. This great waters system of rivers and lakes affects the climate of the older provinces of Canada; and the other large rivers, with the numerous bodies of fresh water distributor over so large a portion of the whole surface of the Dominion, help to preserve an equable climate, and afford many facilities for local transport.

Reckoning Lake Erie and Lake Ontario with the Niagara River as parts of the St Lawrence, the river as parts of the St. Lawrence, the river system trends in a N.E. direction throughout the whole course from Point Pelee, which is situated in 42o lat., to Tadousac, the earliest French trading port, at the mouth of the Saguenay, in 48o 2’ lat. From this the coast still continues to trend northward till it merges in the inhospitable shores of Labrador, in a latitude which is still as far south as London at the Strait of Belle Isle. The degrees of latitude indeed, are a very partial guide to the character of the Canadian climate as compared with that of the British Isles; and any statement of the mean temperatures of the two is deceptive. The severity of the winter, as tested by the thermometer, leads to a very exaggerated impression of Canadian experiences. Owing to the dry, clear, bracing atmosphere which generally prevails, the sense of discomfort produced by the raw easterly winds and damp fogs of an English spring suggests an idea of cold, such as is rarely thought of in a few days of intense cold, as in the summer there are brief periods or descends, through a scale unknown in the more equable English climate. But throughout the greater part of the winter season in Canada the sky is bright and clear, and the weather thoroughly enjoyable. Open sleighs are in use by all. sleighing parties of pleasure are arrange for the period of full moon, that they may return home over the snow, after an evening’s enjoyment at some appointed rendezvous; skating, snow-shoeing, and other outdoor exercises are in universal favor; and the sound of the sleigh-bells in the open thoroughfares adds to the exhilarating sense produced by the pure bracing atmosphere. Snow accordingly brings with it no such ideas of discomfort as are associated with it in England; while by the farmer it is hailed as altogether beneficial. In the province of Quebec the snow begins to lie early in November; in Ontario it is fully a month later; and it differs correspondingly at various localities throughout the Dominion. But everywhere the appearance of the snow is hailed as seasonable and beneficial. It protests the wheat sown in autumn from the frost, affords facilities to the farmer for bringing his produce to market, aids the lumberer in collecting the fruits of his labor in the forest at suitable points for transport by water with the spring freshets, and so contributes alike to business and pleasure.

The following tables, carefully prepared from official reports transmitted to Professor Kingston, director of the Magnetic Observatory, Toronto, from the chief stations throughout the Dominion, supply reliable data for determining the tempeature and climatic changes at the most important points throughout Canada and Newfoundland. In the column of first frost at Montreal, as shown in the last of the tables, the dates for the years 1872, 1873 and 1874 indicate the first fall of the thermometer to 32o, while the earlier dates mark the first hoar frost of the autumn.


As will be seen from the previous tables January and February are the coldest months of the year. Throughout the whole of Canada steady sleighing is reckoned upon during those months. In Quebec and in Manitoba a longer period of sleighing can be relied upon. In Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, and also on the Pacific coasts, the temperature is modified both in summer and winter according to vicinity to the sea. Abrupt changes of temperature occur both in summer and in winter. A period of great cold early in the month of January is so frequently followed by a complete change that its periodicity is reckoned upon under the name of the January thaw. Snow finally disappears in Quebec about the middle of April. In Ontario it is generally gone a month earlier. The table of average fall of snow given above shows its prevalence at various central points in each of the provinces of the Dominion, from October to the end of April.

Ploughing usually commences in Ontario about the middle of April, and in favorable season is prolonged into the month of December. But throughout the Dominion, stretching as it does across the continent, and embracing an area nearly equal in size to Europe, the period varies with the locality, and is affected by the vicinity of the great lakes or other local influences. Cattle are turned out to graze in April, feeding in part upon the tender shoots of the spring forest growth, until the appearance of the young pasture with the disappearance of the snow. Before the end of July harvest begins; and with the rapidity of growth under the warm Canadian skies, the hay, grain, and root-crops follow in swift succession; the cleared land is brought again under the plough, and the autumn sowing of wheat is carried on till another abrupt change brings the season to a close. In this way the Canadian climate is marked by the striking contrast of two seasons – summer and winter, - bringing with them alternations of fruitful labor and of repose intermingled with profitable industry and pleasure. This characteristic prevails with slight variations throughout the greater part of the Dominion. Manitoba presents in this respect no marked diversity from Quebec or Ontario. Spring opens nearly at the same time from Red River to the Athabasca. Early in April the alders and willows of the Saskatchewan country are in bloom; the prairie anemone covers the southern exposures to the very verge of the retreating snow. May there brings with it more of the true summer heat than in the provinces on the St. Lawrence. But the nights are cool, and throughout the period of greatest heats, the cool night breezes beget a welcome and refreshing change, accompanied with heavy dews. This protects the cereals from the effects of drought even in the direst seasons, and produces a rich growth of prairie grass, making the climate peculiarly favorable for the stock farmer. The Rev. Professor Bryce, of Winnipeg College, this writes: "The juncture of the seasons is not very noticeable. Spring glides insensibly into summer, summer into fine autumn weather, which, during the equinox breaks up in a series of heavy gales of wind accompanied by rain and snow. These are followed by that divine aftermath, the Indian summer, which attains its true glory only in the north-west. The haziness and dreamy fervor of this mysterious season have often been attributed to the prairie fires, which rage over half a continent in the fall, and evoke an enormous amount of heat and smoke." His own observations incline him to accept this explanation. Winter begins with crisp clear weather, which grows increasingly cold and cloudy. The wind wheels to the north-east, and with it comes the snow, and the long steady winter of the Canadian year.

The character of the Manitoba winter is thus described by the same intelligent observer: - "The winters of the north-east, upon the whole, are agreeable, and singularly steady. The moccasin is dry and comfortable throughout, and no thaw, strictly speaking, takes place till spring, no matter how mild the weather may be. The snow, though shallow, wears well, and differs greatly eastern snow. Its flake is dry and hard, and its gritty consistence resembles white slippery sand more than anything else. Generally speaking, the farther west the shallower the snow, and the rule obtain even into the heart of the Rocky Mountains. In south-western Ontario the winter is milder, no doubt, than at Red River; but the soil of the north-west beats the soil of Ontario out of comparison; and after all, who would care to exchange the crisp, sparkling, exhilarating winter of Manitoba for the rawness of Essex in south Ontario."

But the frosts of spring and autumn, not those of winter, are what the Canadian farmer learns to regard with any dread; and this is still more true in reference to the Canadian fruit grower. But in this respect the north-west climate is exceptional in its character. Frosts are common there is the nights of September; but the fact has been noted by many independent observers, that frost which would injure grain in many other countries, appears to be innocuous on the Red River and the Saskatchewan. Various reasons have been assigned- such as the dryness of the atmosphere, the heat-retaining character of the soil, and the sudden change of temperature that enables vigorous plants to bear an atmosphere at 20o better than at 35o when the latent heat of the earth and the plants has been given off. But whatever be the true cause the fact appears to be well attested. The chief lesson which experience has taught the farmer is to sow his wheat early in the spring, so that the ear shall be past the milky stage before the frost comes.

The climate and other conditions to the west of the Rocky Mountain are necessarily marked much greater local variations owing to the broken character of the country, with its ravines and deep narrow valleys. Stock raising has hitherto largely occupied the attention of the farmers on the Pacific slope, where the farms are called "ranches," after the fashion of the stock farmers of California and New Mexico. The ground produces both cereals and vegetables where irrigation is resorted to, as in the plains and valleys of those states. But the rich natural grass which abounds furnishes nearly all that is needed for the profitable raising of stock; and until a large female immigration restores in some adequate degree the natural proportion of the sexes, the rough life of the "ranch," with its "corral," or cattle pen, will be preferred to the more settled industry of the agriculturist.

The capacity of the different provinces for profitable industry, and the character of their native productions, will be found set forth in detail in the separate articles on each province. It is vain to attempt any detailed account of the soil and other local specialties of half a continent. The Geological Survey, carried out under the able direction of the late Sir W.E. Logan and his successor Mr A.R.C. Selwyn, has largely contributed to an accurate knowledge of the agricultural capabilities, as well as the mineral resources of the country. Vast areas consist chiefly of loam, with a substratum of gravel, overlaid throughout extensive tracts of forest b y a rich vegetable mould, the accumulation of ages. The prairie lands are not less available; and they are now being surveyed and explored, alike for the requirements of the settler and for economic and scientific results.

The Reports of the Geological Survey of Canada embody in this way a readily accessible guide to the resources of the country, and the suitability of its various districts and provinces for settlement. Entire districts of many square miles in extent prove to be composed of alluvial deposits from 30 to 40 feet deep, of soil in places so rich as to bear good crops of wheat for successive years without manure. Others of nearly equal value are found resting on red sandstone, trap, serpentine, limestone, and other strata most favorable for agriculture. There are also, as along some of the rivers, for miles in succession, soils too rich for wheat, others of a good sandy loam, suitable to and requiring the usual English rotations. In many parts, on the other hand, there exist considerable tracts of poor, thin, and stony soils. The Reports of the Geological Survey, in presenting an account of the geological distribution of the various strata, and their agricultural capabilities, will prove of great value of the immigrants, as well as to others interested in the lands of Canada.

The soil and climate of Canada are such that the country produces a much greater variety of grains and fruits than is usually grown in Great Britain or Ireland. Besides wheat, barley, oats, rye, peace, turnips, potatoes, hemp, flax, hops, and the other ordinary agricultural products of England, which are all raised in abundance, Canada grows tobacco, rice, maize or Indian corn, and fruits of warmer climes than the British Islands. the full and steady heat of the summer matures with surprising rapidity the most valuable productions, while the long period of repose of the Canadian winter is not only amply atoned for by the rapid and luxuriant vegetation of the summer, but, no doubt, contributes to such results.

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