The Duty That Lies Nearest Us
by Josiah Audette
(The following is an excerpt from Rev. George Monro Grant’s book, Ocean to Ocean, on the construction of the Dominion of Canada by its faithful surveyors.)
The work of engineers on the survey is a constant march; their shelter, even in the depth of winter, often only canvas; they have sometimes to carry their food for long distances, through swamps and over fallen trees, on their backs; and run all the risks incidental to such a life, without medical assistance, without notice from the press, without the prospect of plunder or promotion, ribands or pensions. To be sure there is the work of construction only, and the world has always given greater prominence to the work of destruction.
To construct is “The duty that lies nearest us.” “We therefore will rise up and build.” Our young Dominion in grappling with so great a work has resolutely considered it from a national and not a strictly financial point of view; knowing that whether it pays directly or not, it is sure to pay indirectly. Other young countries have had to spend, through long years, their strength and substance to purchase freedom or the right to exist. Our lot is a happier one. Protected “Against infection and the hand of war” by the might of Britain, we have but to go forward, to upon up for our children and the world what God has given into our possession, bind it together, consolidate it, and lay the foundations of an enduring future.
Looking back over the vast breadth of the Dominion when our journeyings were ended, ti rolled out before us like a panorama, varied and magnificent enough to stir the dullest spirit into patriotic emotion. For nearly 1,000 miles by railway between different points east of Lake Huron; 2,185 miles by horses, including coaches, wagons, pack, and saddle-horses; 1,687 miles in steamers in the basin of the St. Lawrence and on Pacific waters, and 485 miles in canoes or row-boats; we had travelled in all 5,300 miles between Halifax and Victoria, over a country with features and resources more varied than even our modes of locomotion.
From the sea-pastures and coal-field of Nova Scotia and the forests of New Brunswick, almost from historic Louisburg up the St. Lawrence to historic Quebec; through the great Province of Ontario, and on lakes that are seas; by copper and silver mines so rich as to recall stories of the Arabian Nights, though only the rim of the land has been explored; on the chain of lakes, where the Ojibbeway is at home in his canoe, to the plaines, where the Cree is equally at home on his horse; through the prairie Province of Manitoba, and the rolling meadows and park-like country, out of which a dozen Manitobas shall be carved in the next quarter of a century; along the banks of
“A full-fed river winding slow
By herds upon and endless plain,”
full-fed from the exhaustless glaciers of the Rocky Mountains and watering “The great lone land;” over illimitable coal measures and deep woods; on to the mountains, which open their gates, more widely than to our wealthier neighbors, to lead us to the Pacific; down deep gorges filled with mighty timber besides rivers whose ancient deposits are gold beds, sands like those of Pactolus and channels chocked with fish; on to the many harbors of mainland and island, that look right across to the old Eastern Thule “With its rosy pearls and golden-roofed palaces,” and open their arms to welcome the swarming millions of Cathay; over all this we have travelled, and it was our own.
“Where’s the crowd that would not dare
To fight for such a land?”
Thank God, we have a country. It is not our poverty of land or sea, of wood or mine that shall ever urge us to be traitors. But the destiny of a country depends not on its material resources. It depends on the character of its people. Here too, is full ground for confidence. We in everything “are sprung of earth’s first blood, have titles manifold.” We come of a race that never counted the number of its foes, nor the number of its friends, when freedom, loyalty, or God was concerned.