Report of Progress on the Explorations and Surveys Up to January, 1874
By Sir Sandford Fleming, Charles Horetzky, John Macoun, Marcus Smith, James H. Rowan, Walter Moberly, Alexander Mackenzie, Henry Spencer Palmer, Alfred Richard Cecil Selwyn, George Vancouver
Wow, what a mouthful, both the title and the authors list! As it says, this was a compilation of progress and observations on the proposed route of the Canadian Pacific Railway, presented to the Governor General. You can find the whole report here. The Peace Country was on the route, of course, and local flora was duly recorded.
Perhaps surprisingly, many of the native prairie plants are still familiar to us today, nearly 140 years later. Mentioned in the report are rhinanthus crista-galli (yellow rattle) Service Berries (saskatoons), Prairie Anemone (crocus), rubus nutkanus (thimbleberry) geum triflorum (Old Man’s Whiskers or Prairie Smoke), and silver bush, chief food of the prairie chicken.
Surveyors of the time were surprised to find Prickly Pear Cactus growing on the banks of the Peace River. Many people today, even those who live in the Peace Country, likewise would not expect a desert plant to be growing so far north. Once you sit on one while exploring the hills, however, you will be convinced that they do, in fact, exist and even thrive on the dry, sunny face of the Peace River hills. Page 83 of the 1874 could have been written this summer (except there is no longer a Padre at Dunvegan):
At Dunvegan, made a special enumeration of the flora in the vicinity, but the season was getting so late that many fragile species had disappeared. One novelty was found on the grassy slopes in rear of the fort – Prickly Pear [Opuntia]. This was the first of the Cactus Family I had seen in the country, and was not prepared to find it in latitude 56º 8′ which is that of Dunvegan. This settled the question of the aridity of the exposed slopes of Peace River, and the Padre confirmed it by telling me that irrigation is actually necessary to the raising of good garden stuff on the terrace on which the fort is built. The fort is on the left bank and the land slopes to the sun.
The Prickly Pear Cactus displays a most beautiful, delicate bloom when conditions are perfect. This year has probably been too wet for a sighting, but we can settle for a picture. The Prickly Pear Cactus in the hills near Dunvegan:
Have you spotted a rare plant or animal in the Peace Country? Do tell! Please send your photos or information to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment. Let us all share in the wonder of our natural setting.