A while ago some government official, I can’t remember who, was ruminating over the best way to teach kids about CanadiaGerry B's Book Reviews
A while ago some government official, I can’t remember who, was ruminating over the best way to teach kids about Canadian history. Simple: Make it interesting.
When I was going to school, and from what I’ve seen since, [see: Canadian History Made Boring], it is as if educators have gone out of their way to make history as unpalatable as possible. The fact is that Canada has a history as colourful and entertaining as any in the world, and it only remains for kids and adults alike to discover this.
We have real Sergeant Prestons who patrolled the Yukon, cattle drives undertaken though 1,500 hundred miles of primeval wilderness, pioneers who transported several stallions and breeding cattle 800 miles by canoe, great train robberies and gunfights that would make O.K. Corral look like an afternoon social, and yet very few people know about it. Fortunately, we also have people like E. J. Hart to write marvelous books like Jimmy Simpson: Legend of the Rockies [Rocky Mountain Books, First Edition, October 2009].
Now if this were being taught in school, we would dutifully learn that Jimmy Simpson (1877 – 1972) emigrated from England, arriving in Winnipeg in 1896. There he farmed for a while until he decided to go West [psst, after drinking up all his money]. He therefore pawned his gold watch and chain, and took a train to Calgary. Hearing of work on the railway he stowed away on a westbound train, but when he was discovered and kicked off he walked the 20-or-so-miles to Laggan (just below Lake Louise).
Being adventurous, Simpson signed on as cook with legendary outfitter, Tom Wilson, and began learning the outfitting business from “Wild” Bill Peyto—another legendary Rocky Mountain adventurer.
In 1898, while working for Wilson, Simpson happened upon Bow Lake with the ice field and two magnificent glaciers above. He and his companions camped by the northern end of the lake, and it was there the he made his now famous proclamation: “I’ll build a shack here sometime,” he said.
Eventually Simpson left Wilson to strike out on his own, supplementing his guiding and outfitting business with trapping. To get around he took up snow shoeing, becoming so proficient at it that the local Indians gave him the honorary title of “Nashan-esen” (meaning “wolverine-go-quickly”).
In 1922 he returned to Bow Lake to build his log shack—as he had vowed to do—and when the Banff-Jasper Highway was built, bringing automobile traffic to the area in 1937, he built a small lodge to accommodate them. He called this lodge “Num-te-jah,” the Indian word for pine marten.
Business grew, and in the 1940s a major expansion to the lodge was undertaken to bring its capacity to sixteen rooms.
The original lodge became Simpson’s personal residence where he died in 1972, at the age of 95.
Interesting enough, I suppose, but as E. J. Hart has so masterfully demonstrated by way of Simpson`s own anecdotes, it says nothing about the man or his remarkable wit. For example:
[Fred Ballard was a partner in the trapping business for a (short) while.]
Ballard had been teasing me about a new suit of underwear that had been in the cabin all winter and as to how nice it was going to feel inside it when he got to it. When we arrived he got to it all right but the cabin had leaked and it was sopping wet inside so we built a bit fire outside and made camp. Fred squeezed the water out of it and spread it out in front of the fire carefully while I cooked up what flour was there and made a small bannock, and it was small. When cooked I halved it and his half past his tonsils as fast as a cable [trans-Atlantic telegraph] going over to the old country for more money while I sat on a log and ate mine slowly. That was too much for Fred. Pretty soon he snapped, “If there is anything I hate it’s to see is a man chawing on a piece of bread that I could swallow in two bites, especially when he has only one good eye to chaw with.” [Simpson had a temporary snow blindness in one eye]. I understood.
We lay down to sleep before the fire but in the middle of the night I was awakened by bad language in time to see Ballard holding up a piece of underwear with five button holes on it. A piece of charcoal had got to it while he was asleep so I thought condolences were due. “That’s not too bad,” I said, “All it needs is new arms and legs and a piece on the back to fold over the chest, those five button holes still look quite good.” The air was blue.
Another example of Simpson’s wit relates to an exploration trip he and “Wild” Bill Peyto took one winter. They had stopped for a smoke beside a huge dead spruce and Jimmy drove his axe into it. From inside came a sound like falling debris, so he hit it again with the back of the axe. He was about to do it again when, to his astonishment, it opened up and the head of a two-year old grizzly poked through. This is how he described what happened next:
Nine foot five is my record standing jump and I made it backwards. turning in mid air, and then I started showing squirrels how to climb a tree. I measured that jump next day with a copy of“Tid-Bits”that sported a foot rule on the cover. When I made the top I looked back. There was Bill cussing a blue streak and kicking that bear’s head back every time it poked its nose through. It had gone into hibernation and was in a semi comatose condition but it was fast in waking up. Bill called to me, I dropped out of the blue like dose of measles and we lit out for the camp. Next day we gathered it in.
This is how history should be taught. With some life in it. Sadly these people have passed on, but their way of life, their wit and humour, should not be buried with them.
For people, like me, who enjoy a history lesson that reads like a novel; that allows the reader to appreciate the times through the eyes of colourful characters like Simpson; and that is valid history at the same time, then I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Thank you E. J. Hart. Five bees....more
A true Canadian story that proves once and for all time that Canada has a history equal to any in the world for colour, dramaGerry B's Book Reviews
A true Canadian story that proves once and for all time that Canada has a history equal to any in the world for colour, drama and interest.
Considering that my next novel is partially set in the same district of British Columbia as Grass Beyond the Mountains: Discovering the Last Great Cattle Frontier on the North American Continent, by Richmond P. Hobson Jr. [McClelland & Stewart, 1978], I can hardly believe I hadn’t found it until now.
In my own story (based on an actual cattle drive from Hanceville, B.C. to Teslin, Yukon, in 1898), one of the things I worried about was that people wouldn’t believe 10-foot snowfalls—on the flat—and surviving minus-forty degree temperatures, but those are really rather tame compared to what Hobson and his partner endured in real life.
The first thing to emphasize about this story is that it is true pioneer history--with allowances for the cowboy's tendency to exaggerate--made at a time when there was still room for a man to shape his destiny with courage, hard work and determination. That is to say, it probably wouldn’t be possible today, given all the emasculating government rules and regulations. For one thing, you’d probably need a building permit to build a simple shelter.
In addition, adventurers like Hobson, Stanley Blum, and ‘Panhandle’ Phillips, are harder to find these days, as is their ability to withstand hardship—the rougher the better. As they say, “They just don’t make them like they used to.”
The basic tale is about Hobson and Panhandle setting out from Wyoming to the wilds of British Columbia to find a goldmine in “Free grass reachin’ north into unknown country. Land— lots of it— untouched— just waitin’ for hungry cows, and some buckaroos that can ride and have guts enough to put her over.”
So with little more than that, they head for Canada in an obsolete panel delivery Ford, distinguished by large printed letters across its body, “BOLOGNA— BLOATERS— BLOOD SAUSAGES.”
Across the border they followed the “Old Cariboo Trail' (the ' Trail of '98'), which:
Wound its way for more than a hundred miles along the face of a cliff, with the Fraser River twisting like a tiny thread through the rocky gorge a thousand feet below. In places small slides blocked the highway, and we shovelled enough rock out of the way to carry on. Once a driver, whom we nearly pushed over the bank, found it necessary to back up a hundred yards to a place in the road where we could squeeze by him. We thanked him.
“That’s all right,” he said, “but watch it ahead— the road narrows up.”
That was merely the beginning!
Following that they endured frost bitten feet; warded off giant, killer black wolves circling the camp; survived when the waters under the frozen ice sucked them and their cattle and horses down into the freezing deep hole; stared a Grizzly down; and gambled the horses and cattle could make it across ice encrusted snow 20-feet deep below.
It should also be added that there are no offensive bits to navigate, and so it is appropriate for children—in fact I encourage you to share the history with them. Let them know that Canada has a history equal to any in the world in colour and drama. Five (solid) bees.
Because there are so very few of them available, I get genuinely excited when I come across a hGerry B's Books Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
Because there are so very few of them available, I get genuinely excited when I come across a history of Canada that tells the stories of the “average Joe or Sally” pioneer. That is how I felt when I discovered Blazing the Old Cattle Trail, by Grant MacEwan (himself a pioneer) [Fifth House; Revised edition, 2000]. MacEwan certainly hit the nail on the head when he declared, “I’m not writing for them [academics], I’m writing for Canadians,” and thank goodness he did. Otherwise, these delightful anecdotes might have been lost forever.
There are forty anecdotal-vignettes in all, which are told in an easy-to-read, journalistic style. In fact, it is their lack of ‘academic rigidity’ that makes them accessible to a wide range of readers, both young and old.
Adam and Eve of the Cattle Kingdom
Anyone who knows western Canada will immediate think of multi-acre ranches and thousands, if not millions of cattle. The fact is, however, that the first of their numbers started with just two critters, a bull and a cow named “Adam” and “Eve.” In 1811 these two were brought from Oxford House, a remote Hudson Bay Company trading post (about 400 miles north of what is now Winnipeg, Manitoba) in–of all things–a canoe. Proving the pioneer’s motto: Where there is a will, there is a way.
English Stallion for Red River
An even more astounding feat was conducted in 1831, when a Hackney stallion by the name of “Fireaway,” and later an English thoroughbred by the name of “Melbourne,” were both transported from York Factory, on the western shore of Hudson Bay, to Winnipeg; a distance of roughly 700 land and water miles–including 36 portages–by freight canoe. As MacEwan observes:
“Even the most ardent horse lovers will think of adventures more inviting than sharing a canoe or York boat with a frisky stallion, no matter how he might be dignified by a fine pedigree.”
The Hackney Fireaway was to become legendary as a producer of speed and endurance. Indeed, as late as 1877, settlers in Portage la Prairie revived their affection for the memory of that horse which was the first purebred of his race in all Western Canada.
A stranger driving a fast horse blew into town a day or two before the 24th of May and promptly challenged all comers to a matched race. With the honor of the community and the reputation of local horses at stake, townsmen came together for serious discussion. Settlers with swift horses were remembered, and thoughts turned to Farmer Macdonald at High Bluff who had a nimble great-great -granddaughter of Fireaway. A message was dispatched: “Bring your mare to town at once. We need her for a race.”
“Macdonald was plowing with a two-horse team when the exhausted courier reached him. Reluctantly, he unhitched the good mare and her mate from the walking plow, rehitched them to his democrat and drove to Portage. Farmers and town people couldn’t honestly expect a homesteader’s plowhorse to win a race against a barnstorming flier from St. Paul but they recalled her breeding and nursed a silent hope. It was a great race; every pioneer who saw it agreed, and sure enough, the blood of Fireaway was still virile if not invincible and Macdonald’s mare, drawing a democrat and an exultant Scottish settler, came down the Portage la Prairie street to leave the professional racer from Minnesota a convincing distance behind.”
The Trail from Stowaway to Cattle King
Life for Joseph Blackburn Greaves began in Yorkshire, England, in 1831, and at the tender age of eleven he ran away from home, stepmother and England by stowing away on the sailing ship Patrick Henry, bound for New York.
When he was discovered the angry Captain assigned him to feeding the ship’s pigs (used to eat up food refuse and furnish pork when needed), so when the Patrick Henry docked, young Greaves promoted himself as an “expert” in the art of feeding swine, and was immediately hired by a farmer with a barn full of them.
Three years later he joined a wagon train heading to California, and there he worked as a labourer before embarking on a career as a butcher.
Word of gold on the Fraser river then reached Greaves who decided to pursue it, but with a butcher’s reasoning he took some meat animals with him–sheep! It was 1859 and poor trails and rough water still offered the only means of transportation, but after trailing them for 400 miles, Greaves managed to sell the flock at Fifty Mile House, British Columbia, for prices unheard of in the south.
He then went back to Oregon for more, but this time he brought cattle for sale and profit. However, on his third trip (1863) he found the market failing. Undaunted, he turned the cattle loose and went back to butchering for a while. When at last he rounded up his cattle he found them fat and multiplied, and so he undertook a few drives to Westminster (about 250 miles south east).
By 1880, however, cattle population in the interior of British Columbia had outgrown demand, and so Greaves rounded up about 4,000 head (some of them seven years old) and started south, crossing the border at Osoyoos through Oregon, and then west to Cheyenne, Wyoming. There, a year later, he loaded them onto Union Pacific boxcars bound for Chicago.
In 1882 Greaves and five others formed a syndicate known as the Douglas Lake Cattle Company, and in the years to follow twenty thousand head were sometimes on the ranch, and the person who had come to the continent as a stowaway, friendless and penniless, continued to direct the huge operations until his 80th birthday.
[Interestingly, although this is the first time I learned the Greave's story, it parallels almost exactly the story of my cattle baron in Coming of Age on the Trail.]
These are but three (of forty) fascinating anecdotes contained in this rare collection of Canadian folk lore, so if you’re a Canadiana buff like me I highly recommend it. Five hearty bees....more
Real Justice: Guilty of Being Weird: The story of Guy Paul Morin by Cynthia J. Faryon [Lorimer:Gerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
Real Justice: Guilty of Being Weird: The story of Guy Paul Morin by Cynthia J. Faryon [Lorimer: Real Justice series – August 2012 (pre-orders are being accepted)] is one of four such works under the Real Justice label, all of them dealing with tragic, Canadian cases that went terribly awry. The others include: Robert Baltovich; Steven Truscott; and David Milgard.
From a GLBT perspective we could also add John Damien, summarily fired for being homosexual and a “security risk,” and Everett George Klippert, the last person imprisoned in Canada for private, consensual sex with men. After being assessed “incurably homosexual”, he was sentenced to an indefinite “preventive detention” as a dangerous sexual offender.
The story of Guy Paul Morin reads like a ‘how not to’ textbook on bungling, sloppiness, incompetence, prejudice, police and prosecutorial misconduct, and misrepresentation of forensic evidence by so-called “experts.” And yet, Ms Faryon has managed to remain objective throughout, and to put a human face on both the accusers and accused.
When eight-year-old Christine Jessop was first reported missing (October 3, 1984) the police told her mother, Janet Jessop, to call her friends and neighbours to see if anyone had seen or spoken to her. As a result of these calls, people began to gather at the Jessop residence, and,
“Soon the place was filled with people. They made coffee, tea, and helped themselves to drinks from the refrigerator. They touched glasses, mugs, counter tops, door handles and used the bathroom. Someone picked up the bike from off the shed floor and leaned it against the wall. Perhaps the same person also took Christine’s pink sweater off the nail and brought it into the house, most likely thinking they were helping. The police didn’t
Police made no attempt to monitor who was coming into the house or what they were doing. They hadn’t taped off Christine’s bedroom or the shed, or treated the house like a crime scene. They treated the situation as if Christine was staying too long at a friend’s house, or maybe she was lost in the woods. The police didn’t even speak to most of them. Why go to all that trouble when it wasn’t necessary?” p.32
Moreover when Christine’s body was finally discovered in a farmer’s field in Sunderland, Ontario, (about 60 miles north-east of Toronto),
“None of the officers were issued gloves, scarves, or protective clothing to prevent hair and fibres from falling on the remains and contaminating the evidence. Michalowsky [Chief Identification Technician with the Durham Regional Police] was in a hurry, racing against the weather. It was going to be tough to get the search done before the storm.” P.50
“Some of the officers took smoke breaks and no one watched to make sure the cigarette butts were put in the trash bag hanging on the van mirror. A cigarette package, a sales receipt, and a milk carton were found close to the body. Those in charge decided these items didn’t have anything to do with the murder, and they were thrown away. Other items were photographed, tagged, bagged, and sent to the lab for analysis and accepted as evidence, even though they were dropped by the searchers.” P.52
Guy Paul did not attend the funeral, believing it was not open to the public, and this became a topic of discussion:
“His absence was noted by the police. It seemed Guy Paul couldn’t do anything right. The police and reporters believed the murderer would go to the funeral. If Guy Paul had gone, they would have noticed him, and perhaps thought he was guilty. But he didn’t go, and they thought it was suspicious he stayed away.” p.61
“Detectives Fitzpatrick and Shephard met with Janet and Kenny Jessop on February 14, 1985. When asked about Guy Paul, they both said he was a musician and a “weird-type guy.” They complained that he had never helped with the search for Christine and didn’t attend the funeral or even give them his sympathies. Inspector John Shephard made an entry in his notebook identifying Guy Paul as “Suspect Morin.””p.61
Guy Paul’s name kept coming up, along with the epithet “weird,” and so the police decided it was time to talk to this “weird-type guy.” But first they did some digging, starting with Christine’s best friend Leslie, whom they interviewed just beforehand:
“So Leslie,” the detective asked, “tell me about Christine’s neighbour, Guy Paul Morin. You said you were friends with Christine.”
“Yeah, she was my best friend.”
“So, when you were playing over there at Christine’s and you saw Guy Paul, what was he doing?”
“I don’t know,” said Leslie.
“Well,” said the detective, “was he cutting his lawn?”
“Was he standing next to his fence?”
“Could he have been cutting his hedges?”
“Yeah, I think so. He must have been cutting his hedges.”
“Well,” asked the detective, “was he holding the clippers tight?”
“Well,” Leslie said. “I don’t know.”
“Well,” pushed the detective, “were his knuckles white, did they look like this?” and he held out his fist so his knuckles looked white.
“Yeah, sure. Okay. Yes, it did look like that.” p.63
Morin was subsequently arrested, and at his first trial in 1986 he was acquitted. However, the Crown appealed this decision on the grounds that the trial judge made a fundamental error prejudicing the Crown’s right to a fair trial, and in 1987 the Court of Appeal ordered a new trial.
Morin was convicted at his second trial (1992), substantially on the testimony of convicted felons who wanted shortened jail time, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. In 1995, improvements in DNA testing led to a test which excluded Morin as the murderer. Morin’s appeal of his conviction was allowed (i.e., the conviction was reversed), and a directed verdict of acquittal entered in the appeal.
Subsequently, a commission of inquiry was convened under Mr. Justice Fred Kaufman (The Commission on Proceedings Involving Guy Paul Morin), who uncovered evidence of police and prosecutorial misconduct, and of misrepresentation of forensic evidence by forensic experts.
However, I think the main lesson to be learned here is to not to jump to conclusions, as was done in this case. Morin was considered “weird,” and this assumption blossomed to the point where it implicated an entire chain of “experts.” The chain was then held fast through the fact that one link blindly followed another through professional courtesy, or whatever.
In fact the police, forensic experts and Crown prosecutors were so confident — so smug — that they built their case backwards, manipulating and creating evidence to prove the guilt of a suspect who could not possibly be innocent. But he was.… Highly recommended. Five bees....more
In my estimation there are two types of history books: the regretfully ‘dusty’ kind that I was sGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
In my estimation there are two types of history books: the regretfully ‘dusty’ kind that I was subjected to in my school days, a chalk-dry collection of dates and events that one could only find interesting in passing; and then there are those that have some colour to them–some human interest woven into the fabric. Fortunately, Tecumseh: Diplomat and Warrior in the War of 1812 by Irene Gordon [Lorimer 'Amazing Stories' series, 2009] is of the latter variety.
Tecumseh, whose name loosely translates as “Panther passing across (the sky),” was born in Ohio in 1768, to a minor war chief of the Shawnee people (“people of the water”). Shortly after he was born, his father was killed by white frontiersmen who had crossed onto Indian land in violation of a recent treaty, and Tecumseh then resolved to become a warrior like his father and to be “a fire spreading over the hill and valley, consuming the race of dark souls.”
He was one of those people who was born to greatness, whether by design or circumstance, and would probably stand out in any society. In Tecumseh’s case he was visionary who saw a confederacy of Indian peoples as the only salvation in the face of the ever-expanding “white tide.” A confederacy was also the foil against some thoroughly unscrupulous politicians who regarded the Natives as ignorant savages, and a hindrance to their ambitions.
Tecumseh also saw salvation in a peaceful co-existence with the whites, but with the rights of the “Red Man” solidly entrenched in territory they could call their own.
Regretfully, as it is with most great men, those around him, both white and red (with the exception of Isaac Brock), did not—or could not—share his vision, and so Tecumseh was challenged on three sides: The “long knives” (Americans); his own independent-thinking people; and the British, who were as political as the Americans.
Tecumseh and British General Sir Isaac Brock were cut from a similar cloth, and it is said that he and Tecumseh rode into Detroit together after its defeat. However, when Isaac Brock died at the Battle of Queenston Heights, Upper Canada, in October 1812, the command passed to Major General Harry Proctor; a foppish, indecisive man, whom Tecumseh distrusted, and whose indecision eventually led to Tecumseh’s death.
Irene Gordon has written a concise account of Tecumseh’s life, historically accurate and balanced, but what I like most about it is that she has breathed some life into a story that could otherwise be as dry Mr. Ewart’s high school history classes. I also applaud her (and Lorimer’s Amazing Stories series) for keeping Canadian history from going down the gopher hole of obscurity. Five bees....more
I have long admired Tom Douglas for his writings on the topic of Canadian military history [seeGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
I have long admired Tom Douglas for his writings on the topic of Canadian military history [see my review of Valour at Vimy Ridge: Canadian Heroes of World War I], but I do believe To Wawa With Love, [Lorimer Press, 2012]—a charming, witty and hilarious collection of intimate tales—has to be my favourite for the following reasons:
Apart from the socio-economic impact of the returning troops, and the sudden demand for post-war housing, etc. (mundane topics devoid of any real colour or humanity) there are very few portraits of the men (and women) themselves, or of their families. In this short memoir, Tom Douglas has done his bit to address the oversight, stating: “I have set down these few memories about that time and place in an effort to prevent it all from slipping away, without a trace down a sinkhole of history.” p.8
And what did the families think? Well, in young Thomas Douglas’ case—pumped on gangster movies etc, and not having seen his father in five years—he was convinced he was a murderer who had somehow beguiled his mother and was about to murder them all—except that young Thomas was ‘on to him,’ and ready to spring into action at any given moment.
Mind you, his younger brother Greg had no problem adjusting, but as the author points out, “My brother Greg sold out for a pair of white boots. He always did come cheap.”
There was a slight pause in the pending drama to accommodate the adventure of moving to “Sinterville,” a company dormitory community near Wawa, Ontario. It was little more than a huddle of temporary housing set in close proximity to the mine, where:
“The lung-searing sulphur fumes rolled in on the wind. Those who dared venture out of their clapboard shelters tied handkerchiefs over their mouths to prevent a fit of gagging and choking. Tears streaming down their cheeks, the hapless victims of this latest gas attack dashed from one spot to another, hurrying to do whatever had to be done.
“As the sun came up, vaporizing the puddles of overnight rain, the sulphurous air turned steamy and dank, inviting another onslaught of blackflies and mosquitoes that left everyone in their murderous path covered in bleeding sores.
“If the supply train had managed to get through that morning, chances were that the bread was mouldy and the milk sour from sitting in an unrefrigerated boxcar while the crew strained to remove a rock-slide or fallen tree from the railway tracks the provided the lifeline from the civilized south.”
And yet, to young Thomas it was an adventure where he would hone his bargaining skills by talking the local merchant into a 100% increase in his weekly wage (from $1 to $2.00); become a singing sensation at the Christmas concerts; be a white knight for his younger brother (even if he did have to bite the bully’s finger to get the upper “hand,” so to speak); and rescue one of his classmates from the depth of an outhouse hole, e.g.
“You’ll never know what being really miserable is until you’ve had to sit in an unheated outhouse in forty-below weather. And I’m talking Fahrenheit, where water freezes at thirty-two degrees about the zero mark.”p.49
“I was seated at my desk, staring out my window at the whirling snow and mentally mushing my huskies to the nearest outpost with a bottle of lifesaving medicine in a leather pouch slung over my shoulder. Suddenly, I became aware of Miss Grexton standing there with a slight smile on her face, waiting for my reply.
““I was asking you, my little daydreamer, if you’d mind going to see what’s keeping Rocky,” she repeated. “He’s been gone an awfully long time.”
“After a hazardous five-hour trek, that in reality lasted about thirty seconds, I reached the outpost, having had to shoot and eat all of my sled dogs along the way. Well, okay, I actually polished off the remains of a peanut butter sandwich I’d found in my pocket. I scrabbled the wooden door of the outhouse open with ice-numbed fingers and peered inside the unlit cubical. Where Rocky should have been sitting in frigid misery, there were two empty “thrones.” Too young to realize there was something amiss, I let the spring-loaded door slam back into place and turned to run back to the warmth of the classroom with the news that Rocky wasn’t where he was supposed to be.
“Lucky for him, the perpetually howling wind died down just then, and I heard a faint, eerie call for help from inside the ice palace. Prying open the door once again, I tentatively called out, “Rocky?” and almost ran for cover when I was answered by a disembodied voice wailing, “Down here!””p.54
“Only in Sinterville,” you say, well there’s even more to read for your amusement and edification in To Wawa With Love.” Do get yourself a copy. You’ll be glad you did. Five bees.
The adventures of (Sir) Sam Steele should definitely put to rest any notion that Canada lacks a colGerry B's Book Reviews - www.gerrycan.wordpress.com
The adventures of (Sir) Sam Steele should definitely put to rest any notion that Canada lacks a colourful history, or, indeed, real life adventurers the equal to Pat Garrett and Davy Crockett. Moreover, Holly Quan’s brief biography, Sam Steele: The Wild West Adventures of Canada’s Most Famous Mountie (Altitude Publishing Canada Ltd., 2003) makes a good appetizer for larger and more detailed biographies, including Sam Steele’s own autobiography: Forty years in Canada: reminiscences of the great north-west (sadly not listed for sale on Amazon.ca).
Samuel Benfield Steele was born on the family farm in 1851 in Simcoe County, Upper Canada (now Ontario), and spent much of his youth in the nearby Town of Orillia learning to ride and other useful skills that would serve him well in his later life. At age 14-years he enlisted in the militia formed to guard against Fenian cross-border raids, and from there he volunteered for the federal militia called together to restore order with the Métis in what is now Manitoba.
“The journey was an exercise in endurance,” writes Quan: “The troops marched across southern Ontario to Sault Ste. Marie, where they boarded ships bound across Lake Superior to what is now Thunder Bay. That was the easy part. From the lakehead, 965 kilometres (600 miles) of rock, rivers, muskeg, and heavy forest lay between the troops and their destination, Fort Garry on the Red River (now Winnipeg). There was no railway yet, and the road was nothing more than a trail blazed through the bogs and bush. In fact, for the most part the “road” was a water route of interconnected lakes and streams with numerous difficult portages through mud, swamps, and dense forest.”
Unfortunately, for Sam, the uprising was over by the time they arrived so the troops turned around and marched back to Ontario again. However, Sam stayed with the militia—now promoted to corporal at age nineteen—but when the new provincial government was in place the militia was disbanded as well. Nevertheless, the new Canadian government decided it wanted its own army to replace the British troops, traditional peacekeepers, and Sam quickly joined the recently established Canadian army—being the 23rd person to do so.
Two years later however, in 1873, the federal government established a mounted police force for the West, the North West Mounted Police, and Sam saw his chance to get back to his beloved frontier. Therefore, in 1874 the now Sergeant Major Steele (age 23) began one of the most rugged marches that have ever taken place in Canada, across the vast, uncharted territory of the West.
“The going was tough for the already beleaguered group. Grasshoppers razed the grass, and rain turned the wagon track to deep mud. Quicksand was another hazard many men had never experienced. Sam, among the strongest in the troop, was continually called on to help wrestle horses, oxen, and cattle of boggy deathtraps.”
That was only part of the adventure. Having little grass to eat the horses became so weak that they frequently collapsed in their tracks. Therefore the men had to lift them and encourage them to walk a bit further before collapsing again. This prompted one of them to quip. “I thought I’d have an easy ride to the Rockies with a good horse to carry me. Instead I’m having a tough walk to Edmonton, with me carrying the horse.”
The march to Edmonton, 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles), ended on October 31, 1874, but not without one last struggle with nature.
“Sam was preparing for sleep when someone shouted that a horse was in trouble in a nearby creek. Grabbing a rope, he waded into the ice-cold stream and deftly passed the rope around the struggling horse, tossing the other end to men on the bank. But before Sam could get out of the water, the horse slipped, dragging Sam and several men down. In the dark, with only moments before men and horse succumbed to the freezing current, the quick-thinking man made it out of the water, then he hauled the next man out, and so on, until troops and horse were all free of the ice and water.”
This, then, was the stuff Sam Steele was made of, and only the beginning of his remarkable career that included chasing criminals, defying native leaders, upholding the law—and having the time of his life. Indeed, he saw the establishment of a nation, the signing of treaties, the resolution of a rebellion, the building of a railway, war in South Africa, and action in WWI.
In my opinion this bit of Canadian history should be made mandatory reading in every elementary school history course taught, and for every person who is preparing to become a citizen of this country, for therein is the essence of Canadian pioneer culture: Dedication, adherence to standards and perseverance. ...more