go stamps go: the calgary tigers

Among the recruits who marched west with the F Troop in 1874 in search of the place where the Bow and Elbow Rivers met were immigrants from Europe who brought the game of rugby with them from their faraway homes. Rugby is known to have been played in Calgary as early as 1883. This match was played at the NWMP barracks at Fort Calgary with the Deane House in the background.

Meanwhile, the First Nations people were willing to give some of the new Canadian sporting events a try. However sometimes the game made no sense. For instance, when it came to football, why would you let another person attack you? In his book NWMP: The North West Mounted Police 1874 – 1885, Jack F. Dunn describes a rugby/football match that went awry: “One day at Fort Walsh, several Indians were invited to join a rugby match. The game took other dimensions, however, when a shoulder block by constable George Adams sent one Indian opponent flying. When the downed man got up and drew a knife, Adams “made for the fort”. ”

The Calgary Tigers were formed officially at a meeting on August 27, 1908. Practices were at 5.00 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays where Riley Park is located now and the season would run from September until the end of October.

The first rugby/football uniforms were canvas pants and leather helmets. Pads were not used for playing or practice until the late 1920s. Sprains and broken bones were common. Concussions happened too, but they were not recognized as causing potentially serious and permanent damage to the brain we recognize today.

Imagine we could bundle up on a beautiful September night in 1908 and head down to Riley Park to watch the Calgary Tigers in action. What sort of game could we expect to see? Well, football at the time was English-style rugby … kicking, tackling, punting. Also, North Hill in the background with not a structure or a tree in sight!

Read more:

  • Go Stamps Go! Graham Kelly
  • NWMP: The North West Mounted Police: 1873 – 1885 by Jack F. Dunn
North Hill does not have a tree or a structure on it!!
Here the Calgary Tigers are in action near what is
now Riley Park.

we are coming home

Have you ever heard of the First Nations Sacred Ceremonial Objects Repatriation Act (FNSCORA)? Alberta began the new millennium by becoming the first province in Canada to pass legislation that stated the Alberta government’s collections of sacred Indigenous objects in the Glenbow and the Royal Alberta Museum needed to be restored to the communities they came from so they could return to ceremonial use. From the First Nations perspective these ceremonial objects were not objects at all but were living beings … beings who had been in captivity for a long time. You can read more about this important legislation here and here.

Gerald T. Conaty was the curator at the Glenbow Museum when this legislation was passed and he was responsible for the repatriation of many sacred beings to Siksika, Kainai and Piikani First Nations around southern Alberta during the 1990s. You can read more about this incredible Made in Alberta true story in We Are Coming Home, a book edited by Conaty, which explores the challenging history that museums have had with indigenous people and what he and others decided to do about it.

treaty six

23 and 28 August of 1876: the British Crown signed an agreement with Plains and Woods Cree, Assiniboine, and other band governments of First Nations at Fort Carlton and Fort Pitt.

Significant agreements in Treaty Six that don`t appear in any other treaty? A famine clause. Three years later the bison were gone, and there’s your famine. There is also a Medicine Chest Clause that is still disputed today.

Another significant outcome of this treaty…… some Cree Chiefs such as Big Bear and Poundmaker refused to sign it, setting the stage for the terrible confrontation between the Canadian Government and the Metis and First Nations people during the North West Rebellion.

“This is our land! It isn’t a piece of pemmican to be cut off and given in little pieces back to us. It is ours and we will take what we want.”

Pitikwahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker) refuses to sign Treaty Six, August 1876.

“We want none of the Queen’s presents! When we set a fox trap we scatter pieces of meat all around but when the fox gets into the trap we knock him on the head. We want no baits. Let your chiefs come to us like men and talk to us.”

Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear) refuses to sign Treaty Six, August 1876.

Read More:

  • Loyal Till Death: Indians and the North-West Rebellion by Bill Waiser and Blair Stonechild
  • Frontier Farewell by Garrett Wilson

cuthbert grant

On this date, 15 July 1854 – Cuthbert Grant died after being thrown from a horse.

Cuthbert Grant

Whilst Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont may be better known, many Metis in Canada and the United States trace their ancestry to Cuthbert Grant.

Grant was a farmer, the father of thirteen children, an employee of the North West Company and a commander in the Battle of Seven Oaks. You can read more about his life here.

This article describes a historic visit in 2012 by Sir James Grant of Scotland, also known as Lord Strathspey. The occasion formally acknowledged that Cuthbert Grant was a clan member, making his descendants an official sept (branch) of the Grant clan in Scotland.

bison

That natural grass looks so right with that sky, doesn’t it? And then, to make it official, these guys appeared. They walked straight out of 1870 and regarded their European visitor with curiosity.

Sometimes a miracle is the surviving descendants of a genocide, grazing on their homeland, three legs in their own wild world, and one in mine.

Not so far away, I could hear cattle calling to each other. As a rancher’s daughter, this is a sound of peace and security for me. Last night, it only made the scene in front of me more unreal. Cattle seemed at once painted on to the harsh, beautiful, unforgiving landscape of the Great Plains, and so did I.

History may be healing and reversing itself (so might it be). Too late to go back, not to too late for trying.

21 great books

  1. High Rider by Bill Gallagher
  2. Frontier Farewell by Garrett Wilson
  3. We Are Coming Home by Gerald Conaty
  4. Clearing the Plains by James William Daschuk
  5. The Pemmican Eaters by Marilyn Dumont
  6. A Terrible Glory by James Donovan
  7. Ranching Women by Rachel Herbert
  8. Crowfoot: Chief of the Blackfoot by Hugh Dempsey
  9. Firewater by Hugh Dempsey
  10. Grant MacEwan’s Journals (edited by Max Foran )
  11. The Red Man’s Bones: George Catlin, Artist and Showman by Benita Eisler
  12. The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin
  13. The Banker and the Blackfoot: A Memoir of My Grandfather in Chinook Country by J. Edward Chamberlin
  14. Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
  15. Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese
  16. Quietus: Last Flight Accident Proneness in WWII by Anne Gafiuk
  17. Buffalo for the Broken Heart by Dan O`Brien
  18. The North-West Mounted Police: 1873-1885 by Jack F. Dunn
  19. The Great Blackfoot Treaties by Hugh Dempsey
  20. A Voice of Her Own (Legacies Shared) by Thelma Poirier
  21. Metis Pioneers by Doris Jeanne McKinnon

recommended read: frontier farewell

Frontier Farewell: The 1870s and the End of the Old West

By Garrett Wilson

In 1870, the great plains were inhabited by European fur traders, Metis settlements, Plains First Nations people and millions of buffalo. By 1880, the landscape was unrecognizable – the First Nations people were settled on reserves, settlers were beginning to stream into western Canada, and the planning and construction of the great spine of the railroad was underway. The North West Mounted Police had the American whiskey traders on the run and were dealing with the delicate matter of American refuges. Perhaps most significantly of all, the buffalo were gone. This triggered the biggest ecological and humanitarian crisis that you’ve never heard of, but the landscape was open for the settlers that the Canadian government were depending on to make good on its investment in buying the North West Territories from the Hudson’s Bay Company.

This is a great read for the 152th anniversary of confederation and is vital knowledge for any Canadian. I had no idea that smallpox had played such a huge role in the shaping of western Canada. Did you know that the law in Canada often applied very differently in the eastern part of the country? Garrett Wilson breaks down the contracts the Canadian government signed with indigenous people, exploring differences between the individual treaties and the needs and motivations of the people signing them. The book reveals that the important decisions made by a removed and detached government in Ottawa were to have a profound effect on the relationship that Canada has today with Metis and First Nations people. And what really happened to the buffalo?

Thrilling, engaging, frustrating, with many moments of clarity along the way, of finally getting it – why things are the way they are. That was my experience of reading this book. It clocks in at 527 pages so let your friends know that you love them and bid them a fond farewell. Stock up on all the groceries you could possibly need for the next two weeks and tell your family not to interrupt you unless the house is on fire. Then climb into your time machine (I sat in a patio chair on my back porch with an iced coffee) and prepare to disappear into the magnificent world of western Canada in the 1870s, a journey not so much through space as through time.