June 25 and June 26, 1876: on these days in history, the Battle of Little Bighorn, also known as “Custer’s Last Stand” was fought in Montana.
This event was to have significant consequences for the Canadian government, which was trying to negotiate treaties with the First Nations people in western Canada (Treaty Six was signed in 1876).
Among the headaches for the NWMP and the Canadian government: the Blackfoot had been approached by the Sioux, who requested their help in defeating the Americans. The Sioux promised in turn to help the Blackfoot drive out “The Red Coats”. The request was really a demand, promising retaliation against the Blackfoot if they did not participate.
Also, with in the year, 1,000 Sioux refugees would cross the border at Wood Mountain, requesting land and protection. The 1870s were a period of economic downturn in North America and the Canadian government was already looking to cut costs. They had no interest in adding to their expenditures, even if the humanitarian aid was desperately needed.
The presence of the Sioux would put pressure on the already dwindling Canadian bison herds and have implications for the Canadian government and the First Nations people of southern Alberta who depended on the bison for absolutely everything.
Who remembers the Rocky View Five Village Weekly or the Wheel and Deal? Gladys Taylor, the formidable writer and businesswoman behind those publications was born on 25 June 1917. She lived a remarkable and creative life, winning the Ryerson Fiction Award (twice!). Her book Alone in the Australian Outback was adapted into a movie starring Oscar-winning actress Olympia Dukakis and you can catch the trailer here!
Deeper into France: So what happened the day after D Day? On June 7? And 8? 9? Whilst the D Day Landings on June 6 get the focus, landings on the coast of Normandy were ongoing and were often referred to in the notations as D+1 or D+2 (in other words, June 7 or 8).
The perception is that the first wave guys got the worst of it and it’s easy to forget about the risks taken in the ongoing push towards victory. Many don’t realize that beginning on June 7 more than 150 Canadian soldiers were captured and executed by the Hitler Youth under the command of the S.S., a total violation of the rules of war. Some men were sprayed with machine guns whilst others were shot in the back of the head with a pistol. A priest was bayoneted. The victims included Private Howard Angel, a father of four who was only thirty years old.
The commanding S.S. officer was Col. Kurt Meyer of the 12th Panzer Division. He was captured and sentenced (and incarcerated in Canada) but when it became apparent that his skills were needed during the Cold War, he was released in 1954.
When you are proudly told that Canadians were the only ones to meet our objectives on D Day this is super important and not just for bragging rights. That inland push was absolutely vital because German strategy was always to dig in and counterattack. As we were discussing the days after D Day on Twitter my friend @ElsbethMehrer made this comment:
“Love this thread. We were so taken by the cemetery at Beny-sur-mer and how far inland Canadians moved so quickly.”
Thank you so much for this comment, Elsbeth. Here’s a map showing Courseulles-sur-Mer (where Juno Beach is) and the place Elsbeth is talking about called Beny-sur-mer which is about six kilometres away. They have a Cimetière Canadien there too. The guys buried here died in the days and weeks after D Day.
Read more: Conduct Unbecoming by Howard Margolian.
I definitely don’t feel qualified to weigh in on D Day as a historian. What I am going to do is share a few images and thoughts.
The journalist and historian Elinor Florence shared this image on her Twitter feed. Thank you @florencewriter for this map — it is awfully “primitive” looking as she says. It’s also the actual map used on D Day. (Wow!)
This German gun had a great view of the beach, and it caused havoc on Juno All. Day. Long. It’s still sitting there on the coast of France, scowling across that beach, silenced.
Here’s what our Canadian boys were looking at and attempting to cope with on 6 June 1944, whilst being shot at. I have brothers in the age range of the majority of these young guys, and with love and respect, I wouldn’t necessarily count on them to pull of making a reservation at a restaurant for my parents’ anniversary, or to cook a meal for more than one person. Clearly, I underestimate them.
Here in Calgary, the afternoon edition of the Calgary Herald reported that as news of the successful invasion in Normandy was emerging, thousands of Calgarians offered prayers of gratitude and relief. June is an odd time to quote a Christmas carol, but “a thrill of hope” is the phrase that comes to mind as one scans the articles. And already, the great pride that Canada would take in its contribution was growing in Canadian hearts. This young country had gone into battle with the biggest superpowers in the world, had done what it set out to do, and done it with valour.
I know we have times when we feel frustrated and resentful of our American neighbours. But I want to shout out to them, because in the integrated mission that was Operation Overlord, it was American pilots who were overhead in the skies protecting our infantry. Thank you, Americans. (Canadian pilots were at the British beaches, FYI). Whilst Canadians can be rightly proud of our accomplishments at Juno, the price paid on the American beaches of Utah and Omaha was exceptionally sobering. Juno had to be used in American propaganda photos because their own beaches were littered with corpses and deemed inappropriate for public consumption.
340 Canadian families were to receive the news that a beloved person had been killed.
574 Canadians were wounded (or, is that number — total. The brain of every single person who participated in and witnessed that battle was wounded and cursed and destined to remember. For life.)
47 Canadians had the terrifying experience of being captured.
Seventy five years later, I am a Canadian woman who lives in a peaceful, first world country. I have never fallen asleep to the sound of gunfire (unless my brothers were shooting gophers). I have known nothing but peace, and safety, and freedom.
And far away at a beach in France there’s a tide that will always set a rhythm for my heart.
June 1, 1873: on this day the Cypress Hills Massacre occurred. A party of drunken American wolfers (men who were paid to travel around southern Alberta poisoning wolves, and the absolute lowest on the scale of social order) decided to attack a camp of Assiniboine First Nations people whom they (incorrectly, it turned out) accused of stealing horses. A man called George Hammond led the attack, saying, “Let’s go clean out the camp.”
The attack only killed a few Assiniboine warriors. The rest of those murdered were women and children. Some of the women were taken prisoner and sexually assaulted. This horrible event finally forced the Canadian government to turn its attention to a situation that had gotten increasingly out of hand in its new domain of the North West Territories and inspired the creation of the N.W.M.P.
Two murder trials were held, one in the United States and one in Canada. Ultimately, no one was convicted, with the philosophical position of both juries seemingly, “What is the problem here? All they did was kill a bunch of Indians.”
What an interesting start we got off to, huh? Many of the conditions we have in western Canada, with ongoing resentment at the federal government when it is slow to respond to a crisis were present from day one, with First Nations being the lowest priority of all.
Read more: Firewater by Hugh Dempsey, The North-West Mounted Police: 1873-1885 by Jack F. Dunn or Frontier Farewell: the 1870s and the End of the Old Westby Garrett Wilson.
Something funny and cute happened at the historic library/archive where I work yesterday. Every year, we are in charge of a display of historic photographs that is showcased in the Western Oasis at the Calgary Stampede, so it’s quite a big deal.
We are getting ready for our show this year, which is featuring small towns, and yesterday three of us were gathered round trying to decide which photographs we’d like to have enlarged. There was an aerial photograph someone had donated of the roundhouse in Hanna that we all quite liked so we were then deciding on what captions we wanted on it, i.e., dating when the roundhouse was built and when the photograph was taken and by whom, etc.
“It’s such a great photograph; we’ll just do some research and find out,” I said decidedly. Just then, my colleague picked up the envelope the photo had come in. On it in neat script, the donor had written the date the roundhouse was built (1913), the year the photograph was taken (1947) and who the photographer was! We looked at each other and burst out laughing. We are observant, tenacious and visionary historians and researchers, and I’d like to celebrate that.