bison

I’m reading a book called Crazy Horse: A Lakota Life by Kingsley M. Bray right now.

In both Canada and the United States, the disappearance of the buffalo was the biggest humanitarian and environmental catastrophe that you’ve never heard of. Scientists are only beginning to recognize now that cattle also introduced diseases into wild herds that weakened them.

The American government wanted the bison gone — it had two transcontinental railroads to build and dealing with freedom fighters like Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull was impossible as long as they had access to the food and shelter supplied by those big herds.

Here in Canada, the situation was slightly different. The government knew the bison would be gone eventually but their priority was not to be financially responsible for the First Nations people in western Canada. They thought they had time, and if you had ever seen one of those massive herds you would have understood why they believed that.

Let’s say you and I are standing on a rise in the prairie. We say to each other, “Do you hear that?” But that isn’t exactly what we mean. What we mean is do you FEEL that … the sound is coming out of the ground up through our feet. An hour later … look to the north as far as you can, look to the south as far as you can. That herd is a mile wide, and it passes us by for an hour. You would never, ever forget a sight like that.

Only two years after Treaty 7 was signed in 1877 (the agreement the Crown signed with the indigenous people and settlers in my area) the bison were gone from southern Alberta and the people here were starving. We talk about the bison on the tour of Chestermere that’s happening tonight — did we have bison herds in this area? Come to find out how glacier rocks and a natural prairie spring offer us some clues.

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.

five things i love about canada:

1) Peace
2) Freedom
3) Emily Carr (I was so drawn to her wild, challenging paintings and defiant, independent spirit as a child).
4) W. O. Mitchell — I just saw “The Kite” performed. Hilarious, heartfelt, magical.
5) @cfl @calstampeders football!
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“i have loved my country with a passionate love”

“My sins of omission and commission I do not deny; but I trust that it may be said of me in the ultimate issue, ‘Much is forgiven because he loved much,’ for I have loved my country with a passionate love.”

— John A. MacDonald.

I created this piece of art a few years ago during a period of pain, anger and despair as I examined the historical roots of my country and wondered how something founded on murder, eugenics, deception and flawed beliefs could ever have a good future. Despite what the UN has to say about us, Canada still certainly isn’t a good or safe place for everyone.

Yet, the liberty afforded to me as a woman in this land is almost unheard of in other nations on this earth. I can choose who I want to vote for. Being the bold lassie I am, I’ve at times bluntly told a visiting politician that I didn’t vote for them! With no thought of reprisals to me and mine — for the person did what I expected them to do, put another stack of pancakes on my plate and told me to call their office or come to visit them any time to discuss my concerns.

So, today I want to celebrate, with a thankful heart. Tomorrow, I promise to get back to work to make sure that the next 152 years are a heck of a lot better than the first 152 were.

#johnamacdonald #canada #canadian #canadiangirl #quote #quotation #canadaday #love #passionate

the custer fight

The Custer Fight by Charles Marion Russell
Painted in 1903, Library of Congress, Washington D. C.

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.

Read more:

  • A Terrible Glory by James Donovan
  • Custer by Larry McMurtry
  • Frontier Farewell by Garrett Wilson

gladys taylor

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!

Read more (all written by Gladys Taylor):

  • Alone in the Boardroom
  • Alone in the Australian Outback
  • The King Tree
  • Pine Roots

the day after d day

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.

Follow: @JunoBeachCentre.

Check out this outstanding article from the Ottawa Citizen.

Aftermath

Have you ever seen this photograph? When we think of the soaring monument that now towers above Vimy Ridge, we rarely if ever recall that Adolph Hitler once toured the site.

The fall out from the battle of Arras and the capture of Vimy Ridge by the Canadians had a number of important consequences.

First of all, although the Canadians had not been expected or even particularly wanted to meet their objectives, the Allies had not had a victory for quite some time and the media, the public and the British generals needed a win to brag about. The news of the victory circled the world, written on a scroll of purple, with a pen of gold.

The skilled and efficient action of the Canadian troops had seriously impressed the British generals. The training that had been provided had been an experiment in warfare, with ordinary soldiers having the battle plan explained to them, being taught what they were doing and why. Military strategy was no longer the exclusive property of the military elite, and the results had been impressive. The performance had drawn the gaze of Field Marshal Douglas Haig. For an army that had proven it could do the impossible, he had another assignment in mind — the capture of a little village in Belgium that had been lost to the Allies in 1915 — called Passchendaele.

For the Allies, three thousand five hundred ninety eight men were killed at Vimy Ridge. Seven thousand and four were wounded. The toll for the Germans is estimated to be even worse although the numbers of those who were wounded, killed and missing is unknown. Four thousand were captured.

This is easy to forget as a Canadian, heady with victory and history. The Germans had fought in horrible conditions too — and they fought well. The German troops stationed at Vimy were specialized fighting forces and they had shown the world why. As deadly as World War One was for the Allies, with thousands wounded, killed or simply missing, the casualties for the Germans were even worse. When the Treaty of Versailles was eventually signed, it was a harsh, punitive and humiliating document that hurt both German pride and their economy. Although World War Two is often the conflict we point to when we want to justify war, it is the direct descendant of World War One, which just might be the most pointless, inexplicable conflict in history.

When we think of the instantly recognizable iconic monument at Vimy, what many don’t know is that Hitler — a decorated veteran of World War One who was wounded on multiple occasions — once toured the site. The image of the person who symbolizes the heart of darkness superimposed on one of our most recognizable and respected national symbols is sobering.

I’d like to introduce you to two southern Alberta veterans who served at Vimy Ridge and we’ll do that in the next few days.

Still Bravely Singing

It’s the most healing sound in the world; the meadowlarks are here and their songs are echoing and re-echoing across the prairie this morning. These angels of music sing me awake in the dawn and they pray me to sleep in the cold spring twilights. My heart asks, what does the peace and solace they offer have to do with the filth and obscenity of the trenches, and in the second part of the Battle of Arras as the assault on Vimy Ridge continued 102 years ago today…….

Read part one here.

Throughout the night of 8/9th April, the Canadian guns had continued unceasingly to pound the beleaguered Germans. There was also a miserable sleeting snowstorm. Everyone had to fight in it of course but it was blowing right into the faces of the Germans and so made their conditions even more dispiriting and exhausting. April 9th was also, incidentally, Easter Monday.

As we already know, the Battle of Vimy Ridge lasted over a period of several days and it was an absolutely ferocious conflict in which the Germans and Canadians essentially fought each other to a standstill. (The Germans also recorded Vimy as a victory).

By 12th April, the Germans had lost control of the rest of the ridge but were still in possession of The Pimple. The 4th Canadian Division attacked them and fought with valour but a clean up crew was needed … and that crew was the 10th Canadian Brigade from Calgary, Alberta, my own beloved city.

Yes, troops from Calgary, a city barely forty years old, were there — the 10th and the 40th. And they fought bravely, with the 10th planting its standard on the face of the hated and feared Pimple. The battle flags of the 10th and 40th hung in the Central United Church until last year, when one was relocated to the Military Museums. The other is still hanging in the church; it is not a replica. It is the same flag that was carried by that force of Calgarians on Vimy Ridge during that battle. You can go to visit it and I encourage you to do that. It is a life changing sight, the power of history in our own city.

As I was putting together this blog post, my friend Bruce from New Zealand reminded me of the troops from ANZAC and it is my pleasure to honour their courage, bravery and expertise. “The Colonials” who had been dismissed and underrated by their British overlords fought with unlooked for courage from the very beginning and many became skilled and hardened warriors. I want to especially highlight the role of those New Zealand troops whose specialized knowledge and efforts in mining and tunneling were such an important part of the successes that the Allies had in the Battle of Arras.

What was the fall out from Vimy Ridge? There were certainly consequences from this rather insignificant battle that the Canadians were not expected … or even particularly wanted … to win. And we’ll explore that part of the story next.

Vimy 102

“The French couldn’t take it, and the British couldn’t take it. But you Canadians are such fools that you don’t know when a place can’t be taken.”

In the weeks leading up to the Battle of Arras, Canadians had been preparing Vimy Ridge for assault by using special fuses to destroy barbed wire. They also used gas. Horses, of course, could not put on gas masks, and many of the wretched animals that had been the pride of the German cavalry died in agony. But, this neutralized the heavy German guns. The Germans called it “The Week of Suffering.”

The innovation of the battle plan and the superior training of the Canadian soldiers is attributed to their success at Vimy, a battle they were not expected to win. Measures such as providing every soldier with a watch and a compass were employed. This sounds like a really common sense thing to do, but at the time it was completely unheard of.

Also, every soldier was familiar with the battle plan. Strategy was no longer viewed as something comprehensible only to the military elite, and ordinary men were taught to understand the thought behind the plan, its objectives and what they were expected to do. Again, this may seem like an obvious step but at the time, it was radical thinking.

Calgary’s 10th and 40th battalions were there! 

As the sun set on 8 April, the ridge that had taunted the Allies since pretty well the beginning of the war was in Canadian possession — all except for a feared and hated spot known as “The Pimple.” And Calgary’s 10th would play a very important role in taking the last holdout on that blood soaked ridge the following day. I’ll finish the story tomorrow. #Vimy102