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.