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.
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!
Go Stamps Go! Graham Kelly
NWMP: The North West Mounted Police: 1873 – 1885 by Jack F. Dunn
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.
“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.
Frontier Farewell: The 1870s and the
End of the Old West
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.
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.