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.

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.

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

“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

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.

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

trading post for sale

So apparently southern Alberta could be a pretty lawless place before the N.W.M.P. got here. I was doing some unrelated research this morning when I came across this story.

Here’s a letter that a man living in Helena, Montana, received from a friend who lived in Fort Whoop Up.

“Dear Bob. I am enjoying good health. The winter’s trade was quite brisk, and for want of more exciting scenes I am now engaged in the peaceful occupation of raising a garden. My partner, Bill Akorn, got to putting on airs and I shot him and he is dead. My potatoes are looking well. Yours truly, Sandy.”

Thank you for the story, Hugh Dempsey! Taken from: Firewater by Hugh Dempsey.

recommended read: high rider

High Rider

by Bill Gallagher

Many of the stories about the discovery and settlement of our province – and the proud civilizations that existed here long before we did – are so rich that they need no embellishment. And indeed, the most incredible stories are often the ones that are true to the life. But with all of the historic events that our home has witnessed through the centuries, it has always rather surprised me that we don’t have more historical fiction set in southern Alberta, with our local creative voices imagining and filling in the tantalizing gaps in the things that we “know”. Writer Bill Gallagher has done just that and created a narrative around one of our most beloved historical figures.

As the end of the nineteenth century neared, southern Alberta and its fledgling communities were attracting immigrants from all over the world. What we often forget is just how close to home some of those immigrants were, with many coming over the border from the United States. For example, veterans of the civil war, with both sides of that bloody and deadly conflict represented, are buried in Calgary’s Union Cemetery.

John Ware’s life had been formed and shaped by the events that had racked the country of his birth, but of course he had fought for neither side. He was born a slave on a plantation in southern Carolina, and it is here that Bill Gallagher introduces him to us. Gallagher makes you feel as though you are beside John Ware as he walks the one thousand miles from southern Carolina to Texas, and as though you are witnessing heartwarming moments as he befriends good people and wins their respect and admiration. The humiliating events of prejudice and the wistful longing for love and family that seem destined to remain unfulfilled make you feel as though you are standing next to someone you want to encourage and speak out for – and how nice it is to root for a good guy, and to realize that this story happened in places that are familiar to you, too.

Let’s suppose that I am offering a giveaway on this blog and if you win, you get to meet John Ware at the coffee shop of your choosing for one hour and ask him any questions you want. What would you want to know? What parts of his story are the most fascinating to you? Would you want him to myth bust – was he ever really a miner? Do you want to get to know him as a person – what was his favourite breakfast? Or his favourite way to spend a Sunday afternoon? Or, do you want his tips and tricks for calving, or gentling a horse that’s got the best of you at the moment? Read High Rider and then tweet at me (@shelly_mcelroy) with your #QuestionsForJohnWare!!

“worst blizzard I have ever seen”

Calgary Herald, 3 May 1919

It began as a placid spring day. By afternoon, it had begun to rain and then to sleet. And then the great plains showed what they were truly capable of, whether it was meant to be “spring” or not.

A winter storm is a fearsome thing to be sure, but you know to be on your guard in the winter. The problem with a spring storm is that you don’t expect it. It’s rather like being blindsided by a vicious hit in a football match.

That’s what happened on May 2, 1919. The unlooked for blizzard went raging through southern Alberta and left devastation in its wake. Mrs. Dorothy Wright of Keoma, Alberta recorded this in her diary:

“Worst blizzard I have ever seen. Rained during the night and turned to snow this morning. Storm getting worse tonight. Awful night on cattle. Snow drifting badly.”

Worse was to come. On Saturday, May 3rd, Dorothy recorded:

“Drifts between here and the well are are ten feet high…. Cattle lying dead in drifts. Nothing but horns and hooves sticking out. Some of the herd missing.” Incredibly, she reported, “Two calves born in the storm. Mother of one okay and other mother and calf okay. A perfect wonder!”

George Boyack recalled, “The second and third of May 1919 saw the worst storm to hit Alberta with a roaring blizzard out of the northwest. Thousands of cattle were lost as they drifted and perished in the huge snowdrifts.”

The cattle and horses that had been turned out to pasture drifted before the fierce wind with no shelter to be had. It was a catastrophic loss of life and a financial disaster for many ranchers.

By May 4th, the storm was past and everyone was grimly taking account of the damages — and they were calamitous. Hauling dead cattle and horses out of drifts and skinning them for the hides was the order of business over the next few days.

By Tuesday, 6 May, beautiful weather had been restored but Dorothy Wright reported the losses of her neighbour’s cattle:

  • Fred Davis — about one half of 600 head.
  • Percy Hallam — about 3/4 of 250 head.
  • Ben Wilson — 1/3 of 30 head.
  • Houston Wray — around 20 head.
  • Copleys — 100 head lost.

Just a few miles away from where Dorothy lived, my great-grandparents were coming to grips with the situation. They had pastured cattle and horses on their land at Delacour just a few days before the storm hit.

From the book “KIK Country”

Two hundred young steers died, along with many horses. It was a crushing blow and my great-grandfather experienced an episode of what we would now recognize as severe depression. It is disputed as to whether it was a neighbour or his wife who sternly informed him, “George, your cattle are dead, your horses are dead, but you’re not dead! Get up and get back to work!” At the time, it was the only mental health support that anyone had to offer.

It is one hundred years on, and we recently had our own spring storm. We experienced for ourselves the unbridled power and force of nature. Now, we do have more protection from storms — but cattle still perish despite the best efforts of dedicated ranchers, and all we can do is watch helplessly as the technology we have come to rely on is rendered useless (electricity is knocked out, our four wheel drive vehicles go sailing into the ditch and our cell phones can only record the disaster).

If anyone is interested, a fascinating read that explores the topic of settlers and the great plains and its violent storms getting to know each other, I highly recommend The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin. It’s excellent.

Saturday, May 3rd, 1919 — The Calgary Herald reports on the mayhem.