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.

d day

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 map used on D Day

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!)

The German gun that was to cause such epic destruction on Juno Beach

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.

The average age of a soldier on D Day was 26.

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.

cypress hills massacre

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 West by Garrett Wilson.