Sunday, November 9, 2014

David Milton McGowan: Remembering trips on the Heritage Highway

David Milton McGowan: Remembering trips on the Heritage Highway: I just found – through some help on FB – a link to some great videos of the country around Tumbler Ridge , BC . A couple of years ago I...

Remembering trips on the Heritage Highway

I just found – through some help on FB – a link to some great videos of the country around Tumbler Ridge, BC.
A couple of years ago I was going up there once a week or more but now don’t get up there much at all. These pictures will give you some idea of why I enjoyed the trip and why I elect to be in this country.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Corporal Nathan Cirillo, October 22, 2014

On October 22, 2014 a man shot one of Canada’s soldiers who at the time stood guard over the memorial for those who have defended our country and way of life and whose sacrifice is otherwise not recorded. He was also representing those men and women who have died to maintain the country and the freedom its citizens enjoy. As a serving member of Canadian forces he also represented those who did serve, survived and returned to life as a citizen and part of the fabric of this great country.

Corporal Nathan Cirillo. If you are a Canadian he represented YOU.

Corporal Nathan Cirillo. If you live in a country where you have the opportunity to express your views, however small and fleeting or large and long-standing that opportunity may be, then he represented YOU.

Corporal Nathan Cirillo. An attack on him was an attack on civilization.

Kevin Vickers, Sergeant-at-Arms within the Canadian Parliament buildings shot the attacker and brought to a halt this atrocity.

In Canada we have some of the best armourers and security training personnel to be found anywhere in the world. We have people with the fortitude – the “parts” if you will – and training to handle any situation that they may face.

Therefore the fact that Mr. Vickers stopped the attack before it became a massacre does not particularly surprise me.

The fact that Mr. Vickers had the training necessary does not surprise me too much since he is old enough to have, perhaps, received proper training such as is not usually enjoyed by some entering the security professions in the last few years. Perhaps he has had time to privately and at his own expense augment whatever initial training he did receive.

What does surprise me is that with the illogical and antiquated attitude toward firearms that is usually broadcast by Canada's traditional media Mr. Vickers was not only allowed to carry a firearm it was actually loaded and useful. I do expect our politicians will continue to spread false, misleading and un-supported information about firearms because they see such statements bringing votes ... even though it is obvious some of their lives were saved by a man with a firearm who knew how to use it.

I do hope a few real people (those who actually contribute thereby assuring the country grows and prospers) remember this event the next time firearms are vilified.

But more important, remember Corporal Nathan Cirillo.

RememberSergeant-at-Arms, Kevin Vickers.

The attacker? Forget him. He was either a fool who believed lies or he was unbalanced ... probably both. His only contribution was providing a focal point to show how important real Canadians can be to each other and the continuation of the country.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Old Time Threshing

No (for some of the younger) this is not a post about talking to some un-likable person by hand. It’s about separating cereal grain from the (ripe) dry plant in a manner in many areas prior to 1955 and in some places well into the 1970s.

My Uncle Sam cut and bundled about 8 acres on the front of the field next to his house and my cousins and their children stooked (standing the bundles up so they will continue to ripen and dry) it. With the help of many friends who also have heavy draft horses and some wagons a threshing was held on Sept. 20, 2014. I didn't actually count them but there was well over 100 people in attendance, helping, watching, and either evoking memories or building new ones.

Here are a few pictures from the day.
There was also a team of tough little Fjords there hauling children (and the occassional adult) around but for some reason that picture does not want to down-load.

Here's a pretty paint team bringing in another load of oat bundles.

A couple of hard working volunteers feeding the threshing machine.

Sam's Oliver 88 powering the threshing machine with little effort

Sam Roberts and his team heading for the field and another load of bundles

Having just hauled a load of oats to the grainary

Sam Roberts and Gordon Meek

1928 "General Motors Truck" almost finished restoration - and the usual cell phone interruption but they did help to record the event.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Securing Supplies or “Possibles”

            Today we call them necessary supplies. Soldiers might call them “gear” or “rations”. In the early days of the mountain man they were “possibles” because there was a good possibility you would need them to survive and if you didn’t have any there was a good possibility you would not --- survive that is.

            Some time ago an agent, commenting on one of my stories, wrote that he had “never heard of a log cabin built high in the trees.” He was commenting on a stores cache I had described in a story and I couldn’t believe that anyone who had read historical history, history, or any story depicting mountain men and homesteaders had not heard of a permanent storage cache or understood a description of same.

            But then, once I had given it some thought I realized that there are very few such structures described in either fiction or non-fiction. Any pictures of such that I now hold in my imagination are not from description but from an actual, perhaps a half dozen actual structures.

            Without a method of storing supplies in the bush and particularly in mountainous country those supplies will not last long. Wolves, bears, wolverines, lynx, and many other animals eat and enjoy the same items humans eat. If those items are not kept away from wildlife by some method then the human will not have the supplies he thought he had.

            There are several descriptions of temporary caches such as one Lloyd Cushway describes in one of his stories. He has several collections of short stories, “Trail Smoke” being one but I think this particular story appears in “Upwind of the Fire.”

            Lloyd and a partner had heard of a mineral find in the upper reaches of the Cameron River in North-East British Columbia. Since they had some experience with the area they decided that they would attempt to stake claims before the “big outfits” (primarily Gulf Minerals) could take it all. They put together supplies for two weeks and flew up near the area. They landed and with each carrying a heavy pack, hiked for an hour to a good camp.

            The partner had to hike back to the plane and fly out to a meeting in Ft. St. John, so they quickly put together a meal consisting primarily of fried bacon and bannock. Before he left the partner helped Lloyd cut and limb a tree creating a pole which was then hauled up into two trees and tied between them in place.

            When the partner had left Lloyd threw a length of rope over the suspended pole. He tied one end of the rope to the extra pack and hauled it high then tied off the other end of the rope to one of the supporting trees. This is a temporary method of creating a cache safe from marauders that has been used by thousands if not millions and several times by Lloyd.

            A week later, having staked several claims in the pouring rain and crossing a rain-swollen river Lloyd discovered that his oft used temporary cache had this time failed. In his hurry he had forgotten to wash his hands after creating lunch and the rope he had used was therefore covered with bacon grease. Perhaps not enough to be noticed by a human but Mr. Black Bear found it very tasty. After chewing on the tasty rope for a while the rope broke and Mr. Bear perhaps became a convert to the Jewish faith for like those who followed Moses he suddenly found himself gifted with manna from heaven; a bag full of all manner of tasty treats.

            When Lloyd returned to his cache there was nothing left to make a meal. What had not been eaten by Mr. Bear had been destroyed.

            The native population of North America had several methods for creating caches but didn’t have the same problem as the solitary mountain man. A village by its very existence serves to keep foraging wildlife at bay although stories of unwelcome visitors during particularly rough periods do exist.

            The lone trapper or the small holding, whether miner, farmer or trapper did not however have sufficient numbers to scare away wolves, bears, coyotes or wild cats. Therefore, if the human in question intends to remain in one place for any length of time it is worth his while to build a permanent cache that can be used year after year and will protect supplies and, in the case of the trapper, the product of his efforts, the pelts.

            Of course there are certain quailifications in almost anything. For example, in the case of Ursus arctos horribilis better known as the Grizzly bear even in early times with few humans in their territory they went (and go) anywhere and eat anything they want to. If your cabin or cache is in an area he or she fequents perhaps a move is in order.

            Permanent caches or storage houses were and are built in the trees as high as fifteen feet. Such a height may not be necessary in summer but may not be enough once there is several feet of snow on the ground. It will appear, should you happen to look up and notice it blending in with the trees, to be a small log cabin tree-house. It will not have any windows and the door will be very strong. On the end where that door is there is a good possibility that the floor will extend beyond the front of the building forming a “porch” to offer a place to load and unload supplies. The roof may be of several materials such as shakes split from local trees, a tarpauline changed every few years or even some material hauled in from “outside”. Access is likely to be via the ladder leaning against the main cabin, but there may be a rope ladder attached to the “porch” or a few cross-pieces attached to one of the supporting trees.

            By the way, Lloyd did make it out to civilization and food. He was exhausted, wet, cold, and tried himself in many ways he should have known to avoid, but he made it to a ranch and then back to town. I see one of his collection of stories on Amazon and others can be found at Bill’s News, 250-782-2933.

            Another one of the places where you can find my novels but you can also click on the book covers to the right or go to where you can "look inside the book."

Sunday, August 3, 2014

North West Mounted Police livestock Part 2

Is it not about time I finish this story?

            Yes, the Mounted Police had left Dufferin on July 8 but on the afternoon of July 24th they had only made it to La Roche Percée less than a third of the distance the Commissioner expected to travel that summer. The trail behind them was already littered with broken wagons and carts and the many oxen and horses that had succumbed to hunger and fatigue.

            It must be acknowledged that they really only knew the distance they had travelled and not how much more trail lay in front of them. Due to the excellence of the maps French had and his inability to listen to anyone, they didn’t really know how far they where going. Nor could they guess about the weather they would experience, the land and vegetation or shortage of water.

            The “westernized” horses and mustangs were faring marginally better than the “proper” horseflesh that had been purchased and imported from Ontario and the Eastern US. Unlike the “high-bred” animals the mustangs could almost manage on a diet of prairie grass and some oats but they too where being over-worked and needed rest. Seeing the state of the animals Colonel French sent Colonel MacLeod for more oats which helped but what the expedition really needed was to move slower, haul less freight or have more animals that could be traded out to off-duty status every few days.

            During their sixteen days of travel they also discovered that their “walking larder” was, instead of the benefit envisioned by French, a millstone slowing their progress. In all that time two beef had been butchered and the result was that every man suffered from Diarrhea sever enough that it could have caused a death. Those who had travelled in the west, including the Métis who accompanied them and the Doctors both with the troupe and in Dufferin predicted the result of eating beef from animals that where being worked but French didn’t listen. 

            It was while they rested at Roche Percée that Colonel French made decisions that would greatly affect the type of livestock found in Western Canada in the years to come. First he sent his “walking larder”, the now 52 cows and 11 bulls along with more than a dozen calves that had been born on the trail east and north to Fort Ellis. Lead by Inspector Jarvis they were to eventually turn west and make for Fort Edmonton.

            Having made that decision he then turned to the horses and their sorry state. He separated the better mounts – which, surprise, surprise, proved primarily to be the western animals and “ratty little mustangs” – and kept those for the troupe continuing west. Since French expected Jarvis’ troupe would have no trouble making Fort Ellis before winter and could move at any pace they chose much of the heavy equipment such as hay mowers and heavy forges would go with them.

            Some of this equipment had to be retrieved the following year.

             There where immediate advantages for both the men and their commander in these decisions. The primary and most welcome change for the men was that they were now, after yet another trip by Colonel MacLeod, eating pemmican. Had they started out on such supplies they may have been in much better health on July 24th and at the end of their trip that autumn.

            French also sent most of the Métis back with the Jarvis troupe. He had found them to be far too independent, ignoring his orders in some cases but now and then acting counter to his orders. He did however keep a few of the guides which may not have been wise.

            In a general sense Inspector Jarvis and his men managed to complete their mission. Upon arrival in Fort Ellis some chickens, a few beef and oxen found a home. A half dozen men with a variety of maladies including cholera complicated by a lack of nutrition where sent south to Dufferin where two of them died. Another dozen in slightly better health but badly weakened by their ordeal remained in the Fort Ellis post and cared for the animals but suffered a terrible winter. The remainder eventually made it to Fort Edmonton.

            Upon arrival in Edmonton the welcome for the Mounted Police was not what they expected. True the Hudson’s Bay Company factor and his staff fed and helped to treat the troopers for their ailments. The presence of those troopers helped to curtail and would eventually eliminate the problem of liquor trade which was interfering with “The Bay”, or “The Company’s” business. However the proximity of all those uniformed police also tended to interfere with the Company’s regular business and turn the trappers toward free traders. The following year, down river (the North Saskatchewan) from Fort Edmonton about 18 miles the North West Mounted Police established Fort Saskatchewan.

            In the meantime the main body of Mounties far to the south did make it to what is now Southern Alberta. They confronted a few well built and some ram-shackle whiskey forts, closed them down and destroyed them. They established Fort MacLeod, Fort Calgary and Fort Walsh and several outposts. They passed laws banning whiskey from the North West Territories, caught whiskey traders defying those laws, confiscated their equipment, destroyed the whiskey and locked men up in the various posts or sent them east to Stone Mountain Penitentiary.

            The trek west wasn’t truly over when Commissioner French resigned. He and the new commissioner, Colonel MacLeod and a few troopers rode south to Billings Montana where they were wined and dined by some of the very people who had been behind the whiskey trade but now became suppliers of goods for the North West Mounted Police. During this first trip to Billings they bought horses to replace the many that had died along the trail and a few cattle.

            One of those who supplied horses was Jerry Potts, known by his mother’s people (the Kainai of the Blackfoot Confederacy) as Bear Child. He became THE guide for the Mounted Police and, eventually, an Auxiliary Constable. In this writer’s opinion Jerry Potts and Colonel James MacLeod are the two men primarily responsible for the initial survival of what was to become the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

            In the beginning the N.W. Mounted Police livestock and thus the horses and cattle brought into the Territories were a mixed lot. The cows and bulls that started with the trek and mostly wound up in Fort Saskatchewan were Shorthorn and Hereford. Those cattle brought up from Billings were Shorthorn or Shorthorn-Longhorn cross but most of these steers and only a few cows. A few of the Thoroughbred horses survived to add their genes to the mix as did a few Belgian and Percheron draft animals. The mustang, Morgan (those that had been “westernized” by the US Army), and some Nez Percé animals (today’s Appaloosa) also added to the mix.

            These where the types of livestock to be found in Canada’s North West Territories when cattle and horse began coming in from Oregon, British Columbia and Montana as outlined in earlier posts.

            Cattle came to British Columbia because of gold discovered in 1859. Cattle came to the east side of the mountains in 1875 (a few in ’74) because of the arrival of 270 policemen but the police came because of the whiskey.

            Colonel MacLeod resigned as Commissioner after 3 years of service but remained a Crown Magistrate.

            Jerry Potts remained with the Mounted Police and received full recognition and honours from the Force upon his death and received similar recognition from his mother’s people.

            Many of the policemen remained in the west when they left the Force and became the cattlemen and horsemen of the Prairies. During the North West Rebellion or Métis Rebellion of 1885 the “Rocky Mountain Rangers” was formed to protect civilians in Southern Alberta. About a third of the Rangers, perhaps more were former Mounted Policemen.

            The influences of California, Texas, Europe and Britain can be seen in the methods, tack and livestock breeds in the Canadian West of today. Over the years however there are things that are distinct and unique to Canada and differences between those East of the Rockies and those to the West.



Sunday, May 18, 2014

North West Mounted Police livestock

I mentioned already that the North West Mounted Police brought both horses and cattle into the North West Territories. A few of those animals even survived the trip.

If is apparent that those implementing the idea of a mounted police force to administer national and personal security in the territory had no idea of the area, the terrain, the numbers of people in residence, the weather or any other aspect of the country. The money spent on the venture was completely inadequate as was the equipment and animals chosen.

Of course, as is the case with ventures today, many of the choices were made due to the training and previous experience of those responsible for the decisions. The new commissioner of the force appointed by Prime Minister MacDonald was a man of military training and experience. He had attended Sandhurst military academy, been commissioned in the Royal Artillery and seconded to the Canadian militia where he eventually became head of the Gunnery School at Kingston.

Colonel French had very specific ideas about how a military command or a quasi-military police force should be directed and how such a group of troopers should conduct themselves. Those ideas where from the British Isles, from his military training, from his artillery experience and had nothing to do with the specifics to be found on the Canadian prairies.

This is probably a good time to mention the peculiar circumstances of rank to be found in the early NW Mounted Police since it might become confusing as we continue. Commissioner French had been a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Royal Artillery and retained the designation “Colonel” in the police force but this was not exactly a continuation of his army rank since the Act which created the force also designated that the rank of ‘Commissioner’ was equal to a military rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. Similarly, superintendent/inspector was equal to captain, superintendent/sub-inspector a lieutenant, paymaster a captain and a veterinary surgeon a lieutenant. Within the ranks those seven non-commissioned officers leading the six Divisions and Headquarters Troops (A through F and H) officially designated ‘chief constables’ were addressed by the men as ‘Sergeant Major.’ The full constables, close to sixty in number were called ‘Sergeant’ and to make it all more confusing the rest of the men (about 260 after the ‘weeding out’ process), officially designated ‘sub-constables’ and equal to a private were addressed as ‘sub-constable.”

However, back to the livestock and why it was chosen.

The original nine officers were chosen and appointed in 1873. That same summer the first hundred and fifty farmers, teachers and store clerks were chosen, quickly assembled at “New Fort” (in Toronto) then loaded on Great Lake freighters and sent to the lake-head. From Fort William (Thunder Bay) they walked the “Dawson Route” to Lower Fort Garry where they spent the winter.

The so-called Dawson Route, named after George Dawson the same civil engineer whose name is on Dawson Creek and Dawson City proved to be as much a warehouse as a route. More than half the equipment and supplies the fledgling policemen stepped off the ships with was stored along the trail. On two occasions camps made on low ground where subject to heavy rain followed by freezing temperatures. On each of those mornings something or several somethings could not be retrieved as they were frozen into the swampy ground. Some of it was recovered the following spring.

Following appointment of French as Commissioner in’73 he spent a great deal of his time ensuring that Canada’s Federal Government who had passed the Act creating the force would actually support it once it was more than a few words on paper. Having been assured of such support he began the recruitment of another 150 men and made arrangements for their initial training. That accomplished he went south to the US, caught a train for Fargo, Dakota Territory, a dogsled to Fort Dufferin, Manitoba, rented a horse and wound up in Fort Gary, Manitoba fifteen days later.

Colonel French was not particularly thrilled with what he found in Fort Gary. In his diary he remarked that “the officers generally are a good lot of fellows but … 15 or 20 of the men should never have been sent here being altogether too weak.” With the aid of a local civilian doctor (David Young) French had already discharged 19 men for a variety of maladies but rectified the shortfall in manpower by increasing the second recruitment to 200 men upon his return to Toronto in February.

He was also less than pleased with the horses. Thirty eight had been purchased locally and another thirty four where eventually purchased in Dakota Territory all of them “westernized” and mustangs. French’s comment in his notes is that “the animals are scarcely fit for our work.” He goes on to say that he believes they will need “200 or 300 horses which will have to come from Canada or the States as they are not to be had here.”

A constant micro-manager French insisted on interfering with aspects of the venture in which he had not experience whatever. For example travel in the west by large bodies of men had always been done with pemmican as the main staple. However French decided that instead of using the tried and true the Mounted Police would take a “walking larder” of cattle.

On July 8, 1874 the North West Mounted Police led by Commissioner George A. French left Fort Dufferin, Manitoba. In attendance was the Assistant Commissioner, James Macleod, 26 officers and non-commissioned officers, 247 constables and sub-constables and 7 Métis guides and scouts. Another 20 Métis assisted by troopers were driving and caring for 114 Red River carts and 73 wagons. Some of the wagons were pulled by horses but most and all the carts were pulled by the 142 oxen in the train. Of the 311 horses 240 of them had been brought by train from the east and those that where not thoroughbred did have a great many thoroughbreds in their ancestry. To round out their livestock was a herd of eleven bulls and fifty four cows that had already started calving.

(At this point some readers will understand how this tale fits in with previous posts concerning the growth of the cattle business in Western Canada.)

A few of the more senior officers had a vague idea of their destination. The troopers had been informed they would be going to the west to stop the whiskey trade. Commissioner French thought they would make the trip in less than half the time they would actually use. None of them had any idea of the horror they where stepping into.