Gerry B's Book Reviews

Billy Bishop: Top Canadian Flying Ace, by Dan McCaffery

Canadian history made interesting…

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billy bishop - coverBilly Bishop was the top Canadian flying ace in the first World War, credited officially with a record breaking 75 victories. He was a highly skilled pilot and an accurate shot. Bishop went from being the most decorated war hero in Canadian history to a crusader for peace, writing the book “Winged Peace,” which supported international control of global air power. While some historians feel that authorities upgraded Bishop’s claims to improve morale, author Dan McCaffery presents the true life and accomplishments of Bishop through information he gathered from interviews and archival sources.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Billy_Bishop_VCAsk any Canadian of a certain age to name an air ace, and they’re likely to name Billy Bishop: Top Canadian Flying Ace, by Dan McCaffery [Lorimer, 2002].

William Avery “Billy” Bishop wasn’t so much destined for glory as he was drawn into it with his idiosyncratic skills; namely a keen eye and adventurous spirit that seemed to be going the same way.

Born in the rural municipality of Owen Sound, Ontario, he retained that rural small town self-sufficiency through most of his life. Not given to team sports, he preferred individual pursuits such as swwimming, horse back riding, and shooting—in which he exceeded rather phenomenally. One story goes that he struck a target so far away that to the others it was just a dot.

billy bishop - planeAnother example of his small town, pragmatic thinking, was his decision to join the air corp in the first place, because “…it’s clean up there! I’ll bet you don’t get any mud or horse shit on you up there.”

His first solo, combat patrol was less than stellar as he had trouble controlling his air plane, was nearly shot down, and got separated from his squadron. Nonetheless, he went on to be the highest scoring Canadian ace in WWI.

About the only way one can rate a biography is on how well it is researched, and how well it is written. To this list I will also add a third: Did I learn something I didn’t know before? To all three I can “Yes.” Although I have never encountered any of McCaffrey’s books previously, I am impressed by the way he has fleshed out a larger-than-life character—both personally and militarily—in a way that is both interesting and readable.

Educators take note. Five bees.

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Interested in Canadian history? Want to see more? Then visit my new page:  In Praise of Canadian History.

It is a collection of little-known facts and events in Canadian history, and a bibliography of interesting books I have collected to date. Latest post: Fire on the water: The burning of the SS Noronic.

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

      

June 24, 2013 Posted by | Billy Bishop, biography, Canadian author, Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, non GBLT, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

Jimmy Simpson: Legend of the Rockies, by E. J. Hart

This is the way history should be taught … With joie de vivre! Bravo E. J. Hart!!

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jimmy simpson - coverStory blurb: The Stoney Indians called him Nashan-esen meaning “wolverine-go-quick” because of his speed in travelling on snowshoes over the rugged landscape of the Canadian Rockies. This book is the story of Jimmy Simpson’s 80-year epic as one of the most important guides, outfitters, lodge operators, hunters, naturalists and artists in the Canadian Rockies. The story takes him from blazing the trails in the valley bottoms to ascending some of the highest peaks in the range, from leading scientists, mountaineers, big-game hunters and world-famous artists through some of the most unimaginable scenery on earth to entertaining thousands of visitors at his famous lodge at Bow Lake with his tales-both true and tall-of the pioneer days.

jimmy simpson - E. J. HartAbout the author: E.J. “Ted” Hart is the director of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff and the author of numerous popular and bestselling books on the Canadian Rockies.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

A while ago some government official, I can’t remember who, was ruminating over the best way to teach kids about Canadian history. Simple: Make it interesting.

When I was going to school, and from what I’ve seen since, [see: Canadian History Made Boring], it is as if educators have gone out of their way to make history as unpalatable as possible. The fact is that Canada has a history as colourful and entertaining as any in the world, and it only remains for kids and adults alike to discover this.

We have real Sergeant Prestons who patrolled the Yukon, cattle drives undertaken though 1,500 hundred miles of primeval wilderness, pioneers who transported several stallions and breeding cattle 800 miles by canoe, great train robberies and gunfights that would make O.K. Corral look like an afternoon social, and yet very few people know about it. Fortunately, we also have people like E. J. Hart to write marvelous books like Jimmy Simpson: Legend of the Rockies [Rocky Mountain Books, First Edition, October 2009].

jimmy_simpson - portraitNow if this were being taught in school, we would dutifully learn that Jimmy Simpson (1877 – 1972) emigrated from England, arriving in Winnipeg in 1896. There he farmed for a while until he decided to go West [psst, after drinking up all his money]. He therefore pawned his gold watch and chain, and took a train to Calgary. Hearing of work on the railway he stowed away on a westbound train, but when he was discovered and kicked off he walked the 20-or-so-miles to Laggan (just below Lake Louise).

Being adventurous, Simpson signed on as cook with legendary outfitter, Tom Wilson, and began learning the outfitting business from “Wild” Bill Peyto—another legendary Rocky Mountain adventurer.

jimmy simpson - bow lake glaciersIn 1898, while working for Wilson, Simpson happened upon Bow Lake with the ice field and two magnificent glaciers above. He and his companions camped by the northern end of the lake, and it was there the he made his now famous proclamation: “I’ll build a shack here sometime,” he said.

Eventually Simpson left Wilson to strike out on his own, supplementing his guiding and outfitting business with trapping. To get around he took up snow shoeing, becoming so proficient at it that the local Indians gave him the honorary title of “Nashan-esen” (meaning “wolverine-go-quickly”).

jimmy simpson - num ti jahIn 1922 he returned to Bow Lake to build his log shack—as he had vowed to do—and when the Banff-Jasper Highway was built, bringing automobile traffic to the area in 1937, he built a small lodge to accommodate them. He called this lodge “Num-te-jah,” the Indian word for pine marten.

Business grew, and in the 1940s a major expansion to the lodge was undertaken to bring its capacity to sixteen rooms.

The original lodge became Simpson’s personal residence where he died in 1972, at the age of 95.

Interesting enough, I suppose, but as E. J. Hart has so masterfully demonstrated by way of Simpson`s own anecdotes, it says nothing about the man or his remarkable wit. For example:

[Fred Ballard was a partner in the trapping business for a (short) while.]

Ballard had been teasing me about a new suit of underwear that had been in the cabin all winter and as to how nice it was going to feel inside it when he got to it. When we arrived he got to it all right but the cabin had leaked and it was sopping wet inside so we built a bit fire outside and made camp. Fred squeezed the water out of it and spread it out in front of the fire carefully while I cooked up what flour was there and made a small bannock, and it was small. When cooked I halved it and his half past his tonsils as fast as a cable [trans-Atlantic telegraph] going over to the old country for more money while I sat on a log and ate mine slowly. That was too much for Fred. Pretty soon he snapped, “If there is anything I hate it’s to see is a man chawing on a piece of bread that I could swallow in two bites, especially when he has only one good eye to chaw with.” [Simpson had a temporary snow blindness in one eye]. I understood.

We lay down to sleep before the fire but in the middle of the night I was awakened by bad language in time to see Ballard holding up a piece of underwear with five button holes on it. A piece of charcoal had got to it while he was asleep so I thought condolences were due. “That’s not too bad,” I said, “All it needs is new arms and legs and a piece on the back to fold over the chest, those five button holes still look quite good.” The air was blue.

Another example of Simpson’s wit relates to an exploration trip he and “Wild” Bill Peyto took one winter. They had stopped for a smoke beside a huge dead spruce and Jimmy drove his axe into it. From inside came a sound like falling debris, so he hit it again with the back of the axe. He was about to do it again when, to his astonishment, it opened up and the head of a two-year old grizzly poked through. This is how he described what happened next:

Nine foot five is my record standing jump and I made it backwards. turning in mid air, and then I started showing squirrels how to climb a tree. I measured that jump next day with a copy of“Tid-Bits”that sported a foot rule on the cover. When I made the top I looked back. There was Bill cussing a blue streak and kicking that bear’s head back every time it poked its nose through. It had gone into hibernation and was in a semi comatose condition but it was fast in waking up. Bill called to me, I dropped out of the blue like dose of measles and we lit out for the camp. Next day we gathered it in.

This is how history should be taught. With some life in it. Sadly these people have passed on, but their way of life, their wit and humour, should not be buried with them.

For people, like me, who enjoy a history lesson that reads like a novel; that allows the reader to appreciate the times through the eyes of colourful characters like Simpson; and that is valid history at the same time, then I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Thank you E. J. Hart. Five bees.

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Number of visitor’s views to date – 49,917

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

      

Thanks for dropping by. I will be looking forward to seeing you next week.

May 21, 2013 Posted by | Alberta history, biography, Canadian author, Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian frontier stories, Canadian historical content, non GBLT, Non-fiction, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Grass Beyond the Mountains: Discovering the Last Great Cattle Frontier on the North American Continent, by Richmond P. Hobson, Jr.

A true Canadian story that proves once and for all time that Canada has a history  equal to any in the world for colour, drama and interest.

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grass - coverStory blurb: Three cowhands with a dream of owning a cattle ranch make a heroic pioneer trek across uncharted mountain ranges to open up the frontier grasslands in northern British Columbia during the early 1930s.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Considering that my next novel is partially set in the same district of British Columbia as Grass Beyond the Mountains: Discovering the Last Great Cattle Frontier on the North American Continent, by Richmond P. Hobson Jr. [McClelland & Stewart, 1978], I can hardly believe I hadn’t  found it until now.

In my own story (based on an actual cattle drive from Hanceville, B.C. to Teslin, Yukon, in 1898), one of the things I worried about was that people wouldn’t believe 10-foot snowfalls—on the flat—and surviving minus-forty degree temperatures, but those are really rather tame compared to what Hobson and his partner endured in real life.

The first thing to emphasize about this story is that it is true pioneer history–with allowances for the cowboy’s tendency to exaggerate–made at a time when there was still room for a man to shape his destiny with courage, hard work and determination. That is to say, it probably wouldn’t be possible today, given all the emasculating government rules and regulations. For one thing, you’d probably need a building permit to build a simple shelter.

In addition, adventurers like Hobson, Stanley Blum, and ‘Panhandle’ Phillips, are harder to find these days, as is their ability to withstand hardship—the rougher the better. As they say, “They just don’t make them like they used to.”

grass - chilcotin2The basic tale is about Hobson and Panhandle setting out from Wyoming to the wilds of British Columbia to find a goldmine in “Free grass reachin’ north into unknown country. Land— lots of it— untouched— just waitin’ for hungry cows, and some buckaroos that can ride and have guts enough to put her over.”

So with little more than that, they head for Canada in  an obsolete panel delivery Ford, distinguished by large printed letters across its body, “BOLOGNA— BLOATERS— BLOOD SAUSAGES.”

Across the border they followed the “Old Cariboo Trail’ (the ‘ Trail of  ’98’), which:

Wound its way for more than a hundred miles along the face of a cliff, with the Fraser River twisting like a tiny thread through the rocky gorge a thousand feet below. In places small slides blocked the highway, and we shovelled enough rock out of the way to carry on. Once a driver, whom we nearly pushed over the bank, found it necessary to back up a hundred yards to a place in the road where we could squeeze by him. We thanked him.

grass - black wolf2“That’s all right,” he said, “but watch it ahead— the road narrows up.”

That was merely the beginning!

Following that they endured frost bitten feet; warded off giant, killer black wolves circling the camp; survived when the waters under the frozen ice sucked them and their cattle and horses down into the freezing deep hole; stared a Grizzly down; and gambled the horses and cattle could make it across ice encrusted snow 20-feet deep below.

It should also be added that there are no offensive bits to navigate, and so it is appropriate for children—in fact I encourage you to share the history with them. Let them know that Canada has a history equal of any in the world in colour and drama. Five (solid) bees.

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Visitor’s count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 45,653

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Thank you for your interest, and my apologies for not responding to your request individually. I’m getting there, but the numbers have been overwhelming. Please extend your patience just a bit longer.

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

      

Thank you for dropping by! I’m very excited about this week’s find, and I hope you enjoy it too.

February 25, 2013 Posted by | biography, British Columbia history, Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian frontier stories, Historical period, Homesteading in Canada, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | 4 Comments

Blazing the Old Cattle Trail, by Grant MacEwan

 

 This being Canada Day, I have chosen one of my favourite books by one of my favourite authors (regrettably deceased). MacEwan’s work emphasises once again the remarkablly colourful history that is Canada’s. Although it has been discontinued by the publisher, it is still available at both Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.

Story blurb: Western Canada has a long history of cattle drives. In Blazing the Old Cattle Trail, historian Grant MacEwan has brought together an entertaining collection of history and tales from these trips. Originally  published in 1962, this classic book recounts many stories starting with the first cow and steer to arrive in Manitoba to the later, more challenging trips through the Rocky Mountains into British Columbia.

Available is paperback & hardcover – 223

About the Author: John Walter Grant MacEwan, OC AOE best known as Grant MacEwan (August 12, 1902 – June 15, 2000) was a farmer, Professor at the University of Saskatchewan, Dean of Agriculture at the University of Manitoba, the 28th Mayor of Calgary and both a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and the ninth Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, Canada. Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta and the MacEwan Student Centre at the University of Calgary as well as the neighbourhoods of MacEwan in Calgary and MacEwan in Edmonton are named after him.

MacEwan produced the large majority of his historical books after his ‘retirement’. His books, mostly biographical, were based on history, but often left out references, a bibliography or even analysis of historical events. For this, critics continually attacked his unprofessional approach to history. He only gave one response to these comments, saying in 1984, “I don’t know what the scholars will think of it. Nor do I care. I’m not writing for them, I’m writing for Canadians.” He also taught numerous courses at the University of Calgary and Olds College. He became an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1974.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Because there are so very few of them available, I get genuinely excited  when I come across a history of Canada that tells the stories of the “average Joe or Sally” pioneer. That is how I felt when I discovered Blazing the Old Cattle Trail, by Grant MacEwan (himself a pioneer) [Fifth House; Revised edition, 2000]. MacEwan certainly hit the nail on the head when he declared, “I’m not writing for them [academics], I’m writing for Canadians,” and thank goodness he did. Otherwise, these delightful anecdotes might have been lost forever.

There are forty anecdotal-vignettes in all, which are told in an easy-to-read, journalistic style. In fact, it is their lack of ‘academic rigidity’ that makes them accessible to a wide range of readers, both young and old.

Adam and Eve of the Cattle Kingdom

Anyone who knows western Canada will immediate think of multi-acre ranches and thousands, if not millions of cattle. The fact is, however, that the first of their numbers started with just two critters, a bull and a cow named “Adam” and “Eve.” In 1811 these two were brought from Oxford House, a remote Hudson Bay Company trading post (about 400 miles north of what is now Winnipeg, Manitoba) in–of all things–a canoe. Proving the pioneer’s motto: Where there is a will, there is a way.

English Stallion for Red River

An even more astounding feat was conducted in 1831, when a Hackney stallion by the name of “Fireaway,” and later an English thoroughbred by the name of “Melbourne,” were both transported from York Factory, on the western shore of Hudson Bay, to Winnipeg; a distance of roughly 700 land and water miles–including 36 portages–by freight canoe. As MacEwan observes:

“Even the most ardent horse lovers will think of adventures more inviting than sharing a canoe or York boat with a frisky stallion, no matter how he might be dignified by a fine pedigree.”

The Hackney Fireaway was to become legendary as a producer of speed and endurance. Indeed, as late as 1877, settlers in Portage la Prairie revived their affection for the memory of that horse which was the first purebred of his race in all Western Canada.

A stranger driving a fast horse blew into town a day or two before the 24th of May and promptly challenged all comers to a matched race. With the honor of the community and the reputation of local horses at stake, townsmen came together for serious discussion. Settlers with swift horses were remembered, and thoughts turned to Farmer Macdonald at High Bluff who had a nimble great-great -granddaughter of Fireaway. A message was dispatched: “Bring your mare to town at once. We need her for a race.” 

“Macdonald was plowing with a two-horse team when the exhausted courier reached him. Reluctantly, he unhitched the good mare and her mate from the walking plow, rehitched them to his democrat and drove to Portage. Farmers and town people couldn’t honestly expect a homesteader’s plowhorse to win a race against a barnstorming flier from St. Paul but they recalled her breeding and nursed a silent hope. It was a great race; every pioneer who saw it agreed, and sure enough, the blood of Fireaway was still virile if not invincible and Macdonald’s mare, drawing a democrat and an exultant Scottish settler, came down the Portage la Prairie street to leave the professional racer from Minnesota a convincing distance behind.”

The Trail from Stowaway to Cattle King

Life for Joseph Blackburn Greaves began in Yorkshire, England, in 1831, and at the tender age of eleven he ran away from home, stepmother and England by stowing away on the sailing ship Patrick Henry, bound for New York.

When he was discovered the angry Captain assigned him to feeding the ship’s pigs (used to eat up food refuse and furnish pork when needed), so when the Patrick Henry docked, young Greaves promoted himself as an “expert” in the art of feeding swine, and was immediately hired by a farmer with a barn full of them.

Three years later he joined a wagon train heading to California, and there he worked as a labourer before embarking on a career as a butcher.

Word of gold on the Fraser river then reached Greaves who decided to pursue it, but with a butcher’s reasoning he took some meat animals with him–sheep! It was 1859 and poor trails and rough water still offered the only means of transportation, but after trailing them for 400 miles, Greaves managed to sell the flock at Fifty Mile House, British Columbia, for prices unheard of in the south.

He then went back to Oregon for more, but this time he brought cattle for sale and profit. However, on his third trip (1863) he found the market failing. Undaunted, he turned the cattle loose and went back to butchering for a while. When at last he rounded up his cattle he found them fat and multiplied, and so he undertook a few drives to Westminster (about 250 miles south east).

By 1880, however, cattle  population in the interior of British Columbia had outgrown demand, and so Greaves rounded up about 4,000 head (some of them seven years old) and started south, crossing the border at Osoyoos through Oregon, and then west to Cheyenne, Wyoming. There, a year later, he loaded them onto Union Pacific boxcars bound for Chicago.

In 1882 Greaves and five others formed a syndicate known as the Douglas Lake Cattle Company, and in the years to follow twenty thousand head were sometimes on the ranch, and the person who had come to the continent as a stowaway, friendless and penniless, continued to direct the huge operations until his 80th birthday.

[Interestingly, although this is the first time I learned the Greave’s story, it parallels almost exactly the story of my cattle baron in Coming of Age on the Trail.]

These are but three (of forty) fascinating anecdotes contained in this rare collection of Canadian folk lore, so if you’re a Canadiana buff like me I highly recommend it. Five hearty bees.

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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 28,581

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Notice to all those who have requested book reviews

Thank you for your interest, and my apologies for not responding to your request individually. I’m getting there, but the numbers have been overwhelming. Please extend your patience just a bit longer.

Thanks again!

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

      

Thanks for dropping by. Your interest is what I work for.

July 1, 2012 Posted by | Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Historical period, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | 1 Comment

Tecumseh: Diplomat and Warrior in the War of 1812, by Irene Gordon

June 2012 marks the bicentennial of the War of 1812 – 1814, an historic event that set the groundwork for Canada’s identity as a nation. Native peoples also played an important part in this process, and none more significantly than Tecumseh, of whom Sir Isaac Brock wrote: “A more sagacious or a more gallant Warrior does not I believe exist.”

Story blurb: This is the biography of Tecumseh, a legendary nineteenth century Shawnee warrior, a hero of the War of 1812 and a man who spent most of his life trying to build a Native confederacy to withstand the pressure on native lands from American settlement.

It also tells the story of his younger brother Lalawethika and of Lalawethika’s transformation from a drunken ne’er-do-well to the charismatic spiritual leader known as The Prophet.

As a diplomat, Tecumseh dealt with the British and American authorities, with settlers and with First Nations peoples on both sides of the border. He fought with the British in the War of 1812, and lost his life at the Battle of Moraviantown.

Available in paperback (128 pages) and in epub formats.

About the author: IRENE GORDON, who lives along the historic Assiniboine River just west of Winnipeg, has had a passion for history, reading and writing since childhood. After a career as a teacher-librarian, she became a freelance writer in 1998.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

In my estimation there are two types of history books: the regretfully ‘dusty’ kind that I was subjected to in my school days, a chalk-dry collection of dates and events that one could only find interesting in passing; and then there are those that have some colour to them–some human interest woven into the fabric. Fortunately, Tecumseh: Diplomat and Warrior in the War of 1812 by Irene Gordon [Lorimer ‘Amazing Stories’ series, 2009] is of the latter variety.

Tecumseh, whose name loosely translates as “Panther passing across (the sky),” was born in Ohio in 1768, to a minor war chief of the Shawnee people (“people of the water”). Shortly after he was born, his father was killed by white frontiersmen who had crossed onto Indian land in violation of a recent treaty, and Tecumseh then resolved to become a warrior like his father and to be “a fire spreading over the hill and valley, consuming the race of dark souls.”

He was one of those people who was born to greatness, whether by design or circumstance, and would probably stand out in any society. In Tecumseh’s case he was visionary who saw a confederacy of Indian peoples as the only salvation in the face of the ever-expanding “white tide.” A confederacy was also the foil against some thoroughly unscrupulous politicians who regarded the Natives as ignorant savages, and a hindrance to their ambitions.

Tecumseh also saw salvation in a peaceful co-existence with the whites, but with the rights of the “Red Man” firmly entrenched in territory they could call their own.

Regretfully, as it often is with great men, those around him, both white and red (with the exception of Isaac Brock), did not—or could not—share his vision, and so Tecumseh was challenged on three sides: The “long knives” (Americans); his own independent-thinking people; and the British, who were as political as the Americans.

Tecumseh and British General Sir Isaac Brock were cut from a similar cloth, and it is said that he and Tecumseh rode into Detroit together after its defeat. However, when Isaac Brock died at the Battle of Queenston Heights, Upper Canada, in October 1812, the command passed to Major General Harry Proctor; a foppish, indecisive man, whom Tecumseh distrusted, and whose indecision eventually led to Tecumseh’s death.

Irene Gordon has written a concise account of Tecumseh’s life, historically accurate and balanced, but what I like most about it is that she has breathed some life into a story that could otherwise be as dry Mr. Ewart’s high school history classes. I also applaud her (and Lorimer’s Amazing Stories series) for keeping Canadian history from going down the gopher hole of obscurity. Five bees.

For more vignettes of history, search “Amazing Stories” on this blog, or go to http://www.lorimer.ca/en/Series/29/Amazing-Stories.html.

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Visitor Count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 27,871

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“Microcrap” and I

I never cease to be amazed by how “Microcrap” (Microsoft) can find new and annoying ways to be a pain-in-the-butt! Last week I related the tale of my $135 purchase of Office: Home and Student Edition 2010, that wouldn’t download on one of my computers (running Microsoft Vista), but this week it outdid itself. It did download properly on another, but after working on and saving my current manuscript (61,000 words), I discovered that it has deleted the spaces between words—not all, but perhaps half-a-dozen per page (102 pages). Therefore, I have prepared this little one-finger salute to its dishonour. Hope Microcrap looks down from its ivory tower to see it!

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

      

Thanks for dropping by. You and the featured authors on this blog are what it is all about!

June 17, 2012 Posted by | biography, Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Historical period, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

To Wawa With Love, by Tom Douglas

My nomination (if I had one) for the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour –

Story blurb: When Tom Douglas’s father returned home after the Second World War, he was forced to move his family from Sault Ste. Marie north to Wawa, where he was the timekeeper at the Helen Mine. Although his parents were upset by the move, Tom was thrilled. In the forties, Wawa was still a wooden-sidewalked mud wallow of a mining town, and for a city kid, nothing could have been more exciting.

To Wawa with Love is a nostalgic collection of true stories about a time in northern Ontario that still exists only in the author’s imagination. These are light-hearted stories about a town teeming with colourful characters, like Doc MacTavish, Wawa’s veterinarian and part-time dentist; magical places, like the Lions Club Hall, where a quarter could buy a kid an afternoon at the movies; and comical adventures, like the rescue of Rocky Mitchell from the bottom of the school outhouse on a sub-zero January day.

These warm and humorous vignettes about the way life used to be will delight readers of all ages.

Available in paperback only – 156 pages

About the author: Tom Douglas, an award-winning journalist and author, lives in Oakville, Ontario with his wife Gail, also an author in the Amazing Stories series. Tom’s father, Sgt. H.M. (Mel) Douglas, was part of the Invasion Force that stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Tom is a member of the Royal Canadian Legion, worked as a Communications Advisor for Veterans Affairs Canada, and has written speeches for the Minister of National Defence. He has also worked with The Canadian Press and served as the publisher/owner of a weekly newspaper in Australia.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

I have long admired Tom Douglas for his writings on the topic of Canadian military history [see my review of Valour at Vimy Ridge: Canadian Heroes of World War I], but I do believe To Wawa With Love, [Lorimer Press, 2012]—a charming, witty and hilarious collection of intimate tales—has to be my favourite for the following reasons:

Apart from the socio-economic impact of the returning troops, and the sudden demand for post-war housing, etc. (mundane topics devoid of any real colour or humanity) there are very few portraits of the men (and women) themselves, or of their families.[1] In this short memoir, Tom Douglas has done his bit to address the oversight, stating: “I have set down these few memories about that time and place in an effort to prevent it all from slipping away, without a trace down a sinkhole of history.” p.8

And what did the families think? Well, in young Thomas Douglas’ case—pumped on gangster movies etc, and not having seen his father in five years—he was convinced he was a murderer who had somehow beguiled his mother and was about to murder them all—except that young Thomas was ‘on to him,’ and ready to spring into action at any given moment.

Mind you, his younger brother Greg had no problem adjusting, but as the author points out, “My brother Greg sold out for a pair of white boots. He always did come cheap.

There was a slight pause in the pending drama to accommodate the adventure of moving to “Sinterville,” a company dormitory community near Wawa, Ontario. It was little more than a huddle of temporary housing set in close proximity to the mine, where:

The lung-searing sulphur fumes rolled in on the wind. Those who dared venture out of their clapboard shelters tied handkerchiefs over their mouths to prevent a fit of gagging and choking. Tears streaming down their cheeks, the hapless victims of this latest gas attack dashed from one spot to another, hurrying to do whatever had to be done.

“As the sun came up, vaporizing the puddles of overnight rain, the sulphurous air turned steamy and dank, inviting another onslaught of blackflies and mosquitoes that left everyone in their murderous path covered in bleeding sores.

“If the supply train had managed to get through that morning, chances were that the bread was mouldy and the milk sour from sitting in an unrefrigerated boxcar while the crew strained to remove a rock-slide or fallen tree from the railway tracks that provided the lifeline from the civilized south.”

And yet, to young Thomas it was an adventure where he would hone his bargaining skills by talking the local merchant into a 100% increase in his weekly wage (from $1 to $2.00); become a singing sensation at the Christmas concerts; be a white knight for his younger brother (even if he did have to bite the bully’s finger to get the upper “hand,” so to speak); and rescue one of his classmates from the depths of an outhouse hole, e.g.

You’ll never know what being really miserable is until you’ve had to sit in an unheated outhouse in forty-below weather. And I’m talking Fahrenheit, where water freezes at thirty-two degrees about the zero mark.”p.49

I was seated at my desk, staring out my window at the whirling snow and mentally mushing my huskies to the nearest outpost with a bottle of lifesaving medicine in a leather pouch slung over my shoulder. Suddenly, I became aware of Miss Grexton standing there with a slight smile on her face, waiting for my reply.

““I was asking you, my little daydreamer, if you’d mind going to see what’s keeping Rocky,” she repeated. “He’s been gone an awfully long time.”

“After a hazardous five-hour trek, that in reality lasted about thirty seconds, I reached the outpost, having had to shoot and eat all of my sled dogs along the way. Well, okay, I actually polished off the remains of a peanut butter sandwich I’d found in my pocket. I scrabbled the wooden door of the outhouse open with ice-numbed fingers and peered inside the unlit cubical. Where Rocky should have been sitting in frigid misery, there were two empty “thrones.” Too young to realize there was something amiss, I let the spring-loaded door slam back into place and turned to run back to the warmth of the classroom with the news that Rocky wasn’t where he was supposed to be.

“Lucky for him, the perpetually howling wind died down just then, and I heard a faint, eerie call for help from inside the ice palace. Prying  open the door once again, I tentatively called out, “Rocky?” and almost ran for cover when I was answered by a disembodied voice wailing, “Down here!””p.54

“Only in Sinterville,” you say, well there’s even more to read for your amusement and edification in To Wawa With Love.” Do get yourself a copy. You’ll be glad you did. Five bees.

Note: For more colourful Canadian history, go to my reviews at: https://gerrycan.wordpress.com/?s=amazing+stories, or http://www.lorimer.ca/adults/#

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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 26,188

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An announcement regarding  Coming of Age on the Trail.

I’ve never thought of myself as being particularly ‘verbose’, but the more I work the new novel, Coming of Age on the Trail, it keeps getting longer. It is now up to 115,248 words, and growing, and so I have decided to publish it as a two-part series.

This is in keeping with the advice that a novel–especially in the western genre–should ideally be in the 90,000-word range. Personally, I don’t know how valid this is [perhaps someone could tell me] but it does make sense in this abbreviated world, where everything is in “tweet” size. Therefore, Part One should be out this summer, and Part Two should follow in the fall (ideally for the Christmas Market.

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Introducing a new author and her new Novel.

Altered-Revelations, by Shawnda Falls-Currie is new on the Kindle market.

Story Blurb: Abandoned by her family, Lacey is sent to a juvenile detention center known as Clear Waters. Her teen years don’t look promising until she is befriended by a mysterious stranger named Taylor, a gorgeous guy whose captivating eyes seem to stare into her soul. Convinced she is in danger at Clear Waters, Lacey joins Taylor in a daring escape. As she meets Taylor’s group of friends, she discovers that they’re more than they seem – they’ve been sent from the future to head off an evil corporate plot that will lead to a world war unless averted. With Lacey as their only hope to prevent a grim future, Taylor shows Lacey how to tap into her psychic abilities known in his time as evolved humans. Travelling with her new friends, she discovers the magic of love while she grows into the powerful warrior chosen to make the difference to the world.

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

        

 Thank you for dropping by! Your participation is appreciated.

    

 


[1] I have long complained about this aspect of Canadian recorded history, for it leaves the impression that Canada has no history worth bothering with.

May 20, 2012 Posted by | biography, Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | Leave a comment

Wild Canadian West, by E.C. (Ted) Meyers

A collection of meticulously researched and entertainingly-written historical vignettes that prove once and for all that Canada has a rich and colourful history equal to any in the word. Superb! –

Story Blurb: The history of the Wild West for too many years, has been considered the exclusive domain of the men and women who inhabited the South-western states of Kansas, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming. Canada had her share of men and women, good and bad, who opened the west for exploration and exploitation. Many famous gunfighters, outlaws, gamblers and lawmen of the Wild West were Canadian. This book exhibits the differences between Canadian settlers and their American counterparts. It shows how the law was enforced in the west even though lawmen were few in number. It touches on the naivete of some settlers and the lack of judgement shown by some leaders. It also seeks to show the injustice that was done to the native people who neither knew nor understood the white man’s law.

About the author: E.C. “Ted” Meyers, has seven non-fiction books published. Two concern the history of the Royal Canadian Navy. Two others are of the Old West. One, “Wild Canadian West”, concerns lawmen and outlaws who were part of Canada’s Old West. The other takes place in the American Old West. It tells the story of Wyatt Earp’s darkest secret. “Mattie: Wyatt Earp’s Secret Second Wife”, narrates the tragic life of Mattie Blaylock (1850-1888) who, from 1871 was Earp’s second wife and then, from 1882 until Earp’s death in 1928, was his darkest, most closely guarded secret.

E.C. Meyers was born at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1931. He served several years in the Canadian Armed Forces during which time he visited many parts of the world. He saw action in the Korean War from 1950 to 1952 and served in Canada’s peacekeeping effort in the mid-east following the 1956 Israeli-Egytian War. Following his CAF service he worked for the Ontario Government until retiring in 1991. Since then he has spent his retirement years actively researching his greatest interest – the Old West on both sides of the border and writing on a variety of other subjects.

At present he is busy writing an account of the 1877 Nez Perce War in which less than 200 warriors from five Nez Perce bands humiliated the US Army of the Northwest. Led by Chief Joseph, Chief White Bird and Chief Looking Glass the Nez Perce warriors defeated General Oliver Howard’s forces in a series of battles and skirmishes over a period of five months. Then, within 45 miles of the Canadian border and safety, fate turned against them and they were forced to surrender although some did manage to escape into Canada. For a future work Mr. Meyers is considering a book about little known adventures of the Northwest Mounted Police in the late 1800s.

Available from Hancock House Publishing in paperback – 208 pages.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

As many of you may know, my byline is “Canada has a rich and colourful history that for the most part is waiting to be discovered.” It is meant as both a mission statement and a lament. E.C. “Ted” Meyers also alludes to this in the above blurb for Wild Canadian West [Hancock House Publishing Ltd, 20007], i.e. The history of the Wild West for too many years, has been considered the exclusive domain of the men and women who inhabited the South-western states of Kansas, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming.”

Ironically, many of the famed gunfighters, outlaws, gamblers and law men of the American west were not American at all. They were Canadian, as Ted Meyers reveals. For example:

  • Bat, Jim and Ed Masterson all hailed from Quebec.
  • George Currie, better known as “Flat Nose George” from Prince Edward Island. He amalgamated his band of rustlers with Butch Cassidy’s “Wild Bunch.”
  • “Canada” Bill Jones, generally acknowledged as the greatest card sharp of the old west, was from Ontario.
  • Pearl Heart, from Ontario, was a stagecoach robber who later joined Buffalo Bill Wild West Show as a—you guessed it–lady stage robber.

There were also several notable American who came to Canada to make their mark, such as Bill Miner, the “Gentleman Bandit” who is said to have originated the term “hands up,” and who made a living robbing trains.

  • Nellie Cashman, known as “The Angel of the Caribou” for her humanitarian work among the miners who fell upon hard times.
  • Armor de Cosmos from California (otherwise known as Jim Smith) who founded the British Colonist Newspaper [which I refer to several times in my forthcoming novel Coming of Age on the Trail].
  • Charlie “One Ear” Brown who was killed by vigilantes; James Barry (gambler) and Frank Spencer (rustler and gunfighter) who both ended up at the end of a rope. Etc.

However, the Canadian West had plenty of its own home-grown heroes and villains, many of which I had never heard of until Ted Meyers presented them here. For example there was the “Two-Fisted Town Tamer,” John Ingram, a no-nonsense lawman who tamed two frontier cities, Winnipeg and Calgary, before turning his attention to Rossland, British Columbia. To leave it there, however, would be to treat Canadian history the way it has generally been taught—i.e. colourless. Fortunately Meyers goes on to tell how Ingram (while still chief of police) was fined $10 for being a “found-in” at a whore house in Winnipeg, and that he later ran the Calgary police department from the backroom of a pool hall. Moreover, he seldom resorted to a gun, but relied instead on a pair of ‘ham-hock-sized’ fists, knocking his suspects senseless with a well placed punch.

Then there was “British Columbia’s Hanging Judge,” Sir Mathew Bailie Begbie. Begbie was an Englishman who, after being released or rejected by every law firm he had ever had contact, was appointed a judge in “The Colonies,” i.e. Vancouver Island. It should also be mentioned that prior to this his love life had been no more successful, for his fiancé eloped with his brother.

Begbie  arrived in Victoria, BC, in 1858, and was immediately assigned the entire area of what is now the Province of British Columbia (364,800 sq.mi. of sparsely-inhabited wilderness). Ironically, he was given the epithet of “The Hanging Judge,” but he actually disapproved of capital punishment. He therefore recommended to the lieutenant governor that most death sentences be commuted in favour of life in prison. He also had his own opinions on the issue of guilt or innocence, and did not hesitate to instruct the jury as to which verdict he deemed appropriate. Moreover, he would become more than a little irate when the jury went against his wishes, and would lecture them unmercifully as a result.

And for those who like a good ole fashioned shoot-em-up, there’s the tale of “The Shootout at Fortier’s Café,” which Meyers describes this way: “Its (Fisherville, B.C.) second claim to notoriety was the 1864 gun fight on the main street that made the gunfight at Tombstone’s OK Corral appear tame.

Ironically, the dispute began between two factions who each wanted to be the law in Fisherville, and after much threatening talk the two agree to meet to talk things over. The players were a group of Americans under the leadership of William “Yeast Powder Bill” Denniston (a.k.a. Bill Burmeister), Robert “Overland Bob” Evans and Neil Dougherty. The opposing side, mostly Canadians and British, was lead by a hot-tempered, vocal Irishman named Thomas Walker. His lieutenants were William “Dancing Bill” Latham, John “Black Jack” Smyth and “Paddy” Skie.

“The talk started peacefully enough but within a few minutes the two [walker and Dinniston] began shouting. Tom Walker, his temper boiling over, pulled his revolver from its holster, levelled it at Yeast Powder Bill and squeezed the trigger.

“The range was point blank when the heavy pistol roared but, unfortunately for Walker, his hand was unsteady. The .45 slug missed Bill’s expansive chest by ripped away the thumb from his right hand. Walker tried to fire a second shot but his gun jammed. Yeast Powder Bill, howling in shock and pain, drew the pistol from his left holster and shot Walker through the heart. Walker died where he stood. It was his great bad luck that Bill was ambidextrous.

“When Walker’s gun fired, Overland Bob Evans commenced shooting. This brought immediate return fire from Walker’s friends. Within seconds the shooting had become general and Evans lay prone in the dust with at least two bullets in his body. Although Evans was down his companions, thinking him dead, continued shooting.

“Walker was dead, there was no doubt about that, and his friends, intent on avenging him, kept up a steady barrage of fire into the ranks of the Americans. For several minutes the scene was one of sheer chaos. The men who were armed with clubs closed and began to beat on each other. When the shooting finally stopped the air was heavy with the acrid smell of gun smoke. Both sides retreated to count casualties.”

My Review

The above abstracts are only a few of the twenty-one stories that make up this remarkable, and in some respects unique anthology, for many of these tales have never before been published. Nevertheless, I believe these examples are sufficient to show that Canada does have a rich and colourful history that has been hidden from view by the apathy of governments and educators. Therefore we owe a great vote of thanks to writers and historians like E.C. “Ted” Meyers for bringing  it to the fore in a readable and entertaining way. Five bees.

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About Hancock House Publishing Ltd: Hancock House has been a wonderful find for me. Located in Surrey, British Columbia, and Blaine, Washington, its focus is on non-fiction regional titles, emphasizing western and far north history and biographies, Native culture, nature and wildlife, cryptozoology and folklore. In 2008 Hancock House launched its first e-books. Check out their many fascinating titles, i.e. “Stagecoaches,” “Dreaming Wolves,” “Outposts and Bushplanes” and “Crooked River Rats.”

News, etc.

I have entered Gerry B’s Book Reviews in the Independent Book Blogger Awards contestIt is my first contest ever, so I would really appreciate your support. Please take a few minutes to vote. Just click the “vote” link below.

Vote for this blog for the Independent Book Blogger Awards!

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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 24,211

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Meet the characters, settings etc., from my forthcoming novel, Coming of Age on the Trail

The Stampede

“Few occupations are more cheerful, lively and pleasant than that of the cow-boy on a fine day or night; but when the storm comes, then is his manhood and often his skill and bravery put to test. When the night is inky dark and the lurid lightning flashes its zig-zag course athwart the heavens, and the coarse thunder jars the earth, the winds moan fresh and lively over the prairie, the electric balls dance from tip to tip of the cattle’s horns then the position of the cow-boy on duty is trying far more than romantic.

“When the storm breaks over his head, the least occurrence unusual, such as the breaking of a dry weed or stick, or a sudden and near flash of lightning, will start the herd, as if by magic, all at an instant, upon a wild rush. and woe to the horse, or man, or camp that may be in their path.” Joseph G. McCoy

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Introducing SCD Goff from Dublin, Ireland, and her new novel Lady Languish.

 After her uncle attacks Evangeline Languish at her sixteenth birthday party, she is sent away to boarding school where she is ostracised and bullied. She has been abandoned.

When she eventually makes it home, her uncle visits again, terrifying her with crazy stories about her father … Evangeline resolves not to believe them, but when she discovers a strange young man, injured and alone, she is forced to change her mind about everything she thought she knew.

Evangeline, gifted but innocent and almost alone, must face Malachy once more before she can be free. But can she kill him before he kills her and those she loves?

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

      

Thanks for dropping by. I look forward to your visit every week!



April 15, 2012 Posted by | Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian frontier stories, Canadian historical content, Canadian outlaws, Historical period, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | 2 Comments

Sam Steele: The Wild Adventures of Canada’s Most Famous Mountie by Holly Quan

It should be made mandatory reading in every elementary school history course taught, and for every person who is preparing to become a citizen of this country

 

 

Once or twice in our lives, some of us are lucky enough to witness or even to participate in an event of historical importance. Sam Steele made a career of it. During the pioneering years of the Canadian West, Sam Steele was not only present but took an active role in virtually every significant historical event. Sam Steele was an adventurer and a heroic figure who commanded awe and respect. He just did the right thing. At the right time. In the right place.

About the Author: Holly Quan lives in the foothills of southwestern Alberta among the poplars and coyotes. She’s the author of two guide books, in addition to writing magazine articles on travel, food, horses, marketing, and whatever else piques her interest. When she’s not working on her novel manuscript – a work now many years in the making – she loves to ski, ride, hike, swim, drink wine with her friends, and howl at the moon.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

The adventures of (Sir) Sam Steele should definitely put to rest any notion that Canada lacks a colourful history, or, indeed, real life adventurers the equal to Pat Garrett and Davy Crockett. Moreover, Holly Quan’s brief biography, Sam Steele: The Wild West Adventures of Canada’s Most Famous Mountie (Altitude Publishing Canada Ltd., 2003) makes a good appetizer for larger and more detailed biographies, including Sam Steele’s own autobiography: Forty years in Canada: reminiscences of the great north-west (sadly not listed for sale on Amazon.ca).

Samuel Benfield Steele was born on the family farm in 1851 in Simcoe County, Upper Canada (now Ontario), and spent much of his youth in the nearby Town of Orillia learning to ride and other useful skills that would serve him well in his later life. At age 14-years he enlisted in the militia formed to guard against Fenian cross-border raids, and from there he volunteered for the federal militia called together to restore order with the Métis in what is now Manitoba.

“The journey was an exercise in endurance,” writes Quan: “The troops marched across southern Ontario to Sault Ste. Marie, where they boarded ships bound across Lake Superior to what is now Thunder Bay. That was the easy part. From the lakehead, 965 kilometres (600 miles) of rock, rivers, muskeg, and heavy forest lay between the troops and their destination, Fort Garry on the Red River (now Winnipeg). There was no railway yet, and the road was nothing more than a trail blazed through the bogs and bush. In fact, for the most part the “road” was a water route of interconnected lakes and streams with numerous difficult portages through mud, swamps, and dense forest.”

Unfortunately, for Sam, the uprising was over by the time they arrived so the troops turned around and marched back to Ontario again. However, Sam stayed with the militia—now promoted to corporal at age nineteen—but when the new provincial government was in place the militia was disbanded as well. Nevertheless, the new Canadian government decided it wanted its own army to replace the British troops, traditional peacekeepers, and Sam quickly joined the recently established Canadian army—being the 23rd person to do so.

Two years later however, in 1873, the federal government established a mounted police force for the West, the North West Mounted Police, and Sam saw his chance to get back to his beloved frontier. Therefore, in 1874 the now Sergeant Major Steele (age 23) began one of the most rugged marches that have ever taken place in Canada, across the vast, uncharted territory of the West.

“The going was tough for the already beleaguered group. Grasshoppers razed the grass, and rain turned the wagon track to deep mud. Quicksand was another hazard many men had never experienced. Sam, among the strongest in the troop, was continually called on to help wrestle horses, oxen, and cattle of boggy deathtraps.”

That was only part of the adventure. Having little grass to eat the horses became so weak that they frequently collapsed in their tracks. Therefore the men had to lift them and encourage them to walk a bit further before collapsing again. This prompted one of them to quip. “I thought I’d have an easy ride to the Rockies with a good horse to carry me. Instead I’m having a tough walk to Edmonton, with me carrying the horse.”

The march to Edmonton, 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles), ended on October 31, 1874, but not without one last struggle with nature.

“Sam was preparing for sleep when someone shouted that a horse was in trouble in a nearby creek. Grabbing a rope, he waded into the ice-cold stream and deftly passed the rope around the struggling horse, tossing the other end to men on the bank. But before Sam could get out of the water, the horse slipped, dragging Sam and several men down. In the dark, with only moments before men and horse succumbed to the freezing current, the quick-thinking man made it out of the water, then he hauled the next man out, and so on, until troops and horse were all free of the ice and water.”

This, then, was the stuff Sam Steele was made of, and only the beginning of his remarkable career that included chasing criminals, defying native leaders, upholding the law—and having the time of his life. Indeed, he saw the establishment of a nation, the signing of treaties, the resolution of a rebellion, the building of a railway, war in South Africa, and action in WWI.

In my opinion this bit of Canadian history should be made mandatory reading in every elementary school history course taught, and for every person who is preparing to become a citizen of this country, for therein is the essence of Canadian pioneer culture: Dedication, adherence to standards and perseverance.

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For a complete list of  Lorimer’s “Amazing Stories” series, go to http://www.lorimer.ca/adults/.

March 14, 2010 Posted by | biography, Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Military history, Non-fiction | 1 Comment

   

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