Saturday, June 30, 2012

Robert Borden's Unknown Rank and File, 1917

An enthusiastic reception for Rt. Hon. Sir
 Robert Borden and Lady Borden. 1912
Library and Archives Canada / C-009665
John English's The Decline of Politics (1977), has little praise for Sir Robert Borden.  Borden's long neglect of the Conservative party machinery and rank and file, is shown to have decimated the party for years to come.  In 1911, Borden gathered the unlikely bedfellows of English Canadian imperialists, French-Canadian nationalistes, and provincial premiers into a group-government for the win at the ballot box.  By 1917, however, the "false pretenses" that won the French-Canadians had worn off, and the Union government allowed the Laurier Liberals to reform a solid Liberal Quebec.

The result of the unholy Union between the Conservatives and Liberals in 1917 was a party that Borden hardly recognized.  As journalist Arthur Ford noted, "after the Unionist election of 1917 Sir Robert never learned to know by name or by sight half of the supporters of the new government." (Cited in English, p. 206)  John English cites an amusing anecdote which reinforces Borden's neglect of the grass-roots of his newly formed alliance:
On one occasion, a flabbergasted new member of Parliament, undoubtedly intoxicated with the eminence of his new office, had a letter thrust into his hands by Borden with the instruction that he should deliver it to a minister.  Seldom has a member been mistaken for a Commons page boy, but then seldom was a party leader so remote from his party as was Borden after 1917. (English, p. 206)

Friday, June 29, 2012

Brandon's First Restaurant...and Domestic Badger

Ken Storie. Winnipeg Times,Nov. 15, 1881
The tale of the founding of what Pierre Berton referred to as the first of the C.P.R. towns is that of a rustic backwater, soon flooded by profit-seeking speculators.  Like many other railway towns, the CPR's great powers of site location would decide who would get rich from the Brandon boom. In 1881, Brandon, Manitoba was little more than a tent city, but real estate fuelled expansion  would soon see the foundations laid for a major prairie grain hub.

Early Brandon is portrayed by Berton as the romantic epitome of the Old West.  The initial post office was reportedly quite austere.  This bastion of civilization and primary contact with the outside world was limited to a soap box with a hole in it, which sat outside the postman's tent.

Berton's characterization of fine dining in Brandon is worth quoting in full:
The first restaurant was a plank laid across two barrels on the trail that was to become Pacific Avenue.  The proprietor was an eccentric, white-bearded cockney named Tom Spence whose entire stock consisted of a keg of cider, a bottle of lime juice, a couple of pails of water, and two drinking glasses.  To attract trade, Spence had chained a live badger to a nearby post, 'just far enough from the counter to be unable to bite the customers.' (Berton, The Last Spike, p.30)
Title: Collection of small animal heads mounted on wall plaques.
Date: [ca. 1893]Photographer: Smyth, S.A., Calgary, Alberta
Early Brandon makes good fodder for the nostalgic lover of the bygone West.  Berton is in his element describing clap-board sidewalks, and rough frontier living.  While the bison and coyote usually take the spotlight in the western genre, it is good to see some other furry friends get their due.  In Berton's anecdote, and on a curious 1890s taxidermy display in Calgary, the noble badger is preeminent among the pantheon of prairie critters.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Proposals for stopping the Canadian Buffalo Extinction, 1876.

By 1876, the destruction of the buffalo in the Dominion of Canada's Northwest Territories had become an acute problem.  Lieutenant Governor David Laird, wrote a memorandum in that year which summarized the advice from those with experience on the Canadian plains.  Their responses reveal not only early ideas surrounding conservation and game management, but also the government's hopes to balance these actions with policies providing subsistence for indigenous peoples.[RG10, Volume 2641]

The problem, as laid out by Laird was stated thus:
The threatened early extinction of the Buffalo is a question of grave importance to the North West Territories of the Dominion.  The flesh of that animal forms the principal means of subsistence of several of the Indian tribes, as well as a large number of the Half-breeds.  The traffic in Buffalo peltries likewise enters largely into the trade of the country, and enables the natives to procure many of the necessaries of life. (RG10, Volume 3641, File 7530)
Date(s)July 19, 1862 Credit: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1963-97-1.37R

Laird notes that the "whites" and metis, "at times indulge[d] in a wanton slaughter of whole herds killing cows and calves indiscriminately...", and using very little of the animal.  The first suggestion to end these killings was forwarded by Colonel French, commissioner of the North West Mounted Police.  He suggested: a double export duty on cow and calf robes; a duty on pemmican; a closed hunting season during calving times; and severe punishments for those that used less than half the meat of the animal.

Father Alexis AndrĂ©, O.M.I.  Online (1)
Date(s)1885PlaceDuck Lake, Sask.
Credit: Library and Archives Canada / C-028538
Father Andre, at the metis settlement of St Laurent, near Fort Carleton, went further with his suggestions of restriction of hunting season for "whites and Metis", suggesting an open season from June to October.  He went so far as to hope to restrict them from staying on the prairies during the winter, while allowing the "Indians" to remain hunting on the plains.  He also sought a heavy tax on the skins of cows killed during the winter.

The committee of the North West Council suggested a closed season from January to the end of May, as well as the outlaw of "pound[s], or similar contrivance [in] the capture of Buffalo."  They also wished to restrict the hunt to animals over two years old.

Ultimately, the Dominion government, then under the Liberal guidance of Alexander Mackenzie, refused to create any export duties, as these were inherently "objectionable", and would not stop "wanton destruction" anyway.  The government subcommittee simply pointed to the authority of the North West Council over, "game and wild animals and the care and protection thereof", and delegated the duties to that territorial body.  These efforts of consultation were too little, too late, and the buffalo herds in the following years were effectively decimated.