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Captain Voss and the Voyage of the Tilikum

Captain Voss and the Voyage of the Tilikum

Tilikum” is the Chinook Jargon word for “friend” (Chinook Jargon being a pidgin trade language of the Pacific Northwest). Many people most readily associate this word with “Tilly”, the late, controversial, man-eating captive orca which once performed tricks at Seaworld Orlando and Victoria’s now-defunct Sealand of the Pacific.

Many people might be surprised to learn that the Victoria, British Columbia, is also associated with another extraordinary seagoing “Tilikum”- a 150-year-old Nootkan dugout canoe which made an incredible 40,000 mile journey across the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans in the early 1900s, piloted by the notorious Captain John Claus Voss.

An Unlikely Partnership

The story of the Tilikum begins in a hotel bar in Victoria, British Columbia, one evening in the spring of 1901. As was typical of seaside watering holes in the Victorian era, the tavern that evening was filled with colourful characters from all over the Pacific. Russian sealers swapped tales with Klondikers newly returned from the Yukon goldfields, and local fishermen spun yarns with British merchant sailors fresh from the opium docks of Hong Kong. Amidst the usual mix of seadogs and stevedores who often frequented such establishments sat an ambitious young newspaperman named Norman K. Luxton.

Today, Norman Luxton is remembered as “Mr. Banff”, one of the most prominent early citizens of Banff, Alberta. The son of William Luxton, founder of what is now the Winnipeg Free Press, Norman founded his own paper, the Banff Crag & Canyon (now the Bow Valley Craig & Canyon)- Banff’s first newspaper. An avid student of First Nations art and culture, he established a curio and taxidermy shop called Sign of the Goat- one of Banff’s first tourist shops- as well as Banff Indian Days, a bygone annual celebration of Stoney Indian culture. And as a devout conservationist, he played an important role in saving the plains bison from extinction.

On that evening in 1901, however, Norman Luxton was simply a 24-year-old journalist hungry for a good story. As he nursed his beer, a short, stocky sailor sporting a bushy handlebar mustache sauntered into the bar. Luxton sensed that this weathered seaman had a story or two to tell, and so he pulled up a stool beside him and struck up a conversation.

This character, Luxton learned, was a 43-year-old adventurer from northern Germany named John Claus Voss. A sailor with many years of experience, Voss had taken up residence on Canada’s Pacific Northwest in the late 1800s. For several years, he had owned and operated a small hotel and butcher shop in Chemainus, BC, as well as Queen’s Hotel in Victoria, situated at the corner of Store and Johnson Street, and the Victoria Hotel on Government Street (the latter being perhaps the oldest hotel in the city). The German regaled the young reporter with tales of his prospecting adventures in the Colorado Rockies and an erstwhile treasure hunting expedition he took part in alongside members of the British Royal Navy on an island off the coast of Ecuador. He also bragged that he had smuggled illegal Chinese immigrants into California and illegal Chinese opium into Vancouver, and that he sometimes “Shanghaied” his hotel guests, drugging them at the hotel bar and selling them to unscrupulous sea captains in need of crewmembers.

Soon, talk turned to the historic voyage of Joshua Slocum, a Canadian-American adventurer who had completed the first solo circumnavigation of the globe in a sloop called the Spray three years prior. Luxton asked Voss if he thought he had the skills to accomplish a similar feat in an even smaller boat. The sailor assured Luxton that he did.

Luxton knew, judging from the fame that Slocum’s exploit had garnered, that a first-hand account of such a feat would be the story of a lifetime. Then and there, he offered Voss $2,500 and half the royalties of a book he intended to write if he took on Luxton as his first mate and sailed around the world in a vessel smaller than the Spray. Although Luxton admitted that he had no prior sailing experience, Voss accepted the journalist’s offer. In no time, preparations for the voyage were underway.

The Tilikum

In order to accomplish this audacious endeavour, Voss knew that he’d first have to acquire a suitable vessel. He began to look for such a craft on the east coast of Vancouver Island.

The tale of how Captain John Voss found and acquired the Tilikum is shrouded in mystery. According to the most popular version of the tale, Voss came across a Nootka village where he saw a 38-foot dugout war canoe carved from a single log of western red cedar lying on the beach.

“It struck me at once,” Voss recalled in his 1913 memoir The Venturesome Voyages of Captain Voss, “that if we could make our proposed voyage in an Indian canoe we would not alone make a world’s record for the smallest vessel but also the only canoe that had ever circumnavigated the globe. I at once proceeded to examine and take dimensions of the canoe, and soon satisfied myself that she was solid, and also large enough to hold the provisions and other articles we would have to carry on our cruise.”

While Voss appraised the canoe, he was approached by a Nootkan elder who informed him that he was the craft’s owner, and that the boat had been built by his father fifty years prior. After plying the native with rye whisky, Voss acquired the craft for $80 in silver dollars, which he had brought along with him expressly for this purpose.

In order to make the canoe more seaworthy, Voss, with the help of shipwright Harry Vollmers, fortified it with a wooden frame; raised the topsides; installed a keel, rudder, and ballast; built a 5-by-8-foot cabin and a cockpit; constructed three masts and four sails; and added water and storage tanks. He christened the craft “Tilikum”, the Chinook Jargon word for “friend”, and together with Norman Luxton, set sail on May 20th, 1901, embarking at Victoria’s Oak Bay.

The Nootka Village

The first stop on Voss and Luxton’s epic voyage was a remote Nootka village nestled in a cove on the west coast of Vancouver Island. There, the partners were received by a bewhiskered Scottish trader named McKenzie. Voss and Luxton stayed a week in the village, spending their days harvesting clams and hunting ducks and deer.

One night, the two partners, on Luxton’s suggestion, went searching for Indian curios in a Nootka graveyard. Traditional Nootka burial customs dictate that bodies of the deceased, along with most of their earthly possessions, be interred in bentwood cedar coffins which are, in turn, placed on platforms built high up in trees. After observing some of the rotten baskets and rusted guns that lay beneath the funerary trees, having fallen through the decayed wood of the platforms on which they once rested, Voss and Luxton proceeded into a nearby cave. Inside, they found skeletons wrapped in blankets, their skulls bearing evidence of a head-flattening technique practiced by certain tribes of the Pacific Northwest.

When the two partners attempted to take some of the skulls out of the cave, they were confronted by armed and angry Nootkan warriors who had evidently been waiting for them to exit. Voss and Luxton told the furious tribesmen that they did not know about the cemetery inside the cave, having discreetly dropped the skulls when they were still concealed by the cavern’s gloom, and so the natives let them off with a stern warning.

The following two days, the adventurers accompanied a Nootkan hunting party on a whaling expedition. On the first of these forays, a monstrous whale smashed one of the party’s cedar canoes to pieces with a single slap of his tail, sending its native occupants swimming for safety. On the second foray, the hunters succeeded in harpooning a whale to death, whereupon its carcass was towed to shore and processed. A huge feast ensued, followed by much singing and dancing. In his autobiography, Voss wrote: “The chief gave me a piece of the whale meat, which I cut up in strips and fried, and it turned out to be excellent steak.”

The Tempest

Voss and Luxton left the Nootka village July 6th and headed out into the open ocean. That day, they watched a pod of orcas hound a whale which breached over and over in a desperate attempt to evade its pursuers. Being sympathetic to the whale’s plight, the sailors drove the orcas away from their prey by shooting at them with their rifles.

The adventurers sailed southwest, bound for the remote Marquesas Islands nestled deep in the South Pacific. Not long into their journey, they were beset by a ferocious ocean gale. In his memoir, Voss related how he was obliged to instruct a frightened and disobedient Luxton, who wished to ride out the storm, on the merits of “heaving to”- the practice of dropping anchor and steering the boat into the wind in order to slow its progress so as to avoid capsizing. After Voss administered a vicious tongue-lashing to his obstinate shipmate, a terrified Luxton dropped the anchor as Voss commanded and the Tilikum began to ride the waves.

In his own memoir, Luxton’s Pacific Crossing, published posthumously in 1971 by his daughter, Eleanor, Norman Luxton wrote:

“It is a queer sensation to be thirty-five feet below a wall of water, that looks just as if it were going to fall right on top of you, when suddenly up goes the canoe and there is a roar of water on each side of you that you can’t see over, with a path through the wall that the drag has made up for the boat to go through. Then down once more you go into the trough of the next wave.”

Luxton’s confidence in the Tilikum’s seafaring ability improved greatly as the voyage progressed, as evidenced by the following excerpt of a letter he wrote to his mother:

“I have seen such mountains of water as I never could dream of but the Tilikum went over everything like a bird, and wind has no effect on her at all. I am more than ever convinced that she is safe as any boat on the sea.”

The Wraith of George Grieve

This gale was but the first of many that the Tilikum and its crew of two would weather. As Voss and Luxton neared the equator, they passed through a succession of fierce storms and deceptive calms. On August 18, 1901, when the weather was exceptionally mild, Norman Luxton had a peculiar experience which he related in his memoir:

“I was on watch and I think I must have been dozing. I woke up and the waves had died down considerably with the storm, but there was still white water. Sitting on the cabin roof, I suddenly saw my old friend George Grieve, of Winnipeg, a dear and lovely old friend… Quite plainly to my sleepy eyes I could see him, and while I cannot say that he told me in actual words to get busy and make sail, he told me to do just that, and to do it at once. I did not hesitate a moment to go forward, pull in the sea anchor and hoist everything the Tilikum had, and hit a course southwest. There was a sequel to the appearance of my friend George Grieve, in my dreams. I read in my Canadian papers when I got to Australia that he was dead, and had died shortly before he came and told me to make sail.”

Penrhyn Island

Ultimately, Voss and Luxton were obliged to alter their course towards the isle of Penrhyn, one of the northernmost Cook Islands, instead of the easterly Marquesas, on account of strong winds. After many days of sailing, Voss finally spied Penrhyn Island on the horizon.

“On seeing the land,” Voss wrote, “my mate got so excited that he threw his hat up in the air, and gave three cheers for old Canada. Unfortunately, the hat went overboard, and I had to tack ship to pick it up.”

Although Voss was reticent to set foot on Penrhyn, suspecting that its native inhabitants might be hostile cannibals, Luxton vehemently insisted that they do so, eager as he was to observe the tropical ecology and the native culture. After a violent quarrel, Voss indulged his companion, but only after loading his firearms and fortifying the cockpit with sandbags. His suspicions were allayed when, upon approaching the island, he and Luxton were greeted heartily by American and English crewmembers of a French schooner. Shortly thereafter, Voss and Luxton received a warm welcome from the island natives, who proved to be exceptionally generous and friendly.

Voss and Luxton spent several days on Penrhyn enjoying the hospitality of the locals. In his memoir, Luxton claimed that an island matriarch trapped him into marriage with her daughter, a local princess, out of which he only managed to escape through tact and quick thinking.

After having their boat cleaned and painted and their larder stocked with fresh coconuts, the voyagers bid the natives farewell and set sail for the southwesterly isle of Manihiki, the so-called “Island of Pearls”.

Manihiki

That night, the crew of the Tilikum made landfall at Manihiki. When Voss and Luxton sailed around its western shore, they quickly found themselves surrounded by canoes filled with natives shouting at them to stop. The self-proclaimed chief of the welcoming party nimbly boarded the Tilikum and insisted, in broken English, that the two sailors visit his village before they continued on their journey.

The following day, Voss and Luxton were received by the Pacific Islanders and, through a local trader who served as interpreter, were introduced to the King and Queen of Manihiki. The royal family treated the seamen to a sumptuous feast of roasted pig, chicken, flying fish, and various tropical vegetables, attended by all the natives of the village.

During the feast, two island princesses placed colourfully-beribboned panama hats on the heads of their guests of honour. Soon afterwards, other island girls followed suit, removing the panama hats and adoring the sailors’ crania with their own headgear. Immediately after this, two more girls repeated the performance.

“This was as much as my mate could stand,” Voss wrote. Luxton stood up and asked the interpreter to inform their hosts that the next young lady who changed his hat was going to be kissed. This elicited much laughter and chatter from the locals.

“The next thing we saw,” wrote Voss, “the oldest woman of the lot (she must have been about a hundred years of age, for she was all doubled up and could hardly walk), came along with a straw hat, and as she got nearer Mr. Luxton turned pale. I said, ‘Courage, Norman, courage: don’t go back on your world’; but I am sorry to say that my mate did on that occasion. However, the young ladies and hats continued arriving, and by the time we got through with our feast, we had quite a few hats.”

That evening, the native girls of Manihiki adorned the Tilikum with colourful ribbons and presented the sailors with the leftovers from the feast, carefully wrapped in huge leaves. After spending two more music and dance-filled days on the island, Voss and Luxton thanked their hosts and departed for the southwesterly Samoan Islands.

Danger Island

On the night of September 28, 1901, Voss and Luxton reached an island known today as Pukapuka, situated roughly halfway between Manihiki and the Samoan Archipelago. In 1901, this island bore foreboding name “Danger Island”. Knowing little about the isle aside from its sinister appellative, the sailors decided to spend the night anchored offshore in the Tilikum rather than hazard a nocturnal disembarkment.

The following morning, Voss and Luxton sailed the Tilikum towards the shores of Danger Island. There they were greeted by natives who were eager to host them. As Voss could not find a suitable location to anchor his craft, he declined their invitation to visit their village, to their obvious displeasure. When they saw that they would not change the German’s mind, the Polynesians presented him and Luxton with eggs and coconuts, which the sailors gratefully accepted before setting sail for Samoa.

Cabin Fever

Nearly every seaman to sail with Captain John Voss and live to tell the tale commented upon the German’s extraordinary ability as a sailor and his abominable qualities as a sailing companion. Norman Luxton was no exception. In addition to extolling his virtues as mariner, Luxton described Voss as unbearably egotistical, alarmingly aggressive, and subject to violent moods when under the influence of alcohol.

Several days out of Danger Island, Voss took issue with Luxton’s nautical performance. He grabbed the Canadian by the collar and shoved him into the cabin, threatening to murder him and dump his body overboard. Luxton kept a cool head and proceeded to calmly wash the dishes. That accomplished, he seized a .22 calibre revolver, aimed the gun at Voss’ head, and locked his belligerent companion in the cabin of the Tilikum, intending to keep him there until they reached Samoa.

“Dangerous as were the storms and calms of the Pacific,” Luxton wrote in his memoir, “they were as nothing compared to the clash of our personalities. Before we ever reached Apia, Samoa, we hated each other, and I was certain Voss intended to do me harm.”

Samoa

After three days of hard sailing, the Tilikum arrived at Upolu, the second largest of the Samoan Islands. By this time, the two sailing companions had made amends, and Luxton had released Voss from the cabin.

As they made their way into the harbour at Apia, the capital of what was then German Samoa, Luxton and Voss found all the ships’ flags flying at half-mast. Shortly thereafter, they learned that word had reached the island that morning of the assassination of U.S. President William McKinley, who had succumbed to gunshot wounds on September 14.

Voss and Luxton spent several days in Apia, during which they met the former King of Samoa. One evening, the ex-monarch invited them to a traditional Samoan dinner. At this event, their host introduced them to three beautiful Samoan women and asked Luxton to examine their teeth. When Luxton determined that the ladies’ teeth were clean and healthy, the three women sat on a mat around a wooden bowl half-filled with water and proceeded to chew pieces of kava root, a plant endemic to the Pacific Islands. After chewing the root to a pulp, the women squeezed the product of their mastication with their hands so that the juice dripped into the bowl. Once the kava juice was thoroughly incorporated into the water, it was served to the sailors in coconut shells. Although the juice was bitter and unpleasant to drink, the sailors drained the bowl out of courtesy, and in doing so learned first-hand the powerful narcotic effects of kava consumption.

Fiji

After several days of rest and relaxation, during which Luxton visited the tomb of Robert Louis Stevenson, Voss and Luxton boarded the Tilikum and departed for the westerly Fiji Islands. At a point nearly halfway between Samoa and their destination, they arrived at Niuafo’ou, the most northerly island in the Kingdom of Tonga, a protectorate of the British Empire.

On the shores of Niuafo’ou, Voss and Luxton encountered a mounted British official who informed them that they could not enter the island without a permit from the Tonga government. He also warned the sailors that the locals had a penchant for “long pig”, or human flesh, and that it was in their best interest to leave as soon as possible. Sure enough, on their way out, the men of the Tilikum were accosted by a band of Tongan pirates, whom they only managed to drive away with a warning shot from an old Spanish cannon.

Voss and Luxton continued on towards the Fiji Islands. They arrived on one of the northernmost of the Fijian isles two days later. Luxton decided to explore the island, taking his gun and camera with him, while Voss opted to stay by the boat and cook dinner.

When Luxton did not answer the gunshots he fired to signal that dinner was prepared, Voss grabbed his rifle and waded onto the island. He quickly found an old footpath that led towards the heart of the island and decided to follow it. Not far from the beach, at the edge of the jungle, he came across an abandoned hut fronted by a sizeable pile of human bones. Cognizant of the fact that the Fiji Islands were once justifiably known as the “Cannibal Isles” Voss decided to return to the Tilikum and wait for Luxton. He found a tiger shark encircling the canoe, and after shooting it through the head, learned that Fijian sharks have a proclivity for cannibalism rivalling that of their human neighbours.

Fortunately, Luxton returned to the Tilikum that evening no worse for wear, having bagged a brace of tropical fowl.

The voyagers continued on towards Suva, the capital city of Fiji, situated on Viti Levu, the largest of the Fiji Islands.

Man Overboard

A short distance from Suva, the Tilikum ran aground a coral reef. Immediately, an errant wave rolled the canoe onto its side, and Luxton was swept overboard. When he came to, Luxton found himself stranded on the reef, his body torn by the sharp coral, and the Tilikum nowhere in sight. Knowing that the waters off Fiji were infested with sharks, he struggled to stay atop the reef, battling with the incessant waves that seemed hell-bent on pushing him over the edge.

“Extra large waves,” he wrote, “casting tons of water over the reef, would throw me further into the lagoon. Frantically would I put on more steam to reach the reef away from the sharks, only to get more Hell from the coral.”

After a Herculean struggle, Luxton somehow managed to work his way onto an uninhabited beach where he was picked up by Voss, who had left him for dead.

Suva

After resting for some time, the inconsonant pair sailed on to Suva. There, Luxton sought medical attention while Voss paid a visit to a local tavern.

The doctor who treated Luxton’s wounds urged the newspaperman to abandon the voyage. This was all Luxton needed to hear. The Canadian left the hospital and set out to find Voss, intending to inform him that it he hoped to complete his voyage, he would have to do it with another mate.

Fortunately for both parties, Voss had already found Luxton’s replacement in the person of Walter L. Begent, an adventurous 30-year-old soldier and sailor from Tasmania, whom the German had met in a bar and enticed into service. Before Voss headed out into the Pacific with his new partner, Luxton privately warned Begent of Voss’ quarrelsome disposition and urged him to dispose of Voss’ liquor stash, which the German had restocked in town, as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

Sydney

Norman Luxton took a steamer from Suva to Sydney, Australia, where he and Voss planned to reconnect. Luxton waited in Sydney for some time, but when Voss failed to arrive ten days after his expected landfall, the Canadian gave him up for dead.

Then, one sunny afternoon, Voss arrived in Sydney Harbour alone on the Tilikum. He told Luxton and a local journalist that he and his new mate, Walter Begent, had encountered some of the worst storms he had ever seen en route to Sydney. One night, when they were but five days out of Suva, he “saw a large breaking sea coming up near the stern.” He shouted a warning to Begent, who had not secured a lifeline around his waist in accordance with his advice, but it was too late. An errant wave swept the Tasmanian overboard, along with the Tilikum’s only compass. Voss was unable to save his companion, and was forced to abandon him to his fate.

In his posthumously-published biography, Luxton voiced his suspicion that Voss had actually murdered Begent in a drunken rage and thrown his body overboard, as he himself had regularly feared for his life while sailing with the testy Teuton.

Although Luxton did not plan on doing any more sailing with Voss, he still hoped to publish a book on his experience, the royalties from which he had agreed to split with Voss, and knew that the success of this book would depend on the Tilikum’s successful circumnavigation of the globe. As such, the German and the Canadian teamed up once again and toured Australia with the Tilikum, hoping to raise money for provisions and repairs.

The Rest of the Voyage

After raising sufficient funds, Voss and Luxton parted ways again in Melbourne, Australia.

Accompanied by a succession of nine different mates, none of which suffered his company for long, Voss managed to sail the Tilikum to Tasmania, New Zealand, the New Hebrides (a cluster of islands east of Australia), and into the Indian Ocean by way of the Torres Strait (which separates Australia from Papua New Guinea), taking her past the Great Barrier Reef. He sailed her across the Indian Ocean to the remote Mauritian island of Rodrigues, nearly running out of water in the process. From there, he sailed to the city of Durban, South Africa, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and headed across the Atlantic to the island of St. Helena. He completed the Atlantic crossing, making landfall in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco. After that, he sailed back across the Atlantic, riding the Gulf Stream to the archipelago of Azores off the coast of Portugal and onward to Margate, England, his final destination, which he reached on September 2, 1904. In total, the 40,000-mile voyage of the Tilikum took three years, three months and twelve days.

The Fate of the Tilikum

The epic voyage of the Tilikum did not bring Voss and Luxton as much success as they had initially hoped. Norman Luxton never ended up publishing the book he had hoped to write (at least, not in his lifetime), and went on to become one of the most prominent citizens of Banff, Alberta. Voss, on the other hand, returned to Victoria, where he dabbled in the hotel business for some time before moving to Yokohama, Japan, where he published The Adventurous Voyages of Captain Voss. He later worked as a sealer in the Bering Strait off the coast of Siberia before finally settling down in Tracy, California, where he spent the rest of his days working as a taxi driver.

As for the Tilikum, it was exhibited at the 1905 Naval, Shipping, and Fisheries Exhibition- a world fair intended to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar (a crucial British naval victory in the Napoleonic Wars)- held in Earl’s Court, a district of London, England. It passed through a number of different hands before it was finally abandoned on the shores of the River Thames. In 1929, the Tilikum was rescued and restored by citizens of Victoria, British Columbia, and returned to its home in the Pacific Northwest. For many years, the vessel was displayed in Victoria’s Thunderbird Park alongside Nootka and Kwakwaka’wakw totem poles. On June 8 1965, it was transferred to Victoria’s Maritime Museum of British Columbia, where it resides to this very day.

Sources

  • A almost forgotten Odyssey- 40,000 Miles in an Indian Dugout, by Francis Dickie, published in the September 1954 issue of Popular Mechanics, courtesy of American Fortean researcher Mr. Gary S. Mangiacopra
  • The Venturesome Voyages of Captain Voss (1913), by John Claus Voss
  • MacFarlane, John M. (2002) Captain John Claus Voss FRGS. Nauticapedia.ca 2002. http://nauticapedia.ca/Articles/Tilikum_Voss.php
  • MacFarlane, John M. (2002) Norman Kenny Luxton. Nauticapedia.ca 2002.
  • Captain Voss and Tilikum, by Robert Holtzman, on November 8, 2011 issue of IndigenousBoats.Blogspot.com
  • The Voyage of the Tilikum: Walter L. Begent is drowned. Captain accused of throwing him overboard, on Begent.org/Voss
  • Captain Voss, from TelusPlanet.net
  • Around the World by Canoe, by Graham Chandler, in the May 2001 issue of The Beaver

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How Canada Saved the Buffalo

How Canada Saved the Buffalo

No doot aboot it: we Canadians love our wildlife, and we’re not afraid to show it. Visitors to our country are greeted by images of moose, blue whales, and Canada geese when they step off the plane, and the polar bear, the elk, and the beaver- animals as quintessentially Canadian as ice hockey and maple syrup- keep Her Majesty company on our toonies, quarters, and nickels.

Considering our national affinity for the denizens of our great outdoors, many Canucks would be pleased to learn that Canada played a major role in one of the greatest conservation success stories the world has ever seen: the saving from extinction and the re-proliferation of the buffalo.

The Age of the Buffalo

The bison, or American buffalo, is a massive, horned, woolly ruminant native to North America- a descendant of one of the great Pleistocene giants that wandered across the Bering Strait land bridge during the last Ice Age. Today, the bison can be divided into two subspecies: the plains bison (Bison bison bison), and the larger, more northerly wood buffalo (Bison bison athabascae).

Before the 19th Century, millions of plains bison roamed the grasslands of North America in enormous herds. For millennia, the Plains Indians of what is now Canada and the United States subsisted almost entirely upon these so-called “Kings of the Prairie”, using their meat and marrow for sustenance, their hides for shelter and clothing, their bones for tools, and their dung for fuel.

One of the most effective methods by which the Plains Indians hunted this animal involved natural cliffs, or “buffalo jumps”. During such hunting operations, a band would build two long funnel-like drive lanes extending from the edge of the cliff to the open prairie. These drive lanes were composed of hundreds of stone cairns, each built several meters apart from one another, often augmented with dirt, buffalo dung, tree boughs and sagebrush.

Over a period of several days, specialized hunters well-versed in animal behavior would disguise themselves as juvenile bison and prairie wolves and lure a buffalo herd into the drive lanes. When the majority of the herd was within the lanes, hunters who had concealed themselves behind the cairns would suddenly leap out from their hiding places, screaming and waving buffalo robes. At the same time, the hunter disguised as a juvenile buffalo would “flee” towards the cliff, prompting the startled herd to follow him. Just before he reached the cliff’s edge, the “buffalo runner”, as this elite hunter was called, would retreat to safety behind the line of the cairns. If all went as planned, the entire herd would stampede off the cliff to its death, unable to stop on account of its massive momentum. Hunters waiting below would finish off wounded and crippled buffalo with spears, bows and arrows, and clubs.

Although Plains Indian bands sometimes managed to wipe out entire herds during these annual buffalo hunts- believing, as many of them did, that any bison which managed to escape the slaughter would disclose the secret of the hunt to its woolly compatriots- the bison population on the Great Plains and Canadian prairies remained extremely robust.

The Disappearance of the Buffalo

In the late 1700s, the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company, two rival fur trading enterprises, expanded westward onto the eastern edge of the Canadian prairies. Soon, that area, comprising what is now Manitoba and North Dakota became populated by bands of Metis- the progeny of French and Scottish fur traders and First Nations women.

Like the western counterparts of their maternal ancestors, the Metis were excellent buffalo hunters. Instead of driving their prey off cliffs or herding them into buffalo pounds, however, Metis hunters shot them with muskets from horseback. In order to provision their voyageurs for their long voyages along the waterways of Rupert’s Land, the fur trading companies began purchasing huge quantities of pemmican from the Metis, pemmican being a nutritious travel food composed of equal parts dried pulverized buffalo meat and rendered buffalo fat, on which many of the Plains Indians had subsisted since time immemorial. The pemmican trade quickly grew into a thriving industry which slowly took its toll on the bison population on the eastern prairies.

Around this time, the First Nations of the western Canadian prairies were introduced to the horse, an Old World animal that had slowly worked its way up the continent since its introduction to the Americas by Spanish conquistadors. Many of the Plains Indians quickly became proficient horsemen, and their way of life changed completely. With these new equine vehicles, the Plains Indians were able to hunt more quickly and efficiently than ever before. The fruitful buffalo hunts that ensued allowed them to increase their population, resulting in an imperceptible yet very real decrease in that of the plains bison.

In the mid-1800s, the American Fur Company, a Yankee rival of the Hudson’s Bay Company (the latter having absorbed the North West Company in 1821), expanded up the Missouri River, taking the fur trade to the Great Plains. Certain Plains Indians tribes began to deliver buffalo robes to American traders in exchange for Western goods. One of the items the Plains Indians acquired through this trade were firearms, which allowed them to hunt the buffalo with even greater ease. And thus the bison population on the Great Plains was further curtailed.

In the early 1870’s, a cheap process for tanning hides was developed in Europe. Almost overnight, demand for buffalo hides, which could be transformed into leather for militaries and durable industrial belts for factories, exploded. Unlike buffalo robes, which could only be harvested in the winter when bison coats were thickest, buffalo hides intended for use as leather could be harvested at any time of the year. Soon, hordes of big game hunters poured onto the Great Plains from the eastern States via the Union Pacific Railroad and began slaughtering bison by the millions for their hides alone. The already-dwindling buffalo population began to plummet at an alarming rate.

The final nail in the coffin of this monarch of the plains was forged at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, which saw the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry Regiment wiped out by Sioux warriors under the command of Chief Sitting Bull. Following this defeat, high-ranking U.S. Army officers routinely sponsored and outfitted civilian hunting expeditions, hoping to drive the buffalo to extinction, thereby forcing the Sioux and other uncooperative Indian tribes to settle onto reserves without having to engage them in battle. Although the U.S. Army did not have an “official policy” aimed at the destruction of the buffalo, as popular history sometimes contends, its top brass were manifestly pleased to see buffalo hunters doing “more… to settle the vexed Indian question than the entire regular Army has in the last 40 years,” as U.S. Army General Philip Sheridan put it.

Due to this potent cocktail of market and martial forces, the bison that once dominated the Great Plains were reduced to a scattering of tiny herds teetering precariously on the verge of extinction by the mid-1880s.

Saved from Extinction

Fortunately, in the autumn of 1873, a Canadian Pend d’Oreille Indian named Samuel Walking Coyote had saved four orphaned buffalo calves in southwestern Alberta. He had driven the bison southwest into the United States, over the Rocky Mountains to the Saint Ignatius Mission in Montana south of Flathead Lake. There, the tiny bison herd grew slowly, numbering thirteen head by 1884.

That year, a Mexican half-breed named Michael Pablo purchased ten of the St. Ignatius bison for the hefty price of $2,500 and turned them loose on the neighbouring Flathead Indian Reservation. The three remaining St. Ignatius bison eventually wound up on a ranch near Kalispell, Montana, where they founded a herd of their own.

In 1906, the United States government decided to open the Flathead Indian Reservation for homesteading. By this time, Michael Pablo’s semi-wild bison herd had swelled to a population of 631. Knowing that he would be unable to maintain his herd once settlers moved onto Flathead land, Pablo offered to sell his bison to the U.S. Government. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, a great conservationist himself, asked Congress to accept Pablo’s offer, but his proposal was turned down.

Fortunately, a newspaperman from Banff, Alberta, named Norman Luxton learned of Pablo’s desire to sell his herd and encouraged his friend, Frank Oliver, Canada’s Minister of the Interior, to purchase it. Oliver recognized that acquiring Pablo’s buffalo herd would give Canada an opportunity to play a major role in what one writer described as “the greatest animal come-back in the history of the world.” He took Luxton’s advice and, through his office, purchased the Flathead bison.

It was arranged for Pablo’s buffalo herd to be driven north into Canadian territory, where it would be resettled on a 170-square-mile plot of government land near the town of Wainwright, in east-central Alberta, which had been dubbed “Buffalo National Park”. Unfortunately, the Flathead buffalo were as wild in temperament as their ancestors. Although Michael Pablo hired America’s best cowboys to drive his herd, the transplant was far more difficult than expected. After six years of gruelling work, which saw a dozen horses gored, ten riders injured, and one cowboy killed, every last Flathead bison had been relocated in Buffalo National Park. Today, Alberta’s Highway 41, nicknamed the “Buffalo Trail”, follows the approximate route of this great bison drive up the Canadian prairies.

In the early 1900’s, Michael Pablo’s old herd in Buffalo National Park was supplemented by a small, separate, all-Canadian bison herd that had been raised in Banff, Alberta. This smaller Banff herd was descended from five bison calves that had been saved by Winnipeg fur trader C.B. Alloway near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, in 1874, a year after Samuel Walking Coyote adopted his own buffalo orphans in southwest Alberta. Also added to the Buffalo National Park herd were thirty bison descended from the three St. Ignatius animals put out to pasture in Kalispell, Montana. By 1914, the motley herd in Buffalo National Park, all of its members ultimately descendants of nine Canadian prairie bison calves, numbered 833 head.

The Return of the Buffalo

The bison herd thrived in Buffalo National Park, and within a few decades, its population numbered in the tens of thousands. Government-sponsored mammologists determined that the park was not large enough to support such tremendous growth, and so every year, many of the buffalo were slaughtered for meat. During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, this surplus stock supplied 670,000 pounds of buffalo meat to needy Canadian citizens. By 1940, the culling operation required to keep the herd at a sustainable level had become so impracticable that Canada’s federal government decided to close the park.

During the heyday of Buffalo National Park, the prairie bison’s larger northern relative, the wood bison, was making a comeback of its own in the boreal forests of northern Alberta and Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories. In order to help this species get back on its feet, the Canadian government established the 17,300-square-mile Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada’s largest national park (and the second largest national park in the world), in 1922. From 1925-1928, the government supplemented the wood bison population in Wood Buffalo National Park with 6,673 plains bison from Buffalo National Park via railroad and barge. There, the two bison species interbred, creating a hybridized bison species.

Conservationists feared that the interbreeding of plains and wood bison would endanger both pure species. Indeed, by the 1950s, it was believed that the pure wood bison was finally extinct, having interbred with the plains bison for decades. Then, in 1957, a herd of 200 wild wood bison was discovered in Northern Alberta. In 1965, 23 of these pure wood bison were transplanted to Elk Island National Park, an elk sanctuary in central Alberta. Today, populations of both wood bison and plains bison inhabit Elk Island National Park, painstakingly kept apart by park employees. Earlier this month (August 2018), Parks Canada released 31 plains bison from Elk Island National Park into Banff National Park, where C.B. Alloway raised some of their ancestors over a century ago.

Of course, national parks are not the only abodes of the modern day buffalo. Ranchers all across Canada maintain healthy bison herds of their own. Today, it is estimated that around 400,000 bison live in North America, thanks in no small part to the efforts of a handful of farsighted Canadian conservationists.

Sources

  • How Canada Saved the Buffalo, by Francis Dickie in the March 1966 issue of the magazine Rod & Gun in Canada, courtesy of American Fortean researcher Mr. Gary S. Mangiacopra
  • The Frontier Army and the Destruction of the Buffalo: 1865-1883, David D. Smits, in the Autumn 1994 issue of the Western Historical Quarterly
  • Killing the Canadian Buffalo, 1821-1881, by William A. Dobak, in the Spring 1996 issue of the Western Historical Quarterly
  • Bye, Bye Bison, by Daniel Benjamin, on March 1, 2012, on the website PERC.org
  • The Destruction of the Bison: An Environmental History, 1750-1920 (2000), by Andrew C. Isenberg

 

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How John A. Macdonald Helped the First Nations

How John A. Macdonald Helped the First Nations

On Saturday, August 11, 2018, the City of Victoria, British Columbia, removed a bronze statue of Canada’s First Prime Minster, Sir John A. Macdonald, from the grounds outside City Hall. According to Victoria’s Mayor Lisa Helps, the decision to remove the statue was part of the city’s ongoing reconciliation program with the local Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations. Sir John A. Macdonald, Helps explained, was one of the chief architects of Canada’s residential school system- an institution which resulted in the suffering of members of various First Nations, including the Esquimalt and the Songhees.

Helps’ decision to remove the statue has been roundly criticized by many who object to what they see as an attempt to erase Canadian history, and who maintain that it is irrational to judge figures from the past by today’s moral standards. Supporters of the decision, on the other hand, argue that the injustices that Macdonald inflicted upon the First Nations outweigh the contributions that the Father of Canadian Confederation made towards the betterment of the nation he helped found, thus justifying the removal of statues erected in his honour.

Many supporters of the decision to remove the statue might be surprised to learn that John A. Macdonald, despite his flaws, helped to save many of Canada’s First Nations from a terrible fate.

The Whisky Trade

In the mid 1800’s, the western Canadian plains were dominated by the powerful Blackfoot Confederacy, an alliance comprised of the Siksika, the Peigan, and the Kainai First Nations. The Blackfoot were a warlike people notorious for slaughtering trespassers who dared to venture into their territory. They were also great hunters who subsisted almost entirely upon the buffalo, which roamed the Great Plains in enormous herds.

In the 1840’s, the American Fur Company (AFC), a major American fur trading enterprise which competed with Canada’s Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), expanded into the Upper Missouri region on the border of Blackfoot territory. In 1846, they established a fur trading post called Fort Benton on the banks of the Missouri River in northern Montana, in the heart of South Peigan territory. They began to trade with the Blackfoot on whose lands they encroached, selling muskets, steel tools, and wool blankets in exchange for buffalo robes. In a few short years, Fort Benton rose to become the economic centre of the Great Plains.

Similar to the Hudson’s Bay Company, one of the commodities that the AFC sold to its native customers was diluted liquor. Many of the South Peigan, as it turned out, had an enormous affinity for alcohol, and over time many of them were drawn into alcohol dependency. Cognisant of the negative effect that alcohol had upon their Blackfoot clients, the AFC was careful to limit its sale, but kept the commodity on its shelves in order to compete with the HBC.

By the 1860’s, the fur trade was in decline, and in 1865, the AFC sold Fort Benton to the U.S. Army. Almost immediately, a number of small fur trading companies formed to fill the vacuum. Unfortunately, many of these smaller companies cared far less about the welfare of their Blackfoot customers than the larger company that they replaced. In an effort to compete with one another, they exploited the Blackfoot’s proclivity for alcohol, selling enormous quantities of liquor to them without restraint. While the quantity of the alcohol these independent traders sold was greater than that of the AFC, its quality was often much worse. Instead of selling diluted rum or brandy, these traders peddled a cheap, dangerous concoction of American whiskey, red ink, turpentine, tobacco, and river water, sometimes supplemented with a dash of toxic strychnine.

The combination of dishonest business practices and a surfeit of whiskey bred the perfect environment for violent conflict, and in no time the whiskey traders and the Blackfoot were at each other’s throats. The many bloody altercations between white frontiersmen and South Peigan warriors that characterized Montana in the 1860’s were dubbed the “Blackfoot Wars”.

When a number of Montanan farmers were murdered by Blackfoot braves, the United States Army stepped in. Rather than resolve the conflict diplomatically, the U.S. Army decided to discipline the Blackfoot through violence. This heavy-handed approach was characteristic of the United States’ relationship with unruly or uncooperative American Indians; that same decade, the U.S. Army had fought bitterly with the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Sioux, and Apache Indians in what are collectively known today as the American Indian Wars. Ultimately, the U.S. Army’s involvement in the Blackfoot conflict culminated in the Marias Massacre of 1870, in which a U.S. Cavalry squadron slaughtered a band of 200 friendly South Peigan, most of them women, children, and elderly men, on the banks of the Marias River.

In order to avoid conflict with the U.S. Army, many South Peigan bands fled north into British territory, where they knew the blue-coated “Long Knives”, as they often called sabre-wearing U.S. Cavalrymen, would dare not follow. A handful of enterprising Montanan whiskey traders decided to follow their clients into Canada and establish trading posts across the border, in what is now Southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. Like their American precursors, the traffic of these so-called “whisky forts” had a devastating effect on the Blackfoot people, transforming a powerful Confederacy into a nation of starvelings and alcoholics who would do anything for a cup of firewater.

John A. Macdonald’s Response

Following Canadian Confederation in 1867, John A. Macdonald endeavoured to make Canada a great nation stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In order to accomplish this, he knew that he would have to convince the Province of British Columbia to accept the terms of the Canadian Constitution, and in order to do that, he would have to connect British Columbia with the easterly Dominion of Canada via a massive transcontinental railroad. In order to build this railroad, the Dominion of Canada would need to own the land in between British Columbia and the Dominion- a vast, wild territory controlled by the Hudson’s Bay Company, known for centuries as Rupert’s Land (present-day Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the Northwest Territories). In 1870, Macdonald’s government, with the permission of the British Crown, purchased Rupert’s Land and dubbed it the

North-West Territory.

When John A. Macdonald learned of the American whisky trade that was taking place in the North-West Territory, he knew he had to put a stop to it in order to assert Canada’s sovereignty there. Throughout much of the 19th Century, the concept of Manifest Destiny- the idea that the United States was destined to expand across North America- had a strong influence on American foreign policy. The United States had acquired Louisiana from the French, Oregon from the British, Texas from the Mexicans, and Alaska from the Russians, and since the end of the American Civil War, had shown an interest in expanding the American Empire into Rupert’s Land. If Canada failed to assert its authority on this western frontier, the North-West Territory would almost certainly fall into the hands of the United States.

The Prime Minister knew that the only way to achieve this end would be to dispatch a force of mounted riflemen to the North-West Territory to quell the whisky trade. This force could not be strictly martial in nature, however; these riflemen would also have to contend with the powerful Blackfoot Confederacy on whose land they would encroach, and unlike the Americans, the fledgling Dominion of Canada could not afford to wage wars against hostile Indians. It was clear to John A. Macdonald and his Cabinet that the only way to combat the whisky trade, come to a peaceful arrangement with the Blackfoot Confederacy, and ultimately bring law and order to the Canadian west, thus paving the way for a transcontinental railroad, was by dispatching a force of mounted policemen to the western prairies. And thus the concept of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) was born.

For several years, John A. Macdonald, who was notorious for his procrastination, delayed the formation of the NWMP, afraid that the Dominion of Canada was still unable to afford it. Finally, after receiving word of the Cypress Hills massacre, which saw scores of Canadian Assiniboine slaughtered at the hands of American wolfers, Macdonald authorized the formation of the North West Mounted Police.

The Early Accomplishments of the NWMP

In 1874, the North West Mounted Police rode from Manitoba to the southwestern edge of the North-West territories. There, through tact, courage, and candour, they brought an end to the whisky trade and established a good relationship with the local Blackfoot.

If it weren’t for John A. Macdonald, the North West Mounted Police would likely never have formed, and what is now Alberta, Saskatchewan, and much of Manitoba would probably have fallen into the hands of the United States. One can only speculate as to the tremendous damage the whisky trade would have wrought upon the Blackfoot people had it not been suppressed by the NWMP, and on the atrocities that would have occurred had the blue-coated troopers of the American Cavalry dealt with the Peoples of the Canadian Plains instead of the red-coated Mounties.

Considering all this, does the Father of Canadian Confederation deserve a second chance in the eyes of Canadians? Or does he deserve to have his statues torn down? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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Legends of Cobourg’s Victoria Hall

Legends of Cobourg’s Victoria Hall

If you drive fifty minutes south from Peterborough, Ontario, you’ll come to the lively little town of Cobourg. Despite its relatively small size (or perhaps because of it), this Canadian town on the northern shores of Lake Ontario has an exceptionally vibrant community, the members of which seem to take enormous pride in its heritage. According to resident John Draper, “life in Cobourg is as near ideal as it can be. The town is small enough to be friendly and free of city problems yet large enough to have great entertainment and cultural activities as well as good stores.”

The crowning jewel of this quaint Ontario town is Victoria Hall, an impressive heritage building which dominates King Street, situated as it is two blocks north of Cobourg’s historic harbour. This 19th Century monument is home to a number of intriguing legends, including a rumour of an illicit Royal affair and two chilling ghost stories.

 

The Story of Victoria Hall

In order to set the stage for the legends of Victoria Hall, a little backstory is required.

The Rise of Cobourg, Ontario

The town of Cobourg, Ontario, in which our legends take place, was first founded in the wake of the American Revolution by United Empire Loyalists– American expatriates loyal to the British Crown. Due to its favourable location on Lake Ontario, Cobourg quickly grew into an important regional milling and manufacturing centre, its population bolstered by an influx of poor but hard-working Irish settlers.

By the mid-1800’s, many Cobourg residents believed that their town was destined to become one of Upper Canada’s most important cities. Their optimism was fuelled by the Grand Trunk Railway’s plan to build its mainline, which would connect Toronto with Montreal, through the town. In order to cement Cobourg’s fate as one of Upper Canada’s most prominent cities, the town’s citizens decided to build their own railway- the Cobourg and Peterborough Railroad- north to the town of Peterborough, transforming Cobourg into a regional transportation hub.

The Cobourg Peterborough Railroad

The Cobourg and Peterborough Railroad was completed on December 29, 1854, at significant cost to many of the townspeople. In an effort to compete with their neighbouring rival, the westerly town of Port Hope, the town council of Cobourg had insisted that the railway be built across Rice Lake- a long, three-mile-wide body of water that stood between Cobourg and Peterborough- rather than around it. To do otherwise would be to concede Port Hope’s geographic superiority, as a railway circumventing the lake would be much longer than a railroad from Port Hope to Peterborough, which would naturally skirt the lake’s western shores. As a result, the railwaymen had constructed a massive, three-mile-long wooden bridge across the lake- one of the most impressive engineering feats in North America at the time, and the largest contemporary trestle bridge in the world.

On New Years’ Day, 1855- three days after the railroad’s grand opening to the public- the bridge across Rice Lake shifted, its wooden supports unable to withstand the force of the expanding lake ice. The structure was quickly straightened, and for the next two years, underwent constant repairs as the train it supported routinely serviced the citizens of Cobourg.

The Construction of Victoria Hall

In 1856, when it seemed fairly certain that the railway was there to stay, Cobourg’s town council hired celebrated Toronto architect Kivas Tully (after he won a design competition they held) to design a grand civic building worthy of Cobourg’s status as Ontario’s next great metropolis.

By the early autumn of 1860, Tully’s creation was complete. On Cobourg’s King Street, not far from the waterfront, stood an enormous architectural masterpiece built of pale yellow brick and elaborately-carved sandstone. This 700,000-square-foot, three-story, E-shaped landmark was built in the Palladian fashion (“Palladian” being a style inspired by the designs of 16th century Venetian architect Andrea Palladio, who was, in turn, inspired by Classical Greek and Roman architecture), complete with Corinthian columns, a Greco-Roman roof, and an orator’s balcony, and capped with an impressive clock tower. The ornamental sandstone framing the entrance bore carvings of the Tudor rose, the Scottish thistle, and the Irish shamrock, reflecting Upper Canada’s British heritage.

The splendour of the building’s interior matched that of its elegant exterior. Its courtroom was modelled after London’s historic “Old Bailey”, the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales. Its meeting rooms and offices were similarly ornate. Its ballroom was exquisite, constructed in Baroque fashion. And its crowning glory, its 1000-seat Concert Hall, was hand painted in trompe-l’oeil style.

This magnificent building was named “Victoria Hall” in honour of Great Britain’s reigning monarch, Queen Victoria.

Victoria Hall’s Grand Opening

At the time of Victoria Hall’s completion, Queen Victoria’s 19-year-old son, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (Great Britain’s future King Edward VII), was undertaking the very first Royal tour of Canada- a tradition which endures to this day. To the townspeople’s delight, it was announced that Prince Edward would visit Cobourg during his tour and take part in the grand opening of the opulent town hall which had been named in honour of his mother.

On September 7, 1860, Prince Edward and his retinue arrived at Cobourg Harbour by steamer. Accompanied by an honour guard of Upper Canada’s Volunteer Militia Rifles, he travelled by carriage to Victoria Hall. After delivering a formal address, the Prince of Wales opened the grand ball, and by 11 o’clock that night, the teenage Prince was dancing with the gleeful ladies of Cobourg.

 

A Royal Affair

According to legend, one particularly attractive Cobourg lady named Mrs. Parks caught the eye of Prince Edward in Victoria Hall’s ballroom that evening. Whatever happened between the young aristocratic and Canadian lady that night is a matter of pure conjecture. Roughly nine months later, however, Mrs. Parks gave birth to her son, Archie, who is said to have grown up to bear a remarkable resemblance to King George V, the son and successor of King Edward VII. To make this tale even more intriguing, legend has it that Archie would come into the Cobourg bank once a month to deposit sizeable cheques from the British Treasury.

The Prince’s Departure

The day following Victoria Hall’s first grand ball, Prince Edward was invited to travel to Peterborough, the next destination on his tour, via the newly-constructed Cobourg and Peterborough Railway. The Prince accepted the invitation, and in no time the journey was underway.

At about halfway between Cobourg and Peterborough, the train reached Rice Lake and its infamous wooden bridge. At this point, Prince Edward and his retinue exited the train and announced that they were going to travel across the lake via steamboat instead of by rail (a steamer had regularly ferried passengers across the lake since the 1840’s, when a rough plank road connected Cobourg with Rice Lake). Although the Prince’s aides claimed that water travel would afford Prince Edward a better view of the lake’s scenery, the mortified townspeople suspected that the decision was prompted by a lack of confidence in the bridge’s structural integrity.

The Collapse of the Rice Lake Bridge

Whatever the case, history shows that any potential misgivings about the solidity of the bridge over Rice Lake might not have been entirely unfounded.

Shortly before Prince Edward’s visit, the men of the Cobourg Peterborough Railroad were approached by a mysterious businessman who advised that they allow him to lease their railway to the larger Grand Trunk Railroad. Believing this to be a profitable venture, the railwaymen agreed.

Unbeknownst to the men of the Cobourg Peterborough Railroad, this businessman was, in fact, an agent of their arch rival, a burgeoning railway company from Port Hope. Instead of leasing the railroad to the Grand Trunk, the businessman sold it to the Port Hope railwaymen, who subsequently had their employees sabotage it by removing its iron bolts and fittings for use in their own railroad. Shortly thereafter, the middle section of the bridge over Rice Lake collapsed. The structure was never rebuilt, and Cobourg has remained a small Ontario town with an uncharacteristically grandiose town hall ever since.

 

The Courtroom Ghost

Despite the tragedy surrounding its genesis, the citizens of Cobourg, Ontario, have put Victoria Hall to excellent use. Its celebrated Concert Hall has staged countless plays, shows, speeches, and musical productions over the years. It has seen many a local church fundraiser and political rally. During the Fenian raids of the 1860’s and ‘70’s, it served as an armoury for the first and second Companies of the 40th Northumberland Battalion, and during the first two World Wars, it housed the workshop of the Cobourg Branch of the Red Cross.

In addition to these aberrant functions, Victoria Hall, for many years, served as the town hall it was originally meant to be. It held the municipal and county administrative offices of Cobourg and Northumberland, respectively, as well as several law offices and Masonic lodge rooms. And for many years, its sunken courtroom served as the arena for countless legal disputes and witnessed the trials of Northumberland County’s criminally accused.

According to legend, sometime in the 1870’s, a defendant condemned to some unenviable fate leapt from the prisoner box in the courtroom of Victoria Hall and ran down the aisle to the front doors in a last-ditch escape attempt. To his dismay, he found that the doors were locked. He shook them desperately, with all his might, but could not get them to open.

Legend has it that, on quiet summer nights, those same doors rattle violently, shaken by the shade of that unfortunate prisoner who remains unable to escape the courtroom of Victoria Hall, even in death.

The Restoration of Victoria Hall

In 1970, a hundred and ten years after its grand opening, cracks were discovered in the walls of Victoria Hall. The structure, it seemed, had shifted, much like its 19th Century counterpart, the ill-fated bridge over Rice Lake. The following year, Victoria Hall- a National Historic Site since 1959- was vacated, having been declared structurally unsafe.

As the town was unable to afford repairs, a motion was made for the building’s demolition. The motion was denied by a single opposing vote cast by Cobourg’s Deputy Reeve, a lady named Lenah Field Fisher.

Instead of allowing the magnificent building to fall into decay, Lenah Fisher founded the Society for the Restoration of Victoria Hall. Throughout the 1970’s, she and other Society members carried out a fundraising campaign with the aim of restoring the historic building to its former glory.

The campaign was ultimately successful, and Victoria Hall was officially reopened in 1983. Unfortunately, Lenah Field Fisher was unable to enjoy the fruits of her labour; she passed away in 1980, posthumously donating her money and her estate to the cause.

Some say that the spirit of Lenah Fisher returned to witness Victoria Hall’s grand reopening. During one of the speeches in the opening ceremony, a ball globe light fixture exploded immediately after her name was said. If Lenah Fisher truly paid a visit to Victoria Hall in spirit that day, a number of first-hand accounts reported by performers and staff seem to suggest that she may have never left.

 

The Green Lady of Victoria Hall

Since the early 1980’s, both regulars and visitors have reported seeing the apparition of a woman wandering the corridors of Victoria Hall, only to vanish before their eyes. Most often, this mysterious spectre is seen wearing a green velvet dress, earning her the nickname the ‘Green Lady’.

Victoria Hall’s Concert Hall is said to be the Green Lady’s favourite haunt. One performer named Jamie Hunt once watched the hem of a woman’s dress disappear through a backstage wall at the exact spot at which the door to the caretaker’s quarters once stood. Hunt’s future wife, Beth, who now works as the Concert Hall facilitator, once observed the taps in the backstage washroom turning on and off by themselves during the middle of a performance. Production and tech crews have opened up the Concert Hall’s control booth to find the lighting and soundboard levels mysteriously tampered with, and performers have reported seeing a mysterious lady in green watching them during rehearsals.

Some suspect that this spectre might be the ghost of Lenah Fisher, returned from the grave to walk the halls of the historic building she fought so hard to preserve.

 

Sources

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Nahanni Valley Expedition- Summer 2019

Nahanni Valley Expedition- Summer 2019

“The Nahanni River drains a vast land of fascinating beauty and splendor. The lure of gold has enticed many men through the canyons to this alluring land. Many have perished in it valley and mountains, some in search of gold. It is possible that most have died violent and unexplained deaths. Conjecture has given rise to all sorts of weird theories as to the cause of these misfortunes.”

– Dick Turner, Nahanni, 1989

For many Canadians today, the word ‘Nahanni’ is a foreign one. In some outdoor adventurers, it might evoke the South Nahanni River, a wild mountain waterway located in the southwest corner of the Northwest Territories; a subarctic Mecca for white water enthusiasts chock-full of world-class rapids, made famous by Raymond M. Patterson’s 1954 adventure book Dangerous River. Others might know it as a breathtaking National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site through which the South Nahanni runs; a land of astounding geological and biological diversity, complete with dizzying canyons, enormous tufa mounds, and a waterfall nearly twice the height of the Niagara Falls. To a relative few, however, this remote country hugging the junction of the British Columbia, Yukon, and Northwest Territories’ borders is a land of myth and mystery, home to legends commemorated in the names of its landmarks, such as Deadmen Valley, Headless Creek, Broken Skull Hot Springs, and the Funeral Range.

If you read our book Legends of the Nahanni Valley, then you already know all about these stories for which Nahanni Country is notorious. You know the tale of Willie and Frank McLeod, the hapless Metis prospectors who lost their heads in the Deadmen Valley, and the legend of their lost gold mine, which has yet to be found. You know about the ghost stories, the Evil Spirit, and the hairy, man-eating giants said to inhabit the caves that pockmark the Nahanni’s canyons. You know the tale of the White Queen, and of the ferocious Nahanni Indians over whom she ruled. You know the story of the Naha tribe- the brutal cavemen who mysteriously vanished long ago, in the dim recesses of the Nahanni’s dark history. And you know the legends of the Nahanni’s prehistoric residents- tales of mammoths, mastodons, and other antediluvian monsters which, some say, still roam the region to this very day.

Secrets of the Nahanni

We’re thrilled to announce that, in the summer of 2019, a company of courageous Canucks intend to explore this vale of mystery and menace and discover for themselves the secrets of what newspapers and magazines have dubbed the “Headless Valley”. They plan to explore the South Nahanni River from its mouth on the Liard River to its mysterious headwaters, nestled deep in the Mackenzie Mountains. And they hope to learn the native lore surrounding the South Nahanni from Dene elders, whose ancestors both feared and revered this ancient river.

The crewmembers intend to document their experience in a film entitled Secrets of the Nahanni. This documentary will be directed by Marc McPherson, a native of Calgary, Alberta. Dax Justin, a Calgary-based explorer, will serve as the expedition’s photographer. The documentary’s soundtrack will be put together by David James Nielsen, a composer based in Orlando, Florida. Chief Gerald Antoine, former Grand Chief of the Dehcho (Slavey) First Nation, will facilitate interviews with Dene elders in the native settlements that skirt Nahanni Country. And canoe guides from the outdoor adventure company Nahanni Wild will lead the crew through the rapids-riddled canyons of the South Nahanni River.

How to Help

In order to accomplish this dangerous venture, the Secrets of the Nahanni crew will require financial backing. If you’d like to learn more about their hopeful expedition, check them out on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. And if you’d like to help them achieve their goal (and acquire some goodies in the process), consider purchasing some of their “perks” on their Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. These perks include:

  • $2 USD: Double Down Love
    • A personalized “thank you” on Facebook and Twitter
  • $15 USD: Digital Download of Film
    • “Thank you” on Facebook and Twitter
    • Digital download of film
  • $25 USD + Shipping: Expedition Patch and Film
    • “Thank you” on Facebook and Twitter
    • Digital download of film
    • An expedition patch, which you can attach to a hat, jacket, or backpack
  • $40 USD + Shipping: Expedition Patch, Photo, and Film
    • “Thank you” on Facebook and Twitter
    • Digital download of film
    • An expedition patch
    • A signed 4×6 production photo with a personal note from the crew
  • $50 USD + Shipping: Behind-The-Scenes Experience
    • “Thank you” on Facebook and Twitter
    • Digital download of film
    • An expedition patch
    • An 8×10 crew photo
    • Digital access to behind-the-scenes footage, including more in-depth stories, interviews, off-camera moments, and exclusive conversations with the filmmakers
  • $75 USD + Shipping: Nahanni Valley Explorer Pack
    • “Thank you” on Facebook and Twitter
    • Digital download of film
    • An expedition patch
    • An 8×10 crew photo
    • Digital access to behind-the-scenes footage
    • A signed map of the Nahanni Valley, with a personal note from the crew
  • $175 USD + Shipping: Film Fan Pack
    • “Thank you” on Facebook and Twitter
    • Digital download of film
    • An expedition patch
    • An 8×10 crew photo
    • Digital access to behind-the-scenes footage
    • A signed map of the Nahanni Valley
    • A signed DVD, poster, and 6 clips of Nahanni footage
  • $500 USD + Shipping: Photography / Filmmaking Session
    • “Thank you” on Facebook and Twitter
    • Digital download of film
    • An expedition patch
    • An 8×10 crew photo
    • Digital access to behind-the-scenes footage
    • A signed map of the Nahanni Valley
    • A signed DVD, poster, and 6 clips of Nahanni footage
    • An in-depth, 4 to 5-hour photography and filmmaking workshop with the crew, hosted in Banff, Alberta
  • $1,000 USD + Shipping: Associate Producer Pack
    • “Thank you” on Facebook and Twitter
    • Digital download of film
    • An expedition patch
    • An 8×10 crew photo
    • Digital access to behind-the-scenes footage
    • A signed map of the Nahanni Valley
    • A signed DVD, poster, and 6 clips of Nahanni footage
    • Photography/filmmaking session in Banff, Alberta
    • Credit as Associate Producer and a large canvas expedition photo
  • $2,500 USD + Shipping: Private Screening & Credit
    • “Thank you” on Facebook and Twitter
    • Digital download of film
    • An expedition patch
    • An 8×10 crew photo
    • Digital access to behind-the-scenes footage
    • A signed map of the Nahanni Valley
    • A signed DVD, poster, and 6 clips of Nahanni footage
    • Photography/filmmaking session in Banff, Alberta
    • Credit as Associate Producer and a large canvas expedition photo
    • Invitation to a private outdoor screening of the documentary with cast and crew in the Calgary/Banff area
  • $35,000 USD + Shipping: Deadman’s Valley Experience
    • “Thank you” on Facebook and Twitter
    • Digital download of film
    • An expedition patch
    • An 8×10 crew photo
    • Digital access to behind-the-scenes footage
    • A signed map of the Nahanni Valley
    • A signed DVD, poster, and 6 clips of Nahanni footage
    • Photography/filmmaking session in Banff, Alberta
    • Credit as Executive Producer and a large canvas expedition photo
    • Private screening in Calgary/Banff area
    • Customized expedition jacket, and invite to join the expedition in person

6 Incredible Canadian Tornadoes

6 Incredible Canadian Tornadoes

On August 3, 2018, a monster F-4 tornado- a raging, swirling vortex with 280 km/hour winds- ripped through the rural community of Alonsa, Manitoba, destroying private property and killing 77-year-old retired teacher Jack Furrie.

Tragic as it was, the Alonsa tornado is but the latest in a long line of Canadian twisters that have devastated the Prairies and Central Canada since time immemorial. Here is a list of some of Canada’s most memorable tornadoes.

 

1. Black Friday: The Edmonton Tornado of 1987

In the last week of July, 1987, an ugly thunderstorm brewed over Central Alberta. On Friday, July 31, this tempest devolved into an F-3 tornado (with 185-253 km/h winds) that swept north through the town of Beaumont, Alberta, destroying granaries and farm equipment, killing livestock, and injuring citizens in the process.

At around 3:00 in the afternoon, the tornado reached Edmonton, Alberta, the provincial capital, and tore through the city’s Millwoods residential area. The twister continued north, swelling into a tremendous F-4 (a tornado of 331-417 km/h winds) with a diameter of 1.3 kilometres. Eventually, it tore into the district of Sherwood Park, destroying oil tanks, levelling buildings, derailing trains, and killing twelve people in the heavy industrial area known as Refinery Row. Within an hour, the tornado travelled northeast through the valley of the North Saskatchewan River, causing severe damage in the residential neighbourhoods of Kernohan, Bannerman, and Fraser in northeast Edmonton. It continued northeast, eventually hitting the Evergreen trailer park on the outskirts of town, where it wiped out 200 mobile homes and killed fifteen people.

Ultimately, the tornado resulted in 27 deaths, 300 injured Edmontonians, and over $300 million in damage, making it one of the most devastating natural disasters in Canadian history.

 

 2. The Super-Twister of Elie, Manitoba, 2007

The most powerful tornado in Canadian history touched down near the town of Elie, Manitoba, on June 22, 2007. This slender, elegant super-twister was given a rating of F-5- the most powerful class of tornado, with winds ranging between 420 to 512 kilometres per hour, and the only one of its kind ever recorded in the Great White North.

After obliterating a flour mill, this super-twister made a loop around Elie, sweeping away four houses as it progressed. Fortunately, due to the sparsity of the population in that part of the prairies, the tornado did relatively little damage, and mercifully failed to injure or kill single Canuck.

 

3. The Tornado of Pipestone Manitoba, 2007

On June 23, 2007, a day after the Elie Super-Twister, Manitoba was rocked by another tornado that struck near the more westerly community of Pipestone. This F-3 wedge tornado (‘wedge tornadoes’ being especially squat twisters with widths equaling or exceeding their heights) destroyed trees, wheat fields, and two homes, causing $2 million in damage.

What makes this particular tornado especially remarkable is the width of its base. With a path of destruction that reached a width of 1.8 kilometres, this colossus is Canada’s largest recorded tornado by size.

 

4. The Barrie Tornado Outbreak of 1985

On May 31, 1985, Mother Nature reared her head and reminded the people of Central Ontario, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York State of her awesome power by bombarding them with 44 terrible tornadoes, fourteen of which touched down in Canada. It was the largest and most intense tornado outbreak to hit the Great Lakes region, and the second most prolific tornado outbreak in Canadian history (second to the 19-twister Southern Ontario Tornado Outbreak of 2009).

At 3:00 p.m., an F-1 tornado touched down near the village of Rush Cove, Ontario, on the Bruce Peninsula (which separates Georgian Bay from Lake Huron). During the next three and a half hours, eight different F-2 tornadoes ravaged much of Southern Ontario, touching down near the communities of Hopeness, Hopeville, Lisle, Wagner Lake, Ida, Rice Lake, and Minto. At 4:57, an F-1 touched down near the village of Essa, not far from Barrie, Ontario, and at around 4:15, two F-3 tornadoes hit the communities of Alma and Corbetton, Ontario, respectively.

Around the same time as the F-3s, an enormous F-4 twister formed near the community of Grand Valley, Ontario. The tornado caused major damage in town, ripping out enormous maple trees for which the town was known, before moving northeast for over an hour, passing the towns of Orangeville, Tottenham, Newmarket, and Bradford before finally dying out west of Mount Albert, Ontario. In total, this particular twister travelled a distance of 115 kilometres, making it the furthest-travelling tornado in Canadian history.

During its lifetime, the Grand Valley tornado took out many power lines and hydro transformers, causing the power to go out in all of Barrie, Ontario. As a result, many business owners allowed their employees to return home. In this way, many citizens inadvertently avoided the path of another monstrous F-4 tornado that tore into the city of Barrie at 5:00 p.m. This twister ripped through neighbourhoods and an industrial area known as Molson Park, obliterating houses and sucking citizens out of their cars. After travelling for ten kilometres, the Barrie tornado finally lifted.

In total, the fourteen tornadoes that swept through Southern Ontario that day left 12 people dead (eight in the city of Barrie), hundreds of people injured, 300 buildings destroyed, 800 people homeless, and incurred $100 million in damage. The United States was hit even worse, losing 78 people, a thousand businesses, and $600 million in damage to her own tornadoes (which included a colossal F-5).

 

5. The 1792 Tornado of Hurricane Road

The oldest recorded tornado in Canadian history hit Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula in 1792, levelling houses and uprooting trees. The calamity proved to be a blessing in disguise, as the twister carved a path through the woods that separated the communities of Fonthill and the easterly Port Robinson. Townspeople constructed a road through this storm-swept corridor, which they appropriately dubbed “Hurricane Road”- a thoroughfare which still exists today.

 

6. The Regina Cyclone

On June 30, 1912, Canada’s deadliest tornado struck the town of Regina, Saskatchewan. That day, at around 4:50 p.m., green funnel clouds formed south of the city, manifesting as a monstrous F-4 tornado. The twister travelled north and hit Regina at around 5:00. For six long minutes, the twister carved its way through town, obliterating brick buildings and wooden houses. As it passed the Legislative Buildings, it swept away exam papers from all over the province, forcing Saskatchewan teachers to grade their students based on their memories of their performances throughout the school year.

One family took refuge from the storm in their attic. The Regina Cyclone neatly tore the attic off the house and carried it, in one piece, a hundred and fifty feet into a neighbour’s yard. Miraculously, not one member of the family was hurt.

Eerily, one newlywed couple who lost their lives in the storm had just narrowly avoided boarding the Titanic on its disastrous maiden voyage on account of an unexpectedly long wedding party.

By the time the cyclone finally dissipated, it had injured hundreds, left thousands homeless, caused $5 million in damage, and killed 28 Regina residents, making it the deadliest tornado in Canadian history.

Interestingly, two Hollywood stars were visiting Regina at the time of the Cyclone. American actress Henrietta Crossman and her troupe witnessed the devastation and later staged a benefit performance, donating part of the show’s proceeds to victims of the tornado. Also in town at the time was future horror film star Borris Karloff, then a struggling stage actor. Following the Regina Cyclone, the young Englishman worked clearing debris for twenty cents an hour.

 

 

 

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Justin Bourque and the Moncton Shootout

Justin Bourque and the Moncton Shootout

“Awful news coming out of Fredericton. My heart goes out to everyone affected by this morning’s shooting. We’re following the situation closely.”

So tweeted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this morning in response to news of a shootout that took place in the courtyard of an apartment complex in Fredericton, New Brunswick- an incident which landed a wounded suspect in custody and left four people dead, two of them police officers.

While there is currently little information regarding the motives of the shooter and the circumstances surrounding the shooting, this tragic event evokes another New Brunswick gunfight that occurred in the more easterly city of Moncton four years ago.

The Firefight

On the evening of June 4, 2014, a 24-year-old man named Justin Bourque left the trailer he rented and calmly strolled down Moncton’s Pioneer Avenue. He was dressed in combat fatigues and wore a commando-style sweatband. He carried a .308 semi-automatic rifle in his hand and a 12-gauge shotgun on his back.

Trailer park residents notified the local RCMP of Bourque’s unusual activity, and one by one, twelve lightly-armed Mounties arrived on the scene. By the time the first of the officers showed up, Bourque had disappeared into a wooded area on the side of the road. One of the officers, 45-year-old Constable Fabrice Gevaudan, stood at the edge of the woods, scanning the area for any sign of activity. Suddenly, he spotted some movement in the brush. “Hey!” he shouted.

Bourque answered the Mountie by firing three shots at him in rapid succession. “He’s shooting at me! He’s shooting at me!” Gevaudan shouted into his radio. As he ran for cover, two more shots rang out, and Gevaudan collapsed, dead.

Several minutes later, Bourque emerged from the woods and began walking down Mailhot Avenue. Another Mountie, Constable David Ross, was notified of Bourque’s location and began approaching him from behind in his SUV. As he neared the camo-clad gunman, Ross drew his pistol and stepped on the accelerator, apparently attempting to either run down Bourque with his service vehicle or get within shooting range before the gunman had time to react. Ross fired two shots through his windshield at Bourque, missing him. In response, Bourque whirled around and fired six shots at Ross, killing the Mountie with a shot to the head.

Bourque continued down Mailhot Avenue, passing several fearful residents along the way. To a bystander named Millie Stewart, he said, “Don’t worry, I’m not here to kill civilians; just government officials.”

At the intersection of Mailhot Avenue and Hildegard Drive, Justin Bourque was approached by RCMP Constable Martine Benoit, who had been guided to his location by a civilian. Bourque shot at Benoit’s squad car and disabled it. Before the gunman could inflict further damage, Benoit’s fellow officer, Constable Eric Dubois, leapt to her defence. Dubois exchanged fire with Bourque, taking shots to his left arm and both legs. After this brief shootout, Bourque took a right on Hildegard Drive and continued down the street, allowing the wounded Mountie to flee to a nearby fire station. Benoit, unharmed, remained in her squad car, thinking that she was still in danger.

Shortly thereafter, RCMP Constable Darlene Goguen unwittingly approached Bourque’s location from the front. Goguen was using a different radio frequency than the officers involved in the shootout, and although her sister had called her to inform her that a cop-killing gunman was on the loose (at least, according to a rumour floating around social media), she did not know where the action was taking place. As she neared Bourque’s location, Goguen observed a civilian vehicle in front of her make an illegal U-turn and subsequently turned her own vehicle around, prepared to apprehend the driver. Suddenly, three gunshots rang out, shattering the front and rear windshields of Goguen’s squad car. The Mountie felt hot blood stream down the back of her head. “I’m shot! I’m shot! I’m shot!” she shrieked into her radio. “I’m shot in the head!” Goguen drove on and, with the help of fellow officer Constable Donnie Robertson, managed to escape with her life.

Justin Bourque proceeded to cut across a stretch of grass and arrived back on Mailhot Avenue. There, he was approached by RCMP Constable Douglas Larch, who was on foot and dressed in plainclothes. When Bourque spotted Larch, he initially believed him to be a civilian. When he noticed that he carried a shotgun, however, Bourque hid behind a tree and fired four shots at him. One of Bourque’s bullets hit Larch in the head, killing him instantly.

After assuring himself that Larch no longer posed a threat, Justin Bourque continued down the road and disappeared into a stretch of forest.

The Manhunt

For the next thirty hours, Justin Bourque hid out in the forest, living, in his words, “like a snake”. Photos of him taken by civilians during the shootout began to circulate around social media, and several of his friends and family members identified him to the police. In no time, a 300-man manhunt for Justin Bourque, complete with helicopters and armoured vehicles, was underway.

On the night of June 5, 2014, a Moncton resident spotted Justin Bourque in his backyard. The fugitive had snuck onto his property in order to get a drink from his garden hose. The resident informed the local RCMP, who promptly arrested Bourque without incident.

Motive and Sentencing

In a subsequent interrogation, Bourque unreservedly admitted to the shooting, claiming that he “fought for freedom.” He maintained that the Canadian government was corrupt, authoritarian, and imperialistic, and that a revolution was in order. He hoped that his shootout with the RCMP might spark such an uprising.

On August 8, Justin Bourque plead guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder. He was subsequently given two life sentences, to be served consecutively, without the possibility of parole for 75 years. His sentence is considered by many to be the harshest of its kind since the last Canadian death sentence in 1962.

Justin Bourque is currently serving time at the Atlantic Institution, a federal corrections facility located in the hamlet of Renous, New Brunswick.

 

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10 Conservative Canadian Political Pundits

10 Conservative Canadian Political Pundits

Ever since the campaign for the 2016 United States presidential election, American politics have completely dominated the public conversation in the West. Back in the 20th Century, this conversation would have been the almost-exclusive domain of the mainstream media. In this digital age, however, the bulk of this exchange naturally takes place on the internet.

For over a decade now, independent citizen journalists have analyzed current events and preached their political principles (many of which deviate wildly from those espoused by the mainstream media) on YouTube and various social media platforms. In doing so, many of them have gained enormous followings, some of which now dwarf the audiences of major mainstream media companies.

Interestingly, a surprising number of the most prominent independent journalists on the conservative side of the political spectrum, despite the fact the bulk of their commentary often revolves around American politics, are actually Canadian citizens. To this author, at least, the process by which so many Canadians came to play such an important role in American alternative media is a bit of a mystery. That the Great White North’s most talented right-leaning political commentators would turn their attention towards the affairs of our country’s southern neighbour is totally understandable, as Canada has no mainstream conservative counterpart to the left-leaning CBC, and American politics are arguably far more interesting than the shenanigans which characterize the House of Commons. What’s more difficult to understand is how these Canadian commentators rose to such ascendency in a field in which their patriotic, red-blooded American counterparts likely outnumber them ten to one. Perhaps, like ice hockey, lacrosse, and comedy, right-wing American alternative media is a scene in which Canucks, through some mysterious process, are somehow predisposed to excel. If you have any ideas on why this is so, please let us know in the Comments below. Whatever the case, here are ten prominent Canadian political pundits who’ve made quite the splash in the alternative media community.

 

1. Gavin McInnes

Without a doubt, the most outrageous political pundit on our list is Gavin McInnes, the scrappy, scruffy, self-styled “Godfather of Hipsterdom”.

Before he entered the world of citizen journalism in 2015, Gavin McInnes was a well-established media veteran with a wealth of experience under his belt, much of which he detailed in his 2012 memoir How to Piss in Public. Born in Hertfordshire, England, in 1970, he immigrated with his family to Ottawa, Ontario, when he was four years old. In 1994, he co-founded VICE magazine, a Montreal-based publication once famous for its provocative, politically-incorrect pieces. Throughout the 2000’s, he worked stand-up comedy gigs, wrote articles for various conservative magazines, and took on a number of acting roles for Canadian TV programs. And throughout the first half of the 2010’s, he was a regular on Greg Gutfield’s rowdy Fox News show Red Eye.

In April 2015, Gavin McInnes joined The Rebel Media, then a fledgling conservative Canadian alternative media company. He immediately became one of the show’s main stars, entertaining his audience with his unique brand of comedic journalism. In many of his videos, he took on alternate personas, like his belligerent, foul-mouthed, tartan-clad Scottish father ‘Jimmy McInnis’, or his left-leaning, Communistic, Palestinian-keffiyeh-wearing brother ‘Miles McInnis’. He regaled his audience with hilarious, honest vulgarity, constantly venturing into the wild frontier well beyond the boundaries of political correctness, yet always tempering his crudeness with bouts of serious political and social commentary. In his videos, he championed libertarian conservatism, and classified himself as “alt-light” (as opposed to “alt-right”, an ideology with which some of his critics have attempted to connect him), a new Trumpian right-wing political ideology which rejects white nationalism.

In 2016, Gavin McInnes founded the Proud Boys, a right-leaning, pro-Western fraternity. Gavin established four hierarchical degrees within the Proud Boys’ organization. Initiates hoping to attain the First Degree are required to declare “I am a Western chauvinist who refuses to apologize for creating the modern world.” In order to advance to the Second Degree, members must name five breakfast cereals while being ‘jumped in’ by fellow fraternity members. To attain the Third Degree, members must get ‘Proud Boy’ tattoos. And to elevate themselves to the Fourth and final Degree, each member must get into a physical fight with an Antifa militant (Antifa being a radical far-left organization characterized by an opposition to U.S. President Donald Trump and his supporters). One prominent member of the Proud Boys organization is Kyle Chapman, better known by his nicknames “Based Stickman” and the “Alt-Knight”- a right-wing street fighter famous for wielding a stick and shield during the 2017 anti-Trump protests at Berkeley, California.

In 2017, Gavin McInnes left The Rebel Media to join CRTV, a conservative American media company comprised of media celebrities like Mark Levin, Michelle Malkin, and Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson. Ever since, he has hosted his own show Get Off My Lawn, in which he entertains and informs his audience much as he did at The Rebel Media.

 

2. Faith Goldy

One of Gavin McGinnis’ co-stars at The Rebel Media was Faith Goldy, a journalist and Toronto native of Ukrainian and Greek extraction.

While working for The Rebel, Faith hosted her own show, On the Hunt with Faith Goldy. On her program, she frequently praised the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which protects the right of American citizens to keep and bear arms. She extolled Judeo-Christian values, supported Israel’s right to self-determination, and displayed a deep respect for history and tradition.

In addition to being a hardcore conservative, Faith is also a staunch, traditional Roman Catholic. In many of her videos, articles, and social media messages, she has used the motto “Deus vult” (Latin for “God wills it”), a battle cry adopted by Christian knights during the First Crusade.

In early 2017, Faith Goldy became the first journalist to report on the flood of illegal migrants across Canada’s southern border- a story of which certain major mainstream media companies were almost certainly aware, yet inexplicably failed to cover. She and her cameraman recorded historic footage of RCMP officers serving as de facto bellboys for self-proclaimed “refugees” from the United States, carrying their luggage for them across the border into Canada. Since her scoop, other Canadian media companies like CBC and the Toronto Star have picked up the story of Canada’s ongoing border crisis.

In August 2017, Faith Goldy, acting against the advice of her employer, attended the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in her capacity as a journalist. The rally was organized by alt-right leaders Jason Kessler and Richard Spencer, and was intended as a protest against the city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee. During the rally, Faith captured footage of an infamous vehicular attack which left one woman dead and ten people injured.

Following the Charlottesville rally, Faith Goldy appeared for an interview on the Daily Stormer, an alt-right podcast with white nationalist leanings. In the interview, she criticized the Charlottesville police for their poor conduct during the rally, commented upon the police’s apparent leniency towards the far-left Antifa militants who attended it, and acknowledged that the alt-right was a growing force in American politics. Her behavior was apparently too rebellious for The Rebel, as her employer fired her shortly after the incident.

Today, Faith continues her work as an independent journalist on her Twitter and YouTube accounts.

 

3. Stefan Molyneux

One alternative media channel on which both Gavin McInnes and Faith Goldy have appeared as guests is Freedomain Radio, a philosophy show which prides itself on being “the largest and most popular” of its kind in the world. Freedomain Radio is run by a bald-headed history buff, drama enthusiast, and tech company CEO-turned-philosopher named Stefan Molyneux.

Stefan Molyneux is an Irish-Canadian immigrant of French and Celtic pedigree who grew up in Ontario and Quebec. Although he considers himself a libertarian (i.e. a proponent of limited government involvement in the affairs of its citizens) as opposed to a conservative, he has hosted many guests over the past few years who identify as right-wing. An advocate of free speech and fair debate, he has given a platform to scientists, academics, and intellectuals who propose unsettling theses on subjects considered taboo in polite society. Some of these ideas include the notion that there are general correlations between race and intelligence, the concept that multiculturalism creates division by promoting tribalism, and the idea that the feminist movement resulted in a general decrease in women’s happiness.

In addition to hosting guests on his show, Stefan often performs eloquent analyses of current events, interpreting them through the filters of Aristotelian philosophy, anti-authoritarianism, and a staunch adherence to free market principles. He frequently takes calls from his listeners who appeal to him for advice regarding their careers and relationships. A believer that abusive parenting has a gravely deleterious impact on childhood development, he often attempts to psychoanalyze his callers in an effort to connect their current problems with their upbringing. And every once in a while, he creates lengthy, well-researched presentations which purport to explain “The Truth About” certain historic events of which popular perception is ostensibly skewed.

During the 2016 United States presidential election, Stefan Molyneux was a vocal supporter of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. He believed that the Syrian migrant crisis was in the process of destroying Europe, and feared that the United States- and, by extension, the rest of the Western World- would meet a similar fate if Third World immigration to America (an issue which Trump addressed during his campaign) was not curtailed.

 

4. Roaming Millennial

One of Stefan Molyneux’s many guests is a young lady who goes by the alias “Roaming Millennial”.

Born in Canada in the 1990’s to a white Canadian mother and a Chinese-Canadian father, Roaming moved to Hong Kong during infancy and lived there for the next ten years. Throughout the 2000’s, she and her family moved all over the world, living briefly in Shanghai, London, and Singapore, before finally settling down on Canada’s West Coast.

After attaining a degree in political science at an American university, Roaming began creating YouTube videos in which she criticized transgenderism, third-wave feminism, Black Lives Matter, and social justice culture in general. She quickly gained a considerable following, and began interviewing prominent conservative, libertarian, and classical liberal pundits like Dennis Prager, Christina Hoff Summers, Dave Rubin, and Milo Yiannopoulos.

In December 2017, Roaming Millennial signed on with CRTV, joining the ranks of Gavin McInnes and Michelle Malkin. Today, she hosts the CRTV show Roaming Millennial: Uncensored.

 

5. Karen Straughan

Another prominent female Canadian commentator allied with pundits on the right side of the political spectrum is Karen Straughan, an anti-feminist and men’s rights activist from Edmonton, Alberta.

Karen first discovered the world of men’s rights activism while in the middle of a divorce. She realized, to her horror, how easy it would be for her to financially ruin her ex-husband, as divorce laws hugely favour women over men, and decided to do some research to see if there were others like her who similarly took issue with the lopsidedness of divorce courts. She subsequently stumbled upon several men’s rights activism communities online and began to participate in them. Eventually, she began to create YouTube videos of her own, in which she attempted to “red pill” her audience, shedding light on issues affecting men and boys and combatting aspects of the feminist ideology which she deemed destructive. She quickly developed a considerable following, and acquired the nickname “The Honey Badger”.

Along with most of the pundits on this list, Karen supported then-candidate Donald Trump in the 2016 American presidential race.

 

6. Gad Saad

Another ally of conservative pundits is Dr. Gad Saad, a Jewish Lebanese-Canadian who currently resides in Montreal, Quebec.

In 1975, when he was eleven years old, Gad and his family fled to Canada in order to escape antisemitism and the Lebanese Civil War. Gad subsequently obtained several degrees in science and mathematics from McGill University, as well as a Ph.D in cognitive psychology from Cornell University. He went on to become professor at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, where he taught courses on marketing psychology. He has since explored the effects of hormones on consumer decision-making, and has written several books on the subject.

Gad Saad’s involvement in the world of alternative media takes place on his YouTube channel, on which he hosts a series entitled The Saad Truth. In this series, he has criticized political correctness, multiculturalism, third-wave feminism, Islam, and social justice culture. Some guests who have appeared on his show include prominent conservative, libertarian, and classical liberal pundits like former Rebel Media contributor Tommy Robinson, neuroscientist Sam Harris, and activist Candace Owens.

 

7. Ezra Levant

No list of conservative Canadian alternative media personalities would be complete without a nod to Ezra Levant, co-founder of The Rebel Media.

Ezra Levant is a broadcaster, political activist, practicing Jew, and non-practicing lawyer who currently resides in Toronto, Ontario. A native of Calgary, Alberta, Ezra has involved himself in right-wing Canadian politics since his days as an undergraduate student at the University of Calgary, during which he campaigned for the Reform Party of Canada (a former conservative Western Canadian federal political party) and debated alongside Naheed Nenshi, Calgary’s current mayor. Several years after attaining his law degree at Edmonton’s University of Alberta, he founded the Western Standard, a right-leaning magazine specializing in Western Canadian issues.

In 2010, Ezra Levant joined Toronto’s Sun News Network as a columnist. When the Network was shut down in 2015, Ezra and his Sun News colleague Brian Lilley founded The Rebel Media, Canada’s first major conservative alternative media company. For two years, Rebel Media commentators and journalists produced videos and articles on politics, culture, and current events. Although Ezra allowed his employees a considerable degree of freedom in the content they created, most Rebel Media videos and articles were pro-Trump, pro-Israel, pro-gun, and pro-life, and were vigorously opposed to social justice culture, radical Islam, and the narrative put forth by left-leaning mainstream media outlets like CBC and CNN.

During the campaign for the 2016 U.S. presidential election, The Rebel Media exploded in popularity, gaining upwards of 600,000 subscribers on its YouTube channel. By August 2017, this number had climbed to 873, 800.

The company experienced a succession of major setbacks later that month, when several of its most prominent journalists, including Faith Goldy, Gavin McInnes, Lauren Southern (who we will detail later on in this article), and co-founder Brian Lilley either left or were fired. To make matters worse, former Rebel Media employee Caolin Robertson published a video in which he claimed that the company (and Ezra in particular) was more concerned with making money than it was with covering the truth. In spite of all of this, The Rebel Media experienced only a minor dip in subscriptions, and has been growing steadily ever since. Today, the company’s YouTube channel, which Ezra Levant continues to spearhead, has more than 970,000 subscribers.

 

8. Steven Crowder

One of the most famous conservative Canadian political pundits on our list is Steven Crowder, host of the enormously popular YouTube show Louder with Crowder.

Born in Michigan and raised in Greenfield Park, Quebec, Steven Crowder often refers to himself as a “Roman Catholic French Canadian”. In his early years, he worked as a voice actor and a film actor. By the age of 15, he was performing stand-up comedy, and by the age of 21, he began appearing as a regular guest on Fox News. In October 2013, Fox fired Steven for criticizing the performance of Fox News host Shawn Hannity in interviews with filmmaker Michael Moore and disgraced Democratic politician Anthony Weiner.

Ever since his release from Fox News, Steven Crowder has hosted his own YouTube comedy show Louder with Crowder, in which he and his co-host “Not Gay Jared” discuss culture, politics, and current events; present comedic skits on contemporary topics; and interview a variety of guests from different cultural and political backgrounds. Several months ago, Steven Crowder visited various American college campuses and invited students with opposing viewpoints to change his mind on issues like abortion, gun control, socialism, and transgenderism.

Although he has hosted guests from all sides of the political spectrum, Steven Crowder himself espouses an old-fashioned variety of conservatism. Similar to other traditional conservative pundits like Ben Shapiro and Glenn Beck, and unlike most of the Canadian commentators on this list, he did not support presidential candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 American election, and has remained critical of President Trump throughout the first two years of his presidency.

In 2017, Steven Crowder, like Gavin McInnes and Roaming Millennial, joined CRTV.

 

9. Jordan Peterson

Another Canadian public figure popular with the right-wing crowd is Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, a clinical psychologist and professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto.

Born in Edmonton, Alberta, Jordan Peterson grew up in the town of Fairview, in the heart of Alberta’s Peace River country. As a teenager, he was introduced to the works of anarchist George Orwell, anti-Communist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and libertarian Ayn Rand by his school librarian, the mother of Alberta’s current Premier Rachel Notley. These readings steered him towards the democratic socialistic side of the political spectrum, and for a time, Jordan Peterson worked for the New Democratic Party (NDP), Alberta’s social democratic political party. By the age of 18, he had become disenchanted with the culture of the NDP and decided to leave the party.

Jordan Peterson acquired degrees in political science and psychology from the University of Alberta, and earned himself a Ph.D in clinical psychology at McGill University. Following a research job in Massachusetts, he became a professor at the University of Toronto and has taught there ever since. In his psychology lectures, he often attempts to extract universal human truths from folktales and sacred scripture.

In 2017, Jordan Peterson publicly criticized Canada’s Bill C-16, a law introduced by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government which, among other things, requires professors to address transsexual students by their preferred gender pronouns. His critique, which stemmed from his belief in the importance of free speech, attracted the attention of the mainstream media in both Canada and the United States, and almost overnight, Jordan Peterson became a mainstream media sensation. Ever since, he has publicly criticized feminism, socialism, environmentalism, academic culture, the concept of white privilege, the notion of cultural appropriation, and other ideas and ideologies typically championed by the progressive left.

 

10. Lauren Southern

Last, but certainly not least on our list of conservative Canadian political pundits is Lauren Southern, a native of Surrey, British Columbia.

In 2015, 20-year-old Lauren Southern joined The Rebel Media and quickly became one of its most prominent journalists. While working for The Rebel, she was assaulted at Vancouver’s 2015 feminist SlutWalk rally, had urine poured over her head by an activist at a 2016 LGBT rally in Vancouver, legally changed her gender to ‘male’ in an effort to reveal the inanity of Ontario’s gender identity laws, covered the violent 2017 Berkeley protests, and reported on the migrant crisis in Europe. Throughout the course of her journalistic work for The Rebel, Lauren displayed extraordinary physical and moral courage, braving violence and reputational danger in an effort to bring to light stories she deemed important.

In December 2016, Lauren Southern published her first book Barbarians: How Baby Boomers, Immigrants, and Islam Screwed my Generation. In this book, she outlines her background, her libertarian conservative political philosophy, and her ideas regarding the origins of various problems facing the Western World today.

In August 2016, Lauren Southern left The Rebel Media to pursue work as an independent journalist. Ever since, she has uploaded her work to her YouTube channel.

In May, 2017, Lauren and a group of French nationalists called Les Identitaires attempted to prevent a ship from bringing North African migrants into Italy, stating “if the politicians don’t stop the boats, we’ll stop the boats.”

In March 2018, Lauren Southern, along with American nationalist pundit Brittany Pettibone and the latter’s boyfriend, were detained at the U.K. border on account of their having distributed fliers saying “Allah is a Gay God” in Luton, England, the month prior (this social experiment was inspired by a VICE article claiming that Jesus Christ was gay). The British border guards treated them as terrorists, denying them their right to an attorney during their interrogations.

Last month, Lauren independently produced a documentary entitled Farmlands, which she uploaded in its entirety to her YouTube channel. Farmlands focuses on the plight of white Afrikaner farmers in South Africa, whom raiders routinely rob and murder with impunity, and who are discriminated against by the South African government on account of their ethnicity.

 

Did We Miss Anyone?

And that is the end of our list of 10 conservative Canadian political pundits. If you know of other right-wing, libertarian, or classical liberal Canadian commentators who deserve a place on this list, please let us know in the Comments below.

 

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The Tale of Sasquatch Mountain

The Tale of Sasquatch Mountain

Two weeks ago, we explored the story behind the origin of the word ‘Sasquatch’. Today, we’re going to take a look at the incredible tale behind the naming of the Sasquatch Mountain Resort- a ski hill nestled in the Douglas Mountains north of Chilliwack, British Columbia.

The Sasquatch Mountain Resort

For decades, the ski hill on the slopes of Mount Keenan, situated an hour’s drive from both Chilliwack and Mission, B.C., was known as the Hemlock Resort, ostensibly owing its name to a particular evergreen tree common to the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest. Last year, the Resort announced an ambitious expansion plan which it inaugurated with a rebranding campaign. In addition to adopting a new logo, Hemlock changed its name to the Sasquatch Mountain Resort.

In a press release, the Resort claimed that its new name was an homage to the Chehalis First Nation, on whose traditional territory the ski hill is located:

“The Sasquatch, which is an anglicized pronunciation of [Sasq’ets], is the primary caretaker of the land and an integral aspect of [Chehalis] identity and spiritual beliefs. Historical experiences with [Sasq’ets] have been orally documented and passed down from generation to generation. The Sasquatch ensures that the land remains plentiful and well taken care of.”

Although the Sasquatch Mountain Resort has not indicated an awareness of this in its press releases or on its website, its new name is doubly appropriate for a far more specific reason. Not only is the Sasquatch Mountain Resort located within the traditional territory of the Chehalis First Nation, a tribe closely associated with the legend of the Sasquatch; it is also located on the slopes of Mount Keenan, a landmark formerly known as Mount Morris, home to the most chilling Sasquatch story ever recorded.

The Legend of Mount Morris

Throughout the first half of the 20th Century, magazine and newspaper articles documented a strange legend espoused by members of the Chehalis First Nation. Chehalis elders whispered that, once every four years, the Sasquatch- the hairy wild giants of the coastal rainforests- congregated at the peak of Mount Morris, a mountain located just north of the Chehalis Reserve. Natives often encountered travelling Sasquatch in the woods immediately prior to this quadrennial pilgrimage, and some even observed signal fires flickering atop Mount Morris in the dead of the night- perhaps evidence of some mysterious powwow.

Throughout the 1930’s, a Scottish immigrant named J.W. Burns, who served as both the school teacher and the Indian Agent at the Chehalis Reserve, wrote a number of articles on the Sasquatch legend, some of them set on or near Mount Morris. In the first of these articles, published in the April 1, 1929 issue of Maclean’s magazine, he documented a story told to him by an elderly Chehalis hunter named Charley Victor. Victor claimed that he had encountered a Sasquatch woman in his youth, and that the creature had spoken to him in St’at’imcets, the language of the Douglas First Nation (a more northerly Lillooet tribe).

Burns published another tale of talking Sasquatch- the second of its kind ever recorded- in the January 1940 issue of The Wide World: A Magazine For Men. This story was told to him by an 87-year-old Chehalis woman named Serephine Long, who had lived in the area all her life. Her harrowing tale remains one of the most disturbing Sasquatch stories ever told.

The Tale of Serephine Long

In 1872, 17-year-old Serephine Long stumbled from the woods into the Chehalis village near the foot of Mount Morris. The villagers were astonished, as Serephine had been missing for nearly a year and had long been given up for dead. The girl was in a state of supreme exhaustion and was too weak to talk, and so her inquisitive countrymen withheld their many questions and put her to bed. Later that night, Serephine gave birth to a monstrous-looking child which only survived for a few hours.

When she was able, Serephine Long related her incredible experience to her family and friends. Nearly seventy years later, she told the same story to J.W. Burns at the Chehalis Reserve.

On the day of her disappearance back in 1871, Serephine Long had been foraging for cedar roots at the base of Mount Morris, daydreaming about the brave she was engaged to marry. On her way back to camp, a hairy hand shot out of the bush and clamped over her mouth. Serephine was hoisted into the air and thrown over the shoulder of a hairy giant.

“I was terrified,” the lady told Burns, “fought, and struggled with all my might. In those days, I was strong. But it was no good, the wildman was as powerful as a young bear. Holding me easily under one arm, with his other hand he smeared tree gum over my eyes, sticking them shut so that I could not see where he was taking me. He then lifted me to his shoulder and started to run.”

The Sasquatch took Serephine all the way up what could only be Mount Morris. “Although I was frightened,” Serephine told Burns, “I could not but admire his easy breathing, his great strength and speed on foot.”

The Sasquatch brought Serephine into a large cave near the top of the mountain and removed the tree gum from her eyes. “I sat up,” Serephine said, “and saw that I was in a great big cave. The floor was covered with animal skins, soft to touch and better preserved than we preserve them. A small fire in the middle of the floor gave all the light there was. As my eyes became accustomed to the gloom, I saw that beside the young giant who had brought me to the cave, there were two other wild people- a man and a woman. To me, a young girl, they seemed very, very old, but they were active and friendly and later I learned that they were the parents of the young Sasquatch who had stolen me.”

For nearly a year, the Sasquatches kept Serephine Long as their prisoner, never allowing her an opportunity to escape. The Sasquatches spoke to each other in a language similar to St’at’imcets, the tongue of the Douglas Indians, and in time Serephine learned enough of their speech to communicate with them.

“They fed me well on roots, fish, and meat…” she told Burn. “I asked the young giant how he caught and killed the deer, mountain goats and sheep that he often brought into the cave. He smiled, opening and closing his big hairy hands. I guessed that he just laid in wait and when an animal got close enough, he leaped, caught it and choked it to death. He was certainly big enough, quick enough and strong enough to do so.”

About a year into her imprisonment, Serephine Long became very ill. She begged her young Sasquatch captor to return her to her own people so that she could recover. “At first he got very angry,” she said, “as did his father and mother, but I kept on pleading with them, telling them that I wished to see my own people before I died. I really was ill, and I suppose they could see that for themselves, because one day after I cried for a long time, the young Sasquatch went outside and returned with a leaf full of tree gum. With this he stuck down my eyelids as he had done before. Then he again lifted me to his big shoulder.”

The return journey was a hazy nightmare for Serephine Long, who was too weak to even cling to the Sasquatch as he carried her down the mountain. At last, he laid her down in the forest not too far from her home and gently removed the sap from her eyelids. “When he saw that I could see again,” Serephine said, “he shook his head sadly, pointed to my house and then turned back into the forest.”

The villagers were wildly excited at Serephine’s return. Too weak to reciprocate their enthusiasm, she crawled into bed. That night, she gave birth to a child, which only survived for a few hours.

“I hope that I never again shall see a Sasquatch,” she concluded.

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How the Sasquatch Got Its Name

How the Sasquatch Got Its Name

In British Columbia and the Northwestern United States, the Sasquatch hardly needs an introduction. This elusive, wild, hairy giant, once an obscure character of First Nations’ lore, now serves as an icon of the Pacific Northwest. Eight years ago, it inspired Quatchi, a monstrous mascot for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, BC. For twelve years, it has featured in Messin’ With Sasquatch– a series of hilarious Jack Link’s beef jerky commercials in which it is portrayed as the vengeful enemy of outdoorsy pranksters. And for sixteen years, it has shared its name with a famous Memorial Day music festival in George, Washington.

Another institution to which the Sasquatch lent its name is the Sasquatch Mountain Resort, a ski hill tucked away in the Douglas Mountains an hours’ drive north of Chilliwack, BC. The resort is aptly named, as most of its runs wind down the northeastern slope of Mount Keenan- a formation once known as Mount Morris, and the birthplace of the word “Sasquatch”.

The Origin of the Word “Sasquatch”

On the road from Chilliwack to the Sasquatch Mountain Resort, in the vicinity of the bridge over the Harrison River, lies the Chehalis Indian Reserve, home of the Chehalis First Nation.

The Chehalis people (not to be confused with their cousins from Puget Sound, with whom they share a name) are a Coast Salish people whose traditional territory revolves around the mouth of the Harrison River, a tributary of the Fraser.

Back in 1925, an Irish expat named John Walter Burns (born J.W. Bournes) became both the Indian agent and the schoolteacher at the Chehalis Reserve. Burns quickly earned the respect of the local natives and became fast friends with Frank Dan, a prominent Chehalis medicine man.

In those days, the Chehalis people were typically reluctant to share their stories with white men for fear of ridicule. Since J.W. Burns had demonstrated an open-mindedness towards their myths and legends, however, they eventually opened up to him and made him privy to some of their most carefully guarded secrets. Among the most intriguing of these were tales of wild hairy giants who, the Chehalis maintained, had inhabited the forests surrounding the Reserve since time immemorial. In 1929, Burns compiled some of these stories and published them in an article in the April 1, 1929 issue of the Canadian magazine Maclean’s, under the headline “Introducing B.C.’s Hairy Giants: A collection of strange tales about British Columbia’s wild men as told by those who say they have seen them.”

J.W. Burns’ Article

The tales of hairy wildmen recounted in J.W. Burns’ 1929 article in Maclean’s magazine are some of the most colourful of their kind to date.

The Wildman of Mount Morris

The first of these anecdotes details the experience of a Chehalis Indian man named Peter Williams in May 1909. While walking in the woods along the foot of Mount Morris about a mile from the Reserve, Williams heard a grunt in the bush. When he looked to see where the sound had come from, he found himself staring at what he first took to be a bear crouched atop a boulder about thirty feet away. As he raised his rifle to shoot the animal, it stood up and emitted a piercing scream. “It was a man,” said Williams. “A giant, no less than six and one-half feet in height, and covered in hair.” Enraged, the giant leapt from the boulder and tore after the Indian.

“I never ran so fast before or since,” said Williams, “through brush and undergrown toward the… Chehalis River [a tributary of the Harrison], where my dugout was moored.” Every so often, Williams glanced over his shoulder to check on his pursuer, who was quickly overtaking him. Williams narrowly escaped the monster by leaping into his boat and paddling downriver as fast as he could. “The swift river…” he said “did not in the least daunt the giant, for he began to wade it immediately.”

When he finally reached the safety of his cabin, Williams made sure that his wife and children were safe inside before bolting the door and barricading the entrance. “Then with my rifle ready,” Williams said, “I stood near the door and awaited his coming.”

After about twenty minutes, Williams heard a noise in the distance somewhat akin to the trampling of a horse. The noise became louder and louder. Williams eventually looked through a crack between the logs of the cabin wall and saw that the giant was approaching. “Darkness had not yet set in,” he said, “and I had a good look at him. Except that he was covered with hair and twice the bulk of the average man, there was nothing to distinguish him from the rest of us.”

When the monster reached the cabin, he began pushing the walls so that the structure rocked back and forth. The cabin creaked and groaned, yet by some miracle it managed to maintain its integrity. Clutching his rifle with trembling hands, Williams whispered for his wife to take the children and hide under the bed.

“After prowling and grunting like an animal around the house,” Williams continued, “he went away.” The family spent a restless night in the cabin, and in the morning Williams found the beast’s tracks in the mud outside, which were 22 inches long, “but narrow in proportion to their length.”

Peter Williams’ Second Encounter

The giant so damaged their cabin that the Williams’ family was forced to abandon it the following winter. Sometime later that season, Peter Williams went duck hunting on the north side of the Harrison River about two miles from the Reserve. Once again, he found himself face to face with the same hairy giant he had encountered the previous summer. As before, Williams ran for dear life, and the wildman chased after him. After about four hundred yards, however, the giant broke off and wandered back into the woods.

Interestingly, Peter’s brother, Paul, encountered the same creature later that afternoon. While he was fishing for salmon in a creek near the Reserve, the giant emerged from the forest and began to approach him. Terrified, Paul raced back towards his cabin with the monster hot on his heels. The giant gave up the chase shortly before Paul reached the cabin and walked back into the bush. Exhausted from fear and exertion, Paul collapsed in the snow and had to be carried inside by his mother and other relatives.

The Wild Couple of Harrison River

“The first and second time,” Williams told J.W. Burns, “I was all alone when I met this strange mountain creature. Then, early in the spring of the following year, another man and myself were bear hunting near the place where I found him. On this occasion, we ran into two of these giants.”

Initially, Williams and his companions thought the creatures were tree stumps. Suddenly, when they were about fifty feet away, the wildmen, who had been sitting on the ground, rose to their feet. Burns and his companion stopped dead in their tracks.

“We were close enough to know they were man and woman,” Williams said. “The woman was the smaller of the two, but neither of them as big or fierce-looking as the gent that chased me.” Williams and his friend ran home, and were not pursued.

Peter Williams’ Fourth and Final Sighting

One morning several weeks later, Williams and his wife were fishing in a canoe on the Harrison River not far from the Reserve. Upon paddling around a bend, they saw the same hairy giant that had destroyed their cabin the previous year. Fortunately, the monster took no notice of the Indians, and they made their escape without incident.

The Sasquatch Cave at Yale B.C.

Another wildman encounter Burns included in the article was the story of an elderly Indian named Charley Victor. Unlike Williams, Charley Victor was not a member of the Chehalis First Nation, but rather hailed from the Skwah Nation, a Coast Salish tribe from the Chilliwack area.

“The first time I came to know about these people,” Victor said, “I did not see anybody.” On this particular occasion, Victor was foraging with three other men on a rocky mountain slope about six miles from Yale- a town which lies on the CPR’s main line just north of Hope, BC. He and his companions were picking salmonberries- wild fruits similar to raspberries.

“In our search for berries,” Victor said, “we suddenly stumbled upon a large opening in the side of the mountain. This discovery greatly surprised all of us, for we knew every foot of the mountain, and we never knew nor heard there was a cave in the vicinity.”

Near the cave’s mouth was a massive boulder, which looked as though it once might have been employed as primitive door. The natives cautiously approached the cave and peered inside, but were unable to see anything on account of the darkness. In order to combat this, they gathered pitchwood (a type of pine heartwood naturally saturated with flammable resin), lit it on fire, and began to explore.

Not far from the mouth of the cave, the natives came upon a primitive stone house. “We couldn’t make a thorough examination,” Victor explained, “for our pitchwood kept going out. We left, intending to return in a couple of days and go on exploring.”

When Victor and his companions told the tale of their discovery to their fellow tribesmen back at the Reserve, the elders warned them not to venture near it again, as it was surely occupied by a wildman. “That was the first time I heard about the hairy men that inhabit the mountains,” Victor told Burns.

Disregarding the elders’ advice, Victor and his companions went back to explore the cave. When they reached it, they discovered, to their astonishment, that the massive boulder that stood near the entrance had been rolled back over the mouth, fitting so perfectly “that you might suppose it had been made for that purpose.”

 

Charley Victor’s First Encounter

About twenty years later, Charley Victor and a couple of his friends were bathing in a small lake near Yale, B.C. After he has finished bathing and had started to put on his clothes, a big hairy man stepped out from behind a rock only several feet away. “He looked at me for a moment,” Victor said. “His eyes were so kind-looking that I was about to speak with him, when he turned about and walked into the forest.”

The Wild Women of Hatzic, B.C.

In around 1914, Charley Victor had a second encounter with a hairy wild giant while hunting in the mountains near the village of Hatzic, just east of Mission, B.C.

On this excursion, Victor was accompanied by his dog. Upon hiking up to a plateau, his dog rushed over to a large cedar tree and began to growl and bark at it. Victor noticed that there was a large hole in the tree about seven feet from the ground, and that his dog apparently wanted to enter it. Victor lifted his dog up and watched it scurry into the hole.

Suddenly, a muffled cry issued from within the tree. Victor raised his rifle, thinking that his dog had encountered a bear. Sure enough, something large crawled out of the hole and fell to the ground. Instinctively, Victor took a shot at it- an action which he immediately regretted, for there at his feet sprawled a bleeding, naked, black-haired Caucasian boy of about twelve of fourteen years of age.

Horrified, Victor dropped his rifle and approached the boy to examine the extent of his injury. He saw that he had shot the boy in the leg, but before he had a chance to dress the wound, the boy cried out as if appealing for help from the forest.

“From across the mountain a long way off,” Victor said “rolled a booming voice.” Shortly thereafter, Victor heard the voice again, this time a little closer. The boy screamed again, as if in reply.

Although he was scared out of his wits, Victor’s conscience would not allow him to abandon the boy he had wounded. He waited on the plateau, his dog whimpering fearfully at his feet, while the boy guided his mysterious sylvan savoir to his location. “Less than a half-hour,” said Victor, “out of the depth of the forest came the strangest and wildest creature one could possibly see…”

“The hairy creature,” he continued, “for that was what it was, walked toward me without the slightest fear. The wild person was a woman. Her face was almost Negro black and her long straight hair fell to her waist. In height she would be about six feet, but her chest and shoulders were well above the average in breadth.”

Victor told Graves that, although he had already met several wildmen by this time, he had never seen anyone quite so savage in appearance as this woman. “I’m sure that if that wild woman laid hands on me,” Victor said, “she’d break every bone in my body.”

The creature glanced at the boy before rounding on Victor, her face contorted with rage. Then, something truly remarkable happened. Using St’at’imcets, the tongue of the Douglas First Nation (a branch of the Lillooet tribe whose members lived at the northern end of Harrison Lake), the wild woman snarled, “You have shot my friend!”

 

Victor, who knew the Douglas language, replied that he had mistaken the boy for a bear, and that he was sorry. Ignoring him, the wild woman proceeded to dance around the boy, chanting the word “yahoo” in a loud voice. Every time she vociferated, a similar reply came from the mountain.

Soon, the wild woman was joined by another creature like her, who carried a six-foot-long cord which Victor suspected was either a snake or the intestine of some animal. “But whatever it was,” he said, “she constantly struck the ground with it.”

At the end of this strange ceremony, the second wild woman effortlessly picked up the boy with one hairy hand. That accomplished, she turned towards Charley Victor, pointed the cord at him, and said, “Siwash, you’ll never kill another bear.” With that, the wild women and the boy disappeared into the woods.”

With tears in his eyes, Charley Victor admitted to J.W. Burns that, indeed, had had not shot a bear nor any other animal since that fateful day.

The Wild Man of Agassiz, B.C.

Another wildman story which J.W. Burns included in his article derives from a letter which Burns received from a young native man from Vancouver named William (or perhaps Herbert) Point.

According to the letter, Point and a native girl named Adaline August decided to pick wild hops one day in late September 1927, in the wilderness near Agassiz, B.C. When they were finished, they returned to August’s father’s orchard by way of the railroad track. Along the way, August noticed something walking along the tracks in their direction.

“I looked up,” wrote Point, “but paid no attention to it, as I thought it was some person on his way to Agassiz. But as he came closer we noticed that his appearance was very odd, and on coming still closer we stood still and were astonished, seeing that the creature was naked and covered with hair like an animal.” Nearly scared stiff, Point picked up two stones with which he intended to hit the creature if it decided to attack him or August.

“He was twice as big as the average man,” Point wrote of the creature, “with hands so long that they almost touched the ground. It seemed to me that his eyes were very large and the lower part of his nose was wide and spread over the greater part of his face…”

Terrified at the creature’s appearance, the teenagers ran all the way to Agassiz. There, they told the story of their encounter to a group of natives who were enjoying themselves after a day of berry-picking. The elders there informed them that the creature belonged to a race of hairy giants who had always lived in the mountains, making their homes in tunnels and caves.

Etymology of the Word “Sasquatch”

There are two factors which make J.W. Burns’ 1929 article in Maclean’s magazine especially remarkable. The first is that, in Charley Victor’s tale of the wild woman of Hatzic, the wild woman around whom the story revolves demonstrated the ability to speak, incidentally in the dialect of the Douglas First Nation. To the best of this author’s knowledge, this is the first of only two stories in which a North American wildman is purported to speak.

The second factor which makes Burns’ 1929 article truly remarkable is that is widely believed to be the first instance in which the word “Sasquatch” appears in print. Although there are older articles which reference the wildmen of the Pacific Northwest, Burns’ is the supposedly the first to actually refer to these creatures as “Sasquatch”- the name we know them by today.

The Accepted Explanation

Most sources which purport to explain the etymology of “Sasquatch” claim that the word is Burns’ Anglophonic perversion of the word “Sasq’ets”- a Halkomelem word meaning “hairy mountain man” (Halkomelem is a Coast Salish language spoken by the Chehalis, the Skwah, and other indigenous groups from the Fraser Delta).

Gian J. Quasar’s Theory

One researcher named Gian J. Quasar put forth an interesting alternative theory regarding the origin of the word “Sasquatch” in his book Recasting Bigfoot. Without citing any evidence to back his assertion, he claimed that the word “Sasquatch” was really a combination of two words: “Saskahaua”, and “Kinchotch”. “Saskahaua”, Quasar claimed, was the British Columbian district for which J.W. Burns became Indian agent. And “Kinchotch”, as Quasar correctly pointed out, is a Chinook Jargon term meaning “English”, which derived from the words “King George” (Chinook Jargon is an old pidgin trade language from the Pacific Northwest). According to Quasar, the Coast Salish Indians from the Fraser Delta area referred to hairy wildmen as “Saskahaua Kinchotch”- literally “Englishmen from Saskahaua”. J.W. Burns, Quasar claims, contracted this phrase into the simpler word “Sasquatch”.

There is one major problem with Quasar’s theory: to the best of this author’s knowledge, there was never a “Saskahaua” district in British Columbia.

A Closer Look at Burns’ Article

A closer look at J.W. Burns’ 1929 article reveals that the truth behind the origin of the word “Sasquatch” may have evaded both Gian Quasar and mainstream etymologists. In his article, Burns quotes Skwah Indian Charley Victor as saying of B.C.’s hairy giants:

“The strange people, of whom there are but few now- rarely seen and seldom met… are known by the name of Sasquatch, or, ‘the hairy mountain men’.”

Even more importantly, Burns later quotes directly from a letter written by William Point, the young native man from Vancouver who saw a wildman on the railroad tracks near Agassiz. An excerpt from this letter reads:

“Old Indians who were present said: the wild man was no doubt a ‘Sasquatch,’ a tribe of hairy people whom they claim have always lived in the mountains- in tunnels and caves.”

Assuming that Burns faithfully recorded these lines as they were said and written, it appears that the word “Sasquatch” may actually be an old Halkomelem word (or, at the very least, William Point’s interpretation of the Chehalis word for B.C.’s hairy wildmen) and not some invention of J.W. Burns’.

The Story Behind the Sasquatch Mountain Resort

At the beginning of this article, we mentioned that Mount Keenan (formerly Mount Morris), home of the Sasquatch Mountain Resort, is the birthplace of the word “Sasquatch”. Indeed, it is the setting of the first story of Burns’ article, in which Chehalis man Peter Williams had a brush with an angry Sasquatch at the mountain’s base.

In 1940, Burns wrote another even more dramatic story of a Sasquatch encounter on Mount Keenan which is perhaps the most extraordinary Sasquatch story ever written. This tale is so remarkable that it deserves an article all to itself. If this interests you, please check in with us next week to discover the incredible story behind the naming of the Sasquatch Mountain Resort.

Sources

  • Further Delving Into the Fascinating Life of J W Burns, from the June 2017 issue of the BCSCC (British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club) Quarterly, courtesy of American Fortean researcher Mr. Gary S. Mangiacopra.
  • Introducing B.C.’s Hairy Giants: A collection of strange tales about British Columbia’s wild men as told by those who say they have seen them, by J.W. Burns in the April 1, 1929 issue of the magazine Maclean’s.
  • Recasting Bigfoot (2010), by Gian J. Quasar
  • Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life (1961), Ivan T. Sanderson
  • Are They the Last Cavemen? British Columbia Startled by the Appearance of ‘Sasquatch’, a Strange Race of Hairy Giants, in the July 29, 1934 issue of the Sunday Journal and Star (Lincoln, Nebraska), by Francis Dickie

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