Feed on
Posts
Comments

I came across this unique photo-card recently in the Steele papers housed at Bruce Peel Special Collections Library at the University of Alberta. It is a lovely sepia-toned photograph of Sam Steele’s son Harwood walking down a country road in Vaudreuil, Quebec with his cousins. The photograph is mounted on a card stock with a pretty coloured maple leaf design on one side, the word ‘Canada’ written beneath the leaf, and a small calendar for the year 1908 attached to the bottom left corner of the card. The card, as the added calendar suggests, was sent to Sam and Marie Steele from Marie’s brother Gus and wife Marie (parents of the aforementioned cousins) as a New Year’s greeting card. On the back of the card is written: “Sam and Maye, With sincere wishes for a bright & happy new year, Gus & Marie”.

While I don’t know the circumstances around the picture being taken, it feels like an end-of-summer (or early fall) photograph to me; the children are dressed in their finery and perhaps returning home from a party or Sunday school. Harwood is on the far left wearing a dark suit and cap, while two of the children are riding in a small wagon being pulled by a young goat. One cousin is riding a tricycle, a baby is being carried by her nurse, and two young girls clad in fancy dresses and hair bows are walking along the road. The pastoral photograph captures a lovely scene from the past, and almost makes one wish they could be transported back into that time and place to be a part of this pretty scene.

On a light note, someone has written “Les Chevaux” (The Horses) 1907 beneath the photograph – perhaps this is an inside joke reference to the goat as horse. The photograph is scanned below – Happy end of summer to everyone!

 

Les Chevaux

Report Card Time!

For many Canadian students, the end of June means the school year is winding down, summer holidays are around the corner, and there is probably a report card being sent home.

This was certainly the case for Flora Steele, Sam and Marie Steele’s oldest child, attending Havergal College, a Catholic boarding school for girls in Montreal. Flora remained in Montreal to attend school, while the rest of the family (her father, mother, sister Gertrude and brother Harwood) moved to Calgary where Sam Steele was the commanding officer of Military District No. 13 (Alberta and the District of Mackenzie). There are many letters written between Calgary and Montreal during these school years (ca. 1907-1909), and Flora, though a good student and eager to please her parents, is often overwhelmingly homesick and in her letters home, pleads to be allowed to return to Calgary (at least for all her holidays).

She does come to Calgary on most holidays, but because her grandmother and family on her mother’s side live in the Montreal area, her parents are occasionally able to convince her that she can stay put and enjoy her school breaks with her extended family. The cost of having Flora in boarding school was a major item on the Steele family budget, and the associated costs are discussed often in letters sent between Sam and Marie. Both Sam and Marie, however, want Flora to be well educated; a Catholic education was important to Marie, whereas Sam was always more concerned that Flora be learning her subjects well, particularly French.  School report cards issued from Havergal College were sent directly to Sam Steele, so there was never a question of parents not receiving the information.

A portion of one of Flora’s report cards appears below; this one being sent in December 1909, indicating work done in the fall term. It is interesting to note the subjects taught at the school; there is a broad range of material taught (including many that are no longer commonly found on school curricula). Euclid, for example, is geometry, and it appears that students could choose their own schedule from among a long list of proffered courses. The report card indicated the number of girls taking a particular course, and the standing of the individual student within that course. Flora has done very well, although her standing of 12th out of 19 students in French may have concerned her father.

Also shown below is a photograph of Flora taken in Montreal during her Havergal College school years.

Happy holidays to all the students enjoying a break from report cards (and Euclid!) this summer!

Havergal College report card

Havergal College report card

 

Flora Steele

Flora Steele

Harwood Steele, Sam and Marie Steele’s son, was a military man (served in both World Wars I and II), a writer, lecturer, and historian. He was also involved in maintaining his family’s records, and was very protective of his father’s legacy and image. The Harwood Steele fonds, received at the University of Alberta alongside the records of Sam Steele and other family members, is diverse, extensive, and interesting for the many letters written, manuscript drafts saved, and activities documented. Scanned below is a letter Harwood received from former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker in 1976 replying to a letter sent from Harwood congratulating Mr. Diefenbaker on his appointment as a member of the Companions of Honours.

John Diefenbaker

John George Diefenbaker, born at Neustadt, Ontario in 1895, served in the army for World War I, and completed his law degree at the University of Saskatchewan in 1919. He succeeded George Drew as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party in 1956, and formed the Tory government in 1957. The Liberals were returned to power in 1963, although Diefenbaker remained in politics, winning a final election in May 1979. He died in August, 1979.

In the letter to Harwood Steele, Diefenbaker writes:

From my boyhood, Sir Sam Steele was always one of my heroes. His participation in maintaining law and order in the Yukon Gold Rush was lived and re-lived as I chatted with the late Maj. P.W. Pennyfather, who served under your late father as an N.W.M.P. in Dawson City. I have often said that Sir Sam Steele has never been given his rightful place as one of Canada’s greatest. 

It is our hope at Bruce Peel Special Collections Library that making the Sam Steele papers available for research will help restore Sam Steele to his rightful place in Canadian history, along such notable persons as John Diefenbaker himself!

 

 

Diefenbaker

Upon his return to Canada from England in 1907, Sam Steele was appointed commanding officer of Military District No. 13 (Alberta and the District of Mackenzie), with headquarters in Calgary.  While Sam moved to Calgary to assume his position, his wife Marie and the three children remained in Montreal to allow Marie time to prepare for this move across the country. She wanted to see her mother relocated with her younger brother Frank; prepare their eldest daughter Flora for boarding school in Montreal; and consider what she should bring for the new home in Calgary. Her quandary was that furniture could be purchased at a much better price in Montreal than in Calgary, but that would mean dealing with the expense and hassle of arranging to transport the furniture by train to Calgary. Adding to her frustration was that the furniture store her family always shopped at, Morgan’s department store, was not giving her the credit arrangements she had always enjoyed. After many letters written to Sam about what to do, meeting with people at Morgan’s, and checking frequently with CPR about what costs would be covered for moving their furniture, Marie arrived at a decision. She wanted to purchase the furniture in Montreal, not only because it was cheaper, but also to prevent people in Calgary from knowing the exact price of their purchases (which she said they would know if she shopped in Calgary), and she wanted to find a store other than Morgan’s to benefit from their business. In the end, Marie purchased the furniture from Labelle department store, a competitor of Morgan’s, and one owned by a French Canadian family.  Scanned below is the list of items Marie finally purchased, along with the prices she paid.

Order1

order2

 

(I so wish I could buy an oak dining table for $23.00, a five piece dining room suite for $45.00, or a brass bed for under $42.00). I like too how Marie (or Maye as she is called by Sam and family), signs off this letter to Sam: “Your own tired weary wife, Maye”. Happily, the furniture was put on the train to Calgary, and the Steele family settled there until 1910 when Sam accepted the command of Military District No. 10 in Winnipeg, and the family faced another move.

Very shortly after the conclusion of the Second Boer (1899-1902), Sam Steele was intent on commissioning a monument to honour those men of Lord Strathcona’s Horse who had been killed in action during this war. An artist he consulted with, and whose designs he considered, was the French-Canadian artist and sculptor Louis-Philippe Hébert. Hébert, well-known at this time for his public monuments, wrote to Sam Steele on the 28th of February, 1902 from Paris, France regarding his designs for a commemorative Lord Strathcona Horse statue. He sent three sketches of proposed statue designs for Sam to consider, with a brief explanation of his design ideas. Hébert writes in his letter to Sam that he can “take charge of the whole work” for the cost of about $5000.00 and cautions Sam against wanting marble: “regarding the cold weather of North West (Calgary), I consider that bronze would be preferable by all means.”

All three sketches are included with the Sam Steele archives housed at the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library at the University of Alberta. I have scanned one of the three designs (Number 2) below as an example of Hébert’s design ideas.

Proposed Lord Strathconas Horse sculpture

Proposed Lord Strathconas Horse sculpture

About this particular design, he writes: “group life size, a soldier lying on the back of a wounded horse, firing still.”

It appears that Sam, in the end, did not commission Hébert or any other artist to create his monument to the fallen Lord Strathcona’s Horse soldiers, but there is an interesting after note to this story. In 1911, Louis-Philippe Hébert was commissioned by the South African War veterans of Calgary to design a South African War memorial statue which was unveiled at Central Memorial Park in Calgary, Alberta on June 20th, 1914. A photograph of the 1914 sculpture appears below.

 

 

Sam and Marie Steele’s only son, Harwood, loved to draw pictures from an early age. The family scrapbooks have drawings that both he and his older sister Flora drew, and very recently, I came across two envelopes of pencil sketches an older Harwood (ca. 1920′s) had completed to possibly accompany his writing about the history of the NWMP/RCMP in Canada. These sketches form part of the Steele family archives that is housed at Bruce Peel Special Collections Library at the University of Alberta.

Harwood (Robert Elmes) Steele was the youngest of Sam and Marie Steele’s three children, born at the  Fort Macleod North-West Mounted Police barracks in 1897. He began his military service at an early age, being commissioned with the Winnipeg Grenadiers in 1915. While his early enlistment was the cause of tension in the Steele household (Marie Steele was very strongly opposed to Harwood enlisting for service in World War I even before he was of age), Harwood ended up enjoying a long military career. He was with the 2nd Canadian Contingent staff (serving with his father Sir Sam) from the middle of 1915; acted as Staff Captain and Brigade Major with the 188th Brigade, Royal Navy Division, 1918, and was stationed in France until the end of the war. During the Second World War, Harwood served with the British Army in Northern Ireland and in the Kohat District in India.

Harwood was a writer, historian and lecturer throughout his life, and his first book of poetry (Cleared for Action) was published in 1914. He wrote extensively about the Mounted Police, publishing a novel about the police force in 1923 (Spirit-of-Iron); a novel about the RCMP in the Arctic in 1928 (The Ninth Circle), and many other publications in later years (Policing the Arctic; To Effect an Arrest; The Marching Call; The Red Serge).  The drawings found in the envelopes were intended as illustrations for these early NWMP novels, and are scanned below. I selected two illustrations that accompany Harwood’s description of the North-West Mounted Police’s time in the Canadian West, particularly during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. One sketch depicts a scene of the police camping while charged with supervising the construction of the railway, while the other shows the track being laid, with aboriginal tipis set up at the end of the track.

Harwood had a life-long interest in the Mounted Police, and his personal archives are a fascinating glimpse into the life of a military man, writer, and son, very interested always, in defending his family’s good name!

Sketch by Harwood

Sketch by Harwood

Sketch by Harwood

A Night Out

Sam Steele and his wife Marie enjoyed attending various cultural events, wherever they lived, and would make a point of taking in theatre and concerts even when apart; entertainment and culture was important to both of them. The Steele family papers have many saved concert programs, theatre notices, and even some of Marie’s filled-in dance cards (although Sam was not particularly fond of  participating in the dancing!) Marie, for example, writes often of the theatre nights she took in with her mother and sisters in Montreal, while Sam was in South Africa during the Boer War of 1900. Musical evenings seemed to be a favorite.

I enjoy looking at the ephemera in the Steele papers, and appreciate the color and reflection of personality they add to the archive. In looking through some recent files, I came across a souvenir program advertising a production of “Miss Pepple of New York” performed at the Winnipeg Theatre on Thursday, April 21st, 1910 with all proceeds going towards the Fife and Drum Band of the No. 11 Company Canadian Army Service Corps. Not surprisingly, as this was BOTH a musical play and military fundraiser, the Steele’s attended, and the souvenir program was kept.

The bright yellow program cover with its detailed sketch is very attractive, and is scanned below. The program also includes some wonderful advertisements, two of which are also scanned below. A look back to a slice of life from 114 years ago!

SouvProg

 

FlourHarrys

 

 

 

 

As mentioned in previous blog entries, the papers of  former NWMP officer, adventurer, writer and friend of the Steele family, Roger Pocock, were acquired by the University of Alberta at the same time as the Sir Samuel Benfield Steele papers. Recently, I have been looking at Roger’s archives related to his “long ride” on horseback from Fort Macleod in southern Alberta to Mexico in 1899-1900. Roger devoted a large part of one of his many scrapbooks to this trip, saving articles he wrote, diary entries, maps, and photographs from the adventure and gluing them into a large bound scrapbook. It is a fascinating record of an even more fascinating experience, but I was particularly struck by a set of photographs saved in the scrapbook, and want to share a couple of these beautiful images in this entry.

Pocock scrapbook (1 of 2)

The photographs were taken by photographer, William M. Pennington, and likely acquired by Roger as he travelled through the South-western United States en route to Mexico, or purchased at a later date, and added to the scrapbbook in recognition of the Navajo people he met while on his ride.  The photographer, William Marion Pennington, was born in Kentucky in 1874, and became interested in photography at an early age. He worked in many studios, and had a particular interest in photographing Western landscapes and indiginous peoples. In 1902, he met and teamed up with another young photographer, Lisle Updike, who shared this interest. The two photographers travelled together, collaborated on photography projects, and jointly opened several studios. Pennington took sole control of their last studio in 1911, renaming it ‘Pennington Studio’. William Pennington passed away in 1940.

Pocock scrapbook (2 of 2)

Sam’s Bookmarks

Along with the letters, diaries and photographs that form the Steele family records received at the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library, there are also – fittingly for a library – books! Sam Steele’s personal library contains a lot of military strategy and history books, and many have been inscribed by the author, or signed by Sam with his name, title, and date. While leafing through the books, the occasional interesting bookmark or other insert is found, and it is two such items that I want to share in this post.

The first is an attractive bookmark advertising The Scottish Widows Fund and featuring a colored reproduction of a fine art painting “The Village Bride-Groom” by Jean-Baptiste Greuze in the centre of the bookmark. Celtic knot designs are placed on either side of the centre picture with the words “The Scottish Widows Fund” printed on one side and “All Profits Divided Among the Assured” on the other. The Scottish Widows Fund was established in 1812 as a general fund “for securing provisions to widows, sisters and other female relatives” of fundholders to prevent the women plunging into poverty upon the death of the fundholder. A suggested date for this particular bookmark is 1910, and Sam kept it in one of his 1914 military strategy books.

Steelepcard2

The second item, also inserted in a First World War military book, is the leaflet shown below: “Which book will you buy for the blind man?” On verso, there is a printed appeal from C. Arthur Pearson, Honorary Treasurer of the newly established National Institute for the Blind, asking for donations to fund the purchase of equipment to bring down the cost of printing braille books. On the bottom of the page is a place to write your name, address, and amount pledged for the Institute. C. Arthur Pearson was a noted publisher, writer and newspaper man, but began to lose his sight due to glaucoma in 1908. He published his Pearson’s Easy Dictionary in braille in 1912, and became President of the National Institute for the Blind in 1914. He was a successful fundraiser for the Institute as these leaflets might attest to, increasing the income from £8,000 to £360,000 in only eight years. Pearson went on to establish the St. Dunstan’s Home for soldiers blinded in the First World War, where men were offered vocational training in an effort to help them regain their independence and return to the workforce.

Steelepcard1

Recently, In the Edmonton Journal,  there have been columns written about what Edmonton might do to change or rebrand its image in order to attract business investment and convince people of the value of choosing to live in our city. In a short span of time, I read an article about the Edmonton City Winter Advisory Council urging meteorologists and broadcasters to present the weather, especially in winter, in a positive way; I read of new nicknames or monikers we might choose for our city to replace the exisiting “City of Champions” logo; and also learned of a fascinating proposal (complete with an artists’ sketch) to create an Edmonton ‘Freezeway’ . These articles were brought to mind while reading a letter that Sir Sam Steele wrote to his daughter Flora in 1909 where she was attending school in Montreal, and he was on a trip through the province of Alberta. In this particular letter, he mentions visiting Edmonton and his comments are very positive. Part of the letter appears below, and Sam writes:

I have been to Edmonton and had a pleasant reunion with the families there. It is a beautiful place – lots of trees, fine new houses, but muddy streets. They are however much wider than in Calgary or Montreal, many are one hundred feet and there is a nice park laid out in the city.

Our streets may no longer be muddy, but I wonder if Sam might have some comment about our infamous potholes!

 

Samsletter

 

 

Bird’s eye view of Edmonton, Alberta; 1909; postcard from Peel’s Prairie Provinces (U of A)

Older Posts »