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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!








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.


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.


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!





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

Strathcona County, located just east of Edmonton, is celebrating their 120th anniversary this year. The local Sherwood Park News has been detailing the events the County is hosting to mark the special anniversary, and in the past week a wooden carving of Sam Steele was unveiled on Sherwood Park’s Heritage Mile, along with events this past weekend around the honoring and participation of the Lord Strathcona’s Horse regiment. The paper has published articles about Lord Strathcona’s role in history, the military regiment he funded to fight with the British in the Boer War in South Africa, and an article on Sam Steele and the reason for a statue honoring him in the County (written about in a previous blog post).

To recognize this celebration of local history, I am including a photograph held in the Sam Steele papers at the Bruce Peel Spccial Collections Library at the University of Alberta that has both Sam Steele and Lord Strathcona featured front and centre. This particular photograph was taken in January 1901 at Kensington Court, England. where King Edward VII presented the King’s Colours to the Regiment. Sam Steele, Commander of the regiment and Lord Strathcona, seated centre in the first row, pose with officers of Lord Strathcona’s Horse. It was a week of celebrations and lauding of the Regiment, who were written about in the newspapers, honored with banquets, and introduced to military and political leaders in Britain. They received a hero’s welcome upon their return to Canada in March of 1901, but were disbanded as a unit soon after their return. The regiment was revived in 1909 as “Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians)”, and the word Lord added to the regimental title 1912.

Congratulations Strathcona County, and best wishes as you celebrate your history!



An article in a local Sherwood Park, Alberta  paper tells the story of a carving in process to create Sam Steele’s likeness from an eight foot tree stump. A tree had died and was being cut down from in front of the business of John Ashton, founder of the Sherwood Park Heritage Mile Society. Rather than let the stump go to waste, Ashton hired wood sculptor Heinz Zadler to carve an image of Sam Steele from the stump. The historical figure of Steele ties in nicely, explains Ashton, with Strathcona County’s 120th anniversary being celebrated next month. In his interview with the local paper, Ashton talks about how Steele would have travelled through Strathcona County in 1885 when headed east with his Steele’s Scouts to deal with a confrontation between First Nations and settlers in Frog Lake. Another natural connection is that the carving of Sam Steele will be located close to a sculpture of Lord Strathcona, the county’s namesake and fellow honoree on Sherwood Park’s Heritage Mile (Broadmoor Boulevard). Sam Steele and Lord Strathcona (Donald Alexander Smith) were contemporaries who knew each other well. Lord Strathcona funded a mounted unit to go to South Africa to fight for Britain in the Boer War and appointed Steele its commanding officer. They respected each other, and the Steele archives located at the University of Alberta contains many letters between the two men; they remained in touch with each other until Donald Smith’s death in January 1914.

A link to the The Sherwood Park-Strathcona County News article can be found here, and below please find some photographs of the (still in process) carving and historic plaque. I think Sam would have been pleased!



An exciting  addition to the Steele Family papers acquired by the University of Alberta, were the records of the Steele’s family friend, Roger Pocock. Pocock is a fascinating individual, who led a life full of adventure (and misadventure)! He is perhaps best know as the founder of the Legion of Frontiersmen, and was an author of some note and renown during his lifetime. Sam Steele and Roger Pocock likely first met as members of the North-West Mounted Police. Steele, an original member of the 1873 established Force, and Pocock joining in 1884. Roger, only nineteen years of age when he joined, was a wonderful chronicler of all that was going on around him. He wrote letters to his family, kept journals, and loved to sketch. In later years, he compiled a lot of this material into a series of scrapbooks. One could write about many aspects of Roger’s life and highlight any number of interesting Pocock documents, but in this entry, I want to share two sketches Roger created. They tie in nicely, as well, with a current exhibit at the RCMP Heritage Centre in Regina, Saskatchewan on Sam Steele, (Sam Steele:  the Journey of a Canadian Hero) which I would encourage anyone in the area to make a point of seeing.

The first sketch shows a NWMP officer standing in front of the barracks at Prince Albert in 1885, and the second sketch Roger describes as a NWMP  F-Troop detachment camp in 1886. The sketches are lovely, and his drawings are a wonderful way of connecting with Roger’s world, and our history!


Kids and a Kitty!

While Sam Steele was serving with the South African Constabulary in 1901, his young family remained in Montreal for a time, eventually reuniting with him later that next year in Pretoria. But while they were parted, Marie and Sam continued their custom of writing each other faithfully and lamenting the distance that separated them. Marie, knowing Sam missed seeing his three young children, booked photography sessions for herself and the children at well established Montreal studios, and sent the resulting photographs to the far-away Sam (and to other family members and friends as well). Sam, likewise, sent pictures of himself in South Africa, often on horseback, in letters back to Marie. The following photograph is a particularly lovely one of the Steele children, Harwood, Gertrude and Flora, taken in the Bennett Photography Studio of Montreal. The attractive cat in the photograph is explained in a letter written to Sam from Marie on December 5th, 1901. Marie writes:

Your next dear letter is that of the 26th & thanks me for the photo’s of the little ones. The cat that was photographed belonged to the studio & as Torla [aka Flora] dotes on them, they became very friendly & did not require much coaxing to be one of the group. Although it is dark, the picture is a very natural one & is much admired.

It is a photograph worth admiring!

There are quite a few pieces of sheet music in the Sam Steele papers held at Bruce Peel Special Collections Library at the University of Alberta. One piece of music recently caught my attention, because Marie Steele refers to it a few times when writing her husband Sam who in in South Africa fighting in the Boer War. The particular music is titled “Soldiers of the Queen”, and in her letters written in 1900 Marie mentions how their two youngest children, Gertrude and Harwood, are forever singing this song. The sheet music is in the collection, and I have scanned the front cover of the music, and part of a letter in which Marie mentions the children singing the song.

In researching the origin of the song, words and music written and composed by Leslie Stuart, I learned that the tune was originally composed as a march celebrating the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894. In 1895, lyrics were added and the title changed, and it has been played and performed in many contexts since. The title is sometimes referred to as “Soldiers of the King” depending on the reigning monarch at the time. and has served as a regimental march for many military units, including the Lord Strathcona’s Horse – hence our connection to Sam Steele and the Steele children cheerily learning the lyrics to sing at home in Canada while their father is leading the Lord Strathcona’s Horse in South Africa. The song, interestingly, has also been used in entertainment media including the musical comedy An Artist’s Model (1895); as the musical theme to the film Breaker Morant (1979); and was used in a BBC Radio 4 comedy programme The Harpoon.

The chorus lyrics are as follows:

It’s the soldiers of the Queen, my lads

Who’ve been, my lads, who’ve seen, my lads

In the fight for England’s glory lads

When we have to show them what we mean:

And when we say we’ve always won

And when they ask us how it’s done

We’ll prouldly point to every one

of England’s Soldier’s of the Queen

You can listen to the song on Youtube right here.

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