Oct 22nd, 2013 by Lynn McPherson
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.
Sep 20th, 2013 by Lynn McPherson
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)
Aug 26th, 2013 by Lynn McPherson
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!
Jul 7th, 2013 by Lynn McPherson
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!
Jun 4th, 2013 by Lynn McPherson
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!
Apr 30th, 2013 by Lynn McPherson
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!
Mar 25th, 2013 by Lynn McPherson
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.
Feb 18th, 2013 by Lynn McPherson
It is Family Day in Alberta, as well as in many other places in Canada, so I wanted to post a picture of the Steele family to honor the occasion! This particular picture was taken in 1916 when the family was living in Kent, England. At this time, two of the Steele children – son Harwood and eldest daughter Flora were serving in the military. Harwood enlisted with the Canadian Infantry in May of 1915 and saw active service in France, while Flora served as a nurse in hospitals in both England and France. Sam Steele in 1916, was the commanding officer of the Southeastern District of England, which included the principal Canadian training camp, at Shorncliffe, Kent, England.
The Steele family, throughout the years and notwithstanding the great distances that separated them at various times from one another, remained close through the regular exchange of letters, photographs, and when possible – visits.
Happy Family Day everyone!
Jan 29th, 2013 by Lynn McPherson
Waking up in the Edmonton area today, we were greeted with temperatures hovering near 29 degrees below zero – not so unusual for January in Alberta! It always strikes me, when working with historical documents, how obsevations and comments about weather strike a truly common chord. As humans, we seem to have a need to discuss, comment (and in our case today – commiserate) about the weather! And observations about the weather abound in the Sam Steele family papers housed at the University of Albera’s Bruce Peel Special Collections Library. Sam Steele was a faithful keeper of personal journals and diaries, and almost without fail his entries begin with a short observation about the weather – fair or foul! In a previous blog entry I quoted from a letter a teenaged Flora, Sam and Marie’ Steele’s oldest child, wrote to her father on his birthday in January 1909. Flora was writing from her home in Calgary to her father who was in Winnipeg, wishing him many happy returns for the day. In a later part of this letter, Flora writes this about the weather.
The weather was very cold yesterday, & today the cold is even greater. It is reported to be severe in the Yukon & Victoria. Edmonton is said to be extreme too.
Her comments about Edmonton ring so true today! Stay warm everyone – January is almost behind us.
Jan 5th, 2013 by Lynn McPherson
Sam as a baby
Today (January 5th, 2013) marks the 165th year since Samuel Benfield Steele’s birth on January 5th, 1848 in Medonte Township, Upper Canada to parents Elmes Yelverton Steele and Anne MacIan Macdonald. An earlier blog entry focussed on the deliberate confusion Sam encouraged about the year of his birth – he appears to have always portrayed himself as being younger than his actual age. However, in our library holdings we have a copy of Sam’s baptismal record, and know for a fact that he was born in the year 1848! However, birthdays, to Sam, never appear to be a big deal. He rarely discusses anyone’s birthday in his diaries, and letters, or if he does, the comment is brief and to the point. For this blog entry, I thought I would look at correspondence sent to, as opposed to from, Sam on his birthday, and so have scanned a letter sent to Sam on his birthday from his daughter Flora in 1909. Flora, seventeen years old at this time, was living in Calgary and writing to her father who was in Winnipeg. “My own dear Father”, writes Flora, “Today is your birthday & it is with a heart full of joy that I wish you many happy returns in happiness & strength.”
I have also scanned the earliest photograph in our collection, admittedly of poor quality, of Sam Steele. Sam is but a young child in this image, sitting on what is presumed to be his mother’s lap. His mother died when Sam was just a child, and this is the only photograph of her in the Steele papers housed at the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library at the University of Alberta. Despite the grainy quality of the photograph, it is fitting to have a picture of baby Sam with his young mother, to honor his birthday.
Happy Birthday Sam!