A Life Well Lived: William Bleasdell Cameron

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CraigBaird

When any community pops up, it is not long before there is a need for news. Vermilion was no different and it was soon after the founding of the community in 1906 when a man by the name of William Cameron decided to establish the Vermilion Signal. This would be the first newspaper published in the area but that is not what this column is about. No, this is about the man himself, who led a life more interesting than would be expected, where the founding of a newspaper was only a footnote.
William Bleasdell Cameron was born in Trenton, Ontario on July 26, 1862 and first made the decision to come out west in 1881 to work for Alexander MacDonald out of Winnipeg. Assigned to the Battleford trading post, he slowly saved $200 and eventually purchased land for himself and began a life of farming. That lasted for two years before he decided that farming wasn’t for him. He sold out his land for $40 and made his way to Swift Current to work in freight, then it was on to Maple Creek and finally up to Frog Lake in 1884. It was in Frog Lake that he became a trading partner of George Dill. It was also there he witnessed the Frog Lake Massacre.
After surviving the massacre, which launched the North West Rebellion on April 2, 1885, he was taken captive by Big Bear and held by the Cree for two months. Rather than hold resentment or anger towards his captivity, he came to respect Big Bear. When he was freed, he was assigned to Major General Strange and was awarded the North West Canada Medal for his role as a scout and guide during the rebellion.
In 1885, he was in Regina for the trial of Big Bear and he spoke in defence of his former captor. He testified to the court that he had heard Big Bear do his best to stop the massacre at Frog Lake. Despite a lot of evidence stating that Big Bear was innocent, he was found guilty of treason and sentenced to three years in jail.
After the trial, he moved to St. Paul, Minnesota and worked as a journalist, before moving on to New York to be editor of the Field and Stream magazine. In 1899, he moved back out west with his wife and family and was there when Vermilion was founded.
In 1906, he founded the Vermilion Signal, which lasted for a decade. He also served on town council for Vermilion. In 1910, he moved with his family to Bassano, and it is rumored for a period of two years between 1910 and 1925, he was part of the legendary Buffalo Bill show. That is only rumour though.
Cameron pops up again in history in 1925 when he was on hand for the dedication of a stone cairn in memory of the Frog Lake Massacre. He was also at that time writing Blood Red The Sun, his account of the massacre.
In the 1930s, he was living in Heinsburg, where he owned a drug store.
Never one to sit around, from 1943 to 1944, he was the curator of the RCMP museum in Regina. He then resigned from that to become a mink rancher. He gave that up in the 1940s to move to the Pacific coast and become a writer. In June of 1950, he was there for the opening of the Elk Point bridge. During the dedication, he gave credit to the Frog Lake Indigenous people for saving his life during the massacre.
He died at the age of 88 in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan on March 4, 1951.
Suggestions for columns or questions? E-mail Craig at crwbaird@gmail.com. Listen to his podcast by searching for “Canadian History Ehx” on your podcast platform. Find his show on YouTube by searching for “Canadian History Ehx”.
Information for this column comes from Wikipedia and Land of Red and White.
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