Canada A Yearly Journey: 1870

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Canada would go through a significant change in 1870 with the arrival of its newest province on May 12 thanks to the Manitoba Act. This Act received royal assent on that day to establish a portion of Rupert’s Land as Manitoba. The road to Manitoba becoming a province began in 1869 with the Red River Resistance or Rebellion. Since the Metis were a main reason for the Manitoba Act, they had several requests for the federal government. 

Some of the things they requested included:

  • That the people of the new province have the right to elect their own legislature.
  • All members of authority are to be elected by the people of Manitoba.
  • Land must be set aside for the building of schools, roads, bridges and other buildings.
  • The Dominion must pay for the territory’s military and municipal expenses for four years. 
  • The military must be built up by people who already live in the territory.
  • All public documents must be published in French and English.
  • The superior judge must be bilingual.

The Act would set aside land for the Metis, totaling 5,600 square-kilometres, and laws would be written in both French and English. The Act also gave religious and language rights, and allowed for four members from the province to represent the area in the House of Commons, along with two members for the Senate of Canada.

From June to July, New Brunswick went through an election for its premier and ruling party. This was the first election for the province since the creation of Canada and there were no party labels at this point. The government, which was based on a loose coalition of Conservatives and Liberals, was led by George Edwin King, who took over from Andrew Rainsford Wetmore after he had resigned. King would resign three days into the Legislative session and a new government was formed by George Luther Hathaway, an opposition MLA and King would become the attorney-general of the province. 

On July 3, R.B. Bennett would born in Hopewell, New Brunswick and raised in a strictly Conservative family that had little in the way of money. The eldest of six children, the family would work on their farm and practiced a daily habit of thrift. Prior to his parents, the family had been rich, owning a shipyard nearby but when the shift to steam-powered ships began, their business suffered and eventually closed. One of the largest and last ships launched by the company was the Sir John A. Macdonald.

Bennett would work in his youth and was seen as a loner by those around him. His mother would push him with ambition, which may have come because of her own frustrations with her husband the family’s difficult financial position. Thanks to a small legacy his mother received, he was able to attend the Normal School in Fredericton, training to be a teacher. He then became a teacher at 16 and a principal by the age of 18. He did this while working part-time for a law firm.

After graduating from Dalhousie University in 1893, Bennett practiced law in Chatham, New Brunswick for four years. While there, he would run for town council and was elected by one vote, some sources say 19, but he chose not to stay in the community. He decided the time was right to move out to Calgary in 1897, and became the law partner of James Lougheed, who was the grandfather of future Alberta premier Peter Lougheed.

At the time, when he got off the train in January of 1897, Alberta was not a province yet, Calgary was a small frontier town, but there was opportunity to be had.

Bennett was known for being committed to business and his work. He did not drink; he was devoted to attending church and never married. While living in Calgary, he lived alone in a hotel, and then a boarding house. He was a creature of habit as well, always taking his noon meal on workdays at the Alberta Hotel. When it came to his social life, that was focused on his commitment to church. Lougheed made sure that Bennett met all the right people. Lougheed was able to get along with Bennett, even though he was described as arrogant and reserved. He would say of that Bennett was, quote:

“obnoxiously aware of his own genius”

In 1898, Bennett would win an election as the Conservative to the Assembly of the North-West Territories but resigned his seat in 1900 for a failed run for the House of Commons. He would regain his seat in 1901 and won the 1902 election in his riding with 73 per cent of the vote.

By this point, the law firm and Calgary were booming, and Bennett began to get involved in the buying and selling of land. Before long, he was also buying oil leases including the Calgary Petroleum Products Company, which had the first big strike of Alberta oil in Turner Valley.

In 1905, he attempted to win a seat in the new Alberta Legislature. At the time, he was the first leader of Alberta Conservative Party and was up against Alexander Rutherford of the Liberals. Unfortunately for Bennett, not only did his party only gain two seats, while the Liberals picked up 22, he also lost his own seat to William Cushing.

Bennett would find his way back into politics under Arthur Meighen, who appointed him as the Minister of Justice in 1921 to strengthen his government. Meighen disliked Bennett but he respected the influence he had in the party. Bennett was sworn in as Justice Minister on Sept. 21, 1921 but when the 1921 election came along, the Liberal Party saw a resurgence under William Lyon Mackenzie King and Bennett did not win a seat in Calgary West, losing by .10 per cent.

In 1922, Bennett decided it was time to end his time as a partner with Lougheed, and he would split with the firm after a messy litigation, but he was able to retain several important clients of his own including A.E. Cross and Pat Burns.

By 1924, Bennett was doing quite well. Around 25 per cent of his income came from his legal practice, while director fees accounted for seven per cent. The biggest share was what he made from dividends, which made up 62 per cent of his income. In all, that year he made $76,897, or $1.16 million.

In 1925, Meighen was again prime minister and he asked Bennett to serve as the Minister of Finance. This time, Bennett threw everything into his campaign in Calgary West, instead of just assuming he would win, and he was able to win his seat easily as the Conservatives overall won 116 seats to the Liberals 99.

While the Conservatives lost the election, Bennett was able to keep his seat. In the House, would support old-age pensions but he did not like sharing the cost with the provinces, feeling that Ottawa should pay for it completely. Bennett also supported unemployment insurance and supported a proposal put forward by Labour politician Abraham Heaps, but he wanted it funding by both the person concerned and the government.

At the Conservative Convention in Winnipeg on Oct. 10, 1927, Bennett would be elected as the new leader of the Conservative Party following the resignation of Arthur Meighen. In his acceptance speech he admitted that while he was rich, he became rich from hard work. He also promised to resign all directorships that he had.

In 1930 election, the Conservatives gained 44 seats, putting Bennett in the role as Prime Minister of Canada, while the Liberals lost 27 seats in a stunning defeat.

It was also a good year financially for Bennett, who made $262,176, or $3.9 million today. This arguably makes him one of, if not the, richest person in Canadian history to be elected as prime minister.

He promised aggressive action to deal with the Depression, but that action never came. While Bennett had excellent business skills, that did not serve his political interests well. As with many other leaders who came to power during The Great Depression, he also underestimated the severity and longevity of it. He also operated on a policy of the free enterprise system, with the government interfering as little as possible. This was the wrong method to deal with The Great Depression.

As prime minister, Bennett attempted to deal with the economy by persuading the British to adopt preferential tariffs, and while this brought relief, it was nowhere near enough. Bennett wanted a rapid modernization of Canada and promised that his measures would blast Canadian exports into world markets. The Imperial Preference policy failed to generate the result he wanted, and Bennett had no backup plan. His Unemployment Relief Act would put $20 million in place for public works across Canada as well, which would have more of an impact.

As The Great Depression raged on, Bennett’s government would set up relief camps for single men, which cost him a great deal of popularity. By 1932, 25 per cent of workers in Canada had no job, and Bennett was forced to give the provinces $20 million, or $354 million today. At the relief camps, men lived in bunkhouses and were paid 20 cents, or $3.54 a day in return for a 44-hour week of hard labour. These camps were run by the military, in their style, always in remote areas of the country.

At the start of 1935, the constant stress of The Great Depression was taking its toll on Bennett. In February, he became sick with what he thought was a bd cold but by March 7 he was dealing with an atrial fibrillation of the heart. He was told he needed to rest for a month and should consider retiring. While Bennett was gone, his New Deal legislation passed. The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act was also passed, which would teach 100,000 farmers how to handle and restore the dust bowl area of southern Saskatchewan.

In October, the 1935 federal election was held, and Mackenzie King roared back into power with a large majority and the Conservatives fell to Official Opposition status.

Bennett continued to lead the Official Opposition, often attending the House every single day, and from all accounts he bore no grudges and accepted that the Canadian people had suffered much under The Great Depression and wanted someone new in power.

On June 26, 1947, while taking a bath, Bennett died of a heart attack in England. Bennett was always a fan of hot baths, but he was warned to be careful because of his heart. He would be found the following morning.

At the end of his life, he would say, quote:

“I’ll always remember the pit from which I was dug and the long uphill road I had to travel. I’ll never forget one step.”

On July 15, the British Privy Council’s Rupert’s Land and North-Western Territory Order officially transfers the land to Canada that will form the North-West Territories and Manitoba.

On July 29, George Dixon was born. Born in Africville, Halifax. He would gain the name of Little Chocolate due to his short stature and weighing only 87 pounds as a young boxer. Prior to boxing, he would apprentice as a photographer and soon became interested in boxing because of the local boxers who came to see his employer to get publicity photographs taken. He would find success in boxing very early on. On May 10, 1888, he claimed the World Bantamweight Championship in a fight against Tommy Spider Kelly. On June 27, 1890, he knocked out Nunc Wallace of England in 18 rounds to officially be declared the new champion. 

One year later on May 31, 1891, he defeated Cal McCarthy in 22 rounds to win the Featherweight title. With his fame quickly rising, he decided to create a vaudeville troupe, which he named the George Dixon Specialty Company. He toured throughout the United States and Canada for the next several years. 

A reporter at that time stated that Dixon was the best, self-trained man that ever stepped into the ring. He stated that he used a small pair of dumbbells and with either hand he faces an imaginary opponent. He feints and ducks before a spook enemy. He advances on one and then the other foot.

Today, this is called shadow boxing and it is believed that not only did Dixon create the practice, but he was also the first boxer to use a modern punching bag. 

He would keep the championship for the next two years, until he lost on Oct. 28, 1901 to Abe Attell. 

A following wins against Digger Stanley and Pedlar Palmer in 1903, he would lose his last three fights between 1904 and 1905. 

It is estimated that over his career, he had made over $250,000 but he also enjoyed gambling, expensive clothes and entertaining lavishly. 

Over the next three years, Dixon would slowly lose his money and end up homeless and an alcoholic. He had been living and begging on the streets of New York. Many of his fans attempted to get him back on his feet to no luck and the media began to report that the end was near for the former champion. 

On Jan. 6, 1908, he would pass away in the alcohol ward of Bellevue Hospital. On Jan. 23, a charity boxing match was held to pay the costs of his hospital bills. 

Over the course of his career, he would have a record, at least in professional fights, of 63 wins, 29 losses and 48 draws. Overall, he would hold the bantamweight title in 1890, and the featherweight championship from 1891 to 1897 and from 1898 to 1900. His 23 world championships bouts, which some say actually numbered 33, would be the most for any fighter until Joe Louis. 

On Sept.16, Alfred Boyd would become the first premier of Manitoba. There had been no election and he was not recognized by the title at the time, nor was he the leader of the government for the province. He was more of a provincial secretary of Manitoba, or Chief Minister. He had lived in the area since 1858 and was wealthy by the time of the Red River Rebellion. Following the upcoming provincial election, he would become the Minister of Public Works.

In October, Big Bear would lead his warriors in the largest Indigenous battle to be fought on the Canadian prairies, that is known at least, when he took part in the Battle of Belly River near Lethbridge, Alberta.

This battle would be the last major conflict between the Cree and the Blackfoot, and the last major battle between the First Nations on Canadian soil.

After a smallpox outbreak had decimated the strength of the Blackfoot, a Cree war party took advantage of this weakness to launch the attack in October of 1870. Each side had roughly 500 to 800 warriors, with Piapot, Big Bear, Little Pine and Little Mountain leading the Cree. Big Leg, Black Eagle, Heavy Shield, Crow Eagle, Bull Back Fat and Button Chief led the Blackfoot. After several hours of battle, a Blackfoot party was able to take the high ground and this put the Cree in a terrible situation. They attempted to retreat but were taken down by the Blackfoot, who killed about 300 Cree who tried to escape. In all, nearly 400 Cree were killed while 40 Blackfoot were killed and 50 were injured.

Calf Shirt was a seasoned Blood warrior, described by some as a chief, and he was told about the battle happening at that moment as he had just returned from a hunt. Before he left, he promised his father asked that if he should fall to a Cree arrow, he would not take it out. According to the stories, Calf Shirt grasped his knife and ran into the Cree where an arrow hit him in the wrist, but he would not stop. He remembered his promise to his father and did not remove the arrow, instead picking up a bow and killing an archer with his knife. He then began shooting into the Cree, taking several down. One account says he had arrows in his neck and arms, but was still able to kill two Cree warriors with his knife.

Jerry Potts would say later

“You could fire eyes shut and kill a Cree that day.”

George Kennedy would say “A head, a hand, anything was enough to shoot at.”

One Indigenous man named Big Brave would say of the battle, “I could not hear for the roar of the guns, and could not see for the smoke.”

Many of the Cree took off running along the open prairie but were taken down by the Blackfoot who were pursuing them. The Cree that did try to make a last stand on the open prairie would lose 50 men.

By nightfall, the Cree had made it into a strand of trees but they were surrounded by the Blackfoot. The Blackfoot decided that the battle was over at that point, and they returned back to their camps. They also allowed the Cree to retreat with their dead and wounded.

The move by the Cree had failed in terrible fashion because of an underestimating the Blackfoot numbers and how many had died from smallpox. While the scouts had seen 60 lodges at the camp, there were more than 200 lodges nearby not seen. Big Bear and the other Cree chiefs had lost half of their force and Big Bear had lost his son as well. Seeing no other way forward, the Cree would send tobacco to the Blackfoot and in 1871, with the help of Chief Crowfoot of the Blackfoot, a treaty would be negotiated between the Cree and Blackfoot. The Blackfoot then allowed the Cree to settle nearby and hunt the bison from their territory.

Today the site is known as Indian Battle Park.

In 2005, the name was nearly changed to Valley of Peace to remove the negative references to the Indigenous people. This proposal was rejected though.

On Oct. 16, Wallace Turnbull was born, and he would go into aviation as an adult, building the first wind tunnel in Canada. He would spend his life researching the stability of aircraft and looking at new forms of airfoils. He designed several propellers and would have a lasting effect on aeronautical engineering. Following his death in 1954, he would be inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame. 

Harlan Brewster was born in Harvey, New Brunswick on Nov. 10 and would move to British Columbia at the age of 23 where he had several careers. He would eventually be elected to the B.C. Legislature in 1907 and serve as premier of the province from 1916 to 1918. During that time, he would bring in women’s suffrage, institute prohibition and combat corruption before his sudden death in 1918. 

On Dec. 23, Theo Abraham Hamel would pass away at the age of 53. Spending his life as a painter, the Quebec-born Hamel would travel throughout Canada East and Canada West, painting portraits of prominent individuals . He would also paint religious pictures and imaginative portraits of Jacques Cartier, Samuel de Champlain, Jean Talon and General James Murray. His image of Cartier would eventually appear on a banknote. Over his life, he painted 2,000 portraits. His painting of Sir Allan MacNab, painted in 1853, currently hangs in the House of Commons of Canada. 

The first official election for Manitoba would be held on Dec. 27. Like with New Brunswick, there were not really any provincial parties so former Lt. Governor Adams George Archibald would govern a coalition that received 17 seats, while John Christian Schultz would lead the Canadian Party with five seats. The Canadian Party demanded swift retribution for the leaders of the rebellion but failed to gain much in support. Edward Hay would become the Leader of the Opposition. 

It was also in this year that the story of the Lost Lemon Mine begins. The story begins with Frank Lemon and his friend Blackjack, who apparently discovered the gold deposit in 1870 somewhere between the Crowsnest Pass and the Highwood River.

According to the story, Lemon and Blackjack got into an argument after finding the gold over whether to come back in the spring or camp where they were. After the argument, it is said that both men then went to bed but Lemon would crawl out of his blankets and hit his friend in the head with an axe while he slept. After realizing what he did, he built a huge fire and left the area with his gun. Some say he was slowly starting to go mad at this point. Two Blackfoot apparently saw the murder and the gold strike and after speaking to their Chief, they were sworn to secrecy and a curse was put on the area where the murder happened.

After Lemon returned back to town and confessed to what he had done to a priest. The priest kept his secret safe but sent a trapper named John McDougall to bury the body of Blackjack. McDougall would later be hired to lead a group of miners to the spot where the mine was but as he journeyed with them, he stopped in Fort Kipp, Montana and drank himself to death.

Lafayette French, who had funded Lemon and Blackjack initially, went looking for the mine several times over the next 30 years. After apparently finding the mine he wrote his friend to tell of his success. Unfortunately, the cabin he was staying in soon burned to the ground, killing him.

As for Lemon himself, as soon as he began to approach anywhere near the area where the mine was reported to be, he would be overcome with anxiety and could journey no further. As the years went by, his mental health continued to decline as he slowly lost his mind.

The priest that Lemon had confessed to would organize an expedition in 1883 to find the mine given what Lemon had told him. Before he could venture out though, a forest fire blazed through the area and rendered the route impassable.

To this date, the mine has not been found.

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