Canada A Yearly Journey: 1888

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Some years in Canadian history are quiet ones and 1888 is one such year. There were few big events, but some notable births and deaths. So, let’s get down to discovering what happened in 1888 in Canada.

On Jan. 17, Big Bear, the Cree chief who was wrongfully convicted of treason during the 1885 North West Rebellion, passed away.

Big Bear was born in 1825 at Jackfish Lake near North Battleford, Saskatchewan. His father was Black Powder, who was the chief of a tribe of Plains Cree people who numbered about 80. It is not known who his mother was, but Big Bear was noted for being a child who would wander through the camp talking with many people and learning from them.

As a young man, Big Bear was noted for his prowess as a warrior and he would take warriors under his father’s command on missions that he would describe as “haunting the Blackfoot”. He would often participate in raids and attacks of enemy tribes, which often meant stealing horses, land and food from enemies.

When his father died in 1864, Big Bear was approaching 40 and was now the chief of the band of 100 members.

As chief, 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 in 1870 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.

On Aug. 14, 1874, the Hudson’s Bay Company visited with Big Bear, which was odd considering they had to travel seven days to visit the camp. Factor William McKay brought four wagons of supplies for his friend Big Bear and warned him that the North-West Mounted Police were being established in the area. McKay warned Big Bear that the police force would establish and preserve the west as Canadian and how they would not interfere but protect the interests of his people.

By the time 1876 came around, all of the major Cree chiefs on the plains had signed Treaty 6, except for Big Bear. He did not want to sign because he knew the Canadian government would violate the treaty upon its signing.

Big Bear believed that the Canadian government was just telling the chiefs what they wanted to hear and this led him to pursue better terms for the treaty.

Big Bear attempted to warn the others against the treaty, even riding to each lodge himself to urge people not to sign or give up their resources.

Big Bear would resist signing the treaty for four years until 1882 when he had no choice but to sign on Dec. 8 of that year. He felt that he had been betrayed by the other chiefs because they still signed even with his warnings. With food supplies running low and his people coming close to starvation, he had to sign the treaty.

After signing, the government told Big Bear to find a reserve to live on.

In 1885, Big Bear chose a reserve to live on but because he took so long to decide, his people began to turn against him. Chief Wandering Spirit began to rise in authority among the Cree people as a result. At one time, Big Bear was leader of over 500 people but by this time his support base was down to about 114 people.

It was around this time he also spread his message of unity among the Indigenous people to Louis Riel, after meeting with the Métis leader in Prince Albert.

When the Métis took part in the North-West Rebellion, Big Bear and his supporters played a minimal role.

Big Bear had attempted to stop any massacre from happening but the government still charged him with treason and put him on trial in Regina on Sept. 11. Big Bear had actually tried to solve the problems peacefully and had protected those that were taken prisoner. His friend Henry Ross Halpin, who had been taken prisoner, testified on his behalf at the trial saying that Big Bear was just as much a prisoner as those he protected.

The trial was in English and had to be translated into Cree for Big Bear and only one witness, Stanley Simpson, was asked to appear for the Prosecution. Much of the evidence presented was in favour of the innocence of Big Bear as well and it showed that Big Bear took no part in the killings, looting or taking of prisoners.

Nonetheless, Big Bear was found guilty and sentenced to three years at Stony Mountain Penitentiary in Manitoba.

On Jan. 18, Charles Gavan Power was born in Quebec City, where he would eventually study law and begin to play hockey as a young man. In 1906, he would begin playing with the Quebec Bulldogs of the Eastern Canada Amateur Hockey Association, once scoring four goals in one game in 1908 and five goals in a game in 1909. At the outbreak of the First World War, he would enlist and serve as a captain and major, where he would be injured at the Battle of the Somme, earning the Military Cross. After returning home, he would be elected to the House of Commons in 1917 and serve in several minister positions throughout his career in Parliament. He would serve as an MP until 1955, which included a stint as the Minister of National Defence For and he would expand on the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War.

After retiring from Parliament, he would become a Senator in 1955, serving until his death in 1968.

On Jan. 19, Thomas Greenway would become premier of Manitoba. He took over as premier from David Howard Harrison, who could not command a majority, and Greenway was asked by the Lt. Gov. to form a new administration. He did so and would serve as the new premier until 1890. Later in this year, he would survive his first provincial election thanks to defections and by-election wins.

On Jan. 20, Ethel Wilson would be born in South Africa. She would come to Canada after the death of her father in 1898 and settle in Vancouver. Trained as a teacher, she would begin to write novels and short stories in the 1930s. In 1947, she would publish Hetty Dorval and in 1954 she published Swamp Angel. In 1961, she was awarded a Governor General Literary Award and in 1964, she received the Royal Society of Canada’s Lorne Pierce Medal. She would pass away in 1980.

On Feb. 28, George Pearkes was born in England. He would emigrate to Alberta in 1906 and settle near Red Deer. In 1911, he joined the North West Mounted Police and in 1915, enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. At the Battle of Passchendaele, he would be awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military medal, for leading his men through the battle despite a bullet wound in his leg. He would also receive the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross during his war years. During the Second World War, he would serve in several capacities including taking temporary command of the Canadian forces, and serving as the General Officer Commanding In Chief Pacific Command. In 1945, he would be elected to the House of Commons, serving until 1960. During that time he would be the Minister of National Defence from 1957 to 1960. In 1960, he would become the Lt. Governor of British Columbia, serving until 1968. He would die on May 30, 1984. Several parks, buildings and schools are named for Pearkes. He has also been awarded the Order of Canada and the Legion of Merit, along with four honorary degrees.

On April 23, Georges Vanier was born in Montreal. He would go on to serve in the First World War, losing a limb in battle but was commended for his bravery in the field. He would be awarded the Military Cross and the Distinguished Service Order during the war. He would return to Canada and remain in the military until the 1930s when he began to take on diplomatic missions in Europe. When the Second World War broke out, he would go back into the military and command troops on the home front.

In 1959, he was appointed as the Governor General of Canada, the first French-Canadian to serve in the post.

He would remain as Governor General until he passed away in 1967. In 1999, when a list of the most influential Canadians of all time compiled, he placed number one thanks to his time as Governor General and the awards that he helped create including the Vanier Cup.

On April 28, Harry Crerar was born in Hamilton. He would train as an engineer before enlisting in the First World War, rising to the rank of Lt. Col. After the war, he remained in the military and by the time of the Second World War, he was a Brigadier on the General Staff at Canadian Military Headquarters in England. In 1940, he was made the Vice Chair of the General Staff in Canada and then the Chief of the General Staff. He would then be promoted to the rank of major-general and became the General Officer Commanding of the Second Canadian Infantry Division in England. In 1944, he was given command of the Canadian First Army, and would see his troops fight in several important operations during the closing years of the war. That same year, he was promoted to full general and would have his picture on the cover of Time Magazine. After the war, he would serve in diplomatic postings and would pass away in 1965. Several parks, streets and neighbourhoods are named for him. A mountain is also named after him. 

Appointed on May 1, 1888, Lord Stanley would soon arrive in Canada with his wife Constance, to become Governor General. As Governor General, Stanley travelled extensively throughout the country, which gave him an appreciation for the beauty of the landscape.

During his visit to British Columbia, he would dedicate Stanley Park in Vancouver, which he named after himself and christened with a bottle of wine.

The Vancouver Daily World reported of his visit quote:

“In bidding welcome to Lord Stanley, we do so the more readily, because he for the first time sets foot in a city which tells what Canadian pluck and Canadian enterprise can do.”

The role of the Governor General began to change under Stanley. He began the trend of assuming a non-political role that would evolve over the next century.

In 1891, he refused to agree to a motion in the House of Commons that asked him to disallow Quebec’s Jesuit Estates Act, which paid $400,000 as compensation for land granted to the Jesuits by the King of France. Opposition for the bill came from other provinces who did not trust the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec.

Stanley refused to interfere, stating it would be unconstitutional.

By far, the most famous act of Stanley was the creation of the trophy that has his name, The Stanley Cup.

Stanley decided to donate a silver bowl that was initially known as the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup, which would be awarded to the best amateur hockey club in Canada.

On March 18, 1892, Stanley sent the following message to the three-time champion Ottawa Hockey Club, who were celebrating at Russell House Hotel in Ottawa.

“I have for some time been thinking that it would be a good thing if there were a challenge cup which should be held from year to year by the champion hockey team in the Dominion of Canada. There does not appear to be any such outward sign of a championship at present, and considering the general interest which matches now elicit, and the importance of having the game played fairly and under rules generally recognized, I am willing to give a cup which shall be held from year to year by the winning team.”

On May 30, James Ferrier would pass away. Born in Scotland, he came to Montreal in 1821 and established himself as a successful merchant. He would serve as a city councillor from 1841 to 1848 and as mayor of Montreal from 1844 to 1846. He was then elected to the Legislative Council of the Province of Canada, serving from 1847 to 1867, and then served in the Legislative Council of Quebec from 1867 to 1888. He was also a Canadian senator during that same period of time. From 1884 to 1888, he also served as the chancellor of McGill University.

On June 20, the Northwest Territories would hold their first general election with 22 members being elected to the Legislative Assembly. There were no parties at the time in the territory, so everyone was elected as an independent. Robert Brett would be appointed as the government leader by Lt. Governor Joseph Royal. He was not premier, but was termed the Chairman of the Lt. Governor’s Advisory Council. Also serving in the Assembly, but unable to vote, were three judges who provided legal advice. Unusual for the time was that voters would tell the returning officer who they were voting for and it would remain this type of system until 1894.

On July 11, John MacKay was born in Nova Scotia. He would serve in the First World War, being wounded twice and earning the Distinguished Service Order and reaching the rank of Lt. Col. After the war, he left the army but was instrumental in founding the Royal Canadian Legion in 1925, serving as its first National Vice-Chair. As a lawyer, he would rise to hold a position on the Supreme Court of Ontario in 1935 and would overturn an anti-Semitic land restriction in Toronto. The Workers Education Association had bought land in Toronto and then discovered that the deed prevented the land from being sold to, in its words, Jews or persons of objectionable nationality. A court case was launched by the Canadian Jewish Congress and Mackay declared the deed illegal. In 1957, Mackay was appointed aas the lt. Governor of Ontario, serving until 1963. He would found the Canadian Civil Liberties Association in 1964, was awarded the Order of Canada in 1967 and was made a Knight of Grace Of The Venerable Order of St. John of Jerusalem. He passed away in 1970.

On Sept. 18, Grey Owl, also known as Archibald Stansfeld Belaney, was born in Sussex, England. Coming to Canada in 1906 on the S.S. Canada, he began to study agriculture and then worked as a wilderness guide, fur trader and forest ranger. It was around this time he began to fabricate his Indigenous identity. He would serve in the First World War, claiming he was born in Montreal and his comrades believed him to be Indigenous. He would return to Canada in 1917 after being shot in the foot, the second time he had been wounded in the war. He would spend a year in the hospital as doctors tried to heal his foot. Beginning in 1925, he would rise in prominence as an author and lecturer on environmental issues. Around this time he began living with Gertrude Bernard, a Mohawk Iroquois woman who encouraged him to stop trapping and publish his writing about the wilderness. Grey Owl began to feel that trapping was barbaric and started to campaign against it and for conservation. He would publish articles on animal lore under his name Grey Owl and in 1928, the National Park Service made a film about him. The film featured him with two beavers he had adopted after their mother was killed.

Between 1930 and 1935, Grey Owl wrote 25 articles for Canadian Forest and Outdoors magazine. He would publish his first book in 1931 called The Men of the Last Frontier, which traced the story of the beaver and presented his concerns about the future of Canada’s forests. With the success of his books and his collaboration with the National Park Service, he would begin to do speaking tours in Canada and England. Between 1931 and 1937, he would write five books on conservation and the wilderness. Sadly, the pressure of the tours and his growing alcoholism began to weaken him and in 1938, he would die in Prince Albert from pneumonia. After his death, it became known that Grey Owl was actually a man born in England called Archibald. The North Bay Nugget knew of the truth behind his identity for three years and published their story on the day he died. Despite the deception, Grey Owl was celebrated. The Ottawa Citizen would state, “Of course, the value of his work is not jeopardized. His attainments as a writer and naturalist will survive.” Today, Grey Owl is celebrated in film, documentaries and through his books. The cabin he built in the 1930s still stands in Prince Albert National Park. Several plaques honour Grey Owl in England and Canada as well. The cabin he lived in at Riding Mountain National Park for six months in 1931 has also been designated a Federal Heritage Building.

On Dec. 2, James William Coldwell was born in England. He would come to Canada in 1910 and work as a union activist and teacher. In 1935, he was elected to the House of Commons and would serve until 1958. He was the first national secretary of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and became its national leader in 1942, serving until 1960. When the CCF disbanded in 1961, he joined the successor party, the NDP. As an MP, he would help to introduce several welfare state policies into Canada including Old Age Scurity, Child Benefits and more. He was offered a Senate appointment but declined and in 1967, was one of the first individuals awarded the Order of Canada. He would pass away in 1974.

During this year, Among the Millet, a collection of poems, would be published by Archibald Lampman. Considered the Canadian Keats and the finest of Canada’s late 19th-century poets, Lampman was also termed one of Canada’s Confederation Poets. His poetry book consisted of 48 poems and was considered to be his crowning achievement as a poet.

Isaac Cowie of Winnipeg would compile a report on the bison in 1912 and would state that the last bison hunt he could find any evidence of happened in July of 1888 in the valley of the Red Deer River between Edmonton and Calgary. Only five animals were killed.

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