FRONTIER DAYS in WINNIPEG
The Third Article in a Series of Reminiscences
COL. GEORGE H. HAM
IN ITS early days, Winnipeg was reputed to be one of the two wickedest places in Canada. The other was a small Ontario town—Paris, if I remember aright.
Winnipegers didn’t object very much to having the doubtful distinction attributed to it, but they kicked like steers when linked with a small eastern village, where it would naturally be supposed the only outward and visible sign of sin would be the innocent little lambs gamboling on the green. If they were no worse than the Canadian -Parisians—well, it was confoundedly humiliating—and they were somewhat ashamed of being put in the amateur class. Probably Paris might have a few who were “a devil of a fellow in his own home town,” but Winnipeg looked down in scorn on that mush-and-milk brand of real sporty life. Of course the city was pretty rapid, with lots ■to drink and plenty to gamble and horse racing galore and similar sports were the rage. With dances, operas, swagger champagne suppers, and late hours, it was one continuous merry round. But gay life in Winnipeg was grossly exaggerated, because it was a comparatively small place, running speedily ahead of other places of even larger size in its daily round of gaiety.
Hideous crime itself, as it is seen in the cities of its size to-day, was totally unknown. There was scarcely even a murder or a shooting scrap and very few scandals. The demi - mondaines were numerous and hilarious as were their patrons, but the police regulations were usually strictly enforced, and, while the bars were kept wide open until all hours of the night, the liquor was of a good quality, and there were fewer drunken people staggering on the streets than could be seen in other places which made greater pretentions of a monopoly of all the virtues. The police court records prove this. So while it was called wicked, it held no real genuine carnival of crime. It was simply a wide open frontier outpost of civilization.
Early in its infancy, it was invaded by a band of crooks from the south, who started in on the bad man act, but Chief Justice Wood sodn put them where the dogs couldn’t bite them with long sentences in jail or Stoney Mountain Penitentiary. Those who didn’t come up before the Judge made a mad dash for liberty across the line. There were a couple of executions, but only one Winnipeg murder, and the Gribben murder, where a whiskey peddler along the line of railway construction shot a cabin boy of wie of the river boats to death. Taking it all in all, life in Winnipeg was as safe then as it is in Westmount to-day—but a dashed sight more exciting.
Down at Fisher’s Landing in Minnesota, immigrants who there transferred from train to boat were unmercifully fleeced by Farmer Brown, who, driving a sorry looking yoke of oxen and wearing a bucolic make-up, victimized the immigrants with sad, sad tales of sorrow and misfortune, and when their sympathies were aroused through his unfailing flow of tears, he would trim them to a standstill at three card monte, at which he was an adept. There were other sharpers, of course, as there always are where there is a movement of people, but they did nothing actually sensational.
Interviewing a Murderer
LOUIS THOMAS, an Indian, was found guilty of murdering a white man down near Morris, and was sentenced to death. A few days previous to the execution, a friend of mine who was a guard at the jail, which was then located at the bend on Main Street, near the City Hall, tipped me off that the Indian wanted to see me. Although it was against the regulations, I managed to smuggle myself into his cell, and he told me the story of the crime. He had just got to the point of saying that two French-Canadians had taken the victim by the legs and thrown him into a well, when the sheriff appeared and ordered me out of the place and demanded my notes. Of course, I had to go, and backed out as dignified-like as I could, and protested that I was willing to give up my notes, until I reached the street door. Once outside the jail, I made a rush for the Free Press office, wrote up my report of the day’s exciting event, and that evening there was so much indignation expressed around town that next morning the Government appointed Hon. D. M. Walker to investigate the affair, and I was allowed to be present. The Indian had given me a couple
of pages of foolscap on which he said was scribbled a confession in the Iroquois language, but it could easily be seen that it was merely scribbling and nothing more.
When Mr. Walker confronted the prisoner he retracted every blessed word he had told me, and when next I saw him on the scaffold, he looked at me in a most careless, half amused way, and, waving his hand towards me, cheerily said with the greatest nonchalance: “Bon jour, boy, bon jour.” Five minutes later, he dropped into eternity.
Another exciting incident was the Schofield affair.
Schofield was a trusted employee of the McMillan Bros.—
D. H. and W. W. — who ran a flour mill near the river bank. One morning the office was found to be all topsyturvy. Chairs were upset and other furniture scattered around promiscuously, and a large dent in a wooden desk evidenced that a club had been used. Drops of blood left a trail in the snow to the river and on the ice. The next day and next night ice cutting machines worked overtime making holes in the ice, and grappling irons were unavailingly lowered to rescue the body. People were aghast at the awful crime and •
Schofield’s pretty wife was the object of everybody’s sympathy. The
following day, Schofield’s remains were found—down in Minneapolis, although the waters of the Red River flowed the other way. An American customs officer at St. Vincent, on the boundary, reported a man answering Schofield’s description had passed through on the St. Paul train the night of the awful tragedy, and that he was dressed like an ordinary working man but had forgotten to discard his white starched shirt, whose cuffs with gold sleeve links had attracted his attention as being a queer sort of a combination for a laboring man. Schofield’s rooms were searched and in them was found a collection
of dyes, false moustaches,
wigs, etc., with which he had
disguised himself. As his ac-
counts were all right, it was puzzling to
know why he had put up such a job, until it
was discovered that it was to secure à fairly
good insurance which he had on his life.
Then there was Jim Van Rensaellaer’s case. Jim was a big, fat, good-natured agent of the American Express Company at Winnipeg and of the Winnipeg-Moorhead stage company for years, and was liked by everybody. One day, it was discovered that from the vault in the express office had been taken a package of money—said to be $10,000 but really $15,000 (to save extra express charges) which a bank was sending to Winnipeg. There was absolutely no clue to the robbery. Van was shadowed by local and imported detectives and every device resorted to in order to catch him. His friends stood staunchly by him, but the money was gone, and who could have taken it if not Van? Coming on the train from Devil’s Lake, Dakota, to Grand Forks one day, I met Jack Noble, a detective, whom I had known for years. He told me the express company never let up in running down express robbers,^ and that he expected to catch Van before long— and this'was a couple of years after the theft. In a friendly spirit Iftold Van all this when I reached home, but Van seemed[perfeetly unconcerned, and said he was as much interested in solving the mystery as the company was. Some years later when in London, England, I spent an evening with H. G. McMicken, who at the time of this robbery occupied part of the express office as a railway and steamship ticket office. He was a sort of amateur detective and could open a safe in first-class Raffles style, and he had given a good deal of attention and thought to this affair. The only solution he could offçr—and it was probably the correct one—was that on the eventful day a number of workmen were employed in whitewashing the office. The vault door had been left ajar, and one of the men, seizing the opportunity, had snatched the package and secreted it in his whitewash pail, where it would immediately be covered with the lime solution. He could then easily leave for lunch with his booty in the pail, which he doubtless did. And the express company was out only $10,000 besides its expenses for detectives, and the bank also lost $15,000. But the latter’s reputation suffered more than Van’s.
The Case of Lord Gordon-Gordon
REMARKABLE case was that of Lord Gordon-Gordon, a presumed English nobleman, who in the early 70’s cut a wide swath in Minnesota, where he was royally entertained by leading people. He intirriated that he was acting for his sister, who desired to invest heavily in western lands. He was “pie” for the Minnesotans, who were willing to unload on her ladyship all the land she coveted. A fine looking gentlemanly fellow, he quickly made hosts of friends. It was not long before it was discovered that his lordship had previously got into difficulties in New York with Jay Gould, the well-known railway magnate, and was out on bail. He promptly immigrated to Manitoba, and to secure his return to the United States an attempt was made to kidnap him. He was forcibly seized at the residence of Hon. James McKay, whose guest he was, and hurried towards the boundary line, but the authorities interfered and brought back Lord GordonGordon and his kidnappers to Winnipeg, where the offenders and their accomplices, who were prominent business men and politicians of Minnesota, were lodged in jail. Amongst them was Loren Fletcher, of St. Paul, who wired his friends a pithy telegram which has been often quoted: “I am in a hell of a fix.” Lord Gordon-Gordon, who had the sympathy of the people, went to a friend’s house in Headingly, and when advised that he would have to be extradited, asked for time to pack a few clothes, went into an adjoining room, from which was heard the sharp report of a revolver, and when his friends rushed in he was dead. Who and what he was has never been revealed, but some years later Chatnbcrs’s Journal had a long and interesting article about him, in which it was made to appear that he was the illegitimate offspring of a Cornish family, whose ancestry had accumulated great wealth through smuggling. His remarkable career is now about forgotten, but he set the
pace in New York and through Minnesota and created more excitement in Winnipeg than any other event of the early days, excepting perhaps the Riel Rebellion.
Early, in the morning of Saturday, April 13, 1895, the wife and children of William Farr, a C.P.R. locomotive engineer, operating a yard engine at Winnipeg, were awakened by the smell of smoke and fire, and their cries aroused Mr. T. C. Jones, living in the adjoining house, which was a double frame structure on the south-east corner of Ross and Isabel Streets. The aid of neighbors speedily ' extinguished the flames. On arrival of Chief Billy Code, of the fire brigade, the smell of coal oil aroused his suspicions and he sent for the police. On investigation, it was found that coal oil had been sprinkled on the steps, both front and rear, of the stairways leading upstairs, and also around all the windows and doors leading outside. The conduct of Farr while on his engine and following the period of the midnight meal by asking if his mates had not heard a fire alarm, and the conditions at his house, were sufficient to cause his arrest by the police. Only circumstantial evidence was in possession of the police and they could not discover a motive for the dastardly deed by Farr. It was on information which James Hooper, city editor of the Daily Nor'-Wester, of which I was then managing editor, furnished Chief Code and Chief of Police McRae, that they traced his connection with a young woman, whom he had promised to marry. He had attended church and theatres with her and had made her many costly presents of clothing and furs.
Farr escaped from the police station during the early hours of Monday morning, April 15, by wrenching one of the iron bars out and then spreading the others sufficiently to permit him getting his body through, and opening the window, made his escape. He got away and was not recaptured for a considerable period. It is supposed he was concealed in the cab of a westbound locomotive. On his recapture he was tried and convicted, and sentenced to five years in the penitentiary. On his release, after serving his term, he took up residence on the Pacific Coast. The young woman subsequently married a farmer and lived for a number of years in the vicinity of Glenella.
Well I remember the day she came half frightened into the Nor’-Wester office to endeavor to have her name in connection with the affair kept out of the paper. To me behind closed doors she tearfully related her version of her companionship with Farr, whom she said she had frequently seen in church with his family, but which, she alleged, he told her was his dead brother’s widow and children, whom he was supporting. Between her hysterics and weeping, I said consoling words and showed her the futility of suppressing her name, and finally convinced her that her story would, if printed, be better for her. When she left she was, although undoubtedly ill, comparatively in bettered condition, and, as it was raining, I sent her home in a cab, with strict injunctions to take a hot drink and go straight to bed, and to see no one, which she did. That evening the Nor’-Wester had a two column story with startling headings, and the other papers hadn’t a line. It was a great scoop for Jim Hooper, one of the best of newspaper men, who worked up the whole case, and who after several years’ experience as King’s Printer for Manitoba, is now at the desk in the Free Press office as chirpy as ever.
Some Prominent Old Timers
AMONG the many outstanding figures of those days was W. F.
Luxton, founder of the Free Press. There were three other newspapers published in the village of Winnipeg when Kenney and Luxton issued the Manitoba Free Press, a weekly, in 1872. The Free Press embodied and expressed Mr. Luxton’s views on public questions and also his ideas as to what newspaper service to the public should be. The paper grew from weekly to daily in due course and secured a hold upon the respect and confidence of the people of Manitoba which, under many changes of management and policy, it keeps in a large measure to this day.
Among the clergy of the day, the Rev. George Young, pastor of then Grace Church, may well be mentioned. He had arrived at Fort Garry as missionary of the Methodist Church, shortly before the transfer to Canada. He was outspoken on behalf of Canadian connection. When
Riel assumed control, Mr. Young, because of his office, was not arrested, but he was kept under threat and surveillance. He administerc l the sacrament to Thomas Scott before his execution by Riel s partizans. He was not a pulpit orator, but he was a man of strong character and convictions who was always leading in the right direction. Whether preaching to immigrant congregations or Indian bands, administering the last rites to the condemned Scott or helping to organize and cheer on the handful of volunteers hastily gathered to re-iist the Fenian raid of 1877 at Pembina (his own son, George, in the ranks), or again preaching for honesty and good government to peaceful Grace Church congregations, Rev. Mr. Young was a strong force for right and for Canada at the moment when the future course of events was being set.
During the troublous times both before and after the transfer of 1869, St. John’s Mission Cathedral of the Church of England with its boys’ college in connection held a quiet course and did its allotted work. The fact that the Rev. Dr. Machray of St. John’s during the 70’s was afterwards elected metropolitan of Canada is sufficient evidence that in that field also was large ability successfully applied. Rev. Mr. Clarke was the pastor of Holy Trinity Church, succeeded by Rev. Mr. Fortin, who did yeoman service, and Rev. Mr. Ewing was the first Congregational minister, and Rev. J. B. Silcox and Rev. Hugh Pedley followed, and I think Rev. Mr. Macdonald, the first Baptist—both earnest workers. Rev. Mr. Black, Rev. Dr. Robertson and Rev. Prof. Hart were pioneer Presbyterians of great distinction, and across the river His Grace Archbishop Tache aided in the great Christianizing work, and was beloved by both Protestant and Catholic; while on the plains the lamented Father Lacombe and others of the black robe carried the Mass and taught the Word with beneficial results.
Speaking of present day industries, the Brown & Rutherford planing mill and sash factory was an institution in 1873, and the Vulcan Iron Works were established by Mr. John McKechnie of Dundas, Ont., about the same time. Following these there were the lumber firms of Dick and Banning, D. E.’ Sprague, Smith & Melville and the business firms of A. G. B. Bannatyne, Kew & Stobart, afterwards Stobart & Eden, Higgins, Young & Jackson, George Andrews, J. R. Cameron, The Blue Store, Snyder & Anderson, Scott & Carson, Capt. Donaldson, Bishop & Shelton, Mullholland & Taylor, Fred Ossenbrugge, George Clements, Robert Wyatt, Thos. W. Taylor, Charlie Radiger, Trott & Melville, James Stewart, Conklin & Fortune, Hugh & James Sutherland, William Dodd, Dan Campbell, Parsons & Richardson, E. P. Murray, E. L. and Fred Drewry, George Wishart, J. W. Winnett, Alex.
Calder, Joe Wolf, W. Dufour, Jim Coolican, A. H. Bertrand, Benson & Taylor, Scott & Leslie, and goodness knows how many more, but few of them are now in exis-
Not Exactly an Angelic City
IT WOULD be a mistake to imagine, from the recital given above, that the Winnipeg of the early 70’s was a city of angels. It is a regrettable fact that some, if not many, of its leading citizens may fairly be described as otherwise. Frank Cornish, first mayor of Winnipeg and formerly mayor of London, Ont., was an excellent lawyer, and good civic administrator, but had many ideas which were at variance with the conventions even of those days— which was “going some.” He had a rival in law, H. J. Clarke, first attorney general of the province. Clarke had exceptional abilities and had “risen,” as the antiquated ideas of those days had it, from the trade of housepainter to a leading position at the bar. On a certain occasion, during a dispute in court over a point of law, Cornish took occasion to emphasize his view by saying to Clarke: “I was practising law when you were painting fences.” Clarke’s reply was: “I knew more law when I was painting fences than you do now.”
A difficulty in dealing with the more human and therefore more interesting features of the progress of any community is that the events of half a century ago cannot be fairly read in the light of to-day. Custom is law in a large measure. What was allowable or even commendable under the custom prevailing in one age may be neither allowable nor commendable under the custom of half-acentury later. The reading public do not make allowances. They are apt to judge the facts related of the past by the standards of the present; they do not recognize the absolute truth of the phrase, “Other times, other manners.” Therefore many legitimately interesting episodes of the old days must go unrecorded rather than that the men of enterprise, energy, foresight and patriotism who put Winnipeg on the map in the years from ’71 to ’82 should be misunderstood.
The men who, so to speak, put the “Win” in Winnipeg deserve the best that those who are the heirs of their efforts and successes, or even failures, can say or think of them. The occasion was great, and they were men at
The First Iron Horse
'T'HE arrival of the first locomotive in Winnipeg was a red-letter day for the whole Canadian West. It was in October 9, 1877. Brought down the Red River on a barge, with six flat cars and a caboose, towed by the old Kittson Line stern-wheeler, Selkirk, her voyage down stream was one continuous triumphal progress from Pembina at the International boundary to Winnipeg.
The Free Press of that day, on whose staff I was city editor, telegraph editor, news editor, reporter, proof reader and exchange editor, gave the following account from its Pembina correspondent of the eventful affair.
“The steamer Selkirk arrived at Pembina yesterday (Sunday), with three barges, having on board a locomotive and tender, a caboose and six platform cars, in charge at Mr. Joseph Whitehead, contractor on the C.P.R. As this is the pioneer locomotive making its way down the Red River Valley, the steamer was hailed by the settlers with the wildest excitement and greatest enthusiasm, especially as Mr.
Whitehead had steam up on his engine, and notified the inhabitants that the iron horse was coming by the most frantic shrieks and snortings. On passing Fort Pembina the flotilla was saluted by the guns of the (U.S.) artillery, and upon arrival at Pembina it was met by Captain McNaught, commanding at Fort Pembina, and his officers, Hon. J. Frankenfield, N. E. Nelson, and his associates in the U.S. customs, and the population en masse. The flotilla was handsomely decorated with flags and bunting, proud of the high distinction of carrying the first locomotive destined to create a new era for travel and traffic in the great northwest.”
The Free Press said in part on October 9th:
“At an early hour this morning, wild, unearthly shrieks from the river an-^ nounced the coming of the
Continued on page 52
Continued from page 22
steamer Selkirk with the first locomotive ever brought into Manitoba; and about 9 o’clock the boat steamed past the Assiniboine. A large crowd of people collected upon the river banks, and, as the steamer swept past the city, mill whistles blew furiously, and bells ' rang out to welcome the iron horse. By this time the concourse had assembled at No. 6 warehouse (at foot of Lombard street) where the boat landed, and in the crowd were to be noticed people of many different nationalities represented in the prairie provinces.
“The Selkirk was handsomely decorated for the occasion with Union Jacks, Stars and Stripes, banners with the familiar ‘C.P.R.,’ and her own bunting; and with the barge conveying the locomotive and cars ahead of her, also gaily decorated with flags and evergreens and a barge laden with railway ties on each side presented a novel spectacle. The whistles of the locomotive and the boat continued shrieking, the mill whistles joined in the
chorus, the bells clanged—a young lady, Miss Racine, pulling manfully at the ropes—and the continuous noise and din proclaimed loudly that the iron horse had arrived at last. Shortly after landing three cheers were given for Mr. Joseph Whitehead, and in a few minutes a crowd swarmed on board and examined the engine most minutely. The caboose and flat cars, which also came in for their share of attention, each bear the name ‘Canadian Pacific’ in white letters. After remaining a couple of hours, during which she was visited by many hundreds, the Selkirk steamed to a point below Point Douglas ferry, where a track had been laid to the water’s edge, on which it was intended to run the engine this afternoon.
“It is a somewhat singular coincidence as mentioned by Mr. Rowan (C.P.R. engineer in charge then)_on a recent public occasion, that Mr. Whitehead, who now introduces the first locomotive into this young country, should have operated as fireman to the engine which drew the first train that ran on the very first railway in
Englantf—the historic line built in Yorkshire between Stockton-on-Tees and DarJington. Surely the event of to-day is not one whit less important to Canadians in Manitoba than was that in which Mr. Whitehead figured so many years ago to Englishmen, in Yorkshire. It is no wonder that the settlers on the banks of the -Red River went almost wild with excitement in witnessing the arrival of the 'iron-horse.’
“A lone blanketed Indian standing on the Upper bank of the river looked down rather disdainfully upon the strange iron thing 8nd the interested crowd of spectators who hailed its coming. He evinced no enthusiasm, but stoically gazed at the nove} scene. What did it portend? To him R might be the dread thought of the passing of the old life of his race, the alienation of the stamping grounds of his forefathers, the early extinction of their great God-given provider, the buffalo, which for generations past had furnished the red man with all the necessities of life —shelter, food, clothing, shaganappy— a necessity for his cart or travois—and even fuel. The untutored mind may have dimly pictured the paleface usurping his rights to an hitherto unquestioned freedom of the plains, and the driving back of the led man by the overwhelming march of civilization.' Whatever he may have thought, this iron horse actually meant that the wild, free, unrestrained life of the Indian was nearing its end, and that the buffalo, with its life-giving gifts and its trails and wallows, would disappear, to be replaced by immense tracts of golden .grain fields which would, in years to come, make this fair land the granary of the world. Buffalo and agriculture are an impossibility together, and the law of the survival of the fittest is unfailing. And so it was in this case, when the first locomotive was the avant courier of thousands to come.”
Real Trouble Arises
WHEN Fort Rouge was taken into the city I began to figure in really troublesome times. Fort Rouge was created a ward of the city, but given no representation on the city council, which its people wouldn’t stand. What they lacked m numbers they made up in noise and determination. ,A meeting of a score or so residents, nearly all there were, was held, and three aidermen were selected (not elected) to represent the ward in the city council. They were Mr. Thomas Nixon, well - known citizen, strong with the church-going community, Mr. Stewart Mulvey, a prominent Orangeman and brewer, and myself, without any particular pedigree. We three attended the first council meeting held after our selection, and got a mighty cool receptiori. Mayor McNicken, while sympathizing with us, followed legal advice and would not recognize us any more than he could help. In attempting to address the chair we were ordered to sit down which we readily did, only to arise
again, and receive the same treatment. It was not until the other aldermen were threatened with legal prosecution that we were at all acknowledged. The old municipality of Fort Rouge had $1,700 in its coffers, but just before its termination as a separate municipality, the funds were voted into Mr. Nixon’s hands, as trustee, and we were going to fight the beasts of Ephesus with that money. In fact we had engaged Fred McKenzie, a bright young lawyer, and the city compromised—after an indignation meeting had been held at which Charlie Wishart and other non-residents of Fort Rouge vigorously denounced the council for its disgraceful conduct. We were given out seats, and an act was passed by the Legislature to legalize all that had been done. Then the proceedings deteriorated into what one sagacious alderman termed a “beer garden.” There was a feud between Aid. George Wilson and Aid. Mark Fortune (who was a victim of the Titanic disaster) and these two had no particular love for one another. One night while Aid. Wilson, Mulvey and myself were going to a council meeting, the question of the legality of a certain by-law was discussed. Aid. Wilson said it was ultra vires, and I told him, in discussing its legality in council, to again say it was when I pulled his coat-tail. I sat between the two warring aldermen. Wilson started out on the by-law, and Mark was busy writing a proposed motion. At the psychological moment, I pulled Wilson’s coat-tail, and he addressed the Mayor: “But, Mr. Mayor, I fear it’s ultra vires.” Turning to Aid. Fortune I whispered: “Mark, did you hear what he called you?”
“No, what is it?”
“Why he called you an ultra vires.” “What’s that?” Mark asked.
“Well, I’d rather be called a dog’s child than that—it’s the meanest thing anybody can be called.”
Mark arose indignantly and, interrupting Wilson’s remarks, shouted:
“Mr. Mayor—Mr. Mayor—”
Then, turning to me, he remarked sarcastically in a stage whisper that everyone could hear:
“Oh, it’s only Wilson. Nobody cares -what he says.”
At another time, I walked into the finance committee meeting from one of the licence and police I had been attending and found Aid. Nixon—“Dad” we familiarly called him—crouched up and shaking with laughter until the tears rolled down his cheeks. A previous council had been loudly denounced for its incapacity, and “Dad” handed me a slip of paper on which he had written the opinion of a brother alderman :
“Under the old regma things were in a state of cahose.”
The alderman meant to say that “under the old régime things were in a state of chaos.” I shouldn’t translate his meaning for it spoils a joke to have to explain it.