From Sombrero to Cocked Hat

His gold braid means only one thing to Hon. J. D. McGregor—recognition for agriculture

JOHN HURLEY November 1 1929

From Sombrero to Cocked Hat

His gold braid means only one thing to Hon. J. D. McGregor—recognition for agriculture

JOHN HURLEY November 1 1929

From Sombrero to Cocked Hat

His gold braid means only one thing to Hon. J. D. McGregor—recognition for agriculture


ALTHOUGH J. D. McGregor, the newly created lieutenant-governor of Manitoba, now sits in a viceregal chair, the purple and gold trappings of state do not dim his fondness for the days when he packed his load over the Dawson Trail in ’98 or when as a cattleman, he unrolled his blankets beneath the stars on the western prairies.

James Duncan McGregor—it is perhaps underlining the obvious to say so—is of Scotch descent. Theoretically, as lieutenant-governor he represents the King. Actually, he far better represents the West; and such is his love for the country and it~ fundamental industry of agriculture that, for its benefit, he more or less tolerantly permits the head more used to a sombrero to don a cocked hat, and his burly frame to fill out a Windsor uniform.

His view of his appointment is that if it’s going to benefit agriculture for the West to put on a dinner jacket, then the West, so far as he represents it, will put one on, for he insists in seeing, in this signal honor, an honor paid not to him but to agriculture, an industry in which he has been a shining light. Even in Chicago, in the famous Saddle and Sirloin Club, his name is mentioned with supreme respect, for did he not take their highest prizes for fine cattle two years in succession? On the walls of this exclusive Club hangs a picture of His Honor. It is the greatest tribute American cattlemen can bestow.

Recognition in a more tangible form came in Canada in January this year when he was appointed lieutenantgovernor. Thus a colorful life of adventure and toil and genuine contribution to the development of the West was crowned with the highest honor the province holds. He can now receive regally and recall comfortably the days of burnt bacon and snow on the blankets; of long hours spent in the saddle when the West was just a collection of scrub steer provinces, not the sleek, prosperous Aberdeen Angus and Durhams they are now. McGregor, to a very large extent, groomed the provinces to their present shining fatness. The country was young and rangy when he came to it, himself a young man. It “had never been curried below the knees.” He and the country grew up together. There are some of the characteristics of the country in the man, and the man has stamped some of his characteristics on the country. He poured a strain of pure blood into the wild-eyed steers that cropped the short grasses of the prairies, and the results are tangible and important.

He was the first man to undertake improving Canadian cattle in the West. He gave stock-raising and agriculture generally the impetus it needed, placed it on a solid footing and imparted to it a tone that made it eminently respectable, almost dignified. His Glengarnock herd is famous the world over. The Australian Government heard of it and bought bulls to improve the stock over there. Glengarnock Victor I, and Glengarnock Victor II were his two animals that carried off the championship for the best fat animal two years in succession in Chicago, where the entire North American continent met in competition. He is the only man who ever achieved the feat.

A Pioneer in Pure-Breds

CHRONOLOGICALLY the rise of the lieutenantgovernor of Manitoba was as follows: Born in

Amherstburg, Ontario, in 1860, he went West with his father when a lad of seventeen. Brandon, Manitoba, a city which is invariably identified with J. D. McGregor, did not then exist. Civilization as represented by the railway had only penetrated as far as Portage la Prairie. McGregor, the elder, started with his sons the business of importing cattle from Minnesota and selling them to the settlers. Importing cattle then was not a business of shipping them comfortably in freight-cars, but a job that involved long, hard days in the saddle. McGregor the elder sold Pat Burns the first whole carload of cattle that now famous packer ever bought.

In 1888 the present Glengarnock herd of pedigree stock was started on the farm of McGregor at Oak Lake. They were Aberdeen Angus sires and cows from Scotland. Ever since then the strain has been improved yearly. The first pure-bred Shire and Hackney stallions the West had ever seen were brought in in 1895. The pure strain seeped into the prairie herds. The quality of stock improved. Shaggy, rough hides became smooth and glossy. Former canners were transformed into prime beeves. The McGregors commenced shipping cattle to England. After the first impetus the business gradually arrived at the stage where it almost ran by its own momentum. Young McGregor, virile, adventurous, romantic, fretted slightly. He wanted more color,

more excitement, a spice of danger. All these were forthcoming very shortly, for about that time a boatload of gold was sailing into Seattle from Alaska. The magic word “Klondyke” was soon on everybody’s lips. The glamor of gold swept over the country, and a tide of humanity swept through the Chilkoot Pass to leave its bones on the trail that led to riches.

In the Yukon

WITH the influx in such numbers of the world’-s hardest-living specimens into the Klondyke, and with gold for the dangerous stakes, the Canadian Government felt it imperative to establish as soon as possible, and as firmly as possible, the rule of law. Upon Clifford Sifton, then Minister of the Interior, fell the task of selecting men suitable for the job. They had to be strong, hardy and courageous men. Other qualities required were tact, common sense and a wide knowledge of the western character, which was the type that flocked to the gold fields. The Minister of the Interior had known young McGregor on the prairie, had seen him in the saddle and, if a modicum of poetic license is permitted, in the countinghouse. McGregor was offered the job of Inspector of Mines. He took it, abandoning the cattle pen for the gold pan.

He went into the North Country by way of Skagway, leading the first administration of the Yukon over the pass that later became Dawson City. The first administration consisted of Captain Aaron Bliss, Controller; Major J. M. Walsh, Commissioner; T. D. Pattullo, present Minister of Mines in British Columbia, secretary to Major Walsh; Judge Maguire; F. C. Wade, Crown Prosecutor, and Captain Norwood, who was assistant to J. D. McGregor. Up to then the law had been administered in the Yukon by a handful of North West Mounted Policemen; and how well they administered it we will let His Honor tell later. This little group maintained even-handed justice among 30,000 hard-bitten miners and prospectors from all parts.

The task had difficulties that called for just those qualities possessed by McGregor. In the first place he was big enough physically to give force to any orders he might issue; and his varied experience with the types of men he dealt with gave him a sympathetic insight into their motives. Miners’ disputes °ver claims were all referred to him and, invariably, he would ta the claimants into a reasonable frame of mind. What might have been an ugly situation would resolve itself into a loving cup. No man questioned his rulings, for his reputation for “square shooting” was firmly established wherever prospectors and miners gathered. It is a reputation he has yet.

One case that threatened to become a problem developed on Dominion Creek. Two parties of prospectors claimed title to the same properties. One party had gone down stream prospecting. The other had gone up stream. They overlapped. The manner of claiming a property was to chop out a flat surface on trees on the four corners of a claim, and write with pencil, “I claim five hundred feet north. Bill Smith,” and so on. In this particular case one party, which we can call the Smiths, vigorously claimed title to a property that was blazed as Jones. The Jones’ party asserted they were there first. So did the Smiths. Lengthy harangues did not further the case a bit, so one day McGregor announced he would go up the creek and look at the properties himself. When he came back he had a solution. The property was blazed as Jones all right, but McGregor dug in the snow at the base of a tree. He was looking for chips. He found some. By piecing them together he discerned Smith’s signature, which had been there first and chopped away. He went back to town with the chips and finally had the contestants, who had been ready to fly at each other’s throats, laughing it off as a good joke. This instance is an indication of McGregor’s sagacity.

A hospital in Dawson City is proof of his mingled generosity and Scotch shrewdness. There was no regular mail at that early stage, but McGregor received two copies of a San Francisco paper, both about a year old. He clipped them, classified the news geographically, posted it up in a building, announced that the funds would be used to build a hospital, and miners gladly trooped in and paid five dollars and ten dollars for the privilege of reading what had happened twelve months previously. He collected $10,000 from those two old San Francisco papers, and in the ordinary course of time the hospital was built.

Naturally, he ran into snags. On the whole, he says, the miners were a goodnatured, law-abiding crew, but some did resent having to pay the Dominion Government ten per cent of the gold they got. One fellow, Ogilvie, hugged this to his bosom as a burning grievance and asserted vehemently that he would never pay. Further, that if McGregor tried to collect there’d be lead flying. One day he went to McGregor’s office with his gold and his grievance. The latter he aired loudly and with force. McGregor was patient and unafraid. Drawn up to his full height he faced his man and listened. Then he talked back quietly, logically, meeting threats with persuasive logic. How was the country to be run, and how were the interests of the miners to be protected without a government administration? This was the burden of his argument. And it worked. Ogilvie became one of his best friends.

One miner, notoriously close-fisted, cleaned up big and went home to Holland. When he returned he gave McGregor a large solitaire ring and a tie-pin, solely out of gratitude. Briefly, McGregor won the miners to him and instead of being a cold, official Inspector of Mines, was instead a sort of Father Confessor whose word was law, and to whom one went in almost any sort of trouble. He remained in the North about eight years, but regularly made trips out to his two ranches, one near Medicine Hat in Alberta, and the other in Manitoba. In

1905 ho left the Yukon and settled down to farming.

Farmer Again

TT WAS then that he began to acquire

his reputation as a fine stock breeder. In 1908 he and several others conceived the idea of a Brandon Fair, now almost as famous as the larger Toronto Fair. They collected $50,000 and erected a building. The place burned down, but it had served a good purpose, for the Government was by then sufficiently interested to take the Fair in hand and erect another building. Fairs, boys’ clubs and agricultural activities have always engaged the attention of His Honor. He has a diploma from the Manitoba Agricultural College and an illuminated address from the City of Brandon. His most important contribution, he considers, was the founding of the Boys’ Calf Feeding Clubs. He originated this idea in Brandon, and the Club now has a membership of more than half a million throughout Canada and the United States.

The lieutenant-governor has two sons, Alan McGregor and Kenneth McGregor, and one daughter, Mrs. E. C. Harte, who will probably preside at Government House. Mrs. J. D. McGregor died twenty years ago.

In build the lieutenant-governor is a burly man, six feet tall. He weighs about 230 pounds. Beneath shaggy eyebrows shrewd eyes appraise men and affairs, one can safely surmise, at their precise worth. As a lieutenant-governor he was still Jim McGregor to at least two-thirds of the people he encountered in the lobby of the Royal Alexandra Hotel in Winnipeg one recent Sunday forenoon. On that day he had arisen at half past four in the morning to greet an old friend of his early cattle days, none other than Senator Dan Riley, of Alberta, who still has a ranch at High River. Despite the cloistering walls of the Senate, Senator Riley, like J. D. McGregor, still retains that wind-bitten look of a man who has been long on prairie trails.

In his suite the lieutenant-governor talked on the old Yukon days, but little about himself. He much preferred to talk about other people, particularly the Mounties, and the code that prevailed up there under which a miner could cache food in a tree out of the reach of foraging animals and be certain no man would take it. There was one occasion when a storekeeper lent him $20,000 and didn’t even ask for a receipt for the money. C. G. K. Nourse, the present Manager of the Head Office of the Canadian Bank of Commerce in Winnipeg, is an old friend. Nourse helped to open one of the first banks that did business in the Yukon. The lieutenant-governor likes the Bank of Commerce. “It had about the best grub in town and we frequently used to drop in there to cadge a meal,” he confessed.

Criminal cases were rare in the north country, the lieutenant-governor said, and only eight men were hanged during his entire period there. Generally speaking, human life was as safe there as it is in Toronto or Winnipeg today, although conditions were far different across the border, in Skagway. There were, of course, no Mounted Police in Skagway.

The first horse ever taken into the Arctic Circle pulled through his first winter owing to the culinary efforts of the lieutenant-governor. He fed the nag flour, the nearest approach to horse feed available. Spring found the horse excessively drooping in posture but still alive. The lieutenant-governor has seen the thermometer hit 65 below in the Yukon, and he didn’t add that it was a dry cold and you didn’t feel it. Neither did he say that it took two months of hard mushing to get into Dawson City, making from ten to twenty miles a day, yet he did it several times. They were the sort of things he took in his stride in those days.

Lieutenant-Governor—and Plain Man

WHAT conception has Manitoba’s new lieutenant-governor of his duties? “Neither my family nor I are socially ambitious,” he explained. “We just want to be known as decent-living people and our chief ambition is to further the development of agriculture.”

The following incident will reveal how he views his duties. The day the Legislature opens is the hardest one in the year for a lieutenant-governor. There are ceremonial duties to perform; the Speech from the Throne to be read, and social functions that must be attended. On the day the Manitoba Legislature opened this year a young Belgian singer was giving a performance at a theatre in the evening. The lieutenant-governor was asked to bestow his patronage on the performance. After such an exhausting day it could reasonably have been expected that he would politely deprecate his inability to

attend. But, however, he did attend. Why?

“The Belgians are a very hard-working people and excellent farmers,” said he. “I have been in Belgium and seen their methods. They are good people to have in Canada. They have done a lot for Canada and did a lot for the world during the war. They should be encouraged to come as much as possible. I thought the least I could do to show my appreciation was to attend their performance.”

This is the spirit in which he nas approached his appointment. The thought uppermost in his mind always is his beloved work and hobby—agriculture. Anything he can do to further that he will do. There isn’t the least doubt in the world that his present high eminence gives him less pleasure than the fact that he advertised Canada to the world by selling a Californian an Aberdeen Angus bull which he bought as a yearling and sold when it was four years old for $15,000; or that he is the only man on the American continent to win the stock prizes he did two years in succession.

No, the cocked hat and the sword and the ballroom atmosphere will never entirely inveigle him from his cattle pens.