The Laird of Agincourt

An intimate sketch of a quiet gentleman whose adventuring in the Far Places of the North has earned him the title, “Greatest Living Authority”

LESLIE ROBERTS October 1 1931

The Laird of Agincourt

An intimate sketch of a quiet gentleman whose adventuring in the Far Places of the North has earned him the title, “Greatest Living Authority”

LESLIE ROBERTS October 1 1931

The Laird of Agincourt

An intimate sketch of a quiet gentleman whose adventuring in the Far Places of the North has earned him the title, “Greatest Living Authority”


IF I were looking for an adjective and a noun to fasten together into a phrase which would describe the personality of Joseph Burr Tyrrell, the result would be to

refer to him as a practical philosopher. The two words do not run the gamut of his character and career, for he has lived too usefully and too excitingly to come within the scope of a phrase. But it was the philosopher in him which enabled him to cast dice with fortune and to keep on grinning when losing numbers turned up in endless succession, while his practical mind was forever evolving ways and means for turning hard won knowledge into productive channels. And so a practical philosopher he must remain.

The reader who seeks his day-by-day knowledge of men and things from his newspaper may safely ask, “But who is Tyrrell?” without risk of being labelled ignoramus, for Tyrrell is not the sort of citizen who spends his days on the front pages. But if you are a member of the company of those who delve into the tomes of science, or if your eye is practised in perusing intricate geological matters, there is no need to introduce him.

Joseph Burr Tyrrell is the greatest living authority on Northwestern Canada. He is the man who gave the world its first accurate geological information about the Barren Lands which lie this side of Hudson Bay. He is the man who found coal at Drumheller, Alberta. He is the man who solved many of the intricate mining problems of Northern Ontario. In the days when Dawson was a wide-open, sky’sthe-limit mining camp he was a successful operator and giver of expert aid to those who sought wealth in the rivers

and creeks of the Yukon. In short, Joseph Burr Tyrrell has been an extremely important, though intensely silent, factor in the making of Canada during the days of our national growing pains.

He is a new sort of celebrity, a man who has arrived at the top rung of his profession but who doesn’t care a rap for public hosannas and who refuses to admit by word or gesture that he qualifies for any lofty rank.

Early Years in Government Service

TYRRELL is the son of a former warden of York County, in Ontario, who liked to fill his home with youngsters and to prowl through the woods with his boys. The lad was educated in private schools, passed through Upper Canada College, and was launched into the world by Toronto University in 1880 as an honor man in geology. It had been the young man’s intention to pursue the study of law on completion of his geological courses, but ill health intervened and forced him to seek occupation out of doors. Thanks to the honors he had won in the university, therefore, and to a doctor who said, “Get out into the open air, young fellow, if you want to be alive in five years,” the year after graduation found him enrolled as a member of the Geological Survey of Canada, a service which lives to solve the riddles of the untouched, untrodden places.

Early years in this service were years of apprenticeship under such men as Dr. George Dawson, with whom he made several important surveys of the Rockies for the

purpose of securing accurate information as to the coal deposits of the Crow’s Nest and the base metal formations of other sections of the peak country. At length, in 1884, he was placed in charge of his own party, and for three seasons worked in the region of the Bow, Saskatchewan, and Red Deer waters, charting the formations of the country and gathering valuable geological information for the great influx of settlers who were coming into the country as Canadian Pacific steel pushed its way into the new West.

Today Tyrrell smilingly speaks of his discoveries of coal as though they were sheerest accident. The leader of the Government party had become interested in the fossilized relics of the Red Deer country, and was jubilant over the finding of perfect specimens of parts of the anatomy of a dinosaurus embedded in the rock near the river. The pieces of bone from the ancient carnivore had been packed and removed with some difficulty down to steel for shipment east, and the party returned to the neighborhood of Drumheller to pursue their hunt for fossils. New museum pieces were found, but something of far greater importance was uncovered during the hunt when the huntsman’s hammer tapped a seam of rich bituminous coal, a

discovery subsequently responsible for the opening up a thriving community of mines and a prosperous new natural resource industry on the Western plains.

“The Drumheller business was sheer accident like most of these things,” he told me not long ago. “We were as interested as school kids in our fossils, never dreaming that the ground concealed riches which would contribute greatly to the development of the region. And that always seems to be the way. The geologist and the prospector look for one thing, when out of the blue comes something else of far greater importance.”

Northern Exploration

THE beginning of the gay nineties found the scene of activities of the young geological explorer transferred to Northern Manitoba, where the vicinities of lakes Winnipeg, Manitoba and Winnipegosis claimed much of his attention. On Lake Manitoba, while carrying on an examination of the terrain adjacent to what is now the town of Gypsumville, he was stricken with typhoid. For two weeks Tyrrell’s fever-racked body lay cushioned on a bed of boughs between the thwarts of a canoe while members of his party rushed him south to Winnipeg and hospital attention. Convalescent again, after an arduous bout with death over the water trails and in a hospital bed, the geologist returned to the scenes which had gripped his imagination, and soon was on his way to new tasks even farther afield than the scenes

of his earlier discoveries.

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The Laird of Agincourt

Continued from page 19

In the spring of 1893 he led his first party into the far North with a view to obtaining geographical and geological data of the country lying vaguely between The Pas and Chesterfield Inlet. By rail to Edmonton, thence over the trail to Athabaska Landing and on to Fort Chipewyan, the geologist and his brother Jim, accompanied by three Indians from the Caughnawaga Reservation, near Montreal, and four whites, made their way slowly northward, past Fond du Lac, Black Lake and Daly Lake to the Dubawnt River.

The northbound trek was long and arduous, for those were not the days of cabin monoplanes. At Carey Lake food was beginning to run short, and time had to be taken for a caribou hunt and for the drying of meat for use beyond the timber line. At length, in the middle of September, after travelling over trails hitherto unknown to white men, the travellers reached the mouth of Chesterfield Inlet and turned down the Bay toward Churchill.

The journey from Chesterfield Inlet to Churchill remains one of the most arduous tales of hardship ever written into the saga of the North. Winter was at hand. There liad been delay and time-consuming mishaps as the party had entered the higher latitudes, so that the brothers Tyrrell found themselves at open water just as King Winter dosed his fist on the bay to hold it prisoner through the long months of winter. Short of food, lacking proper facilities for travel under the new conditions which the attainment of tidewater brought, the Tyrrell party pushed on. Day by day, new hardships were imposed on the voyagers. There were nights when shore ice and rolling water made landings and encampment impossible. There were days when sullen, choppy seas threatened for hours on end to swamp their frail canoes. But the party toiled on toward Churchill.

Fighting the Untamed North

■pREEZE-UP gripped the Bay on the

fourtli of October, and the travellers took to the shore with the major portion of their journey still before them. Dysentery was taking its toll, and the pace of the convoy had to be slowed to a temjx¡ in keeping with the transportation of the sick. One man’s feet were frozen and a new burden was added. Rations were down to the irreducible minimum, but still they forged ahead, slowly but surely. At length, as October turned into November, camp was pitched and runners sent ahead to Churchill to bring a relief party with dog teams and food to the half-starved explorers. Even the modest Tyrrell, looking down the years, is willing to admit that it was “quite a trip” as he smiles in wistful recollection of the days before man and his devices had tamed the North.

In mid-November the Tyrrell brothers and their men began the long trek south over the travelled road to Lake Winnipeg. By January they were back in civilization at Ottawa, where Tyrrell dug in for the winter to write his reports and papers, and

to make preparations for new adventures afield in the name of science.

The second Barrens exploration conducted by the geologist left Ottawa at the end of May in 1894, accompanied by Munro Ferguson, A.D.C. to the Governor-General, having as its primary object the discovery and mapping of a new river route into the Bay. On this occasion the northward journey was made up the Saskatchewan to Cumberland House, thence 200 miles onward to Frog Portage, north again to Du Brochet, and into the Barrens via the Kazan River. Churchill was reached on the first of October by way of the Ferguson River, so named in honor of Tyrrell’s guest and travelling companion. Many new lakes and waterways were discovered and named en route. Geological examinations of the country were made and, after arrival at the Bay, two months were given to exploration of the regions beyond Churchill.

J. B. Tyrrell’s exploits in the Barren Lands stand out as the highlight of a career notable for its highlights and for his exploits as an explorer. Through these expeditions and the hardships endured by the geologist in the cause of progress, the first accurate information, geographical or geological, in regard to the Barrens was made available.

Yukon Experience

13 UT the end was not yet. These, in fact, were merely the beginnings of a career which was to rank his name among the greats of the North and the West. Next the Klondike called him and he was sailing up the coast from Vancouver with the placer bonanzas of the Yukon as his destination. In 1899 he was “outside’ again and journeying to Ottawa for the purpose of quitting the Government service,

The knot cut, he returned to the Yukon and, with wide-open Dawson as his headquarters, hung out a shingle which proclaimed to the world that Joseph Burr Tyrrell was in business as a mining geologist.

The Yukon held him in its spell for seven years. He mined on his own account, served others and solved their problems, made and lost more than one fortune and, in the dying hours of the boom, came back East with the determination to establish himself in Toronto as a consulting geologist. In 1905 he was employed by Mackenzie and Mann to take charge of the mining side of their promotions. But the railway operators knew next to nothing of mines and seemed to care less. Hence there was little for their geological expert to do but draw his salary, and soon Tyrrell came to the conclusion that to be the occupant of a sinecure is no life for an active man. So, Tyrrell-like, he resigned, resolved that consulting work must stand on its own two feet.

Gold Mines and Apples

COMMISSIONS soon began to come his way as the problems of the Northern Ontario goldfields began to occupy his agile mind. Problems brought work, and study of problems led to their solution. Tyrrell

had theories of his own as to the gold formations of this new boom country, and his theories, he soon discovered, were workable. At last his feet were on the ladder to fortune. Since that day he has never remained waiting on any rung. Today he sits in the managing director’s chair of one of the great gold mines, with his own problems solved, happy, philosophical and able to take a little ease at last.

I have called him the Laird of Agincourt, because, down in the heart of the rolling country between Agincourt and Pickering, near Toronto, Joseph Burr Tyrrell is engaged in keeping open house, while he enjoys the immensely practical fun of founding a new enterprise with which to while away his leisure.

Some time ago the Tyrrells acquired a farm. Hardly was the ink dry on the deed before the new owner was looking for something practical to do with his new toy. Almost overnight he decided to become an apple fanner. He and his son George shopped for and bought adjacent farms until they had acquired an estate of five hundred acres which, five years hence, will be coming into production as one of the greatest apple farms—if the term is permissible—in the Dominion.

It was in the orchards of Agincourt that I found the real key to the character of the man, to the thoroughness and to the logical mind of him, and to the well-ordered brain which despises idle things and waste. Everything about this hobby of his has been planned well in advance.

TN RECENT years honors have been

heaped on him to prove the esteem in which he is held among the members of his guild. In 1918 he was presented with the Murchison Medal by the Geographical Society of London, in recognition of his services to exploration in the Canadian West. In 1921 he was chosen to one of the Jane M. Smith Life Memberships of the National Geographic Society of the United States. At the inaugural sessions of the Canadian Geographic Society the gold medal of the American Society was tendered to him. Wherever his name is heard, those who have given their lives to the task of opening new lands speak of J. B. Tyrrell with the reverence accorded to a master.

Nor has Tyrrell himself been reluctant to confer honor on others who achieve the things that are done by empire makers. Within recent months he donated a gold medal to the Royal Society of Canada to be given for the most valuable achievements in Canadian historical research. Three years ago he placed a large sum of money at the disposal of the Geological Survey of London to permit an Old Country geologist to visit the Canadian mining fields each year.

It is impossible to sum up the service of such a man to his country within the space of one article, doubly impossible because there is no yardstick by which the sum total of his service to Canada can be measured. If only for his scientific explorations in the far Northwest and the Barrens, he must be ranked among our great pioneers,