GENERAL ARTICLES

I Might Have Owned Regina

WILLIAM WHITE June 1 1935
GENERAL ARTICLES

I Might Have Owned Regina

WILLIAM WHITE June 1 1935

I Might Have Owned Regina

WILLIAM WHITE

The author of the series of articles of which this is the first, was born in Hamilton in 1856. He was educated in the Hamilton public and high schools, Upper Canada College and the University of Toronto. His father leas Collector of Inland Revenue for the Port of Hamilton. His uncles, James and John, had a racing stable and course on a farm bisected by Twelve. Mile Creek. Their entry, Don Juan, won the first race for the Queen's Plate, run at Carleton in 1860. Others of their horses won seven subsequent Queen's Plates.

Mr. W hite ivas called to the Bar in 1882. The Winnipeg real estate boom being at its height, he decided to go West, and an opening teas found lor him in the office of Macdonald and Tapper. It is with the year 1882 that his first article opens.

IN THOSE days the only way to travel to Winnipeg was via St. Paul, Minnesota, and after three or four days travel I arrived at the Manitoba city.

Before settling down to office work, I decided to have a look around and size up the town. In walking about, and in the hotels, offices and stores wherever men were wont to congregate, the conversation seemed to be on one topic alone, that of real estate speculation. Having to a certain extent the gambling spirit, I was naturally drawn into the game. I visited a number of real estate brokers’ offices to get a line on prices and to ascertain in what cities and towns most of the deals were being pulled off, as 1 was keen on making some investments.

In the evenings I looked in on a couple of the real estate auction rooms, the leading ones being conducted by Jim Coolican—quite a handsome man, well groomed, wearing a snappy black velvet coat and a large diamond flashing in his tie—the other by Joe Wolf. These two rooms seemed to absorb most of the leading spculators, and were crowded each night. The bidding was fast and furious, and very many lots were disposed of at prices which, to my way of thinking, were absurdly high considering their location, in many cases miles away from the main part of Winnipeg, in what was described as an extension to the town. On another night Brandon was ‘‘on the carpet,” then Edmonton, and so on.

In one auction room I was attracted by the sale of lots in “Minnedosa, the Beautiful,” as it was described on a huge map covering nearly the whole wall space on one side. It liad to be large in order that the river flowing through the town, called the Little Saskatchewan, should be proprly displayed. Sailing majestically on the river were large steamers. The scenery in and around the town was also featured in no small way.

At last I felt I was on the right track to fortune, and succeeded in securing a few lots, said by the auctioneer to lx? in an extension to the town and not more than two miles from the post-office. They were almost facing the river tcx>, and surely that was a great advantage. This was my first venture and I was happy to have made a start. At this time the great txxim was in the act of bursting.

Then I joined some others in buying acreage near Winni-

pg, thereby forming a syndicate, paying so much cash down, the balance on time. We contracted a liability of $50.000 for the balance of the purchase price, each paying $2.000 as a first payment. I then rested, as everyone else did, and waited to sell out; but in a very short time the blow fell and the boom collapsed. Some anxious moments rather depressed me when I thought of my share of the $50,000 liability, and I was glad to be relieved of it by the owner agreeing to accept a quit claim of the proprty, and sacrificing my $2,000. I felt I was well out of it.

Later on I thought it would be a good idea il 1 tcx)k a trip to “Minnedosa, the Beautiful.” I found it to be a small country town of about 1,000 ppulation. The river, however, was there, the Little Saskatchewan— so little that during midsummer one could easily jump across it. There were no landing docks for the ships; they were only on the map. So ended my real estate dealings. To make a long story short,

I lost all I had put into them.

While the excitement of the boom lasted, everything was rosy. Parties galore, champagne took the place of Scotch, furriers scored heavily, so did the jewellery stores, judging from the number of expnsive sealskin coats, diamond pins, bnxjches and rings in evidence on many of the ladies. Money was spnt like water. One man, who made a big coup in Brandon real estate, celebrated it by taking a champagne bath. Everything was “jake,” to use a Western expression denoting perfect satisfaction with life generally, until “the morning after the night before,” when speculators awoke to the situation and began to learn just where they sfixxl financially. As a result, one and all came to the conclusion that they had just passed through a period of “temporary insanity”—which is the best description that 1 can give it.

Another Hot Tip

ONE DAY I met an old friend in Winnipeg who gave me some valuable information as to the location of the site for the future capital of the North-West Territories. He said that the engineer in charge of the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway line and the location of townsites,

had been selecting lavorable points along the line and had staked them for himself and his friends; that the company had become aware of this fact and had discharged him. and appointed another engineer in his place with instructions to deflect the line some miles south of that already located and to stake townsites for the benefit of the railway company. I was further informed by my friend that the site of the future capital of the North-West Territories would be about twelve miles south of the point already selected by the engineer in question, where the railway would cross Pile-of-Bones River. My friend told me that, acting on this information, he had got together a few of his friends who were shortly to leave with oxen, camping outfits and agricultural implements, in order to take up farms at, and adjacent to, this new location; and he suggested that I should get together a party to do the same thing.

This apjx-ared to be such excellent advice that I fell in with it, and it did not take me long to form a party of five, including a practical farmer whom I brought from Ontario, and an old friend of mine then just arrived in Winnipeg. J. L. Ross, son of Dr. James Ross, a well-known Toronto physician. The other members of the party were two young Englishmen lately come to the country, and very decent chaps they were.

On our farmer’s arrival, we at once started to purchase a yoke of oxen for each of us and a complete farming outfit, five tents, provisions for some months, a wagon for each, and a set of bobsleighs as it was still winter. We removed the wheels from the wagons, carrying them on the sleighs until the spring months should overtake us. We loaded

everything on a freight car. and on April 1, 1882, left by train for Brandon, arriving there on April 2.

On going through our outfits I discovered that part of my kit was missing, which necessitated my return to Winnipeg. Our train became snowbound at Portage la Prairie. As there was little prospect of any let-up in the storm, I left the train and put up at a hotel where several passengers had been delayed for three days. Seeing no immediate prospect of our train getting a move on, half a dozen of us hired a farmer’s big sleigh and set out for Winnipeg by road at about four o’clock in the afternoon. The road was so drifted by snow that it had the appearance of billows at sea, and in going over them, up and down for miles, some of us actually got seasick.

We came to a log stopping place halfway to our destination, and decided to remain until daylight. For preference, I lay down on the straw of the sleigh as the beds in the house were not very inviting, and about five in the morning 1 was awakened by some cows trying to feed off my hay pillow.

We then made a new start and arrived in Winnipeg about noon, only to find that my kit has been forwarded to Brandon.

Discomforts of Travel

T THEN turned back and joined my party, which had

pushed on as far as Rapid City. Here, discomforts of travel in a strange land began. To start with, the snow was fully two feet deep on the roads. It was the year of the celebrated Winnipeg floods, and never since then or before, within the memory of the oldest inhabitant, has there been such deep snow as in the winter and spring of 1882. It was very hard on our unfortunate oxen.

Our distance travelled was only twelve miles a day. At night we always camped beside some bluff ; then we had to scoop out a place for our tents and drive down iron tentpegs into the frozen ground, get out our sheet-iron stove and cook our evening meal, consisting usually of bacon, flapjacks or bannocks and tea.

Whenever our journeying would bring us to a village or a log-stopping place we invariably put up for the night there in preference to camping in the open; and frequently we stretched out on the floor and slept there, fifteen to twenty of us huddled together like sardines in a can. We also ate breakfast at these places, the menu nearly always consisting of pork and potatoes and occasionally we were able to add an egg.

When the snow was at last gone we took to the wheels, but this was not until we got near Fort Ellice, where was situated the first Hudson Bay post we met in our travels. Before reaching the Fort we had to pass through Shoal Lake, and it was here we were held up by two Mounted Policemen who made a thorough search of our outfits for whisky or any other “hard stuff’’ which was contraband. Nothing was found on us. It was then the law that no liquor could be brought into the country except under permit, which cost 50 cents per gallon. This law was, of course, originally passed in order to protect the Indian population from “fire water.”

Our trials after taking to the wheels, over the beastly

roads at the spring break-up, were fierce. We had several hills to negotiate and frequently were obliged to hitch tour oxen to one wagon. The Ellice hill was by far the hardest to tackle, we having to hitch up six oxen before we got to the top.

At Fort Ellice I called on Chief Factor McDonald, and from him received much kindness and useful information as to what we had to expect in our sojourning between there and Fort Qu’Appelle, which was situated over 100 miles away.

We met here with the first specimens of the Indian tribes, consisting of Crees, Stonies, Chippewas and Salteaux. They were hanging about the Post after bringing in pelts of animals they had trapped, to trade with the Hudson’s Bay Company for tobacco, sugar, etc. They looked a dirty lot and nothing like the Indians to be met with in the Far West between Calgary and Fort Macleod.

It was at Fort Ellice that I met two fellows also going West to seek their fortunes-—Howden. a young Scotsman just arrived in the country, and Peterson, a Canadian who used to go to Upper Canada College in my time there and whose lot it was later on to save my life. We joined forces, and from then on travelled in one big party.

A Narrow Escape

T\ 7TIEN WE had stocked up at the Post with provisions ’’Y and other necessaries, we made a start, having added to our livestock a couple of ponies. We also bought a buckboard, harness and Mexican saddle.

On April 20, we started on the next leg of our travels and headed for Fort Qu’Appelle. The weather had turned wet, making the roads very heavy. It was the first time we struck the Hudson’s Bay road, consisting of several parallel ruts about a foot deep. This was the trail we were to follow for many miles. It led through several sloughs, which are pond holes of varying size and an average depth of two or three feet. The ice had gone out of them, but at night, which was always cold at that season, these sloughs froze over with ice about half an inch thick. The oxen didn’t at all relish tackling this ice. Occasionally they bucked, and when in the middle of the slough, stopped and refused to budge. When this hapixmed we had to jump off our wagons and break through the ice in front, and with a liberal use of the ox whip, induce the oxen to push on. When we got across we had to change our socks, light a fire and dry our clothes. This was positive suffering while it lasted, and we had to do it on several occasions.

On May 3, we reached Fort Qu’Appelle—a beautiful place nestling in a deep valley on the river of that name flowing between a string of lakes called Fishing Lakes—and for the first time in weeks, we put up at a hotel and indulged in the luxury of sleeping between sheets and eating at tables, and enjoying real cow’s milk instead of the condensed article in tins which we had been having ever since leaving Ellice.

Preparations were now made for the last leg of our journey. At the Hudson’s Bay stores at Fort Qu’Appelle we replenished our stock of provisions, etc., and by May 8 we were all ready to proceed to the end of our journey. That day was

destined to be a very eventful one for me, as I was nearly drowned in crossing the Qu’Appelle River on a raft or improvised ferry operated by a sergeant of the North-West Mounted Police. I cannot do better in describing the incident than by copying the entry in the diary of the trip made on the next day, just as I wrote it then, over fifty years ago;

“Monday, May 8, 1882.

“Today proved to be the most memorable day in my life.

I rose early to get breakfast, as arranged. Made an early start for Pile-of-Bones River with Peterson and Howden. The ferry was reached at two o’clock, p.m. The buckboard was loaded on, ‘Picky’ having been taken out of the traces and held by me, fully harnessed, on the downstream side of the ferry. Howden with ‘Polly’ on the upstream side with Peterson and two half-breeds. This was too big a load for the ferry. When about mid-stream, she began slowly but surely to sink, and when the current caught her the downstream side was a foot under water. Suddenly without warning the rapid current caused the craft to give a lurch, sending both ponies with Howden and me into the ice-cold water. I fell under Picky. As we went over I heard Peterson call out ‘Hang on to the pony, White.’ I was going to do that anyway !

“Then began a desperate struggle for life between us, I still hanging on to the bridle, pulling Picky’s head under, the current all the while carrying us downstream toward the next lake. The pony struck out for shore. As soon as I could manage it I scrambled on to his back, and down he went, throwing me off and under him again, still clinging to the bridle. Picky fought for dear life to free himself from me. We got to the surface again, got a breath and then another struggle. He then began to show signs of weakness on account of my holding him down with his head under water. Had I only had presence of mind to let go the bridle and hold any other part of the harness, he would have swam ashore with me. I now thought it was all up with both of us, for I had pinned my hopes of saving myself on his ability to take me ashore. He made a final effort and we again rose to the surface, I on top still. As soon as I got my head above water I saw about fifty people rushing frantically to and fro on the shore, trying to save me, and a rope was thrown within my reach but my hands were too numb to seize it. Picky didn’t succeed in getting his head out of water this time and down we went again, here the poor fellow completely gave up and sank to the bottom, a drowned pony.

“Finding myself without help I thought it was all up with me and thoughts of home made me make a supreme effort, so up I came and saw Peterson swimming within a few feet of me. He grabbed me by the arm and swam ashore with me. I was unconscious when I landed. They pumped the water out of me and brought me round and took me over to the police barracks. The Indians got Picky’s body next day and had a big feast.”

Journey’s End

ON MAY 11, Peterson and I made a fresh start for Pile of Bones and were met with many difficulties in our travels, crossing creeks which were bank ful of water from the spring freshet. At one creek we got badly stuck in the middle, the water reaching to the top of our box in the cart. Here we were in a proper muddle. Everything but the plow was unloaded. As there was no help for it, I had to plunge in and attach a rope to the axle, and we pulled the cart across. While doing this Polly scampered off, and after hunting her the rest of the day we failed to find her. Next day an Indian brought her in.

We turned westward again and made good time, when who should turn up but T. S. Gore, our Dominion Land Surveyor, who was to locate our party on lands at Pile-ofBones River. We decided to turn back to the Fort, arriving there to find our oxen and the rest of the party about to start west.

Peterson now decided to leave us and go to Prince Albert. Gore and I then stocked up with provisions, etc., and prepared to leave in the morning, he having a horse and cart and I with Polly and buckboard. When we got started we found it heavy going. For instance, it took us over seven hours to make two miles, most of the time being spent in negotiating some very steep hills.

On the night of May 17, we went to bed early, the storm having ceased ; not a vestige of snow on the ground and a full moon. During the night a nasty blizzard struck up, and when we woke in the morning a lot of snow had got into the tent and the horse and pony had pulled their tether pins and gone away. We were now in a fix.

Gore left to hunt the horses, and after about four hours returned with them. They were a couple of miles from where

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we were camped on Boggy Creek. The storm delayed us three nights and two days. Our firewood, which we had carried from the woods we left the previous day, was all gone, and for those days we subsisted on hardtack, water and orange and lemon jelly. We lay under our buffalo robes all day as it was bitterly cold. To pass the time we read novels. We lay “spoon fashion” and when the hand holding the book became cold we would turn about and put out the other hand. We took turns feeding the horses and drawing water from Boggy Creek.

The blizzard then let up, and the next day when the sun rose I never saw snow disappear so quickly. On going through our boxes to scoop out the snow we discovered a bottle of brandy; this delayed us another day to get the circulation going. We were now only eight miles from our journey’s end and were profoundly thankful.

Next day, Saturday, May 20, we made the last eight miles and our trip was over. Had I dreamed that the discomforts and hardships we endured were to be one-tenth as bad as we experienced, I would never have tackled it.

The Site of Regina

WE HAD at long last arrived at Pileoi-Bones River. After a day or so, Gore located me on a quarter-section which I was to claim as a homestead, consisting of 160 acres, and adjoining it another quartersection as a pre-emption, making 320 acres in all. The place located was where the Canadian Pacific Railway was to cross the river, and on one of these sections the capital of the North-West Territories was to be selected. I pitched my tent on the land allotted to me, claiming “squatter’s rights.”

The sections had not yet been surveyed; only the townships, six miles square, had been blocked out; and when night fell I went ¡ to bed.

I had not been there long before I heard ' at some distance the howl of a coyote or prairie wolf, and in another direction an answering howl from another one. I admit 1 was terrified, as my gun was not with me and the only implement of attack I possessed was a hunter’s axe about two feet long.

I got up, pegged down the tent as securely as possible, lit a couple of candles, and stood, axe in hand, waiting for the coyotes to jx)ke their noses in the tent door. Although they converged on the tent, they never came very near; I presume the light of the candles frightened them away.

I eventually went to sleep, and in the morning got out and surveyed the landscape in every direction. Not a single tree in sight, just a fiat prairie. I said to myself. “This doesn’t look to me like the site of the future capital of the N.W.T.,” and at once decided to pull up stakes and join the other members of my party, a couple of miles away. I accordingly hitched up Polly to the cart, packed up tent and dunnage and moved off to take up my new location.

Many years later I came across an article in a Regina newspaper describing my plight, which at the risk of repetition I transcribe here :

He Might Have Owned All Regina

How Captain Wm. White, Chief Commissioner of Board of Commerce of Canada, Missed Chance.

“To camp for one night on the actual

site of one of the most thriving cities of I

the Canadian West; to have the opportunity to claim practically all the ground now occupied by that city, and then to move away to another location, only to see engineers come along a week later and locate the capital of the Province of Saskatchewan on the very ground upon which he had pitched his tentsuch has been one of the many experiences in the life of Captain William White, who has recently been named as t he Chief Commissioner of the Board of Commerce of Canada.

"Captain White went West when the West was young, and in the course of his travels came one evening to the site of the present city of Regina. It wasn’t much of a site at that, but the captain was tired, so, pitching his tent, he rolled himself in his blankets and slept. During the night the coyotes howled around the tent, and the next morning, after a glance around the country, he decided that any man who would select that sjxA as the site of a future city must liave something wrong with his mental equipment. Consequently he moved on, although he had originally intended to take up land in that immediate vicinity, having received a friendly tip that the future queen city of the plains would be located there. Two miles or so away he came to a spot that pleased him, and promptly took up a farm site. One week later Regina was born on the identical spot on which his tent had been pitched. In their wake came land speculators by the score, and in a very few days there were signs of abundant life in the new town.

“Thus it was that the new Chief Commissioner of the Board of Commerce lost his greatest opportunity of becoming a Western land king.”

Birth of a City

T WELL recollect August 23, 1882, when -Ithere arrived in Regina the private car of William, later Sir William, Van Horne, which was shunted on to a siding completed only that morning. It contained, in addition to Sir William, who was at that time general manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway— to quote from a late issue of the Regirían: "... men whose names are written indelibly in the history of the West—pioneer railroaders and statesmen to whose vision and enterprise must ever go the credit for building so well the foundations of this Western Empire. With Sir William Van Home were Hon. Mr. Justice Johnson of Montreal, Lieutenant-Governor Dewdeney,

J. J. C. Abbott, later Prime Minister of Canada, J. 11. McTavish. Land Commissioner, the Hudson’s Bay Company, Russell Stephenson and E. S. Clouston of the Bank of Montreal, Duncan Macintyre, vice-president of the C. P. R„ Hon. D. A. Smith, later Lord Strathcona, director of the C.P.R. Sir Sam Steele, of the North-West Mounted Police, and Rev, S. S. Venables of Nice, France.”

On that occasion the city was christened Regina, and a toast to the future city was projxised by Mr. Justice Johnson following a most optimistic speech, during the course of which lie prophesied the bright future that lay before the newly christened city.

The land comprising Regina was then being surveyed into town lots, streets, public squares, etc.

This party of celebrities arrived by the first train that reached Regina. Langdon and Shepherd, the contractors lor construction of the grade upon which the rails were to be laid and for the laying of the rail, had completed this part of their contract, starting that spring at a point about 150 miles to the east. Toqxirform this work they had an army of men building up the grade, constructing sidings, bridges over creeks, sloughs and culverts, then laying the rails— to say nothing of building many railway stations. It was a herculean task, but they were able, efficient contractors, and completed it within the time specified. To give an idea of their rapid work: One morning some of our party left Regina with wagons and oxen to bring in wood six miles away. When they left there wasn’t a sign of railway construction for two miles east, and on their return they had to cross the railway track which had been completed during their absence. Three miles a day was an ordinaryday’s work for laying rails across the prairie.

Before snow came that winter Regina boasted of a population of 600 and had all the appearance of a town, the streets being well defined by the buildings and tents then in existence. With the arrival of trains, building material, merchandise and everything to be used in the making of a town were brought in, and the sound of hammer and saw was heard in the land. It was a sight to see the rapidity with which stores, offices and churches were run up. The first bank to open was the Bank of Montreal with A. D. Braithwaite as manager; he later became its assistant general manager. The Merchants Bank of Canada followed, with D. M. Harman, now of Toronto, as manager.

Editor's Note—This is the first of a series of articles by Mr. White. The second will follow in an early issue.