A random who’s who of what’s-his-names, never-heard-of-’ems and other unforgettable Canadians
WHAT BUGS ME about 1967 as Canada's Centennial year is that I can't think about it without thinking about Canadian history — and Old Lady Mackenzie.
She was my grade-five history teacher—an angular spinster, exactly 109 years old, with stringy grey-black hair, resonant vocal cords, and eyes in the back of her head.
Each day, she would appear in the classroom with her own handwritten version of some tedious event in Canada’s past and begin copying the whole thing onto the blackboard. It was up to us to recopy every word into our scribblers, and neatly, too, whether we understood it or not.
Old Lady Mackenzie subscribed to the Calvinistic view that anything smacking of human interest—sex. violence, humor—was unfit for academic consumption. And so, in our classroom the founders of the Hudson’s Bay Company, for instance, emerged as diligent servants of the Crown, not as the adventurous and greedy band of scoundrels they really were. The Battle of the Plains of Abraham was just a date (1759) involving a winner (Wolfe) and a loser (Montcalm), not a bloody and suspenseful military encounter. And so on. I'm sure if she’d discovered that the country, right at that moment, was being run by a prime minister who talked to spooks, she'd have somehow shielded us all from the dreadful truth.
Naturally, we soon concluded that all the excitement happened either in Britain, where kings chopped off people’s heads, or in the United States, where history was made by dashing heroes like Paul Revere and villainous traitors like Benedict Arnold. Old Lady Mackenzie never let it enter our heads that we might be able to match the Yanks or the English, character for character and event for event, if we looked at our own country the way they looked at theirs.
I WOULDN’T CONSIDER my recollections of grade five to be worth mentioning here if I didn't suspect that history classrooms all over Canada are still ruled by Old Lady Mackenzies. They must be. Otherwise by now we'd have made household words out of John George (Kootenai) Brown,
Hans Lundberg, John Brownlee and Archibald Stansfeld Belaney.
Never heard of them? Then I’ve proved my point already, for they weren't important by any definition that Old Lady Mackenzie would approve. but they helped make Canada what it is today just as surely as the Sir John A. Macdonalds and the Mackenzie Kings, and they did it a heck of a lot more excitingly. If I were asked to write a textbook to celebrate Canada's Centennial, I'd pack it full of half-forgotten characters like these. The first was a western pioneer as adventurous as any Davy Crockett. The second is an astounding scientist who devised a way of literally growing gold. The third was the youngest premier in the British Empire—until a stenographer and her father dragged him into court for seducing her. And the fourth w'as a man whose strangerthan-fiction biography could be titled
THE IMPOSTOR WHO HOODWINKED A KING
While he lived, nobody knew he was Archibald Stansfeld Belaney or that he had been born in England, in 1888. The first thing the public heard of him, he was writing as a Canadian Indian. People read his books and told themselves that here, for the first time, they were glimpsing the world through the eyes of the Indian. Married to (among others) an Ojibway girl, Belaney dressed in buckskin, wore his hair in long black braids and spoke proudly of the Indians as “my people.” Some said he could talk to the beaver, which were the most con-
spicuous of the wild animals that shared his cabin with him. In books such as The Vanishing Frontier, Pil-
grims Of The Wild, and Adventures Of Sajo And Her Heaver People, Belaney enthralled not just Canadians but a large part of the English-speaking world. Sajo alone ran to 19 printings, and when Pilgrims appeared in the bookstalls, readers snapped it up at a rate of 800 copies a week—an astounding sale in depression days.
At the height of his fame, Belaney was presented in London to King George VI as one of “His Majesty’s loyal Indian subjects." Nobody suspected that this visit to England was for him. in reality, a journey home.
Back home in Prince Albert, Sask., Belaney died in April 1938, of pneumonia. A few days after the glowing obituaries had appeared, the Toronto Star broke the real story, with recollections from two women who had raised Belaney in England. The man was a fraud, no more Indian than King George himself. Nobody has ever explained how or why he embarked on his lifelong hoax, but I think his success says something about the kind of people we Canadians were 30 years ago. For while his books are still in the stalls. I doubt if any new generation could ever be charmed as we were by the man who called himself Grey Ówl.
John George Brown, on the other hand, packed enough real adventure into one lifetime to satisfy 10 Belaneys. He was guide, scout, plainsman, rancher, oil prospector and
THE LAST OF THE OLDTIME INDIAN FIGHTERS
and he looked the part. Garbed in buckskin jacket, blue jeans and a big slouch hat over flowing locks, Brown began as a dispatch rider for the U. S. Army. In 1868, at 29. he was captured by Sitting Bull and barely escaped execution. Next he married a Métis girl and spent eight years living and hunting with her people. Later he served as chief scout with the Rocky Mountain Rangers during an Indian uprising, and as a packer and guide with the North West Mounted Police. As a rancher near Pincher Creek, south of Calgary, he became the first white man to conduct a successful
search for oil in western Canada. Hearing rumors of oil seepages. Brown mixed up a concoction of molasses and kerosene and served it to some Stoney Indians, telling them to let him know if they ever found anything that tasted like that. Soon the Indians were back, offering to guide him to seepages near Waterton Lake. Brown sopped up the crude oil with gunny sacks and used it to lubricate his ranch machinery. He never made a nickel out of his find, but one of his men later sold the oil to other ranchers, as a lubricant, lamp fuel and cattle dip. for a dollar a gallon.
Brown got the nickname “Kootenai" after he became game warden of Kootenay Lakes forest reserve, now Waterton Lakes National Park, in Alberta. He was the acting park superintendent when he died in 1916.
And when it came to telling the story of the young premier and the stenographer, 1 wouldn’t be able to resist dubbing it
THE SEX SCANDAL THAT FATHERED SOCIAL CREDIT
John Brownlee was just 40 when he became premier of Alberta in 1925— at that time the youngest premier the British Empire had ever seen. As head of a reform party called the United Farmers of Alberta, he guided his province through the boom and bust of the late 1920s, skillfully selling two money-losing railways to the CNR and CPR the very year of the market crash, and craftily negotiating control of natural resources away from Ottawa.
Then, in / continued on page 48
continued from page 15
He proved gold is where you grow it
1934, a 23-year-old civil-service stenographer and her father launched a lawsuit, charging the premier with seduction. A jury heard the spicy details — the Edmonton Journal described it as "one of the most sensational court cases in the history of Canada” — and awarded the young woman $10,000 damages. But the judge disagreed, refused to enter the verdict and reversed the decision. Six years passed while the case went up through higher courts. In the final stages, Brownlee lost twice in succession — in the Supreme Court ol Canada and before the Privy Council.
Long before the final verdict, the lawsuit irrevocably changed not only Brownlee’s career but the fate of his whole political movement. Under pressure from a shocked public, Brownlee was obliged to resign as premier, in 1934. A year later, voters swept his party out of office and elected the world's first Social Credit government under a man known, not just coincidentally, as Bible Bill Aberhart.
The most amazing man of the four, though, is Hans Lundberg, a Swedishborn Canadian who became
THE WORLD’S FIRST GOLD FARMER
—yet few people on earth seem less in need of growing their own wealth, for in the years he has spent roaming four continents in search of ore bodies, Dr. Lundberg has found an estimated six billion (yes, billion) dollars’ worth of minerals. Among these have been the gold sources of King Solomon, the Roman Empire and the Incas.
Fellow scientists know Lundberg as the free world’s most experienced practitioner of airborne geophysics (involving use of a magnetometer to survey rock formations from an aircraft), and some call him the father of geophysical prospecting.
But his most incredible accomplishment—growing gold—involves another specialty of his and is based on a rather simple principle. In areas containing gold deposits, small traces of the precious metal get into underground streams. Certain plants, notably a weed known as the common horsetail, soak up this water, gold traces and all. Because the gold is foreign to their systems, the plants try to eject it through their leaves. As a result, the gold appears as tiny capsules on the leaf tips.
In an early experiment near Timmins. Ont.. Dr. Lundberg burned a ton of horsetails and extracted four ounces of gold. Now he has gold farms in Indiana and Illinois, where he plants weeds over known deposits and confidently waits until his crop of gold appears.
Lundberg, virtually unknown outside his profession, seems typical of a host of Canadian inventors and discoverers who would probably be famous if they
had lived anywhere but in Canada Such as:
Wallace Rupert Turnbull, pioneer aeronautical scientist of Rothesav NB, who invented the controllable! pitch propeller.
Charles Edward Saunders, who prokl ably had a greater impact on Canada)' economy than all our finance ministen; combined: in 1903 he developed Mau quis wheat (which matures earl enough to avoid frost damage), thuj adding millions to the nation’s wealth
Janies Bertram Collip, whose fa mous associates, Dr. Frederick Bant-l ing and Dr. Charles Best, discovered insulin. Their product was hardi) fit for human use until Dr. Colli; devised a way of ridding it of seriou« side effects, such as intolerable skir irritation.
Arthur Albert Irwin, a baseball player from Toronto, who invented the padded glove. Captain and shortstop with the Providence Grays in th/ National League of 1884. Irvvir showed up one day with a makeshift pad inside his glove. Other player) ribbed him for being a sissy, but within two seasons nearly everybody had copied his idea. And Irwin wasn't really a sissy—he just hadn't been able to figure out any other way of playin’ nine innings, with two broken fingers;
Norman Breakey, a Toronto hardi ware merchant who devised a nety kind of lost weekend — for do-it-yourself suburbanites: he invented the pain:? roller, in 1948. It was his only sue-; cessful invention, and right up to tht time of his death, in November 196?. nobody but Breakey himself knev! how much money he made from hij million-dollar idea. In any case, hij spent or lost a great deal of it ironing the bugs out of the first models, failing to get iron-clad patents and taking plunges on the stock market.
And even our most-sung songwritei is virtually unknown. He was Quebec-born Calixa Lavallée, who com? posed O Canada. The tune neven made him famous or wealthy; ij was the “winning entry” in a phon; contest in which the prize was neven awarded.
REBELS AND CRUSADERS
have given this country more vitaM than its prime ministers have. Yt\ some of our greatest remain largd. unrecognized:
AN ANTI - ALCOHOL SUFI RA GETTE, Nellie McClung (1873-1951 was an orator, novelist and politician who championed both drys and wonii en. Under her persuasive spell, Albert turned dry in 1916. By then she had also done much toward winning Canadian women the franchise " ahead of those in Britain and the U.Sj Her wit was a powerful weapon. Bd cause critics often suggested that as career woman she must be neglecting
“Greatest danger facing women: being smothered in chiffon”
her family, her son, at age three, was primed, when asked who he was, to reply solemnly, “I am a suffragette's child and 1 have never known a mother's love.”
A HUMANIST, Emily Murphy (18681933) was one of five petitioners who got the Privy Council to reverse a Canadian Supreme Court decision so that, as of October 18, 1929, a Canadian woman was, legally, “a person” — and thus entitled to be appointed to the Senate. As the British Empire's first female police magistrate, she shocked traditionalists by suggesting criminals should be reformed, not just punished. A fighter for women's right to work, she once declared, “The greatest danger facing women today is being smothered in chiffon.”
OUR FIRST PROFESSIONAL HOMEMAKER, Adelaide Hoodless (1858-1910) stumped the countryside, telling women their place was in the home. One speech, in Stoney Creek. Ont., in 1897. brought about formation of the Women's Institute, an organization fostering homemaking skills among rural women. By the time she died, the WI movement was spreading around the world.
A CHAMPION OF CHILDRENS RIGHTS, John Joseph Kelso (18641935) crusaded as a journalist (Toronto Globe) and orator for laws to protect children and animals. He founded Canada's first Children’s Aid Society and one of the earliest humane societies. He also established the world's first juvenile court, in Chicago.
A COMPASSIONATE REBEL, Er
nest Edward Winch (1879-1957) sat in the BC Legislature as a CCFer for 23 years and fought so persistently and know'ledgeably for reforms—for labor unions, prison inmates, nurses, drug addicts, hospital patients and mental cases—that opponents grudgingly dubbed him “Unofficial Minister of Institutions.” Shocked at the way the elderly were being found starving or dead in filthy rooming houses, Winch kept authorities squirming until conditions were improved. Along the way he gave that whole generation a new name: “senior citizens.”
A LIFE-SAVER, Dr. Gordon Bates has spent a lifetime nagging editors, cabinet ministers, MPs and his own medical colleagues to initiate farreaching measures in public health. Director of the Health League of Canada since 1919, he has won legal controls for diphtheria and venereal disease and brought about compulsory
pasteurization of milk. Part of the community has branded him a public menace with each crusade, including his latest big one: for fluoridation.
And who ever heard of thriving country without at least one highstepping, self-promoting
Louis Fréchette was certainly one of our foremost. Born in 1839 in Lévis, Que., he was the son of an illiterate construction worker, yet he trained as a lawyer and. through dint of his own questionable efforts, became the only 19th-century literary figure known outside Canada. Fréchette played around in politics for a while (he was a Liberal and an antiConfederationist). running for elec-
Masterpieces! cried the critics. Stolen! cried an accuser
tion five times but getting in only once. When he did take office, his only notable achievement was getting a new wharf for Levis — built by his father.
Thoughtfully marrying a banker’s daughter, Frechette proceeded to “devote himself to literature” (i.e., quit working). He turned out his first book, a collection of poems extolling home, hearth and love of country, in 1863, and expectantly sent off a copy to the French Academy in Paris. The academy maintained an eloquent silence. However, for a second try he put together a collection of his poems, privately published 30 copies and sent them to Paris. This entry won him an academy award. He hurried over to get it and was received by Victor Hugo.
Back home, Frechette was lionized. C ritics decided he was brilliant, universities begged him to accept honorary degrees, and Queen Victoria was persuaded to decorate him. By now, between his many public appearances, he was turning out plays and other long works as well as poetry.
At this stage, though, things got a bit sticky. Somebody pointed out publicly that one of his plays, then on stage in Montreal, was plagiarized from an obscure French novel published 15 years before. Another of “his” masterpieces, a book, had been copied, pretty well word for word, from an encylopedia.
But with the help of an Edwardian beard and a jaunty air, Fréchette braved out the criticism and remained, to the last, the literary lion of French Canada, riding about elegantly in a two-horse Victoria, moving with an exclusive social set, “writing” in his luxurious study and practising what he liked to call “the art of grandfatherhood.” Even his harshest critics had to concede he was a pretty good grandfather.
And of course there have been other characters to run the whole gamut of human experience. Three samples:
George Brown, politician and publisher of the Toronto Globe, was perhaps Upper Canada's most vocal antiConfederationist. He was also a bachelor when he was defeated in an election in 1862. In need of a rest, he went to Britain, where Thomas Nelson, the book publisher, introduced him to Nelson's sister Anne. Soon Anne Nelson and George Brown were madly in love. Within four months, Brown had taken her as his bride and brought her back to Canada. Reelected to parliament in a by-election a year later, Brown impressed his colleagues as a changed man. He was no longer the fiery foe of the Confederationists, but listlessly daydreaming of his young wife and penning letters to her. By now they had a baby daughter, and while other MPs were bracing themselves for the hot debates soon to begin over Confederation, Brown was writing love letters:
Already I long to be back with you and will grudge every day I am kept from your side . . . Don’t fail to write me every day if only a single line to say you and Maggie [the baby] are well. Tell me all about your doings and the baby’s. The smallest incident will be anxiously perused.
As negotiations over Confederation continued, the Browns acquired a new house and Anne went to Scotland on a brief visit. Her husband wrote: “We must think of the wallpaper and carpets, whatever comes of the Constitution.”
To this day, there are some who insist there was a mother of Confederation and that her name was Anne Brown.
As the 19th century was drawing to a close. French-Canadian poets were in a rut, mired down in bland sentiments and pastoral themes. Suddenly, they and the public became aware of a brilliant and sensitive 16-year-old whose poems were vibrant and passionate statements of the love he felt within himself for the beauty he saw in the world around him. His name was Emile Nelligan, and though he was to write for only three years, his work was to signal an important turning point in French-Canadian literature. At the time, though, he was harshly criticized and repeatedly attacked for shunning tradition. Nelligan tried to defend his point of view, in public debates and private encounters. but inside himself he could feel the tension mounting. At 19, his mind snapped, and by day he would wander the streets, reciting scraps of poetry: by night, he tossed fitfully through hideous nightmares. Earlier, he had had a premonition of this fate, for he had written:
/ feel the birds of genius flying in me,
But 1 prepared my trap so clumsily That they have taken their white, Their brown and their grey flight Into the spirit’s azure, leaving me My stricken heart strangling in agony.
The agony was to last 40 years. Nelligan was still in a mental home when he died in 1941.
As a muckraker who has seldom, if ever, been equalled in Canadian journalism, Israel Tarte (1848-1907) was incorruptible. Both as a member of parliament and as publisher of his own newspaper. Le Canadien, Tarte exposed two of the biggest scandals in Canadian political history. The first one involved rakeoffs and patronage paid through the Public Works department of Sir John A. Macdonald’s government. As a result, the treasurer of the Conservative party, Thomas McGreevy, went to jail, and Macdonald’s intended successor, Public Works Minister Sir Hector Langevin, was obliged to step down in disgrace.
Tarte’s second big exposé hit the Quebec Liberal Party. Again, there had been payoffs and patronage through public works contracts, and this time the exposure meant the end of an important political career and the fall of a government. Premier Honoré Mercier, convicted of conspiracy, was obliged to resign and let the voters choose a new government.
Soon after that came the irony: Tarte, once a Tory, got elected as a Liberal MP. Prime Minister Laurier, anxious to keep Tarte from undertaking any crusades from the back benches, appointed him to an influential cabinet post: Public Works. From that moment on, under the backroom rules of those days, Israel Tarte, the great, incorruptible muckraker, was, in effect, Minister of Party Patronage.
At the same time, who could be more Canadian than these little-known men of good, grey, solid accomplishment and skillful compromise:
“Mr. External Affairs”: Oscar Douglas Skelton (1878-1941), shy, scholarly and immensely influential civil servant who, as undersecretary of state for external affairs, built the department from three men into a highly esteemed, worldwide organization of diplomats that has enhanced Canada’s reputation in almost every nation on earth.
Indian peacemonger: Poundmaker (1826-1886), a Cree chief who gave moral support to the rebel Louis Riel but used his talent for diplomacy to persuade the Crees and Stoneys not to throw their full military force behind Riel. For his trouble, Poundmaker was sentenced to three years for conspiring with Riel. Released when he had served a year, he died shortly after.
Anonymous lawmaker: William Clifford Clark (1889-1952), who became deputy minister of finance in 1932, set up the Bank of Canada to give unprecedented central control of our economy; virtually wrote the National Housing Act, which has determined the size, shape and cost of thousands of Canadian homes; and worked out details of the Family Allowance, one of the greatest vote-getting ploys of all time.
But 1 wouldn’t let this Centennial book of mine bog down among civil servants and housing laws. After all, there are national messages, too, in the life stories of people like Arthur Stringer,
KING OF THE CAMP POETS
Stringer, whose most memorable writing was the scenario for that early celluloid cliff-hanger, The Perils Of Pauline, was a Chatham, Ont., boy who was not just willing but eager to write anything that would sell—bad novels, shallow short stories and frothy fillers and jingles for magazines — anything. This practical policy paid off handsomely for nearly half a century.
But friends knew Stringer, above all, as a ladies’ man few ladies could resist. Often the pièce de résistance proved to be an intimate gift accompanied by a quatrain composed for the occasion, such as this salutation enclosed with a pair of stockings on one woman’s birthday:
To mark the day that you were born
Accept this frail and flimsy bounty
Designed, dear lady, to adorn
The nicest legs in Morris County.
Stringer died in 1950, at 76 (with, some say, a faint smile lingering on his face). The miracle is not that he escaped being shot by some enraged husband—other Don Juans have managed that—but that he was never lynched by some poetry society. Surely that in itself says a lot about the Canadian character at one period during the past 100 years, and I think it's time the Old Lady Mackenzies across the land wrote something like that on their blackboards. ★