Glimpses: Through The Mist

1897 - Photograph of Front Street in Dawson (Source of photo - 1955th edition of the Vancouver Division's Scarlet & Gold magazine).

1897 – Photograph of Front Street in Dawson (Source of photo – 1955th edition of the Vancouver Division’s Scarlet & Gold magazine).


Veteran Windy Gale sent us the following article which first appeared in our Vancouver Division’s Scarlet & Gold magazine – 1955 edition (1955)

Time waits on no man, but has an accommodating way of checking up occasionally, while the seed pod of reminiscence sprouts beneath thearm, rich humus of a fellow’s memory.

Irvin S. Cobb 

It is with a great deal of diffidence that I commence to write. I find that my memory is starting to resemble an inscribed wax tablet that has been left out too long in the sun. But my good friend the editor tries to tell me that my writing is approaching the standard of Sir Winston’s. Besides that I have a sneaking desire to see words of mine in print.

First of all I must pay tribute to the articles written by Arthur Mosses. Such sidelights into the lives of the oldtimers is, and will be, a valuable addition to the archives of this country. One of the beauties of living in Victoria is that you never know whom you may run into. I went to get a photo taken for the identification card that the Commissioner got out for us and the chap who was running the shop had been a more or less official photographer in many cases in the early days in Saskatchewan. His name escapes me. When he discovered that I knew Bobbie Hancock, who was his particular chum, he nearly kissed me. Il found it hard to get away. We finished up in the rain half a block from his shop still talking. He died a week later.

Again this winter through a mutual friend I got in touch with Capt. Bloomquist’s widow. Capt. Bloomquist is well known to old Yukoners and used to run the White Pass & Yukon steamers. He went down on the S.S. “Sophia” in October l918. Yukoners still talk of this disaster with regret. One funny thing in connection with this happening was that Murray and Lou Eades were onboard. Lou is popularly supposed to be the prototype of Service’s “Lady that’s known as Lou.” I think without foundation, Murray and Lou ran the Floradora and had done so since the early days. They had never gone outside because they had a dread of the sea. Finally they decided to take a chance. Their foreboding was well founded.

I still have vivid memories of my first detachment in the Yukon. Fortymile where the first bunch of our boys under Constantine went in, in 1896 I believe. When I was there the foundations of their barracks at the mouth of the river on the left bank were still visible. The present settlement is however on the other bank. Mr. and Mrs. Al Schultz ran an excellent small hotel there. The detachment which at one time had housed a number of men was a two story place and I rattled round there like a pea in an empty can. There was a spacious garden and the flower beds were edged with up-ended beer bottles. This is quite effective. However there were not enough flowers beds and the surrounding bush was knee deep in empties.

My main reason for being in Fortymile was the care of about thirty sleigh dogs which were being collected for winter use. I spent a considerable time cooking for these pets and exercising them. In return for this kindness they used to serenade me at night. Because they were so full of “vim and vigour,” exercising them was quite a job. I used to tie the leader to a fence and the sleigh by a hawser astern. When all were harnessed I would slip the leader and then run like hell and slip the sleigh before they started fighting. The resulting ride was rough over bare ground. Something like the old street cars on Cook Street in Victoria.

Never a dull moment. Besides being a policeman I was Immigration Officer, Forestry Agent and Veterinary Inspector, and the unofficial medicine man. In my off hours I used to amuse myself by trying to pole a 12 ft. canoe up the rapids just above the mouth. I never succeeded!

Occasionally I used to dash up to the Boundary which crossed the river higher up and confer with the U.S. Customs man. I regret to say that I also used to lay in a stock of American tobacco, which the Customs man at Fortymile, Mike Finlayson, never asked me to declare.

We were a very happy lot. The telegrapher, a French Canadian used to collect 25c per diem from a number of us and in return we got a resume of the day’s war news. We spent the evening in Al Schultz` bar trying to make out what it was all about.

The only paid job I had was Immigration Agent and for this was paid $5 a month if I put in a voucher in quintuplicate for it. My immigration chief was the Officer Commanding and he set the fees. Nobody ever bothered to do this. The chief drawback was that steamers arrived at all hours, and to get up in the small hours and paddle a canoe to mid-stream to board her always appeared to me to be worth more than $5 a month.

Early photograph of the Dawson Hotel with all the attractions (Source of the photo - 1955 edition of the Vancouver Division's Scarlet & Gold magazine).

Early photograph of the Dawson Hotel with all the attractions (Source of the photo – 1955 edition of the Vancouver Division’s Scarlet & Gold magazine).

However all good things come to an end and Ian MacBrayne arrived with Claude Williams who was take over from me and we had to take the dogs up to Dawson for their winter work. We had two teams of 15 each and trouble all the way. One old dog started out as if he could take the whole load himself and in a few miles was dragging his weight. We had to give him a ride. The government paid $35 for him and he was useless. Then there were two smooth haired big eyed darlings who were so shy that they travelled sideways so they could watch their master and we had to give them a ride. Then we met another team on the narrow trail and it took us well over an hour to unscramble them and repair damages. What Jack Dempster did with these beauties officially I don’t know, but personally I think he gave them to some Indians as pets.

Jack Caldwell was telling me a yarn the other day. When he was at Churchill in the early days of this century he was instructed by Supt. Moodie to set up the rain gauges, which he did. When Moodie inspected them he told Jack that they were too high and should be lowered to ground level. No sooner said than done.

The Police dogs were gratified. They thought that they had been so placed for their convenience. Supt. Moodie was puzzled for a time as to how two inches of rain registered in 30 below weather.

I am always glad that I served in the days when the horse was king. Even when I was carrying mail for the engineers on construction of the old Grand Trunk I used to meet patrols from Battleford; a wagon or buckboard, and a couple of riders on their lawful occasions, George Pyne, Topsy Turvy, Campbell and others, bearded like pards and loaded with prairie chicken, duck and the occasional jumper. Cheery, competent and tough. Fine horses and fine men. I hope to meet them again.

When Ludovic Thwaites and I bulldozed ourselves into joining the Force, the first person we ran into in Regina was George Pyne. We celebrated the occasion by my trading a Stetson with him for a lovely little pair of silver steel dancing spurs. I subsequently lost one at a New Years do in Ottawa and have mourned it ever since.

Bowdridge was S. M., Church riding master, and Bleeder Cunningham Q.M. What characters -Jocko Robinson the blacksmith, Ikey Forbes, Jim Blake with his “hot and cold.” Arthur O’Connell, the drill sergeant, smart as a whip, Phillips the carpenter and George Brinkworth the head teamster, happily still with us in Victoria and going strong. We watch the Canadian rugby football games together each fall.

I well remember a youngster coming in to join. Some relation of the Commissioner. He dined with him one night. The next night he was in the guardroom. His career was short. Then there was the chap who persuaded the Home Bank that he was coming into a large legacy and obtained a substantial advance thereon. He bought a horse and buggy, silver plated harness, diamond rings, watches etc. For a while he was flying high wide and handsome, but one day a hand was placed on his shoulder as he was stepping aboard the transcontinental train going east. His career was also brought to an abrupt stop.

One evening a prisoner escaped and patrols were sent out after him. I was on quarter guard that night. Soon after dark, R. A. Meakin arrived at the guardroom yelling for an axe. It seems that Dan Lean had unsuccessfully tried to ride his horse over the culvert on the railroad over Wascona creek. This was just open ties and the horse was securely caught therein. Unfortunately the transcontinental was due and the unfortunate horse was well and truly biffed. Poor beast he didn’t suffer. Meakin and Dan Lean did! Out of a munificent salary of 60c per diem they slowly and painfully paid for one horse.

Photograph of

Photograph of of RCMP Veteran R.C. Bowen (Reg.#4829 – O.300) a RCMP veteran of 37 years in the Force and genial writer of this nostalgic tribute to the early years of the Force. (Source of photo – 55th edition of the Vancouver Division’s 1955 Scarlet & Gold magazine).

I wonder how many now remember Gracey? Ex Life Guardsman, African West Coast trader and heaven knows what else. He was an artist and a beautiful penman. He could also talk so he became Q.M.S. Unfortunately he allowed the bottle to interfere with his duties and he left us. I have a vivid picture of him and Paddy Sinclair, Jack McIlree’s teamster, sitting on the steps of the Q.M. stores by the north gate, beautifully soused, singing (unprintable) “Bill the Sailor.”

Then there was the chap who was stationed at Lanigan I believe. My memory fails me as to his name. He had been the adjutant of The Lancashire Fusiliers and explored in Africa. An excellent policeman. Unfortunately every so often he had an unresistable urge to drink. When this happened he placed himself under arrest and came in to Regina. He was tried, fined, and given leave until the urge left him. Our officers were very understanding. none more so than the late Supt. Gilbert Sanders, my first O.C. No words of mine can do him more justice than has already been said, but Jack Caldwell and I thought so much of him that we seized the opportunity of reduced fares to the Calgary Stampede some years ago and went to see him. Jack had made him some packing cases for some of his stuff when he was transferred to Athabasca Landing about 1910. He was delighted to see Jack and told him that his boxes were in excellent condition and were in his basement right then.

Calgary was celebrating the 75th anniversary of its founding by the police under Commissioner Macleod and as most people know was named after his Scottish home. The H.Q. of the R.N.W.M.P. Veterans had made adequate arrangements for the entertainment of outside visitors and we had a very enjoyable time. Like all well planned holidays we entered the inner harbour of Victoria smoking our last tobacco, finishing up the scotch, rather hungry, and just enough money for bus fare home. This shows that even in retirement efficiency still holds.

I conclude this rambling affair with a tribute to the present Force. Here in Victoria we have had the heartiest and kindliest cooperation from all serving ranks that one could wish for. I feel that the high traditions that we love so well are being well maintained by the present members of the well loved old Force.

One cynical old timer said, “It is too hard they don’t know horses or the blessing of 60c per diem; but they are doing the best they can!”

Photograph of Northwest Mounted Police (NMWP) members wearing the uniform similar to what was worn by Constable William Ross (Source of photo - RCMP Historical Collections Unit - "Depot" Division)

Photograph of Northwest Mounted Police (NMWP) members wearing the uniform similar to what was worn by Constable William Ross (Source of photo – RCMP Historical Collections Unit – “Depot” Division)