This Week in Western Canadian History
May 23 - May 29
May
24
1846

The Death of Big SnakePaul Kane, one of the first Canadians to paint Canada's North-West, left Fort William (now Thunder Bay, Ontario) to travel across the prairies with the Hudson's Bay Company's spring fur trade brigade. During his three-year trip, he documented one of the last great buffalo hunts, spent Christmas at Fort Edmonton, and recorded Canada's native peoples at a time of significant transition. He returned to Toronto in 1848 with over 700 sketches from which he painted landscapes and scenes of Indian life.

May
29
1861

British Columbia's Governor Sir James Douglas set off on a long and arduous journey to see where and how to provide a wagon route to the recently-discovered goldfields of the Cariboo. Royal Engineers from Britain surveyed a route along the Fraser Canyon. In a unique attempt to transport food and construciton supplies in the hot, dry interior, 21 camels were imported as pack animals. The stubborn animals were not a success. They were aggressive with their handlers, and terrified the mules carrying freight along the treacherous tracks. Many of the panicked mules dashed into the woods and were lost, or threw themselves into the canyon to their deaths. There are many stories of miners, notorious for hard living and hard drinking, who swore off the demon rum after unexpectedly coming face to face with a spitting camel in the middle of a dark night.

May
23
1873

Mountie PosterAs settlers moved into the North-West, the need for law enforcement quickly became apparent. Travellers reported American whisky traders openly dealing with the Indians, and violent incidents were common. Capitalising on public concern, Sir John A. Macdonald introduced legislation, passed unopposed on May 23, 1873, to "organise a mounted police force, somewhat similar to the Irish Mounted Constabulary" who would be armed, but would act as a civil force to administer law and order in the Territories. This legislation provided the foundation for the creation of the North-West Mounted Police, today the world-famous Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

May
28
1881

The rugged terrain of Canada's Rocky Mountain ranges loomed as a major barrier to the projected route for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Although surveyor and engineer Sandford Fleming recommended a northerly route through the Yellowhead Pass, both the Canadian government and the Railway wanted the route to follow a line closer to the Canada-United States border. On May 28, 1881, railway surveyor Albert Bowman Rogers discovered the pass that would bear his name, the Rogers Pass, which offered a passable, though difficult route through the Selkirk Mountains.

May
25
1915

In the early spring of 1915, Canadian forces, along with French and English divisions, were holding the Belgian front. On April 22, German forces threw chlorine gas cylinders at the Allies in the first gas attack of the war. The French and British divisions felt the full force of the gas and abandoned their positions, but the Canadians held. After a month of bitter fighting and despite 6000 Canadians killed or wounded, by the end of the battle on May 25 the Canadians had retreated only two miles from their previous position.

May
28
1920

The Calgary Gun Club was forced to find a new home after complaints from residents of the local community. The complaints arose after local children reported finding gun shells in the playground and hearing gun fire well into the night. Although members of the club claimed that the use of the playground as a rifle range was an isolated incident resulting from a misunderstanding, the mayor was firm that safety was paramount, and the Club would have to find new premises far from residential communities.

May
27
1927

Members of the Alberta Medical Association expressed their concern about the provincial government's decision to fund travelling clinics instead of building more rural hospitals. The president of the Association noted that it was virtually impossible to provide continuity of care from a mobile clinic and he believed the government was compromising the health of Albertans in order to save money.

May
28
1934

Dionne Quints in Lysol Ad A small paragraph in the local newspaper was the first indication that an Ontario woman, Mrs. Oliva Dionne, had given birth to five tiny girls. Initially, there was little interest in the event, probably because most people doubted that all the babies would survive. But within a few weeks it was clear that these were the world's first known surviving quintuplets.

Around the world (especially in Canada), people developed an almost obsessive interest in every aspect of the girls' lives. The children were removed from the control of their parents and made wards of the Ontario government. A special facility was constructed so that visitors -- as many as 6,000 a day -- could view the girls at play. Endorsements were signed, and the quints' names and faces appeared on advertising for products such as baby food, soap, and dolls. By the end of the decade, Mr. and Mrs. Dionne managed to reclaim their daughters, and the entire family (there were six older children) was reunited. Many people still remember when interest in the Dionne quintuplets lifted them out of the doldrums of the Depression. At the same time, there is general recognition that among those who benefited, the five little girls gained the least.

May
26
1939

Souvenir Programme of Royal Visit The Royal Tour of 1939 marked the first time that a reigning monarch had visited Canada. On May 17, newly crowned King George VI and Queen Elizabeth landed at Quebec City to begin a month-long trip that would take them to all of Canada's nine provinces. On May 26, the royal couple arrived in Calgary. It was estimated that up to 200,000 people lined the parade route in a city which had a normal population of 84,000. The highlight of the two-hour visit was an exhibition of aboriginal costume and dance in which members from all five southern Alberta agencies participated. To this day, many people remember where they stood to cheer the King and Queen as the royal cavalcade passed.

May
23
1943

William AberhartWilliam Aberhart was born near Seaforth, Ontario, in 1878. He trained as a teacher and later studied to become a Presbyterian minister. In 1910, he became principal at Alexandra School in Calgary and taught Bible classes in the evening. In 1925, aware of the potential of new communication technologies, he began broadcasting Sunday afternoon services over the radio to thousands of listeners. As his popularity as a preacher grew, he opened the Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute where he administered the church and taught classes while still acting as principal at Crescent Heights High School. In 1932, in the midst of the poverty created by the Depression, Aberhart became interested in the monetary-reform proposals of Major C.H. Douglas. He developed the Alberta Social Credit League to promote some of the ideas, and in 1935 he became Premier of Alberta when his Social Credit Party came to power. While unable to realise all of his proposals, and frequently challenged from individuals both within and outside the party, William Aberhart retained his position as Premier until he died in office on May 23, 1943.

May
25
1950

After four weeks of rising waters, mass evacuations and a massive military intervention, Operation Rainbow -- the clean-up phase of the great Winnipeg flood -- officially began on May 25, 1950. Over 2,000 residences within the city of Winnipeg were flooded over the first-floor level, and many thousands of people were forced from their homes. Ultimately, total costs of the flood were estimated at over $25 million. As a result of this tragedy, the Red River Floodway, or Duff's Ditch, was constructed.

May
28
1970

For 300 years, the Hudson's Bay Company (the oldest incorporated company in the world) maintained its headquarters in London although most of its actual business was conducted in Canada. On May 28, 1970, the proprietors of the Company voted to transfer the head office to Winnipeg, Manitoba. That evening, the directors adjourned to Nelson's Tavern in Greenwich, the place from which many of the Company's ships had sailed. The directors dined on cuisine similar to that enjoyed by Company traders over the past three centuries.

May
29
1985

Steve Fonyo, who had lost one leg to bone cancer, began his "Journey for Lives" to raise money for cancer research in St. John's, Newfoundland, on March 31, 1984. His epic 7924 km run across Canada ended on May 29, 1985, when he dipped his artificial leg into the Pacific Ocean in Victoria, British Columbia.

May
25
1989

Local favourite Lanny McDonald scored the winning goal as the Calgary Flames hockey team defeated the Montreal Canadiens to win its first (and to date, only) Stanley Cup, 4 games to 2. The Flames moved to Calgary from Atlanta, Georgia in 1980 and reached the Stanley Cup finals in the 1986 season, only to be defeated by the Canadiens in five games. This victory was even more meaningful because it happened in the old Montreal Forum, one of the traditional shrines of hockey.



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