Category Archives: Life Stories

Settlers, pioneers and stories from Western Canada

Backstory & Lifestory: Good Old Guy Weadick

Certainly, far more than 100 memorable moments will go down in Stampede history concerning the 1912 centennial. With Claresholm cowboy Chad Besplug winning the title of World Champion Bull Rider, we have much to celebrate. Also, we have many to thank including other fabulous competitors and stock suppliers, volunteers and paid organizers, entertainers and exhibitors (whether agricultural or artistic), which made the centennial a fabulous success.

However, when I consider good old Guy Weadick and the attention he received, I have some qualms, and so as not to put a damper on festivities, I’m glad to writing about him after the last of the fireworks have filled the night sky. Time and again, Weadick recounted how he started the Calgary Stampede, but what did he omit from his story?

That he would omit relevant information is not unusual. When people tell their live stories, they focus on some memories, ignore others and perhaps even invent scenarios. Seldom, if ever, do we as readers or listeners discover the whole truth as perceived by impartial observers.

Research involving many sources is far more likely to reveal the true or real story. Of course, I admit to having my own limitations and biases, but as someone who loves research, I feel that I treated that history in a reasonable manner in my book Awed, Amused and Alarmed: Fairs, Rodeos and Regattas in Western Canada. I admit that, knowing Weadick was a hero to many Albertans, I treated him with kid gloves. Instead of saying, “Here is the lowdown on Guy Weadick” and offering one tell-all expose, I offered glimpses of his life story in various relevant chapters.

Born in Rochester New York in 1886, as an older teenager, Guy claims to have visited and worked in Montana and Southern Alberta, and those adventures included a witnessing huge powwow in Lethbridge. Also, he developed an acceptable vaudeville roping act and perform as Cheyenne Bill. While on the vaudeville circuit, he met Bill Picket, the world famous bulldogger or steer wrestler who hired Weadick as agent and announcer. Finally, Weadick’s career options had improved. Touring with Crestwell and Osborne, they performed at the Calgary Exhibition in 1905.

By then, the Buffalo Bill Wild West show was in decline, and the Miller Brothers 101 Wild West Show had garnered the spotlight. From Oklahoma, the outstanding 101 Wild West Show wanted Picket, and Weadick was part of the deal. Over the years, the show would tour throughout the United States, Europe, South America and Canada, and the two men were with part of the entertainment. In 1908, travelling in 45 railcars, the Wild West Show was scheduled for both Winnipeg and Calgary. That year, Calgary staged the Dominion Exhibition under the capable and watchful eye of organizer and administrator E.L. Richardson. Along with First Nations and NWMP, the 101 Show (including Picket, Weadick and its other stars) marched and rode in the impressive parade Not surprisingly, festival visitors from all over Canada enjoyed performances and competitions.

By the time the 1908 Dominion Exhibition was staged, the story of agricultural fairs and contests was already an old one in Western Canada. The first Calgary Exhibition was in 1886. Cowboy competitions have an equally long or longer history, and gymkhanas and rodeos were an early hit with many local audiences. Alberta’s formal rodeo history has roots in the 1891 at Fort Macleod rodeo when events were held in conjunction with the fall fair. As early as 1893, for the summer agricultural fair in Calgary, a steer roping event was organized by George Lane of the Bar U Ranch. Forward thinking Ad Day, with roots in Texas and Oklahoma, had been instrumental in organizing the 1908 Dominion Exhibition in Calgary, following up with great, successful competitions and events in Medicine Hat, and in the meantime E. L. Richardson, what we could call a “suit” today, kept the fun and competition going year after year in Calgary.

So, what happened in 1912 to make this a centennial year? In fact, all of those early organizers played essential roles for the “first” Calgary Stampede? And what exactly was Weadick’s contribution to the event and to later-day stampede history? According to him, the Stampede was his vision. But, according to my research, Weadick had a knack for exaggeration.

In fact, I had wanted capture the tale in a few hundred words, but life stories are often complicated. Sometimes the most interesting aspects of the stories are left out, which seemed to the case when it came to Guy’s boasts regarding The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.

So, if you are interested, join me next week when the plot thickens.

Mom’s Christmas Memories

Sorry I am a day late with my blog. I have had a bout with migraines and sinus, and going to the computer at such times only make the problems worse, but here’s my blog about Christmas years ago.

Today, many spend huge sums on presents, but of course, that wasn’t always so, especially during the Depression. Born in the 1920s, my mother grew up was a girl in the Thirties and part of a family with ten children. They lived on a small farm at a time when the crash of the world economy was made worse on the Canadian prairies by drought, wind and grasshoppers. I suspect that my grandfather was never cut out to be a farmer in the first place, but Grandma had been a pastry chef for a wealthy family in Ontario, so she was a great cook. However, during the Thirties, she had few ingredients for cooking and baking.

Already, in the spring, she began planning for Christmas. She set hens on four turkey eggs, and when the eggs hatched, the children were given the serious responsible of making sure the young turkeys were well fed. In the fall, two turkeys were kept–one for Christmas dinner and the other for dinner on New Years Day—and the other two were sold. The small income gave Grandma the money to buy cloth so she could sew new clothes, especially dresses for the girls to wear at the Christmas concert. Too, she bought dried fruit for her Christmas cake, which she would cut in small pieces so it would last through both Christmas and New Years. And, of course, one piece was always left out for Santa on Christmas Eve, too.

Mom doesn’t remember whether her father cut or purchased the Christmas tree, but it appeared on Christmas morning. Hanging from it were a few old ornaments and the little gifts Grandma had purchased for each child. They were small but treasured by the children, and Mom thinks they might only have cost between 15 and 25 cents each. If so, at a time when a loaf of bread cost between 5 and 10 cents, and a couple might live on $25 a month, such expenditures would have been no small sacrifice.

Like other girls, Mom had always wanted an Eaton’s Beauty doll, but the coveted gift never appeared. Instead, one year, she received a small pink horn that she could blow like a whistle. Another year, she and the sister closest to her age did get small dolls, but they were the only ones that were not make-do dolls created from cloth wrapped around sticks.

In fact, Mom doesn’t remember her own mother and father ever receiving Christmas gifts, but perhaps they did, and if not, I suspect that the children tried especially hard to be helpful and show their thanks during Christmas.

Unlike other times of the year, Christmas and New Years’ dinners did mean turkey with trimmings, and desert was Christmas pudding topped with brown sugar sauce. In fact, throughout my childhood, Mom made a Christmas pudding based on Grandma’s recipe. It was a simple, steamed white-cake-style of pudding made primarily from flour, suet, milk, baking powder, sugar and raisins or currents. Not heavy like way many Christmas puddings, it was delicious, and we loved it. However, of course, our modern awareness of cholesterol and calories have made such puddings less popular today that at a time families were fortunate to enjoy any kind of Christmas pudding.

Unlike today in many households, there were never countless treats throughout the Christmas season, but mom acknowledges that some neighbour families had more during the Christmas season than her own family did. Still, none of the neighbour children ever bragged about their possessions or presents.

 I would never want a country or families to experience such economic hardships or uncertainties as families did during the Depression, but revisiting those times is a reminder that the festive season is not simply about lavish gifts or possessions or tables laden with gourmet food, cookies and candy. As much as I love to cook Christmas goodies and buy special presents for family and friends, I am reminded that Christmas has been celebrated in many ways. And being thankful for whatever small gifts we are able to give or might receive is intrinsically part of the Christmas spirit. And for me, learning about my mom experiences of Christmas during the Depression has been a very special gift! So, my thanks to her.

Remembering

With Remembrance Day on the horizon, welcome to the memoirs of Royal Canadian Navy Petty Officer Rosalee Auger van Stelten. Part II continues the story of her being seconded to Buckingham Palace for the Royal Tour of Canada in 1959. She sailed the St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes in HMY Britannia, and she is the only Royal Yachtswoman in Britannia’s history.

Rosalee was awarded The Queen’s Golden Jubilee medal in 2002, acknowledging over four decades of volunteer service with the Royal Canadian Naval Benevolent Fund. That year, she attended the reunion of the Association of Royal Yachtsmen in Portsmouth, England, and was a guest of The Royal Britannia Trust in Leith, Scotland.

In her memoir, WREN: memories of navy days/from royal yacht to quonset hut (Available from wrenrcn@shaw.ca), we learn more about days in the military. Also, the memoirs of others suggest the experiences of our military and their families, whether serving at home or abroad.

Lee is the descendant of a Scots Guardsman who fought at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. Her grandfather was a Canadian veteran of the Boer War, and her father was a major in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry during World War II.  Born in Thunder Bay, she grew up in Winnipeg, but her naval service took her from the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans.

Author of two poetry books, Lee’s work also appears in Transforming Traditions: Women, Leadership & the Canadian Navy, 1942-2010 (2010). Enjoy the continuation of Rosalee Auger’s story, and on November 11, take time out to acknowledge all who have served in Canada’s military.

Petty Officer Rosalee Auger, RCN(W), & grandfather Eugene Auger

The Palace, the media and me – Part II

© by Rosalee Auger van Stelten

As soon as I got off the phone, I reported to the General. He had me write out every question I had been asked and every answer I had given. He then issued a press release with the information, nullifying a potential scoop. 

When I landed in London, I did not know where I would live. There was talk of an apartment, or of being billeted with the British Wrens near Buckingham Palace. In the meantime, I was whisked away for an overnight stay with an expatriate Canadian.

The British media are cut-throat now, and they were cut-throat then. The next morning at breakfast the doorbell rang. There stood a slew of photographers. Overwhelmed, we let them in.

Caught off guard, casually dressed in uniform skirt and white shirt minus stiff detachable collar and black tie, I hastily donned the rest of my rig. My shoes were in the hallway. So I was wearing knitted green slipper socks.

“Not to worry, love,” the press assured me. “Your feet won’t show.” As a precaution I hid my feet beneath a cushion, but not before a photographer snapped me. His photo caption read, “Petty Officer Auger relaxes…. Note slipper socks.”

For this lapse in military deportment, I was called before the Commodore at Canadian Joint Staff Headquarters. “But sir,” I cried indignantly, “they promised my feet wouldn’t show!”

How did the press find me? I was in a council flat in the East End of London. I might have been on the moon, for all I knew. In retrospect, I think our staff car driver must have been bribed.

Later, the Royal Navy graciously agreed to accommodate me in the Kensington quarters for British Wrens. Soon after my arrival, the duty petty officer announced that a friend was in the lobby. There, an older woman thrust out her hand. “Hullo,” she said. “We met at a party in Montréal.” I had often been to Montréal en route by train to or from Halifax.

Where to talk with her? The lounge was closed for a meeting. I shared a small, sparsely furnished room and led her there. She plunked herself on my roommate’s bed. “How do you like it here?” she asked, bouncing on the taut springs and thin military mattress. 

A question or two later, I twigged. “You’re a reporter, aren’t you?” I challenged. She admitted she worked for the Daily Sketch. Extremely upset by her deception, I marched her to the front door and immediately reported the incident to the duty officer. The following day, I informed the Palace.

Investigation revealed that the commissionaire on duty had accepted a bribe to tip off the reporter, a serious breach of Naval security. He lost his job and ruined his reputation for an aborted scoop by an unscrupulous reporter—who probably didn’t give a fig for the consequences.

Note: Rosalee [Auger] van Stelten’s books are listed at poets.ca and abcbookworld.com

Solving Puzzles: Genealogy

I have been teaching a class on writing life stories, and many who register for such classes are researching family history and genealogy. They find hints about fascinating family members and decide to write those stories for others in the family or for the public.

As a writer and public historian, of course, I applaud them. However, I also believe genealogy is like puzzle solving and that is good for our brains, especially for anyone who is a mature adult or senior.

Genealogy does not necessarily involve developing writing skills or style, but we can find information that captivates us. We put on our detective hats and find details about our forbearers. We talk to others and search on internet. All of those processes keep our brains just as active as solving crossword or Sudoku puzzles. Personally, I find genealogy more interesting and fully support the process of discovering details such as “Which steam ship did my grandfather sail on before arriving in Canada?” Generally, the information exists somewhere, but we might have to make our way through mazes to find it, and that is good for our brains.

Also, often, such details are integrated in stories written as nonfiction. For other writers, the details become part of creative nonfiction works, and sometimes they are even transformed into fiction. Whatever the genre and style, I consider it important to find and write family stories.

However, genealogy as related to specific ancestors may be important to the family but not necessarily to anyone else. Of course, many who investigate their family tree hope to find that they are related to famous people. Discovering such ancestors is undoubtedly rewarding, but for others, solving the puzzles and mysteries that they encounter along the way becomes almost addictive. Whatever their motivation, family history detectives are able to contribute to our knowledge of the past.

If you are tempted by the possibilities, you might simply search “genealogy,” and you will find hundreds of websites, many with excellent links and information. However, if a site requires that you register, it likely means you will be giving away information about your family and providing an email address for advertisers. Still, your providing that information could prove worthwhile.

Because I work with Alberta and western Canadian history, I can suggest some websites that might be helpful:

Alberta Genealogy Society www.abgensoc.ca has excellent links and access to the Alberta Homestead Index and other documents. Also, see Alberta Family Histories Society http://www.afhs.ab.ca

Canadian Genealogy Centre www.genealogy.gc.ca of  Library and Archives Canada is devoted to genealogy . Also, find source material in the national archives www.collectionscanada.ca

Ellis Island www.ellisisland.org has information about immigration through the port of New York. Castle Garden www.CastleGarden.org (an earlier name for immigration services through New York) is also useful since Canadian families first arrived at New York and moved to Canada.

Family History Archives www.lib.byu.edu/fhc is a popular site with a searchable data base from Brigham Young University in association with the Mormon Family History Centre

Pier 21 www.pier21.ca has information on many settlers who arrived in Canada through for the port of Halifax.

So, whatever your plan or motivation and whether you use your discoveries for family information, future writing projects or fun, good luck!