New Years 2021

By JENN WEBSTER, PHOTOS BY TWISTED TREE PHOTOGRAPHY

What are you doing for New Year’s Eve? I can tell you – my family has been waiting for this day all year long… That’s not to say we expect 2021 to morph us immediately into an easier time, but we do have hope for the upcoming year. And that’s something.

Today, we’re also hoping to do a little of this:

Or maybe even this with the kids:

Like many other folks we’ll be staying home – obviously due to the pandemic – but especially because we have animals to tend to in the morning. (We’re also looking forward to Eggs Benedict for breakfast!)

However, that doesn’t mean we plan to have a boring night.

Supper will likely be take-out from our favorite restaurant. And who knows? Maybe we’ll even eat in the barn.

The kids will have special “mocktails,” which is essentially Ginger-Ale poured over Gummy Bears:

We’ve made our own holiday crackers to celebrate the changing of the annual. Stuffed with little treats inside, the kids love these things. (And as they are made from toilet paper rolls, I’m not sure there’s anything more perfectly reminiscent of 2020 than these babies…)

We’re going to make the most of it.

Once all the animals are all tucked safely into the barn for the night, we have fireworks to light up in the back pasture.

After that, if we can still handle the cold, it might be time for a fire and some roasted marshmallows.

It might not be as exciting as an exotic beach New Year’s Eve getaway, or even that of the ambience in a fancy restaurant – but it works for us.

From my family to yours – we wish you all a Happy New Year!

Goat kids provided by Callie’s Classy Critters. Photos shot on location at Hartell Homestead. Belgians owned by The Stampede Ranch.

Making the Most of Everything

Photo by BAR XP PHOTO

The following is an excerpt from my current Publisher’s Note in Western Horse Review. Considering the new restrictions / changes / happenings of the past week, I’ve needed to re-look at my own writing. My own history. I needed this reminder.

Perhaps many of you will find it helpful too…

I was 4-years-old when my sister, mother and I made these decorations together.

Growing up as the young child of a single mother, I remember a couple of tough Christmases. Money was tight, stress was high and my mother secretly worried about how she was going to pay rent. I imagine it’s not much different to what many of us are facing this year in the first ever, Covid-Christmas.

Back then, she was so worried about the normal essentials. Not to mention how she would create a joyful holiday occasion for my sister and I. Of course, we were oblivious to her concerns, as we carried along in the blissful day-to-day of toddlers.

What I remember of those trying times were hand-baking ornaments out of dough, because we had no decorations for the tiny tree my mom managed to scrape together a few dollars for. None of them had any colour – they were all brown from varnish and we baked paper clips in the tops of each, so we could string green wool through the tops to hang them. I was so proud, in particular, of the hand-rolled candy canes I made. As a four-year-old, some of the more intricate designs were better suited for Mom.

To date, my mother still decorates her tree with some of those decorations. They didn’t cost a penny and they maintain the same brown color. Yet, they withstood the test of time. And after all these years, they serve as reminders of one of the most important lessons of my life.

Make the most of it.

After all this time, I worry that my mother still frets about those Christmases. There were few material gifts for us under the tree but the truth is, she gave us something much more precious. Much more important. At four-years-old, I learned how to use what I had. How to make the most of it. And it turned out okay.

That lesson has proven invaluable this year. In 2020, “making the most of it” has become my mantra. I only hope I can pass it on to my children as well as my mother did for us.

Whatever the Christmas season looks like for you this year – I wish you all the very best. Make the most of it.

Photo by BAR XP PHOTO

Boerderij Cheese Fondue

A ranch version of a Swiss classic.


By MIKE EDGAR, PHOTOS BY TWISTED TREE PHOTOGRAPHY


Celebrate the season with a big, beautiful platter of cheese, charcuterie, bread and seasonal fruits. This gooey indulgence is a festive family tradition in many households, but is a delicious treat at any time. Serve it around a holiday table and make an entire evening of memories from it.

INGREDIENTS
½ Pound Cave Aged Gruyere Cheese
½ Pound Raclette Cheese
2 Tbsp. Cornstarch
1 Garlic Clove peeled
1 Cup Dry White Wine
1 Tbsp. Lemon
2 Tbsp. Brandy
½ Tsp. Dry Mustard
Pinch of Nutmeg
Assorted breads and cured meats for dipping.


 METHOD

  1. In a small bowl, coat the cheeses with cornstarch and set aside. Rub the inside of a ceramic fondue pot with garlic, then discard.
  2. Over medium heat add the wine and lemon juice to the fondue pot and bring to a gentle simmer. Gradually stir the cheese into the simmering liquid – melting the cheese slowly encourages a smooth fondue. Once smooth, stir in the brandy, nutmeg and mustard.
  3. Surround your fondue with all your meats, fruits, bread and family and enjoy.
  • Thank-you to the French 50 Bakery in Okotoks, AB, for providing the bread for this recipe.

Remembering our Aboriginal Veterans

The lapel pin commissioned by the Royal Canadian Legion
to commemorate Aboriginal Veterans
.

BY DEBBIE MACRAE

While not officially recognized by the Federal Government as National Aboriginal Veterans Day, November 8th, was inaugurated in Winnipeg in 1994 to recognize the efforts of our Indigenous Veterans and aboriginal participants.

Even before the War of 1812, territorial expansion was being guarded and defended against invasion by encroaching military and political interests. As British territories became vulnerable to attack, thousands of First Nations and Metis warriors were mustered to defend their borders during the War of 1812. More than 10,000 First Nations fighters participated in virtually every battle from the Great Lakes region and the St. Lawrence Valley.

Not only were they physically honed with stealth, patience and marksmanship, they brought a different element of communication not privy to the enemy.

During the Great War, 1914 – 1918, the interest from indigenous participants continued; requiring that volunteers travel extensive distances, learn new languages, and adapt dramatically to cultural differences, previously unfamiliar.

Hunters became snipers and reconnaissance scouts. In World War II they took on a new role; that of Code talkers, converting sensitive radio messages into languages like Cree, an Algonquin homeland dialect thought to be approximately 2,500 to 3,000-years-old from the great lakes region. Other interpreters would convert the messages back, preventing interception by the enemy.

It is believed that by the end of the conflict in 1945, over 3,000 First Nations members had served in uniform. However, the numbers were understated as unknown numbers of Metis, Inuit, and other Indigenous recruits continued to enroll in the Royal Canadian Navy, and Royal Canadian Air Force, as well as the Canadian Army. It is estimated that as many as 12,000 Indigenous people served to defend Canada’s interests during the 20th century.

Their efforts did not stop there. Large amounts of food, money, clothing and supplies were donated on the home front including the use of portions of their reserve lands for defense installations, rifle ranges and the construction of airport facilities.

Many returned to service in 1950 during the Korean War, after having seen action in World War II – and many more did not come home.

Their service continues – from NATO service in Europe to performing international peace support operations worldwide. Service in Afghanistan and even in Canada in remote locations along our east and west coasts, finds our Indigenous military personnel maintaining a vigilant presence to serve and protect in both local and international operations. In recognition of the contributions of all Aboriginal Canadians in war and peacekeeping operations, having served, or contributed on the home front, “To Aboriginal War Veterans in Canada and to those that have Fallen…”, the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument was erected in Confederation Park on the east side of Elgin Street between Laurier Avenue West and Slater Street, in Ottawa, Ontario.

The work is that of artist Lloyd Pinay, and depicts a large bronze eagle on the top, with four men and women from different Indigenous groups across Canada, beneath. The four “spiritual guides” understood to be critical to military success are the powerful wolf, bear, bison, and caribou, defending each corner.

The monument was unveiled on National Aboriginal Day, June 21, 2001 by Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, C.C., C.M.M., C. D. former Governor General of Canada and Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces.

In 2005, the Government of Canada participated in a sacred Calling Home Ceremony with Indigenous Spiritual Elders, Veterans and their families in an Aboriginal Spiritual Journey. This special ceremony was intended to invite the spirits of the war dead, and those who served in the World Wars, to return home to their families in their ancestral homelands.

A cultural illustration was created for the event, symbolizing each of the three main participating Indigenous groups:

First Nations People were signified by the Eagle’s Feather, held in the highest regard as the messenger of the Creator. The feather is the link between Creator and the People.

The Inuit symbol was that of the Inuksuk; traditional markers constructed for direction, sighting windows, hunting caches, or fishing locations, as well as another “virtual” being for hunting or companionship.

The colourful Metis Sash originated amongst the voyageurs. Its diverse functionality varied from emergency sewing kits for hunts, bathing cloths and towels, saddle blankets and emergency ropes or halters. Many of the voyageurs had mixed heritages, and the sash became an integral symbol of Metis culture in the West.

In appreciation of their contribution, the Royal Canadian Legion commemorated the Aboriginal Veterans with a lapel pin depicting those symbols. Centered on a dreamcatcher, (originally an Ojibwe symbol of protection), is the Legion Poppy encircled by the Metis sash. Suspended on either side of the Inuit Inuksuk are two Eagle feathers, symbolic of the First Nations people. Unique and beautiful in design, the pin is truly a symbol of unity and honour.

On November 8th, we honour those First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people who have long-served the proud tradition of military service and peace keeping for our country. We thank you.

We acknowledge Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, Veterans Affairs Canada, Artist Noel Lloyd Pinay, and Fred Gaffen, without whose contributions this article would not be possible.

Classic Pork Chops

By Chef Mike Edgar, Photos by Twisted Tree Photography

Now that meal prep is top of mind for many, here’s a pork dish that is easy to make and features a delicious cranberry touch. Thick and juicy oven-baked pork loin chops, smothered in a savoury, brandy reduction and topped with a cranberry-mustard are a wonderful way to enjoy a sit-down meal with your family.

BRINE

2 Cups Water
1/2 Cup of Salt
1/2 Cup Sugar
6 Cloves of Garlic
2 Tbsp. of Whole Black Peppercorn
Handful of Fresh Thyme
2 Cups of Ice Cubes

BRINE METHOD
Dissolve the salt and sugar in water. Add aromatics. Bring to a boil and pour over ice cubes. Stir until melted.
 

PORK CHOPS METHOD
Sear your pork chops to start. Place two double cut pork chops, (bone in) into the brine for a minimum of eight hours. Remove from brine and dry. Preheat your oven to 425℉. Sear pork chops in a cast iron pan, for approximately five minutes a side. Place in oven, flipping every three minutes until you have an internal temp of 145℉. Bring out and rest for a minimum of five minutes.
 
SPICED SQUASH PUREE

1 Butternut Squash, Diced (Uncooked)
2 Tbsp. of Butter
1 Tbsp. of Olive Oil
1 Tsp. of Allspice
1 Tsp. Turmeric Powder
1 Tsp. of Ground Ginger
1 Tsp. of Salt 
1 Tsp. Pepper
1/4 Cup of 33% Whipping Cream
1/4 Cup of Water

SPICED SQUASH PUREE METHOD
Roast squash and spices in a preheated 425℉ oven for 25 minutes, until soft. Place in a blender with water and cream and puree.


CIPOILLINI ONIONS
1 Onion per person, Peeled
 
CIPOILLINI ONIONS METHOD
Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Pre-heat oven to 425℉. Roast onions seven minutes per side.
 

When arranging your pork chop plate, the asparagus & goat cheese strudel pairs well with the spiced squash puree.


ASPARAGUS & GOAT CHEESE STRUDEL

12 Asparagus Stalks
1/2 Cup Goat Cheese
3 Sheets of Phyllo Pastry
1 Tsp. of Salt
1 Tsp. of Pepper
1/2 Cup of Melted Butter
 
STRUDEL METHOD
Lay one sheet of phyllo pastry down on the cutting board, and brush with butter, repeat two times. Cut the phyllo into four rectangles. Season with salt and pepper and place three asparagus on each rectangle and then crumble equal portions of goat cheese on top. Roll phyllo around the asparagus and goat cheese. Roll to wrap them towards the centre of the spear. Preheat oven to 425℉. Place each pastry on a greased baking sheet and place in oven for six minutes a side.
 

This sweet and savoury brandy reduction is the perfect addition to pork chops.

BRANDY REDUCTION 

2 Cups Chicken Stock
2 Cups Brandy
1 Cup Honey
1 Tbsp. of Tomato Paste
Handful of Fresh Thyme

BRANDY REDUCTION METHOD
Place all ingredients in a pot and bring items to a boil. Boil until the consistency is that of a syrup.
 
CRANBERRY MUSTARD

1/2 Cup Yellow Mustard Seeds
1/4 Cup Brown Mustard Seeds
1 and 1/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
1/2 Cup Maple Syrup
1 Cup Dry Cranberries

CRANBERRY MUSTARD METHOD
Cranberry Sauce:
Soak cranberries in water for two hours. Strain the water off. Puree in a food processor with half the maple syrup.

Mustard:
Place all mustard seeds and vinegar in a jar. Seal the lid. Shake well. Let sit in a dark place for 48 hours.

After 48 Hours
Remove half the mustard seeds and puree in food processor with the cranberry sauce and the remaining maple syrup.
Mix with the remaining mustard seeds. Serve with your pork chops. 

The Timelessness of Fringe

Photo by Callaghan Creative Co.

By Guest Blogger ALEESHA HARRIS

Fringe is as much a part of cowboy culture as, say, denim and roper-heeled boots. While various tasseled styles, many of which have origins in First Nations culture, where fringe was first introduced as functional elements of design (the long strips of suede or leather worked to wick rainwater away from the body, for example) — these days, they are largely centred around making a fashion statement.


From jackets and chaps, to accent-hemmed skirts and even tassel-adorned handbags, fringe is one of the most identifiable elements of western wear today.

Photo by McKenzie Fotos.


But it’s not just riders who are buying into the look.


Thanks to the growing popularity in recent seasons of what’s being referred to by many fashion magazines as the “Americana” trend, fringed fashions have reemerged in mainstream style, as well. Several designers, such as the American brands Calvin Klein and Coach and the French brand CELINE, began prominently featuring fringe designs during their Spring/Summer 2018 collection shows. Appearing in various forms, from soft strands that fluttered in the breeze, to bold swaths of fabric swinging from the hem of mini dresses, the message was made clear: fringe has gone mainstream.

Photo by McKenzie Fotos.


And, ongoing appearances in the latest collections showed on the runways in recent months during fashion weeks in Milan, New York and Paris proves that it’s here to stay. And, fringe isn’t the only element of Western wear that’s seeping into mainstream fashion in 2019.


High fashion brands like CHANEL, Gucci and Dior have touched on elements of equestrian culture in recent seasons — moving away from more predictable influences of English riding styles such as polished field boots and sharply tailored hunt coats — instead, showcasing western-inspired elements such as prairie dresses, handkerchief neckties, yolked button-down shirts, denim-on-denim, cowboy boots and more.

Photo by Twisted Tree Photography.


And the proliferation of such pieces has surely led to an increase in Hollywood celebrities popping up wearing the trend including Gwen Stefani, Kendall Jenner and  Rosie Huntington-Whitely, further introducing the western aesthetic to a broader audience of fashion fans.

Gwen Stefani at a recent performance in Las Vegas, NV. Photo by @imalazyj


So, while these  influences have enjoyed a long history of appearing and reappearing in mainstream fashion throughout the years, it’s safe to say that these western wear pieces are sure to continue to leave an impression on fashion, this year and beyond.

Holiday Giving – For Her

 

Stuck on the perfect gift idea for her? In this four-part blog series, Western Horse Review has rounded up several of our favorite tidings of joy. This is Christmas shopping made easy! You’re welcome.

By Louisa Murch White & Jenn Webster

 


POP SOCKETS – Never drop your phone again with these sweet handcrafted, Canadian-made pop sockets from Sweet Iron Silver. Sterling silver and can be personalized. Starting at $95
www.sweetiron.com

 


WILD RAGS – Wrap yourself or a loved one in the warmth of a 100% silk wild rag from Brown Creek this winter. Starting at $55
www.browncreekwildrags.com

 

Credit Twisted Tree Photography.

ANYTHING FROM SCOTT HARDY – Looking for something that is truly special? She’ll love anything from renowned silversmith, Scott Hardy. From custom-made buckles, to jewelry, to flasks or saddle silver, Hardy has the perfect signature piece for your one of a kind. Inquire for pricing.
www.scotthardy.com

 

WHR NECK WRAP – Wrap yourself in one of these neck wraps, hand-made in Canada by Janine’s Custom Creations exclusively for Western Horse Review. Crafted from real Pendleton® Blankets, these wraps are stylishly functional and look attractive with any style of outerwear. Light weight and lined with a soft sherpa for comfort and warmth. Easy snap closures. With fringe or without. Can be worn over the shoulders or as a wrap. Many colors and styles to choose from.

whr-boutique.westernhorsereview.com

 

CREDIT: Twisted Tree Photography. All hats from Smithbilt Hats. Tan hat with beadwork is a custom design by @thechiefsdaughter_.

CUSTOM HAT – The right hat is the perfect way to accentuate her western lifestyle. Choose from a variety of styles and colours at Smithbilt Hats to compliment her unique sense of style. Inquire for pricing.
smithbilthats.com

 

YOU CAN’T GO WRONG WITH TURQUOISE – Featuring one of the largest selections of high quality, vintage, Native American turquoise and sterling silver jewelry from Navajo, Zuni and Hopi artists, the Lost American Art Gallery & Museum has some truly exquisite pieces. Inquire for pricing.
www.thelostamericanartgallery.com

 

SEW CUTE KITS – These adorable mason jar sewing kits from Cattle Cait are the perfect stocking stuffer for the crafty lady in your life. Handmade from 100% recycled wool and jars, each kit contains needles, pins, buttons, a measuring tape and thread. $30.
cattlecait.com

 


JUST RIDE TEE – This stylish, ladies slim-fit graphic tee pairs perfectly with her favourite denim! Navy blue and 100% ringspun cotton, from Tonic Equestrian. $25.
tonicequestrian.com

 

BETTY & JOLENE JEAN – Canada’s #1 western retailer Lammle’s Western Wear & Tack, is now carrying Kimes Ranch Jeans! Two women’s styles, the classic Betty and the stylish Jolene, are the first to be offered both in-store and online through the Lammle’s website at www.lammles.com

 

HANDMADE STOCKINGS – Crafted from real Pendleton® Blankets by Janine’s Custom Creations exclusively for Western Horse Review Boutique, these beautiful stockings show off your western heritage. Fill them with all kinds of Christmas goodies and admire the elegance of your mantle as you do. ($60)
whr-boutique.westernhorsereview.com

DOC WEST – Steel Dusts

Illustration by Dave Elston.

Doc West returns with his sage advice for the lost and lonely gunsel.

Q. Doc, an old-timer friend sometimes refers to my Quarter Horse herd as a band of “Steel Dusts.” What does he mean by this term? 


A. There was a time where the horses that we call today, Quarter Horses, were known simply and generically as Steel Dusts. In the mid to late 1800’s most westerners referred to “speedy, low, stocky, well built, well-muscled, and high spirited” horses as Steel Dusts or Steel Dusters or Steel Dust horses. It was the horse everyone wanted when the West was still the West and the horse was still the horse. Steel Dusts were versatile, friendly, tough, cowy, and best of all, they were fast. They were as equally coveted by jockeys running a quarter mile on a dirt track outside of Dallas as they were by the cow puncher running a thousand longhorns up to the Canadian border. The genesis of the ‘steel dust’ prototype is said to trace its roots to the legendary stallion Steel Dust of which little is known, but sufficiently augmented by cowboy lore as to enjoy a prodigious and loyal following in the Quarter Horse world.

It is believed that Steel Dust was foaled in and around 1845 in Kentucky although Missouri, Tennessee and Texas are also possibilities. He was the son of Harry Bluff, the son of Short’s Whip by Big Nance – a Thoroughbred who traced her lineage back to the legendary Thoroughbred, Sir Archy. He was taken to Texas as a yearling or two-year-old and matured, by the most reliable accounts, into a blood bay stallion of 15 hands and 1,200 pounds, (although other sources reported he was as compact as 14.2 hands up to a rangy 16). The only point of minutia on Steel Dust of any consensus was his blinding speed – one old timer stated that Steel Dust could run a quarter of a mile in 22 seconds “any time” (keep in mind modern day racing Quarter Horses are running the 440 in about 21 seconds). Mares were brought in by prominent racing breeders from hundreds of miles away to breed to the equine phenomenon for a chance to catch lightning in a bottle.

Texas cowboys whose palate was not satisfied by riding hardy but ratty mustang types, brought in their cow pony mares to improve the stature of their stock. By the later part of the 1800s Steel Dust’s lineage was so ubiquitous in the then emerging Quarter Horse breed that many just referred to the “heavily muscled horse, marked with small ears, a big jaw, remarkable intelligence and lightening speed up to a quarter of a mile,” as Steel Dusts. By the early 1900s many great Quarter Horse sires would trace their bloodlines once if not several times to Steel Dust – the horse Peter McCue and his son Hickory Bill (the sire of the famous King Ranch foundation breeding stallion “Old Sorrel”) had significant Steel Dust lineage, as did many other bloodlines such as Billy, Cold Deck and Rondo. In fact, as recent as the 1930s so many lines of Quarter Horses were traceable to Steel Dust that breeder Jack Caseman wrote an article for the Western Horseman magazine titled “Why a Steel Dust Stud Book?” in support of the registry which would ultimately become the American Quarter Horse Association.

Today, with the passing of time, the moniker “Steel Dust” has fallen from common usage as the Quarter Horse has continued to mature as a breed. Competitive events such as reining, cutting and pleasure have further evolved (some might argue devolved) the Quarter Horse into a specialist that over time falls further and further away from that gritty, jack-of-all-trades which could cut a cow in the morning and run a race match after dinner. To your question, the reference to your herd as a band of “Steel Dusts” from an old timer can be nothing short of a compliment, an admiration of equine specimens built to the Steel Dust prototype – low, powerful and fast; and perhaps at the same time it’s a pining of sorts, for that West which existed once, where a man only had one horse but needed one horse – and that horse ran through time like Pegasus unshackled.

Have a question about western culture burning in your back pocket? We welcome you to direct it to Doc West at editorial@westernhorsereview.com.

War Horse

Courtesy of Guelph Museums, McCrae House.

BY DEBBIE MACRAE

The year was 1914. The man was 42, a doctor, pathologist, soldier, teacher, artist, writer and more. The gift – a chestnut gelding, schooled for fox hunting with an admirable conformation.

This is their story.

John McCrae was born in Ontario, the son of a military family, with strong spiritual values and high principles. He was passionate about animals – any animals, but especially cats, dogs and horses.

He was brilliant – and interested in the military. He was the first Guelph student to win a scholarship to the University of Toronto. He joined the cadets at 14 and his father’s Militia field battery at the age of 17. He was unfortunately plagued with asthma, and this condition forced him to take a break in his studies. During his time away, he still managed to teach Mathematics and English.

He courted a young woman who was the sister of a friend, but sadly she met his interest with disdain. He remained a bachelor the rest of his life.

He graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Arts degree and then turned his studies toward medicine. McCrae had a fondness for children, spending his third year as the resident physician outside Baltimore, at a children’s convalescent home. He mentored other students, and it is noteworthy that two of his students would become the first women doctors in Ontario.

McCrae’s military career progressed, becoming a gunner in Guelph with the Number 2 Battery, then Quarter-Master Sergeant, Second Lieutenant and Lieutenant. He became Captain of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada.

He graduated his Bachelor of Medicine degree and received the gold medal from the University of Toronto medical school. Then he interned at the John Hopkins Hospital, working with his brother, Thomas. He was awarded a Fellowship in Pathology by the McGill University in Montreal, but felt obligated to fight in the South African War of October 1899. He requested a postponement of his fellowship and left to lead D Battery, of the Canadian Field Artillery. McCrae resigned from the military in 1904 after being promoted to Captain and then Major.

In 1910, McCrae was invited by the Governor General, Lord Grey, to be the expedition physician on a canoe excursion between Lake Winnipeg and Hudson’s Bay. He was an avid outdoorsman.

But now the year was 1914. Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie had been assassinated in Sarajevo, and the Great War had begun. Britain declared war on Germany, and Canada was automatically at war as a member of the British Empire.

Bonfire was the name of the fine Irish Hunter, given to McCrae as a gift for his enlistment by his friend Dr. John Todd. The horse was a deep chestnut, gentle, playful, and charismatic soul. He was playful – greeting people by whisking off their hats or blowing waffle kisses. McCrae wrote to his sister, ”I wish you could meet [Bonfire], he is one of the dearest thing in horses one could find… he puts up his lips to your face and gives a kind of foolish waffle of his lower lip that is quite comical.”

Bonfire was delivered to the already established Camp Valcartier, a tent city in Quebec where soldiers were being recruited and trained for overseas duty. Although McCrae already had a horse, he was happy to choose Bonfire, after getting the opportunity to ride him.

The Surgeon in charge of the medical services for the Canadian troops, General Jones, had already decreed that as a physician, McCrae had no need for a horse. However, as the second in command of the First Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery, a mount was requisite… yet McCrae would be reminded again and again, that he should “not get too fond of Bonfire.”

But he was, and so he would remain. McCrae would send letters, ‘written by Bonfire’ home to his nieces and nephews and signed with a hoof print.

The mass assembly of man and beast commenced in October of 1914, as troops, animals and supplies were transported via the Saxonia from Canada to Europe. 632 animals were stabled in the hold and on the unlucky 13th day at sea, a massive storm assaulted them, injuring both man and horse as they were tossed about on the water. Seasickness assailed them, and the hold was vulgar with stench.

Once they arrived on British soil, incessant rain pounded them for 98 of the 123 days they were stationed there. McCrae was able to piece together a small shelter for Bonfire – only because he was a senior officer, but the majority of horses were exposed to the weather, the rain, the wind, and their health was deteriorating. All requests for shelter were denied in the wake of the war effort. Even shelter in the nearby forest was rejected. On December 2nd, a massive windstorm blew down Bonfire’s shelter. The sicker horses died on the line, and as a result, 200 of the remaining horses were granted shelter at a nearby farm.

McCrae’s love for animals reached out to the other victims of war. Miss Kitty was a black and white cat who came to visit Bonfire in his shelter. She stayed behind in England when they moved on to France.

On the way to France, Bonfire injured his leg; believed to be the result of a kick by another horse. John rode him to the billet in France in an effort to try and work out the injury, but that meant maneuvering around the corpses of dead war horses, a task that challenged both McCrae and Bonfire’s sensibilities.

As Bonfire learned to trust, McCrae, equally, sought the support of Bonfire’s stability and companionship. They were on the frontlines, where the constant battering of the troops, and the calls to treat the wounded, were wearing on his composure. Returning from the front, McCrae would seek the solace of Bonfire’s shelter where he could regroup before retiring.

At the Battle of Ypres, McCrae was exposed to the sting of poison gas – and his asthmatic lungs battled the effects of the gas and the elements. He was told to move north of Ypres and “dig in”, and he did literally just that – by digging a trench eight foot by eight foot so he could treat casualties – both men and animals, even contrary to orders. Mules and horses suffered terrible anguish. He said, “There is nothing I hated more than that horse scream.”

On one occasion a big grey dog with beautiful brown eyes, came running in panic. “He ran to me and pressed his head hard against my leg. So I got him a safe place and he sticks by us. We call him Fleabag – for he looks like it.” There is no further record of Fleabag.

At virtually the same time, Bonfire was in a pen with another horse at a nearby farm when the farm took a direct hit. That horse was killed and Bonfire bolted in fear. He was not found until several days later, but McCrae rejoiced in their reunion when he was recovered.

Shortly thereafter, after much controversy, the new McGill field hospital was established to care for the sick and wounded who were fighting in France and Belgium. McCrae was to be the new Doctor in Charge of Medicine for the Canadian Army Medical Corp under General Jones. Jones continued to warn him not to get too fond of Bonfire, and at one point an attempt was made to take Bonfire away from him. Sir Sam Hughes, Canada’s Minister of Militia and Defense, intervened, and McCrae and Bonfire were transferred to the Jesuit school near Boulogne where more comfortable arrangements awaited.

Courtesy of Guelph Museums, McCrae House.

They soon became friends with a French spaniel named Bonneau, and another dog whose leg had been shattered in battle. His name was Windy, and he was not fond of people who were not in uniform. They remained a regiment of four, until Windy succumbed to being poisoned, likely due to his unpopularity.

It would be only a short time later that McCrae, too, would succumb to the ravages of the harsh conditions he lived and worked in. For respite and his health, he would take long rides on Bonfire through the countryside.

Now believed to have been suffering from post-traumatic stress, McCrae could not justify staying in officers’ quarters when his soldiers were relegated to tent cities or worse in the trenches. The long working hours, his asthma, the gas exposure and subsequent bouts of bronchitis had taken their toll, and he became very ill with pneumonia and meningitis. Still, McCrae would soon learn that he had been appointed as the consulting physician to the First British Army – the first time a Canadian had been so honoured.

Five days later, John died. He was buried with full military honours, just north of Boulogne. Bonfire led his funeral procession on a beautiful spring day, his bridle laced in white ribbons, saddled, with McCrae’s riding boots reversed in the stirrups.

Courtesy of Guelph Museums, McCrae House.

John’s death was widely grieved; as a friend, a mentor, a doctor and an intellect. But we will forever remember him as the man who penned a poem for Lt. Alexis Helmer, the friend that he lost, In Flanders Fields.

Before he died, John knew that his poem had been well-received. After its publication, it became the most popular poem about the First World War. It was used to advertise the sale of Victory Bonds in Canada in 1917 with a target of $150,000,000. It raised $400,000,000.

Due in part to the references to the poppy in the first and last stanzas, the poppy was adopted as the Flower of Remembrance for the war dead.

Bonfire was to have been returned home to the Todd family in Quebec after the war – but, he never arrived. After McCrae’s funeral, Bonfire disappeared quietly – and it is conjectured that McCrae’s friends wanted to honour their friend by secretly retiring Bonfire to the pastures of France – away from the world of war and suffering.

The casualties of World War I were estimated to be about 40 million; men, women and children consumed by the ravages of war. Over 8 million horses died. Bonfire was a survivor.

Special acknowledgment to the Guelph Collection at McCrae House for the photos, Veterans Affairs Canada, references from Canada’s Great War Album, Minister of Supply and Services Canada, and special thanks to Author Susan Raby-Dunne, for references in her book Bonfire: The Chestnut Gentleman.

Read our book review of Bonfire, The Chestnut Gentleman