Small Matters

Portrait of Charlotte Small. Artwork by Wandering Jayne Creatives.

On June 10, 1799, she became a child bride – married at the age of 13, to a man 16 years her senior. The girl was “…about five feet tall, active and wiry, with black eyes and skin almost copper-coloured”; the daughter of a Scottish investor-partner, named Patrick Small, and an unnamed mother.

She was Métis. Abandoned by her father at the age of six, her father left his family (two girls and a boy,) and returned to his roots in Europe. Her mother raised her children in relative obscurity. Here is Charlotte Small’s story.

By Debbie MacRae

During her lifetime, Charlotte Small would travel over 42,000 kms across some of the most perilous terrain in Canada. She and her husband, David Thompson, would unlock the mysteries of Canada’s unbelievable sweeping geography – and she would become one of the most significant female contributors to the development of Canada. Together, their cartographic accomplishment would become legend; the largest, most significant survey achievement in the history of mankind. Small’s contribution, until recent years, had been relatively unacknowledged.

Charlotte Small was born on September 1, 1785, to the “country wife” of a Scottish investor in the North West Company fur-trading partnership. Her siblings, Patrick Small, Jr., and Nancy Small, would also become part of the fur-trading business, with Patrick becoming a North West Company clerk, and Nancy, the first wife of North West Company partner, John MacDonald of Garth.

“Country wives” was a term coined when a marriage took place with little formality or documents, and the marriage was arranged in “the country” to enhance the standing or security of the wife, who might have mixed lineage. And also to enhance the trade advantage of the fur trader, as a result of an alliance with the woman’s Indigenous family, where she could assist by translating and trading on her husband’s behalf. Often the practical advantages of their alliance outweighed the opportunity for love, as men desired wives who could cook, clean, and sew for them. European wives were not well suited to the harsh elements and did not have the survival skills to compete with their “country” counterparts.

Small could speak French, English, Cree and multiple dialects. She could hunt and fish. Marrying a man employed by the North West Company would bring her stability and security, and perhaps status. The irony of their exchange would be that Small would bring her talents to the table, and on more than one occasion, it would be Small who would ensure they succeeded.

In June of 1799, Small agreed to marry Thompson, and they married in the Cree tradition at Ile-a-la Crosse, SK. Their marriage vows would be solemnized by clergy 13 years later at the Scotch Presbyterian Church in Montreal on October 30, 1812.

She would bear 13 children; seven boys and six girls. Small was 44-years-old when she gave birth to her youngest child, Eliza in 1829.

On their marriage day, Thompson made a notation in his journal – “Today wed Charlotte Small.” He would honour that commitment for 58 years; travelling over 42,000 kilometers with her and their children by his side, at a time when most European men retired and returned to their prestigious European lives, leaving their Canadian country wives and families behind – like Small’s own father. The marriage of David Thompson and Charlotte Small is the longest recorded marriage in pre-Confederation history.

Thompson was born in Westminster, Middlesex, and his father died when Thompson was two-years-old, leaving his mother in dire financial hardship. She was forced to place him in the care of the Grey Coat Hospital, a school for the disadvantaged of Westminster, where he then graduated to the mathematical school, renowned for its survey and navigational training. That training would prepare him for the prodigious survey work he would achieve in later life.

Thompson was indentured to the Hudson’s Bay Company, working as a clerk, and was dispatched to various regional inland locations, learning the language of the people as he went. After seriously fracturing his leg in a sledding accident near North Battleford, SK, it took two years for him to recover, during which he studied mathematics, survey and astronomy. At the end of his apprenticeship, he asked the company to pay him with a sextant and navigational equipment, instead of the traditional Hudson’s Bay coat. They provided him with both, and hence began his next career in surveying. He was 27 years of age.

Two years later, after their marriage, Small would assist with the literal “groundwork”.

“[W]ith black eyes and skin almost copper-coloured” – a description later rendered by her grandson, William Scott, Small moved easily among the First Nation’s people. Her coloring, language fluency and ability to decipher related dialects assisted in securing trust when travelling and trading.

Thompson wrote, in an 1874 manuscript, “….my lovely Wife is of the blood of these people, speaking their language, and well educated in the English language; which gives me a great advantage.” Although not much is known about their relationship, he wrote in a language of love and respect.

The expanse of Rupert’s Land was unknown; the rivers raging and perilous. Travel was arduous for fur traders, completed on foot, by canoe, and horseback, often in unfriendly territory. Seasons were harsh, and winters particularly cruel. The elements (fire, wind, and water), injured or took lives indiscriminately, and starvation was always a consideration. During the winter of 1805 and 1806, while wintering at Reed Lake House, the Thompson party was in much need of food. Small’s hunting experience would be their salvation, providing nourishment from the meat she secured snaring rabbits and shooting birds. Thompson journals Small as having snared eight rabbits between November 1805 and February 1806, hardly sufficient nourishment to sustain a whole party – yet the group survived.
The extent of her contribution is barely appreciated – yet significantly more commendable given that she had two small children, Fanny and Samuel, and was expecting their third child, Emma, in March of that year.

Small first explored the Rocky Mountains in May of 1807, when a trade route was opened over the Howse Pass, west of Rocky Mountain House, AB. Ascending and descending the crossing was dangerous and nearly fatal on several occasions.

“The water descending in innumerable Rills, soon swelled our Brook to a Rivulet, with a Current foaming white, the Horses with Difficulty crossed & recrossed at every 2 or 300 yards, & the Men crossed by clinging to the Tails & Manes of the Horses, & yet ran no small danger of being swept away & drowned.” Notes the David Thompson, Travels (unpublished manuscript): iii, 34a,ca. 1847; quotation courtesy of William Moreau as noted in the essay David Thompson’s Life of Learning among the Nahathaways by Jennifer Brown.

Although Thompson’s journal entries are limited with respect to his family life, it is imperative to appreciate that they travelled together. The journal entries, provide insight and glimpses of the challenges Small faced as a woman and mother, with three young children to nourish and protect. She faced the same cruel conditions as the men, yet except for a few notations, her challenges remained nondescript and unrecorded.

On one occasion, Thompson wrote, “One of my horses nearly crushing my children to death with his load being badly put on, which I mistook for being vicious, I shot him on the spot and rescued my little ones.”

A day later, he added, “…..at 3 P.M. we reloaded, but missing my little Daughter & nowhere finding her, we concluded she was drowned & all of us set about finding her – we searched all the Embarrass (log-jams) in the River but to no purpose. At length, Mr. McDonald found her track going upwards. We searched all about & at length thank God at 8 ½ P.M. found her about 1 Mile off, against a Bank of Snow.” (Sources of the River, Nesbit.)
Small was no doubt, frantically assisting in the search for her child lost in the wilderness of the Rocky Mountains. It was June of 1808, in the mountains, with high water, and snow still likely on the ground. The wildlife were recently out of hibernation and hungry, and the group were constantly under threat of attack by the Peigan people. She was seven months pregnant with their fourth child, John, at the time.

They would traverse the Blaeberry River through the Kootenai mountains and follow it to its junction with the Columbia. Because the Columbia flowed north at this junction, Thompson did not believe the river he viewed was the Columbia – and instead, headed upstream to Lake Windermere. Near the south end of the lake they built Kootenae House. Now they had another addition to the family, with four children under seven.

Between 1808 and May of 1812, the family would journey from Canal Flats, BC, into Montana and Idaho, back up to Fort Vermilion at the confluence of the North Saskatchewan and Vermilion rivers, and back down into Montana and Idaho on Lake Pend Oreille, where they established Kullyspell House and Salish House on the Clark Fork River. Because the Piikani (Peigan) people were blocking access to their southern passes, a different route had to be established to bypass their lands.

Ultimately, they would cross the mountains through the Athabasca Pass over a treacherous route along the Athabasca, Whirlpool and Wood Rivers, arriving at the forks of the Columbia and Canoe rivers on January 18,1811.
The men refused to go on, and they wintered at Boat Encampment. Small remained at the side of her husband with her four children, despite the harsh crossing. The survey of the Columbia River was completed in May of 1812.

A copy of the navigator’s sextant used by David Thompson.

The family returned to Fort William on the shores of Thunder Bay, on July 12, 1812. They had made the decision to leave the employ of the North West Company, and made their way eastward toward Montreal, surveying the North shore of Lake Superior as they went.

After their return to Terrabonne, north of Montreal, Small and Thompson formalized their marriage vows in the European tradition and baptized their five young children. Ironically, in 1813, after surviving some of the harshest conditions of their young lives, two of their young children, John (age five) and Emma (age seven) would die, as a result of round worms, a common parasite. Small ultimately did not adjust well to life in Quebec, choosing to reside in Montreal while her husband travelled. Another child, Henry, would be born in 1813, followed by seven more siblings between 1815 and 1829.

In the years following, Thompson would complete his greatest achievements; his map of the North-West Territory of the Province of Canada in 1814 – so accurate it was still being utilized by the Canadian government 100 years later; survey of the newly established Canadian/US borders from Lake of the Woods to the Eastern Townships of Quebec; and his atlas of the region from Hudson Bay to the Pacific Ocean.

They would lose two more children. Despite financial hardship, and ultimate ruin, Small would remain by his side, even after being forced to move in with their daughter and son-in-law.

When the North West Company and the Hudson Bay Company merged in 1821, Thompson’s work was treated with indifference – likely because he had left the employ of the HBC and was never truly forgiven for his transfer to the North West Company. His survey data was sent to Aaron-Arrowsmith of London, and was used without proper credit to the surveyor – leaving his family impoverished for lack of payment, as well as the bankruptcy of a company in which their life savings had been invested. The maps they had developed, and the atlas completed in their later years, was never returned nor paid for.

David Thompson died in 1857, at the age of 86. His “lovely wife”, Charlotte Small, followed him to the grave three months later, at the age of 70. They were buried side by side, in obscure, unmarked graves, until geologist J.B. Tyrrell resurrected Thompson’s notes, and published them as a narrative and part of the General Series of the Champlain Society in 1916. Tyrrell’s efforts, in partnership with the Canadian Historical Society, resulted in the placing of a tombstone to mark his grave. In 1917, David Thompson was recognized as a National Historic Person by the federal government. However, Small’s contribution went singularly unnoticed.

In the 28 years of his travel, Thompson had traveled over 88,500 kms and surveyed 4.92 million square kms of wilderness. Small and her children accompanied him on over 42,000 kms – three and a half times further than the expedition of Lewis and Clark. Many of Thompson’s maps would be used on the Lewis and Clark expedition in their exploration of the Louisiana Purchase and the Pacific Northwest between August 1803 and September 1806.

However, on July 1, 2014, Charlotte Small was eventually recognized in a special ceremony at Rocky Mountain House, AB, by the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment and Minister responsible for Parks Canada. She was acknowledged as an, “Acclaimed wife, mother, explorer and Metis daughter of the fur trade” “…for her contributions to the fur trade and exploration of western Canada. Charlotte Small exemplifies the contributions of Aboriginal women to the building of Canada, and …, we celebrate her as a person of national historic significance.” Ironically, at the time of her death, women were not recognized as persons, an achievement that would not take place until October 29, 1929; 72 years after her death.
Theirs was a partnership which lasted through the most strenuous of tests. Her commitment and devotion to her husband and family, his work, and their purpose is immeasurable and unparalleled.

“Standing in the silence, Charlotte Small was an important figure, giving a voice to the many multi-skilled women who were unpaid and nameless in the male-dominated fur trade that was highly dependent upon Aboriginal and Metis women acting as guides, translators, confidantes and expert wilderness survivalists. Charlotte Small performed all these roles as a wife, mother and daughter. Her courage and achievements will withstand the test of time and serve as encouragement for the generations of Aboriginal women to come, and recognition of the many silent women of the fur trade,” (Pat McDonald, historian and author, Rocky Mountain House).


Visionaries of the West – John Ware

John Ware and a team of horses at Red Deer River. Glenbow Archives.

BY DEBBIE MACRAE

Legends are like the wind. You hear them; you feel them; you see their strength; you know their direction and their magnitude; you feel their gentleness and see the lasting effects of their force. They are traditional stories, historically related, told and re-told because of the power of their influence.

Such is the legend of John Ware.

Born into slavery on a cotton plantation in South Carolina in 1845, John was the middle son of a family of 10 children with four older brothers , three younger brothers and two younger sisters. At the age of eight years he was picking cotton with his adult counterparts, and childhood dreams and aspirations had no place in the desensitized world of human trafficking. Human rights were unrecognized, and education was reserved for those with aristocratic backgrounds or potential for more profit. Educating a slave boy wouldn’t make him a more valuable slave.

As a child he was robust, with muscles developed like a plantation mule. He was athletic with the ability to out-run, out-lift, and out-jump any child his age. It was very common for plantation owners to entertain guests with gladiator-style battles among the slave boys; pitting endurance against brawn. The consent of the boys was not an option. Fight rings were roped off and guests were seated in comfortable ringside chairs in the shade, while young Negro boys about 12 to 16 were pitted against each other like roosters in a cock fight. The prize was usually a pair of shoes, and the only rule was that the last “man” standing won only if his opponent stayed down.

Those contests often ended up with John flat on the ground; not because he wasn’t good enough to win – but someone else usually needed the shoes more.

His reputation grew with his stature, and so did respect for him. Over the years, John’s training both in and out of the ring, moulded a giant of a man who would eventually make his way to Canada down the cowboy trail.

John was 20 years of age when the Civil War ended. Most of the southern slaves were uneducated, illiterate, and unfamiliar with the freedom they had suddenly gained with emancipation. Most of them had never travelled beyond the confines of their plantations, and certainly not beyond the swamps of their territorial boundaries. The only thing they knew about Canada was that it was a faraway place at the end of the underground railroad, if they had ever heard of it at all. John was no different.

John’s family had been slaves for at least three generations – living, working, breathing, like work-horses, guaranteed only of limited food and clothing. Education was not a commodity. A man’s future was garnered only by the dirt on his hands and the desire in his heart. With the defeat of General Lee’s Confederate troops at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, the yoke of slavery was lifted, but the weight of an uncertain freedom was almost as heavy. Tensions in the South were high and masked night riders preyed on superstition and fear. Violence prevailed even in the wake of freedom.

John decided that freedom meant heading “out West”, and “out West” meant travelling to Texas. Leaving his sorrowful parents and family, he left in a pair of ill-fitting shoes, remnants from a Yankee soldier. For the next five months he walked, and worked his way west, until he reached the outskirts of Fort Worth, Texas.

Trading labour for food, John started to work for “Old Murph” Blandon and for the next several years, worked on a Texas ranch, cutting hay with a scythe, riding horses and mules, and racing – building stamina and strength, experience and ingenuity, and training for the biggest opportunities yet to come.

John wasn’t a cowboy in the traditional sense. He was big, with long legs, and had no formal training as a cowhand. His first big chance to ride herd on a cattle trail came in 1879 – from Texas to the Far North in Montana – where new cattle ranges were being stocked. Inexperienced men always started as “drag men,” trailing in the dust behind the cattle, prodding the slow and lazy as they snaked their way across the prairies. In an industry where Negro riders were not accepted, John earned his way out of the ‘drag’ with his hard work, unrelenting determination, muscled control, and unsuspecting sense of humour. He named the winner of the first trailside longhorn bull fight, “Abraham Lincoln”, at the same time proclaiming “General Lee” as the loser.

He was the level-headed one when the men went into town to celebrate. While the others visited saloons and dance halls, he was the one who assumed the responsibility of the herd. At one point he single-handedly warded off a disastrous night stampede by attacking Sioux – racing to the point of the herd and shooting to turn the lead cows back to their grazing range. After nearly 2,000 miles and four months of eating dust, the cattle arrived at their destination in Montana’s Judith Basin.

At the end of the trail, one of the cowboys, Bill Moodie, announced his intention of heading to Canada while they were so close. Ware’s response: “Wheah is Canada f’om heah?”

From there, John and his Moodie continued to the Virginia City gold rush, working the gold mines without success. Moodie returned to Idaho as a cowpoke, and in 1882, John sought his company once again, after losing his faithful horse. A black man without a horse trod a precarious trail in the wild west, and John knew he needed another mount to work. He knew Moodie would help him get one, and John proposed they ride the long trail back to Texas. However, fate intervened in the form of Tom Lynch, Canadian cattleman extraordinaire and the face of Canadian ranching would never be the same.

The Ware family.

After the Land Act received Ottawa’s approval for 21 year leases in southern Alberta, cattlemen moved their herds north and west to the Cochrane Ranch, the Bar U, and the North West Cattle Company. Tom Lynch was looking for dependable cowhands and tried to persuade Bill Moodie to join the group. Bill accepted on the condition that he also hire his friend, John Ware. Lynch was cold to the concept – a Negro without a horse. But Bill was adamant; “take both of us or neither”, so John was hired to peel potatoes and ride night herd. He sang while he peeled, and he sang while he rode, and he was paid a well-earned “dollar a day and grub”.

John was given an outlaw bronco to ride, and perhaps furnish some amusement, as no one except Moodie believed he could handle a real horse. At the end of its violent bucking demonstration, the horse was subdued, and Ware’s comment was, “Thanks Boss. Ah’ll keep this hoss – if it’s ahwight with yo.” He had earned his respect and was promoted to a new position. Never again was he asked to ride night herd.

Along the Marias River, John again earned renewed respect when he single-handedly captured two cattle rustlers and recovered the stolen cattle, leading the rustlers on foot at the end of a long lariat. They were released on foot, without their guns, and thanks in part to John, they weren’t hung in traditional Montana fashion.

September 26, 1882, John hired on with the North West Cattle Company along the Highwood River in southern Alberta, now known as the historic Bar U Ranch. He stayed with the Bar U until 1884, when he joined the Quorn Ranch.

In 1885, he participated in a cattle round-up, rounding up strays, lost, and unbranded cattle – which cattle were divided among their finders. By 1890 he had amassed 75 head of the bovine critters – enough to register his own brand 9999, and start his own ranch, known as the Four-Nines Ranch.

He was known for his self-sufficiency as one of the first ranchers in Alberta to utilize irrigation techniques to ensure a successful hay crop. He had his own milk-cows and butter station, and milked his own cows – not exactly a cowboy tradition.

He met his future wife, Mildred Lewis, formerly of Toronto, Ontario, in 1891 after meeting her father at the I.G. Baker supply store. After several Sunday afternoon dinner invitations, John came to call on Miss Mildred with a borrowed team and democrat buggy. During the visit, John hitched the team to the Lewis’s democrat with double seating benches, so he could take Mildred, and her friends, the Hansons, for a leisurely ride. The afternoon flew delightfully by until thunderclouds opened-up on them. Lightning and thunder continued to assail them, until a bolt of lightning struck the team, killing them instantly in their harness. A stalwart gentleman to the end, John separated the horses from the gear, picked up the tongue of the democrat and, with the strength of the Biblical Samson, pulled the buggy and its passengers the three or four miles back to the Lewis home.

February 29, 1892, “Mr. John Ware of Sheep Creek and Miss Mildred J. Lewis of Calgary, were united. In Holy Matrimony, according to the ordinances of God and the Laws of the Dominion of Canada, in Calgary.”

The Ware homestead in the Millarville, AB, district before the turn of the century.

In the spring of 1892, he spontaneously demonstrated the first cow wrestling display at the Walrond Ranch, albeit came of necessity in the form of an enraged longhorn. His instinctive act of self-preservation would be applauded and repeated, as ‘steer wrestling,’ for the next 125 years.

In 1900, John moved to set up a new ranch near Brooks, Alberta. That move was short-lived, as he was flooded out in a spring flood two years later. Undeterred, with typical John Ware perseverance, he rebuilt on higher ground. But in April, 1905, his dreams collapsed with the death of his young wife. Grief-stricken, he sent his young children to live with their grand-parents who had moved to Blairmore, Alberta. Less than six months later, he too would die, in the most ironic of deaths. John Ware, the man of whom it was said, “The horse is not running on the prairie which John cannot ride” would die; his horse stepping in a badger hole and falling on him.

His funeral was the largest the City of Calgary had ever seen. He left behind five children, helped establish Alberta’s beef industry and bequeathed a living legacy; the John Ware Society, dedicated to the preservation of the traditions of the Old West; John Ware Ridge, Mount Ware, and Ware Creek in Kananaskis country, John Ware Junior High School, the John Ware Building at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, the Four Nine’s Cafeteria, and a legion of admiration and respect for a man who refused to be tried by the color of his skin.

The Minister’s funeral tribute imparted a fitting farewell; “John Ware was a man with a beautiful skin. Every human skin is as beautiful as the character of the person who wears it. To know John Ware was to know a gentleman, one of God’s gentlemen. Never again will I see a colored skin as anything but lovely. He leaves me with the thought that black is a beautiful color – one which the Creator must have held in particularly high favor because He gave it to His most cheerful people. Make no mistake about it, black can be beautiful”, as is the legend, John Ware.

Much of the research for this blog was obtained from the book John Ware’s Cow Country, written by Grant MacEwan. Inside this particular book is a signed note from the author.

 

 

Vimy Ridge – 100 Years Later

Pack horses taking up ammunition to the guns of the 20th Battery Canadian Field Artillery, Vimy Ridge, April 1917.

 

BY TODD LEMIEUX

In the depths of trench warfare, the assault on Vimy Ridge began on Easter Monday at 05:30 AM April 9th, 1917.  By April 12th, through Canadian tactical and strategic innovation, and a radical departure from warfare at the time, Vimy Ridge would be captured.  The cost was tremendous, 3,598 Canadian dead and 7,004 wounded, an average casualty rate of 147 soldiers per hour of battle.

Both the British and French had previously tried to dislodge the Germans from Vimy with no success.  A combination of Canadian pioneer spirit, meticulous planning, study of previous failures, crafty use of “creeping barrage” artillery, and “leapfrogging” of Canadian units to maintain a crushing forward momentum, ultimately took Vimy under 72 hours. The German Army had held Vimy and repelled attacks successfully for 3 years prior.

The taking of Vimy Ridge, Easter Monday 1917, by Richard Jack.

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Vimy represents much more than just an isolated battle in terrible war.  The Canadian Corps radical change from contemporary British warfare tactics of the day represents the first departure and a distinct move towards independent thinking and nationhood from the encompassing British Commonwealth. For Canadian soldiers on the ground, most of a rural background, the fastest and most efficient was the only way to get things done. They cared not for antiquated protocol, especially when their lives were hanging in the balance. It was this thinking that drove innovation and battlefield success.

The Vimy memorial, unveiled on July 26th, 1936, stands as a beacon to our nation’s determination and strength in the face of adversity. France has granted the land that it stands on, to Canada, for all time.

The Vimy Ridge memorial.

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On April 9th, 2017, take a moment to stop and consider the lump rising in the throat of a young Canadian kid, as he stepped to move forward and walk behind the barrage and advance up that daunting ridge.

It is our Canada now, but they earned it for us, forged in fire, steel and blood.

Canadian Calvary moves to position at Vimy Ridge.

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I became a Canadian on Vimy Ridge…
We became a nation there in the eyes of the world. It cut across French and English, rich and poor, urban and rural. Vimy Ridge confirmed that we were as good as, if not better than, any European power.

– Reginald Roy, WW1 Veteran

Canadians advancing on the scarred landscape of Vimy Ridge.