Extent of the North-West Territory—Regina—The barracks—An
expedition—Quarters and comrades.
North-West Territories consist of the provisional districts of
Assiniboia, Alberta, Athabasca, and Saskatchewan. The territory extends
from the boundary of Manitoba on the east, to the summit of the Rocky
Mountains on the west, and from the 49th parallel of north latitude on
the south, to the North Pole. The area of this immense region is two
million six hundred and sixty-five thousand (2,665,000) square miles.
The total area of the whole of the remaining portion of Canada is only
885,207 square miles The total area of Europe is 3,900,000 square miles.
The capital of the whole of the North-West Territory is Regina. When I
say that, in 1884, the chief city of this region only contained 1000
inhabitants, I may convey some dim idea to the minds of my readers, of
the surrounding desolation.
There is a station in the town at Regina for a couple of the police ; a
telephone wire connecting it with the barracks, which are two miles and
a half distant to the west. A corporal and one man are quartered here,
whose principal duty is to meet the various trains and despatch the
various telegrams, verbally, to the barracks, as they arrive. They also
do a considerable amount of shopping for the officers, who transmit
orders by telephone. This building is a frame cottage of two rooms, with
a species of loft upstairs.
found the corporal meeting the train upon our arrival; and we followed
him across to his shanty. He was not in a very pleasant humour—qava
sans dire. So we went .over to one of the
hotels, to see if we could secure quarters until breakfast. His errand
was fruitless. The "Assiniboia Agricultural Society"—save the mark !
—was to hold its inaugural show upon the following day, and each
hostelry was full. We sat down in a couple of arm-chairs with adamantine
seats, by the stove in the police office, where we nodded in uneasy
slumber till day-break. I was thoroughly weary ; and thanked Heaven I
was not some tender chicken, fresh from home, for the first time just
busy camps the art to learn Of evil natures, hard and stern."
homesick youth would have fairly broken down at the dismal scene; all
around outside lay a great muddy expanse, with pools of water, while a
soaking rain fell from a leaden sky. A few unpainted wooden houses
opposite, bearing dingy sign-boards, formed Broad Street, as it is known
now. A few more erections of the band-box style of architecture, at
right angles to the former, comprised the present South Railway Street.
These houses all stood in open order, with dismal spaces of clay, and
puddles intervening. The great prairie stretched away, far as the eye
could reach, flat and cheerless like a ghostly sea, the railway lines
and telegraph poles running to a vanishing point, far, far in the
distance. A Cree squaw, with painted vermilion cheeks, gaudy blanket
drawn over her unkempt head, and bedraggled crimson leggings, was
standing at the corner of the Pacific Hotel, looking utterly forlorn,
though dull apathy was written on her sullen countenance. Her tepee was
visible across the railway track. These dusky beauties are periodically
ordered back to their reserves ; only to reappear again as soon as they
fancy the official storm has blown over. It is one of the evils which
crossed over to the hotel, a big, slate-coloured, wooden-frame building.
The solemnity which perennially reigns in a North-West hotel is beyond
all words. Long-faced men sit silent around the stove, only varying the
grim monotony by an occasional expectoration of tobacco juice. Sometimes
they may break out, and engage in the congenial pastime of "swapping
lies." The bar dedicated to teetotalism (cider is sold and hop beer)
makes a ghastly attempt at conviviality and jocoseness, by having an
array of bottles of coloured water and cold tea marshalled upon a series
of shelves and labelled, "Old Tom," "Fine Old Rye," Hennessy's "Silver
Star," or "Best Jamaica." With what hideous humour do these tantalizing
legends taunt the thirsty tenderfoot from "down East."
performed our ablutions in a tin basin, set upon a rickety chair in the
narrow entrance passage, and wiped ourselves upon an antique towel,
which seemed to have been recently fished out of the nearest slough.
While we were at breakfast, the chief Pieapot drove past the window in a
buckboard. This contumacious redskin wore a fur cap adorned with
feathers; his face had been cast in the usual mould which nature uses to
produce the Cree; high cheekbones, flat nose, and small, cunning eyes
set closely together. After our meal, comprising tough beefsteak and
turbid coffee, we sauntered back to the police quarters. The corporal,
after much growling, telephoned to barracks, "Constable -and a recruit,
here. Send down a team."
Then he went, snarling, to the hotel to breakfast. We lounged about, and
smoked the matutinal pipe, till a transport waggon drove up to the door.
It was a four-wheeled vehicle, painted ordnance blue, drawn by a couple
of fine greys. We took up our position on a seat behind the driver,
gathered up M-'s baggage at the
railway depot, and set off through the "streets" of the capital. Through
ponds we dashed, splashed from head to foot; over hills whence we
enjoyed an uninterrupted view through bedroom windows ; and down into
hollows where we were completely hidden. And this the chief city of a
territory nearly two-thirds the size of the whole of Europe!
our voyage through the town, labouring heavily, we were hailed by a
staff-sergeant at Tinning and Hoskin's store. This belaced gentleman
wanted a lift, so we waited for him. What a great deal of future benefit
I missed, in not knowing, at the time, that he had previously been a
non-commissioned officer in the Royal Artillery at a certain northern
watering-place, where I had lived. There are many repetitions in real
life of Longfellow's Atchafalaya. Just a question or two, given and
answered, and we should have become fast friends. I knew his colonel
well. I was not aware of this till long afterwards. On driving across
the railway line, we met the adjutant, a tall, fine-looking man with a
long, yellow moustache, mounted upon a sorrel charger. Here, it was a
case of " Eyes right!" We now caught sight of the barracks in the
distance; the houses clustering like those of a village, with red roofs.
The glorious old rag was flying bravely from a flagstaff, and figures on
horseback were moving about upon the open ground. One compact body was
engaged in field movements, while a few in single file were in the
manege There was no covered-in riding-school then. We crossed the
Wascana Creek, but it was dry. On the maps it is shown as a river; but
only contains running water for about a fortnight, when the snow melts.
Some of the Regina "boomsters" had been recently extolling the many
glories of this mysterious stream, which annually vanishes in the summer
heat. A savage wit thereupon burst forth in verse, in the columns of the
regarding this exaggerated ditch, saying he had beheld all the mighty
torrents of the world—
uBut of all the famous rivers which our orb terrestrial owns,
Stands first the Great Wascana, which they term the Pile of Bones;
Stands first the Great Wascana, fair river of the plains, Which bathes
august Regina where Viceroy Dewdney reigns.
Wascana, in the Cree language signifies, Pile of Bones. The Hon. Edgar
Dewdney was the late Lieut.-Governor of the Territory.
barracks are built entirely of wood, and are not enclosed, but stand in
the centre of the endless plain. They are laid out in the form of a
square, about half a mile to the north of the railway line. Scattered
around, outside the cantonment, are a few small frame houses, the
quarters of the married men or of civilians who obtain employment from
the police. All around the inside of the square runs a side-walk of
planks, raised a little above the ground, a sort of causeway in fact.
The four sides of the barracks correspond with the four cardinal points
of the compass. Each block of buildings is at some little distance from
the other, to minimize, if possible, the danger in case of fire. New
barracks have been erected since, but in 1884 they were merely
temporary, portable structures. The corps only consisted of 500 men, as
I have said, and only the permanent staff and recruits occupied
headquarters. In those days you entered the barracks at the south-east
corner, and, on turning to the left, the first block was the officers'
mess. You then passed, in succession, the orderly room and
commissioner's office, guard-room, recreation-rooms, sergeant's mess,
sergeant-major's quarters and mess-room, and kitchen at the end. The
flagstaff stood in front of the guard-room. This completed the south
side. The whole of the west side consisted of six frame huts, at
intervals, each supposed to afford accommodation for eleven troopers. At
the north-west corner was a large barrack-room for twenty-men, with the
sergeant's quarters attached. Upon the north side there were offices for
the armourer-sergeant and saddler, with a couple of two-storied houses
for married officers, and the residence of the principal medical
officer. Officers' quarters occupied the remainder of the square. At the
rear of the men's quarters was an additional space formed by the five
troop stables to the west; blacksmith's shop and waggon-shed on the
south, and coal-shed and bakehouse to the north. There was also a
lavatory and bath-room behind the men's rooms. The hospital and
quartermaster's store were out on the prairie to the north. And all
around lay the flat expanse without tree, or bush, or mound to break the
uniform monotony! On clear da)-s, away to the southwest, might be seen
sometimes the dim, low outline of the Dirt Hills, where grow the trees
with a loathsome, putrid smell. The Indians have a name for the wood,
which is hardly fit to bear translation here. Sometimes also, to the
east, lifted in air by the mirage, could be discerned a ghostlike line
of bush, which clusters like an oasis upon the slopes of the Qu'Appelle.
These islands of foliage are the remains of a once mighty forest,
reaching south from the Saskatchewan, through the former serried ranks
of which the fire-king has ploughed his way.
our arrival, the square was dotted with the usual figures peculiar to
barrack life. Men in fatigue-dress were loafing around the doorways, and
smart orderlies and non-coms. were hurrying to and fro. There was an
extra amount of bustle on this occasion, as an expedition of ioo men
were under orders to start for Battleford, a distant post at the
confluence of the Battle River with the Saskatchewan. The small column
was to take a nine-pounder brass field-piece with them, and, in
consequence, all sorts of absurd rumours—the produce of imaginative
minds—were floating about. The Indians had risen in the Eagle Hills,
said one. Another had certain intelligence that the half-breeds had
razzia on the Hudson Bay post at Fort Pitt.
These canards, I afterwards discovered, were of periodical birth, and
were set flying upon very flimsy provocation.
companion from Winnipeg was warned for this enterprise, as soon as we
descended from our chariot. I was taken at once by the orderly sergeant,
to the commissioner's office. Colonel Irvine was seated at his table,
glancing over my papers, which had been forwarded by mail. He was a
slight man, with a keen, grey eye, and reddish beard closely trimmed.
His father had been A.D.C. to Lord Gosford, when the latter was
Governor-General. He himself had served in the expeditionary force to
the Red River. He was one of the most thorough gentlemen whom I have
ever had the honour to serve under. After replying to a few brief
questions, I was sworn in, and dismissed, having been ordered to report
to the sergeant-major.
found this stalwart specimen of the dragoon in his quarters. He had been
formerly in the 2nd Life Guards. He directed me to proceed to No. 8
Barrack-Room, telling me to remain there till further orders. In the
afternoon, he said, I should receive a supply of blankets. I was then
shown to the large barrack-room at the corner of the square. Every one
here was busily engaged in preparing for departure on the mcrrow.
Uniforms were being brushed up; headropes, helmets, and gauntlets
pipeclayed; spurs burnished, and boots polished. There was to be a
general parade in the afternoon." I wrote a couple of letters, amid the
horrid din, to relatives who probably did not care a rap about my
whereabouts. The agony of epistolary composition was materially
intensified by the clattering row; but,
en la gtierra como en la gnerra. Only I don't
suppose that the booted and moustachioed hidalgo of Alva or the Emperor
Charles who gave birth to the above remark ever troubled himself to
write from noisy camp or wine-shop.
kindness of my newly acquired comrades was excessive. I had at least six
different offers of paper and stamps.
was a cold raw day as we went down to the mess-room, when " dinner-up"
sounded. This was a large room with a number of tables in rows, a
corporal being at the head of each. One of them beckoned me to his
table. He was a very nice fellow, and had at one time, been adjutant of
an infantry regiment, and had served in South Africa. I found there were
several in the ranks who had held commissions at home. We had a very
good dinner of roast beef, potatoes, abundance of bread and tea. Tea is
always the drink which accompanies dinner. After dinner I returned to
the big barrack-room, after visiting the smaller. In one of the latter,
I met a man who had been in the 60th Rifles on the Red River Expedition,
with Wolseley. While sitting smoking by the stove, there entered a
blase individual in civilian dress with a
long drooping moustache, who languidly deposited himself on a bed, and
proceeded to roll up a cigarette. Then with a drawl, suggestive of Pall
Mall, he uttered the following sentiment:—There's nothing very lively
and entertaining about those stables. He had joined on the previous day,
and was now doing duty as stable orderly or stable guard ; and having
been relieved for his dinner, had come in to take a rest. He looked very
much as if he had been born tired. In the Imperial service the stable
guards have their meals taken to them, and eat them generally seated on
a stable bucket.
dreaded inspection parade, mounted and dismounted, took place at 3 p.m.
The men looked very smart in scarlet tunics with pipe-clayed haversacks
and white helmets, the spikes and chin-scales gleaming. A new button had
just been issued, bearing a buffalo head surmounted by a crown, and a
label with the letters N.W.M.P. Canada. The old buttons only bore a
crown. A good number of the men on parade were simply recruits ; for, as
the authorities were short of men, they were obliged to take every one
available. I was assured that, had there been time for me to have
received my kit, I should have been included in the gathering. I was
subsequently thankful I was not; though I was destined to take part in
far harder duty. One Hibernian was in great glee. " Shure! I've only
been up foive days an' I'm on active service already!" He was called
Active Service ever after; and he very soon learnt that was the normal
condition of life out here. No swaggering about town, in these parts,
with a girl on your arm.
had "supper" at 6 p.m., after evening stables. This meal consisted of
tea, bread, and cold meat. The Government rations are generally
sufficient to provide meat three times a day. Your appetite becomes
voracious out in the North-West. There was much desultory talk at night
in the room ;—the usual
causcrie of the
caserne. The General Orders were read by the
orderly sergeant when he called the roll at watch-setting. I found
myself "regimentally numbered 1094, posted to 'B' Troop, and taken on
the strength of the force." "First Post" sounded at 9.30, "Last Post "
at 10, and " Lights Out" at 10.15 p.m. The cook of the sergeants' mess
occupied the next bed to mine. He had been to town, and was somewhat
convivial, having discovered a particular brand of cider. In fact the
sergeant-major had tackled him regarding his condition on his return,
and he had replied, "It's a verra remarkable thing, sergeant-major, that
a mon canna' get a wee whiff o' a cigar wi'oot bein' told he's drunk."
was a strange character, and the son of a Scottish divine. He had seen a
good deal of service in the "Forty Twas." He kept me awake by
confidentially declaring every now and again, in a stage-whisper, that,
on the party marching out in the morning, I would "jeest see an arrmed
mob!" He was evidently a "wee thing squiffy."
once familiar sound of the trumpet, or rather bugle here, under the
windows announced reveille at 6 a.m. I did not turn out to stables this
morning. Stables are short in the Mounted Police. There is none of that
"perpetual grind"—as Lord Wolseley styles it—which characterizes that
duty in the Service at home. On the return of the others there were
blankets and bedding rolled up in waterproof sheets and pitched into the
waggons. The party marched out at 8.30, to the station, proceeding by
special train west to Swift Current. From this place would lie before
them a toilsome march of more than 200 miles by trail through
uninhabited country and across the Eagle Hills to Battleford. They would
cross the South Saskatchewan
a feat which actually occupied them two days. It was a miserable day of
sleet and cold; and, when the rear-guard had gone out of the barracks, I
was at once pounced upon and ordered to do " stable orderly." The
barracks were almost deserted, and every available unit was utilized.
The duties I had to perform were to keep the stables clean, watch the
horses, fill the nosebags noon and evening, and remain at the stables
till relieved by the night guard. Luckily, there were not many horses