Corner Post
Quarterly Newsletter of the Saskatchewan
Land Surveyors
Association

Book Review of ‘Frontier Farewell’

Wayne W. W. Stockton

SLS, P. Surv., CLS

 

Frontier Farewell by Garret Wilson

 

This is an interesting read, well researched and documented. The story chronicles the era of the 1870’s when, in these short 10 years, Western Canada was transformed from a wild frontier wher buffalo roamed the plains in the millions and provided sustenance for the native communities as well as the few white fur traders and explorers and into a modern society. The book describes in some detail the reasons for and circumstances resulting in the several Treaties that settled claims with the various Indian Bands and solidified control of the west for the new country of Canada. At the end of the decade the buffalo were gone and the West had been transformed into a society ready for a full influx of settlers to populate the country and make way for the huge agricultural development that was about to take place.

 

There is a considerable amount of survey content in the book and in particular a fairly detailed account of the survey of the 49th parallel and the development of the township system of survey in Western Canada. The survey of the 49th parallel was commenced at the eastern boundary of what is now Manitoba. Quoting from the book, ‘The site of the 1826 monument at Lake of the Woods was located after clever detective work and found to be under 1.25 metres of water 42 kilometres north of the 49th parallel. The monument was re-established and a line run due south to intersect with the border. It was a tough line to run. The first 26 km. were swamp and the rest open lake. At the intersection with the 49th parallel the water was 9 metres deep. From there the line ran west to Pembina through almost continuous swamp, intersected occasionally by belts of timer.”

 

The book details the events leading up to the battle of Little Big Horn in 1876 and the subsequent arrival in Canada of Sitting Bull and the American Sioux. This was a relatively prosperous time for the Sioux at first as the buffalo still roamed in great numbers, however, by the end of the decade the buffalo had pretty much disappeared and the Sioux were in dire straights. The Canadian government would not offer much assistance as they were American Indians and would not grant them Reserves. The Sioux were urged to return to the United States, however, they held a deep fear of the American Army who they thought would be looking for revenge. Through various diplomatic efforts Sitting Bull and his band were eventually persuaded to return to the U.S. in 1881. The Canadian government contracted with Jean-Louis Legare, a Metis trader and business man at Willow Bunch to lead Sitting Bull and his band to the American post at Ford Buford, North Dakota. Legare was to supply all the wagons, horses and food for the entire trip. Quoting from the book, “His bill to the United States War Department was $13, 412 and to Ottawa an astounding $48,891, a total of $62,303 in 1881 currency, the equivalent of $1,250,000 in 2006 dollars. Not surprisingly Legare experienced difficulty in collecting.” At the time he recovered approximately $9,000 from both governments. The book goes on to say that to this day, his descendants are still pressing for the balance of payment from both governments.

 

The foregoing is just a small sample of the subject material covered. The book is 444 pages and is a complete history of the era including such events as Louis Riel putting a stop to the original Manitoba township survey and the trek west of the North West Mounted Police under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel George Arthur French. According to the book the NWMP trek was almost a disaster as it was poorly led and lacked proper and sufficient supplies and support. The trek was pretty much saved by the boundary surveyors who were able to resupply the troop with feed for their horses and supply additional needed equipment. The book notes that Edgar Dewdney, who was named Lieutenant Governor of the North West Territories in 1881, and whom Dewdney Avenue in Regina is named after, was a civil engineer and land surveyor. When Dewdney who became Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia retired, the book says that in spite of his land speculations and good salaries, he was not well-to-do and 1901 returned to surveying to supplement his retirement income.
For those interested in the history of our part of the country as well as the part surveying played in making that history this book is a must read.

 

Editor’s note: Garrett Wilson is a retired Regina lawyer who was lawyer for the SLSA in the 1980’s and is author of the bestselling book, “Deny, Deny, Deny”, the story of the Colin Thatcher trial. Garrett has just published a new book, “ Outlier Life, Law and Politics of the West” which will be available in late November.