THE FIRST DAYS OF REGINA - (THE CAMPING PLACE OF SITTING BULL) - CHOOSING THE PRAIRIE CAPITAL (AN INDIAN CARAVAN - WAGON WHEELS) - PLANS TO SETTLE THE WILDERNESS - THE FIRST PATHFINDERS FROM FRENCH CANADA - LIEUTENANT-GOVERNOR DEWDNEY - THE STORY OF, "THE PILE 0' BONES" - FIRST SETTLER ON THE TOWNSITE - PATRIOTIC PIONEERS THE FIRST WINTER - BUFFALO MEAT.
My first recollection of Regina was in the early summer of 1882. I was only four years old, but the picture then presented, emerges from the mists of childhood as clearly as if it had been seen yesterday. A few weeks previously there had been no Regina, no railway and not more than half a dozen people in the vicinity and only a few days had elapsed since Lieutenant-Governor Dewdney had caused notices to be posted reserving land for townsite purposes. These notices, dated June 30th, 1882, indicated that the Government had finally decided upon the Pile o' Bones location for the new Capital of the North - West Territories.
The previous summer the Crossing of the Pile o' Bones Creek had been the camping place for a night of the Sioux War Chief Sitting Bull and his wild horsemen on their last despairing journey from Fort Qu'Appelle to Wood Mountain. To my childish eyes, the scene was strange. There were no permanent habitations, nothing but a few tents. Horses were out on picket lines, wagons and camp paraphernalia were scattered around; men in high boots and wide hats were unloading wagons of the barest camp essentials and one or two women were tending fires in the open and engaging in very primitive cooking. Except ourselves, there were no children.
From our little elevation we could see to the eastward my father's workmen as busy as ants with pick and shovel, horses and scrapers, adding with furious activity to the grade that, like a great brown snake, was steadily uncoiling its sinuous length. Behind them were white plumes of smoke from construction engines. All around the prairie lay flat. It was not a bit like the land from which we had come where there were trees and rivers and lakes. It seemed to a little girl as if we were in a new and naked land.
The little tented village, occupied by the first arrivals, was situated on a small hill almost the only elevation in sight overlooking the Creek where there is now a bridge at the western extension of 13th Avenue. It was the campsite selected by T. S. Gore, a Dominion land surveyor who, with two or three young men, had been early on the scene, probably on account of information received from Lieutenant-Governor Dewdney, who employed Gore to run lines and get correct locations.
Mr. Gore's tent was regarded as a headquarters of sorts for information and was used frequently as such by Mr Dewdney. Indeed, it was to Mr Gore's tent-pole that the first notice was affixed indicating the selection of the Capital.
While we were still in our tented headquarters, we children were frightened by the arrival of an Indian caravan that made camp close at hand. It came in a long trailing procession of men and women on horseback and on foot, loose horses and dogs, and children riding behind their mothers or packed in mossbags attached to "travois". These "travois" consisted of two poles separated by cross pieces, the front and shorter portions of which were attached to the pony's sides like the shafts of a vehicle, while the long ends bumped over the prairie hummocks.
The Indians presented a wild and fantastic appearance, with painted faces and feathers in their hair. The men wore coloured blankets or tanned buffalo robes, belted at the waist, and kept up a ceaseless drumming on the ribs of their ponies with moccasined heels. Most of them carried rifles and all had long hunting knives in scabbards.
Many years later, I learned that they were a band of Assiniboines under Chief Carry-the-Kettle, on their way from their ancient hunting grounds among the Cypress Hills to a reserve selected for them by the Government some sixty miles east of Regina.
Not long ago I was talking to Dan Kennedy, an educated and intelligent Indian, who told me that he had been of that company. He was then a little boy and it was his first glimpse of the white man's civilization. He was dressed, he said, in the Sunday-go-to-meeting finery of an Indian child belonging to a family of consequence, beaded buckskin suit and ornamented little leggings and moccasins. He told me recently that his first recollections were of camps deep in the wooded recesses of the hills, where the talk in the lodges and around the campfires was still of the war party and the buffalo hunt. He had seen the country black with buffalo, and some of his relatives had been killed in the massacre 'at Farwell's Post, perpetrated by a never seen a white man, and never a wheeled vehicle until the camp was made on the Regina townsite. The wheels on wagon and buckboard fascinated him and he spent every moment watching their revolutions.
Although I was in Regina in 1882, I am not a native of the North West. I was born in St. Bridget, a village of the County of Iberville in the Province of Quebec, on June 14th, 1878, the youngest of a large French-Canadian family.
My people were settled in rural Quebec from time out of mind, having come from France in the days of the Old Regime. My great grandfather had some of the qualities of a patriarch. He exceeded the century mark by several years and survived five consecutive wives. My grandfather carried the Papineau Gun in 1837 and nearly lost his life for his pains.
The year of my birth was the commencement of an epoch significant in the history of Canada. The country was emerging from a period of depression that had overshadowed all North America and retarded the development planned by the Confederation Fathers. People still thought of the Dominion as the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario. The lately acquired western domain lying eastward of the Rocky Mountains was unsurveyed, little known and inhabited mainly by wild and wandering Indian tribes and natives of the mixed blood. British Columbia was regarded as more of a liability than an asset; western Ontario was still the backwoods, while to reach the prairies from the eastern side more than a thousand miles of rock and forest, lake and river, had to be traversed.
The great western estate, that only a few years previously had been added to the Dominion, was untouched and undeveloped. It lay, as yet, almost as virgin as when it came from the Hand of God and was so vast that none knew its uttermost limits. Some sketchy exploration had been done and those who guided the destinies of Canada were beginning to envision tremendous possibilities, so the first duty of the Government was to make plans for its development.
Already the Canadian Pacific Railway was building and it was apparent that before long the steel rails would carry the locomotive to open up
"The last and largest Empire,
The map that is half unrolled."
All Canada was stirred by the epic of a new country coming in.
Owing to the fact that the first pathfinders of the remote western region had been of their blood, and also because of old association with the North West Company, French-Canadians had perhaps more idea of the Great Lone Land than dwellers in other parts of the Dominion. For generations, some of the young men had travelled to the Pays en Haut to serve as voyageurs on the inland waterways, as hunters on the plains, and to engage in the trade for furs with the Indian tribes. There was scarcely a village on the banks of the St. Lawrence, the St. Maurice or the Richelieu that did not have some tradition of the distant West, some record of a far-wandering lad who had come home to relate many a tale of adventure to an absorbed audience by the crackling wood fires of winter.
And now had come a new urge. The wide domain that lay under the western stars had become a part of Canada; the railway was going there; vast areas of virgin land offered illimitable possibilities, and the thoughts of the youth of a race always adventurous, were stirred by the idea of a new country in the making.
The previous decade had been difficult and many people in rural Quebec had found it hard to make ends meet and to provide, on their limited areas, for the traditional large French-Canadian family. There had been considerable emigration of the younger generations to the neighbouring States of the American Union and to manufacturing centres of New England where many secured industrial employment.
My father saw little future for his growing family and looked around for an opportunity to improve his position, but he had no desire to leave Canada. In 1878, he obtained a small contract on the Waterloo Railway. He was an active man with the pioneering instinct strong in him and when the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway offered a wider field, he seized the opportunity. The summer of 1881 found his construction camp on the Lake of the Woods near the North-West Angle. There he established temporary headquarters and was joined by my mother and the members of the family.
Of course, I Can present no authentic recollections of that period, yet somewhere from the nebulae of childhood, dim pictures emerge of the sparkling waters of summer and the clean, green conifers that enshrouded the land and encroached on lake and river; and sometimes too, I seem to see the railway dump winding along the lake bank, and the men busy with pick and shovel; but how many of what I have been told, I cannot say. My first coherent memories date from the early months of 1882, which we spent by the banks of the Red River at St. Boniface, when my father was preparing to move his workmen and plant to engage in construction work on the prairie section of the Railway.
With the opening of Spring in 1882, work was pushed rapidly westward from the end of steel, then at Flat Creek near the present Manitoba village of Oak Lake. The speed with which grading was done and steel laid across the level plains was almost incredible. As a matter of fact, four hundred and eighty miles of roadbed was constructed that summer.
Following the passage of the North West Territories Act of 1875, Battleford, in a beautiful situation at the junction of the North Saskatchewan and the Battle River, had been designated as the seat of local government. It was then understood that it would be on the projected transcontinental railway. After the return to power of the Government of Sir John A. MacDonald in 1878 and the subsequent speeding up of the Pacific Railway project, the later surveys indicated that there might be many engineering difficulties in the way of rapid construction on the northern route, and that the railway would pass at least three hundred miles to the southward. Therefore, the provision would have to be made for a different capital location.
The first agricultural settlers during the seventies and early eighties of the last century had gone into the country along the North Branch of the Saskatchewan and the two important settlements of Prince Albert and Battleford had come into being on the implied promise that railway construction would follow the wagon wheels of the pioneers. The bitter disappointment of these early settlers at this change of route may well be imagined.
Towards the end of June my father had a gang at work at the western end of construction. An experienced farmer, his admiration was aroused by the rich and fertile plain in the vicinity of the Pile o' Bones Creek, a shallow stream which meandered its sluggish course through a wide prairie stretch for some seventy miles. Therefore, when the news went out that the capital would be located there, he decided to cast in his fortunes with the new place. He brought his family from St. Boniface and made preparations to engage in the mercantile business.
There had been much speculation as to the exact place that would be chosen for the new capital. The chief town-sites along the mainline of the Canadian Pacific Railway were controlled by a corporation known as The Townsite Trustees and owned jointly by the Dominion Government and the Railway Company. Fort Qu'Appelle, the western outpost of the Hudson's Bay Company on the Plains, had many advocates. It was beautifully situated on the Valley flats between two lovely and extensive lakes and, since 1864, had been the chief centre of commerce for the Indian trade.
Indeed it would have been a picturesque situation for a city. There were difficulties in the way, however. During the previous year, certain speculators, who had taken it as a foregone conclusion that Fort Qu'Appelle would be the choice for the capital, had acquired most of the land suitable for townsite purposes and held it at what seemed exorbitant figures. Then again, the steep hillsides and the deep ravines of the Qu'Appelle Valley presented engineering difficulties that would have seriously delayed the extensive construction programme planned for that season.
The C.P.R. representatives and the Townsite Trustees were understood to have favoured a site between the present towns of Indian Head and Qu'Appelle (or Troy as it was then called) on land belonging to a large colonization company, the moving spirit of which was a certain Major Bell, who was an interesting and picturesque figure in the life of the region for a long time.
Our local magnate during the first years of Regina was, of course, Hon. Edgar Dewdney, Lieutenant - Governor of the North West Territories. Sir John A. MacDonald seems to have given him a free hand with respect to the choice of the seat of government. He was a tall, good looking man with a magnificent set of Dundreary whiskers and when I saw him in Victoria, B.C., many years later, he still had them. Despite some considerable opposition, Mr Dewdney carried his point, and his recommendation with respect to the Pile o' Bones location was accepted and confirmed by the Ottawa Government. He personally made a careful examination of the district, and his letters to the Canadian Premier, still extant, indicate that he had sized up the situation with accuracy and foresight. 1882 was a wet season, and travel must have been uncomfortable. The Lieutenant-Governor in his 'correspondence complains of rheumatism, likely contracted from sleeping on the open prairie. In examining the Regina townsite he hobbled' about on a stick, and even, on occasion, had to be supported by his faithful henchman, Bob Green, who drove him from place to place and ministered to his comfort. In writing to Mr Dewdney, Sir John condoled with him and pointed out that he, himself, suffered from the same affliction.
Mr. Dewdney became a familiar figure to the first dwellers in Regina. His whiskers and his great stature marked him out from lesser folk and he was usually attended by two immense dogs of the famous Newfoundland breed, that had been presented to him by the Marquess of Lorne, then Governor-General of Canada, on Mr Dewdney's appointment as Lieutenant - Governor. Apparently, the Governor-General believed that the only means of winter travel in the North West was by dog train.
Mr. Dewdney was an Englishman, an engineer and surveyor, who had pioneered in British Columbia when it was only a Crown Colony. He was a pathfinder of sorts and had been engaged in Trail building between the widely spaced settlements of that wild and mountainous country. When British Columbia became a portion of the Canadian Confederation, he was elected to the Dominion Parliament and, in attending sessions, had to make tremendous journeys. He went by sea from Victoria to San Francisco from which place he took the new American Transcontinental Railway to the Eastern States, and in that way reached Ottawa. He became a friend of Sir John A. Macdonald, and when the Prime Minister was defeated in his own constituency, Mr Dewdney surrendered his British Columbia seat to him.
After the return of the Conservatives to power in 1879, Sir John, who always gave a tangible expression of gratitude for services rendered by his supporters, appointed Mr Dewdney Commissioner of Indian Affairs for Manitoba and the North West Territories, and in 1881, on the retirement of the Hon. David Laird, first Lieutenant - Governor of the Territories, Mr Dewdney fell heir to that position in addition to the one he already occupied.
The name Pile o' Bones was the cause of many witticisms in the Eastern press and elsewhere. The first construction train that reached the place carried an important official of the C.P.R. who was tall, lean and cadaverous and so skeletal that the railwaymen said they could hear his bones clank as he walked. They claimed that the place had been named in his honour. However, it had long been known to the Plains Indians as Ooskunna Kahstakee, which, in the Cree tongue, means a great pile of bones heaped up. Ooskun is the Cree word for a bone and "a" is the plural given to inanimate objects in that language. Kahstakee means a large heap. The old name is still used by the natives. The Metis buffalo hunters who usually spoke the French tongue named it Tas d'Os.
The Indian tradition is that the name was derived from a great heap of buffalo bones that garnished a butte. overlooking the creek at a place about twelve miles from the present site of Regina, long known to the prairie hunters as The Old Crossing. It had been a wilderness rendezvous of sorts. The incident that gave rise to this designation was related to my husband and myself by a very old Indian of the File Hills, named Buffalo Bow, who had then passed the century mark. He said that on a long-gone summer when the Indians of the Qu'Appelle and the Touchwood region reached The Old Crossing on their way to the buffalo grounds, they found the neighbouring plains black with herds of the shaggy wild cattle. They decided to construct a trap or pound into which they might entice large numbers of these animals.
Accordingly they built, with the poplar trees that grew in the ravines and on the banks of the creek, a stout enclosure from the opening of which they extended wide wings reaching out to the plains. These wings were constructed of brush, sods, stones and anything that came to hand and were given an appearance of solidity by blankets and robes thrown over them.
When everything was ready squaws, boys and girls stationed themselves outside these somewhat flimsy barricades and, if any animals attempted to break through, they endeavoured to drive them back by firing blank shots or waving blankets. The wings were nearly half a mile wide at the mouth. A party of mounted hunters detached from the main body of the grazing animals a considerable number and drove them into the wings. They then crowded them into the chief enclosure where they were securely penned.
At once the work of butchery commenced, the terrified creatures were killed at close range with balls of smoothbore muskets, with arrows from bows, and even spears were used. According to Buffalo Bow, the carnage must have been pretty dreadful. Several hundred were slaughtered. The meat was processed according to the Indian fashion and when the hunting caravans took the homeward trail, their "travois", their horses and even some of their dogs were laden with dried meat.
The following summer when the Indians returned to The Old Crossing there were still buffalo herds on the surrounding plains and preparations were made to resume the pounding operations. The interior of the central enclosure was a veritable charnel house. During the winter the wolves and coyotes had cleaned the bones to a ghastly whiteness. The enclosures were strengthened and reconstructed but when the attempt was made to crowd the animals into the wings, they showed marked aversion to entering the trap that had proved so fatal to their kindred and, breaking through the wings, spread out on the prairie and escaped. Discouraged, the Indians held a council and concluded that if the relics of the dead buffaloes were removed from the pound other animals of the same species might be induced to enter. Accordingly, the bones were gathered up and carted and carried to a nearby hill, where they made an imposing if somewhat ghastly pile. But the buffaloes refused ever again to enter the wings of the trap, and indeed soon betook themselves to other pastures.
That is how the old-time Indians declare the place acquired its name. The Creek that today runs through Regina, and the artificial lake overlooked by the Legislative Buildings of the capital city of Saskatchewan, bear the name of Wascana, which of course is a corruption of the original Cree word Ooskunna.
To the casual observer, the site chosen for the capital of the North West Territories had few natural advantages and as far as scenic attractions were concerned it had absolutely none. There was indeed a small creek close at hand, but the valley that contained it at that point was so insignificant that it scarcely made a dent in the landscape. On every side, the plain stretched as flat and expressionless as deal boards. There was not a boulder or stone for twenty miles, nor tree nor hill to break the monotony. The soil, however, did seem ideal for cereal crops.
In picking the location Mr Dewdney had apparently overlooked the water situation for, when he informed Sir John A. Macdonald of the choice, the Prime Minister at once queried him on the subject and directed him to commence prospecting for the necessary element without delay. However, the season was a wet one and there was sufficient water in the creek for the use of the first arrivals, provided it was boiled before using. The following year an underground stratum on the townsite was tapped at a depth of from sixty to a hundred feet and domestic water then ceased to be a problem.
There had been some trouble in finding a suitable name for the place. Victoria, in honour of the Queen, had been favoured, but it had already been pre-empted by the beautiful little Capital of British Columbia. Then Leopold' in honour of the Duke of Albany, the Queen's youngest son.
During the visit of the Earl and Countess of Athlone to Regina in 1944, my husband informed Her Royal Highness that one of the first names suggested for Regina had been that of her father and that it still survived in the name of Leopold Crescent, and that the present name of Regina had been given to the place by her aunt H.R.H. the Duchess of Argyle'.
was suggested but it was rejected as having too foreign a sound and the matter was referred to the Marquess of Lorne. He consulted his wife, H.R.H. Princess Louise, who promptly named it Regina. And so it remains to this day.
There have been a number of claimants to the distinction of being the first on the Regina townsite, but it would seem that the credit should go to Demetrius Woodward, an Ontario farmer who during the previous decade had successfully pioneered in British Columbia. I have seen some letters written by him to his wife in Ontario from the banks of the Pile o' Bones which would indicate that he and his party were there before anyone else put in an appearance.
Not long before her death, his widow, a fine old matriarch of more than ninety years, said of her husband: "He always had the wandering foot. He would go out to some far new place, build a home and then send for me and the children. That is what he did when he came to this country ahead of the Railway. When he died, he slipped away so easily, it was difficult to realize he was gone. I sometimes think," she said, her old voice taking on an indefinable gentleness and looking wistfully at his picture on the wall, "that is what he is doing now. It may be he has gone to find a new country where he is making a home ready for us to join him when our time comes."
The first homesteaders on the Regina plains were six young men from Cobourg in Ontario. Early in the spring of 1882, they started from the end of steel in Manitoba with their horses and wagons to look for a place in the prairie country to drive their stakes and make their homes. During the winter the snow had been heavy on the land; the spring was tempestuous and inclement and at first, hardship furnished their daily fare. Once off the line of the Railway Survey, there was neither trail nor mark to guide. Their days were often a wet misery and the night frosts made their camps cold and uncomfortable. Yet, with the true spirit of the pioneers, day by day they chased the setting sun to the westward. After much weary journeying, the moderating season began to change the picture. The young grass was springing up and prairie wildflowers brightened the land. The clang of wild geese on their northern flight came stridently through the air, and wild ducks rose from every slough.
The weary travellers came one evening to the edge of a valley and made their camp there. The following morning they saw a pleasant landscape before them. The valley meadows wore the verdure of early summer; poplar clumps, with their leaves quivering in the breeze, stood like islands in the grassy sea; the wooded ravines were dark and mysterious, and a brisk little creek made pleasant music as it rushed over pebbly shallows. The land on the nearby plain, with its deep alluvial soil, gave promise of fertility, and the young men decided that they had reached the end of their journey and would make their homes there. It was the 24th of May, Queen Victoria's birthday, and they decided to keep it as a holiday. Grub boxes were ransacked for hoarded dainties; lacrosse sticks and baseball bats were produced, and they had a picnic and a celebration.
This was the foundation of the first settlement on the Regina Plains. For many years afterwards the annual Wascana Picnic on May 24th became an institution among the pioneers. It was held on the original camping ground of these young argonauts, about twelve miles north-west of Regina. All the members of that company took up homesteads and developed fine farms and prospered.
Now, after almost seventy years, when all the members of that company have passed from the scene, their descendants are making preparations to erect a dignified and modest memorial to those six men, the first heralds of one of the most remarkable agrarian invasions in the history of the North American continent. Perhaps it may not be out of place to write their names here because people like them deserve to be remembered by posterity. They were:
Frederick C. Tate
As soon as the news went out that the site for the capital had been chosen, people began to flock to the place. They came on construction trains, in horse and ox-drawn wagons, in buckboards, on horseback and even on foot. Indeed, one pioneer who still survives, hale and hearty in 1950, declares that he walked more than two hundred miles from Rapid City in Manitoba to the banks of the Pile o' Bones, during the summer of 1882.
There was a great deal of excitement among the little company camped on the townsite on August 23, 1882, when the first train came in. W. C. Van Horne, the General Manager of the road was on the move night and day speeding up the construction work. On Regina's baptismal day he arrived with a special car containing a number of celebrities. This car was taken to the very end of steel which was then close to the present Barracks of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Among his guests were Sir Donald Smith (afterwards Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal); R. B. Angus of the Bank of Montreal; Duncan
McIntyre, Vice-President of the C.P.R., McTavish of the Hudson's Bay Company and several parliamentarians and financiers. Lieutenant-Governor and Mrs Dewdney were on hand and the christening ceremony took place by the side of the track when a magnum of champagne was poured over a heap of railway ties. One of the French members of the party protested this misuse of a noble vintage.
Several of the pioneers watched the proceedings at a respectful distance from the silk-hatted and frock-coated notables. I remember waving a little flag on the occasion.
My father succeeded in getting a supply of goods and opened a store in a large tent in what is now the downtown section of Regina. When railway transportation was available, he imported lumber and commenced the erection of a store and a house on Broad Street, which was supposed to have possibilities as a future main thoroughfare.
Building went on with feverish activity that fall. We were awakened in the morning, usually before daylight, by the noise of the workers. Everyone was anxious to raise a shelter against the cold. There was no uncertainty about the coming of winter; it was sure to arrive on schedule. It must have been with some foreboding that tine little company of pioneers by the banks of the Pile o' Bones saw the approach of their first winter in the new land. They had no knowledge of the country, and there were few records to guide them.
There were other uncertainties before them, too. It was true that the prairie soil appeared to be of great fertility; but as yet, its capacity to produce crops of economic value was untried and unproven. Captain Palliser, the British explorer, had written down a great portion of the region as unsuitable for agriculture in 1857-59. Professor H. Y. Hinde, who followed in Palliser's footsteps, had published vivid accounts of swarms of grasshoppers that darkened the sky and destroyed almost every growing thing, while the fur traders for a hundred years had, more or less openly, given the country a bad name and decried its agricultural capabilities. In addition, there were members of the Canadian parliament who, in and out of the House, derided the building of the Transcontinental Railway as wild and useless extravagance, and were entirely sceptical of the possibility of bringing the prairie land into production.
Dr. Macoun, the Dominion Botanist, had more recently presented a picture that was in complete disagreement with the conclusions of Palliser and other pessimistic explorers, but with no actual experience of production to confirm his views, he was only a voice crying in the wilderness. Therefore it was little wonder that when the fall nights closed in with frost, and the wind that rustled through the withered grass carried in its wings a bitter promise of winter, the pioneers on the banks of the Pile o' Bones had some misgivings as to the outcome of their western adventure.
Even to my childish mind, Regina was a grim and dismal place in the winter of 1882-83. The season was bitter and stormy. The thermometer dropped on occasion to forty below zero, and February came in with a blast that drove the snow in deep drifts against every shelter and obstruction. The town was a huddle of shacks and tents, and the level prairie presented no obstacle to the wintry gales that swept across it, whooping and shouting.
To anyone living in modern Regina, with its tree-sheltered streets and tall buildings, the savagery of those storms must be inconceivable. When I was a child I felt they sounded many a menacing note. Clamorous voices roared from the heart of the tempest; buildings swung and creaked, and the snow was driven hissing against door and windowpane. Many a time I snuggled in my bed, wrapped warmly against the cold and harkened to the tumult of the spectral horseman that galloped down the gale. Those nights were associated in my mind with the stories I had heard, but little understood, of the new country, the stampeding buffalo herds, the war shouts of the Indians, and other strange and imagined fears. When the wind died away the temperature fell to Arctic depths; the sky took on a pitiless, metallic sheen, and the boards of the buildings warped and cracked like pistol shots.
One still night, when the coyotes were abroad, I was awakened by a series of yelps and howls that filled me with terror. I leapt from my bed and fled, screaming, to my mother's arms. Again and again, that dreadful chorus rose to serenade the frosty stars, and every dog in the place howled and bayed in response until the night seemed fractured with the horrid din.
Comforts and conveniences there were none. Shelters had been hurriedly constructed against the advent of the cold weather, and in many cases, freeze-up found them uncompleted. Most of the houses were banked with earth to keep the wind from the floors, and roaring fires of dry poplar were kept going; but in spite of every effort to defeat the cold, there was a great deal of hardship.
All the water, at that time, had to be purchased and was delivered from door to door. Our domestic supply was kept in a barrel in the kitchen. When the fire went down, the metal hoops on the barrel gathered a white rime. These hoops fascinated me. Their icy covering looked like the confection on a cake. One cold morning when they were in a particularly frosty condition, I stuck out an inquisitive little tongue and attempted to taste the delectable substance. Of course, my tongue stuck to the metal, and I suffered the loss of some skin, but I was cured, once and for all, of further experiments in that direction.
Some buffalo herds still roamed the wild south country and, during the first winter, my father sent out some of the Metis hunters who traded at his store to bring in a supply of fresh meat. The hunting must have been good, for before spring they arrived with their jumpers laden with carcasses. At first, my father did not know what to do with this great supply. Then he conceived the idea of preserving it in cans. He sent to Montreal for an expert and commenced a canning industry, to the delight of the hunters, who thought this would establish a permanent market for the trophies of their bows and spears, in other words, their smoothbore muskets. They were doomed to disappointment, however, for the enterprise was not a success. The cans of meat were carted out on the prairie and dumped in a slough. Some quality seemed to endow them with life for when summer came we children used to watch them roll about and sometimes explode with loud popping noises.
The first slow winter on the Regina townsite dragged along until the March winds blew soft from the west, and the earth turned over in its sleep and thrust brown limbs from its snowy coverlid. Almost before we realized it, spring was upon us, and the land awoke to the life of another season.