Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Medicine Hat History

Early Days of Medicine Hat
By W. H. McKAY. Calgary, Alta. From Canadian Cattleman magazine, September 1949.
Digitized by Doug Frizzle, August 2017 (Two articles...)

SEVERAL people have asked me to write a story of Medicine Hat, its early days and early residents. The following is my effort to comply with their request. I hope it will do for them to read until someone comes along who is better qualified to do so than I.
I remember very little prior to 1888, so I will touch very lightly on a few things I remember before that year. I will also relate some of the stories that have been told me by my parents, uncles and other oldtimers.
Railroad in 1883.
The railroad was built into Medicine Hat fairly early in the Spring of 1883, which was the most important event of the year. It was a wonderful sight to the Indians and half-breeds when the first locomotive pulled in dragging a short mixed train, as they had never seen a train before. The B. and B. gang started to construct a bridge across the river at once. It was a trestle or pile bridge. It met with disaster the following spring when a sudden Chinook wind caused the river to break up and fill with enormous cakes of ice, which when forced by the swift current, cut down the piles in much the same way a mowing machine cuts down dry willows. So when the river became clear of ice the old bridge was replaced by one of steel and limestone piers, the ones still used. Some years ago the bridge was widened, when concrete piers were joined to the ones of limestone. The joins are plainly visible to this day. The limestone was shipped up from Antelope, Sask., where it abounds on Antelope Creek, which is also known as Cabri or Miry Creek. The first span of the great bridge, on the town side, was made so that it could be turned half-way on small wheels, to allow the steamers of the Northwestern Coal and Navigation Company to pass. Some such are called cantilever spans. After the steamer passed the span was turned and bolted back in its proper place to accommodate the trains.
Northwest Coal and Navigation Company
When Sir A. T. Galt saw the quality and great quantities of coal on the banks of the Belly River, about 1882, where the city of Lethbridge is now located, and foreseeing the great commercial possibilities of the coal, he and his son Elliott organized The Northwest Coal and Navigation Company, with a capital of Fifty thousand pounds <£50,000>. William Lethbridge, after whom the new town was named, was the president of the new company and Elliott Galt its manager.
Their next problem was the transportation of coal to Medicine Hat, which was the nearest railroad point, where the C.P.R. agreed to take 20,000 tons a year for five years at $5.00 per ton. Floating the coal down the river was their intention hence the name of the company. The next problem was to obtain the material with which to build the necessary steamers and barges. There being no sawmills in the neighborhood at the time, they decided to build their own sawmill. So Elliott Galt got a timber limit of 50 square miles in the Porcupine Hills, about 60 miles west of Lethbridge. A portable sawmill was brought from eastern Canada by steam up the Missouri river to Fort Benton, Montana territory, and then by bull train to the timber limit. To transport the lumber, square timber and mine props to Lethbridge from the sawmill the company purchased a bull train and a mule train of Missouri mules. A bull train consisted of four string teams of 16 oxen and three heavy wagons with a capacity of eleven tons, about 44 tons to each train. It was the same in the case of the mules. A fair day’s journey for the oxen is said to have been about 12 miles, while the mules were able to make 18. They then engaged a man named Captain Todd of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who was experienced in building and navigating stern wheel steamers. He had become adept in so doing on the Ohio River. Early in the spring of 1883, as soon as the building material was cut and hauled, construction of the steamers and barges was started. The first steamer to be built was the “Baroness”, which was 225 ft. long. 24 ft. wide. She was able to handle six barges by pushing them ahead, the total having a capacity of 1,000 tons to each trip. As the steamers were finished they were floated down to Medicine Hat where the steam boilers and other equipment were installed, having been shipped on the new railroad from eastern Canada. The next steamer to be finished was named the “Alberta”, its capacity and dimensions being the same as the first. The three other steamers built were probably somewhat smaller. Their names were the “Northcotte”, the “Ully” and the “Minnow”. They were probably built in the immediate vicinity of the high level bridge. In all 18 barges were built in addition to the steamers. On account of the short season of high water, during which the steamers could be navigated, it was soon clear to the company that they could not deliver the volume of coal that was required to fulfil their contract with the C.P.R. There was also a good demand for their coal all along the line for domestic purposes. It took only 8 hours for a steamer to get to Medicine Hat during the six weeks of high water, but five days to return to Lethbridge. Seeing that they couldn’t depend upon the steamers to deliver the coal on account of shallowness of the rivers, except the short two weeks of June and part of July, Mr. Galt decided to build a railroad to connect with the C.P.R. main line at Dunmore, 7 miles east of Medicine Hat. It was the only solution. So in the spring of 1885 they started the construction of a narrow gauge railroad starting from Dunmore, about 110 miles east of Lethbridge.
Narrow Gauge Railroad
The railway was only three feet wide and the locomotives and cars proportionately small. I am sorry that I don’t know the dimensions of the little box cars nor their capacity in tons. The narrow gauge was also built to Coutts, Shelby Junction and some time later to Great Falls in Montana, as the company found a good market for its coal to the Great Northern, and also for domestic use in Great Falls. There was also a branch line built from Stirling to Cardston, a distance of 47 miles. In 1893 the Gall road, from Dunmore to Lethbridge, was bought by the C.P.R. and replaced by a standard gauge which was completed the same summer. I remember the year well, as I was in my 11th year. It seems to me that there was a gang of men camped at every second station removing the short ties and replacing them with the standard 8 ft. ties. They also laid and spiked down the standard sized rails on the outside of the small ones. It was a double railway for a while. The work did not interfere with the running of the trains. When the standard gauge was completed to Lethbridge, all the small locomotives, cars and snow plows were taken to Lethbridge, and the small rails torn out which were also shipped to Lethbridge. In 1886, the oldtimers say that it was a very severe winter. I heard it related that some of the trains, because of the deep snow, took a month to make the trip to Lethbridge and back. It took my father six days to take the mail from Medicine Hat to Winnifred and return with the mail that came from Fort Macleod and Lethbridge. Winnifred is only about 36 miles. I can almost hear some of the newcomers ask: “Why didn’t they send the mail round by way of Calgary?” Kind readers, there was no railway at that remote time between Calgary and Macleod. neither was there any airmail. The snow was also even deeper up there on that 109-mile stretch. The standard gauge later was continued on to B.C. through the Crow’s Nest Pass.
A National Service.
A few more lines about the Galt steamers. In the early spring of 1885. when the Riel rebellion broke out, the Northwestern Coal and Navigation Company had an opportunity to render a substantial national service. The greatest object of the Government was to secure speedy transportation for troops and supplies to the point of battle. Batoche and Fish Creek, in order to crush the outbreak before it spread to the Blood and Blackfoot tribes, who were becoming somewhat restless. As they were the two most powerful tribes they would have done a lot of damage, had they joined the Crees and half-breeds. Great credit is due to two men for keeping the two tribes in hand. One is Reverend George McKay who now resides in Hot Springs. South Dakota, at the venerable age of 94. He was Chaplain to the Mounted Police at Fort Macleod more than 60 years ago. In the years he was there he learned the dialect of the Bloods. Through his kind and fair treatment and good counsel he won their respect, friendship and affection. He converted a goodly number of them and they thought the world of him. He also discouraged them from drunkenness and horse-stealing. Whatever he said to them they heeded. They gave him the name “Nanastoko”, which means Chief Mountain, to show their great esteem of the good young man of God.
The other peace advocate was the great chief of the Blackfoot. “Crowfoot”. He told his braves that since they had promised never to take up arms against the people of the great white Queen, they must abide by their bargain. Reverend George McKay later accompanied General Strange on a punitive expedition to Frog Lake soon after the massacre. While looking over the buildings which had been burned by the Crees under Big Bear and Wandering Spirit, he found the charred remains of two priests and a lay brother in a cellar, and buried them in their own churchyard.
Now I will relate the part played by the steamers. One was sent down to the Saskatchewan Landing some 25 miles north of Swift Current where it was loaded with troops and their war equipment which had been shipped to Swift Current by rail. The “Northcotte” was loaded in Medicine Hat with a similar cargo. The reason for that procedure was to eliminate the 25-mile march and haul of the equipment and supplies which was necessary at Swift Current. On her way down she encountered much trouble which retarded her progress, shallow water, sand and gravel bars being the chief obstacles. The boats were on their way to Batoche, the battleground.
The “Lilly” and two barges were next loaded, not with troops, but provisions for them. The two barges were loaded with bacon and hams, mostly dry salt bacon. But the “Lilly” fared even worse than its sister steamer. She ran aground into a gravel bar while going downstream at full steam. She was so hopelessly grounded that even when the cargo had been unloaded there was no power to her out, her own power being too weak. There being no other steamer available, the two barges were towed back to Medicine Hat by gangs of men who were hired at that town. The cargo was freighted back up to Medicine Hat by all the avail­able carts and wagons in the neighborhood. The scene of the wreck as near as I can remember was about three-quarters of a mile above the spot on which the Drowning Ford Ranch was built about 13 years later. The place was named the “Lilly Flat” for many years afterwards. The paddle wheel was visible for a long time after. The superstructure and deck had been token off and carted back to Medicine Hat. By the time all this happened, word was received that the rebellion was all over and the troops had returned to the east. Now another little problem arose—it was what to do with the enormous quantity of dry salt bacon which was still in the two barges tied up just below the C.P.R. bridge. Wires flashed back and forth to headquarters, probably Ottawa. The trouble was solved after some 10 or 12 days. The bacon, flour, salt and tea was turned over to the Indian Department and shipped to various Indian reserves. Other goods were sold to local merchants.
Two of the steamers plied between Prince Albert and Edmonton after the rebellion. The “Minnow” was anchored at Medicine Hat the spring of 1888 and sent downstream as soon as the river was considered deep enough in June. I saw one of the steamers at Fort Pitt in June, 1896, on her way to Edmonton. She unloaded about 12 tons of flour and other goods for the Hudson’s Bay store of Onion Lake. I was going to the Anglican Indian School there, which was managed by Rev. J. R. Mathcson. The Coal and Navigation Company also had the contract to build the barracks for the N.W.M.P., Fort Macleod, Maple Creek and Medicine Hat. The spot on which the Fort was built at Medicine Hat was the most beautiful I have ever seen. It is too bad that the buildings were not preserved by some strong enclosure.
Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt, was born in Chelsea, London, September 6th. 1817. In March, 1835, he sailed for Canada. He died September 19th, 1893. He was survived by Lady Galt and by three sons and eight daughters. I have only mentioned a few of his great works in Western Canada. His other great achievements throughout Canada are too numerous to mention here.
Horse Stealing
There was a lot of horse-stealing the first two years of Medicine Hat, done mostly by the Blood Indians. The owners of the horses would go up to Fort Macleod and lay their complaints. The Mounted Police would try and usually did, recover their horses for them and put the culprits in jail. On one occasion when my uncles, Frank La Fromboise and Norbert Poitra went after some 30 head of my grandfather’s horses that had been stolen at Medicine Hat, one of the Indians would not disclose where he had hidden 10 head of the horses, which was his share. Jerry Potts, who was a scout and interpreter for the Mounted Police, told him he would shoot him if he didn’t produce the horses at once. The brave drew his scalping knife and dared him, whereupon he shot him through the head killing him instantly. Brandishing his smoking revolver he told them that he would shoot some more of them if the horses were not found. That produced results immediately. Two of the Bloods brought the stolen horses to the Fort in a couple of hours.
Reverend George McKay overheard the Indians saying that on account of one of their fellow tribesmen being killed they would follow the two half-breeds on their way home and re-steal the horses. So the Reverend gentleman started out with my two uncles early next morning, thinking that by so doing the revenge-bent Bloods would not follow, but when they had gone about 16 miles he saw that he had been too optimistic. On looking back from about where the village of Monarch now stands they saw what appeared to be about 40 mounted savages following them, all fully armed with rifles. When the Bloods were within 200 yards Reverend George bade goodbye to the half-breeds and told them to go on and not give their horses up if he should fail to stop the Indians. He was unarmed. Turning his horse, he raced back and forth in front of the pursuers, waving his right hand. My uncles said that the Bloods all drew rein and stopped to a man as soon as they recognised their preacher. They said it was a great relief to see their pursuers wheel their steeds and start back west with Mr. McKay.
Early Recollections and Discovery of Gas
My first recollection goes back to 1887, when I was about 4½ years of age. My mother had placed me in a hammock under a large cottonwood tree near where she was working. I heard the sweet cooing of doves overhead. A big rattlesnake was almost under my hammock. There were sage brush and cactus all over. I also remember when the General Hospital was built in 1888. The sand stone was hauled from Robertson’s Coulee west of where Starks and Burton had their horse ranch some years later. I also remember when natural gas was first discovered by Mr. Colter in 1889.
In the early spring of 1883 there came to Medicine Hat a man by the name of John Charles Colter. He came from County Cork, Ireland. His parents had first settled at Stratford, Ontario. Mr. J. C. Colter was a stone mason by trade. He joined the B. and B. gang and helped to build the first railroad bridge at Medicine Hat. That done, he started a bake-shop, in a tent which he pitched where Riverside Park is now located. His tent was approximately on the spot where the gas house now stands. When the town was started he went to work as a builder. He helped Harry Yuill build the American Hotel. Mr. Yuill was the first owner. He built himself a house joining the hotel on the west side. He had a large family, some of his children still being alive. His eldest son was Charlie, who now resides in Vancouver, B.C. The eldest daughter was Lilly (Mrs. Nichol), now deceased. Next was Nellie, now in Port Huron. Michigan; next, Manley, who died in Bassano; then Frank, who now is in New Jersey; and Winwright. who was kicked to death by a horse about 1910. Kennedy, another son, is teaching in Victoria High School in Edmonton, and Ardus is a C.P.R. conductor between Medicine Hat and Calgary at present. Then there are Edgar of Salmon Arm. B.C., and Hazel, the youngest, now living in Ashland, Oregon. There were also three other children who died in infancy. Mr. John Charles Colter was the man who first discovered gas in Medicine Hat in 1889. He drilled his first well about a quarter of a mile below the General Hospital, within 50 yards of the river. He used to burn limestone with the gas. When the Indians saw the gas burning amongst the spray of water it blew out they called it the devil’s fire.
Mr. Colter later built three concrete houses on Second Street. He drilled another well back of them about 1893 when he had finished the three duplex houses. The first person to use gas for domestic purposes was Mrs. Robert Irwin. It was piped into her kitchen with a length of garden hose. Several people blew up their houses when they first started to use gas as they didn’t have it under proper control.
In the next issue I will write more about Medicine Hat’s early residents and business establishments.

Early History of Medicine Hat
By W. HENRY McKAY, Gen. Del., Calgary, Alta. From Canadian Cattleman magazine, March 1950.

THE first stores in Medicine Hat were all in tents in 1883, on the present site of Riverside Park. I do not know in what order they were opened by the following merchants: Mr. William Cousins. Mr. Tweed and Mr. James Hargrave.
Mr. Cousins had some daughters and a son by the name of Gerald. As the young man grew up his father soon saw that standing behind a counter and waiting on people did not suit him so he bought Gerald some cattle and a few horses and settled him at Petrified Coulee, about 20 miles south of Medicine Hat, so that he could follow the life that appealed to him. Gerald was a good fellow who treated his friends generously, and now and then when funds that his father allowed him were exhausted, he would sell some of his fine bulls that his father had bought him in order to replenish his bank account. The last time I saw him he told me that he was at Hussar with Emile (Emery) La Grandeur, now deceased. I don’t know whom his beautiful sisters married. Mr. Cousins’ children grew up in Medicine Hat and I believe Gerald was born there. I think Mr. Cousins later sold his store to A. Des Brisey and went into the real estate business. He used to own the property on which the Alberta Clay Products is now located.
Mr. Tweed later, got into partnership with a man named Ewart. Tweed and Ewart were the principal shareholders of the Medicine Hat ranch (MHR) which they established some ten miles south of Seven Persons where they raised cattle and horses. Mr. Ezra Pearson was the manager. Mr. Tweed had two very fine boys, Harry and Tommy Tweed. Tommy. I think, was killed in World War I and Harry died about three years ago. I do not know if Mr. Tweed had any daughters or not.
Mr. James Hargrave, the other merchant, was originally from Ormiston, Quebec, about 30 miles from Montreal. As a young man he got into the Hudson’s Bay Company Service and was stationed at York Factory near the mouth of the Hays’ River, about 12 miles south of Port Nelson, on Hudson’s Bay. From there he was transferred to Cumberland House on the Saskatchewan River; then from there to Fort Frances, in Algoma, Western Ontario and then to Portage La Prairie. Mrs. Hargrave was one of the very finest and kindest women I have ever seen. She didn’t look down on people on account of the Indian blood that flowed in their veins. Whenever I was at their house, whether I was working for them or not, she would always invite me to a good meal. She would not hand it to me outside, but would serve it to me right on their dining table. The last time I ate there was in the Spring of 1908. I had come to buy some of the fine vegetables that Mr. Hargrave used to grow, which he irrigated from the springs that were on the side of the hill. An Indian named Little Corn sat across from me, also enjoying a square meal. Not only that, but when I offered to pay Mr. Hargrave for the two sacks of vegetables, he refused to take any money for them.
I believe Mr. Hargrave was in partnership with his brother-in-law, Mr. Daniel Sisson. Mr. Sisson conducted a store at Carlton on the right bank of the north Saskatchewan river. As horses were cheaper around Medicine Hat, Mr. Hargrave used to send down to Carlton those he bought out of the goods from the store. He used to have such horses branded with an S, which meant “shop”. Mr. Sisson sold the horses around Carlton at a good profit and the cattle he bought or traded for horses he sent up to Medicine Hat where there was less snow, more Chinooks and shorter winters.
Mr. Hargrave first had a ranch along the Big Plume near where Mr. William Geddis had his coal mine many years later. As the snow lies deep in that district, he moved down to Many Island Lake, where there was an abundance of good feed and water. I believe his son, Thomas, is still there. Mr. Hargrave got most of the Indian and half-breed trade. He had learned how to deal with them, while he was in the Company’s service and the experience served him in good stead when he was operating his own store. He was expert in buying furs, as he knew when they were prime. When a man had no money, he gave him credit and soon knew the ones that pnid their bills. They always got more credit. Those that didn’t pay had to leave some security.
Mr. and Mrs. Hargrave had a family of eight children. Four fine daughters and four splendid sons. The order of their births was as follows: Jackie (after Dr. Hargrave, the veterinary), Thomas, William H., Carlton. Queenie, Melrose, Lissa and Heather. Dr. John Hargrave married Mary, one of Mr. Porter’s daughters. I don’t know whom Tom and Willie married. Queenie married the late James Mitchell. Melrose married Dr. Hawk and Heather married Thomas Murray. I don’t know whom Lissa and Carlton married. The Hargrave boys were real good fellows. Tom and Willie were good riders, also splendid ropers. All the girls grew up to be fine ladies.
Had it not been for Mr. Hargrave many a family of Indians and half-breeds would have had to live on meat alone. I do not know the number of cattle and horses that he had on his ranch. Mr. Hargrave’s family came to Medicine Hat in 1885.
Mr. Porter was the first dry land farmer in Medicine Hat. He and his son-in-law, Mr. Hawk, came in 1883 and located about two miles east of town on the bench. Mr. Hawk settled along the Gros Ventre, a little above where Norton is today. Both moisture and hay were more abundant up there, so he did very well at mixed farming.
Mr. Porter and his sons. Dick, Bob and Jim moved into town when they found out that dry farming wasn’t a paying business. Richard moved up to where his brother-in-law. Mr. Hawk was located. Robert and James, with their father, moved into town where they got into the water selling business. A man named Mr. Peake was the first waterman. I believed he died near Dorothy within the last five years. Another man named Jack Clark also hauled water for many years. As the town grew Robert Watson Sr thought there was room for another waterman so about 1896 he had a water tank built and painted red. But others didn’t agree with him and the next morning he found that his tank was half full of fresh cow manure with the outside liberally plastered with the same material, by persons unknown; so he gave up the idea of hauling water and went into the draying business. The Indians called old Mr. Porter the man with the pretty daughters and they were right. He had four or five of them.
In 1886 two more of the good old pioneers came to Medicine Hat. They were James and Robert Mitchell. They were real Scotsmen. They had come to Regina in 1883 and on to Medicine Hat in 1886. I believe I heard one of their boys state that they trailed their cattle from Regina but I may be mistaken. They went direct to Elkwater Lake where James, who I think was the elder brother, built his ranch along the creek that runs into the lake from the South. James Ferguson and old Jack Smiler lived on the place after Mr. Mitchell moved to Medicine Hat so that his children could go to school as there were no country schools in those remote days. The other brother, Robert, settled about 4 miles west along a wooded creek fed by some good springs of excellent drinking water. He also moved to town like his brother for the same reasons; school and deep snow. He located a ranch about 8 miles below “the Hat” on the right bank of the river, on which his descendants still carry on the cattle raising industry.
Mr. Robert Mitchell Sr. was the father of the late James, who was, I believe, the greatest livestock buyer that Medicine Hat ever produced, and for several years was president of the Western Stock Growers’ Association. He was a good all-around cowboy, a very good roper and a real broncho rider. He was also a man of very good principles, sober and honest in all his dealings. I have been on roundups with him, that is how I know that he was a good rider and roper. He was also my school mate in 1893. He married Mr. Hargrave’s eldest daughter. Mr. Mitchell also had two other good boys. Robert Jr. and Henry. I only remember one daughter but there may have been more.
Mr. James Mitchell Sr. also had some very fine boys. The name of the eldest was Robert. He was, I believe, the biggest man of the Mitchell boys. He was a very good young man, well liked by everyone. About 1894 he went to South America, probably to the Argentine Republic. His reason for going there was to raise sheep, where there was more range and a better climate. His father paid him a visit some two years after and from there Mr. Mitchell Sr. took a boat bound for Glasgow. Scotland, and, sad to relate, he died at sea. Robert, the poor lad, also died soon afterwards in South America. Then William, being the oldest boy left, took charge and located the LA Ranch on Willow Creek. He also built a dug-out to camp in at times, near the present site of Altawan. I also knew Bill well as I used to hunt on his range where he used to tell me I was always welcome. Whenever I ran out of provisions, I went to him and he would replenish my larder. In return I killed a few grown-up wolves and three dens of pups and about 25 coyotes on his range, thereby saving a number of his cattle. I am not so well acquainted with his younger brothers, James and John. They may be big men like their older brother Robert, I haven’t seen them for forty years. I believe they had two sisters, one being Mrs. Terrill, who writes for this magazine, and Jessie, if I remember well.
Mr. Robert Mitchell Sr. operated a butcher shop for many years in Medicine Hat. He also had two sisters who had a confectionery.
There was also a general merchant by the name of Louis B. Cochrane who hailed from Hants County. Nova Scotia. I don’t know the year he came, but he was there as far as my memory goes. He wasn’t a refined man like Mr. Hargrave. Cousins, Tweed, Colter or the Mitchells, but he was a kind old man just the same. He believed in having a good time while he was alive. He used to get on a big drunk every so often and while on a tear he insisted on treating everyone he met. Cigars to men. oranges to women and apples or candles to children. He used to smoke cigars himself; “Nothing like having a good time on earth,” he used to say. “as the beautiful shore may be a joke”. But just the same he had a very  nice family; two daughters and three sons. His daughters used to teach Sun­day school in the Church of England. He had a very fine wife too.
There was another gentleman named Mr. Walton. I don’t remember what his business was. I think it was a confectionery, but he had a ranch some six miles south of “the Hat”, near where Bull Head Siding is today. He later became a collector of customs. He also had a splendid wife, who I believe was Mrs. L. B. Cochrane’s sister. I don’t know where he came from, nor in what year. He had, I think, two daughters and one son. He may have had more. The name of one of the girls was Ferris. She married James Alcock, the son of one of the old-time ranchers. I believe the couple now reside near Edmonton.
During the winter of 1891 and 1892, there was a very sad occurrence. On a fine morning after a good Chinook had taken off all the snow, the Cochrane boy and his cousin, the Walton boy, saddled up their ponies to ride to Mr. Payton’s ranch on the Big Plume, about 25 miles south. They were going to visit Mr. Philip Millar, who was looking after the ranch for Mr. Payton. When the little boys, who were about 14 and 15 years old, got within 10 miles of the ranch, one of our sudden cold blizzards started up and soon covered up the crooked wagon trail. There were no fenced road allowances in those days. The poor boys soon lost their way. For the benefit of those who have never been on the prairie during an Alberta blizzard let me say that even an experienced traveller would get lost, if he had no road, fence or coulee to follow. I have been out in many and therefore I know. Mr. Millar did not know that the lads were on their way to visit him. The next day was clear but still cold. Mr. Millar had to come to Medicine Hat that day and on his way home 4 or 5 miles from the ranch he saw the horn of a saddle sticking out of the snow about 5 yards from the road. Upon pulling up the saddle, he was shocked to see the frozen body of a boy that he recognized. It was the younger boy of the two, I don’t know which one. The elder boy had covered his little cousin with the two saddle blankets and the saddle and heroically struck out to look for help. I don’t know what Mr. Millar did. He may have brought the little frozen corpse in or he may have left it there. However, the frozen body of the other lad was found beside a haystack. His horse was still held by his frozen fingers. The other horse was found grazing about a mile from where the first boy was found. It was a terrible blow to the two fine mothers. The two cousins are buried side by side in the Anglican Cemetery.
In March, 1900, another 15-year-old boy froze to death in a sudden snowstorm. On a fine morning after a Chinook had taken off all the snow, Ed Hanson struck out on foot to look for his team. He made the mistake of taking his young son along. They walked about 10 miles east and circled northwest by Tex’s Spring. A blinding snowstorm came. They got lost, and the next day, when the storm had abated, my brother Philip and I found the boy, Joe Hanson, dead on a snowdrift about five miles northeast of Medicine Hat. That is why I never leave my winter overcoat when I go out in the country, no matter how nice a day, until the first of June and I grab it again on the first of September. I know the Alberta climate, and how changeable it is, too well.
There was another store owned by Mr. McQuage after the townsite was surveyed. It was what we would call a “Men’s Wear Store’’ today. A man by the name of Mr. Bradley had a tobacco store too in the very early days, probably in a tent. His daughter was the first baby girl born in Medicine Hat after the railway arrived. I think Mr. Albert Hughes was the first druggist. There was also a man named Dan Calder who was a druggist in the very early days of Medicine Hat. I think the first hotels were the American and Cosmopolitan. The latter was owned by Mrs. Bassette. Two of her frame hotels burned down, before she built the brick building that still goes by that name.
The first baker shop was owned and operated in a tent by Mr. John Charles Colter in the early spring of 1883. Mr. Mike Leonard also had a bakery on South Railway St. in later years. He was the father of the late Joseph Leonard. the musician.
Mr. and Mrs. Douglas operated a confectionery store joining Mr. James Hargrave’s general store after he moved to the corner of South Railway St. They had two sons, Everette and Weldon. The latter is a C.P.R. conductor at the present day. Everette is In Portland. Oregon. I believe Mr. Finlay was the first lumberman. He had a son named Willie. The earliest restaurant owners were Mrs. David Calder and Mr. J. L. Wright. Mrs. Calder had a son by the name of George Calder, who now resides in Calgary. He was a good cowboy and a good wolf runner. There were also two daughters. One married James McClennan. who was one of the earliest barbers. He was also a very good shot in duck hunting. Mr. Wright had three daughters, Victoria, Olive and Beth.
One of the very earliest doctors was Doctor Oliver. In addition to being physician and surgeon, he was a dentist. He was probably the only surgeon to have ever performed a surgical operation on a grizzly bear. It was this way, the C.P.R. garden had a female grizzly bear named “Nancy”. One day Nancy got very sick. There being no Veterinary Surgeon available at the time, the owners called Doctor Oliver, who, after an examination, decided that what Nancy needed was an operation. A few days before Nancy had bitten a young squaw on the leg. Her mother hit the bear over the head with her hatchet and dented the bear’s skull, hence her sickness. Doctor Oliver chloroformed the bear and performed an excision, probably the only one ever performed on a bear up to that time. It wasn’t a successful operation as Miss Nancy died a few days later and so did the doctor. The Indians, being superstitious, said that God had punished him for trying to doctor a bear which was the enemy of man. But I don’t think so myself, I think that his time had come for him to die.
Mr. John Niblock was the Divisional Superintendent of the C.P.R. He organized a party in 1888 to build a hospital. I think he laid the cornerstone. The result was the general hospital. Sad to say that Mrs. Nibiock was the first one to die in the hospital. The Indians again said that God punished him by taking his wife because he built a “Sick House” as they called the hospital. The sandstone used for building the hospital was hauled from Peter Robertson’s coulee, a branch of the Big Plume. The maternity cottage was built some years later. As many old-timers will remember, the C.P.R. depot was, until 1906, on the opposite side of the railway and about 200 yards west of where it is today.
My uncle, James F. Sanderson, who came to Medicine Hat with his father-in-law Edward McKay in 1882, had the first Feed and Livery Barn. He also ran a ranch a half mile below the first cutbank on the flat that was known as Sanderson’s Point. He raised some fine horses. He became a big contractor as well, building grades and putting up and hauling hay for N.W.M.P. He put up the ice for the C.P.R. at Medicine Hat and Banff for many years. He had two sons, Owen and Duncan; two daughters, Clara and Mary. Also a foster daughter named Lizzie Clark. She was an orphan. Mary married James F. Anderson and 1 believe still resides in Medicine Hat. Duncan was in Dawson Creek quite recently. Owen died on the 23rd of February, 1903. Clara died March 29th, 1891. Mrs. Sanderson died on August 29th. 1892. Mr. Sanderson himself passed away on December 8th, 1902.
There were some very fine old railroad men too in the early days of Medicine Hat. I can only remember the names of some. James Fisher, who was an engineer, lived until a few years ago. Mr. Samuel Hayward, also an engine driver, was a big man and very powerful. His fingers were half the size of my wrists. I have seen him working around his engine with a crow bar in his bare hands when it was forty below zero. J. H. Spencer was another engineer; he was a fine and well educated man. He used to be the manager of the Drowning Ford Ranch.
Mr. Moody, who died a couple of years ago at the Earl of Egmont Estate south of Calgary, was the Officer in Command of the police barracks when I first remember Medicine Hat. When the barracks at the Police Point were abandoned, there were two or three Mounties left in the town. Sergeant Richurds was in charge. Some of the early Mounted Police were: Mr. Martin, a Frenchman; Albert Ernest Dunn; also Mr. William Parker, who later became Inspector Parker. There was a veterinary also by the name of Mr. Poet. The last time I saw him was at Battleford in 1898.
An old gentleman named Mr. Bridgeman was the undertaker; he was always complaining about his business being bad. “A poor business.” he used to say. “A good winter, nobody sick, and no one dying”.
I think the first coal mine owner was Mr. George Cully. He operated a small lignite coal mine a few miles up the river. It was such a mine as would be called a gopher hole today. I don’t know what year he started.
Mr. Flaeger was one of the earliest blacksmiths. Mr. Robert McCutcheon, the N.W.M.P. blacksmith, preceded Mr. Flaeger, but as far as I know he never plied his trade in Medicine Hat. He settled in a beautiful maple grove just west of Mr. Hargrave’s and there he farmed on a small scale. He was also an auctioneer and later became Sheriff. He had four daughters and two sons, also one stepdaughter. He was the first “squaw man” to settle in Medicine Hat, Robert Watson, William Johnstone and Robert Everson (4 Jack Bob) being the others.
There was a family named “Adsit” in the very early days of Medicine Hat, but I do not remember their vocation. All that I can recollect is that Earl, one of the brothers, liked hunting and in later years became a good hunter. In 1896 he and a man by the name of Charlie Lenox went to Sounding Lake for a winters trapping. They did pretty well as they trapped 90 red foxes, besides other furs. Charlie Lenox died out there towards spring. Earl burled him by the cabin as soon as the frost was out of the ground so that he could dig the grave. Then, as soon as the deep snow melted he came back to Medicine Hat. Some Indians, who were out trapping muskrats, saw the cabin and when they saw the grave and blood on the floor of the log house, antelope and deer blood, they assumed that a man had murdered his partner. On their return to Battleford they reported it to Major Cotton, who was then in charge of the barracks there. So the Major sent two Mounties, a Dr. Parry and Sam Ballentine, who was to act as guide and interpreter. They had no trouble finding the cabin, as the Indians had told old Sam where it was and they also had the wagon tracks of the Indians to follow. After exhuming the corpse, the doctor performed an autopsy and found that Lenox had died a natural death. But he was taking no chances. He took the stomach and other internal organs, which were sent to some analyst, probably to Regina, but they likewise were free from any signs of poison.
Had they known what a good man Earl Adsit was they could have saved themselves a lot of trouble. Earl went to Dawson City, Yukon, the time of the gold rush of 1898. I later heard that he did very well killing moose and selling the meat as a side line to his gold mining. I think he died up there.
I will not make any attempt to describe the early newspapers of Medicine Hat, as Mrs. Terrill has dealt with them in a former issue of this magazine.
I think the town of Medicine Hat was incorporated in 1894. I don’t know who was the first Mayor. I have been told that there were three routes surveyed for the railroad. But although my father used to tell us the name of the surveyors. I only remember one, whose name was Shaw. One was surveyed along the Qu’Appelle Valley and by Eyebrow, and to cross the South Saskatchewan at approximately where Riverhurst is today. Then one by about Beechy and then to go along the river from Chesterfield flat and up the Red Deer as far as where Bindloss is today and to cross the river there to the south side and then to follow about the line of the Empress-Bassano line. Another was surveyed between that and the main line to cross about where Mr. Lokier’s ranch is today, and formerly known as the Drowning Ford. But after the engineers figured out the different grades they picked out the one by Medicine Hat as being the cheapest. The Canadian Pacific Railway Company wasn’t as rich in those days as it is today.
Mr. F. F. Fatt was the first postmaster that I remember. He held the post for many years, as he was efficient. He wasn’t fat, as the name would make you believe; on the contrary, I think he was the leanest man in Medicine Hat. He married Annie, Mr. L. B. Cochrane’s eldest daughter.
Mr. J. K. Drinnan, who was a principal of the school, bought out Mr. Hargrave about 1897. He operated the store for a number of years and later sold out to Spencer and Todd to go to ranching and located a little south of Pashly, Alta., where he died about 1932 or 1933. The first graveyard was on the side hill near St. Barnabas Church. The graves were moved over the hill to the present cemetery about 1897 or 1898.

I have written down from memory what I know of businesses and people in the very early days of Medicine Hat, hoping it will assist Canadian Cattlemen in its very fine policy of recording the early history of Western Canada.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.