Canadian’s Paul Revere?

08 Apr
The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nearly everybody knows the story of Paul Revere‘s famous ride when the American Revolutionary War began.  Currently portrayed in a Geico television advertisement.

Who knows the story of James Mowat and his desperate ride from Edmonton to Calgary to get help during the Northwest rebellion?  Mowat is one of the unsung heroes of Canadian history.

Riel and Dumont had stirred the Indians into going on the warpath late in March 1885.  The war drums, keeping up a continual beat day and night, were heard as far west as Edmonton.  The situation in Edmonton was critical because its only defenders were thirty volunteers armed with muzzle-loading muskets used in the Indian mutiny of 1857.  There was no ammunition, so they had to make their own lead balls and gun-powder.

It was essential to get word to Calgary and ask for help, but the telegraph line had been cut.  James Mowat volunteered to ride to Calgary on horseback, and left early on the morning of April 8.  Sneaking out of Edmonton was dangerous.  The Indians were camping all around and Mowat had to make his way so quietly that even the dogs would not bark.  Somehow he managed to get through and ride the two hundred miles to Calgary in thirty-six hours, with no sleep and little food.

Fortunately, General Strange was at Calgary with six hundred men and their march to Edmonton began on April 20.  Meanwhile, with copies of the Calgary Herald, containing news to April 13.

When the Indians heard that General Strange was coming with a large body of troops, they stopped beating their drums.  The Edmonton Bulletin reported: “Since the Indians heard that troops are on the way, their desire to get on with their farming is always marvellous.” Nevertheless, it had been a close call for Edmonton.

On another sector, General Middleton was leading a strong force from Qu’Appelle to attack Riel’s centre at Batoche. It wasn’t easy-going. The temperature at Qu’Appelle on April 8 was twenty-three below zero! James Mowat’s ride from Edmonton to Calgary that day and night, must have been through similar, bitterly cold weather.

For a smile, if you haven’t seen it yet, you can view the Geico ad on YouTube‘s Geico channel.

To learn more about James Mowat, you can start at City of Saskatchewan‘s page about Mowat Park.


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18 responses to “Canadian’s Paul Revere?

  1. Tom

    October 29, 2015 at 11:59 am

    This is indeed a great story, but I feel like you’re privileging Mowat and the settlers’ point of view in the way you tell it here. Mowat made a great ride, indeed, and I’m sure he thought he was ‘saving the day.’ But you can find in many sources that the Edmontonians fears were largely groundless and driven by exaggerated rumours. The Cree in the area weren’t particularly interested in joining the resistance and were more concerned about their starvation in the face of government cutbacks of their rations and sabotaging of their farms (see the Peasant Farming Initiative). It was these real and deliberate persecutions, along with personal enmity at Frog Lake, that arose Big Bear’s band to violent protest – not the ‘stirrings’ of Riel and Dumont – who by the way had their own legitimate reasons for resistance. Other than this single band, and some still disputed intentions by Poundmaker’s band, no First Nations band rose against the government – although there was some instances of breaking into gov’t storerooms to feed starving families.

    The problems with glorifying Mowat’s story is that it legitimizes the Edmonton settlers’ narrow point of view on the resistance – that the Cree and the Metis were ‘on the warpath’ and out to kill all the settlers. Frank Oliver’s gloating in the Edmonton Bulletin only makes it worse. That might be why many of your readers haven’t heard of it. In my opinion, a balanced view of Alberta’s experience in 1885 can be found in Bill Waiser’s “Too Many Scared People: Alberta and the 1885 North-West Rebellion” Alberta Formed, Transformed Vol. 1. Eds Michael Payne, Donald Wetherell, Catherine Cavanaugh. (2006)

  2. Gerald

    May 11, 2015 at 7:41 pm

    Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

    • tkmorin

      May 11, 2015 at 8:13 pm

      Thank you, Gerald. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. And of course I agree with your assessment of wars. 🙂

  3. seeker

    April 8, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    Not a sound riding a horse? Hmm. interesting and the dogs must be deaf. He must have received a medal of honor. Is he related to Farley Mowatt? P.S. Funny YouTube. 😀

    • tkmorin

      April 9, 2013 at 9:36 am

      I doubt it, but not one hundred percent sure. If I see something about it, I’ll let you know.
      I find Geigo makes some pretty funny ads — well, except for the basketball one they are currently running. 🙂

  4. Michelle Bennetts Heumann

    April 8, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    I live in Calgary and go to Edmonton a couple of times a year – I’d never heard this story before, and I’ll definitely think about it next time! It makes my fussing about a 3-hour trip in a nice warm car feel kind of lame. 🙂

    • tkmorin

      April 8, 2013 at 3:01 pm

      … and yet, I don’t think many know of his story. I certainly found it difficult to get more detail about him from online sources or books that I have. I agree about the three hour drive … I suppose it’s all relative to what we know, eh? 🙂

      • Michelle Bennetts Heumann

        April 8, 2013 at 3:04 pm

        I’m studying for a minor in Canadian history at the University of Calgary, so I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more info about this! I’ll let you know if I find anything!

        Definitely relative…first world problems and all that… 🙂

        • tkmorin

          April 8, 2013 at 3:05 pm

          Oh, I would really appreciate that, thank you!!! 🙂

  5. Blazing Guns!

    April 8, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    What a great read! Imagine sneaking down Calgary Trail trying to avoid being seen by dogs! Now you just try and avoid photo radar.
    Thanks for reading my blog – yours is such a treat.

    • tkmorin

      April 8, 2013 at 2:59 pm

      Thank you for the kind words! I’m glad you enjoyed it. … and oh yeah, I’d love to see it done today! 🙂

  6. alesiablogs

    April 8, 2013 at 10:54 am

    So much history…YOU are teaching me so much stuff I would never know about if for not reading your blog…

    • tkmorin

      April 8, 2013 at 10:56 am

      Thank you, alesiablogs! Words like that certainly encourages me! 🙂

      • alesiablogs

        April 8, 2013 at 10:58 am

        I just wish I had time to read all day! I am learning to pace myself because I could be in front of my computer reading reading reading! Thank you for sharing..History is one of my fav. subjects.

        • tkmorin

          April 8, 2013 at 1:15 pm

          Thank you and you’re welcome! I have to do the same! 🙂

  7. The Howling Mad Cat

    April 8, 2013 at 8:53 am

    Great post! Ellie

    • tkmorin

      April 8, 2013 at 10:32 am

      Thank you! 🙂


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