Monthly Archives: May 2013

President of the Prairies

English: Upper Fort Garry in the early 1870s, ...

Upper Fort Garry in the early 1870s, circa 1872 / Fort Garry, Manitoba Credit: Topley / Library and Archives Canada / PA-011337 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the “characters” of Canadian history was Thomas Spence, who proclaimed himself “President of the Republic of Manitoba” in 1868.  He really meant “President of the Prairies”: Spence had big ideas!

He was first in the limelight at Fort Garry in 1866, when the community was divided into camps supporting union with Canada or the United States.  Spence did some “grandstanding” by posing as a leader for Confederation.  He wrote a letter on birchbark to the Prince of Wales, inviting him to come to the Red River and hunt bear and buffalo with the Indians.  The Prince rejected the invitation “with profound regret.”

Spence then opened a store in Portage la Prairie.  On May 31, 1868, he proclaimed the “Republic of Manitoba.” Its boundaries were vague, but seemed to extend south to the United States’ Border, west to the Rockies and east to Fort Garry, or as far as it was safe to go.  Spence was, of course, President, and said his purpose was to hold the country for Canada.  He intended to levy taxes to build a Government House and jail!

Spence seemed to be getting along quite well until the time came to collect taxes.  Charges were heard that he and his “cabinet ministers” were spending most of the money on whisky!  One of the most vocal objectors was shoemaker MacPherson.  Spence sent two of his cabinet ministers, who doubled as police constables, to arrest MacPherson, and after a struggle, MacPherson was bundled on a sleigh to be taken to Portage la Prairie for trial.  When they were passing farmer John McLean, MacPherson shouted for help.  McLean advised MacPherson to go peacefully, but said he would attend the trial that night.

The trial was held in Spence’s store, with President Spence acting as judge and accuser. McLean entered with three friends and protested against the unfair trial.  One of the policemen tried to throw him out, and a fight started.   The policeman was hurled across the room and in the course of his flight upset the lamp, table, and president!  The mêlée continued in the darkness until someone fired a shot into the ceiling.  The defenders of the Republic scurried out the door and when the lamp was lighted President Spence was found cowering behind the upset table, pleading for mercy because his wife and family needed him.

The Republic of Manitoba came to a sudden end.  Spence left for Lake Manitoba and entered the salt-making business.

To learn more about this colourful character, I suggest clicking your way to, an excellent blog about Manitoba urban history by the day. After that, click your way to the, and best for last, be sure to visit CBC Digital Archives!


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Before you ask …

English: Celsius Fahrenheit convert scale Deut...

English: Celsius Fahrenheit convert scale Deutsch: Celsius Fahrenheit Umwanlungs-Skala (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Before you ask, the hottest it’s ever been in Canada’s history was July 5, 1937.  In Yellowgrass, Saskatchewan, it was recorded at 45 Celsius (that’s 113 Fahrenheit)!




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I’m A Sweatin’!

English: A frozen waterfall on the Wappinger C...

A frozen waterfall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Because it is sooo hot and humid right now, here’s a little trivia:


The coldest temperature ever recorded in Canadian history was on February 3, 1957, at Snag, Yukon when it was minus 63 Celsius (that’s minus 81.4 Fahrenheit!



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“One Flag, One Fleet, One Throne”

English: Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden...

Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden (1854-1937) and Winston Churchill (then First Lord of the Admiralty) in 1912. Location unknown.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The importance of this story is its anti-climax, which occurred on May 30.

For three years, the Commons had discused the question of naval help for Britain.  When the Liberals were in power, Sir Wilfrid Laurier had proposed that Canada should build a navy. This was opposed by the Conservatives under Sir Robert Borden, who said that this was disloyal to Britain.  Instead, Canada should give Britain money to build battleships.  Winston Churchill was then First Lord of the Admiralty.  He made a deal with Sir Robert Borden to send him two messages: one confidential, outlining the military facts, the other for public consumption.

The Quebec Nationalists under Henri Bourassa supported the Conservatives, not because they wanted to help Britain, but because they opposed the building of a Canadian navy.

The Conservatives won the election in 1911 with the slogan: “One Flag, One Fleet, One Throne,” and now Sir Wilfrid Laurier, as leader of the Opposition, asked them what they were going to do about the navy, or naval aid for Britain.

Sir Robert Borden introduced a measure to give Britain $35 million to build British battleships.  He quoted Churchill as saying that it would be foolhardy and presumptuous for Canada to go ahead and build a navy for which it did not have trained men.

The Liberals trying to force another election on the issue, launched the biggest filibuster in the history of the Canadian House of Commons. They kept the House in session twenty-four hours a day for two weeks, with the exception of one Sunday when there was an armistice (truce – cease-fire).  Both parties divided their members into eight-hour shifts.  Liberals who hadn’t spoken for years took their turns, quoting the Bible, reading the British North America Act, or Janes Fighting Ships (the bible of shipping), or anything even remotely relevant.

Eventually, Sir Robert ended the debate by invoking the “closure” for the first time in Canada.  Closure might be described as a political measure to make prolonged debate impossible, and is used only as a last resort.  Sir Robert managed to push his navy bill through the House of Commons and avoid an election.

The anti-climax?  On May 30, 1913, the Senate killed the bill!

As you can imagine, there’s a bit more to this story. To read more, I suggest Filibusters in the Canadian House of Commons, and House of Commons Procedure and practice (a bit dry, but informative, directly from the Government of Canada’s website). You may also want to visit Wikipedia to learn about filibusters in general.


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Two Wild Beasts With Humps On Their Backs!

English: Photo taken 189? Photographer: Unknow...

Photo taken 189? Photographer: Unknown Source #A-00347 Category:British Columbia public domain photographs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was a dangerous, hard journey on May 29, 1861 when Governor Douglas began a tour to see how roads could be built into the interior.  Gold had been discovered in the arid Cariboo country. How could he build a road 500 miles long, through difficult country, with only 20,000 people in British Columbia to pay for it?

Douglas managed to get the miners to help build the road voluntarily, and Royal Engineers sent out from Britain built roads, parts of which can be seen today.  They deserved the slogan used by United States Marines: “The impossible we do at once.  The miraculous takes a little longer.”

Mule trains consisted of sixteen mules, each carrying 250 pounds of freight, were used to carry the supplies along the narrow trails, covering about 10 miles a day.  Teamster Frank Laumeister had the amazing idea that camels would be better.  They could carry more freight and last longer without water.  This was important in the hot, dry Cariboo country.  Somehow, Laumeister managed to buy twenty-one camels and began using them on the trail.  It looked as though he would make a fortune.  Each camel carried 1,000 pounds and made about 30 miles a day.  He overlooked one problem: camels smell awful!

When they passed a mule train, the mules would be terrified, dash into the woods, or fall down the canyon and be killed.  Jackass Mountain is supposed to be named after a mule train that had dashed down the canyon to death.  Laumeister was involved in so many lawsuits that he had to abandon the plan. There is an amusing story about the arrival of the camels in Victoria on their way to the Fraser.  A small boy came running home and told his father breathlessly that he had seen two wild beasts with humps on their backs coming along the road.  Although he could hardly believe the boy, his father took a heavy stick and went to see for himself.  A Victoria paper reported the incident:

“As soon as his eyes fastened upon the monsters, his own courage departed, and with blanched cheek and trembling steps he hastily regained the shelter of his own home.”

Pretty amazing when you think about it, eh?  To read more about this, I suggest visiting the Society of the Old West; and go see a .pdf of The Cariboo Camels by John Stewart; and lastly BC Heritage for a fun read!


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Cat Feeding Baby Ducks???????

This is such a cute video, I had to share! – tk


Posted by on May 28, 2013 in Entertainment, Humour, Reblogged


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