The United States has done a wonderful job in making the stories of its heroes and “characters” known to its citizens. Canada has lagged behind in this respect, although the Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta, Grant MacEwan, has done something to remedy this in his book Fifty Mighty Men.
Who, for instance, has heard of Norman Luxton? His father was one of the founders of the Winnipeg Free Press, and candidate for mayor in the first city election in 1874. He was defeated by F. E. Cornish. There were 308 names on the voters’ list, but 331 ballots were cast! Nobody protested. Cornish, as mayor, fined himself $5 for having been drunk and disorderly during the victory celebration.
Young Norman worked for the Calgary Herald, prospected for gold in the Kootenay area of British Columbia and started his own newspaper in Vancouver. As Grant MacEwan explains, when Luxton criticized the ministerial association for not doing enough to counteract vice, “theological buskshot” began to fly at the paper and Luxton’s business failed.
The next adventure was an expedition to the South Seas. For $8 Luxton bought a 28-foot Indian dugout canoe which was later called the Tilikum. It was 100 years old but he built a cabin on it, and set sail with Captain J. C. Voss, a Norwegian adventurer. They left Nootka on July 6, 1901.
By the time they reached Apia, Samoa, Luxton and Voss hated each other. They needed money so badly that Luxton taught the natives to play poker. The king offered Luxton an estate of coconut trees if he would marry one of his daughters. Refusal would have meant being fed to the sharks but Luxton managed to escape. On another island, they used the old Spanish cannon to save themselves from being made into stew. Eventually they were shipwrecked; Luxton became ill and went to Australia; Voss sailed the Tilikum to England, arriving in September 1904.
Luxton returned to Canada and helped found the Winter Carnival and the annual Indian Days Festival at Banff. He played a major part in saving the buffalo from extinction through the creation of Wainwright National Park. In Calgary, the Luxton Museum is a memorial to him.