A Two-Ton Birthday Cake!

English: Photo of Fort Whoop Up National Histo...
English: Photo of Fort Whoop Up National Historic Site, August 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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By 1885 the C.P.R. had pushed its way beyond Winnipeg.  It had passed Pile O’Bones (Regina) and entered Calgary, a “rootin, tootin” cowboy town.

Moving supplies to the workers was a tremendous problem.  There was a lucky break when coal was discovered near Fort Whoop-Up, and a company was formed to mine it.  The C.P.R. then built a branch line from Dunsmore, on the main line, to Coal Banks, now Lethbridge,  and that problem was solved.  The branch line was opened on September 24, 1885.  One year later, Lethbridge had a population of more than 1,000.

One of the most successful suppliers of beef for the construction crews was Pat Burns, the “cattle king.”  He was born at Oshawa, Ontario, in humble circumstances, and went to school at Kirkfield.  Pat and his brother John decided to go out west.  In order to earn money to travel they worked in the bush, but were paid two oxen instead of money.  They slaughtered the oxen and sold the meat, earning more money than if they had been paid wages.

This taught Pat Burns a valuable lesson, and when he reached the West, he gradually developed a business, buying cattle (on time) from farmers, and selling the beef to construction gangs.  He then began his famous meat-packing firm in Calgary.

There are countless  stories about Pat Burns.  It is said that he was one of the few people who never made an enemy while making a million dollars.  One story tells how he was driving in a parade in Calgary when he saw a little pig walking beside a float as a mascot.  It was obviously becoming exhausted so Burns stopped his limousine and took the dejected pig in with him.

Another story tells how he sent men from his Calgary plant to paint his little church at Midnapore.  The new paint made the other church at Midnapore look bad, so Burns said “paint that church too.”

Prime Minister R.B. Bennett made him a senator on the occasion of a testimonial dinner in 1931.  It was Burns’ 75th birthday, and 700 people were there.  A two-ton birthday cake was cut into 15,000 pieces to send to his friends.

Burns died in Calgary on February 24, 1937, at the age of 80.  His nephew John and family were at his side. He is buried alongside his son in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Calgary. An interesting note is that upon his death, he left his estate to his nieces and nephews and many charities. The tax on the estate of the Senator was enough to offset the provincial deficit and balance the budget.  As a result, the Social Credit Party chose to permanently end the Provincial Sales Tax.

To learn more about today’s post, I suggest visiting the Sir Alexander Galt Museum and Archives.

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