John (Giovanni) Cabot

Discovery Day, Newfoundland and Labrador, June 14th, 1497

John Cabot in traditional Venetian garb by Giustino Menescardi (1762). A mural painting in the Sala dello Scudo in the Palazzo Ducale, Venice.
John Cabot in traditional Venetian garb by Giustino Menescardi (1762). A mural painting in the Sala dello Scudo in the Palazzo Ducale, Venice.

John Cabot (Italian: Giovanni Caboto; c. 1450 – c. 1499) was an Italian navigator and explorer whose 1497 discovery of parts of North America under the commission of Henry VII of England is commonly held to have been the first European encounter with the mainland of North America since the Norse Vikings visits to Vinland in the eleventh century. The official position of the Canadian and British governments is that he landed on the island of Newfoundland.

There is very little precise contemporary information about the 1497 voyage. If Cabot kept a log, or made maps of his journey, they have disappeared. What we have as evidence is scanty: a few maps from the first part of the 16th century which appear to contain information obtained from Cabot, and some letters from non-participants reporting second-hand on what had occurred. As a result, there are many conflicting theories and opinions about what actually happened.


Modern-day replica of John Cabot's ship, the Matthew. Although there is no contemporary 15th-century depiction of the Matthew, this historical replica was built for the 'Cabot 500' anniversary celebrations in Newfoundland during the summer of 1997. This photo shows the Matthew during its call at St. John's Harbour.  Reproduced by permission of Wayne Sturge. Photo ©1997.
Modern-day replica of John Cabot’s ship, the Matthew.
Although there is no contemporary 15th-century depiction of the Matthew, this historical replica was built for the ‘Cabot 500’ anniversary celebrations in Newfoundland during the summer of 1997. This photo shows the Matthew during its call at St. John’s Harbour.
Reproduced by permission of Wayne Sturge. Photo ©1997.

Cabot’s ship was named the Matthew, almost certainly after his wife Mattea. It was a navicula, meaning a relatively small vessel, of 50toneles – able to carry 50 tons of wine or other cargo. It was decked, with a high sterncastle and three masts. The two forward masts carried square mainsails to propel the vessel forward. The rear mast was rigged with a lateen sail running in the same direction as the keel, which helped the vessel sail into the wind.

There were about 20 people on board. Cabot, a Genoese barber (surgeon), a Burgundian, two Bristol merchants, and Bristol sailors. Whether any of Cabot’s sons were members of the crew cannot be verified.

The Matthew left Bristol sometime in May, 1497. Some scholars think it was early in the month, others towards the end. It is generally agreed that he would have sailed down the Bristol Channel, across to Ireland, and then north along the west coast of Ireland before turning out to sea.

john cabot's two voyabes - mapBut how far north did he go? Again, it is impossible to be certain. All one can say is that Cabot’s point of departure was somewhere between 51 and 54 degrees north latitude, with most modern scholars favouring a northerly location.

The next point of debate is how far Cabot might have drifted to the south during his crossing. Some scholars have argued that ocean currents and magnetic variations affecting his compass could have pulled Cabot far off course. Others think that Cabot could have held approximately to his latitude. In any event, some 35 days after leaving Bristol he sighted land, probably on 24 June. Where was the landfall?

Cabot was back in Bristol on 6 August, after a 15 day return crossing. This means that he explored the region for about a month. Where did he go?

logo - gerry burnie books - couple


My list of of interesting books about Canada (to date).



Benedict Arnold – A Canadian connection

Revolutionary, spy, and wily businessman.

benedict arnoldBenedict Arnold (January 14, 1741 – June 14, 1801)was born in Norwich, Connecticut, on January 14, 1741. A member of the Sons of Liberty, Arnold rose to the rank of general in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He subsequently became a spy for the British, plotting to arrange a siege of West Point. When the plans came to light, Arnold defected to the British side.

When word of British surrender reached New York, Arnold requested leave to return to England with his family, which he did in December of 1781. Over the following years, he repeatedly attempted to gain positions with the British East India Company and the British military, but was unable to find a place for himself.

Canadian Connection

In 1785, Arnold and his son Richard moved to Saint John, New Brunswick, where they speculated in land and established a business doing trade with the West Indies. Arnold purchased large tracts of land in the Maugerville area, and acquired city lots in Saint John and Fredericton. Delivery of his first ship, the Lord Sheffield, was accompanied by accusations from the builder that Arnold had cheated him; Arnold claimed that he had merely deducted the contractually agreed amount when the ship was delivered late. After her first voyage, Arnold returned to London in 1786 to bring his family to Saint John. While there, he disentangled himself from a lawsuit over an unpaid debt that Peggy had been fighting while he was away, paying £900 to settle a £12,000 loan he had taken while living in Philadelphia. The family moved to Saint John in 1787, where Arnold created an uproar with a series of bad business deals and petty lawsuits. Following the most serious, a slander suit he won against a former business partner, townspeople burned him in effigy in front of his house as Peggy and the children watched. The family left Saint John to return to London in December 1791.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAIn July 1792, Arnold fought a bloodless duel with the Earl of Lauderdale after the Earl impugned his honor in the House of Lords. With the outbreak of the French Revolution, Arnold outfitted a privateer, while continuing to do business in the West Indies, even though the hostilities increased the risk. He was imprisoned by French authorities on Guadeloupe amid accusations of spying for the British, and narrowly eluded hanging by escaping to the blockading British fleet after bribing his guards. He helped organize militia forces on British-held islands, receiving praise from the landowners for his efforts on their behalf. This work, which he hoped would earn him wider respect and a new command, instead earned him and his sons a land-grant of 15,000 acres (6,100 ha) in Upper Canada, near present-day Renfrew, Ontario.

Heritage in Canada

Canadian historians have treated Arnold as a relatively minor figure. His difficult time in New Brunswick led historians to summarize it as full of “controversy, resentment, and legal entanglements” and to conclude that he was disliked by both Americans and Loyalists.  However, Arnold’s descendants ended up establishing deep roots in the country, becoming leading settlers not just in Upper Canada, but later in lands further west, where they established settlements in Saskatchewan. His descendants, most of all those of John Sage, who adopted the Arnold surname, are spread across Canada. His long woollen British scarlet military jacket with a buff lining continues to be owned by descendants; as of 2001, it was held in Saskatchewan. It has reportedly been passed in each generation to the eldest male of the family.

Primary source: Wikipedia –

farmer sewing seed

My list of of interesting books about Canada (to date). You can add your favourites, too. Just send me a note with your choice, title and author, to

Sheriff John S. Ingram

“The Two-fisted Town Tamer”


John S. Ingram Winnipeg and Calgary’s First Police Chief

John S. Ingram was born in St. Thomas, Ontario on April 3, 1853, one of ten siblings, (nine brothers and one sister !) He came from a line of military men. His grandfather was a soldier and his father attended military college in Dublin and worked as a bailiff and county constable.

John came West in 1870 and joined the Manitoba Provincial Police Department. On February 19, 1874 he was hired as Chief Constable of the newly created Winnipeg Police Department which began operations just five days later. Ingram’s salary was a tidy $750 per year and he had a staff of two constables.

chief ingramLike many of the characters he would encounter on the streets of frontier Winnipeg, Ingram was rough and tumble. Early in his tenure… “His reputation was cemented the day he arrested Ambroise Lepine, a particularly bad fellow who was wanted on murder charges. The arrest was made through the simple expediency of Ingram walking up to Lepine, putting him off guard by greeting him as he would an old friend, then knocking him out with a well placed left hook to the head.” (Source: Cockeyed).

His love for wine, women and brawling soon wore thin with city officials. There was infighting among his constables and he had very public verbal battles with city aldermen. At one point he filed a libel suit against Alderman Villiers for accusing him of essentially running a protection racket in the city’s tolerated red light district.

After just a few months on the job Ingram’s ‘hobbies’ caught up with him. On June 7, 1874, constables raided a Sherbrook Street brothel. In the room of Miss Ella Lewis they found a customer in a state of undress. It was none other than Chief Ingram.

On June 9 those arrested in the raid appeared before a newly elected magistrate and mayor Capt. William Kennedy. Ella Lewis and Fannie Ellesworth were charged with ‘keeping a house of ill fame’ and fined $20 each. Ingram and another john named William McEwan were fined $8.00 each. (Free Press June 9, 1875)

As expected, Ingram tendered his resignation and on June 14, 1875 it was accepted by council.

Initially, Ingram went home to Ontario ‘to visit his people’ (Free Press June 19, 1875). He soon returned to Winnipeg and took gigs as a boxer and frequented the rough saloons of Winnipeg. He got arrested at least once, on September 10, 1875 for ‘being drunk and pugilistic’.

Ingram eventually moved West to Calgary, population 500 at the time, and on February 7, 1885 became their first chief of police.

Ingram and his two constables worked from an office located at the back of a hotel saloon. He brought his rough and tumble ways with him and issues such as infighting among his staff, running battles with his political masters and rumours that he was part of a protection racket soon re-emerged.  In February 1888 he resigned his post.

Ingram did not stay in Calgary for long. He and his wife of six months, a British-born widow named Edith M. Oake, and her son went to Montana. Not a lot is known of his time there but it is thought that he spent some of it as a lawman. Periodic visits to Alberta must have been made as his three children were all born on Alberta soil, (Beatrice in 1890, John in 1893 and Leslie (m) in 1895).

In 1896 Ingram and his family returned to Canada when the town of Rossland B.C. asked him to be their chief of police. He held that post until 1903 when, seemingly bored by keeping law and order in an increasingly civilized West, he resigned.

Looking for excitement, he got on as a “dynamite man” with The Silver Star Mining Ltd. in B.C.. On December 17, 1905, working with his stepson, Ingram entered a powder room to thaw explosives:

“Shortly after that, the thawing room exploded, sending black smoke 600 feet in the air and breaking most of the glass in town (it took them months to bring enough glass into town to replace it all). They found Jack buried head first up to his ankles in a bank, the only fatality. No one knows what happened.” (The Lawmen of Rossland)

The headline the next day read: “Center Star’s magazine explodes; powderman John Ingram dead, considerable damage to City.”

Three days later, Ingram, or what was left of him, was put aboard a train for St. Thomas where he was buried. Ingram was 55 year old.


My list of of interesting books about Canada (to date). You can add your favourites, too. Just send me a note with your choice, title and author, to


If you would like to learn more about my other books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.


Nellie Cashman

“The Angel of The Cassiar.”

nellie cashman - portraitEllen Cashman (1845 – January 4, 1925), better known as “Nellie,” was Born at Belvelly, near Cobh, County Cork in 1845, Cashman came to the United States around 1850 with her mother and her sister, settling in Boston. As an adolescent, Cashman worked as a bellhop in a Boston hotel. She and her family emigrated to San Francisco, California in 1865.

Following the onset of the Klondike Gold Rush, Cashman left her family home in 1874 for the Cassiar Mountains in British Columbia, Canada. A lifelong Catholic, she set up a boarding house for miners, asking for donations to the Sisters of St. Anne in return for the services available at her boarding house.

Cashman was traveling to Victoria to deliver 500 dollars to the Sisters of St. Anne when she heard that a snowstorm had descended on the Cassiar Mountains, stranding and injuring 26 miners, who were also suffering from scurvy. She immediately took charge of a six-man search party and collected food and medicine to bring to the stranded miners.

Conditions in the Cassiar Mountains were so dangerous that even the Canadian Army advised against the rescue. Upon learning of Cashman’s expedition, a commander sent his troops to locate Cashman’s party and bring them to safety.

An army trooper eventually found Cashman camped on the frozen surface of the Stikine River. Over tea, she convinced the trooper and his men that it was her will to continue, and that she would not head back without rescuing the miners.

After 77 days of unfriendly weather, Cashman and her party located the sick men, who numbered far more than 26; some estimates credit Cashman with saving the lives of as many as 75 men. She administered a Vitamin C diet to re-establish the group’s health. Thereafter, she was fondly known in the region as the “Angel of the Cassiar.”

nellie cashman's house copyLater in life, Cashman moved to Tombstone, Arizona. She raised money to build the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, and committed herself to charity work with the Sisters of St. Joseph. She continued to work as a caretaker, taking a position as a nurse in a Cochise County hospital.

In 1898, Cashman left Arizona for the Yukon in search of gold, staying until 1905. Her prospecting ventures took her to Klondike, Fairbanks, and Nolan Creek. She later owned a store in Dawson City.

In 1921, Cashman visited California, where she declared her desire to be appointed U.S. deputy Marshal for the area of Koyukuk. In 1922, the Associated Press documented her trip from Nolan Creek to Anchorage.

In January 1925, Cashman developed pneumonia and rheumatism. Friends admitted her to the Sisters of St. Anne, the same hospital that she had helped build 51 years before. She soon died of her illness and was interred at Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria, British Columbia.

On March 15, 2006, Nellie Cashman was inducted into the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame.


My list of of interesting books about Canada (to date). You can add your favourites, too. Just send me a note with your choice, title and author, to

Superintendent Sam Steele, North West Mounted Police

Canada’s toughest, gentleman police officer in history

Sam SteeleThe adventures of (Sir) Sam Steele should definitely put to rest any notion that Canada lacks a colourful history, or, indeed, adventurers the equal to Pat Garrett and Davy Crockett.

Samuel Benfield Steele was born on the family farm in 1851 in Simcoe County, Upper Canada (now Ontario), and spent much of his youth in the nearby Town of Orillia learning to ride and other useful skills that would serve him well in his later life. At age 14-years he enlisted in the militia formed to guard against Fenian cross-border raids, and from there he volunteered for the federal militia called together to restore order with the Métis in what is now Manitoba.

“The journey was an exercise in endurance,” writes Quan: “The troops marched across southern Ontario to Sault Ste. Marie, where they boarded ships bound across Lake Superior to what is now Thunder Bay. That was the easy part. From the lakehead, 965 kilometres (600 miles) of rock, rivers, muskeg, and heavy forest lay between the troops and their destination, Fort Garry on the Red River (now Winnipeg). There was no railway yet, and the road was nothing more than a trail blazed through the bogs and bush. In fact, for the most part the “road” was a water route of interconnected lakes and streams with numerous difficult portages through mud, swamps, and dense forest.”

Unfortunately, for Sam, the uprising was over by the time they arrived so the troops turned around and marched back to Ontario again. However, Sam stayed with the militia—now promoted to corporal at age nineteen—but when the new provincial government was in place the militia was disbanded as well. Nevertheless, the new Canadian government decided it wanted its own army to replace the British troops, traditional peacekeepers, and Sam quickly joined the recently established Canadian army—being the 23rd person to do so.

NWMP-march-1v7xxnpTwo years later however, in 1873, the federal government established a mounted police force for the West, the North West Mounted Police, and Sam saw his chance to get back to his beloved frontier. Therefore, in 1874 the now Sergeant Major Steele (age 23) began one of the most rugged marches that have ever taken place in Canada, across the vast, uncharted territory of the West.

“The going was tough for the already beleaguered group. Grasshoppers razed the grass, and rain turned the wagon track to deep mud. Quicksand was another hazard many men had never experienced. Sam, among the strongest in the troop, was continually called on to help wrestle horses, oxen, and cattle of boggy deathtraps.”

That was only part of the adventure. Having little grass to eat the horses became so weak that they frequently collapsed in their tracks. Therefore the men had to lift them and encourage them to walk a bit further before collapsing again. This prompted one of them to quip. “I thought I’d have an easy ride to the Rockies with a good horse to carry me. Instead I’m having a tough walk to Edmonton, with me carrying the horse.”

The march to Edmonton, 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles), ended on October 31, 1874, but not without one last struggle with nature.

“Sam was preparing for sleep when someone shouted that a horse was in trouble in a nearby creek. Grabbing a rope, he waded into the ice-cold stream and deftly passed the rope around the struggling horse, tossing the other end to men on the bank. But before Sam could get out of the water, the horse slipped, dragging Sam and several men down. In the dark, with only moments before men and horse succumbed to the freezing current, the quick-thinking man made it out of the water, then he hauled the next man out, and so on, until troops and horse were all free of the ice and water.”

This, then, was the stuff Sam Steele was made of, and only the beginning of his remarkable career that included chasing criminals, defying native leaders, upholding the law—and having the time of his life. Indeed, he saw the establishment of a nation, the signing of treaties, the resolution of a rebellion, the building of a railway, war in South Africa, and action in WWI.

In my opinion this bit of Canadian history should be made mandatory reading in every elementary school history course taught, and for every person who is preparing to become a citizen of this country, for therein is the essence of Canadian pioneer culture: Dedication, adherence to standards and perseverance.

See also:

Institut Dominion Historica Dominion – Visit it to view a short dramatic clip.

Sam Steele: The Wild Adventures of Canada’s Most Famous Mountie by Holly Quan.


My list of of interesting books about Canada (to date). You can add your favourites, too. Just send me a note with your choice, title and author, to


If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.


 Thanks for dropping by. Drop back soon for more Canadian history.

Shootout at Fortier’s Café

Canada’s wild, wild west…

gunfight2Thanks to the dime store novels and Hollywood larger-than-life approach to frontier history, most of the gunfights we know about are American. However, Canada has had its share of shootouts, too. Take the shootout outside Fortier’s Cafe in the gold mining community of Fisherville, British Columbia, in 1864.

Ironically, the dispute began between two factions who each wanted to be the law in Fisherville, and after much threatening talk the two agree to meet to talk things over. The players were a group of Americans under the leadership of William “Yeast Powder Bill” Denniston (a.k.a. Bill Burmeister); Robert “Overland Bob” Evans; and Neil Dougherty. The opposing side, mostly Canadians, was lead by a hot-tempered, mouthy Irishman named Thomas Walker. His lieutenants were William “Dancing Bill” Latham, John “Black Jack” Smyth and “Paddy” Skie.

The talk started peacefully enough but within a few minutes the two [walker and Dinniston] began shouting. Tom Walker, his temper boiling over, pulled his revolver from its holster, levelled it at Yeast Powder Bill and squeezed the trigger.

The range was point blank when the heavy pistol roared but, unfortunately for Walker, his hand was unsteady. The .45 slug missed Bill’s expansive chest by ripped away the thumb from his right hand. Walker tried to fire a second shot but his gun jammed. Yeast Powder Bill, howling in shock and pain, drew the pistol from his left holster and shot Walker through the heart. Walker died where he stood. It was his great bad luck that Bill was ambidextrous.

When Walker’s gun fired, Overland Bob Evans commenced shooting. This brought immediate return fire from Walker’s friends. Within seconds the shooting had become general and Evans lay prone in the dust with at least two bullets in his body. Although Evans was down his companions, thinking him dead, continued shooting.

cemetery, fishervilleWalker was dead, there was no doubt about that, and his friends, intent on avenging him, kept up a steady barrage of fire into the ranks of the Americans. For several minutes the scene was one of sheer chaos. The men who were armed with clubs closed and began to beat on each other. When the shooting finally stopped the air was heavy with the acrid smell of gun smoke. Both sides retreated to count casualties.”

Amazingly, Evens recovered from his wounds so Walker was the only actual casualty from the fracas.

Source: Wild Canadian West, by E.C. (Ted) Meyers

Thanks for dropping by. I update this page once or twice a week, so drop by to see what’s old.


My list of of interesting books about Canada (to date). You can add your favourites, too. Just send me a note with your choice, title and author, to


If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.


Martha Purdy-Black

“First lady of the Yukon”

martha purdy black2In 1898, Martha Purdy lived a comfortable life as a Chicago socialite with two small sons. Then gold-fever struck and her life changed forever.  Leaving her children with relatives, Purdy, her husband and her brother George joined the stampede of would-be prospectors to the Yukon. The Klondike Gold Rush was underway. “To me it was a quest that had all the allure of a ‘Treasure Island’ or ‘Aladdin’s Lamp,’ she wrote in her memoir. “I had only to go to the world-famed goldfields … and collect the gold. I pictured myself and my children living in luxury the rest of my days.” Marthas husband traveled with her to San Fransisco and went no further. Shortly afterwards, Martha discovered she was pregnant. Purdy and her brother continued up the West Coast by boat to the Alaska panhandle, then trekked to the treacherous Chilkoot Pass, at the border between Alaska and the Yukon.

martha purdy black“As I looked directly before me at the fearful mountain pass … I thought of my New England forebears, women who had bravely faced the hardships of pioneering, … Once again I knew that my path lay ahead, that there was no turning back now.”

Purdy was four months pregnant when she arrived in Dawson City in the Yukon – a booming outpost near the gold fields.  Filled with prospectors, the city overflowed with dance halls, theatres and saloons. Men outnumbered women 25 to one and it was said that “even an angel couldnt keep good in Dawson.” Purdy found a cabin overlooking the city.

“While I did not enter into the gaiety, I did have what sporting editors would call a ringside seat. We did not know when we squatted … that we had established ourselves above the red light district.”

While entertainment was everywhere, gold was not. By the time most prospectors arrived in the Klondike, the rich goldfields had already been staked out. By the summer of 1899, prospectors had panned most of the gold out of the territory. martha Pudy Black - MPDawson half emptied when rumours spread that gold was discovered in Nome, Alaska. But Purdy remained..

“I could not shake the lure of the Klondyke. My thoughts were continually of that vast new rugged country … Its stark and splendid mountains, its lordly Yukon River … its midnight sun.”

Purdy gave birth to a son Lyman, brought her other children north, and married a lawyer named George Black. Martha Black became know as the “First Lady of the Yukon” and was the second woman elected to the Canadian Parliament in 1935 at age 70.


My list of of interesting books about Canada (to date). You can add your favourites, too. Just send me a note with your choice, title and author, to


If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.