Fort “Whoop-Up”

Canada’s bad ole days…

The exterior of Fort "Whoop-Up" around 1873-4. Notice the trade flag flying above the turret.;
The exterior of Fort “Whoop-Up” around 1873-4. Notice the trade flag flying above the turret.;

Established by Montana fur traders in 1869, Fort Whoop-Up was a whiskey post founded  by a group of unscrupulous traders bringing the proud Blackfoot Indians to a state of degeneration, taking their furs and guns in exchange for a potent drink called “Whoop-Up bug juice.”  This was made by mixing a quart of whisky, a pound of chewing tobacco, a handful of red pepper, a bottle of Jamaica ginger and a quart of molasses; the mixture was then diluted with water and heated to make “fire water.”

fort Whoop-Up" reconstruction.
fort Whoop-Up” reconstruction.

There were terrible massacres among the Indians and the white traders.  One of the worst was a battle at Cypress Hills, in May 1873, between a party of “wolfer” and a tribe led by Chief Little Soldier.  The “wolfers” were men who killed animals for their furs by spreading strychnine poison over the ground.  They were hated by the Indians and the other white fur traders.

The battle was started when a “wolfer” accused Little Soldier’s band of stealing his horse.  Later it was found grazing on a hillside, having just strayed away.  The “wolfers” rushed the Indian camp, killed Little Soldier and cut off his head, which they mounted on a pole.   They then murdered the women and their children.

The 778-mile "Great March" undertaken by the North West Mounted Police in 1874.
The 778-mile “Great March” undertaken by the North West Mounted Police in 1874.

This prompted the fledgling Canadian government to pass a Bill in May, 1873, that sought to bring order to the frontier, encourage settlement, and to establish Canadian authority through the creation of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP). One of the NWMP’s first goals was to control the trade at Fort Whoop-Up, but after a arduous march from Fort Gary, Manitoba, to Alberta (778 miles, and including Samuel Steele)  they found that it had been essentially abandoned. After unsuccessfully trying to buy it, the NWMP rented accommodations at the fort until 1888, when fire destroyed a large portion of the structure. By the early 1900s, the fort had become uninhabitable, with many of the early buildings removed or destroyed by flood or human salvage. In 1946, a commemorative cairn and plaque were placed at the fort, and in 1967 a replica was built in Indian Battle Park, nine kilometres to the northwest of the original location.

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The legend of “Fireaway” – the ‘voyageur’ horse…

An equine pioneer

An excerpt from Grant Macewan’s delight book, Blazing the Old Cattle Trail, Fifth House; Revised edition, 2000.

York Factory, Hudson Bay, Canada. It is located about 600 miles north of Winnipeg, Manitoba, know as Fort Garry in
York Factory, Hudson Bay, Canada. It is located about 600 miles north of Winnipeg, Manitoba, know as Fort Garry in  1830s.

Fur Trader Anthony Henday, after a notable trip through the unknown parts of Western Canada in 1755, returned to York factory, on Hudson Bay, with hard-to-believe tales about his adventures. Having penetrated into what is now Western Alberta, he was the first white man to see the Canadian Rockies and, still more astonishing to his Hudson Bay Company friends, to report seeing the Indians riding horses. Although his listeners had doubts, Henday was reporting truthfully. Natives of the Blackfoot tribes had recently acquired horses, mainly by theft from their more southerly neighbor’s. Hence, the white man had nothing to do directly with the introduction of horses to Western Canada.

The Selkirk Settlers were able to get horses for their immediate requirements from the Natives but, having known the massive and improved breeds of Scotland, England and Ireland, they were unimpressed by the small and broken-colored Indian cayuses. These latter were, however, hardy and sure-footed and, as historian Alexander Ross quite correctly said, “their appearance is not presupposing, but they are faster than they look. Few horses could be better adapted for the cart and the saddle, and none so good for the climate.”

But the local horses were not appreciated. To most people they were ugly and spiritless. Sharing that view, Governor George Simpson wrote: “some plan must soon be fallen upon to increase our stock and improve our breed of horses as they are becoming very scarce and of such small growth as to be quite unfit for our work.

“We should select good mares from the United States and from the stock at our own posts,” the governor added, “and get a superior stallion from England.” The result, he hoped, would be heavier horses for farming, and faster horses for buffalo hunting.

Delivering an English stallion at the Red River Colony would present unusual difficulties. But from York Factory Simpson made formal request to Hudson Bay Company officers in London, and under date of February 23, 1831, came the reply from Deputy Governor Nicolas Garry, “we shall send a stallion of a proper breed by ship to York Factory. We should think the experimental farm at Red River the best place to commence raising horses for service.”

 

A rendering of Fireaway being brought down the chain of rivers and lakes to the Selkirk Settlement.
A rendering of Fireaway being brought down the chain of rivers and lakes to the Selkirk Settlement.

That stallion was the famous Fireaway. On arrival at York Factory in the summer of 1831 he was transferred immediately to one of the oar-propelled York boats used on the route between Hudson Bay and Fort Garry. Hay and oats were carried but there were the many portages, at each of which the horse had to be unloaded and reloaded. It wasn’t easy and the horse didn’t like it any better than the men who were obliged to sit at the animal’s feet. Once the great horse fell out of the boat and swam to shore where he was caught and reloaded.

 

fireaway  - york boatNotwithstanding the numerous hazards created by a horse struggling constantly to balance himself in moving boat—call it a freight canoe or York Boat—George Simpson could report, ultimately, to London that the stallion “reached the settlement in perfect safety … and will soon give us a better breed of horses. He is looked upon as one of the wonders of the world by the natives, many of whom have travelled great distances with no other object than to see him.

For the breeding season following, twenty-five selected mares were brought from Athabaska River to Fort Garry and Twenty-five from Fort Carlton—long trail by any standards.

In due course there were foals bearing the clear marks of superiority; and in the years that followed, the maturing Fireaway horses came to be regarded as the swiftness buffalo runners and the most useful road horses in the country. Indeed, for 50 years thereafter the settlers of Red River talked about the speed and endurance of Fireaway stock. A horse know to be a great-grandson or great-granddaughter of Fireaway was likely to command a substantially better price than a horse of equal quality and unknown breeding.

Fireaway.
Fireaway.

As late as 1877, settlers in the Portage la Prairie area revived their affection for the memory of that horse, which was also the first purebred race in all of Western Canada. A stranger driving a fast horse blew into town a day or two before 24 of May and promptly challenged all comers to a matched race. With the honor of the community and the reputation of local horses at stake, townsmen came together for serious discussion. Settlers with swift horses were remembered, and thoughts turned to Farmer John Macdonald at High Bluff who had a nimble great-granddaughter of Fireaway. A message was dispatched: “Bring your mare to town at once. We need her for a race.”

Macdonald was plowing with a two-horse team when the exhausted courier reached him. Reluctantly, he unhitched the good mare and her mate from the walking plow, hitched them to his democrat and drove to Portage. Farmers and townspeople couldn’t honestly expect a homesteader’s plowhorse to win a race against a barnstorming flier from St. Paul but they recalled her breeding and nursed a silenthope. It was a great race; every pioneer who saw it agreed and, sure enough, the blood of Fireaway was still virile if not invincible and Macdonald’s mare, drawing a farm democrat and an exultant Scottish settler, came down the Portage la Prairie Street to leave the professional racer from Minnesota a convincing distance behind.

Men talked again about the greatness of Fireaway forgotten were the heroic men who accepted the nigh frightening task of bringing stallions from Hudson Bay to the as the location of Winnipeg when there was no means of transportation than a freight canoe.

Where did the famous stallion go ultimately? On that point there was speculation. According to one story, he was sold to a United States buyer; another report poll of the horse being stolen and whisked across the boundary, and still another, that his breeding worth he became so well established that he was taken back by way of Hudson Bay to England where he was used to produce steeple chasers.

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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.

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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.

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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 – https://www.historica-dominion.ca/content/heritage-minutes/sam-steele: Visit it to view a short dramatic clip.

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

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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

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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 gerrybbooks@yahoo.ca

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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.

      

Overlanders of 1862

Guts, grit and determination.

overlanders - cariboo goldGold was discovered in the late 1850s in the Cariboo Region of British Columbia’s southern interior, stretching from Cache Creek in the south to Quesnel in the north. When the first discovery was announced, people flocked to the area to stake their claims.

Before the torrent of excited miners arrived, British Columbia’s total population was 7,000 people. By July of 1859, approximately 33,000 miners had arrived in the area, eager to take home their portion of the profits.

Searching for a better life, a large group of Canadians left their Ontario homes to strike it rich in British Columbia’s gold fields. This group of 150* men, one woman (Mrs. August Schubert**) and her three children travelled for months across Canada until they reached Fort Edmonton (now Edmonton, Alberta) in 1862. Here, they restocked their supplies and prepared for the arduous journey across the Rocky Mountains.

overlanders - red river cartThe Overlanders travelled as far as they could with carts, oxen and horses carrying their supplies, but by Lac St. Anne, they had to abandon the last of their carts and continue onward carrying their supplies in heavy packs. The large group was soon spread thinly across 300 kilometres (186 miles) of the western prairies.

After the lead group of Overlanders crossed Yellowhead Pass, they camped at Cow Dung Lake, now known as Yellowhead Lake. This group was fighting starvation and while a few hunters in the group brought back squirrels and small birds, the group had to sacrifice some oxen and horses for the meat. Forging on with supplies of meat dried from their pack animals, this first group of Overlanders reached the Shuswap salmon-fishing camp at Tête Jaune Cache on August 27th. Here they traded much of their remaining ammunition, clothing, needles and thread, for much needed sustenance: salmon, huckleberries, saskatoons (berries) and pemmican.

On September 7, a second party of Overlanders passed Yellowhead Lake. Pausing there as well to replenish their supplies, they became trapped on an island by rapidly rising floodwaters. When the final group of Overlanders reached them, a few days later, the stranded party was nearing starvation. With the help of the new arrivals, everyone managed to get off the island and continue their trek. The final group of travellers reached Tête Jaune Cache on September 16.

Trials and Tribulations

overlanders - crossing swampFrom Tête Jaune Cache, the group divided again, choosing to take different routes to the lucrative Cariboo gold fields. The larger group decided to take the Fraser River to Fort George and then head south to Quesnel. They made canoes for their trip from hollowed-out cottonwood logs and ox hides and travelled down the first stretch of the Fraser quite easily. When they reached the Grand Canyon of the Fraser, a short gorge about 30 kilometres (18 miles) upstream from the confluence of the Bowron River, disaster struck. Caught in the tumultuous Scow Rapids, canoes were overturned and torn apart. Four men died from drowning or hypothermia and many supplies were lost. Worn down and badly beaten by the day’s events, the group pressed on, reaching Fort George on October 8.

overlanders - rapids on fraserA smaller group of Overlanders left Tête Jaune Cache and travelled overland up the McLennan River, which flows north into the Fraser River. Thinking they could make the trek to the gold fields by land, they purchased over 100 head of cattle and horses. Soon, the travellers discovered they would be forced to take the Thompson downriver to reach their destination. In preparation, they slaughtered their cattle and turned their horses loose. They constructed rafts and began their journey down the Thompson River to Fort Kamloops. This second group ran into trouble in the Murchison rapids and Hells Gate where two men died. The rest of the group arrived in Fort Kamloops in October of 1862.

While both groups suffered great losses, the majority of the travellers survived the epic journey and went on to take part in the Cariboo Gold Rush. The hardships they experienced and the perils they encountered, especially between Jasper and Tête Jaune Cache and in the canyons and rapids of the Fraser and North Thompson rivers, make their journey one of the most impressive events in Canadian travel history.

*This number varies from 150 – 200+.

**Mrs. Schubert gave birth to her fourth child the day after their arrival at Fort Kamloops.

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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 gerrybbooks@yahoo.ca

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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.

      

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