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The Frontier

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Frederick Haultain, Inially a reluctant Participant in politics, became the leading statesman of his day. He spent twenty-five years in the territorial government and is reputed to have beeen the greatest parliamentary debater of his time. Frontier Statesman of the Canadian Northwest
Frederick Haultain
Copyright 1985 Western Producer prairie books
198 pages,
ISBN 0-88833-147-9.

"So this is Calgary!" Frederick Haultain muttered unenthusiastically as he stepped to the station platform on that September day in 1884. He was glad to be leaving the train after being imprisoned in it for four long days from Toronto, with nothing better for a seat or bed than the slatted accommodation invented for economy rather than comfort. The train was two hours late, which was not unusual, but what the Indians were calling an "iron horse" was still enough of a novelty in these parts to bring most people in the unincorporated village flocking to the station to see it arrive. The rails reached Calgary in the previous year and construction of the transcontinental Canadian Pacific was now concentrated in the mountains.

The September sun was warm and friendly and the Rocky Mountains, capped with early autumn snow, stood out clearly as though edged with a sharp knife. But the Calgary community was still a shapeless thing, consisting of the Mounted Police fort, two trading posts, James Reilly's wood structure described flatteringly as the Royal Hotel, James Walker's sawmill, George Murdoch's harness shop, and an assortment of tents and shacks looking as though they had been positioned by scattergun. A recent count showed a population of 428 but cynics insisted that this total was reached by including itinerant freighters and visiting Indians and their dogs.

The place did well to have a newspaper, the Calgary Herald,a weekly preparing to publish daily, and its reporter was sufficiently alert to recognize Frederick Haultain stepping from the train as one of the strangers worthy of an interview. The next issue of the Heraldnoted that: "Mr. F. W. Haultain arrived in town last Wednesday, en route to Fort Macleod where he will enter partnership with Mr. McCaul. Mr. Haultain is a rising young man and we feel sure he will make his mark in his new home."l

The "rising young man" had not seriously considered Calgary as a place in which to practice law, but the stagecoach to Fort Macleod would not depart until the next day and there was no reason why he should not examine the prospects at this place which seemed to cling to the Elbow River more than to the Bow. The fort on the west side of the Elbow was the real reason for Calgary's existence and was still the scene of most local activity. Otherwise, there was more stir on the east side of the river than on the west, With the advantage of a railroad, the place could be expected to grow and prosper but the prospect did not seem sufficient to warrant a change of plans; Haultain would continue on to Fort Macleod, for better or for worse,

It was a hundred trail-miles from Calgary to Fort Macleod and there was no faster or easier way of making the journey than by stagecoach, An improvement had been made in the service and Haultain would be travelling in one of the new Concord coaches, with seating for six passengers on the inside and four on the top. As everybody knew, the inside seats offered the best protection from the weather, with the least amount of jolting as wheels rattled over rough terrain; seats on the top of the coach, on the other hand, offered the best view of the landscape and the maximum of freedom for chewers of tobacco.

Haultain and fellow passengers on that southbound trip considered themselves fortunate to be travelling with the famous driver, Frank Pollinger-better known as "Polly." Nothing short of disaster would prevent Polly from delivering his passengers on time, He might be guilty of frightening his charges at times, especially if he found them ungrateful or troublesome. And he did nothing to dispel a popular image of the daredevil driver of the West, dashing along the trail with the reins to his spirited horses in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other,

Leaving a departure point, Polly's long whiplash snapped like gunfire and his four-horse team dashed away at a gallop. Passengers held their breath but as soon as the coach was beyond the view of spectators, Pollinger's horses settled into a fairly steady jogging gait. Polly wanted them to conserve enough energy for another spurt of speed just before arrival at the next stopping place, He gave the impression of being reckless but his record in avoiding accidents was one of the best.

Horses were changed at intervals and by the new schedule, coaches went through from Calgary to Fort Macleod in two days-unless there was some unexpected delay. It was a land without bridges and at some seasons of the year, floods and unfavorable ice conditions presented difficulties, delays, and dangers at Fish Creek, Sheep River, Tongue Creek, Highwood River, Mosquito Creek, and Oldman River. Fording these streams was not regarded as dangerous in September but on Haultain's trip, an eroded bank at the relatively quiet Tongue Creek caused the wheels on one side to drop enough to throw the coach on its side. But Pollinger retained control and the stage was quickly returned to its wheels without damage or injUry.

Nobody made this journey as Haultain was doing in 1884 without passing one or more of the celebrated "bull trains" loaded with freight. Such a train consisted commonly of six, seven, or eight pairs of oxen hitched tandem and hauling up to twenty tons of freight on three heavy-duty wagons. Most of the outfits moving between Fort Benton, Montana, and Calgary at that time were owned by the I. G. Baker Company and were made additionally distinctive by the unusual men who guided them. Known as "bull drivers" or "bull skinners," they were generally boastful fellows who would not allow a mouthful of chewing tobacco to hamper their oratory as they addressed their oxen and filled the air with their own brands of profanity. The young Haultain had heard about this peculiar race of frontier characters and now, for the first time, he was seeing them and hearing them swear as they negotiated the crossing at the Highwood.

Farther south on the trail, the stagecoach passed the first big flock of sheep to enter the country, 8,000 head being driven from Montana to stock one of the Cochrane ranches. Inching northward at about five or six miles per day, the flock's destination would be the Cochrane headquarters at Big Hill, west of Calgary. Stagecoach passengers agreed that it was a bold experiment in a country where cattlemen detested both sheep and sheepmen.

But for the young man from the East, conspicuous by neat clothes and quiet and refined manners, nothing was more impressive than the foothills and mountain landscape to the west and the expanses of level grassland to the east. It was a glorious setting and the slightly inebriated driver pointed to the crescentshaped rise in the clouds over the mountain horizon to the southwest, saying, "That's the chinook arch; it means chinook winds tomorrow. If this was winter, the snow'd be melting."

Finally, after fording the Oldman River and giving every passenger a vision of midstream disaster on riverbed rocks, a few dim lights from kitchen windows signalled arrival at Fort Macleod. The frontier community was exactly ten years old, having been founded where the long and uncertain trek of the North West Mounted Police terminated in 1874 and where men of the new force hastened to construct protection against oncoming winter and the possibility of Indian attack.

Fort Macleod, as Frederick Haultain was to see it, was on the outer edge of civilization. The police post was bigger than that at Calgary and the I. G. Baker Company store managed by D. W. "Big Man" Davis did more business than its counterpart at Elbow River. But here in the southern section of the new country were more of those rare frontier characters, including a collection of remittance men and reformed whiskey traders. Here was the clearest evidence of the recent buffalo slaughter, and here was Harry "Kamoose" Taylor's Hotel Macleod which would have been out of place anywhere else in the world.

Where else could a person expect, by hotel rules, to be awakened at 6 A.M. so that the bed sheets could be used as tablecloths in the dining room, or be reminded that all patrons must remove boots and spurs before retiring in hotel beds for the night? Customers were warned that dogs were not allowed to sleep in hotel beds, and advised that they must pay extra for soap. Fort Macleod might, indeed, become the cowboy capital of the world, but for the young man fresh from Ontario the scene was puzzling and he wondered, momentarily, why anybody would choose such a place for the practice of law. But Frederick Haultain was not one to run away and after a night's lodging at Taylor's hotel, he paid a visit at the office of lawyer C. C. McCaul, with whom he had exchanged brief letters. The interview was friendly but McCaul was not anxious to have a partner and Haultain left the office of his friend with a determination to try the practice of law alone. First of all, he would be obliged to rent an office which, as he understood very well, would create a financial problem inasmuch as his total remaining wealth upon arrival in the town was exactly $40.

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