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Piapot and Other Great Horsemen

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Stanley Harrison and Grant MacEwan have been close friends for years and their affection for each other warms the pages of this biography. Poet, philosopher, artist, and horseman, Harrison emerges as a man whom it is easy to like and respect. The Rhyming Horseman of the Qu'Appelle
Copyright 1978 by Grant MacEwan.
219 pages.

Stanley Harrison arrived in the Qu'Appelle Valley in the spring of 1902, in time to celebrate his seventeenth birthday. Dressed in his neat schoolboy clothes, he was conspicuously youthful, English, "green," and eager in his enthusiasm. He was of medium height with brown hair and the face and figure of a bright young Athenian from the day of Pericles. But nothing identified him more clearly than his sparkling eyes and ready smile. His brother Roland, with whom he was traveling, was five years older and used the advantage of his slight seniority to exercise a severe parental supervision. Both boys were searching for adventure such as England could no longer supply. It was by no means a frivolous purpose, and the brothers were ready to accept employment wherever it was likely to furnish useful experience and some needed dollars.

When the idea first came up of an exploratory journey to a remote part of the Empire, Roland had planned to go to Australia and alone, but the younger brother nagged until it was agreed that he could go along. Then, on the eve of departure, Lord Strathcona, a friend of the elder Harrison, spoke convincingly in favor of Canada. He could argue from experience, and the boys' father, James Harrison, an executive director with the internationally-known firm of Lever Brothers, listened attentively. Accepting Lord Strathcona's advice, the boys abandoned the idea of Australia in favor of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia where fruit growing was thought to offer rewarding opportunities.

But again Dame Fortune intervened and plans were altered, this time when the brothers paused at Winnipeg. There they made the acquaintance of a businessman who, trying to be helpful, urged the young travelers to break their journey at some point along the Qu'Appelle Valley where they might have a chance to assess the potential for farming in that part of the country. Susceptible to what seemed like well-meaning guidance, they left the railway at Qu'Appelle Station and traveled by stagecoach to Fort Qu'Appelle. Three or four miles south of the Valley, the driver paused to water his horses at the good well beside the trail, and the young Englishmen admired the natural parkland setting where Stanley Harrison would one day have his farm, "Stockwell."

Another thirty minutes of driving on that many-rutted trail brought the coach to the highest viewpoint on the south side of the Valley. Without waiting for more than a glance at the magnificent scenery, the driver, "old Tommy Johnson," invited all passengers to scramble out and walk to the bottom because, as he warned, the steep and zigzag trail down the hillside created dangers for the coach. The travelers, tired of the constant jolting administered by the heavy coach, were quick to take the hint. For those who had not seen the Valley before, the panorama of hills, trees, ravines, lakes, and blue sky made the descent stunningly lovely and unforgettable.

Stanley and Roland were far from home and knew it. More than that they were conspicuous and may have known that too. They looked and sounded as English as crumpets and four-o'clock tea, even though one parent-the mother whose maiden name was Strathearn - claimed Scottish ancestors and an Irish birthplace. That mother won respect and affection at home and later in Saskatchewan, as Stanley's address to her in after years showed:

Mother of mine, if the world should betray me,
Life should defeat me, hope tum to despair;
Then from damnation your memory would stay me,
Undaunted I'd rise on the wings of your prayer.
Mother of mine, though the years should pervert me,
Temptation claim toll of all ways that I trod;
Never, no never, could grace quite desert me,
For memory of you guards my pathway to God.

The Harrison name had been well known in Lancashire and Yorkshire for generations, and James Harrison, the boys' father, was recognized as an able and successful businessman, first with Lever Brothers, then with Joseph Watson and Sons. James Harrison's advancement in the international soap trade had necessitated changes in the family's place of residence. They lived for some years in Wigan, in the heart of Lancashire, where coal mining and cotton manufacturing furnished drive for industry. There was a brief period of residence in London, and then they made their home at Calverley, between Bradford and Leeds in Yorkshire. The elder Harrison's success ensured a high standard of living for all members of his family. They could feast upon English roast beef three times a week, steak-and-kidney pie or Lancashire hot-pot once or twice, and saltwater fish on in-between days. Their fine home, known as Elmwood, had an orchard, a tennis court, a rose garden, a conservatory with grapes hanging from the roof, and spacious lawns. "It had the things a small boy well remembers," said Stanley's younger brother Tom, adding "This was what we left to come to Canada." What Stanley remembered most clearly were the stable and carriage house which accommodated two or three horses, a few dogs, and at least two polished vehicles.

There had been nine children, and the parents were determined that their five surviving sons and three daughters would receive the best possible classical education, at least sufficient to prepare the girls for happy marriages and the boys for nothing less than clerical positions in business or the civil service. In those earlier years, the idea of fitting young people for life on a distant frontier was not considered. Stanley recalled long hours devoted to Greek translation at private and, later, public schools. But he harbored no complaint. Unlike many people with training in the classics, he retained a familiarity with the ancients, remembered particularly the poetry of Euripides and the tales from Homer, and voiced approval for the course of studies prescribed by his parents.

The family horses were sources of pride to all the Harrisons, but they were not of the breed to which Stanley was to give his lasting loyalty. They were beautiful Hackneys, high-stepping and stylish, a breed whose origin could be traced to the eastern counties and perhaps back to horses introduced centuries ago by Norse invaders. Anyway, the Hackneys were as English as bulldogs, and in those years before the general use of automobiles, there was no better way for a businessman to make his calls or for a well-to-do family to go into the country on a Sunday afternoon than with a pair of Hackneys hitched to a suitable vehicle. There were Hackney horses and Hackney ponies, and the Harrisons had both kinds.

Of the polished vehicles kept for the Harrison Hackneys, one was a basket type of cart, with a wicker body and two stout wheels. With a bit of crowding such as youngsters accept readily, it would carry all eight children at one time, with reasonable safeguards against any of the little darlings falling out. It was the oldest child's prerogative to drive, even though all the others wanted to do it.

The other vehicle-ultimately brought with the family possessions to Canada was a more sophisticated phaeton with seats forward and back. It demanded proper dress and proper behaviour of all passengers, adults and children alike. Younger members of the family found it irksome to sit straight and with dignity, like little ladies and gentlemen, even if the handsome turnout with father driving was enough to make townsmen stop and murmur, "There are the Harrisons; they drive fine horses."

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