This Week in Western Canadian History
May 2 - May 8
May
2
1670

On May 2, 1670, King Charles of England granted the Hudson's Bay Company a charter. It entitled the "Governor and Company of Adventurers of England" sole rights to trade and commerce as "Lordes and Proprietors" of "all the Landes Countreyes and Territoryes upon the Coastes and Confynes of the Seas" lying within the Hudson Strait. In effect, this granted the Company a trading monopoly and virtual rights of governance in the vast territories that became known as Rupert's Land. In exchange, the Company had to pay "two Elkcs and two Black beavers" to the King whenever he or his successors visited the territory (a payment that was made only four times in the Company's history). This agreement lasted until 1859, when the Company's exclusive trade license expired and wasn't renewed. In 1869, after extensive negotiations, the Company agreed to surrender Rupert's Land to the Crown. In 1870, Manitoba and later the North-West Territories became part of the new country of Canada.

May
5
1826

The winter of 1825-26 was unusually severe in the Red River Settlement. It started early with a series of heavy snowfalls and ended with a sudden spring thaw and heavy rains in April. The rivers rose steadily between May 3 and 4 the Red River rose five feet. On the afternoon of May 5, the ice that was holding back the water suddenly gave way. Trees, cattle, and 47 houses were swept away in the first half-hour. As the rain continued to fall and the river rose, the Hudson's Bay Company sent out boats to rescue stranded colonists from roof tops. By the time the water began to recede at the end of May, five people had died and the damage to livestock and property almost destroyed the infant community.

May
6
1877

Sitting BullFollowing the defeat of Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn in June of 1876, Dakota (Sioux) Chief Sitting Bull and 5,000 of his people fled north. After crossing the border from Montana into Canada on May 6, 1877, the band made their way to the Wood Mountain area of southern Saskatchewan, where they petitioned the Canadian government for a reserve. Sitting Bull at Fort WalshThe Canadian government, concerned about the possibility of conflict with Canadian bands and unwilling to oppose the United States government, refused the request for land and food. Under threat of starvation, more and more of Sitting Bull's people drifted back across the border until finally, Sitting Bull himself returned to the United States to face trial.

May
6
1898

DawsonFollowing the discovery of gold in the Yukon in 1896, thousands of goldseekers headed north. Within two years, the town of Dawson became a temporary home to more than 30,000 minders and camp followers. The North-West Mounted Police established a detachment that maintained order amidst the chaos, but as tensions with the American government in Alaska Dawson Guardgrew, a military force was sent to assert Canadian sovereignty in the region and to assist the NWMP in maintaining law and order. On May 6, 1898, the Yukon Field Force -- 203 officers and men from the Canadian Militia -- left Vancouver for the north. A year later, when the goldrush was effectively over, half the force was withdrawn; the other half left the following year.

May
8
1906

Billy MinerIn Canada's first train robbery, Bill Miner -- known as the "Gentleman Bandit" or the "Grey Fox" -- and two accomplices held up the Canadian Pacific express near Kamloops, British Columbia, and made off with $15.00 in cash and a package of patent medicine. After a gunfight in which a police officer and one of the robbers were wounded, the three were captured and sent to trial. Miner was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in the New Westminster Penitentiary. In August of 1907, he escaped and fled to the United States where he unsuccessfully pursued his career of robbing trains. He died in a Georgia prison in 1913.

May
4
1909

As traffic on the Canadian Pacific line increased, the steep grades over the Kicking Horse Pass in the Rockies -- up to 4.5 percent in some areas -- made operation both difficult and uneconomic. Railway officials considered several options to reduce the grade, including locating the route over a different pass or building a hydroelectric plant and operating hydroelectric trains over the steep sections. Finally it was decided to build "spiral tunnels" -- looping tunnels in which the rails crossed over themselves so that the length of the line was doubled, and the grade halved. The Upper and Lower Spiral Tunnels (992 m and 891 m long respectively) were constructed and completed on May 4 and May 5, 1909, successfully reducing the maximum grade to 2.3 percent. The cost of the tunnels and grade work was $1.5 million. Five lives were lost during the construction.

May
8
1914

Thanks to the generosity of the local Hudson's Bay Company, thousands of Calgary school children and local citizens spent the day planting trees and shrubs in celebration of Arbor Day. The holiday was instituted by the federal government to beautify towns and cities across the country by planting trees and greenery.

May
7
1920

Catalogue CoverThe Group of Seven opened their first exhibition at the Art Gallery of Toronto. Although the initial reviews from the critics were generally favourable, the exhibition was not popular with the public, and only three of over 100 works sold. But the popularity and influence of the Group grew, and today they are icons of Canadian art.

May
2
1923

During prohibition in Alberta, a steady stream of liquor flowed through the Crowsnest Pass in southern Alberta. Emilio Picariello, known as "Emperor Pic," ran the Blairmore Hotel which was one of the distribution centres in the illegal traffic. In September, 1922, Picariello's son Steve, driving a Alberta Provincial PoliceMcLaughlin with a full cargo of liquor, ran an Alberta Provincial Police roadblock. APP Constable Steve Lawson shot at the fleeing vehicle and wounded the young Picariello. Apparently unaware that his son's injury was minor, the senior Picariello, accompanied by friend Florence Lassandro, confronted Lawson. An argument developed and Picariello shot and killed the policeman. The pair were charged and convicted of murder. Protesting their innocence to the end, Emilio Picariello and Florence Lassandro were hanged for the murder of Alberta Provincial Police Constable Steve Lawson on May 2, 1923.

May
4
1932

A number of temporary "tent towns" sprang up along the shores of the Red Deer River in central Alberta as word of a gold dust discovery spread. Several groups of unemployed men were prospecting along the river banks, hoping to find enough dust to live on through the long winter months.

May
8
1945

After the surrender of German forces on May 7, Canada celebrated V-E (Victory in Europe) Day on May 8. Across the country, Canadians marched in parades, attended church services, and crowded downtown centres in demonstrations of joy and relief. Despite unseasonably cold weather, Calgarians celebrated with an outdoor service of thanksgiving, which was mixed with sadness for those who wouldn't be coming home. Police reported a quiet evening with only a few cases of minor vandalism and false fire alarms. Much of this activity was blamed on high school seniors who were celebrating their reprieve from compulsory military service. The parents of the first baby boy born in a Calgary hospital that morning named him "Victor" in honour of the occasion.

May
4
1951

With the advent of television, Canadian parents were advised to be more concerned than ever about the health of their children's eyes. In some urban areas the sale of television sets was up ten-fold from the previous year. The head of the federal government's Blindness Control Division anticipated the trend would continue throughout the country. While he acknowledged there was no proof that television was bad for the eyes, he emphasised that unimpaired eyesight was more important than ever. He expressed particular concern about Western Canada, where there were few facilities for eye care outside the major centres. In Alberta, there were oculists in only four cities and none in the northern part of the province.

May
3
1959

In 1844, four Grey Nuns (formally the Sisters of Charity of the Hospital General of Montreal) answered the call from the bishop of St. Boniface in the Red River Settlement, and made the difficult and sometimes dangerous two-month journey by canoe from Montreal to the Metis community. The Sisters started the first school for girls, treated the sick, and assisted in services. They travelled across the prairies to teach and minister to the Metis who lived away from the settlements along the Red River. Eventually the order set up schools and hospitals in native communities across the Northwest and in northern Canada. On May 3, 1959, Marie-Marguerite d'Youville, founder of the Grey Nuns, became the first Canadian-born person to be beatified, one of the steps on the way to canonization (or sainthood).

May
2
1986

Prince Charles and Princess Diana, the Prince and Princess of Wales, officially opened Expo 86 in Vancouver, British Columbia. The world's fair was based on a theme of transportation and communication, symbolised as "World in Motion, World in Touch." Before the fair it was estimated that six million people would visit the site; by the time Expo 86 closed on October 12, over 20 million visitors had enjoyed the pavilions, exhibitions, restaurants, and entertainment.



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