Steele Collection MS 2008.

Portrait of Sam Steele in 1891

In 1906, Samuel Benfield Steele decided to write his memoir, Forty Years in Canada, about his role upholding imperial law and order first in Canada as a Mountie in the North West Mounted Police (NWMP). The book also covered his time in South Africa, where he commanded Lord Strathcona’s Horse in the second Boer War, and where after the war, he helped to develop the South African Constabulary. He viewed his book as an important history of the early years of Canada and his role in protecting the British Empire. Since its publication over one hundred years ago, Forty Years in Canada has more often than not been accepted by readers as fact, but its publication history shows it is other than fact. This exhibition explores the complicated publication history of Forty Years in Canada—a fascinating narrative of Steele’s apparent involvement in every event of Canada’s first four decades as a nation.


Steele Collection FC 3216.3 S7 A4 1915

Forty Years in Canada title page

Believing he could not simply rely on memory in writing the manuscript, Steele invited his network of former colleagues and friends to send him their reminiscences so he could check his manuscript against their remembrances of the events. While Steele repeatedly stated accuracy was his principle aim, the surviving drafts of his manuscript and his correspondence tell another story. Research shows Steele borrowed his colleagues’ letters, taking their first-person accounts and making them his own. Reading the description published in Forty Years of a buffalo stampede witnessed during a march, one might not suspect that the passage was from someone else’s account and that Steele had most likely not even been on that march. Steele borrowed accounts from his colleagues’ letters in order to place himself at the centre of the action, as well as to highlight significant experiences and moments in a Mountie’s life. Borrowed passages from this correspondence also helped to solidify the image of both Steele, as an individual, and of the Mounties as a force, i.e. the Mountie “always got his man.” The documents in this exhibition not only tell the story of Steele’s borrowing but also the protracted process he went through to see his memoir published.


Images in this exhibition may be reproduced on the condition that proper copyright permissions have been obtained (if applicable) and that the following citation is displayed with the image: “Image courtesy of Bruce Peel Special Collections, University of Alberta.”


Curator: Alison Rukavina

Editing: Cheryl Cundell

Programming and Design: Natasha Nunn

Photography and Scanning: Jeff Papineau

Transcriptions: Rebecca Robinson

Special Assistance: Samantha Nugent and Jesse Carson

Program Coordinator (Peel Digital Exhibitions): Linda Quirk

cover of memoir

Forty Years in Canada

About the Curator

Alison Rukavina ( is a professor of English literature; she has taught at University of Alberta and Texas Tech University. Dr Rukavina specializes in nineteenth-century British and colonial literature and print culture. She published The Development of the International Book Trade, 1870-1895: Tangled Networks in 2010 and is currently writing her second book on iconic Canadian Mountie Sam Steele and the dysfunctional publishing history of his memoir.