CPR Strike Letters

Steele Collection MS 2008.

Ross to Steele, 9 January 1911, with typed document of Ross's CPR strike reminiscences

Steele Collection MS 2008.

Ross to Steele, 23 January 1911

James Ross

In 1911, James Ross, who had been a shareholder and Lord Strathcona’s advisor in the CPR, responded to Steele’s request for information by sending him a “narrative of his most interesting experiences with the Mounted Police.” Ross, in his narrative dated 9 January 1911, sketched the NWMP’s involvement with the CPR and noted that he remembered sending help to Steele and the Beaver Lake detachment when there was a standoff between the rioting strikers and the NWMP.

Ross’s account of the events of 1885 in the document did not match Steele’s remembrances of the standoff: Steele remembered it starting after Ross had riled up the strikers and the NWMP had tried to arrest the supposed instigator(s) of the riot. Still, Steele wanted to be fair to Ross and corroborate the accuracy of his own account, so he wrote to former colleagues who were with him during the standoff at Beaver Lake. Steele would use his social network, asking Dr Lewis Erskine Irving, who had been at Beaver Lake during the incident, as well as other former NWMP members, not only to gather facts but also fact check and try and reconcile differences between different accounts. 

Ross sent Steele a second letter, dated 23 January 1911, in which he suggested Steele include illustrations in the book and offered to help his friend get his memoir published.


Steele Collection MS 2008.

Steele to Iriving, 13 January 1911


Steele wrote to his friend Dr Lewis Erskine Irving, who had served in the Boer War and in 1911 was the chief medical officer in Alberta, telling him about the memoir and asking for “pointers about the strike in the mountains.” Irving had been present during the strike, so Steele could compare and reconcile the different accounts. He also asked Irving to visit Sergeant William Fury who had also been under Steele’s command in Beaver Lake during the strike. Irving was to see if Fury could corroborate Ross’s narrative.

“I have recollection except that after we had captured Hugh Behan I sent for a locomotive to take him up to Palliser in case the desperadoes would attack the gaol and get him out. I know perfectly all that I did and that Fury did and what was done next day. But I want collaboration of the enclosed statement. You know Furys address and can readdress the letter to him or you might be able to see from and get his notes for me but do not go to any extra trouble. I shall be much indebted to you if I can get this.”


Steele Collection MS 2008.

Irving to Steele, 23 January 1911, includes marked up Ross document with Fury and Irving's recollections

Irving and Fury

Irving responded on 23 January 1911 with both his and William Fury’s recollections of the event and corroborated Steele’s remembrances that “all the assistance James Ross gave was order Engine and Caboose to take Hugh Behan up to Palliser where he was fined $100.” While Ross remembered sending men and a train to the NWMP’s aid during the stand off with the angry workers, Steele and his colleagues only recollected Ross offering to take Behan, who was sympathetic to the strikers, to jail.