Drafting the CPR Scene

Steele Collection Men with Caboose

Men surrounding CPR caboose

Steele's account of the CPR strike went through a number of changes as the memoir was being written. In the Steele Collection there are five drafts of the scene, though at least two are duplicates that include editing marks from hands other than Steele’s. Besides his editor Mollie Glenn Niblett, Steele mentions that both his daughter Flora and wife Marie had edited the manuscript, as well as his cousin Esther McGregor and friend Roger Pocock.  Work is still ongoing to identify the different editors’ handwriting on the drafts.


Steele Collection MS 2008.

CPR camp

Examining the three distinct drafts, one sees that there is a shift in the way Steele portrays himself in the climactic scene on the bridge. In the oldest handwritten draft, which I am going to designate A, Steele described himself as overcome with anger that allowed him to get up from his sickbed and rush to the bridge where the strikers were gathering. When he got to the bridge, he recounted in manuscript A that he and George Johnston, justice of the peace, stood together and Johnston read the Riot Act to the strikers. In later typed drafts, B and C, the scene is almost the same though there are more details. In drafts B and C, details suggest Steele was sicker than he is portrayed in A, but he still calmly and purposefully—displaying great strength though very ill—moved to confront what were now described as rioters. In A the strikers were not styled as rioters. The final scene that appeared in the published memoir, which was almost identical to draft C, had Steele and Johnston reading the Riot Act, as the menfolk of Beaver Lake assembled behind them in silent support, ready to act if the rioters should turn on the NWMP. As an aside, note that Johnston’s name is misspelled in manuscript B and it is corrected in the next draft.

The strike scene in the memoir and its later embellishments in subsequent manuscript versions of Forty Years emphasize Steele’s strength, determination, and leadership in the face of overwhelming danger, as well as the support of the townsfolk for the NWMP. While this scene underwent revision, Steele had gone out of his way to confirm the basic facts and to reconcile differences of opinion, with his colleagues, Kerr and Johnston who were on the bridge with him facing the rioters, as well as Fury, Irving, and Ross, who were in the vicinity that day. Steele’s desire for accuracy extended to mailing Ross’s account of the incident to the others who had been at Beaver Lake on that day in 1885 so they could amend, add notes to, and comment on it.


The following documents include transcriptions.