Chapter 9. Warriors in the Watershed
As the Elbow winds its way across the City limits, it is winding its way through an area that echoes with the boots of a multitude of temporary watershed residents. Since the establishment of Fort Calgary by the NWMP in 1875 to the present day, the small Elbow River watershed has had a disproportionately dominant military presence within the Calgary region, and indeed within southern Alberta.
Several of the first settlers in the western Elbow watershed, including T.K. Fullerton, Meopham Gardner and Louis Blache, had early military experience, involved as they were in quelling the 1885 North West Rebellion of the Metis. When the new century dawned, and volunteers were required for the Boer War in South Africa, the Calgary-area Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) (LSHRC) took up the challenge and proved themselves excellent shock troops and scouts. Equipped with 600 sturdy western cowponies and western saddles, Stetson hats (later the NWMP’s official headgear), Lee-Enfield rifles, lassoes and revolvers, they were mainly rangetoughened bachelors who could ride and shoot with the best of them — just what was needed to deal with the Boers.
Several settlers brought their South African conflict experience back into the watershed. Major Patrick (Paddy) Drummond of the Irish Fusiliers served in the first Boer War, then emigrated to Springbank to homestead and run the first store in the area: Drummond’s “Emporium” as it was grandly called, a landmark on the Springbank Trail (where Springbank Road meets Highway 22 today). Richard Cox, who had joined the British Army at 17 as a young bugler and served in the Boer War, also settled in Springbank. He was subsequently recalled to England to fight in World War I. Leaving his wife and five children to run the farm, he returned safely to live long into his nineties. Joseph Robinson, RG’s eldest son who handled the cattle side of the Elbow Park Ranch business, joined the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles (CMR) in Calgary at the age of 24 for a new challenge. He saw plenty of action in South Africa throughout 1901 (where his closest call was having the maple leaf shot off his hat), before returning to the Elbow valley ranch.
The brief conflict in South Africa had made the deficiencies of the 35,000-member Canadian militia volunteers glaringly apparent, and steps were immediately taken to improve their training. From 1901 to 1911, summer militia training camps were held on the Colonel James Walker estate beside the Bow River in Calgary’s Inglewood district