Cowboy Soldiers

Donald Smith was an apprentice clerk for the Hudson’s Bay Company who, through hard work and perseverance, worked his way through the ranks to become the company’s chief executive officer and, eventually, its major shareholder.

A photograph of the Vernon contingent of Lord Strathcona`s Horse.Click to enlarge,
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Vernon Contingent, Lord Strathcona’s Horse. Courtesy of the Vernon Museum

He was the chief financial backer for, and an enthusiastic supporter of, the CPR and was invited to drive in the last spike when the railway was completed in 1885. In 1896, Smith was appointed Canadian High Commissioner in London and became active in British political affairs. The following year he was made a British peer and took the name Lord Strathcona.

Lord Strathcona strongly supported Canada’s role in the British Commonwealth. When Britain became embroiled in the South African War, he offered to raise and equip a mounted regiment in Canada at his own expense. The regiment, named Strathcona’s Horse, was to consist of three squadrons, one to be raised in Manitoba, one in the Northwest Territories (present-day Alberta and Saskatchewan) and one in British Columbia. Strathcona’s Horse members were recruited from the Mounted Police and from the ranches of western Canada. The ranching community of British Columbia was well represented, contributing a large number of experienced horsemen, mostly hard-riding cowboys. On March 18, 537 officers and men and 599 horses sailed from Halifax.

A photograph of members of Lord Strathcona`s Horse. Click to enlarge,
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Members of Lord Strathcona’s Horse. Courtesy of the Vernon Museum

The tenacity, stamina, and initiative of the rugged westerners were ideal to combat the Afrikaners’ unorthodox, guerrilla tactics. Because of these qualities and their superb horsemanship, the Strathconas became scouts for the advancing army and were often the first to make contact with the enemy, resulting in dozens of casualties.

In January of 1901, the regiment received word that it was to be recalled to Canada. The men were delighted to learn that they were to return via London. They arrived in London on February 14 and their patron, Lord Strathcona, greeted them for the first time. They were given a royal welcome and received their medals from King Edward VII in person. Twelve members of Strathcona’s Horse lost their lives in action in South Africa, including Edmond Parker of the Kootenays, and Private William Henry Ingram, son of the original settler at Grande Prairie (now Westwold).