Q: Who is Samuel Benfield Steele?
A: Born in Orillia, Ontario, on January 5, 1849 (some sources give Jan. 5, 1851 and Jan. 5, 1852 as his date of birth), Samuel Benfield Steele came from a strong military background. He was educated at Torontos Royal Military School, served as a Sergeant in the Canadian Militia, and then joined the 1st Ontario Rifles. He joined the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) in 1873 as a Troop Sergeant Major and was one of the officers to lead the new recruits of the NWMP on the March West in 1874.
A true icon of the Canadian West, Superintendent Sir Samuel Benfield Steele of the NWMP was instrumental in bringing law and order to the North-West Territory during the later 1800s. From his 1874 participation in the March West, to his pivotal role during the Klondike Gold Rush, he won worldwide acclaim. His fierce determination and daring exploits have become the stuff of legend, retold and celebrated by each new generation of Canadians.
In 1890, he married Marie Elizabeth de Lotbinière Harwood and together they had three children.
In 1900, Steele was offered command of Lord Strathconas Horse by Donald Alexander Smith, 1st Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal and the Canadian Pacific Railway tycoon. Lord Strathconas Horse was a privately raised Canadian light cavalry unit for British Imperial service in the South African War. For his service, Steele was decorated by King Edward VII and was made a Commander of the Bath and a Member of the Victoria Order. On his return to Canada in 1907, Steele assumed command of Military Division No. 10 (Winnipeg), where he spent his time regrouping the Lord Strathconas Horse as a permanent unit in the Canadian Army and in preparing his memoirs.
At the outbreak of the First World War, Steele was given command of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division until the force was sent to France. He was then given a British administrative post as Officer Commanding the South-East District of England, a position he retained until his retirement on July 15, 1918.
He was knighted on January 1, 1918, and died of influenza on January 30, 1919, just after his 70th birthday. He was later buried in St. Johns Cemetery in Winnipeg on July 3, 1919.
Q: What is the Sir Samuel Steele Collection and why is it important?
A: Steele left a detailed and exhaustive record of his life, on patrol and campaign, in thousands of pages of letters, diaries, and photographs. However, because the Steele Collection was virtually unknown to scholars, major gaps exist in the published biographies of Steele, and also in the histories of the early settlement and policing of western Canada and the Klondike Gold Rush, Canadas major military campaigns at home and abroad, and the nineteenth-century history of the Mounted Police. This collection offers a unique and personal perspective on Canadas history.
The personal records of Sir Sam Steele will provide new insight into the history of the Canadian West, the RCMP and Canadas military history. They richly document the life and career of a Canadian hero a model Mountie and soldier. The Collection contains a wealth of primary source material which, when made available for research and scholarship, will serve to illuminate and enrich the Canadian historical tapestry.
Q: What kinds of items and artifacts does the Collection contain?
A: In addition to Steeles medals, uniforms, and military accoutrements, this unique collection includes his correspondence, manuscript memoirs, pocket-diaries, journals, notebooks, staff diaries, standing order books, official reports, scrapbooks, printed papers, and photographs that document his career as a militiaman, mounted policeman, and soldier, from the Fenian Raid of 1866, through the Red River Rebellion of 1870, policing the prairies in the 1870s and 1880s, commanding Steeles Scouts during the 1885 North-West Campaign, policing the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush, and forming and commanding Lord Strathconas Horse in the South African War, to commanding the second Canadian contingent in the First World War.
Steeles extensive correspondence with his wife, Marie Elizabeth de Lotbinière Harwood (18591951), began before their marriage in 1890, and continued almost daily during lengthy separations, until his death; Maries letters and diaries are present. The personal papers of their son, Harwood Steele (18971978), soldier, arctic explorer, journalist, and author, are also included in the Collection. While the majority of the papers were generated by Sir Sam Steele, his wife, and son, there are also significant documents and correspondence from Steeles many friends and associates in the North-West Mounted Police and military, including Superintendent Alexander R. Macdonell and Commissioner Lawrence William Herchmer, as well as such notables as Father Albert Lacombe, Sir Robert Borden, Dr Fredrick Borden, Sir John Carson, Sir Sam Hughes, Sir Robert Baden-Powell, General Sir Redvers Buller, General Sir Arthur Currie, Sir Leslie Rundle, and many other significant figures in Canadian and British imperial history.
The Collection also contains the papers, journals, diaries, letters, and publications of long-time Steele family friend Capt Roger Pocock, one-time North-West Mounted Policeman, adventurer, journalist, novelist, and founder of the Legion of Frontiersmen. The Pocock fonds fill four boxes. Steele also preserved the Red River Expedition diaries and maps of Lt.-Col. Griffiths Wainwright and Ensign Stewart Mulvey, and the NWMP staff diaries of Superintendent Alexander Macdonell.
Q: Why is Canada repatriating the Collection?
A: Following appraisal, the historic significance of the Collection to Canada and Canadians soon became apparent. Only small quantities of Sam Steele materials, primarily official government records, are to be found in either British or Canadian institutional depositories, such as Library and Archives Canada and the RCMP Museum and Archives in Regina. In recent years, a few of Steeles letters to his lawyer and business manager have been offered for sale in the antiquarian market, but no institution, in Canada or abroad, possesses anything comparable to this collection. Acquisition of the Steele Collection warranted major funding support and required swift action.
Q: What organizations are involved in the repatriation?
A: The process of acquiring this collection has been a collaborative effort between many partners, organizations and corporations with the University of Alberta Libraries taking the lead and providing a home for the bulk of the Collection. The Glenbow Museum has provided funds and will provide a home for the military artifacts in the Collection.
Major funding was also provided by:
Government of Canada, Department of Canadian Heritage
Government of Alberta, Ministry of Culture and Community Spirit
Private funding was provided by:
Mr Richard Bonnycastle
Honorary Colonel Sandy Mactaggart
Honorary Colonel, Dr Stanley and Mrs Lorraine Milner
Mr Ralph and Mrs Gay Young
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Lord Strathconas Horse (Royal Canadians) have also provided invaluable support and assistance during the repatriation efforts.
Q: How much is the Collection worth?
A: Christies Auction House in London, England, has evaluated the Steele Archive at £800,000 or approximately $1.8M (CAN).
Q: When is the Collection returning to Canada?
A: The Collection is returning to Canada in June 2008, following a repatriation ceremony in London, England on June 19. The Collection will be shipped to the University of Alberta.
Q: Where will the Collection be housed when it returns to Canada?
A: The University of Alberta Libraries will house, preserve, and make the Collection materials available. The Glenbow Museum will provide a home to the military memorabilia.
Q: What will Glenbow Museum do with the artifacts from the Steele Collection?
A: Glenbow will document and conserve the collection of 60 objects shortly after they arrive in Alberta. There are plans to exhibit a small selection of the collection at Glenbow in the fall of 2008, with a more substantial exhibit about Sir Sam Steele to follow in 2009. Glenbow will also create digital images of the collection and make them available on its website in the coming year. In the future, the collection will also be available for loan to museums and cultural institutions.
Q: Will the Collection ever travel to museums across Canada?
A: After inventorying and processing the Collection, the University of Alberta Libraries plan to digitize the materials and make them available to all Canadians through exhibitions, the Internet, and research conducted by students and faculty.
Q: Are there any special events being planned to commemorate the repatriation of this important collection?
A: Recognizing the importance of this collection to the history and development of the Canada, a fitting repatriation ceremony and subsequent Canadian homecoming for the Collection are being planned.
At the Canadian High Commission in London, England, on June 19, a special event will be held with His Royal Highness, The Earl of Wessex; representatives from the University of Alberta, including Chancellor Dr. Eric P. Newell; members of the RCMP including Commissioner William J.S. Elliott; Colonel John Roderick of the Lord Strathconas Horse (Royal Canadians); the Honourable Lindsay Blackett, Minister of Culture and Community Spirit for the Government of Alberta, Jeff Spalding, President & CEO, Glenbow Museum; as well as corporate and private donors, to recognize the repatriation.
A similar event, to mark the Collections Canadian homecoming, will be held this fall in Edmonton, Alberta. This event is still in the planning stages but both the public and media will be provided with further details as they become available.
Q: Are Canadians able to see parts of the Collection now?
A: Parts of the Collection have been photographed and can be viewed at the following website: www.library.ualberta.ca/mediaroom.
Q: Where can I find more information about the Collection and its repatriation?
A: For more information on the Collection, visit: www.library.ualberta.ca/mediaroom.
Compiled with files from the University of Alberta (Learning Services), the RCMP Historical Section, and Library and Archives Canada.