|Western Canadian history has an abundance of "unsung heroes" - and rascals too. The book Saskatchewan Heroes and Rogues by Ruth Millar spotlights twelve people who lived astonishing lives. They resided in or had connections with communities across Canada, but all of them lived in Saskatchewan at some point. Some achieved fame in their day but are now largely forgotten. The following blurbs highlight their extraordinary lives:|
(connections with Saskatoon, Harris, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Gravenhurst)
Saskatchewan nurse Jean Ewen faced political tumult in war-ravaged China in the 1930s. Ewen's adventures started in 1933 on a mission to China with the Franciscan Fathers. After a brief return to Canada in 1937, Ewen spent another two momentous years in China during the Sino-Japanese War as a nurse assisting Dr. Norman Bethune. She tended sick peasants and warriors injured in battle, delivered babies, trained Chinese nurses and "barefoot doctors" (peasant paramedics), and taught methods of sanitation. While there, she met such political luminaries as Mao Tse-Tung and Chou-En-lai.
FATHER JOHN CLAFFEY
(of special interest to the Roman Catholic community, especially in Saskatoon, Biggar, Meecham, Prud'homme, Dana, Watrous, Young, Delisle, Tisdale, St. Brieux, Prud'homme, Hudson Bay, and Vanscoy.
It was the height of World War II, and Rome was under German occupation. Escaped Allied prisoners-of-war, fleeing Jews, draft evaders and other anti-Fascists in grave danger from Nazi and Fascist persecution were gravitating to the tiny neutral enclave of the Vatican inside Rome for sanctuary. By word of mouth they had learned of a network of valiant priests and others who worked to rescue fugitives. Father John Claffey, born in Ireland and for many years a Saskatoon resident, was part of that clandestine rescue organization.
(of special interest in Regina, Weyburn, Winnipeg, and Macoun)
Gladys Arnold of Regina was the only accredited Canadian reporter in France as the Nazi blitzkreig advanced toward Paris in June 1940. She joined a mass exodus from the city and escaped to England in a small cargo ship. A pivotal interview in England with General Charles de Gaulle inspired her, on her return to Canada, to take up the cause of the Free French movement in Canada. The cause took her to the White House to meet the Roosevelts. In 1971 France conferred on her a supreme honour rarely bestowed on foreigners, especially women.
(of special interest in Saskatoon, Winnipeg,Wapella, Edmonton, Calgary)
Morris "Two-Gun" Cohen, once a rascally habitue of Saskatoon's early gambling dens, was one of the most flamboyant characters to emerge from the Canadian West, rising to become a conspicuous international figure. During his delinquent youth he was a pickpocket, gambler, carnival barker and confidence-man in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, a wily real estate shark in Edmonton, drill sergeant near Calgary, and sapper in World War II Belgium. He became bodyguard to Dr. Sun Yat-sen, an honorary general, for Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese Nationalist Army, a Rolls Royce consultant, an arms dealer, an SOE informant, a Japanese war camp prisoner, and finally, the husband of a Montreal socialite.
JOAN BAMFORD FLETCHER
(of special interest in Regina, Vancouver)
At the close of World War II a gutsy Regina woman captured headlines on both sides of the Atlantic after shepherding some two thousand Dutch civilian captives from a Japanese prison camp through the jungles of Sumatra to safety. While commanding 70 vanquished but armed Japanese soldiers she guided the evacuees through territory swarming with hostile Indonesian rebels. This remarkable feat earned her an M.B.E., a Samurai sword, and the respect of all who accompanied her on that dangerous mission. Her name was Joan Bamford Fletcher.
BIG TOM HOURIE
(of special interest in Prince Albert, Humboldt, Qu'Appelle, Regina, Batoche, Dawson City, Yukon)
A 19th century Paul Revere galloped across Saskatchewan plains and parklands carrying vital messages for the government side during the Northwest Resistance. "Big Tom" Hourie was said to have raced through a blizzard of bullets on the battlefield, and to have swum the ice-choked South Saskatchewan River. But Hourie made his mark in Saskatchewan history as one of the three scouts to whom Louis Riel surrendered at the end of the rebellion. Then he joined the legions of gold-seekers who laboriously trekked into the Yukon in the late 1890s. His name pops up in history books like a prairie gopher, and yet few people have ever heard of him!
(of special interest in southern ranch country, especially Val Marie, Gull Lake, Maple Creek, Sask.; Medicine Hat and Taber Alta.
(of special interest in Dundurn and Saskatoon)
Legend has it that Charlie Parmer was an "associate" of notorious outlaw Jesse James, and rode fences for Buffalo Bill Cody. Parmer, a gun-toting rogue of the Old West, retired to a homestead just south of Saskatoon. His volatile life seems more the stuff of Hollywood westerns than the pastoral setting of Dundurn. Whatever his true past, Parmer's colourful reminiscences, scruffy appearance and strange behaviour inspired legends. To this day, Dundurners argue about Parmer's true background.
(of interest in Saskatoon, Calgary, Whitby, Ont., White Rock, B.C., Toronto,)
Biographies of disabled people who have overcome their handicap are always awe-inspiring, but the story of Norman Falkner, the one-legged figure skater, is almost beyond belief. Evidence has been preserved proving that this indomitable man did indeed learn to skate on one leg, well enough to perform at ice carnivals throughout North America. Falkner achieved leverage by bending his knee and throwing his body weight from side to side - literally throwing his weight around.
(of special interest in Yorkton, Sask; The Pas, Snow Lake, Minnedosa and Brandon, Manitoba; Keys, Alta.; Toronto)
Early in the 20th century a stunningly beautiful woman roamed the northern wilds, hunting, trapping and prospecting. In winter she mushed by dog sled over frozen lakes and trails, in summer she paddled her canoe. She shot wolves and fended off bears. Brandishing a shotgun she shooed away suspected claim jumpers, and amorous miners were sent packing - except perhaps, for one. Eventually she discovered her own treasure island where she hit "paydirt". Despite the headlines there was one big secret she did not share.
(of special interest in Saskatoon, Marcelin, Blaine Lake and Ottawa)
From her childhood on a homestead at Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan and family catastrophe in the '30s, to the sensational espionage trials of 1946, her time as a top-notch legal secretary in Saskatoon and her last heartbreaking days, the story of Emma Woikin is one of tragedy and high drama. The Gouzenko spy trials in which she was involved could be considered Canada's version of McCarthyism.
RICHARD ST. BARBE BAKER
(of special interest to Saskatonians and residents of the Beaver Creek area)
Most people called Richard St. Barbe Baker the Man of the Trees, but one broadcaster dubbed him Lawrence of Africa. He was world famous in his day, preaching conservation on virtually every continent. For his efforts he was awarded an O.B.E., an honourary doctorate, and other prestigious honours. This dedicated early tree-hugger literally devoted his life to forest conservation, even pushing for a world movement to reclaim the Sahara desert through reforestation. His efforts resulted in the planting and protection of an estimated 11 billion trees.