Here I am

All I can say is that a really big gig, recording a debut CD, moving to another city, and calming the chronic pangs of disillusionment do much to halt the writing of a too big writing project. The reality is we’re settled now, but have a ton of little responsibilities to care for in our new home. The work continues friends…


The Red River Expedition was a feat of modern military manoeuvre

“Students of the strategic branch of military science rank the Red River Expedition as one of the most notable examples of an expeditionary force sent into a strange country far from its base of supplies. In this regard it is classed with the landing of Sir Ralph Abercrombie at Alexandria, the first Ashanti expedition, and General Roberts’ march to Kandahar.”

Bruce Harman, “Twas 26 Years Ago”. p. 5 in Toronto Mail and Empire, 1896.

Thunder Cape

Some Images of the Red River Expedition

Deux Rivierés portage with Cpt. Harman. Source: "Manitoba: A history" Morton

Deux Rivierés portage with Cpt. Harman.
Source: “Manitoba: A history” Morton

Wolseley's canoe is on the right. Source: "Manitoba: a history"

Wolseley’s canoe is on the right.
Source: “Manitoba: a history”

Prince Arthur's Landing. The barrels would commonly be 100Ibs. Source: "Manitoba: a history", Morton

Prince Arthur’s Landing. The barrels would commonly be 100Ibs.
Source: “Manitoba: a history”, Morton

A devastating fire ravaged much of the landscape the year of the expedition. Source: "Manitoba: a history", Morton

A devastating fire ravaged much of the landscape the year of the expedition.
Source: “Manitoba: a history”, Morton

Red River Settlement, 1870

Strategies of divide and conquer…

Red River Settlement, 1870

Red River Settlement, 1870

It seems fair to think that the decision makers who orchestrated the Red River Expedition had more than balancing the needs of French and English speaking constituents by presenting a unified military force to parliament in 1870. I’m learning how the government encouraged especially English Canadians to join the expeditionary force as a strategy to settle the Red River valley. The Dominion even offered great financial prices on surveyed land to the members who volunteered. The execution of Thomas Scott provided the perfect spark to mobilize English sentiments against the Metis people of the frontier area. Had anyone anticipated that the soldiers who endured the gruelling portage from Thunder Bay to Ft. Garry would express their vengeance by persecuting the Metis in public mobs? After all, the government’s intention was to prevent any sign of resistance or rebellion and pacify the land and the wild, lazy, and unmodern Indians that roamed about as they pleased…

Enter William and Charles Alloway, brothers who served with Wolseley and later were drafted into the Manitoba Constabulary Force. Many others of the expedition also served on the local police force. How impartial could their dedication to law and order be? William was quiet and scholarly and Charles was adventurous and sporting. They last lived in Montreal before serving with W. William landed at Ft. Garry at 18 years old.

Through their eyes we’ll learn not only about settlers’ perception of the Metis and other native peoples, but about beginning life in the so-called wild western plains involved the civilizing process: establishing institutions, creating ever-expanding industrialized economies, and furthering the gospel, all aimed at creating the modern self-image of public Canadian life as opposite to everything that typifies native culture.

Sir Garnet Wolseley, British hero

Wolseley speaks…

“… “Yes, yes, yes, but we will not succeed here directly as a result of the contributions from these natives. I am certain of that now. This is not Dawson’s trail, is it? And the indigenous population of this part of the world is nowhere near as sophisticated, both in culture and in intelligence, as the half-breeds and Indians, as dim as they all are, that we had at our disposal for the march to Ft. Garry. While some of the Africans seem to have been exposed to Mohammedism, this is a rare instance only reserved for the very distant tribes of the northern savannah. And I’m sure monotheism of this sort will only be a positive influence, compared to the cannibalism the forest tribes all practice—but only in the long run will it help to increase their ability to read and write in Arabic. Bah—and that will not cure their laziness for our sakes right now! Only a small number of the Half-breeds and Indians earned our disfavor. The whole of them even took the Sabbath and were quite civil and useful really. When only our presence as British Regulars in Red River meant we were the tip of a broad sword of a contingent of Canadian volunteers, here, I’m afraid, we must not only demonstrate the willingness of England’s military by not only sailing the distance, but we must also carry the mortal burden ourselves and rely not on the African to go to war for us. Those half-minded monkeys will carry us to the battle, if we can properly motivate the beasts. Sadly, I’m afraid, we will be very fortunate if we can secure enough native levies to bring us to our enemy before we may punish him for his transgressions. Come, friends, let us finish this after we eat.” …”

1873 Governor arriving to Cape Coast


Wolseley and his staff are gathered at Cape Coast Government House having just received a Durbar of Chiefs under the protection of the Queen of England. He has the ear of the men that served with him in Red River and he is explaining how determination led to their victory of the real enemy in Red River: the forests, swamps, and rivers of the created world. The firmament is  fully under the control of the modern age, and the military must be able to conquer the field of war before it will ever dominate its strategic foe.


The first British military expedition to the heart of the Ashanti empire.

Man vs. Nature

“…you have done good service to the State, and have proved that no extent of intervening wilderness, no matter how great may be its difficulties, whether by land or water, can enable men to commit murder or to rebel against Her Majesty’s authority with impunity.”

Sir Garnet Wolseley, Colonel, Commanding Red River Expedition

Ft. Garry, 28 August, 1870


Wolseley did much to consolidate British forces and rally native allies on the Gold Coast to pursue colonial policy on the Gold Coast before burning Kumasi to the ground. He raised thousands of local militia (but had much trouble securing their actual service, blaming, in oh-so-racist language, the “cowardly and lazy” constitution of Africans) and ordered the survey of roads and infrastructure to service the expedition to Kumasi.

Interestingly to my book, he added several officers from the 1870 Red River Expedition in his mission to Kumasi in Jan 1874. The memoirs of Baden-Powell and Rathbone Low especially point to his Wolseley’s meticulous planning, made famous in Manitoba, perfected in Ashanti, and relied upon in future monumental feats of British manoeuvre, such as in Sudan along the Nile.

The real enemy was the forest. The rapids. The heat. The bugs.

The natural boundary separating his force from the enemy in West Africa was the Prah River; and, like on the Dawson Trail to Shebandowan and Lake on the Woods in Manitoba, Wolseley ensured the route to this objective was navigable. He ordered men to build miles of corduroy roads, repair and construct hundreds of bridges, and erect supply and barrack stations from materials gathered from the impenetrable forests.

Cape Coast to Kumasi


At his encampment at Prahsu, along the banks of the Prah, Wolseley enjoyed the company of the advanced British detachment and native levies around a vast night-fire, singing songs like these:

I suggest that, here, while deep in the ‘primordial’ forest of humanity, Wolseley penned a letter for courier to Cape Coast for the next mail ship to Plymouth. He will remember his previous campaign to the Red River, and how victory over the terrain in Canada only proved his abilities and British right to victory against Ashanti. In so many of the records, Wolseley’s real enemy was the environment he faced daily before even firing a shot (Riel evacuated Ft. Garry before Wolseley arrived). WIth him were a core cadre of elite soldiers that Wolseley came to trust and celebrate. Carrying on about the career soldiers who served in Canada and W/Africa and beyond, these men became know later as The Ashanti Ring:

My premise remains that Wolseley and his crew learned and perfected their skills, as we all do, from their previous work experience. And in the case of the Ashanti Ring, become utterly convinced of their abilities and of the need to pursue their callings in service of the  Crown.

Bird's Eye View of Prahsu


300px-Troopshiptamar sarmatian troopshiphimalaya Smooch The real enemy was the bush.

Red River Expedition

This will be a short note to share some of what details I have learned about the first third of Wolesely’s journey to Ft. Garry. It is as all the sources say: a huge feat of military manoeuvre and logistical planning. Of course, what I am interested in is measuring the lengths the political masters were willing to endure to plunge a fighting force into the wilderness. Fascinating the display of military power and determination.

The main source I’m in, “Correspondence relative…”, does a fantastic job at revealing the behind the scenes discussions about the planning and motivations of the RRE. In particular are the little quibbles about whether the Dominion or Imperial government will pay for a slight increase to the 60th Rifle Battalion Lindsay requests soon after the initial cost sharing agreements are made between the colonial and metropolitan decision-makers. The issue, in part, surrounds the view that any expedition of the magnitude RRE that will blaze a network of portages will in fact be laying the foundation for a crucial piece of infrastructure into a pioneer settlement along the Red River. Who should be shouldering the initial costs? Britain? Ottawa? In the end, the prior 1/4 agreement with Canada paying the majority of the costs endured.

Red River Expedition-route

Thoughts about “Correspondence relative to the recent Expedition to the Red River Settlement: with Journal of Operations”

Red River Settlement, 1870

Red River Settlement, 1870

The source is like all the other British Gov documents I’ve sifted through in my MA work on the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast. They’re routine, detailed, and steeped in administrative duty. This makes them great sources: their attempt at an almost scientific objectivity, since the posture of the writer’s mind is so administrative that a bias immediately jumps off the page. You can really read through the lines in bureaucratic records; the writers are doing a job and yet their selves always comes out eventually. We all know emotions are like that, never being contained or hidden for long before you’re over the sink trying to wash the blood off your hands. Good luck.

So far, I can share that the diplomatic correspondence between the levels of the Dominion Canadian government and the Imperial Government in Britain at either the War Office or the Colonial Office reveals the agreed need among all involved that the Red River Expedition needs to be “Imperial in character”. The various reasons, especially according to Lieutenant-Colonel James Lindsay, included wanting to bolster the morale of the largely volunteer militias that the Government of Canada was planning to field. In fact, this source indicates more than a few times that authorities had trouble recruiting members to completely fill Quebec Battalion. A familiar Canadian political story appears in the drama to ensure French and English Canadians play visible roles in the service of the Dominion and Imperial governments. Lindsay could only barely and almost too late mobilize the whole force for want of recruits from Quebec. The presence of professional soldiers from England would also send the message to the burgeoning Canadian public that government had the support of the Crown in maintaing peace and order in the Red River. Riel was, clearly, an enemy of the state, a murderer, and an insurrectionist in this document.

Landing on the Gold Coast

Opening page in progress…

Defiant, the ships of the British Army poised their sails to complete their journey towards the far-flung coast. At the proper distance away from the shallow beach, the anchors slid quickly into the watery darkness and connected with the bottom of the Guinea Coast. Watching above from the slow gliding clouds, the silhouette of several dark teardrops left their larger hosts and meandered their way towards a long sandy break on the rocks. Determined, their final destination was finally within close view.

Men of war rode the sickening lift and fall of the immense silver water clutching and swaying their heavy oars from knee to chest, knee to chest, knee to chest. All eyes watched the contours of the distant horizon. Small fires fueled whiffs of smoke at various spots at the edge of the water. Shifting red coats moved about, out of place, along the grey stonewalls of the fortress. The encampments drew the eyes of the men to the dark forested background beyond the beachhead. Alien. Birds zipped and circled above the edge of the water, and the smell of the fires mingled with the hot, salty air of the Gold Coast. …

  • Check out this free digitized source:
  • Primary source writing about the Red River Expedition:
    • Wrote The Soldier’s Pocketbook, 1869
    • Blackwoods December 1870
    • Directorate of History and Heritage 83/309: Narrative of the Red River Expedition: By an Officer of the Expeditionary Force, 1870
    • Library and Archives Canada, Manuscript Group 29-E111 Journal of the Red River Rebellion
    • Captain G.L. Huyshe. The Red River Expedition (London: MacMillan and Co.) 1871.
    • Colonel Wolseley’s official account: Correspondence relative to the recent Expedition to the Red River Settlement: with Journal of Operations, 1871. This wonderfully detailed source is full of implicit and explicit details about the RRE. So far, it is particularly interesting how the British and Canadian intelligentsia wanted to ensure the largely Canadian militia force, although augmented by a regiment of the British 60th Rifles, would be a display of  “imperial” power against Riel for the Canadian public. This small detail shows me the documentation from the period is full of promising details and perspectives for my handling of Wolseley. Now I have to keep making time to finish this part of the research so I can start writing the first chapter. Maybe I can have it finished before summer?


…The plot thickens

Comparative history is interesting because it connects stories that are usually separate along the similarities that have always been there.

I wonder if continuing the narrative of British imperialism in turn of the century Gold Coast with turn of the century imperialism in Western Canada would accomplish that same end? The issue is increasingly tricky since Canada and Ghana have quite a significant difference; namely that the colonizer left in Ghana while remaining in Canada. Nevertheless, did not the statesmen of the new Republican government in Ghana merely, or, maybe not so merely, inherit a European form of nationhood constructed by the British? The British origins to our Canadian federation is clear, and so I think there is some continuity there. I’m sure there is some problems with my thinking here. But what I am sure of is the shared attitudes and actions of the Anglo policy towards native populations in each area under foreign rule. Foreign rule ended in Ghana in 1957, but continues on to the present day here in Canada, and that is the key to everything in my efforts to construct any degree of comparative history in my work.

I’m thinking through the possibility of adding a string of Ghanaian colonial history that begins with the Wolseley expedition against Kumasi after the Red River Rebellion of 1870. Perhaps there is even a comparison to be made between the hinterland of the Northern Territories and the Canadian prairies in terms of a shared frontier landscape?

More later…

Sir Garnet

The Gold Coast Connection

The real enemy was the bush.

The real enemy was the bush.

The first British military expedition to the heart of the Ashanti empire.

The first British military expedition to the heart of the Ashanti empire.


And so i’ve often wondered, when thinking about how the same group of elite British officers galavanted about the Empire, how the experiences of Sir Garnet Wolseley during the Red River Rebellion in 1870 shaped his view of the British mission against Kumasi in 1874. The Dominion of Canada and the Gold Coast Colony in 1870 were just more outposts to the British Crown, whose agents were busy increasing their sphere of influence by “trade where they could, but by flag where they must”. The famous Robinson and Gallagher slogan is apt in both examples since the British began their involvement with trade on the brain, but ended it all with the bloody flag in their hearts.

In what few primary sources I’ve consulted about Wolseley and his activities in the late 18th C, he is the usual imperial soldier: career-oriented and perfectly sure of the manifest destiny his Queen and Country has across the world. His memoirs and such portray him even in terms of resurrecting any fears that Britain’s colonial rationale and reason d’être could ever fade.

So for me, I am considering a meaningful first chapter set in the Gold Coast just before the  man set out against the Ashanti in whatever Anglo-Ashanti War he led in 1874 that toppled Kumasi. His successes against Riel and the Metis undoubtedly shaped his confidence in his abilities in war based on logistics and manoeuvre. More so, both the Half-Breeds and the Ashanti were more savages in need of the treaty, the sword, the Bible, and the flag–usually in that order, but not necessarily.

I envision him maybe on his ship about to land on the coast, like in the painting abvove, or maybe he is in a expeditionary camp on the beach or further afield in the forest. He could be writing a letter to home; perhaps something intimate that could satisfy a deep look into the man’s personality and truest values. Interestingly, either situation could be symbolic of Britain’s feelings of poetic isolation while exercising their burden to civilize savages in the service of the Queen.

In his cabin, for instance, he could represent the technological master at the dawn of the Industrialized world. A man able to voyage great distances to prosecute any colonial war his handlers saw fit. He could reflect on the vast logistical achievement of the British Army; this as he faced a similar campaign but in wildly different physical environments. And in all this, I could show how the modern mindset is so satisfied and reliant upon expending wild amounts of energy to defeat nature: to carry all the great materiel of war along paths drawn on maps. Military strategies that do not reflect the human toll of a two month projection of power across an adverse landscape. The battle all soldiers face is first the field of war itself, then their own psychological determination, and then finally the other man who has defeated those already and is now able to kill you in earnest.

And then the natives, the aboriginals, the savages, and all the other nouns are able to fall into the same process of objectification, as things to control and master, describe and rule. People and the landscape all need to be measured, understood, and then controlled in Europe’s growing positivist imagination.

Wolseley could remember his campaign in Canada and see no difference between that place and its people and this new one in Africa. And with that clarity, the identity of Canada as just another imperial place on the map on the globe would have to surface. By seeing the arrogance and ultimate goals of the British through the eyes of this prototype British officer, a reader would have to admit the first and ongoing actions of the Crown in the prairies were the same as their mission in West Africa: to remove any resistance from local peoples by either the gun or diplomacy, and to create a new world at all costs.

Wolseley could imagine the expansion of a new society spreading across the globe. He could be offering premonitions about a industrialized, utopian society, and that proving the superiority of Britain on the imperial battlefield was the first step.

Then some continuity will emerge about the relationship between the Crown and Aboriginals in Canada. The Metis in my story could be both observers and agents to that relationship, as is historically accurate about their intermediary place between Settler and Indian society. And, because Metis culture descends matrilineally (largely Cree), I imagine many Metis shared in the impending and increasing loss of their way of life.

Hopefully, a reader would be able to relate somehow to the Metis people in my book and gain a stronger understanding of the existential hurt felt among First Nation people in Canada. More importantly, I hope the story would explain how many people see the Indian Act and the attitude of the government of Canada as a text-book colonial perspective towards non-European societies. I’m also hoping that because the Fleury’s in my story were not so harshly discriminated upon by the Residential School system, but instead ran from the Government in part to escape the ‘social services’, that their seeming affiliation to the rest of settler society would draw in non-Aboriginal readers into the story as well. After all, looking at a picture of the Fleury’s at RMH, they don’t look much different that the European migrants who struggled in the bush and in their poverty and social problems, too.