8 April

Mowat Rides for Help

We muster but three hundred

    In all this great lone land, Which stretches o'er the continent

To where the Rockies stand; But not one heart doth falter,

    No coward voice complains, That few, too few, in numbers are

The Riders of the Plains.

    Our mission is to plant the rule

Of Britain's freedom. here,

    Restrain the lawless savage, and

Protect the pioneer;

    And 'tis a proud and daring trust

To hold these vast domains, with but three hundred men,

    The Riders of the Plains.


Nearly everybody knows the story of Paul Revere's famous ride when the American Revolutionary War began. Who knows the story of James Mowat and his desperate ride from Edmonton to Calgary to get help during the Northwest rebellion? Mowat is one of the unsung heroes of Canadian history.

Riel and Dumont had stirred the Indians into going on the warpath late in March, 1885. The war drums, keeping up a continual beat day and night, were heard as far west as Edmonton. The situation in Edmonton was critical because its only defenders were thirty volunteers armed with muzzle-loading muskets used in the Indian mutiny of 1857. There was no ammunition, so they had to make their own lead balls and gunpowder.

It was essential to get word to Calgary and ask for help, but the telegraph line had been cut. James Mowat volunteered to ride to Calgary on horseback, and left early on the morning of April 8. Sneaking out of Edmonton was dangerous. The Indians were camping all around and Mowat had to make his way so quietly that even the dogs would not bark. Somehow he managed to get through and ride the two hundred miles to Calgary in thirty-six hours, with no sleep and little food.

Fortunately, General Strange was at Calgary with six hundred men and their march to Edmonton began on April 20. Meanwhile, Mowat had made his way back to Edmonton with copies of the Calgary Herald, containing news to April 13.

When the Indians heard that General Strange was coming with a large body of troops, they stopped beating their drums. The Edmonton Bullelin reported: "Since the Indians heard that troops are on the way, their desire to get on with their farming is marvellous." Nevertheless, it had been a close call for Edmonton.

On another sector, General Middleton was leading a strong force from Qu'Appelle to attack Riel's centre at Batoche. It wasn't easy going. The temperature at Qu'Appelle on April 8 was twenty-three below zero! James Mowat's ride from Edmonton to Calgary that day and night, must have been through similar, bitterly cold weather.


8 April

-1669    Louis XIV approved the building of a hospital at Montreal.

-1671    Marquette founded a mission at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

-1785    An ordinance prohibited imports from the United States by sea.

-1873    A select committee was appointed to examine charges that Sir John A. Macdonald and members of his cabinet had accepted large sums of money from promoters of the C.P.R.

-1880    The first passenger train of the Grand Trunk Railway went from Port Huron to Chicago.

-1963    General election: Liberals 129, Conservatives 95, Social Credit 24, New Democratic Party 17.