The nomination deadline for 2013 Western Legacy Awards is coming up. These Calgary Stampede awards recognize community leaders in our city and the surrounding area in three categories. While checking out details at www.calgarystampede.com/wla , I noted past recipients including three from the Centennial edition of the Western Legacy Awards and discovered some really cool stories about these heroes and our heritage….
First is the story of Alex Decoteau. Alex was born on the Red Pheasant Cree Reserve in Saskatchewan and moved to Edmonton to live with his sister and her husband in the early twentieth century. Alex’s brother-in-law was an RCMP officer and after a few years Alex joined the Edmonton Police Force. Alex was one of the first aboriginal officers in the Edmonton Police Force and he was eventually promoted to the first aboriginal Police Sargent. Aside from his career in law enforcement, Alex enjoyed running. He ran almost every race held in Edmonton between 1909 and 1916, finishing a large majority in first place. When Alex Decoteau represented Canada in the 1912 Olympics, he placed eighth due to injury. Decoteau enlisted when the First World War broke out. He was a crucial member in many campaigns before he was killed by a sniper during Passchendaele on October 30, 1917 – 12 days before his thirtieth birthday.
From a short life of athleticism and heroics we come to a very different kind of hero, Dr. Mary (Percy) Jackson. Born into a middleclass English family in 1905, Mary Percy graduated with degrees in medicine and surgery from the University of Birmingham. She worked in a hospital and care facilities until 1929 when she responded to an advertisement for female doctors needed in Western Canada. She planned to stay only a year, then move back to England but it never happened. Dr. Percy was the doctor for the Battle River area, where Manning is now. When she arrived there, she had about 500 people under her care. Due to large immigration movements, the population in the area under Dr. Percy’s care almost quadrupled before the end of 1931. When Dr. Percy arrived, she was given a small cabin which was to be her home and practice. A few months later, the locals provided her with a horse. That was how she reached many of her patients, on a horse, in frontier conditions. Probably more than once she traveled in the dead of night, in the middle of an Alberta winter snowstorm. One case, a rancher named Frank Jackson, arrived to her via dog team in 1930. He was badly injured and had a septic hand. Dr. Percy treated him and Frank proceeded to spend the next few months finding excuses to see her. They married in 1931 and settled on his farm in Keg River, even farther north than her original assignment. Despite losing the little salary that the government had paid her upon her marriage, Dr. Jackson continued to treat people until she officially retired from practice in 1974. During her career she delivered children, cured countless types of disease and injury, she even pulled teeth. After Mary retired, she and Frank traveled until his death. She made lots of friends in far off places and kept in touch with them until her death in 2005. This frontier doctor/surgeon/dentist/veterinarian/midwife was an amazing and crucial part of Alberta’s beginnings.
Finally, it is my pleasure to introduce “Mr Zoo”. Tom Banes was the Calgary Zoo Keeper between 1929 and 1964.
Though he was never trained as a Zoo Keeper his dedication is an impressive testament to Alberta’s reverence for all animals. During the great depression in the 1930’s, Tom would ride his bike all over town and collect food scraps like banana peels to feed to his charges. After he retired, Tom joined the ‘lecture’ circuit. He was invited to schools all over to teach about animals to grade school students. Ever the showman, the photos you see above are of Baines presenting to students and the things that came out of his bag of tricks.