By John Swartz
If you know a little about Sir Sam Steele, you know he was a great figure of Canadian history. If you dig deeper, you soon start to understand he was the real life embodiment of characters John Wayne portrayed on screen. He was larger than life.
Sunday, a celebration of an anniversary is happening, and for someone like Steele, there ought to be a parade.
“He died January 19, 1919, and of course we’re not going to have a parade in January,” said Rev. Gerry McMillan. It will happen at 11:15 following a special service at St. James’ Anglican Church.
“They’re doing a service. They’ve gone back to the music and liturgy of the period of Steele,” said McMillan. There are other departures from the normal service, and Mike Beresford, who has been known to do a bit of acting with Mariposa Arts Theatre, is part of it.
“Instead of a homily, he’s going to speak. He’s going to tell the story in first person of his (Steele’s) career,” and it will be in a uniform like Steele wore said McMillan.
It started out as a small gesture to honour Steele, and as McMillan said, it turned into something bigger.
“Colin Wacket, way last year said, “you know Gerry, it’s his 100th anniversary next year, we’ve got to have a parade.” That’s how it all came about and it just grew from there,” said McMillan.
Steele was born in Fair Valley, north of Warminster and grew up there. His father, Elmes Yelverton Steele, built St. George Fair Valley Anglican across the road from the homestead where a huge celebration took place in 2000.
“Sam Steele was born and raised in Oro-Medonte, he was baptized at St. James’, so if you could do a parade it’s got to start at St. James’. It’s been so exciting, they’ve taken this on themselves too, with the service and everything.”
Steele created the North-West Mounted Police (now RCMP), and was in the middle of most major events and,milestones of early Canadian history from the Klondike Gold Rush to supervising the building of the CPR, witnessing the treaties on the Prairies, and a few accounts place him it the arrest of Louis Riel (which Steele was not particularly in favour of) – though most major history books do not mention his presence in the affair. Steele also raised the Lord Strathcona’s Horse to fight in the Boer War.
“If you look at their modern uniform, the Lord Strathcona’s Horse dress uniforms, they’re much like the Mounties in some way because you can see Steele’s hand on it because he was very instrumental in the uniform the Mounties have as well,” said McMillan.
“After the Boer war, Lord Baden-Powell from South Africa asked him to help establish the constabulary there. Well Lord Baden Powel is the guy that’s the founder of the Boy Scouts. Steele was very much involved in the Boy Scout movement,” said McMillan.
There is one more special aspect to the church service.
“Jean Miso, she’s Cree and French. She’s going to sing the National anthem in Cree and French. I looked her up, at the 70th anniversary of Normandy, she sang at that in Ottawa and she wrote a song for it called We’ll Never Forget, which now has been recognized by that military group as their anthem.” Miso is an Honorary Ranger of the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group
“They are stationed at Camp Borden. They help with the protection of the north. The officer in charge said, “hey, would you like to have this singer come? It’s going to be really something.””
”Mayor Clarke is going to be there to declare Sam Steele Day,” said McMillan. The parade will follow the route Peter to Neywash, to West, to Mississaga Streets and east to the legion. The Branch 34 Pipes and Drums and the OPP Pipes and Drums, and representation from Camp Borden, The Simcoe and Grey Foresters, and RCMP will be in the parade.
General (Ret’d) John Hayter, of the Grey and Simcoe Foresters will be taking the salute at a reviewing stand on Mississaga Street near the LCBO store. MacMillan also said a ranking officer from Lord Strathcona’s Horse will be in attendance.
After the parade there will be refreshments at the legion and the Orillia Museum of Art and History will have tours of the Sir Sam Steele Memorial building at 1:15 p.m.
“He was a good man. He was a man of character. He had very good relations, for example, with Indigenous people, well respected,” said McMillan.
(Photos Courtesy Orillia Museum of Art and History) Main – Sam Steele standing in the background on the S.S. Moutery to South Africa with Lord Strathcona’s Horse.