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Biography of Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal
Chapter XX. The Strathcona Horse


The familiar saying, ''It never rains but it pours," was exemplified in this part of Lord Strathcona's career. Honors and titles were showered upon him. The list of them would fill a page. Not only in the political world, but in science and in the literary world generally, he was recognized and honored. He was made Privy Councillor, Fellow of the Royal Society, Doctor of Laws by the Universities of Cambridge, Aberdeen and Glasgow.

In 1899 he was Lord Rector of Aberdeen University and later became its Chancellor. It is difficult for us. to realize how completely he secured the esteem of all kinds of people in the Old Land, and with what ease he adapted himself to his new surroundings. The raw lad who left Scotland sixty years before and had been buried in the solitudes of Labrador and Hudson's Bay for thirty years, living the roughest and hardest kind of life, carried no trace of that crude and primitive experience, but bore himself in the most polished and learned circles with grace and dignity. In the presence of royalty, in the House of Lords, in great social functions, he acted as one accustomed to these surroundings all his life and wherever he went and whenever he addressed public meetings, which he often did, his conversation was full of references to Canada and that was the subject of his speeches. It is not possible to estimate the value to the Dominion of his advocacy of the land he loved. Thousands, because of his connections with it and because of his outstanding personality, became interested in the country, to which, before, they had given scarcely a passing thought.

As we have said, he was in possession of great wealth. We have given some instances, out of hundreds that might be mentioned, of his generous and philanthropic donations. There is one, however, which must not be overlooked, because of the thrill that went through the whole Empire and because of the Imperial spirit which it evidenced in the donor. This was the gift of the "Strathcona horse." The story of the Boer War has now become a matter of history. So rapidly do events move that what was in 1899 the scene of bloody strife in South Africa and armed resistance to the British Crown, has become a peaceful, loyal federation, of which one of the great leaders is a man who was a general in the rebel forces. It is not necessary to go into the merits or demerits of the procedure which brought about the terrible conflict. Opinions are divided on the question. One thing is certain, and that is that for a time the Empire was racked with anxiety. Gloom and depression prevailed everywhere.

At first the British armies met with reverse after reverse. From different parts of the Empire volunteer troops gathered to the help of the Motherland. Lord Strathcona followed the course of the struggle with the keenest interest. His life in the backwoods of Canada had fitted him to understand the conditions under which the British troops were fighting and the difficulties they had to encounter. It was no ordinary warfare. It was not one trained and disciplined army of regulars pitted against another. The Boer forces were really aggregations of highly trained and expert individuals of splendid marksmanship and initiative. On the vast plains of that country and amid their mountain fastnesses, they seemed invulnerable to the methods of the regular army. Lord Strathcona was convinced that they must be met in their own fashion and confronted by men of the same calibre and training—men who could sit long in the saddle and whose rifles were unerring. With this feeling he made his famous proposal, which stirred the pulses of patriotism throughout the Empire, but especially in Canada. He offered to present to the Imperial force, at his own expense, a body of nearly seven hundred men, drawn from Western Canada, and fully equipped for service in the Boer War. The cost of this outfit would be a million dollars. His offer was gladly accepted and the preparations for the expedition were soon completed. Before the men sailed, Lord Strathcona spoke a few words of farewell.

The speech was brief but memorable. "I know," he said, ''that you are fit for the work that lies before you, and that in everything you do you will be a credit to Canada. I know you will do your duty, and you can do no more. God speed you and give you a safe return." His few words made a deep impression on the men. One of them said afterwards that they all ''felt moved almost to tears. We knew that the old man believed in us, and we silently swore to be worthy of his trust." Doubtless, on the South African veldt, in many a charge, the memory of the old man's simple confidence inspired them to do their best. They were an effective part of the army, and earned from the enemy the name of "British Boers"—owing to their method of warfare being more like the Boer methods than the other portions of the British army.

Such a gift, costly as it was, could not be measured in terms of money. Its chief value lay in the fact that it was an object-lesson to the world of the strength of the Imperial sentiment and of the resources of the British Empire. The British Isles were but the centre of a vast circle of young and vigorous nations who gloried in their relationship to the older land and were keen and ready to respond to her call. It was a notice "to whom it might concern" that in any conflict with Great Britain they would have to reckon, not only with the people of the Motherland, but with those other peoples, her children, who were making homes for themselves in distant quarters of the globe. It meant the crystallization of the sentiment of Empire into a concrete example and the introduction into the world of a new and inspiring factor which must ultimately make for peace and security.


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