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Bill Barry

Bill Barry
Bill Barry, Saskatchewan place name expert

Back in my teaching days, Crossing the Bar by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, was a compulsory part of the Grade XII English curriculum.

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar
When I put out to sea…

It is a moving metaphor for the poet's own death (which occurred just two years after Crossing the Bar first appeared in 1890), and I enjoyed teaching it. Maybe some of my students even remembered it past recess!

By the time of his death, Tennyson was one of the best loved English poets of all time. Today his verse is unmistakably Victorian, but many of his poems have a timeless quality that ensures their survival. Interestingly, Tennyson first came to fame with In Memoriam, over a hundred lyrics dedicated to the memory of his close friend Arthur Henry Hallam, who died unexpectedly in 1833 while still in his early twenties. And thereby hangs the poet's first connection to Saskatchewan: in 1908, CPR named the HALLAM siding between Macklin and Primate to honour the bosom companion of Tennyson's youth. There was also a TENNYSON School District No. 362 north of Flaxcombe, 1911-46.

Bertram Tennyson
Bertram Tennyson

But there is an even more interesting connection. Bertram Tennyson QC was the poet's favourite nephew, and he spent much of his short life on the Canadian prairies. He homesteaded in 1881 beside William Syme Redpath just north of where the village of Gerald is today. REDPATH acquired a post office (1884-1909) which he named after himself, and he carried the mail from Moosomin until he left to manage the Anglican Church's St. Johns College Farm at Qu'Appelle in 1889. Redpath later practised law at Regina, journalism at Winnipeg, and farmed again at Mather, Manitoba.

Bertram Tennyson, in the meantime, proved unsuited to agricultural pursuits and became a stage driver, operating a line from Moosomin to Redpath and on to Sumner and Kinbrae, north of Esterhazy. He also fought as part of Bolton's Scouts during the North West Rebellion.

But it was the law that was increasingly gaining his attention. He studied under the tutelage of Edward L. Wetmore, then a judge at Moosomin and later the first chief justice of the province of Saskatchewan. Tennyson was evidently not without talent for he was called to the bar in 1891.

Tennyson was one of the stars of the Moosomin-Cannington Combines rugby team
The Moosomin-Cannington Combines, western rugby champions in 1891.

That same year Tennyson became one of the better known residents of the northwest as one of the stars of the Moosomin-Cannington Combines. That team journeyed to Winnipeg where they defeated a team of North West Mounted Policemen as well as two other teams to become the western rugby champions - decades before the Roughriders were even thought of!

The lure of the Klondyke was too strong, however, and Tennyson left a blossoming legal career to travel to the Yukon in 1899. By the time he arrived, the gold mines had all been staked and he decided to go "home" to England. He had barely arrived when he caught a fatal bout of influenza and died in 1900 in his early forties.

The Moosomin Hunt Club in 1893.
The Moosomin Hunt Club in 1893. Tennyson is in the centre of the photo, his hand on the white horse’s mane.

So, was there anything of Alfred in young Bertram? I'll let you judge for yourself. Bertram Tennyson published a short book of verse in the mid-1890s which included a poem entitled The Long Dogs which compares hunting coyotes on the prairies to the English fox hunt. Here are the last two stanzas:

The dim grey shadow drifts ahead, our quarry never met,
For wind and stoutness, speed and craft, his prairie equal yet;
But all in vain the distant bush, in vain his prairie lore,
For those are hard behind him now he never raced before.
Old Bran has got him by the throat, and Mischief by the back;
He's down, and snapping right and left amongst the tearing pack;
Light down, and break the silence now with no uncertain sounds,
Who-whoop! Above the dying brute and fling him to the hounds.

(Much of the foregoing is derived from a booklet entitled Tennyson at Moosomin published by Gilbert McKay in 1975.)

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