Frank Beaton and
W W I
In the early ‘60s I worked on a couple of ranches on the south side of the Peace River and one of those I worked with was a man named Frances Beaton Jr. better known as Frank. He was the son of a long-time Hudson’s Bay Company Factor at Fort St. John. Frances Beaton Sr. was a Scott and his wife and Frank’s mother was a Dane-zaa, better known to we pale-face as Beaver Indians – probably because the HBC could usually depend on them delivering high quality pelts.
Dane-zaa group near Fort St. John 1914
Dane-zaa men near Fort St. John about 1910
Frank had many stories to tell about his up-bringing and because of a couple of those stories I gave him and his father a cameo appearance in “The Making of Jake McTavish.”
One of the stories he told was about he and several other young native men meeting in Grande Prairie, Alberta and signing up for service with the Royal Canadian Army in World War I. As I recall he said he thought he was the oldest of the lot and he would have been 21 or 22 when they took this eventful trip.
I thought at the time that it must have been a monstrous cultural shock for these young men. Subsequent statements and responses to questions by Frank affirmed my suspicion but he was certainly not known for his talkative nature.
I was thinking of it again recently and wrote the following rhyme, gave it to Karen and she took some of the bumps out of it.
Native Sons in World War One
By D.M. McGowan and K.L. McGowan
Seventeen native boys left the Upper Peace
The only land they’d known, all in their teens.
They’d all grown up wild out among the trees.
Knew where to find pelts, beaver ponds or streams.
They hunted for their supper, trap or single shot
And only their mothers gave safety a fleeting thought
After two hundred years of Scott and Fleur de Lis
They knew some other talk, sometimes two or three,
English, French and German were spoken in the land,
And whatever tongue was spoken by their particular band
Some of them could read and write more than just their name
But the army didn’t care, green privates all the same
An amazing great adventure for young trapper men
From freedom of the wild to a Canadian Army pen
Across the land in trains, something never seen.
Mistreated by a Sergeant, but still bright and keen.
Dropped off in camps and marched around a square
“Dig some dirt from here and put it over there.”
On the trains again east to Canada’s Maritimes
March down to the docks in perfect double lines
Then up a gangplank to a big steel canoe
Then told to put their kit where you couldn’t fit a shoe
A dozen ships in convoy from the Bedford shore
But count on German U boats sinking two or more.
More camp time in England, weeks without the sun
Then finally sent to France to show them how it’s done
Trenches that collapse from rains that never end
Bodies on the wire or sprawled out in no man’s land.
All caked in mud, “Are they ours? Are they theirs?”
Days and weeks of boredom, then terror and despair.
Vimy Ridge, the Somme or maybe Regina Trench
Maybe English on the left other times the French
High Wood or Kitchener’s, Avion as well
With the Aussies at Gallipoli, some lived to tell
Passchendaele, Arras, knowing each the end
If not for the war, surely for the men
Metis, Cree and Dane a total of Seventeen
On a great adventure, young, naive and keen
But the Great War wasn’t a great place to learn
For seventeen go but only two returned.