Friday, February 14, 2014

Royal Friends of Texas: Canada

The connection between Texas and Canada actually goes back to before either were independent countries. Yet, most Texans and Canadians alike are probably unaware of the long history linking these two distant places. Today, the one part of Canada which most resembles Texas is certainly the Province of Alberta. Home to cowboys, oil wells and a largely conservative population, it is no wonder some have called Alberta the ‘Texas of Canada’. However, Texas and Canada have had a history long before the Province of Alberta was even settled. The list of Canadians who have played a part in Texas history and the list of famous Canadian-Texans is actually a long one. Two of the earliest were the French Canadian brothers Paul and Pierre Antoine Mallet who explored much of what is now northern Texas and New Mexico with their primary expeditions being across the area from Santa Fe, along the Canadian River and Red River to New Orleans, Louisiana. Some say it was these brothers who gave the Canadian River its name, thinking the river reached all the way to Canada. And, speaking of French Canada, thanks to the intrepid explorer La Salle, Texas and Canada shared a monarch for a short time in the person of King Louis XIV of France.

Holland crosses the line
During the War for Independence, a number of Canadians fought for Texas with great distinction. One famous name was Tapley Holland who was actually born in Ohio but whose parents were immigrants from Canada. At the famous battle of the Alamo, when Colonel Travis drew his line in the sand and asked any who would stay and fight to the death alongside him to cross the line, it was Tapley Holland who was the first to cross and offer to give his life for Texas. The year prior, when San Antonio was taken from the Mexican army, a native of Nova Scotia named William Graham (a member of the New Orleans Greys) was twice cited for bravery. Later, he formed his own company of volunteers in the U.S. and returned to serve the Republic of Texas as a member of the elite Texas Rangers. William Silvan Brown was a Canadian native of Montreal who came to Texas, joined the army and served for a time before being taken prisoner by the Mexicans and perishing in the infamous Goliad massacre. He was not the only Canadian to be killed on that tragic Palm Sunday, but, Canadians were also present at the final victory. It was a Canadian, Dr Nicholas Labadie, who patched up General Sam Houston during the battle of San Jacinto when Texas independence was won.

After the Republic of Texas was secured, one early item of business was to settle things with the Catholic Church. Several Canadian churchmen played a leading part in the agreements which saw the restoration of property to the Catholic Church by the Republic of Texas and the establishment of a local Catholic hierarchy. Canadian Catholics also played a major part in reviving Catholicism in the border region of Texas where the faith had lapsed during the period of the early Mexican republic and Texas independence. The founding father of the vital port city of Galveston, Texas was a Canadian and it was a Canadian priest, Father Paul Joseph Foik, a native of Ontario, who became a noted librarian and historian. He later founded the Catholic Archives of Texas. One of the most famous ranchers in Texas history was Henry W. Cresswell, an English-born immigrant to Canada. He was a ranching legend with vast holdings across the Texas panhandle, the western U.S. and Canada. He was also good friends with the famous Charles Goodnight. One that even a few outsiders might have heard of was Bartholomew (Bat) Masterson. He was a U.S. Marshal, born in Ontario who became a noted lawman in the Texas panhandle and eventually a living legend across the American west. He helped construct Adobe Walls on the Canadian River in north Texas, was involved in many a business venture and many a gunfight and had such a colorful life he inspired a popular television series.

In the sad War Between the States, one of the most prominent Texans was a native of Canada. Charles Arden Russell was a Canadian soldier, a veteran of the British army, who came to Texas for a visit and decided to stay. He was a local official and founder of Helena in Karnes County and was a delegate to the Texas secession convention when the state voted to leave the Union. Afterwards, he joined the Confederate army and served with the legendary Texas Ranger Colonel John S. “RIP” Ford (who won the last battle of the war in far south Texas). Another Canadian who rose to prominence in the fratricidal conflict was Margaret (Mother St. Pierre) Harrington. She was the second foundress of the Galveston Ursulines and was known as “the Soldiers’ Friend” during the war for her care of Union and Confederate soldiers during the war. Born in Montreal, Canada she moved to New Orleans and later to Galveston, Texas after joining the Ursuline Convent. Her many acts of compassion and courage during the war earned her a noble and holy reputation by people from both sides, Protestants and Catholics alike. And, there were Texans who also had an impact on Canada such as James Wainwright Flanagan. He was born in Henderson, Texas, left home when he was young and worked in mines and railroads in the U.S., Cuba and Mexico. Eventually he became a businessman, made it to Canada and became president of the Royal Bank of Canada in 1913. A decorated veteran of the Cuban army, he was also named an honorary lieutenant colonel in the First and Second Battalions of the Irish Regiment of Canada in 1940. He earned many honors in his life, including the Order of St Gregory granted by Pope Pius XI. He lived many years in Toronto, Canada before coming home to retire in Houston.

In the early days, when there was little to Canada outside of French Canada, it was the French Canadians who probably had the biggest footprints in Texas. This can even be seen in the number of Frenchmen from Acadia who settled in Texas. Most made their homes in Louisiana of course but some came to Texas and others migrated from Louisiana later and, while most associated with Louisiana, the term “Cajun” has been generally applied to any American southerner of French descent. Today this can seem somewhat strange given that no two places could seem more dissimilar than modern-day Quebec and Texas. However, most recently, Texas has grown ever more closer with the one Canadian province that is most similar to Texas; Alberta. Of course, since the 90’s Texas had increased exposure to Canadians thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement, and there are always the “snow birds” who come to Texas to escape the harsh Canadian winter but recently Texas and Alberta in particular have to work together more often as Alberta has become a powerhouse in a field Texas has long been famous for: oil production. Texas and Alberta were set to become linked in a much more literal sense with the planned Keystone Pipeline that would carry oil from Alberta to the refineries of East Texas. Unfortunately, and more so for Canada than Texas, President Obama blocked the plan, officially because of environmental concerns in Nebraska [which is ridiculous and this is coming from someone who has a pipeline in practically his front and back yards, the grass, the trees, the cows, horses and rattlesnakes are all fine, the only thing that has changed is the size of my bank account]. Hopefully, one day that obstructionist policy will be reversed and Texas and (especially) Canada can both benefit by being linked more ‘deeply’ than ever before.

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