The rough­est, tough­est ban­dits of Canada’s Wild West.

Canada's History - - FRONT PAGE - By Brian Bren­nan

James H. Gray, a trail-blaz­ing chron­i­cler of the man­ners and mores of the peo­ple of the Prairies, once quipped that his­to­ri­ans had led him to be­lieve only “monks, eu­nuchs, and vestal vir­gins” set­tled the Canadian West. To ex­plode the myth he wrote a dozen books doc­u­ment­ing as­pects of Western so­cial his­tory — most fa­mously, whor­ing and booz­ing — that had never be­fore been closely ex­am­ined. Since that time, other his­to­ri­ans, tak­ing their cues from Gray, have shown how the West at­tracted hun­dreds of in­di­vid­u­als who lived be­yond the bound­aries of con­ven­tion and the con­fines of the law.

The fur trade spawned the first of them. One of the most no­to­ri­ous was Peter Pond, a pug­na­cious Yan­kee who killed a fur-trad­ing ri­val in a duel be­fore mov­ing in 1775 to the north­west. By 1779 he had formed a loose coali­tion with other in­de­pen­dent traders who called them­selves the Nor’Westers. Pond be­came their agent in the Athabasca re­gion of what is now north­ern Al­berta, where he was one of the first non-Abo­rig­i­nals to see ev­i­dence of the oil sands de­posits that now form the rich­est en­ergy re­serve in the world.

Athabasca was a lu­cra­tive fur-trad­ing dis­trict for Pond. Word of his suc­cess spread to Mon­treal, head­quar­ters of the Canadian fur trade, and that brought him some com­pe­ti­tion. His con­tem­po­raries both ad­mired and de­tested him. Ex­plorer David Thomp­son summed it up best, say­ing: “He was a per­son of in­dus­tri­ous habits, a good com­mon ed­u­ca­tion, but of a vi­o­lent tem­per and un­prin­ci­pled char­ac­ter.”

One of his ri­vals was Jean-Éti­enne Waden (or Wad­dens) — a man de­scribed by ex­plorer Alexan­der Macken­zie as be­ing of “strict pro­bity and known so­bri­ety.” Waden en­coun­tered Pond at Lac La Ronge (in present-day north­ern Saskatchewan) in 1782. Ac­cord­ing to Macken­zie, “Mr. Waden had re­ceived Mr. Pond and one of his clerks to din­ner; and in the course of the night, the for­mer was shot through the lower part of the thigh, when it was said that he ex­pired from the loss of blood.” Two years later, when Pond was next in Mon­treal, he ap­peared be­fore a judge and was ap­par­ently ac­quit­ted.

Pond’s next homi­ci­dal en­counter, with a ri­val named John Ross in the Peace River coun­try in 1786, also re­sulted in no charges. But that was the last straw for his fel­low Nor’Westers. They fired him at the end of 1787 and sent him pack­ing back to the United States, where he fell into poverty and died in 1807.

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