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Biography & Autobiography Personal Memoirs

The Banker and the Blackfoot

A Memoir of My Grandfather in Chinook Country

by (author) J. Edward Chamberlin

Knopf Canada
Initial publish date
Aug 2016
Personal Memoirs, Post-Confederation (1867-), Historical
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2016
    List Price

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In his remarkable and entertaining memoir of his beloved grandfather, Ted Chamberlin conjures up vividly the never-before-told story of a particular time and place not long after Canada was founded. And shows us not only what Canada once—briefly—was, but what it still could be.
This is the story of when “Sorreltop Jack” was friends with Crop Eared Wolf; of two decades, 1885 to 1905, when the people in the foothills of modern-day Alberta—First Nation and Métis, rancher and settler—respectfully set out to accommodate Blackfoot sovereignty and new settlement, before Canada broke its Treaty promises to the first peoples.
It was a colourful, unpredictable time. Fort Macleod was a small ramshackle town nestled in the heart of Blackfoot territory when young Jack Cowdry arrived and met Crop Eared Wolf—the legendary Káínai (Blood) warrior, brilliant horseman and sophisticated strategist, who would soon succeed his father, the great statesman Red Crow, as head chief of the Bloods. Friendship and trust became a bond. Here Jack opened his first bank and fell in love with the author’s grandmother, Gussie Thompson, who travelled across the country to work as a teacher, her heart open to whatever adventures life could offer her. The new town embraced it all—Sun Dances and social dances, bibles and medicine bundles, horse races and polo matches, and a wild variety of great characters. Here we meet Madame Kanouse (Natawista), admired for both her influential intelligence and her stunning fashion sense; Kamoose Taylor, hospitable patron of the Macleod Hotel—where Francis Dickens, son of the great novelist Charles, or the Sundance Kid himself might be found at the bar; the taciturn Jerry Potts, unequaled Métis guide and interpreter; John Ware, successful Black rancher;and Peigan chief Big Swan, irreverent co-conspirator with Jack Cowdry on the satirical newspaper The Outlaw.
Resonant with the power of storytelling, this compelling memoir illuminates the challenges we face now, and the opportunity we still have to uphold the promise made when Canada was founded.

About the author

J. Edward Chamberlin was born in Vancouver, and educated at the universities of British Columbia, Oxford, and Toronto. He was Senior Research Associate with the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and Poetry Editor of Saturday Night magazine, and has lectured widely on literary, historical and cultural issues. His books include Come Back To Me My Language: Poetry and the West Indies (1993); If This Is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories? Finding Common Ground (2003), which was nominated for the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction; and the best-seller, Horse: How the Horse Has Shaped Civilizations (2006). He lives with his wife, the Jamaican poet Lorna Goodison, in Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia.

J. Edward Chamberlin's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“[I]n addition to honouring the story of his grandfather and his friend, Chamberlin is using that relationship as an entry point for a very different sort of book. Not just a biography, not just a social history, The Banker and the Blackfoot becomes a collection of Chamberlin’s long held passions. There are beautiful passages, for example, about the horses of the plains, hardly surprising for a writer whose Horse: How the Horse Has Shaped Civilizations was a stunning and powerful account of equine importance, blending biology, history, sociology and the like. Most significantly, though, the book allows Chamberlin . . . to look back at the roots of the modern relationship between the First Nations of the plains and the white settlers. . . . It’s a wrenching account of betrayal and loss. . . In its own way, The Banker and the Blackfoot serves as a capsule history, and a reminder of our common history. There is . . . power in such a story.” —Robert J. Wiersema, Edmonton Journal

The Banker and the Blackfoot shows how, by focusing on the seemingly modest stories of local—and even family—history, a skilled historian can illuminate much larger issues of national concern. . . . [I]n his very worthwhile The Banker and the Blackfoot, Chamberlin . . . seeks to continue to honour that obligation and share their experience to inspire action towards recovering the word and spirit of the prairie treaties.” —Christopher Moore’s History News (blog)

“The sights and sounds of historical Fort Macleod are richly detailed and entertaining. Anecdotes of spirited characters and settler customs bring the town to life.” —The Globe and Mail

“[I]t gives us insight into this almost-unknown place and unpredictable time.” —
Praise for HORSE: How the Horse Has Shaped Civilizations:
“This is a book for anyone who knows horses or knows nothing of them. If you can’t give your daughter a pony for Christmas, give yourself a copy of Horse.” —Calgary Herald
“A grand and lofty survey of the relationship between man and Equus. . . . Horse is evocative, well-written, and researched with an obvious depth of feeling.” —Edmonton Journal
“Chamberlin’s conviction and passion make his arguments convincing. It’s clear he has a deep love and appreciation for horses that will touch even those who are not horse-lovers. Chamberlin provides a complex portrait of the horse. . . . [H]orses possess a majesty which, after reading Horse, even those who have never seen one up close will understand. . . . [T]he book can’t help but foster a deeper appreciation for the animals. . . . [I]ts content is affecting and revealing, with enough horsepower to have the reader paying more attention to what’s happening in the world of horse racing.” —The London Free Press
“Two categories of people will thoroughly dig author J. Edward Chamberlin’s lovingly rendered and insanely detailed Horse: How the Horse Has Shaped Civilizations—those who know nothing about (but admire) horses, and those who can’t get enough of them. . . . Chamberlin . . . [is] consistently engaging. Subject and author are perfectly paired.” —The Toronto Star

Horse offers a fresh portrait of human history before the mechanized age, when animals, one in particular, really mattered. . . . Chamberlin read countless books about horse and human history before rendering his own insightful distillation. He finds the right words to convey his indignation and regret that we have mostly severed our ties with horses. . . . Prehistory and history, myth and war and trivia, real characters and imagined ones: the whole assemblage trots along smoothly and seamlessly over time and across continents.” —The Globe and Mail
“Read This! . . . Chamberlin lays out a fascinating array of horse trivia. . . . The story of the horse is an astonishing one that Chamberlin accomplishes with clarity and colour, no lack of humour, and with precise but poetic prose. And maybe like me, you will never look at a horse again in the same way you did before reading this book.” —Owen Sound Sun-Times

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