The Alberta Connection: Conan Doyle in Alberta - 1914
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In October of 1998 one of our foremost Alberta Sherlockians and Doyleans passed away.  Gerry O’Hara was a great person and I was fortunate enough to call him a friend.  Those in the Baker Street Dozen of Calgary did not have the opportunity to meet Gerry and that is a shame.  As recently as the summer of 1998 Gerry had suggested to me that we should organize a joint meeting of the CPR Stockholders of Edmonton and the Baker Street Dozen in Jasper to visit the locations that Doyle visited in 1914 and 1923.   I had been corresponding with Gerry about his plans to complete a book about Doyle’s 1914 visit to Canada.  He indicated that he had almost completed his research.  During the summer, he traveled to New York and Montreal to conduct some research.  This article is dedicated to the memory of Gerry O’Hara, president of the CPR Stockholders Society in Edmonton, and an outstanding Sherlockian, who died October 12, 1998.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had been invited by the Canadian government to visit the newly established national park, Jasper.  He would sail to New York with his wife, take the train to Montreal where they would be sent by train to Sarnia, Ontario.  There they boarded the SS Harmonic which took them to Fort William at the Lakehead on Lake Superior.  Here they boarded their rail car 'Canada' which was a business class car built by Wagner in 1897.  It is preserved in the Canadian Railway Museum at St. Constant/Delson, Quebec. They visited  Winnipeg on June 8 and  departed on the 9th arriving in Edmonton late in the evening of the 9th.
This voyage was well documented in Doyle’s autobiography, Memories and Adventures (1924) as Chapter XXV, although it was deleted in the 2nd edition (1930).  It was originally published in Cornhill Magazine between January and April of 1915 as Western WanderingsWestern Wanderings was recently republished under a single hard cover by The Arthur Conan Doyle Society (1994) with excellent photos from the Lancelyn Green Collection.
Sir Arthur and Lady Jean Conan Doyle would have arrived at the Edmonton station located on 104th Avenue and 101st Street.  They disembarked from their personal railcar to repose at the King Edward Hotel just a few blocks south at the present location of Holt Renfrew.  The King Edward was destroyed by fire in the 1970’s, presumably with its guest register.  On the morning of June 10, Sir Arthur was interviewed by a reporter from the Edmonton Journal and sketched in front of the hotel by one of their artists.  The complete interview is included here .  He had probably given a similar interview in each city he visited.  It is interesting from many perspectives including the historical aspects and views of events of the day.  It is interesting to see his impressions of western Canada and Edmonton specifically.  It would be interesting to know exactly how the men on the street that caught his eye were dressed.  The grade referred to was on the north bank of the Saskatchewan River near where the Hotel MacDonald is located.

Doyle spoke to the Canadian Clubs in Montreal, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Ottawa.  His presentation was titled
The Future of Literature in Canada.  It was published recently (1994) again by the Arthur Conan Doyle Society.
The Canadian Club was established in 1896 in Hamilton and spread to the major cities across the country.  Originally it was exclusively a men’s club but soon women’s Canadian Clubs were established, including in Edmonton in 1912 by their first president, Emily Murphy.  The possibility that Mrs. Murphy attended that joint meeting of the men’s and women’s clubs is something I have never been able to confirm but it is practically inconceivable that she did not attend.  The possibility that Doyle and Emily Murphy met at this meeting is intriguing considering the comments of Doyle about suffragettes that morning and Emily Murphy’s role as a suffragette and magistrate of the British Empire and in fact a Canadian author of some repute herself.  She was the major figure in the “persons case” appealed to the British Supreme Court in 1927.  What would she have said to Doyle?  What would Doyle have said to her?
On June 11th, they re-boarded the railway car and arrived at Jasper where they remained until June 19.  I had wondered what accommodation they might have had in Jasper but it was not until I visited Jasper and the municipal museum there that I realized that there was no accommodation in Jasper at that time.  They lived aboard the railcar Canada which would have been quite luxurious.  Jerry O’Hara wrote an article about Doyle’s visit to Jasper published in 1988 in Alberta Past which was a newsletter of the Provincial Archives. The article was Sherlock Holmes: The Alberta Connection.
Among the activities that Gerry documented in1988 were Doyle’s work in laying out a 9 hole golf course for the proposed railway hotel at Pyramid Lake.  The site identified was never used.  The ultimate location for the hotel and golf course was lower down in the valley on the opposite side of the Athabasca River.  Conan Doyle was asked to lay the cornerstone of the Union Church of Jasper.  In my discussions with Gerry, he had always wondered about the fate of that cornerstone, as it is no longer visible.  He speculated that it was covered or buried by subsequent renovations of the church.

Doyle traveled by pack train from Jasper to Tete Juane Cache, the continental divide between Alberta and British Columbia and was photographed astride the border standing on a pile of railway ties.  This trip was the inspiration for his poem
The Athabasca Trail.

On his last day in Jasper Sir Arthur was invited to join in a game of baseball that was held between Jasper and Edson at the Jasper ball diamond.  The site on which the game was played can be identified from the photo and today it remains as the towns municipal ball park.
While visiting London in 1997, my wife and I stopped at the Sherlock Holmes Memorabilia Company on Baker Street.  I noticed a photo on the wall of Sir Arthur and Lady Doyle and was informed by the proprietor that the photo was taken at the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland.  I corrected him and informed him it was taken at Maligne Canyon in Jasper in 1914.  I had not been aware that they had visited the canyon until that time but the evidence was unmistakable.  In my opinion this could not have been taken during the 1923 visit.

Sir Arthur and Lady Conan Doyle left Jasper and Alberta on June 19 but were so impressed by their visit that nine years later they returned to Jasper with their three children.



Photo Credits
Railway car Canada …Metro Toronto Reference Library
Wigwam . . . Richard Lancelyn Green Photo Library
Ball Game. . . Richard Lancelyn Green Photo Library
Railway Car - Metro Toronto Reference Library
Wigwam - Richard Lancelyn Green Photo Library
Ball Game - Richard Lancelyn Green Photo Library
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By Robert McFetridge
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Robert and Irene McFetridge are active members of The Singular Society of the Baker Street Dozen and former members of the CPR Stockholders of Edmonton. A website exploring some of Bob's varied interests may be found here.
Text of this article is copyright © Robert McFetridge 1999 and may not be reproduced without consent. Images are copyright their respective owners and are used here for review purposes only. Site design is copyright © Charles Prepolec 2000.