Friday, July 27, 2018

Frank "Chicken Stalker" Dickens & Fort Dufferin

Francis J. Dickens, second from the right
From Wayne Arseny, former mayor of Emerson:
I think of the latrine at Fort Dufferin and once read something about it being a 3-hole toilet. To me that was a rare oddity, and kooky as it sounds to write about, something people would want to see inside for themselves after reading it on a sign. 
As a kid we only had an outdoor biffy (one hole style) but when you went to community halls or schools you often saw 4-hole ones. So why was Fort Dufferin only three? So many reasons to guess on why they had to make them that way. I also read in the diary from Francis Dickens, one of the first NWMP officers - and son of the famous writer, Charles Dickens - of men going out to use the biffy in the night with their primitive lanterns on a windy night. The toilets were made from recycled lumber which often had poor fitting boards leaving gaping holes. 
As the wind swirled around the building he said it was often so windy inside the biffy that the lamp blew out. Sitting there in their long underwear with no pockets and no match to relight the lantern, making their way back to the sleeping quarters was difficult in total darkness. No yard lights or lanterns left burning in the building as a guide. So he said they strung a rope on short posts from the biffy to the main house.  A man would just follow the rope back to not get lost.
From Dufferin: Then and Now (Manitoba History, Spring 1992):
In 1874, when Northwest Mounted Police Inspector Francis Dickens arrived at Dufferin, an outpost along the west side of the Red River near the Manitoba-U.S. Border, he was angry and upset, first because he had arrived too late to take part in the original trek west, and second because he would have to remain at what he considered one of the most unpleasant places in the entire British Empire. [1] George A. French, the first commissioner of the North West Mounted Police, described the site [Fort Dufferin/Emerson area], where he would assemble nearly 300 people in preparation for a march into Canada’s far west, as a “small shanty town surrounded by a few brothels and grog shops.” [2] 
1.  E. Nicol, (ed), Dickens of the Mounted (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1989). A series of letters written by Francis Dickens during his stay in the North West Mounted Police. Although often full of disdain for the physical situation he was placed in, these letters provide an insight into the conditions of the time as well as the character and personality of the writer.  
2.  G. A. French, Diary, July 8 - November 7, 1874.
From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography:
His superiors consistently rated him as lazy, alcoholic, and unfit to be an officer in the NWMP.
From Lesser Expectations:  Charles Dickens' Son in North America - Amusing anecdotes:
Calculating that the free time he would have in Toronto would be the last until he was subject to the rigours of military service and a prairie winter that was still beyond his imagination, Dickens indulged in more than his share of intoxicants. Two days behind schedule, he caught the train for Chicago. He chastised himself for his foolishness and took no more alcohol until he reached Pembina. He arrived in a cold spell in late October and Dickens had never felt a chill as bitter as that of the prairies. Like all frontier towns, Pembina contained more than its share of rogues, swells, and desperadoes, wonderful characters whom Dickens found enchanting. He again succumbed to temptation, easily taken in by new-found friends and took what he considered to be a modest amount of brandy to ward off the frigid winds of late fall. This was a momentary lapse, but it launched him into a wave of comradeship with the peculiar people who populated the local saloons. It was three days before he realized with alarm that he would be unable to make the planned rendezvous...