Sunday, August 2, 2020

A BRIEF HISTORY OF "RENFREW OF THE MOUNTED"

by Martin Grams, Jr.

Five hundred miles through the frozen wastes of the north Renfrew hiked until he reached the missionary. Isolated for far too long, he was found mad and victim of the lonesomeness of his northern post. Their long trek back to civilization threw every peril at them as if daring every next step.

In his madness the missionary fought Renfrew so he was tied down to the sled. To feed him and prevent the bonds from stopping the flow of circulation, Renfrew would release the poor fellow a few times a day, and then the man would fight with a maniac’s strength. Renfrew would have to chase him, wallowing in the snow, and drag him back to camp constantly.

The first settlement they reached proved not to be the hoped-for haven. Renfrew, now weak from exhaustion, found the place taken over by drunken half-breeds. The authority of the Royal Canadian Mounties could not be left in question. So, by sheer courage, he tore into the mob of hoodlums, arrested the ringleaders, and proceeded on his almost impossible journey.

Finally, he managed to reach Port Saskatchewan, where he imprisoned the half-breed outlaws and turned the lunatic over to the hospital.

The heroic deeds of the fictional Inspector Douglas Renfrew, as dictated from the imagination of Laurie York Erskine, avoided the trappings of the silver screen. The heroic exploits of the Canadian Mounties, left to Hollywood, projected the American image of the force with applied diction that “the Mounties always get their man,” complete with clean red garb and shiny brass buttons.

Depending on which rendition you view, the Mounties demonstrate superb vocal talents in their effort to serenade the white oak and rich canyons. Others received second billing below the dog, both star and hero of the picture, inspired by the popularity of Rin-Tin-Tin. Literary renditions, however, of which there were many, were more faithful to the legend and lore. Most authors based their character on the mythos recorded in history books.

Authors John Mackie, Harold Bindloss, James Oliver Curwood, Charles Gordon, and Gilbert Parker, among others, dramatized the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as peacekeepers who were respected among whiskey traders, trappers, and prospectors. Deceptions against the crown were punishable by law, but not before due diligence and an exchange of fisticuffs. This was embodied in the ubiquitous “get their man” cliché, that phrase coined by an American newspaper and later perpetuated by popular writers describing romantic images of the force.

As depicted through Erskine’s printed prose, Renfrew rarely wore his uniform because most of his combatants were not killers, fur thieves, or claim jumpers; they were the roaring rapids from a spring thaw, the hidden quicksand bogs, and long treks through uncharted territory. Erskine provided feats of fury on Yukon-sized trails, rivers, mountain vistas, midnight sun, and northern lights, avoiding the Hollywood fantasy in an effort to satisfy his readers with a craving for authentic, unspoiled wilderness.

Although it has been said that Canada had no ‘Wild West’ because the Mounties got there first, the truth is that before their heralded arrival, Canada’s frontier was as wild as any Wild West dime novel. Native murders and whiskey traders were so common that such vandalism could never be depicted accurately on screen. Erskine made sure to apply a realistic approach with his Renfrew stories, choosing to incorporate romantic prose for the natural beauty of the Northern wilds, with nature a harsher enemy of the Canadian Mounties.

Extremely well-written and highly treasured among aficionados of adventure fiction, the novels are still in demand among collectors — with greater demand for the fragile dust jackets that outlived most of the books themselves.

Following a series of short stories in American Boy magazine, and a number of published novels, Renfrew of the Mounted made a transition to radio in the mid-thirties, five days a week, and children followed his daily adventures with maps, lapel pins, and schoolbooks. Such tall tales were acceptable to parents, knowing the perils of the wilderness could only enhance survival instincts and sharpen cunning. A champion who could be looked up to was approved by social-minded guardians; the Parents and Teachers Association even voted Renfrew of the Mounted one of the top programs for children.

To the millions of fiction readers who delighted in stories of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Inspector Douglas Renfrew was a favorite character — the embodiment of the adventurous spirit for which those troopers were famous. Little did they realize that the author was merely reliving his own experiences in the Canadian wilds, augmenting those from the records related in history books.

The story of the missionary driven mad was a true tale of heroism. Constable Albert Pedley’s impossible journey in 1904 did not end well. After turning the lunatic over to the hospital in Fort Saskatchewan and a long sleep, the British-born Pedley had to commute to Edmonton for dental work. The dentist gave him gas to extract an infected tooth. Not wanting to rest, Pedley set out again for his post in the north. He never reached it. Alarmed by the failure to report from Vermillion, high in the north, a search party was sent out. He was found wandering in the winter wilderness, singing snatches of songs from his native Devonshire. As Commissioner Aylesworth Bowen Perry wrote in his 1905 Annual Report, Constable Pedley “went violently insane as a result of the hardships of the trip and his anxiety for the safety of his charge.” Under the terrible strain of his achievement, Pedley’s mind had cracked. He was never to return to the north again.*
* The story of Constable Pedley was adapted into a motion-picture, The Wild North, in 1952, but it little resembled the true events.



Editor's Note: Be sure to tune in next week when we publish part 2 of A Brief History of "Renfrew of the Mounted." --Carrie Aulenbacher


Biography:

Martin Grams Jr. is the author and co-author of more than 40 books including one about THE GREEN HORNET, and is co-author of the up-coming THE LONE RANGER: THE EARLY YEARS, 1933-1937.

Please review Martin's author page: click here!

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