YYC POP – Poetic Portraits of People is an anthology of poetry and short non-fiction. Poet Laureate, Sheri-D Wilson, spearheaded the project and edited the anthology. Each of the 78 pieces are an homage to a Calgarian – past or present – who has made their mark on the city. Robin Hood of the Prairies, my contribution, describes my grandfather, John Charles (Jack) Morton, and his contributions to Calgary. The following is not that story but is a quick summary of the contents (to whet your appetite!)
Jack Morton came to the Calgary area in the late nineteenth century, as a young man seeking to make his fortune. He homesteaded and then, ultimately, built a cattle and horse ranching empire. He owned many ranches from the Rosebud and Gleichen area to Jumping Pound and the XC west of the City. According to historian Grant MacEwan, Jack owned more horses than anyone else in Canada, at the height of his holdings. Jack was also bankrupt by the time of his death in 1944.
Along the way, spending six months in a sod hut on the windswept prairies and suffering from the perfect storm of two bitter winters that left Jack owing money on cattle that had frozen to death despite heroic efforts to save his herds, Jack lived a life so exuberant and big-hearted that his name and his legacy still garner respect in the city. Unfortunately, GrandpaJack died before I was born, but I was raised on stories about him. About how he began the Stampede tradition of free pancake breakfasts. About how his strength was legendary at the time, e.g. he could throw a grown horse, earning the nickname Paul Bunyan of the West. About his pranks that didn’t always leave his “victims” laughing, earning him the nickname Mr. Mischief. About his love of horses and all things Calgary Stampede rodeo, earning him the nickname Wildhorse Jack. About his habit of initiating work for his cowboys at the end of the day, leading to the nickname Sundown. About his love for wild pets, including a badger named Maggie, and a bear cub, named Bear. About his legendary generosity with settlers yet a casual attitude toward horse or cattle brands, such that historian Grant MacEwan christened him Robin Hood of the Prairies.
Perhaps my favourite tribute to my grandfather comes from MacEwan: “Anybody looking for saintliness would be disappointed, but if “Charity covers a multitude of sins,” Jack Morton would emerge looking white and spotless.”