Secret Alberta: Kipling Saves Medicine Hat

(thoughtful music) (audience applauding) – [Rudyard Kipling Voiceover]
I have the honor to speak today to our most welcome fellow
craftsman and fellow crowd with you from Canada. (thoughtful music) For it was given to me once
to see Canada on block. This was one prodigious
week from Quebec to Victoria and then back again. To feel the moral pulse
of a land and a people, free as their own heirs,
and yet sit in most ancient and same practice of justice,
honor and self-control. But not till long after my
return did the significance of them begin to break upon me. (thoughtful music) – Rudyard Kipling
was, in his time, the most popular
writer in English. He was known on every continent. He grew up in India. His parents were civil
servants in India. He was a reporter for a
couple of different journals in India and he was
constantly traveling throughout the length
and breadth of India, writing stories and learning
his trade as a writer. I would say that he’s best
known for being the writer, the poet, the animated figure
that was able to travel the world and capture
through his own creative eye the understanding of cultures
and worlds that perhaps potentially his readers would
never be able to witness. – I remember reading The
Jungle Books very thoroughly when I was a teenager. The Jungle Books, in fact,
there are two of them, give the stories of a boy
who was brought up by animals in the jungle and became
a kind of prototype for, I suppose, Tarzan. – He had this very
astute ability to, almost as though he was
wielding a paintbrush, he would take his literary
ability and capture these amazing, exotic
vistas to be presented to his readers in Europe. – Everywhere he went
he was a rockstar, he was a celebrity. Crowds would greet
him wherever he went. – And so for him to
come to Medicine Hat was probably considered to
be a very, very big deal. (thoughtful music) – Rudyard Kipling
visited Medicine Hat on three different occasions. 1889, when he was on a long
trip back from India to England. For some reason or another,
he ran short of money. He got associated
somehow with a hobo, someone who was riding
the rails in freight cars and he came with that hobo and
came as far as Medicine Hat. That hobo made the
prophecy in 1889. See that town, boy, he said. You remember her because
she’s born lucky. At one point Kipling
said, what is your luck? You’re the town that was
born lucky, what’s your luck? And they said, well,
it’s our natural gas. We have immense, unending
supply of natural gas. – Natural gas is what has helped
differentiate Medicine Hat from some of the other
communities on the prairies. – In 1883, the CPR was
looking for water near where they were building
the railroad tracks, just outside of Medicine Hat and accidentally discovered gas. – In the earliest days, if
somebody wanted to sink a well in their backyard, they
just went and did it. – Settlers were flocking
in and the industry started to appear it was going to
be the Pittsburgh of Canada. – In 1907, the mayor
heard from a CPR conductor that Rudyard Kipling was
doing a tour of Canada so, because Medicine
Hat was moving forward and becoming this industrial
hub, the mayor thought it’d be a great promotional
opportunity and a great honor if Rudyard Kipling came here. – And, of course, if you’re
trying to sell your town, what better than to encourage
someone like Kipling to remain over for a period. – He arrived on the morning
train in October of 1907. He stopped over and had
breakfast at the Alberta Hotel, which was probably the
grandest building in town at the time. – And he was the
guest of the city. He was shown everything. – The city officials had
arranged for this car tour around Medicine Hat to show him
what a great place this was. – He was taken around
to the gas plants, to the brick baking
plants, to the farms. He was moldered around. – There’s quite an amusing
article in the Medicine Hat News from the following day about
the adventures of Kipling in the motor cars, how
several of them broke down, but a good time was had by all. (gas well lighting up) – Back in the early 1990s
whenever visiting dignitaries would come to Medicine Hat,
the town counsel would light up one of the gas wells. – So this flame would shoot
200 feet up in the air from the stand pipe that maybe
was a foot or two or three above the ground. – And it’s then that he said,
this region has all hell for a basement, a phrase
that has become a kind of second city slogan. – He did a huge
favor to Medicine Hat in confirming the identity
that this city, this community, was developing for itself. He recognized the uniqueness
of the natural gas, the abundance of it. He recognized the pioneering
and the adventurous spirit that had got Medicine
Hat to that point. And apparently, Mr. Kipling
was somewhat intrigued by the name Medicine Hat. – Kipling said it’s a name
that people are curious about and he said, I was one of
those ones that was curious. That’s one of the reasons
why he came, was to see what kind of a place it was
that was called Medicine Hat. – I can remember as a
child sort of asking myself and my parents, Medicine
Hat, what does that mean? – Since the early 1900s
or even before that, there’s been debate about
what the real answer is. – I believe we tried to
count the number of legends, the variations of the legends, some of them are very similar, that are housed in the
archives in Medicine Hat. I think there was somewhere,
if memory serves me, around 20 of them and James
Sanderson’s was the one that was more mystical. – Sanderson set up
operations here. He was an entrepreneur,
did many, many things. He used to drop into
the Medicine Hat News and would tell them various
stories or news items that he had learned. One of them being how
Medicine Hat got its name and I think that ultimately
led to Jim Marshall’s mural at City Hall, his brick mural. (mysterious music) – It’s a Blackfoot story that
goes back to the dog days before they had the horse. They were starving, they ran
out of their supply of buffalo and they held a band council
to pick their best hunter to go dow the river to the
breathing hole in the river where they felt that
there were spirits that could help them. He pitched his teepee
where Strathcona is now and he walked around the open
water, calling on the spirits and this great serpent rose
out of the water and said, you have a problem,
what can I do for you? – He said, I will give you
what you seek to bring healing to your people, however
there must be a sacrifice. – You have to sacrifice
your young bride to the water spirits. So he killed his dog and
threw his dog in to fool them, but they weren’t fooled. – And the spirit came
forward and said, no, she must be given. So she was thrown
into the water. – And they told this young
warrior that in the morning where the sun shines
first on the great cliffs, you will find your salm-se,
or we say sal-o-mas. What that word means
is holy war bonnet. – But once he received this
hat, he was able to heal his people, he was able
to defend his people, he was able to see that
his people thrived. – So, when the CPR came here,
they were looking for names for towns, so they
heard this legend and how the medicine man
got his hat, Medicine Hat. And it’s a great name. – In 1910, there was a
motion put forward to change the name of Medicine Hat. – In their words, and I’m
quoting from some sources that I’ve read, “It smacked
too much of the Injun “and the teepee fire,” and
therefore, wasn’t as saleable to some prominent Eastern
Canadian, Central Canadian businessperson as Gasberg
might be, for instance. Gasberg, what a thought. I mean, really. We have a hard enough time
living down Medicine Hat, the gas city, quite frankly
because that’s sort of part of the branding
of the city. Rudyard Kipling kept
up a correspondence with several people. He developed friendships here. He was more than just a tourist. And so when these
people were considering, what are we gonna do to stop
this ridiculous situation, he very quickly came to mind
as the person to engage. – In November 19010,
Francis Fatt who was one of Medicine Hat’s
first postmasters, he was involved with
the Anglican Church and he was very much considered
an outstanding citizen, wrote this letter
to Rudyard Kipling, said these newcomers are
talking about changing our name, that we shouldn’t be
called Medicine Hat. – The turnaround from the
letter from Francis Fatt to the reply from Kipling
is really very fast. The letter was published
in the city paper. He analyzed the arguments
that the name changers used. – Rudyard Kipling said that
it’s absolutely ridiculous to change your name because
you think you’re existing name Medicine Hat doesn’t look that
good on a business proposal or some American newspaper
is making fun of you. – He came to the defense
of the name by citing that there is a strong
legacy, there is a strong even spiritual component
to the name itself and that the indigenous
legends need to be honored. He speaks about the fact
that Medicine Hat as a name is almost an emblem
for the land itself, that fact that it is a place
of strength, of endurance. – And he ended his rather
long letter by saying, what would you call a
town that sold its name? You’d call it Judasville. That was all it took. And the plebiscite on the
name change was defeated about 10 to one. And since then, no one
has dared to suggest we change our name again. We would have a
different name if Kipling had not contributed his
thoughts on that subject. I think his help instrumentally
affected the plebiscite. – We have this unique name, we have this unique identity. We’ve got Rudyard
Kipling to back it up. I think that was a great
reinforcer of that identity. – So, we have a name, let’s
embrace it, let’s celebrate it. And, again, that’s what I feel
that’s what Kipling was doing and we should continue
to look at that no matter where we live, what
makes us unique, what makes us distinct
from other places. (thoughtful music) – [Rudyard Kipling Voiceover]
Strictly between ourselves, I think that this is an occasion
on which we are justified in feeling a little
proud of our calling. We know that when all the men
who do things have done them, and after all the men who
say things about those doing so said them, it is
only words, nothing but words that live to show the present how men worked and
thought in the past.

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