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William & Harriet Gladstone:
A Metis Heritage

Updated by Nieves Brister

William Shanks Gladstone was born in Montreal, Dec 29 1832, son of blacksmith, William Gladstone, and Eleanor Shanks. In 1848, Gladstone signed up with the Hudson’s Bay Company as a carpenter and apprentice boat builder, working at Rocky Mountain House in winter and Fort Edmonton in summer. His five-year contract gave an annual salary of 10 pounds a year. By the third year, it had increased to 15 pounds, but he also received his life-long nickname, “Old Glad.”

On May 6th, 1855, Glad married Harriet Leblanc, whose heritage was Métis-Cree. The ceremony was performed at Fort Edmonton where Harriet was also a Company employee. Glad was an Anglican; the fiancée was Roman Catholic and the only minister was Father Albert Lacombe. Glad refused to change his religion, so Father Lacombe told them that he would marry them but he could not wear his vestments. “I don’t care if you’re naked” said the carpenter “just as long as you marry us.” Old Glad and Father Lacombe were good friends afterward.

Glad acquired a piece of land to farm at the Red River settlement and stayed for the winter of 1855-56, but Harriet longed for the prairies, so Old Glad signed up for another term with the Hudson’s Bay Co. He built boats at Fort Assiniboine on the Athabasca River, then returned to the Rocky Mountain House and Edmonton routine. In 1857, he met the Palliser Expedition. In 1862, he left the Hudson’s Bay Co. hired by Methodist missionary, Thomas Woolsey, to build a mission-house at Fort Victoria. After completion, he took up a farm at St. Albert.

In 1864, American prospectors arrived at Fort Edmonton and when the Company refused to sell them supplies, Old Glad let them build winter cabins on his land. After hearing their stories about gold discoveries in Montana, Gladstone joined the prospectors, moved his family to Fort Benton, and set up a carpentry shop near the trading post.

In 1870, William Gladstone was hired by the firm of Hamilton & Healy to build a fort near the present city of Lethbridge. There was much money to be made selling whiskey and repeating rifles, and Old Glad put up a strong, well-fortified trading post that became famous as Fort Whoop-Up. Old Glad worked at the Fort during the winters from 1870 to 1874. When the Northwest Mounted Police came west, he moved to Fort Macleod and opened a carpenter shop.

In 1879, he moved into the foothills at Mountain Mill and built a cabin. A short time later, the government set aside the area for a sawmill but Old Glad continued to squat on the land. Working for sawmill manager John Kean, he whip-sawed lumber for the mill buildings. When taken over by McLaren Mills, and Glad and family members of his family continued to work at the mill. Old Glad helped found the Mountain Mill Presbyterian Church in 1906, donating its property and assisting in its construction.
Old Glad and Harriet had seven children, who they raised in a bi-cultural atmosphere, learning Cree as their mother tongue. They were William (Mary Johnson); Harriet (Basil LaRoche); Mary (Peter McEwen); Sarah; Robert (Azilda Gervais); John “Jack” L. (1. Marie Rose Tourond, 2. Rita); and Harry.
In his final years, Gladstone became blind and was cared for by the McIlquaham family. His many adventures were recounted and published in a long series of articles in the Rocky Mountain Echo in 1903. Old Glad died at Mountain Mill on Apr 9 1911 at 79. Mount Gladstone, Gladstone Creek, and the Gladstone Valley were named in his honour.

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