Steele, Samuel Benfield (1849–1919)

Sir Samuel Benfield Steele’s association with Saskatchewan was as a North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) and military officer. Steele was born in Medonte Township, Upper Canada on January 5, 1849. He joined the militia and participated in the campaigns against the Fenian incursions of 1866 and the Red River Rebellion of 1870. Upon hearing that the government intended to form a mounted police force for the North-West Territories, Steele applied to join and was accepted into the NWMP with the rank of staff-constable in 1873. This was the beginning of a distinguished thirty-year career with the NWMP, in which he participated in the March West, served during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), and fought in the North-West Resistance. Steele’s initial duties with the force involved patrolling the frontier, breaking horses, training recruits, carrying out reconnaissance patrols, and policing whiskey traders. In August 1875, Steele was promoted to chief constable and assigned to Swan River Barracks (Fort Livingstone, Saskatchewan). He was part of the NWMP contingent stationed at Fort Walsh in October 1877, when the Sioux led by Sitting Bull sought refuge there from the United States government.

In 1880, Steele was promoted to inspector and given his first independent command at Fort Qu’Appelle. Up to this point, his responsibilities had mainly been dealing with Aboriginals; but with the coming of the transcontinental railway, he was charged with negotiating settlement and construction disputes, and with policing the rail line. Steele also laid out the NWMP post at Regina. When the railway reached Fort Calgary in 1883, he was sent there as commanding officer. The North-West Resistance prompted Steele to return to Saskatchewan. Given a leave of absence from the NWMP, Steel joined the Alberta Field Force and, as a major, commanded a paramilitary unit which had been organized at Fort Calgary in April. Known as Steele’s Scouts, the unit was composed of twenty members of the NWMP, twenty civilian scouts, and twenty-two members of the Alberta Mounted Rifles. They departed northward from Calgary on April 20, and pursued Cree chief Big Bear until his surrender in July. The Scouts were disbanded in August and Steele, returning to the NWMP, was promoted to superintendent. Steele returned to patrolling construction camps adjacent to the CPR and was present at the driving of the last spike. He was then posted to Battleford where he spent most of his time training recruits. Later in his career, Steele presided over the policing of the Klondike gold rush.

Steele was given command of Lord Strathcona’s Horse in the South African War, and was instrumental in creating the South African Constabulary. In World War I he commanded the second Canadian contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force which was sent overseas in 1915. In 1916 he was appointed general officer commanding the Shorncliffe area in England. Sam Steele died in London, England on January 30, 1919. He was buried in St. John’s cemetery in Winnipeg.

Peter Borch


Further Reading

Brown, W.F. 2001. Steele’s Scouts: Samuel Benfield Steele and the North-West Rebellion. Surrey, BC: Heritage House; Steele, S.B. 1972. Forty Years in Canada: Reminiscences of the Great North-West with Some Account of His Service in South Africa. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson; Stewart, R. 1979. Sam Steele: Lion of the Frontier. Regina: Centax Books.