Rufus and Sam. J. Latta, editor of the Govan ‘Prairie News’, later a Saskatchewan cabinet minister

HonSamuelJLatta2

So this is the famous Sam Latta. How old was he in the picture?

About 55, I think – he looks more or less as he would have when Rufus met him again in 1920.

How did that come about?

Rufus had been to the Imperial Press Conference in Ottawa – had been hobnobbing with the great and the good in the worlds of newspapers and politics – and was on his way home on the CPR. He stopped off to see old friends, first in Qu’Appelle , then in Regina. His diary for August 12 reads – “Big Sports Day (at Qu’Appelle). A.C. Paterson, Inspector of Customs of Regina and an old Qu’Appelle resident, and I were judges of the parade. There were also pony races, baseball and the usual things of a country fair. Saw many old friends. Left at 6.10pm (local). Sam J. Latta and his wife met me, with Ken and wife (late of Leader), at Regina, and we had great talk of old times at Govan. Sam is now Minister of Railways in Saskatchewan government and a great man.”

What had Sam Latta been when Rufus knew him back in 1907 – 1909?

He’d been owner/editor of the Govan Prairie News and Govan’s chief booster – a real character – if he made a point of meeting Rufus off the train, then they must have been good friends because he was a busy guy.

How was he ‘a real character’?

Oh there were lots of stories about him. One of the best involves the Prince of Wales when he was visiting Saskatchewan in 1919.

Edward_Prince_of_Wales_at_Fort_San_Saskatchewan_1919

There’s the prince, looking very young in his cap. The picture was taken at Fort Qu’Appelle but he met Sam, then a cabinet minister, when he arrived in Regina.  After their meeting, Sam lit his pipe by scratching the match on the seat of his pants. The Prince was so intrigued that he asked Sam to do it again – to see how it’s done!

He must have worn really thick pants, surely – that’s a pretty amazing story. What else did he get up to?

Well, there was the time he caught the post office robber. This was the old Govan Post Office –

Govan Post Office

and one night in 1910 the town was woken by a terrific explosion – a robber had broken into the post office and had blown up the safe – only he’d used 5 times more TNT than he needed, the safe had been blown right through the back wall and all the money inside it had been scattered about in the snow. Sam, a take-charge kind of guy,  gathered a posse and tracked the guy down to a cabin six miles out of town, where he was sleeping it off . Sam was so excited, he jumped on top of the guy and had handcuffs on him before he woke up.

What was Sam’s newspaper, the Prairie News, like?

It’s interesting, isn’t it – Rufus may have got the idea of journalism from Sam – before ever setting foot in BC. Just as Rufus would do in Duncan, Sam ran his paper as a one-man show . And when he wanted to say something critical about people, he would write silly poems in the paper under the pseudonym ‘Cy Hayrack’.

For example?

Well, he had traditional views on women’s rights, for instance. But instead of coming straight out with them in an editorial, he got his phantom pal Cy to write a poem, like this one when Mrs Pankhurst came to speak in Regina – “To be a suffragette, ’tis said, /Will never be the rage,/ because the darling little things /will never tell their age.”

Pretty horrible sentiments if you ask me.

I agree – but in 1916 most men would have been cheering him on. By putting his views in a ‘funny’ poem Cy (alias Sam) forced feminists to tolerate him, at least –  or risk being accused of having no sense of humour.

Rufus was no poet, unfortunately – in Duncan he just wrote editorials, didn’t he, and stirred up opposition.

Each to his own, I suppose. Remember, Rufus was in his twenties in Duncan , while Sam turned 50 in 1916 – that makes a difference.  He was already an MLA at the time and had political instincts that Rufus lacked.

And he became Minister of Railways.

So Rufus’s diary says, but he may have got that wrong.  He was actually Minister of Highways and later Minister of Education – a good fit because he taught school for 20 years in Ontario before coming west. While teaching, he published Latta’s Drawing Textbook –  which was used in Ontario schools for 50 years.

I guess what he and Rufus had in common was energy. Both were take-charge guys, always trying something new – and not afraid to make waves. I gather Sam lived to 80 – maybe Rufus would have done so too if he’d had the chance.

You’re right about his energy – according to Susan Brooks’ Last Mountain Echoes, a Govan history, Sam also drew the plans for many buildings, including the first school. Here’s a shot of the Silver Plate Hotel, one of the first, and by far  Silver Plate, Govan, 1908

the biggest, building in Govan. Rufus neither stayed nor ate there because, as he said at the time, “The hotel is too expensive and too uncomfortable and the proprietor is a loathsome man.” Sherriff was his name, and his unfinished top floor was available to bachelors – cheap, as snow was said to filter into the rooms – but Rufus preferred to sleep in his office at Beaver Lumber! Here are pictures of the town in 1909 – Silver Plate at the left – and three years later in 1912.

Govan 1909Main street, Govan 1912

Rufus would have been there only for the first picture.

What about Beaver Lumber – where was that? And the Prairie News?

Both were on the street, but I can only find a very poor picture of both.

Sam Latta  - Prairie NewsSam Latta - Beaver Lumber

Looks like McGuire Lumber to me.

Nevertheless, I believe it was where Rufus lived and worked – McGuire bought out Beaver some time after Rufus had left Govan. See if you can find either building in the pictures of main street.

So, did both Rufus and Sam leave Govan for greener pastures?

Rufus did, we know, but Sam was re-elected local MLA for many years and never strayed further than Regina, where the legislature is.

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