Susan of Gillam
by J. M. McLeod
Manitoba Pageant, January 1963, Volume 8, Number 2
Toward the end of March 1929, the weekly mixed-train arrived in Gillam, Manitoba with a car of settler’s effects belonging to Tom Allen, a former rancher from Lanigan, Saskatchewan. In the car were three head of horses, a cow and a young calf, a horse called “Old Mag” and a cow named “Susan”. The latter two appeared to have a sentimental value to Allen. During 1929, he erected an hotel and buildings for the stock.
The Hudson Bay Railway had reached Churchill on 27 March 1929. Gillam, being the last terminal before Churchill, became a busy point for repair work. Workmen’s families had arrived and two stores were doing business. Susan made the rounds of the small community each morning and at many of the homes there were potato peelings, a favourite dish, waiting for her.
In 1933, two hundred head of cattle for export via Churchill arrived in Gillam. While the engine and crews were being changed, Susan ran along the train on the station platform, her tail straight in the air, bawling and bellowing. It wasn’t long before the whole trainload joined her. It was an eerie sound. When the train pulled out, Susan trailed along as far as Kettle Rapids Bridge, four and a half miles from the station. Several times later she went through the same performance.
About once a month, Susan took off towards the south and followed the track until a trestle at Mile 324 stopped her. This jaunt usually took a day and she would return the following morning. Her unusual behaviour and the fact that she still gave milk despite her not having had a calf since 1929, made her quite a celebrity around Gillam and all over the North. People on the trains passing through Gillam would all look to see her and they felt rewarded if she was somewhere within sight.
Returning from one of her trips south in June, 1937, she was struck by a work train returning to the Gillam yards. She managed to hobble to the bush and lay down. When the accident was reported, Tom Allen went to where she was and found that he could not transport her with a wagon and team. He applied to the Gillam shops for the use of a wrecking crane and was asked why he didn’t shoot her. “What, shoot Susan. No sir, I will pay all the expenses for the crane.”
By this time, news of Susan’s accident had spread and many of the shop men offered their services to help bring her in. By using the crane, a rigged-up canvas sling and no little ingenuity they got her back to her barn where she managed to wobble to her stall. A sling was in-stalled there to support her weight and she got loving care for some ten days. Unfortunately her injuries were too serious and she had to be destroyed. Susan of Gillam lives on, however, in the memories of the folk along the Hudson Bay line.
Page revised: 12 August 2012Back to top of page