Manitoba History: Review: Leland Stowe, The Last Great Frontiersman

by Keith D. Olson
Western Canadian Aviation Museum

Manitoba History, Number 8, Autumn 1984

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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The Last Great Frontiersman. Leland Stowe. Toronto: Stoddart, 1982. 253 pp. [8] pp. plates, ill., ports. ISBN 0-7737-2005-7.

It could well be that Tom Lamb was, in fact, the last great frontiersman as the term is generally understood. The astronauts who first landed on the moon were certainly pioneers as were the scientists and engineers who put them there. Tom was, however, one of those from that now almost bygone era who did what they did largely as a result of their own efforts, relying on few, if any others along the way. There were many pioneers in the north, each excelling in one field or another. What sets Tom apart from his contemporaries is, first, that he was successful in the broadest sense of the word in several different fields of endeavour, each demanding unusual amounts of innovative hard work; and second, he cared for his fellow man believing that everyone deserved a fair shake, that honest labour should be rewarded, and that someone down on his luck should be given a hand.

Leland Stowe brings the reader to an understanding of, and even a kinship with, Tom Lamb. This is the hoped for bottom line of any book of this nature. The reader will be the richer for having taken it off the book shelf. The only major weakness is the rather large number of technical inaccuracies and spelling errors in both text and captions. For example, Lamb’s first Norseman aircraft, which was registered CF-BHS, is variously referred to as BHS, HBS and BH5. At one point, the pilot guns its “motors” (it had only one) and repairs were made to the “canvas pontoon” (they were made of aluminum). Presumably, the author did not have his manuscript proofread but, considering the time-span between his interviewing Tom and the putting of pen to paper, as well as his personal unfamiliarity with the Canadian North, these blots can be forgiven.

Tom Lamb, 1927.
Source: Archives of Manitoba

The book chronicles Tom’s life, beginning with his growing into manhood at Moose Lake, just east of The Pas, Manitoba, under the tutelage of his pioneer father, T.H.P. (ten horse power) Lamb and the Cree Indians of the area with whom he spent most of his time in either work or play. The author takes his readers along through Tom’s various endeavours and exploits, the most prominent being his airline and muskrat and cattle ranches. These undertakings are described in detail and one is amazed at what was accomplished in the face of seemingly impossible odds, the greatest being, unfortunately, the ongoing struggle with bureaucrats who appeared to oppose Tom at every turn. The author deals with this aspect of the times extremely well and one is reminded again that not all of those in public office are there for the betterment of their fellow man. Sad, indeed, is the flooding of the Lamb ranch by Manitoba Hydro and the attendant vindictiveness displayed by certain authorities. This development, for all intents and purposes, wrote finis to Tom’s dreams. His 4,500 acre cattle ranch became a lake. Gone, as well, was the place where he had wanted to be buried some day: “that nice stand of timbers on the muskrat island where he could hear the muskrats splash in the evening and the ducks and geese calling.”

Though I was just one of various Lamb employees who come and went, I am personally grateful to Leland Stowe for writing this book. In his foreword he expresses his desire to “do justice to Tom Lamb.” He has succeeded, admirably.