Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Prolific writer Paul St. Pierre wrote daily newspaper columns for many years, while also producing novels, short stories and juvenile fiction, as well as scripts for stage and television. (Alex Waterhouse-Hayward)
Prolific writer Paul St. Pierre wrote daily newspaper columns for many years, while also producing novels, short stories and juvenile fiction, as well as scripts for stage and television. (Alex Waterhouse-Hayward)

Obituary

Paul St. Pierre: The chronicler of a wild, Western life Add to ...

“They were sufficiently isolated that their personalities could be developed independently of the customs and shibboleths of the rest of the world,” he told Ms. McNamara in a televised 1988 interview. “It was a place of strong characters. They knew who they were.”

He maintained a cabin of his own at Big Creek, to which he welcomed newsroom cronies, including Ron Rose, who was invited on a hunting expedition with the instructions: “You bring the whisky, I’ve got the food.” Mr. Rose dutifully stocked up on liquor. “We tried out one of the bottles once we crossed the Chilcotin; any of Paul’s old friends will know the routine – you throw the cap out the window and then you have to keep nibbling on the bottle in case the stuff goes bad,” Mr. Rose told a gathering on Mr. St. Pierre’s 80th birthday. The duo arrived at the cabin, where Mr. Rose discovered provisions were limited to a case of canned salmon.

They had some watery mishaps while bird hunting and later got lost in a valley. A few days later, it was time to return home. After untold miles of blacktop rolled past without a word being exchanged, Mr. Rose inquired if he had incurred his host’s anger.

“Shut up,” Mr. St. Pierre explained. “Can’t you tell I’m writing my column?”

The real-life characters he met on the parched ranch land in the province’s Interior provided the inspiration for the drama series Cariboo Country, aired by CBC television in the 1960s. Set near the fictional town of Namko, the series depicted the challenges faced by a rancher known only as Smith. The series is notable for casting First Nations actors and for portraying them as individuals with idiosyncrasies beyond the stereotypes that dominated Hollywood movies and television westerns. Cariboo Country marked the acting debut of Chief Dan George as Ol Antoine, a role he would reprise in the unsatisfying 1969 Disney movie adaptation Smith!, featuring Glenn Ford in the title role.

An episode of the show led to Breaking Smith’s Quarter Horse, a celebrated 1966 comic novel in which the hard-pressed rancher Smith relies on his inherent gumption to survive.

In 1965, Mr. St. Pierre released Boss of the Namko Drive, a work of juvenile fiction about a 15-year-old cattle driver in charge of 197 cows who endures a stampede, a near-drowning and drunken cowboys.

The rancher Smith and native friend Ol Antoine reappeared in Smith and Other Events: Tales of the Chilcotin (1983). “Paul St. Pierre relays these stories beautifully, in the language of the people and places he describes, the kind of vivid language that provides literature the nourishment it needs,” The New York Times stated in a review.

Over a prolific career, he released two collections of columns (Chilcotin Holiday and Chilcotin and Beyond, the latter shortlisted for the Leacock humour award), a collection of short stories (Tell Me a Good Lie), a memoir (Old Enough to Know Better), a collection of caustic observations (All is Well – Sort Of), and a novel (In the Navel of the Moon), set in the fictional Mexican border town of San Sebastian de Hidalgo, “with a name longer than its main street,” which Mr. St. Pierre regarded as his finest work, though it received less attention than he hoped on publication in 1993. Chris Dafoe in The Globe called it “an affectionate and detailed portrait of the people of the village.”

Mr. St. Pierre maintained a third residence in Mexico at Teacapan on the Agua Grande river at the southern edge of Sinaloa state, where his nickname was el Hombre Lobo (the Wolf Man), “because I have whiskers on my muzzle, pale eyes and a restless manner.” The novel’s protagonist is a retired newspaperman asked by a brother-in-law in the Mounties to keep an eye on the drug trade. The tale was partly inspired by his own experience in Mexico, where his first home had been next door to a drug exporter known as Crazy Pig.

Single page
 

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular