Samuel Benfield “Sam” Steele (1848-1919) was a powerfully built man who personified the nineteenth-century ideal of an action hero. He was born near Orillia, Ontario, into a family with a long history of serving with the British Forces. He followed family tradition by enrolling in the Royal Military College, serving first in the Fenian Raids, in 1866, and then in the Northwest Expedition, in 1870.
Steele was one of the first men to join the newly created North-West Mounted Police in 1873. The following year he helped lead the force’s Great March West, a campaign intended to bring law and order to the Canadian West. In 1898 he was sent to the Klondike to police the Gold Rush. Two years later, the railway magnate Lord Strathcona asked Steele to command his privately raised military unit, Lord Strathcona’s Horse, to fight the South African War. Steele returned to South Africa shortly after that war, as commander of the South African Constabulary.
On returning to Canada in 1907, Steele held several military posts. At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 he hoped for a military command, but he was already 66 years old. Nevertheless, in late 1914 he was promoted to the rank of major-general and put in charge of recruiting in Western Canada. Within a few months he was given command of the 2nd Canadian Division, which he led to England. He remained there throughout his service, performing administrative duties. He was knighted in 1918 and died of influenza during the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918-19. He is buried in St. John’s Cemetery in Winnipeg, Manitoba. His papers are housed at the University of Alberta.
Service Record Details
Date of Birth: January 5, 1852 (Medonte, Simcoe County, Ontario)
Date of Attestation: Not indicated
Age at Enlistment: 64 years
Height: 6 feet
Weight: Not indicated
Description: Medium complexion, blue eyes, brown hair. Church of England.
Home Address: Not indicated
Trade: Not indicated
Details of Family: Wife, Marie Elizabeth de Lotbinière Harwood Steele, living at 25 Grimstone Gardens, Folkestone, Kent.
Next of Kin: Wife (Marie Elizabeth Steele)
Branch of Service: Canadian Expeditionary Force
Theatre of War: England, France
- Undated – A note indicates that Steele died on January 30, 1919, though his death was not due to his service in the war. (Page 13)
Interesting Details from the Service Record
- Undated – The title of his attestation paper is scratched out and replaced with “Officer’s Declaration Form”. Throughout the form, the words “man” and “recruit” are replaced with “Officer”. (Pages 2-3)
- 1915 to 1917 – At the start of his service, in 1915, his monthly assigned pay is $500. By 1916 it ranges from $600 to over $800 per month. (Pages 17 to 37 )
- January 1, 1918 – A note indicates that he is to be made Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George. (LG 30451) (Page 6)
- July 15, 1918 – A note indicates that he is permitted to retire. (Page 7)
- July 23, 1919 – His war service gratuity of $3,660 is sent to his widow, Lady Marie Elizabeth Steele, at the Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Lady Steele later lives at 2525 York Street in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Pages 4 and 15)
The London Gazette
Military Medals Honours and Awards
No records found