Paterson, Robert Walter, banker, businessman, and militia and army officer; b. 22 Oct. 1876 in Guelph, Ont., son of Robert P. Paterson, a merchant, and Wilhelmina Priscilla Cousens; m. 12 Jun. 1907 Liley Drewry in Winnipeg, and they had two sons and one daughter; d. 26 March 1936 in St James (Winnipeg).
Robert Walter Paterson’s education was begun in public schools in Evanston, Ill., and it was completed at the Ottawa Collegiate Institute. In August 1894 he started his business career at age 17 as a junior clerk in the head office of the Bank of Ottawa, supporting his widowed mother and his sister, with whom he lived. His work earned him the confidence of his employers, and in October 1902 he was transferred to Winnipeg to become the accountant at the bank’s western head office. In that city he saw greater opportunities for advancement, and in 1903 he left the bank to become secretary, treasurer, and business manager for the Winnipeg Paint and Glass Company, which had been established the previous year. The firm would manufacture mirrors, windows, doors, and sashes and sell lumber, paint, and hardware throughout Manitoba and the northwest.
While employed with the Bank of Ottawa Paterson had entered the militia and was enrolled as a lieutenant in the 43rd (Ottawa and Carleton) Battalion of Rifles in 1899. His military service continued after his move from Ontario. He served as a lieutenant in the 90th Regiment (Winnipeg Rifles) and was promoted captain on 1 April 1906. Two years later he transferred to A Squadron of a newly formed unit, the 18th Mounted Rifles. Now a major and a squadron commander of the 18th Rifles, Paterson pressed Ottawa in 1910 for the organization of a true cavalry regiment in Winnipeg. On 15 April 1912 he received permission to set up the 34th Cavalry Regiment. He designed colourful uniforms and a variety of insignia for the new unit, but was rebuffed by the quartermaster-general in a series of letters which ultimately stated that the 34th would wear standard uniforms. In 1913 the regiment was titled the 34th (Fort Garry) Horse, using the name of the historic fort in the centre of Winnipeg [see Nicholas Garry*]. Promoted lieutenant-colonel on 19 March 1913, Paterson, as commanding officer, led his men in regular training and at summer camps in 1913 and 1914.
In 1907 Paterson had married Liley Drewry, daughter of Winnipeg pioneers Eliza and Edward Lancaster Drewry. Liley’s father was the owner of the Redwood and Empire breweries and a major brewer in the Canadian west. Along with fulfilling his business and military responsibilities, Paterson had been a founding member of the St Charles Country Club in 1905 and had belonged to the Manitoba Club since 1906. He was treasurer of the Royal Lake of the Woods Yacht Club on its incorporation in 1909. His business interests grew: in addition to his roles at Winnipeg Paint and Glass, he was president of the Manitoba Linseed Oil Company and the Marble and Tile Company of Manitoba, and vice-president of the Northern Canadian Mortgage Company Limited. He also served as secretary-treasurer of the Notre-Dame Investment Company, the Hicks Construction Company, and the local branch of the Martin-Senour Company. His connections extended beyond the province: he acted as secretary-treasurer of the Calgary Paint and Glass Company, the Edmonton Paint and Glass Company, and the Alberta Mortgage Company.
In September 1914, after the outbreak of the First World War, Paterson took command of the 6th Battalion, an infantry unit composed mostly of men from the militia cavalry, including the 34th (Fort Garry) Horse. Anxious for his troops to be with the first contingent to sail for England as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, he had them roll their sleeves well above the elbow and accentuate the swing of their arms during a parade for Major-General Samuel Hughes*, minister of militia and defence.
Paterson remained in command of the 6th in England, and succeeded in having its role changed to that of a cavalry battalion in January 1915. It was used as a depot unit for the Canadian Cavalry Brigade until January 1916 when Paterson led it, restored as the Fort Garry Horse, into France. He was in command of the Garrys at the front for 28 months. General John Edward Bernard Seely, the British commander of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, saw in Paterson the characteristics required for a higher rank and selected him as his successor over two colonels from the other regiments in the brigade who had been part of the Permanent Force. Paterson, promoted brigadier-general on 20 May 1918, would lead the brigade from that date until it returned to Canada to be disbanded in May 1919.
In September 1917 Paterson received the first of several decorations. He had devised a plan for a raid on a section of enemy trench; the action was carried out with great success and became a model that was studied by a number of British and Indian officers. The Distinguished Service Order recognized his “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.” The citation further noted: “By his daring reconnaissances and careful organisation he ensured the success of a raid against four lines of enemy defences. He personally reconnoitred the point of attack with an utter disregard of his personal safety.” The French government awarded him the Croix de Guerre for his leadership in an attack at Bois des Essarts, west of Noyon, on 27 March 1918. In June 1919 he was named a companion of the Order of St Michael and St George for his war service.
In 1919, now back in Winnipeg, Paterson took up the cause of caring for returning soldiers, and became a trustee of the Manitoba Canteen Fund. This position brought him into contact with many other veterans, whom he always did his utmost to assist. He remained in the militia, working to re-establish the Fort Garry Horse in peacetime, and commanding the 6th Mounted Brigade until his retirement from active duty in 1924. For his lengthy service he had been awarded the Colonial Auxiliary Forces Officers’ Decoration in 1922. He was a member of the Fort Garry Horse Association and a supporter of the regimental magazine, Blue & Gold.
In 1924 Paterson helped to set up and became president of the “On-to-the-Bay” Association to encourage the completion of the railway from Winnipeg to Churchill. In 1926 he founded the Northern Paint Company Limited and the Northern Soap Company and was president and general manager of both businesses. He also formed Lough and Paterson, a firm of financial and real-estate agents with William Edgar Lough. Active as ever, he was president of the Winnipeg Real Estate Board, the Manitoba Rifle Association, and the Canadian Cavalry Association during the late 1920s. In his later years he held memberships in the Winnipeg Winter, Tuxedo Riding, and Oakland Shooting clubs and the Western Canada Military Institute.
Hospitalized at Deer Lodge (Veterans) Hospital on 22 March 1936, Paterson died four days later. He was buried with full military honours, his flag-draped casket atop a gun carriage being escorted by senior officers and followed by his horse with riding boots reversed in the stirrups. The mourners were led by a firing party of 50 men and the band of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. Brigadier-General Robert Walter Paterson was laid to rest in St John’s cemetery in Winnipeg.
LAC, Census returns for the 1911 Canadian census, Man., dist. Winnipeg (City) (24), subdist. Winnipeg (8): 18; R180-76-5, box 7649-2; R233-37-6, Ont., dist. Ottawa (City) (100), subdist. Central Ward (B): 3; R611-371-2. Winnipeg Free Press, 27 March 1936. Blue & Gold (Winnipeg), July 1936, July 1937. George Bryce, A history of Manitoba: its resources and people (Toronto and Montreal, 1906). J. S. McMahon, “Deeds not words: a history of the Fort Garry Horse, 1912–1936” (typescript, 1937; copy at the Fort Garry Horse Museum and Arch., Winnipeg). Pioneers and prominent people of Manitoba, ed. Walter McRaye (Winnipeg, 1925). F. H. Schofield, The story of Manitoba (3v., Winnipeg, 1913), 2.