The Great Cranbrook Elephant Hunt

The Edmonton Elephant Stampede

On Sunday August 1st, 1926, Edmonton hosted its very first elephant stampede when fourteen elephants broke away from the special Sells-Floto train spotted on a siding in the Edmonton C.P.R. rail yard. The ensuing chase featured men with high-powered rifles, young boys cavorting along behind, and autoists and others fleeing from the stampede path down Jasper Avenue and adjacent streets.

Mary, a small female elephant of some 3,000 pounds that had joined Sells-Floto in Denver in 1918, had just been hitched along with three other elephants to an animal wagon at the C.P.R. depot. The Edmonton Bulletin reported that the yapping of a small fox terrier dog spooked Mary. She trumpeted shrilly and then broke the wagon harness and started for Jasper Avenue. Mary’s panic spread and elephants poured out of the C.P.R. yard and into downtown Edmonton.

Eight of the stampeding animals were soon captured by the elephant handlers using more docile elephants who had not joined the stampede as lures. But one determined group of three elephants ploughed through the fences surrounding the General Hospital gardens. Mowing down berry and potato crops, they smashed down the chicken coop and then the fence on the other side of the garden and continued their crazed flight.

In the aftermath of the melee considerable damage to fences, trees and fixed street items was reported. One little girl fell and broke her arm, but she was the only reported human injury. Mary, soon to be called “Mad Mary,” continued her flight along with a couple of other elephants into bush on the western outskirts of Edmonton. Circus people scaled the five story Government grain elevator to track progress by watching the trees fall in the bush. Finally the equestrian clown “Poodles” Hanneford scrounged bread from residences and businesses and lured all the elephants except Mary out of the bush so that James Dooley and his assistants could hobble them.

Mary refused to surrender, crashing out of the woods in the dark and spooking when confronted by the lights of pursuers and the passing automobiles. Assistant Manager Zack Terrell and Curley Stewart funneled her into a fenced tennis court. While Stewart was attempting to close the gate Mary charged and roared past him as he grabbed a flapping ear. Mary quickly hurled Stewart against a gatepost, the injuries eventually forcing him to the hospital. Next Mary thundered through a cemetery and into the Cushing Brothers lumber yard where she upset several lumber trucks and tore a steel door from its hinges. The circus people abandoned Mary to her freedom, for the night at least, when she re-entered the bush.

Early the next morning the Sells-Floto elephant men brought Trilby, the largest and boss elephant of the herd, to the site where Mary was still creating havoc. The Edmonton Bulletin reported:

“When the little elephant saw the herd boss, it gave a shrill scream and ran straight to the big animal. Trilby wrapped her trunk around the smaller elephant and the two stood still with occasional grumbles and rumbles until Dooley and his assistants chained Mary to Trilby; Edmonton’s big elephant hunt was over.”

With all of the hullabaloo and panic, the circus was still staged and the shows presented on time.

In the weeks following, after two more stampedes were reported, the editor of the Edmonton Bulletin issued a call for the banishing of circus parades:

“If one dog can so demoralize a band of pachyderms that they thereafter break for freedom whenever occasion offers, the noisy street of a modern city is not a safe place for a whole menagerie of assorted monsters to march, however watched and tended.”

This project is sponsored by:

Edmonton Exhibition Parade Route
Edmonton Exhibition, Edmonton, Alberta.
Parliament Buildings, Edmonton, Alberta
Parliament Buildings, Edmonton, Alberta
Edmonton Exhibition Elephant Rides
Children riding an elephant at the Edmonton Exhibition, Edmonton, Alberta.