Lightning struck

Photo by Michal Mancewicz

 Sprites, elves, and blue jets. Gnomes, trolls, pixies, blue starters, and upward super bolts! All the ingredients for a good fairy tale or — a bad storm!?!

All of these are forms of high-altitude lightning, but the most dangerous for people is sheet lightning.

In Canada, 90 per cent of lightning-related deaths have occurred in four provinces – Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. And about 85 per cent of those deaths were men.

Calgary has seen its share of electrified demises.

In 1915 sweethearts Charles Tawse and May Swindell were struck down at an intersection in Mount Royal, while Staff Sergeant Bossange of the RNWMP and his mount were similarly electrocuted in 1919.

Born in Scotland, Tawse first immigrated to the U.S. and was in Spokane, WA before moving to Calgary in May of 1912. According to the Port of Admissions log for Kingsgate, between Yahk, B.C. and Bonners Ferry, ID, he had $50 and was listed as a labourer. Upon his arrival in Calgary, Tawse worked as a shipper for Robin Hood Flour.

May Swindell, who was from Macclesfield, England, also arrived in Calgary in 1912. She worked as a housemaid for A.M. Peters, the manager of the Bank of Montreal.

May was described as having an attractive personality and a very refined nature.

May and Charles were engaged to be married and Charles was in the process of building a home for the couple in which to start their new lives.

On the evening of April 29, 1915, the couple had spent time with friends and were walking back to May’s boarding house.

As they reached an intersection in the Mount Royal district, a thunderstorm moved in swiftly and Charles was struck by a bolt of lightning that travelled through his arm to May’s. Both were killed instantly.

The lightning was so powerful the pavement showed signs of having conducted electricity up to six feet from where the couple would be found.  It was surmised that the two were killed early by the storm, as the ground beneath their bodies was dry.

With B & H Armstrong, Undertakers handled funeral arrangements, a double funeral was held at the Pro Cathedral (now the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer) and the couple would be buried side by side in Union Cemetery. Neither of them has a headstone, possibly due to there having been no one to purchase them and ensure they were placed on the correct plots.

The couple may not have had enough savings to afford headstones. Or the sites may have been intentionally left unmarked, as it may have been deemed inappropriate for an unmarried couple to lie side by side, even in death.

Despite this, the couple is remembered over 100 years after their sudden death.


George Henry Leopold Bossange left Paris in 1883 at the age of 16 to immigrate to Canada with his parents. He attended Lennoxville College in Montreal and then went to work at the City and Districts Savings Bank.  He later became employed in the wholesale books industry.

It was said that his father had not approve of Bossange’s desire to join the North West Mounted Police and prevented his enlistment. However, Bossange travelled to Winnipeg to make a second attempt and, he was engaged with the force in December of 1883, though, at 5’7”, he barely met the minimum height requirement. Bossange served in the Riel Rebellion of 1885.

In 1886, he bought out the remainder of his contract with the NWMP to return to France to farm. When this proved unsuccessful, he returned to Canada and the Force, re-enlisting in 1887. Bossange was promoted to Sergeant on Dec. 19, 1889. He left the Force for a second time in 1890 and, in 1902, opened a bookstore in Wetaskiwin. Unfortunately on June 23, 1903.

Wetaskiwin experienced a massive fire that burned down a large number of businesses including the Bossange bookstore.

The fire was estimated to have cost $200,000 (almost $7 million in 2023 dollars).

Bossange joined the NWMP for a third time in July 1903 and served at Prince Albert, Fort Saskatchewan, Calgary and Athabasca. His promotion to Staff Sergeant (S/Sgt) occurred on Sept. 1, 1913. He also served as the Quarter Master Sergeant for “N” Division at Athabasca.

Bossange married Mary Emma Jacques and the couple had three daughters and a son. Private Waldemar Leopold Robert Bossange of 10th Battalion was killed on Sept. 16, 1917 at the age of 24. He is buried at Aix-Noulette Communal Cemetery Extension in the Pas de Calais, France with the epitaph “Blessed be thy perfect peace.”

On Saturday, June 21, 1919, S/Sgt Bossange rode out to Spirit River in northwest Alberta to speak to Ivan Yaremko about his alleged activities as a Bolshevik agitator.

The interview was concluded at around 5 in the afternoon and Bossange set off in a heavy downpour. At 9:30 that same night, a local farmer, John Zahara, was driving his wagon and team home when he found the bodies of both S/Sgt Bossange and his horse lying on the trail approximately eight miles northeast of Spirit River. Still seated in the saddle, Bossange was wearing his uniform and a rain slicker. His unloaded .45 calibre revolver was still in its holster on his Sam Brown belt.

Parts of Bossange’s body appeared burnt and both he and his horse appeared to have been dead for some time.

Zahara sent a nearby farmer, George Shirk, to the Spirit River Detachment, where Cpl. W. Allen of the Alberta Provincial Police hired a car and drove out to the scene.

He found that Bossange’s face was blackened and his hair singed. His papers and valuables, including a gold locket containing a photograph and a lock of hair, were intact. Bossange’s watch had stopped at 5:40 pm and it had melted with the crystal broken.

His revolver was also melted on the butt plate and along the barrel. When Cpl. Allen further inspected the body, he found a small hole in Bossange’s left boot, near the spur, which corresponded with a small puncture in the S/Sgt’s foot. His sock was also burnt.

Bossange’s horse lay on its right side. A small puncture in the seat of the saddle was found and, when the saddle was removed, the saddle blanket had four small punctures.

Cpl. Allen concluded that Bossange’s sidearm had been hit by lightning, which went through him into the saddle and exited the horse’s body into Bossange’s spur. Death was instantaneous for both. Cpl. Allen transported S/Sgt Bossange’s body to the morgue in Spirit River and notified the officer in charge of the RNWMP detachment and the Grande Prairie coroner.

S/Sgt Bossange’s body was returned to Calgary to be laid to rest in the family plot of his wife Emma.

She and her three daughters survived their husband and father. Bossange is the second oldest Mountie to die in the line of duty and the only one to be killed by lightning. His present marker was laid in 2009.

Emma was not buried with her husband, as she later moved to Merritt, B.C.