Evelyn Steeves Memoirs

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These are the memoirs of Evelyn (Brown) Steeves

Daughter of Harry and Fannie Brown

written circa 1986


The request which I oftenest receive from my great-grandchildren is, "Grandma, tell us about when you were a little girl." I have always tried to oblige them with little stories and experiences of my childhood, but now I have decided to record in chronological order the story of our pioneer life in Manitoba .

I was a child of 5 1/2 years when my family immigrated to Manitoba from Illinois . My father, a farmer and lime-kiln owner, had succumbed to the high-pressure promotion of an unscrupulous land-dealer, whose glowing picture of the fertile prairie lands waiting to be cultivated was very alluring. The promise of fabulous crops and immediate prosperity was a temptation which seemed worthy of risking all one's resources to obtain.

Thus, in the fall of 1906, papa, with a hired man, went to Manitoba where he spent the first day searching for the small cement markers which surveyors had placed at the corners of each mile-square section, and which were completely hidden in the tall prairie grass. After locating the two sections of land which he had purchased, he built a 16 by 24 foot shack and small shed at the corner of the first section. At this point he was so disillusioned by the bleakness and loneliness of the area that he returned to Illinois completely homesick, and regretful of the deal he had made. However, he had, by this time, burned all bridges behind him, and there was no alternative but to proceed with the plans to move his family to Canada the following spring.

For my mother, who was one of a family of 11 children, all living in the area from which she was now to move, this breaking of family ties and old associations was more traumatic than anyone realized at the time. But, in her faithfulness, she accepted her husband's ambitions with quiet resignation and, when he was discouraged, she was able to bolster his morale, and help him accept the situation and make the best of everything.

Our family consisted of seven children, ranging in age from 17 1/2 down to 2 1/2 years. The eldest was Orville, then Aurilla, Chester , Ella, Myrtle, myself and Mabelle, the youngest. As there was a space of 4 1/2 years between me and the next eldest sister, the three older girls were always referred to as the "big girls", while Mabelle and I were the "little girls".

For a young child such as I, this drastic move to a new environment was of little consequence. It was merely a part of life, and wherever my family was, that was home. But, for the older children, the move was an exceedingly difficult experience. Leaving their friends and schools and dropping down in the middle of a vast wilderness, with no near neighbors, and very little social life outside the family circle; the nearest school 5 1/2 miles distant; leaving a fourteen room house to live in a small shack, where bunks built along the walls replaced their former spacious bedrooms; all these things required a great deal of adjustment. However, because we were a close-knit family, much given to self-entertainment, this new life was accepted with remarkable grace. We all believed the oft-repeated promise of our father, "We will get a new house when we get forty bushels of wheat per acre". This was not to be fulfilled until 11 years later, as will be recounted later in this story.

I have little recollection of the task of packing and loading which my parents had to face as they prepared to move, but I do know that it involved tearing down the large barn on the farm and shipping the lumber and nails to Canada .

I vividly recall the day when we bid our grandparents and friends fare­well as we boarded the train to start out on our new venture. I remember grandma warning us children not to watch close-up objects as the train sped along to avoid damaging our eyes.

Papa had brought along several wide boards which he placed across the space between two seats, providing beds for the younger children. With blan­kets and pillows, we were quite comfortable, while the older ones had to sleep as best they could sitting up.

Orville and the hired man rode in the stock-car in order to care for the horses and cows. It was a long, slow journey on a slow freight train, with many stops and shunting of cars. On a long stop-over in St. Paul , Orville noticed that the cat and kittens were missing from the car. The mother cat had escaped from her cage and had somehow managed to carry her kittens away from the box-car. We often wondered where she found a place for them, and if they were able to survive in a strange city. One of the horses was dead on arrival in Winnipeg , having gotten down and was unable to get up again because of the crowded conditions.

When we reached Winnipeg in May, 1907, the country was still buried in snow, and the train which we were to take to our destination was unable to run because a recent storm had blocked the tracks. Thus we were forced to remain in the Immigration Hall for two days, until the train could run again. We slept on blankets on the floor, and I presume papa brought in food for us, though all I remember now are the thick, pale, mealy biscuits which we munched on much of the time. I grew to dislike them greatly, and for years after could not bear the sight of anything like them.

When, at last we arrived at the little town, we had to spend the first night in the local hotel, a. large, cold structure, run by a tired little woman. The hotel, as our hired man remarked, with tongue-in-cheek, "Was steam-heated by the tea-kettle, at meal times only." During the night, I took a frightening attack of croup, to which I was prone, and I remember Mama's anxiety as she searched for the box in which she had packed our home remedies.

All was well by morning, and we started out on the 7 1/2 mile journey across the prairie. We had a team of horses on a bob-sleigh, hired I presume from the local livery stable. It was a lovely day, with the sun sparkling on the snow, and we enjoyed the sleigh-ride. When we arrived at the farm, we found the shack almost buried in snow and, while the grown-ups shovelled a way into it, we had fun frolicking on the huge banks of snow which led up over the roof of the shed. Finally a fire had been started to warm the shack; cooking utensils and baggage unpacked, and we were at home. In those years, winters were much longer and more severe than they were in later years, after more land had been broken up and trees planted on the bare prairies. It was not unusual for the temperature to drop to 50 degrees below Fahrenheit, and for blizzards to last for three days. During these storms it was hazardous just walking to the barn, and keeping the house warm was a constant task. Papa would bring in huge lumps of ' soft coal and pile them around the cook stove, our only source of heat, ready to replenish the fire as needed. As the storm subsided on the third evening, flaming sun-dogs would flare around the sun, and the snow was packed so hard by the wind that we could walk on the banks without sinking in.

It was impossible to raise a crop the first year, as the land was covered heavily with tall prairie grass and even reeds in the lower areas, requiring long hard labor to break up. Had it not been for the small farm which papa rented, some thirteen miles distant, we would have had no in­come the first few years. It was some years before we could even make a productive garden on the new land, and even then the tender vegetables such as tomatoes, corn and cucumbers could not be grown because of the short season. Later, however, as the climate changed, we had wonderful gardens.

Before leaving Illinois , papa had purchased eighteen ranch horses, which were shipped later, after the barn had been re-constructed. Also, because of the small size of our dwelling place, much of our furniture had to be stored and shipped many years later, after our new house could be built. But I remember some of the things we brought; Mama's walnut dresser and bed, with its tall carved headboard; the combination bookcase and desk; the dining room table and chairs; two kitchen cupboards; two rocking chairs, and several walnut commodes which were stacked, one on the top of the other, providing a medicine cabinet and cupboards and drawers for numerous house­-hold articles; sewing materials, linens and games. One drawer was always referred to as the "catch-all drawer. Mama's treadle sewing machine was also brought, and mama spent many long hours making clothes for her family, and the necessary patching and mending. Our clothing in those days was very simple. Mama used to make dark calico dresses for e very-day wear;" and our "good" dresses and school clothes were mostly made over from garments sent from Illinois by relatives. Much of our underwear was made from bleached flour-sacks. At school we had to wear pinafores over our woolen dresses to keep them from getting soiled, and I greatly disliked them. Worse still was a grey hand-me-down coat which I wore to school. I used to take it off and leave it in the buggy so nobody at school would see me in it.

Mama's good set of dishes had been packed in a barrel of sawdust for shipping, and because of lack of space in the house, was left outside the first year. I remember mama's dismay when she discovered that the glaze on some of the dishes had become cracked by the frost and dampness.

One afternoon, shortly after our arrival in the country, a man and boy came driving across the prairie with a horse and buggy, and introduced themselves as neighbors living on a farm some 6 miles distant. They had seen our buildings in the distance, and had come to see who their new neighbors might be. As it turned out, he with his wife and 6 children had moved to Manitoba the previous year from an area only a few miles from our old home. Thus our two families became very close friends and, years later, my sister Myrtle married one of their sons. Every Christmas and New Year's we gathered at alternate homes for feasting, games and sing-songs. By perseverance, I eventually learned to play simple music on the piano, (no music teacher being available). Thus I was soon able to accompany the singing of old songs and hymns, and later played the organ in church and Sunday School when no one else was available.

Later we became acquainted with other American families living in the same area as the first family we had met, and a good community of neighbours was established. A literary society was organized which met regularly in their school-house. We had entertainment consisting of short plays and skits; recitations, songs and music; and considerable talent was discovered. We also had skating parties on the dug-outs and streams near the different homes. After skating, the hostess served lunch, and the rest of the evening was spent playing games or singing. None of the young people in this group used alcohol or tobacco, and, contrary to the modern idea that you can't have a good time without drinks, we had wonderful jolly times, and no morning hang-overs.

With a fairly large community of former Americans living near each other, it was to be expected that, even though they were now naturalized Canadians, they would still remember, with some nostalgia, the holidays they used to celebrate in the land of their birth. Thus, it became the custom to meet on the fourth of July in the loft of our barn, which had been swept and garnished for the occasion. Long tables were placed down the center of the loft, and picnic baskets were brought out and shared. This was followed by various kinds of entertainment and visiting. News' of this annual event soon spread far and wide and people from farther and farther away began coming; some in buggies, democrats, wagons, and one family in the only automobile in the area at that time. Soon the picnic became too large to handle and had to be discontinued. Some Canadians, quite naturally, objected to our celebrating an American holiday in Canada , and no doubt it was an untactful thing to do.

Obtaining water on the prairies was a real problem, as there were no rivers or streams within many miles. So a professional well-driller was brought in to try to locate underground water. By sinking a hole 90 feet deep, down through the bed-rock, he struck a vein, which produced a small amount of ice-cold water daily. But the water was very hard and had a strong alkaline taste. We soon became used to the taste and used it for all our cooking, drinking and for cooling milk. Hells drilled in other areas of the farm struck veins which produced extremely vile tasting water, so strong that even the livestock refused to drink it. Thus water for them and for laundry and bathing had to be hauled in a large wooden tank from a stream some nine miles distant. Later a dug-out was made, using horses on dump-scrapers; a laborious task for man and beast. But, filled with water when the snow melted in the spring, provided a good supply of water. It also became a swimming pool for us children and we joyfully frolicked in it in the hot weather, disturbing the frogs and water-snakes. Only one end was shallow enough for the smaller children until they learned to swim, the other end being fourteen feet deep. Our food in those days was simple, but always plentiful. Baker's bread was, of course, unknown to us, and fresh fruits seldom seen. The only exception was apples. The Ontario apples were shipped in large wooden barrels, and when a shipment would arrive in town in the fall, papa would buy five or six barrels of the popular varieties,--Northern Spies, Tallman Sweets, Snow Apples, and huge King Apples. These, along with prunes bought in 25 pound wooden boxes, were our only source of fruit.

Papa was an expert carpenter, cabinet maker, blacksmith, mason and machinist, and had set up a well-equipped shop in one end of the former cattle shed, the other end of which later served as a coal and kindling shed. During the summer he and the boys and the hired man reconstructed the barn which had been brought from Illinois . It was a long narrow structure, with grain bins at one end and stalls for 26 horses and cattle and space for pigs. A feed-alley stretched the length of the barn, with a hay-loft above all. The prairie grass made good hay, which was hoisted to the loft with a huge hay-fork with retractable points which gripped huge loads of hay. From an early age it was one of my duties to drive the horse hitched to the rope and pulley which hoisted the hay-fork up and along the overhead track. Back and forth, over and over in the hot sun became very tedious. But I was proud of being able to handle the horse and rope.

Another tiresome duty assigned to us children was straightening the nails which had been saved when the barn was taken down. With a brick and hammer each, we pounded away for many hours, and had many sore fingers.

To insulate our house, papa, placed wide layers of prairie sod along the outside walls, and in the spring we had a volunteer flower garden, as the roots in the sod brought forth daisies and other prairie flowers. The in­side of the house was insulated by covering the walls with many layers of old newsprint obtained from the Free Press. I still remember the pictures printed on the papers, repeated over and over on the different walls, and how we used to color the pictures with our crayons. One lady I recall especially wore a huge hat adorned with ostrich plumes and wore a bushy fur. This fortunate lady received many different colored outfits as we colored her in her many appearances. But how we envied our neighbors who had real wallpaper on their walls.

In the second year papa raised the roof of our house, adding a second story. Thus we had bedrooms at last, and more furniture was brought from Illinois, including our piano. But it was still many years before we saw again the familiar parlor furniture and the pictures and ornaments which had graced our old home.

Also during our second year in Manitoba a sod house was made for the chickens, and was remarkably warm. Nevertheless, in the severe weather, some of the chickens suffered frozen toes, causing them to fall off. I especially remember one old hen who had nothing but stubs left in the spring, but whose energy seemed unaffected by the loss of her toes. She was shiny black in color, laid lovely big brown eggs, and was a good mother when she had a family. However, sitting on the roost was a difficult performance for her, and she used to slip off and have to catch herself by her neck and flap her wings until she was able to regain the roost. One morning when I went to feed the chickens I found her hanging dead from the roost. A nail had accidentally been left in one of the old boards used for roosts, and had gone through her neck when she slipped off.

After our first year in Canada papa had with difficulty obtained a loan from a city firm, and paid off the mortgage on our farm. This foiled the plans of the dealer who had sold him the land. It was the established practice of this dealer to foreclose on the mortgages of the victims of his deals after the first year or two, when it became impossible to keep up the exorbitant payments agreed to. The undeveloped condition of the land and the frequent flooding because of no drainage system in the area, made it impossible to raise paying crops for many years. Thus the dealer repossessed the land and sold it to other unsuspecting families for a large down-payment. Many American families, who came to the area, were forced to pack up and return to their old homeland, defeated and penniless. But papa was made of tougher stuff, and held on; facing year after year of poor crops; often discouraged but determined to win out. The rented farm produced enough to provide food and clothing for the family, and to keep up the payments on the loan, until our own farm was able to supply our needs.

Each spring a trek had to be made to the rented farm to do the seeding, and again in the fall to harvest the crop. Papa would load up the necessary supplies and machinery, and with the older children and the hired man, make the journey. Mama and the two "little girls" were left at home to look after the chickens and a cow and calf. One horse and buggy were left for our use, and, although there were no roads at that time, a trail was soon made leading to our nearest town across the prairie. As much as possible we used to avoid driving over the low mounds of earth, caused by, the badgers digging their burrows . A horse -could hurt a le g if he stepped into one of the holes. The soil in these areas was alkaline, and of a light greyish color, in contrast to the usual black soil of the prairies. It was dusty and infertile, very little vegetation on it. The horse which was left for us was a big clumsy young gelding, iron grey in color, but named "Nigger" when he was a colt, in the expectation that he would eventually be black. He had huge feet, was not overly intelligent, and had strange habits. One day when we were driving to town, Nigger was pestered by the swarms of mos­quitoes, and when we came to one of these alkaline spots, he decided to lie down and roll in the dust. Being hitched between the shafts, this was difficult to do, and mama frantically persuaded him to get on his feet again before any damage was done. One day during the first spring when Nigger was allowed out to feed on the prairie grass, he wandered away, facing into a strong wind which discouraged the mosquitoes. The grass was shoulder high, and by evening he was nowhere to be found. The next day he was located at a neighbor's farm, seven miles away. The man had found him wallowing in a ditch near his farm, where he nearly became help­less in the sticky clay. The man remarked, "That horse has the biggest feet I have ever seen."

The following year the municipal graders came into our area with an elevator grader and twelve horses, and dug ditches along the sections of land. The dirt excavated was used to form roads, but it was a long time before the heavy lumps of clay could be broken down enough to drive on. While these ditches provided some drainage for the land, it was several years before an outlet to the river was completed, with the result that when there was a sudden thaw, the water from the hills farther west spread floods spread across all the farms in its path. I remember one year in particular when the water became several feet deep around our buildings, filled our basement. A raft was used to reach the barn and to bring the milk to the house. The water stretched in all directions like a huge lake, which was beautiful to see, especially at night, with the moonlight sparkling on the ripples. But it was very late before the land could be drained enough to work, and some of it could not be seeded at all that year.

Herding cattle on horseback was a pleasant occupation in those early days, and I spent many hours out on the prairie watching them. They would watch for a chance to break away and get into a grainfield for a tastey bite. After our pup, Bruno, grew up, he took over some of the work of controlling the cattle, so I no longer had to be out as much. If we noticed the cattle herd straying too far from home, we would just say, "Fetch them Bruno", and he would bound away and bring them home, skillfully nipping at the heels of any who loitered.

One of the projects undertaken the third year in Canada was the planting of a wind-break of trees along two sides of our building site. Papa obtained the young trees from the government station at Indian Head; --maple and poplar and a few ash trees. I don't recall how many hundred we planted, but it was a great many. I recall pulling them along in my little red wagon as the whole family joined in planting them and carrying water by the pail full to water them. They grew rapidly and, in the winters, the snow would accumulate up to their tops. I remember one year it .was fifteen feet deep in them, and blown hard by the wind. We had great fun climbing the peaks and coasting down on our sleds.

Another undertaking for the family was painting the new implement shed which was built on the bank of the dug-out. It was large- building, one hundred feet long, with corrugated iron roof, but wooden sides which required painting. The red paint was bought in e large wooden barrel, and I remember climbing up on the scaffold, carrying a little pail of paint and a wide brush, and clad in an out-grown pair of my brother's overalls. The early glamour of the work soon wore off, and it became very tedious before it was finished.

One of the fondest memories of my childhood is of the very high swing which papa made with extra thick ropes and suspended from a bracket on the side of the barn. On it we could "pump" to incredible heights, and many happy hours were spent on it. Another pastime was climbing to ever more daring heights on a ladder reaching up into the gable of the hay-loft, and jumping down into the hay beneath. We also spent many hours playing with our kittens in the loft. A neighbor had given us two kittens, and as the years passed, the number increased until, at one time, we had 25 cats and kittens, each with its own name and per­sonality. We would dress them up in doll clothes and carry them around like babies, and could never consent to having any of them destroyed.-­ (until we discovered that one mother cat was killing our baby chicks and taking them to her kittens.) Then we had to consent. The chicks were very, important to us too. Mabelle and I had for years had the responsi­bility of setting the broody hens, and raising the baby chicks, and we were horrified to see them being killed off in this manner. But after the cat had been shot, we carefully buried her by the fence, her grave marked by an old lump of cement on which we scratched her name, "Flossie".

Our nearest neighbor at first was a Swiss bachelor who lived alone and with whom papa was slightly acquainted. But papa was quite taken aback one day when the man drove into our yard, all dressed in his Sunday best, and asked him to give him one of his daughters, for a wife. Papa hastily assured him that none of his daughters was to be given away, and he drove away disappointed.

We were not too well accepted by our Canadian neighbors the first years we were in Canada , because most of them mistrusted Americans in general. This can be well understood, since some of the immigrants who had been unable to succeed in this new land had departed by night with what belongings they could pack into wagons and buggies, leaving behind unpaid bills and broken promises. All Americans were labeled "Yankees", regardless of the State from which they had come, and were generally dis­liked. To the end of his life, papa was called "Yankee Brown" to distinguish him from a Canadian by the same name in the community. We girls usually felt very uncomfortable when meeting the Canadian girls from town, or the wealthy farms in that area. With their nice clothes, fine houses and social graces, we were inclined to feel rather inferior to them. It was only after we were able to attend church and Sunday school, and later high-school in town, that we became really acquainted and discovered that we had always been considered haughty and unfriendly. Such is the mis­understanding which sometimes isolates people. I have learned long since that to have a friend, you must be a friend, and I am no longer afraid to make the first advance, risking the remote possibility of rejection. It was a joy to be accepted as friends, and we had many happy associations from then on.

Papa, however, was never really liked by the men of the community. This was partly due, no doubt, to his pride and tendency to boast, a common fault of Americans. But in his case this was partly due to the way in which he was generally downgraded just because he was an American. However, he became a member of the local Masonic Lodge, which he enjoyed, and war, later elected Worthy Grand Master, and received the diamond badge. He had a quick temper, which was especially evident when he was over-tired or worried, and we used to cringe when we would hear him blasting one of the boys or hired men for some fault or neglect as he saw it. But on the whole he was a kind, gentle man, and we never doubted his deep and tender love for us. He loved playing cards and other games with the family, en­joyed a good joke, and had a hearty laugh, and jovial nature. He had how­ever, had very little religious training in his youth, his father being an atheist, and his mother involved, socially it seemed, in a little­ known denomination, of which I now forget the name. Thus he had little faith, though he was usually tolerant of those who had. But religion was never discussed seriously in our home.

Mama on the other hand, was raised in a Christian home where daily Scripture reading, devotions and prayer were faithfully carried on by her father, a gentle kindly man whom we dearly loved. With what joy we always anticipated the visits which he and gra ndma made to our home from time to time. Mama became loved by the women of the community, and was active in the church and becoming president of the local Women's institute for many years. Her Christian character had a great influence on our lives and I have many fond memories of the years when Mabelle and I would kneel at her knees to say our nightly prayers before kissing her and papa goodnight and climbing the steep stair, to our beds. Also when she would read bible stories to us on Sunday afternoons, and sing and play the simple old hymns of her girlhood. As the years passed, Orville and all of us girls embraced the Christian faith. But Chester followed more or less his father's example and became much like him, though he lacked his jovial disposition. He often seemed gloomy and dissatisfied with life, but he loved company and spent much of his spare time visiting and going out with his friends, a pleasure often missed in his earlier years. As I look back now, I realize that we should have been more understanding of his needs, and talked to him more. We girls had always been very close, and spent much time together, sewing talking and laughing, and no doubt our brothers, often felt lonely and excluded, which we didn't realize at the time. I also know we were often critical of those whose ideals were different from those we had been taught; and as I have grown in Christian understanding, I am often filled with remorse at my past attitudes. But we are not given a second chance to live the days gone by. We can only accept God's forgiveness and try to do better with the light given us.

Our family was, however, a happy one in those early days, and we en­joyed good times together, isolated as were from others. During the long winter evenings we would play games, pop corn, make candy, and always, during the evening, someone would take a turn at reading to the rest of the family. This would be from a book or from the latest episode of a serial story printed in the "Family Herald". This weekly publication a1ways contained sections of interest to different age-groups, as well as the words and music of a favorite old song, and an installment from a story by such authors as 2ane Grey, Harold Bell Wright or L.M. Montgomery. How impatiently we awaited the arrival of the next episode: We also enjoyed the antics of the characters in the Free Press comic sections on Saturdays; — the Katzenjammer kids, Happy Hooligan, Nemo, and others. No violence or space ships in those days.--just good clean fun, portrayed by artists who could draw!

We also had great pleasure in listening to records on our ancient Victor phonograph (known in those days as a "talking machine".) It had a crank on the side to wind it up and a large tin horn attached to the sound box. We had a varied collection of little seven inch records, and a few special 10 inch ones. How I used to enjoy listening to the Anvil Chorus (especially the clanging cymbols,) the Little Brown Church in the Vale, Uncle Josh At the Dentists, and many others.

Another pleasure of our early days was in looking at the stereoscope pictures on the projector in the dentist's office. Our whole family made the annual 20 mile journey to have silver fillings pounded into our many dental cavities, or teeth pulled. The picture-viewing compensated somewhat for the pain we suffered in the dentist's chair (no local anaesthetics in those days).

Whenever an unfamiliar word was encountered in our story reading, papa would always insist that we stop and look it up in the dictionary to make sure of its meaning and pronunciation. This provided an excellent education for us, which our young minds retained, and formed a habit of great value throughout our lives. Our parents were well-educated, which was fortunate, as much of our early education was due to their teaching. With no school near to us, only the older children were allowed to make the daily 5; mile trip for the first few years, while the "little girls" were taught at home by papa. I was eight years old before I started attending the little one-roomed school, but, by that time, I was well versed in the three R's. Thus I fitted in well with my age group. But when Mabelle was old enough to start to school she got a very poor start. The teacher at that time was a stern, ill-tempered spinster who seemed to dislike small children, and gave most of her attention to her grade eight pupils. This was understandable, because in those days a teacher's reputation often depended on how well her grade eight students did in the departmental exams at the end of the term. However, having little patience with her younger classes, she created fear, and they made poor progress. Mabelle had difficulty with reading and spelling the rest of her school life.

During the summer months, the older children had to stay out of school to help on the farm, but Mabelle and I drove ourselves with a buggy and old Billy, whose spavined leg prevented him from being useful for heavier work. But, in the winter, Chester drove us with a team on a big bob-sleigh, lined with straw and blankets. On the colder days, we often had to get out and run behind the sleigh to keep from freezing.

In their literature classes the older children had to memorize a few verses for each lesson from the poem they were studying. I had always loved : poetry; and as soon as they g ot home from school, I would find which verses were to be memorized, and learn them myself. - From Tennyson such lines as

"Break, break, break,

On thy cold grey stones, 0 Sea.

And would that my tongue could utter

The thoughts that arise in me."


And Sir Walter Scott's:

The stag at eve had drunk his fill

Where danced the moon on Monan's rill."


All these poems gave me great pleasure, and I soon began writing little verses of my own. As I grew older I spent much time composing poems, many of which I later destroyed, their being over-sentimental. Most of the poems, however, were of a religious nature, or of the love of the out-of-doors, and a few humourous types.

An exciting event in our lives came in the summer of 1910 when papa took us all to Winnipeg to attend the big Exhibition of that year. Riding on the train, staying at a hotel, eating unfamiliar food (such as prepared cereals in place of our usual oatmeal porridge), seeing new sights and having a family portrait taken in a studio to send to relatives back in Illinois , all were exciting for us. And, best of all, the grandstand shows at the exhibition. I remember the night they had a spectacular fireworks display entitled "The Siege of Delhi ." This was almost terrifying in its fiery displays and explosions, and I have never forgotten that thrilling night.

In those days when binders were used to harvest the crops, the sheaves had to be stooked, and it was necessary to hire extra help for this big task. Often these men were from central European countries who had come to Canada seeking a better life, and who could speak very little if any English. They soon learned, however, and were generally good, efficient workers. I can still picture them swinging down the mile-long fields, carrying the bundles under their arms and forming them into neat stooks. They slept in a roomy bunk-house which papa had built, and washed in a basin on a plank outside. Sometimes rains would come for a week or even two, when the men could not work. But we still had to feed this large gang. When they and the men on the binders were working on distant parts of the farm we had to pack hot meals in a large wooden box and take them in the horse and buggy to the men. In the afternoons we would take out lunches of buns or doughnuts and coffee and I sometimes took these out on horseback. I remember all too well one time when I had already mounted, Mabelle came running and wanted to go with me. As I reached down to help her up onto the saddle behind me. I acciden­tally allowed the pail of hot coffee I had on my arm, rest against the horse's side. He began to prance and finally dumped us off. I recall, as I was picking myself up, seeing old Baldy standing a few feet away and looking back at us ruefully, as much as to say, "Sorry, but you shouldn't do that to me". Mabelle ran to mama crying, but she was more frightened than hurt. My left arm, however, felt very painful and hard to move. Mama thought it might be dislocated at the shoulder, but dared not touch it. So I lay on her bed until papa came in from the field after dark, when he hurriedly hitched up the horse and buggy and drove to the nearest phone to call the doctor. I think it was near morning when the doctor arrived, driving the twenty miles with a horse and buggy. Mama had managed to - undress me except for my undershirt, but the doctor wanted that removed too. So he took out his jack-knife and cut it down -the front in great jagged slashes. Mama was quite provoked at this, as she could have made a straight cut with her scissors, and sewn it back together. He discovered a fracture close to the shoulder which: was difficult to set. But he used wooden splints and yards of bandages, and warned mama to keep me flat on my back. So I lay in mama's bed for two weeks, while papa slept in the hay-loft. Then the doctor returned to remove the splints, he found that my arm was slightly out of line, but it caused me no further trouble except to be very sensitive to the cold for several years.

Some parts of our land were three miles from the buildings, so papa eventually built a caboose and portable barn which could be moved near to where the men would be working. The caboose was well-equipped with roll­away bunks cupboards, and an oil stove for cooking, and the older girls took turns house-keeping for the men. The caboose also served as a quest room for our relatives when it was moved close to the house.

In 1912, for the first time since coming to Canada , our land produced a bountiful harvest. But after it had been cut and stooked, the rains came and continued unabated all fall, making threshing impossible. By the time freeze-up came, the stooks were standing in water up to their bands, and it was not until the water froze solid that the threshing outfit could be set up on the ice and the stooks chopped free and threshed. The grain was, by this time, of a poor quality, and had to be put through the drier at the local elevator. While much of the grain had to be left in the fields, enough was salvaged to carry us through another difficult year; to make the mortgage payments on the farm and to buy a model T Ford car. This car was a great joy to the family, and we were now able to go many places and to attend church and Sunday School for the first time since coming to Canada .

The large amounts of grain left in the fields that fall attracted huge flocks of Canada Geese on their spring migration north, at times the fields were almost covered with the feeding flocks, and the skies full of the honking V's. But, as our neighbor remarked, "Geese are smarter than men," and we seldom had goose dinners.

The abundance of grain in the fields also made a feasting place for hords of field mice, and in the spring, every stook that was moved dislodged several large families of them. They would go scurrying in all directions in search of a new hiding place, leaving behind the tiny new-born mice in their nests. The men soon learned to tie twine abound their pant-legs to prevent the mice from climbing up their legs. Our cats and dogs became so tired of mice that they would scarcely notice them any more.

This large population of mice also provided a feast for owls, which invaded the area by the hundreds, making their nests in the fields close to the stooks where there was a plentiful supply of mice to feed their young.

Soon after this, tractors began coming into use, taking some of the work off the horses, and allowing the men to work longer hours in the fields. Our first tractor was an International, and the second a forty-horse-power Hart Parr. It could pull larger implements, but often became bogged down in the low areas.

One hot summer day Aurilla became tired from baking, and threw herself down on the bed to rest. She soon began having severe pain which grew so bad that the doctor was called. It did not appear to be appendicitis, a common ailment in that area and, as he could not diagnose the trouble, the doctor said to bring her to the hospital in the morning if the pain persisted. It was no better by morning, but it was pouring rain outside. However, my parents made a bed for in the back of the democrat, with a canvas shelter and drove her the twenty miles to the hospital. The doctor operated immediately and none too soon. There was a large ovarian tumor which had twisted when she lay down, shutting off the circulation, and gangrene had already set in. However, she made a good recovery, and was back home before long.

At a later time, Ella developed a very severe case of erysipelas, and a nurse was employed to care for her. We learned later that, on several nights before the crisis, the nurse had almost despaired of her life. After her recovery she lost all her lovely, waist-long hair, which, however grew back in, curlier even than before. As far as I can remember, these two occasions, and my broken arm, were the only times a doctor was called to our home in all those pioneer days, with the exception of one winter when mama had chronic pleurisy, and the doctor called occasionally to prescribe for her. We often had heavy colds, especially in winter, and many cuts and abrasions and stomach-aches, but mama's home remedies brought relief. Many of these medicines were purchased from the Watkins man, who made regular trips through the country with his faded old red van, and his tired little black horses. He always carried a good supply of liniments, salves, pills, laxatives, cold remedies, tooth powder and brushes and talcum powder, but few cosmetics, which were rarely used in those days. He loved to talk and usually managed to arrive at a farm-house just at meal-time, or at the end of the day when he could find meals and bed, and rest for his horses over­night.

Over the years, the four eldest children of our family were sent to college, one or two at a time as finances allowed. They all received degrees in agriculture or home economics. But, for the three younger girls, the situation was different, and our only experience with college was in short courses taken much later. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, many young men from the farms and city rushed to join the armed forces, leaving a great shortage of workers to carry on a t home. Because of the large size of our farm and the urgent need for farm produce, my two brothers were exempted from military service when conscription came into force. But as it was impossible to hire the extra help still needed, we girls had to drop out of school for four years to assume more of the heavier work on the farm. We had long been familiar with farm implements and the care of live-stock, but now we became proficient in the operation and maintenance of the machinery, the cleaning, harnessing and driving the horses. Two horses were used on the mowers, rakes, and wagons, but four were required on the drills; binders and stook-loader. Operating these things became familiar to us and we enjoyed the work, heavy though it was.

Shortly before this time, a new school district was formed, due to papa’s efforts and lobbying, and a small school house was built only three-quarters of a mile from our home, to which we could walk. In the winter this was difficult as the snow often became very deep, even on the roads, and we had to use snowshoes much of the time, We often suffered frozen ear lobes, facing the cold winds-{no parkas in those days) The first teacher we had in the school was the daughter of a Swedish pastor in the city, and was talented in music, art and penmanship. We learned a great deal from her and Mabelle, especially, became an excellent writer under her training. And later, after raising a large family, she made use of the art training, and started doing oil paintings. At 82 years of age she is still producing lovely pictures.

I have not dwelt on the routine work of the farm. Perhaps the use of horses for all the farm work in those early days made the greatest difference from today's operations, when everything is done by power machinery. The daily chores of feeding and caring for the horses; cleaning the stable and milking the cows by hands laboring in the fields during the summers and hauling grain to market in the winters with horses on a sleigh: bringing home loads of coal and supplies: butchering, curing or canning beef and pork for home use. No refrigeration was available once the winter frosts were over. All these were a part of the routine. For the housewife, heating water on the cook stove, after carrying it from the dug-out; doing the laundry with a hand-operated machine and wringer ironing large baskets of starched and dampened shirts, dresses, slips and bras. Churning butter and canning vegetables. There was never an idle moment.

In 1916 our fields once again produced a wonderful crop and this time the weather co-operated and we were able to harvest it with no set-backs. By the time it was threshed, all our granaries and other buildings were filled to overflowing with bushels of No. 1 wheat and other grain. One half of the implement shed was converted into grain bins and these too were filled. With this bountiful crop harvested, papa was able to proceed with plans for the new house. The basement was dug, carpenters and technicians hired and the work was under way.

In the meantime, the war was raging in Europe . We had no phone at that time, and, of course, no radio or television, so our news of world events consisted mainly of things papa heard when he went to town. I remember awaking one morning and hearing papa's voice downstairs relating the news he had heard in town the night before. I recall how the sky was all aflame with the fiery red sunrise, which seemed to add terror to his words. "They say that the biggest battle the world has ever known is raging in Europe." I believe it was the battle of the Somme , and soon news began coming in of the deaths in action of several of our friends and neighbors, in this terrible conflict.

Our new house was completed in 1918, and we left the house which had sheltered us for 11 years. It was an exciting time, although it was natu­rally accompanied with some feelings of nostalgia. The new house was a three story brick veneer structure, complete with running water and an electrical generating plant which supplied light for the house and out­buildings, and power for the motor on the water-pressure tanks and other things. The third floor had book-shelves and seats built in over large storage drawers, a pool table in the center and three gable windows which mama soon had filled with house plants of many varieties, in addition to those in the dining room bay window downstairs.

As the phone company still refused to run a line out as far as our place, papa finally obtained permission to build his own line and connect it to theirs. He was able to buy a barrel of glass insulators for a dollar at an unclaimed freight sale in Winnipeg , and to run a line on fence-posts to connect to a party line three miles distant. At last we had communica­tion with the rest of the world.

In that year an epidemic of Spanish flu spread like wild-fire all across the United States and Canada , resulting in a great many deaths. In spite of the fact that we avoided all public gatherings and contact with others as much as possible, our whole family came down with the disease in the spring, when Orville returned from a visit in the States, bringing the infection with him. By good fortune our hired man did not take the disease, and by greater good fortune papa was able to obtain the services of the nurse who had cared for Ella when she was ill. Nurses were very hard to get at the time, and this one had just come off another case only moments before papa's phone call. A girl was hired to do the housework for us and we were all put to bed as we took sick. The nurse cared for us with great skill, applying mustard plasters when pneumonia threatened, and insisting that we not even put a foot out of bed until our temperatures had been normal for two days. Many deaths occurred when the patients got up too soon and had A relapse. We all recovered, but for many weeks remained incredibly weak and debilitated.

After the war was over, Mabelle started attending school in town, boarding at the home of the Presbyterian minister, and the following year I joined her in order to complete my high-school grades.

In 1920 Myrtle married,-- the first in our family to leave home, Mabelle being the second, and the rest of us, except Ella, in the years following. In the happiness of these new relationships, we found new purpose and goals in life. Orville had by this time built a house and barn on the east section of land and later married a former school teacher who had boarded at our place.

In 1924, Ella accepted a position teaching Home Economics in central British Columbia . Papa objected to this, as he could not bear to see one of his children go so far from home; a sentiment felt deeply by all of us. However, it seemed time for her to venture out on her own, and I well re­member the desolate, lonely feeling we had, as we watched the train pulling out of the station, bearing her away from us. In those days, when few people ever traveled outside their immediate community, this step seemed a very real break in our home. Even the married ones of our family lived on farms close by, so we still had -close relationships.

Shortly after Ella's departure, Myrtle gave birth to her first child, which was a joy to all of us. During our growing years, we had little con­tact with families with small children, and this baby in our own family was exciting. However that owing to the distance and poor train connections, Ella could not come home for Christmas, and to see her new niece of whom we were a11 so proud. Then sorrow was added to sorrow when Mama received a telegram a few months later from a doctor in British Columbia stating: "I regret to inform you that your daughter passed away this morning." As we learned later, she had been suffering with a heavy cold, and was admitted to hospital with pneumonia where she died suddenly. We had had no experience with death, and this first break in our close family found us unprepared for such an experience. I think we mostly suffered in silence, not able to speak about it in those desolate days and months following. When spring came with all its beauty and sunshine, her Absence seemed harder still to bear. Two of the many poems I wrote at the time as an outlet to my grief, express to some extent, the pain I am sure was common to us all:


Joyous, Joyous birds of spring.

Flitting by on tireless wing,

Who has taught you how to sing

Songs so cheery and so light?

Are you always just so gay?

Do you sing and chirp and play

Whether bright or drear the day?

Are you always happy,--quite?

Human hearts are never so;--

­Blest with joy and free from woe;

Only mingled joy they know,

Dulled by sorrows sting.

Do your little hearts ne'er ache

Till their tender cords would break

For some missing comrade's sake,

Or for songs you cannot sing?

Surely, you, for all your cheer

Know within some pain and fear;

Feel life's heartache and its tear

In your little hearts athrob.

Tell me then, blithe creatures, say

How it is you seem so gay:

How you warble all the day

Though your hearts may hold a sob.

Do you have a faith more true

In the God who cares for you

Than we human beings who

Strive to master all our ways?

Can you sing through every pain,

Through the sunshine and the rain,

Feeling aught of loss or gain,

Nor of doubt and hopeless days?

Joyous, Joyous birds of spring,

Would that I might learn to sing

Brave as you though days may bring

Tears that oft unbidden fall.

Would that I might ever know

Through each doubt and care and woe

That 'twas God who planned it so,--

God who loves and cares for all.



Never coming home again,--

The one we loved so dear? Never coming home to us

Who wait so sadly here.

Oh, must we teach our aching hearts

The message to believe,

The crushing word that she has gone,

And left us here to grieve?

Yes, she has gone, sweet gentle soul;

Gone from our lives away;

Cone to the land of no return;

Gone in youth's early day.

Never coming home again?

Should not we rather say

That she at last, her journey done

Is safe at home today?

Oh it is we who wander here

As pilgrims in the night;

Should we not then but think with joy

That She has reached heaven's light


When Aurilla and I were married in 1930 in a double ceremony, mama was left desolate, with none of her daughters around her and a big house to care for, with only the help of a hired girl. That is one of the sorrows that parents have to face when their children find the time has come to make a new home for themselves. But later, when Chester married, he and his wife lived with mama and papa until their son was born. At that time papa built them a modern house not far from the other buildings, and Orville moved into the big house with his growing family.

Not long after this, another sorrow came to our family when Aurilla died in childbirth, after only 15 months of marriage. I was six months pregnant at the time, and this was a hard blow to bear. Mama took Aurilla's baby boy and raised him to the age of five years, until his father remarried and took him home.

During those years it became mama's lot to care for another little grandson for several weeks. After the birth of my second child, I had to undergo surgery to repair damage sustained in childbirth. For some unknown reason, infection set in, and peritonitis spread to all my abdominal organs with other complications following. With no antibiotics at that that time, it was a hard battle, but, finally, after nine weeks in hospital, I­ was allowed to go to Mama's for a short time before re-entering hospital for more surgery to clear up the remaining infection. After another seven weeks in hospital, and a few more weeks recuperating at Mama's, I was able to return home with my husband and children, very thankful to be well again. But, during all my illness, mama cared for my infant son, while Myrtle mothered my little daughter.

Our family was to suffer yet another grief when Orville's little seven-year-old son was killed in a farm accident. And again, when Myrtle's husband died, leaving her with two young children. Thus do life and death mingle in our earthly life.

Because this journal is an attempt to trace some of our family's early history, I will not attempt to follow on with the varied and interesting lives of the next generation, following the deaths of our parents. To do so, would require endless hours of research, and would fill many books. I realize that many of the things I have related in this history will be of little interest to those who had no part in them, but for me it has been exciting to dwell again for a while in those early days, and to recognize how our lives have been influenced by these experiences. Now, at 85 years of age I can look back and see how the hand of God has led us all the way: replacing disappointments and sorrows with happiness, and loss with prosperity.

Orville and Chester continued to operate the farm, and Orville and his wife cared for our aging parents in the old home. For some years, papa had been suffering from high blood-pressure and a failing heart and he passed away at the size of 72 years. Orville also, 15 years later, passed away, but his wife continued to care for the home while their son carried on with the farm work. Mama, having survived a stroke and a broken hip, lived to nearly 88 years of ages. She had lived to see her 18 grandchildren and six of her great-grandchildren.

Thus ends the story of this hardy couple who had endured the trials and shared the joys of pioneer life, and left behind a legacy of honest, industrious descendants, in many different professions, and each a credit to his forebears.

Each member of our family developed special talents over the year Orville and Chester , in addition to the basic knowledge gained by working with Papa, also received much valuable instruction at the University, such as welding -and other skills. These things were put to good use as they carried on the operation of the farm.

Aurilla, after completing her University course, reminded at home to allow Ella to continue at University. Thus she had to put aside her ambition to go out to teach. But she made good use of her skills in sewing baking and other necessary accomplishments around the home. In the summer she was often invited to attend local fairs to judge the sewing, baking, and canning entries. She also worked in the church and community, as C.G.I.T, leader and camper, and other activities.

Ella had a beautiful character, always loving and understanding, and we relied much on her. After graduation, she worked in the community teaching home-economics to girl's clubs. She was a very good cook, and a meticulous housekeeper.

Myrtle, after the death of her husband, carried on operating their farm, with the help of her brother's-in-law until her son was old enough to assume responsibility. Then after he and her daughter had both married, she spent a year at the big house assisting Norma, Orville's wife, in the care of Mama through her terminal illness. She bought a house in the city where she raised a large garden each year, and for many years provided a pleasant home-away-from-home for several young men attending University or working in the city. She became famous for her delicious buns and hearty meals, and for the beautiful quilts which she made.

Mabelle and I spent much time helping with the farm work; milking cows, driving grain wagons and implements, and general tasks. We also took part in church and community activities, and were often asked to sing duets, or give recitations, act in dialogues and play, and to make posters announcing concerts. I remember one time Mabelle played the leading lady in a Gilbert and Sullivan light opera, "The Mikado ” which was produced by the local high school.

We also played on the girl's hockey team, and took great pleasure in skating on the new rink. Each year a carnival was held at the rink, and we wracked our brains to think up original ideas for costumes. We spent many hours making them often using flour sacks for material, with crumpled newspaper for stuffing.
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