Story of the 1st settlers on the Prairies as told by Grandma;
Courval, Old Wives, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, history. In 1997 our family embarked on a cross Canada venture, we selected materials to teach our children about our great country. We asked my Mom to write out a history of her life growing up on the prairie's, which we read to our children in teaching them about Saskatchewan. I was to leave with mom in June to drive back with her and visit her place of early life, she had not been back since leaving as outlined in the following story. Mom had been feeling fairly well but passed away suddenly and unexpectedly the day before we were to leave for the trip. This Web site is dedicated to my mom whom we all miss and provided the inspiration to get things done.
In Loving Memory of Mom/Grandma Amy April 10, 1924 - June 9, 1997.
Her Story as she wrote it; "A story of Amy's life on the Saskatchewan prairie by Amy. Amy made it detailed so that those who read it, can understand what life was like in the "Hungry 30's" as those years were called. Survived by 2 sons, 3 grandchildren."
AMY'S LIFE ON THE PRAIRIE:
PS; Amy's father; was born in the states and came to Canada hearing all the offers of free open land. Amy's mom; her mom was born in England it seems she had a tiff with the family and hearing about the new life in Canada hoped a boat and with the spirit of adventure arrived with the other immigrants in the middle of nowhere. She was very talented and obtained work as a school teacher. Her father worked for a theater company in London. They settled down to a hard life on the prairie. I am told she never corresponded with her family again except through a sister.
I was born in 1924. I was their only child.
Dad homesteaded at Courval, Saskatchewan, which was located about twenty miles south-west of Moose Jaw. Courval consisted of a store and post office combined, one grain elevator and a blacksmith shop for shoeing horses. Dad was the first white person to live on his farm After the Indians left. I have two Indian arrow heads which we picked up near our buildings.
I can clearly remember my past life from the time I was three years of age.
Dad built a nice house with two large bedrooms and a very large kitchen-living room combined. The floors were oiled in those days. We had no electricity at all, so when there was a bad electrical storm, it was frightening, because there were no resisters on the buildings. One of my Dad's friends was killed by lightening. We used candles and lamps for light, and the cooking was done on a wood and coal cook stove. A wood and coal heater warmed the house. We had no washing machine or dryer, so all the clothes were scrubbed using a scrub board and brush. The water was heated in a container attached to the stove. In summer, the washing was hung outside on a line to dry, but in winter we had to have it hung on lines in the house. If the washing was put on a line outside in winter, it would freeze and would break in two when taken down. The ironing was done with an iron called a sad iron. This iron was put on the stove to heat and it was very easy to scorch the item being ironed.
We had one building built of sod and the chickens lived in it.
Our well water was very good. The water was raised by hand pump. A few farmers had large windmills to pump the water.
My dad and the neighboring farmers wanted to grain farm. I can remember our farm before dad started to break the soil. There was grass everywhere. There were crocus bulbs in the soil, they looked so pretty in the spring. We also had one slough which was covered with FOUR leaf clovers. A slough is a hollow in the ground where water collects in the spring from melting snow.
As dad plowed the grass under, I went in front of the horses and picked as many of the flowers as I could.
The land was not suited for grain farming, even though the land is still farmed. In the summer the soil was very dry, and there was no irrigation at that time causing the soil to drift. Some of our fences were completely covered up
from the drifting soil. There were no chemical sprays either. we had hundreds of hungry gophers to eat the crops, and thousands upon thousands of grasshoppers. Mum did some research and decided that oats would grow well in that soil, and the farmers still plant oats.
We always had a nice garden, potatoes and carrots did very well and we always planted sunflowers which grew tall and big. We used to have to carry water from the well to water the garden.
Part of our soil was clay, so I would mix the clay and water, mold out doll dishes and bake them hard in the sunshine.
Will-of-the-wisps would appear at night on one part of our land. These were lights of various sizes, similar to a firefly glow, they would bounce along the surface of the land, and if you came close to them they would disappear.
Rings often appeared in the soil overnight. They were from three to six feet in diameter. My parents told me they were formed by the fairies dancing around in a ring at night.
In the fall, thousands of Canada geese migrated south. They flew very high in "V" formations and honked very loudly.
Hawks often flew over the buildings, the rooster would sound the alarm, all the swallows and sparrows would disappear, and the hens would call the baby chicks to the chicken house and cover them with their feathers. There would be complete silence in the barnyard until the hawk flew away.
If I saw a group of hens standing around in a circle chattering, I always knew that in the centre there was a non-poisonous garter snake coiled up.
Our dog Tippy was skunked and he smelled for weeks afterwards,
Tippy tackled a porcupine and got many quills in his face. Dad and a neighbor had to tie Tippy down to the sleigh and pull the quills out with pliers. Some neighbor dogs also got quills in their faces, but nothing was done about it, and they had to be shot.
There were no weather forecasts broadcasted, but the barn swallows always warned us hours before a storm came. They would make a dreadful fuss, swooping low and if the house door was open, they would fly in and out of the house. Dad went by the swallow's predictions and would bring the stock into the barn, and close the doors to the sheds and barn.
On a stormy, cold winter night the coyotes would come in to
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the buildings and howl, the wind would whistle around the house creating an eerie serenade.
We were the first family in that area of the country to purchase a radio. On Sundays, everyone around would come to our house and they would take turns listening to the two radio earphones. Mum used to cook a meal for all of the visitors.
Dad next purchased a model "T" Ford car. Rabbits would often run in the rut road in front of our car, and when we drove at top speed, the rabbits could outrun the car. When we sold the Ford, we received $18.00 for it.
In winter, dad used to have to chip a hole in the very thick river ice so the stock could drink. There were tiny fish that used to become frozen in the ice. As dad chopped,small chunks of ice, with fish frozen in them would fly out. I then took the pieces of ice home, put them in water, and watched the fish thaw out and start swimming.
Dad dug the earth out from under the house, we had wooden steps down into the cellar where we put our garden produce and preserves. Cellars could be dug in the prairie soil, as the soil was dry and the earth walls would hold. Here in B.C. it is far too wet to do this.
We always had a lot of cats to catch all the mice. The cats lived in the barn, we never fed them as there was many mice for them to eat, but they were given a large bowl of milk twice a day. The male cat had to be a good fighter to keep the neighbor cats away or they would kill the kittens. After he had been wounded in a bad fight, the lady cats would lick his sores and bring him mice to eat.
Swallows really enjoy teasing cats. They dive at the cat, nearly touching the cat's head,the cat jumps to catch the birds, but cannot because the swallows fly so fast. After a while the poor cat becomes too tired to jump any more.
Every summer a picnic was held, all the young and old went to enjoy themselves. There was always a ball game, and races for all. This was the only time I ever had an ice cream cone to eat.
I saw very few movies when I was young, but I can remember the very first movie - it was a silent movie and featured a character railed Andy Gump.
I remember the first train that came through from Moose Jaw, how very excited I was. I climbed up into the hay stack so I could get a better look at the train.
The train started to come through from Moose Jaw once a week.
It took all day to travel the few miles from Moose Jaw to Courval. The train brought the mail, loaded on ties, groceries, animals and almost everything people needed. There was also passenger cars
In winter everyone would drive their horses to meet the train, in summer the farmers were too busy to do this. All the dogs followed the teams to Courval, and as none of these dogs were neutered, there was always a wild, uncontrolled dog fight. Our dog Tippy was big, and well fed, so he won most his fights without getting hurt by the smaller, starved dogs.
The farmers would huddle in the store visiting while the mail was being sorted.
Dad built a little house over the top of our sleigh, with mica for windows. Mica was much like hard plastic. He bored two small holes in the side for the horse's reigns to go through. Mum and I would sit in the seat with our feet on the foot warmer and wrapped in warm blankets, and dad stood by the mica window and drove the horses. A foot warmer is a long metal box with a drawer in it. Two bricks would he put in the stove fire and left until they were red hot, then they would be put in the foot warmer drawer.
The farmers relied very heavily on the Eaton's catalogue for shopping. We would mail an order to the catalogue department, and a few weeks later the parcel would arrive by train.
Dad's sister in Detroit always sent us a large parcel at Christmas, and we opened it on Christmas day. There was always a Christmas fruit cake and a tin of nuts. We rationed the cake and nuts out so they lasted for weeks.
Apples and oranges came in boxes only. If we purchased a box of fruit, usually about half of the fruit was frozen and was not fit to eat. The box cars were not heated and the fruit would freeze across prairie.
Dad decided he would like to learn to play the violin, so he sent to Eatons for a violin. Mum taught dad how to read music, and as there were no music books, mum wrote out tunes she knew. I still have the violin and the music book. Dad learned to play fairly well.
Dad always fixed our shoes and mended the harness. I still have his shoe last.
Occasionally we visited and stayed with a rancher called Mr. Linton. He owned several tall Poplar trees that grew beside his house. They were the only trees around. His
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house had a number of bedrooms upstairs where cowboys and guests slept. The cook stove was the only way the house was heated, so the stove pipe had many elbows in it as a short length of pipe went into every room in the house. When we arose on a cold winter morning, it was so good to lay our hands on the warm pipe, then warm water would be brought to our room so we could wash. Mr. Linton used to let me ride his saddle horse called Sweet. She was a good natured, lively white horse, and she always pranced.
Dad had a number of work horses. One horse was called Slim. He was quiet with my parents, but he hated small people, and if I went anywhere near him, he would put his ears down and show his teeth. Slim liked to play, he would chew on the washing hung on the line, and when mum went out to stop him, he would run away and pull the whole line of washing down.
Colonel was dad's saddle horse. Colonel was white with brown spots on his coat which looked like freckles, he also had a large brown patch on his shoulder. This horse knew everything there was to know about herding cattle, and I used to ride him to fetch the cattle home when I was tiny. If Colonel was turned out to pasture with the other horses, he would continually herd them.
One of the work horses called Dick was rolling and I saw him roll into the barbed wire fence, his two hind legs became caught in the barbs. I ran to tell dad, but it was too late, nick ripped his legs free from the barbs causing very deep cuts in his flesh, and he could never be used as a work horse after this he was so badly injured. Just recently on TV they were showing some horses with deep cuts on their legs, and the horse owners thought someone was injuring the horses. I contacted the SPCA and the police and told them about Dick rolling into the wire, and I thought these horses were getting caught on the barbs too, and they agreed with me, and felt I had solved the mystery.
Dan was my favorite horse, he was too big to be a true saddle horse, so Dad worked him, and I used him as a saddle horse. Dan was a pretty brown horse with a black main and tail, he was a pet. When Dan was turned out to get a drink of water, he would first come up to the house to have a handful of rolled oats. Dad used to turn Dan out to pasture with me on his back.
We owned a large bull with a very mean nature. Dad kept several of his daughters, and these cows had the mean nature as well. Peggy, one of the cows, took after mum, but missed mum and piercing her horns through the side of the barn permitting mum to get to the house safely.
Dad eventually sold this herd of cattle and replaced them with quiet cattle.
We kept pigs, and they would root under their pen fence and get out, this permitted them to go for walks with us in the evenings.
Our neighbors lost one of their cows, they rode for miles looking for her. Finally I found her, she had stepped on some boards covering an abandoned well, the boards broke, she fell in the well and drowned. There are many old wells in Saskatchewan, and they are very dangerous particularly when the snow has covered them up.
Dad and I were out riding, when a tiny aeroplane landed in our pasture, two men got out. These men offered to take us for a ride in their plane, but I was so scared that dad could not go, and he never did get a ride in an aeroplane.
We could see the aurora borealis from our farm, so very fascinating to view.
There were no colored photos in those days, but mum took many black and white pictures with a box camera. These are recorded in mum's photo album.
All the farmers provided salt blocks for the animals. The blocks were in cubes of about 2 feet, and were placed in the fields for the stock to lick. Animals become sick if they do not have salt in their diet. At the present time, the commercial food has salt in it, however, apparently it is not enough for some horses causing them to chew the fence posts. Screens are put over the eyes of the horses that chew the fence posts instead of solving the problem and give the horse more salt.
There was only one farmer who had a tractor, and all the rest used horses, which were usually a team of eight horses.
A few farmers had a telephone, but we did not have one. To ring the party you wished to speak to, a handle had to be turned to ring one, two or three times, depending on whom you were calling. The ring came through on all the lines, everyone listened in on the conversation.
We found a green lizard in my bedroom, how it got up the steps and into the house we never could guess. Mum swept it into the dustpan with a broom and took it out. After that, as there was no electric light to switch on, I was afraid to go into my bedroom in the dark.
One summer King George VI and Queen Elizabeth came to Moose Jaw. Everyone went to town to see them. We were so excited.
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Dad made a sleigh for me, and a harness for Tippy, our dog. He would pull the sleigh around, but was not strong enough to pull me too.
I attended just one birthday party when I lived on the prairie. I was a lot younger than the other children. For entertainment at the party, the boys had ropes and pretended to be cowboys, and the girls pretended to be cows, then the boys roped the girls, but I had a lovely time playing with two duck decoys in the horse's wooden water trough.
In winter, the occasional dance was held in the one room school house The desks were moved over by the walls, and everyone from the baby to grandma and grandpa came. The women brought delicious sandwiches and cakes, and the orchestra consisted of local people who played the violin, banjo and piano. Usually the piano player just corded , rather than playing a tune. My dad taught me how to dance. All the fellows came dressed in their one best suit, and some of the girls wore long satin dresses which they had made. The dances came by team and sleigh. Many of the teams had bells attached to their harness, and every sleigh had straw, blankets and foot warmers to keep the passengers nice and warm. The teams were tied to the fence, and thick horse blankets were thrown over the horses so they would not become cold.
Choke Cherries grew on bushes beside the Lake. These berries were very bitter, but with sugar added they made lovely jelly.
Traveling salesman would call around, such as Watkins salesman selling spices. A man called selling very large doctor's books. Dad bought one, and we used to refer to that; book to doctor ourselves and the animals. I still often look into it. There were no veterinarians in those days that I knew of.
A very young neighbor girl drove their cattle to the river to water, her saddle horse slipped in the mud and fell. She came to our house covered in mud, and as her horse was stuck in the mud, Dad rode down to the river, put a rope around the dying horse's neck, and attached the other end of the rope to the horn of our horse's saddle, then our horse backed up and pulled the other horse to safety.
I fell down the house steps and broke my foot. As we were so far from a doctor, I never received any medical help.
I next came down with a severe bladder infection and I had to be taken to Moose Jaw for treatment. My parents thought it was caused by drinking unpasteurized milk.
Mum was pumping water for the horses to drink, and one of them kicked her, causing her to have a very painful leg for a long time.
The next accident that happened, Dad and I were riding in the empty hay rack, when it slipped off the wheels. I hurt my nose, and dad rolled down onto the ground hurting his back. As there were no crutches he used one of our kitchen chairs to help him walk.
There were many flies and mosquitoes around in summer. The grazing stock used to come in to the buildings to try and fight flies. The work horses had wire cages over their noses to prevent the flies from biting them.
In late summer the neighbors helped each other thresh the grain. A team would back the wagon up to the grain chute and when that wagon was full, the next team would back in. I was in a wagon when the biting flies made the team run away. I was too little to stop the team, but one of the men was quick enough to run after the team, jump in the wagon and stop the horses.
The lake was an alkali lake, and in summer it would go almost dry. One day we painted our chairs brown, left the windows open and went away. The wind came up, and blew the alkali all over the paint on the chairs, and when we arrived home our chairs were mostly white.
I was taken to Mossbank to the dentist to have one tooth filled. I had been ordered to let the nice man do what he wanted, the trouble was, the nice dentist man was drunk. We drilled most of my teeth and filled them with silver fillings, so of course from then on I suffered major dental problems.
About a year later I had my tonsils removed. My throat was so very sore after the operation, I could not talk and I was only able to swallow tiny bits of jello. I was so hungry. This went on for about a month and a half I would think. After the operation I have never been able to sing, and my voice has always been rather strange. Years later a doctor detected my strange voice and he looked very deeply into my throat and exclaimed that my voice box had been cut.
All the farmers kept having crop failures as there was no irrigation and no chemical sprays, consequently, everyone in southern Saskatchewan became poor. The storekeepers tried to help by giving groceries on time, they soon found themselves in financial difficulties too. The ranchers fared the best, but even they were very poor. Farmers began to fall behind on their taxes and mortgage payments, and the government and mortgage companies were very glad to seize the property, so thousands upon thousands
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of acres were taken over by the government and put in the land bank, this Land is still in the land bank, and the government leases it to farmers. Some time later, the government began to give relief, but nothing was done to help anyone then. (I doubt if my parents would have accepted relief anyway)
Dad could not keep up the payments, so the mortgage company seized his homestead. Mum had purchased two small parcels of land beside the homestead, and these pieces of land went into the land bank. One parcel of land is still in the land bank, but recently I hired a lawyer, and was able to claim the other piece, and I then sold it. If the descendants of these poor farmers only knew, they could claim their parent's property too.
Dad went to work for a rancher, he lived and worked for this man. Dad took all his livestock with him.
Mum took a teaching position, so we moved into the one room shack on the school grounds. Mum taught about nine pupils and each pupil was in a different grade.
Conditions were so dreadful that the district could not afford to pay mum her full salary, so they gave her the piano, and then mum taught me to play.
That summer we had a plague of army worms, there were millions of them, the ground was green from them. I went outside, and with Every step I squashed thousands of them there were so many. They crawled up my shoes and legs. Mum put coal oil around the bottom of the door, and in a half hour she measured three quarters of an inch of dead worms. The worms were at our place three days, then they moved on westward. I never experienced anything so horrible in my entire life as these worms.
That same year there was a number of prairie fires. One large Fire was extinguished when it came to the railway track. The wind immediately picks up when a fire starts, and the fire then travels at an alarming rate of speed. A fire began near the school, this wall of flames about 8 feet height came racing toward the school. There was a two rut road running beside the school yard, and this put out the flames, and the fire did not jump the road.
I had to sweep out the school every day, bring in the wood and coal and fetch water from the well.
Dozens of Russian thistles tumble along with the wind, so the school children would write their name and address out, tie it to a thistle and watch the tumble weed roll away with the wind. We hoped we would get a reply. I never received any replies but one boy got an answer from Manitoba.
Mum had brought a hand wind Singer sewing machine with her from England. I still use this machine on occasion. One of the Singer employees looked up the serial number on the machine for me, and he found that this machine had been manufactured in the early1900's.
It was around Easter time when someone said they had seen a pretty, large white rabbit in the school yard. We all went out and searched around the yard, and sure enough, hidden under some Russian thistles we found a nest of chocolate eggs. It was so much fun.
Mum taught the school children how to basket weave, paint pictures, hook rugs etc. We then exhibited them in the exhibitions at Yorkton, Regina and Moose Jaw, and we always took many prizes. The school inspector asked mum to come to the teacher's convention and teach the other teachers how to do the hand work as they did not know. Records of our prizes are in mum's album.
Every Christmas time we held a concert, and folks for miles around came and they always enjoyed themselves. As there were no libraries, and few books in the homes, mum had to compose the dialogues for the plays and write out the music for the songs we had so few pupils to put on a concert that we performed puppet plays. If you ever read the jokes and skits from mum's concert books, they may seem rather dull, or to you perhaps racist, but remember there was no TV, Little radio and few newspapers, as for colored jokes, there were no colored people around, in fact I never saw a colored person until I moved to B.C.
Mum was hired to teach at Old Wives across the lake. The schools closed part of the cold winters and ran in summer, so we moved in the spring to Old wives, Dad came and loaded our belongings on the sleigh and we crossed the lake, however, we left it too late and there was water all over the ice, so it was a tense journey as we were uncertain that the ice was going to hold us.
Dad had sharp shod the horses or they would have slipped on the ice. To sharp shoe a horse, spikes are put on the bottom of the iron horseshoes.
Dad went to work on another ranch where there were a lot of sheep, and a Sheppard who hated all animals except sheep and sheep dogs. Dad came down with an appendicitis and had to go to Moose Jaw for an operation. The appendectomy operations were Far more serious in those days, and dad was in hospital about a week, and when he returned to the ranch he was very weak. Dan, the horse and two cows were tied in the barn while dad was away, and the Sheppard had not gone near these animals. When dad arrived, Dan was so weak he could not stand. The cows recovered and dad gave Dan to neighbors if they could
save him. They loaded him onto a sleigh and took him home, and Dan finally recovered, and the boy started to ride him to school. One Saturday Dan was missing, and he was later found grazing in the school yard.
The Sheppard next sicked his three sheep dogs onto Tippy, even though Tippy was a strong fighter, he was badly lacerated so dad put Tippy on the train and sent him down to a nice lady who took him as a pet.
After this, dad sold all his livestock and moved to Ontario, however, he did not like the Ontario climate, so he moved to British Columbia and mum and I later joined him.
Dad met some Spanish American War vets, and they told him they were receiving army pensions from the United States, so dad applied, started to receive his pension, and then learned that he could have had a pension all during those tragic "hungry 30's" years.
We lived in Milner Surrey for a while, Dad worked. Then later bought a farm in South Westminster, and lived there till my parents death within a week of each other. Amy came back to live here for some years with her 2 sons. They remember their grandparents fondly.
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