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Homestead Holiday

by Edgar S. Russenholt

Manitoba Pageant, April 1958, Volume 3, Number 3

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

As soon as school was "out" that July, in 1905, my father hitched up the driver to the buckboard; and, with oats for the horse and food for ourselves, we headed for his homestead in Saskatchewan.

From the cramped and cruel bondage of deadening schoolroom dullness - into the free and thrilling sunshine of the outdoors - headed for unknown country; and a homestead holiday - what a release for a boy's explosive imagination!

We had moved from Ontario in 1898, to Hartney, Manitoba; and I was familiar with the flat lands and the low sand hills of that neighborhood. We crossed the Assiniboine Valley, near Virden. The sight of that expansive valley, brimful of trees, filled me with wonder. Each night, as we bedded down, I thought back over the wonders seen in the forty miles covered that day.

From Indian Head we swung down into the Qu'Oppelle Valley; and followed the old Trail. The myriad ruts, cut deep by carts and wagons in a century of freighting, are now plowed up and farmed. In 1905 they were still there - to fire a boy's visions of fur brigades and buffalo hunts and war-whoops and shooting!

Turning northward, out of the Valley, we stopped overnight at Balcarres; and loaded up with supplies. Next day, jogging another thirty miles northward along trails that wound between bluffs of poplar and willow and ponds and lakes, we crossed the right-of-way of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, near the present site of Ituna. The cleared right-of-way was a landmark in this parkland country. But it was hard to follow the right trail, among all those that criss-crossed in every direction. We stopped to ask passing travellers - and men working at isolated homestead cabins - and the children who peeked around the doorways of Metis homes. Everyone was excited about how the country must "open up" and boom - when the railroad was built!

Six more miles brought us to my father's homestead - on section 24-26-11 W2. It was grand country - gently rolling timber on the north side of every ridge - and the hollows holding multitudes of ponds. The waters were packed with ducks and their broods. Prairie chicken whirred away from every bluff. We could hear the tinkle of a cow-bell at our nearest neighbor's - two miles to the west. Eastward, stretched the File Hills Forest Reserve - a wilderness of wood and water and luscious pasture. Sometime, I would like to tell you the story of how I followed a run-away pony into that wilderness; got completely lost; and found the way back home. Meantime, when a dozen homesteaders came from twenty miles around; and worked for a week and more, to help my father raise our log house and barn, my job was to take the old gun; and stalk thru the willows to the likeliest ponds; and shoot ducks to keep meat on the table!

Can anyone imagine a better holiday for a boy!

Page revised: 30 June 2009

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