Tales of Asessippi: Christmas at Asessippi, 1915
by A. R. Devlin
Manitoba Pageant, Winter 1974, Volume 19, Number 2
The centres of the whole community at the time were the church and the school. The church was located at the bottom of the Asessippi hill near the bridge, across the Shell River, leading to the store, boarding house and grist mill.
For weeks the school teacher, Miss Sadie McLennan, and some of the parents, had been working on the Christmas concert program. The decorations for the church and tree were home-made; real candles were used for lighting, which were a fire hazard unless handled very carefully. Colored paper flowers and streamers were made by the ladies and actual cash outlay was very small.
All the school children were involved in the program of singing and pageantry. A good deal of arguing went on as to whose child should play the lead part, and who should have the lead in the singing. The teacher had to be diplomatic to a certain degree, but she was capable of laying down the law when necessary.
The young men from the surrounding area were nearly all in uniform, baling joined the 226th Battalion of Canadian Infantry; conscription had not come in yet so they were all volunteers. The draft came later taking men from the German and Galician settlers, few of whom had volunteered as most of their parents had come to Canada hoping to escape such things.
On the night of the concert, sleighs, cutters and jumpers hauled by one or two horses arrived at the church in the valley. They came from an area of ten to 15 miles around. The stable of the church held only eight horses, so the others were blanketed and tied in the bush all around the church. The lights were now ona few coal oil lanterns hung outside and oil lamps inside. These smoked and fluttered every time the door opened, but nobody seemed to mind, partly because they did not know any differently.
The preacher, Rev. McLean, had arrived from Shellmouth. Asessippi was one of the four churches where he conducted a service every Sunday, using a good team of horses with a buggy in summer and a cutter in winter. He was usually invited for dinner by a farmer or the village people. This of course included feed for the horses.
The concert started about 7 p.m., led by the local choir singing, with Mrs. Adams at the organ. This was followed by the school children putting on various scenes from Bible stories.
Many of the local boys in uniform were there sitting with their girl friends and some of the young couples got married before the men left home. Because transportation was slow at the time, they had no hope of getting home on leave.
It was a festive occasion, one of the highlights of the year, and yet much different from other years. Many people did not realize and would not for some time, just how serious was the occasion. Many of the men left the next day, never to return.
These concerts always started with the singing of O Canada and closed with God Save the King. On this special occasion the reeve was called upon to make a speech; the names of the young men who had enlisted were read out, and special mention was made of several who had left early in 1914, at the call of rally to the Empire. Some of these were remittance men who left England to come to the colonies as settlers, a few were family Black sheep, but most of them were good, capable men, just a little green to our Canadian ways.
After the concert program, presents were handed out to the children by Santa Claus (one of the robust local men), then coffee and sandwiches were provided by the womenno charge.
This was one of the last real Christmas concerts in the area. Many were held in later years, but not attended as well, due to war conditions, and most of these were sad occasions, with announcements of local residents wounded or killed in action. Some of the girls had also gone as nursing sisters, or into the cities on war work.
Driving home after the concert, some people went to local parties. Those with children usually went straight home, but not always; often there would be a room set aside at a farm house for a nursery with eight or ten children asleep. However, all the farm people had to be home in time to milk their cows at six or seven a.m. daily, since most of them relied on their cream cheques for groceries.
Thus passed the Christmas of 1915, a great contrast to life in the same area today.
Page revised: 9 December 2012