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The Diary of Ellen McFadden Lowes 1882-1886, part 1

Manitoba Pageant, Winter 1977, Volume 22, Number 1

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.

Having been induced to record in diary form some of my most interesting experiences as a pioneer from Ontario to the broad open spaces of Manitoba and the West, I will commence my diary by introducing the boy I later married.

In February, 1882, as there was much talk and excitement in our community about the wonderful advantages for young men in the West, and as indeed a great many married men were going West to take up homesteads and establish new homes for their families, my father being one of the many, my friend of whom I speak, Johnnie Lowes, walked into the house one day and confronted his mother with the statement that - "six birds were too many for one nest," - and that he was going to Manitoba to get free land. There was much discussion for and against the idea. However, his mother not being able to persuade him otherwise, he and his brother-in-law, Joe Green, on the 2nd day of March, 1882, left for the West. Their destination was what was then known as the Elliott Settlement, some twenty-five miles Southwest of Brandon.

On reaching Brandon, they walked some twenty-five miles to the home of an aunt and uncle of Joe Green, where they received a royal welcome, as in those days new settlers did. In a few days Johnnie was tired of being unemployed and set out to look for work. He got work with a farmer who also kept a store and stopping place, on the North Bank of Black Creek, about twenty-five miles from Brandon. This was an ideally located stopping place, because the only Railway to the West was the Canadian Pacific line which came into Brandon, and settlers starting out from Brandon to their ultimate destinations in the more southerly portions of the Province, found travelling slow and were very thankful to break their journey at Black Creek Stopping House. When settlers were asked where they were from and where going, - invariably the answer was "From Grey County," or "from Bruce County," and going to "Lang's Valley," or "Going to Turtle Mountain."

Spring came in that year with a rush, and Black Creek overnight became a small sized torrent. The men decided they would have to devise some sort of ferry boat on which to transport the settlers across the Creek, bridges in those days being unknown luxuries. They set to work and the result of their labors was a deep flat bottomed wooden boat, somewhat like a wagon box, to be manipulated with a paddle. Johnnie was given the responsibility of transporting the new settlers and their effects across the Creek. Aside from the almost constant danger of upsetting his craft, there was interest and excitement alone in the varied nature of each cargo.

As soon as seeding commenced Johnnie hired for a year on a farm South of the Souris River.

I will leave Johnnie for the present and turn my thoughts to my earliest recollections of my pioneer experiences.

On March 1st, 1883, my father and brother left our home town with a carload of stock and provisions, bound for the Elliott Settlement. On the 27th of March, my mother, with her seven girls ranging in age from four to twenty years, started on the long journey to our new home. We were accompanied by Dave Nixon who was engaged to be married to my eldest sister. He planned to take up a homestead and make a home for her in this new Country.

It was a sad, dull morning for us all, but we were not alone in our experience of saying goodbye to our old home town of Beaton, and to our friends. In the party was a Mrs. Banting and her three daughters, a Mr. Rogers, and numerous others all going to the same place, to meet husbands, brothers and sisters who had gone on ahead. A happy-go-lucky group of boys had got on the train a few stations farther down the line, most of them returning to their homesteads after a winter spent happily with their families. These boys stood on the steps as the train pulled out of each station singing lustily the popular tunes of the day, - "Goodbye My Lover, Goodbye," - "Remember the Red River Valley, and the girl you left there so True," and another very popular one about the shanty where the door hinges were of leather, the windows were not of glass and the roof let the howling blizzard in. This boisterous happy-go-lucky attitude seemed to lift some of the gloom and cheer us up.

My mother's first concern was to get us all settled comfortably in our coach, and she solved the problem of always having the four youngest children under her thumb by pinning them firmly into a double seat. It came time to eat, and we had a very busy time getting out baskets and lunch boxes, which had been packed with good things by aunts and cousins.

Some time that evening we crossed the boundary line at Detroit. It was then that I thought we were a long way from home. In our coach there were placards on the walls, - "Beware of Card Sharks," and "Beware of Pick-Pockets," but not knowing the meaning of these, I was not concerned. I later, however, learned the reason for the worried look on my mother's timid little face, as when she looked at them, she showed the terror she felt.

We huddled up on the seats and slept as best we could, as there were no such luxuries as pullman cars in those days.

The train rolled on and on, - until finally we came into what they told us was Chicago. The train moved very slowly up what I thought was a narrow alley. On either side, were houses touching each other, filled with ragged children, a dog or two, and dirty women. That was where I promptly decided that Chicago was a larger place than our home town. Finally, we rolled into the station, and amid the clanging of bells we were hustled out of the train. Mother having warned us to all hang onto each other. We were hustled into the station through one door and immediately hustled out through another door and told to get into another train, which they advised would take us right to Winnipeg.

We arrived in Winnipeg on a Friday night at eleven o'clock, very weary after what had seemed an endless journey. The young men, who had done much on the trip to help keep the younger folks amused and cheerful, took charge of our luggage and helped us into a bus, taking us to the Brunswick Hotel for the night. We got a room with two beds in it. This had to accommodate the eight of us, but it didn't matter, as the floor would have been good enough for us to sleep on that night. It almost seemed that before I had fallen asleep, I was wakened and told to get up and dress and get ready for breakfast as we were to catch the train for Brandon at eight o'clock.

We arrived at Brandon at two o'clock in the afternoon, and were met by our loved ones, who had arrived sometime before with the stock and provisions. It was a big relief to get out of that train on a bright sunny afternoon and enjoy freedom of movement once more. Our men folks escorted us to the popular hotel of the day, the well known Kelly House, where we rested awhile, waiting for the men to get the horses hitched and ready for the long drive to our new home. There were three sleighs pulled up to the door, our family packing into one, and the other two being equally well filled. The three sleighs travelled together for some twelve miles, and when we arrived at the Little Souris River, where a stop was made to water the horses, we said goodbye to the other two sleigh loads and turned to the left, they turning to the right. This parting of the ways left us with a strangely desolate feeling, but in reality we were all bound for the same Elliott Settlement. Our homestead turned out to be at the East end of the Settlement, and the new homes of the others at the West end.

My father had brought a Mr. and Mrs. Stewart, who were to be close neighbors in the future, into Brandon with him, to meet us, and we were taken directly to their home for our first night on the Prairies. We arrived in time for a good hot meal, and were thankful, immediately afterwards, to be hustled off to bed.

Sunday morning we had our first western breakfast, - oatmeal porridge, which was different from anything we had ever had before, and in my case at least, didn't go down very well. In the afternoon, all the work being done for the day, we piled into a sleigh and went to a Church Service which was being held at a neighbor's home.

On Monday morning, I hesitatingly approached the breakfast table, wondering if we were to have more oatmeal porridge, but discovered that this morning it was cornmeal mush, which I decided after a couple of mouthfuls, was much, much worse than the oatmeal porridge.

Our faithful old team of horses were not long in covering that two miles. The Country was new to us and so vastly different from the District we had left behind us in Ontario, but apparently the horses intended to set for us all a good example, as they appeared to have already become accustomed to their new surroundings and gave us the impression by their very pace that they knew where they were going and were proud of the task of taking us all along.

We got a first glimpse of our new home from a short distance, and my exclamation was, - "How small the house looks!", while someone else piped in with, - "Oh! what things to call a barn and stable!" These exclamations must have given my father the idea that we were not very favourably impressed. However, we drew into the yard and were greeted by the cackling of the hens, the crowing of the roosters and the squawk, squawk, squawk of Mother's geese, which conveyed to us a very satisfied and contented attitude. Our real welcome, though, was given us by our good old "Carlo," who, having recognized us as we commenced to climb out of the sleigh, nearly barked his old head off as he pranced and jumped around in his mad endeavor to welcome us all at once.

We were all now becoming quite curious about our new home, so gathered together our belongings, piled once more into the sleigh, and started off on the two mile drive, our new home being two miles to the South of the Stewart Farm.

One look at the inside of our new home, and we swiftly realized that our days of living in Palaces were a thing of the past. Our men folks had, of course, only set up a bed for themselves, and although they had only been batching for about a month, the place looked pretty much cluttered up. However, Mother, being a good manager, soon had us all working, some setting up beds, some filling bed ticks, and some straightening around furniture downstairs. The upstairs of the house consisted of one large room, and by noon there were five beds made up, three along one wall and two along the other, with quilts hung between them for partitions and a narrow passage down the centre of the room.

Having settled our living quarters, we trouped out for an inspection of "those things we were to call a barn and a stable." These, we discovered, had been built by the men, the walls being constructed of two pole fences set a couple of feet apart with straw tramped down between them, and the roof in each case was made of poles and covered with sods. Not very picturesque, we decided, but apparently quite comfortable for the stock.

After a week of strenuous work, unpacking and finding a place in the new home for our numerous possessions, we paused suddenly to realize that the snow was practically all gone and Spring had arrived. My younger sisters gathered crocuses for table bouquets, while mother and we older girls turned our attentions to planning the garden. The men were busy with their seeding, and working on the land. Altogether we commenced life in the new surroundings with light hearts and a hopeful outlook.

As soon as seeding was finished, Dave Nixon and Johnnie Lowes, together with four others from the District, decided to push on farther West for their homesteads. They had not arrived in time to secure one in the Elliott District, but some of them had relatives who had settled in a District known as the Cook and Armstrong Colony, in the Northwest Territories. The boys started out with two teams of oxen and wagons, and after a long, weary journey finally arrived at their destination. The relatives of some of the boys helped them choose their homesteads. Johnnie settled on the West half of Section eighteen, Township twenty-five, Range 2, West of the Second Meridian, in York Colony, Northwest Territories, now a part of the Province of Saskatchewan. He took out Homestead papers on one quarter and filed Preemption papers on the other.

Johnnie hired one of the yoke of oxen, and worked all summer breaking and back-setting, and getting out small logs from which to build his shanty and stables. The other boys spent the most of their time hunting and shooting and having a good time with their cousins living in the District.

Early in August the boys packed up, and started back to the Elliott Settlement, arriving in time to help with the harvest and threshing.

In the meantime, my father had broken more land for another year, and we had all been very busy. The really exciting event of the summer had been the Annual Picnic held on the First of July at Milford. We all went, and participated in the usual games, baseball, running races, etc., and visited with our neighbors.

In the Fall of the year, a meeting was called of the parents of the District who had families, for the purpose of discussing the very serious question of education for the younger generation. As would be expected from people who now could feel that their feet were firmly planted on the road to prosperity in a new and promising country, this important question was dealt with immediately and without hesitation, the unanimous decision being that a school house must be built, and a teacher placed in charge. My father and his neighbor, Mr. Rogers, were given the contract of building the school, which was erected on the Southwest Corner of my father's farm.

As we seemed to have the largest house in the neighborhood at the time, we boarded the teacher when she was hired. The winter proved a busy and most interesting one, the teacher arranging debates every week or so, which together with a couple of Church Socials in Old Souris City kept our minds busy. Thus our first winter in the West passed away.

In the Spring of 1884, Johnnie Lowes, having saved up his wages, bought himself a young yoke of oxen, a wagon, set of harrows, a stove, etc., and again packed up and started off for the North West Territories to work on his homestead. This time, in addition to his own accumulations, he carried with him a much appreciated box of bedding, which had been sent out to him from Ontario by his mother.

Part 2 here

Page revised: 20 July 2009

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