Pioneer Trails in Education Between The Lakes
MHS Transactions, Series 3, 1951-52 Season
On the fifth day of April 1911, I received a letter which read as follows: “I am directed by the Minister of Education to ask if you will accept a position on the staff of Provincial School Inspectors. A prompt reply will be appreciated.” This letter was signed by R. Fletcher, Deputy Minister of Education. Upon replying in the affirmative, I received on the 20th of the same month a letter notifying me of my appointment and stating that my division would be the southeastern portion of the Province and that I might reside in Winnipeg. Later this was changed and I was notified that my division would comprise the municipalities of Assiniboia, St. Francois-Xavier, Rosser, Woodlands, St. Laurent and from there on north with a limitless boundary, in so far as I kept within the confines of the province of Manitoba. My western boundary was the eastern shore of Lake Manitoba; beyond the northern limits of that lake the boundaries were not defined. I got out a map and studied it carefully and at great length. Many a king had ruled over a smaller kingdom.
For a number of years I had spent three weeks every summer covering the three western provinces, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, as a reporter of crop conditions for the Manitoba Free Press. In this capacity I had travelled over practically every railroad line and had driven endless miles through the country side, so that I knew the West pretty well, excepting this portion between the Lakes which from then on was to mean so much to me. Here, as I realize after more than forty years, I was to know this part as I never knew the other. I was to know the people and the land as I never knew any other people or land.
I think I should explain here and now that in 1911 the municipality of Assiniboia comprised what is now St. James, Tuxedo and Charleswood. What is left is a small strip extending along the north side of the Assiniboine river, from Kirkfield Park to a short distance beyond Headingly. St. Francois-Xavier had the portion of its territory south of the River taken away to form the municipality of Cartier. Rosser gave up a square mile on its eastern border to form the Village of Brooklands. All the area included in the above named municipalities and also Woodlands and St. Laurent had been settled more or less since the early days in the history of our Province and schools had been in operation during that time. St. James school district is No. 7. Headingly is No. 9. In 1911 the former operated two rooms and the latter one room. North of Oak Point, however, there was little settlement except the Icelandic group in and around what is now Lundar. Also there were two fairly old settlements on Lake Manitoba at Lily Bay and Scotch Bay. Here the lake shore is very beautiful and I have wondered why in recent years it has not been made into a summer resort. North of here and of Dog Lake were a few settlers who had been there some years before the survey was carried out.
It was in this area of Silver Bay and Dog Lake that I met a Mr. Matheson who was a cousin of the late Archbishop Matheson. There was such a marked resemblance between them they would have been taken for brothers on sight. In height, physique, even to the renowned beard of the Archbishop, here was a duplicate. Mr. Matheson had been there for a long time and the range for his cattle was limitless until the survey came. As he said to me, “I can live out my days here and perhaps my seven sons can too although they cannot read or write but it is for my grandchildren that I am concerned. For them there must be a school, for the survey has been made and times are changing.” He was a grand man and it was a privilege to know him.
The Canadian Northern Railway operated a line from Winnipeg to Oak Point on Lake Manitoba and the northern extremity of St. Laurent municipality. The Hudson’s Bay Company had a post here and the little village was to quite an extent a fishing and shipping centre. The C.N.R. was being extended from here to Gypsumville, over a hundred miles to the north, where an industry had been started owing to the discovery of rich deposits of gypsum in that area. As a result of this proposed railway line and also the proposed line branching off from the Oak Point line at Grosse Isle and extending north to the Fisher River territory, the government had this land surveyed and almost immediately opened up for homesteads. Naturally, this caused a great movement of land-seekers. It seemed almost unbelievable that a person could get a homestead within a hundred and fifty miles of Winnipeg.
The land from a grain farmer’s point of view was not to be compared with that farther south. Parts were very stony. Many portions were what might be called marginal; some parts sub-marginal. There were many sloughs and muskegs and as one went farther north the land was heavily wooded. At the same time many areas here and there were suitable for grazing, while others afforded opportunities for mixed farming. The Icelandic settlers had gone in for dairying and were doing well. A fine creamery was later successfully operated at Lundar. For the most part the land in this locality was superior to much of the rest, but these people worked very hard for many hours seven days in the week. Notwithstanding all the draw-backs and the disadvantages, this land was so-called free land and whenever free land is offered, there is a remarkable response.
Naturally one is interested in knowing something about the people who availed themselves of this opportunity to obtain free land. Some came from farms in the more southern parts of the province. They had a background of experience which was valuable to them, and some money which made their lot easier. Many came from Winnipeg. Most of these had little or no cash and no previous experience on the land, but they did have a desire to better their conditions in life and this opportunity to go on the land seemed to offer them a chance to fulfil that desire. Then there were those who came from practically every province in Canada; some from the British Isles, the United States and from European countries, especially from Central Europe. There were two Jewish settlements, operating under the Baron Hirsch Foundation; one colony at Bender Hamlet and one at New Hirsch. Unfortunately neither of these prospered, although they had a financial backing and supervision which gave them a decided advantage over all the others who settled in this area. They were village settlements patterned after old settlements in parts of Eastern Europe. Many of those who took up land along the Fisher Branch and Hodgson line were fairly recent immigrants from Central Europe.
To provide the children of all these people with schools:-such was my task. There was not a mile of graded road to be found excepting a few miles in Rosser. Even Portage Avenue was not graded beyond the western limits of the city of Winnipeg. It was a low dirt trail through what is now St. James, Sturgeon Creek, St. Charles, Headingly and beyond. There was not a doctor or nurse in my whole territory. As far north as Oak Point, however, were organized municipalities. Beyond that was what is known as unorganized territory.
Under the Public Schools Act, the formation of school districts is provided for through proper petition of electors to Councils in municipalities and to the Inspector of Schools in unorganized territory. Many of the settlers did not know the proper procedure and much spade work had to be done to inform them. A number of petitions, however, were received in August, 1911, so I started out on horse-back, by oxen, dog teams, horses and buckboards, sleighs and also on foot to cover my field. You may ask why I did not use a car. I might have done so to a certain extent in the southern part, and did purchase a car in 1913, but in that portion of my territory which is the subject of this paper, I may state that, as I often got my feet wet when riding in a buckboard and when riding horseback, I need not elaborate on why I did not use a car. Between the Lakes one oh en had to make his own trail and these changed with the seasons and weather.
The people received me with such kindness as I can never repay. In many cases their homes were log shacks, perhaps with one room and no floor except Mother Earth, but they gave me of their best and no man can ask more. By late fall the petitions began to come in steadily. The procedure I followed was to notify the petitioners that I would be with them at a fixed date and ask them to have all the people meet me to discuss the problems involved. If it were possible for them to arrange a social gathering, so much the better. I may add that we had some wonderful parties, and square dances, which modern youth seems to think he originated, were carried on with much jest, enthusiasm and wholesome enjoyment, to the accompaniment of a real old time fiddler and the direction of a vociferous caller, bringing joy unconfined to all assembled. Before the dance we would have our meeting. I would make a plan of the proposed district, discuss possible sites and try in every way to cover all the points involved; one important matter being that of financing the building of the new school house. Next morning I would look over the territory involved, if I had not been able to do so before the meeting. This was very important because of the many sloughs and low spots. As a result one could not count distance as the crow flies and road allowances were a dream of the future. It was all quite involved and took a great deal of time, but it was necessary, as few of the people had any previous experience in such matters.
The Public Schools Act provided that not more than one thousand dollars could be borrowed by way of debentures for capital expenditures in rural school districts. With this maximum of a thousand dollars a district was expected to provide a site and erect and equip a one-room school. Looking at this amount in the light of to-day, you will readily agree that times have changed. The Legislative grant to schools was sixty-five cents a day a teacher. There was no municipal grant, of course, in the unorganized territory. Each district was a tax-assessing and a tax-collecting unit in itself, or, in other words, a self-contained unit. Each secretary-treasurer in carrying out his duties as fixed by the Act, had to make a proper assessment of the lands in his district and prepare an assessment roll. This roll, after being approved and signed by me, had to be publicly displayed so that all might see and examine it. Accordingly it was my duty to hold Courts of Revision each year in every district in this unorganized territory. To do this it was necessary to follow an itinerary each spring in order to fulfill my duties. I would send word about a month or six weeks in advance, of the place and date, thus giving him time to notify the ratepayers. At such times I would hear such appeals as might be presented and make such adjustments as I considered fit and proper and after satisfying myself that the assessments were fair and equitable, I signed the roll, and with this as his authority the secretary-treasurer proceeded to collect the taxes for the current year. It was a direct tax and the only tax the people paid. Income taxes were unknown at that time and even if they had been in effect these people would have been exempt. At the same time, as you may readily understand, even this tax was quite a burden. This work on my part was quite a task and took much time. I did most of it on horse-back as I could be more certain of carrying out my schedule that way than by any other means of conveyance.
Of course, there were other costs involved in operating a school in addition to that of building a school house. In figures of to-day you may perhaps think the costs were low. A teacher’s salary of four hundred and fifty to five hundred dollars may not appear to be very high, but compared to the income of these settlers, it was fairly high, especially when you consider that it was paid almost entirely by direct taxation on the people in the district. The fuel costs were practically nil. Wood was plentiful in almost every district. Cash was something very hard to accumulate. They took up their homesteads with very little cash. That which they had was required to buy a head or two of stock and absolutely essential farm equipment.
There was a wonderful spirit of co-operation and goodwill among them all, men and women alike. This was evident in the erection of their buildings, the so-called bees they often held and also in cases of illness. I could write pages telling of the services of men and women, especially the women, who responded in cases of illness, child-birth, accidents and other emergencies. Such is the stuff of which heroes and heroines are made. These people were unheralded and unsung and in the giving out of medals and honours their names did not appear. Such is the lot of pioneers. However, these people realized that they had so much in common. They were all poor in this world’s goods, all struggling to get a start in life. Their sense of value could not be measured in dollars and cents, or in gaining the world’s acclaim.
I can, of course, tell you of instances when there was not complete harmony; but these few exceptions would after all prove the rule and the instances would be mostly incidental. I must tell you of one such incident. It seems that in this particular district there was a difference of opinion as to the use of the school for community dances. One party in particular stood out against the use of the school for such purposes. There was some discussion at which this man expressed his opinion in no uncertain terms. He was emphatically against it but he was outvoted by practically all the rest. Then he got what he no doubt thought was an inspiration. Accordingly one day I received a letter from this man in which was an enclosure which he insisted, mark the word, that I should sign and return to him immediately. His plan was that he would tack this enclosure to the school house door and my friend would gain the day. This was the enclosure, a sheet of paper with a heading and words as follows:
I may add that I kept this “Notis” as a priceless souvenir for many years, but during over forty years even priceless things have a habit of disappearing. However, I still have hopes of coming across it some time in the future.
During the first two years I organized forty-seven new school districts. This required much detailed work. As I have already stated, there was first the meeting with the petitioners, a survey of the territory involved, the location of the site, then the preparation of the by-law forming the district and submission of the same to the Department. This was followed by a meeting with the electors to elect the three trustees, then a meeting with the trustees to advise them as to ways and means of providing a new school house, equipping and financing, etc. I soon found that one thousand dollars was not sufficient and recommended to Dr. Fletcher, the Deputy-Minister who was always so helpful and sympathetic, that this amount was insufficient and also that an extra grant of one hundred dollars was required in some cases. On his recommendation to the Minister, these extra grants were soon forthcoming, by means of amendments to the Public Schools Act. Also the maximum loan was increased to fifteen hundred dollars.
It was nothing short of amazing how quickly a school was in operation after a district was formed. I may add that some of the new buildings were made of logs from timber available in the district and much of the labour was provided by the settlers. I wish here to pay my tribute to these trustees and to the teachers who pioneered here. There is something about pioneer life which appeals to many people. At one time I checked the background of my teachers and found that practically every province in Canada was represented. At least ten were from the United States. There were a number from England, Scotland and Ireland and even Denmark, France, Germany, Holland and South Africa had representatives. Most of these were capable and made a fine contribution. Naturally, there were a few misfits and there were characters whom Dickens would have loved to meet. One was a woman who had five wigs of different hues and style. Her outlook on life was sad indeed, and why she went up in this country to teach school I could never find out, but think it was for self-discipline. Her outlook on life reminded me so much of Mrs. Gummdige. Then there was the teacher who was so like Mr. Squeers; modified of course but so impersonal. I remember being in his school one morning. He was bluffing his way along without exerting himself unduly. I sat at his desk and immediately in front of me was a lad in grade six who simply sat and gazed into space. After an hour I went down to him and asked why he was not working. He pointed to a problem in his text-hook in arithmetic and said he did not know how to do it. So I drew the teacher’s attention to the fact and asked him to do something about it. He replied, “Very good, sir.” Then turning to the boy he said, “What’s your trouble my lad?” Whereupon the boy showed him the problem. The master took up the book and looked at the problem for a moment or so, and then he turned to the boy and said, “Very simple, my lad, a question in proportion. That is, the product of the means equals the product of the extremes. Now go to it.” I shall never forget the look on the boy’s face. Remember he was of non-British extraction and he was in grade six.
Then I must tell you of the big man from Germany, from Prussia to be exact. He was well educated, having studied both in Germany and England. His voice was deep and gruff and could be heard for miles away. He was wont to quote widely from the Bible and Shakespeare and he knew them both. Later he became a peddler because the classroom was too confining and he drove around the country filling the air for miles around with his long quotations and choice hits of literature. He had been a bachelor until middle age and then had married a demure little woman who was either too shy or too cowed to speak above a whisper. In his travels she would ride behind on a pony tied to the back of his wagon. I remember on one occasion when he invited me to his shanty for a cup of tea after four. We found a Syrian who was buying cattle waiting at his door. My friend disregarded him and said to me in that very deep voice, “Come inside Mr. Parker and have a cup of tea, while this Jewish renegade waits outside.” Upon which the man remonstrated, “I am not a Jew”. The reply came like a flash “Thou art a son of Israel, for thy speech betrayeth thee.”
I must tell you also about the classical scholar whose mind shall I say was a bit unbalanced at times and who was very fond of the bottle. He had been educated in Universities in the Old Country and was an outstanding scholar in Latin and Greek. His knowledge of English literature was also outstanding. He was red-headed and wore a bright red beard, so that his appearance was very marked. He was very argumentative and had fallen out with a man in the district and took the matter very much to heart, so he wrote out a series of curses on this man. These curses were written out in Latin, Greek and English and each morning he would upon arriving at his school, tack the three of them on the school house door. Then he would stand back and, after making a low bow, proceed to read them in order, intoning them as one sometimes hears the Scriptures read. “May the Lord curse Malcolm Fraser on his risings up and sittings down! Amen! May the Lord curse Malcolm Fraser on his goings out and his comings in! Amen! May the Lord curse Malcolm Fraser in all his thoughts and in all his deeds! Amen!” and so on until his poor victim was cursed in every possible activity of a human being. Completing these in the three languages, he would then take them down, put them in his pocket and calmly enter his school and proceed with his day’s work.
Of course, there were quite a number of young ladies among these teachers and knowingly at times and at other times unknowingly, I took a little hand in romance. Numbers of these young ladies who went into this northern territory later married and settled there. To me the most interesting was the case of the girl who, having been brought up on the prairie, found this heavily wooded country rather terrifying and uninviting. She was homesick before she reached her destination and wanted to go back home at once. I noticed her on the mixed train on her way to her school. I sat opposite her and noticed the tears. I surmised what was going on in her mind, so went over and introduced myself to her. It took all day and part of the night for the train to travel a hundred miles and perhaps that had some effect on her. However, I told her something of the school and the people where she was going and also mentioned that there were several fine young men in the neighborhood. In fact, I took particular pains to tell her of a particular young man whom I was sure she would like. He had a homestead and had started a business in the siding which was her destination. As luck, or shall we say Providence would have it, this young man was at the siding when the train pulled in and I introduced him to her. To make a long story short, they were married within two years and no one was happier and fitted better into the life of these pioneers than she. They told me they were going to name their first boy after me. Well, years passed by as years will, and I lost all trace of them for after some years this northern territory was transferred from me, as the work in the south had also grown and it was impossible for me to cover the whole division. During the Second World War I again met them. They had sold out and had moved to one of the suburbs. I learned then of my namesake and that he was in the Air Force located at a place on the west coast of Africa. I am thankful to say that he returned home safely and brought home to me a beautiful gift in black ebony, the work of one of the natives.
As I have stated, the people who took up land north of Inwood up to Fisher River were for the greater part from Central Europe. Here was a problem indeed, for few of them could speak any English. To enable me to carry on my work among them, it was necessary for me for a time to have an interpreter travel with me. Accordingly, Mr. Paul Gigejczuk, who was an interpreter in the Department, went with me on a number of trips. He was of great help and I am deeply indebted to him. I more fully realized what a help he had been when later, after mastering in a crude way a few fundamental words and sentences, I went about alone.
These people, too, treated me with great kindness and did everything possible for my comfort. You perhaps would not call it comfort, but it was the spirit in which it was given which made it so.
Let me give you one illustration. I was travelling through this area one spring. Here I may remind you that while the railroad bed was laid there were as yet no rails laid, so no train was available. I used a team and the railroad grade as much as possible as a road for it was high and dry. I had a team and democrat. It was late in May. The sloughs were full and away from this grade the trails were simply impassable and the settlements sparse. I tried to get as far as I could each day after four. As six o’clock came on this day and seven approached, I knew I had to stop somewhere, and there did not seem to be any place which looked as if I might be accommodated, and so at last I turned into a small farm place with a log shanty as a dwelling place. The man and his children came out to meet me, and I managed to let them know who I was and what I needed. My horses were put up in a small barn with a sod roof and, after I saw that they were fed, we went on to the house. It had one room with a dirt floor. A man, his wife and seven children lived there. They had eaten their supper, but insisted on getting something for me to eat and I could not refuse, for I was really hungry. After supper we looked over the farm and the stock. We could not talk much but we got along well. A smile goes a long way in this old world of ours. Later a pile of fresh straw was put in one corner near the door for me. The family had theirs in the diagonal corner. We retired for the night and as I was very tired I soon fell asleep. After some hours I awakened feeling that I was suffocating. The room was very stuffy. After some hesitation I got up and going to the door, opened it. The fresh air which rushed in was most invigorating, but the mosquitoes which soon entered the door were annoying, to say the least. I had, fortunately, the straw in which to hide for protection. Later, some time before dawn, I was again awakened by feeling and hearing something all around and very close to me. To my amazement I found that an old sow with her numerous progeny were trying their best to settle down for the rest of the night with me. The chilly night air outside and the prospects of warmth inside no doubt had brought about their intentions of being friendly. Such intentions, however, were not welcomed by me. This was a bit too much. Between trying to kick them off first with one leg and then with the other and shooing them off in language which was not at all complimentary, but not too loud lest I awaken the family, and at the same time trying to escape the mosquitoes, I finally gave up the idea of having plenty of fresh air, so I got up and drove them out and closed the door. Throughout all this in so far as I know the family slept on. Morning came at last and after a breakfast, I expressed my thanks and showed my appreciation and drove on to a new day. These people shared with me of all they had kindly and cheerily. I shall never forget them.
I have mentioned the friendly co-operative spirit of these people and have told you of one exception in connection with the community use of the school house. Now I must tell you of another exception of a very different nature. To me it was so rich with humour that it should he included in my story. I was holding an organization meeting in one of the proposed districts. I always tried to make these as informal as possible and encouraged everyone to express his or her opinions freely and without hesitation. Perhaps in this case had I been forewarned I might have been a little restrained in thus inviting them. It seems that there was a family feud here of which I was not aware. Perhaps I should not have said a family feud but rather a falling out between two families. They certainly had fallen out. This expresses it mildly. On this occasion, when the meeting had been thrown open for comments and expressions of opinion, questions, etc., a lady (I use this term rather freely), the wife and mother of a family not so long out of Cork, was holding forth most eloquently. In fact she got carried away with her eloquence and made a remark about a man in the group which had a sting in it like that of a wasp. This was too much for him to take and he immediately hurled back an expression which to say the least was not complimentary to the O’Flannigan clan. (I am not using their real name.) This was too much for the lady’s husband, a meek little fellow with just a fringe of red hair left on his head. He jumped to his feet to defend his family, but never a word was he able to utter, for his spouse turned on him and in true dialect and natural eloquence and shaking her fist at him she said, “Sit ye down Pat O’Flannigan, speak when you’re spoken to and when you’re betters are through. ’Tis meself what’s wearing the family breeches just now”. Pat obediently and meekly sat down and then her ladyship turned on her opponent. Such fiery eloquence I never heard before nor since. When she finished with him, his family and all his relatives were practically obliterated from the scene and were left speechless. Then calmly as if she had just finished reciting “Lucy Gray,” she turned to me with a sweet smile and sat down. I too as well as the vanquished, felt speechless, but somehow managed to proceed. Soon after this I was told that a reconciliation took place and all was well for a time at least. I have my doubts. The difficult part was for me to sit there and appear calm and dignified when I had to restrain myself from doubling over in laughter.
When at last the railroad line extending north from Oak Point was in operation, it ran as a mixed train, mostly “mixed,” as there was but one passenger coach. It left Winnipeg at six o’clock in the morning and arrived at Gypsumville any time from nine o’clock at night to midnight. So-called “town sites” were laid out at intervals and most of these at first had merely numbers and no names. Later they were named and in a number of cases small towns came into being. Among these Lundar, Ericksdale and Ashern were the largest. Stumps of trees were still left in what were later to become streets and it was only with difficulty that one could drive a team. I formed the school districts in most of these so-called towns. In those days they were referred to as “Sidings.” This railway line became one of the most profitable of the C.N.R. because of the Canada Cement Company establishing a plant at Fort Whyte and conveying the gypsum from the quarries at Gypsumville and Steep Rock by rail to the plant at Fort Whyte, south of Winnipeg.
Many of the schools around Lundar, Lily Bay and Scotch Bay were operated as summer schools. Most of the teachers were university students, who thus financed their way through the university. There were among them some outstanding students who, later in life through other professions, achieved distinction, position and wealth. These student teachers who were so talented brought to the lives of their pupils a light and inspiration which was invaluable When, oh when, will the rulers of our land (and we are all rulers, directly or indirectly) learn the proper place of the “teacher” in a democracy?
The children in the schools were wonderful. I cannot think of a better word to use than that. They tramped to school, some for miles. They carried their lunch pails. No roads! Even the trails changed with the seasons and the weather, as I have previously stated. I have also mentioned the innumerable sloughs and the dangerous muskegs. There was also the danger from wild animals. I do not think this was really serious, although bears were numerous and there were also timber wolves. Many of these children had attended schools in Winnipeg where a walk of more than four blocks is considered by many a burden too great to bear. These children now laughed when they thought of the times they had grouched over their long walk of a few blocks to their school in the City.
Perhaps I was not a very good inspector. Taking the meaning of the word at its face value, I am sure I did not measure up to the definition. That did not worry me, for here I felt that my word was not so much inspection as helping. I looked for little to criticize but for much I could praise. I tried my best to help teachers and pupils in their adjustments to many complex problems. There were language problems which were very real. For example, I spent several days in a school where not a child could speak a word of English and neither the teacher nor I could speak a word of Danish. This was a new school and I started with a young teacher at the opening day. For those days I was a teacher, at least I tried to be. I completely forgot my position as inspector. Then there were the schools where a number of different languages were spoken, but no English. I could dwell at great length on this phase of the work but suffice it to state at present that these many adjustments all required sympathy, patience and understanding and last, but by no means least, affection. To be a successful teacher you simply must love “kids.”
How did these people make a living? you may ask. They broke some land for gardens and perhaps a little grain. They had a few head of cattle and some pigs. Here and there one could find some sheep. They cut wood for their own fuel consumption and also for sale. This was quite a source of revenue, although the prices they received were very low. It must be remembered that this was all hard labour, with merely an axe and a saw. Poplar, spruce, tamarack, oak and Manitoba maple trees abounded. There was an abundance of wild game, partridges, ducks, geese, deer and moose were what might be termed plentiful. In fact some were so plentiful that it took all the sport away from shooting. Perhaps this is the time and place to relate an interesting incident. One night while staying at a homestead out of Ashern, we were aroused from our sleep just before dawn by hearing a terrific thump. We got up quickly and rushed outside to investigate the cause. This homesteader by the way had the only bit of Paige wire fencing in the whole countryside. He had enclosed his farmyard with this high fence. A large bull moose in a cross country run or seeking some destination of which I know not, had suddenly come to this new experience for him, a high fence. In attempting to leap over it it had caught one of his forefeet in the mesh and in landing had broken his neck. There was great excitement. He was very large and a fine specimen. I may add that he was quickly bled and the neighborhood lived on choice venison for some time.
Many of the men did a bit of trapping and fishing on the side. Certainly food was plentiful and cheap. As time went on small herds of cattle could be found and in some areas dairying proved to be quite profitable. Creameries were operated at Lundar and Ericksdale within a few years. Then, too, many of the men went to the City during the winter months and got work there while their families carried on at home. This was not to their liking, but it was simply a must.
This was a life when a man had to stand on his own feet and struggle to stay there. This was a real life for men, women and children too, armed with courage and faith. We hear so much these days about “security”. I think we have learned from history that security is more or less of an illusion. These men did not ask for security but they did want health and just a fair break. These young people who came here were tired of facing a life where their only hope was a meagre existence. They wanted something better both for themselves and for their children. This life offered them such a chance. It offered them one hundred and sixty acres of land after three years of fulfilling certain conditions. Then it would be their own. I have seen families who had been immigrants from Central Europe, with tears coursing down their cheeks, kneel down and kiss the ground which had now become their own for the precious patent was held proudly in the father’s hands. Hard work! Yes; toil, sweat and at times tears, but a life where for the first time they could really achieve something of meaning and of promise. Here they learned a new sense of values. What had seemed so much before, now became so little and what they had valued lightly now seemed priceless. Just a homely illustration comes to mind. Once I was storm-stayed four days with a family. They had run out of salt. In Winnipeg where they had lived, all they had to do on such an occasion was to run across to the corner store and get all the salt they wanted for a few cents. Here to me at least I would have paid any price in reason for a very small portion of salt. I had taken salt for granted all my life. I learned something in those four days. This family and others had learned such lessons. I learned much from these pioneers. They faced the future with faith and lack of worry. Life for a time with these people was an inspiration to me. My own people were pioneers. They pioneered in New England in 1620. My father’s people were pre-Loyalists in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, coming from New York State. My mother’s people were Loyalists coming to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, from Pennsylvania. Pioneering is in my blood and this experience of working with the pioneers in the Inter-lake country and sharing just a few of their hardships and their joys was one I would not have missed for worlds.
Page revised: 17 July 2016