Tag Archives: Manitoba

The Grace Race

The main purpose of the Methodist/Presbyterian survey was to understand the religious lay of this newly settled land and to find opportunities for growing the flock. What their survey found was that it was a very crowded field.

Services and Denominations

Emily Murphy was the young wife of an Anglican minister newly situated in the Swan River Valley. She was the author of Janey Canuck in the West (1910). She wrote about her time in Swan River  (renamed Poplar Bluff in the book) and in it made a sly poke at the overabundance of clergy and religious students in the small town.

The clergy in Poplar Bluff are numerous enough to preach the Gospel to every creature. There are five, not counting the students from theological colleges who are here for the summer. The population is about three hundred. Still, this cannot be helped, for our mission boards must really make an endeavour to spend the money contributed by the very generous people “back East.

Why so many ministers? Was the west really that wild? Or was it more like the Americans trying to beat the Russians to the moon.

It seems there was a Grace Race going on.

******

As settlers spread out across the West, hundreds of men doing God’s work followed. History lessons when I was young didn’t say much about missionaries on the prairies beyond cliches like — they came to work among the Indians — a euphemism used to avoid uncomfortable truths of assimilation through missions and residential schools. While a trail-blazing few pushed on ahead of settlement in the hopes of ‘civilizing’ and saving the souls of the indigenous people, the majority of clergymen came later to maintain civilization and concentrate on the souls of the homesteaders. Nearly three million people arrived in Canada between 1900 and 1914 (almost half of them moved through to the Prairies) so there were a lot of potential souls. Churches of all denominations had their eyes on the New West. Urgent appeals flooded back East and to England for help.
The Church on the PrairieIn 1907 an appeal arrived for the Archbishop of Canterbury from Saskatchewan. They desperately needed fifty laymen in the diocese. Twenty-one men were found suitable and sent out with the promise of more to come. Two bishops on a tour of investigation in 1909 found the Church of England still struggling to maintain their “moral and spiritual influence”.

In February the next year, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York made a public appeal for donations and for offers of overseas service to Canada. They also started The Archbishops’ Western Canadian Fund. Donations would be used to build and maintain central clergy-houses across the west and Mission volunteers would serve in isolated outposts in the surrounding areas. Two groups of men were dispatched in the spring. More clergy and laymen followed as quickly as they could be examined and prepared.
One young man to promptly answer the Archbishops’ call was Walter Thomas Henry Cripps.

******

Janey Canuck in The West

Janey Canuck was published in 1910,  the same year Walter T H Cripps landed in Canada and made his way to the Swan River Valley. Walter was a theological student and he’d come to take his place ministering in the West. He disembarked in Montreal in September, travelled to Manitoba and wintered in the Valley. He became friends with Harold and his family. He was to have a profound influence on Harold’s life.

Advertisements

His Stories, My Stories

for perserveranceAfter finding the Christmas gift and the book dedication, I start rummaging through the rest of the old books from home, wondering who originally owned them. Every one of them has either a bookplate or an inscription inside — good fortune for me and an indication of the value they had for the owner and the giver.

One of the novels was presented to Harold by a teacher as a prize for ‘perseverance’. Perseverance can mean many things, but maybe it meant that he valued learning and was able and willing to keep attending school when surrender to family duty and hard work on the land was a more common choice.

Home boy Barnardos 1900 Russell Man Collections Canada

Home boy Barnardos 1900 Russell Man Collections Canada. Public domain – available from Wikimedia Commons.

I find more books with Harold’s name in the front — presents from his brothers, presents from  his friend, Walter. I’m surprised to find that even Rilla of Ingleside has Harold’s name on it — the year1919, is written underneath. I leaf through L.M. Montgomery’s story of the the home front during the Great War. When I was young, I hadn’t recognized the historical accuracy of it; back then it was just the romantic end to the Anne series.

I open up my copies of Ishmael and Self-Raised by Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth, Great Heart by Ethel M. Dell , John Halifax, Gentleman and Lazarre by Mrs. Craik; Harold’s name is in nearly every old book that’s been passed on to me.book dedication - Lazarre

His stories were my stories.

These books are the old romantic stories I read, loved and reread when I was a teen, but skimming through them now, I see they are not merely romantic novels.  They all have protagonists with shining moral standards who maintain their integrity throughout their trials because of their strong Christian values.

I begin to wonder – was that what Victorian/Edwardian novels were like or were they just the type of book Harold preferred to read? 

*****

To find out what people were reading at the time, I used two sources.

First, I found two databases of American Best-sellers of the 20th Century. One was compiled as a joint project involving students from several American universities. The other from Publisher’s Weekly (made available on Wikipedia). The lists cross-checked and two of the books from the lists, The Virginian by Owen Wister (1902 #1 best-seller, 1903 #5 best-seller) and The Rosary by Florence Barclay (1910 #1 best-seller, 1911 #9 best-seller) are in my collection of grandfather’s books. (I didn’t looked into Canadian publishing only because none of his books were published in Canada. They were from Britain and America).

The second source was the good old Methodist survey of the Swan River Valley. It provided a local focus. The surveyors not only recorded the reading habits of the people, they recorded the most borrowed titles from the Bowman Public Library that year. They were:

Bowman Library loans 1914

Popular books at that time turned out to be a range of melodramatic romance, action/adventure, mystery and biographical stories. But what was popular is only part of the answer. I also have to consider, what might have been available to Harold?  I don’t know what else Grandfather may have owned or had access to. And I don’t know how hard it may have been to even acquire books.

*****

Religion seems to play a significant part in the Gillespie’s lives even influencing Harold’s choice of literature. But I wonder what the norm was back then, perhaps my family was just very religious. I want to better understand what part religion played in the history of this time for these people.  I have a couple of solid clues I want to follow — one is the Methodist survey and the other has to do with Harold’s friend, Walter.

 

Survey and Census

methodist surveyThe rural survey by the Methodist and Presbyterian churches is an incredibly rich snapshot of the Swan River Valley just prior to the First World War. Besides charts full of means and averages, it also includes snippets of local history that give some context to the statistics.

I find out that two years after the Gillespie’s arrive in the valley, the harvest was much larger than anticipated and the railway did not make enough cars available for hauling it away. Prices were affected as farmers became desperate to get their grain shipped.

After this debacle, homesteaders realised they couldn’t depend on railway companies and grain buyers and began forming cooperatives. Eighty families joined together to start up a Grain Growers’ Association in the area where the Gillespie’s settled. They built their own grain storage elevator; they bulk-bought baling twine, fencing wire and domestic goods, and organized social events. Although I can’t find a list of association members, as one of the earliest families to settle in the area, the Gillespie’s would surely have seen the advantages.

The survey lists what crops were being grown — wheat, oats, barley, timothy. It records that farmers were experimenting in growing clover and alfalfa, but were not interested in breeding livestock like farms in the far West. When I print off the 1906 Census, I can see my own family’s condition fits that statement. There is a column on the census showing the number of livestock owned by each household – Harold’s family had five horses and three cows.

Equally interesting is what I can’t find on the 1906 census, at first. The two younger brothers, Percy and Ray are missing from the family’s list, but scanning further along I find them listed as ‘sons’ under the Rolls family who have three of their own children the same age. It makes me smile to think there is an official record of the little boys playing at the neighbours’ place.

1906 Manitoba Census - playing at the neighbours

The Methodist survey documented social and domestic aspects of life as well. In 1910, most families still lived in log houses, didn’t have running water and relied on wood stoves for heating. Church socials, sports, picnics and agricultural fairs were favourite family pastimes. Phone lines were being erected and welcomed due to the isolation in winter. Travel was still difficult; the roads are described as ‘corduroy’. When I look that up later, I learn it means they were built with logs laid side-by-side to stabilise their foundations.

The survey says that most households had at least one family instrument. When I tell my sister this, she reminds me of the creepy old pump organ in our basement, she even finds the guarantee slip for it. She reminds me about the old beetle-back mandolin passed on to my other sister, and then I remember the story of an Irish harp being lost in a fire. After grandfather died, the farm was sold up. The ‘old house’ on the property was being used for storage and it was set alight by an impatient new owner before Mum was able to move everything out.

*****

On their own, surveys and census documents can seem a little dry, but when I started viewing and considering them along-side our family stories and photographs, the pieces click together. A far clearer picture is emerging of this family for me — strong, independent and determined to make a go of it.

Across the Blue Ripple of the Duck Mountains

I start looking for answers in rural Manitoba.

Durban is a small town in the middle of what people might call a sweeping landscape — long and wide and richer than typical prairie. Skinny poplars bunch into dips in the landscape; tall pines line farm perimeters, dirt roads skirt around them. The soil is dark, deep and loamy. Sections are neatly turned and planted, farmyards are landscaped, houses are painted white. The town itself, is so small it’s on the verge of disappearing; only four streets one way and three avenues the other.

I haven’t been to Durban since I was a kid, I’m taking this all in using street view shots knitted together on Google maps. I turn my little avatar to the Southeast; and the Duck Mountains appear as a thin blue ripple along the horizon, I turn to the North, and green wheat fields stretch out all the way to the horizon.  To my city-eye, it’s farmers’ paradise, but I know I’m seeing a greatly altered landscape. By now I’ve read a dozen local histories and looked at hundreds of old photos; what I am seeing is the result of a colossal effort. This landscape was created by hand and by horse (or oxen) managed by men and women who came with one common dream. To settle and farm.

Harold came with his parents, William and Mary across that blue ripple of the Duck Mountains. When they arrived at the turn of the last century; grandfather was five years old. The whole family (three kids plus brand new baby) travelled from the far side of Lake Huron to take advantage of Land Grants in the Swan River Valley. Ten dollars got them a quarter section of land (160 acres) under the condition that within three years there would be a dwelling, fifteen acres under cultivation and they would be permanently living on the land. It would have been the opportunity of a life-time for a family-man whose profession on the census records of 1891 was ‘Livery Keeper’.

First train to Swan River, Oct 10, 1899. Photo courtesy: Swan Valley Historical Museum

First train to Swan River, Oct 10, 1899. Photo courtesy: Swan Valley Historical Museum

The railway going west had a stop in Winnipeg. From there a new branch line headed North. Trains from the East were so crowded there weren’t enough seats. Sometimes there weren’t enough locomotives to pull overloaded carriages so trains crawled along at walking pace. Some didn’t make it; bad weather and early snow left people stranded in the middle of nowhere for days. Days on board even in good weather were long and tiresome; the view from the window daunting and endless.

I don’t know  when or what the trip was like for Harold and his family, but from old photos I imagine —

Rattling, squeaking open carriages with seats unforgiving like church pews
Coal cinders and chunks of soot blowing in through open windows
Lurching and stopping and tumbling bundles
Tired, cranky kids
Poor peasant farmers with no English and no bundles
Young men high on big dreams talking, laughing, and smoking late into the night

For a five-year-old boy on a long ride, what would have mattered was getting a turn on Mother’s lap and  missing out on Mother’s cooking.

The line running north brought them to the end of their known world. And to their new home.

____

Nonni Jonsson’s webpage (with many more historical photos) about his Icelandic ancestors settling in the Swan Valley can be found at:  http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~swanriver/icelandicindex.html