Tag Archives: settlers

I Don’t Know if We Can Call Them Settlers

 Image from Antoine of Oregon by James Otis from Internet Archive

Antoine of Oregon by James Otis

In school we learned  about brave pioneering folk who travelled west, put down their roots and their crops, built cabins then prairie dynasties and their families owned the land for generations. They made it sound like once settlers secured a Land Grant no one went much farther than the local church or possibly the next town ever again.

But that was generic Pioneer history taught from textbooks. We have postcards — lots of them — that tell our family’s version and it’s quite different from the ‘settled settler’ one.

While the urge to farm on their land and succeed drove them hard, there was also the urge to explore even farther when there was the chance. Walter wasn’t the only person Harold knew who adventured West and wrote back about it. In the summer of 1910 (the year before the family met Walter) Harold’s parents left the boys in charge of the farm and travelled across the mountains to visit family on the West Coast. They spent July and August there, enjoying many of the local sites.

Landing North Vancouver, sent  July 10, 1910

Landing North Vancouver, sent July 10, 1910

The following year (the same summer Walter travelled to Cardston) Harold’s mother made a second trip on her own to the West Coast. She was in her mid-forties by then, yet the backs of her post cards are filled with lively adventures.

She visited her sister Isabella and family living in Bellingham, Washington, a timber boomtown due to the reconstruction work in San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. While visiting, Harold’s mum sent several postcards to Harold including one telling of their wonderful time spent on Lake Whatcom.

"Bellingham 1909" by Sandison, J. Wilbur (James Wilbur), 1873-1962 - Library Of Congress CALL NUMBER: PAN US GEOG - Washington no. 48 (E size) [P&P] http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pan.6a12756. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bellingham_1909.jpg#/media/File:Bellingham_1909.jpg

“Bellingham 1909” by Sandison, J. Wilbur, 1873-1962 – Library Of Congress  Licensed Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bellingham_1909.jpg

Once back over the border, Catherine stopped in Aldergrove to visit her sister-in-law and family then tram-hopped her way back to Vancouver. The Ringling Circus came to town that week and Catherine, and her sister-in-law took the children to watch the parade.

Even before his parents travelled to the coast, Aunt Isabell, as she spelled herself, sent Harold at least one postcard (in 1908). It showed a giant felled cedar tree on the trunk. The radius of the trunk is twice the height of the man proudly leaning against it. His auntie promised to send him more in the future, and hoped he would come to visit someday.

To Harold, From Aunt Isabell, jan 10, 1908

To Harold, From Aunt Isabell, jan 10, 1908

So many places to go and extraordinary sights to see.

*****

From: An Entangled Object by Bjarne Rogan in   Cultural Analysis 4 (2005)

From: An Entangled Object by Bjarne Rogan in Cultural Analysis 4 (2005)

For years I thought my grandfather was a deltiologist (although I didn’t know the term then); I have more than a hundred post cards from his younger life. But as I’ve become a better historian, I have learned to ask better questions. Instead of wondering — Was Harold a collector of postcards?, I set out to answer — Why are there so many postcards? After reading about the history of picture post cards — the short answer is that post cards were the emails and Instagrams of their time. They became popular after the World Fairs and Exhibitions in Paris, London and Chicago used them to commemorate their events. Soon every town and city was selling them as a way of promoting their local sights and civic accomplishments to tourists. People were collecting and sending hundreds of millions of them around the world each year. Post cards were perfect in so many ways: they had just enough space to dash off three or four lines, were cheap to post, and captured a place if you didn’t own a new-fangled Kodak camera.

******

Sent to Harold from Papa, July 04, 1910

Sent to Harold from Papa, July 04, 1910

Receiving postcards always make me restless, even if they are the kitschy ones flaunting fluffy native animals or photo-shopped sunsets. Postcards rub my nose in the fact that I’m in a small, comfortable corner of Australia – bogged down in routine — no sign of adventure in sight. I know that’s only the view from where I sit; many people would trade places with me in a shot, but postcards are a reminder that someone is out there living large while I are not. I become restless because I’ve never seen that beach, that animal, that city. Maybe I don’t even want to; it’s just a reminder of being stuck. I’m stuck and they are not.

I can’t help but think that maybe it was the same for Harold. Perhaps it’s no wonder he was able to talk his parents into letting him head overseas.

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My Address will be “Altorado” Alberta

The postcards Walter sent to Harold and his brothers may have looked wild and exciting like the sets from a Western, but they didn’t show the real challenges ahead for the young layman.

A. J. Wilkinson, lay-minister, Alberta circa 1913

A. J. Wilkinson, lay-minister, Alberta circa 1913

Walter had arrived in Cardston in the southwest of Alberta. Winters could be long and brutally cold on the open prairie. Locals told of the white skulls and skeleton bones of hundreds of cattle that perished a few years earlier, in the winter of 1906-07. They had drifted with the storms, reached the barrier of a railroad fence in a stretch of land between Lethbridge and Burdett and died of cold and starvation.

The area also suffered from frequent droughts; the land was rocky, the wind blew dust and tumble weed for miles, and farmers were only beginning to understand that it was more productive to graze cattle than raise crops, but that was not always a sure thing either.

Andrew Jenson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Charles Ora Card (1901). Photo by Andrew Jenson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps the biggest challenge would have been the locals themselves. Cardston was named for its founder, Charles Ora Card, a Mormon fugitive from Utah. He and some followers had escaped the crack-down on polygamy by the American government. They had set down roots in the area in 1887/88, establishing the first Latter Day Saint’s settlement outside of the United States. So Walter Cripps had come to carry out missionary work in a place where a large percentage of the local population were Mormon and had been living in the area for a generation already. The Anglicans view of the situation in Cardston was clear:

Eighty percent of the people … are Mormons, who never cease proselytising, and have put up a fine brick building, costing 8000 (pounds), to the name of their Mormon false prophet. Our people are but few out of the other twenty percent., but they are learning self-support and give 65(pounds) a year for their priest; and when they can raise 450 pounds a little ‘frame’ church will stand under the shadow of the big Mormon temple. (Our Opportunity in Canada, 1912).

Walter arrived in Cardston in May 1911, just before construction on the big Mormon Temple began, but he didn’t stay in town long. On the back of one postcard he tells Harold, ‘My address will be “Altorado” Alberta.’

Alberta Temple, Cardston, AB.  Prairie Postcard  licensed by University of Alberta Libraries under the Attribution - Non-Commercial - Creative Commons license.

Alberta Temple, Cardston, AB. Prairie Postcard licensed by University of Alberta Libraries under the Attribution – Non-Commercial – Creative Commons license.

From the Central House in Cardston, Canon Mowat’s ministers established mission houses in outlying areas. Each out-station was meant to be run by a priest and a layman who would live and work together. The priest was to do the ministering and family visits, the layman was to manage paperwork, assist with manual labour and housekeeping. Every three months the ministers were to travel back to the central house to meet up with their fellow clergy-men. In the early years, there were eight ministers, two laymen and a lay reader. Walter T H Cripps was assigned to the Altorado area and quickly dispatched.

I find Walter’s name on the 1911 census, taken only five weeks after he arrived in Alberta. It records him living in a rural area south of Medicine Hat. It also records him as Head of the House and as a minister by occupation.

Many missionaries coming to newly opened settlements had to build their own meeting houses and dwelling shacks. The mission houses, meant for meetings, services and Sunday school were little more than crude lean-tos fashioned from rough-cut timber; one door, one window and a stove to keep the congregation from freezing to death. The living shacks were even smaller; not much bigger than our garden tool shed, some were built with roofs too low for a man to stand up straight once inside, most were unfinished timber, and if it could be had, covered in tar paper to keep out the wind and dust. These constructions were knocked up in a few days with the help of neighbours if they could spare the time, or wanted to help. In 1911, Altorado was a brand new Mormon settlement of about 100 people.

Families moved to Altorado, in anticipation of the rail passing through. Like any large endeavour, there were problems with contractors and misinformation from land purchasing agents and the railway company generally made slow progress. When the route was finally announced in 1913, it was not good news; it would pass north through a new settlement to be called Foremost. Within the year, most of the population had shifted, and Altorado rapidly became a ghost-town.

Perhaps this is why Walter decided to take a trip home to England in 1914 and invited his young friend to travel with him.

*****

Census and Common Sense

I’ve already found that census data while very helpful, can sometimes get things wrong. Like the one where Harold’s younger brothers have been attributed to the neighbour’s family just because they were at the house on the day. So doubt and reservations need to equally apply when reading the 1911 census record for Walter’s household. While it records him as Head of the House there is someone else recorded there that day, a 17 year-old girl, Frances Exley. Her relationship to the ‘Head of Household’ is left blank, their marital statuses were first marked as “M” then scratched out. It is easy to jump to conclusions, and perhaps that’s what the census-taker did in first marking them as married.  I haven’t found any further record of Francis and so while it could be tempting to interpret it as an interesting (and shocking!) scandal on the prairie, I am thinking it is more likely she was either domestic help at the shack on the day, or a visiting parishioner.

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.

A Gift, from 1904

While cleaning up one Saturday, I rediscover an old book that’s been sitting on the family shelves since forever.

childrens book of christ 002

A Child’s Life of Christ has never interested me, but I stop to examine it this time because its obviously been well read by someone. I always thought it belonged to my mother, but discover it’s older than that. Inside is a dedication page dated 1904 and it is made out to the three young Gillespie boys — Harold, Ray and Percy. It’s  a Christmas gift from their mother — the boys would have been nine, seven and five years old — the family would have been settled in Durban for only four years. They must have been doing well to afford such a thick, handsome book.

The cover is heavily embossed and soberly religious, but as I leaf through the stories, I begin to see the appeal of this book for little boys. The engravings inside are rich with exotic plants — palm trees grow next to cactus and oleanders in full bloom. Desert landscapes, walled cities and vaulted temples provide backdrops for camel trains, merchants and dusty mobs.  Ancient kings pose with chins on their fists, Israelites crowd together, robes and keffiyeh billowing in the desert winds. This isn’t a book full of bible stories, it’s an adventure book (although the author dutifully delivers morals and counsels his young readers against certain thoughts and deeds). I read a couple of pages then a few of the chapters.cropt version of heir and wicked husbandmen

 

The Plot: There is this youth who grows up thinking he is just an ordinary boy, but he discovers one day from an eccentric wise man that he is not ordinary at all — he is the Chosen One. He meets other young men, they band together. Some evil people are trying to kill him, other people tell him he is their hope. He performs miracles but has dark days too …

 

Hmmm, sounds very similar to a book I read to my children when they were young.

****The Raising of Lazarus

The Child’s Life of Christ was probably well-read for a number of reasons: it was a gift, it was a form of religious teaching for the children, it would have been a wonderful source of stories during long winters, and they likely did not own many books. And that got me wondering — how many books would a homesteading family like the Gillespie’s have owned? What other kinds of books might Harold have read as he grew up?

Ten years after the Christmas present was given, a rural survey was carried out by the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches. In it they thoroughly documented the agricultural, educational, religious and social lives of the people in the valley — including the reading habits of the locals. Of the families surveyed, the average number of books owned was only ten to twelve. The survey noted that many farmers were not book-lovers (but read newspapers and rural interest journals). It was also mentioned that books owned by families were shared with others. Lending libraries were set up in a couple of communities but not in Durban. So even in 1914, with local communities far more established than in 1904, books and stories were not so plentiful.

Books and the stories in them are what we build our dreams on as children. They are how we take our first steps out into the wider world; they challenge us to live like the heroes within and to stand up to villains wherever they may be. I know they have an enormous impact over our thinking and who we aspire to be.

I’m searching for Harold’s influences — where he grew up, the conditions in which he grew up, what shaped him to bring him to his decisions and his fate.  Could this book have been a factor?

 

To Cowan or Beyond

"Red River cart train 2" by Red_River_cart_train.jpg: Whitney's Galleryderivative work: Nikkimaria (talk) - Red_River_cart_train.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Red_River_cart_train_2.jpg#/media/File:Red_River_cart_train_2.jpg

“Red River Cart Train 2” by Red_River_cart_train.jpg: Whitney’s Gallery derivative work: Nikkimaria  – Red_River_cart_train.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

At this point in the story, I ran into some confusion in local histories and historical sketches about just how far the Northern railway went. One version put the end of the line at Cowan, MB. From there settlers had to buy wagons, stack them with all that was precious, and battle their way along the steep ridge of the mountain before descending into miles of muskeg. Settlers had to ford four or five rivers to get to their land claims, and fend off plagues of mosquitoes so thick that one old-timer told of a night when the livestock’s moaning sounded like human beings in agony and the humans took refuge in their tents and under wagons with blankets tacked tightly all around to keep the clouds of insects out. Other local authorities said the train line was built all the way through to the Swan River Valley by the summer of 1900.

The trip from there to their section (Section 29) would still have taken days. Local histories agree on one thing — the land was surveyed but there were no roads or trails or bridges. And all through the valley there was thick scrub, lots of creeks, rivers, boggy spots, and miles and miles and miles.

As much as the first version and the romance of covered wagons on long trails appeals to the adventure story-lover in me, I hope for their sake the train did carry them all the way to the Valley so that the trail ride was short.

NOTE: Great Grandfather’s land grant is dated 23 June 1903 so I am assuming they settled in June 1900.

*****

As I am putting this post together, I receive an email from Nonni who is a local historian. Along with the dated photo of the first train to arrive in Swan River, he helps shed some light on my confusion about when Gillespies settled n the valley.

He tells me that many who wanted to claim land didn’t wait for the train to come through to Swan River. It they had waited for the extension to be constructed, they would have missed out. He’s found some historical evidence that William Gillespie applied for his claim on Oct 2, 1899 eight days before the first train arrived in Swan River and suggests that Harold’s father maybe came alone to apply then returned with his family the following year (as many others did).

Nonni also sends an unexpected surprise – a weblink about the Cowan trail and news that the local community has restored a section and celebrate with a trail ride every summer.

 

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