Home Town or Home Community:
The Trip West, 1921
The family of Dr. Robert A. Hume, wife Mame, and sons Clare and Ray pulled up stakes from a thriving veterinary practice in Arkona, Ontario because prairie air gave considerable relief to my father’s asthma. The trip by train took nearly four days and offered enough novel experiences to a 12-year-old to relieve the monotony of endless miles of rock, forest and prairie, the clicking of wheels on rails and a bed that never stopped shaking. It was all a sensory delight and a new chapter in my education. It probably engendered my life-long love affair with trains.
Saskatoon Arrival, Oct. 8, 1921
Graciously welcomed, we took up residence at 826 Avenue I South with Dad’s sister Nell and her husband Ben Johnson. He was a carpenter employed in the CNR shops as a boxcar repairman. Also living in the house was another sister, Clara, a widow and an obstetrical nurse. Some eight months after our arrival she died of a burst appendix and peritonitis and was taken back to Ontario for burial beside her husband Angus McCallum.
Dad was not allowed to practise as a veterinarian without writing Saskatchewan exams (at which he balked). In the spring he purchased a farm on 11th Street West, immediately west of the big Government Inland Elevator. He had long yearned to own and operate a farm so this seemed to be the right thing to do. Early that summer we moved in and from that moment our lives changed. The farmhouse was a rectangular two-storey box lacking paint, without electricity, heated solely by a coal and wood kitchen range, no insulation from winter cold, a water pump beside a sink in the pantry, an outdoor toilet, and the bare essentials of furnishings. It was a bleak prospect, especially for Mother, who loved a comfortable home and attractive surroundings.
King George School, 1921-23
Ray and I were immediately enrolled in King George School. To our village-oriented eyes it was a huge edifice that immediately demanded adjustment to a whole new set of rules and procedures. It was my good fortune to be placed in a Grade 7 classroom taught by Miss Winnifred Ewing – a quiet, charming lady who showed herself far ahead of the times. She introduced us to literary treasures, grounded us firmly in the essential skills of language and math, made history come alive, and enriched our lives by experiences far beyond curriculum requirements – a classroom newspaper, free-range reading, debating, a mock trial, and art instruction that has served me truly and well through my adult life. Imagine being introduced to the mysteries of bilateral symmetry and linear perspective in Grade 7, as well as outdoor sketching and water colour painting! She gave me the happiest and most encouraging school year of my whole life. My only regret has been that I never got around to thanking her.
My horizons were broadened beyond anything imagined back in Arkona by fire drills, inter-school lacrosse and baseball, and special teachers for music and physical education. Moving on to Grade 8 the next year I came under the tutelage of the principal, Mr. R.A. Downey. Creativity and enrichment, so treasured under Miss Ewing, were totally absent in his classroom. As a product of Ontario pedagogy he stressed the fundamentals: spelling, grammar, handwriting and arithmetic were the essence. He did a fine job of introducing us to basic plane geometry and the metric system, much appreciated and used ever after. Even the Friday afternoon treat, a half-hour of freedom to browse at random through the Book of Knowledge encyclopedia, opened up enticing fields for future exploration.
Funny what one remembers. He taught us several songs, especially a lusty rendition of “The Old Ontario Strand” and “The British Grenadiers”. He strongly supported the boys’ soccer and baseball teams, but gave us no encouragement to use the set of lacrosse sticks that languished unused in a corner of the classroom. He could strap a line-up of thirty boys for playing marbles for keeps at recess. When it was his turn to cook staff lunch he taught all morning in a kitchen apron. He was the only elementary school principal I knew of who fostered reunion parties for graduates from his school.
My particular delight was the opportunity to spend a half-day each week through all of Grade 7 and 8 in Manual Training, first at Princess School and then at Westmount. This, together with many informal evenings in the home basement workshop of neighbour Adam Turnbull, a transplanted Scottish cabinetmaker, fired my interests and enthusiasm for woodworking and taught me skills that I have used ever since. King George School was indeed good to me.
Transportation to School
First the matter of getting to school. Since milk was the major source of cash income from our farm, Dad had to deliver it each morning to the dairy at Avenue I and 16th Street. Ray and I, along with the eight-gallon milk cans, were loaded into either the horse-drawn democrat or the topless Model T Ford and deposited at King George School with our books and lunch, and picked up again at 4:00 o’clock.
When farm schedules and school schedules failed to coincide I routinely hitched up old Paddy to a buggy, dropped Ray off at King George School, drove to a stable behind the Magnet Grocery on Avenue H, left Paddy there and then in Grade 9 hiked the mile north to Bedford Collegiate.
Occasionally at harvest time all the horses were required for field work and Dad could not spare the time to come for us with the Ford. There was no alternative but to head home from school on foot, a good mile and a half. Actually, in fair weather it was no hardship. I found that it gave me an opportunity to practise memorizing the poetry assigned in English classes. Can you visualize a lone figure trudging along the gravel spouting Tennyson to the world?
On cold mornings the Ford could only be started after having a kettle full of hot water poured into the radiator that had been carefully drained the night before, then hitching Paddy, our faithful farm horse, to it and dragging it around the yard until it finally agreed to sputter into shaky life. Alcohol and kerosene were tried as radiator antifreeze fluids, but they were dangerous and most cars spent the severe winters jacked up on blocks to save the tires and await spring.
When the weather got worse we switched to a canvas-enclosed sleigh called a “caboose”. It was powered by a team of light horses, furnished with buffalo robes, hot-brick foot warmers, and of course included the milk cans. My ears are still sensitive to cold from the daily freezing they got during those winter trips.
After we moved to 635 Avenue I South in 1925 my life changed. No more cows to milk morning and evening, no more freezing drives to school, no more grain to shovel; just the one-mile hike up the hill. One winter proved memorable: a storm dropped so much snow that for a whole week I used snowshoes to get to Collegiate.
During high school years a bicycle made me mobile and it also carried me to Normal School as long as winter held off. One noteworthy fact is that I never owned a lock and chain for that bike. It was always where I left it when I was ready to come home.
Bedford Road Collegiate, 1923-1927
Bedford Road Collegiate opened the year before I entered Grade 9. Collegiate broadened my mental and social horizons with literary society, drama, track and field, debating and school dances. Such experiences won me the Dr. Nichol Proficiency Medal and selection as Senior Watch, an honor I still cherish.
The academic side was different. While there were some teachers I respected and liked, most were of the early-day tradition that treated each subject as a totally academic exercise to be memorized and regurgitated on exams. How I longed for someone to show me the relevance of algebra, the practical applications of geometry, the importance of Latin as the foundation of our English language, and the significance of the sciences to the world we lived in. Trigonometry could have come alive if we had learned of its applications to land surveying but it remained a confusing maze of numerical tables and dreary paper-and-pencil exercises. Even French was a quagmire of grammatical rules, irregular verbs to memorize and boring translations. From four years of exposure to French I remember learning one single sentence of conversation, “Pouvez-vous m’endiquez le chemin pour allez a la bureau de post?” So homework and cramming for exams dominated our lives while education passed us by.
Farm work filled my weekends and holidays. Ray was not only four years younger than I, but had suffered a second bout of rheumatic fever shortly after arriving in Saskatoon and couldn’t share in the chores. His chief occupation during our years on the farm was in maintaining a supply of discarded railway spikes beside the back door to use as ammunition to repel the attacks of the big red rooster that considered himself sole ruler of the area between the house and barn.
It made a full day, getting up before 6:00 a.m. to milk half a dozen cows, change clothes, grab books and lunch, head for town, then reverse the order to get home in time to help with the evening milking. The kitchen range had to be supplied with wood. The hours after supper were spent doing homework by the light of a coal-oil lamp.
My heart was never in farming. I fretted at the endless repetition of chores: feeding and watering the stock, cleaning stables, grooming horses, cleaning harness, hoeing corn, cultivating the garden, and even killing chickens. I have to confess that farm life contributed much to my education. I learned to harness horses (in winter warming the bits in my bare hands before putting them in the horses’ mouths), raking hay with a team-drawn trip rake, stooking sheaves after the binder, pitching hay onto wagons, adjusting work patterns to the vagaries of prairie weather, and how to escort the herd of milk cows from pasture to stable at a sedate pace so as not to disturb their milk flow.
Seasonal activities broke the monotony of chores – seedtime, haying, harvest and threshing. I endured the hateful task of harvesting potatoes and other root vegetables in late autumn. Occasional tasks came up to fill in odd slack moments, like jacking up the wheels of the wagons, buggies and democrats in turn, removing them and slathering each axle with the gooey black axle grease – a messy job but effective in reducing the squeals of dry metal on dry metal. Another was the annual whitewashing of the interior of the cow stable with a foot-wide brush and pail after pail of sloppy lime dissolved in buttermilk. Probably the cows never noticed, but it impressed the health inspectors who called in routinely to assure that milk suppliers operated sanitary premises.
But the chores were always there: cows to be milked twice a day, milk to be cooled before delivery to the dairy in town, and chickens to be fed. Every Saturday morning the cream had to be churned into butter – a hateful task with a vertical dash churn, especially on the days when the butter took endless time to coagulate. The butter had to be worked in a large wooden bowl with a wooden paddle to extract all the buttermilk and wash water, then formed into one-pound bricks. I hated the whole process, and the only compensation was that I learned to enjoy a drink of fresh, cold buttermilk.
The crops grown were fodder, corn, sunflower, oats and hay. My father became convinced that an underground silo would protect the chopped corn and sunflower plants from freezing during winter, so a whole summer was devoted to the excavation of a great rectangular hole – slow, backbreaking work with one team of horses and a Fresnel scraper. Alas, it was only moderately successful and was soon abandoned.
Another backbreaker was moving grain from wagon to bin, or the reverse, with a grain scoop – a fiendish invention devised to strain every muscle and ligament in backs, legs and arms. But I had to do my share since grain dust invariably set off another of Dad’s asthma attacks.
Threshing time was stressful to everyone, including Mother. She had to plan and prepare meals and field lunches for the whole crew for days on end. If rain interrupted the procedure the hired threshing crew still had to be paid.
We did have a succession of hired men but none stayed long. Either they could not meet my father’s standards or they could not be tolerated personally. One, minimally educated, considered himself the saviour of humanity, talked incessantly about nothing, and if we had permitted would have taken full charge of the family socially and philosophically. Another, given to weekend alcoholic benders, owned a tractor which he would drive madly around the farmyard until either it ran out of gas or he ran out of stimulant.
One summer I took on the added experience of becoming the family cook. My mother came down with a serious case of erysipelas and was bedridden for several weeks (a condition which today could have been cleared up in short order with antibiotics). Sheer necessity taught me how to prepare vegetables, peel potatoes, cook pot roast (properly seared) and eggs in various styles. Fortunately, the daily delivery of milk to the city made it possible to purchase bread, baking and desserts, so I never qualified as a baker.
In 1924 Dad sold the farm and acquired a beef feedlot on what is now Avenue W south of 11th Street. Of course my Saturdays were usually co-opted to help with special farm tasks like chopping feed from oat sheaves for the stock. For three summers I spent long, lonely days herding the cattle in the open area south to the Grand Trunk bridge, sitting astride the pony, Skip, reading countless books, sometimes fighting off swarms of flying ants, and for excitement, teaching myself to play the ocarina. The world is fortunate that I never attempted to carry it to virtuoso level.
Just a word about Skip. He was a small horse of uncertain ancestry, content to graze on slack rein out on the prairie while I sat reading on his back and taking an occasional look to see that no cattle had wandered. He had one quirk: he would spook at the sight of a piece of paper suddenly blown into the air by a puff of wind and jump sideways without warning, leaving me with no place to go but down! Once or twice a day was routine. Graciously, he would wait patiently for me to climb back aboard and continue the day’s pursuits. His other notable characteristic was that he hated cattle and took advantage of every opportunity to nip them in the rump when driving them to or from the feedlot. He kept things interesting.
Not all my days were drudgery. There were free hours when I could pursue my own interests – reading, hiking, playing at mechanical drafting, or creating new devices with the Meccano set which Ray and I shared. Clockwork and electric motors drove pulleys, cogwheels, sprockets and chains to operate any machines we devised. One of my favourites was designing and building an electric railroad and devising ways to control the speed and direction of the electric motor that drove it. I still recall the thrills I experienced from inventing a way to find the centre of a circle (thanks to Grade 8 geometry). I believe that my greatest thrill came from constructing a working crystal set radio using a wire stretched across the floor for an antenna and another wire hooked to the kitchen range for ground. I later discovered that a bed spring also made a very practical antenna.
I always had a sand pile (great for inducing imaginative play), lawn for a croquet layout, a playroom in the house for inclement weather, and my mother’s button box and cloth scrap bag for dress-up events. The annual fall of autumn leaves was perfect for raking into heaps for jumping in or strung into lines to serve as outlines on the lawn for multi-room castles or Indian encampments. One autumn I discovered discarded sacking and made myself a tepee.
My parents had the happy faculty of selecting gifts suited to my age and interests. I particularly remember building blocks, unique tops, a real working model steam engine fuelled by alcohol, a magic lantern, a pantograph for copying pictures in variable sizes, my own private desk and a bookcase for housing my own collection of books and magazines. A little later came a set of woodworking tools, wisely selected, since they are still essential parts of my workshop.
My head was usually full of great ideas and exotic inventions, and I did my best thinking when milking cows. A warm stable, a placid cow, and a routine task that demanded no mental effort left my mind free to wander the realm of machines and inventions. I found that I could turn my imagination loose just as readily when grooming the horses. Bill, Charlie, Paddy, Bell and Skip didn’t mind a bit, as long as I kept currycomb and brush working over their hides. Of course nothing came of all the daydreaming but it was a source of great satisfaction, both then and since.
Games were a normal part of our family recreation – Old Maid, Pit, Authors, Crokinole, Dominoes, Tiddly Winks, and later on Hearts and Euchre.
At social gatherings people participated enthusiastically in written word contests and charades, all serving to expand my vocabulary and understanding of people, places and things.
Home-grown concerts were always a treat, particularly when an elocutionist was on the program. Even though some of the offerings were melodramatic tearjerkers, it was fine entertainment. It is a source of great regret to me that elocution has become a lost art.
Growing Up in Saskatoon
Membership in Trail Ranger and Tuxis groups introduced goals to stimulate exploration in new directions, particularly camping. We travelled to the newly opened Camp Wakonda at Wakaw Lake in the caboose of a local freight train. Stimulating days of physical, mental and social activities brought me back summer after summer. It was a chance to develop friendships, learn how to live in a tent and acquire leadership skills that served me the rest of my working life. Eventually I became Camp Director, and then director at other locally sponsored boys’ camps around the province. These were pleasant experiences as well as a source of modest cash income, greatly welcomed in the Depression Years. I feel sure that these cumulative experiences went far to make me a competent teacher.
Boys’ Parliament was sponsored by the Provincial Boys’ Work Board and held each Christmas holiday in the provincial legislative chamber. We travelled in the overnight CPR sleeper between Saskatoon and Regina. What a lot I had to learn about campaigning for votes, planning party strategy and proper protocol while sitting in the Legislative Chamber! My peak achievement was to serve as the Leader of the Opposition one year, and my peak thrill was to sit beside Premier James Gardiner at the banquet tendered us by the Provincial Government. My Boys’ Parliament experiences failed to steer me into a political career, as I never became a skilled debater. However, I shall be forever grateful for those experiences as they helped to shape my life.
The Saskatoon community contributed much to one’s broadening horizons. The library was a treasure chest to be dipped into for recreation, information and guidance. Membership in church choirs extended my musical outlook although I never became adept at sight-reading. As long as I could be surrounded by competent bass voices I learned to pick up auditory clues quickly enough to translate them into satisfactory output. Such cheating precluded any chance of venturing on a musical career, and made me a lifelong consumer of music, not a producer.
I saw silent black-and-white flicker movies in the little Bijou Theatre on the north side of 21st Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues in the fall of 1921. Most Saturday afternoons I spent my allowance attending a movie at the Daylight Theatre where my knowledge of the world expanded greatly. I enjoyed many exciting stage performances at the Empire Theatre on the south side of 20th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. There were operettas produced by local musical groups, a steady stream of vaudeville shows and occasional plays by celebrities such as Sir John Martin Harvey, Forbes Robertson and Harry Lauder. For the life of me I cannot recall how I scraped up enough money for tickets to these shows, but I got to see and hear many of them.
My annual treat was attendance at the Saskatoon Exhibition. Here another world opened up, from farm machinery newly come on the market to grain and fruit displays, school work, woodwork, needlecraft, cattle, horses, sheep, hogs, goats and poultry. Even the midway stretched my vision, from the top of the Ferris Wheel to fascinating working models of seaports, moon maidens, magic waters and distorted humans. Full of contentment, hot dogs and cotton candy, I returned home at evening certain that my knowledge had expanded tremendously, and I was content.
I saw the Capitol Theatre built and was awed by its Spanish décor and the clouds moving across its ceiling. It was there I saw Al Jolson in the first sound movie. I was there to see “The Cap” demolished, just as I watched the Provincial Sanatorium being built and then torn down. I watched the Bessborough Hotel rise from the ground to its regal heights during the 1930s, hold a great community party to celebrate its completion, then close its doors for years because there were not enough paying guests during the Depression to pay for its operation.
Oh, the Depression! What an experience that was! A whole decade of drought, wind, sandstorms, searing sun, shattered markets, years of discouragement, loss of hope, and endless scrabbling to make ends meet when they refused to be pulled together. Everyone was poor. Actually, we survived better than many. Judicious management of the herd of beef cattle by my father plus a few pigs and a large vegetable garden kept our table supplied with necessities.
But I must relate one incident that contributed to my achieving maturity in a single week. One evening in late fall Dad arrived with the carcass of a freshly-killed hog, deposited it on the basement workbench, and informed me that it was my job to cut it up, wrap it into kitchen-usable portions, then put the packages in the loft of the garage to be frozen solid until needed. Me! a 15‑year-old who had never even seen a butcher ply his trade, with no concept of porcine anatomy, and lacking any appropriate tools to tackle the job. But orders were orders, and some way or another it got done and we dined comfortably on fresh pork for many winter months, accompanied by the heap of potatoes stored on the basement floor.
Those years were hardest on Mother. Although born on a pioneer Ontario farm she just didn’t have the temperament to enjoy being a farm wife. But she bravely tried, and helped keep home and family together by taking in a succession of boarders. They not only helped the financial situation but also added variety and interest to our days. A few years later one of those boarders became mayor of Saskatoon. Another was the wife of a minister who was a patient in the provincial TB Sanatorium. I had to teach her to drive their car so she could visit her husband. Two out-of-town boys stayed with us one year while they took their Grade 12, and a girl came to live with us while she attended Normal School.
It was during those years that Ray developed an interest in music. He explored many instruments from tuba to banjo and guitar. He organized a dance band that played its way around the province. He had an interest in composing and in classical music that could have led to an interesting career had it not been for his early death.
We both maintained an interest in photography over the years. From the time I was ten years old I had the use of Mother’s Brownie box camera and carried it with me on many journeys. I filled shelves of albums with prints of places and people from Ontario to Manitou Lake, to summer camps and the Rockies. Photography gave Ray a profession and me a lifelong hobby that has brought much satisfaction and many pleasant associations.
The lessons we learned through those hurtful years were all part of the Depression experience and have never left me: repair, save, fix, patch, never get into debt, earn interest, never pay interest, pay as you go, watch for bargains.
My Dad sold a steer for enough cash to pay for my enrolment fee at Normal School, the last contribution he ever made to my education.
Following the intense academic grind of Collegiate my year at Normal School was a bust. With few exceptions the instructors were lazy and incompetent, the curriculum inadequate, and the demands absurdly low. We received no guidance on how to learn or how to teach children to learn. Other than how to keep an attendance register and make a classroom timetable, we were taught exactly nothing on how to operate in a rural school or what to expect or how to behave when dropped into a new community.
I soon realized that to succeed as a teacher I would have to take my cues from observation in city classrooms, practice teaching, and previous leadership experiences in Sunday school, Tuxis, camping and Boys’ Parliament. It is a great tribute to a host of teachers that they succeeded in doing a noble job of educating youngsters because of their devotion, ingenuity and personal ability despite their lack of competent professional preparation.
Teaching Career, 1928-1971
Graduating from Normal School, my first job was for June in a one-room rural school at South Loverna on the Saskatchewan-Alberta border. That fall I taught the middle grades at Hanley, then received an offer to join the Saskatoon Public School teaching staff starting January 1, 1929. Assigned to Buena Vista School, I was put in charge of a Grade 5-6 classroom that had 65 names on the register during the year.
Here began my 43 years in education, the recollections of which would fill a massive tome but must be passed over with a few general comments. It was a rare privilege to be part of the Saskatoon Public School system and to work with a long line of teacher associates and administrators.
Playground supervision, rink operation and inter-school sports made challenging demands. Can you imagine being expected to coach and referee school soccer teams when I had never seen a soccer game in my life?
Here was a typical winter day: leave home on Avenue I South at 8:15 a.m., walk across the river ice to Buena Vista School, supervise the playground until 9:00 o’clock, teach the morning lessons while keeping a check on the flooding of the rink, patrol the grounds at recess, have a quick lunch, referee an in-school hockey game, teach for the afternoon, supervise the school rink until 5:30, head back home across the ice, have supper, then either travel to the University for a night class or spend the evening studying and writing essays for it, or preparing lessons for the next day at school.
My first car was a Pontiac coupe and it served me well. I was able to transport school sports teams to game venues (usually by illegal overloading), share in the transport of my colleagues on staff picnics, and travel to and from university for night classes and summer school.
It was my good fortune to live in a university city and be able to pursue my degree without leaving home. In those depression years no one could afford to take time off to attend university full-time so we worked our way through night classes and summer school. It took me thirteen years to earn my B.A. and B.Ed. degrees then, having accumulated a year’s worth of unused sick leave, was able to attend full-time for a whole year to do the M.Ed. work (a long drag).
Such piecemeal course-taking left me with absolutely no feelings of loyalty or affection for the University. It failed to give me any perspective of learning, it failed to teach me how to think, and particularly it failed to offer a succession of instructors who knew how to teach. True, there were a few exceptions, but only a handful. The rest, academically reputable, had no training in how to communicate, inspire or guide students. The much-vaunted “academic freedom” did not include freedom from the responsibility to teach in a competent manner.
For the year following my M.Ed. graduation I was employed as a lecturer in the College of Education, then taught summer school classes in elementary school teaching methods for two years.
In the meantime I was appointed as Superintendent of the Provincial School for the Deaf. My five years there could supply material for another book
I spent nineteen years in the Saskatoon Public School system as Assistant Superintendent and Director of Education. I retired in June 1971, grateful for the people and opportunities that filled my working years.
My father, William Henry Burbidge, was born near Rawdon, Quebec in 1879. His father, Frederick, was the son of a soldier in the British army who was sent to Canada in 1837 when there was a threat of rebellion in Lower Canada. After the possibility of rebellion subsided, the soldiers were offered parcels of land in Quebec. It was the dream of every young man in the early 1900s to head for the States and make a fortune, so after finishing school Dad and his brother went to Minneapolis. He had no trouble finding a job on a street car. One of his daily passengers was a pretty brown-eyed girl who worked in a candy store. A romance blossomed and he married Florence Esteb on her 21st birthday in 1905.
Hearing of the free land being offered in the newly created province of Saskatchewan, the young couple set out for Nokomis. It proved very tiring travelling in a buggy with all their possessions jammed into a small space. Since they did not have a tent they slept on blankets spread on the prairie soil, with the horses tethered nearby. On this trip they had to find the location of their future home by guessing at the trail that led to their property.
Two years later they moved farther west and homesteaded 20 miles south of Kindersley, between Glidden and Eatonia. Since there was no passenger car on the railway, my parents traveled in the stock car standing beside their horses for the whole distance from Nokomis to Kindersley. While they were building a sod house they slept under the wagon for protection from the elements. After constructing the house and barn, Dad planted wheat seeds as soon as the prairie soil was dug up. Fortunately it matured giving him a good crop and hope for the future.
This was a new experience for a city girl. Not so romantic was the first lonely winter when Mother did not see another woman for seven months. I have often wondered how her hand-painted china and embroidered chemises fit into a rugged pioneer life.
Four children were born: Edith Mae in 1912, Clara Isabella in 1914, Florence in 1919 and Fred in 1921.
During his efforts at establishing the farm, Dad had a horrible accident. He was riding a horse to bring the cows in from the pasture to the barn when the horse stepped in a hole and fell on top of Dad, causing severe injury to his neck and shoulders. He managed to walk home and Mother tried to bandage the wounds with Father extremely upset. The next day the hired man went to various homes and came back with a nurse to look after Dad. He finally recovered, but it took Mother several months before she could talk about the accident without crying.
Crops during the war years 1914-1918 were excellent so many families became well-established. My father was particularly proud of his large, sturdy barn. He owned a threshing outfit and he cast many anxious glances at the sky hoping sunny weather would prevail until all the grain was threshed. The women worked as hard as the men, cooking and baking for as many as 10 or 15 hungry men.
Dad was instrumental in building a school so the children of the area could receive an education. One family had seven children and another had four. Dad hired some excellent teachers over the years. One came from the United States, one from Ontario, and others from British Columbia. Several times bachelors in the neighborhood invited teachers to marry them, and they settled into the area quite happily. We had one male teacher who was a quiet type but he made sure we all studied hard. Every pupil passed the exams that year.
About 1920 my father thought our district should have summer fairs where farmers could compete for prizes with their entries of grains, garden produce and farm animals, and where people could admire women’s work in a variety of categories. Tents were set up in which to serve lunch, and everyone made new friends. It was a successful venture which continued for many years. Dad always entered his calves. Mother nearly always got a prize for her three-layer chocolate cake with walnuts on top. She encouraged us to sew various articles for the local fairs in the summer holidays.
We had some wonderful neighbours from various countries. After World War I there was a big influx, many of whom did not speak English. I admire them for making such a great adjustment. By the time the second generation grew up they all became valuable citizens.
We had many hired men on the farm. The one I remember most vividly was from Norway. My father spent many hours trying to teach him English and how to manage the cows and horses. Dad never liked milking, so the Norwegian held his job by milking twice a day. After a couple of years he announced that his girlfriend was coming from Norway and he wanted to buy a farm. Dad helped him rent a piece of land so his lady love could have a home in Canada. We all liked the new bride.
New women’s styles in the Twenties brought short skirts and bobbed hair. One afternoon some of the neighbourhood women got together over a fashion magazine and chopped several inches off their dresses, then cut each other’s hair. There was nervous laughter in doing such a daring thing as to shear their waist-length tresses but the feminine desire to be in style won out. No doubt their spouses registered shock and surprise at their changed appearance. Even the high boots were discarded in favour of slippers. Prior to that it was common practice for women to start out in the democrat to visit friends and make deft use of the buttonhook to do up 30 to 40 buttons on each boot while they were travelling.
One year my mother decreed that Edith and I should take music lessons. We rode horseback to Mr. Gledhill’s farm and when he saw us he would come in from the field and give us a piano lesson. Edith loved riding horseback. Of course she sat in the saddle with stirrups for support while I was designated to the lumpy leather behind the saddle, balancing precariously and trying to hold the bag containing our music. Those uncomfortable rides dampened my enthusiasm both for riding and music. When Mr. Gledhill came to visit at our house, my sister was instructed to pass a bowl of apples, then my duty was to hand out dainty little knives with pearl handles for paring.
My father was very innovative in such ways as adapting tools to a new use. He led the way in planting trees for a windbreak. We were the first people in the district to have an ice house so we could enjoy ice cream in the hot summer months.
My father rigged up a “cutter” to drive us to Holbeck School in the winter time. It was a wooden frame covered with canvas, mounted on sturdy sleighs. We glided along noiselessly over the snow, peeking out through the tiny windows occasionally but making sure to keep our feet on the warmed bricks and the buffalo robe on our laps. In the cold weather the ink in our inkwells always froze overnight and we would set these little glass dishes of frozen ink beside the huge black stove to thaw out. After a snowstorm we always made angels in the snow of the schoolyard. This consists of lying down on a snow bank and moving one’s arms so that the impression looked like angels’ wings. In the spring we snared gophers, tramping around in the mud pouring water down gopher holes, and whacking the innocent creatures on the head with a baseball bat when they came up for air. The boys collected gopher tails in tobacco tins and earned a few cents for them.
The school was the centre for social functions, farmer’s meetings, square dances and church, but by far the greatest excitement of the year was the Christmas Concert. Skits and drills, songs and recitations were practiced for weeks ahead. Every family ordered new clothes from Eaton’s catalogue and there were anxious moments wondering if they would arrive in time to be worn to the concert. When the great day came families crowded into the school to see the concert. The chairman announced between every number that Santa was approaching – he was at Kindersley, then he was at Eatonia, but alas!! One of his reindeer had stumbled and there was a delay. Then he telegraphed that there was a snowstorm and he might not be able to make it at all. Then he telephoned that he was only a mile away. (The fact that there was no telephone in the school never bothered anyone, nor that the nearest telegraph was twenty miles away. It was all covered by the magic of Christmas.) Finally, after much suspense, Santa’s bells could be heard at the door and the jolly red-coated man made his entrance. What excitement! Lunch followed and then there was dancing on the crowded floor, seldom ending before 3:00 o’clock in the morning. Any parent who could play a musical instrument for the dancing was extremely popular to supplement the local violinist. My great thrill was when Eddie Belton asked me to dance when I was seven years old. And let us not forget the horses that had pulled the sleigh-loads of families to the great concert. Upon arrival at the school they were put in the school barn, but being strange to one another they didn’t cope very well. During the evening the men would take turns checking the barn to see that the animals were happy.
I never could figure out why my father decided to leave the Glidden area and move to Saskatoon in 1925. Was he tired of the hard work of farming? Was Mother fed up with country life? Or, did he want his children to have better educational opportunities in Saskatoon high schools? At the time, Edie was in Grade 8 and I was in Grade 7. Anyhow, Dad put on a big auction sale and Mother fried up enough doughnuts to feed all the people who came. Then we packed up our clothes and drove to Saskatoon, all six of us crowded into our small car. We bought a spacious house at 719 Bedford Road. All of us attended Bedford Road Collegiate across the street.
Bedford Road Collegiate played an important role in my life. It was at an Alumni Dance where I met Clare. I was wearing a red velvet dress, and he asked me for a dance. A few days later he phoned to invite me to a teachers’ dance the following Friday. I soon lost interest in the other boys I had been dating. We were engaged at Christmas and married the following summer on August 9, 1937. We drove to Waterton National Park for our wedding trip.
Three children were born in the 1940s, Lorraine, Valerie Jean, and Gord, all carrying on the family tradition of graduating from Bedford Road Collegiate
Clare died in 2004 at age 95, and Clara died in 2006 at age 91.