Home Town or Home Community:
Caleb Gilbert Seay, age fifty-five, and his son Wellington Courtland Seay (Court) age twenty-seven, came west by train from Toronto. They arrived in the small settlement of Saskatoon in the North West Territories, May 8th 1904, after a delay in Lumsden because of flooding in the Qu’Appelle Valley. Much of the railway track had been under water so they had to cross by boat and catch a waiting train on the north side of the valley. When they finally arrived in Saskatoon, they went to look at lands they had filed on unseen, situated near Clark’s Crossing. They found this land too stony so abandoned it and started to look for more suitable land. Hearing of good land to the west and south of Saskatoon, they purchased a yoke of oxen and a wagon, and after loading the provisions and settlers effects they had brought from the east, they set out.
The warm sunshine fell on the backs of the two men and their oxen that May morning in 1904. For three days they would travel slowly over a sea of undulating prairie grass, following a trail that grew fainter as they went west and south from Saskatoon. Across Caleb’s knees rested a British, single barrel, muzzle loading shotgun. As the oxen plodded along they watched for game, as this was their only source of meat. The land seemed vast and the horizon unending. Very few trees dotted the landscape which was very different than what they were used to. They slept under the wagon as the weather was fair and pitching the tent took more time. On May 24th they found land to their liking in what is now known as the Fertile Valley district. As the land was not yet surveyed, they squatted on what would become Section 2, Township 30, Range 10, west of the 3rd. The surveyors were camped on Section 35, Township29, Range 10, west of the 3rd at that time. As soon as the land was surveyed Caleb filed on the SE quarter of Section 2, Township30, Range 10, West of the 3rd, and Court on the NE quarter of the same section.
They set up their tent, which they lived in until a sod house was built, and began plowing around the slough bottoms to get sod. A good tough sod full of fiber was usually found there. A good sod would not break while plowing for quite a few yards. A spade or an ax was then used to cut these strips into bricks which were laid, grass side down and alternating joins as you would when laying real brick. The walls were kept trimmed inside and out as they went up, and all doors and windows were built in as the work progressed. The roof was framed with poles, then smaller poles were laid close together over this to form kind of a sheeting. This was then thatched with coarse slough grass which they cut with a scythe, and then covered with layers of sod and dirt. The sod building was very warm and easy to heat in winter, and nice and cool in the summer. They also made the warmest of buildings for livestock and Grandpa told us that a pail of water left overnight in the stable would never freeze, even on the coldest of winter days. Caleb and Court would build two sod homes that summer, one on each quarter, and a shelter for the oxen. Court would make seven trips to Saskatoon for supplies, each one taking seven to eight days. Several trips were also made to the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, a distance of about sixteen miles, or to the sand hills to the north, about twelve miles. There they cut the poles and wood for the coming winter. In between all their labor, they had to find time for chores like cooking, washing clothes, hunting for meat and of course caring for the oxen whom they depended upon.
As the first sod house reached completion, the two men had protection from the elements which made their lives easier. A cook stove was set up and rain or shine they could cook, eat and sleep inside. As fall approached and the days and nights grew cooler, they were warm and snug in their first house on the prairie. Work did not stop however as Caleb’s wife Zillah, and Court’s wife Gertrude, and their first born son Harold would arrive in the spring, so the second house was finished too. In December 1904, Caleb and Court went back to Saskatoon. There Caleb would work for the winter as a paper hanger. Saskatoon was booming with many new buildings going up so work was easy to find. Court would go back east to ready everything for the spring move west.
In the spring of 1905, Court, his family, and Mother Zillah came west to live. They set out from Saskatoon in a warm spell in late March. Their possessions consisted of a wagon filled with provisions and household effects. Again the trip would take three days, which meant two nights sleeping under the wagon. The second night was spent just north of where the town of Donovon is, and when they woke in the morning there was snow on the ground. Being true pioneers they came on undaunted to the place that would become home. We think that when Zillah and Gertrude saw those sod houses they must have had second thoughts. Life for the two families was a challenge with unending work and hardship. Although not wealthy in the east, life had been much more settled, with better housing and sense of community. Being of hardy stock, they persevered and slowly carved out home and farm. Of utmost importance was the breaking of land, and this they worked at in those first years. This was grueling work for both the men and the oxen.
Even in the face of all of this they found time to laugh and play. Often talked about in later years was a large picnic, the first of many. All of the settlers were there and it was a great success. People traveled for miles around to come, bringing with them food, and any musical instrument they had. There was much visiting and socializing after which they danced till the wee hours of the morning in a new granary the neighbor had built. These events broke the monotony of everyday life and were much enjoyed by all. The women in particular enjoyed these outings as this was often the only way they got to meet their neighbors and visit with other women. This would be the beginning of lifelong friendships between many of these people, and they were wonderful times for all the younger ones who were always taken along.
A couple of stories often told, happened in these first years. The first one a battle of wills between Caleb and the oxen, in which the oxen won. On a hot day while breaking land with the oxen and plow, Caleb paused to wipe the sweat from his brow, laying down the lines to do so. The oxen seized their chance and headed for the nearest slough. In his hasty efforts to stop them, the lines became tangled around his legs. Before he could get everything under control, they were in the water, man, plow, and beast. The oxen never stopped until they were belly deep. No harm was done except the time and effort it took to get everything sorted out. The water had cooled the tempers of all, but Caleb’s ego was badly bruised and the story provided much laughter then, and for years to come.
The second story happened to Court. While working at his chores one day he had the feeling of being watched. Glancing up he was very startled to see a very big native fellow, bareback astride a pony, his feet nearly touching the ground, watching him. After eying one another for a minute, the native asked where he was. Apparently he was just passing through the area and had gotten mixed up in his directions. Court would later tell us that being new to the country and having heard many stories about the Indians, it sure gave him a start, but soon realized the fellow was quite harmless.
By 1906 quite a few families had arrived in the area and of great concern was the need for a school. Two other schools had been built, one to the northeast of where Conquest would be the other to the north. As both these were a fair distance, the Hassock School Board was formed by the local homesteaders and Hassock School #1430 was built. It was a mile across the field from Court and Gertrude’s sod home. Court was a member of the Hassock School Board for most of the years that the school was in existence, which was from 1906-1942. All of the Seay children went there for some of their education.
Another picnic was held to commemorate the day the settlers first saw their land. There was a baby show and ball games, followed by lots of good food and entertainment. It is said that it was at this picnic that the area was named Fertile Valley. The community was growing and becoming quite settled, but all grain had to be hauled forty miles east to Hanley or to Saskatoon which was even further.
In 1907 two things of importance took place. The first one made a great difference to the lives of many people when Fertile Valley got its first Post Office. It was in Caleb Seay’s sod house. A clothing store run by A. E. Barrett (Bert), who was married to Ida Seay, and a small grocery store run by a W. Davidson were also on Caleb’s quarter. As Caleb was a Justice of the Peace there was much activity around the Seay homestead. The second thing of importance was that Court and Gertrude had a new baby daughter, Naomi, born in the sod house on April 15th. There was still plenty of snow as 1907 had been a very hard winter. Court drove a team of horses hitched to a sleigh to get the midwife from near Outlook, a distance of eleven miles each way. By the time they got back, the baby had already arrived, assisted by her Grandmother Zillah.
The fall of 1910 saw the two stores on Caleb’s quarter on the move. Upon hearing that the railroad was coming through and had purchased land for the town of Conquest, Bert Barrett hauled lumber from Outlook and built a frame building across the road from what would become Conquest, as the lots for the town were not yet surveyed. This building would later be moved in to Conquest. W. Davidson would move his store to the town of Bounty six miles west of Conquest.
In 1911 the town of Conquest was established and Bert Barrett moved his frame building onto the main street. Caleb would move the Post Office into the back of this store. The first mail arrived in Conquest on April 4th 1911. By August mail began arriving three times a week. Caleb and Zillah as well as Bert and Ida moved to town. These four would become very involved in making Conquest grow and develop. Bert and Ida would use the store for some of the first church services held in Conquest. Ida playing the piano upstairs in their living quarters while the congregation and minister were in the store below. Bert would also be active on school and church boards, and sang in the choir for many years. Caleb and Zillah would also work for the rest of their lives helping to make Conquest become a bustling town. Caleb was a great promoter of the Chautauqua, an early form of entertainment which came to Conquest from 1917 to 1931. He would remain Post Master and Justice of the Peace in Conquest until his death in 1933 at age eighty-four. Zillah worked for the church faithfully, was a member of the Ladies Aid Missionary Society and sang in the choir. She spent a great deal of time tatting, crocheting, and cooking for church bazaars and functions. In later years she lived with Court and Gertrude and died in 1952 just short of 100 years ofage. Life on the farm was full and busy in 1911. Grain no longer had to be hauled to Hanley as the CNR had reached Conquest and were hauling out wheat by June. Also on June 28th, Court and Gertrude had another addition to their family, a daughter Carmel, so the sod house once more heard the cries of a baby. That year Court also purchased a Rumely Oil Pull tractor, one of the first in the district. By fall he had a threshing outfit which made taking off his crops much easier. He also threshed for others around the countryside.
By 1912 the sod house although very warm and snug, was getting small for Court’s growing family and so it was decided to build a two storey frame house. The house cost $1200.00 to build and soon became a beautiful and busy home. These next years were very busy ones. Along with all their other chores the new house took many hours of their time to build and get ready to live in. The farm work had also doubled for Court and Gertrude as they took over the work Caleb and Zillah had done before moving to town. Gertrude kept boarders, so teachers, hired men and women, all found bed and board. Everyone had a job to do and was expected to do it, but all found a home away from home at the Court Seay’s. Gertrude was a great cook and homemaker. Her bread and pies were second to none. She also kept chickens and if more people showed up for Sunday dinner than planned, she could go out to the chicken coop, catch an older hen and have it cooking to supplement her dinner, all in short order. Her gardens were large and these she canned and preserved. Court kept the farm chores going but always a family man, also found time to tease and play with his children. The house rang with fun and laughter. He had a coon skin coat which he wore in winter. When he came home from town he would have candy hidden in the many pockets. The children would climb all over him as soon as he came in the door looking for those hidden treats. He never failed them and would laugh at their antics as they searched under his hat, and anywhere they thought there might be something hidden. Court also became a member of the Canadian Order Of Foresters. The membership certificate says he was duly admitted a member of the Court of Bounty, number 1314 on April 24th 1912.
1913 found Court and Gertrude settled into their new home which was a very good thing as on September 28th of that year their family increased by not one but two, when twin girls, May and Mabel arrived.
A shelterbelt was planted around the farmyard and as rainfall was good in these years the trees soon took root and began to grow, relieving the barren look of the country.
In August of 1914, excitement ran high when it was rumored there were rubies found in the district. Everyone including the Seay’s staked a claim. Alas, they were of no commercial value, being too soft.
Rainfall in 1915 was plentiful, crops were very good and the country was beginning to prosper. The shelterbelts planted by most farmers had grown, breaking the prairie winds and enhancing the farms. On the Seay farm these tree strips were kept plowed between the rows, and hoed between each tree to keep the weeds down. This gave the farm a neat look and also gave the trees the best chance to survive. In later years these tree strips were still kept plowed and each year more trees were planted. This practice went on until Court and Gertrude left the farm.
By 1916 Caleb and Zillah were well settled in town. A church was built and dedicated. The first two rooms of the red brick school were built. Towns had sprung up along both the CNR and CPR lines. The rainfall had been plentiful, crops very good and in a few short years the Fertile Valley area had been settled.
Court and Gertrude became the proud parents of another son, Alfred, born March 26th 1917. He would be the last of their children.
Caleb always a great promoter of Chautauqua, saw it come to Conquest for the first time. Most farmers had motor cars by this time and the show depended on that to draw large crowds from a distance. Court purchased a Model T touring car and this made getting around in the summer quicker and easier. It was open on the sides and had curtains that rolled down in inclement weather. Whenever a trip was in the offing the older children would scramble to get ready and get to the car first. This enabled them to get the window, or edge seats. Like all children, it sometimes took a parent to straighten out some of these little arguments.
In the fall of 1918 a bad flu broke out. At the Seay farm beds were moved down stairs and lined up in the front room. Luckily, not all became sick at once so the well looked after the sick, until they themselves became ill and then they just changed places. Trying to look after all the young ones, some sick and some not so sick, must have been a challenge for those parents. In later years they told of trying to keep those twins in bed and quiet. All turned out well in the Seay household with everyone recovering. In town Bert and Ida were generous in giving a room and bed, then nursing those who had no one to look after them during their illness. Truly great community minded people.
After the first few years the sod barns and buildings were slowly replaced with wooden structures. Granary’s and other outbuildings as well as a shop were added. The Seay men, did all of their own repair work. It contained a forge, a crank drill press and a grind stone among many other things. Court spent hours repairing, patching and fixing. They did not run to town, but made do with what they had at hand. Harness was mended, broken parts were heated and reshaped, and everything that needed sharpening, right down to the garden hoes were oiled and sharpened. There was always a willing little pair of hands to turn the crank on the grinding wheel. After the house was built in 1912 the farm really began to take shape. The beautiful growth of trees gave shelter and shade and the children had wonderful places to play. These first years had been full of hard work but the pioneers could see what their efforts had accomplished, as these had also been some very prosperous years.
Then came the Great Depression. Rain became scarce, and the wind blew sending clouds of dust into everything. Many gave up and moved east, but on the Seay farm they gritted their teeth and hoped for better years. Grain that was worth pennies a bushel was burnt in the furnace at the Seay farm, as there was no money for coal. Although never without food, there was not always a large variety and it was doled out carefully and nothing was wasted. Our Dad told of hunting prairie chickens on Christmas morning to have for Christmas dinner. Sun dried cod came in from the east coast and inventive cooks learned how to prepare it many different ways. Lovely fruit, vegetables and cheese from Ontario made wonderful additions to the often plain fare available. Hardest of all to bear was the unrelenting wind which blew dirt into every crack and cranny. The women struggled to keep it out of food, the clothes wash on the line, and out of their homes. The men working outside sometimes worked with strips of cloth tied around their faces. Russian Thistle seemed to be one of the only things that grew in those years and blew into piles along fences and tree strips. Then came the grasshoppers. Trying to keep them out of the garden which Gertrude tended faithfully was almost impossible. When washing was hung on the line they would eat holes in the clothes, so the children were sent to stay at the clothesline and knock them off until the clothes dried.
In 1933 in the middle of the great depression, many things changed for the Seay family. Caleb passed away, and Bert Barrett’s store burned down. It was never rebuilt, but for about five years he sold menswear from the back of Esau Larocque’s hardware store in Conquest.
Despite very poor conditions the farmers organized a Shelterbelt Association and applied to the PFRA for assistance which was granted. In 1935 a large scale planting of tree strips took place. The Seay family helped to plant and hoe miles of these trees over the years, making Conquest the Shelterbelt Capitol of the World.. These tree strips besides breaking the wind and collecting snow for moisture, have given shelter to both man and animal and turned the flat prairie into a beautiful parkland area. Another lasting legacy of these great pioneers.
In 1938 Bert and Ida left Conquest for Vancouver B.C. where they opened another store. Zillah went along with them to live. The first good crop of the 30’s came in 1939 with the early 40’s being good years also. The pioneers had made it through some very hard times and the country began to recover. On the Seay farm there was still lots of work, but now there were many young hands to help, whether it be cleaning the barn, milking, gathering eggs, helping to cook or gardening. A wind charger was purchased and as the wind most often blew, electric lights gleamed from the windows of the farm house and shop.
The years sped by and one by one the family married. Court and Gertrude were fortunate that all stayed very close to home and were only as far away as neighboring communities. More land was purchased or rented and sons Harold and Alfred, and son-in-law Spencer King along with Court farmed together for many years. In the spring of 1945 Court and Gertrude retired and moved to town after Alfred married and brought his wife to the farm
Even after they retired they spent many hours at the farm gardening and helping with whatever needed doing. Court fixing and patching as he always had done, and Gertrude gardening and helping with meals for the men in the field spring and fall. By this time they had Zillah living with them as Ida had passed away in 1939. She lived with them until her death in 1952. In later years their enjoyment was traveling around in their little half ton truck visiting their families and enjoying the grandchildren. Many times we were taken on these travels to see our cousins who lived on farms at Ardath, Milden and Bounty. What great times they were for us.
Along with the good times there were some bad ones too. Tragedy struck the family when Alfred was hit by a train as he came home from Conquest one snowy foggy day. After spending six months in the hospital in Moose Jaw he, along with wife and baby son, came home to Court and Gertrude’s for the first winter. With Zillah already living there, the little two bedroom house became very full. A hospital bed was set up in the front room close to the heater. The road to recovery was long and family and friends gave their love, time and support to keep the farm work going and help out where they could. In the spring they returned to the farm with Court and Gertrude coming out each day to help. Slowly things came back to normal and the sounds of hammer and saw could be heard as Alfred with the help of family did some remodeling on the farm house. Modern and up to date cupboards were built in the kitchen along with the latest in bigger windows. The downstairs bedroom was also remodeled.
So life returned to normal and the Seay’s, Court, Harold and Alfred , along with Spence continued to farm together. These good years lasted until 1952 when Alfred passed away with Polio of the lungs. Great Grandma Zillah also passed away. This changed many things in our lives and soon after this our Dad, Spencer King bought the Seay farm. He grew grain over the mound that had been the sod house. Court still came to the farm and kept granary’s repaired and helped us where he could, and Gertrude came to help Mom who was afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis. Being a family of all girls we soon became adept at hauling grain, unloading on the fly, or, helping Mom load meals and get them out to the field. The highest praise we ever got came from our Grandpa Seay, when he told us we were better than hired men, much more careful on things, and we worked harder too. This gave us the incentive to really dig in! All the while we felt very important and thought what we were doing was great fun. In 1957 our wonderful Grandma Seay passed away, and once again things changed for us. She was a great homemaker, always there quietly baking, cooking and taking care of the family. Even when we were at our worst she still forgave us and loved us. How we missed her.
As we grew up and married we still came home to plant potatoes and dig them, drive grain truck in the fall and help where we could. We all lived close by so it was not a hardship for us. We just tucked the kids under our arms and took them along. What great family days we had. In the fall of 1967 a large birthday party was held at the farm to honor Court’s 90th Birthday. Forty of the sixty direct descendants of Court gathered to celebrate. He regaled us with stories of all the different things he had seen in his lifetime. From the time he was a boy selling newspapers on the streets of Toronto, and sneaking away to get a glimpse of the Great Houdini, he saw a lot of firsts. Motor-cars, Airplanes, T.V. the first man on the moon to name a few. Two things he did not like about getting old he said was that all his friends were gone, and the small farms were being abandoned. He had lived a very full life and when he died in1970 his wit and wisdom were greatly missed.
Although these years were great in many ways, it was getting harder and harder to make a living on a small grain farm. The machinery was getting old and very expensive to replace. Our Dad and Mom retired and moved to Conquest, and so it was with regret that the farm was sold.
Music was a great entertainer in the Seay household. As the children grew up they learned to play the piano, banjo, and guitar. With Court on the fiddle they soon had a small orchestra, and began traveling far and wide to play at dances. This sometimes earned them a little cash. In winter the sleigh box would be packed with hot bricks or stones buried in the straw and covering up with quilts and buffalo robes they traveled cozily. Court in his coon skin coat sitting up front driving the horses. Many musical nights were also spent at home and the house rang with music and laughter as family and friends gathered. Court would play for Christmas programs, seniors parties, and different functions well into his eighties. Some of his favorites were, “Ragtime Annie”, “The Devil’s Dream”, and “Buffalo Gals” to name a few. His repertoire was large. He could hear a tune played a couple of times and then play it himself. Many family members sang in the church choirs and played piano for different social events around the countryside.
Along with the work came many fun times. In summer there were berry picking excursions to the sand hills, or to the river. Picnics were also popular as was of course the Chautauqua show each summer. Fall or fowl suppers were also very popular. The Model T was great to get around in and was used to get to all these events in summer, however it did have some drawbacks. The steering on these early cars, left a little to be desired. The prairie trail ruts had gotten deep and if one wasn’t careful it would jump out of the ruts, and being top heavy would upset. This happened one day on the way to town with eggs and milk for Caleb, Zillah, Bert and Ida. No one was hurt but our Mother who was along told us of the awful mess that they got into that day. We can only imagine!! This story while not very funny at the time, was retold over the years and caused many a good chuckle. Court, always a mild mannered man had a great sense of humor and always had a funny story to tell. Many times as youngsters, we never knew if he was serious or just kidding us. One of his favorite sayings at the dinner table was, “Look at that girl eat, every time her elbow bends her mouth opens.” Much of this was lost on us when we were younger but we now think of these little sayings and chuckle. He also always had a funny made up name to call us when we came to visit, and would say, “Well if it isn’t Miss Rip Van Snort!” or some such funny name. Most of the Seay fun times were centered around family, and things families could do together. A simple way of life that is almost lost in today’s world.
Our mother Naomi, was the second child of Court and Gertrude. She married Spencer Nisbet King, who came west with his parents in 1919. We were the children of this union, and three of the fifteen grandchildren of Court and Gertrude Seay. We grew up a mile across the field from Grandpa and Grandma. They rocked us and sang to us when we were babies. We sat enthralled, and sometimes downright scared by their stories as we grew older. We picked berries, went on picnics, planted or dug potatoes, all the while being told all these wonderful stories. We were taken to see where the “Ruby Rush” had been, and entertained by Grandpa’s fiddle. Grandma made our doll clothes, taught us to knit, play Fox and Geese in the snow, and how to pull toffee. We have wonderful memories of being snugged up in a feather tick bed on the floor when we came to visit. Great Grandmother Zillah, in her rocking chair drawn up close to the heater also sang to us and told us more stories. Thus we grew up surrounded by their love and their warm and caring ways. Long after they were gone our parents carried on the tradition of setting down the family history and telling us more until they too were gone. Now it is up to us to keep their memories and experiences alive, so that the next generations know of the times that came before.
This is our tribute to those courageous people that came before us. They left a settled way of life to come and pioneer a new land, and helped make our province what it is today. We are proud to be their kin. In the words of a poem our Dad wrote for the Conquest history book, “Proud Heritage”
Oh what a lovely place to be,
Those blue prairie skies,
What a treat for the eyes,
Saskatchewan, the home of the free
Written and submitted by:
Donna (King) Erlandson
Linda (King) Gorham &