Monday, 7 November 2016

This was a family....

Researching and writing about George Thomas Smith and Louisa (Lucy) Murphy has been a very rewarding experience, and has taught me something about who I am. I'm very pleased to be able to claim them as my great-grandparents. I can't quite say goodbye to them without a few more words about them and their children.  Some of the best words on this subject were written by my cousin Donna, who knew six of the ten children, and learned a lot about the others from our great aunts Prue and Audrey.  This is how she described the family:

The children Thomas and Lucy raised probably say more about themselves than any statistical information to be found in any records.  All were church goers, and active in their church life. The daughters had a stately bearing and were accomplished homemakers, but were equally at home helping with livestock, seeding crops and harvesting. All were compassionate, caring people willing to help others in need. All made good marriages. I don’t remember any of them saying anything unkind to or about their spouses. The love and respect between the individual couples was always in evidence. Such things in their children speak volumes about the kind of people Thomas and Lucy must have been. (1)

So to sum up each family member in a few words -

Clara Louisa (1875 - 1918): Clara's original surname was Cockram, but her parents became Smiths when she was an infant, so she may never have known her real name.  She and her husband Archie Adair had five sons, two of whom died in infancy, and Clara was well known in Indian Head for her affinity with the young people in the community.  She often invited groups of children to her home for afternoon teas, parlour games and singsongs around the piano.  She had a beautiful singing voice and was an accomplished pianist.  After Clara died, Archie remarried and got involved in public life, serving for several years as the Mayor of Indian Head.

Annie Maud (1877 - 1943): Maud was very involved in church activities and was a life member of the Red Cross Society, having assisted in many of the Society’s war efforts during WWI. She loved flowers and lace curtains, and once said that if there were no flowers or lace curtains in Heaven, she wasn’t going.  She and her husband William George Bennett had two sons.  They farmed at Summerberry until 1920, and lived in nearby Wolseley after that.  William served for some years as a Conservative MP for the Wolseley constituency.  Their house in Wolseley was the setting for various family gatherings, and later became a French restaurant, and one of the heritage-listed buildings of the town.

Maud and William Bennett's former home in Wolseley, photographed in the 1990s

George Thomas Jr (1881 - 1936): When his parents moved to Regina in 1919, George took over the farm at Grand Coulee.  He was highly respected as a fine person and an excellent farmer. It was said he could get a higher, better quality yield on his farm than anyone else in the district. He was a very big man, and must have looked massive in the buffalo coat he usually wore. He would often oblige his neighbours by riding to town with them, sitting in back of the buggy as a windbreak on very cold days.  George had a rich bass singing voice but wouldn’t sing in the church choir. He never married, but was once engaged to a teacher.

Frederick William (1883 - 1945):  Will was also known as a fine farmer, and he took over some of his father's land near Summerberry when he married Aggie Fleming in 1907.  He and Aggie had seven children, one of whom died at birth.  In the 1920s, Will and Aggie bought a house in the town, where they spent the winters, and later they lived there permanently when their eldest son Morris took over the farm.  Will was a well-known and highly regarded citizen of the district and and served on both the rural and Summerberry councils. His wife was also a prominent member of the  community, and continued as such for many years after Will's death.  Everyone knew her as 'Aunt Aggie' and she was involved in all sorts of sporting and church activities, and was the church organist for 73 years.  She had a sunny smile and a youthful spirit all her life.  When she was in her 80s, she fell and broke her hip, and couldn't understand how it happened - all she'd been doing was washing her foot in the sink!

Will Smith and family, about 1927.
Standing: Louise, Helen, Stewart, Aggie, Russell
Sitting: Will, Will Jr, Morris

Bessie Jane (1885 - 1978):  Bessie married John Stewart (Jack) Fleming, and had two children.  They lived all their married life in Indian Head, where Jack was a blacksmith.  Bess was very active in her church, as well as the United Church Women's group and the Red Cross.  After Jack passed away in 1942, Bessie stayed in her home for many years, until she moved into the Golden Prairie Home.  When she was 90, she was still able to recite a poem her father had taught her in childhood.  She died at 93 and was buried with Jack in the Indian Head cemetery.

Elizabeth Grace (1886 - 1974): Grace loved to sing, and was a mainstay of the church choir at Grand Coulee.  She married Andy Mowat when she was in her early 30s, and they moved to a farm near Sintaluta, and had two children.  Then when her widowed brother-in-law Archie Adair moved into Indian Head in 1923, Grace and Andy rented Archie's farm at Rose Valley, where they stayed for 33 years. They retired to Indian Head, and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary there in 1968.  Grace passed away six years later, at the age of 88; Andy lived to 101.  Both are buried at Indian Head.

Herman Ryley (1891 - 1962): My grandfather was a gentle and kind man, and quite shy as a youngster.  My grandmother remembered that shortly after the Smiths moved to Grand Coulee, when Ryley was about 16, the young people of the area were skating at the the outdoor rink.  Ryley was too shy to join them, and stood and watched from outside the boards, with his skates over his shoulder.  But he, like most of his siblings, was a member of the church choir, as was Myrtle Wanamaker, who became his wife.  They farmed at Summerberry and had eight children.  I'll go into more detail about them in later posts.

Prudence Irene (1893 - 1993):  When Prue married Roy Wanamaker in 1915, they moved to a farm in the Sherwood district near Regina, where they lived for 50 years. Prue was well known for her beautiful handwork - knitting, crochet and needlepoint - and for her talent at cooking and baking - fluffy scones were her specialty.  She was equally at home helping bring in the harvest, working in her garden, caring for the horses or pouring tea from a silver tea service.  Prue shared her family's love of music, and was the church pianist for many years.  She was very active in the church and was awarded a lifetime membership in the United Church Women's group.  Roy worked as a telephone linesman as well as running the farm.  He was an avid hunter, and did beautiful woodwork on his lathe.  He was also active in the church and served on the church board.  They retired to Regina, and celebrated 75 years of marriage before Roy passed away in 1990, and Prue in 1993.  Both are buried in Riverside Memorial Gardens in Regina.

Four Smith sisters, about 1919.
Standing: Ethel, Audrey;  Sitting: Prue, Grace

Beatrice Ethel (1897 -1997): Ethel met and married Frank Burton in Grand Coulee, and the two of them farmed there for awhile before moving to another farm to the northeast of Regina.  Like her sisters, Ethel loved flowers, singing and playing the piano.  She was an accomplished homemaker and helped with the harvest.  She and Frank were both active in their churches, from Grand Coulee to their retirement in Regina.  After Frank died in 1981, Ethel lived in the Pioneer Village Nursing Home in Regina, where she passed away in 1997, just a few months short of 100 years.

Audrey May (1899 - 1991): Audrey moved to Regina with her parents in 1919, where she became a member of the United Church Women's group.  She nursed her mother when she had cancer, and after Louisa's death, Audrey cared for her father until he passed away in 1943.  Two years later, when she was 46, Audrey married widower Harry Hardy, a superintendent with the National Grain Co., and they lived in her house in Regina, which George had left to her in his will.  Shortly after her marriage, Audrey was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  She wore a brace on one leg, walked with sticks, had her car outfitted to accommodate her needs and was never known to feel sorry for herself.  She had a sharp mind and kept it busy with reading, doing crossword puzzles, keeping up with the news and enjoying lively conversations with friends and family.  She did embroidery, loved flowers and had a fine singing voice.  After Harry died in 1958, Audrey moved into an apartment, and when she was unable to care for herself any longer, she moved into a private care home.  Her long, brave battle with MS came to an end in 1991, and she was buried with her parents in the Regina Cemetery.

The eight Smith children who outlived their parents, photographed in 1943:
Grace, Will, Ethel, Maud, Bessie, Ryley, Audrey, Prue

Louisa (Lucy) Murphy Cockram Smith (1855-1928):  Louisa was known to her friends and family as Lucy for most of her life.  She loved flowers and handcrafts, and passed her gardening and needlework skills on to her daughters.  She had few idle moments, and rarely sat down without picking up her knitting.  She had a great fondness for Ireland and often spoke of her Irish heritage.  She was a shy, quiet person who was happiest at home, and was well-loved by her husband, children and grandchildren.

George Cockram / George Thomas Smith (1851-1943):  I've already said a lot about George, but I'll just add a few more words.  George was a great reader - mainly he read poetry, newspapers from England, and his bible.  He had very bad asthma, and would often read late into the night when he was unable to sleep.  He taught his children to recite poetry, encouraged them to sing, and had a beautiful singing voice himself.  He would often sing to Lucy, especially her favourite song, 'I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen'. He and Lucy must have had a wonderful marriage - the example they set shows in the extraordinary marriages their children made.

I'll leave the final, eloquent words to Donna:

This is a family of faith. This is a family with an incredibly strong work ethic, which sometimes worked against them and made them hard on themselves. This is a family that valued its members; a family with optimism and a sense of humor. This is a family that loved music, and boasted of several fine pianists and singing voices. This is a family that valued education and loved to read. This is a family that loved handwork – knitting, crocheting, needlepoint and petit point. Love of the land and of all nature ran deep in this family, of close-knit, down-to-earth, decent folk. Theirs is a story that needed to be told. (1)

1) From Donna Marie Smith's scrapbook about George Thomas Smith and his family, 2012


Sunday, 6 November 2016

George the Patriarch 1928-1943

At the age of 77, George Thomas Smith had lost his wife of 53 years, but his daughter Audrey was still living with him, and played a large part in the rest of his life.  His other surviving children were never very far away either.  Family was all important to George, and he continued to be interested and involved in his children's lives.  I don't know what impact the Great Depression of the 1930s had on him.  All of his children who were farming at the time were hit hard, as southern Saskatchewan suffered extreme dry weather, dust storms and crop failures as well as economic recession.  But they all stayed put and saw the trouble through.

During his time as a widower, one more of his children passed away.  George Jr died in April 1936, at the age of 54.  I haven't discovered his cause of death, but he died in the hospital in Regina, and no doubt his father and siblings were near him.

Later that year, George and Audrey, along with Roy and Prue Wanamaker, drove to California for an extended holiday. On the 2nd of November 1936, the four travellers crossed the US border at Raymond Montana, and were granted admission for six months.  George gave their destination as Long Beach, California, and also said that he had been there before, in 1914.  This is another of George's mysteries, as I can't find any other evidence of him being anywhere in the US at any time.  Not forgetting that in 1936 he was 85 years old, and might easily have got the earlier date wrong, maybe he, Louisa and Audrey were there in 1921, when they were missing from the Canadian census.

George's border crossing document, Nov 2nd 1936.  This is where I learned he had blue eyes. It's hard to read, but I think  his height is stated as 5 feet 5 1/2 inches.  Louisa was slightly shorter. But all of their sons were over 6 feet, and their daughters were generally tall too.
I don't know how long the foursome stayed in the US, but I do know they spent some of their time there with Roy's aunt Mary McConnell and her husband Zedick Wright, who had lived in San Bernadino, California, for many years. Although they lived a long way off, it seems that they had close ties with their Canadian family and in-laws.

Zedick and Mary Wright, Prue Wanamaker, Audrey Smith, unknown and George Thomas Smith
at the Wright home in San Bernadino, California, 1936

By this time, George was using a cane to help him walk (but he never called it that - it was his walking stick).  His general health was still good though, despite the asthma that had plagued him for many years.  And as the photos show, he was something of a snappy dresser.

A few years later, in 1942, George's family threw a 91st birthday party for him.  (It seems that there was no 90th birthday party - perhaps he had taken sick at the time.)  He was always an outgoing person, and although he was becoming frail, he still enjoyed special occasions and gatherings of family and friends.

Just over a year later, George passed away at the age of 92.  Like Louisa, he died at home, where Audrey had cared for him.  His passing was felt by many people far and wide, and his obituary in the Regina Leader Post is a lovely tribute to him, although the author, a well-known journalist, made a few mistakes. (1)

George was buried in the family plot in the Regina cemetery, where Louisa and George Jr had preceded him, and Audrey would follow.

A page from Donna Smith's scrapbook, showing the Smith family plot in the Regina cemetery at Broad St and 4th Ave.  Since these photos were taken, the 'Mother' and 'Dad' markers have disappeared, and George Jr's marker is partially buried, and hard to find.

Having made sure during his lifetime that his three sons were settled on their own farms, he made his will in favour of his daughters.  He left the house in Regina to Audrey, and to his other five daughters, something over $2000 each. (2)

And so I've come to the end of George's story without getting any closer to discovering his secrets.  But as I move on to learn more about other family members, I'll still be on the lookout for anything else that pops us about George.  Having spent a lot of time with him, I feel that I've come to know him rather well, and I'm certainly never going to forget him.

1) For instance, the reference to George having served in the Royal Marines is the only suggestion anywhere about this, and I can't help wondering who told the author that story.  His daughters remembered him as someone who loved the sea, but that's as close as I've come to finding any seafaring adventures in his past.  Also, George never lived at Stratford or Collingwood Ontario, although the name Collingwood was used to refer to the general area where he lived.  And George and Louisa were married in England, not Ontario.

2) This information came from my cousin Donna, who wasn't sure how much money George left, or whether he still owned any land when he died.  I'm currently hunting for George's will in the depths of the Saskatchewan court system, which may take some time.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Goodbye, Louisa

Sometime in the early to mid 1920s, Louisa Smith was diagnosed with breast cancer.  As the disease took its toll, she was nursed at home by her daughter Audrey and was visited often by her other children.  On the 8th of July 1928, she passed away at home in Regina, with much of her family by her side.  Her funeral was held at the Knox Metropolitan Church, and she was buried in the Regina Cemetery.

Bessie, George, George Jr, Maud and Audrey at Louisa's gravesite.

Obituaries from two newspapers

Louisa left no will, so I was surprised to find a collection of probate documents relating to her (1).  It appears that she had over $5000 in bank bonds in her name only, so George had to go to court to get access to these funds.  As part of the process, he and George Jr had to agree to pay over $10,000 to the court if it was ever discovered that Louisa actually did leave a will and they weren't admitting it.  I'm sure they never had to pay that debt.  Nevertheless, they both had to swear to their ability to pay this amount, and state their worth.  George declared that he owned assets valued at about $75,000.  I don't know how much land he still owned at the time, but this tells me that he must still have owned some, probably at Summerberry.

When George got the $5000, he divided it amongst himself, his nine children and three of his grandchildren, namely James, George and Douglas Adair.  It may have been Louisa's wish that only these three, of the then twenty-one grandchildren, were to share in this money, perhaps because they had lost their mother, Clara, when they were boys.

So Louisa's story has ended, and yet I haven't really said much about her.  All I know of her personality comes from her daughters Prue and Audrey, who described her to my cousin Donna as someone who loved flowers and knitting, and always had a project in progress.  She had a great fondness for Ireland and often spoke of her Irish heritage.  She was a shy person who was happiest at home.

Although shy and not fond of travelling, she must have been a plucky woman to leave her home in England and go with George into what must have seemed like the ends of the earth, with who knows what prospect of him ever making a decent living there.  Perhaps she already knew what a resourceful person he was - and no doubt in their early days in Canada she had to draw on strengths she didn't know she had until then.

Judging by the family she raised and the warm fondness they had for her and for each other, she must have been a very fine mother and homemaker, and a person it would have been good to know.

1) These records are online at in 'Saskatchewan Probate Estate Files, 1887-1931'

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The Smiths in Regina 1919-1928

In 1919, when George Cockram Smith was 68 and his wife Louisa was 64, they retired from farming, and moved to Regina with their youngest daughter Audrey.  George Jr stayed behind to farm the land at Grand Coulee.

George and Louisa at 2056 McIntyre St, Regina
in 1919 or 1920
This would be the first time George and Louisa had lived in a city since they left Plymouth in 1875/76 - and the first time ever for 20 year old Audrey.  Their first house in Regina was at 2056 McIntyre Street, but they didn't stay there long.  By 1922 they had moved to 2353 Broad St - and this was their final home.

Neither of the houses still stand.  They were located in the oldest part of the city, near the downtown area.  The McIntyre St site now has a business on it, and there's an apartment building on the Broad St site.

In between houses, George, Louisa and Audrey all went missing.  How typical of George to be in the wrong place when census time rolled around.  The family can't be found in the 1921 Canada census at either of the Regina addresses (there were other people living in both houses at the time, according to the census), nor were they staying with anyone in the family.  I've looked for them all over Canada with no luck.  So I have to assume they were travelling in the United States, until a better idea comes along.

In 1925, George and Louisa celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a family gathering at the home of their daughter Maud Bennett, in Wolseley.  Their wedding was in April, but the party wasn't held until July. By that time, they had nineteen grandchildren, the youngest of which was my mother Hazel, who at less than 2 months old, nearly made it into one of the photos taken that day.

Whoever wrote the date on this clipping got it wrong.

George tells Louisa a thing or two at their anniversary celebration.

George, Louisa and Audrey were still in Regina in 1928, which was a very significant year - but I'll talk about that in another post.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

The Eaton House

The Eaton house in 1915, shortly after it was built. 
Myrtle and a friend, Mrs John Willy,
are sitting on the front porch.
Some months before Ryley Smith married Myrtle Wanamaker in 1915, he bought a quarter section of land (32-17-8 W2) at Summerberry from his father George, and planted a crop there.

This was the only parcel of land George had bought that didn't have a house on it.  So George's wedding gift to the couple was a house - a mail order house from the Eaton's catalogue.  When I first heard about this, I could hardly believe you could buy a house by mail order, but it wasn't all that unusual at the time.  Eaton's and other companies sold a wide range of houses that way, along with the more mundane items such as clothing and household goods.  A mail order house would arrive by train in all its bits and pieces, along with a detailed plan, to be put together by the buyer.

George had all the materials delivered from Brandon Manitoba to Summerberry a few months before the wedding, and taken from there to the farm by horse and cart - several horses and carts.  It was harvest time, so Ryley and a small crew were bringing the crop in while another group of friends and relatives built the house.  Ryley's sister Grace helped too, by being the chief cook and bottle washer for both the building and the harvesting crew.  She and Ryley both lived on the farm while the house was being built, sleeping in a grain bin.

George was very kind and generous with this gift, but he made one mistake - he chose which of the many house designs to buy, rather than asking Ryley and Myrtle which one they'd like.  I don't know how Ryley felt about it, but Myrtle wasn't very pleased.  As far as I know, she didn't see the house at all until it was finished.  It was fine with her in a general sense, but it had one feature she hated.  There was a small room in the kitchen which was intended to be a pantry/bread making area (Myrtle referred to it as a dough cupboard).  It made the kitchen itself too small, and Myrtle felt claustrophobic in the pantry.  So she refused to move into the house until that room was removed. (My grandmother was a small woman, and only 19 years old, but very feisty!)

Looking at the floor plan, I have to agree with her.   The size of the pantry was around 6x8 feet, and it left no good place to put a table in the kitchen. The only way to get to the dining room from the kitchen, without going down the hall and back through the parlour, was to go through the pantry. But its two doors weren't aligned with each other, which made it awkward to place things in there and leave a clear path.

A page from the 1915 ' Eaton Plan Book of Ideal Homes' with details about the house.
Click here to download an easy to read PDF version of it.

Her wish (shall we say, demand, which also involved moving the dining room door sideways and adding a sink to that wall) was granted, and the house was ready to move into by the time the wedding rolled around in December 1915.  It ended up with a nice big kitchen with room for a table in it - and that's where the family ate, except on special occasions.  The counters in the kitchen were too high for Myrtle's short stature, so she used the kitchen table to do most of the food preparation. The drawback of getting rid of the pantry was that there was little storage space, but the house had a cellar, the door to which opened off the kitchen, and Myrtle had shelves and hooks put on the wall space over the cellar stairs, and she kept pots and pans and other items there.  She often terrified people by opening that door and leaning way out over the steep staircase to retrieve something!  At some point an enclosed back porch was added, and some of that was used for storage too. 

The house had no fireplaces.  It was heated by steam radiators - a coal fired boiler was in the cellar.    Water had to be pumped from a well by hand - the pump was over the kitchen sink.  Upstairs there was a bathroom with no plumbing, but it had a claw-foot bathtub, a washstand with a ceramic bowl and pitcher, and a toilet with a pail that had to be emptied outdoors.  Whenever practical, the two-seater outhouse was used instead.  Years later, water was plumbed into the house, and a hot water tank was located in the small bedroom.  Light was initially supplied by kerosene lamps, then gas lamps, and later still by electricity generated by a windmill and stored in a battery in the cellar.  Grid power came to the farm in 1953.

The house had three bedrooms, and Ryley and Myrtle eventually had eight children.  There was a time when all eight of them were living at home, which must have made things a little cramped, to say the least.  The five boys had the biggest bedroom, the three girls had the medium one, and Ryley and Myrtle slept in the smallest one.  My mother remembered the house with great affection, and apparently never thought it was too crowded.

The house in the 1960s.  This is the back of the house,
with its enclosed porch.  The front porch was long gone.
By the late 1950s, the house was looking a little tired, and the front porch was so badly rotted, it was removed.  And then the whole house was covered in aluminum siding, largely by my father.

Ryley passed away in the kitchen of this house in 1962, and Myrtle stayed there for several more years, with one of her sons.  When they left, the house fell into disrepair, and after many years of neglect, it burned down in 1999.  There's nothing left on the property from my grandparents' time there, but the house is fondly remembered by myself and many cousins who spent time there as children.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Four Weddings and a Funeral ... really

During the Grand Coulee years, four more of the Smith children got married.  The first two of these weddings made a double connection between the Smiths and the Wanamakers.  In January 1915, Prue married Roy Wanamaker, at the Smith family home.  They were both aged 21 at the time, and Roy had saved enough money to buy his own farm at Grand Coulee, where he and Prue lived for many years.  Their first house there wasn't in very good shape, letting the wind howl through. Roy patched it up, and then built a new house on the same land several years later.  He worked as a telephone linesman as well as looking after the farm, with a lot of help from a very able Prue and at least one hired hand.  Roy and Prue had no children, but they had a wonderful marriage that lasted 75 years.

Roy and Prue's wedding photo, 1915.
My favourite photo of Roy and Prue,
taken in the summer of 1915.
Their first house is in the background

Ryley and Myrtle's wedding photo, 1915.
In December 1915, Ryley Smith married Roy's sister Myrtle Wanamaker, at her parents' home in Grand Coulee.  He was 24 years old, and she was only 19. These were my grandparents, so I know a fair bit more about them than any of the other Smiths or Wanamakers.  I intend to write about them in detail later, but for now, I'll talk about their wedding as it relates to George.  George's intention as his kids were growing up, was to set up all three of his sons on farms (and let his daughters' husbands look after them).  But he didn't give his sons any land - he had taught his children to earn their living and use their money wisely, as he did.  So Ryley rented a quarter section of George's land in Summerberry (no doubt at a very reasonable rate) and when he could afford to buy it, he did. 

I don't know what George and Louisa's other children received as wedding presents from their parents, but I imagine they were substantial, because Ryley and Myrtle's wedding present was a house.  I think the story of this house deserves a blog post of its own - should I do that now or later...?  Soon.

In March 1918, a double wedding took place at the Smith home.  Grace married Andrew Mowat, and Ethel married Frank Burton.  Grace had met Andy some years before when he worked as a farm hand for Clara and Archie Adair.  Andy moved around a fair bit in those years though, so it took awhile for him to get around to settling down.  He was 29 and Grace was 31 when they married.  They farmed near Sintaluta  for awhile and later rented the Adair farm at Indian Head.  Ethel married young - she was just 20 and Frank was 24.  They farmed first at Grand Coulee, and later, northeast of Regina.

Frank and Ethel Burton's wedding photo, 1918.
Andy and Grace Mowat's wedding
photo, 1918.
Item about the double wedding
in the Regina Leader-Post.

Clara's obituary in the Indian Head Times.
Note that her parents weren't mentioned
among the bereaved.
No doubt this double wedding would have been a particularly happy occasion for all concerned, if it hadn't been for one terrible thing.  The girls' eldest sister Clara was to have attended them at the wedding, but she'd been 'in delicate health' with a rare disease of the spleen for some time, and had a sudden downturn shortly before the wedding.  When it seemed that the hospital in Regina couldn't help, her husband Archie took her to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota in hopes of saving her.  But Clara passed away there a few days after her sisters' wedding.

Despite the sad start to two of these marriages, all four of them were happy and long-lived, just as George and Louisa's was.  Like Roy and Prue, Frank and Ethel had no children, but Andy and Grace had two, and Ryley and Myrtle had eight, including my mother.  More about them later.

Everything I know about these events come comes from newspaper articles and what's been told to me by family members.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

George goes to see the King

When George and Louisa Smith moved to Grand Coulee in 1907, there were still two sons and four daughters with them, all of whom were old enough to take on a good portion of house and farm work.  And from at least 1911 on, George also had three hired hands living at the farm.  So perhaps he started to take things a little easier himself.   In 1911 when he was 60 years old, he took the first long holiday that I know of.  It was the year of King George V's coronation, and George apparently felt a hankering to go back to England for this event.  Louisa, however, wasn't a keen traveller, and didn't want to go - so he went alone (1).

Tracing this journey is a little tricky, but I believe I've found him on the 'Lake Champlain' travelling from Montreal to Liverpool in May that year.  By that time, his parents and at least four of his siblings had passed away (perhaps five - his brother Richard dropped off the radar in 1871).  Two brothers, Alfred and Frederick, were in Australia, so the only siblings who I'm sure were still in England were Lucy, in Somerset, Mary Ann in Devon, and John and Clara in London.  I have no evidence that he got in touch with any or all of them, but I feel sure that he did.  He seems to have stayed in England for a few months, so it's likely that he spent a good part of that time with Cockram family members (and no doubt he told them why he changed his name!).

George may have been among the crowds of people who lined the streets of London on the 22nd of June to see the new king and queen go to and from Westminster Abbey.  And he certainly visited the Festival of Empire, a grand exhibition which ran for months at the Crystal Palace to celebrate the coronation.  The festival's souvenir brochure declared the aim of the event:  it was ‘a Social Gathering of the British Family’ to encourage the ‘firmer welding of those invisible bonds which hold together the greatest empire the world has ever known’. (2)

It was a huge affair covering a vast expanse of grounds, with an elaborate pageant, sporting events and exhibitions of products and inventions from the countries of the British empire, displayed in three-quarter size models of their parliament buildings erected in the grounds.


As far as I can tell, George came back to Canada in November, at which time the Quebec ports would have been closed due to ice, so the ship docked at Halifax, and George travelled from there to Grand Coulee by train.

One memento he brought back with him, which is still in the family, was a pocket watch - a Waltham, made in the United States in 1907. Its open face (i.e. there's no cover over it) is in Roman Numerals with 24 hour markings, with a second hand is in a circle at the bottom. It's a lovely timepiece as it was manufactured, but George enhanced it significantly - and at what expense, I wonder - by having the back engraved with an elaborate arrangement of his (assumed) initials - GTS.  I've doctored one photo to make it easier to see the intertwined letters.  Some years after George bought the watch, he added a coin to the chain - a 1925 King George V two pence piece.  Perhaps this was to forever associate the watch with the occasion on which he bought it.

It's nice to think that he used this watch for the rest of his life, but I don't know if he did or not.  When he died in 1943, the watch came into the possession of his youngest daughter Audrey, and in 1958, she gave it to one of George's great grandsons, my cousin Dick, who was six years old at the time.  Dick still has the watch, and he tells me that 109 years after it was manufactured,  it still keeps perfect time.

1) As told by Prue Wanamaker to my cousin Donna.
2) 'Souvenir of the Pageant of London', with several pictures and great detail of the events that took place. Online here

Saturday, 8 October 2016

The Smiths at Grand Coulee 1907-1919

Grand Coulee, October 1913
Photo courtesy of

Section map showing George's farm in green, Grand Coulee just north,
and part of Regina to the east.  Click the map to read it.

The location of the farm today, photographed from its SE corner.
George's house and other buildings no longer stand. 

Grand Coulee is a very small town about 100 miles west of Summerberry and 10 miles west of Regina.  The 640 acres George purchased there were on the NW corner of where the Trans-Canada Highway now meets Range Road just south of the town.  The family lived there until about 1919.

The Smith house at Grand Coulee

These were eventful years, in which George spent some time in England and in California, four more of his children got married, several grandchildren were born, his eldest daughter passed away and a tornado devastated Regina.  I'll say more about some of these things in the next few posts.

Of course the most far-reaching event of the time was the first world war.  All three of George and Louisa's sons, and their sons-in-law, were of an age to go to war, but none of them volunteered, and when conscription came to Canada in 1917, farmers, their sons and their hired labourers were exempt, due to the need for an adequate agricultural workforce to be maintained.

Before the war, Saskatchewan farmers were in an economic slump.  Grain prices had dropped, and three years of drought and crop failures had taken their toll.  But soon after the war began, the Allies' demand for Canadian wheat was high, and production expanded dramatically.  The 1915 harvest, for example, was the largest in Saskatchewan's history.  And the price of wheat rose too.  By 1917, the price was fixed at $2.21 a bushel, three times the pre-war price, and one acre of land could produce anywhere from 40 to 60 bushels.  If George had just half of his land at Grand Coulee producing wheat at 50 bushels an acre, he would have made more than $35,000 a year, not to mention the land he still owned at Summerberry.  But the cost of production rose too - farm machinery prices soared, and wages for farm labourers more than doubled. (1)

While the war didn't take the lives of anyone in George's family, there were many friends who weren't so lucky.  One such family, who also lived at Grand Coulee at the time, less than 2 miles from the Smiths, were the Wanamakers.  A strong friendship grew between these two families, and eventually a relationship or two, too.   Both families were faithful Methodist churchgoers, and active participants in the life of the church - they've been described as the mainstays of the church, and of the church choir - and no doubt that's where they met.  When the Wanamakers' son Frederick was killed in France in 1917, the loss was a blow to both families. (2)

I'll discuss the Wanamakers in more detail in later posts, when I finally stop rabbiting on about George and Louisa!

One of my favourite photos from the Grand Coulee years is this one of George and Louisa's daughter Prue, taken around 1910.  Prue had many talents, including needlework, cooking and baking, singing, playing the piano, bringing in the harvest and shooting hawks. (2)

Prue Smith at about age 17,
with a hawk and a gun.

George and Louisa somewhere between 1912 and 1917.  I believe this photo was taken outside their home. Louisa is wearing a 'duster' coat, which was designed for travelling in open cars without getting one's clothes dirty.  Does this mean they owned a car at that time? I don't know.

1) 'The Impact of the First World War on Saskatchewan's Farm Families', Joan Champ, 2002
2) As told by my grandmother Myrtle Wanamaker to my cousin Donna

Thursday, 6 October 2016

The Smiths in Summerberry 1905-1907

Main street of Summerberry, early 1900s

Summerberry Post Office, which opened in 1882.  Date of the photo is unknown.

While living at Indian Head, George started purchasing some land about 40 miles east, near Summerberry.  I'm finding contradictory clues about exactly where some of this land was and when he bought it, and until I can get hold of some original documents I won't know the truth.  But it seems that between 1899 and 1906, he bought a total of eleven quarter sections (three of which he sold  soon after buying them), north of the town of Summerberry. While the family were still living at Indian Head, George and his sons might have been farming some of this land, but I don't know.  In any case, in 1905, the family moved there, and lived on the western half of section 33. (see map below)
At that time, the eight children who were still at home ranged in age from 6 to 24.  The younger children - Audrey, Ethel, Prue and Ryley - attended Weldon School, which was just north of their home and closer than the school in Summerberry.  And no doubt like most farmers' kids, they each had their share of chores to do on the farm.

At Weldon School in 1906 -  In the back row are Ryley, age 15, 2nd from left and Prue, 13, far right.
In the front row, Ethel, 9, far left and Audrey, 7, 3rd from left.

This section map shows what I think I know about what land George bought, and when.  The CPR Land Sales records (1) show that he bought 3 quarters of section 17 in 1898, and sold them 18 months later.  My cousin Donna apparently had documents showing that he bought five quarters in 1899 - the NE quarter of section 32 (I tend to think she was wrong about that, but I'm still waiting to find out), and the NW and SW quarters of both section 33 and section 29.  A map in a local history book, 'Grit and Growth: The Story of Grenfell' (2) shows that he bought the SE quarter of section 29 in 1903.  Donna said he bought the NW and SW quarters of section 32 in 1906.

The 1906 census tells us that George owned fifteen horses, two cows, three other horned animals and ten hogs.  Fifteen horses sounds like a lot to me, but most of his neighbours had around the same number.  Farmers at that time needed a lot of 'horsepower' to work the land. If the above map is correct, George would have owned 1280 acres - so the horses would have been busy. 

Having bought that much land, one would think George was planning to stay at Summerberry permanently, but in fact he only stayed for about a year and a half.  In November 1907, daughter Bessie Jane married John Stewart Fleming, who she had met in Indian Head, where he was the local blacksmith.  They made their home in Indian Head. Only a month later, on Christmas day 1907, there was another wedding - second son Will married John Fleming's sister Janet (Aggie) Fleming.  Will purchased the western half of section 33 from his father, and then, with six children still in tow, George and Louisa moved to Grand Coulee, where George had purchased an entire section of land (640 acres).

John Stewart Fleming and
Bessie Jane Smith, 1907

Old Summerberry Church, 1906,
which burned down in 1949.

All of these land, livestock and other purchases (to be mentioned in later posts), leave me wondering how George made enough money for it all.  I've been told he was a 'prosperous farmer' - that seems like a bit of an understatement!  His daughters Prue and Audrey said that he had a really good head for business.  And good timing - he rented until he could afford to buy without borrowing, he only bought land that had already been cleared and broken by previous owners, and all but one of his purchases already had houses on them.  He and Louisa were rather frugal, at least in the early years, and taught their children how to get value for money.(3)

1) Online at the Glenbow Museum, here. Search the CPR database for 17 17 8 W2. I didn't know how to interpret this information, but was advised by email from the Museum's Libray & Archives Director, that it means George bought the land, then sold it to James Geddes.
2) Online at Our Roots, here

    Unfortunately the above two sources contradict each other about section 17.
3)  As told by Prue and Audrey to my cousin Donna.
Summerberry photos courtesy of Prairie Towns