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