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The Contrarian: Saskatchewan Days

Latest posts by Mel Fisher (see all)

We were talking about our pioneer family’s roots, and noted that the Yeomans family seem to be our first settlers from western Canada.

After the initial surge from Ontario, resettling from the west was the most common pattern among our early settlers.

Many local families are descended from Ontario folks who went west and found the constant wind and big sky uncomfortable, or were wiped out by drought or hail or whatever, and came back here where conditions were more familiar and secure.

They say 4 out of 5 businesses fail in their first 5 years, and farming is no exception. Before there was a well-developed infrastructure and such assists as Crop Insurance and Cooperative Marketing, farming on the prairies was definitely a risky business. As I have noted previously, many a Saskatchewan farm was saved from the bailiff by the farmer taking his team of horses to one of our bush camps for the winter, thereby accumulating a nest egg. So they came for the more familiar climate, and they came for the greater security.

My wife’s father’s family left old Ontario and settled near Virden, Manitoba. They came back here to Ontario in the 20’s, mainly because they could not get decent water; there was always a film of oil on the surface in any well they dug. They settled in Eton Rugby. There is a wry twist – it turned out their Virden farm was in the center of the western Manitoba Oil Field, and became worth a fortune when oil was discovered! Of course between those times was the depression, when Eton Rugby people could survive while it was tough times around Virden!

Following this steady flow of homesteaders from the west during the teens and twenties, there was a big surge in the 30’s depression and even into the 40’s, especially from Saskatchewan.

The drought was so bad in some parts of that province that even enough food was a problem, while one could at least feed the family here, grow a garden, shoot a deer, catch a fish.

We reached our maximum number of homesteader/farmers of about a thousand by the time of World War 2. Most came by rail, the normal means of transportation in those days, but many local families have memories of coming in a trek resembling the ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ trip to California; old truck piled high. Team of horses or a farm tractor (with a rooster riding on the hood!) pulling a hay-wagon piled high with household and farm goods, perhaps including a flock of chickens or a cow walking behind, all on the primitive trail which preceded our present highway.

I think a ‘Saskatchewan Day’ would be very successful, perhaps in 2019, 80 years after the depression ended. Perhaps a social event (At Birchland campground?) around a big map of Saskatchewan which includes all the now disappeared communities.

Local people with Saskatchewan roots would socialize and mark their home community on that map. Another way to deepen our ‘sense of community’ here. Of course I am prejudiced, I was born in Regina!

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