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Beechy, SK Canada

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The village of Beechy is located 30 miles east of Kyle on Highway 342. It is snuggled on the north side hills of a flat valley floor. The west end of the valley is the beginning of Snakebite Coulee that drains all the flat land and ends its life in the South Saskatchewan River. Beechy is 11 miles north of the shore of Lake Diefenbaker, the lake that was formed by the construction of the GardinerDam. The village sits in an area shaped by the elbow of the river. This part of the world was surveyed in the 1890’s, but it wasn’t settled until much later when the homesteaders moved in.

The ranchers came first; Robert Cruickshank has been acknowledged as the first Beechy District settler. After working for a few years with the ‘76 outfit’ in the McLeod area, he leased land in the Rush Lake district and registered his two brands , the 6T and the AG in 1898. At the turn of the century, Cruickshank acquired 50,000 acres of lease on the Beechy side of the water and set up a home for his family.

More ranchers followed him into the area; Leslie Giauque and family established a ranch in the northwest corner of the district at the foot of rugged buttes, one of these is known as Maple Butte. Leslie’s daughter, Florence later married national calf and trick roping champion, Slim Gates. In the northeast part of the Coteau hills, Art and Bob Jenson ran the Hanging J spread. To the south-west, Bill and Percy Merrison came in to ranch from England. To the southeast at the bottom of the Snakebite coulee came Geo. Willis from Cheshire, England.

The first plow furrows were not turned until approximately from 1910 on. One young homesteader, struggling to guide his one-bottom plow behind oxen, through sand and buckbrush, was watched by a local cowboy and was offered this sage advice: “ By Gawd boy, why don’t you buy a cow and watch her grow!”

By 1910 and 11 many settlers came into the area looking for land and a new life. They came from England ,Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Germany, Ireland, Finland , Luxembourg and France. Many came from these lands by way of the United States; word came out that there was still open land to be had and the Adams, Arntsens, Allinsons, Bellows, Botheners, Biesenthals, Bowmans, Cameron, Clarks, Claypools, Dezells, Essons, Evjens, Flateruds, Fritz, Grays, Hankes, Hunters, Hagemeisters, Jones, Knutsons, McMillans, Meadens, Moebis, Nelsons, Odermatts, Olivers, Redmonds, Retzleffs, Richardsons, Robberstads, Schotanus, Stockmans, Storebos, Taylors, Treslans, Tuplins, Urwins, Vikanes, Wiens came and many more than can be named here.

The settlers at first hauled grain and produce either north to Wiseton, a two day trip or more, or to the south across the river, a hazardous journey that took three days at best. The district needed a central market.

In 1919, in this valley, bordered by the Coteau Hills range, was a place surveyed by the Canadian National Railroad and known as Mile 55, the end of the steel.

The land was part of the Neal Oliver Sr. land. Because of the of the growing population and the volume of supplies that were needed and the mass production of grain that was being grown in this virgin soil in such a few short years, the government could see that Mile 55 would be an excellent spot for a central market place.

Mile 55 was named Beechy by the CNR, after a northern explorer who was in the British Royal Navy, Lieutenant Beechy. The CNR was responsible for the naming of most of their stations on the line. Work on the railroad commenced in 1920 starting from where the line had left off at Dunblane, coming through the hamlet of Demaine to Beechy. With the news of a railroad, came the first merchants; Bill Surgeson came first and set up a hardware store. Rude Stockman started up a blacksmith shop.

The population of the fledgling town consisted of these two men until July 1920 when Bill brought in his wife and two children. Their first home was a former granary, when Mrs. Surgeson stepped in the door, she immediately beat a hasty retreat as she saw what looked like bugs hanging from the ceiling. Bill hastened to reassure her that it was clumps of flax. Other business men followed and now it was time to have a town survey. The first four blocks were measured out and the Surgeson hardware store was on Lot#1, Block#1 on the corner of Railway Ave. and Main Steet. The corner at the other end was chosen by E.A. Irwin for his general store.In between these two shops , J.R.Paisley had a general store, the Yip Bros. built a hotel, Lem Moore had his meat market, there was Dave Santy’s general store that he had moved to town from 3 miles south at the Jonesville corner. A pool hall was built by James Harrington and a hardware of Stan Commode’s made up the first block of Main Street.

As the hamlet grew, a restaurant was started by Sam, a Chinaman. Two livery stables were built, one by Cooper Bros. and Geo. Payne operated the second. Tom Boyes built a garage and owned a farm implement agency. The DeWolfe Lumber Co. brought in a lumber yard. Another café was started up by Mr. and Mrs. Rasmus Hoigland, it was later taken over by Mr. and Mrs. John Lampman.

By summer 1921, the railroad was definitely a reality, there were guesses as to the date of arrival of the steel. Stan Commode bet Roy Bellows, one of the local homesteaders one dollar, that the train would be in before Christmas Day. Roy, being quite sure that his dollar would be safe, accepted the wager. On December 21, 1921, the train came puffing in to stop at the temporary station, a box car. On Christmas morning, Roy walked the seven miles from his homestead to town and paid his one dollar to Stan and walked the seven miles back home to sit down to his Christmas dinner.

The early post offices were established in the school districts; Collins, Minnie Lake, Lance Valley, Neasden, Jonesville to name a few. These mail points were operated out of the settlers homes, or the little country stores, such as Santy’s general store at the Jonesville corner. Mr. John Collins started the first post office up on his farm in 1911. He transported the mail from Herbert, crossing the river by mule team and wagon twice a week, regardless of some of the less than desirable weather conditions. As population grew, more post offices were set up and Mr. Collins brought the mail across for these as well. When the railroad was completed the CNR took over the mail hauling contract. Although the mail was delivered by rail to Beechy, the rural post offices were still operated in the districts until the forties. When the district post offices closed, rural routes were developed and locals contracted for a route to deliver mail. By the mid fifties this service was also discontinued and people had to drive to town for their post.

Beechy’s first post master was Mr. Marvin McKean. He retired due to poor health and was replaced by Lee Pettigrew, who held the position from 1923 until 1951. Lee retired and his niece, Miss Eileen Godson operated the post office until her retirement in 1972. Since then there have been numerous personnel seeing to the people’s postal needs.

With the growth of population follows a very real need for health care. In the district, homesteaders wives had served as midwives and care givers. Well known were two who were trained nurses, Mrs. Mary Chovin and Mrs. Bessie Brooks. Many other women helped these women, especially during the flu’ of ‘18. But now more care was needed and in 1924, Mrs. John Arntsen and Mrs. Isaac Dahlby petitioned the R.M. of Victory # 226 to pass a by-law that would enable the municipality to hire a practitioner. Dr. Wallace Bond was the first doctor in Beechy. Dr. Bond was followed by many others down through the years, in-cluding Dr. M. O’Brien of Saddlebag Surgeon fame.

Our first hospital was in the private home of Tom Boyes, he had two extra rooms built on for wards. This building carried on as a medical center until 1966 when the new Beechy Union hospital, an eight bed facility, was opened in 1966. Due to economics and decline in the population, our hospital was closed by the reigning government in 1991. This caused dismay and anxiety for the people; even though the population had lessened, the mileage to the nearest hospital had not. To the credit , courage and hours of volunteer work and dollars, the R.M. and village now maintain an ambulance. The deserted hospital has been turned into a clinic with a full time doctor and staff. We have a trained paramedic and first responder people staffing the ambulance service.

Spiritual needs had been taken care of with individual church groups in the outlying rural area in private homes. But with the growth of the town, it was time for the churches to grow too. The Beechy Roman Catholic Church was built in 1924-25 and blessed by Bishop Mathieu of Regina and dedicated to Saint Mary Margaret. The first child baptized in the new church was Margaret Flynn,daughter of John Flynn.

In 1928 the Beechy United Church was built and dedicated in 1928. It was built by volunteer labor under the direction of Mr. Joe Stretch. Services were conducted by summer students until 1953. Presbytery agreed to hire an ordained minister if the Beechy charge would join forces with Lucky Lake. It was arranged and Mr. David Marshall, a lay minister was hired to serve Beechy, Demaine and Lucky Lake. Later, Demaine church was closed and Birsay has made the third point in the charge.

In 1925, a group of settlers who had had to leave their belongings and right to worship behind them in Russia, gathered in the Pleasant Butte hall to worship. In 1926, Rev. and Mrs. Wiens moved into the district and that fall the Mennonite Brethren Church was organized and accepted into the Canadian Conference and the North American Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Churches. In 1942 it was decided to build a church, a small two acre parcel of land was bought and in 1944, the church was completed on the N.W. corner of the N.E.1/4 of Sec.32-21-10-3rd. In 1954 the church was moved into Beechy. Later the Anglican charge purchased the building and lot and the Brethren built and now worship in the Hillside Christian Church.

In 1911, an Anglican Church student, Mr. J. Elliot, came into the district and services were held in the area in people’s homes. In 1913 the Rob Roy school was built and Sunday services were held in the school until 1951. Then worship was held in the village of Beechy, first in one of the Beechy school class rooms. In 1954 a small house was donated and converted to a chapel. Later, a church building and property was purchased from the Mennonite Brethren.

Beechy’s first school age children attended classes at the Jonesville school three miles south of the hamlet. Then under the direction of Gus Gunderson and Joe Stretch a small one room classroom was built on the outskirts of Beechy in 1921. This soon proved too small and it was moved into the town site and another room was added. Eventually it became four classrooms with an overflow class held in one of the church basements. In the early fifties a new eight room school was erected with many renovations and additions in the latter years. Mr. J. Turner was the Beechy school’s first school board chairman with Louis Gilbert and Neal Oliver Sr. as trustees. A Miss Munroe was the first teacher. All the rural schools eventually closed and the pupils of the R.M. of Victory #226 are now bussed to Beechy.

In 1922 the first grain elevator was built by the Saskatchewan Co-op Elevator Co. Ltd., before that Carl Nerby and Mr. W. B.Bell set up open bins to accept grain. Following the Co-op elevator were other grain companies such as Spencer, Consolidated, Federal and Reliance. Finally these all disappeared and three companies remained ;The Saskatchewan Pool, The United Grain Growers and The Pioneer Grain Company. Now in our new century these sentinels of the prairie have disappeared as well. Beechy now has a new grain marketing facility, the West Central Road and Rail established in 2003.

Many times, in the early days, the hamlet had sought village status but the fluctuating population did not stabilize to the required 100 permanent residents. Then in 1925, Mr. and Mrs. Johnnie Cooper produced twins. Noses were counted and now definite plans could be made to organize a village status.

The first village council meeting was held June 5, 1925,all members present-Mr. Geo. Payne, Mr.Carl Nerby and Helen Agnes Dodman. The minutes read as follows-“ Unanimously decided to hold a meeting of council on Thurs. June 9th at a place to be decided on later. Moved by Geo. Payne—–That Mrs.R.L. Pettigrew be appointed to act as Secretary at next Council meeting. Carried. Moved by Mrs. Dodman—-That this meeting be adjourned.”

With the organizing into a village the Council could now pass and carry out their own bylaws. Thus it was that a dog tax was levied, streets were improved and sidewalks along Main street were built.

Electricity came to the village in 1926. Sam Sunter, built a garage and installed a light plant. At first service was given from sundown to sun-up with Monday mornings so the women of the village could do their washing. Then a 24 hour service was established and continued until 1951 when the Saskatchewan Power Corporation took over. With the establishment of the Power Commission, the 110 A.C. service was given so residents could indulge in some modern conveniences to make life a bit easier.

With the arrival of the railroad came the telegraph, now there was a much faster way of communicating with the outside world. The Fritz brothers were experimenting with radios. Telephones were being explored out in the rural area with barbwire fences being connected together from one farm to another and using radio speakers and head phones. Shortly after the railroad came in, the only public telephone in the village was in Harry Fitzmaurice’s home. Earlier in 1918, a telephone company had been organized, but due to dispute as to whether Demaine or Beechy would be central, the organization was disbanded. Saskatchewan Government set up a long distance switch board at the Fitzmaurice house. Some time later the Victory Rural Telephone Co. developed an organization which was operated as a local and was a success this time. Jack Blenkiron was hired as lineman and continued until 1968 when the Saskatchewan Government took over the telephones. Miss Isabelle Turner was our long time switchboard operator.

Although times may have been hard, on the average, the population was a young one and there was time for fun and recreation as well as work. One of the first baseball teams in the district was organized in 1911. The sport was very popular with players walking or riding for miles to take part. For the first organized games, play was at times sporadic at best. War interfered with the team roster, hard times such as the Depression of the thirties also was a factor. But as time marched on , the sport was never lost and Beechy still fields a team today, the Beechy Breakers.

The first organized hockey game was played in1935-36, with a pick-up of players from Demaine rivaling a pick-up of players from Beechy. They played on open air rinks or sloughs that had frozen over in the community. The teams had to travel bad winter roads usually by team and sleigh or walking. They had to shovel the snow off the ice before playing. The most remembered game was played at Lucky Lake in January of 1938. Gordon Hunter and Neil Oliver combined their two teams of horses to make a four horse outfit and transported the hockey team in a Rawleigh van to the game. After the game they went to a dance and arrived home the next day in -30 degrees F. weather.

By 1941, the entire team had joined the forces. After the war, hockey was resumed and the Beechy Bombers team was born and the Bombers are still Beechy’s pride . Minor hockey was organized and sponsored by the Beechy Legion in the early fifties. Many players, past and present owe their hockey experiences and memories to many volunteer coaches, referees and car drivers.

Beechy’s first indoor skating rink was built in 1952 with limited funds, volunteer labour and a lot of community spirit. Since then, two more rinks have evolved . And that same cooperative spirit of today 2004, maintains and operates a modern artificial ice skating rink and a three sheet ice surface curling rink.

In 1990 a meeting was held to discuss the possibility of building a new community hall. The Legion hall had served many years of dances ,banquets, wedding receptions and any other function that required space for gatherings of more than twenty people .But due to passing times and economy, it was a great expense to try and remodel and refurbish the old building.

After many hours of discussion, planning and travel to other communities that had done the same, it was decided that a new hall could be a probability. With some government grant help and a lot of local donations and bequests and volunteer fund raising , for the next ten years, in 2000 our new Beechy Community Hall became a reality.

Through the efforts and relentless coaxing of local butcher shop owner, Jim Sharpe, the Village Council built a racetrack in 1948. On Sports Day, June 1949, the first harness horse race meet was held. The track was not registered with the Mid- West race circuit, consequently it was hard to convince horse owners to enter. Art Hunter, a race horse man from Hanley brought two horses to the first meet. Art’s two horses and Sharpe’s one whetted everyone’s appetite for more. The track was registered with the Standardbred Racing Association in 1950, and pari-mutual betting was licensed. For many years, the dirt track supplied excitement and a welcome addition to Sports Day. Later, due to expense of travel, the little track was shut down to registered racing, but it was used for training by local horse owners. Track records were set by some of our natives; Neil Oliver, Geoff and Gerald Ringrose, Norbert Bowman and Alec Dorward to mention a few.

The first agriculture fair was held one mile south of the village in August of 1922. In 1936 the decision was made to organize an Agriculture Society and the chosen name was Victory, after our municipality. The first President of the new Society was Mrs. John Arntsen, Vice President was Mr. Bob Hunter, Secretary was Mrs. A.H. Meaden. At the annual meeting of 1944, the fair executive applied for a government grant that was available for Class C fairs. The criteria was a sign up of a minimum of 150 members at one dollar membership each. The community was canvassed resulting in 200 paid up members. The Victory Agriculture Society was granted its charter on February25th, 1945. The executive at the time was; President Mr. A.D. Hunter, 1st Vice President Mr. Geo. Schury, Secretary-Treasurer Mrs. A. H. Meaden.

The Society has sponsored many projects besides the fair through the years; machinery demos, Baby Beef Club, Orchard project, Field day, summer fallow contest, Seed fair and standing crop competition, shelter belt planting and local community rink. The society erected a fair building on the Memorial Sports Grounds in 1954. The Extension Department at the University of Saskatchewan and the Department of Agriculture supplied judges and speakers for the society activities. The last Agriculture Fair was held in 1989.The Society remains very active in the community at present day life.

The village of Beechy and surrounding R. M. of Victory # 226 has seen many changes of seasons, generations of people and the most of one century and into a new one. Although at times it has been a mighty struggle to exist, it remains a land of opportunity and an abundance of optimism. The pioneer spirit is alive and well.