Home Town or Home Community:
Leask, SK: Meadow Grove School District
Introduction: How We Got Here and Where We Lived
Great grandfather Mark Coates; Mary Linton family is used as a starting point for our Coates line of research. This is mainly because it is they who immigrated to what is now Canada, from Yorkshire, England, in 1851. Later that year they were recorded at Pickering, Ontario County, Ontario. Several of Mary’s brothers and first cousins had immigrated to the Pickering area, as early as 1832. By 1856 the family had moved to Lambton County, Ontario near Arkona.
On the 24th of May 1864 Mark was robbed and murdered at Port Huron Michigan while attempting to move his family to that state. Mary and the children had to return to Lambton County.
John Coates Sr., my grandfather and seventh child of Mark and Mary Coates, was thirteen when his father was murdered. He remained in Ontario until he moved to Michigan in 1876.
In April 1893, John moved, with his wife, Sarah Lovina Lighthall, and children, to the Duck Lake area of what is now Saskatchewan. In the spring of 1905, the family moved again to a homestead in the Skipton School District, about three miles south-east of where the village of Leask developed when the railway came through in 1912.
Grandfather, John Coates Sr., lived at different locations in the Skipton and Meadow Grove districts. He constructed and operated a livery barn in Leask for a short period during 1911 to 1912. He was generally involved with livestock, building and road construction. He built a number of homes for the early settlers. Many of the bridges that were an essential part of the first roads in the area were designed and built by John Coates Sr.
John and Sarah had seven children; William Mark, (1886); George Henry, (1889); Guy Charles, (1891); John Edward, (1892); Gilbert (Bert, 1897); Ada May, (1903); Arthur Elwin, (1905).
John Sr. died on March 8, 1942 at the age of 91. John’s wife Sarah, moved to California in 1923, with Ada and Arthur. Sarah died on July 8, 1953, at the age of 85.
The Family of John Edward Coates and Mary Hazel Coates (nee Sherry)
— By Max
I was born Dec. 15th, 1923. Mrs. Owen Rogers, who played a major role in the delivery of new arrivals in the Leask area, attendant at my birth.
By 1942, John Edward and Mary Hazel had a family of eight children; Max Edward, Helen May, Walter Herbert, Eileen Hazel, Laura Margaret, Joan Phyllis, Douglas John and Maurice Eugene (Tim).
I, Max, became an office manager/accountant; Helen, Walter and Joan chose teaching careers; Eileen chose secretarial work; Laura became a nurse; Douglas chose a career in sales and public relations while Tim became a geologist.
Between 1923 and 1929 the family lived at two different locations within two miles of what was to become our permanent home. In the summer of 1929, our family moved to what is now known as “Meadowgrove Farm.” This is where I spent the next twelve years of my life.
Moving to the new home didn’t bring immediate improvements. The house was not ready, so we lived in a large tent during most of the summer. By November it had become so cold that we had to move in, even though the house was still far from finished. I remember carrying a cat up a ladder to the second storey and dropping it down to the cellar, to see if it would land on its feet – something I should not have done. I also remember, supposedly helping my father to lay flooring and hitting my finger with a hammer. Those were not fun times.
As time passed, the situation at the new home gradually improved and the farmyard took shape. It seemed that additions to the house never quite kept up to the increasing size of the family that eventually ground to a halt after the eighth child. In fact, the youngest, my brother Tim, was eight months old when I left home at age 18. He definitely was an afterthought. In recent years I have heard Tim muse about this fact and jokingly say, “I am really lucky to be here.” My father was not particularly humble and was always very proud of his accomplishments. Once, when he would have been about 90 years of age, while chatting with my wife, Nancy, he asked her how she liked his house. Knowing Nancy, I am sure her reply was in the affirmative. By way of making conversation, I guess, she happened to ask how long it had taken him to build it. Father gave the question careful consideration for a few seconds and finally said, without cracking a smile, “Ohm, about forty years.” Truer words were never spoken. Starting in 1929, with the beginning of the great depression, followed by declining farm prices, money for house building was a scarce commodity.
Our father was a jack-of-all-trades. He was an expert horseman, a good carpenter, and mechanic. He could operate and maintain almost any type of machinery. In 1928 he bought a Model “D,” lug type, John Deere tractor and a Woods Brothers threshing machine. There was nothing he liked better than being out in the fall doing custom threshing. He ran both ends of the machine and had a bad reputation for never shutting down until after dark. He also liked operating a binder and he would do his level best to go all day without putting out an untied bundle. The knotter on the binder was his favourite toy. He was forever playing around with the billhooks and fine-tuning the apparatus. During the depression years he rebuilt and repaired several binders, often making modifications to make them operate more effectively.
He could strip down an engine, grind valves, put in new rings, rods, bearings, sleeves or whatever was required, put it all together and have it ticking perfectly. In later years he wired the house for electricity and, with the help of my brother Walter and sister Helen, installed a water and septic system. But, he had two major problems; first, his clock was out of sync. During the off-season, if he had his way, he would read until four in the morning and get up at noon. A hired man once stated, “When you work for Johnny, you get up at noon, play cards and talk politics until four and then work like hell until midnight.” This description, while perhaps a bit exaggerated, was not completely without some basis in fact.
Father’s second problem: Politics, and we will leave it at that, except to say that he packed a lot of bitterness because of his wartime experiences. When he joined up in the fall of 1914 there was a good deal of fanfare, picture taking and all that, before he, Bill Salmon and Fred Light boarded the train for Winnipeg. When he stepped off the train at Leask in the fall of 1919, there wasn’t so much as a family member there to greet him.
While overseas, my father had always though that, among other things, they were fighting “a war to end all wars,” and fighting for a better future at home. Disillusioned by the futility and horrors of war, he returned to find that nothing had really changed and that his expectations had been far too idealistic.
Mother was born in the Fernwood district of Prince Edward Island, and came west to teach, shortly after World War I. She was just the opposite to father. She was always to bed as early as possible and up early as well. It was she who helped keep the boat on an even keel. Unfortunately, we children didn’t fully realize this when we were young, but we later developed a deep appreciation for mother’s stabilizing role in the family. She had to be a tower of strength to have survived those unsettling years of the 1920’s, only to be followed by the great depression of the 1930’s. ( Editorial note: She relied heavily on help from our older brother Max).
During the Second World War there was a shortage of teachers and mother went back to teaching at our local school, Meadow Grove. She thoroughly enjoyed it and we suspect this was her salvation. During the day, it got her away from the more mundane life of the farm and gave her the opportunity to be with other people and in her chosen profession of teaching. Her youngest daughter Joan helped out with the housework and took care of our latest arrival, Tim. She taught at Meadow Grove for seventeen years until it closed due to a lack of students. She then moved to the Leask public school and stayed with teaching until her retirement, at age 65.
What was life like on the farm: By Max
I have discovered in later years that when you grow up on a farm with seven other siblings, each one of them has his or her own particular ideas of what farm life was like. Being the eldest and more mature member of the siblings, I will exercise my senior prerogative; and tell you what life on the farm was really like.
My most vivid memories of farm life were during the years from 1929 to 1942 at NE 34-46-5-3, or what is now fondly known as, “Meadowgrove Farm”. It is about five miles east of the village of Leask and bears the same name as the former school district of Meadow Grove, but with the obvious difference in spelling.
When I think back, life on the farm could best be described as school days punctuated with the standard menu of farm chores that gradually changed and became more labour intensive. In those days the recognized modes of transportation were “shanks ponies” or on horseback. They got you to wherever you wanted to go. The destination could have been school, a ball tournament, herding or looking for cattle, a ski tow, just visiting or getting away from it all.
Summer time was hoe time. If the sown crops could only have grown as robustly as the weeds, my father would have been a millionaire. One of the jobs that had to be done was cultivating our shelterbelts, many of which were caragana, to control the weeds. To do this job we had a one-horse hand controlled cultivator. My brother Walter would ride the horse and I would steer the cultivator. At first thought this sounds like a relatively simple operation. We were soon to discover that we each had a somewhat conflicting view about how this should be done. While I, walking on the ground, trying to get as close to the caraganas as possible, Walter, riding on the horse, found it rather uncomfortable when the caragana branches kept hitting him in the face and showering him with bugs and caragana seeds. After a few strongly worded orders, to get closer to the hedge, didn’t seem to be achieving the desired results, I would attempt to take a more physical approach to the problem. Since fear appeared to be able to run faster than anger, and I was unable to catch Walter after several rounds around the outfit, we would resume our cultivating until the next go-round.
When I wasn’t out in the heat of the summer with the weeds, mosquitoes and black flies, it was back to the barn for a date with the pitchfork, the manure fork, the straw fork, the hayfork or whatever forking situation warranted attention. And then there was our faithful milk cow, Minnie, and the old milk stool, a most uncomfortable perch. Furthermore, the slop pail always seemed to be full and the water pails and wood box were always empty. At age 15, I had been doing the stooking for about three years and was then into pitching bundles, driving a bundle team and learning how to handle the team and build a load while manoeuvring in a hilly field.
The winter snow and cold compounded the performance of many summer tasks. Everything that had to be done became more difficult. At the top of the list, every morning, the tank heater had to fired up to thaw out the water trough that always froze up during the night. This heater was also used to warm the pig feed. The well pump was generally frozen too, and had to be thawed out with hot water from the house. Caring for livestock was a much greater problem in the winter. And of course, the animals perpetrated the twice a day milk stool and fork routine. Wintertime was firewood and saw log time. My father never seemed to get at this until there were two or three feet of snow in the bush. My job was to help with the branching, handle one end of the cross-cut saw (no chain saws in those days) and take the small ends of the firewood which was loaded in full lengths onto a bobsleigh. The saw logs were dragged out with a horse and lined up at a skid way, to be loaded later and taken to a sawmill. I was the horseman.
It goes without saying that life on the farm during the great depression, the dirty 30’s or whatever descriptive verbiage one may wish to cast upon the period, was not particularly inspiring. You learned fast and the name of the game was, “Survival.” In retrospect, when compared with the seemingly soft and idle life that is being lived by many current day children, there is very little I would change if given the option of living my childhood again. A better price for squirrel hides and gopher tails would definitely be in order. Gopher tails are especially memorable. There wasn’t anything that compared with the pungent odour that was emitted, in the heat of the summer, when the lid was removed from a stale tobacco tin filled with that part of a gopher’s anatomy.
Many farms employed what was known as, “The Hired Man,” sometimes referred to as THM. In an effort to help increase employment, the government of the day encouraged this practice. They would pay fifteen dollars a month, five for the hired man and ten for the farmer. Father gave the whole fifteen dollars to the hired man. The most memorable was, Ron Aspen. He was my best friend. He made my first catapult and slingshot and taught me to use the former with accuracy. The latter weapon was great for distance but can best be described as a dispenser of misguided missiles and should never be placed in the hand of a growing boy. The same can be said for the darts that my brother Walter and I learned to make in our father’s workshop. They were constructed with a three-inch nail, sharpened at both ends, a four-inch piece of broom handle and two chicken feathers. They were deadly and great fun. We threw them at each other and defended ourselves with old boiler lids for shields.
Ron was the instigator of my first and last experience with chewing tobacco. A good quantity was administered after being carefully pared from a dark brown “Club” plug. I remember it well, and still can’t believe how quickly brown turned to green. I was never so sick in my life. He also took me to my first picture show. The admission was five pennies and it was worth every cent of it. The five-mile ride home on horseback was more memorable than the movie. It was a pitch dark June night and during the whole trip I expected to be captured at any moment, by King Kong, the star of the show. I always admired Ron’s talent for singing cowboy songs and yodelling and how he could play a guitar and mouth organ at the same time, to say nothing of his solos on the Jew’s harp. He was my Jake and I was his Kid.
About 13 years after I left the farm to work in Saskatoon, there were two very significant events, which greatly changed the patterns of life on the farm; the arrival of electric power and the development of the grid road system.
Family fun: By Walter
Fun, while growing up on the farm, took many forms. First there were the changes that took place as we grew older, and then there were the seasonal changes and indoor and out-door activities. During the summer, we played “scrub” softball, horseshoes and our own version of track and field sports. The annual school picnic at the end of June was the highlight of the season.
The winter outdoor sports included skating, hockey, skiing, sledding and if we got lucky, someone might bring a toboggan. The thrill of downhill events was always tempered by the long climb back up the hill for the next ride down. Some years the lakes would freeze over on a still night and leave a seemingly unending expanse of beautiful smooth ice. Skating on “rubber ice” was an exciting, but somewhat dangerous pastime.
Winter brought a number of fun indoor competitive activities. Crokinole, checkers, chess, Chinese checkers, scrabble or monopoly could provide good, after homework, entertainment. Father and mother both liked to play cards. Depending on how many players there were available, it could be bridge, cribbage, rummy, nines, old maid or hearts. Father was a very good card player and on many occasions, when playing hearts or old maid, he would try to take all of the hearts and the queen of spades so that he would count nothing and all the other players would have to count twenty-six each. On many occasions he would succeed. He was not always a gracious winner. We still recall how we would try to “gang up” on father and try to give him as many of the penalty cards as we could without letting him get them all. We would always try to avoid giving penalty cards to mother.
School memories: By Max
We lived about three miles from school, so my mother arranged to instruct my more intelligent younger sister, and me, at home. It was the 2nd of May 1932 when our father first dropped us off at the little one room schoolhouse. We were almost ready for grade three. This appears to be an appropriate time to state that I do not recommend being in the same grade as a sister. The details of my public school education would be quite standard for the times and do not warrant being rehashed here. It was during this period that I became a frustrated athlete and learned to pole vault with my constant summer companion, the common garden hoe. However, I will mention my first and last recollection of life in the little white schoolhouse, as they have remained clear in my mind during the years.
Our final year was 1938-39 when we took grade nine by what was known as correspondence. This meant studying all subjects on our own without the aid of the teacher. His sole responsibility to our grade was to maintain discipline and correct our final exams. The grand finale came one sunny summer morning at about 11:00 am on a day late in June 1939. I will always remember handing in my last examination. It was French, my least favourite subject. The teacher was fully aware of my dislike for it. When I handed my paper to him he said, “Max, I will give you a choice, I can mark this for you or you can have 50%, which do you prefer?” I simply could not believe that such a perfectly logical and well-timed alternative had come my way. It certainly enhanced my faith in the education system of those days. The mark was recorded for posterity and my paper was returned to me with a large 50% scribbled diagonally across the outside of the folded sheets. With that it was on to grade ten at Leask high school.
Leask was quite a different situation, a five-room school, two of which were high school rooms and two teachers. The principal was Wilfred James Curley. In later years I discovered that he was from Kelly’s Cross, P.E.I. He was a truly remarkable administrator and teacher. He was a stern disciplinarian, but had a good sense of humor. At that time he was said to have been the only high school teacher in the province with a PhD. He taught all subjects and could teach four languages. He never heard the story about my grade nine French mark, but I learned in very short order that my choice had been the correct one. He shaped me up very quickly, and I have been forever grateful. One of my first and most lasting recollections of this gentleman was having him walk into an English class and proclaim, “Write a Paragraph!” There were twenty minutes to accomplish the feat, and needless to say, our works of art were well dissected and red-penciled by the time they were returned to their budding authors. This turned out to be one of his favourite snap assignments. We soon learned that it was rather a good idea to have the framework for a few paragraphs stored in the back of our minds.
Mr. Curley taught the standard eight subjects required for University entrance. We were given a class in each subject every day. There was plenty of homework. He always completed the curriculum at about Easter. The rest of the term was for reviewing and dissecting old examination papers. It was a good system. His aim was to produce a Governor General’s Medal award student from the grade twelve class each year. There weren’t many years that he failed to achieve this goal. Needless to say, I was never an award winner, but the experience certainly was worthwhile. When June 1942 had rolled by, I had completed high school feeling that some progress had been made since that last day at Meadow Grove.
Saskatchewan Weather: By Walter
In many ways, Saskatchewan weather was somewhat similar to our weather patterns of today — generally unpredictable. If memory serves me, the winters in the 1930’s and forty’s were colder, with more snow, than in more recent years. One blessing we enjoyed back then was, we had no “wind chill.” As children, we always eagerly awaited the first snow, but by the end of March, we were ready for spring
Family Traditions: By Walter
One of the most memorable traditions was our celebration of Christmas. On the 24th of December each year, father would go out to the “bush” and select a well balanced tree of appropriate size. If there were any branches missing, he would drill a hole in the trunk of the tree and fit a branch of the appropriate size into the hole.
Decorating the tree was always a highlight of the season. In the early years we had no electric power, so we used candles, strategically placed to avoid a fire. The candles were only lit once, for about ten to fifteen minutes on Christmas evening.
We always eagerly looked forward to the arrival of the, relatively few by today’s standard, Christmas presents, and in particular the annual parcel from “Uncle Biddy.” He was a long-time friend of father’s who kept track of our family and sent a present for each child. Father always reciprocated by sending a “dressed” Christmas turkey to his family.
Needless to say, there was always a good deal of healthy, and on rare occasions unhealthy, speculation as to what was in each of the presents. Our sister Joan became our resident expert at determining the contents of Christmas gift packages. She never ceased to amaze us with the accuracy of her predictions. In fact you might say she refined the art to a point that even Sherlock Holmes would have looked like a rank beginner.
Important values over the generations: By Walter
Looking back, it is amazing to analyze how the values of our parents have impacted on the lives of their children. While there were many basic values that they shared, each of them has made their own unique contribution to our lives.
They believed that the best people were the ones who lived their creeds; “Fine council is confusing but example’s always clear.” They believed that the “real values” in life were not the monetary and material, but they were the human values and relationships that we cherish the most.
Disillusioned by the futility and horrors of war, and the hardships of the great depression, father became a staunch social activist. He had a strong desire to leave the world a better place than he found it. He was very interested in current events, particularly at the provincial, national and global levels. He read books, newspapers and articles about history and current affairs. He encouraged others to do the same. In 1933 we got our first radio, both regular and short wave, and then he was able to benefit from even greater sources of information. He assembled a series of “scrapbooks” where he posted articles, poems, pictures and cartoons that caught his interest. In varying degrees, father left the members of his family with an appreciation of history, an interest in public affairs and a desire to leave the world a better place than we found it.
If I were to attempt to summarize father’s beliefs regarding wars, politics and society, I would use two short poems entitled The Rights of Man, and Man-Making, and an excerpt from a third poem entitled Wanted by Josiah Gilbert Holland, 1819 – 1881:
The Rights of Man
The rights of man are a by-word
The bones are not yet dust,
Of those who broke the shackles;
And the shackles are not yet rust,
Till our masters are forging new ones,
And coward lips are sealed,
While the code that cost a million lives,
Is step-by-step repealed?
Anonymous From Father’s Scrapbook
We are all blind until we see
That in the human plan
Nothing is worth the making if
It does not make the man.
Why build these cities glorious
If man unbuilded goes?
In vain we build the work, unless
The builder also grows.
From Father’s Scrapbook
“For while ‘our leaders’, with their thumb-worn creeds.
Their large professions and their little deeds
Mingle in selfish strife, lo! Freedom weeps,
Wrong rules the land, and waiting Justice sleeps.”
Josiah Gilbert Holland; 1819 – 1881 From Father’s Scrapbook
Our mother was a very patient and understanding teacher. Because of the distance, which we lived from Meadow Grove School, mother had us complete grade one before we started attending classes. When the older members of the family started school, it was the rule to start after your seventh birthday. As you might well imagine, this led to a fair amount of confusion and was later changed to the beginning of the school year. It was the custom, in many rural schools, to begin the new term in the middle of July and take a longer break during January and part of February, the coldest months. As might be expected, perhaps much of mothers influence was during our preschool years. She had what seemed to be an endless number of poems and stories, which she would recite to us. In most cases, these poems and stories had a moral; from The Blind Men and the Elephant to The Pretty Chicken, “Who’s friends were very few, because he thought that there was nothing in the world but what he knew.” As we grew older she would help us develop an appreciation for poetry, the proper use of the English language and would even demonstrate that algebra was not difficult, you just had to think a little in order to understand the rationale. Everything seemed to be so much simpler and easier to understand after mother explained it. Mother also had the knack of being able to turn an evening lunch of cocoa, (hot chocolate to the uninitiated), and slices of freshly baked bread, into a feast for kings. I think that our whole family’s appreciation of our parents has been presented in two poems contributed by our sister Joan Phyllis Bell (nee Coates).
He was a busy man
An amazing man in many ways
Sowing seeds and harvesting
Butchering and building
Every task to serve a need
Fixing machines and making repairs
Painting the house
He was innovative indeed
He did all he could with what he had
Heated iron and moulded it
To make sleigh runners
To make attachments
That he couldn’t buy
Many observed and took heed
He loved to sing the old war songs
He took delight poetry to recite
He made scrapbooks about world events
His interest in politics was no pretence
Likewise his desire to read
His library was built
Book by book
Through the lean years
And the bounteous years
They told messages of man
And his struggle with the
Isms of the world
How these engulfed him
Without his knowing
Their powers motivated by greed
He believed that ultimately
Man could shape his own destiny
And so he helped organize
The Farm Boys Club
The Farmers Union
The Wheat Pool, and
The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation
For each he nurtured the seed
He had changes of mood
When he saw peoples efforts falter and fail
Sometimes anger prevailed
But he never lost sight of the Woodsworth Creed
“That which I wish for myself, I desire for others.”
Or the Tommy Douglas admonition
“Selfishness, Greed and Lust for Power, are the enemies of a civilized society.”
We’ll tell you of a person fine
We see her now this warm spring day
A working in her garden there
Her thoughts are for the flowers gay
And how to place them line on line
Or in a circular array
She finds such happiness in plants
Be they vegetable or flower
She plants the seedlings tenderly
She weeds and waters by the hour
It seems so strange she never tires
She must find peace of mind we’re sure
In seeing each burst forth with flower
In colours fine and rich and pure
For every year in this same spot
A flower garden you will find
Its beds all placed in patterns so
Of flowers of most every kind
She finds pleasure in the simple things
Her family, poetry, and books
And for such things one always sees
She has the very fondest looks
Who is this we are speaking of.
This person we so dearly love.
It is our mom.
It is our mom.
In spite of the harsher rural environment and the “Great Depression,” my thoughts of growing up on the farm are warm memories of family life.
After our parents decided to leave the farm in 1976, the eight siblings formed a joint stock company and purchased the home quarter section. Since then we have maintained, “Meadowgrove Farm”, as a family year-round retreat to cherish the memories of our parents and our childhood.