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As a child growing up in Saskatoon in the mid-thirties I looked forward to spending my summer holidays with my grandparents on the farm. It was a quiet life. The nearest neighbors were a mile away. In the Croll household the radio was only switched on for select programs, …… the evening newscast, or the Dominion Observatory Time Signal at 11.00 a.m., or the Market Report of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange. In this quiet setting there was ample opportunity for lengthy conversations.

Life was not easy for my family. My grandparents, Mr.and Mrs. D.W.Croll of Richlea, Saskatchewan, faced the hardships all farmers experienced in the “dirty thirties”. My parents’ marriage ended in divorce in 1939.

As the adults in my life reminisced about the “good old days”, the days they recalled were their early years as pioneers of this province. At the end of her life my grandmother looked back to those early years as “the best years of my life.”

I was the only grandchild to spend any amount of time with my grandparents, so I was the one to hear their stories. I want them to be available for the young members of the family.

And, as we celebrate Saskatchewan’s first century, I’d like to add their stories to those of the other hardy souls who were here ‘in the beginning’.

The Robert Turnbull Family

At the time of the census of 1901 both Robert Turnbull (my great-grandfather), and David Wardlaw Croll (my grandfather) owned farms north of Nesbitt, Manitoba.

Mrs. & Mrs. D. W. Croll 50th Wedding Anniversary Year: 1952 Place Name: Saskatoon Bottom photo: 1902 Wedding Picture Year: 1902 Photographer: Davidson Bros. Place: Brandon, MB Description: Ward and Edith Croll were married in Nesbitt, Manitoba on November 12, 1902. The ceremony was performed by Ward's father, Rev. Robert M. Croll. They homesteaded in the Penkill district of Saskatchewan, farmed in the Richlea area until the early 1940's, and spent the last years of their lives in Saskatoon.

Mrs. & Mrs. D. W. Croll 50th Wedding Anniversary
Year: 1952
Place Name: Saskatoon
Bottom photo: 1902 Wedding
Picture Year: 1902
Photographer: Davidson Bros.
Place: Brandon, MB
Description: Ward and Edith Croll were married in Nesbitt, Manitoba on November 12, 1902. The ceremony was performed by Ward’s father, Rev. Robert M. Croll. They homesteaded in the Penkill district of Saskatchewan, farmed in the Richlea area until the early 1940’s, and spent the last years of their lives in Saskatoon.

When Saskatchewan became a province in 1905 homesteads became readily available. The prospect of acquiring a quarter section of prime land for $10.00, and a considerable amount of hard work, appealed to Turnbull, his two youngest sons and his son-in-law.

And so all four members of the family filed for homesteads in Section 22, Township 26, Range 19, West of the 3rd Meridian. On June 27, 1906, Robert Louis Turnbull (Lou) gained entry to the South-East quarter section and David Wardlaw Croll (Ward) gained entry to the North-West quarter section. Robert Turnbull, who was fifty-six years old at the time, gained entry to the North-East quarter section on July 25, 1906. And the youngest son, Elbert Wright Turnbull (Tib), gained entry to the South-West quarter section on February 12, 1909, after his eighteenth birthday.

Robert Turnbull was an experienced farmer. He was good with animals and neighbors often consulted him when their animals were sick. He was mechanically inclined. The patent for a binder that he and his brother Alexander invented had been sold to the McCormick Company, a well-known machinery company of that era. He was also a carpenter and a stonemason.

Ward Croll had apprenticed as a printer in Ontario. A severe illness (probably lead poisoning) had prompted the sale of the printing shop in Palmerston, Ontario, that he and his brother Bob owned. Forced to find a livelihood where he could spend his working days outdoors, he turned to farming.

Lou Turnbull was 27 years old. He had spent his life working on the farm with his father, and he welcomed this opportunity to earn land of his own.

Tib Turnbull had had polio as a boy. He walked with crutches.

The fact that all four men fulfilled their homestead obligations and acquired the patents for their lands speaks well for maturity, cooperation and family loyalty.

One of the requirements of the Homestead Act was that homesteaders needed to break 10 acres of land every year for three years. Lou Turnbull did all of the work on his own land, and most of the work on his father’s and brother’s homesteads. After they had been granted title he bought them out, and sold the land.

One quarter section of land does not make a viable farm, so Ward Croll had to look for land elsewhere. The West half of Section 2, Township 26, Range 19, West of the 3rd Meridian was South African Scrip, land that was granted to soldiers who had served in the Boer War. The owner, a man living in Quebec, advertised in the Saskatoon paper, and Ward bought it. He also bought a Purchased Homestead, the South-East quarter of Section 10, Township 26, Range 19, West of the 3rd Meridian.

Ward and Edith Croll were the only members of the Turnbull relationship to spend their working lives in the area.

Lila & Lula Croll Year: 1910 Place Name: Brandon, MB An accomplished seamstress, Edith Croll made all of her children's clothes. These dresses were made of dark green plaid wool. The girls' hair was usually worn in braids. For special occasions they were allowed to wear it loose, (which they liked), with HUGE white taffeta bows, (which they didn't like)!

Lila & Lula Croll
Year: 1910
Place Name: Brandon, MB
An accomplished seamstress, Edith Croll made all of her children’s clothes. These dresses were made of dark green plaid wool. The girls’ hair was usually worn in braids. For special occasions they were allowed to wear it loose, (which they liked), with HUGE white taffeta bows, (which they didn’t like)!

Robert and Isabella Turnbull moved to Saskatoon in 1908, returned to Nesbitt, Manitoba, sometime in the 1920’s, and finally moved back to Saskatoon in 1936.

Tib Turnbull moved to Saskatoon. He worked for the Land Titles Office and was the Deputy Registrar at the time of his retirement. He offered help and support to every member of the clan who came to the city, and in 1936 he established a home for his ageing parents. Tib spent the last years of his life in the Frank Eliason Home.

In 1912 Robert Louis Turnbull and Hettie Louise Boake were married. They lived in Eston for a few years. The family moved to Vernon, British Columbia, in the 1920’s, just when that area was developing into a prime fruit-producing area. They had one son, Robert James.

Two other members of the Robert Turnbull family, Ernest Alexander and Mary Annabelle, made their homes in Saskatchewan. Ernest Turnbull was a barber in Wilkie, Saskatchewan. He and his wife, Myrtle (Webster), raised a family of four…. Muereta, Ethelwyn, John Webster (Jack) and James Orlo (Orlo).

Muereta worked at Eatons in Saskatoon before she married David Kirkbride of Regina. They made their home in Montreal for a number of years. When David retired they moved to Edmonton, to be near their son, Michael.

Ethelwyn married Edwin Fenton.They lived in British Columbia with David, Charles and Denise.

Jack, a railroad engineer, worked out of Moose Jaw. His wife, Miriam Turnbull (Willard ), still lives in Moose Jaw.

Orlo was killed in 1943 while serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Mary Annabella Turnbull married William Malcomson Stewart in Saskatoon in 1913. They lived in Saskatoon until he was appointed the Deputy Minister of Highways for the province. They had four children…. Gordon, Elizabeth (Betty), James (Jim) and Helen.

Gordon and Jim graduated as engineers from the University of Saskatchewan, and both served in the R.C.A.F. Gordon was working in British Columbia in 1952 when he died suddenly, leaving his wife, Bernice Stewart (Beardal), with two children, Robert and Patricia.

After the war Jim was one of the military personnel working on the Avro Arrow. When the project was scrapped, he resigned from the Air Force, returned to university for further study, and taught in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Western Ontario, in London. Jim and Eileen (Elliot) had two children, Janet and George. They retired to White Rock, B.C. Shortly after the couple had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, Eileen died suddenly. Jim remarried. He and Margaret (Voth McPherson) live in White Rock.

Betty (Stewart) Sexty and her son, Norman, lived in Regina where she was a secretary. She was an active member of the Professional Women’s Club.

Helen had an interesting life as a professional actress and a teacher. She and her husband, Robert Yuill, made their home in Palo Alto, California. Helen had three children, Ernest and Helen Glover, and Russell Yuill. .

The Ward Croll Family

Ward Croll served two years of the residency requirements for his homestead in one stretch, dating from June 8, 1907. He came without his wife Edith and their two-year-old twin daughters, Lula and Lila. While their husbands were away on homesteads in Saskatchewan, Edith and her mother, Isabella Turnbull, managed the Turnbull family farm at Nesbitt, Manitoba.

By November of 1908 their homestead shack and a shelter for the animals were built. Robert Turnbull accompanied his daughter and her young family when they travelled by train to Swift Current. They were met by Ward Croll, Lou Turnbull and Tib Turnbull.

The following exerpt is a direct quotation from notes written about the final leg of their trip by my mother, Lula Croll Hartsook.

When we left Swift Current early in the morning it was possible to reach Saskatchewan Landing for the night. All I can remember is that we couldn’t get too far ahead of the wagons with the buggy. Uncle Tib would stop the horse, give Mother the reins, Lila and I would scramble down the step on the buggy and run around to get exercise. Uncle Tib at that time used crutches, and he would get out and walk around to get the circulation going in his legs. I sat on Uncle Tib’s knee, and his legs would go to sleep from my weight. Lila sat on Mother’s knee.

Uncle Lou’s wagon was loaded with lumber for another room to be built on the Croll shack, and Dad’s wagon was loaded with wood, coal and a good supply of groceries. It was a three day trip to the homestead, and one of the days we were on our way to our new home was November 12, Mother and Dad’s wedding anniversary

Ward and Robert Turnbull’s first job was to add a room to the Croll shack. They knocked out an end, and nailed up a new horse blanket to make a temporary door. Lula and Lila remembered that it was great fun to chase each other through the flap-door!

Edith’s homemaking skills were much appreciated by the men of her family. She baked bread for them all. A young family needed milk, so in short order Ward bought a cow, and fresh milk and cream were available.

But what they really appreciated was Edith’s butter! Their months of batching had taught them that there was no substitute for it. In later years Lou Turnbull told a sad tale of paying “good money” in Swift Current for a pound of butter that he had not been able to eat. It tasted of stink weed!!

Bachelor homesteaders had minimal housekeeping skills. Laundering white shirts was beyond them. Edith laundered her father’s white shirts whenever he was on the homestead. It must have been a labor of love. Washing was done with a tub of water and a washboard. Ironing was done with a sad iron that was heated on the stove. And the collars and cuffs were starched.

Robert Turnbull had been an elder in the Presbyterian Church in Nesbitt, Manitoba. Ward Croll was the son of a Presbyterian minister. The families brought the tradition that Sunday was the Sabbath, a day of rest and worship, into their pioneer experience. Edith followed her mother’s custom of having a special family dinner on Sunday.

There were already several families in the Penkill district at this time. One of them had an organ. They ignored denominational differences and gathered the neighbors for a church service. Working and living in isolation as they did, gathering for church afforded a much needed opportunity to socialize. It also gave them the chance to learn what was happening in their own little community and the outside world. The Penkill district had postal services very early, and the settlers made it a practice to share newspapers.

Being an early pioneer in Saskatchewan was not for the disorganized or the faint-hearted. The nearest town for these settlers was Swift Current, a three-day journey away when travelling by horse and wagon over prairie trails.

Crossing the South Saskatchewan River could be a problem. A ferry operated at Saskatchewan Landing during the summer months. After freezeup travelers had to wait until the river ice was thick enough to support traffic. Roads were impossible when the winter snow melted, and in summer they could become impassable if there were heavy rains.

There was worry that a blizzard would rage, or temperatures would plummet, or that there would be a deluge while the trip was in progress.

Dates of the trips to Swift Current were dictated by family needs. A supply of coal had to be brought in before the onset of winter. If the family were to enjoy a Christmas celebration, provisions for it had to be ordered and brought in well in advance. If it were a severe winter, the coal supply would need to be replenished. Seeds for the garden were ordered in January. And there were always the needs of growing children.

They bought groceries in quantity. Flour and sugar came in 100 pound bags. Raisins and prunes came in wooden crates. Tea came in a large square metal container that had a tight lid. Syrup and lard came in large pails.

Edith Croll’s shopping habits were formed by her pioneer experiences. She bought flour and sugar in 100 pound bags until they left the farm in 1942. Not one to waste anything, she bleached out the empty cotton bags. They made excellent tea towels. In later years she laughed at the “Do Your Christmas Shopping Early” campaigns that appeared in early December. Her Christmas shopping was always finished by the end of September!

The CNR line from Saskatoon to Kindersley was completed in 1910. One of the new towns on the line was Brock, Saskatchewan. It was only 22 miles from my grandparents’ farm, so this made their major trips for supplies much easier. Winter trips could still be dangerous when there was a change in the weather.

Mother and Lila remembered one January trip to Brock that Grandfather made. On his way home he was caught in a blizzard. Grandmother lit a lamp, put it in the upstairs window, and waited long hours. When the sleigh finally drove onto the yard, Grandmother went out into the storm to stable and care for the horses. Grandfather was sent in to the warm kitchen, where a hot meal was waiting for him.

The pioneers had to rely on themselves. My grandparents produced as much of their food as possible. They had a large garden, kept chickens, milked cows and every winter they butchered a yearling steer and a pig. To the end of their days my grandparents believed that the best bacon was home-cured bacon. Grandmother thought the soap commercials were nonsense. For a really white wash you should use soft water and homemade soap!

They had to entertain themselves. They combined work and pleasure with barn raisings and quilting bees. House parties were popular. I heard about pulling toffee, and popping corn over hot coals. They played whist and rummy, cribbage and checkers. They enjoyed informal sing-songs. They enjoyed picnics in summer and sleigh rides in winter

One feature of the entertainments of the time was that they were always for the whole family. Parents never dreamed of leaving their children home alone.

The schoolhouse was the first public building in the community. Church services, general meetings of all kinds, box socials, fowl suppers, concerts and whist drives were all held in the schoolhouse. Often these activities concluded with a community dance. The music was provided by local volunteers, usually a pianist and an instrumentalist or two.

Ward Croll had had violin lessons as a boy in Ontario, and he played the violin well. He knew the music for all the dances of the day…waltzes, two-steps, schottisches, quadrilles and jigs. In later years, when family and friends were reminiscing about the early years, those country dances and Grandfather’s music were often mentioned.

A special treat during my summers with them were the occasions when Grandfather played his violin for us. This often happened when Mother or Lila were home too. Usually this was a listening experience, but I have one vivid memory of Mother and Grandmother waltzing around the kitchen!

Living in isolation, the pioneers appriciated having visitors. It was understood that anyone driving onto the yard would be invited to share the next meal.

My grandparents enjoyed remembering one winter visit while they were still living on the homestead. Two of their neighbors, young men still in their teens, arrived one Sunday afternoon, just before it began to snow. Before nightfall a blizzard was raging. It lasted three days!!

The young men slept on the kitchen floor. They were good company and they helped care for the animals, and kept the coal skuttle and woodbox filled. The only problem in planning meals arose when young men with good appetites met Grandmother’s bread! The young men had a lesson in bread-making!

By the third evening they were tired of playing cards, and out of things to talk about. Grandfather took down his violin. They pushed the table against the wall, and in that cramped space Grandma tried to teach them how to waltz!


The fact that there were no established schools in the area was a major concern for pioneers with young families. The Department of Education had established guidelines to assist in the formation of School Districts.

First a petition for the Formation of a Public School District had to be submitted to the Department of Education in Regina. It stated the number of children in the district who were between 5-16 years, the number of children in the district who were under 5 years, and the number of actual residents of the district who would be liable to taxation for school purposes.

Then there was a Poll of the resident taxpayers for the organization of a School District. The Poll had to be open one full hour. If the vote were favorable they proceeded with the Poll Sheet for the Election of Trustees. Resident Taxpayers who wished to take part in or vote at the First School Meeting had to sign a Declaration of Eligibility….. each for himself that he is of full age of twenty-one years, that he actually resides within the above-named school district, and that he has so resided herein and owned or been the occupant of assessable property therein for a period of at least two months immediately prior to the date….

In 1909, when Lula and Lila Croll were four years old, Penkill School District #2477 was formed. It has been interesting to read the records of Penkill School in the Saskatchewan Archives in Regina. I was surprised to learn, from the Petition for the Formation of a Public School District, that there were only 13 school-aged children, and 3 children under 5 years of age, in the district.

At the First School Meeting of the proposed district Ward Croll was elected a Trustee. He served as the Secretary of the Board. This was the beginning of an active interest in school affairs that lasted for twenty-five years.

Before a new school could open there was a tremendous amount of work for the School Board to do.  They had to:

  • arrange for the financing of the School District
  • choose a suitable location
  • decide on the size and design of the schoolhouse
  • contract for the building of the schoolhouse, Boys’ and Girls’ privies, and a stable for students’ horses.
  • buy furnishings and supplies, and arrange to have them delivered
  • hire a teacher

In talking about this time in their lives, Grandmother mentioned that Grandfather “always had to be going to meetings”. Meetings had to be arranged without the help of telephones, travel was by buggy or sleigh, and the men involved were pioneer farmers who worked long hours.

Penkill School, located on the South West quarter of Section 34, Township 26, Range 19, West of the 3rd Meridian, opened on April 10, 1911. Lula and Lila Croll were among the eleven students present.

Ward Croll’s homestead was the North West quarter of Section 22 in the same Township. I’m not sure just where the homestead buildings or the school were located in each quarter section, but the distance from their first home to Penkill School could not have been more than two miles for the Croll girls. It would have been ideal.

Unfortunately it was not to be. In the late spring of 1910 the Croll homestead shack was hauled on to their new property, the West half of Section 2, Township 26, Range 19, West of the third Meridian. Penkill School was still the closest school for them, but now the distance from home to school was over 5 miles.

Grandfather bought a horse for the girls. Jack was old, but he had belonged to Great-grandfather Robert Turnbull since he was a colt. The family knew that Jack was steady. And Lila, young as she was, was entrusted with driving them to school in a buggy.

The girls had just turned six in March of 1911. They were not tall enough to harness and unharness their horse, so Grandfather arranged for one of the bigger boys in the school ( I think it was a McLean boy ) to harness and unharness Jack, and to feed and water him.

It was hard for Grandmother to watch her little girls drive off across a prairie trail. She worried about possible danger from wild animals, changes in the weather, and prairie fires. Interestingly enough, the people they might meet on the way were of no concern at all. They knew all of the people in the area, and were confident that all would be helpful if they met them.

The school term continued through the summer months, until Christmas. School was closed then during the coldest months. Grandfather resigned from the Penkill School Board at the Annual Ratepayers meeting on January 13, 1913.

Plans were afoot to build Richlea School, about one and one-half miles from the Croll home. The First School Meeting was held “at the residence of D.W.Croll” on Friday, June 19, 1914. A suitable building was available in the community, so the Trustees decided to rent it. It was moved to the chosen location, some carpenter work was done on it, and Richlea School opened on June 30, 1914.

I have pictures of the school taken in 1915. One picture is of the teacher and her nine students gathered in the doorway. The other, taken from the distance, is of the school, the flag flying above it, the pupils standing in the doorway, the stable with a buggy in front of it, and the privie off to the right. The buildings stand in isolation on the treeless plain.

I’m not sure just how long Grandfather continued to serve as a Trustee of the Richlea Board. He served as Secretary-treasurer in 1934, and in 1935 he was Chairman of the Board. It has been exciting to read his handwritten letters in the Saskatchewan Archives in Regina. One letter, written on November 4, 1918, was to advise the School Inspector that the Trustees had closed the school for a week because of the “Spanish Flu” epidemic.

Christmas Concerts

In the schools of pioneer Saskatchewan, Christmas Concerts were more than just an opportunity for the students to strut their stuff. They provided the social highlight of the season for the whole community.

Every student in the school took part in the program. At the conclusion of the concert Santa Claus usually dropped by to give a bag of candy to every child present. Then, in areas where dancing was accepted, the desks would be stacked against one wall, and a community dance would follow. Lunch, provided and served by the ladies of the community, was served at midnight. And then the dance would resume, to continue as long as anyone was willing to dance.

To produce this kind of event the teacher needed the support and help of the entire community…….to sew costumes, to build a make-shift stage with curtains, to shop for and bag Santa’s treats, to make sandwiches and bake cakes, to serve lunch and clean up afterwards, and to provide the music for the dance. The esteem with which the teacher was held depended on just how well she could mobilize the community to bring the whole production off! The ability to provide a good evening’s entertainment could be a consideration when the School Board was hiring a teacher.

The most memorable concert for my mother and aunt was not a concert at their own school. The year Mother and Aunt Lila were in Grade eight, the daughter of good friends was teaching at her first school, some miles distant. She had a problem. There was no one in that community who could play for the school’s Christmas dance. Could Mr.Croll possibly help them out?

Grandfather’s first priority was to play for the dance at Richlea School…….his three children attended, and he was a member of the School Board. However, if the date chosen didn’t conflict with the Richlea concert, and if he weren’t expected to play for dances two nights in a row, he could manage it.

Mother and Lila loved to dance. Could they come along with him to the dance? On the spur of the moment Grandpa said, “Yes”.

Grandmother didn’t think much of her family missing school under any circumstances. But to miss school, just to go to a dance, was unthinkable! They reached a compromise. The girls could accompany their father if they could do it without missing any school.

And so, on the appointed day they hurried home from school, ate a quick lunch, dressed in their best clothes, bundled up and drove off in the sleigh with their father.

They arrived at their destination to hear the final item in the concert. They were greeted with applause when they entered the schoolhouse. The Croll girls knew how to dance all of the dances of the day. The only dances they missed were the ones for which they played the piano, to relieve the pianist of the evening!

The evening didn’t end until the wee hours of the morning. The girls slept in the sleigh as their father drove home. They arrived in their own yard in time to change into their schoolclothes, eat their porridge, and leave for school!

Special Occasions

The most important celebrations in the Croll household were Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries. Observing these occasions was not allowed to go by the boards just because the family was living in isolation on the Saskatchewan plain.

Gift-giving for these occasions was the tradition in both the Turnbull and Croll families. Postal services were available in the Penkill district very early, and the Eatons catalogue was in every home. And grandparents or relatives living in Saskatoon could shop for the family if necessary.

Gifts were expected to be something out of the ordinary. The net result is that my daughters and I have inherited several pieces of antique jewellery that were Grandmother’s or Mother’s or Lila’s.

One Christmas Aunt Mable, Grandmother’s sister, sent the girls Eatons’ Beauty dolls. We have a snapshot of the two dolls standing on the veranda beside Lea’s rocking horse. Luckily for me, and eventually my daughters, the Croll girls looked after their things. Mother’s darkhaired doll, Shirley, became my Christmas present the year I was five. Lila’s fairhaired doll, May, was eventually given to daughter Brenda. Today a restored May sits in an antique child’s chair in her home. She is wearing beautiful turn-of-the-century styled clothes that Brenda made for her.

Birthdays were always celebrated on the actual date. The children of the family dreaded having their birthdays fall on a Sunday. The rules for Sunday observance, no card playing, no dancing, applied whether the day was someone’s birthday or not.

The Santa who visited the Croll family always put an orange in the toe of the Christmas stockings. (Oranges were a rare treat in the early pioneer years.) Then the stocking was filled with nuts and hard candy.

Tradition had it that Santa knew how each child had behaved the previous year, and he would punish poor behaviour by leaving a piece of coal instead of an orange. Coal appeared in the toe of Lea’s sock one year. He didn’t suffer unduly. His sisters felt sorry for the little guy, and each sister gave him half of her orange!!

Christmas baking included Christmas cake (a dark fruitcake), Christmas pudding (carrot and raisin pudding that was steamed and served with hot brandy sauce), shortbread and tarts made of homemade mincemeat. Christmas dinner was turkey, stuffed with a savory dressing and cranberry sauce. The cranberry sauce, served in a footed glass bowl , made a colorful centerpiece.

The Christmas that I heard about as their favorite was the one when they attempted to go to Saskatoon to visit their Turnbull grandparents on December 24.

In order to go to Saskatoon, they had to drive 22 miles to Brock, Saskatchewan, by sleigh, and catch the train in to the city. Their day got off to a poor start when Grandpa discovered a sick animal when he went out to do the morning milking. Taking time to care for the cow put them behind schedule. They were still a couple of miles away from Brock when they saw their train leave the station!

Thinking they would buy whatever they could and return to the farm for a make-shift Christmas, they went to the General Store. When he heard of their predicament, the storekeeper, Mr. Keeler, had an idea. Why didn’t the Croll family join his family for Christmas, and then proceed on to Saskatoon on the next train, on December 26? The two families were good friends from their Penkill days. Ruby had been in the same class as the twins when Penkill School had first opened, and she had a younger brother too.

The Keeler family made them welcome. Years later I heard about the fun the five children had in the snow, and having the run of a large home for playing hide-and-seek. I heard about a large Christmas tree alight with candles on Christmas Eve, and hot chocolate before bed.

Many years later, when I was a married woman with a family of my own, I met Dr. Ruby Keeler, and heard her version of this story. She and her brother remembered “the Croll Christmas” as their favorite, too. It had been great fun for her to share her bedroom with two friends at once. And games were much more fun when there were five people to play them. But most of all she remembered singing Christmas Carols as a group around the brightly lit Christmas tree, and the Christmas pudding that Grandmother was able to contribute to the joint-family dinner.

Before they came to the prairies Grandmother was part of a close knit family, living in an established rural community. On the homestead she missed the companionship of adults. But what bothered her most was the absolute silence. There had been trees in Manitoba, and she missed the rustle of leaves.

She learned to fill the silence. She sang. Singing as she did her daily work became a lifelong habit, and so in later years her singing was ‘background music’ during my summer visits.

Grandmother had a pleasant voice and she knew a wide variety of songs. She particularly liked “A Perfect Day”, “Danny Boy”, “After the Ball was Over” and the hymns of Fanny Crosby. She knew the popular songs of the First World War, patriotic songs, folk songs and the music of Stephen Foster.

She had excellent pitch and a good memory. She could be interrupted in the middle of a song, carry on a lengthy conversation, and resume singing exactly where she left off!

When I joined the Junior Choir of Parkview Presbyterian Church, I was surprised to learn that many of Grandmother’s songs were “church songs”.

After the Homesteading Years.

Lula and Lila attended Richlea Public School until they earned their “Entrance”. I think this was the equivalent of Grade 8, because the following year they went to Saskatoon for collegiate. They worked for their board and room, a practice that was common in that era. Lila worked for Aunt Belle, and Mother made lifelong friends of the Hope family for whom she worked.

Both girls found work in Eston in 1925.

Lila worked as a stenogapher/bookkeeper in the office of Mr. David Burns. My birth certificate,which was issued in 1928, is written in Lila’s handwriting, so I assume this was the Municipal Office.

An active member of Full Gospel Church, Lila taught Sunday School, played in the church orchestra and served as a pianist.

On July 10,1939, Lila married Isaac Clayton Franklin, also of Eston. They moved to Hanna, Alberta, and established a plumbing and heating business. Water and sewer systems were installed in Hanna in the 1940’s, so there was a great demand for their services.

Lila Croll & Clayton Franklin Year: mid 1930's Place Name: Croll farmyard, Richlea, SK In the years of the Depression many people could not afford a car. When he started "keeping company with Lila Cross, Clayton Franklin solved the transportation problem by getting a sidecar for his motorcycle. Most of their travelling was on the dirt roads around Eston, Sask. In later years, Lila reminisced about two longer trips on gravel highways...to Regina, in a dust storm, and to Calgary, in a downpour.

Lila Croll & Clayton Franklin
Year: mid 1930’s
Place Name: Croll farmyard, Richlea, SK
In the years of the Depression many people could not afford a car. When he started “keeping company with Lila Cross, Clayton Franklin solved the transportation problem by getting a sidecar for his motorcycle. Most of their travelling was on the dirt roads around Eston, Sask. In later years, Lila reminisced about two longer trips on gravel highways…to Regina, in a dust storm, and to Calgary, in a downpour.

The couple returned to Eston in 1977 to build their retirement home. Both had health problems so they did not enjoy a long retirement. Lila died in the University Hospital in Saskatoon on February 13,1983. Clayton died in his home on December 30,1984.

In 1925 Lula (Mother) worked at the Standard Bank in Eston.

On October1,1926, she married Edgar Thomas Hunter (Dad), who had a tinsmith shop in Eston. My brother Lloyd and I (Margaret) were both born in Eston. Our family moved to Saskatoon in 1930.

On June 24,1939, Mother’s divorce became final. She became a single parent long before that phrase was coined. Jobs were still in short supply. When there was an opening for a bookkeeper at Wheaton Electric Company her friends, Mr.and Mrs Percy Banting, recommended Mother to their friend, Mr.C.R.Wheaton. She worked at Wheaton’s until I had graduated from City Park Collegiate.

On May 17,1947, Mother married Roy Hartsook. They lived in the Saskatoon area until Roy died on April 18,1968.

Mother lived on in downtown Saskatoon. She enjoyed the program for Seniors at First Baptist Church.

She worked as a volunteer at the Western Development Museum, and was especially pleased to be able to work in the Bank exhibit when it opened.

A proud moment Mrs. Hartsook, Mrs. Hutchings and Mrs. Newton Year: 1976 Place Name: Saskatoon Image Source: Gibson Photos Ltd. In the 1950s Lula (Lou Hartsook) join the Women's Auxiliary to the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon. She enjoyed volunteering there and was thrilled when she was awarded a Life Membership.

A proud moment Mrs. Hartsook, Mrs. Hutchings and Mrs. Newton
Year: 1976
Place Name: Saskatoon
Image Source: Gibson Photos Ltd.
In the 1950s Lula (Lou Hartsook) join the Women’s Auxiliary to the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon. She enjoyed volunteering there and was thrilled when she was awarded a Life Membership.

In November of 1989 Mother suffered a debilitating stroke, and was no longer able to live alone. Since Erwin and I, and daughters Brenda, Barbara and Lorna all live in Regina, we brought her to Regina on January 1,1990. The quality of her life declined after she fell and broke her hip. It was hard for someone as active as she had been to be confined to a wheelchair. She spent her last years in Pioneer Village in Regina.

Mother died on September 17,1996, after a series of strokes. Her favorite granddaughter, Barbara, was at her side.

I know that Lea attended Richlea School, but I’m not sure how far he went beyond Grade 8. I do know that he went to the University of Saskatchewan for a short course in Agriculture. While he was in the machine shop he saw the engine of an aeroplane, and was intrigued by it.

He learned to fly, and Grandfather mortgaged the farm to buy his plane. When he was involved in a crash his parents were something less than pleased! The wreck was brought home in the farm truck, and Lea and a friend spent the winter rebuilding it. He believed the Canadian northland was a land of promise, and that air transportation could play a major role in opening the whole territory. He was ahead of his time!

When no job was available in Saskatchewan Lea went elsewhere. For a while he worked in a mine in Sudbury. He rode the rails. Once he appeared at our doorstep in Saskatoon so coated in dust that I didn’t recognize him. He was just off the train, on his way home to help with the harvest.

Good friends, the Reid family of the Kyle district, decided to move to Hastings, Ontario. Furniture, machinery and farm animals were loaded on a freight train. Mr. Reid traveled with the train to look after the livestock in transit. The rest of the family went by car. Lea went with them and helped with the driving.

He got a job as a mechanic in a garage in Toronto. On May 24, 1939, Lea and Eva Edna Reid were married. They made their home in Hastings, near Eva’s family.

War was officially declared by Canada on September 10, and Lea joined the RCAF as a mechanic. The Battle of Britain was taking a terrible tole on the pilots of the RAF, so there was a desperate need for replacements. Lea was transferred.

He was the ‘old married man’ in a company of very young recruits. It was necessessary for him to log a specific number of hours before he could get his “Wings”.The instructors arranged his flights early in the day, and then he was free to leave the airbase, and go home to his wife and young son, Bobby.

In the fall of 1941 Lea was granted Embarkation Leave. He, Eva and Bobby drove home to Saskatchewan to see his parents and sisters. At the conclusion of their visit Eva confided that she was pregnant with their second child.

Embarkation Leave Year: 1941 Place Name: Croll farmyard, Richlea, SK Lea Croll was working as a mechanic in Toronto when the Second World War was declared. So he was in Ontario when he enlisted in the R.C.A.F. Before servicemen were shipped overseas they were granted Embarkation Leave. Lea, his wife Eva (Reid), and their year-old son Bobby drove to Saskatchewan to see his parents and sisters.

Embarkation Leave
Year: 1941
Place Name: Croll farmyard, Richlea, SK
Lea Croll was working as a mechanic in Toronto when the Second World War was declared. So he was in Ontario when he enlisted in the R.C.A.F. Before servicemen were shipped overseas they were granted Embarkation Leave. Lea, his wife Eva (Reid), and their year-old son Bobby drove to Saskatchewan to see his parents and sisters.

His first letters came from Scotland, but soon they were coming from Cairo! The family had news of him in several newspaper articles.

Peterborough Paper
Sinks Merchant Ship

Sgt. Pilot A.L.Croll RCAF of Hastings, now serving in the Middle East Command, is reported to have successfully launched an aerial torpedo at an Axis merchant ship, sinking the vessel. He is flying a Wellington bomber in the Libyan push. His wife and two children live at Hastings, and they formerly lived at Richlea, Saskatchewan, where Croll had a civilian Commercial pilot’s papers.

Lea was reported Missing in Action on December 11,1942. His loss was the tragedy of my grandparents’ lives. The loss experienced by the other members of Lea’s family is expressed in the following poem, written by his twelve-year-old granddaughter, in 1979.

Why I Wear a Poppy 1979
Why I wear a poppy
Is easy for me to see,
I wear it for the men in the war
That gave their lives for me.

The person that I wonder about
Was born in 1910,
A farmboy from the West, he was
Who loved his fellow men.

Along came the dreadful war,
So he said good-bye to home.
He joined the Air Force in ’39
And from then on was forced to roam.

As the pilot of a Lancaster,
Over the Bay of Tripoli he flew,
But the papers said

“Reported Missing” in 1942.

They never found him,
And they never will,
When you think of it, it really makes you sad,
Because he never liked to kill.
The man I am talking about
Would have been very close to me,
If he had lived to tell the tale
Of the nights he spent at sea.

“Grandpa” would have been his name,
And I would have loved him so.
I wonder what kind of man he’d be.
I guess I’ll never know.

by Sondra Croll