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Moose Jaw and Tuxford
HENRY DORRELL – A MOOSE JAW PIONEER
Authored by Henry D. Kent
BEFORE HE MARRIED, 1881-1891
Henry’s family were prominent farmers in England for generations, but they never enjoyed ownership of the lands they farmed. They were always tenants. Therefore, the opportunity to own farmland in Canada excited Henry. In 1881, at the age of 21, he made the 11-day voyage to Canada. His first job was sheering sheep for $15.00 per month, near London, Ontario. He was laid off in the fall then took a second job driving a wagon for a coal dealer. The owner offered him a share in the business but Henry turned it down because he wanted to farm. In April of the following year, he left Ontario for Brandon, Manitoba where he was engaged as a labourer working on the C.P.R. railway grade which was advancing westward. On July 16, 1882, the grade had reached the site of the future city of Moose Jaw. Other than a few construction tents, there was no settlement whatsoever. Henry marveled at the exciting agricultural potential of the area as he gazed northward over an expansive flat area of knee high grass as far as the eye could see. This is where he would spend the next 30 years of his life. By August 1882, the grade had reached Parkbeg where two men, who also recognized the superior agricultural potential at Moose Jaw, were retained by 21 other construction workers to file pre-emption claims on various half sections north of Moose Jaw. Henry joined the rush and filed on the East 1/2 of Section 30, Township 18, Range 26.
By November 1882, the grade had reached Maple Creek, some 200 miles west of Moose Jaw. Most of the construction camps were closing because of severe winter weather conditions. Henry took the train back to Moose Jaw where he spent over six weeks in a tent at minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The cook stove at one end of the tent was not very effective. Henry states in his memoirs that he felt the cold even with five blankets on top and as many underneath.
By this time, it was known that Moose Jaw was eventually to become a railway divisional point and a town was taking shape. By Christmas, it consisted of five tents, a coal shed, a boarding house, a doctor’s office in a little shack just north of the track, the station house, a section house, and a roundhouse. Early in the year 1883, as settlers were arriving, the first law office appeared – Mitchell and Grayson, Solicitors, Barristers, etc. Church services were held in the station house and were attended by some 15 men. The railway brought food and supplies from the east while buffalo meat was transported from the west to the settlement by dog team.
In March 1883, Henry became restless. He and another homesteader trekked northward with Henry’s team of oxen to Buffalo Lake to cut logs for the construction of their homestead shacks. Buffalo Lake was about 20 miles, as the crow flies, north of Moose Jaw and the log cutting camp was nearly 10 miles east of Henry’s homestead. The flat prairies north of Moose Jaw grew no trees, only grass, but fairly sizeable Elm trees grew on the hills surrounding Buffalo Lake. Logs were skidded across the lake from the north shore to the south shore then to the top of the trench and hence a 10 mile haul to the homestead, – a rough trip through the snow in the month of March.
Another foot of snow fell in early April followed by a rapid thaw causing flooding conditions through the Prairies. Many of the settlers were discouraged and left their claims. Henry built a 14’ x 16’ log house for himself and similar structures for his neighbours, most of whom left their homesteads to find summer work. Henry remained on his homestead breaking the land for himself and his neighbours with his oxen team and a one-bottom plow.
Moose Jaw was experiencing a boom during the summer of 1883. Settlers and land speculators were coming and going. It was the end of the westward passenger traffic on the railway. Building materials were railed in and houses were quickly constructed to accommodate the increasing population, which exceeded 2,000 people. Two brothers, E.B. Welsh and R.A. Welsh, settled four miles due west of Henry. They abandoned the homestead in the spring of 1891 and moved to Vancouver where they became very wealthy.
A few settlers returned to the land in the spring of 1884 and sowed the first wheat crop to be harvested in the Moose Jaw area. A binder and a threshing machine processed all the grain in the five settled townships north of Moose Jaw. Henry’s wheat went over 30 bushels per acre and was sold locally for $0.60 per bushel. During the winter of 1884-1885, he lived with George Downs at Buffalo Lake where they cut firewood and “prepared to burn lime”. In April 1885, wagons were required by the military to transport supplies northward from Moose Jaw and Swift Current to the front lines where troops were in action during the Reil Rebellion. Henry answered the call with his team of oxen. He returned in the fall to harvest his crop, which went only 10 bushels per acre. His accounts indicated that he sold 244 bushels at $0.42 per bushel. He returned to his home in England that winter. The one-way fare from Moose Jaw to Liverpool was about $65.00.
1886 was a tough year. On April 19th, he purchased, for $387.50, one gray mare and one bay mare, a two year old heifer and a double set of harnesses. He intended to break more land, but no rain fell and the water problem became acute. Henry, and several others, were forced to move with their livestock to other areas where hay and water was available. Some went back with the railway to build snowsheds through the mountains. Henry joined a group of some 15 people with their families and livestock and camped south of Mortlach where they constructed temporary homes where feed and water was available. Mortlach is some 25 miles west of Moose Jaw. It was a lonely winter.
In the spring of 1887, Henry returned to his homestead and planted a crop with weed infested seed supplied by the government. Once again, the yield was only fair because the land was so dry. Henry and others learned to summer fallow the land to preserve the moisture. In later years, the practice was adopted throughout the Prairies.
Very few settlers returned to the land in the summer of 1887 and Henry, once again, spent a lonely summer with only two neighbours, one 2 1/2 miles away and the other four miles away. He wintered, once again, south of Mortlach. The weather cooperated in the spring and summer of 1888 and Henry’s crops yielded 35 bushels per acre, which sold for $1.00 per bushel. Water storage dugouts were constructed to alleviate the water shortages during dry years. Consequently, most of the surrounding vacant lands were taken up and cultivated. On November 14, 1889, Henry was appointed Justice of the Peace by the Lieutenant Governor. The pioneer era had ended. Henry’s memoirs end with the following paragraph:
“The years 1889 and 1890 were only fair years and not very encouraging to the new settlers but in 1891, it was a banner year. I had 45 bushels per acre of wheat and so I was married in December.”
On December 16, 1891, he married Isabelle Miriam Winn, one of eleven children born to Thomas and Ellen Winn, another neighbouring pioneer family.
THE DORRELL FAMILY AT TUXFORD, 1891-1907
Prior to his marriage, Henry’s farm buildings comprised a sod stable and a one room log shanty. Many of the pioneers at that time started their married life in similar accommodations but this was not Henry’s style. With the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway to the west coast, Moose Jaw became a central distribution centre for building materials and other products. Henry built a fairly substantial frame house with living room, dining room, kitchen and one bedroom on the ground floor and two bedrooms upstairs.
Eventually, he was farming 1,120 acres. His net worth statement shows, as of January 1, 1901, that 650 acres were broken. The profitability of farming increased substantially, but still good years were usually followed by bad years and success was always dependent upon the weather. As the farm grew, other buildings were constructed including a granary, a barn for horses and cattle, and an implement shed for machinery, two wheel and four wheel buggies and grain wagons. Most of the buildings were still standing when I examined the property in September 2001. The house had not been occupied for several years. All buildings were in fair condition.
Other improvements to Henry’s homesite included a grove of poplar and maple trees serving as a wind break from the summer dust storms and winter blizzards, chicken pens and a vegetable garden including an area of fruit trees and current, gooseberry and raspberry bushes and a rhubarb patch. Thus, over a period of some 10 years of hard work, Henry had converted a couple of sections of raw prairie grassland into a respectable grain farm with all its buildings and amenities.
In 1905, a CPR branch line was constructed northward from Moose Jaw to Tuxford and hence northwesterly to service other farming communities. Elevators were constructed at Tuxford and Henry had a much shorter distance to haul his grain. The site, which now constitutes the Village of Tuxford, was vacant prairie prior to 1905. It was through the efforts of George Tuxford, one of the early pioneers who lobbied the president of the CPR and politicians, that the branch line northward was constructed. A community developed around the elevators and adjacent to the railway and the village became known as Tuxford.
Tuxford was the centre of what was called, in those days, “the north prairie”. It was as flat as a billiard table as far as the eye could see. Buffalo Lake to the east lay in a fairly prominent trench. Moose Jaw Creek and Thunder Creek lay in a gully south of Moose Jaw, but the Tuxford area contained no water source suitable for domestic or livestock use. It was a serious problem to the early pioneers. Usually, a “dugout” was constructed near the buildings using a team of horses and slush scrapers. Cisterns were dug by hand near the buildings and were lined and topped with concrete. Water was then hauled from the dugouts to the cisterns with horse drawn wooden tanks each holding 10 to 12 barrels of water. In the winter, a long handled dipper was used to dip water from a hole in the ice into the tank. Later, a hand-operated pump on top of the tank was used with a long hose to reach the water level. Windmills were sometimes used as a power source to pump water from the dugouts to the cisterns and again from the cisterns into the residence. Eventually, the windmills were used to generate power to run electric pumps. Did the water sitting all year in an open dugout become contaminated? I am advised that lime was used to purify water to be used for domestic purposes. A few deaths during the pioneer years were reported resulting from contaminated drinking water. It is surprising that the early pioneers lived so long.
I do not know how Henry solved the water problem on his Tuxford farm, probably as described above. His daughter, Theresa, in her memoirs, talks about a second house that Henry built for his family closer to Moose Jaw, – “We were never short of water as a ravine ran through our property and a dam was built to stop the water from flowing past the barn. There was a windmill set to pump the water into a large tank in the attic of our home which gave us running water and we had a real bathroom which was most unusual to have on a farm in those days.” From this I would conclude that Henry’s water system serving his residence on the Tuxford farm was probably crude. A photograph of his farm and buildings shows a large windmill between the house and the barn. Conceivably, it powered only a pumping system because it is doubtful that the house was served with electricity.
On considering the above, it is highly likely that on December 16, 1891, when Henry and Miriam were married, the house that Henry constructed for himself and his bride was fairly comfortable and perhaps somewhat luxurious on considering the level of luxury enjoyed by pioneers at that time. A multi-room wooden framed house was a great improvement over a one-room log cabin. The Henry Dorrells were ready to raise a family. The first child, a girl, was stillborn October 6, 1892. Then on June 2, 1894, Susanna May was born followed by Ellen Edna, my mother, on March 5, 1896 and Theresa on February 9, 1898 and Dorothy on June 29, 1900. May 6, 1906, a baby boy was stillborn.
During this period, from Henry’s marriage in 1891 to 1906, a period of some 15 years, Henry became known in the community as a trusted, reliable, hardworking family man with considerable integrity as evidenced by the following accomplishments. In November 1889, two years before his marriage, he was appointed Justice of the Peace in and for the Northwest Territories, because of his “loyalty, integrity and ability”. In his statement of net worth dated January 1, 1901, he valued his real estate, comprising 1,120 acres of land with 650 acre broken, house, buildings, fencing, etc., and a lot in Moose Jaw, at $9,200. He also owned 19 horses, 10 cattle, seven pigs, and farm machinery plus grain in storage, all valued at $7,120 for a total of $16,320 – a significant sum in those days. He took a very active and prominent part in the affairs of the agricultural community. He was one of the leaders of a team who formed the Northwest Territories Grain Growers Association, which later became the Saskatchewan Grain Growers Association and the Saskatchewan Cooperative elevator system. He was president of the Moose Jaw Exhibition Association and, in later years, when he moved from the farm to the City of Moose Jaw, he served as alderman for the 1913-1914 term.
The Dorrells enjoyed relative comfort in their farm house, but they endured the usual hardships of pioneer life as did most of their neighbours, i.e., no electricity, a precarious supply of domestic water, a primitive road system providing access to amenities in Moose Jaw some 12 miles away, transportation by horse and buggy, and the closest school at Fairwell some five miles to the northwest to mention a few. Tuxford, only two miles away, did not exist until the CPR branch line extending northward out of Moose Jaw was constructed in 1905 running along the west boundary of Henry’s original homestead. The Dorrells moved closer to Moose Jaw in 1907. Therefore, the amenities at Tuxford did not exist for most of the 16 years that they lived on the homestead.
Theresa’s memoirs and some of my own memories of my mother’s conversations provide a vision of the quality of life that Henry provided for his four daughters during those early years at the turn of the century on the homestead near Tuxford. Apparently, Henry owned his own threshing outfit. It was common practice during the threshing season for Miriam and the four daughters to deliver a hot lunch to the threshing crew via horse and buggy. During the fall and spring months, the children were driven to the Fairwell school by horse and buggy. During the winter months, a room in the house was turned into a classroom and a live-in governess was hired to deliver the lessons. The barnyard provided an exciting environment where young girls could amuse themselves year round. Theresa tells how skittish the horses behaved when they encountered a steam powered tractor on the road.
Miriam frequently travelled to Moose Jaw for supplies in her horse and buggy accompanied by one or two of her daughters. She travelled the north trail, which has now become Highway 2, which feeds into Moose Jaw’s Main Street. Theresa notes that Moose Jaw, at that time, contained unpaved streets and wooden plank sidewalks. It was not unusual to encounter several Indians sitting along the edge of the sidewalk. The girls were frightened of the Indians because of the part they played in the Reil Rebellion.
The girls’ knowledge of other countries was expanded when Henry, in need of farm help, would often hire new immigrants who were anxious to learn farming techniques before acquiring land of their own. Many of these gentlemen were well educated and quite cultured and had an influence on the knowledge and personalities of the four girls.
Every three years, Henry travelled back to England to visit his family. He would generally return with a “domestic” to help Miriam with the housework and other duties around the farm. He paid for their passage and, in return, they worked to repay the debt and continued to be employed at the going rate for a specified period of time. When they completed their obligation, there was usually a bachelor in the community ready for marriage.
One of the requirements of the governess was that she should have some musical training. Each of the daughters was given a weekly music lesson. Dorothy, the youngest daughter, was quite gifted and, in later years when the family moved to Victoria, was frequently called upon to sing at ceremonies and concerts. Edna, my mother, also took voice lessons and, although she never performed in public, as did Dorothy, her musical training gave her considerable enjoyment throughout her life.
Henry was brought up in the Anglican Church while Miriam was a Methodist. The closest church was a small Presbyterian Church some three miles from their home so the family became Presbyterians. The Sabbath was observed as a quiet day with no work being done inside or out. The church was closed during the winter. Therefore, the service was held in the Dorrell home each Sunday with a half hour of hymn singing and a communion service. Miriam made some sacramental grape wine and wafers while Henry borrowed some wine glasses from the church in Moose Jaw.
Pioneer wives were a busy lot. Miriam kept a clean home, did fancy work and made clothing for herself and the four girls. Materials were purchased by mail order from Eaton’s in Toronto every spring and fall. Theresa, in her memoirs, raves about her mother’s appetizing dinners and tasty lunches. Also, she describes Henry, her father, as a very placid man never using profane language or showing ill temper. He was a prolific reader and had many newspapers and other documents sent to him by his friends in England. He owned many volumes of the classics. In the evenings, after a day of work in the fields, he often sat with a coal oil lamp at his shoulder reading on into the night.
THE DORRELL FAMILY’S SECOND FARM
NEAR MOOSE JAW, 1907-1911
Life for the Dorrell girls changed in 1907. May was 13 and had completed all the schooling that was available nearby at Fairwell. The Tuxford High School was not constructed until 1910. Earlier Henry had purchased a half section of land only one mile north of Moose Jaw as it existed at that time. Today, this land lies within the City boundary and contains the Lynbrook Golf Course and several housing developments. Theresa reports that in 1907 Henry sold the Tuxford farm and built a substantial five-bedroom home and a barn on the land closer to Moose Jaw. A coulee ran through the property which collected runoff water during the spring and on into the early summer. Henry built a reinforced concrete dam which entrapped sufficient water within the coulee to provide a secure year round water source for both domestic purposes and stock watering. A windmill provided the power to pump water from the reservoir to a cistern in the attic of the house and hence to the taps via a gravity system. This was considered a luxury in those days. Further, the house was wired for electricity anticipating that eventually electricity would be provided from some source or other.
Theresa recalls that life became much more comfortable after moving to the new farm house. Henry purchased two new passenger buggies with rubber tires and headlamps for night travel. The girls had a pony with a side-saddle, which they shared. Theresa states in her memoirs, – “We had a lovely life on the second farm, driving to school every morning and on Friday night we would bring home a pal or two for the weekend. In the winter, we skated on the ice in the ravine and went sleigh riding on the hills.”
Growing up in Moose Jaw in the 1930s and early 1940s, I lived near the City’s north boundary and only a mile or two from the Dorrell’s second farm. I often hiked across the prairie once owned by my grandfather, accompanied by one or two of my brothers, in pursuit of gophers to either trap or shoot. Henry’s dam had partially collapsed but was still able to hold back enough water to form a muddy slough. If we chased a gopher down its hole within walking distance of the slough, we would bucket water from the slough to the gopher hole. When the drowning gopher reappeared at the surface, our dog, Jack, would finish the job. During the winter months, the slough froze over, and it was a popular Saturday or Sunday event to clear the ice and practice our hockey skills. Water had eroded the clay behind the concrete dam to form a cave of sufficient size to accommodate a bonfire and half a dozen young hockey players. With temperatures hovering around minus 30°, the bonfire within the smoky cave provided a welcome refuge where we could thaw out or occasionally seek shelter from a hostile prairie blizzard.
Theresa’s “ice in the ravine” was the same ice my generation skated on 30 years later and we, too, enjoyed the same sleigh riding hills. In a letter that Theresa wrote to my cousin, George Seaborn, in the 1970s, she states “I feel that I had wonderful parents and they made life pretty nice for their four daughters.” Henry had many successes during his lifetime on the prairies but the life style that he and his wife, Miriam, provided for their four daughters was probably his greatest achievement.
My memory of the old farm house is very faint but I do recall the day it burned down. I might have been five or six years old. The day after the fire, my parents and my siblings drove to the site where the ashes were still smoldering. I wondered why my mother was crying. I also recall often visiting the grove of trees, which Henry had planted around the farmyard to protect against dust storms and blizzards. Any grove of trees on the prairie was a playground for kids. The crotch formed by a main stem and a branch was good slingshot material. I doubt that Henry ever thought that his plantings would be used by his grandson for this purpose 30 years later.
THE MOOSE JAW RESIDENCY, 1911-1915
By 1911, Moose Jaw was booming and several substantial red brick high schools were being constructed. Victoria School was built in 1889, Alexander and King Edward in 1905, Central Collegiate and Empire in 1910, King George in 1912 and Prince Arthur in 1913. It is not surprising that Henry was motivated to move to town so his daughters could enjoy a better education. The joyous country life ended for the four Dorrell girls in 1911 when Henry sold his second farm and moved into the City of Moose Jaw. A land speculator anticipating that Moose Jaw was on the verge of growing northward offered Henry $135 per acre cash for his half section, – an offer which he could not refuse. In those days, such an offer was almost unheard of. Some four or five years earlier, Henry had purchased two town lots within the City at the corner of Ominica Street and 5th Avenue on which he built a stable. The horse and buggy used to transport the four girls to and from school waited in the stable until the girls were ready to return home after classes. When he sold the farm, Henry demolished the stable and built a 2 1/2 storey red brick house thereon.
The farm equipment and all the livestock were sold. He was finished farming but he remained active as a City alderman and as a member of various agricultural committees including the Saskatchewan Grain Growers Association and the Moose Jaw Exhibition Association. He bought an open-top McLaughlin Buick car with polished brass trim and acetylene gas lamps for headlights. It served him well in town but was occasionally stuck in the mud on the clay country roads. He often paid a nearby farmer $5 to pull him out of the mud with his team of horses.
Henry’s 1901 valuation statement showing a net worth of $13,300 is interesting when we consider that only 10 years later, in 1911, he had sold both farms along with equipment and livestock and his net worth must have been many times the 1901 figure. The half section close to Moose Jaw sold for $43,200 (320 acres @ $135 per acre) while the sale of the 1,120 acres closer to Tuxford must have put his net worth very close to $100,000, – a fortune in those days. It is not surprising then that, in the summer of 1911, he took the family for a two-month holiday to the west coast via railway. Theresa comments in her memoirs that, in order to avoid missing any scenery, they overnighted in various cities then continued their train journey only during the daylight hours. The first night they stopped in Medicine Hat, the second night Kamloops and the third night they reached Vancouver, – a miraculous trip for a family used to travelling by horse and buggy. They took a ferry to Victoria where they rented a home on Dallas Road for six weeks. Before returning to Moose Jaw, they tripped down to Seattle and Portland. After returning home, Henry took his daughters, May and Edna, with him on a trip to England during the winter of 1912 and returned in the month of May. My mother, Edna, spoke frequently about this trip and meeting her Uncle Will, Henry’s brother.
Two years later, in the summer of 1914, the family made another trip to Victoria. On returning to Moose Jaw, Henry decided to retire in Victoria and in March the following year he made yet another trip to Victoria and bought a large 2 1/2 storey home at 110 Eberts Street, close to the seashore. In July 1915, the family moved into the new home in Victoria.
The four girls completed their education in Victoria. May became a teacher, Edna a nurse, Theresa a medical receptionist and Dorothy a secretary.
RETIREMENT IN VICTORIA, B.C.
During the depression in the 1930s, Henry’s financial fortunes dwindled. Most of his investments were in Moose Jaw where prairie farmers were hard-hit by drought and the economic depression. Sometime during the 1930s, he sold the big house on Eberts Street and moved to a much smaller home at 1022 Bank Street. Miriam died March 27, 1940 at the age of 73 years. Soon after his wife’s death, Henry sold their second Victoria house and moved in with his youngest daughter, Dorothy, and her husband, Tom Sehl, at 2642 Dalhousie Street, Victoria.
Henry revisited Moose Jaw at least a couple of times after his move to Victoria. The Moose Jaw Times Herald records his presence at a celebration attended by the “oldtimers” of the Moose Jaw area. I can recall one visit when my father drove him to the Agricultural Exhibition grounds where he stood motionless for perhaps 10 to 15 minutes while he was entertained by nostalgic memories of the old days when he was president of the Exhibition Association. I do not recall any conversations with my grandfather but I still have a vision of him sitting in a chair in our living room, barely visible through the smoke from his pipe. On his last visit in March 1947, he slipped on the ice in front of our house and could not get back on his feet. It is not known how long he sat on the ice until my mother, looking through the window, saw the problem and rushed out to help him to his feet. There were no bones broken but he was 87 years of age and he never recovered from the shock. My mother put him to bed and he died a few days later. A funeral service was held in Moose Jaw and he was buried beside his wife, Miriam, in the Colwood Burial Park in Victoria.