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The story of the Hazle family:
Raymond and his first wife, Ada and his second wife, Mildred.
Raymond Ernest Hazle left his home in England in 1914 to start a new life in Canada for himself and his family. He was born May 21, 1874 in London, to Joseph and Eliza (Baker) Hazle. His family was very well-to-do and he was raised as a gentleman. He was brought up in the Westminster Abbey church school and sang in the choir at the Abbey. He was very much a product of his times. Unfortunately, he was not taught how to handle money, so that when he received his inheritance, he made some bad investments and eventually lost most of it.
Ada Edith Smith, Raymond’s first wife, and mother to the first family, was born on November 4, 1879 to James and Emma Maude (Chappell) Smith. She, too, came from a well-to-do family. There were 11 children in the Smith family. A brother, Claude Herbert, emigrated to Canada in the early 1900’s and homesteaded in southern Saskatchewan, near Readlyn. Claude was known and well respected by relatives and friends in Canada, many of whom called him simply, “Uncle”.
Both families owned large real estate holdings, plus a number of pubs, and they knew each other socially. Eventually Raymond came a-courting Ada and they married on November 12, 1902. After Raymond and Ada married, they lived in Ballam, where all four children were born: Raymond Arthur Joseph Hazle on September 7, 1903, Edith Annie, on April 1, 1905, Ernest Claude, on June 8, 1908 and Ronald Henry, on June 22, 1909. (Ray says he was named after his Dad, his Dad’s brother Arthur and his Dad’s father Joseph — they figured if there was any money in the family he would get it, but Ray says instead of that he had to work for it!)
When the children were young and the family still living in England, life was probably pretty luxurious. The family had nursemaids and Ray remembers having a “lovely life” in England in the early days. Raymond and Ada often went cruising on the Thames on a Sunday afternoon with their friends and relatives. There is a picture in the family of one of these cruises — very elegant — all the ladies in long fancy dresses and hats, and the men in 3-piece suits and bowler or straw hats.
Uncle (Claude Smith, Ada’s brother) emigrated first to the United States, possibly Boston. He was working in a carborundum factory when he heard about a land giveaway in Canada, so he came up to Saskatchewan to put in a claim. In order to qualify for the land, the homesteaders were required to live on it for six months of the year and to “break” ten acres a year. Each winter, Uncle lived in Moose Jaw, working to raise money to buy machinery and supplies to do him for the following summer.
Uncle returned to England for Christmas of 1913 and Ada spent a great deal of time talking with him about life in Canada. Raymond was drinking rather more than she was happy about, and she wanted to get him away from his drinking buddies. Her plan was for Raymond to return with Uncle in the spring and help with the farm, and then for her and the four children to follow later in the fall, once he was established. Uncle did his best to dissuade her, because he knew what the winters were like and what pioneering life was like in Saskatchewan at that time. But she was determined that the family should start a new life in Canada, and finally convinced Uncle to let the family come. So Raymond and Uncle sailed on the RMS Victoria, arriving in New York on March 12, 1914.
When Raymond left England, he left Ada with three gold sovereigns (about three pounds) to keep the home going. Ada sold the home in London and did all the packing, quite a chore at a time when women didn’t do those kinds of things. She packed up many of the family pictures, some of the children’s toys, even some of the Christmas ornaments.
Ada and the children left London on August 1, 1914, just three days before war was declared. Edith used to say that they were “on the high seas when war broke out.” They came out on the New York to New York. Ada met a lovely couple on the boat, which made a nice break for her, as she was travelling alone with four children who were then about 5 to 11 years old.
One of Ray’s memories of the boat trip concerns his cap! Ada had gone all over London to buy warm hats with earmuffs for the children. She finally found something warm and the first wind blew Ray’s overboard. He remembers watching it float until it sank. Ray says, “I had the responsibility of looking after the kids and I couldn’t even look after my own cap!”
Ada and the children stayed in New York with one of her brothers for a week. They travelled by train all the way to Readlyn, stopping with another brother in Detroit for a week. Those were the only breaks they had. Ray remembers it as being a terrible trip. They were in what was called a “tourist car,” which had a stove at the end where Ada cooked the meals.
When Uncle and Raymond arrived in March of 1914 they set about building a new house for the family, but it was only half finished when Ada arrived in September. It must have been a heart-breaker for her to see, after having lived in a lovely brick home in England. The winters were long and cold, and there was no insulation in the house. In the early days they brought in a fresh pail of water from the well at night, ready for their morning needs. Invariably, it was frozen solid the next morning because they couldn’t get enough coal to keep the house warm all night.
Life on the farm was very harsh. Raymond had been very much a gentleman in England and was not used to working with his hands or doing hard work. When he came to Canada, he figured he was going to become a gentleman farmer and drive a spanking-new team of horses. He had already lost a lot of his money before he left England, mostly through poor investments, but he did continue to receive some dividends after he arrived in Canada. These eventually dried up and as there was very little income from the farm to begin with, at least until the land could be broken and wheat planted, life was pretty tough.
The land they homesteaded was also poor. The homesteaders saw the “Lake of the Rivers” and it reminded them of farms by the lochs in Scotland, so they picked out acreage near the lake. But the land was very stony and it had to be broken up. Also, it looked fine when the lake was full but when the water level dropped, they found that the land was alkali. According to Ray, Uncle had a “poor broken-down farm” but he worked hard and, with Ray’s help in later years, gradually built it up into a prosperous farm, partly by diversifying — with chickens and cows.
One of the jobs the kids had to do was to pick up the stones and rocks from the fields. You can still see piles of rocks in the corners of many fields. They had a “stone-boat” which was basically two timbers on the ground with planks across them. The stone-boat was pulled across the fields and the kids loaded the rocks on. Edith told of a time in later years when Percy, her husband, was standing on an empty stone-boat, holding the reins, and the horses took it into their heads to hightail it for the barn, tossing Percy off backwards. One of the hazards of farming!
Soon after the family moved to Canada, Ada became ill and died in September of 1915. Edith was never sure just what she died of, but thought that it was probably tuberculosis (or consumption as it was called in those days) or leukemia or even depression. Ray says, “She took to her bed after we came to Canada and she never left it.” Edith remembers her wasting away for months. She always said that her Mom died of “a broken heart” and I’m sure that must have contributed to her death. She was a strong, independent woman but the hardships of farm life with minimal amenities, and a very harsh winter were probably just too much for her. She may have been sick before she left England and was determined to see her family settled before she died.
After Ada died, Raymond and the four children continued to stay with Uncle on the farm. When Uncle joined the Army in 1916, Raymond was now on his own with the children. He managed to keep the farm going while Uncle was away but it was very difficult as money was tight. Raymond had wanted to join up but Uncle wouldn’t let him. He said, “I’m younger than you — and it’s your place to stay home with your family, not mine.”
Life was harsh in pioneer Saskatchewan at that time. The four children had to learn very quickly to become self-reliant. Nobody had much money and all the settlers did what they could to help each other out. Raymond got a job hauling the mail twice a week, from Maxwellton and Davyroyd to Willows, involving a trip of about fourteen miles each way. He earned $30 a month, which was quite a lot of money in those days. It helped to keep the family in groceries.
On one of these mail trips, Raymond was stuck in town while a blizzard raged for three days. He had left the four children at home with instructions that if, for any reason, he couldn’t make it back, the animals would be OK until he returned and they were not to worry about them. Once the blizzard came up he couldn’t chance coming home in the storm. Ray and Edith became concerned about the animals so decided to try to get out to the barn to feed them.
When the family came to Canada they “didn’t believe in the smell of animals” so they had built the barn 125 yards away from the house — hopefully the smell wouldn’t penetrate to the house. Halfway between the house and the barn was an unroofed granary. It was usually used to store the grain but at this time there was no grain so the turkeys were kept in it. During the blizzard it filled up with snow and the turkeys suffocated.
Ray and Edith left the two younger boys in the house. They could see the granary from the house and made their way to it, after securing a rope to the door of the house. From the granary, they could see the barn, and were able to it safely. They used the rope to guide them back to the house after feeding the animals and getting more coal. Had anything happened to Ray and Edith, Ray is sure that Ernie and Ron would have frozen to death, too. At that time they burned lignite coal which was found in the hills near Readlyn. This is very soft coal — and very wet. It was always difficult to get the fire going well enough to dry out the coal. Ernie and Ron would probably not have been able to keep the fire going on their own. Ray doesn’t remember much about what they had to eat, but he does remember cooking toast on top of the cook stove, and eating it with lard. By the time Raymond got back, the horses were exhausted and the children were out of food. I’m sure Raymond must have expected the children to be frozen to death by the time he returned. They had managed to keep the cook stove going during the day and then they had all huddled together at night to keep warm. Ray remembers waking up in the morning with hoar frost on top of the covers.
It’s hard to imagine that these were city kids not long out from London. What a change from their easy life in England to the harsh life on the Prairies, but they seem to have become pretty resourceful in a very short time.
Ron told his girls a story of his pony, Star. He had a beautiful brown coat and a white star between his eyes. One winter, they had no food for the starving animals and his father sent him out to shoot the pony. Ron took his rifle and went to the barn. He told how he held the gun on his beloved pony and of how his arms shook. He aimed for the star and finally got the nerve to fire. The bullet hit and the pony shook his head and looked back at Ron, unharmed. That did the young boy in and he raced to his Dad and told him what had happened and that he couldn’t do it again. Raymond went out with an axe and did the job for his son. Ron was always grateful to his Dad for saving him from having to kill his own pony.
At Christmas, Raymond would tell the kids to get to bed so Santa could come, and they’d scurry off and lay awake listening in hopes of catching Santa. Raymond would shake the sleigh bells very faintly, gradually getting louder and louder, and then he would talk to Santa. After a while he would shake the bells again and they would seem to fade away. Needless to say, the kids were afraid to open their eyes, thinking they wouldn’t get any presents if Santa knew they were still awake.
Another story tells of one very bleak Christmas on the farm. There was very little money for food, let alone any extras. Some years the only gift in the stockings would be an orange, but that was very special to the kids. This particular Christmas, though, there wasn’t enough money even for an orange Four very disappointed children awoke on Christmas morning to empty stockings. Later in the day, there was a knock on the door. It was their neighbour, Mr. Stringer. He asked the kids if Santa had been there and they sadly shook their heads. He told them that he thought maybe that was the case and he produced a bag with the name “Hazle” on it. He said that he had found it on the road and he just knew it must have fallen off Santa’s sleigh! It was filled with food and toys for all! It was one of the children’s happiest Christmas memories and one of the boys always said that Mr. Stringer surely earned a spot in heaven for his kindness. Edith was very fond of the Stringers and I’m sure this was just one of their many kindnesses to the family that helped to provide a few happy memories for the kids.
The kids missed a lot of school during the spring and fall because they had to help with the farm. They used to ride to school in a small cart. One of the horses could be pretty skittish at the best of times and would not allow anyone near her belly unless they were milking her for her foal. Often, the other kids at school took great delight in tickling her under her belly to get her all riled up. Then the Hazle kids would have quite a time settling her down so they could hitch her up for the ride home. Another one of the horses was very good about finding its way home — you just had to get her headed towards the barn and she’d make it home, even in a snowstorm.
Even though they had to work really hard to help keep the farm going, they did make their own fun. Ray remembers playing hide and seek in the dark, and swimming in the lake. Edith used to tell us how she and the three boys would climb up on the roof of the barn and the boys would have a contest to see how far each one could pee. Edith was always annoyed because she couldn’t join in the fun!!
One time Raymond was taking a piano out to Davyroyd on a small sleigh. There were great ruts in the road from the sleighs. The piano fell off and Raymond couldn’t lift it up by himself to put it back on again. So it lay there in the snow until Raymond and a few other men could go back later with a stoneboat to load it back on again. I shudder to think of the condition of the piano after it had been left in the snow for a few days!
With Uncle away in the Army, Raymond was finding it very difficult to manage the farm and look after the kids. Back in England, his sister Emma, knew Mildred Mary Wing (born February 18, 1887) who lived in Barnes, near Surrey. Her parents were middle class merchants. Aunt Emma suggested that Mildred emigrate to Canada to keep house for Raymond. But Mildred would not come unless Raymond married her. The children begged him not to remarry — they felt they were managing just fine and didn’t need another mother. However, Raymond really felt that he needed a woman in the house so he agreed. Mildred came out by train (from New York) in 1917 and got off by mistake at Forget, which is over 125 miles east of Readlyn, and Raymond had to go by train to pick her up. He and Mildred were married in the fall of 1917. They had five children: Joy Emily born October 20, 1918, Stanley born June 24, 1920, Sidney Bradley and Oliver Baker born March 5, 1922 and Arthur Louis born November 25, 1925.
Martha Pearson (mother of Percy, who Edith later married) was the local midwife and attended at the births of the children of the second family. She was a strong and capable person and they were always glad to see her. As Raymond had no money Martha took calves for payment — calves that they couldn’t raise themselves.
Uncle was still overseas. He was injured at one point and was sent back to England where he stayed in a home that had been converted to a convalescent hospital. The woman who ran it had no use for the Colonials (which Uncle was, of course) but, according to Edith, Uncle charmed the socks off of her and she changed her tune. Uncle never talked much about his Army days, but we do know that he was at both Vimy Ridge and Passchendale, major battles in the First World War in which the Canadians distinguished themselves and in which there was much loss of life. Uncle was finally discharged in 1919 and sent home. He walked from Moose Jaw to the farm, a matter of about 70 miles. When Uncle returned from the war, Raymond felt he had to get a farm of his own for his family and his new wife. He took the only land close by that was available but it was not good land — it was very sandy and stony.
Stanley died on April 4, 1922, at less than 2 years of age, possibly of the flu. There appears to have been some kind of an epidemic in 1922, as there are several graves of young children in the Davyroyd churchyard, all dated around 1922.
Mildred returned to England for a visit in early 1923, taking Joy, Sid and Oliver, and also Edith to help her look after them. Once Mildred got to England, she decided to stay, but Raymond wrote a beautiful letter encouraging her to return, which she did. Art was born to Raymond and Mildred a couple of years later.
In October of 1923 Edith, aged 18, married Percy Pearson, eldest son of William and Martha, and Edith moved to Percy’s farm. There were many very bad years in the 1920’s and ’30’s — with often very little rain in the spring, high temperatures in the summer, and four to five feet of snow in the winter. The “Dirty 30’s” were particularly hard — with no rain, and with dust storms blowing away the topsoil. Many people couldn’t even afford to buy seed to replant so they just walked away from the land. Basically that’s what Edith and Percy did in 1927 — with many years of drought, dust storms, crop failures and grasshoppers behind them, the final payoff was a hail storm which wiped out what looked to be a reasonably good crop, so they decided to leave. They loaded what they could in their old Model T Ford and with their two children, Joan and Hazel, and Percy’s parents, Martha and Will, drove out to Victoria to join Percy’s brother, Vic, who had moved out earlier.
Meanwhile, Raymond, Mildred and the four children continued to live on Raymond’s farm. The children attended Roselea School, but could only go in spring and fall as they lived four miles away and had no means of transportation in -30 and -40 degree weather. Raymond suffered from severe depression and was placed in the Weyburn Institution around 1930. Mildred stayed on the farm for a while and Uncle kept them supplied with vegetables and potatoes as he always had good gardens. But she couldn’t manage the farm alone so she and the family moved into Readlyn in 1931. Bill Wothe, a friend and neighbour, rented Raymond’s farm and worked the land. By this time, Ray was working on Uncle’s farm, Edith was married, and Ernie and Ron were on their own. Mildred and Sid were the school janitors for many years. They looked after the school furnace and Ray remembers Mildred’s hands always being black from handling the lignite coal. They lived on about $20 a month as janitors plus what she received from Welfare. Mildred did everything she could to provide for herself and the children. Sid remembers going at 7 a.m. in the winter when it was cold and still dark, carrying a lantern, to have the furnace going for the school to be warm by 9 a.m. He had to tend to the furnace all day then stay afterwards to sweep three classrooms while his buddies went out to play ball or to skate. Sid also met the train daily to pick up the mail, and deliver it to the Post Office. He had to be bonded and was pretty proud to have such a responsible job as a kid.
When Mildred’s children were young they loved to go out to Uncle’s farm. Uncle was wonderful at making butter and root beer. Everybody liked to go to the farm because there were two dugouts for swimming — and even diving boards!! Uncle would come in to town with the horse and wagon, hauling grain, and he’d get the kids and take them back out to the farm. It would take hours to get there and back. It was a big deal for the kids, but it was the kind of thing Uncle would be glad to do for them. Every summer Oliver and Sid helped Uncle and Ray on the farm — often going as soon as school was out at the end of June and staying through harvest. They loved the farm and looked forward to that time. They also had fun in the winter — Sid, Oliver and a friend often spent hours digging tunnels in the snowdrifts.
Edith was concerned about Raymond being in Weyburn Institution and she went back to the Prairies to bring him out to Victoria, probably about 1937. He lived with Edith’s family for a while, but eventually he had to be put into a nursing home in Victoria where he died of bronchial pneumonia on August 6, 1943.
All six Hazle sons were in the services during the Second World War. Ray was in the Army in Winnipeg, and Ernie was in the Army in England, where he was hurt in a motorcycle accident and spent some time in hospital. Ron was in the American Navy stationed in Hawaii, Art was in the Army stationed at Shilo, Manitoba, and Sid and Oliver were both in the Navy. Oliver was killed in Sicily in the Italian campaign in 1943. After the war the Saskatchewan government named formerly unnamed lakes in the northern part of the province in memory of “the boys who didn’t come back.” Hazle Lake is named after Oliver and is about 300k north of North Battleford.
Sid and Art, the only surviving children, are both living in Calgary.
No story of the Hazle family would be complete without a special mention of “Uncle” Claude Smith. He was a very special person for all the children in both families who considered him “the most wonderful guy in the world.” His steady presence was probably the saving grace for the first family in their adjustment to farm life and their mother’s death and he was a wonderful support to Mildred and her children. Besides being a good worker on the farm, he was very good in the kitchen, and was probably the mainstay for the whole family. He never married, but all the Hazle children became his family. He was known simply as “Uncle.”
Ray continued to farm with Uncle for many years. In 1947 he married Violet Crawford and brought her and her three children from a previous marriage to the farm to live. Uncle was very self-sufficient around the house and was an excellent cook, but he welcomed Vi into the home and according to Ray, he did everything he could to make her happy and comfortable. According to Ray, “He even got the electric power in for her.” He was a very gentle man. Vi told a story about trying to cook for the two men. When she and Ray were first married she was dying to have some fresh rhubarb so she made a rhubarb pie. Uncle said, “Your pie’s very nice, Violet, but couldn’t you find anything else to put in it?” That was his gentle way of telling her that he didn’t really like rhubarb.
Sid says that he and Ollie and Art got very close to Uncle, who used to take them down to the Lake of the Rivers to teach them how to swim. Uncle probably became the father that they lost when Raymond went into the home in Weyburn.
Uncle eventually retired to Cobble Hill, British Columbia, and moved to Victoria in 1973 where he lived with Edith for some years. He died in Victoria on September 2, 1987 at the age of 103. Art organized a memorial service in Davyroyd Church near Readlyn and over 125 people came for the service. That was quite a tribute to a gentle caring man — a man with no children of his own, but a man who left a wonderful legacy for the eight Hazle children and their descendants, and also for the many friends and neighbours who knew him on the Prairies. For the Hazle family, he was the most wonderful guy in the world.
Thus, the story of a man, Raymond, who was a product of his times — a real gentleman and a gentle man, who was caught up in circumstances that he couldn’t control; of two women, Ada and Mildred, who left fairly comfortable lives in England to come to a remote, undeveloped part of Canada to try to make a life for themselves and their children under very harsh, primitive conditions; and of Ada’s brother, Claude, known as Uncle, who was the mainstay, helping the family to survive through some very troubled times. All four dealt with events in the best way they knew how and in the process raised eight fine children, all of whom have contributed much to society and have, in turn, produced many fine descendants — descendants who are scattered across Canada from British Columbia to Ontario, and into Illinois, Colorado and Washington in the United States.
Written by Vera E. Foster, daughter of Edith (Hazle) Pearson