Home Town or Home Community:
Hilldrop School District
William Lawrence Mason and Violet Rosetta Thibideau
We submit this account of the family of William Lawrence and Violet Rosetta Mason in recognition of their homesteading efforts in the Province of Saskatchewan. As the grandchildren of these settlers, we also wish to acknowledge the legacy passed on to us by our parents, the children of William and Violet.
These memories are written from the point of view of their grandchildren. Facts of the early years of homesteading are included when available. We hope that this William Lawrence and Violet Rosetta Mason Family History will be of interest to others and that it will make a contribution to the history of our province.
- II. ROOTS
The Mason ancestors emigrated from England to Ontario in 1878. Our Grandfather, William Lawrence Mason, was born in Durham County on July 16, 1879 and laid in a cradle that is still cradling infants into the fifth generation of our family.
The Masons made three moves in Ontario before the move to Saskatchewan. In 1871 the Canadian government had passed the “Dominion Land Act.” No doubt this was an incentive to make another move. Had they finally found the land they were looking for?
Grandpa’s parents Lawrence Ashton and Mary (Grigg) Mason and siblings came to Saskatchewan, too.
Our Grandmother, Violet Rosetta Thibideau was born in Ontario on October 19, 1877 to Louie and Amelia (Kaye) Thibideau. At birth she was so tiny that it was impossible to dress her so she was wrapped in cloths and laid on a pillow.
There is a scarcity of information about their youth. We have Grandpa’s ‘Entrance Certificate’ to Seaforth High School dated July 23rd, 1895. Oral history relates that Grandma had only a Primary School education in spite of the fact that she was one of the most intelligent women we were privileged to know. She apparently left school to work as a “hired girl”.
It is said that Will was attracted to Violet as she was the girl with the sweet voice who sang in the choir of the local Congregational Church. On February 27, 1901 the lanky six foot plus Will and the diminutive five foot Violet were married by license in Harriston, Wellington County, Ontario.
III LOOKING FOR A HOME
Just as many of the grandchildren of William Lawrence and Violet Rosetta Mason have left their birth places in search of a place where they could fulfill their dreams, so this young couple left Ontario in 1905 to settle in Saskatchewan. They knew this could be a one-way journey and that they may never see their birth places and the rest of their family again.
Will and Violet came to Saskatchewan on a “Harvest Excursion” accompanied by their two young sons, Ross and Howard. They stayed with Will’s brother, Fred Mason, on his homestead near Shellbrook. Will proceeded to build a house on his homestead at SW quarter of 18, Township 49, Range 4, West of the 3rd Meridian. This land is located in the Parkland Region, eight miles (about 13 kilometres) west of the Town of Shellbrook on Highway # 3.
Four more sons and one daughter were born and raised in what became a three room log house. The house was destroyed by fire in 1976, but the farmstead is easily identified by the distinctive row of Manitoba Maple trees our Grandfather planted around the original house many years ago.
In 1980 a granddaughter and her husband built a new home on that site. A hundred years later, the homestead originally settled by our grandparents, William and Violet Mason is still owned and occupied by a family member, Sharon and Ralph Korody.
Records show that Will’s application for the homestead was filed in 1905. Requirements of the Dominion Land Act were a $10 fee, three year residency, cultivation of thirty acres minimum, a house and other building to be constructed, valued at least $300. Grandpa Mason “proved up” his homestead in 1909, thereby receiving title to this quarter section (160 acres) of land in the mixed prairie area of Saskatchewan. As the family was raised, six more quarter sections of land were acquired as Will’s goal was to set up each of his sons in farming.
When we visited our Grandparent’s log house, it consisted of a large kitchen, dining and living room combined and two separate bedrooms. The living room contained a long dining table, home built china cupboard, a cream separator, a large wood burning cook stove, a washstand, oil lamps and an ornate Aladdin Lamp. Grandson, Don Anderson, is reminded of a large clock which hung on the wall whenever he sings the song “Grandfather’s Clock.”
There was also a porch which served as an entry hall to the living area. In the summer months it became a “summer kitchen”. The cooking stove was moved out into the summer kitchen and in later years there was also a pump which supplied water.
The “master bedroom” contained two double beds with feather ticks and homemade patchwork quilts which were cozy, even in the summer. One bed was for Grandma and Grandpa and under it was the china chamber pot, shared by all. We slept in the other bed when we visited.
One bedroom became the guest room in later years. Its attractions were the piano and a bookcase containing copies of the National Geographic magazine. Such a treat for the grandchildren to look at pictures from all over the world!
Many of the original furnishings are in the possession of family members still today:
– the big mirror with hooks for hats
– the “high boy.’’ In later years Grandpa kept his false teeth in the top drawer of this dresser because he seldom put them into his mouth, preferring to “jaw” it.
– a trunk which looks as if it carried their possessions when they moved West
-the Gourley piano, purchased from Collard & Collard Ltd. Saskatoon
There were always other musical instruments, too – guitar, violin, and mouth organ, which all the Masons were encouraged to play.
Besides the log house, we remember the two story barn built on a hill adjacent to the driveway. The first level had stalls for several horses and the second level was the hay loft. Due to the slope of the land the hay loft was accessible at ground level from the west side. We were forbidden to play there because on the east side where the hay was forked down to feed the livestock, there was a considerable drop to the ground. We know now this was for our safety, but it was such an ideal location for hide and seek or tag games that we felt deprived of a perfect play area when we were young. In the same way we were not allowed to pull up water from the well by the bucket attached to a rope and pulley. Cousins loved to hear the echo when they called down into the well. Nor were we supposed to climb the Maple trees in the orchard either, but some of our daring cousins would play “skin the cat” and hide-and-seek there. Ronald Mason remembers leading the horse while Grandpa cultivated the garden plot.
We were always welcome to holiday at our Grandparents’ home, but there were rules to follow. Grandma Mason ruled with a stern hand and imparted her high moral values to the family.
V. MAKING A LIVING
According to oral history, Grandpa Mason owned a team of oxen. They would have been used for clearing and breaking the land. Will, along with many of his neighbours, freighted goods from Prince Albert to Big River during the winter months as the railway was not built to this region until 1910. The North Saskatchewan River was crossed by ferry during the summer and on the ice during the winter. The one way trip took six days and the freighter made about $10 per trip. There were “stopping houses” along the trail. Sometimes travelers along the Green Lake Trail which linked the reserves of Mistawasis and Sandy Lake and then on to Green Lake stopped at the Mason home.
Soon horses were bought to do this work. Eventually the Masons owned twenty-one work horses and in the 1940’s there were still eight horses used in the farming operation.
They bought a Hart Parr tractor in 1928 and a Red River Special Grain Separator the next year. The Mason threshing crew served their own harvesting needs as well as those of their neighbours. A “Time Book” for the years 1929 and 1930 records the work done for local farmers by the Mason Threshing Crew and their hours and wages. For example, on September 18, 1929, 82 loads of bundles were threshed, yielding 752 bushels of barley, 130 bushels of oats, and 720 bushels of wheat.
Three of Will’s sons, Ross, Walter and Ernest were part of the crew of twelve men. The crewmen were paid at the rate of $4.50 per day with deductions made for the purchasing of items such as snuff ($1.10), sox ($.85) and rubbers ($2). The men were paid $2.50 a day for stooking and $1.00 per day for odd jobs. The tattered pages of this Book indicate that it was carried in Will’ pocket for it is grease stained with fragments of straw and seeds still lodged within its pages and in its spine.
Will was a very particular farmer. He used to send out his sons to pick weeds out of the grain in the fields. He kept a farm record of sales from 1913 to 1945 which is recorded in “Reflections of the Past” page 592 .
In addition, there is a “Cash Book” in which our Grandfather recorded transactions from 1947 to 1962, the year before he died. It is neatly written in his beautiful handwriting. On August 11, 1953 a Swather was purchased for the sum of $718.86. On March 7th 1953 he sold 27 bushels of #3 wheat on quota at the rate of $1.35 1/2 for an income of $36.25. These records are still in the possession of the family.
Violet’s life was consumed with the care of a household of nine, plus hired men, threshing crews, and travelers at times. For her, recreation would be berry picking, quilting, knitting for her children and grandchildren, and other useful enterprises. A teacher at Hilldrop in 1926, tells about picking cranberries with her friend, Ethel Mason. Violet froze the berries in a barrel for the winter tarts and cranberry sauce.
In the spring Grandma planted Morning Glories and Pansies by the door to greet the visitors. Whenever we see these flowers, we are reminded of her.
Grandma is remembered hanging washing on the clothesline, ironing with the sad irons which were always on the stove, or scrubbing and cleaning. After electricity came to the farm her son Ernest’s family gave her an electric iron. One hot day he noticed she was wilting over her sad irons. “Why aren’t you using your new iron? “ Ernest asked. She lowered her eyes and in a small voice said, “I’m frightened of it.”
Most of all she seemed always to be at her big wood stove cooking with her cast iron pot or griddle, roasting meat or baking bread in the oven. Ronald Mason swears that Grandma made the juiciest cinnamon buns. Two of the recipes that are favourites with the family are included.
Grandma Mason’s Sugar Cookies
1 cup butter 1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla
31/2 cups flour 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
Cream together first four ingredients. Add dry ingredients. Chill.
Roll dough 1/4 inch thick. Cut out with clean can that has top and bottom removed. Bake 375 F. for 6 to 8 minutes. Very sweet. No need to ice.
Baking Powder Biscuits
4 cups flour 1 cup dripping
1 cup white sugar 4 rounded teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt 1 cup milk
1 cup currants or raisins.
Mix together. Bake at 375 F. until done. They were sometimes served with Maple Syrup, a reminder of their roots in Ontario.
This biscuit has been made with 2 cups Stone Ground Flour and 2 cups White Flour to demonstrate one of the uses of the flour ground at Pionera at the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon.
Another enterprise of the Mason family was the operation of the Hilldrop Post Office from 1906 to 1916. It was an opportunity for neighbours to stop for a visit as well as for the mail. They were usually offered a cup of tea and the story is told of one guest who looked at his cup and exclaimed, “Mrs. Mason, you forgot to put the tea in the pot.” He was quickly informed that the Mason family always drank Green Tea, a custom brought with them from Ontario.
The Masons also had a “Traveling Library” in their home which was likely circulated by the University of Saskatchewan.
Hilldrop School #1348 was constructed in 1906 with lumber hauled from Prince Albert by Fred. and Will Mason by horses and wagon for $14 per load. All of Will and Violet’s children and Thirteen of their grandchildren attended this school. Will became Secretary-Treasurer of the School Board in 1916 and remained in this position until 1950. Several teachers boarded at the Mason home. Hilldrop School closed in 1959. It stands on Highway #3 and is designated “as a tribute to our pioneers”.
There was no church building in Hilldrop. A Rev. Porter came from Parkside and held services in the Mason home. We know that when son Walter broke his leg and there was a difficult period of healing that the family turned to the faith healing beliefs of Christian Science. In later years the United Church of Canada Ministers from Shellbrook conducted 2 pm services in Hilldrop School and that was part of our experience as summer holiday visitors at Grandma and Grandpa Masons’. Violet became the first President of the Cameo-Hilldrop Ladies Aid in 1937. Arthur Mason, eldest Grandson, is the keeper of the Mason Family Bible.
There were many activities such as dances, football games and housewarming parties held in Hilldrop and the neighbouring communities of Cameo and Pleasantville. The Masons were active participants and often courted their future marriage partners at these social events.
Daughter Ethel Anderson recalled serving at a “Tea” in Shellbrook upon the occasion of a visit from Canada’s Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, in the 1920’s. Grandpa was a tried and true Liberal although he opposed their introduction of the “Old Age Pension.” But in 1952 when he received his first cheque at the age of 79, we remember him smiling .
Ethel also told about the annual Chautaqua which came to Shellbrook and about going to silent movies in the Shellbrook Theatre.
Although the form of address was formal and our Grandparents were known to their neighbours as Mr. and Mrs. Mason, it seems that ties were very close and the support for each other never wavered. One evidence is that in later years when many Hilldrop people had retired to the city or to the West Coast, it was imperative to correspond with and visit them whenever possible. Certainly neighbours replaced the family ties that were severed by the move west in 1905.
The first two children were born in Ethel, ON where the Mason family resided at the time.
Wilfred “Ross” (4 Dec 1902 -3 Nov 1978) must have been studious for he is remembered for having an outstanding memory. He gave a gift of a book to each of us at Christmas. When he left school he worked in the Bank of Nova Scotia in Parkside. But the Masons were a farming family so he became a farmer, too.
He joined the RCAF during WW II and served in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. While in England he met Etheldreda Marks . They were married on September 8th, 1945 in the Church of St. Lawrence, Barnwood District, England. What excitement in the family when Uncle Ross’ “war bride” arrived in 1946! What a change of environment for this city business woman to adjust to being a farmer’s wife in another country! Sometimes we wondered if even our language was the same.
Aunt Dreda’s determination and sincerity won the day. She brought so much to our lives- ` piano lessons, setting the table with fine china, and serving the community as organist. She supported Ross in his endeavors whether it was coaching the Sturgeon Valley Baseball Team, serving on the Church Board or in the farming operation.
They adopted a son and a daughter.
Lawrence “Howard” Grigg ( 22 Feb 1904 – 8 Aug 1970) loved the outdoors and farming came naturally to him. His sister may have teased him about being fat, but we always knew that his heart was so big that she must have been referring to his kindness and generosity. He recited the poems of Robert W. Service to all who would listen. Is that why four of his offspring live in the Yukon?
The bachelor brothers, Ross and Howard, bought S35-50-2-W3rd from the CNR and moved to Sturgeon Valley in 1928. As well as clearing and breaking the land, he worked in lumber camps during the winter.
It was in Sturgeon Valley that Howard met his future wife and helpmate, Lillian “Irene” Bruce. There was always a warm welcome from Aunt Irene where you would find a bountiful table graced with fresh bread or bannock and fried fish or roasts of venison, the bounty of Howard’s hunting and fishing pastimes. They raised a family of eight sons and five daughters.
Ethel Evelyn (25 Jan 1908-22 Feb 1987) and her younger brothers were born in the log house in Hilldrop. She recounted many happy times while skinny dipping with her brothers in the lake (slough) near the farmstead, playing football with the boys, and having tea parties with her little neighbour girls.
After attending Hilldrop School, Ethel was given the opportunity to live with her Aunt Emily and her Grandmother, Mary Mason in Saskatoon and attend Nutana Collegiate. She also took piano lessons from her aunt. She dreamed of continuing to study to become a nurse, but her father, “Papa”, denied her this wish as she was needed at home to help “Mama” on the farm. He compensated by buying her a piano. But she did not take this piano with her when she married and moved to her own home. She finally got her inheritance, the piano, in the 1960’s.
On October 29th, 1930 Ethel married Walter Robert Anderson, who had become a friend of her brother Howard. They were married by the Rev. John McKinnon in the Mason home and later went by train to Prince Albert for a short honeymoon. They had a photo taken at Voldeng’s Studio. Ethel and Walter moved to his home near Parkside. Late one night they heard clashing noises outside and opened the door to find friends banging pots and shouting. They had arrived for a “chivaree” which was a popular wedding party of the 30’s.
In 1934 they bought NE 36-50-2-W3 in Sturgeon Valley. Five sons and five daughters were raised there.
Walter Lewis (25 Apr 1909-24 Jul 1987) took his schooling at Hilldrop and two years in Shellbrook. While playing football, he had the misfortune of breaking his leg. He spent nine months in the hospital. While convalescing he helped “Mama” and even learned to knit. He loved playing the violin, but his mother insisted that he had to practice in the bunkhouse.
On December 4, 1934 Walter married Lillie Stene of Cameo. This was another home to visit, play with cousins and feast upon the goodies, especially chocolate cake.
They raised a family of three sons and a foster child.
Ernest Francis (29 Aug 1910 – 13 Mar 1993) was an active participant in the Hilldrop and Cameo districts. As a five year old child, he begged his mother to take him with her to Shellbrook because he “never got to go!” The team of horses that Grandma was driving spooked and she had a runaway. Somehow she managed to turn the team and wagon around, hold her son in the bottom of the wagon and gallop home safely.
Ernest married Eileen Matthews on August 15, 1940. The next year he joined the Air Force and served as an Air Frame mechanic until 1945. Ernest certainly inherited and passed on the Mason tradition of friendliness. There was always a warm welcome at their home.
They had one daughter and three sons.
Stanley Alfred (18 Jun 1916 – 26 Nov 1970) was active in baseball and all sports. He completed Grade Nine at Hilldrop School. Although he farmed with his father and brothers, his main interest and talent was carpentry. On October 25, 1939 he married Veronica (Vera) Fisher. Their wedding took place in the bride’s home at Yankee Valley, followed by a dance in the Pleasantville Hall. Later they farmed in Sturgeon Valley and Deer Ridge.
Stanley’s warm smile and the twinkle in his eyes, especially when he played the mouth organ is remembered by his nieces and nephews. At family gatherings Aunt Vera accompanied the singing with her guitar while she harmonized with her clear alto voice.
They had two daughters and one son.
William Ashton (10 Jan 1920 – 9 Sept 1974) served in the Canadian Army from 1939 to 1945 as a Sapper with the Royal Canadian Engineers in Europe. Uncle Willie was our war hero as many of us can recall waiting on the train station platform in Prince Albert on January 9th, 1946 when he returned from the war. He loved music and played the guitar at community events.
In June 1957 he married Gladys Stene and they had one son and three daughters. We are grateful that she is our one surviving aunt to pass on the Mason traditions to us in 2005.
Here is a poem written by Ethel, only sister, in 1927.
Of my six brother tall and brave
The eldest one is Ross.
If we don’t rise when he gets up
He gets most awful cross.
It must have been when he was small,
His mother trained him thus
For he don’t seem to mind at all
To get right up without a fuss.
Of politics and history
His knowledge is quite good,
And all the other ‘portant things
That understand you should.
The next to come of all the sons
Is Howard, dark and fat.
He loves to play his old violin
My ‘pinion I won’t pass on that.
He loves to tell you all about
That man named Sam McGee
He takes delight in all his details
The horror to let you see.
Walter’s frame is tall and broad
His gum he’d let you share.
His sunny smile’s a well known fact,
Also his sunny hair.
He loves to read all kinds of books.
The fiddle he plays quite well.
Just tempt him with a chocolate bar
And anything he’d tell.
Then Ernest comes, the handy one,
He can do most anything,
Wash dishes, clothes, floors sometimes, too.
Ride, shoot, play football, sing.
It isn’t hard for him to talk,
Makes any conversation last.
If he’s shy when someone comes
He hides it all and talks quite fast.
Stanley is the second last.
He is so tall and slim.
Some say he’s very slender,
Some say he’s bone and skin.
He goes to school most every day,
His spelling’s never quite right.
He likes the girls, like any boy,
Plays football with all his might.
Willie also goes to school
He’s big and fat, you know,
The way he catches gophers
Is never very slow.
He’s the youngest of the lot,
He’s only seven years old.
Just mention pie when he comes home,
The rest need not be told.
VIII. SENIOR YEARS
Will and Violet had more leisure time in the years following World War II as their four youngest sons and daughters-in-law shared responsibility for the farming operation in Hilldrop. As we’ve seen from Grandpa’s records, his heart was still in the farm and he still influenced its operation. Daughter -in-law Gladys Mason recalls that he insisted that at least one field of flax be planted. Was that for economic gain or for the beauty of the crop in bloom?
He was able to devote more time to other interests. Could Grandpa Mason have been a horticulturist? He did the gardening and husbanded an extensive orchard of plums, cherries, gooseberries, red and black currants, raspberries and strawberries. Stock was often obtained from the nearby Honeywood Nursery operated by Bert Porter.
Grandma did the harvesting of the garden produce, food preparation and preserving. All of the families, even those living in Sturgeon Valley, took part in the harvests which always seemed to be plentiful. June Fillmore remembers picking raspberries with Grandma and cousin, Margaret Mason. June was the only one without a hat to protect her from the sun so Grandma fashioned a paper hat for her.
A Sunday afternoon custom began that was a great treat for the Sturgeon Valley families. Grandma and Grandpa would drive to Shellbrook and buy a paper bag of six or eight chocolate bars. When they arrived at each family home, the bars would be divided up into a bowl and passed around. We didn’t know that some people got to eat a whole chocolate bar as we were delighted to share them with our eighteen cousins.
Grandpa and Grandma enjoyed driving to Prince Albert. The Eaton’s Store was a favourite place to shop. Grandpa treasured their paper shopping bags (available for 25c) and often carried his copies of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix around in one to read while visiting family or traveling by train or bus. Another favourite haunt was the Princess Cafe on Central Avenue where he could treat family members to toasted tea cakes or half a cantaloupe a la mode.
In the winter of 1947 Will and Violet took a three month holiday by train to the “West Coast”. One of Will’s brothers and two sisters , as well as nieces and nephews, now lived there. Grandma’s diary recounts all the visiting, shopping, eating out, sightseeing, going to movies that they enjoyed on this trip. The evenings were sometimes spent playing a card game “500” or listening to Red Skeleton or Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen on the radio. Often they were entertained to lunches or evening meals at the home of friends or family or at a variety of restaurants. What a change from life on the farm!
While at home in the log house, there was more time to read the daily Saskatoon Star Phoenix which Grandpa received by mail, study the National Geographic magazines, and listen to Don Messer on the radio in the afternoon.
On June 23, 1957 Violet Rosetta Mason died suddenly. Her husband of 56 years remained in the house he’d built in 1905 on their homestead. To help relieve his great grief, he spent much of his time with his daughter and sons. In 1959 he made another trip to Vancouver and finally, a trip back to Ontario with daughter, Ethel, to visit his birthplace and cousins whom he had not seen for 58 years. In 1963, William Lawrence Mason died. They are both buried in Memorial Gardens, Prince Albert.
“Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done;”
We remember our parents singing this hymn and it illustrates a theme for the pioneering spirit of our Grandparents. But Grandma’s favourite hymn was “Whispering Hope.” The words indicate not only Will and Violet’s deep Christian faith, but also refers to their positive outlook on life. The histories and oral stories do not emphasize the hardships, except to indicate that they were overcome.
The farm grew from 160 acres to several quarters of land if you include the properties accumulated by Will and Violet and their family’s hard work and positive work ethic. Along with the work ethic all of us appreciate the strong family ties. All who joined the family by birth, marriage or adoption were totally accepted and cherished. Our Grandparents were always interested in our educational achievements, careers, marriages, new babies and growing children. It was natural to respect them and love them in return.
Remembrances of the farmstead, orchard, and garden were perfect examples of good husbandry of soil and resources. The chore of picking wild berries was always an occasion for a “picnic in the woods”. They taught us a respect for nature and its bounty!
Certainly there was illness and most of these were treated with home remedies. Grandpa had Extract of Wild Strawberry for “Summer Complaint” and Grandma rubbed Goose Grease on the chest of anyone with common cold symptoms. A woolen sock could always be found to wrap around the neck. The traveling salesmen of Raleigh’s and Watkin’s products were welcomed, for this usually saved a trip to the doctor.
There was separation from family due to relocation or war, drought, frost, and the depression of the 30’s. Through it all they prevailed.
“When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”
What were the blessings? Forgive us if we consider 36 living grandchildren one hundred years later at least a part of those blessings. As one of them said, “ They were well loved and respected by everyone; we had the best!”
Indeed more than 200 living descendants may claim a legacy bestowed by this young couple who left what they knew 100 years ago and ventured into the unknown territory of the newly formed Province of Saskatchewan. We are grateful for the blessings passed on to us .
As children of this extended family, we celebrate the memory of our fore bearers, William Lawrence and Violet Rosetta Mason.
We dedicate this story to honor the memory of our Grandparents.