Sick and tired of dried out prairie, Mr. and Mrs. Roy Rogers and their two children and Jim and I with a five month old baby, Floyd, left Tate, Sask. in November 1924 to find a homestead in northern Saskatchewan.
We had shipped a car of household goods, one horse, a cow and a calf which was supposed to go through to Nipawin. Since the railroad had not as yet been completed in Nipawin and the river had not as yet been frozen, our car was unloaded at Ridgedale.
Here we rented a two room paper shack for the winter. Mrs. Rogers and I and the children stayed here while the men went thirty miles north of the Saskatchewan River to look for land. Jim did the driving back and forth in 40 to 50 below weather, for grub for the men and feed for the horses.
By January 1925 the men had built Frank Purdys, Earn Bringtons and Rogers shacks. Jim filed on half section nine miles from Rogers and twenty three miles northwest of Nipawin. The land had logs put up on it for a house which had no floor or roof. Jim, however, got it closed in with four small windows and chinked in between the logs with moss which had been thawed in hot water. The water was then squeezed out by hand and driven in between the logs so as to keep the house warm.
On February 18, 1925 Jim drove back to Ridgedale to get the Rogers family, Floyd and I brought us to our first real home. We left Ridgedale at 4 oclock in the morning riding on top of a load of furniture in the back of the sleigh with babies on our knees. We arrived in Nipawin about 6 oclock that evening tired was no name for how we felt.
The men got two rooms in Segersons Hotel, which was only partly built. We had to hang our coats over the doors to cut off the view into our rooms. This however, did not help Rogers as he walked in his sleep. Jim caught him walking down the hall in his night attire and asked him where he was going. He told Jim he was looking for a place to spit.
Out of bed at dawn the next morning, we started for our homesteads. As eager as I was to get to our new home, the thought of crossing the river and getting down and up those terrible hills was more terrifying. It had us ladies nearly in tears before we reached the top.
The horses had to make a run off the river in order to make the first landing which now was all ice from the springs. The poor horses slipped, and all the tugs became unhitched except one. We could look over the side of the sleigh-box only to see the river about sixty feet below. We thought for sure our sleigh would slide back down the river. One sleigh had gone down the day before belonging to our homesteading neighbor Ray Lorett.
We reached the top safely, but we were so nearly in tears by this time that it gave the men a great laugh. We certainly got a lot of teasing!
We slipped along fine as it was a lovely day. We reached the stopping place, about twelve miles from our homestead, and stayed there all night. We did very little sleeping that night; we hadn’t been giving our little boy canned milk so consequently he was sick all night. Jim and I took turns walking our sick baby. By morning he was better so we started our last lap, which I thought would never end. All we could see was the trees and more trees with just a streak of blue sky over us. The trees were so close to the road that the mattress and my trunk of dishes were wiped off the sleigh.
We arrived about 4 oclock tired, hungry and cold. We quickly had a bite to eat, threw up a bed on either side of the stove and went right to sleep. The next morning, Rogers left us to go to their new home.
The next morning I had a good look at our new home. There were trees even growing up on the inside of the wall where the floor wasn’t close enough to the wall. I wondered all day if Id like it here. Jim said if we didn’t have our stock here, we might be going back, but I never really felt that way, as I liked it after I rested up from our trip.
Our nearest store and post office was sixteen miles away. Jim had to pack everything on his back as the horses were used by all the men. To carry all the goods was a big job, especially when our cow was dry and he had to carry milk for the baby. Our grub was not very much as our money was pretty well used up.
This one day Jim walked to the post office for mail and groceries. When he got there, our neighbor was there. Jim and he had some words previously and were not the best of friends at the time, however, they walked home together. Mr. Crane walked ahead with his pack and fell into a hole of water and Jim who was walking behind, piles in on top of him with his pack. Jim came home and told me he had gotten even with Crane and thought that he would be a better friend from now on!
That spring Jim got a job slashing trees down at Ray Loretts, and when he received his cheque, he and Mac Logan started outed for Nipawin to get flour and groceries. This left the baby and me with one loaf of bread, but the cow was milking and helped quite a little. The bachelor across the road only had a small amount also.
The men expected to return the next day but they didn’t get back til the third day, as they got their horses down through a bridge in the muskeg. By this time our neighbor was getting worse off than we. He came over and wondered if I had a flour sieve. So I asked him if his flour3 needed sifting of course, there were a lot of mice in the country! He brought me the flour over and I sifted it several times, I had to throw more out of the sieve than went through.
I, of course, had the milk. So I made a couple of pans of good baking powder biscuits and went to bed satisfied. When I got up in the morning our men had arrived home safely. I was always worried about crossing the river and staying alone at nights. The coyotes used to howl right at my window, I always had my dog by my bed and the butcher knife in the door. Oh, what a dreadful feeling in the evening, all a person could hear was elk calling and partridges drumming (which I did not know they did). I made myself believe it was a motor boat on a lake somewhere near.
Harvest time was coming and Jim decided wed go back to Tate for harvest. He drove the team and I went in the old car with the Rogers family. The poor old car had to have a drink about every ten miles. When we left home it was raining heavily, but we either had to go or stay and be hungry.
Mrs. Rogers, her two children, myself and the baby were sitting on the bottom of the wagon box with a big round trunk at our backs. By the time we were four miles from home, we were sitting in three inches of water. We pulled into Mrs. MacIntoshs and she had us stay the night (which wasn’t hard to do). We built a good fire and hung up our wet clothes to dry, and got into a nice dry bed (Oh Boy!) We had a fairly good fall and brought back a team of horses and some money.
Feed for the horses was another headache. Jim built a hayrack about eighteen feet long and five feet wide so he could go through the trees on narrow trails. He drove to Codette, thirty miles from home, to get sheaves which was a three day trip.
Spring was coming fast and my big worry was fire. What would I do if a fire swept in, Jim was away at work about a mile from home. When I mentioned this to him, he laughed at me, as the water was up to our ankles all that spring.
In the evening when it was time for Jim to come home, Id put Floyd on my back, and an old pair of shoes on my feet, and wade out to meet him. That spring, news started that there was a survey coming through for a railroad. We, of course, thought it was talk. We did get a store and a post office (West Point) twelve miles from home which helped quite a bit.
When we got sick of home and looking at each other, we would hook up the team and drive the nine miles to Rogers to have a good visit. This was such a treat, except for the drive home. We would get hung up on a stump about twelve oclock at night. Jim would have to unhitch the horses and hitch them on the back of the wagon so he could pull it off the stump.
We cleared land, fought mosquitoes, fleas, bulldog flies. The bedbugs were plentiful and friendly once they got into the house; they made themselves right at home taking possession of the beds and eating what they pleased.
Clearing the land was a slow process. Chopping down the trees with an axe, putting them in piles to be burnt and digging out all the stumps was all part of the job. After the ground was plowed there were still roots and sticks to be gathered and burnt. We finally got about ten acres cleared but this was a very small portion of 320 acres. In the spring of 1926, Jim said he was going to Mr. Knipes to get his saw set. I asked him where they lived. In those days people were located by the number of their land, township and range, so when I was told I wasn’t much wiser. Jim said he was a married man with two boys. I got my boy ready and went along to visit Mrs. Knipe. We had a grand and welcome afternoons visit; the boys were so happy to play together. As a result of that visit the Knipe and McGonigle families spent twenty-three Christmases together.
Then the fall came. The stork was hovering over our log shack, money was getting kind of scarce and things looked kind of grim. Jim decided to get a young lad, Bob Lockie, to stay with me while he went out near Nipawin for harvesting. He planned to be away three weeks but it was six weeks before he got back, the weather was so wet and so many small patches to move to. His harvest pay came to the big sum of $35.00.
He arrived home at 4 p.m. on Saturday. Monday morning we decided Id better be getting nearer to a doctor. We started out for Mrs. Knipes place, they had then moved nearer to Nipawin, but it was still eighteen miles from our home. I was to stay there until it was time to go into the hospital. It was a terrible trip as it rained so much and the roads froze up so rough. I walked for a ways, lay in the wagon box, but did not dare stand up fear that Id been thrown out. It took us eight hours.
The river started to freeze over the night before the stork arrived. We had a big windstorm and the river froze in peaks as high as twenty inches. Young Donald arrived on November 14 at the Knipe home. No one ever knew how thankful I was to have such a dear friend in such a short time.
1927 was a very nice year, although it had its bad spells. The hunters were plentiful and some were very careless. One man shot his pal a short distance from our house. The man who had done the shooting came running to our door. He asked Jim if he could go into Nipawin for the doctor and police. The body was taken out of the bush by dog sleigh, right past our door to another shack. I did not see them as I was so busy getting supper for the doctor and police and twelve other men.
By now the news of the railroad was very true; the surveyors had cut out the line which took the right of way off the north side of our section of land. This gave Jim quite a little work which really helped us.
Our only entertainment was every two weeks when Jim would take our team and pick up a violin player Walter Revell and Art Ansell the banjo player, along with all the bachelors along our road. We would then go four miles to W. Steeves home for a lovely evening of dancing. The women got most of the dancing as there were six or eight women to eighteen or twenty men.
Our house was a welcome stopping place for bachelors who lived further west, since they also had to carry groceries and flour on their backs from the store. It also housed many hunters overnight. ; Some nights we had nine men or more sleeping on our floor.
Wild meat was our best diet; also our worst! Moose and elk were plentiful; they would come right up into our yard. Some would have large horns and look like a hayrack coming through the bush. Wild fruit was also plentiful and I canned on shares for the men. As many as four water pails of raspberries would be brought in some evenings about six oclock and I would pick them over before going to bed. By the time I would finish, It would be nearly two in the morning. Some weeks I would bake up nearly 100 pounds of flour for the bachelors and ourselves.
In the spring of 1928, the country started to dry some as there was not much rain, but it still wasnt safe to sit on a front seat in a wagon box, for when one right front wheel was going over a stump, the back left was going down where a stump had been.
Our third baby arrived on July 7, 1928, a fine fat girl named Mariam.
The first marriage at our homestead was two of our neighbors, Mrs. Tibbie (Foster) Ramage and Mr. Bill Jones. No one knew of their romance until one day when Mr. Collins came to call on Pop Ramage. He came around the corner of the house and saw them cuddled in each others arms on the doorstep. Sparking places were not very convenient.
After Mr. Collins finished his chat with Mr. Ramage, he came over to our place, as he frequently did. When he came in he said to me you know Mrs. McGonigle, as I was coming over here I walked I walked right up to a pair of lovebirds on the Ramages door step. Was I ever surprised and I guess they were too by the look on their faces. Of course, Tibbie told me about it later.
A couple of Sundays after that, she and Bill drove down to church at Kirkwall school and asked Rev. May if he would marry them. Rev. May said he would and would call on her shortly. Tibbie was living with her father and brother Jack. When the day came she sent Jack a half mile into the bush to fetch Bill who was clearing land. The she sent Jack to get some wild meat for dinner. The meat was partially thawed since I was going to make it for us; however I took pity on them and gave it to Jack. Tibbie had made the cake while Jack was away.
I knew they would have to wait for the reception so I asked Jack to ask Rev. May if he would come over and christen our two boys, which he did.
The wedding was cleared up very satisfactorily with poor Jack as Best Man, Brides Maid and Choir Boy.
The following Saturday evening all the neighbors met at our place and we went to chivoree them, and had a wild time. Bill Wilmot carried the torch.
Things began to look brighter for the next two years. Work on the grade for the railroad started and Jim got work for awhile, working with four horses. The wagon roads were cut out on the township line, some of the muskey spots on the roads were corduroyed with logs and bush piles to make them passable from Nipawin to Prince Albert. All the side roads were cut out and made by the men who live along them. In 1931 the first train went through from P.A. from Nipawin.
Our little town of Garrick was one and a half miles from our farm, for the first year it was nothing more than a post office and a store. The town was called after a man from Choiceland who had worked on the right of way.
Our only church service was a Bible class. All the neighbors would get together on Sundays and take turns having the class in their home. Services were conducted by one of our neighbors Mr. Ramage. It wasn’t long before people outside the homestead country found out we were back in the bush, and a student minister was sent in, though the services were still held in our homes.
The country really started to dry up and also open up when the wind was able to circulate a bit. Fires were always a worry as we had two terrible experiences, although there were many bad scares.
One afternoon in May I was alone with the children. A neighbor came in and told me there was a big fire coming in from the west and was already on our place. He advised me to dig a trench around the haystack as well as the barn. We started to dig, but it seemed foolish to me, how could we save anything with the trees twenty feet high on fire?
Jim was two miles away from home plowing with the two horses. Another neighbor Bert Wright drove in the yard. I asked him if he could go fetch Jim and tell him to bring the plow.
When Jim got home he could see no danger. He changed his mind at about ten oclock at night; it started to look bad. He got out the four horses and put them on the plow and I ran ahead of them with a lantern to light the way. By now the fire was a quarter mile away and did not show any light on the ground. Oh, what an experience, the horses were excited and anxious to go, but no was more excited than I was, since I was sure the horses would run over me. Luck was with us as the wind changed; but we did not dare go to bed that night.
That same fall another fire came in on us. Jim was out at Nipawin burying an old friend who had mad his home with us for two years. Again our reliable neighbor came to our aid as well as Mrs. Knipe who was with me. The three of us fought the fire from around the house, haystack and barn for hours; while at the same time looking after four small children. There were many times that summer that we cleared the stock out of the barn and put them where we thought they would be out of danger.
The children were now of school age. Our nearest school, Kirkwall, was five miles away but the roads were frequently impassable. In 1933 our first classes were held in Mr. George Linns house. Several other places were used before we got a permanent school.
In 1935 the neighbors got out logs and built a log school house. To settle some worries, Jim made a toboggan with a little canvas house on it; so the three children and Rae Chartier could drive to school.
The depression came. We thought that we had a depression the first years after we came, but the one that started in the thirties was much worse. Since there was no work, there was also no money for grub. We were put on Relief by the government and the five of us lived on eight dollars a month for three months. After a short period the government decided to put roads into the towns from the township line as it was called then, now it is the P.A.-Nipawin highway. This gave the men quite a little work but this was relief money also. Jim was a foreman on some of the roads and away from home most of the time
The Depression hit not only the homesteading people; many left the prairies and came north to homestead. They drove in by team with their household goods on the wagon and their families and stock following behind. Some of the children were on horseback driving the cattle. They came from as far away as Moose Jaw.
In 1938 Jim got logs out to make into lumber. He managed to get enough to build a six room house. From then on, life began to look as though it was worth living!
The children were out of school and helped clear the land as well as helped work the land that was already cleared. The balance of the bush was cleared off with cats and bulldozers; which went quite a bit faster than the axe.
In 1945 Floyd decided to get married, and of course, it wasn’t long before Mariam had the same notion. The both moved to Saskatoon with their better halves and got work. Don stayed at home and ran the farm. It took him a couple of years before he took the marriage notion.
In 1949 Jim and I decided to leave the farm. He bought the log school house which he had helped to build at Garrick and we lived there very happily until July 1962, when my dear Jim passed away.
It was up to me then to look for a smaller house. In March of 1963, I moved into the Senior Citizens Home in Nipawin and hope to spend the rest of my days here.
This story’s author requests anonymity.