Home Town or Home Community:
Preeceville, SK & Stranraer, SK
John Walter Mitchell was born May 21, 1911 in Preeceville, Saskatchewan, second son of six children born to Samuel John Mitchell Sr. (1873-1948) and Pearl Pheobe Preece (1887-1937). Samuel Mitchell homesteaded on the property W ½ 16 – 34 – 5 located 2 ½ miles south of Preeceville. John and his wife, Gladys Mary Norman, devoted their lives to this farm. The homestead remained in the Mitchell family for 100 years. Pearl Mitchell was the daughter of Louisa Preece after whom Preeceville, Saskatchewan was named. Samuel Mitchell was the first reeve of the Preeceville R.M. area and frequently served in this position over the next forty years. Gladys Mary Mitchell (nee Norman) was born December 6, 1915 in Stranraer, Sask., eldest daughter of six children born to Raymond Verior Norman (1891-1944) and Gladys Cecilia Norman (nee Meade)(1897-1972). Raymond Norman came to Canada from England in 1908 and Gladys Meade came to Canada in 1910 with the Norman homestead families which settled in the Stranraer, Sask. district.
John excelled at algebra and mathematics and could add three column numbers effortlessly. He was concerned about the political and social issues of the time and often wrote letters expressing his opinions. Jake Epp, Minister of National Health and Welfare received two letters from John in 1985. Mr. Epp was requested to “stop paying people their Canada Pension (CP) and rethink the finances of the pension plan.” John believed that the CPP (Canada Pension Plan) was a form of welfare and since the Canadian people had not invested enough money initially to cover the payments that they would receive, the plan was not economically sound and the Canadian Pension would go broke. Jake Epp actually replied with his own personal letter and signature to reassure John that the Canadian budget could sustain this plan. Mr. Epp informed John that he was one of the few people who had ever written to complain that he was receiving too much money! John knew this program would eventually get us into financial trouble, and it did. This correspondence has been cherished by John’s daughters and has been kept on file. John also enjoyed helping neighbors and friends calculate their income tax and wrote formal letters of business for many members of the community.
John Mitchell was involved with the Saskatchewan Farmers Union (SFU) and held the positions of secretary-treasurer and public relations officer for several years. Dad loved baseball so each year he would help organize the SFU family picnic- a fun day at the Preeceville sports grounds where you could watch baseball and softball all day or you could play games with the whole family eg. three-legged races, potato sack races, horse shoes, etc.
As a young man, John worked for the Toronto Dominion Bank, and while working in Coronach, Sask. he played baseball on a team that occasionally played in the USA. Baseball always remained one of his passions and in later years he spent many hours watching the World Series on TV. A color TV was purchased so dad could tell the difference between the teams.
John W. Mitchell was also a member of the Sask. Wheat Pool and the Preeceville Co-op. He took pride in keeping his fields free from weeds and controlled the mustard weed in his crops by actually walking the fields with the help of his family and hand pulling the weeds. One would walk very carefully between the rows of wheat, oats, or barley picking weeds as you went. John was a grain and hay farmer. Hauling grain to the elevator was not always without incident. In the spring of 1980,while hauling a load of wheat to the Preeceville Pool elevator in his 1947 one ton blue Fargo truck, John and the truck were knocked over the bridge into the Assiniboine River by a fellow farmer with a five-ton truck loaded with wheat. John walked away with a few scratches, bruises and bumps but the truck was destroyed as it landed upside down in the river with the driver’s door flung open in the water. With the philosophy “everything is worth saving,” John had his precious truck hauled home where it sat in the farm yard beside his 1945 McCormick Deering threshing machine, 1946 W6 I.H. tractor, Mom’s 1945 W6 I.H. tractor and various other antiques for another 20 years.
Perhaps John’s sentiment for the truck was inspired by the fact that he was driving his new Fargo when he first met his wife, Gladys Mary Norman. John met Mary when he and Raymond Thideman were on their way to the Calgary Stampede and stopped in to visit with one of Mary’s sisters. John was impressed with Mary’s beauty as well as her knowledge about farming and her ability to work with horses. Mary joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corps during World War II and received an honorable discharge in order to return to the Stranraer farm to assist her father who was terminally ill. When her father, Raymond Norman, passed away in 1944, Mary took on the responsibilities of the family farm with great determination.
Mary was very experienced with working with 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8 horse hooks doing field work, seeding, and haying. One of Mom’s favorite stories was before she came to live in Preeceville her family needed water on their homestead so a dugout or a dam needed to be built. Mary actually helped her father with a four horse hook and Fresno plow to build a dam at their farm near Stranraer, Sask. This pool of water exists to this day and the Norman family still visit this site on their annual home tours.
Mary became an encyclopedia on different types of horse machinery and the amount of horse power needed for each. She knew she needed a tractor to put in the longer hours, so she bought a 1945 W6, I.H. McCormick Deering tractor . The tractor was used in the work load mix. The bank manager told Mary, “ You are the first woman to purchase your own new tractor in this area…I wish you all the best.” The farm debt was paid off before she moved to Preeceville, Sask., to marry John Mitchell on October 25, 1947.
Mary’s move to Preeceville from Stranraer, Sask. was another historical and memorable event for the area. Mary loaded her new tractor and her favorite team of Clydesdale cross mares in one CN box car and a very select, high quality herd of twelve Shorthorn cattle in another. They arrived at Buchanan, Sask. and she drove her tractor and lead her team the 22 miles from Buchanan to the Mitchell farm south of Preeceville. The cattle were transported by truck. This was to be her new residence and home for 54 years until her death in October 2001. Mary was a good steward of her cattle and horses. She was soon noted in the area for her skills as an accomplished horse and cattle woman and was frequently asked to help neighbors vaccinate livestock, diagnose illnesses, and generally assist in animal management issues. You must remember that this was before veterinarians were in the Preeceville area. Mary was definitely the horse trainer in the Mitchell family. Her last effort at age 80 to ear down a young horse that was being vaccinated resulted in Mary being hospitalized for a cracked pelvis. From then on she was ordered to sit on the porch steps and watch!
Mary was the first farmer in the Preeceville area to use artificial insemination (A.I.) in 1958. Her first desire was to be able to breed the registered Holstein milk cow to a registered Holstein bull. If the calf was a heifer she would be able to register the offspring. Unfortunately the first attempt was a bull calf. With the use of the American Breeders Service (ABS) A.I. program, the Mitchell’s herd of cattle remained one of the best commercial herds in the Preeceville area. Mary followed beef pedigrees and used bulls like Calrossie Klondike and Duncrahill Skipper. Although she was partial to Shorthorns she introduced Hereford, Angus, Limousin, and Simmental’s into the herd to produce high quality carcass cattle. The quality of Mary’s cattle was never compromised. In 1954 John and Mary went to Mary’s uncle, S. K. Berry’s Shirley Stock Farm Shorthorn dispersal sale at Lashburn, Sask. and purchased Shirley Buckingham 8th and her bull calf Shirley Jewel. This calf became very influential for the breeding program of the Mitchell herd. Both John and Mary were very involved in 4-H, especially the Sturgis 4-H Beef Club. Their daughters showed many champion steers in the Sturgis 4-H Beef Club from 1959 to 1968. Daughter, Margaret, showed the champion steer at the Yorkton Regional Fat Stock Show and Sale in 1962. The Mitchell’s cattle always placed so well that farmers from any distance away thought that they must have a huge herd to show that quality of steer year after year. The cow herd was kept around 25 head. In 1977 and 1978 they entered steers at the Canadian Western Agribition in Regina in the Carcass and Market Steer Class. One special showing was in 1977 when Prince Philip visited Agribition. Mary felt this was a real honor and spoke of it often. Mary kept her herd going until May 1990 when she decided to send a select group of heifers to join her daughter Margaret’s commercial herd near Edmonton, Alberta. Six heifers were sent in a well-bedded cattle liner on this eight-hour journey. One of these cows produced a gorgeous bull calf that was noted by a couple driving past the farm in Edmonton. The couple was so impressed that they stopped in and purchased the “Bell Mary” calf and used him as their herd sire for many years.
John and Mary raised five daughters which included two sets of twins. When the girls were young, John’s cousin Louise Miller, helped take care of the household, freeing Mary to help outside. Both Mary and John were no strangers to hard work, making do, and doing without. The family learned quickly that nothing was wasted. “ It may come in handy someday.” Even the spring run off from the roadside ditch was recycled into the household cistern.
Mary was a member of the Farm Wives’ Club. She put in a large vegetable garden each year and continued to help John with the farm work. As the girls got older, they learned to operate farm machinery and became “John’s helpers” driving teams of horses on the dump rake when haying or driving teams of horses on the threshing outfits. John continued to thresh until the early 1970’s before he had his crop custom combined.
Several of the girls liked gardening and baking. Catherine was in the Grain Test Plot program for the Department of Agriculture of Saskatchewan and Ruth was in the Sturgis 4-H Light Horse Club.
On occasion the family would get together and make ropes with the Wonder 5 Hook Rope Maker that Mary brought with her to Preeceville in 1947. Lariats, halter shanks and rope halters were made in various thicknesses and lengths. Ropes were frequently made for neighbors and friends in the community.
Both John and Mary enjoyed the Yorkton Fair and faithfully attended. They traveled in a one ton 1947 Fargo truck covered with a canvas canopy so their five children could ride in the back with one adult supervisor. This was their home away from home. John loved rodeos and barrel racing was his favorite event. He tried to attend the Regina Agribition and the Edmonton Farm Fair as frequently as possible and enjoyed watching the cattle and horse shows. John and Mary loved nature and a pasture quarter was left as a habitat for wildlife. They fed deer at their home every winter. Mary would look out the kitchen windows at various times of the day and night to observe the wildlife. Mary was known to encourage deer onto her property as a sanctuary away from hunters because she felt they should live longer. Feeding deer continued until Mary’s death on October 27, 2001. Mary was also an avid bird watcher. She had several types of bird feeders just outside the kitchen window to feed and observe a variety of birds and migrating birds throughout the year. There were also sloughs and small lakes in the Preeceville area and Mary would often drive around the district to observe the plants, birds, and animals. Usually she would take John or her sisters-in-law or her friends or relatives when they visited. This became known as Mary’s Bird Watching and Flower Trail and became a rather popular way to entertain guests. Part of this trail has been included in a much bigger birding and flower trail in the Preeceville area.
Mary was an active member of the Kelsey Ecological Society , a Chapter of Nature Saskatchewan (N.S.). Mary enjoyed the N.S. magazine The Blue Jay. John never complained about how much wheat and oats were used to feed the deer and the birds annually. Mary was an avid reader and loved poetry, historical literature, and educational articles. She had her own private library in her home which included a wide range of farm publications, newspapers, and magazines. John would frequently read as well.
John and Mary upheld the value of education and encouraged their daughters to excel. Their efforts resulted in a registered nurse, a veterinarian, and three teachers.
John and Mary Mitchell embodied the true spirit of the pioneers of Saskatchewan through their hard work, perseverance, and determination. John passed away on August 9, 1990 at the age of 79 and Mary passed away on October 27, 2001 at the age of 85. Their legacy lives on in their five daughters:
Muriel Georgina Mitchell (1949- ) attended Preeceville High School and graduated from the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Arts and Sciences( SIAAS) from Saskatoon, Sask. in 1969 as a Certified Nursing Assistant. In 1984 she graduated from SIAAS in Regina as a Registered Nurse. She worked as a registered nurse at the Pasqua Hospital in Regina until 1995 when she relocated to Preeceville, Sask and worked in the Preeceville Union Hospital. She transferred into Community Services and Home Care. Her hobbies include raising horses and writing articles for a variety of horse magazines. She has two children, her daughter Candace Crystal Tratch-Krebs was born Sept. 11, 1970 and lives in St. Albert, Alberta. Candace is a correctional officer studying psychology. Candace has two children, Crystal Dawn Tratch-Runge born July 7, 1989 and son Logan Wolfgang Krebs born July 25, 1995. Muriel’s son Kevin Michael Cameron Mitchell was born March 25, 1977 and lives in Edmonton, Alberta. Kevin is working in interior design. Ken Tratch retired from the Pasqua Hospital in Regina Sask. where he was the head of the respiratory department for many years. He now works for Medi Gas as a respiratory therapist doing client home asessments.
Dr. Margaret Mitchell (1949- ) graduated from Preceville High School in 1967 and graduated from Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, Sask. with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 1973. Margaret interned in Small Animal Medicine and Surgery at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, USA and returned to Canada in 1974 to practice in Calgary, Alberta for a year before moving to Edmonton, Alberta. In 1976 Margaret married Raymone John Blakely formerly of Marwayne, Alberta and started the Bar XO Veterinary Services Ltd. – a small animal and equine practice in northeast Edmonton. Her daughter Shannon Jane Blakely was born Dec. 18, 1977 and married Jayson Morley Kutzner in 2003 and presently lives in Edmonton. Her son Shane Mitchell Blakely was born Dec. 22, 1980 and is completing a Science Degree at the University of Alberta. Margaret carried on the Mitchell tradition and raised purebred Horned Herefords, Simmentals, and Thoroughbred horses. She was the first female councillor of the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association from 1983 to 1986 and served on the Discipline Committee – Conduct Review Section from 1997 to 2000. Upon the dissolution of that marriage, Margaret moved to Columbus, Ohio and married Dr. Bruce Lansing Hull, originally from Ravena, New York in 2001. Margaret presently teaches Veterinary Technology at Columbus State Community College in Columbus, Ohio and works part-time for the Ohio State Racing Commission.
Catherine Vera Mitchell (1951- ) graduated from Preeceville High School in 1969 and attended Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto from 1969 to 1971. She received her teaching certificate from the College of Education in Toronto in 1972. Catherine began her teaching career at Governor Simcoe Secondary School in St. Catharines, Ontario in the Home Economics Department (Family Studies) in 1972 and has continued teaching at this school to the present date. She has traveled in Canada, Mexico, and Europe and spent time in Indonesia on a cross cultural exchange with Canadian Crossroads International. She is a very active member in her church community. She has one son, Darius Mitchell Bayegan born Oct. 16, 1989 who is an honors bilingual student attending Sir Winston Secondary School in St. Catharine’s, Ontario.
Constance Mary Byers (1951- ) graduated from Preeceville High school in 1969. She attended the Southern Institute of Technology in Calgary, Alberta and graduated in 1971 as a Chemical Research Technologist. She worked for INCO Ltd. in Thompson, Manitoba , the Canadian Grain Commission in Thunder Bay, Ontario and since 1981 has been a professor at Cambrian College in Sudbury, Ontario. She is married to Robert Byers and their daughter Amy Dawn was born Nov. 11, 1975. Amy graduated from Laurentian University in 2003 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Metallurgical Engineering. She is presently employed by INCO Ltd. in Thompson, Manitoba. Connie has enjoyed a life-long interest in learning and along with her husband Robert has operated Byers Berry Farm in Hanmer, Ontario since 1983.
Ruth Cecilia Purdy (1952-) graduated from the University of Calgary with her Bachelor of Education Degree in 1974, and has taught school in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Ruth has enjoyed a lifelong interest in horses and has raised Arabians for almost three decades. She also showed horses extensively on the summer show circuit in Western Canada. Ruth was the 4-H leader for the Russell Golden Gallopers in Manitoba and the Elk Point Saddle Slickers in Alberta for over ten years. She currently judges 4-H Public Speaking competitions at the Club and District level and teaches Grade Six at Kehewin Community Education Centre, Kehewin, Alberta. Ruth is married to James H. Purdy and they have two children. Jaylene Dawn, born July 27, 1980 who graduated from the University of Lethbridge with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2002. She is married to Christopher Reitsema and has a son Christopher James born May 22, 2002. Ruth’s son, James Mitchell (born September 18, 1982) is studying Oil and Gas Engineering at the University of Calgary and is presently interning with Devon Canada Corporation, Calgary, Alberta.
John Walter Mitchell and Gladys Mary Norman are also survived by eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
A tribute to our mom and dad from their children: Muriel, Margaret, Catherine, Constance and Ruth.