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THE SHELLBROOK POTTS FAMILY HISTORY
Sarah Jane and James Potts Sr., my Grandmother and Grandfather, and family – James Jr.; Thomas Sr., my father; Walter; Elsie; and Florence moved to Shellbrook from Sheffield, England in 1904. James Potts Sr. homesteaded the SE 28-49-3 W3 and proved up in April 1909. This was three miles north of Shellbrook. They lived in a log shack just inside the north fence line and a little west of a road on the east side of the quarter.
Walter homesteaded NW 27-49-3 W3 and proved up in September 1912. Later James Sr. and Sarah Jane built a home on this quarter which was mostly built during World War I. It was called the stone house as the basement to a couple of feet above ground level was built of stone cemented together. The rest of the house was stucco.
James Jr. homesteaded SW 34-49-3 W3. This quarter was mortgaged to buy an I.H.C. Titan tractor, breaking plough, and a threshing outfit. In those early days James Jr. and Thomas Sr. owned this outfit but lost it to pay the mortgage on James Jr.’s quarter of land.
Thomas Sr. homesteaded SE 33-49-3 W3 and proved up in May 1913. This quarter was four miles north of Shellbrook and is still owned by his sons, Robert A. and Thomas E. Potts.
Elsie Potts married Peter Peebles and lived on the NE 3-50-3 W3 which is now owned by Thomas and Lillian Potts. About 1929 Elsie and Pete moved to a farm near Kinistino where they said the cracks in the ground were so wide a little chick could fall in. About 1936, during the drought, they moved to a farm south of Burns Lake, British Columbia, where they raised cattle. Their two sons and grandsons are still farming this land.
Florence, the youngest daughter, married Dennis Dixon. They farmed in the Spiritwood area until the 1940’s. They moved to British Columbia where for many years they had a motel in Kamloops. They built one of the first double-decker motels in Canada. Later they retired to Kelowna where they both passed away.
James Sr. and Sarah Jane operated a stopping house near the Shell River, about seven miles west of Prince Albert, during the first or second winter after they came to Canada. Bennetts also had a stopping house at Crutwell. These stopping houses were used by travelers from the west going to Prince Albert by oxen. They would stay overnight and then continue on to Prince Albert and stay again on their return journey. It was a full three-day trip from Shellbrook to Prince Albert. While the family took care of the stopping house, James Potts Sr. worked on a gold dredge on the North Saskatchewan River just south of Crutwell, where there was a lot of black sand with flakes of gold in it, James Sr. was an excellent machinist.
Sarah Jane operated a restaurant in Shellbrook on Main Street about 1910. She often talked of the railway workers stopping for meals while the railroad was being built from Prince Albert. The railway was completed through Shellbrook in 1912. James Sr. built the first Anglican Church Rectory in Shellbrook in 1908. James Sr. and Thomas Sr. freighted with oxen from Big River to Green Lake in the winters of 1906 – 1907.
James Sr. was a machinist by trade before coming to Canada. When World War I broke out, they called him to come back to England as they were having trouble turning the rifling in gun barrels. James Jr. served in England during World War I. Thomas Sr. was unable to enlist as he was deaf. During the war, 1914 to 1918, Sarah Jane had the house built, known as the stone house, which they lived in until their retirement in the 1930s. When they moved to Shellbrook, Sarah Jane did a lot of dress making and clothes alterations for people and a clothing store to help supplement their income.
James Jr. returned from the war with an English bride named Grace who talked continuously when Lillian and I visited them on our honeymoon. She talked so much while we were there, she could not talk for three days after we left. James Jr. purchased the NE 28-49-3 W3, known as the Jack Pick place, through the Soldier Settlement Board. This quarter is now owned by Mrs. Shirley Puddicombe. James Jr. and Grace farmed for a number of years until the late 1930s when they moved to Shellbrook. They later moved to Vancouver where they resided until their deaths.
Thomas Potts Sr. lived on SE 33-49-3 W3. He lived in a small shack about 10 feet by 14 feet. He then built a larger house out of squared logs sawed at a saw mill. He also built a barn out of squared logs. In the 1940s both the barn and house were stuccoed by Lawrence Becker. Thomas Potts Sr. married Mary Mather in 1922. Mary had come to Canada from Sheffield, England in 1919 with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Albert Mather, who farmed about six miles northwest of Shellbrook. Mary was deaf from birth. Albert, her father, was a concert violinist in England – a big change to go farming in Canada. Mary was a cook to an upper-class family in England. She also had a sister who never came to Canada.
Thomas Sr. and family also lived on SW 19-50-3 W3. This land was known in the district as the Humphrey Place. Bob Miller purchased this land and resides there.
Mary was a good lip reader. It was said that Thomas Sr. did not know she was deaf for some time after they were married. She was walking away from him and he said something to her but she did not answer. He threw a stick alongside her and she turned around. That was the first time he knew she was also deaf. There were two sons born to this marriage on the original homestead (SE 33). Robert Arthur (Bob) was born June 3, 1924 and I, Thomas Edward (Tom), was born March 23, 1926.
Thomas Sr. like to gamble occasionally. He did get lucky in the winter of 1928 and made about $1,000 in oat options. This was quite a bit of money in those days. He bought four horses, a new seed drill, a binder, a plough, and a buggy. This helped him through the 1930s. Mary passed away in 1930.
The 1930s were just what they were called – the “Hungry Thirties.” In the winter of 1930-1931 Bob and I lived with out grandparents, James Sr. and Sarah Jane. Batching after that was pretty rough as the farm was reduced to one quarter. Our father, Thomas Sr., also kept some cattle.
Bob and I would make our own lunch and go to school. I started school when I was five as there was no one at home because my father, Thomas Sr., would be working in the field. Many of the boys at school felt sorry for our cooking and brought a little extra lunch for us. Things were really tough for us. We would hang our socks up Christmas Eve but they were always empty the next morning and there were no Christmas presents. Finally someone gave us a little cast-iron tractor which we played with and treasured.
In about 1935 our Grandfather Mather moved in with us as his wife had passed away a couple of years before. We had a room separated off for him. He made his own meals but that winter he had a stroke. We got the doctor to come to see him but a couple of days later he died. In 1936 Dad decided he was going to raise a big crop in 1937. He summerfallowed 110 acres; a lot for one quarter. In 1937 it was hot and there was no rain and it dried out the crops so we harvested 3.5 bushels per acre. Wheat was selling for $1.00 per bushel then. It was in about 1937 or 1938 that Dad put down a $50.00 deposit on a Hudson Bay quarter in Sturgeon Valley which was all bush. We gradually cleared pieces and had it broke. In 1938 Mr. Carter wanted Bob and me to stook his crop from the bundles the binder made. He paid us $12.00 for about 85 acres. Bob spent his $6.00 on a .22 rifle and I bought a pair of skis to ski to school. His .22 was the best investment as we used it to hunt partridges and prairie chickens for meat. I can remember going out Christmas Eve and hunting a partridge for Christmas dinner. We couldn’t afford a turkey and .22 shells were 25¢ for a box of 50. We also shot squirrels and the skins were worth 25¢ to 35¢.
We used to charge groceries at Buckles Store. The summer’s groceries would cost about $75.00 and we would pay the bill when we got the crop off. For a treat we would buy a 48-ounce can of jam, usually apple and strawberry because it was cheapest. It was pretty near all apple with maybe two strawberries to the can. It would be on sale for 39¢ a can. Dad would bake bread and if we ran out of bread he would make a batch of bannock from flour, eggs, baking powder, and water. In the later part of the 1930s the students would get a chance to sweep the school floors and scrub them on Saturday for $5.00 per week. It was a lot of work scrubbing those rough board floors. Bob and I would eat the parts of lunches left on the shelves in the porch. It usually wasn’t too fresh and very dry, but it was better than we had at home. In the 1930s a family moved onto the place Uncle Jim used to own. A lot of people moved from the prairies to land in the north as they were dried out down south. The family’s name was Hurleys and they had a pair of Shetland ponies. They asked us to use them to ride to school in exchange for taking care of them. I rode the smallest one; it was the mother of the one Bob rode. They were pretty smart, especially the one I rode. If it didn’t want to go to school, it would start trotting then stop dead; you couldn’t hang on and I would go right over its head. We would tie them in the barn at school in the winter. For fun during noon hour and recess, the students would get on backwards on the pony Bob rode and grab the hair above its rump. It would start bucking; no one was able to stay on more than four bucks and would land in the dry horse manure. The teacher got concerned about the dry horse-manure aroma coming in the school. One noon hour she caught us at our game and that was the end of that. In the spring the ponies opened the hand gate and took off. We looked and looked for them. Finally they were found 12 miles south of Shellbrook in a pound. They were going home, back to the prairie, but were afraid to cross the Saskatchewan River.
About 1938 the NW 34-50-3 W3 was purchased at Sturgeon Valley from the Hudson Bay Land Co. for $50.00 down. This land was all bush and was gradually cleared and broke.
In 1940 a used 1927 15-30 tractor was purchased. We had a Chevrolet car that was sold for the down payment on the tractor. The tractor cost $450 and was used to farm and break land. We did a lot of custom breaking with this tractor in order to pay for it and make a little more money. Bob Potts, my brother, served in the Army during World War II and after he returned he helped with the custom breaking and farm work.
On July 1, 1947 my father, Thomas Sr., was killed in a farm accident on the quarter at Sturgeon Valley. From 1947 to 1950 both my brother and I worked in Prince Albert for the winter to supplement the farm income.
In 1950 a brush cutter was purchased. We first owned a HD5 Allis Chalmers Caterpillar with brush piler and then in the fall we bought a HD10 Allis Chalmers with a brush cutter and piler. Bob took care of the brush cutting business and I worked on the farm. The brush cutter was sold in 1953 and we went into road construction working for CN Railway widening the track beds so gravel could be added without running off. There was quite a bit of highway construction in the 1950s and 1960s. Potts Construction under Bob’s management became one of the largest earth moving businesses in Saskatchewan with four different crews and road-building equipment.
I looked after the farm which was enlarged to thirteen quarters of land with 1,800 cultivated acres. The main crops have been wheat, canola, and barley. In the 1950s and 1960s we had a herd of registered Angus and commercial beef cattle. I also worked occasionally with the road construction crews.
I started to have brain seizures in 1968 and doctors felt I had a brain tumor. After a few years the seizures stopped and I was a little better. In 1971 our accountant, Don Maranda, advised us to separate the road construction and farming businesses in case my health got worse as it would make a large estate to settle if anything happened to Bob or I. In 1971 Bob took over the construction business and I took over the farm except for the original homestead (SE 33) which we still own jointly.
Bob added a paving unit to the road construction and he also bought an interest in the King George Hotel in Saskatoon. The hotel leased a large parkade and bowling alley to other businesses. Bob sold his interest in the hotel several years ago. Also, Bob financed the construction of two buildings which are leased to banks.
Bob served on R.M. Council from 1955 to 1959 and also served on Shellbrook Town Council. He was President of the Northern Trans-Canada Route Association from 1958 to 1960. This later became the Yellowhead Route Association.
I took over from Bob on R.M. Council at the end of 1959 and served 8 years as councillor and 8 years as Reeve of the R.M. of Shellbrook. I was Chairman of the Building Committee when a new municipal office building was constructed for both Town and R.M. administration. I served for 6 years on the Co-op Board with 3 years as President when the new Co-op building was constructed. I served a total of 20 years as Minister’s Warden and People’s Warden of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Shellbrook. I was Chairman of the Building Committee when the present church was built in 1966. I was President of the Recreation Association when the present skating and curling complex was built. I was President of Parkland Housing Co. which organized construction in 1976 of a special care home, Parkland Terrace, in Shellbrook. I was a member of the Shellbrook Masonic Lodge for 45 years serving as Master twice. Lillian has sung in St. Andrew’s Anglican Church Choir for many years, served as a Sunday School teacher, and served in all executive positions of the St. Andrew’s Anglican Church Women. Lillian was a member of the Order of Eastern Star and served as Matron when the organization was active in Shellbrook. Lillian helped a lot on the farm cooking, tending a large garden, doing the yard work, driving tractors, hauling grain, and driving combine.
Lillian and I sold the cattle in 1968 and started taking trips which included Spain, Australia, New Zealand, North Africa, England, Europe, Western United States, Alaska, and Canada. We travelled to Phoenix, Arizona for 16 winters from 1983 to 1999. We owned a mobile home in North Phoenix which we sold in 1999. We have a new cabin at Waskesiu Lake where we spend the summer. I still help on the farm in the spring driving a tractor and in the fall driving the combine.
In 1949 Bob Potts married Winona (Nona) Pocock who worked as a dental receptionist to Dr. Russell Partridge, a dentist in Prince Albert. Nona’s father, Clifford Pocock, was a Park Warden at the Prince Albert National Park. He and his wife, Nora, lived about 13 miles south of Waskesiu. Before this he had been a Forest Ranger at Holbein, 7 miles east of Shellbrook. Clifford and Nora Pocock retired to Prince Albert and have both passed away.
Bob and Nona made their first home on the original homestead (SE 33) before moving to Shellbrook in 1951. They had five children – two sons and three daughters. The two sons, Derrick (Rick) and Kevin farmed in the Rich Valley district for a few years.
Rick married Nora Taylor from Tisdale. Rick left the farm to go to university and received his Doctorate in Agriculture. He now works for the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool. Rick and Nora have three boys – Graham, Ian, and Brendon.
Kevin has three children from his first marriage: Florian, Heidi and Marike. Kevin and his partner Angela have a son Ryan, and live together on their family farm in Shellbrook where they raise organic oats and keep chickens, turkeys and donkeys.
The eldest daughter, Noreen, married Allan Weiss. They have two sons, Jeffrey and Todd, and one daughter, Kristyn. They live on a farm northeast of Shellbrook. Allan farmed for a while. Allan has since found full-time work in building construction as he is an Engineer. Todd married Andrea Sterling in August 2005 and she has a son Kaiden. Jeffrey and his partner, Donna Kindrachuk, have a son – Maddyx Weiss.
The middle daughter, Joanne, married Verne Helm. They have two sons, Tyler and Kyle, and a daughter, Nicole. Verne and Joanne also farm in the Rich Valley district four miles north of Shellbrook. Verne and Joanne have recently purchased a home in Shellbrook. Tyler, his wife, Crystal, and their son, Gage, are living on the farm. Tyler and Crystal are helping farm as well as working full-time in Prince Albert. Nicole married David Philp and she is employed as a high school math teacher in Prince Albert. Kyle is a mechanic and works at Carlton Honda in Prince Albert.
The youngest daughter, Kari, lives in Victoria, British Columbia where she attends University working on her Doctorate of Sociology and is teaching part-time. Kari’s partner is Gordon Hutchings, and he has a daughter, Ernie.
Nona passed away in 2003 in her eightieth year. Bob is now 81. Bob has been wintering in Phoenix for about 30 years. He now has a large motor home that he lives in at Phoenix and he has a home at Waskesiu Lake for the summers. He married Marie Szydlowski in the fall of 2004.
Thomas Potts Jr. married Lillian Stephens in June of 1951. Bill and Doris Stephens lived in the Pleasantville District where Lillian and her brother, Leo, started school. The family moved to the edge of Shellbrook from a farm three miles west, and the children completed their schooling in Shellbrook. Both Bill’s and Doris’ parents emigrated from England. Bill, at the age of nine, came to Canada with his parents. Doris was born near Parkside, Saskatchewan. Bill farmed, had dairy cattle, and worked at the creamery on the west side of Shellbrook. Lillian loved to curl and won the North Eastern School Championship in 1948. She played third on the Grand Challenge Rink with the late Sam Maddock in 1949.
Lillian and Tom Jr. have three daughters. Our eldest, Shirley, was born in 1955. After finishing high school she went to Robertson Business College in Saskatoon. She worked at the Churchill River Study until it was completed. She then worked for CFQC television until a job became available to work for the Department of Agriculture in Shellbrook. When the office closed in Shellbrook in 1993 she was transferred to the office in Prince Albert where she is currently working. Shirley married Ron Osarchuk in 1978. They live in Shellbrook and farm most of the land we own.
Our second daughter, Sandra, was born in 1957. In 1975 she married John Stochmanski from Leask and they live on a acreage south of Saskatoon. They have a son, Jonathan, who is completing his high school education. Their daughter, Joylynn, married Marlin Zacharias in July 2005 and they have a daughter, Shauna. Sandra works for and own 20 percent of LaRoche McDonald Agencies Limited which is an insurance agency and also manages 22 apartment blocks and 20 rental houses. John works for the City of Saskatoon and he has farm machinery to do custom work for local acreage owners.
Our youngest daughter, Shelley, was born in 1961. She married Don Crawford in 1980. They have a daughter, Shari, who is currently working in the resort of Candle Lake. Their son, Evan, works in the Parts Department of the Shellbrook Ford dealership. Shelley worked for CIBC in Rosthern and Don worked for Sask Tel. Shelley owns a quarter of land near Rosthern. Shelley and Don divorced in 2000. Shelley and her son live in the farm house we left 14 years ago when we moved to Shellbrook after building a new home.
Sandra and Shelley purchased the Shellbrook True Value Hardware in 2000. Shelley manages the store which carries a large inventory of over a half million dollars including hardware, housewares, clothing, tools, electronics, plumbing, and electrical – much like a general store of the homesteading years.