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Harptree, SK

Our Story:

James & Blanche Start

Harptree Resident: James 1907-1922

Blanche 1908-1926

During the beginning of the last century many European middle class people were encouraged or enticed to immigrate to the Canadian West with hopes of providing a secure future for themselves and families.

Influencing factors contributing to the decision to emigrate were the promotional recruitment activities by advertising posters, newspaper ads, town hall meetings & land agents all promising a prosperous future for all. The stagnant condition of local economies were of concern to many of the working class and small business owners, they saw no opportunity for advancement.

James Start, a Master Craftsman in the Baker’s Guild of England, owned and operated a bakery and confectionery in Wells, Somerset, England along with his wife Blanche, and two sons Harold and Wilfred.

During the early 1900’s, England had a government policy to revolutionize the heating systems of homes and business from the old system of coal & peat to gas heat. To make the changes for both a home and a business would be very costly; James reasoned, he would rather put the money into a farming venture in western Canada with all its advertised potential. Positive reports from younger brother William who had immigrated in 1904, added to his resolve to emigrate.

Blanche had many misgivings about such a gamble since both she & James were nearing middle age and the life style conditions as to health, education, housing would be inadequate. Besides to leave their home in one of England’s most picturesque cities and surrounding countryside to go and live in no man’s land was not a welcoming prospect, not to mention leaving family, friends, church and community.

James sold his bakery business and left for Canada in Sept. of 1906. He left from Liverpool on the SS Victorian arriving at the Port of Quebec City two weeks later. He journeyed by train to Carnduff, Sask. where relatives had located and where farm work was readily available.

In the spring of 1907, James made application for a homestead entry at the land office located in Alameda. The land number was N W ¼ –22—2—26 and was located 15 miles south east of Willow Bunch. In the summer of 1907, James arranged for his wife & boys to join him in Canada. James Start and a brother-in-law William Burnell, also living at Carnduff, did homestead duties the winter of 1907/08, Blanche and the boys stayed with family & friends.

James & Blanche Start with son Wilfred Year: 1914

James & Blanche Start with son Wilfred
Year: 1914

Highlights of James Start’s family first six months traveling to and living on the homestead.

—After spring seeding was finished at Carnduff, three families began the 3 week trip to their homesteads, a distance of 250 miles to the west.

—Each family had a team and wagon of belongings. James Start had a stove in his wagon on which they cooked their meals and even baked bread on the way.

—The men shot rabbits and ducks for fresh meat.

—When streams were too boggy for one team, the men would hitch the three teams to a wagon and pull them through one at a time.

—Two teams got away one night and it took two days to retrieve them.

—Wagons became stuck several times and wagons wheels broke traveling the rough trails.

—There was no homestead shack to live in on arrival.

—The family lived in an abandoned 12” by 14” shack made of mud & poles. It had not been completed, there was no floor, doors or windows.

—The Start’s managed with this place for five months.

—They dug a cellar hole which was the living quarters protected from the wind.

— They made a platform of poles and lumber scraps to put the stove on and small standing space, finding the poles and lumber scraps from an abandoned shack ¼ mile away that had blown down.

—James made a table and chairs from the smaller scrap wood, putting them together with wooden pegs which he whittled with a jack knife.

—A few acres of crop was sowed on the land broke the year before, also a garden planted.

—Water, milk and eggs were obtained from neighbors.

—After the small crop was put in, James began building his own homestead shack, using poles from trees in the Big Muddy.

—A prairie fire came very near that summer. Blanche and the boys moved belongings to the middle of the garden plot, then retreated to a nearby slough for safety.

—James went back the 250 miles to Carnduff for harvest, hoping to make enough money to carry his family through the winter.

—While there, one of his old team of horses died and the other was too obstinate to work with another horse which resulted in James not getting as much work as he had hoped, he made only his wages and no extra.

—He had to buy another team which left him with .25c and a bag of flour for the winter ahead.

—A friend at Carnduff gave him two pigs but he lost one of them on the way home.

—While James was gone, Blanche and the boys gathered in the garden produce, and carried hay by the armfuls to put into the unfinished house to keep from wandering horses that would run lose all fall and winter because their owners had no feed for them.

—James arrived back in early November hoping to finish the house.

—Time ran out, as winter came early that year. The family moved everything from the temporary shack to the lean-to of their unfinished homestead shack as it was the only part of the house with a roof on.

—A door was made of packing crates that had been shipped from England with their possessions. Blankets were put over the window holes.

—That Dec. it got very cold, with temperatures dipping to -20, they could not keep warm. They all put on all the clothes they owned to try and keep warm.

—Dec. 30, 1908, a neighbor came to the Start’s as he couldn’t keep warm in his shack but neither could they. They decided to all walk to a neighboring home two miles away.

—The youngest son did not have mitts, so his mother made a muff for him out of a petticoat. He had recently turned five, it was hard for him to walk and he was too heavy to carry, when he was being carried he couldn’t keep warm.

Harold J. B. Start Year: 1914

Harold J. B. Start
Year: 1914

—The first neighbor didn’t have room for them all but kept the young boy (Wilfred).

—The three adults and older son walked another 5 miles to another neighbor, a well-established Metis family, they were taken in, warmed and fed by the Alex Rivard family.

—-Alex hitched up a team and sleigh and went to get the younger son although it was dark and very cold.

—-The Starts’ and their neighbor remained with the Rivard family for 9 weeks due to the inadequate unfinished shack and the severe winter.

—-They were made most welcome and treated so kindly they always remembered and were so grateful for these special neighbors.

In the spring of 1909, James, Blanche and Wilfred returned to Carnduff where James worked until after harvest. He returned to do homestead duties for the winter, applied for his pre-emption NE ¼ 22-4-26-2 2nd which bordered his homestead quarter. Blanche and the boys remained with family & friends in Carnduff. The spring of 1910, saw the family living in a completed homestead house and working the small farm. Hardships continued throughout the years but not as severe as the 1st 6 months. In 1912, the house on the hill was built and was used continuously for another fifty years.

The road to success in farming on the prairies was achieved only through many hardships and heartaches by most and never achieved at all by some. The land itself was cheap to begin, banks and machinery companies charged such high interest rates that they crippled many a farmer.

There were no government handouts in the early settlement days nor were they expected.

The pioneer farmers figured out their own way to survive when bad times came upon them.

—James Start did custom hay cutting and raking in the surrounding area.

—He hauled mail from 1914-1922 with team & buggy or sleigh from Willow Bunch.

—He was the Harptree post master during these years with the post office located in his home.

—He was a Commissionaire of Oaths for the district.

—He sold baking at special events in the area.

—He and Alex Rivard were in partnership of a threshing machine, custom threshing from 1912-1916.

—Blanche cooked at the various threshing locations from a wagon designed as a cook car.

—James sold a small portion of land for a community cemetery and another bigger portion for the town site.

Community activities were a highlight of most families and a welcome get away from the daily work. Folks traveled for miles to attend the special picnics, church services & activities and sports events. The coming of the railroad in 1926 made the lives of the pioneer farmers much easier. A hamlet was created bringing many services to the community they could only dream about.

Both of the Starts died at an early age, James age 54 and Blanche age 62. Both are buried in the Harptree Cemetery.


Passenger Lists—Sk. Archives

Homestead Records—Sk. Archives

Death Certificates

Cemetery Records

Family History—L. Fleming

Harold J. B. Start

Harptree resident 1907-1914

Harold James Berkley Start was born at Wells, Somerset Co., England August 28th 1895, son of James and Blanche (Hayes) Start. He attended public school from age four to eight, from age eight to twelve years he attended the private school reserved for the boys that sang in the famous Wells Cathedral choir. He was able to assist his parents in their bakery/confectionery establishment and care for his young brother Wilfred.

Start Family Year: 1917 Mode of travel.

Start Family
Year: 1917
Mode of travel.

Moving to a new country was an exciting adventure for young Harold, who was age 12 and unaware of the many difficulties that would change their very lives. Each new learning experience was a challenge that he was eager to experience. He did much of the farm work while his father did custom work & helped neighbors.

He remained very interested in worship service and singing, which seemed to be an ingrained necessity from the years spent learning and singing at Wells Cathedral. In the years, 1910-12, Harold often walked the nine miles to the Anglican Church in the Hoath district, the only such church in the area. However, there were visiting ministers that came a couple times a year to hold local services, also there were student ministers that would come to the area and stay several months at a time as part of their seminary training before they could take charge of a parish on their own, these students were Anglican, Baptist or Presbyterian.

One such student was young Mr. Woods, who became personal friends of the Starts’. They fixed up an abandoned homesteader shack, that was on their pre-emption quarter formerly the land of David Dixon, for the young minister. He was comfortable there, he could study and he ate his meals with the Starts which lived nearby. He was a student of the Presbyterian Church involved with the group Prairie Brethren. He could read French but could not speak it; Harold could speak French but could not read it. They helped each other most evenings. Mrs. Start was quite ill that summer (1910), the student was very good to help her with meal preparation or any other chores. He appreciated having a home away from home.

In the spring of 1912, Harold worked in the farming district of Yoemans, a few miles west of Weyburn. During this year he attended the Free Methodist church services in Weyburn, influencing his religious thinking away from the Anglican faith in which he was trained.

Wilfred Start Year: 1930 Wilfred's Model T Ford

Wilfred Start
Year: 1930
Wilfred’s Model T Ford

At age eighteen, in the fall of 1913, Harold made application for a homestead S W ¼ -13-3-30 W 2nd in the Little Woody district close to Fife Lake. He worked in the harvest fields in that area until he took entry Nov. 30th . There was breaking and seeding come spring and further improvements. He enjoyed having his own place, fixing it up and dreaming of a bright future.

Pioneer families were close knit communities. Once a year they all got together for an annual picnic. The districts of Hart, Harptree, Hoath and Little Woody took a turn year about to host the picnic. There would be ball games, races with entertainment and a dance in the evening.

At the annual picnic of 1914 (Aug.4), hosted by the Harptree community and held on the Kings farm, came the news of Britain’s declaration of war against Germany. Recruiting offices were soon set up in larger centers such as Weyburn, recruiting officers went to rural areas like Bengough, contacting volunteers for military service.

In late October of 1914, Harold Start and other local district young men, Ron Prescott, Alfred Penhorwood, James Hutchison, and Reginald Cranston went to Weyburn via the train at Viceroy. They enlisted Nov. 8 and remained in Weyburn for three weeks training as part of the 32nd Battalion. Harold became an expert marksman and was one of only a few to learn the art of signaling. This Battalion was then stationed in Winnipeg for further training. The training was intense but the accommodations and food were satisfactory, no real complaints, there was even some spare time for social activities. Harold took some classes at Wesley College Seminary, contemplating a ministerial profession on discharge and was active in the Methodist Church.

The picture took a drastic change when they were sent overseas to train at Folkstone, England. The men did extensive front line training for only a few days before being sent to the front lines in France by April 1st, 1915 as part of the 10th Battalion. That training did not adequately prepare them for the horrific situation they had to deal with every day, the death & destruction, life in the trenches.

Because of his ability to ride horses and ability to speak French (both learned during the nine months that he spent at the Rivards’, Harold later became a scout and dispatch rider taking crucial messages on very dangerous missions. He felt he would not survive these missions, even wrote a good-bye letter home. Harold was killed in action June 3rd, 1916, at Verdun, France, age 20 years.


Homestead Records—Sk. Archives

Military Documents

Start letters home

Family history—L. (Start) Fleming

Wilfred J.N. & Irma (O’Neal) Start

Harptree resident: Wilfred Start 1908—1973

Irma Start 1932—

Wilfred John Norman Start was born October 30, 1902 at Wells, Somerset Co., England to James and Blanche (Hayes) Start. His parents operated a bakery/confectionery business next door and he spent much time in the bakery as a youngster. Wilfred started school at age four which was standard procedure.

In the summer of 1907, Blanche, Harold & Wilfred prepared to leave their home in Wells, packed necessary possessions and sold furniture getting ready to immigrate to Canada. They traveled by train to Liverpool where they boarded the SS Virginian, leaving August 16th, 1907 and arriving at the port of Quebec City August 23rd.

That same day, they boarded a CPR colonist train for the trip west to join James. Wilfred recalled that at the end of each railway car was cooking facilities; each family prepared their own meals with utensils and food they brought with them. The remainder of the car was filled with wooden benches and wooden sections that were attached high up on the sides of the rail car; these were pulled down at night to become bunks. Each family had to supply their own blankets and cushions. Blanche and boys watched the scenery roll by, noting the endless trees through Quebec, Ontario and part of Manitoba, then total contrast of wide open spaces from Winnipeg to Carnduff (both scenes so different from their beloved homeland). Never forgotten by Wilfred, the exciting reunion with his father and all the new surrounding of a mixed farm, along with the hugs, visiting and pictures with aunts, uncles and cousins.

The first winter for Blanche and the boys was no hardship as they lived with a family that was well established with large, comfortable farm house and large barn. Every day there were new things to learn for both mother and sons. This new learning helped prepare them to handle the many hardships ahead.

The winter of 1909/10, Blanche and boys lived on a farm in the Glen Ewen area. Harold worked as chore boy and Wilfred attended school. (William Floyd began school the same year at the same place). After moving back to the homestead in fall of 1910, Wilfred continued school lessons being tutored by Mrs. Emma Buckler until classes began in 1913 at the new Harptree School. Formal education for Wilfred ended with completion of grade four due to several years of health problems one of which was TB but he self-educated throughout his life time.

1912, James Start and Tom Durrant built the house on the hill with lumber having to be hauled from Ogema. It was the first house in the district to be shingled. Both of the boys spent many hours assisting with the project, learning many practical skills that were of value to both in a few years.

1916, Wilfred lost a for-all-time hero when his brother Harold was killed in WWI. The loss was difficult for him and his parents; it seemed to put their lives at a standstill for months.

Wilfred & Irma Start & Family Year: 1984 Family (L/R) Leona (seated), Joyce, Donn, Harold, Dolores & Elaine (seated)

Wilfred & Irma Start & Family
Year: 1984
Family (L/R)
Leona (seated), Joyce, Donn, Harold, Dolores & Elaine (seated)

When Wilfred was 18 years, he took over the farming operation, making some changes to cropping, rotation, seed choices, all of which proved to be a positive move. His father passed away, an untimely death in November of 1922 at the age of 54. Wilfred and his mother Blanche continued to operate the farm and the post office. Wilfred continued to haul the mail from Bengough to Harptree with horses until he bought his first car in 1923.

In 1926, the railroad came through and the mail was then transported by train. In 1926, Wilfred’s mother passed away at age 62, his family now all deceased.

He rented the farm for two years and worked in Weyburn for Laings Beverages. After harvest, 1928, he began farming again and did so until retirement. By 1930, Wilfred had a successful mixed farming operation. He was an astute business man, good bookkeeper and lived within his means.

As a young adult, he enjoyed sports and was able to play well at most. Harptree district had several active sport teams which would compete with surrounding teams.

Wilfred had a special ability to witch for water, a process used to locate an underground water supply using a forked willow branch or forked wire.

In 1932, Wilfred met the O’Neal family who had journeyed to the area due to unforeseen circumstances. (see O’Neal story). April 5, 1934, Wilfred Start and Irma O’Neal were married in Bengough. They lived on the farm all through the years, raising and educating a family of six; Leona, Elaine, Harold, Donn, Dolores and Joyce. (see separate stories).

Throughout most of their farming years, the work was hard, the hours long but they accepted and met each challenge.

During the years, Wilfred had to supplement his income by other means. Milk, cream and eggs were delivered to Harptree residents, as well as weekly shipments to the creamery in Weyburn. After two years of hail, in 1941 Wilfred once again hauled mail from Willow Bunch to Harptree for the years 1942-46.

Farming was made easier and less time consuming with powered equipment and vehicles.

In 1958, electric power came to the area, again lessening the workload of everyone.

Throughout his life, Wilfred was an involved, dedicated worker for his church and community. He demonstrated honesty, integrity, care and concern for family and friends.

He had a special ability for recollection of people and events in the whole area. He was a founding member of the Sask.Wheat Pool and the Co-operative movement. He served on the Harptree School board and Cemetery Board. He became interested in politics in the early 30’s, was a scrutineer at most elections because he knew everyone around the area.

In 1969, Wilfred & Irma moved from the house on the hill, a short distance to the former teacherage in the school yard and Wilfred continued to operate the farm. In the spring of 1973, they sold the farm to the Land Bank, in the fall retired to Bengough. Retirement was well earned but life continued to be busy with fixing the house, some traveling, church and community related activities, visiting families.

Wilfred passed away December 9, 1991. Irma continues to live in their Bengough home, age 92 (2004) caring for herself with some help of family, friends and neighbors.