by Edna White Byland
Edited by Keith Woodard
Historical Materials 200
Table of Contents
St. Paul De Metis
End of the Line
The Last Straw
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Blanchester was a small farming community in Clinton County in southwest Ohio.
Hamilton was a farming and railroad town in Butler County in southwest Ohio.
Middletown was a farming and mill town in Butler County in southwest Ohio.
Woodville was a small farming community in Clermont County in southwest Ohio.
For further information regarding this history please email Patti
In 1872 Canada began a series of measures to stimulate settlement and development of the prairie provinces: Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The Dominion Lands Act of 1872 called for a prior survey system to lay out a grid of townships across the country. Each township would contain 36 one square mile sections. Immigrants were encouraged to homestead the prairie provinces. They were entitiled to a quarter section, 160 acres. The next measure came in 1880; it encouraged the building of the railroad across the continent to the Pacific. The Canadian Pacific Railway Company was formed and given massive land grants along the railroad route to compensate the company for its construction expenses. Saskatchewan and Alberta were granted province status in 1905. These acts were patterned after those already in effect in America.[The American Acts Canada used to base these measures on were the Ordinance of 1785, the Homestead Act of 1812 and the Railroad Land Grants of 1869 (Kerr 1975)]
Frank Oliver, an Alberta resident, was appointed Canadian Minister of the Interior in 1905, a post he held until 1911. He implemented an aggressive policy to attract the English, Americans and East Europeans to immigrate to Canada and settle in the prairie provinces. Oliver, also, pushed the New Dominion Lands Act through Parliament in 1908. This bill preempted the unsold railroad grant land and opened this land for homesteading. [Frank Oliver was instrumental in the settlement and the development of the prairie provinces throught his public career from 1888 to 1928 (Waddell 1957)]9
In 1913, Ray White packed his family and all their belongings and headed north to Alberta. Driven by dreams of land, wealth and adventure, the Whites left their comfortable life in Ohio for the Canadian frontier.
This story of Edna White and her family shows the effects of the lingering pioneer spirit in some Americans. Encouraged by her younger sister, Lou, to record her memories, Edna penned her story entitled Up North in 1975. She described the adventures and misadventures of the White family, the daily hard work, the extreme conditions they endured, how they survived, and what sent them back to America.
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Edna White Byland's story, Up North, was handwritten in 1975 at the request of Lou White Schlicht. The manuscript was given to Edna's daughter, Marge, to transcribe. Copies of the typescript were given to various family members including Lou. The manuscript was unavailable for use in this project. Therefore, the typescript was used. I believe it to be a full and accurate copy of the original manuscript.
Several problems became apparent in reading the story which I felt needed attending. The overuse and misuse of punctuation throughout the story was distracting and sometimes confusing. This included commas, hyphens and quotation marks. I attempted to clean up the punctuation without changing the meaning and continuity of the story. There were many run-on sentences, some of which were wandering or disconnected. These were changed wherever possible with simple punctuation or use of a conjunction.
Edna did not include many dates in the story. Whenever possible the date or a close approximation was added in the side notes to help place events in time. Also, to help break the story into time or event periods, chapters and titles have been included.
The occasional misspelled words were corrected. Awkward grammar was left intact except when it obscured the meaning of the sentence. Then it was changed to clarify and simplify the sentence.
Finally, an attempt has been made to keep editing to a minimum to ensure that the character and style of Edna White Byland came through.
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OHIO, THE BEGINNING
Until I was ten years old, I lived in Ohio. I remember living in Blanchester with Mom, Dad, and my brothers Paul and Ray. I went to school there and how frightened I was when I had to go to the basement to go to the toilet! That in itself scared me when I had to pull the chain and all that water roared above ready to drown me! But that big monster of a furnace, crouching with its arms spread all over to each room, really made me sneak down those stairs and dart into a booth, get through as fast as possible, grab the chain, and run! At home we had privys in our back yard with two big seats and one little one; a moon cut into the door, morning glories climbing all over it, bees buzzing outside and a catalogue to look at. It was a friendly place. In the house there were chamber pots under the beds for night time and cold day use!
Dad was a contractor-builder and I remember when he came home and told Mom in the new house he was building there was to be a whole room with a bathtub and toilet in it. She wondered how that would be, when no matter how clean you scrubbed the privy they were always smelly! I think her words were, "How in the world could you have that dirty thing in the house?"
Every week we went to Woodville to visit Grandma and Grandpa Long on their little farm. It was such a fun place to be. They let us do anything we pleased as long as we didn't get hurt. I got to go barefooted in the dust out on the dusty road! Something I never got to do in town. I can still feel the warm dust as I wiggled my toes in it. Grandpa only had one arm, his right one was off at the shoulder. Having come through the war O.K., he lost his arm in a hunting accident when Mom was a baby. But one arm or not, he was the sheriff for many years. [Fred Long lost his right arm while climbing over a fence with a loaded gun. There is no record of him being a sheriff in Warren, Clermont or Brown counties (Richards 1984).] He was tall and thin, Grandma was short and cuddly. She was Irish with curly red hair and very quick in her movements, darting here and there like a bird. [Note: Fred Long was in the Civil War from August 1862 to July 1865. He was in Company E, 17th Ohio Infantry]
We didn't get to visit our other Grandparents as often as they lived further away on a bigger farm. We went there every month, though. Sometimes we went on the train and had to be met at the depot. [The White family probably rode the B&O Railroad on these trips (Dorin 1978)]
Frederick and Margaret Long at their Woodville home, Woodard ca 1910
Mostly we drove places in our carriage until Dad got his first car, but that came later after we moved to Middletown. Until we got a car, Mom called them Devil Carriages because our horses used to rear up and try to run away when we met a car. But after we got one, she thought it would be a good idea if the horses would just get out of the way!
Anyway, it was fun visiting Grandma and Grandpa White, too. Everything was on a much larger scale and I still remember the first time Grandpa took me out to the big barn, all those horses and cows! He showed me where milk really came from and let me try to milk. He was big and tall, too, and my Grandmother's were almost alike in build, though Grandma White was Scotch and had snow white hair. I never saw her any other way as her hair turned white when she was just over thirty years old. It was my Grandmothers who told me that water closets were called privys because that meant private.
Abner and Mariah White, Byland ca 1910
We moved to Middletown where Dad had built what would now be called a duplex, then it was called a two family or double house. We lived in one side and another family moved into the other side and this was later to be rental property. My Aunt Lala, Dad's sister, had come to live with us just before we left Blanchester, as Mom was expecting another child. It was in this duplex that my brother, Alvie, was born.[Alva White was born in the spring of 1910 (Woodard 1987)]
It was a difficult birth as he came face first. Mom was afraid to let the Doctor used forceps so she was torn a bit and the baby's face was pushed up almost to the top of his skull. The Doctor pushed his facial skin down into shape again. He was a mess for a while, but grew into another handsome little boy.
All this time Dad was trying to get our new home ready for us. It was in a beautiful spot in the suburbs. There were winding roads and lots of trees, with only a few nice homes here and there. We were all so happy to be where we could have our horses with us again instead of boarding them out.
I remember Dad having a photographer come to take a picture of us on one of our favorite ponies. Dad stood at the head and we were all lined up on the horse's back; first me, then Paul, Ray and Alvie. Mom stood by Alvie to steady him on the horse, he was so small. This was a very large picture in a frame and hung on the wall for many years.
It seemed no time at all till our paradise was spoiled. The city passed an ordinance making it unlawful for saloons to operate within the city limits, so they all moved just outside! We were surrounded. Seven of them within shouting distance. Soon, just in back of our home, a foreign settlement sprang up. [The foreign settlement was just outside the Middletown city limits on the south side. These people were Hungarians brought in to work in the steel mill by the American Rolling Company (Crout 1987)]
I don't remember any resentment toward these people. We knew they were from a different country because most of them couldn't speak English, but a smile is understood in any language and we were friends. When a new baby arrived we were so happy for them and took little love gifts. The new Mamas in turn let us see the baby and gave us cookies. I remember when one infant died, it was laid out in the front room with pennies on it's little eyelids to keep them closed. We all cried together. Afterwards I often took flowers to this sad young Mother and we sat in the sun on the steps and talked.
Of course, with the change, all property value went down. [When the Hungarians moved in, the area became a slum. It was not cleaned up until the 1970's (Crout, 1987)] When Dad found out we visited the back doors of saloons where the friendly saloon keepers and family gave us pretzels, etc., and we were liable to be hit by a stray bullet or knocked down by a drunk, he moved us fast as he could.
The foreign settlement people were a happy, friendly, loving people, and the kids loved to visit them. Only one thing, they lived in shacks and baked their bread in great outside ovens. I remember if those great round loaves got a bit burned they had a rock beside the front of the oven and when the women took the bread out they'd sorta whop the burnt crust off with a stick, one side of the loaf resting on the rock. If a stray dog came by they'd whop the dog, then back to the bread!
Another thing, the men loved to visit the saloons and when drunk would likely as not settle any trouble with guns. Shots were liable to fly around any night. I remember when Aunt Alice brought her children to visit us, that night a gunfight broke out and shots were fired all around. [Aunt Alice White Janes was Ray White's older sister (Woodard, 1987)] Aunt Alice thought it was just awful to live in the wild west and next morning early she was all packed and left for home.
Alice White Janes and children in front of their home, Byland 1914
Dad was busy building us another home back within the city limits. It was just great! Tile bath and kitchen, all the modern things it was possible to have. Our furnace there was friendly, set in the middle of a light and cheerful basement. Here we had a young married couple that lived in, Charlie and Goldie. She helped in the house and he did the yard work and cared for our carriage horses. It was while we lived here that Dad bought our first car. We had two, but he still kept his horses. If one of us got sick Mom just phoned the Doctor and he came and made us feel better. Every day she'd also phone the grocer and give him her order for the day which he would deliver. In fact, unless she wanted to, she needn't ever walk outside for anything.
Each spring and fall we had a seamstress who came to see what new clothes we all wanted made. After a few fittings she'd bring them to us all finished. Also we had a laundress who came every week to do the washing and ironing. It was here that my sister, Lou, was born.
She was a cuddly living doll! Dad bought over a hundred pounds of candy and treated all the men who worked for him and he laughingly called his baby girl "The Candy Kid"!
When she was three months old and I was ten years old, in 1913, we moved to Alberta, Canada. Dad's two partners went with us, so did Charlie and Goldie. Charlie road in the box car with Dad's horses to care for them. A car load of Mom's lovely possessions were also shipped. In fact Dad shipped everything except my piano, our shetland ponies and the automobile. We used the car for the last time to go to our Grandparents and tell them goodbye. In my mind's eye I can still see them standing there waving while I knelt on the back seat looking back at them as long as I could see them. We never got to see them again, but over sixty years later I have clear and wonderful memories of them and my Aunts and Uncles and oh, so many cousins!
I don't know how much money Dad had but it must have been quite a lot because when he and I were wandering around in the pasture at Grandma Long's saying our goodbyes to the pet animals Dad said, "Come here, Sis, I want to show you something." And he opened his bulging money belt and pulled the top bill off a big stack and said, "You've never seen a thousand dollar bill so take a good look at this one and remember it is one hundred dollars for each year you have lived." I know we traveled in style from Ohio to Edmonton, Alberta.
Middleton House built by Rayman White, Byland 1912
[The Whites left for Alberta in June 1913. The most probable train route was Middletown to Chicago through Hamilton on the B&O. Then from Chicago they would have gone through Minneapolis to Winnipeg on the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie. Their last leg would have been from Winnipeg
to Calgary on the Canadian Pacific Railway (Paullin 1932)]
Map of Alberta
- Ashmont was established in 1911 and was named after a Boston suburb.
- Calgary was founded in 1876 by Colonel James MacLeod of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. It was Alberta's leading city until Edmonton surpassed it 20 years later.
- Edmonton was built on the site of Fort Edmonton which was built in 1795 and destroyed by Indians in 1807. It became Alberta's leading city in the 1890's and the capital city in 1905.
- Lac La Biche was founded in 1790 by French trappers. The anglicized form of the name, Red Deer Lake.
- McMurray, formerly Fort McMurray until 1931, was established in 1870 as a trading post by Factor H.J. Moberly for the Hudson's Bay Company. It was named after Inspecting Chief Factor William McMurray. It is located at the junction of the Clearwater and Athabasca.
- Redcliff was established in the 1890's and was named for the red cliffs on the south side of the Saskatchewan River.
- St. Paul de Metis was established in 1894 by Father Lacombe as a half-breed Metis settlement. Father Lacombe wanted to preserve the Metis as a race, but met with little success and abandoned his goal by 1906.
- Vegreville was settled in 1895 by French Canadians from Kansas. It was named for Father Valentin Vegreville.
- Waterways was established in 1920 as the terminus of the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway. It is at the junction of the Clearwater and Athabasca Rivers and is adjunct to McMurray.
- Whitefish Lake was named for the many white fish in the lake.
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Travelling on the train was not new to us, but this was the first time we'd eaten three meals a day, in the dining car. It was very impressive. All the men had to wear coats and ties. I remember because one man attempted to go in shirt sleeves and was asked to 'please put on your coat, suh!" The finger bowls were new to us children, but Dad told us how to use them. When the train would stop Dad would go to check on Charlie and see how he was doing with the horses. I don't know how many days and nights we traveled, but it was pleasant and when I grew restless or tired of looking out the windows, I'd read. Everyone was great to us, the conductor brought us ice cream or candy several times when we made a short stop in the evening. No one seemed to mind a family traveling in those days. Of course, we were never allowed to bother the other passengers, but they seemed to like to come and sit and visit with us.
When we arrived in Calgary, Dad settled us in a hotel and we went to see that beautiful city. It was a lovely place to be in the springtime. Dad looked around and found a rooming house run by a widow with a grown daughter. They only took in good families. We loved it there and Dad and partners scouted around to see where it seemed best to settle down and make our new home. They settled on Redcliff, a little town six miles from Medicine Hat (where much natural gas comes from). There was a boom in real estate and building, so we got on the train again and landed in Redcliff. [Edmonton experienced a real estate boom in 1911/1912. In late 1912 and early 1913 the Hudson's Bay Company flooded the market with more land, causing a depression. Upon his arrival in Calgary in 1913, Ray White may have been influenced by the depressed Edmonton market and backtracked to Redcliff (Niddrie 1965)]
It was so booming it was hard to find a place to stay. A couple had jerrybuilt a rooming house. It was just rough lumber, the two by fours showing inside, rough splintering floor, and the walls were only partway up partitions between the rooms. A narrow hallway ran between two rows of rooms, each held a bed and washstand with pitcher and basin. Of course, everybody could hear everyone else even if they just breathed! Well, we had to stay there! And Dad got us meal tickets for a restaurant. A meal ticket is about the size of a playing card with numbers in little squares all around it. The cashier punched out numbers to equal the money spent on each meal.
Dad bought six lots out a ways, but within walking distance of town. Then he started to build a house in a hurry. We moved in as soon as the floor was laid and sides were up and roof on! Incomplete, but better than the place we were in. We had breakfast there, Mom and Goldie prepared it. Then before noon Paul and I would walk to town with a basket and order and we'd carry back our midday meal. It couldn't have been very far, if we at ten years and eight years carried it. I remember we'd have to change hands often coming home with the basket full, but the meal ticket was very handy to send with us.
Now this is prairie country and you could look for miles 'n miles. We didn't live out there long as Dad had another place in town he was building for us, another duplex. When we moved into it I was so happy because once again I could go to school. We had nice neighbors and children our age to play with. It was here that Mom took up the English custom of afternoon tea. It is a nice, relaxing thing to do and she and the neighbors visited back and forth for it each day.
Dad could no longer keep Goldie and Charlie as help so they rented the other side of the house and Charlie worked for Dad in his contracting and building business.
Now that I'd started school here, we had about a mile to walk each way so we carried our lunch. Most children did, only those living very close went home at noon. The rest of us went down to the basement to eat, seldom were we allowed to eat at our desks. I loved my teacher and school was always something I enjoyed. That winter I froze my ears so badly on my way to school and was so cold when I got there, even before the teacher, that I huddled by the warm radiator to get warm. That is no way to thaw frozen ears! They thawed alright, but turned black and swelled to twice their size. I almost lost them both. But nature took over and healed them. Any exposed part of the body froze quickly in that intense cold. We learned to grab a handful of snow and rub a spot on the cheek or nose that turned white and we watched out for anyone walking with us, too. Hands we clapped together and feet we stomped! The best thing to do was to keep everything covered with wool and to keep moving.
Mom was going to have another baby! It must have been hard on her not having as much help as she was sued to. None, in fact, except me, but I never heard her complain. Her feet and ankles swelled so that I used to sit at her feet and rub them every evening. Shortly before her time, my friend Joyce decided to tell me the facts of life in lurid and explicit detail. I was shocked and angry that she would say such things and shouted, "My Mom and Dad wouldn't do that!!" and then I ran home to ask. That evening as I sat rubbing Mom's ankles I looked up at her and said, "Mom, I know you're going to have a baby and I'm glad, but Joyce told me her Mom was going to come and take care of you for two weeks when the baby comes and then she told me lots of other things." I tried to tell her my newly learned facts. How I must have embarrassed her! But she reminded me that I knew about mothers giving birth, that I'd seen animals give birth and that sex was not dirty. Animals did it and that was how the seed was planted and their babies grew inside the mother until they were right for living in the world. That sex (she didn't use THAT word) for people was an act of love for married couples so they could have babies and babies could have Mothers and Fathers and be in a family. Well, I got the idea, sex is for animals, but an act of love for people!
When baby Jimmie was born, true enough, Mrs. Fitkin came and spent two weeks caring for Mom and the new baby. [Jimmie White was born in 1915 (Woodard, 1987)] She was one of my favorite grown-ups and was such fun to have around. I had to stay home from school for three weeks to help out, but my girl friend, Etha Freckleton, brought all the school work to me and I studied each night. At the end of three weeks Mom said if I'd stay home one more day to help with the washing then I could go to school the next day on Tuesday. I was so anxious to be at school on Monday morning that I got up at 2:30 that morning and heated water and did the wash. We had natural gas in the house so it was no problem heating water, but that must have been some wash as we had no help now and all laundry had to be scrubbed on a washboard, then rinsed in another tub. There were now eight of us and I was only twelve years old! Anyway, when Mom and Dad got up they told me to rest while they got breakfast so I got to go to school where I almost fell asleep at my desk.
I remember asking Mom once if she wasn't very happy when I was born, having waited so long for a baby. They were married three years before I came. She answered, "No, not really. I liked things as they were, but your Dad wanted a family." I had to go on, so I asked, "Well, did your want a boy or girl first?" She said, "Oh, a girl, I guess, because then she could help me with the housework." This was not unusual in those days on a farm. Men often wished for boys to help out and women wished for girls.[It is interesting to note that the Whites did not live on a farm until they moved to Alberta (Woodard, 1987)]
Since the war had started in 1914 work got steadily worse, especially in the building trade. The bottom had dropped out of real estate so Dad's two partners decided to go back home. So did Goldie and Charlie. We hated to see them go because they were just like family now. [The economic boom that carried Canada through 1913 turned into a depression at the outset of WWI in 1914. The depression lasted throughout the war and into the 1920's (Niddrie 1965)]
Now Dad began to think of going farther north. He and two other men, Mr. Fitkin and Mr. Moran, were all hopped up about free land for homesteading north of Edmonton, so they set out to look at it. They went by train as far as they could, then by horses. After they'd found what they were looking for, they came back to Edmonton where they heard a cyclone had struck in the area where they'd left us. There were no passenger trains leaving at the time, but the crew on a freight train took them aboard and let them off at Redcliff. People really helped each other in those days.
We'd had a cyclone alright! I'd gotten home from school and Mom and the kids were in the kitchen. I'd just looked out the front window and called, "Come quick and look at this funny cloud!" It was a funnel shape, copper colored and I could just see it twist and turn. Before they got there to see, it struck. Buildings rolled over and over like tumbleweeds. One big brick building had each brick scattered over blocks and blocks, not even one on top of another. Another building looked like a huge elephant had stepped on it and flattened it. The new hotel had the top story lifted off, like slicing the top layer off a cake. The cyclone seemed to go in a twisting, crooked path. Lots of people were killed or hurt, but we were O.K. Only a strip of shingles was torn off our roof and a 2x4 was put right through the side of our house, like thread through the eye of a needle. As soon as the storm quieted, Mom and us ran out into the hail and ran to a neighbors, the Blairs. They were worried because their only child, a red headed little boy who went to school with me, was not home yet as he delivered papers. After a while he arrived, though soaked to the skin and a bit battered, he was O.K. He said when the wind hit him he grabbed a telephone pole and with his arms around that he lay flat on the ground as the wind tried to tear him away from it. Tommy Blair was a smart little boy!
Mom really hated to be alone, but we were all very happy when we saw Dad coming up the road! He was happy, too, because none of us were hurt.
Dad told us we were going to move again. Mr. and Mrs. Moran and their son and daughter were leaving first, as he was going to start a general store near Whitefish Lake, and Mr. and Mrs. Fitkin and three daughters, Lottie, Joyce, and Pauline, were leaving with us as soon as we could get ready.
Before we got ready to leave Redcliff, Mom and Dad baked the biggest fruitcake I've ever seen and the best I've ever tasted. They followed a recipe and seemed to be having a lot of fun working together. This was the first and one of the few times I ever saw Dad work in a kitchen! The cake had all kinds of goodies in it and was such a huge cake that Dad had to do the stirring. It took all HIS strength. When finished, it was a three tiered cake and frosted! The bottom layer must have been twenty or twenty four inches across. We took much of this cake with us on the trip and everyone enjoyed it.
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Once again we were packed onto a train. Horses and furniture went too. This time we had no Charlie to care for the horses in the boxcar, so some of the family had to. I remember it was winter time and we loved seeing all the trees covered with snow. We missed trees. We were not travelling with as much comfort as we had coming from Ohio, but we made merry and sang Christmas carols most of the way. Everyone in the car joined in the singing and it was fun. We stayed in Edmonton for several weeks, the Fitkin family and us. I loved Edmonton and the shops all a-glitter with Christmas. We spent Christmas there and Mrs. Fitkin bought me my first sewing basket that Christmas.[This Christmas was spent in Edmonton in 1915 (Woodard 1987)] Dad had the horses in a stable he'd rented. He and the boys went to care for them each day. Sometimes we girls went too, but we didn't like barns as well as we did stores and we couldn't take the horses out and go for a ride. Finally, the time came when we once again had to leave the city. We again were on a train and it was so cold, even inside we needed out coats on. I can only remember that I was tired out when we arrived at some little place. A sleigh took us to a building where lots of people were sitting at long tables eating and it would be our turn next. Before that time came, us children were sitting on the floor behind a big heating stove and sound asleep. I remember nothing more till next morning when Dad woke us up and told us we were starting for our homestead. We were in a big covered sleigh, Dad was driving. The Fitkin family was following us in another sleigh. It seemed like there was snow just everywhere; a white icy road, white cliffs of snow on each side, and white covered trees as far as we could see. Dad said we'd stay at a halfway house that night and go on the next day. I don't know why the are called halfway houses, I suppose because they are halfway between here and there!
The thing that stands out in my mind the clearest on this part of our trip was that Mom had to go to the bathroom and there was no place to go! She was finally in so much distress that Dad located a container of some kind and said, "Here, use this and we'll throw it away." No way was she going to, unless we put a curtain around her so she could have a private place. This was arranged and I was so embarrassed! I just hoped no one at the halfway house would know what she did in that sleigh! When we got there it was dark, days are short in the winter, and we were all tired and hungry. They were waiting for us though, and the house was warm, the people friendly, and the food good. It was served family style and when I took a sip of my black coffee I almost gagged and whispered to Dad, "What's this?" He answered, "It's tea, drink it!" that was my introduction to black tea, strong as lye! That night we all slept in the loft of the halfway house.
The next morning we started again and that evening we arrived at Buchanan's house. Frank B. was the biggest rancher in this district and the stepfather of Rosebud and Ira. Rosebud was around my age, but much more grown-up acting and just beautiful with black hair and great black eyes. Ira was her elder brother. Frank was a huge, rough man, good natured at times, but with a mean temper. His wife was short and roly-poly and a great cook. She seemed to put great meals on that table three times a day with no effort at all, though looking back I can see that she really worked at it from morn till night. Anyway, we stayed here until Dad had our house built and our furniture had come. Also, he had to build shelter for our horses and a milk cow he'd bought. I imagine Dad was in a hurry to get us settled on our own homestead because it must have cost him plenty for board and room, as Frank seldom did anything for free.
The homestead was lovely. Our home was one big room for living and dining room and a kitchen area in one end, then three small bedrooms. I remember Frank B.'s ranch house was one great square room with a stairway leading up to another great square room with beds in each corner for whatever privacy there was.
There was a hill in back of our house and peat moss, we called it muskeg, cranberry bogs beyond that. In front of the house was a big meadow and running through it was a wide creek of pure sparkling water. There were lots of big fish in it too. Of course, we learned all of these things later on. The Fitkins homestead was just beyond ours, border to border. The Frank B.'s ranch was a few miles on the other side. The Frenchman's place was beyond Frank's ranch and that was where the mail came once a week, if weather permitted. It was quite a trip to get it in the winter, but fun in nice weather when we could fetch the mail on horseback, usually my job.
At the moment, though, we were busy getting settled. Our furniture from Ohio and our pictures and paintings on the log walls made it feel like home. We were quite cozy here, though this was only supposed to be our temporary home. Dad planned on building our permanent home on the hill back of us when warmer weather arrived. This home was more temporary than we could ever have dreamed it would be!
One early morning we were all fully dressed because of the cold, no lounging around in robes there, I looked up and saw flames around the stovepipe. "Dad!" I yelled, "The house is on fire!" It went so fast! The wind was so strong, all we saved were arms full of bedding, it took the roof and gutted the inside. All our furniture, clothes, dishes, everything except what we stood in and the bedding we'd saved. Dad hitched up the horses to the sleigh, piled it high with hay, put us all in it, threw our bedding on top because, though we were plenty warm while the fire was going, he knew he had to get us someplace to stay. About this time neighbors started to arrive so back we went to Frank B's ranch. Our friend, Mr. Moran, hitched up a team and started to make the rounds of all the ranchers to tell them of the new family's tragedy. Everyone was so good, by evening we had an assortment of clothing and various other things and offers of help to put up another house. Someone donated peeled logs for the frame and all the men in the area, including Indians from the Cree Reservation at Whitefish Lake, came to help raise it. [The Whitefish Lake Indian Reservation was established in 1885 by the Canadian government for the Strongwoods Cree (Sturtevant, 1981)]
They put it on the hill in back of the one that had burned, later the gutted log frame of the first house was used as a barn at the foot of the hill.
We had no furniture now so bunk beds were built in the walls of the bedroom, upper and lower bunks. Tables and benches were built of rough lumber, the tops being of slabwood with the smooth side up and the rounded bark side down! At this point it looked as if we were rapidly going from rags to riches in the wrong direction! We only had a heating stove with a flat top to cook on. We couldn't even bake, except a kind of hoecake baked in a fry pan and turned over when the bottom was cooked so both sides were cooked sorta like a big thick pancake. The first thing that happened when we started to move back was Mr. Frank B. took our one milk cow for payment of room and board, so much for sweet charity! His wife was so angry with him, she used to send milk and eggs to us whenever she could sneak them out that winter. Anyway, the first thing we did after we got settled was throw a party. It was really just dancing, food, and visiting, but it was the customary thing to do and everyone had a fine time. We all felt like old friends by the time the sun came up and the party broke up the next morning.
The Indians who helped after our house burned and who came to our house warming party were in western dress except for some moccasins. Some were college graduates. So Mom was not prepared for Indians in their own dress of buckskins, blankets, etc. with their Indian ponies. The first time she saw a party like that coming down the road in front of the house she panicked and insisted we all hide in the muskeg back of our house. The party met Dad a short time later coming home and told him his 'squaw was afraid and ran to hide' They thought it very funny, but were understanding and later on they always stopped, trouped into our house, sat around on the floor, and smoked! We'd ask, "Have you eaten?" They always answered, "Not yet, but soon." The soon coming out singing, like so-o-o-n.
The Indian chief invited us to a wedding feast and dance on the reservation. They had two kitchens going, one in which white peoples food was cooked and one for Indians. You could interchange if you wished. The upstairs was for sleeping and was full of children too tired to stay awake any longer. We stayed for 24 hours, then drove back home. Luckily the horses knew the way, we were all tired from having such a good time.
We had a hard time just eating that winter, game was plentiful, but Dad's guns had burned and the creek was frozen so thick! By spring, when my sister's birthday, Lou's, came on March 12, we were down to frozen potatoes and frozen cabbage. Did you ever eat frozen potatoes? First you put them in cold water and they soften enough so you can then wash them for boiling. They are so sweet they taste like you've added a cup of sugar. Frank B's married stepdaughter, Dora, sent her daughter, Opal, over with a one egg cake for Lou's birthday and we felt like we had a feast. You see, all our winter's supply of food had burned in the fire too.
Well, spring and summer came and things grew very fast in the long summer days there. We had a big garden and we picked cranberries in the bog back of the house and canned them. Also, we picked many other berries there. Dad built a large room size pantry onto the house and around it he built another wall with a space inside for blocks of ice and sawdust so we had a walk-in freezer. As soon as the roads were clear, he drove to Vegreville and got a large supply of staples of food we needed, also a rifle, shotgun, and pistol. We were never hungry again up there. Of course, by this time our relatives in Ohio had been told of our loss by fire and our Aunts sent us huge boxes of table linens, bedding, etc. Also, Dad got us a cook stove. We were so happy to be able to bake bread, cake, pies and cookies, as well as roast meat once more!
That summer we saw a mother moose come out of the dense forest on the other side of the creek and she brought her twin babies down to drink. We stood in the front yard and watched them for quite awhile until they went back into the woods. This was the summer we managed to get enough newspapers and magazines to paper the big room in our house. When I had nothing else to read I read the walls. Dad built a fence around our front yard. It was more for looks than anything. The cabin looked so pretty on top of the hill with the fence around it and the big trees in the muskeg as a background.
I was learning to ride horseback now. Rosebud was a great rider and taught me a lot about it. Both she and her niece, Opal, would just as soon ride bareback as with a saddle, but I much preferred a saddle.
I haven't said much about the families that went with us, though I visited the Fitkins lots of times. The Mother was usually curled up on a bed reading and the three girls were busy amusing themselves and each other. The house was always a mess. They were such a relaxed, easy family to be with, nothing mattered! An almost anything goes atmosphere seemed to be their lifestyle. Mr. Fitkin was easygoing too, so all was well with them. Of course, in less than a year they were back in Edmonton with their two grown sons.
The Morans were doing fine with their store, we made special trips to visit them as they lived farther away. Mrs. Moran was the aristocrat of the community having toured Europe and been presented there. She married quite late in life when she met Mr. Moran, who was older but quite wealthy. I can't believe she knew she was getting into this frontier type of life when she met and married her handsome stranger, but they had two children whom she adored and Mr. Moran always provided abundantly for her, although not in the style she'd have liked.
This was the age when children were supposed to be seen and not heard, but little pitchers have big ears and I sometimes knew as much or more about the adults lives as they did about each others, but I never discussed it with anyone and half the time didn't understand it, but remembered.
Mom was the youngest of the women who went homesteading and it grew harder and harder for her to cope with living the pioneer life. After all, it was like going back in time fifty years! Mrs. Moran, Mrs. Fitkin, and Mom loved to visit. I recall one time when Mrs. Moran told them she didn't really mind living up there, until the mice got into her drawers and ate the fringe off her centerpiece!' It wasn't until I was married that I realized I'd heard my first bawdy joke! At the time I was puzzled by why they laughed at her bad luck.
Later that year when Rosebud and I would be riding I thought she seemed different and bothered and once she burst out with, " Oh Edna, things are so awful!" Then she said, "Oh, never mind me, I'm just in a bad mood today." Later on her mother took her to Edmonton and that winter her brother, Ira, decided to pay them a surprise visit as they were staying away for such a long time.
One night after that I opened the door to a loud knock and there stood Opal's brother. He looked like he'd seen a ghost. He gasped out, "Frank's house is burning and we heard a shot and Mom wants you all to come quick!" We got ready fast as we could. Dora was almost in a panic. She said they thought Frank has set fire to the house, then shot himself. On the other hand, he might be lurking around in the woods while the house burned, waiting to kill anyone who came to help. He'd been over, acting like a crazy man, and said he knew when Ira came back from Edmonton he'd kill him (Frank). Of course, none of us knew what this was all about so we all went farther away to another family's home and some of the men went for the police. I don't remember whether it was the Royal Mounted or the Provincial, but one came to investigate. It turned out Frank had set fire to the house,
then shot himself with Rosebud's 22 rifle and let the house burn down around
him. The reason being that he knew when Ira found his mother and sister
in Edmonton he would find Rosebud very pregnant with Frank's child. It
came out that Frank had raped her when she was fourteen and had been using
her at will since that time. Well, Ira did come back and he built a smaller
house than the first one and finally his mother and Rosebud and her little
son came back. Rosebud was so subdued after that, we didn't have any more
young girl fun. And Mom finally quit telling me she wished I'd act more
grown-up like Rosebud! I heard later that she married someone who loved
her and her boy very much and I was very happy for her.
When the Rosebud - Mr. Buchanan affair was being investigated by the
police, Dora, Opal's mother and Mr. B's married stepdaughter, admitted
that Frank had sometimes come over and crawled into her bed when her husband
was away working. He was a mild man and all he did when he heard this was
slam a dish against the wall, then go for a walk.
Homesteaders often had to find summer jobs and were away from home in
order to survive the winter. He tried to help Dora when he was home and
one time in making biscuits for breakfast used baking powder which turned
out to be plaster of Paris in a baking powder can. You can imagine what
rocks they turned into!
That winter we were invited by the school teacher and his wife to come
have Christmas dinner with them and take part in the Christmas Program
they were having Christmas Eve in the school. This was on the reservation.
It was very cold the 24th of December as we prepared to start, so Dad put
the big milk cans of boiling water at each end of the sleigh and the bottom
was filled with fresh hay. Heavily bundled as we were, he put comforters
over the whole thing, us too. So we were snug as bugs in a rug, but Dad
had to stand up to drive. Even with all outer clothing of fur and under
of wool he was freezing cold, so we had to stop at an Indian friends house
to warm up before we could go on.
When we got to the teacher's home, we found his wife had to be taken
out to Vegreville to have her baby. She had done what she could to prepare
dinner, but we had to finish it. We didn't know where a thing was, of course,
so had to ask that poor man so many questions. That was the one and only
time I ever roasted two big fat geese! Mom and I figured out what all we
were supposed to do, then we all went to the program. I don't remember
anything any of us did there that eveing, I was too worried about that
dinner we had to serve yet. Well, we had our Christmas dinner on Christmas
Eve and after cleaning up and getting things ready for breakfast the next
morning we were ready and willing to pile in bed. The next morning after
breakfast and cleaning up the mess, we started for home again. It was a
clear, sparkling day and the sun on the snow was blinding, but the wind
had died down and it was warmer than the day before so it was a pleasant
trip. But we were a tired family and happy to be at home again. [This was
Christmas 1916 (Woodard 1987)]
Dad had managed to get a herd of cattle together, but I think he was
out of his element as a farmer/rancher. So the next spring he and Mom took
a trip to visit people around Whitefish Lake. They took Jimmie and Lou
with them. I wanted them to leave Lou with Paul, Ray and me because she
was my baby sister and I loved to curl her hair and fuss over her, but
she was still pretty young so they took her along. While they were gone,
one of the women they were visiting talked Mom into letting her cut Lou's
curls off. I never did like that woman after that! She said it was too
much trouble to keep her hair curled like that. I suppose it was just as
well they took Lou with them because I got sick while they were gone, some
intestinal thing, and probably couldn't have taken real good care of her,
but they needn't have cut off her curls!
While we were still living on the homestead, everyone used the creek
on it as a highway for their sleighs in the winter time. One time, Dad
had taken the box off the bobsled and he and Ray were clipping along over
the ice when they hit an air hole and the horses and all went through.
The horses scrambled up onto the ice and so did Dad, but where was Ray?
Dad lay down on the edge of the ice and looked into that cold hole of water
and prayed. Up popped Ray, Dad grabbed him and in an instant his clothes
were frozen stiff. Dad put him on a horse and he jumped on too and made
a run for the house. It was a short way and he soon was having a hot bath
and to bed, no worse for his icy dip.
Dad had made plans to leave the homestead and move to the Preacher's
farm near the Indian Reservation. The Preacher was looking for a good family
man to live on his farm and care for his stock as he and his wife wanted
to get away for a while. This was a beautiful place. The large log house
was on top of a hill, the milk house just steps from the kitchen, and the
barn was at the foot of the hill. The lady of the house had paths, or walks,
from flower bed to flower bed. They were bordered with white rock and graveled.
Wonder of wonders, there were two neat stacks of Good Housekeeping magazines
in the bedroom. I felt like I'd struck a gold mine when she told me I could
have them! One reason Dad decided to move here was that Mom was pregnant
again and on their trip they'd found a midwife who'd come this far to be
with Mom (this was the same lady who'd cut off Lou's hair). Mom did not
want to go to Vegreville so far ahead of time and stay there until the
baby was born. In fact, she just plain refused to go unless Dad went with
her. We all enjoyed being here, the house was roomy and cozy, there was
a large patch of pansies just outside the kitchen door and Mom loved to
look at their little faces as they turned up to the sun. In fact, when
the baby was born her little face looked like a flower and I'm surprised
she wasn't named Pansy.
That December Paul and I walked through the snow and into the timber
in back of the barn. We managed to cut a Christmas tree and, huffing and
puffing, drag it all the way up the hill to the house where we all trimmed
it with strung cranberries and popcorn. We had a lovely Christmas that
year and it was here I took over the management of our home. Mom was so
uncomfortable in her late pregnancy. The weather was so cold the kitchen
and front room stoves had to be kept going 24 hours a day. The bedroom
was not heated and the windows were inches thick with ice, inside as well
as out, so we moved the big double bed into the sitting/dining room for
Mom. Dad had brought the midwife here right after Christmas. I don't think
she did one thing until the night Dolly was born except pull her chair
up to the table and scoot it away again to go sit by the fire. She went
on talking and talking while I cooked, cleaned and laundered for everybody.
The winter was so cold you could really freeze. I remember once Dad
and Paul had been to the reservation and on the way home it got so cold
they were getting sleepy, so Dad tied the reins to the front of the sleigh
and they got out to walk. He was so cold and drowsy, Paul was a little
fellow and didn't want to walk, so Dad kept Paul in front of him and insisted
he walk, no matter what. In that way, he kept him from freezing to death.
So Paul learned a lesson that saved my life later on. He and I had ridden
over to visit the teacher and his wife. On the way home it turned much
colder and my hands and feet were growing numb. We tried to walk, but had
to stumble along until we came to some Indian's home. They took us in and
I remember how they took off my boots and sox and got the circulation going
again. Then after we were thoroughly warm put wool sox and moccasins on
me and warned us both to walk all the rest of the way home, which we did,
leading our horses.
On January 9, it was blowing a real blizzard. Dad was filing a saw and
the lady was sitting, talking as usual. When I came in from cleaning the
kitchen I didn't see Mom, so I went into the cold bedroom to look and there
was Mom, walking back and forth. Little Jimmie was holding her hand and
walking with her. I saw her gasp with pain and grab the bed foot board
and I knew she was in labor. She asked me to get the baby clothes out into
the warm room and I did. I remember I was shaking like a leaf. Twice I
called, "Dad, Mom's sick!" and he didn't hear me above the midwife's yakking.
So I let out a frightened roar, "Dad, Mom's sick!" He threw away the saw
and came running. I had to be pretty desperate to yell at him and he knew
it! He went into the bedroom and helped Mom out to the bed in the warm
room while I hustled all the little ones to bed.
It wasn't long until Mrs. Weber had delivered Mom of another darling
girl, now I had two sisters. She handed me her to bathe. I'd never handled
a newborn infant before, but I lovingly bathed, then dressed her, then
I held her nice and warm until Mom was ready to see and nurse her. Quite
an experience for a fourteen year old girl! Mrs. Weber was a good midwife,
but lazy and inconsiderate in every other way. When Mrs. Fitkin had been
with Mom when Jimmie was born, each morning she bathed Mom and brushed
her hair. Then while she was nursing she'd prepare a nice, special breakfast
for Mom and serve it prettily. She also would lend me a hand in jobs that
were too hard for me to handle and while Mom breakfasted, she bathed Jimmie.
She was nice and real fun too. Mrs. Weber didn't want to turn her hand
after Dolly's birth. I bathed the baby each morning and prepared Mom's
breakfast as well as the family's. If I had time I even bathed Mom and
helped her into clean nightclothes and it was with real difficulty I got
Mrs. Weber to help me change the bedding for Mom.
As you can imagine, the laundry was huge, nine in the family and Mrs.
Weber. Dad and the children helped as much as possible but they had outside
chores to do. So Dad got me a washing machine. Only trouble, when we got
it full of water and clothes I couldn't budge it, it took a strong man
to do it, so back to the washboard and rinsing in another tub of water.
Those heavy long johns weighed a ton when wet, so Dad had to help me wring
them out. As soon as clothes were hung on the line they froze stiff! But
the wind would dry them except for under the clothes pin and you had to
be very careful when taking them off the line that you didn't break a piece
off the clothing. Needless to say, we dressed in boots, coats, head covering,
scarves, and even gloves; not only to hang up but to bring in the clothes.
I was so glad when Mom was up again. She was very tired and weak, but now
at least, Mrs. Weber could be taken home. I was never so glad to see anyone
When Mom was up and around, we took a trip to the school and reservation
to show off the new baby. Everyone thought she was like a doll and at one
Indian home the mother took Dolly and undressed her. Then taking warm peat
moss from a stack behind the stove, she lined a little red and black moss
bag with it, I forget the Indian name for the bag the mothers carry on
their back with the babies in it. Laying Dolly's little bare behind in
it, she explained how she would stay warm and comfortable in it when it
was laced up with only her face showing. She looked like a little red cocoon,
so we carried her home in it. The Indians never used diapers, just taking
the soiled or wet ones away and putting in clean and new as needed. [Cradles
or baby boards were used by many North American Indian Tribes. Babies could
be carried around in them or propped in them to keep them out of the way
I had many pairs of their beautiful beaded moccasins while we lived
there and loved to watch them do beads on their fancy clothes.
return to top
The next spring we moved to Ashmont, a small, but busy new settlement.
Here Dad could find work. We moved to a ranch about a mile out. It was
the McGregor ranch; a young couple and her dad lived here. [The Whites
moved to Ashmont in the spring of 1917 (Woodard 1987)] We had quite close
neighbors. These people had built near the corner of their homestead so
the families were close. Here we had time to visit and maintain a certain
social life. We had lots of friends and went to all the parties and dances.
In fact, on New Year's Eve we had a big party and invited everybody - Doctors,
Bankers, storekeepers and all. Everybody came and we cooked and baked for
days to prepare for it.
The Walter Campbell ranch was the most prosperous and most fun to visit.
Mrs. Walter was from the south of the USA and she told Mom and me that
each time she was pregnant she was afraid the baby would be a throw back
and be tainted black. I thought she must know that some of her men folk
in the past must have married Negroes, but that wasn't what she meant.
As far as she knew, there was none of this in her family, but she knew
how it was in the south and it frightened her. As far as I know, all her
children were real blond towheads! I used to help her in the kitchen when
we visited her and she sent for me during harvest time to help with the
cooking. I brushed and combed her hair many times while she and Mom visited
in her bedroom. She said she'd never have married a southern man and was
so happy when she met the big cattleman from the North. She was a big woman
and I often made clothes for her on Mom's treadle machine, also made all
One time while we were visiting, Dad said he'd saved enough to send
me to boarding school that fall. He thought it was a shame for me not to
go when I had such a brain and loved school so much. Up until now, I was
still hoping to go to school so I was thrilled to think Dad planned to
make my dream come true. After Dad had gone out with the men, Mrs. Walter
asked Mom, "Do you think you'll let her go? He seems pretty determined."
Mom answered, "We'll see! After all she doesn't need schooling, she'll
only get married anyway."
Mrs. Moore was a schoolteacher and her husband carried the mail with
horse and buggy. They had a large family and when the last little girl
was born, she named her after me because I came to her home and cooked
and cared for her and the children while she was confined. Later, they
came to see us and when they left for home, forgot to take the baby! When
I went to bed there she was, the little darling was sound asleep! They
didn't miss her until they got home. Mr. Moore had to bring Ruth, the eldest
daughter, and come get the baby since the mother nursed her. Had she been
a bottle baby we might still have her.
While we lived in Ashmont Mom and Dad took the baby and made a trip
to Edmonton to visit friends. Paul and I were to care for the rest of the
family and take care of the stock while they were gone. We all got the
flu; it was a real effort for Paul and me to keep going. We put Ray, Alvie,
Lou and Jimmie to bed, kept them warm and tried to take care of them, while
we tottered around trying to get the chores done. We knew when the folks
were due home and were supposed to meet the train. It was winter and cold,
so that day I managed to get a big pot of stew going, so they'd have something
warm to eat when they got home. I remember telling Paul as I helped him
hitch the team to the sleigh to be careful and that as soon as Mom and
Dad got home we could give in and go to bed.
Their first words to him when he met the train were, "Get us home, we're
awful sick!" So when that poor boy got home, he still couldn't go to bed
and rest. Dolly didn't seem to have the flu but Mom and Dad did. We got
a neighbor to go for the overworked doctor. After examining everyone (I
tried to stay in the kitchen) the Doctor insisted on checking me, too.
Guess he heard my wracking cough. He told me to undress and get to bed.
I said, "I can't. Everybody else is sick and I have to stay up." The Doctor
said, "If you aren't in bed in fifteen minutes, I'll undress you myself
and put you there." So I got! He said he'd try to get someone in to care
for us the next day. But in the meantime, Lou, having had it first and
been put to bed, was improving and Mom's temperature and other symptoms
were not as bad as the rest, so they could be up to care for the family
until some help came. I felt so guilty!
I can't remember when Paul and I didn't work. He helped Dad out at freighting
and other things before that, as well. Dad started taking him with him
to help when he was about ten years old. Of course, all of us worked at
farm and ranch work, but Paul and I actually were earning money at one
job or another besides. Myself, I always had spending money, but never
collected any wages for myself, as I'm sure Paul didn't. That's the way
it was in those days.
Everyone was so frightened of influenza that year that it was very hard
to get anyone to come into a house where people were known to have it.
[The influenza epidemic of 1917 was so severe that many people died (Mackintosh,
1934)] However, the Doctor managed to find one kind soul, the 'Madam' of
a few girls, in the newly sprung-up settlement. I remember her as dark
and chubby and kind, dressed in dark clothing always. Mom sure scrambled
back into bed with Dad fast when 'that woman' came and she stayed there
until the Doctor said we were all well enough to be up. I almost had a
nervous collapse that year. Too much responsibility and work for my age,
I guess. I remember when the Doctor warned them about me and told them
to ease up on what I was expected to do. He was young for a Doctor and
fat, with asthma, but I thought he was very brave to talk to my parents
like that, though the talk embarrassed me.
That spring Jimmie was in the corral where the mares with their new
foals were. Mom was sick in bed, but she could see the corral reflected
in the dresser mirror and she saw a colt kick Jimmie and knock him down.
She screamed and I ran to see what it was, we ran to the corral and picked
Jimmie up. The colt had kicked him in the face and it's little hoof had
left it's print clear around the eye. Below the eye was cut and bleeding.
We carried him in and cleaned it as best we could. An abscess formed below
the eye and Paul and I took him in to the Doctor, who made me wait outside
while he lanced and cleaned it. Paul got to go in, then the Doctor called
us in and told both of us how to care for it at home. Little Jimmie was
very brave and didn't cry at all. In a short time it was healed.
There were lots of men in this part of the country, but few women or
girls who were not already married, so it was here that I started getting
proposals. [The population of Alberta in 1918 was between 400,000 and 500,000
with men outnumbering the women 2 to 1 (Kerr 1975)] Now, I liked boys fine,
but was not even thinking of marriage yet, so proposals not only embarrassed
but frightened me at this time. They simply spoiled our friendship and
fun. Nevertheless, we managed to enjoy the spring, summer and fall to the
fullest. The next winter was the coldest we'd ever seen. The snow was so
heavy the range animals couldn't scrape through the frozen top to get food.
Although Dad took hay and feed out as far as he could, the animals often
couldn't reach it and died. All the ranchers lost a lot of stock that year.
Paul and I took to trapping muskrats on a lake a short ways back of our
barn. Not only was it something different to do but the skins sold readily.
We did this until the lake froze solid. This was the winter the thermometer
registered seventy degrees below outside our back door, then went clear
into the little ball at the bottom and broke! The one big room of the house,
besides the three bedrooms, had a big kitchen range at one end, a big table
in front of it lengthwise, and a good heater at the other end of the room.
Still I froze my heels one days walking back and forth between the stoves.
Now, that's cold!
Mom was sick in bed quite a lot of the time, so she and Dad's room opened
off the kitchen and we left that door open, not only so Mom could be a
part of the family doings, but also so some heat would be in the room.
The men did as little work as possible outside, so were usually around
the heating stove mending or polishing harness and saddles. It was so cold
that even the wild animals were starved into coming near the house. One
big dog-like creature came everyday because I threw bones and scraps out
to him, throwing them closer to the house each time, until he'd come to
the door and let us feed him each morning. They told me later that he was
half wolf and half dog. Anyway, he came to the door one day and he was
hurt, had a great wood sliver clear through his nostrils into his mouth.
He kept whining to me and pawing at the sliver. I coaxed him in and he
shivered and shook while I held his head and Paul took a pair of pliers
and pulled the wood out. He cried out once, but made no attempt to hurt
us. Then I washed his wound in warm salt water and put salve on it, fed
him and let him out. He came every day to be doctored and fed until it
was healed, then spring came and he left.
I was looking forward to my sixteenth birthday that spring and we had
a big blizzard just before it came on April 20th [Edna White celebrated
her 16th birthday in 1919 (Woodard, 1987)]. A homesteader stopped by and
stayed and stayed. It was warm and he had someone to visit with, besides
three good meals a day. He kinda liked the idea, so kept trying to sell
me on the idea of marrying him. I got sick and tired of it. Being house
bound was bad enough, but listening to him was adding insult to injury.
Then he started teasing my little sister, Lou, saying that he'd take her
and she'd have to keep house for him. She was only six and when he teased
her until she cried, while I was serving my own birthday dinner, I blew
up and told him off, then told Dad if his guest couldn't act like a gentleman,
he could leave for home right now! After that he quit his teasing and when
the sun came out he left for home.
I should explain that in the North our door was always open, not only
to friends, but strangers as well and this homesteader we did not know
at all. He simply stopped one evening and asked if he could stay the night
and if he could put his horse in the barn. He got caught in a blizzard
and just stayed on and on. This was the spring after I'd almost had a breakdown.
His continual asking me to marry him and his teasing, with the boys laughing
and Dad's somewhat embarrassed guffaws of laughter (because he was our
guest), and all the noise and responsibilities I had, (with no way of getting
away from it for even one minute of the day) brought me to the breaking
point again. This was the only time I ever felt insulted by a proposal
of marriage. Usually, I just did my best to keep my friends from popping
the question because I knew I was going to say no and didn't want to hurt
As I said, Ashmont was a new settlement and three young men were there
to put up a new bank. The bank may have been in St. Paul. Well, they weren't
putting it up really, they were waiting for it to be built and had a big
three-pole tent with a bank set up in front and living quarters in back
until the bank building was finished. When the bank was finished and they'd
moved in, Dad bought the big tent. All the time they were there I baked
cake and bread for them twice a week and Dad and the boys delivered it.
When I danced with them at parties they'd tell me now much they enjoyed
my baking and thank me for being willing to do it.
return to top
ST. PAUL DE METIS
The next spring, Dad went to St. Paul de Metis and set up the big tent
on a lot that was to be a residential district. The part that had been
the bank was floored and we used it for a sitting room. The kitchen and
bedrooms were not floored. There were canvas partitions five or six feet
high, as high as the walls of the tent, but above was one big space and
you could see the three big poles running down the center. This was to
be our home for the summer. The tent was set up about a block from the
road with a board sidewalk. Straight across lived the banker's family,
the De Lisle's. A town in Saskatchewan had been named after some of their
forebears. There were two girls and two boys in the family and the oldest
daughter, Priscilla, and I became best friends. They had a beautiful modern
home like we used to have in Ohio.
I may be mixed up about where the bank was because I can't remember
distances. Ashmont and St. Paul de Metis may have been very close; so the
tent bank and bank building may have both been in St. Paul. [The distance
between Ashmont and St. Paul de Metis was about 20 miles (Kerr, 1975)]
We did move to St. Paul and all the rest is true. I remember Mr. Smith
was bank manager and there was a Mr. Rainbow and another blonde young man
whose name I can't recall. There were two De Lisle families (brothers),
Priscilla's and another, who had married an Irish widow, I think, with
one dark-haired little girl, and then they had a little blonde girl. This
Mrs. De Lisle and Mr. Smith, the banker, were quite smitten with each other.
Whether there was an affair or not I don't know, but there was gossip.
Dad thought living in the tent for the summer would be good for all
of us after having the influenza so bad. Priscilla and I were great friends,
but we only got to be together on vacation because all the De Lisle children
were sent to boarding school during the school year.
Paul rode in a race at St. Paul de Metis one fair time. Some of the
riders whipped him across the face with their quirts as he came in between
their horses to win, causing him to pull up as they came across the finish
line just ahead of him. Real sportsmanship! This spoiled my winning a prize
for my crocheting.
Dad still had his horses and he and Paul freighted from Vegreville to
St. Paul. Somewhere Dad traded for two new horses and they loved to race.
One was a little mare that I fell in love with named Dolly Varden. The
other was a big gelding named Nibs. I rode doll every time I got a chance.
She was a wild and willful little thing. Dad told me if I was going to
ride her I'd have to let her know I was her master because if she ever
got the best of me she would never do anything I asked of her. Sometimes
Paul and I would go to the fair grounds, he on Nibs and me on Doll. We'd
race, just for the fun of it. The horses loved it too and it took quite
a while to calm them down after racing. One hot evening we'd been racing
and I stopped by home to tell Mom I would be back as soon as I got Doll
quieted down and took care of her. Little Jimmie came running up and wanted
me to take him for a ride. I often did this, but not after racing when
Doll was so excited. So I said, "Not tonight, honey, tomorrow I will."
Then I rode off to take care of my horse. The weather was hot and sticky
and big thunderclouds were coming up. Horses sense this and it upsets them
Edna White out for a ride on her horse, Doll, with brothers Ray and Paul (Byland ca 1920).
That night we had such a violent storm, the rain and thunder and lightning
woke me up. In the wee hours I was lying there wide-awake and scared out
of my wits, but not knowing what to do about it. The lightning was constant
and one big clap of thunder right on top of the other. I was staring at
the three poles of the tent and watching the canvas flap when it was lighter
than day. As the thunder roared I saw this huge ball of fire roll down
the tent pole and scatter along the floor. Fire went across the head rail
of Mom and Dad's bed, struck the foot of my brothers' bed, came through
to the head rail, jumped over to my bed's head rail, and over into the
Have you ever smelled the sulfur when lightning strikes? I hope you
never will. Everyone was screaming except little Jimmie, Alvie and Ray.
Jimmie and Alvie never knew what hit them, they were killed instantly.
We thought Ray was too, and Mom was clawing the fire out of her long black
hair. I was up and tenderly took my brothers out of that bed and laid them
in mine. I didn't realize they were dead, only that they were hurt badly.
In minutes the whole town, it seemed, was there and a Doctor was trying
to examine Mom and me. I kept crying, "It's not me, I'm not hurt…it's my
brothers." He was an arrogant, pudgy little man, half drunk. He became
offended and left, the best thing that could have happened because then
my brothers were taken to a kindly old retired Doctor. He told us Jimmie
and Alvie were gone and Ray very bad off, but he and his dear wife put
him to bed in their beautiful big old home and took great care of him.
We loved this little French couple very much and money could never repay
them for what they did to help us. [The lightning storm that killed Jimmie
and Alvie occurred during the summer of 1919 (Woodard, 1987)]
The De Lisle's opened their home to us and took us all in until Dad
could find a house for us. We never went back to our tent home again. Just
thinking of tents filled Mom with terror for many years after that. The
De Lisle's helped us get ready for the boys' funeral and we had to hold
the service in the movie house. When we went in the door we had to walk
that long walk clear to the front seats. Those two little coffins, closed
forever because the bodies were burned so by lightning, looked tiny and
alone there. This was a Catholic settlement so we had to bury them just
outside the fence, where all Protestants had to bury their dead. [This
cemetery is no longer there (Schlicht, 1987)]
Dad rented us a two story house right next to the De Lisle's home now
and someone moved our furniture out of the tent into it and the tent was
taken down. We spent the winter there and that Christmas Dad gave me a
bill of sale for Doll. He said so many people would like to have her he
was afraid he'd weaken and sell her, so he made her legally mine because
I loved her so much. Later, I rode her at a fair in some little town in
a powder puff race and won first prize. I don't remember what the prize
was, only what a great race Doll ran and how proud my family was of me.
Dad and Paul had taken Nibs and Doll to the town for the race the day
before and we were to come with another family the next day. Though they
slept near the horses, the night before the race, someone crept in and
drugged Nibs, so he was too drunk to race the next day. Why they didn't
drug Doll too we don't know. Perhaps they didn't think she was much of
a racer or maybe couldn't get to her.
Anyway after Dad told me what they did to Nibs I was anxious to win
with Doll. It was too late for me to take her on a trial run over the track
so I didn't know there was a washed-out place on the far side of the track.
It was worse by the rail which we were hugging and that was why the rest
of the field was running wide. I knew Doll though, so when I saw this ditch
I simply let her know by the reins and my voice to jump, which she did,
clearing it beautifully at a dead run. They said this was the first time
the local girl had not come in first, she came in second.
It was here in St. Paul that a Chinese gentleman tried to buy me for
his wife. He owned and operated a store there and when he'd be taking the
sun, in front of his building, Priscilla and I would smile at him as we
walked by. We did this to everyone we met, it was the natural thing to
do, but one day he came to see Dad and told him he'd like to buy me for
his bride. Dad explained that in this country girls get to choose. His
proposal was not an insult as this was the custom in his country and he
felt he was doing us an honor. I wonder if Dad was at all tempted. [The
Chinese population of Alberta was 1800 in 1911 and 3500 in 1921 of which
only 500 were women (Jenness, 1976)]
My first job in a restaurant happened when the owner, Mrs. Snow, got
sick and sent for me. She gave me instructions from her bed (living quarters
were in back of the café) that I followed, helping cook and waiting
table. Everything worked out fine. So good, in fact, that one night later,
when I was at the movies with friends, a sign flashed on the screen that
Dad had started a place to 'come out and enjoy a treat after the show.'
News to me. I was so embarrassed, I knew I'd be expected to take over and
prepare and serve as soon as I came in with my friends. Too true! I was
not only supposed to cook to order, but take the orders at all times. The
fire in the cook stove was supposed to be kept going by the others while
I was out front. One time they forgot and when I came back to cook a quick
lunch the fire was out, I thought. So I quickly threw in kindling and wood
and about a pint of kerosene, all the lids blew off the stove with a bang!
No one was hurt, but could have been. There were still a few live coals
in the bottom of the grate, evidently. Anyway, the fire was watched more
carefully after that. I hated this project from beginning to end. But no
one asked me about it beforehand. This attempt at running a café
didn't last long, though, as Ray got the mumps and by this time our living
area was in back of the eating joint!
return to top
END OF THE LINE
That spring Dad contracted to clear right-of-way and put in railroad
grade in a section of railway that was to be laid at the end of the line.
[The Alberta and Great Waterways Railway began construction from Lac La
Biche to Waterways in 1917. The project was completed in 1920 (Woywitka,
1972). Ray White's contract was for the spring of 1920 (Woodard, 1987)]
Before we left St. Paul de Metis, when Ray got the mumps, he was so swollen
and miserable that one day as he sat on the front steps, elbows on knees
and holding his poor aching swollen jaws, I told Mom, "I sure hope I don't
get them, if I do I think I'll just hide under the bed." Soon he was well
and we were packed and ready to travel to Lac La Biche where we would take
the train to the end of the line. It was a hot, dusty trip. We had two
or three wagon loads and Paul and I were on horseback driving a few head
of milk cows. I was so hot and miserable and thirsty. I really didn't feel
a bit good. By the time we got there I had such a headache and sore throat,
I didn't care what happened. The hotel was full. The only place we could
find to stay was rooms above the Chinese Café. Everyone was waiting
for the morning train as it was the first time passengers had been taken
that far north. This would be a mixed train, mostly freight, but a few
passenger cars hooked in with them.
I tossed and turned all night and thought I would surely burst with
flames, I was so hot. When I woke up the next morning, you guess it! I
had the mumps. Such a trip I never made before or since! It was hot, so
the windows were open and the smoke rolled in from the engine so we were
covered with soot. It was so crowded that there wasn't even room for everyone
to sit. When men grew exhausted they simply lay on the floor and went to
sleep. The train crew was jolly and kind to everybody and finally let Mom
and the baby sleep in one of their beds in the caboose. This track was
so new that in some places where the ground had frozen and thawed they
had to stop while it was rebuilt. They carried their own crew! It was bad
going over the muskeg and we stopped so a hunter could kill fresh meat.
They built a fire outside and cooked and made coffee, while a bridge was
being rebuilt. It took days to get where we were going. Long enough for
the swelling to go down from my mumps and for me to feel a little better,
but weak and dizzy. I'd had to sit up all the way with my collar turned
up as high as it would go, hoping no one would see that I was so swollen
and ugly. I was so dirty, I felt I never again would get clean. Me, who
never could go even one day without a bath! Well, we finally got to the
end of the line and here was a camp and depot. We struggled off that train
and into the depot. The station agent let us go into his living quarters
and wash up while he and Dad talked business.
I forgot to mention that another family went with us. Actually it was
a father and his children. Opal, a girl younger than me, was the oldest
and her two younger brothers. The father was to work for Dad and Opal was
supposed to help in the kitchen when we got settled in our camp, where
Dad had the contract to work. The mother had deserted the family to run
off with a good looking young man and the father was trying to keep his
children with him. They had a homestead near ours.
When we had washed up as best we could we came back into the station,
feeling better and looking forward to a good meal in the camp and a comfortable
bed someplace. Dad told us the camp cook had quit! And there was no one
to cook for the men coming in from work. He looked right at me and said,
"The station agent wanted us to take over the cooking until the next train
comes in from Edmonton with another cook." He said everyone would help
if I'd just tell them what to do. Now, I'd probably do just that. Then,
I just felt like collapsing. I don't believe I even answered, just started
over to the cooking tent that had two big tables, two stoves and one end
full of beds. The men brought in wood and got the fires going. I don't
remember what we cooked, serving table after table. We had to make biscuits,
as there was no other bread available. Supplies were no problem, as the
warehouse at the end of the line was kept full of everything you could
use. This was where we got supplies all summer and fall. It was only preparing,
planning and serving that kept us working to a frazzle that night. When
the dishes were finally all done, we dropped into bed exhausted. Morning
came all too soon. Dad called and I got up. He called Opal, so did her
Dad. But she was sleepy, never before in her young life had she got up
when she didn't want to. Her dad said, "No use, she won't get up if she's
sleepy." Dad roared, "If she's gonna help in the kitchen this summer, she's
gonna get up and do it or back you go on this train!" He stood Opal on
her feet a couple of times and tried to get her going. The next time he
did it she got a dipper of cold water in the face. She got dressed, and
mad I might add. Never again all summer did she have to be called more
There was never any doubt that Dad was the head of the house and Mr.
Bonta had made a deal for him and his three children to go with us to help
put in the railroad. He to work for Dad and Opal to help in the kitchen.
When Opal balked at getting up to do her share Dad knew he had to teach
her that she must at least get up and try to do her part if the venture
was to be a success.
All this time, Paul and I were trying to ignore everybody and just cook.
Paul cooked the hotcakes that I had mixed and I prepared the bacon, eggs,
hot biscuits, oatmeal, coffee, etc. Opal finally got the table set and
when breakfast was over the people from the train scattered to go to the
places they were headed for. From then on, until the cook came from Edmonton,
the only ones outside of family that we had to cook for were the station
agent and the railroad crew. So we got things going right; bread, cake
and pies, etc.; in between getting the meals and even had time for bathing
and shampooing our hair. After the first day, Dad and our men were busy
hauling things over the corduroy road to set up our camp. They built a
barn and a bunkhouse and set up the cook and dining tent with living quarters
at one end. Mom was supposed to be head cook, me second cook and Opal was
to help. Turned out I had the responsibility and most of the work, as Mom
was sick a good part of the time. Opal, willing now to help, had never
been taught how to do much, so she was busy learning all the time, but
we were company for each other.
A 1920 view of the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway, built through wilderness and muskeg.
Lac La Biche railway station as seen in 1920.
I must add, we had canned fruit of all kinds always, if we couldn't
pick fresh berries. The fruit always came in gallon cans. Everything came
in big containers. I used an empty lard can every day to boil a ham in.
The cook finally came and we got ready to leave for our camp. When Mom
saw the tent that we were supposed to sleep in, she just lost her wits.
Now I'd hardly ever heard Mom get loud, but this time she did. No way was
she going to live in a tent ever again. So Dad agreed to build an extension
onto a tent as sleeping quarters that would not be a tent. Next day he
started doing it and soon it was finished.
I couldn't blame Mom one bit for refusing to live in a tent after our
terrible experience in St. Paul. While we were burying Jimmie and Alvie,
we wondered if our brother, Ray, would be next. When I saw the tent we
were supposed to sleep in I got a weak and sick feeling and was glad Mom
was so explicit in her refusal. Had Dad not agreed to build on to the tent,
we'd have ended up sleeping in the bunkhouse, which was made of logs. Mom
was little, quick and spirited. She could get an awful lot done when she
felt like it. But she had learned the art of passive resistance and nine
times out of ten would get her own way with no argument at all. I can still
feel her hands, though, when we were ill. Her gentle little hand on our
forehead made us feel better right now, they were healing hands.
Well, the crew came and we each settled into our own jobs. [The Alberta
and Great Waterways Railway contracted out the construction of the line.
They brought in immigrants, mostly of Austro-Hungarian origin, to provide
the labor. Standard wages were fifteen cents an hour for a ten hour day.
A dollar a day was withheld from their wages for food and lodging (Woywitka,
1972)] The boys always brought in kindling and wood each evening and were
sure the kerosene lamps and stove were filled. We had two wood ranges and
one kerosene range, with oven on top. All three were kept busy. At four
in the morning, I was up getting breakfast started. After I was dressed
and ready I called Opal, then Dad and the boys. The men in the bunkhouse
got up on their own and came for breakfast when the triangle bar was rung
at six o'clock. Every morning I put a big ham on to boil. Every day we
roasted large roasts and fried fresh meat when we could get it. All our
fresh meat was game that someone hunted, cleaned and brought in. It was
virgin country and game of all kinds was plentiful. Each day pies and cakes
had to be baked, bread every other day, besides hot biscuits, corn bread
and all the vegetables, etc. I got so tired of planning meals and cooking
all that food. My mainstay all summer was mashed potatoes and canned tomatoes.
There was a stream at the foot of the hill and once a week, early in
the morning, the boys filled tubs and wash boilers with water. We did our
laundry outdoors and it was quite a job, although the crew had to take
care of their own. I tried to keep tablecloths on the table and the ironing
was the worst. I usually did this in the cool of the evening as irons had
to be heated on the stove and it was hot work.
This is how we spent the spring and summer and on into the fall. Finally
the railroad was finished and the crew gone and it was just family. While
we waited for the inspectors to come and settle with Dad, we rode our horses
and enjoyed the country and loved every minute of it. Being able to sleep
in at least two hours extra each morning was sheer luxury. Then Dad and
the boys went to the barn to care for the stock and when they came back
we all ate breakfast together. Having cooked for a gang all summer, eleven
people seemed easy work. We, at least I, felt I was lucky the train crew
were all our friends and I've ridden not only in the coach of the passenger
train, but the drawing rooms, as well as the engine, boxcar and caboose.
We were moved once on the handcars, at least that is how the family got
from one place to another.
Finally, Dad heard the inspectors would be at our camp a certain day
so once again we were busy planning a feast. After Dad had taken them all
along the right-of-way he was responsible for, he brought them to the camp
for dinner. They seemed to enjoy it a lot and that afternoon Dad and them
went into a business conference. When it was finished, Dad got top dollar
for everything. I don't' recall how much it was, but know it was a lot
of money. Then we made ready to go back to Edmonton on the train. If I
remember right, Paul and one of the men stayed behind to care for the horses
as Dad had decided he wanted to build a hotel at Waterways because that
was as far as the tracks were laid. The people, furs, etc., were brought
in boats from farther north to Waterways. There was a big warehouse built
at the river's edge. Things were hauled from the river to be put on the
train to go into the city and from the train to be shipped on the boats
farther north into the Peace Peon area, etc. Our hotel was right on the
route to and from the river.
return to top
THE LAST STRAW
Well, we did go into Edmonton and had a most wonderful time and a big
shopping spree. We saw our friends, the Fitkins, there. I remember Joyce
taking me with her and her friends to a dance one night. They were amazed
when a handsome young man excused himself to his girl and came to dance
with me. Joyce said they'd all been trying to get him to notice them and
here I was (from the sticks I knew they meant) and he asked me to dance.
It was simple! He'd been one of the surveyors during the summer and visited
us and ate with us many times. He had told me about the girl he had in
the city and we were just friends, but it made quite an impression on my
friends. We stayed in the city only long enough for Dad to buy all the
things he needed and then left for the end of the line, again. Winter had
come in earnest while we were away, it was way below zero and the snow
was piled several feet deep with the drifts even deeper.
We had to stay in one of the camps, which were deserted now, until Dad
could get our cabin built. I should explain, there were three camps, Camp
No. 1, then our camp, and then Camp No. 2. I don't know why it wasn't just
camp number 1-2-3, maybe ours was different, run by a family, with home
cooking. Anyway, our camp was not a number, but a place where everyone
from the other camps came to visit on Sunday.
While we were staying at this camp, Dad came home from working on our
house and said there was to be a big dance. He'd promised we'd go, but
the weather was much too cold for any of the rest to go out. So Dad took
me, all bundled up over my finery. He was so gallant when we got there,
kneeling to pull off my boots and slip my dancing slippers on. It was here
that they named me 'Queen of the North', a name that stuck for quite a
while, and I got teased about it often. As I've said, there were few girls
and many men there!
Dad had a hired man who wanted to take me, but I wouldn't go with him
unless all the family went. So he stayed home to care for Mom and the family
and Dad took me. I didn't trust Bert. He was one of 24 children. Now that
isn't the reason I didn't trust him, it was because he wouldn't keep his
hands off me!
Bert was a good worker and Dad and all the rest like him, but I was
a little afraid of him. I had to get up first and get breakfast ready and
he'd get up and follow me from kitchen to dining room trying to grab me
and kiss me. I asked Mom to have Dad get up when I did, but she said there
was no need because Bert got up and shook up the front room fire to get
things warm. So I told her I didn't like to be up alone with Bert and I
wished Dad would fire him. She said Bert was too good a worker to be fired.
So I had to try and fend him off every morning and get my work done too.
He finally told me if I didn't promise to marry him he'd kill all my folks
and never would he let me marry anyone else! Mom must've finally told Dad
what I said because one morning there stood Dad, watching Bert try to maul
me as I worked. He was so angry! Bert said, "But I love her and want to
marry her." Dad looked at me, almost in tears and shaking my head no. So
Bert got fired, at last.
I had three proposals of marriage that summer. Two from surveyors and
one from what we knew as 'a black sheep' from Britain. There were people
whose families had shipped them to Canada and sent remittance money to
regularly. Sometimes they were called remittance men, I believe. The surveyors
I really liked, but didn't want to marry. The other one, I didn't feel
too flattered by his proposal.
When Dad got the log house up and furnished we moved in. [Ray White
finished the house during the summer of 1921 (Woodard, 1987)] It seemed
great to have real furniture again. It was quite large for those days with
a big front room, kitchen, dining room and three bedrooms. Also a back
porch! Now we had only family and one or two hired men, so I really enjoyed
myself. The country was so big, very beautiful and the seasons change so
swiftly. Summer days are so long, daylight almost all of the 24 hours.
We seemed to dance away many evenings and take walks to the river to watch
the boats come in. Many times we walked the rails on the railway. And the
wild roses were everywhere, filling the air with their lovely scent. Winter
days were not long, the sun hardly coming up before it went down. In fall
the foliage turned so fast, you'd go to bed one night with everything green
and next morning the leaves would be a riot of colors. Mom loved the fall.
Spring was always so muddy at first with all the snow melting, though we
had wooden sidewalks. Crossing the street was almost impossible without
boots. When we'd go to a party the, all dressed in our finery, we'd wear
our boots and carry our slippers. Summer was a joyous time except for the
storms and mosquitoes. We rode to McMurray and shopped and visited Opal,
her father and brothers who had settled there.
Mac was the policeman always on duty in Waterways. He was engaged to
a girl in the city and hoped to bring her here as his wife. He never got
to do that because of the fire. When Mac had his vacation he'd get someone
to take his place, so that was how I met Jack. We had a lot of good times
together and after many proposals, I finally felt here was a man I'd like
to marry, so I said yes. When we went to tell Mom and Dad, men still asked
permission of the parents for a girl's hand in those days, Dad said he
surely hoped we'd be very happy. Mom said, "But who's going to take care
of me and do the work if she leaves?" Jack and I assured her it wouldn't
be for a while and Dad said to Mom, "When a child is ready to marry you
should let them go and wish them luck. No matter how much you need or will
miss them. After all, that's what we did." So Mom gave in and we were engaged.
Once, when we went to a dance while we were still in Waterways, a girl
about my age came in with an older man and a young girl about seven or
eight. I didn't know them and wondered about that because most everyone
came to the dances. It was a community get-together. Both the young woman
and little girl were beautiful blondes, but the thing I noticed most was
their quietness and the sad look in their eyes. The older one danced some,
the little one sitting with the children and the man standing close to
the men who were not dancing. I talked to the girls some, but they seemed
so reserved, almost a quiet desperation. Mom told me later that when the
man's wife died the man had taken his young daughter to wife and the child
was theirs! How could a father do that to his child? It was not only wrong,
but made her a virtual prisoner on his isolated ranch. People up north
minded their own business, but these three were almost pointedly shunned,
especially the man.
A gathering in front of the White House Hotel in Waterways, including from the left: Ray, Minnie and Paul White with Lou in the white dress and Dolly to her right (Woodard 1922).
Our hotel was filled to bursting every time the boats or the train came
in, long before it was finished. It was made in two parts, one the hotel
with lobby, office, dining room, and kitchen downstairs with rooms upstairs.
The other side was completely separate though under the same roof. It was
the Provincial Police Headquarters with living space, office and a cell
for prisoners. There was only one other place to rent rooms in Waterways
and though it was there first, our hotel always filled up first. I suppose
that was why Dad never did get to completely finish it. One night, when
it was full up and we were all sound asleep Dad woke up with the crackle
of fire in his ears. He ran upstairs knocking on doors and there was only
time for the guests to grab something, anything, to cover themselves and
get out. One poor gentleman had a dreadful time finding trousers big enough
so that he would be covered when he got on the train for Edmonton.
This fire was the last straw, the blow Dad couldn't take and start over
again. We stayed for about a week, then we packed our clothes and left
for Edmonton. We were going home to the USA. Our friends and neighbors
were all so wonderful to us. I especially remember Mr. and Mrs. Rae being
extra specially nice. They all hated to see us leave, but we felt we must.
Newspaper article about the White House Hotel fire.
When we got to Edmonton, Jack met our train and took us to our hotel.
We were here for a week or two visiting our friends and buying clothes.
It was here that I bought one of the most beautiful dresses I have ever
Dad decided we'd go to Oregon, but when we stopped off at Spokane, Washington
he took a walk while we waited at the depot and he fell in love with the
beauty of the place and decided to stay there. This was October 1922.
While we were in Edmonton Jack wanted us to be married. He felt that
if we were separated for too long a time we'd never be married and he was
right. Distance does make the heart grow fonder, usually for someone else,
so we drifted apart. I met and fell in love and was married to Bud over
fifty years ago.
All of us finally made it to Oregon and have been here for over fifty
years now. I still think it is one of the most beautiful spots on God's
earth and hope to spend the rest of my days here.
I'm sure that all the rest of my family have very different memories
of our years in the North. Put all of them together and it would be the
real story. But these are a small part of my memories of things, seen through
my eyes. I know we all learned a lot about self-reliance, tolerance, how
to enjoy life, and see beauty both in people and nature. What we lacked
in formal education (the only thing I've always been sorry we missed) we
made up by being educated in how to enjoy work, not waste any motion in
getting it done, assuming responsibility when it came our way, and how
"not to fume and fret and fuss, if things get changed they might get wuss!"
I think our lives in the North gave all of us great reserves of inner
return to top
The White family story could be placed in any American frontier time.
There are many common threads that connect this latter day Canadian frontier
with the earlier American frontier. The motivation of free or cheap land,
perceived opportunities for wealth and the excitement of adventure were
present in all frontier movements. Each set of pioneers left home and loved
ones behind to start their ventures, not knowing if they would ever see
them again. Upon arrival at their destination, the process of selecting
a place to live, building and settling in began. The pioneers faced harsh
weather conditions, isolation and sometimes a poor or unvaried food supply.
The communities were largely masculine and afforded limited social contact.
School and church were the focus of social gatherings. On special occasions
they hosted socials, dances and community celebrations. The communities
were generally supportive during times of need. They collected food and
clothing, provided shelter and helped to rebuild after misfortunes or disasters.
The White family fell easily into the gender roles prevalent in the
late 1800's and still in evidence in the early 1900's. The masculine role
of providing for the family, protecting them and earning a living was filled
by Ray. The oldest son, Paul, was groomed to help his father as soon as
he was able. He, also, performed outside chores and occasionally helped
around the house at Edna's direction.
Minnie White accepted the role of lady of the house and child bearer.
She seemed a reluctant participant in the Canadian venture. Minnie exercised
her power through use of passive resistance and by assuming the role of
martyr. The family was centered around her and was to provide for her comfort
and well being.
Edna White was forced to assume most of the household responsibilities
as she grew older. She became cook, maid and housekeeper. She nurtured
and cared for siblings and parents. Edna also provided extra family income
through various ventures that were thrust upon her by her father.
As Edna concludes, this is the story as seen through her eyes. We are
shown that Ray White was a dreamer and schemer. As each venture failed,
he packed up and moved on. Most of the family shared in the hard work,
but they seemed to be dogged by bad timing and misfortune. Ray White's
dreams went unfulfilled. Finally despairing of his hard luck, he packed
up his family once more and headed back to America and a more friendly
environment. This was an all too familiar pattern throughout the American
It would be interesting to piece the complete story together with each
family member's version as Edna suggests. This story shows a typical pioneer
family and their struggle to survive.
Woodard Family Genealogy (Woodard 1987)
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Place Names of Alberta. Ottawa: Geographic Board of Canada, 1928
A 1920 view of the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway. 20(4),3. Edmonton: Alberta Historical Review, 1972
Lac La Biche railway station. 20(4),5. Edmonton: Alberta Historical Review, 1972
National Geographic Atlas of the Wrold. Washington DC: National Geographic Society, 1981
Byland, Edna White. Middletown houses. Portland: Byland family photo album (in Juanita Byland Jacobsen's possession), 1912
Byland, Edna White. Alice White Janes. Portland: Byland family photo album (in Juanita Byland Jacobsen's possession), 1914
Byland, Edna White. Joyce Fitkin. Portland: Byland family photo album (in Juanita Byland Jacobsen's possession), c1915
Byland, Edna White. Edna White on her horse. Portland: Byland family photo album (in Juanita Byland Jacobsen's possession), c1920
Byland, Edna White. White House Hotel fire article. Portland: Byland family photo album (in Juanita Byland Jacobsen's possession), 1922
Byland, Edna White. Rayman White. Portland: Byland family photo album (in Juanita Byland Jacobsen's possession), 1926
Crout, George. Interview by phone with Butler County. Ohio historian Keith Woodard, 1987
Dorin, Parick C. The Milwaukee Road East: America's resourceful railroad. Seattle: Superior Publishing Co., 1978
Haines, Francis. Indians of the Great Basin and Plateau. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1970
Jenness, Diamond. Structural Changes of Two Chinese Communities in Alberta. Ottawa: National Museum of Canada, 1976
Kerr, D.G.G. Historical Atlas of Canada. Don Mills: Nelson and Sons, 1975
Mackintosh, W.A. Prairie Settlement: The geographical setting. Toronto: Macmillan Co., 1934
Niddrie, John G. The Edmonton Boom of 1911-1912. 13(2). Edmonton: Alberta Historical Review, 1965
Paullin, Charles O. Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States. Baltimore: Carnegie Institute, 1932
Richards, Clark. Correspondence between Clark Richards and Evelyn Smith. Portland: (copy of original in Patti Woodard's possession), 1984
Schlicht, Lou White. Information obatined through interview and correspondence. Portland: (copy of original in Patti Woodard's possession), 1987
Sturtevant, William C. Handbook of North American Indians. Vol 6.: Subarctic, 1981
Waddell, W.S. Frank Oliver and the Bulletin. 5(3). Edmonton: Alberta Historical Review, 1957
Woodard, Keith. Notes and observations by editor. 1987
Woodard, Patti. Frederick and Margaret Long. Portland: (copy of original in Patti Woodard's possession), 1910
Woodard, Patti. Abner and Mariah White. Portland: (copy of original in Patti Woodard's possession), 1910
Woodard, Patti. White Family. Portland: (copy of original in Patti Woodard's possession), 1915
Woodard, Patti. Dolly White. Portland: (copy of original in Patti Woodard's possession), 1921
Woodard, Patti. A gathering at the White House Hotel. Portland: (copy of original in Patti Woodard's possession), 1922
Woodard, Patti. Edna White. Portland: (copy of original in Patti Woodard's possession), 1910
Woyitka, Anne B. Strike at Waterways. 20(4). Edmonton: Alberta Historical Review, 1972
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This project has been interesting and informative. I would like to thank Lou White Schlicht for graciously allowing me to use this story and for supplying additional information, some of which came from her brother, Ray White. For allowing access to Edna White Byland's photo albums, I would like to thank Juanita Byland Jacobsen. Also, I would like to thank Stephen Dow Beckham for his inspiration, knowledge, humor and informative stories. A special thanks to my wife, Patti, who suggested using her grandmother's story for this project. For all her support throughout the project and her help with proofreading, researching and typing I am grateful.
Edna Lucille White in Spokane, Woodard 1924
Rayman White in Oregon, Byland 1926
Dolly White in Waterways, Woodard ca 1921
White Family - Ray, Alvie, Edna, Lula, Paul, Minnie and Jimmie White in Redcliff, Woodard 1915