THE GRANT ARNOLD FAMILY
by Kate (Hobden) Arnold
Ottawa - 1907. I quit school at age fourteen and went to work in a paper mill. Later I worked in a cotton mill near Cornwall. My brothers and sisters also left school at early ages and went to work at whatever they could get to do. I was glad to leave the smokey mill works behind.
I found Alberta a wholesome place to live, the clear air, the very newness captivating me. Our home those first few weeks was a tent, which was gradually surrounded by walls as Dad and Bert put up the logs of the home they were erecting in preparation for the arrival of the rest of the family as soon as school was out. I continued to 'keep tent' until Mother arrived in mid-summer, making friends with the neighbors and the wildlife around us. Rabbits, partridges and grouse were abundant and helped with our food supply. Songbirds filled every tree.
One day Bert came running excitedly up to the tent and snatching up the axe, cried "Come and see what I've found! ". Two black bear cubs were in the branches of a tree by the corduroy across the lake-end. Bert industriously hacked away at the tree, his purpose being to capture the cubs as they came tumbling down. Fortunately for us, the cubs leaped blithely off as the tree crashed down, and joined their big black mother who had been watching from the bushes a few yards off, unseen by us. Our tent seemed very thin protection as we considered the probable actions of mama bear had we succeeded in injury to her cubs.
I went to Speers, Saskatchewan, where I worked for a short period, returning to Elk Point in the fall. Here I met and soon became engaged to Grant Arnold, an American immigrant homesteading not far from Father's place. In April we drove together to Vermilion for the license and ring, in Jim Hitchcock's democrat, spending the 'overnights' each way at Hafferty's Stopping Place, and had rooms at the Brunswick hotel while in town.
We were married in Day's home, April 9, 1914, by the Reverend Harry Day. Neighbors and family came to our house that evening and Grant played his fiddle unaccompanied for the dancing until the wee hours. Everyone trooped off at last - or so we thought - but many returned later to make the night hideous with their howls, crashes and clattering at the door and on the roof. Tin cans were rattled and shots fired into the air. We were being given a 'charivari'. I was terrified, to say the least.
Grant often derided Canada as a hard place to get ahead, with weather and lack of money always against photos He vowed the reason the settlers stayed was that they could never-after gather together enough cash for fare to leave. This was not entirely true, for we did return to his home town of Waukon, Iowa, where we spent one year. He was soon dissatisfied with life there; jobs were scarce, the outlook narrow. We returned to the 'land of the free'. World War I was still on; brothers Jack and Bert were in the army; rationing was tight.
Never too inclined to farming, Grant gave up the homestead and turned to freighting. There were groceries and materials of all sorts to be hauled from rail's end at Vermilion to the growing settlement of Elk Point. He made winter trips to Cold Lake and Primrose Lake with food and goods and returned with frozen fish, furs and the odd passenger.
Settlers in the Angle Lake, Moosewa and Primrose areas might recall putting Grant Arnold up for the night, when he pulled in, tired and hungry from long slow miles on the canvas-covered high-piled grain box on the wagon; or in winter, behind the bob sleigh squeaking over the dry cruel snow. Jack and Joe, his big sorrels, knew every mile, up hill and down, plodding on while he walked behind to keep from freezing.
The mighty N. Saskatchewan posed little problem in winter, save navigating the icy hills, but if he arrived as the ice was breaking up, and before the ferry could be skidded into place, there was little he could do but unload his freight there on the river bank and return to Vermilion for another load. This he did on more than one occasion, with no fear of theft or vandalism, and never lost an article.
Later, one of Grant's jobs was to put in the ferry in the spring and haul it out before it stuck fast in the fall. This perhaps led him into his last career as a contractor - moving buildings, doing cement work and construction. The town of Elk Point had been built over a boggy lowland; cellars and basements filled with water every spring. Over the years, Grant moved many of the buildings from the east end of the town to the main street where the businesses are located today. Much of his moving was done with horses, but he changed to tractors as soon as these were available, hiring these, as he had never been able to see well enough to safely drive a motor vehicle.
A self-taught man, Grant was seldom stumped for long on a moving or construction problem. He was tremendously strong and never shirked work, expecting those about him to pull their share. He enjoyed a good joke, music and dancing, a cool glass of beer on a Saturday night, Amos and Andy on the newfangled radio. He was a person to rely on.
What was it like to be a woman in those pioneer days? One was not first a woman, but a daughter, then a wife and mother. These occupations I pursued to the best of my ability, with pleasure and the satisfaction of a worthwhile job well done.
From my mother and other women I knew, I learned it was my duty to always cater to the rules and wishes of the menfolk about me. They were the holders of the money, the decision makers, the boss. A daughter belonged to the father and must obey him implicitly - as of course must the sons. In time she was allowed to marry; then the husband became her lord and master. A promise to obey was written into the marriage ceremony and those of us who took our vows seriously did just that. If we did wish to circumvent that rule we did it by stealth, guile or bitchiness. It was not our "right".
We married for love, but also to keep the house and have the babies, milk the cow and cook the food, sew and knit, weave and wash, tend the garden and the sick. If we were worth our salt we did all that. Many helped in the fields, fed the stock (poultry care had "women's work" indelibly stamped on it), picked the roots and rocks and berries, plucked the game and scaled the fish. Some went out and hunted for these, too.
There were bitterly hard times . . . during the Great War, the year of the terrible 'flu,' the 'Hard Winter'; and just because we were pioneers, attempting to wrest a civilization out of the raw hostile land. And it was hostile. Winters were colder and snow lingered longer; mosquitoes were hungry, numerous and intolerable. Roads and trails were endurance tests in spring or rain, and often drifted closed in winter. In the first years there was no hospital, although it was not long before we had good medical people. Dr. Wolfe, Dr. Miller and midwife Nurse Hitchcock spent many hours on those same treacherous roads, hurrying to the bedside of some stricken soul. We knew and used a lot of home remedies, many of which did little but help us psychologically. We didn't run to the doctor with minor aches and pains.
My first eight children were born at home, in my own bed. One I managed by myself while my husband was out in a blizzard fighting to fetch a Dr. Gagnon from St. Paul. I appreciated the advent of a hospital in Elk Point, giving birth to my remaining five children within its comforting wails.
The following children were born to myself and Grant Arnold: Laurence (deceased in 1973), Frank, Irene, George, Norman, Grace, Alan, Ethel (deceased 1957), James, Virginia, Emerson, Anne and Edson. Thirteen in all. None were 'easy' children to raise. They were innovative, explorative and rebellious, energetic and aggressive. Born in the depression atmosphere they knew no other, but all were deter-mined to obtain the best life had to offer. Our household was noisy, argumentative and completely unpredictable, except that if anything could be happening - it was. The older ones left school early, only the last few, after we moved into town, were able to carry on into high school. They are scattered now across Canada and into the U.S.A., but they still call Elk Point 'home'.
Most years the land was bountiful in wild fruit, and we roamed the jackpines for blueberries and cranberries; the river hills for saskatoons and mooseberries; the meadows for strawberries, and the brambles for raspberries. Along the creeksides were currants and dewberries. Picking was fun; picking-over was back-breaking and tedious. Canning jars were precious, so I often canned without sugar or water, to get more fruit in the jar. All the children helped, in one way or another, necessity ruling all.
Grant cut a tree, poplar, large and branched, trimmed so its four branch-fingers supported the arm of the trunk. On this he placed a round table top. As the family grew he would periodically remove the top and add another board, and many a stranger was welcomed in and given a seat and a plate. My cooking was famous in the area, if not for quality at least for quantity. Grant was a good provider, enjoyed his food, and no one ever had need to leave our table hungry.
There were gay times in our house. Often the rafters rang with the fiddle's twang, spoons clacking, jewsharp, and mouthorgan, even a paper and comb, or a saucepan to drum on. We sang. We danced. We picnicked despite the flies and bugs, and gathered the wild flowers by the armful. Grant made skis and sleds for the kids at Christmas time. We gorged on apples, nuts and candies for a few days in that holiday season.
Hair cutting time came just before school opened, twice a year. I was barber; and although I did not use a bowl, my haircuts were not too satisfactory, and the boys did each other's as they got older. I had my own hair cut short in 1927, for the first time. This seemed a major feminine rebel-lion; short hair and short skirts seemed to be very daring.
Grant bought an old Nash touring car, when our eldest son, Laurence, was fifteen. He soon leamed to drive it and mechanic it, too. It was left on a slight slope by the side of the house, so it could be pushed downlijll to start it. Failing that, the whole family might be called out to push it around the yard until it hicupped into life and sputtered off. It became our transportation to the berry patch, to town, to Grant's job. It could carry a dozen, on laps, on the running board, even draped over the hood. It ran out of gas at the most inconvenient times, and often blew its rad cap, spewing steam over us all. We carried a can for refilling at the roadside ditch. Tires were wrapped in leather straps when splits developed, and we often got home on a rphotos Tire patching was a constant chore.
Kate and Grant Arnold, 1917, with sons Laurence and Frank.
My husband was generous and hospitable to a fault, often bringing home stray bachelors - or just plain bums - who might stay for a meal, for days, for months. I had no say in this. It would have been deemed bad manners for me to object, as I was required to get the meals in any case and one or two more weren't supposed to make any difference. I was 'the' wife, like 'the ' wagon, 'the' chair, 'the' horse;valuable and to serve my purpose, but not really to be consulted when it came to 'men's' affairs. I voted as I was told - or so my husband thought - but I really had little time to consider the merits of one politician over another then. There were too many dishes to wash, diapers to change, socks to mend.
My husband bought the groceries, articles purchased in town; I shopped the catalogues, and subject to his approval, sent off orders for clothing, harness, etc. The cash I held in my hands was rare.
We moved into the village of Elk Point in 1936, and Grant built the home I still live in. We were allowed an acre of land by the village council. We kept a couple of cows and a few chickens in our fenced-in area. We sold any excess milk we had, and grew a huge garden. Grant worked hard and long hours, but there never seemed to be enough money for our needs. Most of the children had left home by then. Five entered the armed forces during the 2nd World War; all returned safely.
My husband suffered a long illness, from which he recovered and returned to work, but on a cold December day in 1948 he collapsed on the job and passed away at the age of 64.
I have lived on here in Elk Point, accompanied by my sister Jennie Hobden, in my own home. It is a good place to live and I find the pension I receive ample for my needs.
From Memories of Kate Arnold
Written by I.E. Magnusson