by Hilda (Jenkins) Hodgkinson
In 1900 Richard Jenkins, wife Laura and small son, Charles, emigrated from Bristol, England, to U.S.A. After working eleven years in the Carnegie Steel Mills in Homestead, Pennsylvania, he was impressed by glowing advertisements of homesteads in the Canadian West. Hitherto strictly an urban dweller, he caught the land fever and in May, 1911, travelled to Edmonton, Alberta. In Edmonton he heard of land south of Vermilion open for homesteading. At Vermilion he hired Wilfred Graham, a land guide, to drive him out to view some land, but none that he saw appealed to photos
LEFT T0 RIGHT Ricbard Jenkins Sr., George Jenkins, Mrs. Jenkins, Hilda Jenkins (Mrs) Mary Anne Ovens - 1914.
Wilfred told him that he himself had a homestead away north of Vermilion on the Moose Hills and was very enthusiastic about the area. So my father and a Frenchman from Alsace-Lorraine, named Dornberg, with whom he had joined forces somewhere along the way, hired Wilfred to drive them north to T58-R6-W4 where Wilfred had his homestead on NE. 18. Although the whole area was quite heavily wooded, mostly poplar, and much of it hilly, my father and Mr. Dornberg went into St. Paul de Metis and filed on adjoining quarters -- NE and SE of 30, respectively.
The only homesteaders in residence on the Hills at that time were the Nicholas Boos family from Minnesota. He and his sons, Sherman, Art and Edwin, had filed on the four quarters of Sec. 19.
R. Jenkins and Dornberg arranged for room and board at the Boos home. To start off right, they set to brushing a dividing line between their quarters. After half a day chopping trees and suffering from heat, mosquitoes and frustration, Dornberg said he'd had enough. He got someone to drive him to town and never returned. This quarter was never proved up until around 1930 when George Jenkins filed on it, got patent and is still living there, 1977. George is, I believe, the only remaining "first settler" albeit barely five years old when the family moved in.
My father hired Sherman Boos with a team of oxen to work with him, cutting and hauling poplar logs for a house. They set about building in one of the few small open areas of the homestead.
The beginning of September, back in Pennsylvania, after having the household goods packed and shipped as "settlers effects", the family entrained for Alberta. There was Mother; her sister, Aunt Annie Ovens; and we three children: Charlie, 12 years; myself, Hilda, 10 years; and George, 5 years. Father met us at the station, having been driven to Vermillon (the nearest railroad point to the homestead) by Sherman with the oxen. We spent a couple of nights at the Brunswick Hotel, which boasted of having steam heating, but they must have been saving the steam for coidweather as there was no heat at all. Mother and Auntie especially found the September nights very chilly.
After a couple of days spent buying some necessities, we were ready to pick up and start the long drive north. The homestead was forty-eight miles straight north of Vermilion, but, as the trails wound in those days, around sloughs and the easiest route over hills, it was reckoned close to sixty miles. We crossed the North Saskatchewan River at Hopkins Ferry, several miles up stream from the later Elk Point ferry and present day bridge.
The wagon loaded with two large trunks, suitcases, a kitchen stove and stovepipes, boxes of groceries and other goods, besides a tent and camping equipment, left little room for passengers, except to sit on top of the load. (Our furniture did not arrive in Vermilion until sometime in October.) Charlie and I started out walking behind and encouraging Bossy, the young cow tied to the back of the wagon, and continued so for a good many of those miles. Mother hung onto the newly acquired cat, and the dog trotted along. We spent four days on the road, sleeping at night in the tent. Our food supply was supplemented with milk from the cow and prairie chicken or duck shot by Sherman along the way. Wild fowl was very plentiful.
Arriving at Moose Hills, we spent the first night at the Boos' home and next day were hauled bag and baggage to our new half-finished home. Dad's nephew, Harry Harris, had come out from England during the summer and filed on NW 30. When we arrived, he was busy nailing shingles on the roof of the 18 x 24 house. Only half of the ground floor was laid, none of the upper, and no windows or doors were in. But we moved in anyway. The new cookstove was set up and the two large trunks set end-to-end made a table. Wilfred Graham had said that we might borrow a couple of mattresses, some chairs and a few dishes from their house on their homestead. Thus, with bedding, etc., from the trunks, we were set up.
Dad and Cousin Harry soon had the house closed in, floors laid, cracks between the logs in the walls chinked and "mudded". (Later on, lime plaster was used for this.) Harry soon leff to find work in Eastern Canada, went back to England in the spring and never returned. His quarter was never filed on again until my father did so much later when second homesteads were permissible for early settlers.
With "bush" close at hand Dad and Charlie were able to cut and carry logs for a small barn. It was tenanted that first winter only by Bossy; it was spring before Dad bought a team of horses, a wagon, a plow and harrows.
Our water supply for many summers was carried in pails, and later hauled in a barrel on a stoneboat, from a creek some distance from the house. Several attempts at digging to considerable depth failed to find a water supply. In winter when the creek froze we had to melt snow. Our first couple of winters being at the peak of the rabbit cycle (there were thousands of them), the melted snow for drinking had to be boiled. No matter how carefully the snow was scooped up, there were inevitably a few small brown pellets in the water. We also melted snow for Bossy. After the first winter the livestock had to be driven a mile to the lake every day and the hole in the ice chopped open for them to drink.
In summer we caught rain water for washing purposes. Occasionally during a very dry spell we would have to use the lake. Dad would load the wagon with palls, tubs, washboard, laundry, etc., and take Mother and me with our lunch to the lake and leave us. There we would put in most of the day, carrying water from the lake and heating it in pails hung over an open fire, scrubbing clothes on the board with homemade soap, and hanging them on lines strung between trees. We usually had time for a dip in the lake ourselves before Dad came to pick us up. We always enjoyed that day, considering it something of a picnic.
The Kehewin Indian Reserve was immediately north of us, consisting roughly of T59 R6, although its boundaries didn't follow exactly township and range lines. Our nearest neighbors were the Gustave Dion family who lived in the southwest corner of the reserve about a mile and a half from us. All the other Indian families lived pretty much across the northern half. Most of them had cattle and grew some grain. For a number of years my father bought or bartered for grain from them to feed his livestock. They all had log houses but Mr. Dion built quite a large log house with upstairs and sheathed it inside and out with lumber. For a long time it was quite the best house for miles around.
The Dion family were good neighbors and Mr. Dion helped my father in many ways. When we first moved in, he was operating a small store for the Hudson Bay Co., stocked with a few staple goods. It was very convenient for us, the next nearest store being at Hopkins about twenty miles away and we had no horses or oxen that first winter. Mrs. Dion made many pairs of moosehide moccasins for our family for winter wear, always exclaiming loudly at the size of my father's feet as she measured them.
Joe Dion, the eldest of the family, had been to school at Onion Lake for a number of years and spoke English fluently. He renounced his treaty rights and took up and got patent to NW 20. Some time later a school was built on the reserve for the Indian children and Joe was the first teacher.
In the spring Dad broke with the two horses a strip of land beside the house for a garden and another small open patch to seed oats for greenfeed for the stock. Mr. Dion broadcast the seed on the latter, carrying the grain on a tray of sacking stretched over a willow bow whose ends rested on his hips, and a leather thong from the front reached around his neck. He walked steadily back and forth across the field, rhythmically throwing the seed right and left alternately with either hand.
Later Dad bought a team of oxen and used oxen and horses together to break land after chopping down trees with an axe and pulling stumps with horses. It was hard, slow work, so different from today's clearing and breaking with
huge machines. There was no grain to thresh for a number of years, greenfeed being grown for the horses and increasing number of cattle. The first grain threshed was from sheaves hauled to the reserve and threshed there by a small machine powered by horses hitched to a circular sweep. Dad did not keep the oxen long, getting a couple more horses.
As in all the new settlements, lack of a school was of great concern to parents. In 1911-12 there were only five children of school age in the area: three Jenkins and two Boos (Dewey and Clarence). In order to establish a school district, government regulations required that there be in residence at least six children between the ages of five and sixteen years, inclusive, in an area not greater than five by five miles. We didn't qualify. Later, 1912 or 1913, our hopes were raised. Mr. Driver and son Ross each filed on homesteads. There were several school age children in the family and, with the Boos and Jenkins, there would be enough for a school. But Mrs. Driver and the children were still in Edmonton and she wouldn't move out until there was a school. We couldn't get a school until the children were in residence so it came to naught. Mr. Driver and Ross built a shack and lived on the homestead for a while. There never was a school built in the area.
Charles Jenkins 1914
In our family, George got his first schooling at home and later went to Vermilion and Elk Point schools. Charlie attended Vermilion Agricultural School and Hilda put in three years at Vermilion High School. The fact that a lot of reading was done in the home compensated to a considerable degree for the lost years.
When Charlie's and George's children came, the elder ones were sent for a time to the Duclos boarding school at Bonnyville. Then Charlie's family moved to an acreage near Elk Point to be near school. When the large school divisions were formed, the area became part of the St. Paul School Division. Mr. Racette, then School Inspector, was instrumental in havmg a school set up in my father's large house which was onoccupied at the time. Here Hugh Hodgkinson (my son) supervised the correspondence lessons of George's children and others then resident. There was a shortage of qualified teachers at this time (1947-48) and correspondence courses from the Department of Education were used to fill the gap. Before long, centralization and busing saw children taken to Elk Point School.
In 1911, and for some time after, a saw mill was operated on the Moose Hills by members of the Garneau family (sons of the Garneau whose homestead became the Garneau district of South Edmonton). The mill was, I believe, on Sec. 16 and a heavy stand of spruce, reserved to the Crown and known as a "Timber Limit", covered several sections. This provided the logs for the mill. A lot of lumber was produced, most of it being hauled to St. Paul, whence also carne most of the workers.
Although the Boos family were the only homesteaders resident on the Hills when we moved in, there were several in the southwest area of the township which extended into the Shamrock Valley. There was Frank Plouffe and wife Edith (Boos) and two small children. They proved up the homestead but left soon after.
There were two middle-aged Noble brothers who had come from Minnesota and brought with them Shorthorn cattle which introduced some good blood into local stock. Bill and his wife, known as "Curly", were childless. Curly was a great gardener, raising among other things a lot of cabbage from which she made and sold excellent sauerkraut. Dad bought vegetables from her that first fall. A couple of years later Bill died. Curly stayed on the homestead, renting out the cultivated land to my father and Dave Herbison, a bachelor in the Valley. Some time later Mrs. Noble and Dave decided to marry but Dave was suddenly taken ill and died shortly before the intended wedding. Still later on, Mrs. Noble married Henry (Hank) Jacobson. Eventually they retired into the village of Elk Point.
John Noble, quite a renowned hunter and trapper, was a widower with two grown daughters. The elder was clerking in Craig Bros. store in Vermilion. Florence was at home with her father but belore long married a young fellow named Dodds and they moved to his homestead near Durlingville (Fort Kent or Ardmore today). John married a widow from the immediate Elk Point area but he too died in a few years while still residing on his homestead.
Jim Atkinson and family lived for a number of years just where the creek and the road from the saw mill came out in-to the Valley. Across the road from them was a neat, solid log house occupied in 1911, I believe, by Savoyers (connected with the mill) but either then or later it was the homestead of Billy Miller, killed overseas in World War I.
Wilfred Graham, although so loud in praise of Moose Hills, didn't make a permanent home there. Summers he worked around Vermilion, coming in winter with his wife and small son to the homestead to fulfill residence requirements and staying long enough in spring to clear and break a few acres. He got patent to his land and it passed into other hands.
A brother of Wilfred's, Earl Graham, and also George Smith with wife and small daughter (from Chicago, Ill.) came to homestead higher up on the Hills on Secs. 20 and 21. They built log houses and did a little breaking. Earl's wife came for brief periods but didn't stay for long at a time and eventually neither of them came back. The Smith family left, to come back a little later and buy SE 19, but again didn't stay long.
Still farther back on the Hills, Mr. and Mrs. Herman Yonke and her brother, Bill Mohr, homesteaded. A house was built on the Yonke quarter and they all lived there at intervals but eventually left.
Mr. Price, a rather elderly gentleman, and son Seth, who were renting land near Vermilion, came and filed on 5 1/2 32. A small shack was built on SW 32 but they never established residence nor did other improvements.
About 1915 Rudolf Ludwig, wife Emily and four children came to SW 32. They built quite a good log house, acquired a few head of livestock and broke some land. One or the other of them went awa'y to work at times but they were able eventually to get title to the land. Again the school problem arose. Two of the Ludwig children were of school age but by then a couple of the boys previously eligible were beyond the accepted age and there still wasn't the required number. So the Ludwigs left and never returned.
The George Youngs with a small child homesteaded and built on SE 18. They lived there for some time and had quite a number of cattle.
Laurence Miller homesteaded SW 30. He built on it and did improvements, getting patent. But he and his wife moved to his late brother Billy's place in the Valley where they farmed and raised their family.
Several young bachelors, George Rice, Bill Adams and Chris Jacklin, took up homesteads; some were sons of families that had already homesteaded in the Vermilion area. Some shacks were built, some lived with a brother or a friend. They alternated residence duties with going away to work, the undeveloped homesteads producing no income and requiring capital for improvements.
When my father first came in, the most attractive quarter was SE 31, being more open than any other around. But for some reason it was reserved to the Crown. For several seasons Dad was able to get a permit to cut the hay on it. This was a real asset, being so close to home. When the quarter was thrown open for homesteading, Charlie Jenkins filed on it and got title. He also was able to buy the adjoining fraction to the west. Now his son Richard and family are living on SF 31.
Charlie died very suddenly in 1955. His widow, Madeline Dion, and their son Charles are still living on NE 30 where Charlie and Madeline had made their home most of their married life.
All of these settlers came to a raw and undeveloped land. Some came with household furnishings, some had livestock and farm machinery, and some practically nothing. The big attraction for all was 160 acres of land for a cash outlay --the filing fee -- of only ~ 10. But they started from scratch to build a home and develop a farm. Unlike the prairies where the second year could produce a grain crop, it took several years of hard work in this area.
Cattle offered the most immediate return even though a steer was seldom sold before the age of two years. There was rich peavine pasture in the more lightly wooded areas and cattle grazed at large on the unfenced expanse. In our own case this meant a job every evening for the children as the milk cows and others all ran together and all were brought home every night. The number of cattle was partially limited by the amount of feed available. Hay could usually be bought from the Reserve, some of the Indians putting up a lot on their more open land.
There were bounties for the table in the form of abundant fish, wild fowl and big game -- moose, deer and elk. Also the wild berries were usually plentiful and there were many happy outings picking them. But I remember one occasion when Dad was ahead blazing a path to a good patch of berries. He came back and said we had better return home, he had met a bear. Fruit such as apples and oranges we seldom saw but occasionally had dried apples and prunes. Gardens flourished and were an important part of our food supply.
For a long time the only roads were trails cut through the bush along the lines of least resistance. The low spots became mudholes and many a wagon had to be at least partially unloaded and two or three trips made across the bad spot unless a nearby settler was available to hitch on an extra team.
When improvement districts or municipalities were formed, farmers began to work out part of their taxes on the roads. At first this mostly consisted of brushing a trail along the "cut lines" (surveyed section boundaries) and "corduroying" some of the low spots -- this was laying down poles and brush and putting some dirt on top. It was a good many years before any cars appeared.
We got mail from the Elk Point Post Office kept by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Hood at their farm home. Due to distance we seldom got it even once a week. Any of the settlers would bring the mail for others near but it might be at his place for several days if he didn't happen to be coming your way and you didn't know he had been to the P.O. An effort was made to get a post office established, but unsucessfully. There weren't enough settlers to justify it.
For a time the Jenkins family had their mail switched to the nearer Gurneyville Post Office but after Elk Point grew as a shopping centre we again got our mail there.
Our community did not become a close knit one. Probably lack of a school, usually a central meeting place, contributed to this. We did have occasional house parties at various homes where dancing (in very limited space) was the chief entertainment. George Rice was very musical, playing several instruments, and much in demand on these occasions.
We did not have organized picnics, but a big event every July was "Treaty" on the Reserve. That was when the Indian Agent came from Onion Lake to pay the Indians their annual treaty money -- $5 to every man, woman and child, plus further considerations to the Chief and Councillors. The Indians pitched their tepees on a large flat and spent several days here celebrating. Word would get around as to the day when horse and foot races and other sports were to be held, and hen white settlers from all around the Reserve would pack ,icnic lunches and come in buggies, horse or ox-drawn wagons, or on horseback and join in the fun. Usually a couple of merchants brought goods and set up their stores in tents. Larry Bowtell from Frog Lake was one who did this for years.
We never had regular church services but occasional ones held in homes. The first was conducted by Mr. Harry Day in he Savoyer house in the Valley. Our family went with Wilfred Graham and his family on his homemade sleigh or jump:r as he called it just two long runners, not double bobs). Later student ministers came some times from Flat Lake or St. Paul. In our own home we usually had Bible reading on sunday and hymn singing around the piano, played by Aunt Annie.
It was a good land we came to and we were and are proud to have had even a small part in its development and to be able to call it home.