THE HENRY JAMES O'KANE STORY
By Rosella O'Kane Hubka
Henry James, one of thirteen children of James and Margaret O'Kane, was born in Cherry Grove Township, Minnesota, in 1883. In 1912 he, Oscar Holthe and two other friends travelled north into Canada to find a homestead somewhere in Alberta. After looking at land at Entwistle and Edson, Dad went east of Edmonton to Vermilion, where he was met by Mr. F.E. Van Arnam and driven to Elk Point. He liked what he saw so consequently filed papers on N.W. 16-57-6-W4 for a homestead. It had timber, a creek running through it and a spring which supplied the household and livestock. To help prove his homestead, Dad used a team of oxen.
In 1913 or 14 the log house or shack, was built. Although it isn't in good shape, it is still standing today. Supplies were obtained from Vermilion. In summer he crossed the North Saskatchewan River by way of the Hopkins Ferry, whereas in winter he simply crossed on the ice. At freeze-up again in the spring, when the ice was breaking up, it was impossible to cross at all. This trip would take from four to seven days, depending on the weather and load.
It was during this year, to supplement his income, Dad worked on the telephone line from Elk Point to Bonnyville with Mr. F.E. Van Arnam as foreman. Quotes from letters written home to his mother in Minnesota from 1912-19 were as follows: "There is brush on everything. Big timer, bah! A lie! " "So much of this land around Edmonton is gumbo." "How do I get "soot" off my sweater? If nothing will, send me some dark red dye and Mrs. Holthe will dye it for me. "Small crowd at a dance in town. Temperature around 35 degrees F."
The fall of 1916 brought frozen crops, a severe winter, little money and time for a change. Dad purchased a team and harness for $300 and went south with Mr. Mabley to thresh. The wide open space and warmer climate appealed to him so he bought S.W. 14-16-25 W4 in the Carmangay area. In January, 1917, he went back to Elk Point, sold some of his belongings, made arrangements with Oscar Holthe to look after his homestead and came back to Carmangay for a new start.
In 1923 the wheels of fortune turned his way as, on April 3rd, he married Anna Nolan, a schoolteacher from Bethel, Minnesota. Mother was a true American and insisted that her children be born in the United States. So Catharine (Kay), Rosella and Edward (Ed) have Minnesota as their place of birth. However, as Canada proved to be kind to her, she changed her mind, thus Emmett and Joseph were born in Claresholm, Alberta, and later, Mary at Elk Point.
Dad's plan the winter of 1925 was to pay a short visit to Elk Point but, lo and behold, he was quarantined at Pinder's as some of the children had small pox.
The dirty thirties arrived bringing grasshoppers, dust storms, drought, no crops and terrific hardships. In November, 1931, Dad moved his family back to Elk Point, where they lived for a few days with neighbors (Frank Pinders and Oscar Holthes) while the house was being made ready. More rustic living! The first Sunday we were in Elk Point Mother and I walked two miles to church from Holthes. The church pews were planks on stumps. This morning there was quite a commotion when one of the plariks broke, spilling every one! I remember Mrs. Ella Helinsky falling. Embarrassing moments indeed!
Henry O'Kane and his homestead house, 1913.
Don Pinder enjoyed teasing Kay over referring to the "wood box" as the "coal pail".
The winter of 1932-33 was highlighted by Ed and I helping Dad log. Pete Charest from Shamrock Velley set up his saw mill on our place. Neighbors brought their logs to be made into lumber, too. Blowing the whistle on the steam engine for dinner, or meal time, was a big event for the O'Kane children, and any other children. Mother had one of Pete's daughters helping her and they fed all the men working at the saw mill.
Money was always scarce but Dad kept ahead by cutting and selling cordwood and building and maintaining roads, to defray expenses. A nickel's worth of candy from Mr. Markstad was a real treat for all us kids. One time Dad sold eight pigs for $24. That sounded like big money to us kids, but what we didn't know Dad and Mom did.
We went to school in Elk Point until the opening of the Muriel School in January, 1937. Miss Mary Fish taught the thirty students, which included grades one to nine. We went to high school in Elk Point.
During the war years, 1939-45, Kay worked in an airplane plant in Edmonton and Fort William, Ontario. Ed and Rosella spent some time in Minnesota, helping their uncles, as farm help was very hard to come by. Mother was with her aged parents for a while, also Mary with her, and she attended school in Minnesota. Emmet and Joe helped Dad to keep the "homefires burning".
June 15th, 1945, was a tragic day in our family as Joe, along with George Holliday, was killed by lightning. Once again our family was united, but only to go our separate ways again.
Kay married Matt Flagel of Trail, B.C., which is still their home today. They have four boys and one grandchild. Rosella married Bob Hubka of Carmangay. They farmed in Carmangay until 1972, when they retired to Claresholm. They had three boys and three girls. However the three boys are all deceased. They have one grandchild.
Ed and Emmet (Jim) live in Elk Point and have Dad's homestead. Mary married Ray Demers of Cold Lake. They, with their two girls and four boys, live in Kamloops, B.C.
Dad and Mother continued to live on the homestead until a short time before their deaths, when they lived in town. Mother passed away in 1965, and Dad in 1968. True pioneers indeed!
LETTER "HOME" TO U.S. RELATIVES
Elk Point, Alberta Dec.12, 1931
Dear Mary & everybody:
I suppose you know that we left Sunny Southern Alberta with its wind and dust etc. and are in the woods in Elk Point nearly a month. Henry got the notion about the middle of Sept. and we had until Nov. 15th to leave so got loaded on Friday the 13th. Left Carmangay on Sat. morning about 2 a.m. with two car loads of Settlers Effects and got to Elk Point Mon. eve about 6:30. Friday was a grand day but it turned cold and stormy Saturday morning and has been real winter here ever since. It was so cold when we landed in Elk Point that it was hard to get anything done until they got sort of broke in to cold days. Quite a few families have moved in to Elk Point the last summer from dried out areas. The children and I went to Ohler's when we vacated our shack on Thurs. eve. Frankie came after us on Sunday and we staid there until Mon. p.m. I was glad to get there before we left, for Mrs. Hubka is the best woman we knew in that part of the country. We left Carmangay on Tues, evening and got to Elk Point at 6:30 Wed. eve. Were in Edmonton from 7:30 till 12:30 but it was so cold we didn't see much of the town. There was a big church not far from depot so we went over to it. Took a street car to the other depot then walked back to Woolworth's. It was so hard to watch Emmet and Joey that I didn't get half what I wanted. Joey got tired and wanted some milk as loud as he could say it so I beat it back to the depot. The children were looking for their Dad to meet them and he was there with Mr. Pinder. They thought that we'd freeze up going 3 miles but we didn't get cold but it sure was a snappy nite. We stayed there until Friday morning when we went to Holthe's, came here Tuesday morning. It took quite a while to get windows fixed and stoves & pipes up etc. The shack was full of boxes & junk and it seemed as tho we'd never get it fixed to live in. We have an English batchelor across the road - Tom Holliday. He helped Henry a lot and is a better scout than the Tom we left behind. We went to his place for dinner and supper the nite we came. He had nice spuds & we had meat & that's all it takes to feed our family. He went to a shindig in town that nite but asked if there were spuds to fry and there was so he said we'd better go up and get our supper. The United Churchladies put on a play that nite. Mrs. Holthe took part in it. Guess they go to a lot of Bridge parties etc. There was only one church in Elk Point until last year. There's a nice little catholic church now and a resident Priest - Fr. McLain - goes to Heinesburg too. The church was built more than a year ago but isn't finished yet. The contractor got the money and beat it so the lumber company foreclosed and the money had to be raised again. The Priest batches in Vestry which is plastered but walls of church aren't finished yet. The ladies had a Whist drive the night we landed here & made about $50, so put a floor in the church (second floor).
Rosella and I walked to Mass the first Sunday from Holthe's (2 miles). We were all there last Sunday. Had a hard time keeping Emmet & Joe quiet. There was a little Catechism class and Eddie told us a big boy couldn't say the "Hail Mary" & Emmet said all the prayers. There is to be a Community Xmas tree and one of the teacher's is a Catholic so she is going to teach the children some Catholic Hymns. There is to be a Midnight Mass Xmas & he wants High Mass or at least some Hymns. He had a big suit case full of prayer books, rosaries, statues, and all kinds of things. We got pretty cold coming home last Sunday so I hate to think of going any place even if it is only 4 miles to town. We haven't footwear to keep warm in this cold weather & when the feet get cold, we're all cold. But it may warm up by then. We all had colds but are just about over them all but Henry and he's lots better than he was.
The children are all excited over Xmas. They have all kinds of branches of Xmas trees in the house already with their boxes tied on. They are wondering if Santa will know they have moved.
How is everyone down there? I don't suppose Pat can use his arm much yet. It keeps Henry busy getting wood & feed nearly all the time and I don't know when he'll ever get a letter written and I don't write much either. Quite a few people asked us to write to them at Carmangay but if they hear from us as good as our relations do , they won't hear much. Had a letter from Mary Donovan last week. She said O'Kanes had been down there one rainy Sunday. Wish we could go too & we wouldn't have to write. Will Rose and Barbara & families get home to your place for Xmas?
We belong to Elk Point School district now so are further than ever from school so I don't know what we'll do by next September. I know we'll never take them that far to school and go after them.
They are all talking of sawing lumber this winter so they may get busy after Xmas.
Well I think I'll quit for tonite. Wishing you all a Happy Christmas if you don't hear from us again.
Love to all from all,
Remember us to Johnnie's and Frances' folks, and everyone else.
Mrs. H. O'Kane and Mrs. O. Holthe.