Tag Archives: moving west

A Lanark Lad Goes Out West to Teach in 1915

A Lanark Lad Goes Out West to Teach in 1915


LAST JULY, 3rd, at half past eleven Winnipeg time, I sat on the steps of a one-room school fifty miles northwest Moose Jaw . While I talked with a tanned farmer, of forty-five years about Saskatchewan ‘s past and present, I watched the daylight fade over the Vermilion Hills. I saw the little shack, east of a  house at the bottom of the hill fade into the shadows.

 That little shack was the place I stayed in Western Canada , thirty-nine years ago; the school where I had pitched my tent, was my first teaching appointment on the prairie; the farmer, beside me, was one of my six, Grade One pupils. This visit was a return pilgrimage. I had been motoring from Winnipeg to the mountains when I noticed a road leading to Ernfold. Ernfold! The name brought back memories.

The summer of 1915 I had travelled West by day coach to take charge of Tuxedo School, number 3208. Passing through Brandon I had pointed to a large building on the hill. “That’s the asylum.” My companion said. “It is filled with women who have gone crazy from loneliness on the prairie.” I thought of his words as I got off the train at Ernfold and was met by a farmer, a fair haired, little Cockney with a wisp of a moustache. Leaving Ernfold we followed a trail winding past sloughs, bumping over the prairie towards the darkening hills. I heard the mournful call of coyotes but my driver paid them no heed. 

Where’s Holly? Photography

· October 18, 2018 ·  

This school in Ernfold, Saskatchewan is for sale, if anyone is interested…

At last we carne to Dick Cleland’s two-roomed shack. I was told that I could sleep in the kitchen until I found a boarding place. It was generous of them as Mrs. Cleland was expecting another child. The shack now lost in the night shadows was the same old shack; the boy who had peeked from behind Mrs. Cleland’s skirt that night was the farmer beside me. 

I remember I arrived early at my school the next morning, after walking two miles over a rough prairie trail. Then the school had stood at the junction of two trails. (Later moved to present site.) It was painted white, the only painted building for miles. The students hadn’t arrived but there was a welcoming committee of gophers. They popped out of their holes and looked at me in a friendly manner. Later I decided they weren’t so friendly.

The pupils and I started a garden. Our lettuce, onions, and radishes came up only to be eaten by those same gophers. The pupils waged war on them, carrying water for a quarter of a mile to drown them out of their holes; they put cord snares over their holes – but the gophers won the battle. 

After a few days I went to board at Oliver Kerr’s. It was a mile closer to the school and I had a room to myself. Today there are trees around the house, but then there wasn’t a tree for fifteen miles. I remember asking one of my pupils, who had made a trip to see the trees, how he liked them.

“Fine,” he said, “but trees don’t look like I though they would.” I asked Oliver’s father, who had come from north of Lake Superior how he liked the prairie. “It would be all right if I could only see a tree,” he said, sighing. “My eyes get tired just looking for trees.” 

To partly pay for my board, I helped Oliver with his job as secretary-treasurer for the Municipality. It seemed as if every farmer was behind in his taxes. But no wonder as there had be a crop failure in 1914. Oliver was hard working but lacked patience, and then he farmed with oxen. His language would have blistered the ears off mules, but his oxen simply chew their cuds. I stayed with him for a month; then as Mrs. Kerr was ‘expecting’ I was asked to look for another place.

I had trouble finding one where there hadn’t been a baby just born, or another one expected.  I finally moved from Kerr’s to a shack where I was to batch for the rest of the summer. It had two rooms, rough boarded, with a sod wall at the back.  It was vacant because the old man, who had lived in it, had committed suicide just before my arrival. I never saw any ghosts. The truth was that any decent ghost would have stayed away from it. Batching then, as now isn’t my forte.

Sod Houses | The Canadian Encyclopedia

But frequent invitations to Oliver’s for a meal, and getting one meal a day at old Mr. Kerr’s for twenty-five cents, saved me from starvation. I had another bright idea. I would shoot jackrabbits, take one as a gift to a farmers’ wife, and in return I would get invited to a home-cooked meal. To get milk to drink I milked Mr. Boss’s cow and was paid in milk. They lived in a sod shack set in the side of a hill. One evening I stayed for supper. It had rained. The sod roof was overgrown with grass. Their calf, not knowing where the roof began and the hill ended, stepped onto the roof to graze. Just as we were eating cooked dried apples, the calf’s leg came through the roof, sprinkling the apples with earth. 

Home - Red River North Heritage

I wasn’t the only student teaching summer school on the prairie. One Sunday morning I borrowed a horse and rode off to visit Isabel McDougall. She was teaching in Log Valley, about seven miles to the Northwest. We had been at Queen’s University together and I just had to see a familiar face to banish a wave of homesickness… and to talk over the problems of teaching summer schools. The trail through the hills was seldom used but I had no trouble following it in daylight. We had our visit, decided that summer schools had disadvantages because they could only be open such a few months each year; the pupils had different teachers every year, and to study in the heat was sometimes torture. Since, I’ve learned that the finest people on the prairies began their education in those lonely, little prairie schools. 

But that night it was dark before I started back to my bachelor shack. The darkness didn’t worry me. Western horses, I had been told, always knew their way home. My horse turned out to be an Ontario immigrant like myself. I let him have his head. He trotted for a bit then lagged and decided to graze. I allowed it for a few minutes then urged him on. Again he stopped. I dismounted to see if we were on the trail. We weren’t and all I could see was the dim outlines of hills that looked alike. I was lost. I might ride in a circle for miles without finding a house in this ranch land country.

I listened. There was no sound of even a coyote, but thinking of them I had an idea. I mounted my horse, and howled like a coyote … or as near as I could manage.  I listened. Far off I heard the barking of a dog. That meant a house. I rode towards the bark, stopping often to imitate a coyote, then ride on. Finally my howling and the dog’s barking led me to a house. I shouted hello and a farmer stuck his head out of an upstairs window. I told him I was lost. He grunted then turned to explain to his enquiring wife. “It’s that damn fool teacher from Tuxedo .. he’s lost.” But he gave me my directions and I finally reached my shack. 

But what about my teaching? I was pretty ignorant about teaching small children. I am not sure that I gave them a great deal. World War One was in its second year and my mind was divided. The next spring I enlisted. They were like able children and mostly eager to learn. Sam Cleland assured me that the ones who still lived there were good citizens. Perhaps that is as much as I should expect.

Finally I said goodnight to Sam and crawled into my sleeping bag. I lay there thinking about the prairie changes. Many of the people I knew had moved away. In 1915 I could stand on the top of a hill and see the sun’s rays on a score of houses; today the farms have become larger; the houses fewer but larger too. They are painted and have trees and telephones and radios. In spite of the homes being further apart there is not the same isolation: the same loneliness. Today they can get a doctor quickly .. get to town .. to church. In those days the road were trails; today there are gravel roads. The next morning, at daybreak, I was driving along one of them to a concrete highway .. away from the past, toward the future.

Appleton General Store – Names Names Names— Wesley West Appleton and Almonte Merchant

Moving West 1879– Lanark County Names

The Thomas Alfred Code Journal – Letters-Part 23- Code Family–Brother John — John Code Goes West

Men Of Lanark Play Big Part Building West

anark County Moves West — Sarah Plain and Tall it was Not

When Crops Failed — Lanark County Went Manitoba Dreamin’

Dr. Andrew Elliott of Almonte — Tarred and Feathered

Elizabeth Lindsay of Almonte — Victorian Women Business Owners

People Coming and Going- Going and Coming Photos


Our folks moved west, some moved back then went back again. It was a back and forth when the crops failed or they worked on the railway. Some of the stories are linked below. Here are some amazing photos I found this morning.

Photos from Canadian Photographic History Facebook page and they are also for sale on the Delcampe Auction site.


Photo Stefano Neis-RP: J.W. Stewart Family & trailer, WATROUS , Saskatchewan to Montreal , Quebec , Canada , 10-20s
Item number: 138804742



Photo by Stefano Neis–RP: OX & Horse wagon at DEERING Farm Machines barn , STETTLER , Alberta , Canada , PU-1908
Item number: 190398111


Photo by Stefano Neis–RP; “U Can Eat” Restaurant,Main Street(dirt), CABRI , Saskatchewan , Canada , PU-1912

Item number: 126575247
SCVIEW on Delcampe

13501631_10201815568106620_7164202541450759228_n (1).jpg

Another nice Item; Stereoview 1898 ; Women Prospectors on their way to Klondyke [Gold Rush] SCVIEW Item 384 621 876 on–Photo– Delcampe.com


13466357_10201797549616169_4816145671122483732_n (1).jpg

RP: RIVIERE TORTUE , Manitoba , Canada , 00-10s ; Man & Sod hut(Item ID: 331883167839)


Photo-Stefano Neis

RP, Railway Worker, Crows Nest, Alberta, East Of Sparwood, B.C., Canada, 1900-1910s
Item number: 198201072



Photo-Stefano Neis–RP: B.C. , Canada , FERNIE Crowd at Relief Stores after Fire Aug 1st 1908 RPPC. Spalding Photo
Item number: 266497248
SCVIEW on Delcampe



Aftermath of the Fernie Fire in 1908–read about the Fernie Fire here

Related reading


Lanark County Residents involved in the California Gold Rush

When Crops Failed — Lanark County Went Manitoba Dreamin’

Lanark County Moves West — Sarah Plain and Tall it was Not

Photos Through a Car Window of Hangtown California

Did Samuel Pittard of Ashton Murder His Wife?

Elizabeth Lindsay of Almonte — Victorian Women Business Owners

When Crops Failed — Lanark County Went Manitoba Dreamin’




Log Dwelling in Hun’s Valley, near Minnedosa–Manitoba, photographed in 1889 by Ernest Baxter


The exodus to Manitoba was a milestone in Lanark County in the late 1800s. From north to south and east to west the farmers and farmers’ sons were flocking westward.  The main reason was that it was said Manitoba was the destination of finally having good fortune in farming.

The results of farming were terrible in the years of 1880- 1890 and a hay crop had failed owing to drought in summer of 1888. Yesterday I learned in the Almonte Gazette there was a terrible infestation of insects and grasshoppers that ate the crops that summer of 1888. The spring of 1889 was turned into rain and dampness which also hindered growing.

In January of 1889, the Almonte Gazette suggested farmers should cultivate less land and grow more apple trees. The newspaper also noted that not one car of crops was shipped out of Renfrew due to the drought. In contrary, 20 carloads were shipped into to Renfrew for demand.  Here is a very minor list of the thousands from Lanark County that moved west in the late 1800’s.


The Carleton Place Herald of 13th March 1889 says Robert Lawson and family of Middleville; George Manahan of Lanark; Ahijah Code of Carleton Place; and E. Cook and family are among the passengers to Manitoba on todays special settlers train.  A number of families have already booked for next week.

Lanark Links:  Gone WestMessrs J.J. Story, J. Wilson and T.R. Bullock started for Manitoba on Tuesday.

On Tuesday a large number of farmers and farmer’s sons left this quarter on an excursion and prospecting tour to Manitoba among them were Messrs. T.R. Bullock, Alexander Yuill, two Ready boys from Lanark Township and John Wilson of Lanark Village.  Most of them visit there with a view of settling in Manitoba if everything suits.  David Affleck and James Affleck, council members also went on the same train.

Winnipeg in the early days

Isaac Wilson, Scotch Line, North Burgess, has made up his mind to go to Manitoba and will sell all that he has to go there.

Mr. Daniel Cameron has concluded not to settle down at McDonald’s Corners and will leave shortly for the Northwest country probably Manitoba.  Dr. Bradford, who has proved himself to be a favorite with his patrons, will have the ground all to himself.

MaberlyWilliam Manders and family, who left here over a month ago to seek their fortune in Montana have returned loaded with wealth and honor in the springtime of their life.

George Thornton, the well known piano, organ and sewing machine agent, arrived back from Manitoba Tuesday evening having sold over $8,000 worth of goods there.  Dull times there but good prospects.


The Winnipeg Free Press of the 6th August 1889 says that Jeremiah Jacklin, tailor and insurance agent who “levanted” from that city with a young woman named Scott has been heard from.  The couple were married in Grand Forks, Dakota.  Jacklin carried a tailor shop in Perth but made an assignment after a few months.  His wife who is of a respectable parentage, is with her friends in North Elmsley.  The Free Press says that his bogus wife Miss Scott is a native of Tennessee and was a tailoress in one of Winnipeg’s leading tailoring establishments when she met Jacklin.  She had been warned that Jacklin was married but she refused to believe it.

Perth Courier, May 11, 1883

For the West—On Wednesday tickets were sold by Mr. A. E. Seeley to the following parties to the Northwest:

Mrs. A.D. May and two children to Winnipeg.

Mrs. C. J. Bell, to Oak Lake, Manitoba.

Mrs. Archibald Nichol and child to Manitoba.

Mr. Hugh McLean to Broadview, Manitoba.

Mr. Patrick McEwen and wife and three children to Broadview, Manitoba.

Mrs. Galbraith to Grand Forks, Dakota.


Files from the Almonte Gazette online — The Perth Courier can be read at Archives Lanark


One of my favourite bands from Winnipeg singing “I Hate Winnipeg”– The Weakerthans