Sarah Hannah McLeod
Wife of John McLeod
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As related by Herself, June 30, 1939.
My grandfather, Phillip Harding, came to Canada from Ireland about the year 1816 and took up bush farming in Blanchard, near St. Mary, Ontario, and there he spent his life. My grandmother’s maiden name was Esther Talbot and it is my belief that she and my grandfather were married in Ireland. The families came to Canada together. They raised a family of eleven children of whom one was my father, Edward Allen Harding.
When he was grown and in company with his two older brothers, my father, in the year 1858, left home and traveled to the township of Howick, in the county of Huron, where they also took up bush farming. In this location they cleared their farms, were married, lived their lives and finally died.
My mother’s father and mother came from Scotland about the year 1850 and settled in Ontario. Their names were James Wright and Christina Aikens. They had been married and lived in Scotland and my mother who was the fourth child in a family of six was eleven years old when they came to Canada. My mother’s maiden name was Agnes Wright and she was born in 1840. They came first to Peel and then later moved to the township of Minto in Wellington county, settling on a bush farm where my father met my mother and they were married in March, 1862.
I had one brother, Phillip, and five sisters: Christina, the first child, died when three years of age, and was buried at Howick. Jennie, the second sister, married Charles C. Craig and with him came west later to Isabella, Manitoba, and now resides in Brandon, Manitoba. Margaret came west and married Ed Blodgett. They still live with their family at Heaslip near Brandon, Manitoba. Esther lived to the age of eighteen. Lydia, my youngest sister, was married to Frank Stockton and had one child, Billy, now grown. At the present time my brother, Phillip, lives in Toronto, Ontario.
My father passed away at Howick when he was about sixty years of age and is buried in a little cemetery on the ninth concession of Howick. My mother lived to the age of 87, dying in 1927 at the home of my sister, Mrs. Ed Blodgett at Heaslip, Manitoba, and is buried in the Arrow River cemetery.
I was born June the thirtieth, 1865, in Howick Township and there I grew up and attended school. After leaving school I helped at home until the year 1884, when on February twentieth I married John McLeod and together we moved to Manitoba.
My husband, in company with a great number of young men, had gone west from Ontario in 1882 and had taken up farms and built homes in the then new country, later to be known as Manitoba. So it was that after we were married my husband and I came west, traveling through the United States via St. Paul and up through Winnipeg, and west to Brandon, and we left the new railroad line at Virden, Manitoba. The train we traveled on was a mixed train, with many cars of stock and household goods on it. At Virden where we stopped overnight, I visited with my cousin, Mrs. Miller, whose husband was one of the partners in the firm of Frame & Miller who were early lumber and hardware merchants in the town of Virden.
When we unloaded at Virden, we loaded our worldly possessions on sleighs and started early in the morning as we were afraid that the ice on the Assiniboine River, which we had to cross, might soften and become hazardous if we waited until later in the day. Our entire possessions consisted of a team of horses, a sleigh, a wagon, three cows, eleven hens, a table, a bed, a dresser, six chairs, dishes and wearing apparel. We also had enough shingles to roof the log house my husband had built on his previous trip.
Because the banks of the river were steep and the traveling was difficult owing to the spring breakup, the men found it necessary to hitch two teams on to each load in order to get up the very steep hills and while they were being thus delayed I met Mrs. Mitchell, a dear lady who has long since passed on, and who lived at that time in that locality. She was the first new friend I made in the West.
In those early days of the 1880's the Assiniboine River was a mighty stream and boats ran up from Brandon as far as Virden. My husband can remember when the water extended nearly three miles from the top of the hills on one side to the top of hills on the other, and the surrounding territory was covered with woods. It was from this source that the settler got timber to build their homes and their buildings for their stock. When I arrived the water had already gone down to the river bed in the middle of the valley and we crossed on a ferry for which we paid toll. In the winter, of course, we were able to cross on the ice.
The distance from Virden to our destination of the Arrow River, which was a small stream still to be found near the town bearing that name in Manitoba, was approximately twenty-five miles. It was at this location that my husband had homesteaded. Having no house completed, we stayed for two weeks with my husband’s cousin, Mrs. Leland, during which time he shingled the house with shingles brought from Ontario. We then moved to our own log house on the bank of the Arrow River about April 1st, 1884.
My father had given me three cows and my mother-in-law had given us a dozen hens. We did not have any money, so we lived on what we made from butter and eggs. In addition to that I made a little money baking bread for bachelors who lived in the locality. During the summer butter and eggs were very cheap and what we could not buy with our small income we simply got along without. Somehow we managed to get a little pig which we fed milk and pigweed which was growing on the prairie and what was our source of meat during the next year. We had brought a little salt pork with us from Ontario, and that with what little game we could get, supplied our meat wants for the first year. Bush rabbits were plentiful and were good eating in winter. We put them in salt water overnight then stewed them and lastly fried them in butter. We were also able to get a few small fish from the Arrow River. We had also brought a few potatoes with us and some vegetable seeds so that after the first year on the farm we had our own vegetables.
The community in which we settled had quite a number of other homesteaders so that we were not bad off for neighbours. We had one-half section and the other half belonged to John Fleming who had his father and mother living on the quarter. Later my brother, Phillip Harding, came out from Ontario and homesteaded on one of our quarter sections because we were only able to homestead one quarter and because we had no money it was not possible for us to purchase the second one.
Living there on the prairie was very different from our manner of living back in Ontario. The duties were very much alike from day to day. I herded the cows and looked after the house. My neighbours made their men folks straw hats and I thought that I should do the same, so I went to a straw stack and picked out what I thought was the best straw and then spent all my spare time for two weeks making a hat. After it was made I found out I could have bought one at the store for ten cents. I have never made another straw hat. I remember that on May 24, 1884, we went to the mouth of the Arrow River where it runs into the Assiniboine and caught a nice bunch of fish. In the spring when the water was high we sometimes caught little fish at the bottom of the hill near our home, but in the hot weather the stream became so small that it did not even run.
On the prairie we got some fruit, mostly saskatoons, raspberries, strawberries, currants and other small fruit which grew in the bluffs along the river bank. When we had served our duties my husband went to Birtle where the land office was to apply for his deed. This was quite a journey and on that very day we had a great misfortune. We had started a small smudge to keep the mosquitos from the stock the night before and thought that we had put it out but a strong wind sprang up and must have fanned a small spark into flames and it got into the straw surrounding the buildings and in a very few minutes we lost our stables, binder, sleigh and even a borrowed fanning mill by this fire. The loss was naturally a severe blow to us and it was then that we found out what good neighbours we had, for they came and helped us cut logs, draw them from the banks of the Assiniboine and we were able to build another stable with a sod roof. These fine neighbours have for the most part passed on, but there are still a few left there, and three ladies, Mrs. Fleming, Mrs. W. Tennant and Mrs. Stevenson, now spend their time visiting with their families in different part of Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
I found farming in the west very different from what it had been in the east for there we had our own orchard from which we got apples, plums, cherries, crab apples, pears and all kinds of currants and small berries. In the east we also kept many cows and sent the milk to a cheese factory so that we had cheques coming in each month all summer. A man called each morning except Sunday and took our milk to the factory. On Saturday nights and Sunday mornings we kept the milk for ourselves and set it in pans in the basement, then skimmed it, taking the cream and making butter from it for our own families.
In the east most
farmers owned 100 acres which was fenced off in ten-acre fields.
One field at the back of the farm was always left in timber and each spring
we tapped the maple trees
In the west, because we had no fence and no money to buy wire with, my first responsibility was herding the cows. The men in the beginning got the logs from the Assiniboine River which was six miles from us and then cut and drew them, then built the homes. In fine days in the winter they brought in firewood which also had to come from the bluffs about us. There was no coal or other fuel to be had. Because there were many fires running over the prairie in the summertime on account of the heavy grass which had been present for may years, there was also dead wood. This came about by the prairie fires running into the small bluffs and killing the trees. Later when the prairie was broken up the terrible prairie fires were stopped with the result that there are now plenty of big trees in that country.
Eight days before Ethel, was born, we had a very bad prairie fire. In one hour from the time it passed our home it was 12 miles north of us. It took hay and buildings in the way. When my baby was born, two neighbour women came in for a few hours and I had a girl to help me for eight days. Out side of that I carried on my regular work as usual.
While we lived on the Arrow River farm we attended church in the schoolhouse. One Sunday a Methodist minister would preach and the following Sunday a Presbyterian. In the winter we had concerts and debates in the same place and we had some very fine times. I will never forget a song which Mr. and Mrs. Lynch sang called “Where is My Wandering Boy Tonight” It was grand and made one want to weep. The debates by the young men in the district were very good, some of these men being very good speakers. I have heard many men in public life making speeches that were not nearly so good.
When we came
from Ontario we had horses which we had brought with us, but we found it
cost too much to feed horses so we sold them and got oxen as they needed
little oats and were easier to keep. With these oxen we would go
to visit friends even in the wintertime, and would drive six or seven miles
all bundled up in a sleigh. Wheat crops that we had were teamed twenty-five
miles and sold for a very low price. It took two days to make the
round trip and
In those early days we did not have as much wind as we have in recent years. I remember one bad windstorm that first year. I was in a stable which had a stack of straw for a roof milking the cow and the wind came and lifted and carried off the roof and I was left in the rain without shelter.
I also had a bad sickness that summer and had to get the only doctor in the neighbourhood who had to drive ten miles. He was an old English doctor and because we were so poor we thought we could only afford one visit, however, he was very kind and thought he should see me again so made arrangements to come back and charged only $15. for the two trips. We thought that he was very kind because it meant forty miles to be driven in a buggy. My husband and a neighbour had to each have a tooth pulled out so started together to a dentist. We had heard there was one on the Virden side of the Assiniboine River and after a long drive they found him and got relief.
In our homes on our beds we did not have any mattresses in those early days and in their place we took a tick and filled it with straw or hay. We found this to be very comfortable and slept well. Our fortunes on the farm in Manitoba were not satisfactory. The seasons varied and we were not able to make any money, or even get well established, owing to the climate and other conditions being against us. In the winter of 1889 my husband grew tired of things on the farm and went to Rapid City and worked and learned the butcher business. The following spring we started for Melita, Manitoba, where the new branch line of the C.P.R. was being constructed from Brandon to Estevan. In our party we had my husband, and his brother, Murdock, and my brother Phillip. He drove the oxen on wagons loaded with our household goods and had a little boy on a pony driving the cattle. I drove a pony attached to a buckboard which was a kind of buggy, over the prairie for this entire journey of about seventy miles and on the whole trip I carried my baby on my knee. The first night we camped outside of Virden and spent the night with my cousin. The next night we stopped with friends seven miles south of Virden. The third morning after leaving Arrow River, the men went on and I spent that day with my friends leaving the following morning over an unknown prairie without roads for Melita and I arrived there in the evening shortly after the men and the stock had arrived. I spent the night there with Dodd who kept a stopping house and a store in old Melita which was over the hill from where the present town is, and it consisted of two stores, two blacksmiths’ shops and a small harness shop. The post office was in Graham’s store and the town was on his land. There we built a small butcher shop. The day after we arrived we rented a farmhouse and the farmer boarded with us. As the C.P.R. was grading the railroad line my husband started buying and killing stock and supplying the railroad camps and the few town people with meat. When the grading was completed he quit butchering and hired with the farmer.
The harness maker,
Mr. Blackwell, was ill with typhoid fever and as there was no hospital
and he was very sick we took him in, with the result that one week after
my husband started work for the farmer he took the fever also. Mr.
Blackwell began recovering and as we had to bring a doctor from Deloraine
we could not have him very often and he wrote out all directions and I
did my best as nurse. The farmer, Mr. wheeler, also took the fever
and by the time they were better it was fall. That fall the town
of Melita was surveyed and the people bought lots and the following summer
we started building the town. That fall also, 1890, we built a house
on land we bought from H. Smith and moved in. The following summer
my husband again worked at his trade and followed the railroad camps killing
and supplying the railroad with meat which he bought from the farmers along
the Souris railroad line. I lived in Melita and kept a few boarders.
We also sold our little shop so when winter came and work closed down on
the railroad there was not much to do.
During the month of May I packed up my furniture (as we had sold our Melita house) and started with my two children for Oxbow by train and from there we drove. At that time we only passed two houses between Oxbow and Estevan. Shortly after we arrived at Estevan people started arriving there and a few houses now stand.
As soon as the
railroad construction was completed as far as Estevan the town’s site was
laid out and people started to build. We bought a lot and built a
meat market with rooms above.
On May the 19th,
1901, my second son, Lawrence, was born in the rooms above the meat market.
That summer we moved to the new homestead and started living there.
The first few years we moved to town in the winter and returned to the
farm for the summer. On June the 21st my youngest daughter, Grace,
now Mrs. Colin Rawcliffe of Virden, Manitoba, was born. We spent
1904 and 1905 living in town the whole time. But in 1906 we returned
to the farm and built a new brick house which is now the home of my son
and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Norman McLeod.
We lived on the farm until 1920 and during those years we ran a milk route in town with my husband supplying the meat wholesale. In 1912 we built the new brick meat market now being run by my son, Norman, and Mr. Parington ran this shop for a number of years until he retired and Major Wellock took it over.
In 1926 my husband suffered from a nervous breakdown and his health was so poor that my son, Norman, returned to Estevan and took over the business which he has run ever since.
This story has also been donated to the museum
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