My Genealogy and History Page of


The Life Story of
(Co-Founder of Estevan Saskatchewan)
as written by himself in 1938


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Early Estevan Pioneers, ca 1892

FEB 29, 1860-July 17, 1938

John McLeod's Own Story

Born on February 29, 1860, at a toll gate on the road between Fergus and Guelph in Ontario.

          At the age of three the family moved to the Inglis farm near Elora.  We lived there ten years.  From the Inglis farm we moved to another farm a mile south that father had bought.  On this farm I lived and worked seven years and six months.  On the 5th of September, 1880, I left home to do for myself.  I went to Howick Township where I remained fourteen months.  Then I returned to Elora where I worked around till March, the spring of 1882, when I came west to Manitoba.  That was the year of terrible snow.  I don’t suppose there has ever been so much since at one time.

          The journey from Elora to Portage La Prairie occupied fourteen days.  We were held up three days and nights at St. Paul, Minnesota.  I helped to clear the road three times between Winnipeg and Portage La Prairie and witnessed snow banks twenty feet deep – some places more along the way.  I stayed at the Portage till the 10th of April when I came to Brandon which was then the terminus of the C.P.R.

          At Brandon I joined a company who were starting out northwest to look for a location.  The company included Thomas Stubbins, Donald McKenzie, John Wallace, John Fleming, Jr., and the writer, and at time of writing the writer is the only survivor left to recall or to tell of our experience.
We left Brandon on April 12 with outfits loaded on sleighs for there was no thaw that year till April 18.  That was my first experience driving oxen, however, there was but one way for them to go – straight ahead – the snow was too deep for them to leave the trail.  The first night we camped out was at Rapid City where we scraped the snow off the top of a little knoll and pitched our tent where we made a bed on the ground.

          From Rapid City we made our way to Shoal Lake.  Here we thought it best to leave the outfit till we would get an idea where we were to settle.  So leaving D. McKenzie in charge, four of us started on foot for Birtle, the nearest land office.  At Birtle they advised and directed us to go south which we did, landing the first night at the home of the late W. A. Dogle, Beulah.  Mr. and Mrs. Dogle were exceedingly kind to us and gave us much information about the country.  Leaving Beulah we proceeded further south and went via the present town of Miniota, then only a spot of bare prairie.  We landed at the home of Mr. Elliot who also treated us very kindly and next day volunteered to show us the vacant lands of which we had a list.  That day three of us made a choice for ourselves and picked out a place for McKenzie, Mr. Wallace deciding to remain at Elliott’s for a time and look about.  John Fleming and I were the first to take lands in the township where we located, my number being the south- east quarter of Section 32, Township 13, Range 25.  So on the 21st of April, 1882, I became possessor of a farm or at least was put in the way of getting it for I had made my entry.

          The first summer we had a great deal of trouble.  McKenzie’s family arrived in June.  They came by steamboat to Mitchell’s Landing on the Assiniboine and four of them were down with diphtheria.  The two oldest boys were unconscious and never regained consciousness but died within a day or two and were the first to be buried in the cemetery at Arrow River.  The life of a girl older than the boys hung on the balance for a couple of weeks and for thirteen days and nights I found it my duty to wait on her.  I dared not go to sleep for fear of not waking up in time to change poultices on her neck which had to be kept warm.  The mother, who was my aunt, never fully recovered but was a cripple till the day of her death several years after.

          Well, that summer I did some breaking – some for myself and some for McKenzie – for the use of a team of oxen.  When haying time came I and another young man put up a couple of stacks, cutting it with a scythe and drew it on a home-made jumper for we had no wagon.  When harvest time came I went to Oak River and worked for a month and thought I was getting well paid when I got $30.00
When winter came John Fleming and I built a log cabin and plastered it with clay which we had to thaw out in an oven.  We wintered in that and next spring put in our first seed.  I had ten acres, half wheat and half black oats.  The season was rather dry but I harvested thirty bushels to the acre of wheat and sixty of oats.

          After harvest, I built my house and plastered it with clay.  About the end of December that year (1883) I returned to Ontario and spent part of the winter cutting cordwood for a neighbour of my father’s.   On the 20th of February I was married and spent the rest of my time up to March 20th visiting around.  After that we began to prepare to return to the west, and when we got all loaded I worked my passage back by attending to the stock of a car belonging to my uncle, John Fleming, Sr.

         Well, we began life on the homestead the spring of 1884 and the seasons that followed varied.  There were no two alike while we lived there – six years.  1884 was ordinary or average;  ‘85 was a little better but we were hailed out; ‘86 was very dry and between the drought and the gophers there was little left for anyone; ‘87 was a bumper crop good in every way even escaping the early frost which in those days often visited us; ‘88 was a season of very much rain and the saying of the Indian “plenty mosquito, plenty crop” was certainly true that year but the “plenty” was straw not grain and the mosquitos were dreadful up till the 8th of August when we had a frost that caught the wheat in the blossom.  The frost was repeated on the 14th and again on the 24th.  There were thousands of acres not cut that year.  A little of it was cut and stacked for feed and the rest burned to make ready for the next season’s crop.  In 1889 the snow went off the end of February and a great deal of the grain was put in in March but the weather kept very cold with  pregnant frosts up till the end of May.  From then on it was warmer but not wetter for we did not get any rain till August and then only a shower which, of course, was too late to do much good.  It was then that we realized that we should have cut and stacked a lot more of the 1888 crop for feed for the hay was scarce except in places that up to that time had been too marshy to cut and what we cut that year was very coarse and not much good for feed so that we were glad to dig up old straw piles which had been saved from fire from the crop of 1884.

          In writing about 1886 I forgot to mention that I had completed my homestead duties and was entitled to a patent, so on the 28th day of May I went with two others to make application.  It was a very windy day and at the time I was giving the statement of the improvements I had made all of my buildings outside of my house were being burned up by fire which ran from a smudge which I had started a couple of nights before to protect me from the mosquitos while I did the milking.  It was only a small fire and lasted but a few minutes on the surface, but the ground being very dry the fire was smouldering in the ground and when the terrible wind got up it fanned it up and blew it to the buildings and took not only them but a lot of tools and implements including a binder, a set of sleighs and a fanning mill, also some chickens and small pigs.  Altogether we estimated the loss at $500.00.  I had insurance with the Miniota Mutual, but the smudge being closer that it should be, as specified in my policy, I made no application for the money. 

          In those days the price of grain was very low.  Fifty cents per bushel for the very best No. 1 Hard was the highest we had ever got and had seen thousands of bushels of oats sold for 10 cents per bushel.  The fall of 1889 found me beginning to get a bit tired of farming in that part.  We had had so many hard experiences.  The hailed crop of ‘85, the dry season of ‘86, and I forgot to mention that year we had a fire that meant the loss of five or six hundred dollars, and up till ‘89  had only reaped one really good crop and then the distance to market – Birtle to the north, 23 miles off; Virden to the south, 25 or more miles away; and hills of the Assiniboine to contend with where we had to unload and make two trips unless two would go together and double up, the distance we had to draw firewood and the labour in connection with it.  I do not wonder that when we heard of the coal beds in this district that I began to be interested and decided to move and change my occupation.

          Accordingly about the first of May, 1890, we picked up our belongings and started for Melita, Manitoba.  We lived there two years as the railroad to the coalfield was not built yet.    In the summer of 1890 the road was graded to a point a little west of Melita.  Then they laid off for that year.  In 1891 they graded to a point west of Alameda and laid the steel as far as  Oxbow.     The crops of 1890 were the best I had ever seen anywhere, but being off the farm they were of no benefit to me only, of course, indirectly.  I supplied the meat for the grading of the railroad from a point about half way between Napinka and Melita nearly through to Estevan.

          In 1892 the Soo line was graded to connect with the main line at Pasqua.  Again I supplied most of the meat to the construction camps.  In 1893 the Soo line was completed and I supplied all the meat to different camps including track laying, surfacing, station and section house building and telegraph lines.  The townsite was surveyed in July and the first part of August and on August 18 the lots were put on the market.  The Soo line was competed about the first of November, 1893, and opened for traffic, but for the first eight years it looked as if the whole enterprise was a big mistake.  They ran a very good train everyday between Moose Jaw and Portal and I feel fairly safe in saying that they did not average one passenger to the train.  It was not until the first part of this century that trade began to pick up.
The first three seasons were very dry and the heat was extreme, especially in 1893.  There was no farming done in those days.  The livestock ran at large and did not need to be herded except to see that they did not leave the country.  It was not until the first of this century that settlers came on the land.  The first crop of the 19th century was a disappointment for we had no rain to speak of till the 27th of July, too late to help the grain crops which were very little anyway, but the hay crop picked up wonderfully and there was plenty for everyone.  The season of 1901 was a very good one.  The rain seemed to come just when we needed it so the crops were good. 

          From 1901 till 1914 the crops might be described as just a fair average and the prices of all farm produce the same.  In 1915 we had what they call a bumper crop – the only really bumper crop I ever saw in the eastern district.  In the year 1916 the rust did a great deal of damage, especially on the wheat.  From 1916 to 1929 the crops might be described as average, some years good, others not so good and the prices of all farm produce was fairly satisfactory.  From the fall of 1929 up to the present crop prices and everything have gone on the decline and have gone to the extent that I do not like even to think about it, far less to write about it.  The cause of the present condition nobody seems to know, not can any of them tell us of a sure cure.



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