THE BARR COLONY -- THE CAMP BY THE RIVER -- C. W. SPEERS TAKES A HAND -- A WILDERNESS CARAVAN "BEHOLD THE LAND: UP AND POSSESS IT" -- THE BRAVE BRITISH SPIRIT -- MOUNTIES TO THE RESCUE -- A TIME OF GREAT PROGRESS -- BUILDING A CITY -- THE DOUKHOBORS -- A NIGHT FROM A BAD DREAM -- THE PASSING OF A GREAT FIGURE.
During the opening years of the century there were many colonization schemes projected. One of the most notable was known as the "Barr Colony".
The Rev. Mr Barr was an Anglican clergyman who claimed some limited experience in western Canada. In 1901 he conceived the idea of organizing an all-British settlement scheme for the Saskatchewan country. After obtaining reservations of a considerable acreage about a hundred miles north and west of Battleford, he proceeded to England to promote his project. He engaged in an advertising campaign and it was not long until he had several adherents.
People from almost every station of life flocked to his banners, landowners, professional people, artisans, trades folk and tenant farmers. All were eager to get out beyond the fences and engage in a Canadian adventure. Many of them had means.
The Immigration authorities regarded the scheme with some apprehension. Scarcely any of the colonists had any idea of the difficulties incidental to the undertaking and few of them had any knowledge of Canadian life. Their land had been selected more than two hundred miles beyond the railway and, probably by accident, it turned out to be an excellent tract.
The argonauts reached the end of steel at Saskatoon and there made preparations for their overland journey. Trouble developed between the immigrants and Mr Barr, and C. W. Speers, the Dominion Colonization Agent, went to Saskatoon to take a hand.
The immigrants were encamped on the banks of the River and certainly furnished a remarkable spectacle. There were country squires in well-cut breeches and riding boots; north country farmers with ruddy complexions and well-nourished bodies in shooting coats and gaiters; grocers, cabinet makers and artisans and other urban dwellers in raiment that they considered suitable to the Canadian wilds and women in almost every kind of clothing. Also, they were fearfully and wonderfully armed. Here was to be seen a splendid Westley Richards and Purdey shotgun; there a double-barrelled express rifle with a report like a cannon and a recoil like the kick of a pile driver that might perhaps stop a charging elephant but if used against antelope or coyote would scatter these animals in fragments to the winds. There were revolvers of every make and calibre, and one man carried in a broad leather belt a beautifully mounted pair of duelling pistols of about a hundred years ago. It was their habit in the evening to have musketry practice down by the River, and it then sounded as if a battle was in progress.
When Mr Speers arrived on the scene, the "Colonists" had deposed Mr Barr, and were looking to the Government officials for aid and advice. Speers set up a tent in their vicinity as Government headquarters and certainly did much to divest the expedition of a good deal of its hardships. Those who had a fair supply of money were advised to purchase teams of horses, but most of them were instructed to acquire oxen which, although slower-moving were much more tractable, and could forage most of their sustenance from the prairie grass. Mr Speers himself supervised many of the necessary purchases and saw to it that the prices paid were fair and reasonable.
Some of the immigrants had brought their most cherished household goods to the banks of the Saskatchewan. There were pianos, some even of the grand variety; cases of books; heavy articles of furniture such as great four-poster beds of the ugly Victorian period, massive mahogany dining tables, and family portraits, often enclosed in heavy gilt frames. It was, of course, absurd to attempt to transport much of this baggage along the wilderness trail, and Mr Speers had to use his utmost diplomacy to induce the owners to consent even to a temporary separation from their cumbersome possessions.
, At last, a start was made and surely never stranger caravan wended its way across the prairie. There were brand new wagons, piled high with a strange miscellany of goods, drawn by horses or oxen, people in buggies and buckboards, on horseback and even on foot. The prairie resounded with the penetrating accents of London, or the broader inflections of Yorkshire, Lancashire or Cumberland. Neither frock coats nor swallowtails were to be seen along the trail, but I think almost every other garb worn in the British Isles was in evidence.
The route followed the faintest of prairie trails. There were rivers to ford; leagues of interminable plains to be crossed; quaking "muskegs" to be negotiated. The travellers were scorched by the burning suns of summer; rained upon by torrential thundershowers, and assailed by swarms of mosquitoes that seemed to take special delight in fresh British blood.
That they reached their destination without serious misadventure was almost a miracle. Mr Speers had provided trail wise men to assist them along the way. He had selected some experienced freighters and one or two Half-breeds who, to use his own expressive language, "could watch every horse in the outfit for sore shoulders; smell a muskeg a mile away; teach the newcomers how to light a fire in a downpour, and make smudges against the assaults of the mosquitoes."
One lovely summer morning that trail-worn company finally approached the end of the journey. Mr Speers drove across the front of the procession and halted the foremost ranks. Those in the rear came up until most of them were gathered together. He stood up in his vehicle a tall and commanding figure, and pointing to the beautiful park-like country they were approaching, cried in a great resonant voice: "Behold the land; up and possess it."
The first year of the settlement must have been one of great hardship. These people were at least a hundred miles beyond the frontier settlement of Battleford, the nearest source of supplies. Nevertheless, they set themselves down with courage and resolution to establish homes in the wilderness.
At this stage they were well-led. The Rev. Exton Lloyd, who had taken the place of Mr Barr, was made of the stuff upon which Britain's Overseas Empire is founded and a born leader of men. He was afterwards the Bishop of Saskatchewan and Lloydminster, which was the name given to the town that grew up in the settlement, and which serves as a memorial to his enduring qualities as leader, pioneer and a fine and patriotic gentleman.
Work was at once commenced in raising habitations and preparing small tracts of land for cultivation. Lumber was freighted in over the long and weary trails from Battleford and Saskatoon by those who could afford it, and some buildings were erected. Many of the shelters provided for the winter were built of logs felled and drawn from the nearby bush, and there were numerous huts, the walls of which were sod and the roofs of poplar poles, thatched with the long grass from the prairie sloughs.
"Muskeg" is the name given in the prairie region to a morass.
There were carpenters and handymen in the party, and the construction of the lumber buildings did not present serious difficulties, but raising shelters from the native materials was an entirely different matter. It was doubtful if there was one of the newcomers familiar with the axe of the pioneer, and there was much-wasted effort.
Speers had arranged to scatter among the new settlers some Canadians experienced in pioneer conditions who were of great assistance, and certain of the Metis natives of the district rendered invaluable aid. City dwellers from England watched the deft handling of axes by those accustomed to their use and saw with wonder the perfect accuracy of every stroke that squared and mortised the rough logs as cleanly as if they had been prepared by machinery. Soon they were swinging axes themselves, somewhat awkwardly at first, but gaining proficiency with perseverance and experience.
Almost at once a village began to spring up. Stores and community institutions were established, and the foundations of Lloydminster were laid. At such a distance from the railroad goods were of necessity high-priced, but having some of the essentials at hand was a great convenience to many of the settlers. Most of the Canadian businessmen who established themselves in the community were persons of worth and integrity, but unfortunately, the immigrants were harassed by parasitic camp followers that sought to make capital out of their ignorance. The immigration officials did their best to protect the settlers, but English people are apt to be independent even to their detriment, and a number were mulcted. Not all, however. When the western horse trader, who prided himself upon his shrewdness, undertook to try conclusions with the Yorkshire farmer, he was usually forced to retire discomfited from the field, and there was a considerable leaven of that class amongst the settlers. The English city dwellers were more credulous, and their very desire to succeed made them the easiest victims. There is the tale of the lady who paid a ridiculous price for a bantam rooster because it was represented to be a hen of an extraordinarily prolific breed, and that of the young people who were persuaded to discard a team of horses in favour of a yoke of ancient oxen because the milk certainly would be of great benefit to the family that they expected in due course. But these impostures carry no reflection upon those against whom they were practised; rather upon the cruel harpies who sought to profit from their necessities.
The first winter was a bitter one. There were heavy snowfalls and the temperature must have seemed of Arctic intensity to those accustomed to an English climate. Many of the settlers erected their first habitations on their homesteads and when the blizzards swept down, were shut off from help or neighbours.
Not long ago a gentle English lady who had passed that winter on the snow enshrouded plains, and whose family is now one of the most respected in Saskatchewan, told me that after a week of storm, when provisions were almost exhausted and it seemed as if they were doomed to spend an eternity in white and icy isolation, they heard a cheery hail from the heart of the swirling snowstorm, and a "Mountie" stamped in, pulling the icicles from his moustache, demanding: "Is all well here?"
"I shall never forget what those riders did for us that winter," she continued. "No cold was too great, no blizzard too wild to prevent their patrols bringing comfort and assistance to the winter bound shelters of the pioneers. When aid was required, it was quickly furnished. No wonder we of the old West regard the Royal Canadian Mounted Police with pride and affection. Even today when I hear the winter winds blow, and the snow drive against the windowpane, I live over again those hard old days, and I think of those messengers of hope who came riding down the storm, and their greeting: 'Is all well here?' "
The success of the Lloydminster settlers has become a proverb in Western Canada. There is no better settlement in all the wide prairie country. The town itself is well built and flourishing and the surrounding region shows every evidence of progress and development. Handsome farm homes with their attendant steadings, situated amid well-cultivated fields, have taken the place of the crude shacks and limited cultivation of the first settlers, and the people themselves have furnished leadership in public life, in business and agriculture.
The first years of the century ushered in a period of great progress on the Prairies. The invasion of the American farm folk was at its height and the influence on the country was significant and important. To the American immigrants, their Canadian adventure was no experiment. They and their pioneering fathers had been familiar with similar conditions in their own country. They knew what to do and went to work at once. I remember hearing one of our shrewdest old-timers say: "We've been taught more by watching these Yankees in one season than we learned for ourselves in twenty years."
The rapidity with which the best districts were settled was marvellous. This was no slow evolution from the crude shack, to the pioneer to, the prosperous and well-ordered farm. The newcomers from the States had money in their hands and did not hesitate to use it. Substantial buildings were at once erected and large acreages prepared for sowing the following year, and at the prices then prevailing the first crop would probably defray the cost of the land and all the improvements.
With the incoming settlers and the outgoing grain, the railway companies prospered exceedingly. Branch lines began to gridiron the face of the land, and in many instances construction scarcely waited for the completion of the Dominion Survey to advance in new districts.
The growth of Regina was phenomenal. It was the supply point and clearinghouse for an immense territory. It doubled in population within three years. New business establishments were opened almost daily, while those already in existence were doing a flourishing trade; streets were graded and improved; public conveniences, such as light, water and sewers were being installed and the building was rushed at a tremendous rate.
The increase in the number of banks doing business in Regina may serve as an indication of this rapid expansion. For the first two decades of its existence, the banking requirements of the Prairie Capital had been served by one branch of the Bank of Montreal. In 1906 there were at least seven chartered banks doing business in the place.
Urban real estate was appreciating rapidly. E. A. McCallum, a young school teacher of Regina, was the first to realize the coming "boom". With the financial assistance of relatives in the East, he bought a great deal of vacant property close to the business centre. He acquired blocks of forty building lots for about three hundred dollars per block. Within a very short time, individual lots were finding a ready market at from five hundred to a thousand dollars each.
Most of the property north of the mainline of the C.P.R. was owned by the Townsite Trustees. There had been no development in that district; it was still the bare prairie. My husband thought the property had potential value, and with two other young men secured an option on quite a large acreage. Before the option expired they were able to dispose of about one-third of the land at a figure that gave them clear title to the balance and some cash besides. The property cost them about two dollars and fifty cents per lot and within two years some of the lots were selling at five hundred dollars each
Just before the commencement of the "Boom", an American named Kline, had purchased a section and a half of good land on the low elevation immediately south of Regina and developed it as a wheat farm. In 1905 Zack, who at that stage of the proceedings had formed a partnership with a middle-aged gentleman named Grey, cast covetous eyes upon this property. It was contiguous to the town, and he thought it the most suitable site for the Legislative Buildings then in contemplation.
For domestic reasons Mr Kline desired to return to the States, and my husband and his partner made him an offer for the property on extended terms which was accepted. The price paid for his farm of nine hundred and sixty acres was in the neighbourhood of twenty thousand dollars, and a gale of laughter went up from the "knowing ones".
"Twenty thousand dollars for a farm in the Regina district, even if it is good land with fine buildings, is a ridiculous price," they said. It is only fit for growing wheat and oats, and similar land can be bought a few miles farther out for less than ten dollars per acre."
It was a heavy load to carry, but with the assistance of a Mr Gates of Minneapolis, they managed to make the payments, and within a year sold it for one hundred thousand dollars. When this transaction became known the laughter of the "knowing ones" was not quite so loud. This property was afterwards developed into the suburb of Regina known as "Lakeview" which, lying alongside the Legislative Buildings, became the finest residential section of the City.
The money then made in real estate almost passed belief. One lady, a well-known old-timer, bought a lot on Albert Street upon which to build a house and paid seventy-five dollars for it. She built her house at a cost of about fifteen hundred dollars, and within a very few years, when Albert Street was "booming", sold the property for more than twenty thousand dollars.
But perhaps the most remarkable urban manifestation of the development was the ceaseless building activity that barely halted for the hours of darkness. People could scarcely hear themselves speak for the rasp of the saw and the clang of the hammer. Work continued until dusk and, as soon as it was light enough to see the head of a nail, the pounding and the hammering made sleep impossible. In the centre of the town premises of more imposing appearance than any which had hitherto been seen in the country were being raised, and the framework of half-built erections gave a gaunt and spectral effect to the scene.
It was in the residential districts, however, that the building expansion was most noticeable. In no time at all whole streets came into existence with houses so new and vivid that they seemed as if they had been freshly painted on the drop curtain of a theatre. The smell of paint and sawdust was everywhere, and each untilled yard was cluttered with odds and ends of lumber. There was scarcely a garden or lawn or tree in Regina. The freshly built houses stood sharply defined on the level plain, stark and disconcerting in their garish newness.
Real Estate offices were opened on almost every business corner and people made money fast. The man who, in his white apron, had tied up your grocery parcels last week, or the lad who delivered your meat, might today be driving a fine turnout and wearing expensive clothes as the result of a successful trade in lots. The speculative fever was contagious, and almost everyone took the infection. The first local buying had been at low prices with little money involved. Those who were early in the game were derided by the old-timers as feather-brained fools, but as they unquestionably made money, and prophesies of disaster remained unfulfilled, the jeers died down.
It was the new arrivals, particularly the Americans, who gave impetus to the commerce in town lots. Their example and conversation seemed to let loose a gambling spirit in even the most conservative folk. The business was flourishing and credit easy. Merchants used their surplus cash to get into the game, and some of them made a great deal of money. Lawyers, doctors and other professional men joined the procession; even ministers forsook their pulpits while saving elderly widows adventured the money they had gathered by a lifetime of thrift and penury and must have been astonished to discover they were becoming rich beyond their dreams. It was like the discovery of a new and immensely rich goldfield. Those who had toiled over the Caribou Trail and dared the dangers of the Chilkoot Pass in their search for the yellow metal were laughed at for their folly. Fortune had been waiting for them at home all the time and they had never known it.
Population increased faster than sanitation could be provided and sickness was prevalent. When the flood abated in the Qu'Appelle Valley at Lumsden in 1904, stagnant pools were left in many of the deep sloughs, and during the heat of the ensuing summer became festering spots of infection. Diphtheria broke out in the Valley town, and typhoid of a particularly virulent type began to take toll of human life. It was not long until the pestilence reached Regina and many people were stricken.
There were few sewers, and almost all the household water was drawn from wells. Horses and cattle were
watered at many of them, and often the approaches were trodden into a muddy mire. The summers of these years consisted of very hot weather alternating with torrential downpours. These showers were short in duration but terrific in intensity. When they passed, the saturated earth steamed like a geyser and exuded clouds of miasma like vapour. The heavy clay land provided little natural drainage, and most of the elements favourable to enteric epidemics were present.
In the summer of 1906 the typhoid epidemic was so bad that it was almost impossible to find accommodation for patients. One of the churches was utilized as a temporary hospital, and cots were placed in the Exhibition buildings. The chief victims were the newcomers. Old residents seemed to enjoy some immunity. During previous years a form of dysentery had been prevalent in the fall and few of those who had suffered from it were attacked by typhoid. The young and vigorous seemed the most susceptible. Among children, the sickness took the form of cholera infantum, and when the epidemic reached its height, many of the babies born that year were attacked, and a number of them died.
Work was proceeding rapidly on a system of waterworks, and it was claimed that some of the first water turned into the mains carried the infection, thus contributing to the unfortunate conditions. The health authorities issued warnings that only water which had been boiled should be used for domestic purposes, and many a family that hitherto had been noted for temperance principles, not only boiled its drinking water but added a modicum of whisky before using. However, as a system of water supply and sewage disposal was completed, typhoid was gradually stamped out.
Despite the influx of population and the remarkable building activity, we had occasional reminders that we were not yet altogether separate from the pioneer days. We were living in a modest house we had built on what was then the outskirts of the town. We had no water installation, but boasted a hot air furnace, then considered quite an advance in household comfort. It was installed in a cellar, a portion of which was cribbed with lumber.
Once when my husband was away the little German maid who acted as our domestic came from the cellar in great excitement. She said: "Misses, I see a big funny cat down there. Come and see."
I went down the cellar steps and peered into the darkness. At first, I could see nothing, but I was attracted by a curious hissing sound above my head. I looked up and there on a beam was a lynx spitting at me. I bolted up the steps and slammed down the trap door.
Just then our butcher boy arrived and found us considerably upset. On explaining things to the boy, he declared he would provide himself with a weapon and then return and slay the beast out of hand. He drove off, but presently came back with a revolver, and with an air of great bravery disappeared down the steps. Almost immediately we heard a couple of shots which, in that confined space, sounded as if the house was being blown up. A big dog that we had howled, and there was quite an uproar. Then the boy appeared from the depths with a rather defeated expression.
"I saw the brute all right and it spat at me," he said. "I was just aiming when it leapt right across the cellar and got behind the cribbing. I gave it a couple of shots, but I don't think I touched it."
When my husband returned I told him about our unwelcome visitor. He laughed at my story, and went below to investigate, but returned in quick order. This time the lynx had taken up its position on the top of the furnace where it was nice and warm and fairly frightened Zack off with its demonstrations. When he provided himself with a firearm, it had gone.
The lynx kept appearing and disappearing for about a month, apparently using a broken cellar window as a means of egress and ingress. It had found a nice warm lair on the furnace and invariably returned to it. When alarmed, the animal retreated behind the cribbing where it would have been hazardous to pursue it. We did not close up the broken window because we never knew whether the lynx was in or outside, and we were in hopes that it might disappear as it had entered, and that is what it finally did.
The delivery people got to know about it, and their favourite afternoon sport was to hunt the "Hamilton lynx". All had firearms of sorts and even the milkman participated. It was a wonder no one was shot.
One evening C. W. Speers, the Dominion Colonization Agent came to our house. He seemed tired, an unusual condition for him, for he was always in good spirits and full of enthusiasm. The newspapers had been featuring the Doukhobors parades and we asked him about them.
The Doukhobors were the members of a fanatical, religious community that, for nearly a century, had caused the Imperial Russian Government a great deal of trouble. In Russia, they developed a practice of parading about the country in a state of nakedness, apparently, partly as a form of religious observance and, partly, as a demonstration of resistance to authority. There were lurid stories about them being scourged by whips in the hands of exasperated Cossacks.
About the break of the century they were looking for a country where they might be free from what they considered persecution. Some English Quakers and certain Russians like Count Tolstoi became interested in them and their attention was directed towards western Canada. The Dominion Government, eager for new settlers, reserved large areas for them, chiefly in Yorkton and Pelly districts, and they came to the country in large numbers. It was not long, however, until they fell into conflict with the Canadian authorities, chiefly on account of their refusal to assume the ordinary responsibilities of citizenship. Some of them moved to British Columbia where they have caused a great deal of trouble owing to the fanatical actions of certain members of their sect.
I will try to tell as nearly as possible in his own words what he told us that night. He said: "I had word that the 'Douks' were on the march, and I hurried to Yorkton from Winnipeg with full authority from the Government to handle the situation. I got a good team and accompanied by a few 'Mounties' started after the pilgrims.
"They would eat nothing but grain and vegetables; slept in the open, and some of them were casting off their clothing and marching 'mother naked'. We came up with them, but at first, they paid no attention just kept on their way as if they had not seen us. Then I had the 'Mounties' ride their horses in front of them to make them come to a standstill.
"I asked them if they were not ashamed to parade about the country in that condition?"
"One of their leaders replied that there was no harm in their nakedness because God could see through their clothes anyway, and His opinion was all they cared about.
"I ordered them to put on their clothes, but I might as well have spoken to the dead. Then the 'Mounties' gathered them together, and we started to dress them. I have had some difficult jobs in my time, but when I undertook to be head nursemaid to a bunch of crazy Doukhobors, I think I had the most distasteful task of my life. They did not fight, but would not do a thing to help themselves.
"When we had got them into some semblance of decency, the 'Mounties' herded them back in the direction of Yorkton. The Police boys showed patience and restraint, but I could not help having a sneaking sympathy with the Cossacks who, while they were in Russia, were accused of having used whips on them.
"It had begun to rain, the nasty cold rain of fall. Before we got back to Yorkton, we were splashing through mud and everyone was completely miserable. Some of the 'Douks' were induced to go back to their homes, and the most obstinate were locked up.
"I had been without sleep for two nights and was 'all in'. I went over to the hotel and rolled between the blankets, too tired even to eat.
"I was scarcely asleep when a messenger came to tell me that Black Diphtheria had broken out in the Hungarian settlement to the north, and there was nothing for it but to turn out and attend to this new trouble. I got a fresh team and drove out through the dripping woods one of the most miserable journeys of my life.
"The 'Strangler' had struck quickly. Already several children had died. There were few facilities for attending the sick in the settlement and quarantine would have been impossible. Left to themselves, these people would have spread the infection through the whole countryside.
"We did what we could for those too ill to be moved and, leaving some people to look after them, we brought to Yorkton those who had been exposed to the infection, where they were placed in strict quarantine. I 'rooted out' some carpenters, and as quickly as possible, prepared accommodation for them.
"I shall never forget that night. Some of the imprisoned Doukhobors started up their melancholy hymns; the sawing and hammering of my carpenters added to the din; a few of the Hungarians commenced a mournful wailing, one woman had carried a dead baby under her shawl for ten miles and fought like a mad thing when we tried to take it from her; some damned fool had caught a young coyote and fastened it up with a chain and, when it smelled death, it howled like a lost soul. Through it, all was the interminable 'drip, drip, drip' of the cold rain on the roofs and the trees. It was like a night out of a bad dream. Yes! I am a little tired, and small wonder."
The last time I saw Mr Speers was in 1918. It was Exhibition time in Regina, and he had a handsome little mare of the famous "Direct" breeding entered at the races. The hotels were crowded and it was difficult to obtain accommodation. He came to see us and it was a pleasure to offer him hospitality. He remained with us for a few days. I thought he looked old and tired.
In the spring of 1920, he wired my husband from Brandon that he would be passing through Regina and asked him to go down the line and travel back to Regina with him.
Zack found him failed. The great stalwart figure was as erect as of old, but there was a drag to his steps indicating encroaching years and maybe weariness. There was a good deal of retrospection and a note of gentleness in his speech. He spoke of his home, his wife and three daughters with whom his relations were very affectionate. He was on his way to Butte, in Montana, where one of his daughters was living. Zack said good-bye to him in the Regina station, and a few days later we learned of his death.