Saturday, October 09, 2010

Little Snippits from a Local History Book

I have in my possession the book, Lake Katepwa: Yesterday and Today. It's a product of one of those local history projects that involved men and women from numerous small towns and villages across Saskatchewan, recording the memories of the early settlers and their families interspersed with some snippets of the grander "real" sweep of history, where such background was appropriate and where it impacted upon their lives.

This one deals with the area of the province where I grew up and I've been reading a section written by my mother about her early days on the farm after she married my dad, "Gordon" in the quotes below, moved to the Qu'Appelle Valley and began raising a family.

First of all, uuuhhhh, what a lot of work she and dad did to get the old brick house and barn ready for use. The house and barn were only a few yards away from the Qu'Appelle River, and right next to a road with a double-arched concrete bridge that spanned the river. That bridge was a favourite gathering place for us kids. There have been many a picture taken with it as a backdrop - and on it and from it.

All of this was only a mile or so east of the east end of Katepwa Lake. My siblings and I learned to swim in the Katepwa Lake and to skate on the Qu'Appelle River. I have lots of good memories of those days.

However, the reason I'm writing this is to quote a little passage or two from my mom's two and a half page entry in the book, but before I do that, let me introduce some other Valley characters. I went to school with descendants of Cuthbert Grant. Some of you may recognize that name, as he was prominent in early Metis history in Manitoba at the Red River Settlement and elsewhere, and assumed particular fame (or infamy, depending on your perspective) in the Battle of Seven Oaks. In that family tree is one Allyre Grant, whose daughter, Alice, lived a short distance away. Alice's children, in turn, went to school in the old one-room Katepwa school along with me and my siblings.

Anyway, enough with family trees and famous people, just remember the name Allyre Grant, because my mother refers to him in one of the passages below. The point of that diversion is to set up the reader so they can make the most of the quotes from my mother's contribution to the Katepwa history book, where she speaks of a cottage lot the family owned on the shores of Lake Katepwa, and in which a "Mr. A. Grant" is mentioned. That would be him:
"In 1956, the water in the lake was quite high and strong winds caused the waves to wash a large chunk of our frontage away. The water was flowing over the dam, making the river and the lake level with each other. A far cry from about 1949, when the river was so low that Gordon chased fish up the waterway with a stick. He didn't catch them, of course. Later that year, the river was dry in a number of places. Mr. A. Grant, an old-timer who lived on the east side of the river, told us he could remember being able to walk across the lower end of the lake, which had receded quite a distance. He didn't say when this occurred. After the high water ate away the land, a stone and cement retaining wall was built."
Interesting bit about the water level in 1949 and again in 1956, isn't it?  I remember similar ups and downs on the Qu'Appelle River during my teenage years in the 1960s, too. 'Course, neither we nor Mr. Grant blamed it on CO2.
"Of course, we had lamps for light, ordinary coal oil ones and two or three Aladdin lamps, which used mantles instead of wicks. These had to be handled very carefully, or they would fall apart. The least little breeze when they were alight would cause them to flare up and smoke, making a smudge on the ceiling and made the chimney of the lamp so covered with soot that not much light got through. I hated lamps; they had to be filled every day, the wicks trimmed and the chimneys cleaned. Sometimes, if the wicks weren't trimmed evenly they would flare up, too. So it was a very happy day in 1960 when we finally got electricity. How we appreciated the improvements in our lot as they came along or we earned them."
Amen to that. I remember those old lamps and their propensity to flare up and how we rushed, tripping over ourselves, to put the flare out. Damned lucky the house never burned down. But back to my mother:
"Very few things were bought on time, most purchased outright at the time when we could afford them. As time went on, we had briquettes to burn in the kitchen stove, then an oil-burning unit in the basement, the heat coming up through a large register in the centre of the large room to give us warmth. One night, the hose leading from the outside tank to the unit froze up, at -52 degrees F. Thank goodness for the wood and coal burning cook stove that kept the kettle hot. Hot water was used to thaw out the hose. Gordon wrapped the pipe with sacking and we didn't have any more trouble."
Chilly weather, that. In Celcius, that's - 46.6 degrees, which must have been pretty cold for her to have recorded this incident. But it was colder last winter in Edmonton.
"Water was hauled into the house at laundry and bath time from the well in the centre of the yard, and heated in a boiler on the stove. When it was hot, blobs of rust floated on the top and through it. I used to skim it off the best I could, but my white clothes got yellow and discoloured. That pump supplied both us and the animals for many years. Often the pump would freeze up, necessitating boiling water being poured down. We kept our milk in bottles as well as our cream in jugs, suspended down the well. When enough cream was collected, it was churned, making butter."
[---]
"We also had a well dug in the cellar and a pump in the kitchen. I remember a visit from Cliffe Rawsthorne and family from Calgary. Cliffe had lived in the house before the war. How fascinated his children were with the pump in the kitchen. One of the girls pleaded with her dad to get one for their house in Calgary! Then in 1964, we had the waterworks installed. ...What a treat to have running water - a bathroom and two hydrants to attach a hose and water the garden and lawn. And to have an iron filter installed a few years later was sheer heaven. Gordon got a heated cattle waterer which lessened his chore time in the winter months. With the coming of power, we got a new electric fridge, taking our propane one to the cottage, which was a giant step forward. I'm not sure when we got power at the cottage, but it made life easier and safer."
And what's the point of all this? Thank goodness for modern conveniences and screw you whoever subscribes to this sickness now known as Climate Instability or whatever it's called at 4:00 pm, October 9, 2010. I know it will be different by the time October 12th rolls around and that would have been my mother's 95th birthday, were she still with us. I'm very happy that things like coal, electricity, an oil-burning furnace and hot and cold running water made her life easier.

And I'm sorry I didn't help much with the housework, mom, but the barn-work with dad was just so much more exciting.

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