Canadian Life as I Found It
Chapter II Saskatoon in 1904
SASKATOON is a rising town;
there were only 700 inhabitants in 19o2, and now there are some 2,000.
The houses are all wooden with the exception of one built in stone and two
or three in brick, the so-called streets are only tracks across the prairie,
not a tree or flower to be seen, except wild ones down by the river.
This is a bright go-ahead
little place, but no one could call it pretty; I call it downright ugly, but
far preferable to Regina.
Our Saskatoon shanty or shack
was 14 x 16 feet, 7 feet high on one side and 9 feet on the other. At first
it seemed impossible to breathe in so small a space, but we got used to it
by dint of opening wide both window and door, and my wife, who thought it so
small at first, one day scrubbed it over, and said that she had found it
I bought a team of three
oxen, as being easier to manage the first year than horses, as I had neither
stabling nor fodder for the latter, whereas the oxen, once their work is
over and their harness off, are turned out on to the prairie to take care of
themselves, and are herded up when wanted the next morning. They are
desperately slow, obstinate brutes, and I shall be glad when I can get rid
of them and buy a team of horses, with which one can do double the work in
I paid 300 dollars for my
three oxen, a wagon and harness complete, and I am going to try and pick up
a pony, a buck-board or rig as these carts are called, and a good cow to
give baby milk.
I have bought a gun, for
which I gave 30 dollars, also a stove and pots and pans—even these are very
different from those used at home.
Having bought the necessary
timber for building our prairie shack, I started off with another man, with
my oxen and wagon, to locate our holding of 160 acres.
We had to go out over 45
miles, as all the land nearer in was taken up. The place is swarming with
land agents, who buy up all the land nearer the towns, and sell it at from
eight to ten dollars an acre.
The district we were advised
to go to was just zo miles over the border of Assinaboia. My sailor's
knowledge came in very useful to me on the prairie, for although I had only
a compass to go by, I never lost my way once.
We were two days getting out,
and when the first night we got to a sort of farm, had it been the finest
hotel, we could not have been more grateful for the shelter it afforded.
We were eleven men lying on
the floor of the one room the farmer possessed, and you cannot think how
comfortably one sleeps, rolled up in a rug, with a saddle for one's pillow,
when you are used to it, only one has to get used to it.
I left the man who had gone
out with me on the homestead under a tent, and returned to Saskatoon for
another load of timber, and paid a man 20 dollars to cart part of it out,
and help with the building of the shack.
When this was ready I made
another trip to bring out my wife and child and the luggage.
I had intended taking them
out with me, but after passing several nights under canvas, one of these in
a regular gale, I decided to leave them in Saskatoon till I had a good
shelter for them. In the meanwhile I stumbled on a treasure of an Indian
pony and bought a rig; but, by jove! you have to pay for things out here. As
for the books I had read about Canada, they are most misleading; all that I
have hitherto found correct, is that you can get good land for next to
nothing, but that is all.
Then come inevitable
expenses—the timber for building, animals, wagons, cart, agricultural
instruments and so on, cost of living, which is quite double out west to
what it is at home.
My land looks very good; it
is black on the top with a clay subsoil, flat with no scrub to clear, a
large pond or slough on it, the home of duck and wild fowl, and useful for
The crops I passed on my way
up seemed to be coming on well, but there is great waste of land, and every
thing so untidily done. Of course coming out at the end of May I shall get
no crops this year, but I intend to break up as much land as possible, ready
for the spring. The journey from Saskatoon to the shack was a bad experience
for my wife; the trail is very bumpy, as it is a perfect network of gopher
holes, and a rig is hard driving.
The first day was scorching
hot, and we were glad when evening came to pitch our tent, although it is a
weird feeling to see nothing around one but an immense expanse of prairie,
and to hear no sound but the call of the prairie chicken or wild duck, and
the tinkle of the ox bells.
The second day a fearful gale
was blowing, and it was bitterly cold, such are the sudden changes of
temperature one has to put up with, and I was very thankful to get my dear
ones under shelter, in our first prairie homestead.
But I must remark here that
the first year on a claim is no place for a woman, especially for one who
had been delicately nurtured at home; it is too rough, too lonely, the work
too hard, for it is impossible to get servants even if one had room to house
them; they can command high wages in the towns—female servants I allude to,
and then I am told do very little work.
The wages for men have been
much exaggerated, for although in summer and at harvest time they can get
good pay, there is the long winter when work is very scarce, and nothing
hardly can be done on the farms, except to look after the live stock, and
try to keep warm, which is often the hardest task of all.
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