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Canadian Life as I Found It
Chapter XXIV February, 1906


WE have been having very bad weather, blowing half a blizzard off and on, and the temperature at 450 below zero. No one has been to the post office, so we have had no mails for a couple of weeks, and the snow is very deep. I have no sleigh, but hope to get one, or borrow a neighbour's early next week, for we are wanting home news badly. This last week I have had a very lively time. When I went out on Sunday morning I found my well frozen, and I could not get a drop of water for my stock. I got a neighbour to come over, and we worked hard all the afternoon at it, and all Monday, with the glass still at 45 below zero—very jolly, I can tell you—and of course when all was fixed and right, a thaw began to set in; but it cannot last, and we shall probably pay for it next month.

We had a meeting the other day to form a committee for the school. The Government has granted us a school, and formed us into a district—so much for progress even on the prairie.

I went to the meeting and made my maiden speech, which I need not tell you was not a long one; but the Yanks and Canadians were having it all their own way, and I did not quite see why the English should be left out in the cold; so now the school has three trustees, one of each nationality. We expect to get the school-house up soon; we have seventeen children of school age in the district.

I did not want a school just yet, for it will mean about 25 dollars taxes a year to pay; but on the other hand it will make land go up in value. The schoolhouse will be about 2 miles from us.

We are also going to try and get the roads made this year. If they were, it would mean far less wear and tear to our rolling stock; but I suppose that we must not ask for too much at a time.

We are getting on fairly well this winter, only we are rather short of wood; we have to burn green wood, and we have none too much of even that; but till I get bob sleighs I cannot use my wagon to go and get more, and the horses having no work are pretty skittish. When I take them to water it is all I can do to hold them. The last time that I went down to the bush my team ran away from me. I only caught them up a mile or two on, where they had run into a bluff and could not get out. It was a piece of luck overtaking them so soon and having nothing broken. It is no joke going to the bush alone with fresh horses, when the thermometer stands as low as it does now.

My cow has not calved yet, and so I have to go 21 miles to get milk for the boy. The heifer is in calf and will make another good cow, I hope, towards the end of the year.

I hope to get a good bit of land broken this year to crop next. I am putting in 8 acres of wheat, and all I can of oats, so as to have feed and seed for next year. I shall have all my seed to buy this year, and seed potatoes also to replace those we had frozen; it really seems to be always buy, buy, buy. I often wonder if we shall ever get truly ahead. At present we do without anything that is not absolutely necessary. We often, in sailors' language, make a topsail do for a foresail; still with all the hardships and discomforts we have to put up with, I do not think that I should care to change this sort of life for any other now, there is something so grand and free about it, every one is so busy with their own affairs that they leave you and yours alone. If you want to see a friend you can go just as you are; quite as sure of a cordial welcome in your old working clothes as if you had on the finest broadcloth; but all the same for the wife there remains too much roughness for her to take the same view, and for several years to come she must miss many of the refinements of the old existence. This appears to me to be the greatest drawback to a settler's life.

I want to get a riding plough if I can manage it, so as to be able to drive the four horses, for they are sometimes more than I can manage on an ordinary plough, and I often wish that I possessed four arms and four hands.

The cold snap continues and we have a great deal of snow, several people I am told have been found frozen on the prairie, but in nearly every case drink has been the cause of the tragedy. No one who cannot give up the drinking habit should ever think of coming out to the North-`Vest; there are too many difficult situations to be navigated almost daily, where a clear head is the only means of avoiding disaster. A town is being started 20 miles north of us, Asquith is to be its name; it is on the line to Edmonton, and 500 dollars worth of plots have already been sold, and the hotel begun. I am told that a surveying party is coming out to survey a line from Saskatoon to the Goose Lake district, also that the Grand Trunk Railway will most likely run north of the lake; if it does we shall be in luck's way. I must get as much breaking done as I can, for this is my last year, and I must have 30 acres in crop before getting my patent for the land I had from Government; it would never do to be put back a year. I am getting 12 bushels of wheat to put in for my seed next year, and 20 bushels of seed oats. The ploughing season is so short that it is impossible to do a great deal of breaking, unless one has help and good horse power. There are a hundred other things to be done—haying, cutting wood, feeding cattle, getting water for domestic use, milking, and so on through a whole series of unavoidable duties, that when all is got through and has come on to one man's hands, he has to look pretty slippy if he wants to do a day's work in the field.

My wife does all she can, baking, washing, ironing, cooking, but I must do the roughest part for her, or she would be utterly worn out. Potatoes are selling now at 1 dollar a bushel, wheat costs 1 dollar to cut per acre, and you have to find the man and his four horses and supply the twine for the binder, and after that it costs 6 cents a bushel to thrash. I have been rather unlucky in my last trip to the bush. Just as I was loaded and ready to come home I turned over before I had got a hundred yards, and I had to make my load all over again. I was not alone I am glad to say, a neighbour was with me. I bought a set of bob sleighs, or I do not know what I should have done for wood.


 


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