The Stories of Yesterday’s Prairies

The Last Best West Advertisement. From Peel's Prairie Provinces.
An advertisement for The Last Best West. From Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

Here are stories of the people and places of yesterday’s prairies.  Those men and women that worked in the dirt, pounded the posts, prayed for the rain.  Those who listened to the wind blow and watched the tumbleweeds roll by.

They came to Canada from all over the world, from varied walks of life. Different nationalities, different religions.  The reasons they came here were varied too: freedom, space, a place to call their own.  160 acres were offered in ‘the Last Best West’; land in the western United States had already been gobbled up by hopeful settlers, and the area had been closed to new homesteads by 1890.  So pioneers came to western Canada, took up the offer and did with it what they could.

Whether they stuck it out or threw the towel in, every one of these pioneers changed the landscape and the future of our prairies.  The challenges they faced were many: fires, storms, drought, illness, to name a few.  Their labors shaped our country into what it is today, and the life we enjoy now would not be the same if it were not for the hard work, accomplishments, and despairs that those who came before us experienced.

The following stories feature people and places that were within the M.D. of Bertawan for the most part, but there are some that are from other places as well.  Some of what’s included has already been told in history books and the like.  Sometimes what I’ve found doesn’t always match what’s been said, and that’s okay.   Records can only show the bones of a life, not the stuff that makes a person come alive.  Stories also tend to change and evolve as the years progress.

I’ve researched and compiled what I can with the hope that as the years go by, they won’t be forgotten.  Continue reading below to learn more about the spirited people and places that were a part of yesterday’s prairies.

John Price – A Story of Hard Times

There’s some land just northeast of the main farm yard that we call Price’s.  It’s named for the original homesteader that farmed it over one hundred years ago now.  This family was on the land for just over 10 years, and it’s incredible how a name can stick with a place for this long, even though the time they spent there was little, comparatively.  His name was John Price, but before he made his way to Sibbald, his family name was Praiss.

For a while I couldn’t find much about John’s history, but when I broke through the wall, I almost wished I hadn’t.  I was reminded about something my Dad told me once when I had started looking into my own family’s history, so many years ago: “Be careful when looking into the past, you might find something you might not want to know”.  John’s story feels a little like that for me.

Continue reading John Price – A Story of Hard Times

Ole Branes and the House at Cereal

There’s a house just southeast of Cereal, Alberta, that I stopped to photograph this past fall.  To learn more about who may have owned the place, I looked into the land description of where the house sits and came up with the name of the original homesteader.  His name was Ole Branes.  So for this post we’re leaving Sibbald and going west to Cereal.

Decaying in the Field

Read more about Ole Branes and the house that may have been his

George Gugins and Frances

George Gugins was one of the earliest settlers to the Sibbald area, but he only lived on his homestead at Sibbald for a mere three months.  His life was tragically taken by a violent prairie storm.  Without him, his wife carried on, keeping the farm going for years after.  This post is an example of the very real dangers homesteaders faced when living on the prairies, and a display of the sheer determination that was required.  Here’s the story of George Gugins and his resilient wife Frances.

Continue reading George Gugins and Frances

Boomtown Cereal?

While I was looking into a pioneer that settled just outside Cereal, Alberta, I came across an interesting situation that played out between 1913-1914, pertaining to the townsite of Cereal.

Basically, long story short, one little homesteader found himself stuck in a fight between two giants of the Canadian ‘corporate’ world: Canadian Northern Railway Company (CNR) and the Department of the Interior (a section of the government that was responsible for a variety of things related to the settlement and development of Western Canada).  I found the whole thing amusing, but I also felt frustration for Johannes, who had to wait for it all to just play out. Keep reading

Harry Hymelfarb

Harry Hymelfarb Homestead ApplicationHere’s the story of Harry Hymelfarb, a Jewish homesteader who came to the Sibbald area to farm.  On the voters’ lists from the 40’s and 50’s, he is included as part of the town of Loverna, Saskatchewan.  Today he’d be about a 25 minute drive north of Sibbald and the same distance southeast of Loverna. However, he was a part of Montefiore Colony, though he lived further away from it than the majority of the other members.

Read more about Harry Hymelfarb

Archibald Smith and Charles Wilson

Being as their lives were intertwined, I’m going to combine the stories of two settlers together into this one post.  I started researching Archibald (Archie) Smith, but he was a bachelor and had a very common last name, so it was difficult to find much information on him.  So I’ll start with Charles Wilson (Charlie) and family.  There’s a fairly substantial write-up in the Sibbald History book, done by the family’s daughter, and if you read it you might notice variations between what’s in that article and what I’ve put in this post.  Simply put, I just go with what the records tell me.

Continue reading about Archie and Charlie

Finding Freedom: The Ullman Family

The Ullman family homesteaded at Sibbald, Alberta, and were a part of the Jewish colony Montefiore.  They were a large family, and I could probably go on for days about all the stuff I learned about them.  So rather than focus on each individual sub-family, I will focus on Lezer Ullman and his wife, Rebecca (she went as Bessie during her time at Sibbald), and their children.  I will provide a summary of each of the children’s families as well.

Continue reading about the Ullman Family

Nels Sletkolen: Cause of Death

Several months ago I wrote about Norwegian homesteader Nels Sletkolen, a man who suffered a tragic death that has been shrouded in mystery.  You can read the original post here – Murder for Money: Nels Sletkolen’s Story.

Even after publishing this post, I still couldn’t shake the thought that I wanted to know more about it.  After using John Jones’ death records to look into his mysterious death, I decided to order Nels Sletkolen’s, hoping that maybe they could help clear things up some.  I suppose they did.

If you take the records at face value.

Read more about Nels Sletkolen’s mysterious death

Zukerman: Farmers of Eyre and Montefiore

The Zukerman family settled first at Eyre, Saskatchewan, then resettled at Montefiore, Sibbald, Alberta.  They were one of the last families to come to the colony, and consequently one of the last to leave.

Eyre, Saskatchewan was a colony much like Montefiore; it was established by the Jewish Colonial Association in 1910.  It’s located a bit southeast of Alsask, Saskatchewan.  Nothing remains at Eyre.  Like its sibling colony Montefiore, one by one the Jewish families picked up and left during the dry years.

Continue reading about the Zukerman Family