M*CH*MORE One Name Study

The MICHELMOREs of Saskatchewan

by Philip Michelmore, 1914

 

Soon after Philip died at the tragically early age of 41, his widow Mary and her children emigrated to Saskatchewan, Canada. Charles was the first to leave in 1902, followed by Frederick in 1903. Mary followed  in 1905 with Philip junior, Victor, James (known as Harry), Francis and Florence, who were 17, 15, 13 and 11 years old, respectively, at the time.

Philip wrote the following account of his first nine years as a settler in 1914, and it was kindly submitted by Beverly MICHELMORE in 2011. The map below shows the main places he mentions, as well as the capital cities of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Footnotes explaining some of the terms Philip uses have been added.

 

 

First experiences

It was in the spring of 1905 that my mother, four of us boys and my youngest sister came to Canada. My two eldest brothers Charles and Fred had been out here two or three years and had saved up enough money to pay our passage out to Canada. When we came out, Charles was in Saskatchewan and Fred was in Manitoba. My mother and sister left us at Winnipeg to go to Holmfield in Manitoba while we came on to Davidson in Saskatchewan. Here we met Charles whom we hadn't seen for three years and of course we hardly recognised each other. I will pass over the joyful greetings and get on to the town, which you had to look twice to see. It was just one of those prairie villages which sprang up every few miles beside the railway, which although not very large is always acceptable to the farmer. Well that night we slept in a tent pitched on the prairie and lay on hay that we got from a nearby farmer. Of course we didn't go to sleep very early, as we had to tell Charles all the news from old England. When we finally did get to sleep, we didn’t wake up till daylight as we were pretty tired after our journey.

The next morning Charles harnessed up a team of horses, of which he had four, and took us out to Detchon Farm, about six miles from Davidson, where my brother Victor and I were to work all summer. That farm consisted of between three and four thousand acres, so it needed a good deal of hired help. That summer they kept between twenty and twenty-five men and a whole lot more at harvest time. The manager and his wife were very good to us. They knew Charles, as he had worked there the summer before.

After we had partaken of refreshments, we went to the barn (the stables) to look at the horses. They were a nice looking bunch, but I didn't admire them just then. To me, they were a bunch of half broken broncos and some had not been hitched up at all. The way they would jump and snort whenever you went near them was fierce! When we were told we were to have four apiece to drive, I could feel something running up and down my spine, yes, and even on my scalp! I didn't say anything, but I thought one would be a handful for me. They were sure a green bunch together, those four. A few days after we got there, Fred came from Manitoba as he was going to work there too. My brothers Harry and Francis went to the homestead of 640 acres which we had about thirty miles from Davidson.

Getting down to work

Not long afterward, the weather got warm and we started to work on the land. Fred was always on hand to give us a helping hand in the hitching up. I had four bays and they were so much alike that they sure used to puzzle me which was which, and them lines, I used to snap them to every ring I saw.1 When I came to start up I would have two teams going different ways, and me trying to make up my mind which to follow. But after Fred had cussed at me a few times and threatened to go to extreme measures, I began to sit up and take notice. Then it didn't take me long to get on to my work.

I remember one day I couldn't get the bit into one of my horses' mouth, it seemed as if it was lock-jawed. She had only been hitched up a few times and didn't know anything about taking the bit. So I led her over and tied her to a flight of stairs leading to a harness room. I tied her good and low. “Now,” I says to myself, “I'll get it into your mouth”. I began to use force, but she would not stand for it and began to hang back.2 A bronco doesn't usually hang back gently and this one wasn't any different to the rest, not as far as I could see anyway. At last I could hear things cracking overhead but didn't stop to see if it could be fixed. I clapped my hands to my head and ran. I didn't run so awfully hard but I passed a whole lot of running men. The yard was full of horses as the men were pulling out to work, but when them fellows saw a bronco with a full grown step ladder coming towards them, they didn't stop to enquire where it came from, but left their horses and ran. If I live to be a hundred, I'll never forget how that horse caused a panic among that bunch of men. I'll bet there were men there that had not gone out of a walk for years. But they reached shelter all right and saw a lot of younger men come in.

I don't recollect how I got that horse again, but we went out on the drag harrows just after that. I can tell you there is very little romance in that job, especially when you have to walk after them for six weeks steady like I did that spring. Up to that time I cannot say I really admired this country. In fact when I was in the field I was too busy looking for the mark,3 so I very rarely saw it. I don't know if the fellow ahead of me did or not. Evenings, I was so dogasted tired that I didn't see anything to admire unless it was my swollen feet.

I had not been there very long when two of my mares had colds, so the boss gave me another mare with a colt to change off with. So you can bet I had a handful then. Whenever I came in from the field, it seemed as if all the colts on the farm used to gather around my mares and it used to get me pretty wild trying to side track them to someone else.

We finally got breaking4 on this farm. The owner had another farm down at a place named Craik. The farms were 17 miles apart. There were seven of us teamsters sent down there at first and we (Fred, Victor and me) were three of them. We started out one Friday morning. We were taking a cook along and Fred was hitched to a bundle rack5 and Victor and I had our horses tied around it. I think there was another rack and grain tank. We had to follow the railroad track for several miles. Every once in a while one of the horses would go the wrong side of a telegraph post instead of the side the wagon was following, as we couldn’t keep them away from the posts owing to fences and such like. This happened so often that we had no trouble in breaking an axle. That was where I got another fancy tongue dressing for not tying a half hitch instead of a slip knot in one of the halter shanks.6  As if I knew a half hitch from the knot the horse used to put around the telegraph post. Anyway tempers were not at their best just then, so a little gas kind of cleared the atmosphere.

We left that wagon there and just afterwards stopped for dinner. Then we started on again and hadn't gone far when the cook car and grain tank got stuck in Alkali. So we had orders from the boss to foot the rest of the way. I guess it wasn't over six miles, but it seemed like twenty-six to me. It was well on in the evening when we started and between my colts turning my outfit inside out and having to wait on them when they were getting tired, I got quite aways behind the other fellows. That was sure some walk as we went up hills, down valleys, across a creek and ravines and goodness only knows where. At last, just as I thought I was lost, I saw Victor waiting for me. I could have shook hands with him I was so glad to see a human being once more. But we had no time for being sentimental. It was getting dark and we didn't know the way. We happened to run across a stranger and he told us the way to go. In about half an hour we got there and then all we had for supper was bread and milk¾everything else was in the cook car. Still it tasted good to us.

After we had watered our horses we had to put up our tents, which were to be our home for some time. By the way, I must put in a few words about the breaking plow. It was not the kind with the seat on, oh no! These were the kind that you walk right at the rear of and hang onto a pair of handles so that you can see everything that is going on in front of you. They are a pretty good plow for a man that understands them, but for a greeny they were sure fierce. That was the time Fred came in pretty handy again. Many a pleasant time he put in fixing our plows for us so that it would run with one hand.

Fun and games

We rather enjoyed ourselves down on that farm. There was a nice creek only half a mile from us, so we used to do a lot of bathing. We had nothing to do on Sundays except wash and mend our clothes. One Saturday evening we wanted to go to town, which was about four miles away. So we hitched up a spare team to a bundle rack and started out. We had to go down a steep river bank on the way and the horses weren't any good on the hold back.7 In fact we had come away without any martingales (hold back straps), so when the team felt the wagon coming up on them they began to run. Fred was driving and he was pulling for all that was in him and a whole lot that wasn't. There was several of us in the wagon when we started, but when we reached the bottom and looked around we found we were the only ones left in it. The other fellows had all climbed out behind. They were going to save their lives even if they got killed in the attempt.

We got to town and bought all we wanted, or at least all we could afford, and then got ready to start back. The hill down to the river from the town side was even worse than the one we had come down in the early part of the evening. Worst still it was nearly dark. I never could see the reason, but instead of building the bridge straight with the trail, they had put it off to one side. If your team came down there on the run you were never sure of hitting the bridge. There was one consolation, you couldn't miss the bridge and the river too. But it was quite a drop before you struck water, and gosh but wouldn't that be a splash! Of course the boys knew all about that, so they went over to a cow that was picketed and borrowed her picket chain so they could brake the wheel with it. Even then they wouldn't ride down over. I was the only one that rode down with Fred, but it wasn't because I was any less nervous than the rest. In fact I was about so green and red-faced, and I was tickled to death when we reached the bottom in safety. We were down there with the brakes on for some time before the rest of the gang came along and after that we had all kinds of games. So we got home safe and sound after all our little adventures.

I remember one Sunday we felt we had to have some fun, so a whole bunch of us got hold of a wagon cover and started out to hunt some sport. The first thing we spied was a Hollander asleep outside his tent. We all caught hold of the blanket and held it low, rolled him into it and the first thing he knew when he woke up he was about 10 feet in the air. Well sir, he let a yell out of him that would have shamed an Indian on the warpath, but we kept tossing him till we thought he had had enough. I was tossed in a blanket once and I cannot say I enjoyed the sensation, but you always have to make up you are willing and then they won't bother you. I saw a man hang onto the blanket once and wouldn't let them toss him. So they took him to the horses’ water trough and let one side of the blanket go and he slid in. Of course he got wet feet!

There was one man had us bluffed out and that was an Indian half breed. When he saw us coming he made a hike for the hay loft. He stood at one end with a pitch fork and dared any of us to fetch him. He was about the maddest cuss I have ever seen. As no one seemed to have their earthly affairs in such good shape that they were in a hurry to make a hasty exit, we went away and left him to cool off. In the morning we heard he had left for a healthier atmosphere.

The summer was slipping away so we had to get back to the other farm and get on the binders.[viii] Victor and I had one apiece, much to our surprise and I think to the surprise of the older fellows, and we got on pretty well with them. After all the wheat, oats and barley were cut, Victor and I were told to cut the flax. The boss said we made the best job he ever saw on flax, which made us feel mighty good. We were on the binders five weeks, so we had that job pretty well learnt. They had their own threshing outfit, but I didn't work much on it that fall. I was discing most of the fall, and just before the freeze up I was plowing.

The first winter

In the meantime, my mother and sister had come up from Manitoba and been out to see us and then gone on to the homestead. So when we were paid off about the middle of November, Fred went to Prince Albert to work for the winter. Victor and I, along with a young German, hit out for home. We were going to stop at his brother's place for the night. It was out of our way a good bit, but we didn't know the country at that time so we went along with him. There was just enough snow on the ground to make it hard walking and it was dark by the time we got there. Believe me, I was the tiredest lad that you ever laid eyes on, as we had walked about 25 miles.

Next morning I was so stiff and sore I could hardly hobble. The lad that had come along with us drove us home, and the boys helped him to put on a load of wood to take home with him. Mother, my brother Harry, and my sisters Frances and May were there waiting for us when we got there. I have never struck a place that looked so home like and comfortable as that log shanty did. We had been roughing it more or less all summer, and to see the old familiar things again sure looked good to me. Of course we were taken all around the farm yard to admire everything, which was not much at that time. However, it made a person feel he could see where our summer wages and the other boys’ hard work had gone. Charles was working out all winter, and Victor went to Prince Albert where Fred had gotten him a job. I had to stay home to put in my homestead duties. We had a dandy winder and it wasn't long before it was spring again.

The second year

I went back again to Detchon Farm, where I had the same wages as the rest of the gang since I was an experienced man then. Charles went out there to work too. That summer passed away with our little fun and frolics just like the summer before. We had a bit of bad luck on the homestead. Our stable burned down and a calf with it, also a set of harnesses and several other things which it took our hard earned money to replace. But we weren't a family that was always looking on the dark side of things. We always took the good with the bad and we pulled together so well that we just had to get ahead.

After being parted for the summer or winter, when we met again we would always swap experiences. We all possessed such a sense of humor that what at the time might have been pretty serious, we would have many a joke out of afterwards. If we could get Fred to write his experiences in Canada, it would make for better reading than this. How he drove green oxen in Prince Albert for two winters. How one kicked him and was sharp shod9 and cut through two pairs of pants and cut his leg open from away above his knee to a point below. How he worked through it all just because we wanted to make headway in this country. There was a whole lot of other things that he and Harry went through which I don't understand that country well enough to write about. But it was all these things, which to look on now do not seem to be so very much more than trifles, that have helped a whole lot to give us our start in this country.

After working all that second summer and come into the homestead in the fall, I hardly knew it was the same country. A whole lot of settlers had come in and built houses and done some breaking, and it certainly made it look more civilized. We had quite a little crop that year on the homestead. It had to be hauled to Davidson, but wheat was pretty cheap and there wasn't much in it by the time you had paid expenses.

I should have said that the first spring that Fred came back from Prince Albert, he fetched four oxen along. He drove them hitched to a wooden affair, just to haul his grub, and it took him about ten days to travel the 150 miles. It was in the spring of the year and everything was against him. Nasty weather, and a whole lot of water to go around.

He didn't know the country he was travelling through, so by fall he had a nice lot of breaking ready for crop the following spring. That year we had a good crop and it took all winter to haul it out. It was one of our bad winters. Charles did all the hauling and he certainly had to rough it. Worst of all, one of the mares took sick on the road and after he got her home she died; so we had to go ahead and buy another horse for about $200, which was quite an item to us at that time.

Getting established

It wasn't long after that that we got a railroad at Elbow, a point about twelve miles from the homestead. In the meantime, Fred had gone to Manitoba and had gotten married and was farming down there. Victor went to Moose Jaw and was working for the CPR in the roundhouse10. He got married too.

After a year or two, I went across the river and purchased a homestead and a half section apiece for Harry and Francis. So then all the boys had land except Victor. After that I sold my homestead at Elbow to Charles and got a team from him. Harry and I hit out across the prairie to build another home for ourselves. We bought some oxen and with the horses started to break. We were 45 miles from our nearest railroad station, so we couldn't make much headway. We used to have a little crop each year, but there were a whole lot of hardships to go through. I finally got sick of waiting for the railroad, so I sold my outfit to Francis and went to work in a hardware store in Elbow. I had only been there about three months when I got news that Harry was drowned while bathing out near the homestead. I am going to pass over all the details of his death and funeral.

Afterwards, I took my old outfit back again and came out here with Francis. Now the railroads are getting near, we are going to farm and make this our home11.

So I am going to finish this up by saying that with all our ups and downs, we have been well pleased with this country and there is none of us that would like to go back to the old country to live after a residence of nine years in this country. We are all fixed now and we will have no trouble of making a good living¾at least if we have our health and strength, as we have had every since we have been out here. Victor is an engineer on the CPR and is getting good wages and has a nice house. Charles is married too now and has a nice home, and Mother and May have a nice house in the same yard.

So we can all say that Canada has been a good country to us all. Hoping we will prosper in the days to come as we have in the past. I am sure all our family will join me in saying, Canada forever.

 

We know nothing more of Philip, except that he had one daughter.  Charles had four children before he died in 1920. Frederick had four children before leaving his wife in 1921 and emigrating to Australia with one of his stepdaughters. Victor had two children and worked all his life for the railroad before retiring to Vancouver BC in 1950.  Francis died in World War I without marrying.

           

1 The straps of a horse harness have snaps on the end which have to be fixed to rings on the collar and bit.
2 “Hang back” means to refuse to go forward. Sometimes, especially if a horse is only half broken it, it may reverse violently and it is hard to stop them.
3 The harrower must follow the mark of the harrows from the previous row.
4 “Breaking” means clearing the land and plowing up the virgin ground ready for planting.
5 A “bundle rack” was a wagon with a rack using for carting hay etc. Horses are tied to wagons to lead them and avoid having to drive them.
6 If he had tied a slip knot, it would have been easier to undo and so release the tension that was causing the fatal strain on the axle.
7 In a “hold back”, the horses brake the weight of the wagon behind them. Martingales are straps that enable the horses to pull backwards in this way.
8 A binder is a machine that ties cereal crops into sheaves.
9 That is, wearing a special horseshoe designed to grip icy ground.
10 A building where locomotives are serviced.
11 By this time, Philip had also married and was probably living in Kindersley SK.

 

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