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Going to Canada

By Art Wells

 [This is not the story of my life but a story about the Wells family leaving England to start a new life as farmers in the new land of western Canada.  As I am the only one left who actually experienced the voyage, my sister Noreen asked me to write the story so that as it is passed down through the generations the true story would not be forgotten.]

       As I was only 5 years old when we left England I do not remember the reasons Mom and Dad decided to go to Canada. However I do remember one friend, Bill Faulkner, who had been to Alberta saying the winters were very cold and sometimes after a blizzard the snow would be piled so high you could barely open the door. Dad had a good job at a lumber yard where they went to wherever someone wanted a tree taken down, usually beside a house, where they had to be very careful so as not to damage the house. They would then take it to the lumber yard and cut it up into whatever they wanted at that time. There was a carpenter close by that made funeral caskets so they would make the boards he wanted. Dad also made extra money by repairing shoes evenings and Saturdays.

Dad and Mom were going to Canada under a plan by the Soldiers Settlement Board (known as  the SSB). They had sent a lot of information about Canada to Mom and Dad but at that time I wasn’t too interested so didn’t know much about it. I found out later when I went to school the information they had sent to them was very much exaggerated. They showed pictures of big beautiful fields of wheat and some with a binder and horses cutting it into bundles with stooks of bundles all over the field.  For a man like Dad, a man who wanted to be his own boss, after being in the army for seven years under military rule and on the front line for all five years of World War One.  It was a wonderful opportunity, after all the SSB would provide him with land, and horses and machinery to farm it with. What did he have to lose?

I had a little pedal car that I used to ride up and down the sidewalk but this couldn’t be taken to Canada. It took up too much space and would cost more than it was worth. Mother also had a Singer treadle sewing machine, which also could not be taken with us mainly because it would get broken.  She sold the treadle machine and bought a hand machine, which proved to be a good move as being a hand machine it was used to repair clothing, binder canvases, leather mitts and sometime harness.

By this time, as I found out later, mother was three months pregnant and the fact that we were going to a country where we would be miles from a doctor or hospital and the only transportation was a team of horses and a wagon did not seem to stop them from going.  As it came to be mother was alone with Phyl and I as dad was four miles away working.  When it came time to go we boarded the train in Lubenham, a little village where we had lived from the time Mom and Dad were married, with Mom’s Mom and Dad, sister and brothers to say good bye to us. We had said good bye to Dad’s Dad and cousins a short time before, Dad’s mother had died a number of years before and his only brother had left home when he was fifteen and was never heard from again. I was told later by uncle Jeff, as the train pulled out of the station Grampa York, Mom’s dad, said “We shall never see them again”. How right he was as many years later, after Gramma York had died, he decided to go to see us but he became ill and died a short time later.


I do not remember the trip to Liverpool to get on the ship but I do remember going to our cabin where there was two bunk beds where Phyl and I slept on the upper ones and Mom and Dad slept on the bottom, The first day went fairly well, going to eat in a big dining room where the tables were chained to the floor. The next day Mom and I were very sea sick so did not leave our cabin. Phyl and Dad didn’t get as sick and were able to keep going. To make things worse the sea was very rough and we weren’t allowed on deck to get some fresh air. Mom and I were sick for three days out of the five we were on the ship. The last day we were allowed on deck as the weather was better and the sea was not as rough. As we walked along the deck a big gust of wind got up and I lost my cap in the ocean. We landed at St. John New Brunswick and after a mass of confusion finally boarded the C P R train for our new home in Saskatchewan. It would be a long trip and no sleeping accommodation so Mom and Dad slept on the seats and Phyl and I slept on the luggage rack above. Phyl and I had fun with the other kids and looking out the windows at the scenery around the Great Lakes. We arrived in Winnipeg early one morning to about a foot of fresh snow. It looked so white and clean but one of our gang looked out the window, saw the fresh deep snow and said “if this is Canada they can have it” and boarded the next train back to England. We were in no position to change our mind as we only had enough money for the one way trip. On we went across the prairies to Wilkie, Saskatchewan to board the train for Lloydminster. We arrived in Lloydminster on April 6, 1929 and stayed over night in the Alberta Hotel. Dad said Lloydminster was a very noisy place only to find out in the morning the flour mill that was across the track from us had burned down. In the morning we were picked up by Cecil Speller, the SSB representative who was to take us out to our new home on our farm 11 miles southeast. He had a model A Ford which was pretty crowded when we all got in. I do not remember how our belongings got to us but they made it. As we drove into the yard the ground was white with six inches of new snow. It looked so white and warm I dashed out of the car and laid in the snow. In a very short time I was very cold and I have never liked snow since.

The house we lived in in England was about 14 ft. wide and about 24ft. long and had three stories. The living room was facing the street and the kitchen was at the back. On the second floor were two bedrooms and the third story was used for storage. There was also a little shed in the back they called the wash house. That is where Dad repaired shoes.

When we arrived at our new farm the first thing that Mom and Dad looked at was the house. It was a square one story house 24ft. by 24ft. with a cottage roof and badly needed painting. It was not very old, probably ten years, and was in good shape. The chairs, table and cookstove, a wood burner, were in the house so everything was set for our first meal in our own house on our own farm.   

The SSB had already found a job for Dad on a farm four miles away. They felt he should have a job on a farm for the first year so he could get used to farming in Canada and besides that he had no money. He was to get $30 a month. The farm was owned by Bill Rogan and Dad stayed there till after harvest. The Rogans were good to Dad and he liked working there. They let him have a horse and cart to go home on most Sundays. Phyl and I looked forward to Sunday when we would see Dad. When he left to go back, Phyl and I would climb in the cart with him and ride a half-mile or so and then walk back.

Mother had always lived in a village where there were people next door and always someone to talk to. Now here we were out in the wilderness with the coyotes and woodpeckers. We would sit in the evenings and listen to the coyotes howl hoping they wouldn’t come too close to the house, To make matters worse, just as the howling got most intense a woodpecker would start pecking under the eaves. That scared me most of all as we didn’t know what it was.  I can not remember mother getting hysterical about it but as I think back now she must have been scared beyond belief.  Phyl and I didn’t know this. She was a tower of strength to us as we always had her to lean on. She was not a negative person.

After we had been in our new home for a few days it was time for Phyl and I to go to school. The country school was about a mile and a quarter from home across the prairie and around the sloughs and bluffs. I wore little short-legged English pants so I started school in grade one known as the little green English man. Our accent and the words we used were something for the kids to laugh at. About the first day I was there I tore a big hole in my pants and of course all the kids laughed at me. I got along with the kids fairly well but I didn’t care for school as I wanted to be outside to explore this new country.

Phvl did not care for school. She felt the kids were not very friendly so she spent most of her time following the other kids around. She was a better student than I but she never liked school and couldn’t wait to get to Grade eight to be able to quit. She was very good around the house and helped mother a lot. When Dad got some horses she was in her glory as she liked horses and spent as much time as she could with Dad helping with the horses.

That summer was very trying for mother as Dad was away all week and Phyl and I were at school weekdays. She had found a friend, Mrs. Bell, a farm lady who lived about a mile and a half away. She could walk down the railroad track most of the way. Mrs. Bell taught her how to mend cloths and bake bread. The rest of the time mother was home alone, We lived less than a quarter of a mile from the railroad and as the train stopped at Furness, a little village less than two miles away, men looking for work would ride the boxcars, get off at Furness, and walk back to our place to look for a job or just get a drink of water. Mother was not the least bit afraid of these men, A think she liked the company.

When September came it was time for my sister Joan to arrive. I don’t know the details at this time but the Rogan family asked Phyl and I to stay with them. We would ride to school with them in the little cart pulled by a horse called Mac. The only thing I can remember about this was early one morning I had to pee awful bad. I looked around to find something to use and found an empty tobacco can. After I had used it I found it had a bad leak. As I was upstairs I was hoping it wouldn’t leak through the ceiling. Fortunately it didn’t.

The summer and fall of 1929 was very dry, the driest year in Lloydminster history.  No rain at all throughout the summer. There was no garden. Late that fall a spark from the train started a prairie fire. It traveled very quickly and in no time it reached the school. The kids were taken outside with the teacher who had a fire extinguisher in his hand. Fortunately there was a road between the fire and the school.  We all stood as close as we could to the fire so we could put out any spark that lit on the schoolyard. Our house was about one mile north of the fire and now the fire was heading north. Dad and Mom were home and Dad was watching the fire. Between the fire and our home was a field of uncut wheat. Dad went into the house and said to Mother “If the fire gets in that wheat field there will be no stopping it so you had better be prepared to get out”. Mother was in the house with baby Joan who was only a month or so old. Mother started to get her ready to go. Fortunately the wheat field was mostly weeds and they were too green to burn. After the fire was under control Dad came to the school to take us home, Every one was greatly relieved and very thankful.

Mom and Dad became friends with the Schofields about a mile across the field. One Sunday we went over to visit them. When we got home, we noticed someone had pried open the window. After looking around they found a small bag of Cream of Wheat was missing. The Schofleld’s son had pried his way in to get something to eat. Who could deny a man that was starving something to eat? We remained friends with the Schofields until they moved away.

          At this point on I do not remember too many details. I was six years older than Joan and I was always outside as much as possible. I do remember when Joan was about one year old Mom had set her on the cellar lid on a rug. Mom was making breakfast and went to put some more wood in the stove, The lid slipped and rolled across the floor and came to rest on Joan’s leg. It burned quite a deep mark. Mother put some butter on it, hugged her up a bit and went on with the breakfast.  Noreen came along three years after Joan and I can only remember going to Furness to meet the train when Mom came home with her in her arms.

Times were very hard. In the early fall we would sit at the table with the Eaton’s catalogue and make out a list of things we wanted for the winter, When the harvest was over there would not be enough money to get what we wanted and Dad would say, “I guess I will have to black my ass and go naked again”. One day Dad and I went to Douglas McKay’s farm to get some seed oats. He came out of the house wearing a heavy wool jumbo knit sweater. I said to myself one day I will have a sweater like that.

When I was eighteen years old I went out to work on a farm north west of Lloydminster owned by Gladys Campbell. One day just before Christmas, Dad phoned and asked if I could meet him at the National Café. When I got there Dad started to cry, I had never seen Dad cry before so I knew there was something wrong that was very important to him. He then proceeded to tell me Joan and Noreen wanted skis for Christmas and he only had enough money for one pair. I was getting fifteen dollars a month and all I had to buy out of this was clothes and my weekend entertainment, so I gave Dad enough money to buy a pair of skis. I think was six or seven dollars. Dad cheered up and went to buy the skis. He made sure that everyone knew I had given him the money.  That was just Dad, always giving me more credit than I deserved. Sometimes when my sons treat me badly I know it is just my penalty for the way I treated my Dad.

Dad was not a negative man and I very seldom saw him down hearted. There was only one time that comes to my mind and that was when Joan got married down east. He was very depressed for a short time but when he learned Joan and Russel were coming to help with the harvest he soon cheered up. Dad liked Russel. He was a good man and easy to work with.

In 1960 Dad decided to retire and move to town, He ask me if I wanted to buy his land. I said would love to have your land but I already owe too much money. He then listed it for sale with a Real Estate company. Several days later Dad came to me and said two people had looked at his land and they both said $4,000 was too much. Dad had no money, all he had was his quarter of land and some old machinery. He was the hardest working man, with no complaints, that I will ever know and if his life’s work was not worth $4000 there was something wrong. The Credit Union loaned me the money and I gave him the $4,000.

A few days after the sale I went through the old farm yard to work the summerfallow. As I drove through the yard everything was so still and quiet. I sat beside the tractor wheel and cried. Never again would mother come out to ask me to go in for a cup of coffee or beckon through the window as I drove through the yard. This truly was the end of an era and in a few days the old house that had served us so well would be gone with all the memories.

In 1960 Mother and Dad moved to Lloydminster and lived in a little house that Dad bought cheap because it had to be moved.  He then moved it to a basement he had made two blocks north of the Co-Op store, which at that time was the centre of town. In 1964 they went back to England for the first time since they left some thirty five years before. They soon realized this was not home any more but home was back in western Canada where they had worked so hard to make a living and as Mother had said so many times “We have had a lot of good times”. They lived in their little home until Dad died in 1977 at the age of Eighty One.  Mother lived there for many more years until she became too feeble to live alone and then moved to the Jubilee Home in Lloydminster where she lived very happily until she died at the age of Ninety Six. They are buried side by side in the Lloydminster cemetery.



Ethel and Fred Wells
with Art (5)
Phyllis (8)