Home Settlement Agriculture Religion Government Health Education Crime Oil Patch Industry Retail Communication Transportation Community Sports Arts World Contacts

S. James  Gee, (1859 - 1954), 

Pioneer and Builder of the First Brick Yard

compiled by Dorothy Foster; Based on accounts by Granddaughter, Lorraine E. (Lori) Atwood who recalled stories told to her by her mother, Kathleen Eleanor Gee Stacey

James Sidney Gee first came to Ottawa, Canada, in 1881 where he worked with Sidney Selwyn in early land surveys of the West. He returned to England to marry Elizabeth Wiltshire and brought his family back to build summer homes for the Ottawa folk from 1894 to 1899. Even though they liked the Canadian way of life James was lured back to his homeland.

In 1903, when Rev. Barr was organizing a group to settle farming lands in the Northwest Territories, James decided to let his elder two sons, Sid and Cecil go. Not very long after, James, his wife Elizabeth, sons Bernard and Stanley, and daughters Mabel and little Kathleen, born in 1901, notified the older sons that "We’re coming." The family arrived in Montreal on board The Tunisian on October 2, 1903. [Ship's passenger list: James Gee, 43, builder; Elizabeth Gee, 39, wife; Bernard Gee, 16, labourer; Mabel Gee, 14, none; Stanley Gee, 11, child; Kathleen, 2 1/2, child.]  Cecil and Sid traveled by ox team to meet them in Saskatoon. However, Kathleen, the two year old, developed bronchial pneumonia and she and her mother had to remain behind and travel later by buggy with the mail carrier, a young Metis man.

Photo courtesy: Lloydminster Regional Archives

James Gee and Family

Photo taken in England in 1903 just before Sidney and Cecil departed with the Barr Colonists.

Back (l-r) Bernard, Cecil, Sidney

Front (l-r) Mabel, Stanley, Elizabeth, James, Kathleen (age 2)

Elizabeth, just arriving from London, now alone with a tiny child, felt very apprehensive about this journey across the bald prairies. However, the first night, the polite young man took them to his home where they would stay with his mother, a small friendly Indian woman and his father, a large Scotsman. They enjoyed a delicious chicken dinner. Also served were donuts which Elizabeth had never seen before. The next day they left with a lunch of the same and had a restless night staying with two Englishmen in a tiny sod shack. Mother and daughter were to sleep on the dirt floor where Elizabeth had mice running through her hair all night and the roof creaked as the men outside argued, "I told you that you didn’t build that roof properly - it will come down on our heads one of these days." After a few more nights on the trail they arrived in Lloydminster, to find only a few tents and the "Immigration Hall."

On the farm they settled into the newly built log barn, which was to house the Gee family of eight and two other couples, the Belwards and the Panes. It was divided up using tents, partitioning for the privacy of twelve people. A large cook stove in the centre was for heat and cooking. Elizabeth thought it a miracle that the dough for the many loaves of bread she made for the household always rose for her. In this year of 1903 James served as Reeve of Britannia municipality.

In the spring a new house, "Glenhome" was built, consisting of a large living room, a bedroom for the boys, one for the girls, and one for James and Elizabeth. It had a verandah and the kitchen was built-on. The boys worked on the farm and gathered wood for the stoves. Mabel and her mother worked keeping the family clean and fed. Kathleen was too small to help. She remembers seeing her mother sitting knitting on the verandah with two incubator chicks nestled in her hair keeping them warm. Washing the clothes in winter and hanging them outside was an endurance test in keeping fingers from freezing. Soap had to be made, water was fetched from the well in the valley and a fire built to heat it.

But, ah! Those summer days! Kathleen remembers the beautiful sight and smells of the wheat fields and the fields filled with wild flowers and sweet grasses - red prairie lilies, roses, bluebells, daisies of all kinds, and a lovely pink flower, later called, "Prince of Wales Feathers." Mabel and Kathleen enjoyed taking cold drinks to the brothers working in the hay fields. The drinks were made of cold water from the well poured over oatmeal and sugar - it sounds awful, but it was surprisingly good on a hot day. Unfortunately the dry grass would catch fire and families and neighbours would fight the fire flogging it with large bags soaked in water.

Elizabeth and Mabel were so busy they did not have time to play with little Kathleen, but her father did. James made her a playhouse by tying willow branches together and making a bower out of it. One time he wrote her a letter from the fairies saying, "If you go out to your willow playhouse you will find the biggest nut in the world." He had been to Edmonton on business and had brought back a coconut. Kathleen couldn’t believe her eyes; she had never seen one before. At bedtime, James would tell her stories and fall asleep before she did.

James, a skilled builder, supervised the building of the log church, St. John’s Minster. He did not like farming and in 1905 he found a good spot just a mile and a half north of Lloydminster to start a brick yard. The plant ran a soft mud process. The remains of the operation are still in evidence where the Lloydminster Packers Ltd. is, just east of Highway 17. All the early buildings in Lloydminster were made from these bricks. Elizabeth and Mabel were kept busy cooking for the family and the fellows who worked making the bricks. James built a home beside the brickyard, the "Hillside" which was surrounded by a poplar grove. They enjoyed bringing friends out to Hillside by a horse drawn bob-sleigh which was filled with straw and fur robes to keep them warm. They would sing songs around the piano, play games and enjoy the lunch prepared by Elizabeth.

In six years James sold "Hillside" and moved into Lloydminster where he built a new house, the "Gables." James served as mayor of Lloydminster in 1911. Oh joy, the family was delighted to receive free passes to all the shows and circuses that came to town. James built the second St. John’s Minster brick church, and he and son, Barney, were present at the ceremony of the laying of the cornerstone in 1910. Taking part in the service was Rev George Exton Lloyd who was then principal of Emmanuel College in Saskatoon; Rev. J. D. Mullins, Secretary of the C. C. C. S.; and Rev. C. Carruthers, rector of St. John’s Minster.

The "Gables” was sold and the Gee family moved next door into another house built by James. Mr. Tuckwell, the new owner of "Gables" was the editor of the Lloydminster Times. His daughter Maggie, and Kathleen, became good friends and had fun swinging all day on the swing James built. 

In 1912, pioneer days ended when the Gee Family moved to Edmonton where James established a contracting business from which he retired in 1943. Other notable structures that Mr. Gee built were St. Stephen’s church in Edmonton and the Tighn Dunn farm near Lashburn, SK.