This week we feature two accounts by York Colony homesteaders, Edward W. Bull, originally from Toronto and Joseph Caldwell originally from Lancashire, England.
Bull, Edward W.
Edward W. Bull, comes back to Yorkton for a visit in 1932. As one of the first settlers of the York Colony he tells his story of homesteading to The Yorkton Enterprise.
"I well remember my first trip to Yorkton" said Mr. Bull. "I arrived in Brandon from Toronto in the spring of 1882, here purchased a team of oxen and drove to Fort Ellice where I met J.J. Cook of the York Farmers Colonization Company. Mr. Cook and myself purchased a buckboard and pony and started westward on a trip to the Yorkton area which lasted fourteen days. I was seeking a homestead while Mr. Cook was on an inspection tour for the York Colonization Company.
Upon arrival on the land which today is known as Rhein, I decided that this was suitable for my purposes and here decided to establish my new home. I returned to Fort Ellice and met Jim Shaw, John Watson and E. Boake and together we set out for the land of our new venture.
Two months later, my brother R.J. Bull and W. Jackson joined us. We spent this summer breaking the land and put up some hay for our oxen for the winter. That same summer C.J. Macfarline, William Hopkins and William Meredith arrived in the Yorkton area and took up a homestead on what today is known as the old town site just north of the city.
Late that fall my brother and I went to Gladstone (Manitoba) and worked on the railway until Christmas. The winter was spent in the bush at Rat Portage (Ontario), returning to our homestead in the spring.
Another brother, F.W. Bull came west to join us that year and we met him at Whitewood and during this trip laid the original trail from Whitewood to Yorkton, using a compass for direction.
A splendid crop of wheat and oats was raised that year but inexperience proved our downfall when we put off the harvest to too late a date, resulting in the frost robbing us of our crop. The seed for this crop had been secured in the spring at Fort Ellice.
That winter I remained at the homestead while my brother Frank went into the forest to cut timber for our new home. The summer we spent in a tent until October and then moved into a log shack with a thatched roof to pass the winter.
In the spring of 1884 we purchased our seed at Whitewood. The wheat cost us $1.50 a bushel while for the oats we paid $1.00 for an equal quantity. Again we had good crops and again we allowed the frost to rob us of a harvest but were by no means discouraged, we were determined to keep on.
The next year we turned to cattle raising and for years made a steady progress. It is true that we suffered many hardships in the early days, fat pork, syrup and bread made up our rations, but the years of prosperity which followed made up for this. I always contended that the west was a great country for a young man until now, but I find conditions are not so encouraging today.
Whatever money I made came out of the West and in the early days we paid high prices for our food, implements and horses and received little for our produce. I well remember one man paying me a thousand bushels of oats for a horse. I also remember paying a dollar a gallon for coal oil.
I neglected to tell you of the trouble encountered at Wolverine Slough, near Cut Arm, on our first trip to this district. Our pony became mired in the slough, floundered around and broke the shafts off the buckboard. We had to go into the bluff and cut poplar poles and fix them up with some wire which we had before proceeding on our journey.
Mr. Bull was born at Downsview, Ontario, near Toronto on August 2, 1860. He received his education in a rural school and worked on a farm with his father for some time. At age 22, he came West and on December 28, 1899 married Martha Healy in Winnipeg. They had two children, Herbert and Merle.
Joseph Caldwell came from England in 1880, and worked for a couple years at various jobs in Ontario and Manitoba before setting out looking for a new experience. He tells of his experience in the 1930s in letters to a niece in England. Here is one letter:
"I went west on the CPR as far as Brandon and there I must of stayed off because I remember being in a barber shop and a man called Jack Cameron had a pamphlet about York City as Yorkton was called then. He had been up there and gave me a pamphlet. He told me how to get there and that the country was fine and land good. He said to get off at Whitewood and it was a distance of 75 or 80 miles north to York City. I got on the train next day bound for Whitewood about 150 miles west of Brandon. On the train I talked to an oldish man about where he was going. He had no particular objectives but he was going to take up a homestead if he found suitable location. He had a farm about 25 miles west of Winnipeg not far from Headingly, at a place called Starbuck.
I showed him my pamphlet and he was quite interested and said if I didn't mind he would go with me to York City and see the land. The man's name was Wrixon. He said he was Captain Wrixon and had been in the Balaclava Charge in the Crimean War. He had been in India with his regiment and had been (bunged) as a great many Europeans are subject to (sunstruck) and was very eccentric to say the least. This I found out later. We started out from Whitewood on foot for the Promised land 80 miles away.
There was no settlement after you got 10 miles north of Whitewood for the remainder of the journey. Only a wagon rack when we got to the Qu'Appelle River about 16 or 18 miles north of Whitewood. There was a path cut through the bush on the south side of Qu'Appelle, the hill is about 2 miles long. The road followed a ravine through the bush that was passable to 2 wagons but very rough. We found that the York Farmers Colonization Company who were colonizing around York City had established a ferry over the river and had a man in charge named Benjamin Boak.
We stayed with him the first night and set out bright and early the next morning. There was not much of a trail — just a wagon track or two and Wrixon about noon insisted that this could not be the road and we had better return to Qu'Appelle because we had no food with us. We got back to Ben Boak's shack in the p.m. of the day. We found two young fellows also journeying to York Colony named Boak ( Ben's nephews).
We found York City consisted of one log shack, with an agent named Taylor in charge and not far off another shack in which a man named McFarline and William and Ted Hopkins had wintered in. We got some bannocks to eat. They consisted of flour and water cooked on a tin stove. The cook was McFarline. One could eat them half raw or any way at all. Hunger is a great sauce. They tasted sweet. We inquired about the land and McFarline took Wrixon and I out the next day to look some over. McFarline was not a good guide and although we saw lots of land that would suit, he couldn't find the survey posts and therefore couldn't tell which sections we were on. The even numbered sections were open for homesteading and the odd numbered belonged to the York Farmers Colonization Company. We got back to the shack fairly tired and disappointed that night, but a Mr. William Meredith undertook to show us around the next day.
He found the survey posts. After examining several sections we picked on the land I homesteaded. Half of the section was clear prairie and half had some bush on it. So when it came to choose which half we each would prefer, we tossed up and I and Meredith thought I had won the toss, but Wrixon objected and said that he had won. I said "Let him." But, Meredith objected and said I was entitled to first choice. Anyway, I let Wrixon have first choice and he picked the open prairie.The next day we borrowed two spades and an axe. I got Hopkins to draw us a red river cartload of old hay they had. Wrixon and I dug a dugout on my place where the bush was. It wasn't a pretentious dwelling but from that time I started doing homestead duties. The duties were to break up and crop 15 acres inside of 3 years and living on it for 6 months of each year.
We also had a preemption of 160 acres, the same size as the homestead. We then went back to Whitewood and Wrixon to Starbuck to get his outfit. He had sold his Starbuck farm there. I went to Brandon and got cleaned up and I met Wrixon again by arrangement at Whitewood when he came with his wife and effects consisting of 2 cows, 3 horses, wagon, stove and provisions. (He had a carload.) I lived in the shack with Wrixons until Frank (his brother) came out.
My land was Section 34, Township 26 Range 4 West of the 2nd Meridian. The survey corner posts at the corner of each section are marked with the number of section/township/range — so that it was easy to locate the land. I got my homestead duties completed and got my preemption as script for serving in the Riel Rebellion.
As we see from these stories, some settlers came on their own from Ontario or Manitoba and joined up with the York Farmers Colonization Company, after learning of the colonization company along the way.
Those two accounts of pioneers are very honest. Bull admits that for two years he and others could have harvested their beautiful crops before there was frost. He and his neighbours needed to learn to adjust to a shorter growing season. He candidly tells the interviewer that it is in the West that he made his money. They tell us their story without embellishment. Both describe their hardships, but something keeps these pioneers here anyway. Finally, there is an unwritten pride about having achieved their homestead duties and by that having been able to obtain title to their free 160 acres of land!
Terri Lefebvre Prince,
City of Yorkton Archives, City of Yorkton,
37 Third Avenue North,
Yorkton, Sask. S3N 2W3