Friday, 13 November 2020

Perhaps Not Unprecedented Times

Unprecedented times seems to be a phrase used often in the media and general conversations these days.  Covid-19 has been top of our minds for many months and will be a memory we will have for the rest of our days when it is over.  Historians and genealogists have a tendency to look back to help us make sense of the present and this post is the result of that reflection. 


My great uncle, Alexander Sinclair, died a few days short of his 21st birthday in May of 1920 near Oak River, Manitoba. Born June 1, 1899, Alexander was the second youngest of a family of six children of pioneer farmers James and Elizabeth (Henry) Sinclair. Educated at Bankburn School, Alex farmed 16-14-22W1 with his family until his young death. The Oak River Post newspaper clipping indicates he was stricken with influenza earlier in March and was unable to recover.  His family remembered him with a large stone at nearby White Bank Lea Cemetery. As deeply as the Sinclair family must have been grieving their son, they were not alone.  

Four of Alex's cousins, children of his mother's brother, William Henry, died a few miles away from the epidemic of influenza earlier that same year in March of 1920. This would have been the same time that Alexander got sick. Their obituary notice below was found online from the Oak River Post.

To lose four children in two days has just been the exceptionally sad
lot of Mr. and Mrs. William HENRY, the cause of death in each case being
pneumonia following influenza. George T., aged 18 years and 11 months,
and Della aged 14 years and 5 months, died less than an hour apart on
Friday morning, and Wilfred James, aged sixteen, and Edith aged eleven,
passed away early Sunday morning. The deceased were all of a robust
constitution and particularly well developed for their age, but in spite
of this and all that medical science could do for them, the disease was
of such a malignant type that they could not withstand its ravages.
The four children were buried in White Bank Lea cemetery, the former
two on Saturday forenoon and the latter two on Sunday evening, Rev. Wm.
FERGUSON officiating.
Four pleasant faces will be greatly missed from the life of our
community, and our tenderest sympathies are extended to the fond parents
in their grief.

A photo of the Henry children's weathered grave marker at White Bank Lea is below. Over 100 years has passed but the story of the short lives of these children remains carved in the stone. Their small community had already experienced such sadness, unfortunately.   

Three young children of Thomas and Lizzie Wilson died the year before in 1919.  These children's grandmother (Ellen Wilson) and Alex's grandmother (Mary Henry) were sisters and they all lived within a few miles of each other, northeast of Oak River.  Robert Melvin was first to succumb on February 1, 1919.  He was only 9 years old.  His 3 year old sister Irma died the next day and on February 8, young Doris who was almost 2, was the third. They are buried in White Bank Lea around a single square stone with their names and birth and death dates on three sides.  

These stories are not shared to make anyone feel their worries of today are not justified.  Times have changed but emotion has not.   The eight children's stories continue to be told and remembered. The Wilson, Henry and Sinclair families carried on despite the tragedy and better days were ahead.  Keeping their own household in quarantine was the only was to stop the virus while waiting for medical advances and they did. We will too.  Stay safe at home, friends.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Memories of Oak River Memorial Rink

Following up on the previous post on my 52 Ancestors Blog about the school I attended, this one is about the rink where I spent many hours as a child learning to skate and socializing with the Oak River, Manitoba community.  My school classes skated and curled and the building was well used during the annual summer fair and other events.  The sources for my writing today are the local Blanshard history books as well as the little blue-covered booklet pictured written by Harold Griffiths (1903-2009).  Thanks to his great-nephew Garry Bridgeman and his wife Grace for sending it to me along with clippings about the rebuilding.  They knew how much I would enjoy them and put them to good use!

Discussions to build a new rink began in 1948 when a group of local people raffled off a car and were able to raise $6000, according to Mr. Griffiths' book.  There was an airplane hangar being sold from the former RCAF station at Neepawa for that exact amount and plans began.

The first men’s curling club in Oak River was organized in 1900. They used a temporary rink until 1914 when a building was built to be the curling rink in the winter and the agricultural exhibition building in the summer. It was built north of present #24 highway on the agricultural grounds where it has always been since. Outdoor hockey facilities were used for both men’s and ladies' clubs forming just after the turn of the century. According to 1984 Blanshard history book, the 1914 building had a waiting room and 3 sheets of curling ice encircled by a 14 foot wide sheet of skating ice.

Demand for more modern facilities after WW2 led to construction starting in 1948 with disassembly of the hangar and transporting all the bits and pieces to Oak River.  Doors, windows, roofing, siding, lights, switches, gyproc and wires made their way over the 54 miles in 14 days with volunteer trucks and labour.  Art Glinz is credited with keeping all the materials organized and storing them in the old school which he had purchased as well as in Tom Paxton's barn.  Mr. Griffiths describes the dangerous job of lowering and moving the huge beams that would be the ribs of the facility. An engineer was hired for a while but there was a lack of funds to keep him on.  Volunteers worked away at the process over the next 3 winters.

The Oak River Memorial Rink opened January 10, 1953 and it was built at an estimated cost of $30,000. The skating ice was 72 x 178. With a wooden dance floor over the ice surface, it held 500 people with standing room for 500 more. The dance gardens in Oak River were famous and many people I have met over the years would associate my hometown with dances. Famous entertainers like Don Messer, Mart Kenny, Tommy Hunter and Frankie Yankovic stopped in Oak River in the 50’s. I have been told that Fred Glinz was the organizer of these dances for years and other performers included Marty Robbins, The Trashmen, Bobby Curtola and Bill and Sue-On Hillman.  At one time the dance floor featured a rainbow mural as well as stars suspended overhead. The 4 sheets of curling ice were converted to artificial in 1967 for a cost of $14,000. The waiting room in the main rink seated 200 people.

If you were ever there, take a walk with me through the main doors, past the ticket booth and you see the back of rows of dark red velvet theatre chairs facing out on the skating ice. Dressing rooms with mint green painted doors and cupboards are to your left and down the hall to your right was an office and washrooms leading to the waiting room. The lunch counter stood on your right and the curling ice viewing area to your left. One memory I have is of curtains around the snake pit during bonspiel time, to keep young eyes out of the liquor being served I suppose! The "snake pit" also was in the basement and you brought your own bottle too at one time! The snap of brooms on the ice and boom of contacting rocks were sounds heard while sitting on the wooden two layer benches covered with carpet.  The trophy cases must have been on the east wall but I don't really recall.  I do remember the record player in the waiting room that needed to be restarted to keep music going to the skating ice between games of crack the whip and pom pom pull away!  Mr. Glinz with his hands behind his back in his muskrat coat and hat with long bladed skates created his own breeze when he glided past.  The hockey scoreboard was a sought after job especially during the Tournament of Champions weekend.  After going up a ladder to the box, flood light bulbs were moved along a series of holes in a board to indicate the score.  Cleaning the ice with push scrapers before the age of zambonis kept the kids active during inermissions.

In 1977, renovations to the waiting room and new lunch counter cupboards were made. Four dressing rooms were in the basement. Due to declining numbers in 1984, one sheet of curling ice was no longer used. It became a pretty intriguing skill to make use of the hump of ice (perhaps caused by the roof leaking) on the right side of the sheet #4 to bank your shot off!

Disaster struck on November 14, 1987 when a fire started by arson destroyed the rink.

 Ever the strong community, eight days later the people packed a meeting chaired by Jim Forsyth in the school gym. Committees were struck, a contractor was hired and preparations for a new building began.

The new rink opened November 5, 1988.  I'd be pleased to hear your memories at 
Thanks to Alvina, Lyn, Louise, and Nicki for sharing your memories that I've added to the post.  

Friday, 18 October 2019

Memories of Oak River School

It is hard to imagine just how many students and staff have passed through the doors of the five school buildings in Oak River over the years and went on to recall fond memories of their times there.  I hope today's blog post does just that for my readers.  The Manitoba Historical Society webpage about the schools here was a valuable help in  my research as were the RM of Blanshard History books.
In 1891, a building being used as a school was moved one mile south from SW 4-14-22  into the growing town.  A two-story four-classroom brick veneer structure designed by Brandon architect W. A. Elliott was later built at a cost of about $12,000. This building opened in the spring of 1907 but was destroyed a few short months later by fire on October 21,1908 apparently while classes were in session. A replacement school was constructed during the summer of 1909 and opened later that year.

In May 1917, Oak River School was consolidated with three rural schools, Bankburn School No. 1098, Maplewood School No. 662, and Wheatland School No. 304, to form the Oak River Consolidated School District No. 253.  Students were transported from the outlying areas to town in horse drawn and later motorized vans including one driven by my grandmother Mary Simms and her son Bob. The school van picture to the right is from the collection of Gwen (Simms) Milliken from her days teaching at Oakleigh School

The fourth Oak River School was built in 1929.  My Dad and his twin sister Dorothy are marked in the photo below on the front step about 10 years later.  (The former teacher in me notices the three little trustworthy boys with the triangles sitting cross legged in front and the wary teacher's eye on the boys in the back to behave during the picture taking!)

This building served the community and surrounding area for many years. In 1959 Grades 9 - 12 became part of Ward 2 of the Rolling River School Division #39 following a province wide recommendation for larger governing bodies.  Within a few years, all grades were brought under division responsibility as well.   In 1959, classrooms were built in the Oak River School basement and a separate collegiate was built just north of it in 1961 to accommodate the increasing enrollment.  In 1968, it was decided the Grade 10 - 12 students would be bussed to Rivers Collegiate. Community members established a private Kindergarten in 1961 and in 1968 it was taken over by the Rolling River School division.

This school (pictured at the top of this post) originally had four classrooms, with two more added on the north end in 1945. I remember the 5 classrooms (south two with cloakrooms), music room and staff room in the middle. The basement had 2 sides for boys and girls washrooms as well as a Science room and was used for indoor recess and a gym.  This building closed in 1977 when the all students were then taught in the Junior High School building and two "huts". 
Oak River School Grade 3 class 1972 (Yours truly in her red, blue and white hotpants second from the left)

My Mom, Margaret (Kinnaird) Simms taught the Grade 3-4 class at this school for 4 years beginning in 1956. Her friend Joyce first got a position there and Mom went to practice teach after her time in teacher training at Brandon College.  As it turned out, she met my Dad in Oak River and continues to live there - 63 years later!

The 1961 collegiate building is still presently home to Oak River School and also accommodates a daycare center called Villages United. I was pleased to see on the school website that the "chicken hawk" mascot lives on that was designed by my classmate Charlie Shingoose in the late 1970's.  Look - I still have the t shirt from the school uniform! More importantly, I could find it...

Enjoy some time with your memories today! 

Friday, 20 September 2019

Haddie Anyone?

Sometimes a random conversation that makes me curious about something is all it takes for a day of internet research.  The retired life suits me! A recent conversation with friends over supper while celebrating Dad's 87th birthday got me thinking all the way home so here I go!

Doyle was reminiscing about Peter Rae, the man who sold him his farm and was introduced to my readers in this previous blog post.  Pete's generosity to a young farmer starting out was fondly recalled but also his less than stellar cooking.  While helping to stook his oat crop in the 50's, Peter served Doyle a meal of cold Chicken Haddie, unbuttered bread and a glass of water. Others  listening to the story remembered the canned meat but were unsure what it was and hadn't seen it for years. A quick Google search found it is a boneless mixture of white fish including cod, hake and pollock.  I suppose the whiteness of the meat is where "chicken" comes from. A website carries a version here  that they claim is perfect for seafood chowders and fish cakes.  This blog includes a recipe from a 1938 New Brunswick newspaper for fish cakes made with canned Chicken Haddie. 

Talking about that reminded Dad of something called "Finnan Haddie" and that brought about another search.  A previous conversation with my husband Randy and his brothers came back to me about this food from their childhood, cooked by their Dad and Uncle Frank. It is described as cold-smoked haddock and what makes it unique is the way it was smoked with green wood and peat. The first part of the name comes from the Scottish town of Findon in north-east Scotland and haddie is of course the slang word for haddock. In the 1800's in Findon, fishwives hung lightly salted haddock in their chimneys to be smoked gently over peat fires. Both of my dad's material grandparents, James Sinclair and Elizabeth Henry, were Scottish immigrants where fish was a staple of their diets.  

As a landlocked descendant raised on beef with chicken on Sundays, I can't say either of the Haddies sound very appealing to me. Susan Branch, a food blogger, does a wonderful job in this post of almost convincing me to try it.  Almost.   

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Flashback to My Ancestors in 1926

Census taker visits a Romani family living in a caravan, Netherlands 1925 from Wikipedia
Almost 93 years ago on June 1,1926,  a high of 12 degrees Celsius was recorded at Brandon but four days later a temperature of 25 degrees would have had my Manitoba ancestors working and playing in their shirt sleeves! Farmers all, they may have been annoyed at having to stop their daily activities to answer the questions of the visiting enumerator for the census but I am glad they complied!  Liberal William Lyon Mackenzie King was holding onto a minority federal government for just another month and Manitoba was led by premier John Bracken of the Progressive party. Hopes were high for another  large wheat harvest across the prairies and seeding would have been in full swing.

Back to present time - 2019 - my Twitter feed let me know that the database of the 1926 census of the 3 prairie provinces had just been released. Although the census was available earlier, there was no way to search for a particular name but you had to look page by page. Since 1871, a Canada-wide census has been held every 10 years. However, the population of the Prairie provinces was rapidly expanding, so there was a need for more frequent population counts in those provinces. It was decided to conduct a census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta in June 1906 (in between the Canada-wide censuses), and every 10 years thereafter. The Statistics Act states that census returns will be transferred from Statistics Canada to Library and Archives Canada 92 years after a census has been taken so here we are.  The 1926 census database was created in partnership with FamilySearch where volunteer genealogists indexed the records to make them searchable.

Grandma Frances Milne is listed as 20 years old with her parents Alexander and Jean on 14-11-27 in the RM of Wallace with 3 of her brothers Alexander, Jim and Charlie and her sister Nan. The last 3 were noted as students.  The Milne’s are identified as Scottish with Alex immigrating in 1905 and Jean the next year.

Grandpa Frank Kinnaird would be married to Frances the next year but and in 1926  he is found as a 30 year old single man on the page before the Milnes. He lived at 1-11-27 in the RM of Wallace with his employee 48 year old Dave McMannus. A piece of information that I found interesting was that this census says both of Frank’s parents were born in Ireland when I believed they were born in Ontario. The census taker has indicated his racial origin is Irish. Hmmmm

Frank and Frances Kinnaird about 1927
Grandma and Grandpa Simms- Alexander and Mary Tait - are married and living on 15-14-22 with three of their children listed this way: Robt Alex (9), Doris Ellen (5) and Gwenny Elizth (2). Only a very few others on the page have middle names recorded by this enumerator (P.W. Thompson) so it makes me think it was Alex or Mary that gave the names that way. The surname is written "Sims" so evidently he was just writing what he heard.  The family was living in a small house built after the fire that destroyed their home on New Years Eve 1923. No doubt as they told Mr. Thompson the names of their children, they were thinking of Glenn James who had died at the age of two years old less than a year before.
Construction began on the Simms home a few months after the 1926 census was taken. 
 As seemed to be quite common in the area. Simms's have a labourer living with them of Polish origin named Joseph Bialas -19 years old and born in Manitoba. Neighbours on section 28, the Morcoms had a domestic living in their home, 17 year old Mary Bialas, perhaps the two were siblings or even a young married couple.
Above and left - Sinclair house and barn in the 1920's.

Mary Tait Simms's parents live on the next section #16, James and Elizabeth Sinclair with daughters Ellen (30) and Elizabeth(28) and son William(25). The year of immigration for James confirms he was an early prairie homesteader coming in 1883 from the Orkneys. His wife Elizabeth Henry was in Ontario much earlier, 1859 from Kirkcudbrightshire in Scotland.

Irving Shadford who identifies as Irish and William Vanderbosh of Dutch origin are labourers in their twenties living at the Sinclair farm in June of 1926.  

I hope I have interested you enough to go back and peek in the windows of your ancestors' lives.  They are just a mouse click away!