Friday, 15 August 2014

Week 33 - Samuel Robert Henry

Samuel Robert Henry (1907 - 2004)

This week marked the 107th anniversary of the birth of Samuel Robert Henry in Blanshard, Manitoba.  It was also the week in 2014 of a ceremony in honour of him and his wife, my Aunt Dodie, and their donation of land to the MWF Habitat Foundation Inc.  Three generations of Henry's owned  NW 22-13-21 W1 and have passed it on to an agency who will see to it that the land returns to its prairie beginnings and will forever be a spot for wildlife of all kinds.

Sam's grandfather, John Henry, was born in Kirkgunzeon in Scotland in 1828. He studied law and married Jennet (aka Janet) Cook who was born in 1834. John developed a chest condition and his doctor advised him to go to one of the colonies.  They travelled to Perth County, Ontario where he farmed near Mitchell and Cromarty in the mid 1800’s. John and Jennet had a family of eight sons and three daughters and in order to give his sons the opportunity to have land of their own, they decided to head west.

In 1878 at the age of 50, John went with Lawrence Short and his family of six by rail through to Chicago and then by boat on the Red River to Winnipeg. From there, the two men walked to the district west of the present day Rapid City - at that time, it was known as Shanks's Settlement, Northwest Territories.   He took out a homestead entry on 6 quarters, one for him and each of his 5 oldest sons . The next year in the spring of 1879, the Henry family came on the newly completed railway to Winnipeg and then an "ox train" to their claim.  In 1881 John and Jennet welcomed the widow of John’s brother William,the former Mary Tait, and her 11 children who had also been living in Perth County.  John died at the age 60 on September 13, 1888.   Jennet died in 1905 and they are buried at Rapid City Cemetery.

John and Jennet’s 10th child, Samuel, who was born August 9, 1872 in Ontario and came west with his parents at age 7 took over the home farm. He married the former Amelia "Millie" Ollett, a Welsh immigrant,  in 1903 and had a daughter and three sons. Samuel was a successful farmer and also lived for a short time in Winnipeg as well as in Rivers where he built and operated a livery stable. Samuel and his brother Alex operated a steam threshing outfit for many years from 1880 on, threshing stacks from October until February in surrounding districts. The Avery thresher that they purchased in 1927 is on display at the east entrance to the village of Oak River, Manitoba today. He continued to operate the farm until he died in 1947 and Millie died ten years later.Their farm home pictured below was said to have been built in 1898 or 99.


Samuel Robert "Uncle Sam" was the middle son born in 1907 and spent his life on the farm. He had an older sister, Jessie who married Bill Sinclair. His older brother Bill and younger brother Jim worked on the farm until they married and struck out on their own. After a long courtship, Sam married Doris Simms in 1950 and they farmed and lived in the original house.
Donald Simms, Sam and Doris in about 1943
 I spent a lot of time there and although they had no children of their own, Uncle Sam loved kids. He and Dodie would keep my sisters and I when our parents would go to Dine & Dances and would host us for a summer holiday every year. I specifically remember being there when my younger sister was born in 1969. Sam was always a retired farmer from as long as I can remember, but he always kept busy making things, fixing things, looking at the wildlife, and whistling. I can still hear his whistle when he came up from the garden into the back kitchen with whatever he had dug up from the garden. Special friends George and Sally Cotter shared his love of wildlife and George was eager to take pictures and video of everything that Sam found.  Sam was famous for his shooting accuracy, ironically remarkable since he lost the sight of one eye, in an accident with a gun when  he was young.  He had a glass eye after that,and kept several spare ones in the safe in the dining room recalled his nieces!

When the cousins got together at Sam and Dodie's we played auntie-I-over at the pump house by the windmill. Raiding the berries in the garden and playing with Mrs. Beasley the cat and Scottie the dog are other memories.  Fiddle playing will forever make me think of Uncle Sam.  He would often play a tune in the evenings and we were so glad when he played for us on his 90th birthday party in 1997. A video of that moment in time is below:

The dedication ceremony was held on a beautiful sunny day where a cairn had been built at the end of their lane to honor the donation of their land.  Family, Habitat board members and representatives of various levels of government spoke about the past, present and future of these 2 quarters of land.  I could almost see Uncle Sam and Aunt Dodie smiling and nodding in approval.

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