Friday, 16 October 2015

Whose Homestead Is It Anyway?

 A trip to the Manitoba Archives in Winnipeg this past summer turned up some fascinating documents about the homestead of my great grandfather James Sinclair.  He arrived in Canada  from Orkney, Scotland in 1883, following his Uncle James Garrioch (Garrick) to Blanshard Municipality.  He had worked in Winnipeg for a time until deciding to try his hand at farming.  In 1890, James married Elizabeth Henry and made a home for her son James and their own seven children who were born between 1891 and 1900. My grandmother Mary was the eldest of their children.

Uncle James Garrick had acquired 16-14-22- in 1877 from the Dominion Land Grants and it was later purchased by the nephew James.  The Oak River passes through this section and apparently was thought only suitable for stock so he looked nearby for crop land.  James Sinclair made homestead entry on the NW1/4 of 22-14-22 on October 11, 1887.  The next June he started to break the land and got logs for the house and stable.  On June 7, 1889, he built the house and stable and started to live there.  These specific details come from a letter found at the archives from an Edward Hunter written in January of 1893.  Hunter wrote this letter to Thomas Daly, Minister of the Interior in Ottawa, because of a disagreement over the Homestead Rights to this piece of land that seems to have begun with some wayward horses late in 1892.
Thomas Mayne Daly - photo from Wikipedia
According to Hunter, Sinclair came upon some horses in his stacks in the fall of 1892 and put them in "The Pound". Some of these animals belonged to a neighbour, John Hall Stewart who had to pay $24 in damages to Sinclair.  Stewart went on to sue Sinclair for $80 damages for impounding his stock illegally and when the suit was unsuccessful, he threatened to have the Sinclair homestead cancelled.  A letter was sent on December 14,1892 by John C. Reid, James McCance, Robert C. Stewart and R. Elliott to say Sinclair's homestead entry should be cancelled since he had never lived on the land nor was there even a residence there.   It was witnessed by the local Justice of the Peace, John Hall Stewart.  John Burr was granted homestead entry in early 1893 for NW 22-14-22 for $175.00 as the value of improvements assessed to the property was $130.00 with $40 in fees.  Some men claim in their affidavits that Stewart put Burr up to taking over this property as revenge over the quarrel.
John Hall Stewart - from Blanshard History Book 1959
A letter dated January 6, 1893 was written by Secretary-Treasurer of the Municipality, William Miller to Hon. T.M. Daly that includes the following evidence:
William Miller and his wife Mary from Blanshard History book 1959
There is a monstrous piece of injustice being perpetrated here just now.  A man by name of James Sinclair living on and owning the NW16-14-22 homesteaded the NW22-14-22 in the year 1887 four years ago has built a log house 14x17 and a stable 15x17 has under cultivation 51 acres and has lived on it  every season whilst making improvement harvesting the crop each succeeding  year leaving his house on the Monday morning and remaining until Saturday night before going home...the trouble is he impounded some horses belonging to one John Hall Stewart... Now Tom, I will take it as a particular favour if you will be so good as to see into the matter and not allow this injustice to take place and there can be a number of witnesses got to prove the truth of what I have said...
The archives file about NW 22-14-22 includes several letters including from Malcolm Turriff Real Estate and Insurance Agents from Rapid City (and James' brother-in-law), Alexander Peelar who swears to have plastered the Sinclair shanty in 1889 and again in 1891 and neighbours James Cleaver and John Carey who vouch for Sinclair.
James Little - Blanshard History Book 1959

James Little, Postmaster at Oak River also wrote a letter of support:
His improvements are house 15x17 feet, stable 15x17 feet and 51 acres broke and under cultivation, and all was in crop last season only 14 acres he summerfallowed.  Mr. Sinclair has lived 4 years on the said land, he has put in six months on it every year for 4 years past, which i can certify to myself being true and correct...
and ended it saying:
 Must say that it can be Moses that thus said Justice took false oaths.
The most amazing piece found in Winnipeg was a seven page handwritten letter from James Sinclair himself and the text is transcribed below.  If it is he who wrote it, he had beautiful handwriting but hardly a punctuation mark so I've added them to make it easier to read!

Oak River
May 30, 1893
To the Honorable TM Daly.
Dear Sir, The homestead Inspector has returned back the second time and after him telling me he has enough affidavits to satisfy him the first time I have now gave him eight more that has solemnly swore I lived on and slept on the homestead while doing my homestead duties.  The Inspector when he was round here the first time told me in my own house that he never cancelled nor valued the homestead so Burr could not have entry for it and now he acknowledges that he both valued and cancelled the place through the advise of J.H. Stewart when he was first here.  I have two witnesses to prove that he said he never cancelled it and now on his return I have two more witnesses to which he says he did cancel it and he says he could not see the summer fallow when he was there in the fall he just saw the stubble which is very strange thing to the as the land is all in a block and scarcely any snow lying on the ploughed land and how he missed seeing it if he was over.  There must be some under handed work going on between the Inspector and J.H. Stewart as it was in his house that he cancelled the place for there was lots of settlers nearer hand that this Inspector could have asked just as well as going about 5 miles from my homestead to J.H. Stewart for the information as that is where he cancelled the place by what Stewart told him.  Now Stewart threatened on the homestead when I impounded his horses last fall that he would make me sorry for that as he would take that place away from me that when he signed his name J.P. it went a long way with the Government. Now the Inspector has been told by all the people for 50 (?) miles around here that Stewart word is no good and his answer to thou that tell him is that is what every bods says. When I went to Minnedosa and put in my affidavits against the cancellation the Government agent told me in Minnedosa right in his own office that I have done my duties and my place could not be cancelled that I had possession and to keep possession. Those affidavits which I am now going to send in will correspond with what Mr. Hilliard said the affidavits which the Inspector says he could not get one of them first time he was here against me.  That was J.J. Elliott, Frank Stevens, W. Allen and the Inspector told me here on Saturday that he crossed out F. Stevens affidavit as he found out he was a noted liar.  Now J.J. Elliott got the straw off 50 acres of crop from me and because I refused to give him any more he turned round and swore against me him and I have not been good friends for several years he one time time sued me for a dollar and then his cattle got in my grain and I made him pay for it and he always keeps spite at me ever since and the affidavits that is going in will show W. Allen's cause.  Mr. C. Reid's cause for swearing against me is that I impounded his horses along with Stewart's and he wanted me to give the money back to him that I got from the pound keeper which I refused to do as his colts did as much damage as Stewart's according to the amount that he had.  As for Burr and his family they know nothing about the place for they are only about a year in the country.  This cancellation has put me to a great deal of expense and loss by hunting up witnesses and having to rent land off McFerguson at three dollars and acre with all my land lying idle now.

I can find plenty more affidavits which I could send but they are so far away men that had been working for me.  Now I will have to draw this to a close hoping you will give this a favourable consideration and grant me my land if it is your pleasure.
Yours truly,
J. Sinclair 
A final verdict is included in the file dated July 1893 to indicate Sinclair's claim was reinstated and his Homestead was again his own.
...in the opinion of the Commissioner, the weight of the evidence lately obtained by Homestead Inspector de Balinhard, as well as previously on file, tends to show that Sinclair's entry was cancelled without sufficient cause and it is quite clear he should be reinstated.  
The paperwork was underway to have James Sinclair granted the Certificate of Recommendation for his Homestead by November of 1893 and it was farmed by descendants for the next 116 years.  Now the only thing this story needs is a great ending and it has just that.  A great grandson of James Sinclair sold NW 22-14-22 to desendants John Hall Stewart in 2009.  How's that for a twist of irony?

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