The Prairie Settlers

My Family: Some Of The Prairie Settlers

 Some Family Pictures

When the last spike was driven at Craigellachie, British Columbia on November 7, 1885 it opened up the whole of Canada to settlement. Hundreds of thousands of settlers headed for the prairie West so recently claimed from the Native nations. Immigrants from eastern Canada, the United States, Britain and Europe began to stream into the Canadian plains, drawn by advertisements which called the region "the last best west" - the last part of North America that was not yet crowded with farms and towns.(1)

Henry (Harry) Amos Nott was born at 5 Silver Place, Westminster, Middlesex, England on September 23, 1883, within the sound of Bow Bells and was, he always said with pride, a true Cockney. In the 1902, he came to Canada, leaving behind his childhood sweetheart Nellie Elizabeth Cooper born September 28, 1881 in Needham Market, Suffolk.

In late 1906 or early 1907, Harry sent for Nellie to come to Canada.  She arrived by ship and train to the border crossing town of Snowflake, Manitoba, where they were married June 22, 1907.  They went back to live on the lonely homestead near Expanse, south of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

Nellie & Harry had six children. Four survived, the first, my mother, Amy Dorothy Nott - April 23, 1911, Freeman Russell Nott - February 14, 1916, Rosalie Caroline Nott - December 10, 1917 and Joyce Alice Nott -  November 21, 1921.  The first three were all born at Section 34-Township 11-Range 29-West of the 2nd Meridian known as Expanse, Saskatchewan and the last was born in Moose Jaw.

The family lived on the farm in Expanse until 1920. There were good years and there were bad years for that is the way of life when everything depends upon nature and her infinite moods. Harry grew wheat and flax and built up a fine line of Clydesdales and then came four bad years in succession - they were snowed out, frozen out, hailed out and grasshoppered out. Nellie sold her precious violin to buy seed but it was too late and too little.

One day Harry and his family simply walked off their land taking nothing with them.  They went to live in Moose Jaw, with Nellie's sister Hilda until 1924, when they moved to Victoria.  Hilda had emigrated to Saskatchewan after WW1 and married Jack Tyrell.

The house was still there in the 1970's, when Amy, my mother took a picture of it.


The Tough Prairie Settler

The settler was promised from the Federal Government, through the Homestead Act, for a fee of ten dollars, 160 acres of land for his homestead, provided he resided on it for three years, cultivated 30 acres of wild prairie, and built a house worth at least three hundred dollars. He was also allowed and indeed encouraged to pre-empt an adjoining 160 acres to be paid for within three years at four dollar an acre. To find your homestead you had to find a survey post, such as XXXIV, XI, XXIX, determine which corner you were on and pace of 880 yards, E, W, N, or S.(2)

The stimulus to assembling quarter-sections on a north-south axis appears to have been supplied by the great Torrens survey of 1884. In Saskatchewan and Alberta after incorporation in 1905, this survey laid out the laid in "sections" one mile square, each containing 640 acres. East and west of each section the survey laid out a "road allowance" one chain wide, which of course ran north and south. These north-south roads were linked every two miles, along the northern boundary of every second section, by an east-west road allowance, thus creating an oblong block running north and south, twice as long as wide. When filing on land, farmers generally followed this pattern, choosing for pre-emption the quarter-section adjoining the homestead for obvious reasons of convenience and selecting where possible a quarter-section to the north of south, thus duplicating the pattern set by the Torrens survey and taking advantage of the bordering road allowance. (In Manitoba, the east-west road allowances were run every mile instead of every two miles, thereby creating a square pattern which is clearly visible from the air, and recognizable as a signature when the provincial boundary has been crossed.)(2)

The homesteader's "busted sod", ploughing under the tough cover of prairie grasses. In summer they had to endure 95F degree heat, and they worried about drought and dire. For safety from fast-moving grassfires, they had to plough a cleared circle around the homestead. In winter they put up with -40F degree cold and wild blizzards. In a generation, the homesteaders turned the unbroken prairie grasslands into a sea of bright golden wheat fields that swayed like ocean waves in the prairie wind. Sod houses could be built quickly and cheaply. The were often the first homes for newly arrived Prairie settlers.(1)

A well as essential. No house should be built until nearby water was assured. The homesteader had to dig his well with a crowbar and a spade. Where to put the well? Find buffalo-willow, water-weed, badger holes and ant-hill's for success. Using a crowbar and spade alternately(no post hole diggers around), remove the turf from a circle six feet in diameter. This is a generous width, but once the hole is six feet deep, you have to have enough room to throw the dirt up to the surface. For each foot you sink the well, you have to remove 28.26 cubic feet of earth and you could not expect to strike water short of twelve feet down in tough glacial til. After excavation, you have to build a crib and a wellhead, so the sides will not cave in and to keep animals and humans out.(2)

Now for the house. Build the house where you will not be ploughing, on a slight rise, in a dry and well drained area, so your cellar will not be damp. The house was built of 2 x 4"s, covered with shiplap and tar paper with roof built of the same over rafters with a tin chimney pot and flashings on the roof, 1 door and a couple of windows that could be taken out in the summer time for fresh air. Most shacks were 10' x 12'.(2)

The cellar would be about 7 feet deep(12' x 24'), 2,000 cubic feet of glacial til was moved by hand. You had to dig it in dry season, before the rains, or the walls would collapse. There was a trapdoor in the floor with a ladder to get into the root cellar.(2)

There is never enough time on the prairie. Ploughing cannot start until the frost is out of the ground. Once the land is ploughed, seed must be thrown in as fast as possible at what the farmer guesses or sense is the optimum soil condition. Planted too early the seedlings can be damaged by late frost. Planted too late they risk frost damage before the grain has matured in August. In between seeding and binding, hay must be cut, cured and stored against winter, summer-fallow must be worked, granaried and bins built, harness and machinery repaired, seed cleaned for next year, fences built and repaired, and all the thousand and six daily chores performed - cows milked, stables cleaned out, eggs collected, chickens feathered, peas picked and shelled, gardens weeded, leaks in the roof mended, wells cleaned out, potatoes dug and stored, hogs butchered, sausage ground, bacon cured, horses shod, shares sharpened, cream skimmed and churned, outhouse moved to a new pit and the last season's Eaton's mail-order catalog hung on the wall.(2)

(1) The Story of Canada - by Janet Lunn & Christopher Moore

(2) Homesteader: A Prairie Boyhood Recalled - by James M. Minifie


Days of Discovery

 The Kids At Play On Discovery Island

Part of the article written by Margaret Williams, through Rosalie Nott, in the Daily Colonist "Islander" of Sunday, April 6, 1975.

Harry brought his family to Vancouver Island and eventually to Discovery Island (off Victoria) and here the Nott children spent the happiest four years of their lives.

Harry worked for Captain Beaumont as engineer on his small boat. Beaumont loved to explore the adjacent islands and many times the Nott children went along on these trips. They lived in a small house behind the Captain's house and they raised chickens and rabbits and enjoyed a wild, free life.

Their mother taught them, through correspondence courses, so their schooling was not neglected. Mrs. Beaumont, on their trips over to Victoria, taught the girls to "sew a fine seam" and she was very strict about this. It all had to be unpicked if it was not to her satisfaction. Sometimes, up in the Captain's den, they were instructed in naval flag signals and other such things pertaining to the sea.

On the western end of the island was a long sandy beach and here was the Songhees Indian village whose chief, a very fine man, was called Ned Williams. The children were great friends with these Indians and when they went away to the mainland for berry picking they asked the children to feed their dogs and childrens.

When the Songhees held a potlatch all the children were fascinated observers, from amongst the trees and bushes. They watched the visitors arriving in their canoes and next day the Chief treated them to delicious wild onions from San Juan which were cooked in a pit on the sandy beach.

A fascinating facet of their lives was their close association with the smugglers or rum runners of that period. This was in the early 1920's, the time of prohibition in the United States and a lot of liquor was passing from Canada to the Washington coast by boat and seaplane.

Discovery Island was one of their hideouts. They cached their liquor in a small cove on the northeast corner of the island and in various hideouts in the woods, all of them known to the children, young as they were, never thought of informing on them, even when questioned by the revenue men who hung about the islands. They were their very good friends, many of them young Americans.

The rum running days were a colorful but brief epoch in Victoria's history which ended with the tragedy of hijacking and the conviction of two - Cannonball Baker and Harry Sowash. A famous trial took place in the court house in Bastion Square and the men were hanged in 1926.

In 1927 the family left Discovery Island to live on a farm in the Colquitz district and the children attended the Strawberry Vale school. Harry went to Koprino on Quatsino Sound to work as engineer in a fish cannery.

During the war Harry worked in the dockyard and until his death in 1949. He died a young man and Nellie followed him in 1955. Amy married Ray Jones, Freeman married Marjery Kerslake, Rosalie married Kirby Gent and Joyce married Gordon Ponsford.

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