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BIOGRAPHY: RODDICK, Aaron Monroe - Jul 12, 2007 - Westlock

Contributed for use in Alberta Digital Archives by Paul M Roddick




     History would be a wonderful thing, if only it were true.

                                                                Leo Tolstoy

  - and the same could  be said, of  biography.

                                                                   Paul Roddick



     Coming of Age in Alberta is the tale of a boy  becoming a man ? growing up in a province not yet out of its teens,

     and a country still flying another country?s flag, Although I did not arrive in Alberta until 1927, my father had

     been there before me.

     In 1906, Aaron Monroe Roddick, recently graduated from Queen?s University in Kingston, traveled west to secure an

     Alberta teaching certificate, and find a homestead. On the face of it, his degree in English literature from Queen?s

     University was not the most appropriate qualification for such an undertaking. And there was another problem, perhaps

     even more significant. In his early teens, he had lost the lower part of his right arm, in an accident in his father?s

     sawmill. You may question how a one-armed man could possibly cope with the challenges confronting a homesteader in the

     wilds of northern Alberta? If such a question occurred to my father there is little evidence that he ever gave it a

     second thought

     When he arrived in Edmonton in the spring of 1906, Aaron Roddick joined thousands of migrants, from eastern Canada

     and Europe who, in the two decades before World War I, settled the land that lie between the Great Lakes and the

     Canadian Rockies. He was just one of hundreds of land-hungry newcomers, charts in hand, searching out the surveyors?

     stakes in Alberta?s prairies, parkland and boreal forests ? looking for a homestead.

     For readers unfamiliar with Western vernacular, a homestead was a rectangular plot of land, 160 rods on each of its

     four sides, ? totaling 160 acres. A man could call it his own only when it had been filed on, proved up, and its

     title registered in his name at the provincial land-titles office.

     During the period in which this book was written, Aaron Roddick?s youngest daughter, Betty, discovered a notebook

     left by her father, recounting his original journey to Edmonton in 1906, and his three-day exploration of the

     community, to which he later gave the Gaelic name Pibroch, The writing was not easy to decipher, since he wrote not

     only on the lines but, turning the notebook sideways, across the material already set down.  He called his

     composition Pioneering in Pibroch. The not-easily-read script ? written in 1964 in his 84th year ? was deciphered and

     transcribed into print by his granddaughter, Ellis Roddick, who was born and raised in Pibroch. My father?s ?journal?

     provides a useful introduction to my own story; but it also reflects his unflagging resilience and abiding good-humor,

     in good times and bad, throughout his long and rewarding life. 

     In a sense, Aaron Roddick?s account of his search for a homestead explains, at least in part, ?how the West was

     won? ? how Canada became the country we know today. Speaking to Albertans in 1905, on the occasion of Alberta entering

     Confederation, Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier said: ?We do not anticipate, and we do not want, that individuals

     should forget the land of their origin or their ancestors. Let them look to the land of their ancestors, but let them

     also look to the land of their children. Let them become Canadians.? Although Sir Wilfred did not file on an Alberta

     homestead, his observations reflect a perceptive awareness of that the motley collection of land-seekers to which my

     father belonged, a generation that, in the twentieth century, defined a province called Alberta, and a country called


     My own tale of coming of age in Alberta, mirrors the experience another generation of Albertans, a generation of

     young men and women who grew up on farms, and in villages and small towns during the ?30s ? a generation whose

     childhood was defined by the depression, by scarcity, and ultimately by war.  Many of the young men of this

     generation went to war, never to return. Others came back to their home province, and some (like the author of this

     book) put down their roots in other parts of Canada. But wherever we are, and however old we may be, when the Oilers

     or the Eskimos reach the finals ? for a night or two we are all Albertans.

     A century on, (from my father?s homesteading days), Alberta has a different story to tell. As it enters a new

     century, it is not defined by homesteads or depression, but by oil and affluence. Once again, - for Canadians and

     immigrants too ? the cry is heard across the land ?Go West, young man, go West.?

     A final, and necessary, reminder to myself and to my readers. In biography ? as in history and theology ? the line

     between fiction and fact is never easy to draw. No doubt a few of my recollections will not always jibe with the

     recollections of others who shared that world with me. If so I can only plead that ? perhaps some of what I was told

     may have been ?lost in translation?. Their truths and their fairy tales, like mine, resemble a patchwork quilt

     assembled from bits and pieces of old cloth. Whether we are fabricating quilts or biography, since the originals

     materials are long gone, we are neither able nor obliged to make our creation conform to a predetermined, authentic

     design.  Or, as Julian Bell expressed it, reviewing books on British Art ? ?the reader is continually and hilariously

     brought up against the sure truth that the real truth will never be available.?




     I wrote Coming of Age in Alberta more than ten years ago, as a family history. In writing a biography of this kind,

     there is a constant cross-over between my own experiences and the recollections of others.  To distinguish between

     the actual world which I witnessed, and the endless stories of Roddick roots, to which I have been exposed all my

     life, I have relegated most of the tangled tale of who the Roddicks were and where they came from to a second part.

     However, to assist the reader in navigating this journey through time and family relationships, I include (below) a

     very brief outline of Dad?s two families ? the one he grew up in and the one where he was the father and  provider.

     I have also included a chart showing identifying the members of Mother?s family, the Dougals. 

     My grandfather, James, came to Canada from Scotland, as a small child, first in 1839. It seems likely that most of

     the Roddick clan who came to Canada in the 18th century, trace their origins to Dumfrieshire on the Solway

     Firth ? at the western end of the border separating Scotland and England. And, as my story reveals, Grandfather

     James, too, filed on a homestead in Alberta ? when he was 73 ? migrating from Lyndhurst to Pibroch after his wife

     died, in 1909.

     For more than a decade, this skilled wood craftsman and former saw-mill operator from Lyndhurst (near Kingston)

     shared the homesteader?s life with his sons John and Aaron, their wives Mercy and Annie May, and his daughter Jean.

     James Roddick died at Brockville, Ontario, in 1923. 


                                                                                                  April 2007






    Roddicks and Dougals: Three Generations


      James Alexander Roddick <>  Mary (Nettleton) Roddick

      (1837- 1923)                (1840 ? (1909)

      Frances (b 1866); John (1867);  James (b 1870;  George (B 1872)Jean (b 1874); Louella (b 1876); Mary (B 1879);

      Aaron (b 1880); Charles* (b 1883)


      Lewis Alfred Dougal <> Martha Dillon

      (1864-1951)            ( 1867-1941)

      Lorena (b 1887); Eliza Jane & Annie May (b 1888); Lewis Herbert (b 1891); Maryett (b 1895);  Benjamin (b 1898);

      Alfred Eugene (b 1902);  Parker (B 1904); Winona (b 1910)


      Aaron Monroe Roddick  <>  Annie May Dougall

      Dougall (b 1910); Lura (b 1912); John (B 1916);  Jean (b 1917); Lyman (b 1920); Paul (b 1922); Betty (b 1924)





                                   PIONEERING IN PIBROCH

     (Taken from a manuscript written in 1964 by Aaron Monroe Roddick, age 84.)

     I graduated with a degree of B.A. from Queen's in the spring of 1906. My health was very poor. Though swollen glands

     on the right side of my neck should have warned me to consult a doctor, I did not do so. I was very much underweight,

     and had a poor appetite. I thought if I could only get out west to a different climate, my condition would soon

     improve. And in the second week in May, I bought myself a second class ticket for Edmonton, Alta. I chose Edmonton

     because an older brother was working there. He was an employee of the Oscar Brown Fruit and Produce company. The job

     I hoped to get had nothing to do with wholesale fruit. I expected to teach. To save on my ticket, I traveled second

     class - a sort of immigrant special ? equipped with un-cushioned slat seats, which could be laid down flat for

     sleeping. I don't need to say how hard and uncomfortable they were, especially for one as thin and weak as I was.

     The trip occupied about four days and nights during which I lived almost altogether on a lunch my mother and sister

     had put up for me. At night I lay on those slats with only a single blanket and one small pillow to soften my

     hardwood couch.

     The nights seemed unending. Besides, it was my first long journey by train. My longest previous trip was from

     Brockville to Kingston, whileattending Queen?s University.


     I first came to the Clyde and Westlock area in July 1907. I was on my way to look for a homestead in Township

     61-26-W.4M. At that time there was a post office called Clyde, but no town either there or where Westlock now stands.

     However, most of the available land had been homesteaded as far north as Township 60. Twp. 61 had just been thrown

     open for filing, and by the time my friend Neil Donald Ross and I reached 61, quite a number of quarter sections had

     been taken. I filed on S.W.4.61.W.4; my friend on the N.E. of the same section. A year later, however, he abandoned

     that quarter for one on the prairie near Cereal. For years, I lost track of Neil, but in old age we have renewed old

     acquaintance, after a lapse of more than 40 years. Now, very few of Pibroch's Old Timers remain, and so in the

     following pages, I shall attempt to recall what I still remember of the establishment of that little pioneer

     settlement with the unique Gaelic name.

     Alberta was made a province in the year 1905, and shortly afterwards, Twp. 61.W.4.M. was thrown open for


     In Twp. 60 and farther south, only even numbered sections could be filed on, but in 61, both odd and even numbered

     sections were available, with the exception of 11 and 29, which had been reserved for school purposes. This made for

     a much more compact settlement and was a distinct advantage, later on when roads were made and school districts


     Another reason for recalling these early days is to keep their memory fresh in the minds and hearts of the young

     people, not only of this, but of future generations. A knowledge of the early struggles of these pioneers, and the

     cheerful courage with which they met and overcame apparently insuperable difficulties, gradually taming and

     transforming a trackless wilderness into a splendid farming area as up-to-date in almost every respect as almost any

     other in the province, should give our children a real understanding and pride in their heritage. It should help them

     to become better citizens and better men and women.

     Neil and I walked from Clyde, carrying on our backs, blankets, a frying pan, a billy-can, a loaf or two of bread, a

     slab of bacon and a packet of tea. The weather was extremely hot and it rained copiously nearly every day. The trail

     (there was no graded road) was largely sticky mud or water-filled sloughs - often knee deep. Part of the way it

     followed a sand ridge and there the walking was fairly good. The nearer we got to our destination, the worse the road

     became. But, as that meant deep black topsoil, we didn't mind. It was just that sort of land we were seeking. At long

     last, footsore and weary and soaking wet, we reached the S.E. corner of twp 61.26.W.4.

     Luckily for us, this quarter had been filed on by a friend whom we had met the previous winter in Calgary where Neil

     and I were attending Normal School. His name was Jack Sheppy and his red-haired wife had been a schoolmate of ours.

     Jack was a carpenter and had already built himself a substantial log house. We were more than pleased when he invited

     us to make his home our headquarters while we selected a homestead. We had with us a township map obtained from the

     land office on which were marked the quarter sections still open for filing. Of course, others might be in possession

     of similar maps and engaged in the same sort of search as ourselves. The first man to file obtained the quarter. It

     took us but a few days to decide, and after that, the sooner we got to the land office, the better.

     In this brush and tree-filled country, there were no trails, except those made by snowshoe hares. We could only follow

     the section lines cut several years before by surveyors. Although these were partly grown up again, by observing the

     axe marks, we were able to follow the lines. Lines running north and south were a mile apart. Those running east and

     west were two miles apart. At the N.E. corner of each section, an iron stake had been driven. It stood in a mound made

     from the soil excavated from four square holes dug around it.  By reading the numbers and letters engraved on the

     stake, a man could find out his exact position. 

     My quarter was in section 4, so the inscription read N.E. 1/4 of the 4th meridian. Neil filed on this one. I chose the

     S.W. of the same section. The lines were quite easy to follow where the trees were thick, but when the line crossed

     more open places, we had to watch far ahead for the telltale opening in the trees made by the axes of the surveyors.

     The heat in the thick brush was terrible and we made no attempt to keep dry. It would have been useless anyway, for

     the grass and bushes dripped with moisture. Soon we were dripping too. Our boots became a soggy mess. Certainly we

     were both literally "tenderfeet". I don't remember that we even thought to bring along a change of sox. We just rinsed

     our single pair in a convenient waterhole (and I must say, they were altogether too convenient), wrung them out and

     put them on again. The same was true of all our clothes for that matter. Our main idea in making up our packs had been

     to keep them light.

     At night we slept on Jack's floor in our own blankets. They at least were dry. I mustn't leave this tale of woe without

     mentioning the swarms of mosquitoes and black flies constantly buzzing around our heads. We tried vainly to protect

     ourselves with veils of netting but this soon got wet with rain and sweat and stuck to our faces like our own skin.

     Then our insect enemies once again had us at their mercy. The nets only made the heat worse than ever, for they kept

     away any faint breeze that might be stirring. In homesteading days, in summer of course, no one could ever feel lonely,

     the black flies saw to that during the day, and when they went to rest at sunset, the mosquitoes took over. We had one

     variety of sand flies which the Indians called "no-see-ums" They were so tiny, no ordinary screen could keep them out.

     One advantage ? they made us keep moving. The faster you swung the axe, the less they bothered you. The only real

     relief from these pests could be gained by lighting a "smudge" so that the smoke would drift around you as you worked.

     We also protected our cattle and horses in the same way. If you wish to see a picture of perfect contentment, just

     watch a herd of cattle standing around a smudge fire with their heads almost hidden in billowing clouds of smoke. The

     insects disliked the smoke just as much as we disliked them.

     It was Thursday afternoon when we set out on our 45 mile walk to Morinville where we could board a train for Edmonton.

     At that time, Morinville was the end of steel. It was a nice sunny day overhead. Underfoot was a different story. The

     mud was deeper than ever. In fact after we started south from Sheppy's corner, we actually overtook small jackfish,

     two or three inches long, swimming up the rut made by wagon wheels. This water was on its way to a lake from which the

     fish had evidently come. The lake was at least a mile away. We were heading for Edmonton to file our claims.

     Necessarily under such conditions, progress was very slow. About 8 o'clock that evening, we stopped at an unoccupied

     bachelor's shack to rest and have a bite to eat. The fire was out, but we soon kindled one, made tea, and fried some

     of our precious bacon. This, with butterless bread, made up our lunch. It was a great comfort to be relieved of our

     packs and to take the weight off our aching feet. After a rest of perhaps half an hour, we re-shouldered our packs and

     started on again. By this time night had fallen and light rain had begun. Another shack loomed up beside the trail. At

     this season in Alberta, twilight lasts a long time. In fact, it's possible on a clear night to read a newspaper out of

     doors as late as eleven o'clock.

     As I have already said, this was not a clear evening. Still, the one-roomed house could be plainly seen, standing in

     its grove of tall poplars. We walked up to the door and knocked. The door was opened by a tow-headed young Englishman.

     We politely asked if we could spread our blankets on his floor and stay the night. There was another young man with

     him who had been helping him make, or as we used to say "put up" hay. To our surprise, our request was flatly refused,

     on the grounds that there was no room. As that was an obvious lie, we took the hint and proceeded on our way.

     Sometimes a slough crossed the entire right-of-way. It was useless to avoid it and so we plodded right through the

     middle. At times, the water came well above our knees. This went on for five or six miles to what was known as a

     stopping place, kept by a little French Canadian named Prue.  

     It was now 11 pm and everyone was in bed. We knocked again, this time to a smiling host and hostess. In a very short

     time we were enjoying a bountiful well cooked meal. It was simple but ample, and to two hungry wayfarers, it was a meal

     fit to grace the table of a lord. Perhaps that inhospitable Englishman did us a good turn after all. Here we were given

     a huge feather mattress to sleep on - with of course, a few Canadian "bedbugs" to keep us company; otherwise the bed

     was clean and so comfortable. Too tired to notice their annoying bites, we slept soundly. At 6 in the morning our

     genial host wakened us to an equally substantial breakfast, and once again we plodded down the road. (By this time it

     was graded.) We still had 20 miles before reaching Morinville, and the trains left at 4 pm.

     I was in a worse plight than my companion. My shoes were light; quite unsuited for a trip such as we had taken. They

     were now more like moccasins and the uppers had in places, parted company with the soles. Neil had stronger shoes and

     so fared better. Besides, he was in far better condition physically. I had only been out of bed a few days before we

     started on this expedition. Neil wanted to take both packs, but of course I was too "Scotch" to agree to that

     arrangement. Finally we reached Morinville, just 20 minutes too late to catch the train to Edmonton. I was just too

     tired to care, and besides, I had a row of blisters the size of kidney beans along the outer edge of each foot. As both

     of us needed a shave rather badly, we went to the hotel barbershop in Morinville to get one. It was a painful

     experience. Apparently the barber had been bending his elbow too frequently the night before, and his hand was far from

     steady. His razor wasn't much keener than he was either. As a consequence, we lost almost as much skin as whiskers.

     After we'd washed off the blood, I must admit we did look a little more civilized, although I still think he should

     have paid us instead of we him.

     After the day's rest in Morinville, I felt a hundred per cent better than when I left Edmonton. My blisters were still

     sore, but I really felt wonderful. A week's sojourn in the wilderness had proved to be just the medicine I needed. The

     food in the hotel was not nearly so good, but we managed to eat it.  That night we slept again on feathers - we and the

     ubiquitous bedbugs.

     Next morning, we heard that a train might back in from a nearby coal mine. It did, and we stepped aboard, arriving in

     Edmonton in time for supper.  In the years that followed, like most homesteaders, I had many more similar experiences.

     I don't remember anybody feeling very sorry for himself. We were young and full of hope and could take it. There

     certainly was no royal road to proving up (that is, acquiring title to) a homestead. 

     *This first paragraph describes his journey to Alberta in May, 1906. In the remaining months of that year he attended

     Normal School in Calgary. Then, with his newly acquired teaching credentials, he was employed as a teacher during the

     late winter and spring of 1907, at the MacKay Avenue school in Edmonton. The homestead-hunting trip must have taken

     place in early July, at the end of the school year.



Aaron Monroe Roddick died in Edmonton in 1979, in his 99th year.

                           Annie May (Dougal) Roddick  died in  Edmonton in 1977,  in her 87th year.

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