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Canadian Life as I Found It
Chapter II Saskatoon in 1904

SASKATOON is a rising town; there were only 700 inhabitants in 19o2, and now there are some 2,000.

The houses are all wooden with the exception of one built in stone and two or three in brick, the so-called streets are only tracks across the prairie, not a tree or flower to be seen, except wild ones down by the river.

This is a bright go-ahead little place, but no one could call it pretty; I call it downright ugly, but far preferable to Regina.

Our Saskatoon shanty or shack was 14 x 16 feet, 7 feet high on one side and 9 feet on the other. At first it seemed impossible to breathe in so small a space, but we got used to it by dint of opening wide both window and door, and my wife, who thought it so small at first, one day scrubbed it over, and said that she had found it quite big!

I bought a team of three oxen, as being easier to manage the first year than horses, as I had neither stabling nor fodder for the latter, whereas the oxen, once their work is over and their harness off, are turned out on to the prairie to take care of themselves, and are herded up when wanted the next morning. They are desperately slow, obstinate brutes, and I shall be glad when I can get rid of them and buy a team of horses, with which one can do double the work in the day.

I paid 300 dollars for my three oxen, a wagon and harness complete, and I am going to try and pick up a pony, a buck-board or rig as these carts are called, and a good cow to give baby milk.

I have bought a gun, for which I gave 30 dollars, also a stove and pots and pans—even these are very different from those used at home.

Having bought the necessary timber for building our prairie shack, I started off with another man, with my oxen and wagon, to locate our holding of 160 acres.

We had to go out over 45 miles, as all the land nearer in was taken up. The place is swarming with land agents, who buy up all the land nearer the towns, and sell it at from eight to ten dollars an acre.

The district we were advised to go to was just 20 miles over the border of Assinaboia. My sailor's knowledge came in very useful to me on the prairie, for although I had only a compass to go by, I never lost my way once.

We were two days getting out, and when the first night we got to a sort of farm, had it been the finest hotel, we could not have been more grateful for the shelter it afforded.

We were eleven men lying on the floor of the one room the farmer possessed, and you cannot think how comfortably one sleeps, rolled up in a rug, with a saddle for one's pillow, when you are used to it, only one has to get used to it.

I left the man who had gone out with me on the homestead under a tent, and returned to Saskatoon for another load of timber, and paid a man 20 dollars to cart part of it out, and help with the building of the shack.

When this was ready I made another trip to bring out my wife and child and the luggage.

I had intended taking them out with me, but after passing several nights under canvas, one of these in a regular gale, I decided to leave them in Saskatoon till I had a good shelter for them. In the meanwhile I stumbled on a treasure of an Indian pony and bought a rig; but, by jove! you have to pay for things out here. As for the books I had read about Canada, they are most misleading; all that I have hitherto found correct, is that you can get good land for next to nothing, but that is all.

Then come inevitable expenses—the timber for building, animals, wagons, cart, agricultural instruments and so on, cost of living, which is quite double out west to what it is at home.

My land looks very good; it is black on the top with a clay subsoil, flat with no scrub to clear, a large pond or slough on it, the home of duck and wild fowl, and useful for the cattle.

The crops I passed on my way up seemed to be coming on well, but there is great waste of land, and every thing so untidily done. Of course coming out at the end of May I shall get no crops this year, but I intend to break up as much land as possible, ready for the spring. The journey from Saskatoon to the shack was a bad experience for my wife; the trail is very bumpy, as it is a perfect network of gopher holes, and a rig is hard driving.

The first day was scorching hot, and we were glad when evening came to pitch our tent, although it is a weird feeling to see nothing around one but an immense expanse of prairie, and to hear no sound but the call of the prairie chicken or wild duck, and the tinkle of the ox bells.

The second day a fearful gale was blowing, and it was bitterly cold, such are the sudden changes of temperature one has to put up with, and I was very thankful to get my dear ones under shelter, in our first prairie homestead.

But I must remark here that the first year on a claim is no place for a woman, especially for one who had been delicately nurtured at home; it is too rough, too lonely, the work too hard, for it is impossible to get servants even if one had room to house them; they can command high wages in the towns—female servants I allude to, and then I am told do very little work.

The wages for men have been much exaggerated, for although in summer and at harvest time they can get good pay, there is the long winter when work is very scarce, and nothing hardly can be done on the farms, except to look after the live stock, and try to keep warm, which is often the hardest task of all.

A Few Facts about the city of Saskatoon (pdf)


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