Tag Archives: settlers

Heritage, Rodeos and the Bar U Ranch

Happy Heritage Day! Of course, all of August is a great time to continue celebrating of our heritage. So, why not enjoy the rodeo next weekend at the Bar U Ranch. On August 9th, you can experience the best in Alberta ranch history and take in a  rodeo, too. What combination!

Local cowboy competitions held at various ranches were the real beginnings of rodeo and stampedes throughout the West. The popularity of those community events, which appeared earlier in the USA and spread to western Canada by the last half of the 1800s, was inevitable.

The Bar U Ranch National Historic site is where this old-time, ranch rodeo will be held. Initially owned by the North West Cattle Company, eventually, George Lane purchased all of the holdings of the Bar U. As early as 1893, for the summer agricultural fair in Calgary, George Lane organized a steer roping, and one of his cowboy competitors was John Ware. A black cowboy, Ware worked at the ranch and was known as an outstanding bronc rider. In the steer roping competition, he roped and tied his steer in 51 seconds. Clearly, the Bar U has a long and proud history of rodeo and ranch-related competitions.

Located in Alberta’s scenic foothills, about a 90 minute drive southwest of Calgary, the ranch is west of the junction of Highway 22 and 540. Once you arrive, you will have lots of opportunities to learn about the history of the ranch. Celebrating its 20th year as a Parks Canada historical site, the Bar U is the only national site to commemorate our ranching history.

It remains a working ranch of about 148 hectares (367 acres) with a small cattle herd, saddle horses and some Percherons work horses. As such it is part of our living history. Yet, at one time, the ranch could boast of 160,000 acres of grassland, crucial for grazing the 30,000 head of cattle and 1,000 head of Percherons. Of course, that meant work for countless cowboys. Once the round-ups were done and other work manageable, it was time for the cowboy competitions. But which cowboys and ranches could claim to be the best of the bunch? Serious competition decided bragging rights.

Today, teams of cowboys from various ranches compete in events such as broke horse racing, wild cow milking and team sorting. The winners take home Bar U silver buckles.

That day, I’ll be signing books at the gift shop, so if you plan on attending the event, be sure to drop by and say, “Howdy” or even just “Hi.”

For more information, go to http://www.friendsofthebaru.com. For great photos, click on the photos

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Alberta Prairie Railway & Fairs: Always a Hit

I recently returned from being a guest with Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions in my hometown of Stettler, Alberta. I loved the train ride, and I celebrated my mom’s family roots in Big Valley, the destination station for the excursion. The village was celebrating its 100th anniversary, and I showed some Powerpoint images and talked to visitors during the stop-over. I highly recommend the excursion for train buffs and those who enjoy wandering through the small villages that are a vibrant part of our rural heritage. There is plenty of time. So check out www.absteamtrain.com.

AB Prairie Railway 1991

My first trip on APRE, 1991

I was first on the train in 1991. Two years previous, Bob Willis and Don Gillespie, both of Stettler, made their dream of operating a heritage train come true. After 25 years, they have made their own history, and their trains attract countless visitors.

Honoured to be on the train this year, the journey brought to mind some earlier writing I did for Awed, Amused and Alarmed.  Bob’s grandfather owned the local paper, the Stettler Independent, and he covered local events. In the summer, the fair and rodeo were important events to the community.  Mr. Charles L. Willis seemed to be was one of the few newspaper men who wrote about women’s participation. In the 1930s, not surprisingly, much of their participation meant volunteering or submitting to the “homemaking” competitions. Willis’s work was true to the time frame, but I remember having a laugh when reading his coverage. He wrote:

“No mere man can afford to give a description of  the Ladies’ Work….” the newspaperman wrote. With a tongue-in-cheek tone, he continued, “He is quite incapable for the job…. For example, what does he know about pillow slips except as a place to lay his head on. His ignorance of embroidery work, of crochet work, or of tatting particularly is colossal. All he knows is that the work looks good and is good, while in the case of the cooking department it also tastes good.”

The viewpoint was standard for the time, but his humor was most enjoyable.

“Unfortunately, from one standpoint, most of the prize winners were married,” he wrote. “This is satisfactory as far as it goes but gives no opportunity to build up the community by paving the way for future weddings. The single girls have overlooked a golden opportunity in not exhibiting more of their fancy work and cooking at the Exhibition. There should be special prizes for their class at the next Fair.” (Awed, Amused & Alarmed, 122)

For all who help organize such community events, compete in them or volunteer, I am offering a special price for Awed, Amused and Alarmed. Go to my website; purchase one copy, and I’ll mail you an extra for the same price. It’s the Buy 1, Get 1 Free concept. Request as many as you want, but order a specific number, and I’ll add your free copies to the package (eg. order 2, I’ll send 4, but you pay for 2). This applies only to Awed, Amused & Alarmed. Order through my website at www.wordsandhistory.ca and pay with Paypal or email me with your order. The offer ends October 1!

Mom’s Christmas Memories

Sorry I am a day late with my blog. I have had a bout with migraines and sinus, and going to the computer at such times only make the problems worse, but here’s my blog about Christmas years ago.

Today, many spend huge sums on presents, but of course, that wasn’t always so, especially during the Depression. Born in the 1920s, my mother grew up was a girl in the Thirties and part of a family with ten children. They lived on a small farm at a time when the crash of the world economy was made worse on the Canadian prairies by drought, wind and grasshoppers. I suspect that my grandfather was never cut out to be a farmer in the first place, but Grandma had been a pastry chef for a wealthy family in Ontario, so she was a great cook. However, during the Thirties, she had few ingredients for cooking and baking.

Already, in the spring, she began planning for Christmas. She set hens on four turkey eggs, and when the eggs hatched, the children were given the serious responsible of making sure the young turkeys were well fed. In the fall, two turkeys were kept–one for Christmas dinner and the other for dinner on New Years Day—and the other two were sold. The small income gave Grandma the money to buy cloth so she could sew new clothes, especially dresses for the girls to wear at the Christmas concert. Too, she bought dried fruit for her Christmas cake, which she would cut in small pieces so it would last through both Christmas and New Years. And, of course, one piece was always left out for Santa on Christmas Eve, too.

Mom doesn’t remember whether her father cut or purchased the Christmas tree, but it appeared on Christmas morning. Hanging from it were a few old ornaments and the little gifts Grandma had purchased for each child. They were small but treasured by the children, and Mom thinks they might only have cost between 15 and 25 cents each. If so, at a time when a loaf of bread cost between 5 and 10 cents, and a couple might live on $25 a month, such expenditures would have been no small sacrifice.

Like other girls, Mom had always wanted an Eaton’s Beauty doll, but the coveted gift never appeared. Instead, one year, she received a small pink horn that she could blow like a whistle. Another year, she and the sister closest to her age did get small dolls, but they were the only ones that were not make-do dolls created from cloth wrapped around sticks.

In fact, Mom doesn’t remember her own mother and father ever receiving Christmas gifts, but perhaps they did, and if not, I suspect that the children tried especially hard to be helpful and show their thanks during Christmas.

Unlike other times of the year, Christmas and New Years’ dinners did mean turkey with trimmings, and desert was Christmas pudding topped with brown sugar sauce. In fact, throughout my childhood, Mom made a Christmas pudding based on Grandma’s recipe. It was a simple, steamed white-cake-style of pudding made primarily from flour, suet, milk, baking powder, sugar and raisins or currents. Not heavy like way many Christmas puddings, it was delicious, and we loved it. However, of course, our modern awareness of cholesterol and calories have made such puddings less popular today that at a time families were fortunate to enjoy any kind of Christmas pudding.

Unlike today in many households, there were never countless treats throughout the Christmas season, but mom acknowledges that some neighbour families had more during the Christmas season than her own family did. Still, none of the neighbour children ever bragged about their possessions or presents.

 I would never want a country or families to experience such economic hardships or uncertainties as families did during the Depression, but revisiting those times is a reminder that the festive season is not simply about lavish gifts or possessions or tables laden with gourmet food, cookies and candy. As much as I love to cook Christmas goodies and buy special presents for family and friends, I am reminded that Christmas has been celebrated in many ways. And being thankful for whatever small gifts we are able to give or might receive is intrinsically part of the Christmas spirit. And for me, learning about my mom experiences of Christmas during the Depression has been a very special gift! So, my thanks to her.

Solving Puzzles: Genealogy

I have been teaching a class on writing life stories, and many who register for such classes are researching family history and genealogy. They find hints about fascinating family members and decide to write those stories for others in the family or for the public.

As a writer and public historian, of course, I applaud them. However, I also believe genealogy is like puzzle solving and that is good for our brains, especially for anyone who is a mature adult or senior.

Genealogy does not necessarily involve developing writing skills or style, but we can find information that captivates us. We put on our detective hats and find details about our forbearers. We talk to others and search on internet. All of those processes keep our brains just as active as solving crossword or Sudoku puzzles. Personally, I find genealogy more interesting and fully support the process of discovering details such as “Which steam ship did my grandfather sail on before arriving in Canada?” Generally, the information exists somewhere, but we might have to make our way through mazes to find it, and that is good for our brains.

Also, often, such details are integrated in stories written as nonfiction. For other writers, the details become part of creative nonfiction works, and sometimes they are even transformed into fiction. Whatever the genre and style, I consider it important to find and write family stories.

However, genealogy as related to specific ancestors may be important to the family but not necessarily to anyone else. Of course, many who investigate their family tree hope to find that they are related to famous people. Discovering such ancestors is undoubtedly rewarding, but for others, solving the puzzles and mysteries that they encounter along the way becomes almost addictive. Whatever their motivation, family history detectives are able to contribute to our knowledge of the past.

If you are tempted by the possibilities, you might simply search “genealogy,” and you will find hundreds of websites, many with excellent links and information. However, if a site requires that you register, it likely means you will be giving away information about your family and providing an email address for advertisers. Still, your providing that information could prove worthwhile.

Because I work with Alberta and western Canadian history, I can suggest some websites that might be helpful:

Alberta Genealogy Society www.abgensoc.ca has excellent links and access to the Alberta Homestead Index and other documents. Also, see Alberta Family Histories Society http://www.afhs.ab.ca

Canadian Genealogy Centre www.genealogy.gc.ca of  Library and Archives Canada is devoted to genealogy . Also, find source material in the national archives www.collectionscanada.ca

Ellis Island www.ellisisland.org has information about immigration through the port of New York. Castle Garden www.CastleGarden.org (an earlier name for immigration services through New York) is also useful since Canadian families first arrived at New York and moved to Canada.

Family History Archives www.lib.byu.edu/fhc is a popular site with a searchable data base from Brigham Young University in association with the Mormon Family History Centre

Pier 21 www.pier21.ca has information on many settlers who arrived in Canada through for the port of Halifax.

So, whatever your plan or motivation and whether you use your discoveries for family information, future writing projects or fun, good luck!