Frances knight-Ostrom and Sim
My great-grandmother on my mother’s side left for Western Canada most certainly with mixed feelings. Frances Knight-Ostrom life as an adult had, so far not been kind. She had been abandoned by her husband and two daughters had died, one in infancy the other as a young mother herself. Both her youngest and eldest daughter now married, had moved to the west.
Her original plan while still with her husband was to move to the west and start anew and for that reason they had petitioned land in Saskatchewan. As a single mother in Toronto living with her parents she worked as a laundress to make ends meet. When her father died, her mother along with several of her brother’s also moved to the West leaving her alone with four children.
After the death of Frances Gertrude, in 1910 her only daughter still living in Toronto there was nothing to keep her there. She and her only son Simeon, now in his early twenties, moved to Cantuar, Saskatchewan to be near family and begin their new life on the farm. As a child, Frances had grown up on a farm so that part was not unknown, but there were many other things that were different to anything she had ever experienced.
Her son-in-law in Toronto, remarried shortly after the death of his first wife and sent two of his three children to live with her shortly after the move. The third remained in Toronto to be raised by her paternal grandparents.
She settled near Swift Current and the land there possibly reminded her of where she lived as a child. The rolling hills only lacked the tree cover that she had back in Bowmanton, Northumberland County, Ontario.
All new settlers were presented with a booklet called “The Homestead Act”. In this pamphlet, the rules and regulations were set regarding land policies. Women were originally not allowed to petition land so Frances would have had the help of her young son who had reached age of majority by the time she relocated.
Travelling from Toronto to Swift Current by train and from there to the homestead by wagon would most likely been how she relocated. Her plot of land was near one of her brothers and her eldest daughter, making the final leg of the journey easier for her. They would also be there to support her morally in hard times. The small hamlet of Cantuar is now a ghost town as are many of the small homesteads that dotted the landscape. With little money and only hopes of a better life she brought with her the few things dear to her and not much else.
Imagine the sense of isolation that would have been felt. Settlers used to a denser environment would have been greatly impacted by the open prairie. Droughts and severe weather would have added to their misery in settling the new land. Many were affected by flooding; and dust storms were common due to the nature of the landscape. The long and severe winters added to the isolation.
By the time my great grandmother settled in Saskatchewan frame houses were what was being built. Previously, due to the lack of trees the first houses were often of sod and often very primitive. Sod gave way to tar paper. As things progressed the older buildings were often re-used to house animals.
Medicine and doctors
Wheat was king in the “bread basket of the world” and for over sixty years it was a monoculture. There were however some who did well with market gardens and made a living with it.
In Swift Current flax was also popular. Most of my family who settled early on had crude implements and worked the land by hand. A horse or a team of oxen would have been used to pull the plows and help with the field work. They served an important part in the life of the settlers.
According to documents women did not gain official legal status until 1929 to either being equal partners or owning homestead land. However, as was my great grandmother Saskatchewan women unofficially played a major role in the development of the prairie community. Often men left the farm to take jobs elsewhere. Their wives left alone on the farm to raise the children and tend to the duties on the farm. Even if the family was together the harvest saw wives and children working alongside their spouses.