Agnes Leffler Perry
My mother, Junetta Hally Leffler, brought my brother Frank and me to Edmonton from Monmouth, Illinois. Mrs. Matilda Groff accompanied us. Her husband Joseph Groff, my father George Leffler, and my uncle Andrew Henderson were already in Edmonton. They came in 1910; we arrived July 1, 1911.
The sun was shining when we arrived; however, it had been raining for days and it was very muddy - especially around the CN train station. There were narrow wooden sidewalks; many of the streets were graveled and some had wooden piles driven down very close together to make the surface firm. Some of the old timers called Edmonton a "duck pond." From the station we went to Uncle Andrew's and we stayed with them until we found a house. Our house was at 10520 - 102 Street - it was a cozy three room - we rented it from the oil man, Mr. William Lamb. Then my father built a house in the city. However, we didn't stay long in the city because my father had come to homestead. My parents had read in the newspaper that for ten dollars you could get a hundred and sixty acres of land that raised golden grain in abundance. So he and mother made up their minds to move to Canada.
After living in Edmonton only a few years we moved with our parents out to Wildwood, which was then called Junkins. There was much heavy timber on our quarter section. Dad had built us a large log house chinked with muskeg and plastered over on the outside with plaster. It was a two storey house - which was rather rare in those days. The living room was very large; mother whitewashed the inside of the house and used dye to make the rooms different colors.
When we first moved to Wildwood there was no church. Mr. Joseph Groff, the Wades, Mr. Thomas Payne, Mr. Donahue, Mr. Scott, M. Edwards, Mr. Veal, my father and others built a nice church on Mr. Groff's place - it was about three or four miles by trail through the woods. The roads were sometimes impassable during the spring and summer; but during the winter they were usually easier to travel. Many times the snow was deep; however, this was better than deep mud. At times the mud was so deep that horses were bogged down; another team of horses, mules, or oxen would have to pull the bogged team out. In Wildwood there was much muskeg; sometimes it took us all day to go to town and back - we lived only about two and a half miles from town.
At blueberry picking time we used to hitch up a team of horses, take a tub and a boiler to put the berries in, take lunch and a jug of water and go to the blueberry patch. We'd have a race picking berries. During the race we'd pick many leaves also; after we grew older we decided to take our time and pick the berries clean. When we'd get home with the blueberries, plus numerous leaves, we'd spread blankets on the ground and pour out the pickings. The wind would blow the leaves away and the berries would fall on the blankets. Blueberries, raspberries, and all kinds of wild berries were canned and eaten later; they really tasted good in the wintertime.
Mother and I used to take a team of horses and sleigh and go ice fishing. In the sleigh we'd carry a hot rock to keep our feet warm. We'd put on heavy clothes and drive all the way up to Chip Lake - about fourteen miles. We followed the sleigh trail across the lake; on the other side of the lake people would be fishing through holes in the ice. We found a hole with a skim of ice over it, so we broke the ice with an axe. We took our hook, put some bait on and dabbled it in the water. Shortly, we'd feel something pulling on our hook; then it was a matter pulling the fish out. Everyone had a log fire - and they were very friendly - so we just shared their fire. As sinter days are short, it would begin getting dark early; the ice would begin to crack. Once I almost fell in; my thinking, then, was that it was time to go home. Usually we'd be out all day long. We'd take food for the horses; we'd unhitch them and let them drink from a hole in the ice. Of course we had our lunch that we brought from home. We'd catch enough fish to last a long time. Mother canned and pickled them; people said they were the best fish they'd ever tasted. In pickled fish you didn't have to worry about the bones, as the vinegar softened them.
At first there was no school in Wildwood. Later, school was held in the summer - when teachers were on holidays and would come from Edmonton. Our first teacher was Mrs. Young, then there was Mr. Miller. H.T. Butchard - he used to drink some, and come to school drunk. We had Jenny McKay - I can't think of half the teachers. Oh yes, Mrs. Rehm, she was there more than a year. Then we had Lyons, and Mr. George Bunting who taught some of us. Mr. Bunting stayed for years; he brought a homestead and farmed on the side. Then there was Mrs. Sweet, and Mrs. Woods who taught my niece.
Sometimes it was impossible to get to church and Sunday School over at the Groff place; so mother was glad that she had started Sunday School at our home. Whenever we were able to go to church, we'd go; then we'd come home and eat. Later, a number of neighbors would gather at our house to sing and pray. They taught us strengthening, inspiring scriptures from John, Phillipians, Luke, Proverbs and the like.
For special occasions like Christmas and Easter we'd gather for practice on day a week at the Wesley Tates; the next week practice would be at our home. The Tates had a piano and we had an organ. In the early days we had no telephone, radio, television - no even postal service. So organized-singing groups, practiced plays and enjoyed ourselves winter and summer. We were like one big family. We'd have those Christmas tree concerts in that bog house near the river, where Deal Mack lived. We'd have apples, oranges, and candies; we'd have a Christmas program - dad, mother, Mr. And Mrs. Payne, and Mr. and Mrs. Tate would sing; Raymond Johnson's stepfather would sing with my mother and father.
Mother looked after quite a few children; parents would just come and ask her to look after their children, and she would. She was really wonderful with children, and children really loved her. She used to sing to us and read us stories; she'd play the organ, flute, and harp for us. We'd play games, make doll clothes and paper ladies. When mother was very young, probably eighteen or nineteen, she was living in Illinois and was supposed to go into town to write an examination to become a school teacher. In order to get to town she had to ride in a buggy drawn by two horses. She tried to catch the horses, but couldn't; when she finally did, it was too late to write her examination - that was the only thing that kept her from getting her teaching credentials.
Grandfather and Grandmother Henderson moved to Canada to Monmouth, Illinois, in 1920. They stayed with us in Wildwood for a few months. Then they came to Edmonton. They lived in the little three room house my father built when we first came here. Grandfather soon found work; he was a good worker. Young and old on the job called him Brother Henderson - he was a faithful, loving preacher.
Excerpted from Window of Our Memories.Reprinted with the kind permission of Velma Carter.
- Excerpts from The Window of our Memories:
- The Edmonton Capital: The Petition
- The Edmonton Bulletin: Party of 42 Negroes Coming From Oklahoma
- Articles reprinted from Legacy Magazine: