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Moving to Saskatchewan

Grant MacEwan and cousin, Willa MacPherson, in Melfort, SK 1920

An economic recession and the onset of the First World War forced the MacEwans to reevaluate their financial situation. Based on a number of circumstances, the cost of manufacturing became too expensive and Alex MacEwan had no choice but to abandon his fire extinguisher business. Real estate prices plummeted and construction came to a virtual standstill, leaving Alex penniless. The war in Europe made an immediate impact on Canadians. Politicians in Ottawa pleaded with farmers to stay on the land and produce food in ever-increasing quantities. Alex responded to the message of patriotism and production by trading some of his real estate in Brandon for five quarters of land near Margo, Saskatchewan. Grant viewed the move as an adventure and assisted his father with unbridled enthusiasm.

In April of 1915, the MacEwans returned to farming. Alex and Grant boarded a freight train with much of their cargo en route to Margo, almost 300 kilometres east of Saskatoon. When Alex purchased the farm he had been ensured that the land was ready for crops. However, the ragged, weed-infested piece of land was quite the opposite. There were no houses or fences, only a few dilapidated buildings. Their current situation looked bleak at best and Grant recognized that little separated his family from poverty or, worse, starvation. Fortunately, Alex quickly devised a new plan. Years before, Alex had speculated on a piece of land near Melfort, Saskatchewan. At the time he never thought he would actually settle there. However, the soil was rich, ideal for bumper crops. Alex and his son reloaded their possessions and just as quickly relocated to their awaiting property near Melfort. In all, Grant and his father had spent a week traveling in a boxcar and surviving on bread, cheese and milk produced from their cow, Polly.

Starting a farm was a tremendous opportunity for young Grant; particularly pleasing was the chance to work alongside his father. Grant soon understood the work and effort that embodied the spirit of a western Canadian pioneer. Their first home was a modest 16 foot by 18 foot one-room shack that could barely withstand the affects of a typical Saskatchewan winter. In spite of all the family's time and effort, the 1915 harvest was a measly 7 acres of oats. Nonetheless, they persevered with the help of several neighbours who loaned them supplies and allowed them to store their belongings in granaries.

On Sundays, Bertha continued the tradition of attending church services. George and Grant accompanied their mother walking over four miles to St. James Presbyterian Church in Melfort. Much to his dismay Grant had no choice but to enroll in grade 7 at Spry School, classes he had already passed while attending school in Manitoba. He took immense pleasure in observing the surrounding natural landscape on his daily walks to and from school. When Grant was not clearing land, cutting trees, pulling weeds or planting seeds, he was intently studying for hours at a time. Much to his delight he passed his departmentals with honours. Meanwhile, Grant took on more and more responsibilities at the farm, particularly attending to his parents when they became ill. Each fall, he felt a rush of pride when he was entrusted to do the threshing during harvest season, the most important time of year for any farmer.

Through hard work and determination the MacEwan began to show signs of improvement. The family's first successful crop was harvested in 1917. The following season Alex purchased a tractor for $795 greatly reducing the amount of labor intensive work. Grant's interest, meanwhile, in all things agriculture continued to flourish as he sought new ways of improving farm practices. He attended courses on weed identification entering local competitions to improve his knowledge. He had the opportunity to listen to a talk delivered by W.J. Rutherford, Dean of Agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan. Dean Rutherford's words would resonate with Grant for years and would later enroll at the Ontario Agriculture College to expand his knowledge.


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