Our folks came in October 1912 and all the land in this area was homesteaded. You couldn't get homesteads close. The only place they could find was four miles north-east of Wildwood. Most of the people in Wildwood were coloured - there were a few Germans and Scandinavians - but mostly coloured people were in this area. At that time when they came they were putting the railroad through - that was the first work my dad got to do. He had a little team of miles be brought up with him and he used them to distribute ties on the railroad. This was the Canadian National Railroad; the Grand Trunk Railroad was in at that time. For some reason they had these two railroads - it was kind of competition, I guess. That was one of the most foolish and most expensive things they could do. The railroad was put in with Swedes, coloured people and wheelbarrows; there might have been a little bit built with horses but most of it was built with wheelbarrows. There were no roads when they came in here, there were just trails through the bush; these trails had been cleared just so you could get through by a team and wagon - that's all there was. And you take in the summer time - it was pretty near impossible to get with a team and wagon to town to get your groceries because there were pot holes and mires that you'd get your horses down in. It took a whole day to come three or four miles with an empty wagon and team. Eventually they had to corduroy what roads they did use. They corduroyed them with poplar and spruce bedded down into the ground; at least the horses weren't mired down.
There was quite a bit of bush in this country at that time and lots of wild game - chickens, ducks, and deer; so that way they had something to eat. But as far as the land - there wasn't an acre cleared on any land they took in Wildwood, which was then called Junkins, unless it had been burnt by a fire. But they were ambitious because the government had promised them a patent for their quarters if they got thirty acres cleared and broken, I believe it was. Most of the land was cleared by hand; they grubbed the trees out and they would use a wooden beam breaking plough with a team. Some people put three horses on this type of plough. I know my dad did a lot of breaking and he used three horses on this little fourteen inch, wooden beam breaking plough. That was hard work - clearing by hand - because the bush was fairly thick and there were big trees. To grub out thirty acres - that was a big, big task; they didn't do that in no one year; they may have done it in five or six years. The food ration for meat continued for a long time to be wild birds, and game such as deer, moose, and fish. They planted crops but they couldn't grow any crops as we do now - they all froze. Some people began to raise pigs and cattle but it was pretty well wild meat they ate.
It seems to me the people in Junkins formed a kind of co-op. Say ten or fifteen farmers would go together and they would sign up for Government cattle. They would get up to five hundred dollars worth of cattle - that was around fifteen or twenty head at that time. But there was a clause in this deal, saying that each one was responsible for the other one's debt until it was paid - which wasn't a very good thing. There were so many of them who didn't know much about cattle. My dad paid as high as eighty dollars a ton for rotten hay that was shipped in here to save the cattle. It was very poor hay, some was not fit for anything, but it was better than licking a snowball. So my dad got shorts as he was working in the bush that winter in a logging camp. He'd buy shorts and give his cattle a little; he'd give each of them on-half pound of shorts. He'd cut down dry firewood and the cows at night would peel the bark off those poles - they were that hungry. But my father pretty well saved all his cattle. I believe he saved all but one two-year old heifer; and he lost two horses. The reason he lost any at all was that he had the hay, but in those day they just put it in coils; the snow got so deep that the cattle couldn't find the coils - that's right.
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:
- Amber Valley, Alberta
- Junkins, Alberta