We have never known a great deal about my maternal grandfather. (All four grandparents ended up in Alberta, three of them coming from Ontario, two of them having grown up there, yet for all four there is almost a sense that we know so little about pre-Alberta lives or relations, it is almost as if they sprang up from the earth east of the Rockies). My grandfather's marriage to my grandmother was his second marriage; he had two children by the first marriage, and my brothers and I always knew these two as our aunt and uncle-their children as our cousins. He and my grandmother had two children, my mother and her sister, but they did not live under the same roof very much--perhaps five years in total between their marriage in 1926 and his death in 1951.
My aunt has done some searching, and learned that he was the oldest of nine children raised for the most part in the Toronto area. His father was born in Newfoundland. Recently we learned that he homesteaded in Alberta from 1914 to 1920. Yes, there was still homesteading that late in Alberta: north and a bit east of Edmonton, not on the main line to Saskatoon but a bit north of it. The Alberta government has a data base to search for names mentioned on homestead documents. When you have a hit, they warn you that this name may only be mentioned in passing. In this case, though, there are several records connected to my grandfather's homestead.
On a form stamped June 15, 1914, he signed an Application for Entry for a Homestead, a Pre-emption of a Purchased Homestead. I gather the idea was that he could work his way to owning it. He lists no one with him, says his age is 25, country of birth Canada, specifically Ontario, last place of residence Edmonton, previous occupation Printer. His address seems to be Gen. Del. Edmonton. He would have turned 26 in October of that year. Any experience farming? Whatsoever? I don't know, but I kind of doubt it.
On a Form B, Affidavit in Support of an Application for Entry, also June 15, 1914, he solemnly swears that there is no one residing on the land, there are no improvements on it, etc., and that he has not previously obtained an Entry for a Homestead on Dominion Lands.
Next we come to August 11, 1920. On a sworn statement with that date, with a recommendation following on Dec. 3, 1920, and an acceptance dated Jan. 5, 1921, he provides some information about what has gone on for six years. He is now 31, a printer and farmer, Post Office address Edmonton. When absent from homestead, what has he been doing? Printer in winter and farming in summer. Obtained homestead entry June 15, 1914. Built his house in April 1915. Moved onto the property "Dec. 7th 1914 in a tent." Resided there Dec. 7, 1914 to Feb. 23, 1916; again about a month from Sep. 25, 1916 to Oct. 28, 1916; from April 24, 1917 to Oct. 15, 1917; and from May 8, 1920 to June 30, 1920.
So he resided there more than a year, including a good chunk of two winters; spring and summer of 1916 he was gone; my aunt was born March 1916. Somehow he presumably met and married his wife while living on the homestead in 1915. They must have started living more in Edmonton once they had a baby. A month in the fall of 1916, then gone until April. Spring summer and fall of 1917 on the farm, then gone for more than two years. My uncle was born in December 1917. The flu epidemic, which made both my grandfather and his first wife sick, and killed her, would have been 1918 and 1919.
Question 6: Of whom do your family consist?; when did they first commence residence upon this homestead?, and for what portion of each year since that date have they resided upon it? Answers: 2 children, wife dead. [crossing out Aug. 1 1915] Feb. 1 1915 to Feb. 23 1916. There are sworn statements from two neighbours, and one says "Two children during [hard] years 1915 and 1916." Sad words; here are my aunt and uncle, their mother dying when one was a baby, the other perhaps 3.
He itemizes the number of acres of land he has broken (a total of seven acres, two in 1915, five in 1916), and the livestock he has. When asked if his livestock is sometimes kept somewhere else, he says "On my father in law's hstd."
Asked to describe his house and its present cash value, he says "12/14 log, $250." Asked about other buildings, he says "Log shed, tent roof--burnt down in 1919." You might say 1919 was a hell of a year.
March 9, 1921, there is an official document from the Department of the Interior saying a patent for the land has been issued to him after a hearing on Jan. 20, 1921. A certificate of title will be issued upon receipt of his application, and payment of the proper fees. Did he ever actually secure title? We still don't know.
We don't know anything to speak of about his life before 1914, and it's hard to get a picture of his marriage to my grandmother. My mother used to say that her father would look her mother in the face and say "No one can ever replace my first wife." Maybe something like that is true--or at least his sadness over those years may never have left him.