4. Remembrances of Tom Harcourt

Lucky Mom had been the acting midwife for years as the doctor didn’t arrive until two hours after I was born.  It was August 21, 1921 and a neighbor, Mrs. Devine; came over to our homestead.  The homestead was filed as NE S28 T35 R21, W 2; which meant about 11 miles as the crow flies from Leroy or Bogend as the railway had called it.

My mom, Anne Brunn had been a teacher before marrying.  She hadn’t planned on being a teacher but the opportunity presented itself in 1916 when she was 18 years old.  My Gramma had said why don’t you apply and Mom said she’d always take a dare or a challenge.  She received a recommendation from a Mr. Brown and was given a permit to teach.  Her first day she had 28 kids from Grade one to 8 at Deer Lake School south of Humboldt.  It was a school district of mostly German and Russian immigrants; most had a smattering of English; and as they were all immigrant children; they all blended in with no picking on each other she told us.  The district wanted someone of similar nationality and religeon teaching.  There were about four quite large families to a section of land.  She lived with a family; sleeping in bed with two grown girls around 18 years old.  She said she got the bottom of the bed; and a fox terrier bounded up the stairs and jumped in with all three.  She paid $25. A month for boarding out but was making $800. Which was because it was wartime;  as 20 years later my sister teaching salary was $500. There was a little winding trail that she took every Friday night to get to Humboldt to get her own Grade 10 assignments.   One thing she  purchased from her teaching money was a bicycle.   My mom was someone who always liked to learn and do things for people.  It worked. She lived to be 96 years old.  So on opening day, back at Deer Lake School; she didn’t have a certificate to teach but at the end of that year with her Grade 9 and 10 behind her; she took 10 weeks of Normal in Regina.  A man from a Board of Trustees came and looked over the class at Normal; picked my mother out due to her stature; saying, “I think this one could handle it; and with that she was hired for the next year at a different school.

School years ran from March to December a that time; so in 1917 she was at Hoffman School NE of Bruno and the next year at South St. Gregor School.   Besides teaching and continuing her own learning, she was also seeing my father, Fred Harcourt.  They went together for 5 years.  She said she had it in her mind that she would teach for awhile and then get married; and, according to her; Dad was someone who wouldn’t think of getting married in wartime.  He was farming and had dispensation from the war as he was also a steam engineer.

His parents, James Harcourt of Irish descent and Mary Calahan were from Guelph, Ontario.  My Gramma, of Indian ancestry from the Stettler/Red Deer Alberta way; had previously been married to a Cummings in Ontario; and her son, Tom Cummings had come to Saskatchewan and homesteaded around Lanigan.  He told my Dad and his brother; Sid Harcourt about the chance of a homestead if you proved up; and spoke of it being good farming country.

Dad and my uncle Sid got on the train in 1907 in Guelph, Ontario, and came to Lanigan where they filed their homestead.  They rented a horse and buggy and headed out about 17 miles from Lanigan to what ended up being the farm where I was born in a 2 story house my Grampa on my mom’s side built; but I’m getting ahead of myself.

My mom’s parents; Michael Brunn, carpenter and Theresa Leoffler; were German Descent and came with seven kids in tow.  They came from Le Suerr, Minnesota; having heard about St. Peter’s Colony and migrated with quite a group of settlers. They came by train to Rosthern; then across to Marysburg; and through St. Peter’s Colony to settle in the St. Gertrude area on SW36 7 21 W2.

Trains brought machinery, livestock; passengers, feed and lumber to the area and  both families were living about 13 miles or farther from nearest train station.

The families got around by horse, oxen and many times by feet.  Dad was picking up his mail at Manresa; a school district but not a village; and Mom’s family went to Muenster for theirs.  The different schools in each district were the hub of the community; kind of like an entertainment centre.  Schools were also used for political meetings; and in later years, when Credit Unions were getting organized.

In June of 1919; Mom and Dad were married; had a boy and a girl before I came along August 27, 1921.  Their farm was on the North end of the Irish Colony that had at it’s centre the village of Sinnett and two connecting Catholic churches for the area; St. Ignatius closer to Sinnett and St. Patrick’s about 4 miles from the farm.

In the 30’s mail began being delivered to the farm; our address became rural route Leroy, with delivery being every Tuesday and Friday.  As a child, much of our shopping was done in LeRoy, which had a cheese factory, harness shop, livery stables, general story, blacksmith, creamery; and shoemaker shop besides the general store.

A big trip would be the twice a year trip to Humboldt; one at Christmas and one in the fall to sell furs.  My older brother, Dick Harcourt had a trap line; skinned and stretched the hides; and got them ready to sell.  We did a lot of hunting for food.  Coyotes for fur.  Hunting was more livelihood than entertainment but it sure was fun.  Dick’s trapline  was mostly weasel and rabbits.  In the 1930’s he caught one mink.

Shopping hours were nine to six and the big night in town was Saturday night; when their was late night shopping.  It was rare that we were there; but if we were; we did our shopping; went to the show and met all the neighbors.

Three or four times a year Mom ordered clothing, dress goods, and Christmas presents  from Eaton’s, Simpsons Sears or sometimes the Army and Navy.

In 1937,  I was 16 and visited my first city.  I went to a Catholic Youth Club (CYC) for a two week session at Campion College in Regina.  Bill Dodd, a neighbor from Sinnett went with me by train.  I darn near had a train ride one other time.  I took a couple of girls to Attica to go to the hospital (nurses in training) and I carried their suitcases on for them.  The engineer hollered All Aboard and I had to jump off; otherwise I’d have been in Humboldt.

Dad was Reeve for the Rural Municipality of Leroy of years and years so he went to Leroy on business once a month.

On the farm, after I grew up, the big box telephone came with a speaker attached; a receiver that hung up and a hand crank to reach the operator.  There was a way to make a general ring that was heard in everyone’s home in the event of someone needing help; a fire; a tragedy; or for celebration type things as well; such as promoting a dance.  Phones didn’t come to our rural area until 1942 or 1943 and by then I was 21 or 22 years old.   Phone numbers were something like 2 ring 5 and it was a party line; which was news traveling from neighbor to neighbor.  People were rubbernecking; it was called if they were listening on the party line but the disadvantage was that the phones were often busy.

During the depression or the dirty 30’s; I was leaving childhood for my teens; I didn’t see it as hard times.  It was a natural way to live; and never thought of it as hardship.  Everyone in our area wore hand me downs and made do with leftovers.  We did a lot of reading.  A traveling library was kept at our place.  We used to send out a box of books and people came to borrow or trade for another.  We had a lot of pickup ball games, school dances; Christmas concerts; and a literary society club for putting on plays.  Dad got a radio in the early 30’s.  Neighbors gathered around that.

We had cattle, horses, pigs, turkeys and one year a pair of geese. Those depression years we did a lot of trapping and selling firewood.  We trapped skunks; worked on municipal roads, cutting brush; or picking roots to defray taxes.   Gopher tails, we got 2 or 3 cents; crows eggs; magpie and crows feet were one cent.  Mom said back in 1916; at her first school; the kids and her were asked and did poison gophers as there were thousands around the school.   Magpies came in the 30’s and their were so many of them and crows; that the RM put a bounty on them.  There was the odd guy that would tear one gopher tail into two or three pieces and try and dupe the secretary treasurer of the RM.  He was an English guy; and he either had a gopher tail to measure by or ended up putting a three inch marking on a table and the tail had to be that long to get your three cents.

The house my Grandpa built for Mom and Dad was a 16 by 24 two story with a dirt cellar that you could access from the stairway in the pantry.  The pantry was off the kitchen and besides the porch for the cream seperater; there was a large living room that had stairs leading to a master bedroom with a closet.  Two small bedrooms were up there for my three brothers, three sisters and I.

We had a wood cookstove in the kitchen and an airtight wood heater in the living room.  We put on storm windows and banked the house with dirt or snow to prepare for winter.  I grew up with gas lamp lighting for whatever we needed light for.  We had a shallow well about a half mile away at Uncle Sid’s farm and we children hauled the water by cream can.  In winter we melted snow on the stove; and so there was always warm water in the reservoir; which was on the side of the cookstove.  We had sponge baths and for washing clothes; Mom used the washboard.  She called it the scrub board and also had a vacuum type plunger pump for plunging clothes in a tub; prior to hanging outside on a line and all over the house to dry in winter.  She used bluuing to keep the clothes white.

Mom did a lot of the barn chores with us.  She was proficient with a gun and had a large garden.  Dad and us boys hunted every year and Mom preserved or canned much of it; home cured some meat.  She’d fry the meat; pack in earthenware crocks, cover it with lard and store in the cellar.  We lived on pork, beef, home raised chicken and venison.  We ate lots of wild fowl; prairie chickens, ducks and geese.  In the  30’s, we ate rabbits for awhile;  then rabbits got blisters.  We all ate porridge for breakfast, but in those years; we ground grain through a meat chopper for our morning meal.   We tried making coffee from roasted barley and tea from berry leaves but it didn’t go over very well..

Basically, noon and supper meals were potatoes, meat and gravy with lots of homemade bread.  Dad took one hundred pounds of grain to Humboldt Flour Mills and we were given that amount of flour in exchange.  There we could usually buy our ten pounds of sugar, Roger’s corn syrup and Lipton tea; which was the favorite.

We had an ice house we built that was 8 feet by 10 feet.  It was a hole dug in the ground, filled with ice; which was covered in sawdust; a log building over top of it with a sod roof.  Antlers hung on the outside of it.  Milk, cream and butter were kept fresh along with the odd time having halibut from Winnipeg; suckers from Long Lake and sometimes whitefish.

All fruit and vegetable were picked wild or grown.  We picked Saskatoons, pin and chokecherries as well as  wild strawberries.  Sometimes we dried berries; but mostly canned and stored in the root cellar.  Turnips, vegetable marrow, cucumber, peas, beans, corn, cabbage, beets, tomatoes, and potatoes were put down.  In fall, canning took priority and that included making sauerkraut and jars and jars of preserves.  By the 40’s, Mom had raspberries, currants, gooseberries, rhubarb, a plum and crabapple tree and she would try her hand at anything.  We had our own home made cheese and sometimes had to buy very little besides salt, cream of tartar, baking powder, vanilla, sugar; and the basic staples unable to make.

Dad had a half section homestead which was an average farm and cleared the land with an axe, pulled stumps out with horses, picked roots with a grub hoe and broke the land with a breaking plow.  Horses were used for seeding wheat, oats or barley.  One time he tried flax.  In the 40’s he got his first tractor; a 9N gray Ford.

Horses and binders were part of the harvesting; but stooking the sheaves and putting them through the threshing machine took place until the 40’s when Dad got his first truck and combine; a dull red International.  Before the truck, horses hauled our wheat to Leroy Or Sinnett.  In the 30’s, it cost 5 cents a bushel to have the grain thrashed and received 6 cents a bushel at the elevator.

Chores were a big part of my growing up life; making sure there was enough feed for the cattle and horses; grinding feed for the pigs; stacking hay and straw into huge haystacks.   We had a large pasture for the larger animals to graze and  part of it was used for the pigs to run and root up.  Mom had her own 100 egg incubator and set hens; selling eggs for 10 cents a dozen to the Leroy grocery store.  We usually took  milk to the cheese factory in LeRoy.

The Humboldt Creamery came to the farm for the cream. When my sister, Betty was born in 1936, the cream truck got stuck in a mud hole.  Dad pulled it out with 4 horses.  Driver Hank Hall (Glenn Hall’s father) asked if he put water in that mud hole to get himself a job.

The next year; Dad and two neighbors, Fred, Sid Harcourt and Johnny Knaus; shipped cattle to Winnipeg.  Dad shipped seven head prime steers and my uncle and the neighbor sort of culled their herd.  We got $35.00 and Uncle Sid and the neighbor each got a bill from the railroad that didn’t cover the freight.  It was a big deal selling those cattle.  There were between 20 and 30 head all together that we had herded to Leroy with horse and wagon.  The railroad sent that one bill and never sent another one.

I went to Caseyville school as a youngster.  It was 1 ½ miles cross country to the school and had been built in about 1913 at one location and moved to the location I went to in the early 20’s.  Thomas Casey donated land that the school sat on and he and my maternal grandfather were part of building the school.  It was made of lumbar; with a wood stove; and in the 20’s a basement was added where wood was stored as well as stage equipment; and had windows put in on the north side.  A new furnace in the 30’s; with an addition of porch and cloakroom’s in the 40’s.  Ratepayer’s meetings with boards of trustees made decisions for the Caseyville school district on such things as teacher; trustees; putting up the wood and janitor bids.  Trustees I remember were Sid Harcourt; Julian Verbeke; Hughie Downey, Otto Nieman.  My sister, Edith Flory took over being janitor when she was in Grade eight and it involved lighting the fire in early mornings; doing the sweeping and cleaning up.

When I was going to school there were about 10 to 15 families and right now the ones I remember are Verbekes, Knaus, Fred Harcourt; Sid Harcourt; Bernard, Caseys, Niemans, Harpauers, Johnson’s, Downeys, Helgesons, Fahrenson’s and Harders.  There were 10 grades with about 25-30 students.  Teachers names are listed in history books and there is a whole list from 1910 to 1960 when the school closed and the building went to Lanigan.  The children then went to Leroy School.  I kept the Caseyville sign from the school and my youngest daughter Shirley has it as her daughter is named Casey.

I walked or took the horse and buggy to school in the summer and sleigh and caboose in the winter.  There were a few times the school had to be closed due to inclement weather in the wintertime; but not often.  We got report cards and 50% was the passing scale out of 1-100%. Teachers had discipline and sometimes help from older classes to teach so many grades.  When teachers came to the district; they usually boarded with a local family.   Sometimes the school inspector would arrive unexpectedly; stay ½ an hour to ½ day; testing orally or some writing; go through workbooks and the teacher carried on as usual.

One school memory is getting my head stuck in a cream can; head went right in; the big boys stuck me in upside down when I was in Grade one or two.  The Male teacher put his hands on both sides of my head and wiggled back and forth to get my head out.

I had a one gallon syrup pail to carry my lunch to school and it consisted of homemade sandwiches; dried fruit and sometimes soup to heat on the woodstove.  At recess we played anti-I-over ; a game where half the kids on one side of the school; half on the other; one side threw the ball over saying Anti-I-Over and as soon as the other side caught it; they got to run around and throw it at you like dodge ball; if you got hit, you were on their side;  if they didn’t catch it; couldn’t run around.  Other games were ball; different tag games; prisoners base; or pump pump pull away.  That game had a chief in the middle with all the kids lined up at each end of like a football field holding hands; half on one side; half on the other. The chief would say pump pump pull away; if you don’t come away; I will pull you away; and the kids would run towards the other side without the chief touching them.

We couldn’t afford gloves for baseball; so we had mostly soft ball games and sometimes played against other school districts; mostly Neunam and Manresa.

Mom’s school she taught at in 1916 was a similar one room school; windows on the north side; blackboard in front; cloakroom.  16 x 24; lumbar; tar paper; insulation; shiplap; siding over that.  Kids sat in double desks; teacher had a desk and chair; chalkboard ledge with chalk and erasers; a big box hanging above the chalkboard to pull three or four maps down.  The school library at her school had about 25 books and a great big dictionary.  Children used slates and a scribbler which the parents bought.  There was a wood stove; and one of the big boys was a janitor.  There was an outbuilding at the school she taught; with 10 or 12 stalls for horses.  Water was hauled by cream can; and everyone used the dipper.  A wash bowl was used for washing hands and everyone used the same water until it got thick.

She was part of putting on concerts; 2 for wartime for the Red Cross; and church bazaars as well as a dance for 35 cents a piece.  She said teachers were looked up to; as if a smattering above others in the community; like a model in decency’s; they toed the mark and as if they represented a higher standard that others were to follow.  She felt she had been liked as a teacher as children brought her flowers, food; and their enthusiasm; showing her things and was on good terms with her pupils for the rest of their lives.  Three of her pupils became president of the Humboldt Senior Citizen’s Club in later years.

The curriculum she remembered was reading, writing, spelling, composition; geography, arithmetic, history, nature studies, and music; songs that she knew she would teach the children.  The children would stand and read their lessons aloud; some at the board; and they had memory work, especially for the times tables.  She felt that children at that time did get a good education in the basics; and said with TV’s in the 90’s; that kids got a much wider education but as if nothing stands for anything; and back then values and morals were much more emphasized.

She said discipline was much stronger then.  She thinks she used the strap a few times but said usually just a glare was enough. She said there were two little English boys; their mother had died and were being brought up by a spinster aunt; that they didn’t keep the rules and were very hard to discipline.   Standard hours of school were 9-3:30.  One day the children were singing “when we were a tulip; a bright yellow tulip,” and the kids pointed out the north window, the inspector was arriving by horse and buggy.  He came in; the kids kept singing and then he proceeded to check their workbooks; ask them questions while my Mom shivered in her boots she said.  Before he left, he checked the register and asked them to sing the tulip song again.

The Christmas concert had each child included, usually did something around the nativity; manger scene; and Santa Claus always came. She said there was always a book around with little skits; plays, and recitations.  She said a little boy might come on stage and say in a real loud voice, “Ladies and Gentleman, Ladies and Gentleman and when he said it three or four times; he might say; Have you never seen a man before and run off the stage.  It was little things like that that had all the parents laughing and took them away from all the hard physical work they did to clear the land; and the physical work they did to survive.

She said they learned lots of action songs like; “up up in the sky, the little birds fly; down, down in their nest; the little birds rest; the wind on the right; the wind on the left and would have all the little kids doing some action in unison.  They all brought a noon lunch; maybe a fried egg sandwich; if they were lucky; a piece of ham; some had butter; some had lard on their sandwich; maybe cake or a cookie.  She said they dressed for the weather; when it was cold in the country; you had on a heavy coat; scarf around the nose; overshoes; felt shoes and all wore long underwear.

She said the students all worked hard; willing to work as hard as they possibly could; and that she had had two children with mental disabilities; and even one of them was able to get up and say, “Fishy fishy in the brook, Daddy caught it on the hook; mama fried him in the pan and Daddy ate him like a man.”  She had each one say something at the Christmas concert; emphasizing that very little school time was used to prepare for it; but the kids were more than happy to practice at recess and noon hours.

Recess and noon hours were a time the kids put on their clothes; went out to play fox and goose; ball; drop the handkerchief; played catch or other games like statue; where one person could twirl all the others around; and how they ended up they stayed like a statue; there was one judge for who had the nicest pose;  the winner got to twirl the others next time.

In the 20’s, when I was at school;  at Halloween we dunked for apples and decorated the school.  As a child, we never went out for Halloween as it was kind of frowned upon; a kind of taboo thing.  In the 1950’s; the teenagers would start a few pranks; like put a harness on a car; tip bales; take a wagon apart and reassemble it on top of a barn.

Back at school we made home made Valentines for Valentines Day; and for sure had a Christmas concert.  Lots of time, the teacher was judged by how good the concert was.  Some would start us practicing as soon as the snow flew and it would be a bunch of plays, drills and skits.  It would wind up with Santa Claus coming.  If the school board could afford it; we’d have a Christmas tree or a poplar tree with Christmas tree branches and then someone would pay and take it home.   At home we had a Christmas tree if at all possible with colored paper and home-made decorations and we did receive presents; mitts and candy or maybe clothes; overalls, combinations; shirts pants; or if confirmation was coming; maybe a suit.    Gifts I remember being under the tree were dolls, teddy bars; mitts, stocking and balls.  I remember a special time when I got a new sleigh; a hand sleigh and there was real good crusted snow and we went sleighing and wore the toe out of my mocassins.   If we had enough hay and grain that we had put up; we’d give the livestock special feed.  If there was midnight mass available, we went.

I learned to play the violin when I was 12 or 13.  It was a $5.00 Eatons fiddle; which I got from my cousin on my mom’s side, Gabriel Mehr.  That I would be playing at dances for the rest of my life but back then played for the kids marching drills; “Marching through Georgia” or “Tramp, Tramp the Boys are Marching”.

In the 1930’s, we used the school as the gymnasium for boxing and people would come all the way from Burr. We also had 4-H dances; place for the literary society to meet;  the pie and box socials where the ladies would bring a package of lunch or pie; and it would be disguised; the guys would bid; eat supper or share lunch with the ladies.  Every year each school district had a picnic; and people from miles around came for ball games, supper and a fun day all around.

I went to school till I finished grade ten in about 1937; and worked for neighboring farmers; the Doyles, Verbekes and Downeys from 1937 to 1941.  When the war came, people said it was going to make a big change in everybody’s life; rationing came in; we had to register and get a number.  Two of my brothers were in.    I went to work in an ammunition factory in Preston Ontario but with both of my brothers in the Army;  had to come back and help with harvest.   In 1941, I went to Ontario in a box car loaded with settler’s effects (stowed away).  During the war years, an awful lot of people went to work in factories or airports; and I’d say that was the beginning of the end of the rural population.  It was awfully hard on families and really rough when there were casualties.  A list came out and they usually received a telegram.

After the war I went into heavy road construction.  Through the years I belonged to the Wheat Pool, the Co-op; Leroy School Board, St Patrick Church Board and as a youth; was a member of CYC; the Catholic Youth Club as well as 4-H.

I married Nellie Casey in 1949.  We had a small 14x 16 house with a kitchen and a bedroom and lived there until 1954 and had three boys.   The fall of 1954 we moved a16 x 24 house onto SW 16 Rge 21 T35 W2nd and had three girls.  In 1958 we built an addition on to make it a 22 x 40 house with a full basement and then had four more girls; so ten kids and two adults in an 880 square foot house.   1958 was the year we got power and a green pump with two cisterns for water; one we’d fill from the slough; and the other for the drinking water we’d haul 9 miles from Leroy.  We used a gas lamp till the power came; and the first appliance we bought was a fridge.

I went from the heavy construction work; to building roads and then grading roads for the RM of Leroy, Humboldt and Wolverine until I retired in 1985.

I retired to Humboldt; living here at present, am 83 year old;  and at this writing in Oct of 2004; I golfed over 70 rounds this past summer; play fiddle every day and once a week at  various lodges around such as Middle Lake, Nokomis, Watson; Lanigan and Cudworth.  I bowl; play cards; take seniors around to appointments and quite enjoy life.

One last story of my youth.  At recess or noon hour at the school; the boys would go skinny dipping in the slough.  Eddie Knaus and I were trying to catch young hell divers who couldn’t fly.  Agnes Casey was the teacher.  We got back at 3:30 and she lined us all up at the back end of the school; gave us all a talking to; and we had a choice; ten licks of the strap, five on each hand or do without noon hours and recesses for a week.  Dick was the biggest, so she layed it on him.  Others chose to stay in.  I was second or third from the end.  I stuck my hand out; and she didn’t wallop me as hard.  That didn’t help because then there was no one to play with at noon hour.  After three or four days, she relented and let the others out.

—-Ellen Sagh

summer:  306 382-5204
winter      480 373-1734
writings:   ellensagh.com

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