Category: Saskatoon

Bread and Buns for the Wounded

When I started researching the Hamilton family’s history and realized that my grandfather’s only sister, Maggie, had died at the age of 23, I cried. I felt I knew her personally after reading the two letters she wrote from Saskatchewan to her aunt in Ontario in 1885. Those letters portrayed a young woman full of promise: observant, articulate and empathetic.

this may be a photo of Maggie

 My last post focused on a letter in which Maggie described life on her family’s prairie farm. This second letter describes her experiences during the Northwest Rebellion of 1885 when Canadian government soldiers set up a field hospital near her home to care for those wounded in battle.

She also expressed sympathy for friends and relatives who had recently lost young children. When she wrote this letter in July, she had no idea that her father would die of a heart attack in September, and that she herself would contract typhoid less than a year later. RIP, Margaret Hamilton, born Scarborough, Ont. Sept. 26, 1862, died Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, June 24, 1886.

(See also “Maggie Hamilton’s Letter from Saskatoon, 1885,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Feb. 15, 2019)


Maggie’s remains now lie in the family plot in Winnipeg.

May 13, 1885
My Dear Aunt,

We received your kind and welcome letter and were very sorry to hear of you having so much trouble. No doubt you will miss your dear little child very much but what a comfort it must be to you to think that he is now safe in the Arms of Jesus. There are so many of our friends gone to their graves since we left Ontario. I’m sure it is a warning to us all to keep watch for we know not the day nor the hour that the Son of Man cometh.

A few weeks ago Mr. and Mrs. Copland, our most intimate friends out here, lost their only child, a little girl of about four years of age. She died of diphtheria. They left four little children lying in their graves in Ontario and came out here partly to be away from the places where they had so much trouble.

July 20th

I am very sorry to have been so long in answering your kind letters but we have been so very busy this summer that I have neglected my writing…. The soldiers are all gone now and the place seems very quiet. I think you have no idea what a stir war makes in a country. Mother says that we have seen a great many changes since we parted with you at the station in Toronto and I’m sure we have. I only wish that we could meet and have a talk.

You may be sure we were very anxious for a while last Spring not knowing the night that they might come in on us. When the Indians did come, they camped on our place. People think now that there would likely have been more trouble with them had we not been gathered together in Saskatoonand prepared as best we could to meet them. We hear after that White Cap had got orders to take all arms from Saskatoon people. No doubt Father will tell you all about them.

I baked bread and buns for the wounded when they were here and after they were gone for the London Fusiliers. Sometimes baked about eighty weight a day in a little no. 8 stove. I’m sure the wounded men got every attention. I just wish you could have seen the Hospital to see how comfortably they were fixed up, everything so tidy and clean. I think many of them could not have been so well attended to if they had been at home. I believe they had almost every kind of fruit and vegetables you could think of in the cases of presents that were sent out to them.

We made a party for them before they went away. Tea was served from four to six and after that a short entertainment and after that was over dancing commenced which lasted until morning. We had a very nice time. Had another party in Saskatoon on Dominion Day. The London Fusiliers were down from the Crossing. Were playing games all day and some of the songs they sang they had composed since they came out telling about their journey and the band was there too. Many things I could tell you if I saw you that I cannot write about. I must now close as the mail leaves Saskatoon in about an hour. I am glad to think the war is over. All send our love to you all.

From your loving niece,
Maggie Hamilton

Maggie Hamilton’s Letter from Saskatoon, 1885

In 1885, 22-year-old Maggie Hamilton (1862-1886), was living on a farm in Saskatchewan with her parents and five brothers, including Robbie, her oldest brother. They had moved to Saskatoon three years earlier from Scarborough, Ontario. That winter, she wrote to her aunt, Mrs. James Gibson – her mother’s sister, Susan (Glendinning) Gibson — describing the sights they had seen and challenges they faced as prairie pioneers. Years later, someone typed a copy of that original letter and shared it with other family members. It is treasured. 

Here is most of that letter:

Saskatoon, Feb. 21st, 1885

Dear Aunt,

How are you? We often wonder how you are getting along but never hear from you. I intended to have written to you soon again but although I did not, still was not because we had forgotten you. When we hear of anything being wrong with any of our friends in Ontario, it is then we feel we are far away.

We are living about 17 miles from the telegraph crossing so we might hear from you in a few hours. It seems a short time considering the distance we are apart. We were just about half way here when we got to St. Paul. We are about 110 or 120 miles south of Prince Albert and Battleford is about the same distance west of us. People out here do not seem to think much of traveling 18 or 20 miles. I believe people in Ontario would talk as much traveling 4 or 5 miles.

You would be surprised to see the long trains of freight carts there are on the trail sometimes. When we were coming in we met over one hundred which were said to be loaded with skins owned by Hudson’s Bay Company. The carts are mostly drawn by ponies, some by oxen. A train of 30 carts can be managed by five men. One man rides around on horseback to keep the train in order. One man was telling us last fall when he was on the trail, he met one hundred and fifty carts coming in which were loaded with flour. The two grist mills in Prince Albertwere burnt down last summer.

Hamilton family bible (private collection)

We had very dry weather here all last spring. Had no rain worth speaking of until the first of July so the grain had not time to ripen before the frost came. Old settlers say it was quite an unusual thing to have such drought as we had last summer.

We have far more snow here this winter than we had last. We have had good sleighing since the first of Nov. The lowest I have known the thermometer to be this winter was 55 degrees below zero. It is reported to have been 65 below in Moose Jaw this winter.

We expect the snow will be all gone in five or six weeks from now. Robbie was ploughing on the 3rd of April last spring. The ground was frozen so that he could not plough all day until about the middle of April.

Five men have gone down to Moose Jaw from Saskatoon this winter and have been out in some of the coldest weather. It would not be so bad if there were stopping places on the way. What would you think of sleeping out of the snow night after night for about two weeks as they have to do? The road or trail between here and Moose Jaw is good all summer ….

Robbie is just leaving for the Post Office so I must close now, hoping to hear from you soon.                                                                        

Your affectionate niece
Maggie Hamilton