Tag: farming

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

Exploring Emerson

Ruth Breckman, her sister Jean Hewko, and recently discovered cousin Janice Hamilton (that’s me) visit the Forrester family plot in Emerson cemetery, Manitoba.

A few years ago, I was telling someone at the Quebec Family History Society library about the research I was doing on my Forrester ancestors. Someone else overheard me and asked, “Is that the Forresters of Manitoba?” Indeed it was! She told me that she had met a nice woman at a genealogy conference some years before who was also researching that family.

She put me in touch with Ruth Breckman, who turned out to be a distant cousin. Last fall, my husband and I visited Winnipeg, Manitoba. Ruth and her sister took us to the Aux Marais district, about 45 minutes south of the city, to visit the old Forrester farm. That was where Ruth grew up, and where my father’s mother, Lillian Forrester, spent her childhood.

Lillian was born near Belleville, Ontario in 1880. When she was about a year old, her grandparents, parents and most of her aunts and uncles moved west, along with thousands of other settlers. There, Lillian grew up on a prairie grain farm. As a young adult, she taught school for a year, then moved to Winnipeg to study nursing. In 1906, she married Dr. Thomas Glendenning Hamilton, and she spent the rest of her life in that city.

Lillian was not the only Forrester to leave the farm. Lillian’s parents, Jack and Mattie, retired in California, her uncle David became a lawyer in the nearby town of Emerson, uncle Don was a land developer, her aunt Jenny lived in Minnesota and uncle Jim also eventually moved to Winnipeg. Only her uncle William’s family kept on farming in the Aux Marais district, and Ruth is one of his descendants.

During our day-long excursion, Ruth showed us where the old one-room Marais schoolhouse used to be, and the historic community center. We crossed the Marais River, an apt name for a waterway that is more a marsh than a river. She also took us to Emerson Cemetery where my great-great grandparents (and her great-grandparents) Janet and James Forrester are buried.

Emerson was a boom town in the early 1880s. Located on the banks of the Red River and adjacent to the United States border, it was on the only rail line connecting eastern Canada with the prairies, a line that went through the U.S. When the Canadian Pacific Railroad completed the transcontinental railroad through Winnipeg in 1885, Emerson quickly declined. Today, just a few grand buildings remain, hinting at the town’s promising past.  

Members of the Forrester family still run the family farm.

After lunch, Ruth took us to visit the farm where the current generation of Forresters  grow corn, beans and other crops. The 3,000-acre farm they operate today includes the same four quarters, or 640 acres, that James and Janet Forrester and their sons purchased more than 130 years ago. They will most likely be the last members of the family on the farm.

Research Remarks:  The Manitoba Historical Society website, http://www.mhs.mb.ca, has links to a number of resources, including photos, maps and articles, as well as links to  other historical and genealogical organizations, museums and archives in the province. The society’s list of Memorable Manitobans includes several members of the Forrester family, and there is an article about Emerson at http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/mb_history/30/emersontour.shtml.