Sympathies To Humboldt Folks

Another Funeral Today

I haven’t mentioned anything about our provincial tragedy yet, but thought I’d post something today and offer my sympathies to the families and community of Humboldt, SK.

Funerals have been ongoing this week — one is starting as I post this — for the ten Humboldt Broncos hockey team players, their coach, assistant coach, statistician, team therapist, a broadcaster and the bus driver who died as a result of a major road accident. If I have it right, ten other team members are still in hospital, two in critical condition.

Last week Friday the team was on its way to a game in Nipawin, SK. The bus was passing through an intersection when a loaded semi approaching from the side ran the stop sign and crashed into the front of their bus. The photos of the accident scene showed the bus on its side with its whole front end totally destroyed.

This morning we watched to a replay of the vigil held Sunday afternoon in Humboldt, where the Teams chaplain delivered an evangelical message. He spoke about the need to connect with God and walk with Him through this dark valley of death. The Pastor wasn’t glib or full of soothing words. He asked, “Where Wwas God? and where is God now?”

The Pastor had been driving his own kids to watch the hockey game and he arrived at the accident scene a few moments after the crash. He went along to the hospital, seeing first hand the suffering of the dying, the survivors. One sad part that came out in the news was that the injured were so battered, the father of one team member, an ER doctor, couldn’t identify his own son.

When news of the accident hit the media, President Donald Trump sent a message of condolence to Prime Minister Trudeau and the families involved. Anti-Trump media may perhaps find some fault, but we Canadians appreciate the kind gesture. That a US President, with all he has on his plate, would take note of an accident here in western Canada and send a note of sympathy, shows a compassionate side to the man.

The recording camera caught a few shots of Justin Trudeau, sitting in the crowd gathered in the Humboldt arena for the service. A number of prominent Canadians attended this service to pay their respects and show support. Team members who’ve died were between 16 and 21, the youth of the community. This is a major blow, with so many homes suffering a direct loss and ten more where health issues will be ongoing. We feel with them in their loss.

Canada Becomes Our Home (2)

Once upon a time in Gallowayshire, Scotland, a man named David Vance took a wife named Agnes Jones. The two of them had a number of sons. Sad to say, David was killed in a lightning storm at age thirty-four. After this David’s sons yielded to the lure of the New world, with its offer of farm land for all. Ontario, Canada was being opened up for farming and it sounded good to them.

One of his sons, Joseph, was now a widower with a young son. Together with three of his brothers and their families, he and son John boarded a ship that took them to New York. While in New York he met Sarah, the daughter of Samuel Allen, and she consented to be his wife and go with him to Ontario.Canada flag

They landed in Oxford County about 1835, took up a homestead, and settled down to raise a family right near his brothers. Sarah and Joseph had six sons and one daughter, Sarah Jane.

One of their youngest sons, Samuel, married a Miss Mary Smith, daughter of John Smith and Ruth (Dobson). Mary had had a mishap when she was a young girl: she’d fallen from the roof of a shed or granary and broken her ankles. According to family tradition, the bones didn’t heal right and she was crippled from then on, walking with two canes in her adult years.

Sam and Mary farmed near Listowel, Ontario and had two sons, Allen and William. In the 1890s Sam and Allen felt the call to “Go west”; in the fall of 1899 they boarded the train for Saskatchewan to claim some of the almost-free farm land. Sam’s second son, William, was only 16— too young to file on a homestead — so he stayed in Ontario with his mother.

That fall Sam and Allen each filed on a homestead near Spy Hill, SK. But then they went hunting and Sam was killed when his gun backfired. In the spring Allen went back to Ontario; this was when Mary learned that Sam was dead.

SK flag

Saskatchewan provincial flag

Allen had his work cut out for him when the Vance family arrived in Spy Hill. He had to fulfill the obligations of his own homestead agreement — which involved breaking so many acres and building a home — plus those of his father so that his mother could get her land title. A few years later Allen married a schoolteacher, Miss Emily Turner, born in Grey County, Ontario.

While the Vances were looking toward Saskatchewan and the almost-free 160 acres of farmland, so were certain American farmers. Farmland was filling up fast in the US Midwest, so fathers with a number of sons were thinking they needed more cheap land.

James Henry Harmon was born in Maine and later homesteaded in Iowa, then moved to  Elk River, Minnesota, where my great-grandfather James Welcome Harmon was born.  James II married Mary Wilson and farmed in southern MN until the farmland was all taken up there. James had nine children already and, thinking of opportunity for his sons, he decided to claim one of the cheap homesteads being offered in western Canada. Just before the start of WWI James brought his family to the rich farmland southwest of the town of Melfort.

Leath Falconer and his wife were both born in Scotland, but they decided to find the end of the rainbow near Melfort, SK, together with their two daughters, Thelma & Rebecca. In time Thelma Falconer met up with Floyd Harmon and there was a wedding.

Their daughter Louise married Allen Vance, a younger son of Allen Vance and Emily Turner. and thus I came into the world 11 months after my brother Jim, followed by four siblings. Born here in Sask; grew up on the Canadian prairie. Love this land!

Canada Day wreath

Clearing the Land

My Uncle Fred (Dad F) sold his farm back about 1958. This was the original home place, the farm he’d inherited from his father, Thomas Forsyth. He did, however, retain one quarter section —160 acres — a couple of miles south of the farm; this was rented to neighbours as pasture.

After Bob and I were married, I longed to make a “sentimental journey” back to Pathlow, where I spent the first four years of my life and visited many times after. Dad mentioned this land he still owned so we made a stop there to have a look around.

We parked our car by the side of the road, got out and looked around. Tall grass grew in a small area — this would be where the renter pastured his cattle — but most of the quarter was covered with native poplar bush. A spindly tree every meter.

We’d driven up on gravel roads, past miles of fertile fields, but my mind went back to the original settlers, who’d maybe got off the train at Melfort, seventeen miles NE, to outfit themselves and begin the search for their land claim. For those who came later a road of sorts had been made through the bush, but the first homesteaders would have wandered in the woods or followed creek banks until they came to the part that matched the land description in their hands.

And there they stood. Maybe with a backpack containing some food and another sack holding their tiny tent and a blanket. Likely they’d bought an axe, hanging from their belt. Now go for it. Start chopping, clear this land, build a farm.

Back around 1908 Thomas Forsyth, born in Glasgow, Scotland and a coal miner heretofore, carved his farm out of bush just like this. He called it Hillside Farm because the house and buildings were built on a rolling upward slope. My great-grand and grandfather Vance would have faced a similar situation when they arrived at Spy Hill, SK. A few farms had been wrested from the bush, but most of the land was forest, except where creeks meandered through it.

Thankfully clearing the land wasn’t the daunting prospect our forefathers faced when they landed in Oxford County. Our grandfather Allen didn’t face chopping down maple trees a meter thick such as great-grandfather Sam felled when he moved up to the Listowell area. Old timers in Ontario talked of a time when you could travel the trail from Kitchener to Sarnia without ever seeing the sun because there was such a dense canopy of spreading maple branches overhead. Can you imagine launching into those woods with an axe?

Today we see fields of waving grain all over Saskatchewan — because those who came first were willing to start swinging that axe.

Originally posted on the Vance-Turner Connect blog – March 2014