Relatively Speaking

Good morning everyone.

In our patch of the province we have a lovely morning with brown lawns crisp and frosted; skies are clear with no sign of the rain/snow we were supposed to get. Rain and/or snow were in the forecast last weekend and clouds have rolled over, but the precipitation fell elsewhere, leaving us dry as dust and still praying. Not quite this bad, though.

Courage.Sergey Klimkin

This spring reminds me of 1976 when there was no snow all winter; in February the dust was blowing in the streets where we lived. Not a sign of rain until the end of April. Good thing we did have snow this winter and there was some runoff, or the sloughs would be completely dry. Yesterday I saw a really sad sight: two mallards waddling along beside a tiny strip of ditch water — what’s left of the slough that was almost over the road two years ago. Where will they find a place to nest, and swim, and drink?

Enough of weather woes. I’ve said how our children gave us DNA test kits for our birthday and we sent off our samples a few weeks ago. Bob hasn’t got his results yet, but mine are in — and I now have a list of 1000 long-lost cousins who’ve also done the test. I told friends yesterday that I now have a thousand people to ask “How are we related?” 🙂

What came as a real surprise is the 9% Swedish and Norwegian. I had no clue! The other 91% is, quite predictably, British Isles.

Some names I expected:
On Mom’s side I find Harmon, Falconer, Working, and Smith.
On Dad’s side there are a few Vances, Turners, a Smith, an Allen, a Watchorn, an Alexander.
But most of the names I see, I have no clue where they fit.
The first person on the list was my cousin Laurie in Alberta. We match quite well because her grandma married her first cousin, so Laurie has double Turner genes. I also see mom’s first cousin’s daughter and mom’s sister’s grandson.

I also found a Falconer second cousin living in California and contacted her. Hopefully she’s interested in exchanging info. As you can see, my interest in genealogy has been revived. For what it’s worth. Names on a list don’t say much about the people, and you can’t help but wonder about their lives.

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