Heritage: Life on Our Manitoba Homestead

by Annie Coleman (Kerr) Sexton, published in Stanton Stats March 10, 1994

Housework was [Mother’s vocation.] She had a well organized schedule, from which she seldom departed. She rose at dawn. Each day of the week had its appointed tasks. Friday was bake day when she baked enough to last all the next week. Some of the [baking] was pretty dry by the end of the week but it wasn’t put in the garbage. Mother baked bread for many of the bachelors [who settled nearby] thereby getting some money. She was an expert at baking bread and must have made thousands of loaves during her life time.

Her work was generally finished by noon. After dinner she washed, combed her long hair, put on a clean apron and sat down in her small rocking chair to do various jobs such as mending, knitting [or] piecing quilt tops. The knitting caused me misery [since] wool then was harsh and the long black stockings she knit were horrid. At first sign of Fall we had to put them on and how I cried. When I had to stand in line for school classes the itch of that wool was misery. Now I realize we couldn’t have managed without their warmth.

When I was two years old, my sister Sadie took scarlet fever and died. For some reason the rest of us escaped the disease. As there were no cemeteries then, she was buried near our house. Many years after with the Government’s permission ($5,000) she was moved to Deloraine cemetery.

The first animals [my parents] owned were oxen. When Father got horses, he built a stable of poles, covered with pressed straw. Inside it was divided into stalls. In the centre there was a bin for oats, [and a] shelf to hold curry combs and brushes. At one end of the roof there was a hole through which to put in loose hay.

The stable held together until 1910 when Father had a big frame barn built. He had it double nailed so it would last a life time. It was decided to paint it light gray so it would be different from all the red barns. When all was complete, we had a country hoe down in the loft — a very gay event.

Near the stable, a shallow well with grand drinking water was dug. A wooden casing around the walls was put in. Water was dipped out with a pail and long rope. Many people got water at this well, especially in threshing time when tanks of water were required for steam engines. Years later a pump was put in, and later still a windmill. As the well was so far from the house a barrel was filled, put on a stone boat and drawn to the house. We children had to make frequent trips to carry small pails of water for cool drinks. It was a job we disliked but with my parents you didn’t dare protest or you didn’t get any pay for jobs.

We had a big pasture — sixty-two acres. By now we had a couple of cows that stayed in the pasture. Father always milked them near the house. There was usually a young calf tethered near the house. In addition to milk, it got vitamins from mangels, a sort of beet grown in the garden. I had to pull these, slice them up and carry [them] to the calf.

There was a big rack with shelves in the cellar where the milk was put in big tin pans. When Mother was sure the last drop of cream had risen to the top, she skimmed it into a jar, [and] when the jar was full of sour cream she churned it. Her butter was super and we didn’t waste it. Although the price was low, it still brought in a few needed dollars.

I was a big girl before I ever tasted whole milk or cream. One day I was sitting out of doors when a man and wife were driving by. They asked if they could have some milk for their baby. I said I was sorry but there wasn’t any milk skimmed.

Nearby our house there was a small building for a few pigs. There was a swill barrel beside it. All the refuse from the house went into the barrel as well as grain. This was the feed for the pigs. There was a couple of acres of virgin soil fenced in for the pig pasture.

A pig had to weigh between three or four hundred pounds before Father would butcher it. Then the meat was cut up and put in a heavy brine. During week days we had fried pork. Saturday Mother boiled a piece to have cold on Sunday. She thought it wrong to cook on Sunday. Father loved this cold fat meat; [he] put molasses on it.

When we children were young, he taught us to box. When a pig was butchered the bladder was saved, blown up and hung from the ceiling for a punching bag.

We had lots of wild geese and ducks when they came to the Lake in the Spring and Fall, [as there was] no closed season then. They were delicious, somehow they don’t taste the same now. . . Sometimes when we had only one goose cooked and visitors dropped in, Father had to do some smart carving to make [enough] to go around.

We always had a big patch of potatoes. When these were dug in the Fall it was a very tiring job picking them up. [It] always seemed to be a cold nasty day for the job. We also had horseradish and as soon as it was ready in the Spring grating big quantities of it was an eye watering job but, we loved it on meat.

Then [there were] the red, white and black currants that always were ripe in school holidays. I fervently wished those bushes would die. The big patch of raspberries was the worst [as there was] no sitting down on the job. One year Mother canned a hundred quarts. I still remember those luscious raspberry pies.

Our fuel was wood drawn from Turtle Mountain to the South. This was brought in winter time when the lake was frozen over and could be crossed. Trees had to be cut down in the mountain, then loaded on a flat sleigh. At home it was sawed with a buck saw by hand, then split. When we were big enough we carried arm loads to [the] house. We also had to gather the chips and take [them] in. They made a quick fire for a light meal. None of us dared to forget those chips.

I can’t remember Father working fields. He always had hired help [which was] cheap then. Father used to tell the men “If your fork is in the air when you hear the dinner call, leave it there and come running. Mrs Kerr likes meals on time.”

Soon threshing machines with steam engines came. One outfit covered a big territory. Neighbours working on it had to go a long way from home and spend their sleeping hours in a caboose. Father was usually engineer, with a fireman to keep engine fueled with straw, and a tank man to keep water for the steam. Quite often they were threshing all fall and until January. Father was also a good mechanic and he got many calls to fix binders.

Threshing time was a great event for us meal wise. There were anywhere from fifteen to twenty men for three meals a day. The long table took up much of the kitchen. Not to be outdone by the neighbours, Mother went all out. Roast beef and gravy was a must and I think I gorged on it. In later times we even had pie and pudding both at noon and cakes for supper.

Meantime my parents were helping out the population A son, two years younger than I was born named Walter; then after another two years a daughter named Susanna.

My sister Susie was four years my junior. Naturally we three younger ones did a lot of quarreling, always two against one. It always annoyed Mother and quite often the rod was used.