Saturday, 27 August 2016

Saskatchewan Pioneer Diary 1934

In 1934, teenager Laura McDonald traveled with her family of 10 for 3 weeks by horse caravan through central Saskatchewan, a 185-mile trip.

The family left Helena, Montana, USA, during the depression to Canada. So far they traveled about 500 miles to Zelma, Saskatchewan, where this story begins, in search of better farm. At the time, Canada was extensively advertising for desirable White farmers.

They had 4 wagons — a 12’ by 14’ caboose for sleeping pulled by four horses, a Bennett buggy for animals, a wagon for animal food and furniture, a wagon with heavy farm equipment; and they brought 21 cattle, 11 horses, five pigs, four turkeys, 24 hens and two dogs.

An except from her diary about the trip was published this year:
Laura McDonald. ‘The Diary of Our Trip Up North: Zelma to Mullingar via Saskatoon, 185 miles by caravan in three weeks, July 3rd to July 23rd, 1934’. Saskatchewan History, vol. 68, Number 1, Spring/Summer 2016: pages 12 - 22.
Direct route is 120 miles. McDonald's traveled 185 miles.
Her Diary was especially interesting to me because I grew up in the same area, and recall many of the images described:
  • ‘Sand drifting four or five feet deep along the road allowance’.
  • Playing ball with neighbours. Because the group travelled in the Eagle Creek area where I went to public school as well as Eagle Point School area where there was a baseball field for Sunday sports days. Perhaps my Dad and Uncle played ball with the McDonalds?
  • Crossing a ferry over the North Saskatchewan River. I have done that many times over the former Petrofka Ferry en route to Blaine Lake, Sask.
  • Picking, eating and canning very tasty saskatoon berries.
  • Many mosquitoes.
  • Drying clothes on a clothesline.
  • Her mother baked 32 loaves of bread which the family ‘ate like nobody’s business’. We did the same.
  • Mullinger, had one street, a store and two grain elevators, familiar, like Environ in the Eagle Creek District.

All of that was good. But the Diary revealed some prejudice towards minorities. Here are the passages that are offensive to me:
  • July 13th, Friday ... When we were camped tonight, an old fat Mennonite drove up. He stopped and when he talked he yelled. When he left he bawled back at Dad for miles almost. He says “goot caboose”. “goot water”. “goot Missus”. “whoa!” “gaddap”!” “giddap!” until we almost died laughing at him.’ (Page 18).
  • July 14th, Saturday ... While I was in bed a Doukhobour [Doukhobor] and wife came by in a buggy. He got out and led the horse by because it was frightened. But just when he got by it jumped and the harness fell half off. The old lady hung onto the lines and screamed. When he got it stopped she got out over the wheel. But one shaft broke. Fred went out to help and gave him “hail hallelujah” in Doukobour language. She’d sit down and bawl and then get up and yell at the old man. He cut another shaft from the trees nearby but when they left she walked behind. This country is overrun with Mennonites and Doukhobours….’ (Page 18).
  • July 15th, Sunday ... There’s a smart alec city kid visiting some of his Doukhobour relations. Can he swear! He brought about 11 kids with him so we played softball. The boys against the girls. We lost. This was after dinner. Then we went for a dip. There were about 25 people at the place where they swim. 99% of them were Doukhobours. There’s only one thing that is smarter than a Doukhobour, that’s two of them. One guy could duck pretty good so he’d duck and dive and every time he’d come up, he looked like a drowned rat with a grin like a monkey….So I afterward said to dad, we saw one white man out of 100 Doukhobours and he has to be walking around with no shirt on. After supper about 15 young men came out and played ball. Us girls had a game among ourselves and my side won for once….’ (Page 19).

The prejudice of the McDonald family in the 1930s was obvious and it was wrong. Her Diary reminds me of Hazel O'Neail's Doukhobor Daze (1962), about her experiences as a one-room school teacher also in the 1930s.

The McDonald Diary and O'Neail book are mild compared to the later sensationalism of the media (1940-2000) demonizing the Doukhobors as ‘nudists’, ‘bombers’, ‘terrorists’, and ‘Communists’. However, these prejudices (mild and serious) do mould public opinion which in turn influence public policy. What can we say about human nature — have we made progress?

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