The Homestead - Part 1 of 3

As many of you know, I recently returned to Regina in order to attend my sister's wedding. While there, my Dad and I spent an afternoon together at the family's homestead. This site was the landing spot for the clan - Great Grandfather owned a couple of sections of land and even donated what is now the town site to the United Church.   At the peak of the farm's productivity, Grandpa owned and farmed almost 2000 acres of land.  This may seem quite average by today's standards (in 2011 the average Saskatchewan farm was  1,668 acres), but 50 years ago this was an enormous amount of land.

As the story goes, after growing up on the family homestead in Saskatchewan, my grandfather struck out to find his fortune.  His searching would lead to a manufacturing job in Toronto, where by all accounts he did quite well and was rapidly rising through the management ranks.  One day he received a missive, instructing him to return to Saskatchewan and take over the family farming business. Not wishing to disobey his father, Grandpa packed up his wife and newborn daughter and abandoned his career in The Big Smoke for the family farm in Big Sky country.

During the War, Grandpa volunteered to go overseas, but was rejected due to his eyesight.  As the story goes, the recruiter assuaged my Grandfather's disappointment by telling him that his work on the farm was just as important as those in the trenches.  I cannot say for certain if this was any consolation, but back to the farm he went.

It was here that three more sons were born into the family, including my Dad - the youngest and the apple of his mother's eye.  Grandma and Grandpa lived in town for many decades, spending winters in Florida, until Grandma's passing.

Grandpa then moved to the farm and continued to snowbird down in Florida for many more years.  Later in life, he moved back into town and "commuted" to the farmstead with his red pickup truck.  He'd then either jump on the tractor or the quad and head out to his enormous garden.  I will always remember digging carrots and potatoes in that garden, and enduring his admonishments and scorn as I accidentally forked a root vegetable.

The dinner table was always furnished with the fruit of his labour - a home-raised chicken, potatoes from the garden, creamed peas of which he was very proud, and inevitably a strawberry-rhubarb pie for dessert.

Since my grandfather passed away last year, the farmstead has been completely abandoned. As you can see from the photos, some of the outbuildings have long since been unused and fallen into disrepair.   As we walked about the yard, my Dad told me stories about these old buildings - stories of his childhood, growing up in a small town, his schoolmates, siblings, pets and animals.

 The Land of Living Skies
I guess this is where every prairie story begins - with the wide open spaces, above and under foot.  This is the sight that greeted me as we wended our way from city, through valley, over flat lands and through coulees to the family's cradle.  I felt like a young child again, in my dad's car, head out the window drinking in the dry summer air.  Upside down, watching the clouds roll by, as one correction line corner fell into another. 

The Field
The staple of southern Saskatchewan, once prolific and ubiquitous - wheat.  Although many contemporary farmers have diversified into other grains and pulses, wheat, oats and barley were the traditional backbone of the Canadian prairies. This field, slowly ripening, is part of the homestead, now leased, but still producing beautiful grain.

The Swather
If you can imagine, this swather has done more work in its lifetime than I have done in mine. Compare this to the monstrosities of a contemporary farm and your mind will reel at the amount of work this machine performed in order to prepare 2000 acres of grain for the combine.  This machine cuts the ripened grain and lays it neatly in a row for the wind to dry before the combine gathers it up. I have memories of my Dad on this machine, helping Grandpa and working well into the night - under a shade umbrella with a jar of water by day, working carefully by tiny headlights in the dust by night.

The Combine
One of the greatest and most complex machines on the modern farm.   Once the grain has had a few days to dry in swathes, the combine moves down the row, picks up the cut plant, removes the head from the stalk (straw), and winnow the grain from the chaff.  The grain is then held in the large hopper behind the driver and emptied with the auger, hanging out on the right, into a truck or tractor wagon.  This machine is miniature by modern commercial farm standards, yet performed just as much, if not more, work than a modern machine.

The Elevator
In so many ways, Grandpa was ahead of his time.  He was one of the first to move from teams of draft horses to a tractor, the first in southern Saskatchewan to own a four-wheel drive truck (the International Harvester Scout) and one of the first to clean his own grain.  This is the farmstead's elevator - where grain was cleaned, dried and stored for a short period of time before moving to the granary. This structure, and the machinery once contained therein, was built entirely by my grandfather.  The building's machinery was housed in the centre portion. Once prepared and ready, the grain was "elevated" and poured into one of the side bins. This is the traditional shape of a prairie elevator and although they are a rare sight today, in my mind's eye I can still see orange, grey and white sentinels standing guard over prairie rails.

The Granary
These buildings dot the prairie landscape - some larger, many smaller.  They are often found boarded up, rotting away and leaning away from the prevailing winds. This building would hold the cleaned, dry grain from his elevator - waiting to be taken and sold to the commercial elevator in town. The church, elevator and Chinese restaurant are the heart of every small Saskatchewan town.

To Be Continued...

Part 2 can be found here.

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