Monday, 17 October 2016

The Grasslands Project - an Oral History of small town Saskatchewan

Harvest Wheat Field by gripped
accessed 17.10.2016 Flickr CC License 
I am by nature a seeker of interesting stories. The Lethbridge Public Library website is where I often find out what's happening in Southern Alberta. I enjoy reading their online monthly newsletter "Happenings" which is free. One 'prairie-ish' article that caught my eye was the 'Special Film Evening' showcasing the Grasslands Project.

This project, provided and supported by the National Film Board of Canada, was the brain child of Scott Parker who project managed the entire production. It really is an innovative oral history project. In the summer of 2015, Scott spent 6 months in southern Saskatchewan, highlighting the lives of residents, including farmers, ranchers, rural firefighters and hotel owners to name a few. I particularly like this quote:

"There is power in people telling their own stories back to themselves [...]"

It really does speak as well of the importance of oral history as much as the importance of highlighting rural lives. This documentary gives a glimpse into these communities, provides a feeling for the prairie vistas and perhaps it may also help you imagine what it may have been like for your ancestors to live in small town Canada.

Here is a list of the shorts, with my comments. (For more details, please see the Grasslands Project link.):

No Other Place 9:12min. This was such a beautiful piece to open the documentary, lots of views of the prairies and heartfelt commentary of their love for the prairie from the 5 artists who were interviewed.

A Rancher's view  8:22min. Miles Anderson and his family ranch over 20,000 acres of land close by the Grasslands National Park. Their cattle have been a part of the preservation of the endangered sage grouse population in the park. Miles collaborates every day with the weather, the grasshoppers and Parks Canada.

After the Fire  9:27min. I can't tell you how much I respect volunteer firefighters. While I was living in rural Alberta, there was a horrible train accident in the main street area of town, and they were first on the scene. Often these volunteers are faced with the reality of seeing friends and family are involved. A very tough job, emotionally and physically, but every small town needs these dedicated volunteers.

Life Out Here  11:45min. Women ranchers and farmers are few and far between. Very strong personalities which are required to get the job done. Having a little bit of a 'tough' streak is really helpful too.  A love for the land and animals, but also 'just getting on with it' is very apparent in this documentary.

Homecoming 7:26min. The town parade, rodeo, fun-fair and baseball tournament all take place during one weekend in the summer. Run by volunteers with support from the town administration and sometimes funded by the provincial government, this annual event is a highlight of the year. In the photo on the NFB website you can clearly see the parade is all about the kids. This is a little piece I wrote about the centennial celebrations of some Alberta communities.

Val Marie Hotel  10:32  Often the hotel is the hub of the town, it's where the 'retired' farmers meet for coffee regularly every morning or moms and kids have a quick bite before heading off for hockey practice. If you ('an out of towner') walk in for a cup of coffee, all conversation stops as you are analyzed for your place in the community.

Population 21 9:17min  This is a poignant look at Wood Mountain, which has lost it's railway, elevators, hotel and the school. Shows the determination of it's residents and how they support each other at all times. At the end of the clip, 212 people showed up for the Fall Supper which is a great community event.

Les Fransaskois  8:35min.  Gravelbourg, a French speaking community in Southern Saskatchewan is unique because they feel they are the minority in a province where most speak English. As one person said in the film : "French remains a living language because people [in Gravelbourg] defend it."

The Last One  6:16min.  Herb Pidt left the farm at 17 and returned 30 years later. Now there is no one in the family who will be carrying on the tradition, so the farm is slowly disappearing. This is a sad but not unique tale as many 'nextgens' are not interested in continuing the family business.

Generations  7:47min. Ken and Shawn Catherwood, so alike in their love of the farm and the land. Different (meaning new) ideas about the technicalities of farming. Changes ahead, but it is apparent they are willing to listen and learn from each other. A lot of pride in handing down the family farm from generation to generation.

Thank you to Scott and especially to all of the participants in these films for the opportunity to share real life rural stories with my readers.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Hudson's Bay Company Family History

This post was created after reading a Twitter re-tweet of a post by @HBCHeritage  - HBC Letter Books (Copy book of letters outward 29 May 1680 - 5 July 1687 - this link leads to a post about the collection of the Letter Books held by the HBC Archives).

I have a personal interest in the HBCo., as one branch of my family tree were Red River Settlers and were indirectly affected by the work of the Hudson's Bay, in their journey from the Highlands of Scotland to Manitoba in the early 1800s.

At one time, the Hudson's Bay Company held most of their business records in London, UK, but these were transferred to Winnipeg in 1974. History of the records.

Hudson's Bay Store, Winnipeg, MB
© Penny Allen
The Hudson's Bay Archives website has much information, including an index of employees, which is freely available:
      However, please note this is an ongoing project and not every employee may be listed. The explanation document also gives descriptions of occupations:

On this page of the Archives of Manitoba there is information about employees at both Norway House and York Factory Officers & Servants Ledgers

A Twitter follower asked about HBCo. land records as her ggrandparents bought HBCo. land - these are on microfilm (may be borrowed through the traditional inter-institutional loan program ).

From a publication I found at the Society of Genealogists (London) titled 'Beaver House', I was able to determine a location for the building where the fur pelts were auctioned after arriving from the colonies. (circa 1920s) The cost to build Beaver House was £660,000; the warehouse (cold storage for keeping the approximately 2 million pelts of fur in a premium condition) was nearly 600,000 cubic feet. It was built on a site of the original Church of the Holy Trinity, which was in this location in 1666, the year of the Great Fire. The address is Great Trinity Lane London EC 4. 

Great Trinity Lane,
© Penny Allen
A variety of resources resulted from some internet research and by chatting with the volunteers at the Society of Genealogists.
  1. A WDYTYA episode had Sarah Millican looking for her ancestor who worked for the Hudson's Bay Company. 
  2. The first ship of the HBCo. - was the Nonsuch, a ketch, Capt. Zachariah Gillam, 1668. Other company's ships were : Prince Rupert, King George, Sea Horse and HMS Shark. (source: The Return of the Nonsuch: the ship that launched an Empire, by Laird Rankin, Heartland Associates Inc., 2004.)
  3. A couple of sites for more pictures of the Hudson's Bay buildings in London: ;
  4. Great Trinity Lane
    © Penny Allen
  5. The Lyons family website provides information about their ancestor who worked for the HBCo.
Great Trinity Lane,

© Penny Allen
There is a very good article on doing research at the Hudson's Bay Archives, and although a little dated, a lot of the material is helpful to gain an understanding of the organization of the records.

Hudson's Bay Record Society has 24 titles in a series published under: The Champlain Society for the Hudson's Bay Record Society. These titles can be searched in your local library system.

There are a fair few publications about the Hudson's Bay Company, the Fur Trade and it's effect on the economy of the New World and the United Kingdom. These are some rather interesting ones.

The West and Beyond: New Perspectives on an Imagined Region edited by Sarah Carter, Alvin Finkel and Peter Fortna. Based on a conference held at the University of Alberta in 2008.
     The chapter: 'Visualizing Space, Race and History in the North: Photographic Records in the Athabasca-Mackenzie Basin' by Matt Dyce and James Opp outlines the career of photographer Charles W. Mather and also touches on the 'Hudson's Bay Company Album' which includes pictures of indigenous people packing supplies.

The Remarkable History of the Hudson's Bay Company: Including that of the French Traders of North-western Canada and of the North-west, XY, and Astor Fur Companies by George Bryce, published in 1900. This link provides a snippet view but gives pertinent resources.

Empire of the Bay: The Company of Adventurers that Seized a Continent 
by Peter Newman. Google Books provides a snippet view which describes the company's history and gives great information about the settlements, the posts and the people.

Mural above elevators
Hudson's Bay Store, Winnipeg, MB
© Penny Allen
If you have ancestors linked with the Hudson's Bay Company, these records are easily accessible, and from personal experience, when I visited the Archives in Winnipeg a number of years ago, the staff are pleasant and very helpful. Happy searching!