Bienfait Pioneers

Bienfait, Saskatchewan, Canada

Info from 1955 History book, and my personal notes

A. Shelter

The pioneers homes were made of sticks, sod, clay and sometimes with mud and straw roofs. They obtained their heat by means of small stoves. Home made candles and coal oil lamps were used to supply light. They had home made furniture which consisted of beds, tables, chairs and cupboards. Among their tools were the axe, hammer, pick and shovel.

Their crudely built wooden stores were set-up to carry on trade and very little money was obtained when goods were exchanged.

The first classes were held in homes but later a school was built where Jenning's garage now stands.
The first church services were held in people's homes.
The Post office was located at Archie Milligan's home. (see further below, as this is wrong)
Later Nelson and Doerr took over the post office where the Drug Store now is situated.

B. Foods

The common types of foods were soda crackers, lima beans and bread. hunting was done during the fall and winter. The most common animals and fowl caught were jackrabbits, ducks and prairie chickens.

Fishing was done mostly for recreation. Some types of fish caught were Jack, Pickerel, and Suckers.

Much of the pioneers food was obtained from his garden. The vegetables grown were similar to those we grow in our gardens. The potato was the main vegetable.
The main field crop was wheat which was exported to European markets. From some of the wheat they made brown flour.
Most of their fruits were dried with apples being used most.
Sugar was very coarse.

C. Clothing

In the spring and summer, men and women wore fairly light but coarsely woven clothing. Clothes worn in fall and winter were closely woven and they were worn for comfort not for looks.

The girls wore thickly woven cotton and woollen dresses or white cotton pinafores along with high-buttoned boots. The teenage girls costume included white, middy blouses, thick dark woven skirts which reached their ankles. They wore baby-doll shoes and long black or white stockings.

The boys wore overalls topped by large suspenders and over those a vest. In winter they wore a cotton and woollen cap. When they went to church they wore breeches.

The women wore full length dresses that reached to their ankles. Their shoes were made of patent leather which buttoned up to the ankles. Their stockings were made from either white or black cotton. They usually wore their hair in an up-swoop. They always get a new Easter dress or hat in spring.

The men's clothing consisted of heavy woven trousers supported by suspenders worn over a white shirt.
All the clothes were woven or knitted, very few were made from hides and furs.


D. Problems In Transportation And Communication

Pioneers arrived by Red River carts drawn by oxen and some even came in wagons drawn by milk cows. The most common means of transportation was by horse and buggy. (see my Elevator page, for a picture of one of these in the 1965 Bienfait parade.)

The only trails were cow and buffalo trails. The C.P.R. was the only railway company in operation at this time. The first agent was Bill McQuay. In the year 1906 the first message was sent by C.P.R. as the C.N.R. was not yet in operation.

(in this part of the 1955 book they say) “The first Post Office was situated at Archie Milligan's farm in the year 1905”. (this is incorrect as far as I can make out, the first Post Office was in 1893, Per Canadian Archives records, location unknown, Post Master was R. S. Grogan, then Kupchenko's farm. (1903) per elsewhere in this 1955 history book. Now Archie was Postmaster in 1903 per the archives, so he might have been doing the work at Kupchenko's farm, from 1903 to 1905, then his own farm in 1905?)

For the first three or four years Bienfait residents had to go to Estevan for their mail. After Bienfait got its Post Office the settlers at Taylorton came by horse and buggy for their mail.

The first telephone line was completed in 1914. There was only one long distance line which ran to Estevan, the remainder were party lines. The cost of phone calls was fifteen cents for two minutes. This cost rose in 1954. The first operator was Bertha Kilender. Mrs. Mildred Felgate was operator in the years 1915 and 1916.
I do have a small Telephone history section

E. Types Of Activities

They cleared a small plot of land with their horses or oxen. They usually worked from dawn to dark during harvest. The machines used were sowing drills, horse-drawn ploughs and threshing machines.

Winters were very cold and during this season the only recreation was the gathering of people at homes for occasional parties.

The farmer had many chores besides his field work such as feeding his poultry, milking, supplying fuel, repairing his buildings and looking after the garden.

The size of the farms was a quarter of a section. In the beginning they used the hand plough. Later the tractor was introduced.

The pests that injured the crops were grasshoppers, gophers in the years 1916-1917.

In the Bienfait district there weren't very many ranches. One was at Estevan and another at Taylorton. On each ranch they had from 20 to 40 head of cattle. Cattle were priced from $25.00 to $40.00 a head.

During the winter the farmers trapped weasels, mink, muskrats and snared rabbits. They tried to free their area from coyotes by hunting them. The price of pelts for weasel - $.25; mink -$2.00-$40.00; muskrat - $.35-$1.00.

The people co-operated in building houses and barns. Sometimes several pioneer farmers wood seed and harvest the grain crops of a less fortunate neighbour.

The women got together to can fruit and vegetables and also had sewing bees. They had no beef rings at that time.
Anyone know what a Beef Ring is?) gossip??

The first blacksmith came to Bienfait in 1908. Since there were no harness shops in the community, they sewed harnesses at their homes.

F. Hardships

Blizzards were common and some of the worst were in the year of 1916 and 1917. The length of cold spells was often from 10 to 12 days. The temperature would sometimes drop from 20 degrees below zero to 40 degrees below zero.

In addition there were cyclones and tornadoes about five or eight miles out of Bienfait but none actually occurred in Bienfait until July 5th, 1952. This cyclone caused severe damage to crops and property.

The worst drought in the Bienfait district was from 1929 to 1938. The soil was very dry since there wasn't much rainfall. The winds would pile up soil nearly as high as the houses. During the “dirty thirties” the farmers had very little feed for their livestock so they fed the cattle Russian thistles.

The Flu epidemic which hit Bienfait after the First World War lasted for nearly a year during which many people lost their lives.

In 1906 Bienfait had its first doctor, a Frenchman, who was also the Druggist. After the French Doctor left, two brothers, Jim and ill Creighton, took over his work. The patients who were critically ill were taken to Estevan, since there was no hospital in Bienfait. Many people died, not because of lack of medical supplies, but, because there was no means of speedy transportation to the hospital. The Doctors kept all communicable diseases under control. They also had vaccination and inoculation at that time to help prevent communicable diseases.

The rum-runner were plentiful and they operated from Bienfait to as far as the United States.

The prairie fires were caused mostly by sparks from the trains. These fires sometimes completely destroyed farmers' crops and buildings.
Bienfait was well supplied with coal as fuel from the mines in the area. At first the settlers' farms were from six to eight miles apart, later more settlers came, filling in the gaps.

The first communities were about eight or ten miles apart.
(Reason for this measurement, which was usually 9 miles, It was the distance a man/woman, plus his/her wagon, and a team of horses (hims and hers) could travel in the daylight, to take his/her wheat to the Elevator, return trip.) I have heard it was for water for the steam engines, and or coal loading, but I believe the horse and wagon theory is the correct one, from the research I have done on the subject. Water would last more than 9 miles, and they carried tenders full of coal, which also would take them more than 9 miles. but they can't make a horse carry a load for more than that, without running into a dark night, and they didn't put headlights on those horses and wagons, until years later, I hear!


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