Weyburn Pioneer Woman Sculpture
Rebecca Wallace nee Will (1890-1990)
Submitted by: Arthur Wallace, son
Mother came to Saskatchewan not as a pioneer farm wife but as a newly wed wife of a C.P.R. section foreman at Lang, SK in February 1909.
Mother was born at Birkenhead, England, March 9, 1890 to Thomas and Jane Will. Her father had been a seaman in the last days of sail, but due to tuberculosis came to shore and employment, hard work of twelve hour days with a six day week at Cammel Laird Shipyard, Birkenhead. Her parents were of Welsh descent. Her father died in 1898 of tuberculosis, leaving her mother to sustain the family as a servant, cook, and also as a seamstress in upper class homes of the gentry, working long hours at low wages.
Due to a recession in late 1890’s and turn of the century, Jane Will, her mother, went seeking better employment in Glasgow in 1892 leaving her five children in the care of a neighbor woman for two weeks. Coming back to Birkenhead after finding employment at Glasgow, she found her five children gone, sent to Canada as Barnardo children to be employed on farms or at menial jobs in homes or small businesses. Her mother was nearly a mental case not knowing where the family had been sent as she hadn’t known or approved of such a move.
Mother was twelve at the time, the oldest, so she had been in school to about grade six. She looked after the four children from youngest was Jenny at three going all the way by steamship to Montreal. On arriving in Canada, the family was split up.Mother went as a hired girl to a farmer near Shawville, Que, seventy-five miles northwest of Ottawa One boy went to a farm in Vermont, U.S.A., one to a butcher in Toronto, the second oldest girl to a farm near Toronto, and Jenny, the youngest (three), to a well-to-do family in Chicago. Mother was smart enough to get addresses and destinations for all kids before they were taken away. Mother wrote home to her mother back in Birkenhead what had happened and where the kids were. She kept herself informed where they all were and advised her mother in England every month or two.
The Barnardo children, a plan started by an English minister named Barnardo, was started in England about 1890 to place children from poor or destitute families in England to hopefully better homes or farms in Canada, U.S.A, Australia, or New Zealand. The idea of giving these pauper children a chance at a better life may have worked, maybe not. Most of them were close mouthed about the whole affair. There was a book published about 1975 or 1980 of the Barnardo plan. Up until we heard of the book’s publication, our family knew nothing of it, mother not mentioning it or explaining how the family came to Canada. She was very close mouthed about coming to Canada, a country she loved.
Mother worked as a hired girl for the first farmer for two years, learning all about milking, milk separators, butter churns, cooking, firing a wood stove, making soap, knitting, and making maple syrup. She was paid $3.00 a month with board, putting in long hours with no such thing as days off. The first farmer was very loud and uncouth; she was glad to leave. The second farmer named Clarke was a quiet Irishman, a widower. His sister, Mary Jane, was renowned as a cook and housekeeper, liked mother and taught her a lot. Mother was again paid $3.00 a month and keep.
She had Sunday off and walked to church, a Methodist church with a circuit riding minister. She came down with typhoid fever, with no hospital in Shawville the doctor took her to his home. His wife was a nurse. She was hospitalized in his care for three months. No charge!!!
My father, Edward Wallace, grew up on the neighboring farm and was eleven years older than mother. He worked in logging camps in winter, starting the middle of October, until the following spring when logs were floated (driven) down river. It was very dangerous, but paid $75.00 for the winters work.
Dad came out to Saskatchewan in 1902 working on CPR with extra gangs, going back east in winter. He was around Weyburn in 1904 when the railway was ballasting track on the Soo Line using gravel from a pit near the present golf course. Railway cars were loaded with a steam shovel and crossed the river on a bridge which is still standing.
When Dad went back home to the east in winter, he got to know the pretty blond haired (braided and done up in a bun- never any other way) girl on the neighbor’s farm. He courted her and married her January 30th, 1909. They came west to live in a CPR section house at Lang in the middle of February, 1909.
Section houses were all the same layout – big kitchen, small living room with coal burning heater, two bedrooms upstairs, outdoor plumbing with potable water delivered once weekly by railway water car to a large barrel buried in front yard. The barrel was encased in a large wooden box with a hinged wooden lid. Water was scarce. In 1910 or 11, mother gave some residents of Lang one pail of water for kitchen use every other day. For laundry purposes she carried two pails at a time about one and a half miles from a slough toward Yellow Grass. Sometimes laundry water was transported by railway handcar.
Mother grew to love Saskatchewan, in particular the sunrises and sunsets. She always wanted a view to the west particularly.
Dad was transferred to the Estevan Yard. Railways always furnished empty box cars to move household furnishings with section men helping to load and unload. Among their possessions at this time was a horned Jersey cow to furnish milk and cream for household use. One late spring day the cow was tethered in their back yard. Mother heard Margaret, her two and a half year old daughter screaming outside in the fenced in yard. She ran out, broom in hand and rescued the child from the cow after the child was tossed twice. Margaret was heavily dressed in a wool winter overcoat, shaken up badly but uninjured and was scared stiff of cattle ever after. The Jersey cow was given away the next day thus escaping the shotgun.
Dad was transferred to Outlook, SK in 1914 as foreman, thence to Sutherland, SK, a large railway yard outside Saskatoon. He was transferred back to Weyburn in 1918 as yard foreman, living in a section house just east of Government Road on south side of tracks.
Dad was promoted to Roadmaster in 1920, in charge of all track maintenance from Assiniboia and Ogema to Cardross. He really liked his job although he was usually home on Sundays and Thursday evening only. With this promotion, they had to provide their own housing, so they bought our present home in 1922 after renting houses for a couple of years.
Mother did all the housekeeping, cooking, washing clothes, and gardening. She generally lay down for a nap for a half hour about 1:30 and again at 7:30. Monday was washday with a wringer washer, outside clothesline, sometimes homemade soap (it worked). She always washed, dried, ironed and darned, patching everything the same day. Where the stamina came from for this 105 pound woman I never knew. Meals were always on time as well.
During the Dirty Thirties it was a common occurrence for a transient to knock on the back door in early evening asking for something to eat in exchange for menial tasks, chopping wood, bringing in coal, etc. They always took their cap or hat off; they were always dusty. Mother brought them into the kitchen and let them wash and clean up at the sink, then gave them something to eat. If it was Monday, they were lucky as it was left-over roast beef from Sunday's dinner. She would give them a paper bag with a couple of sandwiches of homemade bread with meat, eggs, lettuce, peanut butter or ham, with a prayer that God would take care of them. They were appreciative and courteous. They called at our house more often than others on the block.
Church meant a lot to Mother. She insisted we go to church every Sunday. After polishing our shoes on Saturday evening, we walked whatever the weather. I can remember walking to church one Sunday about 1947 or 48 when the temperatures was minus 47 F. Any protest on our part was answered with mother’s stern answer “We are not fair weather Christians”. End of discussion!
She loved living in Saskatchewan and never got back to England. Mother was never discontented with her lot in life and loved being a mother of five children. She was a housewife, laundress, cook, seamstress, gardener, doing what was required. If she had a motto it could well be “if I am to have a task in life, I will do the best I can”.I believe and know she had accomplished that.