The Brockbanks of Crosthwaite

Letters from Canada

1959-1963

 

Letters written by Mary Humfrey (nee Brockbank) to her friend Mrs Harry Lancaster of Prizet Farm, Nr. Kendal, Westmorland, England

 

  Mary was born 8th July 1875 in the Lyth Valley, Westmorland.

She emigrated to Canada in 1911 at the age of 35 from her home in Pool Bank,
Crosthwaite
and sailed from Liverpool on the ship
‘The SS Victorian’ - Roll No. T-4778

She arrived in Quebec on 14th July 1911

 

She married Mr Frank Cecil Humfrey from London in June 1917
at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

She has one son, Wallis Swann Humfrey, born in February 1919

Mary lived in Abbey, Saskatchewan, Canada
Her husband, Frank Cecil Humfrey died in Oct. 1941
Mary died in Jan. 1966

Letters from Canada 1959-1963

 

Index

Introduction


Information written by Wallis Humfrey written in the book ‘Bridging the Centuries’ published in the year 2000 in Canada    ISBN  1-550056-628-8

 

Letters

Letter 1

Letter 2

Extracts from other letters written from Abbey, Saskatchewan

Oct Ist, 1959 -
Dec 31st 1959
Jan 6, 1960.
May 3rd 1960
July 25th 1960
Feb 10th 1961
Thurs 27 April 1961
Feb 12th 1962
Nov 29th 1962
Sept 20th 1963

Conclusion

Introduction

During a stay at Starnthwaite Ghyll, Nr. Crosthwaite this May 2011,  I was able to uncover some more of my Brockbank family history which enlightened my knowledge of my great grandfather George Brockbank’s daughter, Mary who was born on the 8th July, 1875 in Lyth.

During my previous yearly visits to the area of my ancestors, I could trace all other children born to great grandfather George and his wife Mary Elizabeth (nee Hodgson) as four of them (Sarah, William, Thomas and John James were buried at St. Mary’s Church, Crosthwaite and George (my grandfather died in 1962 and was buried in Liverpool) but Mary proved difficult to find. After the 1911 census where Mary (junior) was recorded as living at her home in Pool Bank with her widowed father George, her sister Sarah Elizabeth and brothers William, Thomas and John James, I could not find no further information about her.   In 1911 at the time the census was taken, all the children including Mary were working on the farm apart from my grandfather George who had left for Liverpool and had set up his own account as a cow-keeper with his newly married wife.  I had been told  that Mary had emigrated to Canada, but I had no idea of the date she left and knew nothing of her life, until………….

Whilst in Cumbria this May 2011, I was fortunate enough to meet with a gentleman who had kept letters written by Mary from Canada to his mother during 1959-1963.  The first letter of 8th July 1959 was written to the gentleman’s grandmother, but unbeknown to Mary, she had passed away.  His mother, also a Mrs Lancaster replied telling Mary of Mrs Lancaster’s (senior) death and their correspondence continued over the years. These letters had been kept in safe-keeping since those early days, and I was very fortunate in being able to see and read them.  These letters proved so interesting and informative and were able to give me an insight into Mary’s new life in Canada where she ran a farm in Abbey, Saskatchewan. How she had married a Mr Humfrey (from London) in 1917 and of their only son, Wallis born in 1919.  From these letters, I was to learn that in July of 1911, Mary had reached her destination to her new life in Canada,. Through doing further research on my return home from Cumbria, I now know that Mary arrived in Quebec, Canada on the 14th July 1911 aboard the steamship SS.Victorian which sailed from Liverpool.  (Along with hundreds of other emigrants no doubt, also seeking a better life in Canada).  She was recorded as being 35 years of age and a ’milkmaid’ - born in Lyth, Westmorland.  The picture of Mary’s life was becoming much clearer with all this new found information and I was just at a point where I had almost finished this account of Mary when I received some more totally unexpected new information of Mary’s life.

I received a phone call from a friend in Skelmersdale who had given my known information of Mary to a friend in Saskatchewan, Canada.  This friend had asked in the Rural Municipality Office in Abbey for any records of early emigrant settlers and was shown a book entitled ’Bridging the Centuries’.  This book was published in Canada in the year 2000 and was a written  record of many of the early pioneers who settled on the Prairies.  On pages 890 and 891 an entry was found written by Wallis Humfrey recalling how his parents Mary (nee Brockbank) and Frank Cecil Humfrey began their new lives in Canada.  Wallis also gave information of his own life, of his wife Evelyn and of their son Keith who was born 1954.  Keith was now married to Cathie and they have three children. When the book was published in 2000, they were all living in Calgary, Canada and perhaps, still are.

All the facts within Wallis’s writing of his parents, matches with all that Mary has written in her letters to Mrs Lancaster in Westmorland.  There is only one discrepancy in the book and this is where Wallis recalls his mother “Mary tried to book a passage on the Titanic in 1912.  The ship was booked up so she was given a booking for the Lusitania a week later.  Rather a lucky break for mom!”.  It is proof enough that in her first letter dated July 8th 1959, Mary writes to Mrs Lancaster that she arrived in Canada in July 1911.  With this information, the ship’s passenger list records show that Mary arrived in Quebec on the 14th July 1911 on board the steamship SS Victorian.  RMS ‘Titanic’ sunk on her maiden voyage on 15th April 1912 when Mary had been in Canada for just over a year so obviously Wallis’s account of this has been confused with time.

Extracts from ‘Bridging the Centuries’ by Wallis Humfrey, 2000.

ISBN  1-550056-628-8. The book can be accessed from http://www.ourroots.ca/e/toc.aspx?id=9057
Illustartion below from page 891

 

Frank and Mary Humfrey
By Wallis Humfrey

(The origin of the Humfrey name:  In the fifteenth century, a landlord in Ireland had a large estate and lived in a stone castle, complete with a staff of male and female servants.  One of the landlords sons had an affair with a kitchen maid.  The embarrassment to the family resulted in his being banished to England.  He change the spelling of “Humphrey” to “Humfrey”, which has continued as the spelling of the family name to this day.)

My father, Frank Cecil Humfrey, was born in London, England, in June, 1880.  He attended public school, then went to trade school, and became a French cabinet maker.  In the early 1900’s tradesmen were replaced by machines due to the Industrial Revolution.

At about this time England was looking for colonists to develop land in Australia and Canada.  Frank chose to go to Australia; but due to a mix up at the wharf, he ended up in Montreal, Canada.  In Montreal, he was given a train ticket to Oxbow, Saskatchewan.  A farmer by the name of Stapels paid for the train ticket.  Frank worked for Stapels for room and board.  When the year was up, Frank stayed on for three more years and saved his money.

In 1906, the Saskatchewan Government was offering homestead land to applicants.  Frank quit the Stapels’ farm and made his way to Gull Lake to apply for a homestead.  It was seventy-five miles northwest of Gull Lake, a two day trip by horse and wagon.
 After being shown the location Frank accepted it.  He then bought a team of horses, a wagon and other necessary equipment for camping on the land.  He returned to Gull Lake and bought lumber and household goods and proceeded to set up a pioneer home.

In 1912, the Canadian Pacific Railway built a line from Swift Current to Cabri.  In 1913 this was extended to Empress.  The towns of Shackleton, Abbey, Lancer and Portreeve were created.  Frank chose Lancer as his post office and supply town.  It was only twelve miles away and was a great improvement over Gull Lake.

My mother, Miss Mary Brockbank, was born on July 8th, 1875, on a farm in northern England in the district of Westmorland.  One of Mary’s friends had immigrated to Canada around 1908.  She and my mother corresponded.  Canada sounded like the place to be.  So Mary decided to join her friend.  *Mary tried to book a passage on the Titanic in 1912.  The ship was booked up so she was given a booking for the Lusitanian a week later.  Rather a lucky break for mom!

After a short time in Brandon, Mary took a job on the De La Hay farm, about six miles east of Tuxford.  Frank and Mary met and were married in Moose Jaw on June 15, 1917, and my mother became a homestead wife. 

My father died in October, 1941.  My mother stayed at the farm with the help of her hired man, Jim De Jersey.  Later on, Joe Hubert, now of Lancer, rented the farm land.  When my mother died in January, 1966, Joe bought the farm.  His son Karl now lives there. 

I, Wallis Swann Humfrey, was born February 8, 1919 on the De La Hay farm, as there was no hospital or doctor at either Lancer of Abbey.  I grew up on my parents’ farm and went to Level Prairie School, graduating from grade 9.  My interest was in mechanics, so I spent some time in Cabri, working for Harvey Peacock.  I also spent some time at the Minor Ranch.

In the spring of 1939, I moved to Calgary and got employment as a machinist at Precision Machine Shop.  In 1950, a partner and I bought our own shop.  In the mid-80’s after forty-five years as a machinist, I sold my share and retired.

My wife, Evelyn and I were married in December, 1953.  Our son, Keith, was born November 11, 1954.  He and his wife, Cathie, have three children., Kim, Kevin and Kelsey.  We all live in Calgary.

*Note: found to be incorrect.  Mary arrived in Quebec on the 14th July 1911 on board the steam ship SS ‘Victorian’.  RMS ‘Titanic’ sank on her maiden voyage to New York City on the 15th April 1912.

 

Mary Humfrey & grandson Keith.

Evelyn & Keith Humfrey at Grandma Humfrey’s 
house with Jim De Jersey.

Mary’s letters give an interesting account of her life in the Canadian prairies and of people she met there whom she knew from her old life in Pool Bank, Crosthwaite.  As Mary travelled without any family members, I would hazard a guess that maybe there were others from the area who also emigrated at the same time and maybe even sailed with her on the SS.Victorian.  I am sure she would have written letters home to her family during her first years in the New Country - these I assume have been lost, so her early years in Canada are unknown.  However, Mary’s letters written between the years 1959-1963 when she would have been  83 years of age give an interesting insight to her life and they show what a very strong, hard-working and resilient person she was to make such a life for herself on the vast prairies of Canada.  No doubt, her strong character, inherited from her father, George Brockbank! 

I would imagine that in 1911 at the age of 35 years, Mary was tempted to try for a new life in Canada with the hope of prosperity and a good living - maybe after seeing the Canadian Emigration advertisement which, in an effort to develop the Canadian prairie provinces, the government advertised the benefits of ownership of Western wheat farms.  To encourage settlement in the west the Dominion Government offered a free homestead of 160 acres for a $10 registration fee. In order to receive the patent for the land the settler had to be a male 21 years of age or a woman who was the sole support of her family.  Before being granted a patent the applicant had to be a British subject or a naturalized British subject, had to reside on the homestead for a period of time, usually six months of the year for three years, make improvements to the land by cultivating at least 30 acres, and erect a house worth at least $300.

The SS Victorian
The ‘SS Victorian’ was a steam ship built in 1904 for the Allan Line in Belfast, Ireland.
This was the ship that took Mary Brockbank to her new life in Canada in July 1911

As a single girl, working on the farm at Pool Bank with her father, sister and brothers, perhaps Mary thought the time had come for her try this new exciting life.  What a brave decision this must have been to have made - leaving her home for such an adventure.   

The following extracts are taken from Mary’s letters and show that although she must have worked very long and tiring hours on her farm in the prairies, her life in Canada was a long and successful one.  She never returned to her home in Pool Bank and she died in 1966 in her 91st year. 

In her letters to her friend Mrs Lancaster, Mary mentions many times about the extremities of the weather conditions she endured living in Sashatchewan.  This of course would be a great contributor to how successful the wheat harvest was and an all important factor in making a prosperous living from the land. The Gazette (The Westmorland, I would assume) also has many mentions and it is obvious in Mary’s letters that Mrs Lancaster sends them out to her and helps keep Mary informed to news back home.    

1911  Canadian Emigration
original vintage advertisement

 

 

Letters


Letter 1

Mary’s first letter sent to Mrs Lancaster (senior) dated 8th July, 1959

Click on the above for a bigger picture

Calgary, Alberta
July 8th 1959

Dear Mrs Lancaster,

I have so often wondered how all my dear friends are getting along that I left behind me when I came out to Canada.  Today at the Calgary Stampede I have just been talking to your nephew Tom Hudson.  Perhaps I had better tell you who it is that is writing to you.  I wonder if you remember Miss Brockbank that used to go to Kendal Market & called at Sizergh Farm when you lived there a few years ago.  I saw your brother Bill Hudson, as he is familiarly called around the Stampede, and Tom today when looking around the livestock exhibits & trying to locate him, he spotted me, he remembered me.  I’d just found his exhibit of sheep, there was a very pleasant faced girl feeding the sheep so we had quite a nice little talk,  he had won quite a good many prizes with sheep & pigs.  I did not see his father today, but might do so another day as I always come for the week. They told me the first time I met them that you lived at Low Sizergh with a daughter that married a Dobson from Larkrig.  It is a long time since I used to drive on that road to Kendal market & lots has happened since those days.

Today is my birthday.  I’m 83 years old, I still live on the farm in Saskatchewan.  I married in 1917, a Mr Humfrey who came out from London, my husband died in 1941 & I stayed right on the farm at the life I liked & I’ve made a success of it.  I only had one boy & he didn’t like the farm so I had to depend on hired help & let him do what he was interested in, machinery.  He has a large machine shop in Calgary.  Tom was telling me today his eldest son wasn’t interested in stock & didn’t want to come & help with the showing of pigs & sheep, he’d rather stay at home & mow hay.  I told him it’s no use if they aren’t interested, I had that experience.

I’ve had Mrs Smith from Crystal City, Manitoba, you may remember her, Ned Powley’s daughter.  Agnes lived at Greengate, Levens.  We had a good talk about old times.  I don’t get much news from home most of my people have passed on, my father, sister & two brothers, what is left of them, just two nieces are still at Pool Bank.  I have never been back since I came out in July 1911.  Your brother has always said never go home thinking to live there, you can’t live there after so many years out here in such a friendly country where every one is the same & on the Prairie so neighbourly.  Tom has a nice girl such a sweet friendly face, the first time I saw Tom I thought he was just like you, always smiling.  I don’t know whether this letter will interest you much but I felt such a urge to write to you.  I still milk cows, not so many now but run 20 in a pasture I have.  I’ve got 1 & ½ sec of land but rent all of it except one ¼ to grow feed.  Well I do hope this finds you fairly well,  I have felt so happy writing to you.  With kind regards & happy memories of old times & best wishes for the future.

I remain yours sincerely
Mrs Mary Humfrey
Was (Miss Brockbank)

 

Letter 2

 

Abbey
Saskatchewan, Canada
(copy of Mary’s second letter)
Abbey  Sask
Sept 14th 1959

Dear Mrs Lancaster
I will now try & thank you for the very nice letter you wrote me.  I was so pleased to get it & shall never forget.  So many would just have read the letter & said, the person this was intended for has passed & I need not reply.  Instead you wrote  me such a nice letter & the information about the family & the photos, it was good to see Mrs Lancaster’s smiling face again, their family must have been a credit to them & brought much happiness to them in their old age.  Perhaps if I had been getting the Gazette regularly from home I would have known they must both have passed on & I wouldn’t have been so foolish as to write to her, but I don’t regret it, to know there are such nice people as you, it is worth while. I got mail again yesterday, I went to Abbey with my neighbour, I don’t run a car, had one when Mr Humfrey died in 1941, but sold it as I could not drive.  I think it is 18 yrs tomorrow since his funeral. 
I just glanced through the Gazette this morning, saw the accident on three mile hill, don’t I remember that place, how I always kept to the right side of the road as the turn was at the top & now I daresay, you aren’t safe on the road either in the right place or not.  I’ve got this letter started & hope I can get it finished.  I have so little time everything is such a rush in this country, the summer is so short, so much to be done.  From May & sometimes later until Oct depending on the weather & when winter ends in the spring & when it starts again in Oct, snow sometimes comes in Oct & doesn’t go until April.  Of course there are breaks in the winter.  Just now wheat harvest is getting along & should soon be finished.  Yesterday & today is like July weather.  I have all my land rented except 100 acres to grow feed for cattle.  I don’t milk so many cows now, around 20 have their calves in the pasture.  I have one man to help me with the cattle.  My day starts at 6:30 am, milk 2 cows, get breakfast, separate milk & can find work to keep me busy till 9 or 10 pm.  Of course I don’t have to work like this, I could retire but to give up the life I’ve always been interested in & have nothing to do does not appeal to me & over 70 yrs of age in 1953 or 5, the Gov. gave a pension of 30 dollars per month to anyone that age that had been in Canada 20 yrs.  The Conservatives came in power 2 yrs ago, they made it 55 dollars but it doesn’t buy any more than the $30.  Farming is in a bad way, no market for wheat, it is all on quotas.  You can sell so many bus. Per acre.  There are huge piles of wheat all over the Prairie, Farmers can’t afford to build granaries to store it, there is subsidies & price support for everything grown & everyone is on credit from the Gov. down, everyone appears prosperous, they buy cars, T.V. & anything they want or think they should have, it appears it’s a disgrace to pay cash.  I’m afraid I must stop.  I hope you can read this, I’ve written so fast, but I did want to thank you for your nice letter.  I’ll try & pack you up a few farm paper so that you will understand a little of life here.  One is the Wheat Pool Map of the Elevators in Sask.  May be interesting & when I get time to write you a decent letter I will tell you how I had to convince the creditors when Mr H. died that I could take over the farm with 5 thousand dollars of debt and make it pay.  They tried hard to persuade me I couldn’t do it, all I wanted was the opportunity to try, at last they all gave in & let me try & I didn’t let them down.  Some day I’ll write you that letter, it often took as much courage as it did in the old days to start from Pool Bank, the 14 miles to get to Kendal to get my place in the Potato Market going past Frosthwate Farm at 6 am.  When I go to Calgary Stampede next July (if I’m spared to go) I’ll send you a paper every day. 

“Oh” I must tell you about Tom Hudson’s display of pigs.  I counted them, 19 & a huge Boar, they all looked as clean as a baby just of  a bath, he was pleased, last of all at the Royal in Toronto he got 10th in a class of 50.  My paper is full & work must start.  Will write again soon.

Kind regards,
Mary Humfrey.

 

Extracts from other letters written from Abbey, Saskatchewan

 

Dated Oct 1st, 1959

Dear Mrs Lancaster, I got your letter mailed a week ago.  I didn’t send the papers as I sent the letters with a neighbour, when they are stamped they don’t give any trouble, just to drop in the letter box.  The papers, I fold up 2 or 3 together & they have to be weighed to find out how many stamps they require.  I happened to see the result of the prize list of Tom Hudson’s 19 pigs I told you about, I have so little time to look at the papers.  I don’t see everything.  Then Tom is having a stroke of bad luck with his prize flock of Southdown sheep, they have got a serious disease & likely will all have to be destroyed, when they find out for sure if it is a serious disease.  I’ll mark both articles in the papers so you won’t miss it.

We had some snow Mon, but it has all gone & terrible cold N. winds, but no killing frost.  Harvest is almost all finished up in this district but there are lots to do in Alberta.  All farm production is at rock bottom price.  Pigs Gd A $21 hundred lbs dressed, cattle are the best of anything.  Turkeys are almost worthless, twenty years ago Saskatchewan had 80% in Agriculture now it is 30% but more is produced, more wheat is grown as none of the land grows oats for horses, as none are used now, it is all gasoline: things have changed since I came out in 1911, in those days if a man had an outfit of horses, a plough, a seed drill & harrowing & binder, he could farm & grow wheat & these was sale for it, now it costs thousand of dollars for all kinds of machinery.  Anyone thinking of buying land & farming would require a fortune to start.  I must draw to a close.  I was going to tell you,  Harry your husband & Tom Hudson look very much alike, I think if they were together you would take them for brothers.  When I first saw Tom I thought, that is a familiar face & yet I knew I didn’t know anyone showing sheep, when we got talking & found out his name & relatives, I just saw Mrs Harry Lancaster’s smiling face.  Well, kind regards,

yours sincerely,
Mary Humfrey 

 

Dec 31st 1959

Dear Mrs Lancaster, At last I’m starting a letter to you, but I guess it will be like a story or a magazine that says, continued in or next, that is when I can get time to finish this.  “Well” I got to Abbey yesterday & got your nice card & good letter & all the Gazettes.  I was pretty tired last night & it was late but I just had to look at the 1958 one.  What a fine looking Animal & I congratulate you & Harry on having such a fine Daughter, it is something to have a Bull with such a record & the price of such an animal must help, but the best of all is the name it gives your herd.  I also looked at other pictures of prize animals but I hadn’t time to read all about Kendal Show & the other papers.  I’ll get them all read in time but I have so little time.  I sometimes wonder why I stay at this life on the farm.  I don’t have to do it to make a living but can’t see that there would be anything worthwhile living away from the farm, no interest in life, so I just stay where I’m happy & no time for very much besides work.  “Yes” Mrs Ainsworth is my niece, William just had the two girls, Annie the youngest writes to me sometimes.  She is the same age as my son Wallis, both born in 1919 W (Wallis) in Feb. Annie in April.  My youngest brother’s birthday is on Xmas Day.  I try to get a Birthday cake sent to him but I never manage it in time, it is often between the two dates so I tell them they can celebrate together.  I just got a letter from Annie a few weeks ago thanking me for the last I sent.

“Well, we have had a month of nice weather for Dec. lots of nights it hardly froze at all.  We had snow a few times but not much.  The weather disturbances have been  coming from the Pacific instead of the Artic so we have had cloudy weather & some fog but not as bad fogs that you have but not the sun we usually get in Winter & you do miss the sun in this country.  But the forecast is for colder but it is only zero tonight & often at this time it has been 20 below zero, but there is lots of time yet to have a cold winter, but we do seem to have had a long winter so far, snow coming the middle of Sept all Oct & Nov was winter of course.  In Manitoba where Mrs Smith is, the Sept. snow has never gone, it had warmed up enough to turn the snow into ice, so their crops are all frozen down.  They haven’t a bit of bedding, the combined straw is frozen down.  They are in a bad way & dug their potatoes in the snow & the land, when the snow came, was warm & the snow kept it warm (they had 8 or 10 in.) & made moisture & the grain sprouted, it is a disastrous year for so many farmers, in places where spring was late they were late seeding they couldn’t get on the land (too wet) then harvest was delayed, the grain wasn’t ripe.

 

Jan 6, 1960. 

Here we are a few days gone in another year.  We have had 2 nights of below zero. Weather Mon. morn 20 below, Tues morn 30, it is hard on both man & beast such sudden change in tem.  To go to bed 30 below & get up in the morn 30 above.  Last night it didn’t freeze & the forecast is continuing mild for next few days.  It varies so in different parts; we get the Chinook winds here, farther E they don’t get them, they eat up the snow like putting it on a hot stove.  You read such tales sometimes about the Chinook winds.  You can start off with a team on sleighs & before you have gone very far you mire in mud.  No, I don’t live alone.  I have help for outside work.  A man he came from the Channel Isles (Guernsey) in 1910, he is very good looking after cattle, he farmed at home & they had a prize herd, all Guernsey cattle, they can’t have any other breed on the Island & the cattle must be looked after as if they were Prize animals, he says, I wasn’t brought up to neglect cattle, he is getting old in fact he is 1 year older than I am but he does more work than lots of young men do at this day, he had to go to a chiropractor, he hurt his back a few years ago & he told him he’d most likely see 100, he came when Mr Humfrey died 20 yrs will be in Sept.  About neighbours, they are few and far between.  N & S.W. I have 2, one is 3½ miles away, the other 6 miles east.  There are 2, 1½  & one 4 miles in fact that is all there is E in the 14 miles to Abbey, they all go into those little towns, don’t live on their farms & buy all they eat.  I do remember the Cattle Dentist…Duckett.  I think I can see him now coming along in his Gig & white horse & I remember a Alban or Albert Duckett that used to go to the Potato Market when I did but I don’t remember whether he was a young man or older, I just remember other people mentioning him.  I can recall so much to memory of those days, tonight I spent a few mins looking at the Gazette Nov. 8th.  What a huge paper it is now, lots of names are familiar but of course a younger generation.  One particularly, Miss Casson, I remember Maud, but the  Ferdinand Casson she names one of her Executors isn’t the Ferds Casson I know, he would be as old as I am, it will take me some time to get through them all, I didn’t finish the Kendal Show one yet.

 

May 3rd 1960

Dear Mrs Lancaster,
Thank you so much for all the Gazettes you so kindly send me, I got 3 on Friday last.  I opened one this aft. When I got a few mins rest, saw the pictures of the Young Farmers Welding & the other where the Kent Estuary group came third.  I read all the names. The 2 Ducketts are clever looking boys, relatives of yours I guess.  I can find odd items that names & places are familiar.  They will get somewhere with the 3 mile hill problem if it can be brought before Parliament.

“Well” we haven’t much spring like weather here as yet, the 24th April & the 2 following days, we got 8in of snow, lots of shovelling.  It is still cold, more like Mar weather, no grass growing & very few weeds, some Farmers seeded some wheat before the snow, but I doubt if it will have come up, the ground is slow drying, everything is going to be late, but you can never tell in this country, all weather signs fail.  I am busy trying to catch up with the work that got behind in winter, washing especially but lots of soft water in the cistern & power washer & the longer days, I am almost caught up.  Last Tues I had ¼  of a Baby Beef to wrap & put in the freezer, Jim cut it up for me, next week I’m going to get started on a doz roosters killing & cleaning them & putting them in the freezer.  I daresay in England corn seeding is finished (oat seeding they call it here) potatoes planted & roots sown, is your farm all grass side up.  John Handley appears to be in a bad way about destroying some of the best farming land in the N of England to make the road.  I guess it is the same John Handley from Heversham that I used to know, he must be getting old, he married Janie Atkinson from Wilson House.  J.W.Garnett  (Jilly) from Levens married Mary, they farmed Ackenthwate for a long time.  I remember all those people back home.  I sent you a few papers about 2 wks ago.  I hope you have got them by this, I have some more ready to pack up, there is 3 or 4 MacLeans, I’ll try & send, one has a good article in about the Sask River.  I guess will suit your son, when  you read it you will understand how the Prairies seem to draw people, it’s the vastness of everything & the atmosphere, everything else seems so small.  I always remember when fist I came out to Man  (Manitoba?) the cows in the pasture just seemed so small & they weren’t so far away, the vastness made them look so small, I guess if I ever came back, the fields would just look like gardens; I see they advise young people to come to Canada & where they can get information & help.  Think if they come from the country & can do farm work, some make good, from the city they are useless, at least most of them unless they can fit in to a fresh life & are willing to take any work & look around for what they would like to do, but it needs lots of courage & brains to figure things out.  I said I would some time write & tell you how I took the land & $4000 of debt & made good.  I’ll try and do so when I get time.  It won’t be long until July & Calgary Stampede.  I’ve lots of work to get through before then.

 

July 25th 1960

Dear Mrs Lancaster,
Many thanks for your letter & the birthday card & your good wishes, it is good to see views of Kendal, the letter was here when I got home from Calgary on the 16th.   Wallis & Evelyn brought me home, it’s a 300 mile drive.  I had a nice time at the Stampede, sent you some papers, I guess none will have arrived yet.  I never saw Tom Hudson to speak to he just said Hello, as I stood by the pen, he was just taking some out into the Show Ring,  I hope you enjoy the pictures of the Stampede,  I ought to have sent some home to Pool Bank.  Pool Bank is a dreadful place to live.  I never could stand it & just lived for Sats & going to Market to get away.  I used to tell them it was like living in a bottle & looking up at the cork, all you can see is the sky & the hills all around, give me the Canadian Prairies even though the blizzard blow & the coyotes howl.  I see by the Gazette that the last of the Barnes’s that lived at Park House has gone.;  What a long age 95, I suppose her sister Mrs Mashites is dead as well.
Does John Handley live in Kendal, is his wife alive, she was Janey Atkinson from Wilson House, her sister Mary married J.W.Garnett from Levens, he always went by the name of Jilly.  I used to know them all well, as long as I got the Gazette I kept track of them, Mary had quite a family of boys & evidently Janey had, if Mrs J. Handley is still living & you should see her, remember me to her, we were together, John & Janey one year at the Royal Show in Liverpool, see that your shows have started & the Young Farmers had a big day at Levens in the big Pasture which I think would be Low Levens joining up to the schools.
We are having very hot weather the last 2 weeks & no rain, it is hard on the crops & gardens, it has been between 90 & 100 degrees & so dry, no thunder storms & little hail so far, there is no moisture in the air to draw electricity, that is what I think.

 

Feb 10th 1961

Dear Mrs Lancaster,
Thank you for the Gazettes also for the magazines enclosed.  I haven’t had much time yet to read them.  Kendal is going ahead building a House for the Farmers Union, where do they find all the money, perhaps it is like this, country money is plentiful.  Agriculture must be better there than here, all though Farmers here all seem to have plenty of money in spite of not much sale for wheat, but no one or very few pay cash for anything, it is all on credit with no down payment; people don’t seem to mind that they pay more as long as they can use the article whilst they are paying for it is all they care about!

 

Thurs 27 April 1961

This is a long winter we are having, we had snow again this week & 2 weeks ago in various place they have had heavy falls.  2 wks ago Calgary had 12in.  Mon this week Brandon had 21in, more like Xmas than spring, ice on the water every night & freezing all day, very little seeding done & no grass in the pastures for the cattle & no rain & the moisture in the snow doesn’t amount to much, there is always such E drying winds, we can only hope it warms up soon.  
There are so many old timers around here have passed a long recently, of course some have retired & left the district.  I keep hale & hearty & will be 86 in July.  When I was thinking things over one day, I thought that perhaps I was one of the people that the Lord had blessed.  I never forget to thank God for my good health.  I see by the Gazette the changes they are wanting to make in Kendal.  I hope they don’t wreck the Market, it is all the small Farmers have left to dispose of their produce.  Things don’t get any better out here for the Farmer, you can’t sell much wheat but everyone seems to have lots of money & you can’t get any help if you need a man, they’ll only work at what they want to do.  I must close, I am writing this during the forenoon, if I leave letters till night, they don’t get done.  I’m too tired & go to sleep.  I’m only milking one cow & not shipping cream.  I shipped 60 doz eggs to Sask creamery S.C.  I’ll be lucky if I make 10 cents doz.

 

Feb 12th 1962

Dear Mrs Lancaster
Well, we have had a long hard winter, but not steady cold like some winters but “oh” so changeable, high winds & blowing snow blizzard conditions & the winds were so cold.  Dec & Jan were bad & the short dark days & very little sunshine, cloudy skys, it was miserable.  It has been a hard winter for cattle as well, they don’t like the winds any more than we do, so many people hadn’t any too much feed & they sure do eat a lot in cold weather.  Our feed has lasted out well but in the country it takes a long time for the grass to grow, they can go out in the stubble & pick green weeds, they grow before the grass.  When you get up in the mornings you never know the kind of weather it will be before night.  I have not heard from Annie at Pool Bank for quite a while, but it is her birthday in April so I must get her birthday cake made & send it in time.  The old age pension went up $10 month, it is now $65 but at the high prices of everything, food, fuel and shelter, it isn’t enough to live on if they haven’t anyone to help them out a little.  I’ve got quite a few magazines to get ready to mail for you.  I haven’t been able to get mail very often this winter, a months mail is quite a lot to look through  when you haven’t much time & work did pile up during the short days just milking one cow so no sep (?) to wash that is a help.  28 cows to feed all told 4 are young calves.  We shipped 18 & got away and prices keep up pretty good, you will notice in the Country Guide & you will notice in the last Ranch Review they still use Oxon in Nova Scotia, they’re better workers than men on the Prairies.  The Dairy Queen from Crosthwaite must have given them back there a glowing account of farming in Canada, but Ont (Ontario?) is very much like the small farms in England.  Some one that went over from the vast Prairies said the fields just looked like gardens & back yards & Jimmie Webster when he was over at W. Cottams once said the roads were all right if they were straightened out (by the way he is dead now)
I‘m going to have a busy spring & summer.  I’m having the house put on a foundation or full basement, it is just built like the old homestead days when there wasn’t much money floating around as there is now & I’ll have the house made modern inside, running water, a bathroom & everything complete so I will be busy with workmen around to cook for, if I only keep as I have been all winter.
Thank you for your nice Xmas card, the boats & steamers do look smart.  I have your postcard of Highgate, Kendal stuck into the edge of my dresser mirror in my bedroom.  I often think how many times I drove into the Commercial Hotel yard, it shows it so plain.  I imagine I can see myself turning in, I hope everything is prosperous with you & that you are all well.  Thank you for all the Gazettes, I packed a lot of my old ones up a few weeks ago & sent them to Man (Manitoba?) to Huartson who came from Witherslack, so many people enjoy them, he says he reads everything in them.  I must close, the Teacher picks up my letter at the gate & mails them in Janees.  I hope to get some more grain hauled soon, there is good demand, so many people didn’t have much crops, lots round here fill the 4 bus quots.

 

Nov 29th 1962

Just a few lines to wish you a Happy Christmas, guess it will reach you in time.  The weather here is wonderful, nice warm days & no hard frost at night for the last  few weeks, here at the end of Nov some years we have been snowed up & frozen everything up.  The cattle are out in the stubble & haven’t been fed, stubble was good this year, so much rain in harvest made good growth & there is a lot of Fall Rye & it made rapid growth, but some people have lost a few cattle eating too much.  We had a bumper crop of wheat & lots of oat sheaves for feed.  Cattle prices are good.  I have 18 calves to sell (spring calves) bought a milk cow, your British Friesian, it is supposed to come on the 8th Dec, but it doesn’t look like it will.  Paid $260 for it, we’ve been using tinned milk for a while & I’m fed up with it.  There was a good garden crop also potatoes they are pretty cheap & they are good.  I am keeping fairly well, haven’t as much work now, no carrying in coal or bricquettes, have a propane Furnace & both Propane & an electric cook stove, hot & cold water on tap. The water had to come 486 feet in polythene pipes, a pressure motor in the basement & a water heater, it is most convenient, a full sized basement, washing machine, floor drain Dryer, the water is rather hard but am going to get another small pressure & heater, just now we have the pump put up in the basement the soft water piped in from the cistern that catches the water from the roof (the old house we had a tank by the stove & the water front in the stove but not as good as this outfit.

Did you notice the Hoover prize in the Gazette, a Canadian built home, I’ll cut it out, it is very much like my house but I’ll mark the difference & get you the size of it.  The basement is the full size of the house the walls are built of cement blocks & the walls are about 3ft or so I think above ground level, there is 4 steps to the door & 12 steps down the basement, it has a cottage roof & a Selkirk chimney, did you notice the chimney on the Canadian house looks like a brick chimney but it is just imitation just to go over the steel chimney, everything is different now from the old style, I guess it is the same in England.  I’ll just cut out of the Gaz the house & mark it & close with love & kind regards from you friend, Mary Humfrey.  Hope you are well & farming isn’t too bad.

 

Sept 20th 1963

Dear Mrs Lancaster
For quite a while I have been intending  writing to you, the hot weather was too hard on me, I just couldn’t do anything, it is getting cooler now, hot some days 70, I got to the Stampede for a few hrs.  I just saw Billy Hudson for a few mins, saw him take the Champion for the Boar, he appeared to have the usual bunch but I couldn’t get round to see them in their pens as I couldn’t go alone & if people aren’t interested in livestock they haven’t patience with anyone that is, they have Southdown sheep again, now the weather was dreadful hot 99 to 100 all July & Aug.  I keep fairly well but can’t do much work.  I have got you some papers tied up ready to send.  Thank you for the Gaz. I saw Harold Hodgson passed away so soon after retiring.  There are lots of changes.  John Handley looks hale & hearty, saw his picture in Heversham Grammar School Group.  Hope Jim & Dorothy have good jobs.  I don’t hear much from Pool Bank, Nellie Cottam gives me all the news, she writes quite often.  I had a good crop this year, all the granaries are full, Rye went 25 to 30 bus per acre & wheat about the same.  Some strips felt the heat & didn’t yield as well - smaller kernel, all the Elevators are full so none can haul any, we haven’t any frost yet.  Tomatoes are still ripening outside, the leaves are still green on the trees.  Are you still on the Farm.  I must conclude, hope all are well.  The world is in an upset state.  Canadian people owe over 9 billion dollars in credit & the Nation owes no one knows how much.
With kind remembrances

I remain, yours sincerely,
Mary Humfrey

 

This is the last letter from Mary that I have seen and it was noticeable in this letter, how frail Mary’s handwriting had become. Her letters give a fascinating insight of her life living on the Prairies (Mary and Frank farmed south west of Abbey near a Hamlet called Lancer).  She was certainly made of the right material for sustaining a hard-working life and making a living from the wheat fields on the Canadian Prairies.

Conclusion

Her fortitude in being able to carry on with the farm after her husband’s death in 1941 shows what an incredibly strong and determined woman she was.  Mary’s only son Wallis died in October, 2006 at the age of 87 years and his obituary gives him much credit for his own fulfilled life.

Mary died in January, 1966 in her 91st year - the same age as her father George Brockbank.

So this concludes another fascinating insight into my Brockbank ancestors - I have been so fortunate in being able to find out what became of Mary born in 1875 in Lyth who began her life in Levens, who lived and worked at Pool Bank from 1906, emigrated to Canada in 1911where she lived, married, became a mother, worked hard and in January, 1966, her days came to an end.

I have other people to thank for their time and help in my discovery of Mary‘s life - I would never have got this far without them!

I am sure that in time, I shall discover even more about Mary’s life on the Canadian Prairies.  These, for the time being, are just a few more steps along the ‘Footpath to an Interesting Journey‘!

Jean Abbey (nee Brockbank)
June 2011