Welcome to the home of R. Keith Smith’s new book, Those Were The Days…
We have posted the entire text and most of the photographs. We will also, over time, provide discussion and additional information and images, interviews, etc.
We look forward to your participation!
The book is available now!
When I was growing up on the farm we had few urban friends. At least I didn’t. My acquaintances, mostly school mates, were,of course, all farm kids. So the only non-farm adults I ever knew were few and far between. One summer day a distant cousin of my mother’s came to our farm for a short visit. Her husband Frank Watson, a business man from the city, accompanied her. I was only 7 or 8 (1938 or 39) and accompanied my dad and Mr. Watson as they talked and we walked about the farm yard. Dad had some small task to do – I can’t recall what it was – but it required a fair bit of physical work so Mr. Watson said he would like to help. But he was dressed in “town clothes, the ones he wore every day, I suspect. So dad offered him a pair of bib overalls to wear for the job. Mr. Watson peeled down to his underwear shirt and shorts to don the overalls . By today’s standards he was anything but obese but he had a paunch ! Not a big one , but definitely a paunch ! I had NEVER seen that before in my young life. All the men I knew were hard working, hands-on, lean-muscled farmers without an ounce of fat on them. I never said a word but I was dumb struck. Funny how that brief moment remains etched in my brain some 75 years later.
This chair connects me to my grandfather, in a curious way. Here’s the connection:
Back in 1903 Clifford Sifton, the Member of Parliament for Brandon North and Canada’s Minister of the Interior from 1896 to 1905, recruited farmers from overseas to help settle our country’s vast prairie farm lands. A member of the Laurier government from 1896 until 1911, Sifton had the added responsibilities for immigration and land settlement. Historical records depict Sifton as a ruthless, domineering politician, disliked by some of his own Liberal colleagues. But he was effective and grudgingly earned the respect of friend and foe alike. Born in 1861, Sifton died in 1929.
My grandfather, Robert Klock Smith (1859-1931) from Oak Lake, Manitoba was one of the Canadian farmers selected by Sifton to help recruit British would-be farmers. His daily diary in 1903 tells a fascinating story of his sea voyage to England and the many officials and potential farmers he interviewed. RK’s political leanings probably had something to do with his selection, and Sifton’s career was dogged by – never proven – accusations of favouritism and patronage for Liberals.
Clifford Sifton’s son, Victor Sifton (1897-1961) is described by the Manitoba Historical Society as follows:
Born in Ottawa, he left the University of Toronto to serve in World War One, demobilized with the rank of major and the Distinguished Service Order. He worked as a broker during the 1920s, and then took over the Regina Leader-Post when the Sifton empire gained control of it. In 1935 he moved to Winnipeg as general manager of the Free Press. During part of World War Two he served as an executive assistant to the defence minister; he was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He served as president of the Canadian Press from 1948 to 1950 and as chancellor of the University of Manitoba from 1952 to 1959. He was the author of Rights and Citizenship: The Threat to Our Freedom (1954). He died in Winnipeg.
In the late 1960’s, Joy’s cousin Bert Rathbone sold us a chair that we think he purchased at a furniture auction in Winnipeg. Purported to be Victor Sifton’s Winnipeg Free Press office chair, it IS beautiful and we placed it proudly in our Winnipeg home and later (1971) moved it to Gwenmar, our Brandon-area home. When we moved to Qualicum Beach, B.C. in 1998 we took the chair with us. It had to be repaired once as some of the joints were loosening but it remains a fine, old piece. It was Joy’s brother Dennie’s (1931-2007) favourite place to sit when he came to our home. “It’s a good fit!” he used to say as he lowered his large frame into the accomodating chair.
Further to my comments on baseball in Chapter 10, I had the most amazing baseball trip in the mid-1950’s…
In August of 1957 Morris Deveson and Glen Arnott and I drove to the U.S. to take in some major league baseball games. Morris and Glen, like me, were Agricultural Representatives with the Manitoba Department of Agriculture (Hamiota and Boissevain, respectively). We were all single guys. They picked me up in Holland, MB, where I was the Ag. Rep. and we headed south.
I think the first game was in St. Paul, Minnesota – a Triple A game and for some reason one of the best-played ones we witnessed during the 2 weeks we were away. Other teams we saw play – all Major League teams – included the New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Red Sox and the Milwaukee Braves. Maybe there were others.
Morris and Glen kept notes all the time; I was less interested in statistics, but we had a great time.
A couple of highlights – with the legendary Yankee slugger Mickey Mantle coming to bat in a game against Chicago, I should NEVER have gone to the concession stand for a hot dog. When I returned to my seat, Mantle was trotting in from 3rd base having just hit a home run!
In Cincinnati at an afternoon game with the temperature hovering around 100 degrees (remember, it was 1957 so we still used Fahrenheit) we watched left-handed pitcher Warren Spahn warm up in front of us, throwing hard to his catcher for at least 10 minutes. Then he went out and pitched the entire game – and batted, too! They don’t make pitchers like that anymore.