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!

Royal visit: 1939

Just seven years old at the time, Keith remembers the Royal Visit of 1939.

One that comes to mind is the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Canada in 1939. Our present queen was not with them, tho’ was about 13 or 14 at the time. The train carrying the Royals stopped briefly in Oak Lake – for water for the steam engine – but they were off to Virden for an official stop.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Radio days

The photo below is of a Sony radio purchased new in the fall of 1987. Friend Larry Clark and I had been selected to do a 6 month CIDA funded assignment in Nigeria. It was called ARMTI, an acronym for Agricultural and Rural Management Institute and the term was Jan 1st to June 30th, 1988. Larry worked with farm management advisors; I was assigned to the audio visual support group. Joy was with me.

Larry and I decided to each get the same kind of radio so we went to Advance Electronics on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg to get them. They were not cheap – over $300, each, I think. But now, 32 years later, they seem like a good buy as ours continues to give yeoman service in our kitchen. In Nigeria we had to use the short wave setting and after sampling BBC, Radio Canada International and Voice of America ( I think that’s what it was called), we settled on BBC.

Radio was very important to me as I grew up on the farm in the 30’s and later. Initially we had no electricity service on the farm. Rural electrification came to Manitoba in 1948. But we had a battery radio with power supplied by a large battery “pack”. Our favourite programs included Lux Radio theatre (an hour long drama),Fibber McGee and Molly and the early afternoon 15 minute soap operas( “Ma Perkins” was a favourite).One image is etched in my brain. It is mid-February, a clear cold day and Dad has gone into town (Oak Lake) with the sleigh box of wheat to sell at the elevator. Bob andPrince ( or was it Mabel and Molly?) were the Percheron horses pulling the sleigh. Lots of snow and no cars on the roads in winter in those days.But the most important thing was that Dad was bringing home  a NEW BATTERY PACK for the radio!. I can see it like it was yesterday – the sun starting to set over Gordon Kennedy’s barn and my dad walking beside the sleigh, trying to keep warm as the team plodded along. Then we hooked up the new battery. We had rationed ourselves for a couple of weeks, only listening to CBC news until the sound faded. But NOW! We could listen to as many programs as we wanted to. My dad’s idea of pure luxury was to go upstairs on a Saturday night in the winter and with an extension speaker, lie on top of his bed and listen to Hockey Night in Canada – Leafs vs the Canadiens,often.

Precious bowl

Actually this isn’t really a “ bowl” but it is a vessel of some kind that Joy has had for years – so long that she can’t really recall how she acquired it. Coming downstairs here in Qualicum Beach a few years ago, I fell and demolished this piece! At a neighbour’s Christmas party last Christmas, someone happened to mention that she specialized in repairing pieces like this.She offered to repair it so Joy gave her the plastic bag with all the pieces and yesterday she came by with the piece -repaired- as you see it here. It might even be valuable as it has a special mark and the word “Persia” on the bottom.

Vancouver Island in 1967

In 1967 ( that’s 53 years ago!) Joy and I were asked to chaperone 24 Manitoba high school students to a high school exchange on Vancouver Island. 12 boys/12 girls. It was Canada’s 100th birthday and there were all kinds of celebrations across the country. We took the train from Winnipeg to Vancouver, then a ferry to Vancouver Island , then a bus to our final destination – Campbell River. Our students were billeted with local high school students; Joy and I stayed in a local motel.

Our time on the Island was great and when we left we (Joy and I ) were given this wooden replica of a west coast salmon. Today this is where our bbq is located.

Baseball in Kenton

The story is that in 1954 I spent the summer helping Lyman on the farm and we both played ball for the Kenton team. There was a ball tournament in Oak Lake in July and we entered, making it to the finals. I can’t recall who we played in the final game but we won it in the last inning when big Cecil Russel from Lenore hit a home run. Almost everyone in that picture have passed away.Just me and a couple of young guys kneeling down at the front are left. We won $250 for first prize- the team, that is.

A bit of a paunch…

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.

The Siftons, my grandfather and the chair….

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.

Real Baseball…

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.