Ch. 5 Homes


Homes I’ve Lived In

Today people change houses often – usually to “upscale” from, tadalafil say, a 1,200 sq.ft. home where they raised a family of 3 or 4 children to a 3,000 sq.ft. retirement home for 2. At least that seems typical here on Vancouver Island where we moved to in 1998. But let’s start this story ‘way back in 1931.

It has been said that the fall of 1931, one of the earliest of the Depression years, brought little in the way of farm income. But it did bring me. Born at home on October 28th, 1931, I was brought into the world with the help of mid-wife, Mrs. Jake Furtney of Oak Lake. Our house was small with two main rooms on the main floor and a “back kitchen” used only in the summer months. There were three small bedrooms upstairs. The house had virtually no insulation, poor storm windows and was heated by a cook stove in the kitchen and a Quebec heater, as it was called, in the living room/parlour. Each fall we strapped the outside of the house with a 3 ft. wide roll of tar paper, secured with nailed-on wooden lathes. Then, with one of our horses hitched to a “slush” scraper, we scraped up dirt from the yard and dumped it beside the house, all the way round. Then we shoveled that dirt against the house – a rudimentary kind of insulation. In the spring we scooped the dirt back from around the house and spread it by the trees in the yard and tried to level it out. We repeated this procedure every year.

The kitchen stove had several purposes. It heated a portion of the house, melted snow and ice in the stove’s built in reservoir, and also cooked our food. In the winter, at least once a winter, we had a sawing “bee”. Long wooden poles, usually poplar, had been chopped down from local bushes, hauled into the yard and stacked to dry. The big circular saw had to be sharpened by hand and the John Deere “B” tractor brought out of its winter storage shed. This necessitated taking several pails of boiling water and filling the tractor’s radiator (it would be drained after). We tried to pick a day that wasn’t too cold; otherwise you couldn’t pull over the fly wheel (no starter, of course) to manually start the 2 cylinder engine. We would drive the steel-wheeled tractor – later with rubber tires – through the snow (crunch, crunch!), line it up in front of the saw and put the belt on the pulleys of both the tractor and the saw rig. Then we sawed wood, usually for a full morning and afternoon. My job was to throw away the blocks into a big pile (to be split later) and I had to endure the ear-splitting sound of the saw blade cutting through the wood – no ear protectors.

Another job on the farm – a winter’s job – was “putting up ice”. That’s what we called it, although it probably should have been called “putting down ice”! It couldn’t take place until, maybe, January when the ice on the dugout was 3 ft thick. (A “dugout” was a large water storage facility, usually for livestock). A hole in the ice had to be cut with an axe, an ice saw inserted in the hole and blocks of ice cut. Ice tongs were used to pull the ice – carefully – out of the water and the blocks were loaded onto a horse-drawn sleigh and taken to an ice-house. An ice-house was a deep (2 – 3 m.) square hole in the ground, near the house, with a little wooden roofed shed over the hole. We dropped the ice blocks – the first few very gently as they could easily break – into the hole and covered them liberally with insulating sawdust – sawdust preserved from the winter’s sawing “bee”. The ice kept pretty well but by August there were usually only a few chunks left. The ice was used mainly for the ice-box which kept food cool in those pre-electric days on the farm. Home-made ice cream was a special summer treat. Ice from the ice-house, broken up in a burlap bag with the flat side of an axe, salt from mother’s supply or from a cattle salt block, fresh cream and other necessary ingredients, then a fair bit of handle turning on the wooden bodied ice-cream maker. I can still taste it! But most of the ice made it to the ice-box. The melted ice that collected as water in a container below the ice-box was much prized for hair washing as regular well water was as hard as nails.

I can’t remember ever being without a telephone. There were phones in every farm home as early as the teens or 20s, I’m sure. Party lines, of course, with up to six families on a line. Our ring was 92-24, i.e. 92 was the “line”, two long and four short our ring. There were other rings too, in the larger community. Uncle Walter Smith, for example, had 94-5 as his number and you had to call “central”, the operator in Oak Lake, to connect you to the 94 line. To place a local call on your own line, you turned the handle on the side of the wooden telephone box. I could always tell when our neighbour, Mrs. Slimmon called; her twisting of the crank handle was tentative and certainly distinctive – sort of an early “caller ID”! Sometimes neighbours would listen in – “rubbering” we called it. Most of the time we were pretty sure who the offenders were and if we warned them to “get off the line!” you could hear the “click” as they obeyed. Our number changed to 312-24 before I left the farm. Today’s farmers have individual 7 digit phone numbers, just like their urban friends.

Our house was wood frame and didn’t have a basement – just a dug cellar. There was no electricity or running water, of course, and drinking water came from a shallow well by the barn, hauled in a pail to the house. Rudimentary electricity didn’t arrive until 1948 and then typically in the form of a single 60 watt bulb hanging from a twisted cord in the middle of a bedroom ceiling. While it was a Godsend in the house and we finally got an electric washing machine and, later, a refrigerator, it made a lot of difference in the barn too, where winter chores no longer had to be carried out by the light of a kerosene lantern.

The farm and farmhouse passed on to my brother Lyman in the late 1950s. He and Jean made improvements to the house, including a full basement, but one day Lyman forgot to close the draft on the wood stove in the back kitchen (they were heating water for clothes washing) before they left for town. There was a chimney fire which quickly spread to the roof and the whole house burned to the ground. My Dad stood by with tears in his eyes. Joy and I happened to be visiting from Winnipeg and we witnessed it, too. I will never forget the sound of my sister in law’s Jean’s precious set of Spode China crashing to the basement. It was a sad day and although neighbours came to try to save things from the house, little could be done. This tragic event happened – I think – in 1960.

I could mention places I lived in when I worked at Holland, Manitoba, in the mid 1950s and especially 72 Lawndale Avenue in Winnipeg, where I boarded at the home of my friend Carson Whyte for 3 years, while attending the University of Manitoba. Then there were places in Winnipeg where, after our marriage, Joy and I rented for a short time. But our own first real place was a brand new house we bought at 210 Parkville Bay in St.Vital – a Winnipeg suburb. It was on a third of an acre with lots of oak trees, 1200 square feet of living space with 3 bedrooms and, in 1961, house and lot cost $18,000! I was earning about $5,000 a year and was sure I would never be able to pay for that house in my lifetime. We lived there from 1961 until 1972 when we moved to Brandon.

Gwenmar, our Brandon-area home, was a big place – over 3,000 sq.ft. and 5 bedrooms. It cost $26,000. We lived there for 27 wonderful – sometimes challenging – years. Located 11 miles (17 kms) north-west of Brandon, Gwenmar was on 5 acres surveyed out of the farm once owned by Manitoba’s Lt-Governor (1929-34) J.D. McGregor. A whole book could be written about our lives there. Suffice it to say that the upkeep of a 1914-era house plus yard and garden work finally became too much and, as the family had grown up and moved away, we were happy when our veterinarian nephew, Craig Slimmon offered to buy the place in 1998. 

We then bought our home at 2503 Island Highway in Qualicum Beach – luckily before housing prices in this beautiful Vancouver Island spot had started to skyrocket out of sight.