The Canadian Connection
By Mary Rita Nelson
In exploring my family history, the first thing I invariably ask myself is “How did these people come to be in this place, at this time?” The answers have been sometimes mundane, but often interesting. It was through my family history that I discovered an emigration (meaning departure from) DeKalb County occurring in 1910-1915 to the wilds of Saskatchewan, Canada. This exodus was lead by none other than a Glidden, and many young DeKalb County farmers followed him. Some of those families, including my own, still live and farm in the great north.
Late this summer the Hart family gathered to meet and entertain the "Canadian Cousins." All my life I had heard about these mysterious cousins. My Aunt would go to visit, someone would receive a letter, there would be rumors of a visit from these often referred to, but never explained cousins. During this visit, someone handed me a book called "A Wheatland Heritage," a commemorative book from the Snipe Lake District near Saskatoon, Canada. In this book a very interesting tale of DeKalb County history unfolds.
The Story of Chase E. Glidden
In 1896 the death of his beloved wife, Anna, left Chase Glidden, nephew to Joseph Glidden the inventor of barbed wire, with four young children. He plunged headlong into the effort of providing for their future by joining the gold rush to the Klondike in 1898. Returning with a comfortable stake, and coming into his middle years, he might have lived out his life in ease and comfort. Instead he chose to spend his strength and substance in a mighty effort to acquire an estate for himself and those dear to him.
While on the road selling barbed wire, Chase met a real estate man who had been to western Canada. A short time later, Mr. Glidden was dealing in farmland south and east of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. He saw the young, struggling towns pull their streets out of the mud and expand while southern Saskatchewan developed. About the turn of the century, the J. E. Martin Land Company secured his services to make a survey of 225,000 acres of C.N. Railway land they were contemplating purchasing, in and around the Snipe Lake district.
Mr. Glidden was at once captivated by the beautiful broad expanse of the undulating plain, unbroken for miles except here and there a small patch for homestead requirements. The fertile soil of great depth, carpeted with lush grass and decked with native flax, small sage, and practically free from stones with water available at variable depths over the entire area, convinced him that here was one of the greatest potential dry farming areas still open to man. He reserved several choice sections for himself. The Martin Land Company accepted his judgment and commenced operations on land sales.
Those purchasing in the area through the direct effort Mr. Glidden were many from his hometown of DeKalb and the neighboring towns of Rochelle and Sycamore. Local names such as P.C. Hart, E. Harder, D. Gloeckner, T. McAllister, J. Grimes, the Blomquist brothers, Dr. Kimball, Grego Brothers, E.J. Wiswall - these were a few of those who accepted his advice and bought Canadian land. Mr. Glidden started his own farming operations in the Bostonia district in 1912 in cooperation with his son, Chase Jr., and his son-in-law, Thomas Akeley
Knowing the requirement for plenty of power, Mr. Glidden brought in a fine imported Percheron stallion and twenty-four heavy draft brood mares. Later, purebred and good grade Shorthorn cattle or approved milking strains were shipped in from the east. Other farm stock was added as the farmstead was built up.
Wheat was the main crop after one or two years. Large acreage was put into oats for horse feed and some barley for the hogs. Nineteen fourteen was a disappointing year, and feed had to be shipped in to carry the stock over until another harvest. In the spring of 1915 it was necessary to requisition the Government for seed wheat; as it was in short supply the government allocations had to be spread thin to cover the acreage prepared. When the seed sprouted, it covered very sparsely, a shoot here and a shoot there. The land had been well prepared however, and Mother Nature seemed to make a special effort to exonerate herself for the previous year, with ideal growing conditions and abundant productivity.
Crop yields were enormous on all sides. Forty days were required to garner the harvest on the Glidden farm. Granaries bulged to overflowing. The elevators in the market centers were filled to capacity, while threshing on the ground was a common sight. All the available space was filled; meanwhile the wagon train ran day and night. The railroads were not prepared for such a remarkable yield, and shipping came to a halt. On the siding west of the elevators Chase built a shed that was filled by a portable grain elevator. The grain was shipped out, as cars became available. In all there were 54,000 bushels of wheat, 9000 bushels of oats, and 300 bushels of barley.
Thomas and Winifred-Glidden Akeley built a farmstead alongside her brother, Chase Glidden Jr., who had married Marguerite Sandt. The second Glidden daughter, Josephine, left her teaching profession and came to be with her father until her marriage, in 1919, to E. R. Hedin, the new Martin Land Company resident representative. The third daughter, Nan Hiland continued to reside in DeKalb. After 1919, Mr. Glidden brought his second wife, Huldah and their small son Keith, to make their home on the farm.
Mr. Glidden had an almost fanatical belief in the country of his choice, and tended his land and stock with loving care and constant supervision. When on into his seventies, his daily rounds started at four in the morning, an ability to take a five minute "catnap" refreshed him at odd moments through the day. Some of his family urged him to go slowly in the purchase of land, and if he had been able to pay for it outright or a section at a time, the tale might have had a different ending. As it was, interest charges mounted and he became involved with the financial interests of Boston. Lulled by promises of limitless credit, and attempting to retrieve his own vanished resources, Mr. Glidden made several badly advised Wheat Market speculations. When sudden foreclosure caught him off-guard, everything for which he had labored was swept away.
Mr. Glidden spent the last five years of his life back in the old hometown at DeKalb. He revisited Canada in 1935, still firm in his vision that here was a great country and that the day would come when mechanized farming would prove to be the answer to its needs. His death the following spring at the age of eighty-three ended a career that was varied and colorful. Those who knew him admired his fine character and gentle spirit, courtly manners and child like faith in his fellow men. He was ever ready to lend equipment, assistance at seedtime or harvest, financial aid, even when hard pressed himself. It seems one of the ironies of life that this man, who poured his resources of money, strength and life into the conscious effort of creating a legacy for his successors, should fail.
The Patrick (P.C., Patsy) Hart Story
To those coming from the lush corn lands of Illinois, already well-treed, and populated, Western Canada was bleak, barren and forbidding, especially to women. There were many doubts expressed; as to the wisdom of bringing a family of half grown girls so far from the amenities of life and Mrs. P. C. Hart had her own reservations about the project.
Patsy and his father had made the trip with a party of “land seekers” under the leadership of Chase E. Glidden, a personal friend from DeKalb, and had made their land choices in 1910. The next year would see the farming operations started along with land rented from the McAllister brothers. The house was built that year with the help of neighbors.
The spring of 1912 saw the general exodus from Malta, Mr. Hart coming early with a number of carloads of farm equipment, stock, furniture and all sorts of supplies. It was the family's intention to be self-sustaining for at least two years. They did not intend to stay more than three, as their fortunes would be made in that time. Nothing had been overlooked, from meats and foodstuffs to school supplies clothing and enough shoes from Blomquist's shoe store at DeKalb to fit the family for several years. In 1915 Margaret had to go to the local Canadian town of Brock to buy a pair a pair of shoes that fulfilled Mrs. Hart's darkest foreboding by not “standing up”.
Mrs. Hart, Eileen, Margaret and Genevieve arrived in May. There were still drifts of snow in the coulees as they drove out from Brock and Mr. Hart had earlier upset a load of pigs and chickens in the bad drifts as he brought the livestock out to the farm.
Their first visitors walked the two miles or more from their place on section one in the next township. Margaret recalls that they all felt much happier after having had some company.
The Hart home became the boarding place for many of the single men nearby as well as groups of surveyors. At one time three different surveys for railroads had been made across their land and Patsy was quite upset at the prospect. Only one, the Canadian Northern, was actually built. Later in 1916 the telephone gang stayed there for some weeks while putting in the first line.
Tragedy struck the family in 1914, with the death of Genevieve. Family and friends had faithfully nursed her to no avail. The Harts could not face burying their daughter on the bare prairie, so they took her back to Illinois and she was buried in Calvary Cemetery, Lee, Illinois. While they were gone the beautiful crop of flowering flax was blasted by the hot dry winds, and there was nothing left on their return. The fall rains brought on a second crop of oats, enough to cut for feed.
The Christmas season of 1915 took the whole family back to DeKalb for the winter and they were thrilled the next spring to be able to come directly to Eston on the “mixed” train, an all day effort.
The Hart home became the center of Catholic worship in this community. From 1913 to 1918, Mass was said quite regularly at the P. C. Hart home and Mr. Hart was active in securing property for first Sacred Heart Church, He also served as a trustee on the Evans School Board as well as on his church board.
And so this family, intending to stay only long enough to make their fortunes, became an integral part of the life of their church and the community. Two more daughters were born Kathleen (Mrs. Soren Owens) and Bernice (Mrs. Earl Clarke) and they with Margaret (Mrs. L. O'Toole) have established homes of their own in the Canadian West. The farm their parents built up has since passed to them. The big square house that was long a landmark on the highway is now part of the Full Gospel Bible Institute.
The McAllister’s, The Grimes’, and the Harder’s
T.H. McAllister, a successful businessman of DeKalb and Sycamore was another who listened to the siren song of the wonders of the Canadian prairies. He and his brother were led to invest in some of the Martin Land Company property and arranged for the land to be rented to Patrick Hart, and then to have a nephew from New Zealand, Tom Johnston farm it for them. Later they built a summer home for themselves and stayed there for the season.
Mr. and Mrs. Ed Harder and their family were coaxed to purchase land through the pervasiveness of Chase Glidden. Daughter Rose was just 13, Durelle was 7, and wee Fay just 4 when they drove out through snowdrifts in April of 1911. Mrs. Harder thought they had come to the end of the world that day, as they had to practically crawl over drifts to get into their new home.
Mrs., Harder stated that she couldn’t remember much of anything that was worth recording, only a lot of hard work and plenty of hardships during the first years. The family was still living and farming in the area in 1976.
Jay Grimes and his wife came from Rochelle, Illinois in the spring of 1911. He rented land for the first years and farmed a large area. He was concerned for the welfare of his young children and until a school was built, had a private teacher for his children. Three sons and four daughters remained in the area and farmed the land.
The Missing Stories
Recently, I was having a lovely dinner with Marilyn Sanderson-Courtney, and discussed with her the material I was working on for this story, and she said “Well my family, (the Sandersons) moved up to Canada at that time too!” I’m sure that there are others out there that either tried the great experiment and came home, or that did not participate in the making of “A Wheatland Heritage”. I would enjoy hearing about the other families and their stories of the taming of the last farmable frontier of North America. I find it fascinating that DeKalb played such a large part in it.
Just as a side story, after I submitted “Letters of Yesteryear," (Daily Chronicle) I was contacted by many relatives. Some I knew some I didn’t. We found some 150 more letters written to Lizzie Conlin-Kerwin that were saved these 115 years. I understand that some are love letters from John to Lizzie, and some are from Maggie, the other Kerwin sister. It will take some time to transcribe, but what a wonderful look into the past. If you have any information or stories of DeKalb County men and women that participated in the gold rush, I am interested in developing more on these pioneers. I again hope you enjoyed the look into our DeKalb County heritage.
Mary Rita Nelson