Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Workday Wednesday ~ Life's Work Well Done

"HORSE POWER" ~ late 1920's early 1930's
George and Emma JOHNSON ~ farm in Milden, Saskatchewan
The cars are probably their sons' the horse and buggy would be George's.
My Mother told me that he father, George, refused to drive his car during the Depression.
An early environmentalist!
George Albert JOHNSON and Emma CLARK
with one of twenty-two grandchildren
 At their home/farm, Milden, Saskatchewan, 1940
George and Emma's tombstone epitaph:

 Well a lot of my ancestors were farmers. However, along with farming they also were instrumental in building the communities that they settled in.  

pianist and music teacher - piano and violin (1891 Census Canada - at age 17 Emma is listed as a pianist);
pioneer and settler;
Choir Director, Church organist and music director for various community functions; 
Midwife - she assisted the pioneer doctor, a young 20 year old just starting his practice.

In the 1891 Census Canada, at age 17 years old, she was considered to be a piniest. Emma studied music with the Conservatory of Music, Ontario.
In about 1887 or 1888, Emma  and George met at a music recital. She was the dainty, educated young pianist; he was the tall, ruggedly handsome Irish farmer, who loved to sing. Opposites attract. In 1899 they were married in Penetanguishene, Ontario, where she was born.

In 1905, when they settled in their sod house on the barren prairies,  her parents shipped her baby grand piano to them. Little did her parents know that the piano would give them shelter when the roof of their sod house was torn off in a tornado!

In 1911, the Village of Milden was incorporated. For at least 20 years Emma was the only music teacher. She provided music lessons for the children and played the piano and organ at the Methodist/ Presbyterian United Church. She and George were also responsible for the Church choir.
In 1925, silent moving pictures were introduced to Milden. They were shown for five years, until 1930, when the Depression forced the closure of the theatre. Emma played the piano for the silent movies at that time. In 1940, the movies resumed, but now they were 35 millimeter with sound.

In 1912, the second doctor to serve the community was a young man in his early 20's. By then Emma would have been in her mid 30's. My mother told me that Emma was called upon many times to assist the young doctor with pregnancies and births. During the 1918 flu epidemic she also helped to nurse her neighbours.

Mother and Farm wife:
Emma was skilled at knitting and crocheting. My Mother told me that when she or one of her six siblings lost their mittens, there was always a new pair waiting for them in the morning. They had a large garden and had their own livestock. The cold cellar was well stocked with preserves for the winter.
In the 1930's, during the Depression, my Mother told me that there was always a meal for the "hobos" who travelled the rails looking for a days work. During harvesting, Emma always provided their farm hands with substantial meals.

George Albert JOHNSON:
farmer, carpenter, pioneer and settler;
School Board Trustee (founding Member); 
Choir Director (he was an Irish tenor, his wife Emma was the pianist and organist); 
Telephone Company Board Trustee (1923-1940); 
President, Milden Local, Grain Growers Cooperative Association Ltd.; 
well respected neighbour and friend.

Farmer and carpenter:
My maternal grandfather, George Albert JOHNSON, only had a Grade 8 education. That was all that was available in the little community where his Irish parents settled. Of course later, after he had grown up, there was more schooling available for his eight younger siblings. Like his Irish parents, he was a farmer and a carpenter. His paternal grandparents emigrated from Ireland in 1839; his maternal grandparents in 1850. both his father and mother were born in Ontario.

In about 1897 or 1898, George left his parent's farm. He was married to Emma CLARK in 1899, in Penetanguishene, Ontario.

In 1900, at the age of 25 years, he worked on the Locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

Carpenter and Labourer:
In 1903, he and his wife Emma (CLARK) moved West to Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he worked as a carpenter. My mother thought that he also worked on laying the grade for the railroad as it was built Westward across Canada.

Pioneer and Settler:
In 1905, George and Emma with their first two children, traveled further West to Saskatchewan. I'm not sure how far the train would have taken them, but the end of their journey would have been by a settler's wagon to what would become the farming community of Milden, Saskatchewan. The Canadian Government was giving land to the early settlers. The condition being that they worked the land for three years, then they could pay the $10.00 fee to register their land in their own name. In 1908, after living in a sod house for three years, George had "proved up" his quarter section.

Co-Founder and School Trustee:
In 1907, his two oldest children, ages six and eight years needed to attend school. So he and a few other settlers submitted a request to the Saskatchewan Commissioner of Education to establish a school. It was approved in November 1907. George was appointed a School Trustee on the four member Board. He was appointed to travel by wagon to purchase lumber and the necessary school supplies, desks, chalkboards, etc. He served for thirteen years, from 1908 to 1921.

President, Grain Growers' Cooperative:
January/February 1910, the first Local of the Grain Growers' Cooperative Association Ltd. was formed. George was the first Wheat Pool delegate for an annual convention to represent the Milden community.

Board Member, Milden Telephone Company:
In 1915, the first telephone switchboard was installed in the town drugstore. In 1918, George JOHNSON and my uncle Edmund GATES, were elected to the six-member Board.

Survived 1905 Prairie Grass Fire while helping a neighbouring farmer:
The pioneers and settlers were a close knit community, helping neighbours in their hour of need. In 1905, there was a major prairie grass fire that swept across Saskatchewan. The flames leap more than twenty feet in the air. Grandpa George had gone about a mile to help another farmer set up his fire guard. The fire overtook him and he had no choice but to run over the burnt ground to get back to his sod house where his wife, Emma, and their two small children were. Fortunately he was not badly burnt, however, his did carry some small scars on his hands and face for the rest of his life.

Sources: Personal knowledge; stories my Mother told me; LOOKING BACK - 1905-1965; The History of the Milden Community; published 1966. (Copy given to my parents in 1969.)


  1. Wow! It is so wonderful that you have this much detail about their work lives. We spend 40-60 hours a week at a job, yet it seems to be an area of an ancestor's life that we know the least about. Very cool reading.

    1. My Mother (1913-2004) loved to reminisce about her childhood and it was meaningful to me because we used to visit the Village of Milden where she was born. I have many happy memories of playing on the farm of my grandparents.
      Thanks for taking the time to read about them.