Back to The La Marre's Home Page


by Roland Joseph LaMarre

Table of Contents

Early Years
Early Childhood Memories
Childhood Amusements
Early Boyhood
Autumn Meat Preparation
A Dangerous Spring Storm
Buffalo Bones
Farm Work
Berry Picking
A Runaway Horse
Ice Harvest
Winter Firewood
The Loggers Come Home
Thunderstorms on the Prairies
Mechanical Inclinations
School in a Small Community
The Young Inventor
Chemistry and Bombs
Teen Age Life
The Grain Harvest
Community Dances
That Old Buffalo Robe
Mature Thoughts About Growing Up on a Farm
The La Marre Family in North America


     The LaMarre family migrated from Québec to Manitoba in the latter part of the 19th century. I am the grandson of these migrating descendents and wish to share a brief history that led to the migration, as well as a few of the reasons for their relocation. I will also share some stories I heard from my mother and father about their experiences as well as stories about my grandfather and as well as experiences we grandchildren had growing up in Manitoba.

     To put this into context for people who do not know the history of this country, the Canadian Pacific Railway had just been completed across Canada in the year 1885. The Riel Rebellion in Western Canada had come to an end and the buffalo were being rounded up and slowly driven off the prairies to make way for the wave of settlers which were anticipated. So the land was opened up to anybody who was interested in homesteading on the prairies. For some reason, a lot of Québecers decided to move to Western Canada and their descendants are scattered throughout the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and in the West. This migration resulted in a lot of small towns popping up in Manitoba, such as Saint Charles, Saint Eustace, St. Francois Xavier and others which were all settled primarily by French Canadians.

     My grandfather was Jean Richard LaMarre and he was married to my grandmother, Euphemie Derome. He and my grandmother lived in a small town called Sherrington in Québec. It is today near the suburbs of Montréal in the southeast side known as the eastern townships. Jean was a lawyer in Quebec and I understand Euphemie had been raised or educated in a convent. Whether she was planning to become a nun is not known. In any event, they got married in Québec and had not been married long when they decided to migrate to the wilds of Manitoba to take up homesteading. So here was a lawyer, apparently from a fairly well-to-do family, who decided to go to Manitoba with his wife and their son, my father and two years old at the time. Dad was born in 1886 and they arrived in Manitoba in 1888.

     The family took up a homestead located on the outskirts of Winnipeg, about 20 miles to the west along the Assiniboine River and near the little town of St. Francois Xavier in the municipality of Cartier. Many French people were relocating from Québec at that time and this is how the LaMarre family came to Western Canada. My mother was born in 1888 in Manitoba, about the same year that my father’s parents arrived from Québec. As I understand it, she was one of the first children of European descent to be born in that particular area of Manitoba. She was raised in a little town called St. Eustache, which is about 8 miles west of St. Francois Xavier, where my dad grew up.

     The following are some of the some of the memories my mother passed on to us about her early years in Manitoba. Her impressions were of the flat lands, the hot sweaty summers, mosquitoes and bitterly cold winters. There were huge garter snakes. She said they would be anywhere up to 6 feet in length. She used to get teased unmercifully by her older brother; who used to come around and throw them at her. My mother had a horrid fear of snakes because of the teasing she had received from her brother. She remembered working with oxen in the fields where they were making hay for their cattle. Her parents managed a dairy farm and produced cheese. In those days the cattle ran wild because there were no fences. It was just the open range where the buffalo used to roam. The cattle fed on this range and her parents used to harvest wild hay, which was fed to the cattle in the wintertime.

Back to Top
     She also described an experience as a young teen. She was driving a yoke of oxen that were pulling a hay sweep. This implement had long wooden teeth next to the ground which when pulled over windrows of hay, gathered it on its teeth and then dragged to a location where it was piled by hand onto a hay stack. This work is usually done in late June when hay is harvested. At this time the mosquito population is at its peak and the insects are ravenous. Now oxen are normally large, placid animals and are easily managed. On this occasion, however they became so maddened by the hoards of mosquitoes that they simply pulled the sweep and my mother into a swamp, up to their bellies in scummy water to escape the pests. This experience seemed to have left a strong impression on my mother in the way she described it.

     Another memory she shared with me also occurred when she was about 15 years of age. Annually, her father, and some of her brothers, would take their cheese produce and other farm goods into the city of Winnipeg to trade at the Hudson Bay trading post for supplies. She went along on one of these trips (this would have been around the turn of the century) and arrived in the city of Winnipeg. Her father had a load of cheese that was to be dropped off at the Hudson’s Bay store. Now if you’ve ever been to Winnipeg, the Hudson Bay store is on Portage Avenue. This main street of Winnipeg is a very wide street with multiple lanes in each direction. In those days it was just a muddy road, and there were wooden sidewalks at the edges like you see in western movies .The Hudson’s Bay store, which is a huge department store today, was in those days a trading post, and this is where they used to bring their cheese to negotiate it’s sale and then buy goods, like tea, sugar, other things they couldn’t produce on the farm. She remembered walking along the sidewalk, past a tavern like you see in western films with swing doors that open in either direction. When the doors swung open she could see men standing at the bar with their feet up on a brass rail, spitting into huge brass spittoons in front of the rails.

     The other thing she remembered was the oxcarts; Red River oxcarts, being pulled by oxen, through the mud on Portage Avenue. She also remembered staying at a relative’s home near the Red River where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers came together at a place called Fort Gary. This was the site of the first settlement built by the French explorer LaVerandre which is today the centre of down town Winnipeg. Across the Red River from this site there is today a Roman Catholic cathedral, but in those days, before the church was built, there were open fields and there was an Indian village there. My mother described seeing the natives dancing and whooping it up in front of huge bonfires. She described that as one of her earlier vivid memories.

     My dad told stories of remembering the last buffalo roundups or buffalo hunts. He might have been 5 or 6 years of age at that time and a lot of the people in the area who were interested in getting the meat and hides had congregated on my grandfather’s place in order to prepare for the hunt. They then rode off on their horses, with their guns and equipment and their carts and whatever vehicles they could assemble. It seems they rode south, somewhere on the Manitoba / North Dakota border, and they managed to get a few buffalo. They brought them back to my grandfather’s place and my grandfather obtained a tanned buffalo hide from this last hunt. For years my father used this buffalo robe to cover his old car in the garage. Even now, I can remember seeing it hanging on the wall. He claimed it protected the car from the cold in winter and made it easier to start. It hung in our garage for years. I will tell you more about that later.

Back to Top
     In any event, my dad grew up in the wilderness. The land had been occupied before the arrival of the Québecers by the descendants of the French explorers who had taken Indian women as wives and had produced children, who were what we called half-breed, but are known today as Métis. Today there are many thousands of Métis descendants from these explorers both of French Indian and Scottish Indian ancestry scattered throughout Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the western provinces. He grew up with these people and their children as his neighbors and his friends and he learned to speak their dialect, to hunt and to work with them. He also described the land in those days as being very flat, very marshy in places and mosquito infested. I remember in later years, when I accompanied father while delivering mail to the small communities along the banks of the Assiniboine River dropping off mail at the various mail boxes. Wherever he stopped at a place where there was a Métis residence and the individual was near, he would speak to them in this curious dialect, which I though was very funny to listen to.

     My dad also told the story of how he accidentally got shot in the hand. He had a large lump on the back of his left hand about halfway between the wrist and the knuckles of the center finger. Apparently a pistol had discharged and had put a ball through the center of his hand from the bottom up and the broken bone had grown out in a lump about the size of a quarter sticking out of the back of his hand. I can remember as a child asking him about that and feeling it and thinking it was very strange and he told me the story about how he had gotten shot accidentally. Now he never really did explain in detail how this happened, whether this was an accident or whether somebody had pointed a revolver at him and he had put his hand as the pistol shot fired and the bullet entered his hand. That is the story he told me about that event.

     My father also told the story that when he was a young man before he was married how he and his half breed friends, used to get on their horses and ride to Winnipeg on horseback, a distance of about 20 miles. I guess they must have been hell raising there, drinking and so on, but he said he could remember galloping back across the prairies in the face of a blinding storm, and just about freezing before they got home. It was a totally different way of living in those days compared to what we experience today.
So this was life experienced by my mother and father, descendants of the pioneers, my grandparents on both mother’s and father’s side, who came from Québec to settle in the wilds of Manitoba after the Riel rebellion in the late 1880’s.

     Now my grandmother,( father’s mother) , had about 11 or 12 pregnancies and only two children survived, my father and my aunt, who was two years younger than dad. They grew up together on this homestead in Manitoba and they went initially to a school at St. Francois, which was run by the sisters’ Catholic order on the banks of the Assiniboine River. My dad went to school there for the first few years. Now he must have been quite a precocious individual and he had a very short temper. He was also very argumentative and was quick to anger. Whether he was considered unruly or whether my grandfather, who was a lawyer, had aspirations for him to do something better than be a pioneer farmer, he sent my father to college in St. Boniface. Today, St. Boniface is a suburb of Winnipeg and he spent a couple years at the college. He was quite articulate in both English and French and he loved to read and he was quite knowledgeable about world affairs – took a keen interest in world events. In any event, either because he was too unruly or difficult to manage him was sent back home having completed grade eight.

Back to Top
     In order to help him manage the farm my grandfather took in an orphan boy, about the same age as father. His name was Joseph Kokinski and he worked with grandfather and dad on the farm for a number of years while my aunt continued school at St. Francis Xavier. She eventually became a school teacher and taught school at St. Boniface for many years until she retired well into her 60’s and died at the age of around 90.>br>      Since the little French settlements were only a few miles apart it was inevitable that my parents would meet and they married in 1910.

     Now in the same year that my parents married (1910) my grandfather Jean Richard was gored by a bull and died of a peritoneal infection. So my mother came to live with dad and his mother and his sister on this homestead farm and they lived there for a number of years and they produced 11 children, of which I am the third youngest. I will start with the oldest who was Helen. She was born a couple of years after they were married, followed by Gilbert, Horace, Edmund, Arthur, Buddy, Annette, John and then there was a Joseph Leo who died of diphtheria so there was a bit of a gap, then there was myself and Edward and Lorraine.

     I am not going to talk about each of the family members at this time other than to tell you that the two oldest, Helen and Gilbert, married locally when I was a young lad. Helen married John Keough and had an extensively large family in the Manitoba area just west of Winnipeg. Gilbert married Camille LaFleche and her descendants are living in the Winnipeg area by the name of LaFleche. The others all moved away at one time or another which is a totally different story.

     Things got difficult on the homestead for my father and my grandmother and, as I understand it, they got deeper into debt, couldn’t really make a go of it. The adopted boy, Joseph Kokinski decided to strike out on his own. Also, as I understand, dad decided to sell off the homestead and move to the village of Headingley, which is where I grew up. He bought a house on the edge of the village and about 300 acres of land some two miles north of the town. He also obtained a contract to deliver rural mail to the communities along the Assiniboine River west of Headingley. Headingley is about 12 miles west of Winnipeg, and some six miles east of St. Francois Xavier. By this time my aunt had moved to St. Boniface to teach and she took my grandmother to live with her. So there was dad and mother and a large and growing family relocated from the homestead farm in Cartier municipality to the little town of Headingley in 1924. The village of Headingley is located on the banks of the Assiniboine River and the Trans Canada Highway. In my time there it was a village of about 300 families, with two schools, a post office, a couple of stores, lumber yard, telephone exchange and a railroad with a station at the Trans Canada Highway crossing. The railway connected Winnipeg to the rural areas in southern Manitoba from Carmen, to Winnipeg and came through the town of Headingley. There was also a grain elevator and a stock yard, which was where cattle were corralled before they were put on boxcars to be taken to the Winnipeg slaughter houses. We lived on the outskirts of the village about a kilometer and a half from the school, which was right in the center of the town and about a half mile from the railroad tracks. My father had about 300 acres of land which was further north from where we lived about 2 miles away and much of my youth was spent with teams of horses and wagons going back and forth the 2 miles to the work field and back to our home on the edge of the village.

Back to Top


     I was born in 1929. There was a house full of siblings and my younger brother Ed and my youngest sister Lorraine came after me 2 years apart. I can remember, we lived in a small house, the boys all slept upstairs, the girls, before they were married, shared one room, downstairs next to my dad’s and mother’s room. Our home was always full of noise, talk, arguments, laughter, hi-jinx – there was never a dull moment for a youngster, having older siblings around – there was always something interesting going on.

     I remember a barn yard, a barn, a number of cows and horses and a bull. We had granaries and a large garden. There was a pump house where we used to spend hours pumping water with a hand pump for the livestock. In my earliest years we had no electricity. In the evening my dad would try to read by the light of a kerosene lamp and I can remember it used to smoke a lot .It produced a characteristic jet fuel smell which was kind of irritating to the nose. He would get old newspapers and periodically remove the glass globe and wipe out the soot that used to accumulate inside the chimney of the lantern before he put it back on and l ight it up again. He also trimmed the wick periodically so that it would have an even flame. I can remember that quite clearly.

     Of course there was no running water in the house. We had an outdoor toilet which was hot and fly infested in the summer and frigid in the winter. We had to bring in buckets of water for mother. The water was so hard if you boiled it, it would produce a scum in the container that was so hard, full of gypsum and calcium deposits and stuff like that, it was almost impossible to wash in it. You used soap and water; no detergents like you have today, and the water would form a thick scummy curd on top so it was very unappetizing when it came to washing yourself. You can appreciate that we didn’t wash very often.

     In those days people were experimenting with crystal sets as a means of trying to get radio signals. My older brother, Edmund, who was kind of the inventive person, an older boy in his teens at this stage, had strung up a wire between our house and the barn for an aerial. He made a crystal set out of a cigar box, with a number of brass connection points on it, and a rotating dial. There was a crystal mounted on the top of the box which must have been from a piece of galena or pyrite or something. By touching the crystal with a wire probe attached to the coil of wire inside the box and rotating the dial he picked up signals from the aerial and this was transmitted to a pair of ear phones. I can remember they used to stick this on my ears and I would be amazed at the sounds. I could hear music or voices when they just touched the crystal tip at the right spot.

     It wasn’t very long after that, I might have been 6 years of age, when we got the first radio, an old, old model. This would have been around 1934 and I can remember when the radio came on, putting my head down next to it and looking to see where the sound was coming from.

Back to Top


     What do children do to amuse ourselves on a farm you might ask? I can tell you there were a million things to do. We used to go out and chase chickens. We had a big black rooster, who was very ferocious, and he used to intimidate me because he’d come at me flapping his wings in a fighting stance. At first I was quite frightened of him, but I got so I could kick him away and that used to make me feel brave.

     We had a collie, mixed breed dog, which was born about the time I was 4 years of age, and he grew up with me and my younger brother and sister. His name was Fido and we thoroughly enjoyed playing with him. I can remember going on long walks across the fields with the dog, chasing birds or gophers or rabbits, depending on the time of year. We would spend endless hours away from our farm house, in the open fields, enjoying ourselves playing with whatever nature had in front of us.

     Chasing gophers in the summer time was a great pastime. We used to carry buckets of water to the gopher holes, of which they’d have 4 or 5 in their little colony. We’d pour endless buckets of water down the holes in order to drive them to the surface, and when that happened of course Fido would run out there, grab them by the neck and shake them around until they were dead. We thought this was great sport.

     In the winter time we used to follow rabbit tracks out into the fields with our dog and occasionally we’d see a rabbit leap out of the snow and of course the dog would go ki-yi-ying after it. Of course he was never able be to catch them because those jack rabbits could run like deer. We would also drag our sleighs along and run them down the snow banks where the snow accumulated in tall mounds around the barn and granary buildings.

     Hunting bird’s eggs was also a favorite pastime when we were children. There were a lot of song birds and other wild birds in the area and out in the fields, away from our home. There were groves of poplar trees and aspens and a lot of birds would nest in their branches. In the spring we would climb to the top of the aspen trees which would bend and sway, trying to steal the eggs from the crows that nested high up in the treetops. The birds would come swooping down and it was almost as though they were going to peck out your eyes and the top of your head when you reached over to try and steal eggs from the nest. It was always with a great sense of accomplishment that we were able to scramble down with one or two eggs in our hands that didn’t get broken. We’d then punch a hole through the ends with a needle and blow out the contents and have a stock pile of these eggs in little boxes that we would take to school for show and tell.

Back to Top


     Earlier I mentioned that the railroad tracks were about half a mile away from our home. We used to go there quite a bit in order to get gravel for our slingshots. The soil around our farmland was very smooth and free of stones so the only place we could get stones for our slingshots was to go to the railroad and collect right size stones off the gravel beds under the ties. I can remember often going back home with my pockets bulging with stones, my pants hanging down practically to my knees with the weight of them as I carted them laboriously back to the house. We’d have a stock pile of stones for shooting birds around the barn and around our farm. We made sling shots out of old rubber bands cut from inner tubes, and the forks from limbs of trees. Shooting a sling shot was a great past time in the summer. There were a lot of sparrows and song birds of various kinds and we were always vying with each other, Eddy, Johnny and I, to see who could hit the most number of birds.

     When we grew a little older, and I must tell you, not much older, our neighbor, who was about half a mile away and about my age, had a B-B gun, and that was a great source of fun. My older brother, Bud, got a 22 rifle when I was about 8 years of age, and he used to shoot birds around the barn with it. I can remember one day, Johnny, Eddy and I had taken his gun, unbeknownst to him, and we were shooting birds and Johnny was shooting the rifle because he was the oldest. He was shooting birds around the house and he happened to shoot at a sparrow on a tree and the bullet must have ricocheted off the branch because it embedded itself in the neighbor’s doorway, on the frame of the door about a foot from the neighbor wife’s head where she was hanging clothes from her back door. Needless to say she was very upset about this and came storming over to our house and told my father later when he came back from delivering the mail. You can believe we really got chastised for that little episode.

     Living on the farm yard were large numbers of rats drawn by the grain stored in the granaries. To cope with these pests dad kept a number of cats about the premises. Cats propagate rapidly and often times we’d end up with so many cats around the house that dad would say “You’ve got to get rid of some of these cats.” I can remember once he had told my older brother John and I that we had to get rid of the kittens that were about 3 or 4 days old. He wanted them destroyed before he came back from having delivered mail. I don’t know what possessed us but we took the kittens in a bag with a heavy stone in it to the Assiniboine River with the idea of dropping them off the bridge to be drowned. So we took our bike (Johnny pedaling and I was on the handlebars holding the cats in a bag) and we went to the train bridge. The bridge over the Assiniboine River was about 200 yards long and it was about 50 feet above the water. There were wooden ties which supported the railroad tracks, spaced at about 4 inch spacing so that you could see the water between the ties as you walked across the bridge.

     We walked out to the middle of the bridge, leaving our bike parked on the tracks at the back, and went out onto the middle of the bridge over the open span. Again I don’t know what possessed us but we took the kittens out of the bag and threw them directly into the water thinking that they’d just drop to the bottom and drown. I couldn’t have been more than about 7 years of age at the time. Anyway, we were astounded to see these little animals, with their eyes not even open yet appearing to walk on the water. They did eventually succumb and drown, however and in hindsight I am horrified that we didn’t know any better than to do such a cruel thing.

     Anyway we were so mesmerized by this spectacle and looking down at the water at these kittens that we failed to see the approach of a train, a steam engine, coming down the tracks. It was only when he was approaching the other end of the bridge that we heard the sound and felt the rumble and the shaking and beheld the train bearing down on us. My brother Johnny yelled “We’ve to get off here quick. Lets run.” so he, being bigger and stronger than I, ran like crazy toward the bicycle. I tripped and fell several times as my feet kept getting stuck in the cracks between the ties. I guess I was panicking as I rushed to the end of the bridge mortally afraid for my life. It seemed like I just barely got to the end of the bridge and threw myself off the tracks when the train came roaring by with a rush of steam and the blazing wail of its whistle as it went by. That scared me right out of my wits. I’ll always remember that and I guess it was a lesson killing kittens that way.

Back to Top
     At the height of the great depression, about 1935 we used to pass the time counting box cars as the trains passed through the village on their way to Winnipeg. The railroad tracks were only about half a mile from our house and in the late fall long trains of full grain cars were moving to the city. Oftentimes we would see the top of those boxcars just covered with what we called “hobos”. These were the unemployed men who couldn’t find work, sitting on top of the boxcars, riding by in the late afternoon on their way to Winnipeg. They looked so much like crows sitting on a fence, with their little bundles tied on top of their backs and hunched over, sitting on top of the boxcars, riding in endless numbers. It was really something to see. In hindsight thinking about how desperate these men must have been it must have been a terrible, frightful, experience for them to be riding around the country without any food.

     On occasion some hobos would get off the train and come to our farm house looking for a handout. I can remember once when this youngish man, I guess he’d have been somewhere in his twenties had come to our home and was given a meal. After dinner I suppose he felt obligated to try to repay the family for what they had done. He attempted to entertain us by playing a mouth organ, stamping his feet on the floor and using a pair of spoons between his thumb, hand and knees, singing and clapping a tune. I thought that was all very fascinating and it made quite an impression on me.

     Other things I remember at this time: Next to the back of our barn, there was a big wide open field on the way out toward the railroad tracks. This was a large field, maybe 100 or so acres of land with groves of Aspen trees where we used to get the crows eggs, and various sloughs and willows in there. There was a place where the farmer who owned that field had a huge windmill which was a device operated by wind power which was used to pump water for the cattle. At the base of the windmill there was a large trough. Various cattle like cows, bulls, and horses would arrive at the trough to drink. It used to be a great source of excitement and thrill for us as young lads to go to that windmill to look at the animals and see if we could climb up the structure.

     Now this windmill stood about 75 feet above the ground with a large, five foot diameter fan mounted at the top. It was kind of scary to climb up close to that fan turning in the wind. There was a ladder up the side with a little cat walk at the top underneath the fan and we used to dare ourselves to climb to the top and sit on the cat walk. We began a contest to see who could stand up on the cat walk and see how far we could pee off the top. That is how far we could make the stream go past the side of the windmill. I can remember on one occasion climbing up there and the higher you got the more rickety it seemed to be. It almost seemed to sway, especially if you were looking up and you could see the clouds going by; almost as though the tower itself was moving. But I can remember on this one occasion, I couldn’t have been more than 7 years of age, I climbed to the top of this thing, did my little job off the side and boy was I proud.

     A source of excitement also centered on playing near the trains as they shunted box cars about. The train used to stop at the elevator to pick up box cars full of grain, and occasionally pick up cattle and hogs at the stockyard. On one occasion, I was about 9 years of age, a number of boys and I had gone to the stockyards to play and there were a number of cattle in the pens. We thought it would be great fun to be like cowboys and ride on these cattle. I had a new windbreaker that mother had given me. I had climbed onto the cow and it was jumping around, trying to dislodge me, and it eventually did. I fell off the cow and landed in a big cow plop getting cow manure all over my nice new jacket. The other lads though it was hugely funny.

Back to Top
     Another thing we did when the trains were shunting boxcars around we would run alongside the moving train and jump on the rungs on the side of the boxcar and ride it up and down the rail yard. Now I wasn’t more than 9 years old then and it was scary letting go of the rungs and jumping off especially if the train was moving quickly. The biggest challenge came when the train was finally ready to head off to Winnipeg. There was a long curve in the track as it headed for city and usually began to pick up speed as it reached the curve. I remember we would dare ourselves to see how long we could stay on that train before we would jump off. On one occasion when the train had gotten up a good speed, maybe 15 to 20 miles per hour I dared to hang on. Finally I was so scared I jumped off and remember rolling over and over into the ditch as I fell away from the train. That was scary exciting!

     Other things we would do was put pennies on the railroad track and watch very closely, thinking when the train ran over this penny it might cause a great problem with the train but of course all it did was flatten the copper coin out so that it was thin like a piece of paper.

     Playing in those fields was always a lot of fun; first of all there was the excitement of those big horses that were half wild, running around out there, and they’d go thundering by sometimes in groups of 15 or 20. It was kind of scary to a lad of my age. The other thing was that in the springtime those sloughs would fill with water and we would build elaborate rafts, or seemed elaborate to us as 8 year olds, and Eddy, Johnny and I would go out there on these rafts and get ourselves soaking wet pushing these things around in the water. The water might have been 2 feet deep I suppose at the most, but just in the spring when the ice was melting in April it was quite muddy, very cold and oftentimes we’d come home totally soaking wet. Mother and Father would have a fit because they thought we were going to catch pneumonia from playing like that.

     The other thing is that in late fall these sloughs would freeze over and we would have a great time skating around on top of these frozen fields. If it had been a late, wet fall there would be water in those sloughs and we’d have a great time playing hockey and shooting the puck around, chasing each other and generally having a lot of fun. We’d come home with our cheeks red as apples. Talk about a healthy, happy environment; we were having the time of our lives!

     Another thing, in the summertime, when those sloughs dried out, there were a lot of red willows in there and we would oftentimes go there and have our little camp fires in the bush. We’d have trails through the bush and we’d play hide and seek and cowboys and Indians. We fashioned elaborate wooden guns, which were cut out from the ends of apple boxes. The guns took the form of a square cornered end which was for the gun butt and the long end was where we stretched rubber bands that were taken off the inner tubes of tires and connect them to a clothes line pin (clip-you know, for clipping bed sheets and clothing onto the line to dry). We’d fasten this to the handle and we’d stretch the rubber band to the end of the stick. This was our rubber bullet. Then we’d chase each other, release the clothes line pin and the rubber would fly off like a bullet. We would chase each other and try to be the last one standing; who got away and who got who and it was an exciting game. I remember even the older boys; Buddy, who would have been in his mid teens at this point, with his friends all joining in and we’d have one heck of a great time. Of course us being the younger ones we were always getting caught first, but we thought it was great sport playing these games out in those fields with the older kids.

     Another memory as a boy was the sport of stealing crab apples. Crab apples are tiny little sour apples about the size of a golf ball. I don’t know why we’d choose to steal them because they weren’t very good for eating anyway, but I guess it was just the mischievousness of it. Anyway, my brother and I had taken our bikes and we’d gone across the river from a farm where we knew there were a bunch of crab apple trees growing in a farmer’s orchard. So we put our bikes down, stripped to our shorts and jumped in the water and swam across the river. Again, I don’t think I could have been more than 9 and my brother 11. Once across the river we crawled up the bank, couldn’t see any farmer in the field and climbed up into the trees. We were starting to take the crab apples out of the tree intending to put the fruit in a bag that my older brother had brought with him, when all of a sudden the farmer came running out of the kitchen door. He yelled “I see you guys, I see you guys” and he came running toward us. My brother Johnny said “jump. Get out of here, let’s run. Head for the river”. Well, of course I, being younger and stupider, got stuck up in the tree and the farmer stood there waiting for me to come down and he grabbed me by the hair and said; “I know you and I’ll tell your father.” I was crying and begged “I’ll never do this again; honest I won’t, never, never ever again”. So he let me go and I jumped into the river and swam back to the bank on the other side where my older brother sat laughing at me.

Back to Top


     I will now recount witnessing my first animal butchering experience in which meat was being prepared for the winter. This was in the late fall. We had this huge hog; it must have weighed about 200 to 240 lbs. I remember my dad and my oldest brother Horace, and my brother Bud and maybe another older brother there but there was Johnny, Eddy and I witnessing this event. They hog tied this animal out in the yard and Horace stood over the animal while it was lying down and struck it between the eyes with a sledge hammer and stunned it. It began to squeal and wasn’t totally unconscious but dad took a 14 inch long butcher knife, and he stabbed it in the chest in the hope of hitting it in the heart. The blood started to rush out. The animal was squealing. My brother Buddy was holding the animal by its hind quarters. My dad was holding a deep frying pan near the wound so as to collect the blood in order to make black pudding. Black pudding is a nutritious food prized by many cultures in the world. He ended up collecting about half a bucket full of blood before the pig finally quit struggling and died. Next began the job of preparing this animal to be cut up into pieces. Now my father had prepared a large steel rain barrel (45 gallon drum size or larger) with the end off the top and filled with water. This barrel was set on top of a stone grill under which a fire had been built and the water had been heated so that it was steaming hot. Over the top of this barrel he had slung up a tripod with a pulley at the top. After the animal was dead my dad cut slits in the back of the animals’ hind quarters, right behind the knees, and strung a stout oak stick between its legs through those slots behind the tendons in the knees on each leg. They connected that to a rope which ran through the pulley and then my dad and my oldest brothers hauled this animal up on the end of the pulley, head down and brought it right up over the top of the hot water. They then carefully lowered it into the water and submerged it right to its tail, and left it in there for about 5 minutes. Then they carefully lifted it out the way they had dropped it in and laid it on previously prepared trestle boards lying on top of saw horses. Everyone, including us youngsters, was standing there with knives having been told we had to scrape off all the bristles and stuff. It was fairly easy to do, especially on the flat surfaces of the back and stomach but was difficult around the ears and rump. Dad and the older brothers took care of these parts. To make a long story short this had to be done by dipping the animal into the hot water two or three times. Eventually the hog was finished and looked nice and pink and all cleaned up.

     Next came the job of dressing the animal and cutting it up for meat. To do this dad strung up the hog, head down next to the trestle table. He then carefully cut open the hog’s belly starting at the tail and making sure the bowel at the anus was tightly tied with a string so that no waste would come into contact with the meat. I remember seeing the bluish entrails spilling down to the ground. Dad seemed to take enjoyment from examining the pancreas and making predictions about whether it was going to be a strong, long or cold winter or whatever. Then he’d remove the liver and the heart and the kidneys, and all of this was brought into the house for mother, who would cook these up first off. After the hog had been gutted the head, tongue and all of that stuff, was removed. This meat was also taken into the house for mother to prepare into head cheese, cold tongue and other delicacies. In the meantime, dad washed out the inside of the cavity and let it hang there for several days in the cool weather. After hanging about 7 or 8 days the carcass was taken down and cut up into chunks of meat, which were kept in the cold on our back porch. This was kept frozen usually during winter until it was eaten.

     The butchering experience described above might well shock some people today who think food only comes from a super market all nicely wrapped up. As a youngster however growing up on the farm one thought nothing about the fact that perhaps we were being cruel to animals. Survival dictated that such activities were necessary for us to eat and to live, and these experiences were all part of daily living.

Back to Top


     You can appreciate that with a large family and little income, my father was constantly struggling to produce something that would feed the family. He derived a small income from his contract for delivering mail for the postal department. He would carry mail around a 15-20 mile mail route every day. He also received some income from the farm. So we worked around the farm. From my earliest days I was taught to milk cows. By the time I was 12 or 13 we were milking anywhere up to 15 cows, and it was all done by hand. I learned very quickly that there was no time for fooling around; you just had to get your work done. The farm animals were kept in the barn at night. The barn had to be cleaned of manure every day and it was usually the chore for the younger siblings, Johnny, Eddy and me. Feed had to be brought in to the barn for the animals so there was always wok to do.

     My mother had a large garden which dad plowed every spring and fall. He used a hand plow pulled by a team of horses. I can still see him stumbling along between the two handles of the single furrow plow, the horses reins draped around his neck, swearing at the team because they would not obey his instructions, either stopping or going and becoming very frustrated in the process and trying to hold down the plow with his hands and steer at the same time. Poor father! When the plowing was done he would hitch up one horse to a set of harrows and break down the lumps. We children would all get hand rakes and rake out all the larger lumps to prepare the seed bed for mother who planted the seeds.

     Other early memories involve having to pick stones off the fields. The glaciers must push a lot of medium sized and larger stones onto the plains in Manitoba because the soil basically was very smooth and very creamy with no little pebbles in it. Every year we went out onto the fields and picked up the larger stones. The whole family was out there, picking stones, lifting them onto the wagon and taking them over to the sidelines. I can also remember my brothers following the harrows on foot, behind a team of horses, up and down the fields for hours. Later as I grew older I remember plowing and disking and harrowing with a tractor. It was all hard work, and more work. There were endless mosquitoes, endless work.

Back to Top


     One vivid memory I have of an incident that happened to my parents was when I was about 8 or 9 years of age. My mother’s parents were still living in the little town of St. Eustache, which was about 10 miles away from Headingley. That spring in early March my mother and father went to visit her parents in St. Eustace, using the Ford Model A. They had planned to stay overnight and return the following day. This was on the weekend. A storm threatened on Saturday afternoon while they were visiting and dad felt they should get back home before the storm blew up because he didn’t like the looks of the weather. They started back from St. Eustache, driving along the road near the Assiniboine River. The storm overtook them as they approached the place near where the old farm homestead was located in Cartier municipality where my dad had grown up. Accompanying my mother and father were my brother Buddy and sister Annette. At this point they were about half way home. It was late in the afternoon, about 4 or 5 o’clock, and the sun was starting to set, when the car got stuck in a snow bank which had drifted across the road. There was no way they could move and it was bitterly cold. The storm was rapidly increasing in intensity and father felt their life was in danger if they could not find shelter.

      So the story is told that they all got out of the car with dad taking the lead because he had the best knowledge of where they were, having gone up and down these roads quite a bit. He knew there was an abandoned building about 100 yards away. They had to be able to find it though in the storm. So the family tied themselves together one behind the other, holding onto each other’s coat so they wouldn’t lose contact. Dad took the lead. Annette was the youngest, she followed dad, and then my mother and then Buddy took the rear, and they all held on one after the other holding onto their coats. Dad found a wire fence stretching along side of the road. He then followed the fence because he knew that if they lost contact with the fence they would be totally lost in the blinding snow as there was absolutely no visibility. When he got to a break in the fence my dad remembered that a turn to the right would lead them into where the abandoned house was a few yards away. They got to the abandoned house. It was deathly cold inside and the wind was howling. Father knew they would freeze to death if they just stood around in the dark. Dad crept outside and was able to find an old barrel, which was near the building somehow very close by. He brought it inside and got some rags or paper, or something that was in the house and started a fire. They managed to pry off pieces of wood from the side of the house and through the night found enough fuel to keep the fire going in this oil drum. And so they huddled together around the fire all night long and so survived until the next morning. Either snow plows or neighbors came by the next day and saw smoke coming from the abandoned house and so they were rescued. I remember we were waiting the next day because mom and dad had never been away from home before and we were all wondering what had happened to them. There was no telephone and no way of finding out what had happened. My brother Horace had to go and deliver the mail because it was Monday and it had to be delivered and dad wasn’t home yet. So he had to use the horses. I can remember that well; it was a scary moment in time.

Back to Top


     One memory does stand out clearly in my mind and this must have been just during the early days of the war effort, which would have been around 1939 or 1940. The government was looking for animal bones and carcasses in order to get obtain phosphates for the munitions industry. When the settlers first arrived on the land they found a lot of buffalo bones. These bones were the remnants from early hunters’ killing buffalo for their hides as well from natural death over countless years. These bones had all been dragged off to a 10 foot wide strip of land between the neighboring fields. This allowance between each field was wide enough for a wagon to pass without disturbing the seeded crops. There were endless mounds of buffalo bones along this allowance. I remember dad got the family together and we picked up two wagon loads of bones from the allowance along side our 300 acres farm – 2 miles away from home. And I can remember we brought these 2 large wagon loads of bones to the railroad yard at Headingley. They were weighed and loaded on to a box car be sent to Winnipeg, or wherever destined to be manufactured into munitions.. And remember seeing the huge skulls and hip bones, and you know, being 11 or so years of age I could visualize these animals walking around the fields when they were alive. That made quite an impression on me.


     Looking after chickens was another big chore. We had to pick up the eggs every day; I think we had up to 100 chickens in the hen house. We also had to clean out the chicken house of course and all of the other things that are required to maintain a healthy environment for the animals. We had to separate the cow’s milk every day in order to produce cream for butter and for sale as well as skim milk for the pigs. We used to deliver milk to the villagers for a number of years and I remember carrying bottles of milk in the old glass bottles that were used in those days. Mother saved the cream that we got from separating the milk. There was no refrigeration available then. This problem was solved by having a four foot deep hole dug in the shade of the house, down which she would place the cream, can to keep it cool in the summer months. Once a week the cream would be taken into Winnipeg and she’d get money for the sale of the cream.

     I also have memories of churning butter. We used to milk cows, as you know, and we sold cream, but we also made butter and mother made cheese. She used to put the cream in the butter churn, which was a hand and foot pedaled machine that you operated by hand, pushing the handle back and forth with your feet, making this thing go round and round. It was about the size of a 25 gallon container and round like a wooden barrel, with a lid that clamped down and screwed shut. We’d churn and churn, checking through a little peephole in the end until we could see that the butter had formed and the buttermilk had separated from the butter. Sometimes it would go real quick and sometimes it seemed to take hours and we used to whip that thing around and around until it would practically dance off the steps. Mother would tell us to slow down because it was supposed to churn and not make it fly. Anyway, the butter would come out and the buttermilk which was really delicious; I can remember drinking that stuff and thinking it was just wonderful.

     The other thing was making cheese. Mother used to do that. Her family in Québec were great cheese makers and she would talk about her experience making cheese on her father’s farm but we could see this skill reflected in the cheese that she made at home. She would put milk on the back of the stove to get the right temperature and I can remember her passing a knife through the curdling milk, when it was jelling, cutting it into little pieces so that the curds would separate from the whey. She’d then drain off the whey and press the cheese curds to remove excess liquid. Those fresh cheese curds were delicious. We really enjoyed eating them. The whey would be fed to the pigs.

     Making homemade ice cream was always a happy occasion for us children. During the hot weather and we were becoming restless mom would suggest we make ice cream. Yes! We’d eagerly get out the equipment, chip out a large bucketful if ice from the ice house while mom prepared the ingredients. Then after what seemed to take hours of cranking the handle when our childish impatience was taxed to the limit, mom would pronounce the ice cream was ready. What a feast as we gobbled the first spoonfuls of that delicious ice cream! In memory that ice cream was tastier than Baskin and Robbins.

Back to Top


     Another thing I remember when I was a little younger was berry picking in the summertime. Along the banks of the Assiniboine River there were many wood lots, and there would be Service Berry bushes ( Saskatoon’s we called them)., Every year mother would have us pick these berries in order to make preserves make preserves for the winter and to make pies. Sometimes the whole family would go out and we’d bring back maybe 5, 6 or 7 milk pails full of these berries. I remember this one time, my older brother Edmund, Johnny, Eddy, maybe a couple of my sisters and I had gone to pick berries. It was hot, blistering time, usually around the middle of July as I recall, and we went in the Model T Ford to get there. Somewhere along the way coming back the car ran out of water and it was really starting to steam up. My brother Edmund, who was driving, was worried about having an accident with it. He stopped along the Trans Canada Highway where there were deep ditches along the side of the road looking for water. He couldn’t really find very much water but I remember we poured a little in with a tobacco can or something. Since there was not enough water in the radiator he told his younger brothers that we all had to stand up one after the other and pee into the radiator. The radiator was located at the front of the car with a screw cap on the top. We boys all got up there one after the other and peed into the open top. I can remember my older brother Edmund. Perhaps he was careless I don’t know but he burned his peter on the edge of the radiator and I can remember him jumping off there like the devil was on his tail.


     About this time my mother wanted someone to go to the local waste disposal site and pick up an old oil drum and bring it home. She wanted to make a goose nest out of it for the geese and her goslings as she thought that an open ended barrel would make a good shelter for them.

     Now my older brother and I used this 1-horse drawn sulky (a two wheeled light cart). This was in the middle of June. We had gone out again about 2 miles away to this waste disposal site to pick up the drum. June is the time of year when the horse flies are flying around and these insects were very aggravating to both horses and humans, severely so. The horse, a young animal was quite skittish and jittery. I remember we were on our way back, about a mile from home, when the horse was bitten on the nose by a horse fly and he went wild. He took off on us at a gallop, totally out of control. We were in this very light cart with the drum in front of our feet, between the horse’s rump and our knees. Of course we were hauled away on the horse’s reins trying to slow him down. His eyes were wild, his ears lay back on his head and he was absolutely out of control. My brother Johnny said,” There’s no way we’re gong to stop this guy unless I get on his back and can wrestle him to a stop “. Just like in the movies, he crawled along the shaft on one side of the horse’s legs and jumped onto its back, grabbed the reins and wrestled the animal to a stop. By this time, the horse’s knees were trembling and his eyes are wild looking, his ears laid back.

     We tried to gentle him; petting him on the nose all the while he’s tossing his head up in the air, snorting, and is really very upset. So we talked to him, trying to quiet him down and after about 5 minutes or so when we thought we’d got him kind of quieted down, we got back on the cart and started slowly making our way back. Damned if he didn’t get stung on the nose again! This time he really went berserk. So we’re pulling; Johnny on one rein and I’m on the other. He is stronger than me so he pulls more on his side and the horse goes off the road, down the ditch, up into the field. Back and forth, back and forth, we weave at a gallop zigzagging across the field. Now this horse is really out of control. We were approaching home now, some 200 or 300 yards away, when on one of the zags darned if the cart didn’t hit a stone or something and up it flew. I was sitting on that side of the cart when it flipped over and I flew right over the vehicle and into the dirt. The cart disintegrates, were both on the ground and the horse goes galloping home. For a moment I thought I had broken my arm. I really hadn’t but I’d bruised it severely. Anyway, we were walking back home, very sadly, and we see our dad coming out to see what had happened to us. By this time I guess he’d come back from delivering the mail, and he realized what had happened. The horse had disintegrated the cart and was back in his stall. He’s got the traces and the equipment hanging on him but he’s in his stall munching hay, with his bridle and harness on him. Dad never said too much about it because he realized it was an accident that had occurred without any malice on our part but the incident is something I can remember very well.

Back to Top


     Father and my older brothers used to go out and cut ice in the wintertime from the Assiniboine River for our summer ice house storage. I remember going with them on one occasion. They used a long logger’s cross-cut saw with the handle off at one end as the chief piece of equipment. They would chop a hole in the ice and put the saw down into the water and start sawing ice blocks. The ice would have been upwards of 2 feet thick and they would cut it into huge blocks, each about 100 pounds in weight. Then using a pair of large ice tongs they would haul the blocks of ice out of the water and drag them up onto a horse drawn sled. They would come back with maybe a couple of tons of ice which they would bring. The ice would be stored on a bed of straw with bales of hay all around the ice and on top for insulation. They’d do several loads at a time so that they’d end up with perhaps the equivalent of a room full of ice, maybe 12 feet by 12 feet by 12 feet, which would then be surrounded by bales of hay or straw. This served as an ice storehouse for the summer months and that ice would last oftentimes right through to the end of September before it would finally melt away.


     Another thing I remember is cutting fire wood in the early winter for use in the house. My brothers used to bring back great wagon loads of trees which had been cut and limbed, which they brought into the farm yard. They would then set up this great crosscut saw which would operate from a tractor pulley. We would spend all day long sawing wood into 1 foot long blocks, which we would then later have to split into smaller pieces. Later, this would be piled into huge beehive like stacks of wood for the winter. One of my jobs was to take these blocks of wood and split them down into kindling so that dad would have a box full of kindling available to start the fire in the morning. There were many times in the winter when I had failed to do the job and he would roust me out of bed, grab me by the ears and send me out into the cold with my axe to go and chop the wood down into little kindling sticks so he could start the fire. You never forget the disciplines you learn as a child in knowing that you have duties to perform and you have to do them.


     Another thing I remembered as a boy was the older brothers going to work in the logging camps in the wintertime. When the summer harvests were in and the weather turned cold, dad would send the oldest boys; Horace, Edmund, Buddy and Art, to work in the logging camps in northern Ontario. I can always remember when they would come home and how happy we younger kids would be because then they would take on most of the chores and we’d be relieved of some of this hard work. Mother would meet them at the door and insist on them taking off their clothes outside and take a bath at the horse trough. She would douse their hair with kerosene to get rid of fleas and lice. She would take all their clothes outside and wash them in a tub so no lice or fleas would be brought into the house.
Back to Top


     Another thing I remember vividly was those violent thunderstorms we used to get in the summer time. On the prairies these would occur usually in July or August. Sometimes it would become so oppressively hot, you could feel the humidity building up in the air and the sky would start to get a brassy look and you just knew that something terrible was going to happen. Then we’d see, in the distance, thunder clouds starting to come in from the west. You could watch it slowly filling the sky until, in the middle of the afternoon; the golden sun would be totally obliterated by the huge black thunderclouds that would come rolling up like giant mushrooms. Almost like an atomic bomb explosion, slowly enveloping the whole sky until the whole sky became totally dark and then it became as dark as night. All of a sudden the lightning flashed and the thunder rolled and the wind would come up. It was so scary and so exciting to watch. Then the weather would change all of a sudden and it would get cool and the rain would just come roaring down also often times large hail stones. For us kids those were very exciting moments. Mother was very frightened by these storms and she used to sprinkle holy water around the doors and windows, fearful that we might get killed. I can remember once we were sitting in the verandah when a storm like this came up. There was a huge maple tree, about 5 feet away from the corner of the verandah, and a lightning bolt hit it and split it right down the middle. I was on the verandah at the time and I couldn’t have been more than 5 feet away from the lightening strike. I can remember the hair came up on my head. It scared me so badly that I ran into the house and was afraid to come out. When the storm was over we would go out and play in the mud, in our bare feet. Even if it was still lightly sprinkling after the storm passed we would strip down to our shorts and run out there and play. It was so much fun and the air was so clean and cool and maybe there was ozone in the air but we just felt great to be alive.


     As we got a little older, we became quite interested in mechanical devices, particularly because my older brothers, Horace and Edmund, were mechanically inclined. There was an old Model T automobile that they were rehabilitating. As a lad I can remember cold mornings, freezing myself but not wanting to get away while they were dismembering the car and putting it back together again. My older brother, Edmund, would keep telling me to get my head out of the way so he could see what he was doing because I just insisted on seeing what he was fooling with in there and what was making it go around. I guess my early interest in mechanical and engineering things was starting to show itself through my curiosity. In any event, those were some of the things we did as well.

     My older brother, Johnny, Ed and I were like the gruesome threesome; all within two years of one another. Johnny was two years older and Eddy two years younger. We used to go out to the old rusting equipment and spend hours with a hack saw and a hammer, removing bolts and trying to construct devices. We had an old fan from an automobile radiator assembly, which we mounted on the back of the outhouse. This fan rotated in the wind and could, by means of a belt made from binder twine be made to turns a remotely located spool. We had fabricated a circular saw blade fashioned from the bottom of an old tomato can which was mounted on the spool. We could saw little pieces of wood with this device and were very proud of our 8 or 9 year old accomplishments. We thought this was great fun until we got our fingers caught in the whirling fan blades and just about broke off fingers off trying to stop the machine in a strong wind.

     My older siblings got married when I was fairly young: I can barely remember my older sisters getting married. I’d have been 6 or 7 then. I remember when my brother Horace got married I’d have been about 10. I can remember before that when he and my brother Edmund were teenagers; Edmund would have been in high school and Horace might have just finished school and was helping dad farm. I remember there used to be some school girls, about high school age, who used to walk by our farm on their way home, which was another half mile down this road out into the farm area. I can remember in those days my two older brothers looking at these girls and making comments about the female sex, which I didn’t understand at the time but I knew there, was something that interested them about these girls in the way they laughed. I never did understand of course until I grew older.

Back to Top


     The other thing I’d like to talk about a little bit is about school. We grew up in a French speaking family and of course only spoke always French at home. As a result, when I started school at the age of 5, I couldn’t speak English. Now the school that we went to was in Headingley. Headingley was an Anglo-Saxon community, mostly Scottish, English and Irish descent. There were a couple of Ukrainian families, a couple of Polish families, and one German family and one French-Indian (Métis) family. The reason I mention this is I’ll talk about discrimination in the school later. I remember my first impression when I went to the school. I went with my older brother, Buddy, who led me by the hand and I was very nervous. He took me into the school, pointed me in the direction of the primary school room (it was a 3-room school) and he promptly left me because he didn’t want to be seen with a younger brother around. He went to play with his friends.

     I remember being in the classroom, not understanding a word that was being said, and sometime in the morning I had to go to the washroom so I put up my hand and said in French, “Could I go out and take a pee?” Of course everybody knew what I was talking about( because of my body language) even though they couldn’t understand me, as I said it in French, and everyone was laughing . The teacher got the message, took me by the hand, led me outside and pointed me toward the lavatories. I can remember the embarrassment and mortification of that to this day. Later on, of course, because we were surrounded by English speaking people and fortunately learn quickly when young it wasn’t long before we were jabbering away in English. Dad had to reprimand us at home to speak French because my mother could not talk English and was very hard of hearing. He repeatedly had to tell us to speak French in the house, particularly to mom, so that she could understand what was going on.


     I mentioned discrimination because, the war started in 1939 (WWII) and as you know there was the Battle of Dunkirk, France was overrun by the Germans, and pretty soon the French had capitulated and there was a puppet government operating out of Vichy , France under Marshall Petain. The English speaking community was very upset with the French for having given up. As a result, I guess, the English at Headingley had taken the line that the French weren’t much better than the Germans. This bigotry was transmitted to the children because pretty soon one of the two French-Canadian families in the school was being singled out for laughter and ridicule and comments about being Hitlerites and so on and so forth. I can remember my best friend, Rudolph Tepper, who was of German descent, and I, having to stand up back to back and defend ourselves after school because the English speaking boys came at us and were going to beat us up. So it gives you an idea of the bigotry that can exist in small communities.

     The Métis family also got in for particular ridicule. I can remember the lads name was Piche. Joe Piche was a French-Indian Métis and was about my age or maybe a little older. His mother was a large, heavy set lady who must have been mostly of Indian descent. For some reason I can’t remember my brother Johnny and I, along with a number of other lads, were accused of having called her a fat Indian or words to that effect. Now she knew my dad very well and she must have complained to my father about the behavior of his two sons. I can remember clearly this one day he came home with blood in his eye he was so angry. He went and got his long razor strap, which was a belt about 2 inches wide and 4 feet long that he used to strop his razor blade on to sharpen it up, and he said “you guys come out here” talking to my brother Johnny and I. Johnny said “oh boy, we’re in for it now.” He said “I’ll go first.” Dad proceeded to give us a lecture about calling people names and calling people Indians and then proceeded to take hold of one of Johnny’s hands and whip him across the backside a number of times with the razor strap. I don’t know which was worse, watching Johnny dancing around on the end of my dad’s arm, cringing and yelling when dad was whopping him, knowing that I was going to get it next, or whether it would have been better for me to have gotten it first. In any event I got a licking for that and I never forgot it.

Back to Top


     I’ll back up a little bit and tell you about some of my early invention days. I think the idea of being an engineer must have been starting very early in life because I can remember I was fascinated with the idea of flight. I wanted to make a pair of wings. I could visualize myself flying over the school, flapping my wings, and I had constructed these large wing-like structures out of pieces of apple box wood and newspaper with a leather strap that was going to go under my arms. I tried to run off the edge of a farm building in order to fly and of course not understanding aerodynamics I came crashing to the ground. But that didn’t stop me.

     The next thing I was preoccupied with was the idea of making a parachute and I can remember my brothers, Johnny and younger brother Eddy, egging me on to do this and I had gotten this big chunk of canvas that must have weighed about 100 lbs. it seemed, and I had carefully tied it up with binder twine and other types of rope that I was going to fasten around my arms and my shoulders and we had laboriously, the three of us, carried this up to the top of the barn which was about 20 feet off the ground it seemed to me, and they had fastened this onto my shoulders and my arms. I can remember crawling to the edge and looking down and being mortally afraid and my older brother Johnny saying “you can do it, you can do it, it will just open up and you’ll just come floating down.” Well of course you got it, I jumped off, it landed on top of me, crushing me into the ground, and I thought I had broken my back I had come down so hard. So much for my flying days!

     I can also remember as a lad wanting to build a boat, and again I was going to do this out of my simple construction materials; apple box wood and pieces of cardboard. I remember my friend and I had two wooden apple boxes that we had joined together so that the “boat” would have been about 4 or 5 feet long, a foot and a half wide. We had fashioned a couple of paddles out of a board, and we took this down to the river. The whole school came out to watch us at recess time one day. This was going to be the great launch. So Doug, my friend and I put the thing in the water, jumped in and pushed off. We got out about 5 feet and of course the water was coming in like crazy from all directions. We didn’t go 10 feet from shore when the thing sank totally out from under us and we were up to our shoulders in water. So that was the end of my boat building days. Not very bright was I?

     Then I took a notion I was going to make a pair of skis one winter. I had a couple of boards and tried to bend the ends but I was unsuccessful. So I fashioned a couple of tips which I had laboriously carved out of a piece of wood. I then mounted with screws onto the front of the planks, cut a groove in the bottom to act as guides, put a couple of leather straps over the top for my feet. I then made a couple of ski poles, took it down to the river and to the top of the steepest part of the river bank. I started straight down going pretty nicely mind you and seemed to be going quite fast, when I hit a rock; broke the end off my ski, and that was the end of my skiing days.

Back to Top


     When I was a little older, about 13 years of age, I became quite interested in chemistry. I wanted to make a bomb because it was wartime and you hear all about explosives, so I got an old tobacco tin, put some gasoline in the bottom. I then took it out into the field and fabricated this long wick with newspapers twisted together which I had soaked in gasoline. Again, a whole bunch of school kids had come out to watch this madman do his bomb. I lit the end of the wick very carefully and the flame started to run back toward the can. I scampered away to join my friends but there was no explosion. All it did was to burst into flames. I didn’t know enough about the fact that if you have too much liquid and not enough air it just burns rather than explodes.

     Another thing I was going to do was create a bomb-like device using sodium. Now for those of you who may be aware, sodium is a very reactive metal. I got a chunk about the size of 1 inch by 1 inch by half an inch thick, which is normally kept immersed in oil to keep it out of the air. I had managed to snitch this from the laboratory at school, and put it in a bottle of oil. I brought out a pail of water because I knew the sodium reacted very violently with water and would explode. So I had this bucket of water and again told the kids I was going to create this bomb and they were all very anxious to see this. Again at recess time we went running out there. I had the pail on the ground, told everybody to get “well back, well back”, and then very bravely I put this sodium into the water and quickly ran back. For a few seconds it sputtered around and around in the pail and then “BOOM”. The sodium just flew up in the air like a rocket. There was great oohing and awing from all the kids and that was the end of that experiment.


     I’ll talk a little now about life as a teen in Headingley. There were activities that took place in the summer and activities that took place in the winter. In summertime there were always summer sports like baseball and football, which we would undertake regularly and with great enthusiasm. There was also an agricultural fairground in the area and it was usually the highlight of the summer when they would have a huge fair and people from all over Manitoba would come there and the highlight was a motorcycle race around the racetrack. I can remember one spectacular day when my brothers and I had snuck in under the fence to avoid paying admission because we didn’t have any money. A crowd was gathered around the racetrack fence watching the bikers going around and around on a dirt track and I can remember a great spectacular accident when one of these lads on a motorcycle had lost control of his machine and it flipped up in the air and he was killed. I remember the great crowds and the R.C.M.P. coming over and there was a huge to-do over this affair.

     In the wintertime ice hockey and skating and curling were the great pastimes. The outdoor skating rink where we used to play hockey was open every day and every night They had large bright lights on telephone poles around the edges so that it was as bright as day. We used to go out there and play hockey in between chores, after school, until about 9 o’clock at night, and we’d come home so tired we could hardly walk, but it was such fun, and so much excitement. It wasn’t organized the way hockey is today; the kids would pick up teams on their own, and play against each other. We would organize our own hockey tournaments and play against schools from the other communities, like St. Francois and Elie, St. Charles and Charleswood, and we’d have regular competitions. I can remember the parents would come out and stand around the boards and watch us kids play hockey. There was always a great sense of rivalry to see which team was going to dominate and who was going to win the tournament at the end of the season.

     The other thing I remember well about wintertime was skating on the Assiniboine River. Sometimes when the weather was right, winter would come on suddenly and freeze the water and it would be smooth as glass and free of snow. It would stretch for miles and miles. Sometimes we would go out there in the evening; this was when I was a young teenager, boys and girls together. We would go out after supper, say 7 o’clock at night, and we’d skate maybe 5 or 6 miles up the river and come whooping back with the wind at our backs, holding hands, going around in great circles and spirals cracking the whip and doing all sorts of wonderful sports like things. It would be so exciting. The stars would be out, the sky crisp and clear, and you could see the constellations in the sky. The Northern lights would be dancing up and down in the sky with greens, purples, oranges and yellows; some of the most spectacular sights you can imagine. When you’re that age it was exciting and wonderful to be alive. I can remember those days just as clearly as if they were yesterday.

Back to Top


     I’d like to talk now a little about harvest time. In those days there was no mechanized harvesting equipment such as you have today. Harvesting of grain was done with large threshing machines. Grain was first cut down, tied into bundles with what is called a binder, put into sheaves and piled into stooks so it would dry out. On threshing day, men driving teams of horses pulling wagon racks, would go around and pick up all the sheaves in the stooks. They pitch the sheaves onto the rack using a fork until they had a large load and then drive the load up to the threshing machine. These sheaves were then laboriously thrown off one by one with a fork into the mouth of the threshing machine. The machine’s great churning knives would chew up the sheaves and separate the grain from the stalks and blow the stalks out the back end while collecting the grain in a hopper.

     Now when I was 14, I was deemed old enough to be able to do this work, probably because older, able-bodied men were overseas at war. In any event I was hired to drive a “stook team” as it was called, together with about another dozen of us in this threshing gang. We went out and threshed for about 3 weeks; this was during the beginning of the school season so I missed about 2 weeks of school. I earned the princely sum of $35 as I recall, for those 3 weeks of work. It was grueling, hard work but it was exciting in a way because we started about 10 o’clock in the morning when the sun had dried the sheaves off so the grain wouldn’t be damp, and we’d work until sunset which would be about 8 o’clock at night. We’d pause a couple of times a day when the ladies of the farm, who’s fields we were harvesting would bring food out to us and we’d eat out in the fields. After working from about 10 o’clock in the morning until approximately 8 o’clock at night we then had to water the horses, take the harnesses off, put them away and then wash up. By the time we finished a huge meal prepared by the farmer’s wife we would be ready for bed at about 10 p.m. We would just fall into bed, hardly able to walk or talk hands so sore and blistered from holding a fork all day long, but nevertheless feeling a great sense of participating in a manly occupation and being part of the grown up scene. Those are fond memories which I remember with pleasure.

     With that $35 that I earned from harvest work I remember going into Winnipeg, to a second hand music store, and buying a clarinet. I was always interested in music and I thought I might learn to play, but I used to make such terrible squeaking and squalling sounds with it that my dad used to tell me to go out into the barn and play to the animals because he said he couldn’t stand listening to it. I remember I could play God Save the King on it and a couple of tunes of the day on it, but I never really did learn to play the thing and I eventually lost interest and sold it back to the second hand dealer at a loss of course.

     As I mentioned before, I had a fascination with flying. On one occasion, my friend, Rudolph and I went to the airfield, which was about 7 or 8 miles from where we lived (which is today Winnipeg airport) and we managed to talk a (would you believe it, in those days)_ a woman pilot, commercial flying, to take us up in a 3-seater, 2-wing Piper Cub airplane. It was the most exhilarating and thrilling experience of my life. It was like floating on a kite. The thing would be bobbing up and down and we could see the Red River and Assiniboine River. We could see the city and all the streets. She went up, swooped down, and made turns. It was most exciting. Half an hour’s worth of ride! I don’t know why I never became a pilot because that was the most exciting thing that I had done in my young life to that point in time.

Back to Top


     I want to talk about learning to dance. In those days dances were held in the local community hall. The whole village would turn out. The ladies would make up box sandwiches and they chose who they would share them with at the mid dance break. Music was provided by a local farmer who played the fiddle. He also played the guitar and a mouth organ that he had mounted on a wire frame that allowed him to play the instrument while he played the guitar. His sister accompanied him on the piano. Now this was during the period of 1940 through 1945 when world war two was in progress.

     My school mates and I started going to dances at about age 14 or 15. We were all very shy about girls in those days and you can just picture a bunch of adolescent males standing along one wall eyeing the young ladies who stood at the opposite wall and who were just dying to be asked to dance. But we lacked the courage to act. Fortunately the older men were off to war so there was a shortage of males. The young matrons, married women and older single girls were not shy and they would come over and drag us onto the dance floor and teach us to dance. The master of the dance, usually a young grandfather would arrange to have dances that required the couples to change partners. I soon learned to steer my older partner to where I could pick the young lady I really wanted to dance with when a change of partners was called for. I quickly developed a real fondness for dancing and am fortunate that my wife, Ellen had a similar fondness for this recreation.


     I want to go back now and talk a little about that buffalo robe that hung in the garage. I remember it clearly hanging there. Like I said before Dad used to put it on top of his Model A to try to keep it warm in the wintertime, because it was an outdoor garage and it would get down to 40 below zero. He always had a difficult time starting his car in the morning. I often remember my older brothers pulling the car with a team of horses in the freezing wind trying to start the car. Anyway I remember that ratty old buffalo robe hanging on the garage wall.

     When we moved to British Columbia I lost touch with that robe but I can remember, on a business trip to Winnipeg once, I had gone to visit my sisters, and in talking with my older sister, Gilbert, who lived in Charleswood at the time, I asked her if she remembered that buffalo robe and whatever happened to it, and she said “it’s funny you should ask, it’s out in the garage”. It was on her husband’s skidoo. Her husband, Camille, had been dead for a number of years and the skidoo sat there in her garage and the buffalo robe was laying on it. So I went out and had a look at it and sure enough it was just like I remembered it – a ratty old thing. So I said to her “would you mind if I cut a square of this off just to take it as a memento for myself?” She said, “not at all” so I cut out a chunk about a foot square. I’ve actually got it at home; it’s out on the farm right now and I intend to put a frame around it and write on the back a little story of how this buffalo robe came into being, explaining that it was one of the last buffalo taken in Manitoba.

Back to Top


     I could go on reminiscing here for hours but I think rather than bore the listener, I am going to close off this part of the memories by saying that we’ll leave it like that. I would like to tell you that although life was hard in those days, there are a lot of happy memories, and that life was good. I never regretted having grown up on a farm. I had many experiences which were very helpful in preparing me for life later on. I learned discipline. I learned what hard work was about. I learned what it meant to have responsibilities at an early age, and I think that these are the kind of experiences that stand a person in good stead when they reach adulthood. In many ways, I wish that my own children, and grandchildren, would have had an opportunity to have spent some time living on a farm and having those experiences. Ellen and I have tried to do some of that for our children and grandchildren by acquiring some acreage and exposing them to the responsibilities that come with doing manual work around the farm. My intention in providing theses memories is to leave a record of what life was like growing up on the farm in a small community during the early years of the depression: also to provide my children with a record about the LaMarre family, and what we went through in the process of growing up in Manitoba during the great depression.


     We are descendents of Norman French from Normandy in France. Details of the arrival of the first LaMarre to North America and his descendents can be found in our family tree which is presented in detail in the section titled “A History of the LaMarre Family Ancestors and Their Descendents in North America “at the front of this booklet. This section can be summarized as follows:

     The first LaMarre, Louis arrived at Québec City approximately 1650 A.D.

     My grandfather, Jean Richard was the seventh generation LaMarre in North America. He married Euphemie Derome, who was a school teacher. He was a notary public in Québec, which is a lawyer, and they were married in 1871. They had 2 children; one was my father, John Baptiste LaMarre, who was born on September 19, 1886, at Sherrington in Québec, which is near Montréal, and he was 2 years old when they migrated to Manitoba before 1888. They also had another child, Marie Anna, who was my aunt, who was also a school teacher and taught at St. Boniface.

     My father married Virginia Rose Beaudin, (my mother) in June 1910. They were married at St. Eustace, which is a little town about 25 miles west of Winnipeg, and they had 12 children, one of which died of diphtheria at the age of 4, so there were 11 in our family. I was born in March of 1929, the third youngest of 11 surviving children. My Siblings and I are thus the ninth generation in North America.

     My grandparents on my father’s side are buried in a cemetery at St. Francois Xavier, on the banks of the Assiniboine River, just west of Winnipeg, and my grandparents on my mother’s side of the family; my maternal grandparents, are buried in the cemetery at St. Eustache, Manitoba, which is a little town about 5 miles further west on the other side of the river from St. Francois Xavier.

     On the maternal side of our family, at the grandfather’s level, who migrated from Québec, which is my mother’s father and mother, the maiden name was Beaudin; my grandfather’s name was Hormidas. His wife’s name was Celina Ménard. They migrated to Manitoba before my mother was born in 1888.

     The details of our immediate family follow: mother and dad were married in 1910 with the children being born on the following dates: Helen 1911, Gilbert 1913, Horace 1914, Edmund 1917, Arthur 1918, Buddy 1920, Annette 1922, the one who died at the age of 4 from diphtheria, named Joseph Leo, 1925, Johnny 1927, Roland (me) 1929, Edward 1931, and Lorraine 1934. My father died in 1952 and is buried in New Westminster, British Columbia. My mother died in 1985 and she was also buried, next to my father, in New Westminster, Sapperton cemetery.

Back to Top