Stories About Our Dad, Allan Forbes
written by Helen Hoszouski, nee Forbes
Harry and Helen’s dad (Allan Forbes) was born in 1891 and grew up near a village called Logan south of Minot, North Dakota. (Harry and Helen’s grandpa David, had originally come from Scotland.) “Grandma Agnes used to round up all seven of their children (Allan being one of them) on specified Sunday mornings and administer a spoonful of molasses and sulphur to each one. That was supposed to get rid of worms and be a general tonic and blood purifier.”
Their farm was near the Mouse River. “Dad spoke of skating on the river….”When it was high they would start across it on saddle horses, slide off backwards, grab the horse’s tail and be pulled to shore.” She looked at that river when they visited in 1978. “No one would want to swim there now.”
Two of Allan’s younger brothers “suffered discomfort” in their barn. The hired man was doing his work there and the little boys were annoying him. They wore denim pants that were held up by suspenders. The worker hung the boys on harness pegs until he finished his work.
“The school Dad attended was just across the highway and over a hill from his home, a half mile away. He finished Grade 8 there, which was at least the equivalent of Grade 12 now. A person could teach school once they had achieved that level of education plus teacher’s training.
“Dad told about an incident at school where his brothers and sisters were attending. The teacher had wrongfully accused a brother of mischief that someone else had done and would not relent when told the truth. The Forbes boys staged a walkout…but the girls would not co-operate.
“When Allan was 18 years old, in 1910, he came to Maple Creek, Saskatchewan and filed on a homestead…. It cost him ten dollars. He was left with twenty-five cents in his pocket. He returned to the family home at Logan for the winter. In spring 1911 he immigrated to Kincorth, Saskatchewan which was three and a half miles west of his homestead.” Harry says he came by boxcar bringing four horses and machinery consisting of a 16” one-bottom sulky plow, harrows, disc, a 10′ Van Brunt seed drill, a wagon and likely a spade and hayfork as well as some provisions. Their uncle had homesteaded across the road from their dad.
“To ‘prove up’ on a homestead quarter you had to break ten acres per year for three years and live on it for six months of the year. You had to have a homestead dwelling. Dad built his house.…a wood frame building approximately 20 feet by 20 feet. A partition divided it down the middle into two rooms. One served as kitchen, dining and sitting area; the other was made into two bedrooms. The exterior was covered with a material about 1/4 inch thick apparently impregnated with a heavy coat of tar. A partly broken quarter section did not produce enough income to live on, so Dad went threshing in the fall to supplement his earnings.
“There was such a thing as getting land by what was called a pre-emption. That meant you had first chance … to buy that certain piece of land….The pre-emption cost $700.00 and could be paid for over a period of time. Dad’s pre-emption joined the homestead quarter on the south.”
Over the years Allan Forbes bought more land. He met Bertha Esslinger, most likely at a dance in Kincorth which is where they had their wedding dance in 1917. “The Halls were good friends of Dad and Mom….The folks recalled that on one occasion when the Halls had been away from home, on arriving back they found that the pig had discovered the low house windows and was in their bed.
“From the four horses Dad brought from the US in 1911, he progressed until in the early 1930’s he had one eight-horse outfit, one six-horse outfit and one four-horse outfit. About 1927 or ’28 Dad and a neighbour had a steam engine and separator threshing outfit and went threshing around the neighbourhood. The fellows who had steam engines tried to see who could get steam up earliest in the morning to be the first to blow their whistle. You could hear those whistles for miles. About 1929 or ’30, Dad and his friend used gas tractors on the separator.”
“Whenever there was extra work to be done, the neighbours got together to help. This could be digging a well (which was dug by hand with a shovel), breaking horses to drive, sawing wood and such things.
“Kincorth was the closest town to the homestead. When the town was at its peak, there were three lumber yards, two livery barns, a hardware store, two grocery stores, one restaurant, a post office, a coal shed (coal was shipped in on the train), a Cockshut Implement dealership, a newspaper, boarding house, pool hall, dance hall, two grain elevators, railway station and the elevator agent’s house. The school was about a mile away from the village. For entertainment people did much visiting, picnics in the summer, dances at the Kincorth Hall and in later years in the homes or schoolhouses. Now there is nothing left of all those buildings except a few foundation rocks.”
Dad and Mom had a family of eleven children (Harry Forbes was the oldest, Helen was the 5th born). “They worked hard and always provided well for us.
“There were no fridges or freezers, so in the fall when everyone was having harvesters to feed, the neighbours formed a ‘meat ring’. They may have done this in the spring, too. The first week one farmer would butcher a beef and all the others would come and get certain pieces. The next week it was someone else’s turn to butcher, until it had gone around the ring. It was all carefully tabulated so that by the end of the circle, each family had received the equivalent of one beef and no one was stuck with all neck pieces or all steaks. It was done fairly and each family had fresh meat every week.
“There were no trees in the area where we lived, except the ones which had been planted. Every fall Dad would take the boxes off two or three wagons and with just the running gear he’d hitch teams of horses to them. He and the hired man or some of the boys would drive about 30 miles to the Cypress Hills. They would cut trees -no power saws, all axes, buck saws and muscle work. These trips usually took two or three days to drive out, cut the wood, load the wagons and drive home again.
“Many times when they were late coming home, Mom would go outside, or send one of us out, to listen to see if we could hear them coming. To do that, we’d put our ear right down on the ground; you could hear the wagons when they were still a long way away. Of course there was not the traffic then that there is now.
“Dad had a little wooden trunk about 30”x16”x16”. Mom always packed the food in that to do the men for the days they would be away. They might make several trips each fall.
“We had an old yellow dog that like to follow the horses. Dad would shut him in the barn before he left in the morning; later in the day he would be freed. The day when the men were coming home, he always knew and sometimes met them ten miles away.
“Dad started using a tractor for farming in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s. He got his first tractor, a 15-30 horsepower McCormick Deering….from Hatton, about 10 miles away. He drove the team to Hatton and led the horses home behind the tractor. In 1948 Dad fulfilled a dream he always had. He bought a ranch in the Cypress Hills but didn’t move there until 1952.
“Dad’s home in North Dakota was in treed land. He missed those trees and compensated by planting wind breaks on each new piece of land where he moved….and at the ranch in Cypress Hill although trees were plentiful there.
“Dad’s talents lay in various directions. In his younger days he did some boxing. With the old forge he did welding, sharpened plow shares, ‘set’ the steel rims for the wooden wagon wheels, and made other farm repairs. Using his carpentry skills he built two houses and finished a third one. Each spring he oiled the harnesses for the horses and then with his ‘harness horse’ he mended them and made new pieces as needed. He also re-soled and mended his children’s shoes.
“Added to this he was a successful farmer and rancher. He built his homestead, along with other land that he added to it, into a viable farm and then repeated the process when he obtained the Plain farm. The ranch in the Cypress Hills presented Dad with another challenge that he met with enthusiasm, making it possible for him, when he decided to retire, to hand a paying, working ranch to his son Kenny.”
In 1966 Allan and Bertha moved to Maple Creek. “There were quite a few native people in and around Maple Creek. Each month they got their cheque from the Government. One old native man would come to the house and ask if he could borrow money from Dad. He always received ten dollars. The next time he got his cheque he’d come and pay Dad what he owed, but a few days later he’d be there again to borrow ten dollars. He never got turned down. I don’t know who ended up with the money in the end.
“In years later I (Helen) was visiting my parents in Maple Creek for a few days. In the morning Dad would come from the bedroom dressed in his denim suspender pants, his ‘farm clothes‘. Though they were new and clean, Mom would turn to me and say, “He’s got those old pants on again.” She thought that since he was retired he should wear something dressier.”
First it was Parkinson’s disease, then when Allan’s eyesight began to fail he lost his ability to read. He had always been an avid reader. Then “his hearing had deteriorated to the point where he could no longer enjoy visiting. Life was empty for him.” When he was hospitalized in Maple Creek, they couldn’t give him the care he needed, so he was moved to Swift Current. This was a traumatic experience for him and his children, especially for his son Harry. It’s there that he passed away in 1977 at the age of 86.
Note: Kincorth was 15 miles NW of Maple Creek as the crow flies. It was 1/2 mile west of where the #1 Hwy passes over the CPR tracks going west. Some cement forms are still visible.
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