Our Entertainment

Harry Forbes remembers what they did for entertainment when he was growing up.

#13 in the Harry Forbes Remembers Series

During the ‘dirty thirties’ we had dust, grasshoppers, hot winds and drought, and when we were too broke to stay and too poor to leave, our biggest event of the year was the Old Timers Dance in the Maple Creek Armouries. People came from 40 miles around. One year they said there were 600 people there. It was so packed there was hardly room to dance. There was also a square dance contest every year. One year Zip Whitney and Gib O’Hare had a fight (or was it a wrestling match) on the hall floor just inside the entrance. I remember there being a slight rise in the floor, maybe that’s where it took place.

The next yearly event was the stampede. The stampede grounds was just south of town. One year, maybe every year, you paid $2.00 to enter the grounds. For that same $2.00 entry fee you could, if you desired, ride a steer, a horse or enter some other event. Winning, you’d get your $2.00 back.

After getting into the sauce, Jimmy Carroll and I decided for the two bucks, we might just as well try to get our money back. Jim entered to ride a horse, I entered to ride a steer. I got bucked off and Jim’s horse didn’t buck, just ran. When Jim asked me afterward how his horse bucked. I replied, “Real good!”. There was no doubt about my ride, but neither one of us got any money or prizes for our effort.

The stampedes usually included such things as Roman races where the rider stood with one foot on each of a pair of horses, holding his balance using a set of reins to guide the horses. For the trotting horse races, the drivers sat in a sulky cart drawn by their prize trotting horse. There was an Indian Wagon race to determine who had the fastest team and there couldn’t be a stampede without a horse race to see who had the fastest saddle horse.

At night, after the stampede, there would be a dance in the Armouries where the cowboys and everyone else could twirl the girls around the floor in square dances, waltzes, fox trots, two steps, polkas or whatever those old time musicians decided to play.

Another summertime entertainment was baseball or hardball. Every district had its own baseball team and on Sundays there would be a ball game or two. The district teams competed against each other. The pitchers spent a lot of time practising the different twists to throw an inside curve or an outside curve, a ground ball or a high ball. They had different signs to signal the catcher as to what they were going to throw to confuse the batter.

At one of those ball games the runner, Jack Mackie, came running, sliding into home base feet first. He just showered the catcher, Jim Dean, with sand and dust. Jim fumed, “Aren’t you sorry you did that?” Jack grinned, “Not a darn bit!”

In the summer, if someone had young steers or replacement heifers about two years old, we would practise riding them on Sundays. In some ranching areas, where they raised horses, bronc riding was practised on Sundays.

Then there were picnics. Everyone brought food and lemonade, and ice cream was made in an ice cream freezer. That ice cream was the greatest of treats to us since we didn’t get it very often. There would be foot races, three-legged races, wheel barrel races, a ball game and other sports. Even the grown-ups took part.


Sometimes in the spring when the snow melted leaving puddles and sloughs full of water, that was when at noon hour at school and at other times we would drown out gophers and kill them. We snared gophers too. A loop was fastened on one end of a length of binder twine and the loop was fitted around a gopher hole. You’d lie down a short distance from the hole with the other end of the twine in your hand. When the gopher popped his head out of the hole, you gave a jerk catching the rodent around the neck. You then shortened your twine until you could swing the gopher around and bang him on the ground, killing him.

On a pleasant Sunday afternoon, when there was nothing more exciting to be done, you might find half a dozen youngsters lying on the slope of the hills involved in this occupation. It was part of the operation to keep the gopher population under control. During the dry years the municipalities paid a cent or so for each gopher tail you could produce. There are rumours that some people caught the gophers, pulled the tail off and then let them go to grow a new one. I wonder if it worked!

We poisoned gophers around the outside and in the grain fields. A little can of strychnine poison was mixed with a gallon of oats or wheat. We used a spoon fastened on a stick 15 inches long to prevent the poison from getting on your hands. Carrying a pail of the poison, you walked around the field dropping a spoonful of poison every 20 feet or so, around or in the holes. When you came back in 15 minutes, there would be dead or dying gophers everywhere. And as young as we were helping to do this, none of us ever got sick (or worse) from handling that poison.

When the years were so dry, gophers would destroy many acres of crop in the field to get something green and moist. Using these methods, we were barely able to keep ahead of the gopher population because year after year there would be some smart ones that wouldn’t eat the poison. Yes, there was a need to kill them. Farmers needed every bushel they could get just to survive and feed their families.

In the present days the Green Peace do-gooders would want to hang us for cruelty to those little pests, but when my time comes, if I can end it in 10 or 15 minutes, I will be happier than a lark. Some people have to suffer for years before they can pass away.


During the winter, unless it was very cold or there was a blizzard, there would be a dance nearly every Friday, either in a school or a large room in someone’s house. Sometimes there’d be 60 people at a dance. It makes you wonder how they all crowded in. We didn’t have Saturday night dances because dancing lasted till four or five in the morning and we were not to dance on Sundays.

The whole family attended from babies to grandparents. Tiny babies and small children were placed on a bed if the affair was in a house. Maybe children would be bedded in a corner on the floor or in the cloak room at the school or any convenient spot where they were safe and where they would all sleep peacefully. A story is told that at one function a prankster traded clothes on two of the babies. What a shock for a mother who had a son and would realize when she got home that she now had a daughter and vice versa.

Local country musicians provided the music. Some musicians would even load their piano into the back of their sleigh or truck (if they had one) and unload it at the dance then after the dance load it again to haul it home. A hat was passed into which the gents would throw two bits. A total of five dollars or maybe $7.50 would be collected which the several musicians would divide between them. The ladies brought the lunch for a midnight break.

Sometimes there was a skinflint in the crowd who had managed to save a ten or twenty dollar bill which no one had enough money to change, so he would get in free. After this happened two or three times the rest of the boys, by getting together, would make sure they had enough money to solve his problem and relieve him of the troublesome bill.

A gallon of Concord wine at that time cost two dollars and fifty cents; other liquor priced accordingly. If some of the young toughs got a few drinks, they could lick anyone, so there was quite often a fight to see who the best man was. This also created a little extra entertainment.

We would sometimes ride or drive 10 to 15 miles to a dance, put our horses in the barn until the stalls were all filled up, then just shove our pony through the door until the barn was full, then shut the door. I have often wondered since, how when the dance was over, how each got his own pony from the barn in the dark. It must be like picking your own girlfriend in the dark!

Our sports equipment was nearly all homemade. Skis were either barrel staves or six foot one-by-fours. About a foot on one end was soaked and steamed, then turned up, narrowed and shaped somewhat like a toe. Straps were nailed on so you could slide your foot in and you were set to go skiing.

There were good hills for sleigh riding which we did with homemade sleighs. For skating we would find a pond of water that had frozen, clean it off with shovels and have a skating rink. Not many people had skates but we had fun sliding around anyway. Hockey sticks were any piece of wood that was used to hit a small rock or similar object, maybe even a frozen a horse turd.

For stilts you found two suitable small poles or a couple of 2 by 4s the length you needed. A block was nailed to one side of each one to make a foot support, the outer end of which was supported with a strap pulled up and nailed to the stilt. This held the block and made a place to slide your foot through. Two of my sisters tell me I tried to step over a barbed wire fence on stilts and fell down. Of course, I don’t remember that!

When we were growing up, we were allowed to be kids until we were six or seven years old and ready to start school. We were not sent to kindergarten to start competing with the neighbour kids to see who was the smartest. After starting school, we did all of our competing with the neighbouring schools. Our school participated in one field day and one music festival a year in Maple Creek. We were not hauled three or four hundred miles to compete for something. Our parents didn’t have the money or the desire to do that and there weren’t the facilities we have now.

After chores were done, we had time for rest, leisure to do our school homework, read or play games. There was absolutely no work done on Sundays except the necessary milking cows, feeding the animals, making meals and washing dishes. If church services were held in one of the nearby schools or the Royal Edward Church basement, we would attend; otherwise our Sundays were our own. We knew where the lines of discipline were drawn and that we hadn’t better step over them. Dad’s motto was: We all work until the work is done, then we rest.

Entertainment With Uncle Bill:

In the winter of 1939-40 I worked for Uncle Bill feeding cattle for $12 a month. He was to get $5 for feeding me and I $7 for working or vice versa. In any case, he gave me the whole $12.

Uncle Bill told me that he always had a problem staying out of trouble. On one occasion he was going to a school meeting in Hatton that evening and needed a haircut. I was supposed to cut his hair. I had never cut hair in my life, but he insisted, so I cut it. He wanted it neat for the meeting.

The next morning at breakfast he sat for a while, pretty quiet, then was talking to himself before commenting, “I should have stayed home last night. I went to that meeting and got into a fight with a couple of old women. That darned old mouth of mine is always getting me into trouble.” I wondered if my haircut had anything to do with, but I kept mum.

Another time he and I were driving along the street in Hatton with the team and sleigh. We passed an old fellow who made and sold a little home-brew on the side. Bill hollered, “How’s the whiskey business today, Dock?” The old fellow said, “Sh, no such talk.” (It was illegal to sell it at the time.)

Uncle Bill and Dad had gone to the States for a funeral. They were staying with relatives and friends in California. Of course those people thought we all lived near the North Pole here in Canada. Bill was telling them about the chinooks we get in Western Canada and how fast they melt the snow. He said that he was in Hatton one day with the team and sleigh when the chinook blew in from the southwest. During the 2 1/2 miles home, the snow melted so fast that the front runners of the sleigh were on snow and the back ones were on bare ground all the way.

He was telling those southerners how to fry rooster eggs properly. He called those big double-yolked eggs ‘rooster eggs’. After one of his stories, he would look around the room to see how every one was taking it. Dad remarked that sometimes Bill’s stories got so strong that he had to get up and go outside for awhile, but Bill was just trying to tell those Yankees how things were in this bitterly cold Canada. (Dad and Uncle Bill both grew up in North Dakota.)

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