Grandpa Meets His Match

Allen Vance and his father Sam arrived in the Northwest Territories in the fall in 1899 to check out the area. Sam’s brother was already homesteading near Neepawa, Manitoba; no doubt the prospect of 160 acres for $10 was appealing. Allen would be 21 in two months and could then file on for a homestead, too, and the two of them could work their land together. Mary (Mrs. Sam) and sixteen year old Will were left behind in Ontario to manage the farm there until they got back.

Sam and Allen would have trekked through an undulating land mostly rich in softwood trees, birch, poplar, and Manitoba maple with occasional patches of “tall grass prairie” until they reached the valley of the Little Cut Arm Creek, where the trees gave way to grassy hillsides. Allen picked out his quarter right beside this stream, not far from the town of Spy Hill.

His father also chose a quarter and they filed their claims at the nearest government land office (though Allen had to be legally of age to file, so it seems they planned to spend the winter with Sam’s brother.) No doubt the two men spent time with their former neighbours in Ontario, the Carters & Greers, now homesteading nearby. Mary would be pleased; it was her wish to live near people she knew.

According to one relative, Sam & Allen built a cabin of logs on one of the properties, ready to move into when they returned in the spring. Then they headed back towards Neepawa and maybe stopped to hunt en route, or maybe they went on a hunting trip after touching base with Sam’s brother again.

Whatever the case, Sam Vance’s gun exploded in his face and he died of the injuries. A Manitoba newspaper printed his obituary:
Mr. Samuel Vance, who accidently shot himself at George Sunley’s place, died there on Monday last. He was 53 year old and came went from Ontario. Deceased has a brother at Neepawa and leaves a wife and two sons.

The Listowel, Ontario, newspaper account of the event:
One day Sam Vance was out shooting and shot at a jackrabbit. The breach of the gun blew out and struck him on the forehead and eye. He was so severely injured that he lived only a few days. the remains were interred in the west. The first news that Mrs. Vance received of her husband’s death was the arrival of her son at home. The news was naturally a severe shock to her. Mr Vance died Oct 29, 1899.

So it was a sad family that headed went the next spring to prove up the two claims. Mary and her sons worked hard to clear the required amount of land and put up buildings, as per the homestead agreement. I was able to obtain the homestead records of Grandpa & Mary Vance and noted that Allen hadn’t been able to do the required amount of work because of helping his mother so he was granted an extension.

Mary ran into a bit of red tape when applying for her title though, as the claim was made in the name of Samuel Vance and application for title was made by Mary Vance. The government ‘computers’ of the time stumbled over this discrepancy. An inquiry was made and one of the civil servants wrote this note to the Dept of the Interior:
Mr Samuel Vance died from injuries resulting from the explosion of a gun in the fall of 1899 and Mrs Vance and two sons came up the following spring. And as Mrs Vance is executrix I suppose she should get the patent. They are improving the place with the intention of making of home of it, not merely as speculation, or with intention of selling as soon as homesteaded.
The document was signed by himself and Mary put her X at the bottom, as she could not write.

Allen had his hands full with helping his mother and proving up his own homestead (clearing five acres the first year, five the second, and ten the third.) He finally got title to his farm in 1908.

Meanwhile he’d taken note of a Miss Emily Turner who’d come to teach school in their area. I think Allen was one of the men who helped build the school. Did he think this endeavour would someday pay back a special dividend for himself? Even though he wasn’t officially batching it with his mother nearby to cook for him, likely he was one of the young men sitting at the Barke’s house some Sunday afternoons trying to impress the new teacher.

The Bavelaw school district was established in Oct 1902. I’m guessing Emily came in the fall of 1905 and taught a year, then accepted Allen’s proposal, for the two were married in February 1907.


My details of the topography of that area come from Trevor Herriot’s book, River in a Dry Land © 2000 by Trevor Herriot, published 2001 by Stoddart Publishing Co, Toronto, ON.

Trevor Herriot writes about the Qu”Appelle River chain and mentions our grandfather Allen, an acquaintance of his own grandpa Jock McRae. He even has a picture of the two of them. They went hunting together in the northern woods.

The names of families that boarded the teachers in the beginning are listed in the Spy Hill History book. I wrote Barclay in a previous post, but this must have been the Barkes. My guess as to when Emily taught also comes from the Bavelaw School District writeup.


About Christine Goodnough

I'm a wife, mom & grandma, homemaker, avid reader, blogger, and nature lover enjoying country living. I write short stories, poems, and share life experiences, adding a dash of humor whenever I can.
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2 Responses to Grandpa Meets His Match

  1. Reblogged this on Christine's Collection and commented:

    Two days ago I posted an old-time article about families who boarded the teacher, sharing my Grandmother’s story about coming to Spy Hill, Sask, to teach. today I’ll share my grandfather’s story of homesteading at Spy Hill.

  2. That’s a phenomenal story. Excellent job! This is my grandfather and great grandfather who I know almost nothing about. Mrs Sam (Mary) Vance was my great grandmother who was crippled and walked with a crutch and a cane. Dad said that she had fallen off a roof as a girl and broke her ankle and it was never set properly so it hampered her all her life. How she must have struggled. Her homestead was only granted to her by the kindness of a civil servant, otherwise she would have been denied her husband’s homestead.

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