Homestead Cabin Stories
5″x7″ Art Card and envelope
Acrylic painting by Jessie Krushel, Peace River, AB
Story on the back:
For Christmas 2008, our daughter, Jessie Krushel, created this acrylic painting for her beloved beau, because he was fascinated with the old cabin west of Peace River, Alberta, wondering about who built it and the lives that were lived there.
If homestead cabins could talk, they would have many stories to tell – some heartwarming, some heartbreaking, some funny enough to make a house shake with laughter.
Many individuals and families challenged the distances, isolation and seasons to make a life on a homestead. After paying a $10 filing fee, they had to “prove up” their homestead claim, occupying the land for at least three years and performing certain improvements, including building a house and barn, fencing, and breaking and cropping a portion of the land, before they could apply for title to the land. Using available resources, one of the first things they did was to built a shelter to retreat to after long strenuous hours of work – a place to take a meal in companionable solitude or to the raucous sounds of a family – a place to gather with family and friends – a place to call home.
Pioneers cooked on wood stoves which helped keep the home warm in winter …and summer. 🙁 There was generally a trap door in the kitchen floor that opened to a cellar, which kept the vegetables from freezing in the winter, and served and as a fridge to keep milk, butter, etc. cool in the summer. Access was by ladder, or food could be lowered and raised with a pail and a rope.
Homestead cabins might tell stories of the first cry of a newborn baby, delivered by a midwife, neighbours helping neighbours, the sharing of knowledge and wisdom necessary for survival, barn raising parties, end-of-harvest celebrations, musicians gathering and moving the furniture out of the house to make room for a dance… long, cold, lonely winters eased by friends dropping by for coffee or card parties, and the occasional political discussion which might heat things up indeed before someone would go on to share the latest joke or anicdote, a tall tale or two, or the latest gossip.
I recently talked to a 91-year-old man who said his father came from the Ukraine in 1912 to file his claim on a northern Alberta homestead. Some pioneers broke the land using horses; others didn’t have that luxury. After 12 years, having prooved his claim, prepared a home, and saved money, he was able to send for his wife and children. Then they had more children!
They reaped the crops using a scythe and separated the grain from the husks with a flail. Imagine the party to celebrate harvest with their first threshing machine!
The homesteading program ceased in the 1980s, but the stories and some of the cabins continue on to remind us of the incredible courage of those who helped build this country as they built their homes.