Printer Friendly


The Masinasin country where I grew up is located approximately twenty miles east of Milk River in southern Alberta. The first settlers arrived in Masinasin country in 1906-07. The name means Writings-on-Stone in Blackfoot.

The settlers who arrived were very disappointed with the desolate, barren, and treeless terrain and many stayed only for one year before moving away. Undoubtedly the weather was the settlers worst enemy. They survived the blinding blizzards, the dust storms, early frosts, extreme cold combined with a shortage of fuel and hail and heat. The pioneers had their own unique method of forecasting weather. Whenever the Sweet Grass Hills "smoked" - smoke-like clouds surrounding the tops - one could be sure of a change in the weather in some form of precipitation. One also watched for the rings around the sun and if the brighter one was on the right side it was going to storm, on the left it would be nice. The Northern Lights were an important weather forecaster. The brighter and more active the reflections, the more intense a storm. When one went to "town" heading west, you always watched to see if the Rocky Mountains were dearly visible. If they were one could be sure of one more nice day. The famous Chinook arch appeared in the same direction. Chinook winds are only found in the northwestern United States and southwestern Canada, A Chinook wind gets warmer as it moves down the mountain slope and takes up moisture by evaporation. A Chinook wind can warm the land and melt the snow in a matter of hours. The pioneers also believed if one could hear cows bawling or coyotes howling against the wind it was a sign of an oncoming storm. Also a red sky at night meant windy conditions the next day.

My grandparents, Christian Zorn and his wife, homesteaded at Masinasin about 1910, with their three sons, Bill, Charles and Leonard. All three boys enlisted in the First World War. Their eldest son Bill was killed in battle in 1918. Charles and Leonard returned to Masinasin. Charles stayed to farm, Leonard became an electrician, married and raised his family at Waterton Lakes Park.

My father, Charles Janus Zorn, was born in England on September 4,1887, and my mother, Mary Martha Gabble, was born in England, on November 10, 1887. In 1906, my father emigrated with his parents and brothers to Raymond, Alberta. They later homesteaded at Masinasin in 1910. My mother grew up in London, England. Her father was a master confectioner-baker. She was a practical nurse during the war of 1914-18. There she met and married Bill Zorn in 1917. He was killed in action just before the war ended in 1918. He owned land at Masinasin, so in 1920 my mother sailed to Canada to sign off the land that she inherited at her husband's death. She signed the land back to Bill's parents, but continued to correspond with Charles after she returned to England. In 1921, Charles sailed to England to visit Mary and they were married on Jan. 22,1922. They sailed to Canada that year and took up residence in Winnipeg dose to Mary's brother, Bill Gabble. Charles worked as a carpenter. He didn't like the way the union treated the workers, so in 1924 they decided to move to Masinasin to farm his parents farm.

My mother must have been a courageous woman. Having come from a well-to-do family in London, where she had the best of everything one could have in the early 1900*5, it must have been a real challenge to settle into homesteading life, oceans away from family and friends. There were certainly no frills in the homesteader shack. My older sister Kathleen was born in the Lethbridge hospital in 1925, but she chose to have my brother Stanley and I at home with a neighbour lady to deliver us. My brother was born with the cord around his neck, so he came close to being strangled, but the attending neighbor was able to revive htm. I was born on Nov. 28,1931, just past midnight. My father had hitched up the team of horses and gone to fetch the neighbour - a distance of about four miles, but long before he returned I had been born. My mother always told me that one minute I was not, and the next minute I was. Certainly fortunate for her that I was born so fast and easy. My father and mother were both forty-four years old when I was born. So I completed the family. Our homestead consisted of a small house, a barn, some granaries, and sheds for coal and tools, and of course the out-house. Our heat was from coal and wood and light from coal-oil or kerosene lamps. We had no telephones and the nearest neighbour was one and a half miles away. The mail came via a mailman twice weekly.

When the homesteaders started to settle in the Masinasin area, the mail came twice a month by police supply wagon to the RNWMP post at Writing-on-Stone where the police barracks were located. There the mail was piled on a table and each person sorted out his own. When more settlers arrived this proved a poor arrangement as the police had no provisions for selling stamps or money orders. On August 1, 1909 the Masinasin Post Office was established. A lady was appointed postmistress and she used a comer of her kitchen as the post office. The next volunteer post-master built a small room onto his house to provide room for neighbours to gather and do a little visiting while waiting for the mail to arrive. By 1918 a small granary had been converted with a sorting table and a set of pigeon holes for each patron's mail. A small stove was installed for heat in the winter. This building was then moved from location to location depending on who volunteered to run the post office.

In 1920, my grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Christian Zorn, were appointed and they ran the post office until 1933, when they retired and moved to Milk River. The postmaster's pay was $200 a year, with a commission paid on stamps and postal notes. There were many hardy mail carriers who brought the mail in good weather and bad. The first contractor made one trip per week to Milk River, a distance of twenty-five miles for the sum of $200 per year. In 1913, pressure from the residents resulted in two trips per week which doubled the pay. There were many contractors over the years, Leonard Zorn being one of them.

My father, Charles Zorn, ended the cycle as post-master from 1953 - 1956, when the office was officially closed.

The days of my preschool years I spent mostly entertaining myself I remember going many places with my dad with the horses and wagon. He had a large wooden water tank that he used to haul water from the Milk River to fin our cistern. Quite often I would ride along and while he filled the tank I would amuse myself playing along the edge of the river. We would often go for a load of wood - Men trees along the river - to be used for kindling. The coal-mine, where my dad would go twice a year for coal, was about 8 miles away, which was an all day trip there and back with horses and wagon. Coal was very important to the early settler. It was one of the means of heating and cooking in the homes on those fiat prairies where practically no wood was available. During the summer months many gathered and burned cow or buffalo "chips" or droppings. When these were dry, they burned very quicky and created a very hot blaze. For the long winters when heat was required the whole day and night, these chips were not the answer. The Masinasin area was a long trek by team over prairie trails for a load of coal which was brought in by rail from the Lethbridge mines. It was not long before enterprising homesteaders found a few outcroppings of coal near the surface which could be had by using a pick and shovel. Coal was first found by a homesteader in 1908. When looking for the location for a new home, he found black dirt which was dug up by a badger. On doing a little more digging he discovered coal. It was easier than gathering buffalo chips. Neighbors came to this location to dig for coal as well. In 1931 a commercial strip mine was opened in the same area. Coal was sold for one dollar a ton.

My mother loved to walk, and often on a nice afternoon she and I would walk to a neighbors for tea, my sister and brother both being away at school. The O'Hara ranch, across the prairie as the crow flies, was about three miles away, and Mrs. O'Hara had been bedridden for years. She was a feisty little Irish lady and her husband Willie was quite entertaining. They had settled at Masinasin in 190S. I don't remember ever getting tired or bored on those walks. Mrs. O'Hara--she was always called Mrs. O'Hara, never by a first name --would tell Willie to "wet the tea", which we would enjoy with them, and then my mother and I would walk home. I can remember very hot and windy days, and also cold and stormy days with the wind howling through the cracks in the old house.

I recall during a health lesson in school in one of the early years our teacher was explaining the necessity of sleeping with one's window open, and one of the girls spoke up and said that her mother said there was plenty of fresh air in their house without opening a window. On nice winter days my brother and I would take our sleighs - handmade by my brother - and spend nearly the whole day riding down and walking back up the coulees. In the spring when the Chinook wind blew and the whole area was in flood it was exciting to follow the coulees and watch the water run. It would be all gone in a matter of hours. Sections of the road would often be washed away.

I remember my mother hanging the wash out to dry. The wind always blew, so in summer the clothes would dry very quicky. But in the winter everything would freeze stiff, and sometimes getting the clothes back into the house would be a problem.

I started school in September, 1938. That was an exciting time for me. My mother didn't let me go to school the fell I would have turned six years old - 1937 - because she thought I was too young to go all those three long miles at my tender age. So by the fall of 1938 I was turning seven, so I was somewhat older than all the other beginners. But I remember being extremely excited to finally being able to go to school. I hated to miss even one day, but we always did because of bad roads or bad weather, or the measles, mumps or chicken pox. One year we had and epidemic of scarlet fever - which none of my family got And we had terrible colds. When I started school all grades one to eight were hi one room, but in the fell of 1941 - grade four - the surrounding school districts consolidated and our school increased to four rooms with grades one to twelve, with school buses bringing everyone together. Most teachers stayed for one year, some for two, but the area was so isolated they were happy to move on. Our annual school Christmas concert was a highlight in my life. The teachers worked really hard with the few students and limited supplies to put on a good show for the parents. Every year my mother would make me a different costume out of crepe paper. When I was ten I played Mother Goose - all dressed hi white crepe paper, because of the war we couldn't get any coloured paper.

One harvest afternoon in 1939, I got a stomach ache which wasn't too unusual for a child of eight. My father was busy pitching bundles to haul to the threshing machine, my mother was busy sweating over a hot fire to have supper ready for the men, and my stomach ache kept getting worse. By about nine o'clock after all the work was finished for the day, my parents decided maybe there was indeed something more serious man just a stomach ache, so we took the car, a 1930 Chev, and drove the twenty miles to Milk River which would have taken at least an hour, to find old Doc Gilles to have "a look" at me. By this time I really was in pain, and the old Doc said that probably if they took me home and put ice packs on my stomach, everything would be okay. But, I would not have h. I insisted on going to a hospital which was in Lethbridge, another 80 to 100 miles away. As luck would have it an old friend and neighbour had stayed late in the beer parlor that evening; he had a pickup truck somewhat newer than my dad's car. So my dad explained the situation to him and he agreed to drive my father and me to Lethbridge. It was well past midnight when we arrived at the hospital. A doctor just happened to be there; one look at me brought people running and I was whisked off to be operated on for appendicitis. Ten more minutes and I wouldn't have lived to tell about it.

I don't remember how old I was when I started roaming the rocks and coulees by myself- probably around twelve. In the summer I would take a bucket with me and quite often came upon a bush or tree laden with berries of some kind - gooseberries, black currants, choke cherries, saskatoons, red currants, buffalo berries. They all made good jam or jelly. I never thought about snakes, although my dad warned me about going into caves or reaching into crevices or holes in the rocks. Walking five or six miles would have been a nice day. Atone place along the river the beavers had made a slide and they were such fun to watch. If you watched very quietly they never seemed to notice you. You could see fishes swimming in die clear water. The hawks made nests on top of high rocks and the meadow larks song could be heard above it all. In the spring the wild flowers were in abundance - crocuses, shooting stars, buffalo beans, blue bells, wild violets, sunflowers, and cactus flowers. The river, the rocks, and hills were my own private playground.

One day my brother talked me into going fishing with him. The fish were plentiful so one didn't need any fancy fishing equipment, just a line and a hook. We were probably twelve and fourteen years old and our parents didn't worry much about us. The fish were very co-operative and he soon had a good catch, and unbeknown to me my brother had brought along an old flying pan to cook the fish. This sounded like a good idea to me, so we gathered up some rocks to build the fire, and we proceeded to get the fish ready to eat. It was soon later than we realized and just as we were packing up to head home our dad arrived. Since we had been gone for quite a bit longer than we should have been, he had become worried that something might have happened to us, and he set out to find us. Fortunately we weren't too hard to find so he wasn't too upset.

I had two friends who lived about two miles away, and when we were old enough to saddle up the horses ourselves we started roaming around together. We could go farther afield with the horses than we could on foot We spent many afternoons at the old Indian grounds - now called Writing-on-Stone. We found old Indian beads in the sand in pockets in the rocks. And we carved our names in the soft sand stone rocks. We didn't know that the particular area would one day be some place special to be preserved. One spring day we rode down along the River and found the "feeding grounds" where the ranch bulls had been fed all winter, and with the rain and sun and rotted straw, we found beautiful mushrooms all around us. Believing that the bulls would have long gone out to pasture, we started filling our hats with mushrooms. So absorbed were we in our fantastic find, we failed to notice that the bulls had heard all the ruckus and had come to see what was happening. There were five big bulls nonchalantly standing watching us. We made a hasty retreat to our horses and forgot about the mushrooms.

Our school picnic at the end of June was a looked forward to event. It was held at the Howard Leslie ranch - the same fellow that saved my life when I was eight years old. The whole community would arrive by horse and buggy, Model Ts and Model As or however. Usually it would be a beautiful day and in the shelter of the river valley, the wind didn't blow as hard. Everyone would bring lunch, which would all be put out together for one big buffet, and the highlight for the kids would be a freezer of "boughten" ice cream from the cafe in Milk River. We would all line up, youngest to oldest, and we would each get an ice cream cone. Sometimes the youngest kids would get two cones if there was some left over. After lunch the day would be spent playing ball and running races - the sack race, three-legged race and relay races, with suckers or gum as prizes for the winners. Sometime before evening Howard would open up the barbecue pit, and everyone would enjoy the delicious beef- a barbecue pit - a pit approximately five feet deep, three feet wide and five feet long was dug in the sand behind the bam and a few loads of field stone were unloaded at the she. A fire grate was fashioned from discarded grates from an old steam engine. The rocks were placed on top of this and a fire lit underneath. The fire was started about midnight of the day before the event so that by five in the morning the rocks were almost white hot. This as a fun event keeping the fire going as there were plenty of refreshments and horse-play to liven up the short night. The huge roasts were then prepared. They were basted with a paste of flour and water seasoned with salt and pepper. They were then wrapped with cheese cloth and then a layer of burlap tied with baling wire. The white hot racks were quickly rolled into the pit, over which was placed corrugated sheet iron. The roasts were lowered onto the corrugated iron, another sheet of corrugated iron was placed over the mouth of the pit and this was then covered with about a foot of earth to keep in the heat. About five hours later the roasts were removed. Howard became well known as the Barbecue King and was invited all over the country to supervise barbecuing.

Every Friday night there would be a dance at one of the community halls. Everyone went -grandmas, grandpas, mothers, fathers. sisters, and brothers and even babies. The ladies would get in free if they brought lunch - sandwiches or cake. Dancing usually started at 9 o'clock, supper lunch at midnight, and dance again until 2 a.m. Sometimes if everyone was having a good time, someone would pass around a hat to collect extra money for the orchestra and they would play for another hour or maybe two. The orchestra would sometimes be all members of the same family and sometimes a "scrape-up" orchestra consisting of whoever could play whatever.

The young men were quite reluctant to ask the girls to dance, but a "mixer" called a Paul Jones would get everyone up in a hurry. One couple would start the dance, but when the music stopped for a moment, each couple had to choose a new partner from the benches or the "stag-line". And when everyone was dancing, if the music stopped momentarily again, everyone was expected to change partners. This could sometimes go on for quite some time. A spot dance was when some secret "spot" would be chosen and when the music stopped, who ever was closest to the spot - whether on the floor or under a fight bulb -would win the prize. An elimination dance would eliminate couples with a call such as - all men with red ties sit down - or all women with yellow shoes, or blonde hair, and on until only one couple would be left dancing. Hard time dances everyone came dressed in fancy rags while masquerade dances were usually at Hallowe'en. Of course there were many wedding dances and anniversary dances. One old neighbour celebrated his birthday every leap year by putting on a dance for all his neighbours.

The beginning of World War Two in September 1939 ended the ten years of "depression" and unemployment in Canada. Jobs were available as thousands of unemployed men enlisted in the military forces. The men that remained on the farms worked hard to produce as much food as possible. They were encouraged to raise hogs for "Bacon for Britain." They struggled with broken down machinery. As repairs were impossible to buy they were forced to use their own resources. Haywire was a God-send ash was so useful in wiring up broken machinery. Things going "Haywire" and "Haywire outfits" became popular expressions. The women took over jobs left vacant with the shortage of men. They drove trucks, milked cows, raised large gardens, and worked in the munition factories. Citizens received booklets of ration coupons that limited the food and gas they could buy. Everything people realty liked was rationed - meat, coffee, butter, cheese, jam and sugar, as well as gas. Sugar was the item that seemed shortest in supply. Baking and fell canning required large amounts. Each person was allowed half a pound of sugar a week. Candy and chocolate bars were scarce. They cost five cents each. The "Chinaman" kept some out of sight in his store for country children when they came to town. Gas was rationed chiefly to curtail travel and there also was an extreme shortage of tires. The trips to town were limited and planned to do the greatest amount of business. With thread-bare tires, people often had to stop on the road and repair the tubes of the tires with patchings and pump the tire up again with a hand pump. Rubber was in such short supply that depots were set up for collection of used rubber - worn out rubber footwear, tires, tubes for recycling.

We on the farm had our own milk, eggs, butter, and beef. My brother was a great gardener so we had vegetables and watermelons and we were able to pick wild berries. A lot of rhubarb pie was eaten.

Most of our clothes and shoes were bought through Eaton's mail order catalogue since it was so fir to "town 1 1 and still farther to the city - Lethbridge. Even the catalogue ran short of items, but they usually substituted something else, usually of greater value. If you ordered a dress in blue, it might be sent in red instead. You kept it anyway.

By the time the war ended in 1945, people's lives had changed. The boys returning from the front had seen the world and many brought war brides with them. There were new faces and ideas in the community. The women were more liberated because they had learned that they could do many more things besides cooking and cleaning house. New cars and new farm machinery gradually became available. New medications for sickness and new clothes and food. Electricity came to the rural areas and telephones joined the communities. New roads were built and paved. Everything was different.

This article was submitted by the author's grand daughter, Rio Velain.

by Ilene Stamm


It is conservatively estimated that $500,000 changed hands yesterday as a result of the oil strike at the Dingman well. This represents something in the vicinity of 1,000,000 shares of stock, and is a mere beginning of the flow of money, which, it is expected, will rival the output of the wells.

Calgary's confidence in the wealth of the oil fields is indicated by the rush of the citizens to put their money into it. There is scarcely a man, woman or child in Calgary today who does not treasure a receipt entitling him or her to so many shares, from a modest dozen or so up to the hundreds. By the beginning of the week the outside money is looked for, and prices, already buoyant, are expected to soar in good earnest. In addition to the stock holdings, thousands of acres of land in the oil district are held on lease by Calgary people. The town has earned the new sobriquet of "The Oil City." The stimulus to local industry and business is already apparent. There is a tendency to "loosen" up everywhere.

Calgary Albertan, May 16, 1914.
COPYRIGHT 2020 Historical Society of Alberta
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2020 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Masinasin, Alberta
Author:Stamm, Ilene
Publication:Alberta History
Geographic Code:1CALB
Date:Jan 1, 2020

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters