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My Memories of Strathclair, Manitoba, Canada

A Biography by Ed Somers


The first remembering is pre school. I had a toothache, a jim dandy of an "acher". I would be five according to my current calculationsand the information that has been passed to me. Since I was in school when I was six, and with a birthday on the fifth of September andschool starts before September first usually I was likely five almost six .Dad arranged to borrow a bicycle from Uncle Ray or Uncle Cliff Westaway. Our home farm is not far from town: only a little less than two miles into Strathclair. I remember the ride into town sitting ona little cushion of hay stuffed into a bag attached to the handle bars of the bike.
Strathclair had an early form of socialized medicine. The municipality paid a doctor to look after the residents of the municipality. I am not certain who was the doctor during those yearsthough the records would show if I was to make a search.There was no dentist within reasonable distance, hence the trip to Strathclair to see the doctor. The next part is very vivid. The doctor told my Dad to hold me and he would pull the tooth. There was no such niceties as freezing or any other method of reducing the pain. The extraction was quick, the blood was suffuse. The pain was sharp. The tooth was gone. The memory is always with me and has flavoured my attitude to getting teeth done and those of my children. Dad took me down town to the drugstore and bought me an ice cream cone after we left the doctors office. Mr. Henderson made up the cone for me and pulled one of his magic tricks by making a coin come out of my ear.

Strathclair had a consolidated school for many years before I attended. A six room two story brick building replaced the old stone school in 1916. The elementary grades were on the lower level and the upper level housed grades seven to eleven. By the time I had reached high school Grade Twelve had been added by converting one of the cloak rooms upstairs. One of the advantages of the consolidated system was the school transportation support through school vans that were run by the school board. Originally these were all horse drawn both winter and summer, however with the advent of automobiles, summer transport was usually by hired private cars. I do not know who the early drivers were though I do remember Percy Burnell with his great big winter van, Fred Burnell who chewed tobacco and tried to spit out the window in front of him, Mrs. Johnny Hogg, George Glenn, Mr. McCaw and mostly Joe Dziver. Joe had bought part of the Tom Jack holding over on the west side of North Salt Lake. In the winter he drove a team and in the summer he had a hard body Model T Ford. For quite a few years he would pick up the Kulchyski's, Willard Moffett and finally Somers kids. There were as many as eleven kids crammed into the car. Often you had to sit three deep with three in the front with the driver. Needless to say there were no seat belts. This sounds rather crowded and there were always those who were unhappy but it did get us to school as long as we were at the road when the van came. It meant that more children stayed in school longer than if they had to go to town to board with someone else. That was what my Dad had done. He went as far as grade eight. By the time Mum had come over from England in 1914 and was attending school, she went in a van the whole time. In Laura's Story the van trips were discussed.

THE CLASS OF 1934 TO 1946

Ed in Grade 2 class  

I have not been able to find out just how many children were in the grade One class of 1934. I would estimate there were between 16 and 20. Miss Gladys Sleigh was the teacher. I can recall quite a few namebesides my own: Mavis Henderson, Tom Millman, Bud Glover, Wilkie Morrison, Jean Dziver, Frances Burnell, Sidney Burnell ?, Norma Burnell, Mervyn McGregor, Keith Sivers, Mary Ferns, Bohdan Kulchyski, Irene Hogg, and I am sure there were others whose name slip by me. I do not recall much of Grade One. I have been told that I wet my pants quite often. Irene Hogg later told me that she had been a buddie to me and helped me get through the year. I do recall an incident involving the teeter totter. I had been on one end while Bohdan was on the other. The bell rang just when Bohdan was at the bottom of the teeter totter and Iwas away up in the air on the other end. Bohdan jumped off and ran for the school just as all of us were trained to do. The only rouble was that I came down with a bong and shook up my system and may even have knocked the wind out of me. I always had a little less trust for Bohdan after that though there never was any reason to be distrustful. Over the years others joined the class and some fell by the wayside or moved away. Bob Winstone joined us in Grade Nine. Lois Lumley was with us in Grade Eight. There were others but my memory is not any great shakes after almost sixty years. I was a slow starter and nearly had to repeat Grade Two. This was one case where Mum went after the school board and had me moved on to Grade Three and Mrs. Bennett as a teacher. After Grade Three I never looked back. I was always up close to the top of the class competing with Tom Millman and Mavis Henderson as well as Jean Dziver. None of us were ever able to replace Mavis as first in the class. Tom and I would usually be second until Bob Winstone joined us and then he was right in there. He was a very sharp cookie. I suspect that it was some of this effort that encouraged me to go to University eventually. In Grade Eleven the numbers thinned out. Mavis and Bob were off to University. Quite a few other dropped out to go to work. Of the original Class of 34 only Tom Millman, Jean Dziver & I were left. In Grade Twelve we were joined by Ann Riley, Jean Fulford and Bob Prus. My teachers were Miss Gladys Sleigh for Grades One and Two (She latermarried a Mr. Burt and taught in Fort Garry at Crane School and was just a hairs breadth away from teaching my children.); Mrs. Bennett for Grades Three and Four; Miss Pearson for Grades Five and Six; Jack Broadfoot for most of Grade Seven until he joined the air force and we had a replacement for the last third of the year. I do not recall her name. In Grade Eight I had Jessie Little who later became Mrs. Gerry Robertson. In high school the teachers took separate subjects: we had a number of teachers because we were not the nicest bunch in Grade Nine & Ten. Miss Laura Shanks was the principal for nearly all of my high school though I am not certain if Mr. O.T. Gamey was principal for Grade Nine. Miss Shanks taught English and French. Mr. Gamey taught the sciences and mathematics though Miss Shanks taught some of these when I was in Twelve. The other teachers are vague memories though I remember a Mr. Diamond who was brought in to try to clean up the brunch of us in Grade Nine & Ten. We did so many rough things to the woman teacher that started the year that she had to quit. I can remember seeing rubber boots flying through the air and hitting the blackboard behind her. We locked the doors so that she could not get in. This may be hard to believe now but I was a shy little guy who was trying to stay in school. It was a lot easier than staying home on the farm and working there. School was not too hard for me. It was the one form of recognition that I received: I was not good at sports: I did not play hockey and could barely skate: I did not get any accolades from that source so I compensated by trying to do well in school. My significant peers were Mavis Henderson, Tom Millman, and in Grade Nine Bob Winstone came in from Green Bluff to take high school. He sat right in front of me and we became school buddies. He was a feisty guy who had a strong sense of right and wrong, particularly with regard to whether he was right or wrong. There was the occasion when a paper airplane came sailing up from the back of the room to right above our heads where it took a left turn and hit the teacher at her desk. She was sure that Bob was the culprit and started to give him the gears for throwing the plane at her. He vehemently stated that he had not thrown the plane and was getting a little hot about it, and rightly so. Eventually some of the rest of the class convinced her that Bob was clean though I doubt that they gave the real culpritaway. It was in the early spring of my Grade Nine Year, which must have been 1943 when there was a terrible car accident five miles east of Strathclair between to local cars. Lou Wersh was killed in one car and in the other Marie Austin, Margaret Winstone and Delmar Gamey were killed as well. Margaret occupied the desk beside me while taking Grade Ten and I later developed a crush on Edna Austin, Marie's older sister. Margaret was a very bright girl who was well on her way to becoming a beautiful young woman. In Grade Eleven the class thinned out with some dropping out of school and others joining us from incomplete prior years. Many of us were having trouble with French, not because ofthe teacher but because of the general negative feeling toward the uselessness of the subject. None of us had ever met anyone who was French, that is other than Louis Molgat who had the general store for awhile. Strathclair started from Scottish Protestant settlers combined with English origin Protestants people followed by Ukrainian Catholic and a sprinkling of Roman Catholic near Elphinstone. In the town of Strathclair there were three churches and for that matter there still was in 1992: there was an Anglican, a United (formerly Presbyterian) and a Baptist church. That was all that was needed and others would travel to other locations for other congregations. With that type of local population combined with limited travel opportunities, it is little wonder that prejudices were quite rampant amongst the students and parents. In Eleven Istarted chumming with Alex (Sandy) McKerchar and Gordon Sinclair. We hung out together at school and at the local dances. Mavis Henderson, Jean McLean and a very few other girls tolerated my dancing and taught me the rudiments of dancing. During this later period of high school I used to chum with Marjorie Gerrard. We wrote for a while when I went off to University but we drifted apart. Marjorie married Alex McKerchar a few years later. Gordon came to University and took Agriculture before returning to Strathclair to become a very successful farmer and farmer's advocate, primarily through the cooperative movement. I did not work very hard at public school.

1939 Ed & Cliff with colts Nellie & Barney

I did not need to work hard though I got reasonable grades most of the time, at least after I got out of Grade Two. When it came time to write provincial exams, the picture was a little different. I flunked Composition and French when I wrote Grade Eleven finals. I was not very optimistic that I could ever go to University. It seemed more like a fantasy than a possibility. Only people with a little money could go to University. Money was not very plentiful at our home. Still I went back to Twelve. Mum and Dad encouraged us to keep in school and go as far as we could. Miss Shanks helped those of us who had French problems to pass a local rewrite. My English never would be very great. Evidence of it's limits are in this writing. I put a little more effort into Twelve. I even took some work home, though there was not much room there to do homework and I was not in the habit of doing school work at home. I wrote Twelve in June of 1946 passing all except two subjects. I got 42R in Physics and Composition. In August I rewrote the subjects while living at Pretty Valley. I was able to get 50 on each of them. Still my average was not the worst in the world at around 65. I had applied for a scholarship to take Commerce at the University of Manitoba, not with any positive expectations of success.

Every teacher had a piece of two inch belting used to run machinery originally. This strap was kept in his or her drawer to use as need be on any of the children who were getting out of place or were needed to set an example to the class. I did not get much of the strap but I did manage to get some when I was in Grade Two, from Miss Sleigh. I remember the reason for one of the times but have no recall for the other time. Maybe there is some significance to getting the strap if you remember why. The one time was because I had stood up at my seat to see if the school vans had arrived to take us home after school. I think the other time was to look at an airplane as it flew over. I used to keep a count of all the planes that I saw during the day. These would be air force training flights. I don not think that I gat any strap in Three, Four, Five or Six but I did get the strap from my replacement teacher when I was in Grade Seven, for passing information back and forth with Tom Millman. We were just checking to see if we had the answers right. I got the strap twice in Seven and never saw the thing again except at recess when we used to sneak a look in the teacher's desk.

I was like many other students. I wanted to be out of school and onthe business of making some money so that I could buy a car, so that Iwould be able to take girls out on dates, so that I could have some fun. As a consequence I did not study or put as much effort into myfinal year as I should have. I flunked two subjects in the provincialexams that I wrote in June 1946, though I did not know this until well into July or perhaps even August. Though I had applied for a few scholarships, I had little optimism that I would be successful. It was not often that a peasant boy form the farm would win such a thing, he would be better to consider himself to be a worker that to get any dreams in his head. He would be better off to keep his feet on the ground, even keep them dirt covered. I had learned bout the bursary that had been awarded to me by the Manitoba Hotel Keepers and Brewers Association while attending the funeral for my Grandmother Belle Somers. I had already been teaching for two weeks. I tried to get the University to delay the use of the bursary until the next year. They would have nothing to do with that idea - use it now or forget about it. It seems that sixteen urban and sixteen rural students were awarded $350 fir each of two years. Apparently I was the seventeenth rural student and someone had canceled. It was hard to refuse since the value was greater than my salary as a teacher. The Pretty Valley School Board let me off the hook for my teaching job. I went home to Strathclair, borrowed my mothers suitcase, walked into town with it and hitched a ride to Winnipeg with Ozzie McGregor's cattle truck. we had to tie the suitcase on the top of the cab because the back was full of cattle. This time my first night in Winnipeg was at the Leland Hotel where i shared a bed with Mr. Peters from Strathclair. During the night Gordon Mackie, a returning navy sailor from Strathclair, slept on the floor. When I woke in the morning they were all gone and I was stuck with the hotel bill, an expense I could have done without. I now had to find the University. I was green to the city. I eventually found the Broadway site (now a green sward with a big fountain) where they told me to go to the Fort Garry site. I did not even know there was such a place. "Just go down to the corner and catch a University bus." Those were my instructions. Well ther are about five corners around that place. Which was the one? I started walking south on Osborne Street, crossed the Assiniboine River and was between corners when I saw a University bus. I started to run to a stop. The bus pulled up in the middle of the block to let me on, a most unusual event as it turned out. I have always had a good feeling for Transit drivers ever since. I finally got registered. I just made it in time for my first classes. I found and shared a locker with Frank Allen, later to become a provincial judge. I found a place top board with Nelson Kuntz and family at 626 Mulvey Avenue in Fort Rouge. I shared a double bed with their son Lyle - that was an age and a stage when there was very little worry about homophobia. I had breakfast and supper with the family and bought lunch at the University Dining Room. They first year was a hard slugging year. I had not been used to studying. I had had it soft in high school. Here at University I had to be my own boss. I had no money so it was not hard to keep my nose to the grindstone. I was with a large group of return men, most were much older than I. Some of the older ones looked after me like son and kept me going. I was registered in Commerce II because I had grade twelve at home. My aim was to get into Actuarial Science. I did okay with all my math courses though it was hard going. I did not know how to study or to organize my learning to gain the greated efficiency. Most was rote learning. In later years I found superior ways of using my learning systems. I had one supplemental in English, at least I think that was the subject. I wrote if off at Brandon University during the summer

This is snap of when I was in residence - Men only - at University of Manitoba circa 1949.  My roomy Vern McNair found this and sent it over to me.  Have fun.

In 1947-48 I took Commerce III specializing in Actuarial Sciences. I did alright though I had a sub in Accounting that I never did clear off. During my finals of that year I wrote the wrong exam in Statistics. I wrote the Agriculture version rather than the Commerce version. I applied the calculus material for solutions and got 75%. By this time I had become disillusioned with my chances of doing well with Actuarial Science so switched to Agriculture. In the fall of 1948 I started my course work leading to an Agriculture Degree from the University of Manitoba. I had some credits from Commerce though they were few. One of those credits was for Statistics, the agriculture course exam that I had written instead of the Commerce version. I had some overlap classes with the class ahead of me so met a few of these other more advanced students. Many I worked with over the following years. In my final year I was Secretary of the Faculty of Agriculture Student Council. I had learned to study and was able to get good grades. While I was taking Commerce III, I moved into the Mens Residence, no coed residences in those days. My first roommate was a fellow Commerce student that tolerated me. We did not become friends. I think his name was Etherington. The second year in residence, my third year at University, I roomed with Bob Winstone. Bob and I had attended Strathclair High School classes together from Grades Nine to Eleven when Bob left to take Agriculture at the University of Manitoba. 1948-49 was his final year. He graduated with his degree when he was less tha twenty years of age. He had difficulty getting work with so many return men available who had more living experience. He worked for an agriculture machinery company then eventually became the Agricultural Representative at Virden Manitoba. Later he joined the staff of the Crown Lands Branch of Manitoba Government. He retired as the manager and died shortly after from Alshiemer' Disease. For my last two years of University I roomed with Vern McNair. Those were good years and we became long time friends. He became an Agricultural Representative on the same day in 1951. He was stationd at Carberry. Four years later he joind the CBC as a Farm Radio Broadcaster, then became the manager of communications for Manitoba Agriculture. In my last year I tended to take extra subjects is the poultry specialty. I was leaning toward work in that area. That was not to be though I was offered a job with Canada Agriculture (Title as of 2001). Little was I to know that incident would be helpful many years later when I was transferred from Canada's Regional Economic Expansion Department to Agriculture Canada. Instead I took employment as an Agricultural Representative. That story is elsewhere. In the late 1950's Manitoba Agriculture began giving extra training to the extension workers. Some took graduate degrees in the United States because no graduate degrees were available in Canada. I joined this group in 1961. I loaded my family into a 1954 Chevrolet I had bought from Es Jarvis, hooked on my camping trailer with all the good we would need for a family of six crammed on top and set out for Madison Wisconsin. After a crammed year I received my Masters Degree in Extension Education in August of 1962. My thesis was on "Job Satisfactions of Beginning Extension Agents" as part of an longitudinal study being conducted by Wisconsin. This achievement would mean very little until the time came for me to try to get employment with the federal government. That institution liked to have staff with advanced degrees. Actually the courses that I took were very helpful in carrying out my Extension and Rural Development duties

A few of the staff were getting advanced degrees in Extension Education. Helgi Austman had recently obtained his doctorate from Wisconsin. The department was giving some half salary encouragement plus payment of the registration fees. I could see that if one was to get any further advances one had to get more training. In August of 1961 the whole family took off for Madison Wisconsin where I obtained my Master of Science in Extension Education. It took all of our saving as well as the half salary I received. It was a very intense session though very fruitful in the main. I learned a great deal and set about applying much of it when I got back. Advancements and recognition by way of salary did not happen until I transferred over to the federal government about 1975 when our rural development group became persona no gratis with the New Democratic Party (NDP) when they had power in Manitoba. After 24 years with Manitoba, I became a "Fed" as a Rural Development Officer. Having a masters degree opened the door to the change.

I came back from my one year sojourn in Madison to the job of Chief of 4H Clubs. I had been made Chief in 1961 just prior to my departure south. Over the next seven years I had very good staff working with me. I also had very good working relations with most of the other staff. I had to work very closely with the Home Economists and was able to maintain close working and respected relationships with the women in the Home Economics Division. I will not say all because to say that would be stretching the point too far. Garry Workman was one of my valued co workers with the clubs. Even twenty-five years later Garry and his wife Shirley continued to be friends. When he left to go farming on his home farm, I had Don Stamen and Barry Edwards for assistants. Both were very intelligent hard working young men. Unfortunately both of these young men were killed in a head on collision on #75 Highway south of Winnipeg. Don was getting ready to go south for his doctoral studies. Barry had joined us from Saskatchewan. Ralph Poston joined our group and then Tom Burwell worked with us for a few years. I had good men and though they usually left for better jobs they were very productive while they were there. Orville Henderson was my last fellow worker when I left 4H Club work. The last project was completed in 1994 just prior to our venture to Fiji, Australia and New Zealand. We had a very wonderful 90 days visiting Melbourne, Darwin, Alice Springs, Adelaide, Perth and vicinity, Tasmania, Sydney, Brisbane, Cairns and many spots in between. The highlight was a bus and tent tour that took us from Adelaide through to Cairns. Of family history interest, while in Australia we visited with Shirley and Peter Westaway at Foster, Victoria. I also met Dr. Leslie Westaway at Cairns. Later his sister Gloria Leslie from Grafton Australia came to visit us in Winnipeg. After leaving Australia we went to New Zealand for another few weeks. We took a train and bus tour of both the North and South Islands. While in Auckland be stayed with Averill Adlam and her husband Pax. Averill is a cousin through my Westaway line and is very interested in family history. She has done a significant amount of research on the John and Ann Westaway line. She is descended from Athalia, one of their daughters. I also was able to need an interview Reg Westaway on the South Island and met his son Lindsay and his wife. After this tour, Elaine and I stayed home for a year or two. We had purchased a used recreation vehicle (RV) just after completion of the Stonewall project. It was a 1985 Glendale. It has not been used in a great deal, though we have enjoyed some short holidays together. One summer I drove to Ontario by myself to visit with my daughter Lea and my three grandchildren. I also make contact some family near Owen Sound. In 1999 we used the Glendale to travel to Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and many parts in between. I had purchased a flatbed trailer to load the little Corolla and: behind the Glendale. Though we had a few incidents where we had to make repairs on the trailer as well as the Glendale we had a very successful visit. While in Prince Edward Island we found a number of Elaine's MacLeod relatives over near Summerside. We also visit Montague and found some Westaway cousins.

Alf Somers, my father, started keeping records on his family history when he retired in 1968. I have built on his records and extended the information on the Somers and Westaway families and their connections. As of the year 2000, there were over 6560 records in my database. Now much of my time is spent in putting text into the records so that the names are more than just names. The names with their birth dates and their death notices to provide some information but it is much more interesting if you have some stories on their families their careers, their successes, and the events were part of their lives.

Most people want to be remembered. I am not any different from any of most people. Perhaps I am a little more interested in being remembered than many. History, in particular personal or family history has become an encompassing interest to me. Many letters have been written and much research has been done to find the sources of my family. We are the results of the genes that have been passed on to us by our parents. They in turn are the results of the genes that have been passed by their parents. Onward or should I say backward the lists reaches with each generation doubling in the number of persons who have contributed to my gene pool. After going back ten generations there will be more than a one thousand different persons involved. The number may be fewer if there are cousin marriages. Nonetheless there are many persons who do not want to be forgotten. Neither should we forget them.

Ed with Miska playing his favourite harmonica  

The prairie of Western Canada has always been my home. I was born in a prairie farm house near Strathclair Manitoba. All of my brothers and sisters were born in the same house with the same loving care provided by Mrs. Glover. In later childhood years we used to walk the two or three miles over to the Glover farm to visit. I went to school in a prairie school. My friends and my opponents were prairie kids. After school I went to university at a prairie university. Some people would argue that Winnipeg is a prairie town. I see much of it as a prairie city dependent upon the products of the prairie for its well being. When I got my first job after graduating it was working with the people of the prairie and I continued to have these people in the forefront of my concerns throughout my working career. Even when I retires I end up being interested in these same people through heritage and genealogy organizations. Thus the story of a prairie boy and man. This story is just a little item that is added to that whole. One should always start with what you know best. I hope that we all know ourselves more completely than anyone else does.

After having smidgens of memories running through my mind, I decided that there would never be enough time to do all of this at once. If this story was to be written it would have to be now, in bits and pieces and in the bits and pieces time. Some of this got started at the end of March 1992 when I had to prepare a test for my students in the Stonewall Job Re-entry Course. Elaine & I were fulfilling a contract with the Selkirk Employment Centre. We enrolled eighteen women in our project with the purpose of teaching them the skills to get a new job and get off Unemployment Insurance. One feature of the program we operate is to teach skills in computer operations, particularly word processing. We provide certificates to show that the students have gained some skills; Thus, tests were needed. I needed a sample of material that a "boss" had prepared for editing and final printing. The "something" I decided to give the women was based on the farm records that my Father, Alf Somers, had developed over 40 years of farming. As I studied the records, many memories and observations were triggered. I felt that these should be put on paper, or at least in the computer. The first task was to pull this "test" information into a file

Ed descends from Mark & Mary Trewin and his grandfather emigrated to Canada around 1913



Many thanks to Ed for sharing this with us. He is a true historian and has preserved so many articles, records etc which he has given his permission to share. His biography and poems, well written in true Bradworthy style, make delightful reading.

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  © 2003-6 Sheila Yeo | For more information on the Westaway family and the research contained in this site email sheila@yeosociety.com or call me on +44 (0)1626 360978