Chapter 23 The Homestead Experience - Rosemead


The Charter-Hemphill Story


Chapter 23

Lethbridge, Alberta, early Twentieth Century


One month before his mother died on May 13, 1907, Henry was at the land office in Lethbridge, Alberta completing paperwork to begin homesteading 160 acres of land. The scene outside the land office was a “madhouse” according to one homesteader, “In September, 1908…arriving at Lethbridge on Thursday afternoon. I found 1,700 people ahead of me. We had numbers but scalpers were along the line buying and selling numbers. I, with seven dollars, managed to get in and file on the numbers I had selected, and was back…threshing, on Monday.”

After paying $10 and obtaining the right to begin homesteading a quarter section in southwestern Alberta, Henry returned to Redwood Falls and ran the following classified ad in The Redwood Gazette: “For Sale—60 August pigs, bargain if taken at once.”

Winnipeg railway yard, at the time the largest in the world.

In October 1907, Henry again left Redwood Falls to begin homesteading in Alberta. Taking the train to Minneapolis, then another4 train to the booming railroad junction and Canadian western gateway city of Winnipeg. Harriet Neville, another budding homesteader, found the Gateway City uninviting, “We got to Winnipeg and a mighty muddy city it was…If you stepped off the wooden sidewalks you sank deep into the prairies mire which stuck to you like glue. It was a rough looking place and not at all my idea of a city." From Winnipeg Henry took the CPR to Calgary and then south to Lethbridge. From there, it was a forty- or fifty-mile ride in a horse drawn wagon to his quarter-section.

Elsie Thompson tells of a new settler’s trip from Lethbridge to his homestead, guided by her father, Albert Thompson: “Mr. Faisia had accompanied Mr. [Albert] Thompson on his first trip to his homestead in 1909. Later it was Mr. Thompson’s pleasure to guide Mr. George Hedges to his homestead. Leaving Lethbridge in the morning, they stopped for the night near the ‘Widow’s Well’ near Iron Springs. Mr. Thompson still recalls Mr. Hedges astonishment on learning that they would retire for the night under the wagon. George, if asked today, would maintain that he never tasted a better cup of tea than they enjoyed that evening.”

Settlers hauling lumber

Henry undoubtedly left Lethbridge with a wagon filled with lumber for his house and some supplies for his stay while preparing the homestead for his family. According to his declaration, Henry completed his house and was living on his homestead on October 11, 1907. He built a frame house: 10’ x 24’. His son Loy has said it had a dirt floor. There was, of course, no indoor plumbing or running water. There was no insulation, tarpaper was nailed on the outside. The inside walls were plastered with newspaper. He placed a value on the house of $100, about $2,700 dollars in 2019 dollars.

Dan Jantzie tells of readying his homestead for living, “After filing on my homestead, I worked in the Vulcan district [Henry‘s homestead acreage or section, now lies in Vulcan County] until the fall of 1913 when I bought some lumber in Vulcan, borrowed a team of horses, hauled it to my homestead and built my shack. It wasn’t much but I was very proud of it for I had built it myself, at 19 years of age. After I had built it I returned the team of horses to Vulcan, went to a sale, bought a bedstead and spring, a coffee pot, a lamp, a wash basin, a dishpan, a couple of chairs, a few cups, saucers and plates and a few knives, forks and spoons, a frying pan, a few porcelain pots, all of it for $5.

“I picked up a stove, one of those sheet iron ones that earlier homesteaders in the Vulcan district had thrown away, but I had to buy the stove pipes. Now I was ready to start homesteading on my 160 acres of land. I thought how wonderful it will be for me when I get the title to this land and was making plans accordingly, for ‘I was betting the government $4 (as the saying was among the homesteaders), that I could comply with their regulations and ‘prove up.’

“I had about $26 in cash, bought groceries for a total of $19.75. The groceries consisted of a 100 lb. bag of flour, 20 lb. sugar, 10 lb. of oatmeal, a cured ham, salt, pepper, dried prunes, dried peaches, a little tobacco, tea, coffee, a one gallon can of coal oil. Incidentally this coal oil lasted me all winter.

“Mrs. Wood told me to bring my flour to her place, she would bake my bread. They also gave me all the skim milk I needed, which I used on my porridge, etc. and all the potatoes I needed, and in return for these things I would do their chores and other things whenever they went away, and oh, yes, he had a shot gun, which I borrowed occasionally for rabbits, a change of diet.”

Water and coal supply wagon

Water was perhaps the biggest problem. It had to be hauled in tanks or barrels, sometimes as far as eight or ten miles until a well was drilled. Most surface water collected in shallow alkaline sloughs and stagnated; subject to long hours of sunshine and the dry winds of southern Alberta, it evaporated quickly. The lack of surface water forced settlers to drill wells and erect windmills and purchase pumps, often at great expense, for the water table varied in depth from ten to hundreds of feet. If the pioneers struck water, alkali salts and hard minerals often rendered it useless for human or livestock consumption. But many found no water at all. One settler drilled thirteen dry wells on his homestead, finally admitted defeat, and hauled even drinking water from seven miles away.

A tripod winch erected over a well was designed to lift buckets of dirt from the well as someone in the well dug deeper into the dirt. Two buckets were used to remove dirt. When one was full and cranked out of the well, the second was lowered down to the person digging at the bottom of the well.

Water was recycled. Cooking and dishwater was given to the chickens or hogs. Laundry water for laundry purposes was used to water the garden or to scrub the floor if the family was fortunate enough to have a board floor. All members of the family bathed in the same water.

The son of a pioneer explains about the water-well: “A hand-dug well provided water for the family, the animals, the farm and garden, and the household.

“When it got too deep to shovel, the dirt was loaded into a carrying bucket and hauled out by windlass … a winch, lifted out of the hole. The person on top (the assistant or tender) pulled the full buckets up. The person outside the well cranked the buckets of dirt up and lowered an empty bucket back down. The man at the top was also the lookout man, making sure the person in the well was safe. My dad said he crawled in and out of the well by using a ladder and a rope. The hoist at the top had a lock on it. The buckets balanced one another; as an empty one was let down, its weight helped to raise the full one, which passed it as it was drawn up. We lowered curbings (supporting structures). The curbings were made of wood and had to be smaller than the hole so they would slide down. More were added from the top as they went deeper.”

Bringing home water in barrels. Irma area Alberta, 1909.

One settler wrote that, “In the beginning, water was hauled from Badger Lake. Later a well was dug in sand on a hill on Long Harry’s pre -emption. It seemed to be a never-ending supply for a few years, but alas, after supplying their own needs and quite a few of their neighbors, it gradually went dry. After that, well had to be dug to a depth of 200 feet to get a limited supply of water.”

Margaret Peters recalls, “Her father and mother, often just her mother, hitching a team of four horses and a water tank, to collect water from the Little Bow River, to bring back to the little granary house. The animals needed watering, as well as to supply household needs. There was no washing machine, no cistern, no icebox, just a tub and washboard and barrels of water. Ester picked chokeberries and saskatoons for canning. She made coffee by roasting finely ground wheat mixed with molasses and baked in the oven until crisp and brown.”

Getting water from his well at his ranch, Priddis, Alberta, 1904.

Violet Huff tells of Nels Olson and Alex Anderson, or the “Swede Boys,” as they were known by their many friends. “They lived five miles north of Travers on the land that is now owned by the Ruggles family. They came from Sweden to Chicago in 1903 where they were employed. Nels in the steel mills and Alex on a farm. In 1907 they moved to Canada and each one homesteaded on a quarter-section of land, later obtaining another quarter-section, each through pre-emption. I believe they had more company than any homesteaders in the district. They had on their land a good well which supplied drinking water for all the homesteaders with their sheet-covered barrels making their way toward the Swede Boys’ shack. While Father went for the water (the well was some distance from the house) the children would visit the Swede Boys. There was a reason here – the children never failed to receive and orange or chocolate bar. And just for the record, that same well is still supplying water to the Ruggles family.

“Nels and his brother, Nikolai, bored wells in the Lomond district for several years. Before they would down in the well, a cat or candle was lowered to see if there was gas in the well or if the air was pure enough for a human being to go down.”

Drilling rig near Munson, Alberta. ca. 1910

Another homesteader wrote: “… it was two weeks before I got back to the homestead, as rain had held me up. Haleys [who he came to homestead with] were getting desperate – they had to walk three miles to the nearest homesteader’s place to get coal and water. We built Haley’s sod house right away; I had brought lumber for the roof – there was no floor. The we started digging a well; I dug, and he pulled the dirt up in a pail. We got down twelve feet by lunch time. After lunch he went down to dig and no more than he got down when he came right back up and fell on the ground, gasping. It’s a good thing it was he got out. He called it blackdamp, a kind of gas. I had never heard of such at thing and probably never would have got out alive. Anyway that ended our digging. We hauled water ten miles until Mr. Snow got water about ten feet down, just west of my farm. When he proved up, Haley bought his place and moved there.”

Robert L McManus wrote: “ That year [1908] Dad filed on a homestead in the Travers district … Getting water seemed a difficult job. After many dry holes were dug Dad finally got water in a fifteen-foot well, about one-half mile from the house. This had to be carried in, a pailful at a time.”

Henry’s section was six or seven miles from the Little Bow River. Conceivably, he could make the trip there and back in the same day. (See Map 23.1)

By New Year’s Day of 1908, Henry had broken five acres of barren prairie with the big plough pulled by a team of draft horses. There was never enough time on the prairie. Ploughing cannot start until the frost is out of the ground, for the prairies freeze a foot or more deep through the long winter.


Breaking prairie sod

On March 1, 1908, five months after beginning residency on his homestead, Henry returned to Redwood Falls to get his family. His brother-in-law, Richard, wrote in 1966, “In the fall of 1907 my parents [James and Isabella], my two sisters [Mary and Isabella] and their families, and I came to the Travers district. [lthis differs from Henry’s declaration made 1910 that he went back to get his family in March of 1908, (See Appx. 23.2) also, there was no Travers district yet] We were among the first settlers and our family took up claims near each other. (See Map 23.1)

Pioneers outside sod house near Coronation, Alberta. ca. 1907-1908.

“We brought with us two carloads of horses and cattle. That first summer we built three sod shacks and a big sod barn [value $50]and hen house [value $35], which was some job for pioneers. The weather was not too bad the first winter, although it was often 40 degrees below. We had to haul feed and coal about 25 miles. On my first trip, I got off the trail on my return. As it was dark, I was compelled to stay all night without blankets or anything to keep me warm. I was never caught without plenty of blankets for myself and the horses after that!

“Immigrant cars were in the back of the train, each with a family, its livestock, furniture and farm implements snugly fitted into a box.”

Mrs. C.R. Haley from Michigan came to the area the same year Granma Charter did, 1908. She articulates, “I found myself, with my husband and two children and all our worldly possessions, packed in a boxcar, on a train, heading west. The train was full of settlers like ourselves, bound for the west to seek our fortunes.

“Our worldly possessions included two wagons of household goods, four horses, a table, chairs, a stove and two beds, and of course dishes, pots and pans, etc. I also brought a green velvet couch, my pride and joy, and a small wicker rocker. You may well imagine the color of my couch after sitting out in that hot prairie sun.

“I shall never forget my first sight of the prairie …The prairies were unbelievably vast. They stretched for miles and miles, flat prairie land with here and there a small hummock or a larger hill. The grass was short and occasionally there were small clumps of flowers made their appearance. Gophers ran across their trail and sat up near their homes, chattering at us as if to scold us for trespassing on their domains. We reached the homestead, a distance of 70 miles, four days later in he early afternoon, and after a good meal, made preparations for the coming night.

“We had our stove, but of course fuel was a problem. We solved that by picking up buffalo and cow chip, which burned very well. We were fortunate in having a spring on our land and consequently plenty of water. This was indeed a blessing, as water was a much needed and scare commodity. People came from miles to share our spring water.

“Ed, my husband, hired on to work as a field hand with a threshing rig. This meant leaving the children and me alone all summer. We were the first family to settle on our section. The prairie was indeed sparsely settled and from our house no other house was visible. Our nearest neighbor was ten miles away. It was like living in another world, the children and myself the only inhabitants. Many is the night I spent sleepless and weary, listening to the blood-curdling cry of the coyote as he prowled about our frail shelter. The days were long, but the nights were endless. Ed came home that fall and by this time winter was fast approaching. The grass was turning brown, and we had occasional snow flurries.

“Anyone who has lived on the prairie in those early days will remember those sudden little rainstorms which come up in the night after a warm day, with the thunder rolling across the prairie and the lightning flashing turning the night into day.”

Some other experiences recounted by settlers on their arrival: “I will always remember our arrival from Michigan early in the summer of 1908, during a flood. Now, this little flood couldn’t hurt the forty-mile road that we had travel by team and wagon to get out to the River Bow district, because there wasn’t any road; but we were on the south side of the Old Man River. This river was running very high, with buildings, furniture and driftwood floating down it. There was no ferry or bridge to cross, so we were forced to camp in Taber until the river level dropped enough to ford it. Along with me on this journey to Canada was my mother, Mrs. Charles pray, my brother. Emil and Hazen, and my little sister, Mildred. My father met us on our arrival at Taber. My father started and named the River Bow Post Office and was postmaster from its beginning in 1910 until 1919 when he moved to California, where he passed away in 1954.

Annie Plaxton and her husband left Ontario and headed for a new life in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan [known as the "Gateway to the North"&rbrackl;. The summer was wet and the Plaxtons labored through mud and were tortured by the swarms of mosquitoes. Along the way they met up with people also heading toward a new life. “We traveled quite a distance when we met another couple—also a bride and bridegroom,” Jennie wrote in her memoir. “The bride was in torment with mosquitoes, just nearly crazed with them…one morning while he was hunting his horses, the young wife found his revolver and shot herself. The poor woman was buried on the top of a hill where a wooden cross marks her grave.”

When they arrived at Prince Albert, the Plaxtons built a cabin that they finished on the day before Christmas, in -50℉ temperatures.

Pioneer Mary Louisa Cummins first saw the home her husband had built after an exhausting journey from England. “I was about all in when we arrived at the homestead and at the sight of the home I had come to I burst into tears. Am I to live in that, I cried, quite forgetting how hard Colin must have worked to build that little wooden box … So, there we were.”

Disenchanted men soon left the frontier, but many women felt trapped by determined husbands. One woman actually escaped back to England, but when her husband refused to follow, she reluctantly returned to seven months later. “Both my mother, Mrs. Beaubier, and Mrs. Long refused to unpack their trunks for years believing they might be unable to endure the hardships of homesteading,” recalled one daughter. The new environment particularly depressed some of them. “Mother was just sick when she saw it,” remembers a daughter. “When I put my foot on that railway depot at Carmangay,” testified another woman. “I said don’t you take my trunk off there…I’m not staying in this dried up old place.” Still another recalled, “Having lived in big cities, the wide-open spaces with Ainslie’s Texas Longhorns roaming around didn’t appeal to me and the first night I heard the coyotes’ chorus I was just about petrified and ready to return east.”

Map showing location of Rosemead in red in western Canada

By March 28, 1908 Henry and Mary Charter, and daughters Nellie and Rose were in Alberta ensconced in their 240 square foot home. Long trips with wagons or sleighs, often in sub-zero weather, filled those early years. Lighting was by coal-oil lamp, heating by coal-stove, later a heater. They had six horses and three cows; horses for riding and pulling wagons and for plowing; cows for milk and butter. 

This first full calendar year, 1908, Henry broke thirty-five or forty acres and cropped ten acres of wheat. Wheat was the crop that returned the greatest profit, in both the short term and the long term. Much of the physical environment of southern Alberta favored raising wheat. Relatively flat and free of geographical obstacles, the terrain invited the extensive use of machinery, and advances in agricultural technology served wheat far better than most farm products. Best of all, wheat plunged its roots deep into the soil and survived drought more readily than did most other crops. Arid climates actually produce harder kernels of higher protein content than do humid ones, and if farmers suffered lower yields in dry years, they usually carried a higher grade.

Breaking sod with steam tractor, 1908

There was a great influx of homesteaders in 1908. One of them remembers, “Everything was open prairie, with small homesteaders’ shacks dotting the countryside. There were no roads, only prairie trails, and no fences. It took hard work to build a farm from scratch.”

In March 1908, a post office opened seven or eight miles south-southwest of Henry’s quarter section. The name Sundial, for nearby Sundial Butte, was approved for the postal district by the Postmaster General in Ottawa. Early documents refer to Henry Charter of Sundial. (See Appx. 23.1). That was the same month that all of Henry’s immediate family and in-laws arrived,

CPR ca. 1910, at the Bassano Station, 33 miles north of Rosemead. Mary would have taken something like this.

On Wednesday, September 30, 1908, the Lethbridge Herald printed the following story: “A baby daughter [Edna] arrived at the home of Henry D. Charter on Monday, Sept. 21. He is proving up on a homestead in Sec. 22-14-19, Sundial and was one of the fortunate homesteaders to secure a desirable pre-emption adjoining his homestead.” Map 23.2

Assuming the dates given are correct, Mary must have traveled from Redwood Falls, Minnesota to Lethbridge, Alberta on a  bumping, jerking, clacking, smoking train; and then traveled to the homestead by a team and wagon over roads described as little more than prairie trails while she was three months pregnant. The total trip was about 1,800 miles and fifty estimated hours spend on a moving train, averaging 30 mph. Assuming the dates given are correct, Mary must have traveled from Redwood Falls, Minnesota to Lethbridge, Alberta on a jolting, clacking, smoking train trip of about 1,800 miles. Railroad time tables indicate that the total time spent on a moving train was somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty hours traveling at an average speed of 30 mph but if Canadian trains operated like those in the U.S. at that time, the trains were notoriously late, the timetable another railroad fiction.

After exiting the train, she then traveled to the homestead on some conveyance powered by a team of horses over roads described as little more than prairie trails, all while she was in the first trimester of her pregnancy.

On Henry’s sworn statement he states that “my residence has been continuous except from March 1st 1908 to March 27 1908 at which time I went to Minnesota U.S.A. to get my family, also I went to Minnesota July 2nd 1909 to sell my farm and returned July 24 1909.” However, Edna, born September 21, 1908, appears to have been conceived in late December 1907. It appears likely Henry returned home to be with his family for the Christmas holidays.


Funeral procession

My Great-Grandfather James Hemphill died of pneumonia and pleurisy on May 7, 1909, fourteen months after arriving in Alberta. The death certificate states he died after a week of illness. The July 7, 1909 Redwood Gazette ran the following obituary:

James Hemphill, formerly a resident of Redwood Falls, died on his homestead near Sundial, Alberta, May 7, of pneumonia and pleurisy, at the age of nearly 53 years.

Deceased was born in the province of Ontario [should be Quebec], Canada, July 2, 1856, and lived near Donegal until 1890, when he came to Minnesota. He lived in Redwood Falls from 1891 until 1902, when he moved to California. He spent some time there and also in Silverton, Ore., and Centralia, Wash. In October, 1907, he took up his residence on a homestead near Sundial, Alberta, where he has lived ever since.

He was married May 5, 1880, to Isabella Terry. Six children were born to them, three of whom died in childhood. His widow, two daughters, Isabelle and Mrs. Henry Charter, and son Richard are left to mourn his loss.

The funeral was held at the home, May 8, at 3 p.m., Rev. McComb officiating.

Mrs. Henry D. Charter.
Sundial, Alta., Can. May 7, 1909

Breaking sod

His second full year on the homestead, 1909, Henry broke twenty or thirty more acres and cropped forty-five or fifty acres of wheat.

Wheat became an important international commodity in the nineteenth century because bread became a food staple in the industrial nations of the North Atlantic world. As the decades passed, Europe’s increasing preference in bread was baked from a snow-white dough, high in gluten (protein), which was especially characteristic of hard spring wheat raised on the western plains of North America. The world’s largest market was England, which had a food deficit that increased sharply during the century while its rapidly growing population moved into urban centers and concentrated on industrial and commercial actives. By 1900, British farmers could supply domestic requirements for only two months of every twelve and the docks of Liverpool, Hull, and London were busy  in every season unloading the tons of grain—5 million tons in 1914 alone—purchased in Argentina,, Australia, India, Russia, the United States, and, as the prairie west was developed, Canada. The “second industrial revolution” spread across Europe in the nineteenth century, and the new industrial giants such as Belgium and Germany, with their new enterprises associated with steel, chemicals and electricity, also increased their imports of food products. Henceforth, it was plain, the New World would feed the Old.

Wagons bringing wheat to the grain elevators for shipment

What induced Henry to immigrate to Alberta? He appeared to be a successful and admired farmer in Minnesota? One likely factor was that it would benefit of his landless in-laws, James and Richard Hemphill. Perhaps Henry had an altruistic nature, as his son Loy did. As mentioned previously, there was no longer a frontier in the United States and virgin farmland was increasing hard to find. His father-in-law James Hemphill was working as a laborer and his brother-in-law Richard’s prospects couldn’t have been any better. With the propaganda being put out by Clifford Sifton, the Canadian Pacific Railroad, and Hardy Campbell,  Canadian homesteading must have been overwhelmingly seductive. They could begin life anew; an opportunity of incalculable value, but the likelihood that they would succeed on the homestead was not nearly as great as they were led to believe.

When pioneers spoke of golden opportunities of the frontier, they referred not to the profitable raising of crops, but to the enterprise of land speculation. That is what lured them to the frontier. With land fetching $65 to $150 an acre in the Midwest between 1900 and 1914, a farmer could sell out, retire his debts, and still have enough capital to develop a larger farm on frontier. They reasoned that the new land would soon soar in value to continental levels, which explains their belief that frontiers offered “opportunities for the energetic man” not to be found in older settled countries.

“You did not come here to stay,” admitted one of them, “you came here to get rich.” Few pioneers in the Vulcan area, which included Rosemead, developed an emotional attachment to their land. “Only real dedicated farmers stayed,” recalled one man. Most came intending to sell out later and did so. And when the farmers sought government assistance during the post WWI drought, Colonel Hatch, vice-president of the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association and a prominent bank director bitterly declared, “The western farmer, as a rule, has no interest in the country. He eats out of a tin can, gets all he can from outside the country and sows his wheat in the spring. This he harvests in the fall and markets and goes to California, spending his money outside of the country.”

“Property continues to change hands like hot cakes,” cried the press in 1906, only two years after settlement began [in Vulcan county, west of Henry’s homestead], and the chant still echoed in 1918. “Land is changing hands around here in pretty lively fashion.”

Most studies agree that the dominion land policy efficiently populated the west and rapidly brought it under cultivation, but many argue that it failed in human terms, for free homesteads encouraged many without the resources or ability to succeed. Furthermore, the quarter-section homestead proved too small for a viable farm, and although adjacent railway lands permitted some expansion without displacing other farmers, the need for even larger farms eventually forced many off the land. But the displaced farmers can hardly be considered tragic victims. Intending to sell out anyway, most Vulcan pioneers did so for a handsome profit. Because they settled in a productive area that yielded good crops during a period of favorable weather conditions and grain prices, and because they improved their property  and acquired such public facilities as roads, towns, schools, and a railway, the value of land rose substantially until the end of the First World War. Any farmer selling before 1920 might realize a capital gain of $1,000 to $10,000 per quarter section.

After its implementation in 1872, the homestead system underwent many minor changes designed to encourage settlement and discourage speculation. When pioneers arrived the main obstacles to speculation included six months residence on the homestead in each of three consecutive years, the construction of a house, and the cultivation of a certain acreage each year, depending on the quality of the land.

Those unwilling to invest the necessary money and effort resorted to cheating. Most often they simply lied about the number and quality of improvements on their homesteads. Nearly everyone lied about his residency, for even legitimate settlers often found it necessary to leave for more than six months a year in order to earn enough to establish working farms. Neighbors commonly swapped testimonials confirming each other’s statements when applying for homestead patents. Indeed, it appears that Henry did just that, or at least obtained testimonials from neighbors when applying for his patent.

The boom years, high yields and high prices paid for wheat.

Still, the problem of unexpected visits from the homestead inspectors remained. To circumvent residency and house building obligations, pioneers did not construct portable houses, as many did in the United States and some parts of western Canada, but they perpetrated other elaborate frauds. Four brothers who all filed for homesteads on the same section built a single house in the middle of the four corners resting on each quarter-section. Three of them returned to Ontario while the fourth created the impression that they all lived there. Another man with no intention of living on his homestead only constructed the three walls of a shack visible from the road. Those who lived and worked in towns regularly hauled ashes and garbage out to their homestead shacks to maintain a lived-in appearance.

Henry Defoister Charter, 1867-1840, date of photo unknown

Henry returned to Redwood Falls in July 1909 to wind up his business on his Minnesota farm. He was away about three weeks. The Redwood Gazette ran the following story on July 7, 1909:

“Henry Charter was back from Alberta for a few days to close the transfer of his farm to Robert Stewart, who paid $70 per acre for the 80 acres and valuable improvements. The deal was negotiated by the D.L. Crimmins agency.” Henry now fit the old dictum about the selective process of frontier migration: “The very poor cannot afford to come; the very rich have no need to.” Each homestead would require a capital outlay of several thousand dollars in the period of proving up (three to eight years, generally speaking).

Appreciating the need for supply centers closer to home, some settlers opened general stores on their homesteads. To lure customers, country storekeepers applied for positions as postmasters and on August 9, 1909, the weekly Lethbridge Herald ran the following: “A NEW POST OFFICE IN NORTH COUNTRY… A new post office named Rosemead has opened on Sec. 22-14-19 [Henry’s quarter-section], with Henry Charter, postmaster. He is going to open a general store. Mr. Charter has just brought from the States the first manure spreader in this part of Alberta.”

Rosemead means “the good smell of a flower.” Coincidently or not, their second daughter, now two-years-old, was named Rose Marie. He opened his store and post office September 1, 1909.

According to Belinda Crowsen of the Galt Museum in Lethbridge, “The general store was very popular until the railroad came to the area. And if you actually talk to people whose families are from this area, many people have Rosemead on their birth certificates.” She adds, “There is only one thing left at Rosemead today. Like so many communities, there is a little cemetery. There are only about six headstones left. And there’s nothing to actually identify Rosemead.”

Postal worker driving his mail buggy, 1907 to early 1920s

Amy Steeves tells of the importance of getting mail in the small isolated communities: “Mail day was a very special day in the lives of the pioneers and in those days, as today, ‘the mail must get through.’ It was a round trip of nearly 50 miles and was made by team twice a week over prairie and unfences trails. Many a trip was dangerous; the prairie all looked the same. Bob made the trip once when the temperature dropped to 60 degrees below. The young boys often made the trip when the weather was favorable. One-night Fred spend the night on the prairie, traveling in circles in the drifting snow. He had passed the same object three times when he realized he must give the horses their heads and trust them to take him home. As the day dawned, he met his father who was out looking for him, and at last he knew he was on the right trail. The mail got through, this time just one day late!

Eaton's Catalogue was the Canadian equivalent to the Sears and Roebuck Catalogue. Besides shopping, it is said to have been used as shin pads, home insulation, and outhouse toilet paper.

“There was a day much looked forward to, especially in the lives of the pioneer children. That was the day the mail order catalogues arrived. Oh, what excitement and the rush to see who could get it first! And what an evening, as they gathered around the big hardwood tables in the glow of the little kerosene lamps, sighing over the toys, the sleighs, the harness sections! Yes, ‘Uncle Timothy’ carried these articles in those days. How grand the harness looked on the well-matched greys on the pages! How proud one was to walk in with the new catalogue that had just arrived! Even if they knew that only the barest of necessities would be ordered, what a day it was when the parcel finally arrived!”

That year one of his horses died. The Lethbridge Herald, now heading a column “ROSEMEAD,” or sometimes, “ROSEMEAD TIT-BITS,” published a story regarding Henry’s three new calves. Another story in the September 16, 1909 edition of that paper noted that “Henry is building a gambrel roofed barn 26’ x 32’ at Rosemead.” Presumably, this was the dance hall he added to his center at Rosemead.

Henry Charter’s Roesemead. Their house, the general store and dance hall.

In 1966 Lela Ober reminisces, “Dances were a pleasure and enjoyed by all – even the children. Dad’s brother, Billie, was talented enough to be asked to call out the square dances and waltz quadrilles at local functions. We got to stay up as long as we could. The dances lasted until the light of day — that way we could see to get home. There were no radios or television or computers, so cards was another form of entertainment.

A childhood memory was, “Papa fiddled for dances from the time he was fourteen years old. He would play for the dances at Burdock and at other schools. We would drive there with a team and bob-sleigh, but it was fun and we always had a good time even if we did get dumped out in the snow once-in-awhile at four a.m.

This is the NOT actual Rosemead fiddler, just a photo from Pininterest

“Musicians who could play lively square dance tunes commanded universal respect for dances in schoolhouses and new barns, There was one problem at least at some of the dances, as noted by the son of one early settler, “Dad said, ‘In the early years some forty or fifty men contested with each other to dance with the four or five girls. Papa fiddled for dances from the time he was fourteen years old. He would play for the dances at Burdock and at other schools. We would drive there with a team and bob-sleigh, but it was fun and we always had a good time even if we did get dumped out in the some once in awhile a four a.m. Extreme imbalances in the sex ratio especially marked the earliest years, for even married men often arrived in advance of their families. “At first there were nothing but men,” observed the Carmangay Sun on 12 November 1914 as settlers swarmed into each new township; “gradually the women and children increased.” Many of the first women claimed they could count no neighbors for miles save bachelors, and some even complained that they did not see another woman during the first year or two of homesteading.

This is the NOT actual Rosemead Dance Hall, just a photo from Pininterest

The Lethbridge Herald published the following on November 9, 1909:


“The showers of rain on the Fourth put the cool damper on the celebration at Rosemead. The sports and the ball game didn’t come off, but the success of the play and dance in the evening made up partially for what was missing. The audience appreciated ‘Tompkins Hired Man’ heartily, and all have a good word to speak for the club, which proves it was a decided success.”

Confirming this, one child of a settler remembers: “In spite of hard times we had lots of fun going to sports days, dances, etc. My uncle, Louis in Lachance, played for most of the dances. People visited each other, and also gave a helping hand where needed.”

Store reciept from Henry's general store in Rosemead. Rosemead was on his homestead. The reciept shows $18 paid to Richard Hemphill (Mary’s brother) for a trip to town.

Two days before Christmas, but a dateline of December 14, 1909, the Lethbridge Herald reported,

“Henry and Dick [Richard] Hemphill arrived in Lethbridge Monday with two wagons and two teams to bring back two loads for the Rosemead store . . . They arrived back home on Thursday.” They must have been stocking for Christmas.


The January 20, 1910 edition of the Lethbridge Herald reported that,

“Mr. Charters [sic] is selling goods so fast that he will probably have to invest in a gasoline traction engine to facilitate freighting.” The correspondent also bemoaned the poor mail service of the area, making it difficult to deliver copy to Lethbridge on a timely basis. This was the responsibility of the mail carrier, not Henry.

Ken Jones wrote: “ … 1910 was really dry and crops never came up until August. Lots of thunder and lightning storms but no rain.” Other settlers confirm that “crops in 1910 did not germinate because of lack of rain,” and “1910 was so dry everyone went to the ditch to work,”

On August 19, 1910 The Lethbridge Herald reported:

“William Dunlop, R.D. Moses and Mr. and Mrs. Hartts, all of Rosemead, were in the city yesterday. Their report of the crop situation in that district is perhaps the least encouraging of any in Southern Alberta. None, said they, expect to thresh. However, rains have come recently and made possible ploughing and breaking, which is being done extensively in that district.”

Prairie fire near Lethbridge, Alberta, ca. 1907-1913

Also, that year, “a prairie fire swept through the district in July 1910 and our buildings managed to escape only because a fireguard had been made around them by using a scrapper and loose dirt bag dug from the cellar. Like many others at that time we suffered from a shortage of water, having to haul it three miles in barrels from the Pete Branden well.”

On August 25, 1910, the same paper ran this short piece on page 3 under the heading:


  • “H.D. Charter is sowing winter wheat this week,”
  • “Henry Charter is installing his furnace this week. There must be some cold weather coming.”

The Lethbridge Herald printed the following on September 8, 1910:


  • “Rosemead, Sept 3 – Born, to Mr. and Mrs. Henry Charter, of Rosemead on Aug. 21st, a little daughter [Mable]. Mother and child are doing nicely
  • “Richard Hemphill drove to Carmangay last week.”

An update printed in mid-October said,

  • “Henry Charter has his furnace in running order, and is now putting in his winter’s supply of coal from Bow City.” [It did not reveal whether furnace was for the store, the dance hall or their home.]
  • “Poles for the long distance telephone arrived here several days ago … and were being delivered between here and Crowfoot … not be long before it will extend to Bassano.” [33 miles or so east of Rosemead]

These towns are all on the mainline of the CPR but it was an indication modern conveniences were coming to the prairie towns and bringing their isolation to an end. It remained to be seen how soon the network extended to towns not on a rail line. It was the fervent hope of every person that a rail line would come to their town.

Henry’s comings and goings were also reported, such as this on September 17, 1910: “H.D. Charter returned from Lethbridge with a load of goods for his store.”

The October 29. 1910 edition of the Lethbridge Herald ran the following reminder: “Don’t forget the dance at Rosemead November 4th. Everybody is cordially invited. Ladies are kindly requested to bring cake or sandwiches.”  

“ ROSEMEAD” Nov. 12:

  • “The dance at Rosemead last Friday evening was the success of the season so far. The attendance was the largest yet witnessed in this locality. The music was first class and all present report a good time, which is proved by the fact that it was along the wee hours of the morning before the strains of Home Sweet Home would be recognized by the dancers.
  • “ Richard Hemphill was a business visitor in Taber this week.”

The same paper printed on November 30, 1910,

  • “Messrs. Stirn., Dickson & McBrayne are working on the Ellesmere school house.
  • “Rosemead and other offices on this route had no mail last Friday, owing to the fact that the ferry could not cross the Big Bow river owing to the ice,”

Then, on December 13 the paper reported:

  • “Guess the mail service is going to fall back to its original time of once a week, as we had mail only once again this week.
  • “Richard Hemphill and Elmer Orr drove to Bow City on Monday last.
  • “That hard winter which has been predicted, seems to have got a pretty good start. Snow has been falling steadily for the past few days, while the thermometer has been in the neighborhood of 15 degrees below zero for the past week.
  • “Steps are being taken towards getting up a play to be given in the Ellesmere schoolhouse some time in the near future by our home talent. It is about time something of this sort was being done. Where is that literary society we were going to organize when the long winter evenings set in? Maybe these evenings are not so wintery?”


On April 12 the Herald printed:


  • “ March certainly lived up to its character this year for coming in like a lamb and going out like a lion. Snow fell steadily all Saturday to the depth of eight inches. Farmers are compelled to stop work but most of them are pleased at the prospect of more moisture which means better and earlier crops, especially winter wheat.”

The Lethbridge Herald reported on May 4:

  • “Henry and Richard made a trip to that town for wheat, presumably to sell in the store.”
On May 9 it reported,
  • “Mr. Martin, from Eastern Canada, came out with the stage Tuesday, en route for his school near Rosemead. He will teach the coming year in the Ellismere schoolhouse.”

On May 29 it reported:

  • “The dance given at Rosemead on the 19th, in honor of Mr. and Mrs. David King, was largely attended, and a good time is reported.”
  • “H.D. Charter and family spent Sunday evening at Albert Jones.”
  • “To drive five miles, put in two days fishing, and never get a ‘bite,’ was the good (?) luck of R. Hemphill, W. Hughes and W. Knight last week. Suckers don’t bite this time of the year, boys.”

June 6 the following appeared in the Herald,

  • “Mrs. Charter has been on the sick list the past three days, but is now on the mend.
  • “H. D. Charter made a trip to Carmangay the first of the week for goods to restock his store.”

June 9 it reported:

  • “The Sweet Valley ball team went down to cross bats with Rosemead. If Rosemead had any practice the might make good players, so they said. The score was 17-4 in favor of the Sweet Valley team, and gave them a dance in the evening, which was well attended by many more, and a jolly time was had by everybody.”

June 28 it announced,

  • “Celebration at Rosemead July 4.”

Under the heading of “ROSEMEAD TIT-BITS” was the following:

  • “Harvest is in full swing in this vicinity now, and everybody is busy
  • “This locality was visited by a light hailstorm last Sunday, but little damage was done, as the hail stones were small, and accompanied by hardly any wind. Crops are much heavier than was supposed before cutting started, and most farmers are short of twine, with none to be head nearer than Carmangay.”

September 15, “ROSEMEAD TIT-BITS”

  • “Henry Charter and family spent the evening at George Wiest’s.
Threshing outfit, 1912

September 28, “ROSEMEAD TIT-BITS”:

  • “Threshing has commenced in earnest in our neighborhood, Messrs. Emilson, Charter and Worth Wiest having their grain sale in the granary. Wheat is averaging 24 bushels and oats 65. Most of the threshers have gasoline engines, owing to the scarcity of water in this vicinity.
  • “Sunday school is now being held at Rosemead every Sunday at 3 p.m. All children of the district are cordially invited to attend.
  • “Mr. Wells returned from Lethbridge Thursday with a load of goods for H.D. Charter
  • “Hurrah for Buchanan. Out of 31 votes cast at Rosemead’s polling booth the 21st, 26 were for Buchanan, 4 for Macgrath and 1 spoiled ballot. Are we for reciprocity? Well, I guess it looks like that war, don’t it? H.D. Charter was enumerator, Fred Archarubio returning officer and Harry Davis polling clerk . . . ”
Threshers dinner break


The May 6 Herald said:

  • ”Both Mr. Charter and Mr. Taylor were unfortunate in losing a fine work horse the past week.
  • “Owing to the busy time of seeding the dance at Rosemead on the 26th was not very well attended, about ten couples being present.”

On June 4 the paper said,

  • “Quite a number of Sundial young folks attended the dance at Rosemead on Friday night. All report a jolly good time.

On June 24, the Herald ran the following story under


  • “Richard Weist is breaking for Mrs. Hemphill [Isabelle].
  • “Don’t miss the celebration at Rosemead the first. The Dramatic Club will give the three act drama ‘Borderland,’ a play depicting life on the western border, and is sure to please you. Following is a list of characters:
  • “Winona Indian,,,,,,,,,Mary Charter
  • “Patrick McFaddle……..Henry Charter”
Post card of Lethbridge street 1911

On July 15 the Herald ran the following story:

  • “Mr. H.D. Charter of Rosemead was in the city today and in conversation with a representative of the Herald had a few things to say about the board of trade. Mr. Charter thinks the people of Lethbridge are not very anxious for the trade of the people of the Rosemead district or they would get a bigger hustle on in trying to get rural phone connection established and join in an effort for a better or rather a more a direct mail service.
  • “Recently a representative of the Tabor board of trade circulated a petition for telephones but only one person signed it. The people want to deal with Lethbridge and would like direct communication. The headquarters for most of the machine companies are in this city and the farmers would appreciate the facilities offered by the telephone communication. It is also desired for the purpose of keeping in touch with the Lethbridge markets. It is 53 miles to Rosemead but most of the farmers bring their grain to this city.
  • “The mail for Rosemead goes round by Brooks and out from there 25 miles by stage. Sundial gets mail four times a week from Lethbridge and it is only nine miles from Rosemead to Sundial. The farmers of Rosemead are not asking for mail four times a week. Twice would be satisfactory, but they would like to get it direct from Lethbridge. The post office inspector has been appealed to but in vain.
  • “Mr. Charter thinks if the Lethbridge board of trade would take the matter up and push it rigorously the district would get both the telephone and the improved mail service. It is one of the banner farming districts and the trade is worth going after.”
Dominion Day celebrations, Wainright, Alberta, 1910

The July 16‘s Herald reported:

  • “Rosemead was one spot in the south which was favored with good weather on Dominion Day [1912] and Canada’s national day was celebrated as Rosemead people know how to celebrate. There were over five hundred people out, which is going some for a place so many miles from a railway. The fun started with a baseball match between Sundial and Sweet Valley, which was an exciting contest and ended in a victory for Sweet Valley by a score of four to one.
  • “The fine new hall – which would be a credit to any town, was filled to the limit to hear the Rosemead Dramatic club present the play ‘Border Land.’ It was in three acts and the cast was all star. Everyone did well and the people were justly proud of their home talent. It would hardly be fair to mark anyone for special mention, as all did so well, but mention should be made of Mrs. Moses, to whose artistic skill the scenery was due. She is a clever woman with the brush, and the decorations were a credit to her artistic ability.“
Dominion Day Post Card ca. 1903-1912. Called Canada Day since 1982, it celebrates the anniversary of Canadian confederation which occurred on July 1, 1867, with the passing of the Constitution Act, 1867 where the three separate colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick were united into a single Dominion within the British Empire called Canada.
  • “The day concluded with a magnificent display of fire works and a dance, the fine hall being a scene of gaiety until an early hour. Rosemead hall has a fine floor space and the dancing could not be better. The people may live some distance from a town but they are in no way behind in having everything right up to the minute.
  • “Mrs. James is receiving many compliments on the efficient and pleasing way in which she catered to the needs of the big crowd here on Dominion Day. The meals served were excellent.”
Dominion Day barrel races, Vulcan, Alberta, 1910

On July 17 the Herald reported under the Sweet Valley heading that,

  • “Not many from here attended the dance at Rosemead on the 10th for the benefit of Gold Coin [school] owing to the rain. It was decided to postpone this for a few weeks.”


On May 31 the Herald reported,

  • “Several Sweet Valley residents attended the dance at Rosemead on the 23rd and reported a pleasant evening.”

On July 13 the Herald ran a story about the Dominion Day, 1913, celebration in Retlaw:

  • “The Dominion Day celebration came off splendid. It was a nice day and there was a crowd of 800 people, all of whom seemed to enter right into the spirit of the day.

“Winners of the Egg Race”

  • “1st Place ‒ Mrs D. Cyer”
  • “2nd Place ‒ Edna Hemphill.”

Edna Hemphill was the last child born to William Hemphill and Margret Buchanan in 1902 and is Grandma Charter‘s cousin. They were visiting Henry and Mary for the holiday. This was brought to my attention by the following messages on “

“At age of 92 I've discovered via your tree that granddad [William Hemphill] had a brother James. You are possibly the Charters that dad called cousins [Mary and this man’s father were cousins] that resided in the Fresno and Pasadena area around 1913-1916??”

“ropeslopemh, Apr 30, 2019”

“Your research has turned up William's brother James that indicates he died in 1909. I always thought my grandfather William was an only child. I note there are seemingly many family trees connected to great grandpa Andrew Hemphill. I also was unaware that that great great grandfather was James explaining why James was popular give name in my family. As I have mentioned before , my father Melville and grandfather William visited Charter cousins O/A 1916 . I have no verification of that. Keep doing a wonderful job! Thank you.”

“ropeslopemh, July 25, 2019”

“I've got the location info wrong for a certainty. I do know Grandfather and, Dad (Melville) rented a farm in Turlock area about the dates I had indicated. Grandfather had severe Asthma and thought the California climate would be better than Friday Harbor. That was one of the reasons he moved the family from Ontario Canada plus a free acquisition of vacated Homestead in Friday Harbor WA. He wasn't able to tolerate the dust during planting and harvesting though, so returned to Friday Harbor. By that time the six sons were running the homestead farm before three of them went into the Military ( WWI).. Dad mentioned visiting the Charter family in Ca during that period 1914- 1916”

“ropeslopemh, Sep 28, 2019”


Laying the steel rails in Alberta

Between 1905 and 1916, the CPR constructed some 900 miles of branch lines in Alberta. During the time, barely a week passed by without somebody floating a proposal for a railroad running from one far-flung corner of Alberta to another. While the vast majority remained dreams and schemes, by 1930 about a dozen rail lines crisscrossed Alberta’s south-eastern corner. Branch lines, such as the CPR’s Suffield subdivision, served as lifelines to vast spreads of barren grassland that proved largely unfit for anything on two legs.

In November 1910, The Lethbridge Herald reported that a survey for a long-rumored rail line, running from Kipp west of Lethbridge to Suffield, was underway. Seeing the possibilities for increased trade and access to services, several parties agitated for a Lethbridge connection to the Suffield branch. These included the Lethbridge Board of Trade, and the long-suffering farmers of the Sundial, Barney, Rosemead and Alby districts, which were located north and east of Lethbridge, who at the time faced a 40-mile haul to the nearest grain handling facility.

In May 1912, the CPR dispatched two crews to begin construction on the Suffield subdivision – one working eastward from the Barney district (later Retlaw), and the other westward from Suffield, with both to meet at a point along the Bow River before year’s end. Everyone involved seemed certain that a branch line from Suffield to Kipp was a given: All except the CPR … While rumors continued to surface about possible links to Lethbridge, the final destination of the Suffield subdivision remained a mystery well into 1913.

The proliferation of rail. The Suffield Subdivision (highlighted in yellow) was interrupted by WWI after it's construction reached Lomond. It reached Travers (highlighted just below Lomond) in 1914.

In April 1913, any hopes of a link up with Kipp were dashed when The Lethbridge Herald reported that the Suffield line would be veering northwest from the new community of Retlaw, towards an eventual link with Blackie on the Aldersyde subdivision. Retlaw, the community formerly known as Barney, was renamed to honor Walter R. Baker, the Secretary of the CPR (“Retlaw” is “Walter” spelled backwards).

Ad in 1914 The Lethbridge Herald announcing the date when lots would go on sale in Enchant, Travers and Lomond.

However, the CPR assured the farmers of the Alby and Sundial districts, and the vested interests in Lethbridge, that the Kipp-Suffield line would be built, once the Suffield-Blackie line was complete. Crews continued to work through the spring and summer of 1913, with the first trains running from Suffield to the Bow River at Terrace siding (now Cecil) in September.

With Retlaw growing by leaps and bounds, and on the verge of incorporation by early 1914, the CPR began laying track on another stretch north and east of the community, adjacent to the SALC main canal. By the late spring, crews had already constructed 27 more miles of track.

One settler’s child wrote, “Then in 1914, in Dad’s words, ‘Everything happened.’ World War I started, the United Grain Growers was organized, the railroad came, Lomond sprang up, and I, after adding another room to my shack, got married.”

And my father, Loy Merle Charter, was born. My sister Gail and I had different understandings, or misunderstandings, as whether he was born in Rosemead or Travers. Of course, both are right. Rosemead was a part of Henry’s homestead and he delivered all his children himself at home. Travers is correct as it was then the official postal district of the area at the time of his birth. There is no question over the date of his birth; May 17, 1914.

Map showing CPR towns on Suffield line highlighted in yellow.

The outbreak of global hostilities in 1914 put the brakes on any construction with work stopping at Lomond in early August 1914. This left the fate of the two remaining sidings in limbo. Work on the line did not resume until 1935 and was completed in 1940. By then however, much had changed.


CLICK on an image to see it full size

Map 23.1
Rosemead's proximity to the Littler Bow rver
Map 23.2
Map showing quarter-sections of the Henry and the Hemphills
Map 23.3
Map showing the new CPR towns on the Suffield line.
Map 23.4
Map with H.Charter's name and another Charter?? and R.C. Hemphill on their sections
Appx 23.1
Application for a Pre-emption on adjoining quarter-section
Appx. 23.2
Declaration regarding his homestead
Appx 23.3
Wittness's sworn statement regarding Henry's homestead.
Appx 23.4
Notice of patent (title) issuance on homestead
Appx 23.5
Registration of Death
James Hemphill
Appx 23.6
Application for pre-emption
James Hemphill

Primary Sources:

  • Book Committees of Sundial, Enchant, and Retlaw. Drybelt Pioneers of Sundial, Enchant, Retlaw. 1967, Sundial, Alberta. Digital publisher: University of Calgary. No date. Calgary.
  • Book Committee for Circle Hill, Enchant, Retlaw, Stone Lease, Sundial and Travers. Drybelt Pioneers, 2ed. 2001
  • Committee of residents to commorate Lomand’s Jubilee in 1966. History of Lomond and District. Southern Printing Co. Ltd., 1966, Lethbridge, Alberta. Digital publisher, University of Calgary. No date. Calgary.
  • Fridsen, Gerald. The Canadian Prairies: A History. University of Toronto Press. 1987. Toronto
  • Jones, David C. Empire of Dust: Settling and Abandoning the Prairie Dry Belt. The University of Alberta Press. 1987. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
  • Voisey, Paul. Vulcan: The Making of a Prairie Community. University of Toronto Press. 1988. Toronto