Wednesday Women’s Work – Postmasters in Saskatchewan

Every time I use search engines to look for the Hassan family in Saskatchewan, I get a ton of hits because of the town of Hassan (which has nothing to do with that family). This is one of the Hassan (town) tidbits I picked up while searching Our Roots.

From the book “People Places: Saskatchewan and It’s Names” by Bill Barry:

HASSAN (a name of biblical origin) post office near Sturgis had just two postmasters during its thirty-five years, but both of them served twice. Sarah Dorothy Seddon was in charge from 1932-41 and again in 1944-45; Constance Ellen Shauer held the post office in 1941-44, and again from 1945 until it closed in 1967.

Like Hassan, PLAIN VIEW (north of Melville) was an all-female office. Julia Strevell selected the name after her home in Plain View, Nebraska, and served for the office’s first two years (1904-06). Elizabeth Pekar sorted the mail for almost forty years, and her daughter-in-law Nellie Pekar took over and served until the office closed in 1969. That represents sixty-five years without a male postmaster — a genuine oddity.

Also consider that according to the 1906 census, Julia and Elizabeth were married women when they worked in the post office. Women working after marriage was not common in the early 1900s but it happened more than we think. They didn’t just go to work in large cities, but in frontier farm areas too. The men were needed to work the land, and old restrictions loosened in new places.


Friday Funny: As Lively A Man As You Would Expect

This item from the “Around Town” column in the January 16, 1906 issue of the Portage La Prairie Weekly tickled me. The breezy editorial tone is kind of hilarious, and the society page reporting always struck me as a bit quaint. Someone is visiting someone popular around town! There might be parties! Something is happening! Nowadays we’d be more likely to see a fluff piece about a guy suing the paper for mistakenly printing an obituary.

Walter Vansickle - He read his own obituary- PLAP Weekly 16 Jan 1906

Mr. Walter Vansickle of Swan River is visiting his sister Mrs. J.J. Darling in town. Walt was the man who was reported to have died by a Dauphin paper and copied into the Times, which must have made very interesting reading for him. He is about as lively a man as you would expect to see after his obituary notice has been writtin. -Treherne Times.

The last line is what really shines here. Is the writer saying that Walt is a carpe diem kind of guy, or that he is so boring he may as well be dead?

(Article found on Manitobia, which is a great resource for Manitoba history.)

Wednesday Women’s Work – Emily Lander, Saskatchewan’s First Telephone Operator

(Photo of Emily Lander courtesy of SaskTel)

While writing about City Battery and Irvin Hassan, I became curious about the history of the telephone in Saskatchewan. SaskTel, the province’s phone company has a timeline on their website and one of the points that piqued my interest was Emily Lander, Saskatchewan’s first telephone operator.

Emily was born in England in 1870. She and her sister Lucy lived in Regina with their older sister Edith and Edith’s husband William, a butcher. In 1887, Peter Lamont opened the first telephone exchange in Saskatchewan at his bookstore, and that was the year Emily became an operator.

Early switchboard operators had been mostly teenage boys because boys had worked in telegraph offices, and in large cities the job could be physically demanding. In some phone exchanges, workers had to climb ladders to reach the jacks at the top of the switchboard. But teenage boys did what teenagers do, and played pranks and were rude to callers. The Boston Phone Company was the first to hire a woman switchboard operator, Emma Nutt*, in 1878. By the time Emily became an operator, most operators were women. Customers liked that women had softer voices and were more polite than the boys had been. Of course, phone companies liked that they could get better work and pay them less than they had paid the boys.

In my online searching, I couldn’t find anything else about Emily Lander. I guess she did what most women who “disappear” from the record do, which was get married. I like to think that she lived into old age when she could just dial the phone without having to ask the operator to make the connection, and smiled at the wonder of it all.

*Tomorrow is Emma M. Nutt Day!

Ethel “Baby” Aspdin

In my read-through of stories about the Aspdins, I came across this Moose Jaw Times article which says that Mary and Thomas had three daughters who lived, and one unnamed one who was sickly and was born and died in 1893. Every time I see a record or a story or a grave for a child who died so young, I get a pull at my heart to mark their name because even though they lived such a short time they did touch the lives of others.

Baby Aspdin did have a name. The Saskatchewan Vital Statistics Index lists an Ethel Aspdin who was born to Thomas Aspdin and Mary Wihikanska on March 14, 1893. On August 1, 1893, Ethel Aspdin died.

Ethel is buried in the Moose Jaw Cemetery.

Thomas Aspdin, Mary Black Moon, and Indian Status

In 1876, after the defeat of General Custer, a group of Lakota led by Chief Black Moon settled near Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The chief’s daughter, Mary Black Moon, met an officer of the North West Mounted Police and married him. That officer was Thomas Aspdin, who would later be the Indian Agent for the Assiniboine reserve. Under the Indian Act, when Mary married a white man, she lost her Indian Status and could not live on the reserve and claim annuities under a treaty. In other words, she was legally “white.” The 1901 Canada census was the first to ask respondents about their “racial or tribal origin.”

Here are the Aspdins in the 1901 census:

The Aspdins - 1901 Census

Mary is listed as female, Red (colour indicating race), she’s the wife of the house, married, born the fifteenth of January 1861, 40 years old at the time of census, born in the US, arrived in Canada in 1877, naturalized as a citizen that year, and here is the weird part: her racial or tribal origin is listed as Scotch. It isn’t an accidental “dittoing” on the part of the enumerator, because Thomas is written down as being English.

It looks like it is time for me to go get some books on the Indian Act and what surrender of status meant for women. Since Mary Aspdin wasn’t considered an Indian under the Indian Act, did Thomas make up a white affiliation for her when the census was taken or was this commonplace among First Nations women married to white men?

Wednesday Women’s Work: Eugenie Dery, Bookkeeper

In 1891, 24-year-old Eugenie Dery was living in Montreal, working to support her widowed mother and her younger sister. When I saw her occupation – librarie teneur de livres – I immediately thought “Librarian!”

How hard was it to be a woman librarian in the 1890s?

Surprisingly, there were less barriers than I expected. Librarianship was seen as a suitable job for college educated women. They had the skill to do the work, and were hired due to the sexist beliefs of the day that they wouldn’t cause trouble and would be subordinate to (male) professors. Of course, they also broke into a new field for the reason that many women did: They were cheaper to hire than men. McGill University in Montreal conferred its first degrees to female graduates in 1888, and before that women had been admitted to women’s colleges. An educated woman could be working in an academic library.

Eugenie was not a librarian. Librarie is a bookseller, and teneur de livres is a bookkeeper. In the 1892-1893 Montreal Lovell’s Directory, Eugenie is listed as working for Dery & Co., a fancy goods store, so we can assume that she handled the financial aspects of a bookstore. While not common, a spinster handling administrative work for what seems like a family business would not have been unusual. On her burial record in 1905, she is still a teneur de livres. The witnesses who signed are Flavier Joseph Granger, a bookseller and Jean Baptiste Dery, a trader.

Eugenie died on the twelfth of November 1905, and is buried in Notre-Dame-Des-Neiges cemetery in Montreal.

Mystery Monday: The Man Who Took The Coat

The Man Who Took The Coat - 1906 Census

I came across The-Man-Who-Took-The-Coat in the 1906 Prairie Census when I was looking for the Hassans, and I had to know the story behind his name. Did he take a coat as part of a deal? Steal a coat? Bring a coat to someone?

When white men came to the Prairies and parcelled off the land and displaced the people already there, they moved the people of The Man Who Took The Coat and a chief called Long Lodge to an area outside Sintaluta, Saskatchewan and the Assiniboine Reserve was created under Treaty 4. Originally they had wanted the Crown to grant them land near Cypress Hills, which held great spiritual importance because of a terrible massacre that had claimed many of their people.

After a chief signed the treaty, Indian Affairs would give him $25, a silver medal, and a coat. However, they were calling him this before the treaty was signed. Could it be because he intended to sign and take the coat, or for another reason lost to time?

After The Man Who Took The Coat died, his brother, Carry-the-Kettle became Chief of the people who lived on that part of the Assiniboine Reserve, and became known as the Carry The Kettle Nation.

Here is what Deanna Ryder and Doug O’Watch of Carry The Kettle First Nation say about the origins of Carry-the-Kettle’s name:

After the death of Chief Long Lodge in 1884, the two Assiniboine bands were joined and leadership of both bands was assumed by The Man Who Took The Coat until his death in 1906. At this time Carry The Kettle succeeded his brother as Chief.

Doug O’Watch tells us how the Chief recieved his name:
“The indians were camped along a deep coulee. All at once a big enemy of Blackfeet or Bolld came to raid. ‘Come on, ladies, take the belongings to the coulee, stay, we’ll gaurd.’ The men built barricades of wood and stone. The boys played behind the barricade. A little boy goes back to his teepee. His mom took all. She left a kettle. He took it. He tied it around his neck. He played behind the barricade all during the battle that way with the kettle on his back. When the battle was over the men were retelling what had happened. ‘What about that little boy?’ After that he was known as Carry The Kettle.”

There are conflicting dates about The-Man-Who-Took-The-Coat and Carry-The-Kettle. Indian Agency reports from 1877 state that The-Man-Who-Took-The-Coat would have been a young chief, around 22 years old, which matches the age of The-Man-Who-Took-The-Coat in the 1906 census (the same man appears in the 1911 census with his wife). However, the Indian Affairs Annual Report for 1891 says that Chief Jack (The-Man-Who-Took-The-Coat) died that year, and Carry-The-Kettle became chief. Chief Jack’s widow is listed as having returns on crops.

1. The-Man-Who-Took-The-Coat died in 1891, and a different person with the same name appears on later censuses.

2. The-Man-Who-Took-The-Coat declared that “Chief Jack” was dead, Carry-the-Kettle headed the people, and The-Man-Who-Took-The-Coat lived until at least 1911.

Which is the truth?