I will soon be posting some stories regarding life in the 1940s on a seismic crew, from a woman’s point of view. The five years Sheldon and I spent roaming around Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba with the oil crews were years never to be forgotten. Exciting, enjoyable, challenging, funny and scary – all terms applied at one time or another. At the age of 23 we entered the field life of western oil exploration, young and inexperienced and “rar’n to go”. It was, as the saying goes, to be a steep learning curve. We left the field for the office five years later, a family of four. In those five years we learned a great deal, both about ourselves and about life skills in general. Along the way we built deep and enduring friendships. The years have now taken Sheldon and many of our peers, but some 60 years later I am lucky enough to have some of the old friends from those crew days still with me.
So what has this to do with a Western prairie town? You will soon see. The events in some of my following postings will be set in surroundings and times completely unfamiliar to many of you. Not wanting to write a history on the social, economic and political times of the 1940s (nor capable of doing so!), I decided instead to introduce you to Standard – a real and quite typical prairie town. Try to hold the picture of this town in your mind. When we meet Davidson, Saskatchewan, as seen in May of 1945, remember what you have garnered about Standard’s streets, sidewalks, homes, businesses and community.
Standard is located on the rolling prairies some 50 miles beyond the east edge of Calgary. About 100 years ago conditions were ripe for bringing about its birth. A new farming area was being opened up by the CPR. Danish farmers from Denmark and the United States were looking for land. A railway ran through the area and there was almost daily service to Calgary. There was a small coal mine just south of town. The CPR opened a station, using the kind of building found on their lines all over the West. This consisted of a two-storey building which had the first floor opening out on the platform by the tracks. This floor consisted of a large freight room, the station agent’s office, the ticket booth, and a passenger waiting room. Stairs led to the second floor which housed the station agent and his family.
A boardwalk sidewalk led up the slope to the level above, where a cluster of buildings sprang up as the town grew. Soon grain elevators were built along the train tracks. These were owned by different grain companies to which the farmers could sell their grains. Eventually there were seven or eight such elevators — prairie giants — landmarks of the West.
Year by year the village grew. One main street ran north and south. It was wide. It had to be, to enable a horse-drawn wagon to turn around when it needed to! To pick a date in my memory, say 1930, I remember a main street with two grocery stores, and seemingly just one of everything else: drugstore, butcher store, bakery, hotel, bank, post office, lawyer’s office, telephone office, pool hall with barber and soda bar, and doctor’s office. On side streets one could find a blacksmith, a livery barn, a school, a community hall and a few other cottage industries. One lady had a beauty parlour in her house; another gave music lesson in hers. There was one truck driver in town. Most freight was still hauled by horse and wagon. On the northwest edge of town was the Lutheran church, the only church in Standard. Nearby was a cemetery, a small park, and a ball park. The rest of the town consisted of private homes of all shapes and sizes. About ½ mile north was a house owned by a nurse. She ran a little maternity home to handle local births which needed more care than most homes could manage.
Standard’s present population is recorded as about 300. I could not find a population record for the years I am targeting, but there may not be much difference between 2011 and 1940. There are new districts, so all in all more houses – but as someone pointed out, there used to be big families in small homes, and now we have small families in larger homes. The village has changed as the decades slipped by. In the 1920s and 30s the country roads were poorly graded and very lightly maintained. Grain was hauled to the elevators by horse-drawn wagon, and coal hauled back to the farm the same way. During much of the winter the roads from the farms to the village were impassable by car so horse-drawn sleighs were used for the trip. As roads were raised, graded and gravelled, travel changed from horse-drawn vehicles to cars and trucks. Livery barns went out of business. The first garage opened for business in 1920, but the first service station not until 1950—and so it went.
Perhaps one way of looking at this is to realize that we are discussing not just the town of Standard, but the community of Standard. The town was (and is) the hub. The farms around are the spokes, and together they formed a live and vibrant unit. Everyone knew, or knew of, everyone else. As it was in 1930, so it was in the 1940s, and so it still is today. Any community affair—be it a national holiday, a sports fundraising event, a shower for a bride-to-be—could as easily be chaired and organized by someone from one of the district farms as by someone from the village. It was so in the early years and is so today.
There is a saying, “Nothing is all good, or all bad”. There are good things and bad things about any place one calls home. However, even while realistically acknowledging this, I strongly applaud the positive side of the community living that Standard represented to me in my early years, and still does today. When we move on to visit the seismic crews in Davidson, Saskatchewan, it will be interesting to see if echoes of the early Standard will be found. Join me in a month or so, when I revisit the Davidson of May, 1945.
Postscript: Since posting this entry, a reader has sent me this link to a photo of Standard in about 1930.