Bill's Genealogy Blog

Bill Buchanan is a long-time genealogy enthusiast, living at Onoway, Alberta, Canada. This blog will describe my experiences as I research my family history and help others.

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Location: Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada

I am a retired online school teacher. During July 2007 - January 2010, and September 2011 - March 2014, I provided part-time support for This is very rewarding. I have helped others with the Family Tree and related FamilySearch products.
Since April 2010, I have served in the Edmonton Riverbend Family History Centre. I have a FHC blog at Bill's Family History Center Blog For information the Latter-day Saints and family history click

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Photos and Stories

Over the past few weeks I have made use of the Photos and Stories feature in Family Tree at I have spent many years gathering old family photos and stories, and this site was exactly what I was looking for to preserve them and hand them down to future generations. (You need a free FamilySearch account to access the Family Tree.)

Yesterday, I added the following story.

Life in the Log House on the McNeil Place

About 1943, my parents bought a 160 acre farm about 7 miles west of Breton, Alberta. They purchased the farm from the estate of a Mr. McNeil who had been murdered in Edmonton. It had a 2-room log house, a log barn, a root cellar, some bush and some fields. Any strange sounds or happenings were humorously ascribed to Mr. McNeil's Ghost. Dad put in a partition dividing the bedroom into two for more privacy. The roof was waterproofed by tarpaper covered by boards. Whenever it rained water dripped through the roof. Mom had several tin cans that she placed under the main drips.

My parents had two horses, "Pet" and "Dobbin", and a few cows. The main milk cow was called "Old Jersey", who produced a milk that was rich in cream that Mom would churn into butter, sometimes with help from us kids taking turns using the dasher. We had a German Shepherd dog called "Watch, a pair of mallard ducks called "Donald and Bloom", and various cats, rabbits, and chickens, and they all got along peaceably together.

Mom and Dad grew mostly wheat, oats and clover. We had no tractor, so all of the farm work was done by the strength of Dad's own muscles and those of his horses. Using his horses, Dad would cultivate the fields, seed them using his seed drill, and cut the hay with his sickle-bar mower or cut and bind the grain with his binder. I remember helping him to stook the sheaves (or bundles, as we called them). The wheat would scratch my face as lifted two bundles together and set them down to form part of a stook of six bundles. Sometimes us children would chase the field mice that liked to hide under the bundles, and undoubtedly eat the grain. I remember lifting one up by its tail and it turned and bit my hand. I also remember the stubble scratching my feet and ankles as I ran through the field in my bare feet.

On threshing day, a big old steel-wheeled tractor such as a Hart-Parr or Rumley would arrive pulling the threshing machine. Dad would have his horses hitched to his wagon and hay rack. Uncle Jack and a few neighbors would also arrive with theirs. They were our threshing crew, and they would be well fed for their hard work. Dad would repay the neighbors by serving in their threshing crews in turn. Threshing day was like a party with good food, lots of people, and these huge noisy tractors that shook the very earth under our feet, while nearly deafening our ears. On a quiet farm in the horse and buggy era around 1950, this was big-time excitement! Our usual entertainment consisted of visiting neighbors, playing cards or board games and listening to radio programs that arrived via staticky tube-type radios: Fibber McGee and Molly, Boston Blackie, Our Miss Brooks, The Green Hornet, The Shadow, Ozzie and Harriet, and I Was a Communist for the FBI. Mom and Dad also enjoyed reading but we children were too young for that entertainment, although they would read to us, and on Saturdays one of the Edmonton radio stations would read the weekly comic strips to us from the Edmonton Journal.

Dad's favorite horse, Pet was part Morgan, and was a wonderful animal. Dad could go hunting with her and fire his 30-30 Winchester from her back and she would hardly flinch. Mom and Dad always grew a garden and we picked wild berries. Dad supplemented our diet by hunting. And of course, food needed to be purchased in Breton, usually at Sexton's Store, where our family had a charge account. I can still remember how excited my mother was to see some tropical fruit for sale that she had not seen since WWII had started. It may have been bananas, but I don't remember what the fruit was, but just her excitement at seeing it in the store.

My brother Reg was about a year and a half younger than me and Lloyd was about another year and a half younger than him. Eddy and Judy were 8 and 10 years younger than me. Us three older boys in particular were able to do a lot of things together.

Our central heating system was a wood-fired cook stove. Our water system was a well perhaps 20 feet from the house. Instead of kitchen cupboards with a built in sink, there was a wash stand holding a bucket of water (with a ladle floating in the bucket), and an enameled wash basin, and under it was the slop pail for dirty water and table scraps. The cupboard was a piece of furniture maybe 4 feet wide by 7 feet high. Meal preparation and most other work in the kitchen happened on the kitchen table. The cupboard was just for storing dishes, pots and pans and ingredients. There were no electric appliances. Someone from 100 years previous would be puzzled by the radio but everything else would be quite familiar. Actually there was another anomaly. About 1950 Dad bought Mom a gasoline powered wringer-washer.

Explosives were often used to remove stubborn stumps. I don't know where Dad got the blasting cap and the fuse but he decided to show us what effect a blasting cap would have on a tin can. He waited until we were all safely on the other side of the slab fence, lit the fuse, and dropped it into a jam can, and ran the 20 feet to join us. The explosion ripped the can into tiny shreds. A valuable lesson was learned by all of us that day. If a tiny blasting cap could do that kind of damage, don't play with dynamite.

During the winter Dad would work in the lumber camps for wages. He used an axe and a Swede saw (a bow saw). He wore leather mitts with woolen liners. He must have been terribly cold. Pet also served as his skid horse to skid the logs to the pick-up point.

Dad's father William Andrew Buchanan, whom we called Pa, died the year before I started school. He lived in a shack behind the house of Jack and Tina, He had a blacksmith shop there, and I remember seeing him work there with glowing hot iron, pounding and shaping it with his hammer and anvil. Sometimes he would let me turn the bellows while he worked. He could even use his hammer and anvil to weld two pieces of iron together which seemed somewhat amazing. He was hospitalized for a stroke, and he was recovering well. When the nurse delivered his tray of food he was joking with her about going home the next day. When she returned to pick up his tray a little later, she found him dead. I can still remember a few details of his funeral in Wetaskiwin.

In my Grade One year, my parents boarded me with the Alfred Bensons, a childless couple in Breton for the winter. I remember spending Christmas with my family at the Green Squirrel Lumber Camp at Alder Flats. The camp was on the Walberg property, and was named after my brother Lloyd, who scampered around in his green parka. 

When I was in Grade 2, Reg and I walked about 2 miles each way to catch the school van. This was nothing exceptional, as my parents and their parents also had walked to school. On one occasion Reg and I decided that we would play hookey. Instead of walking all the way to Kubejko's corner, we played until we thought it was lunch time and ate our lunch and then played some more. We were surprised that our mother figured out that we had not spent the day at school, when we arrived back home about noon. It was hard to put one over on Mom! I believe it was later that winter that my parents rented a house in Breton, while the Halucza family lived in our house and looked after our animals for the winter. Mom and Dad gave them the calf they had raised.

The next year Jack found a job in Edmonton with Standard Iron Works, and he and Tina moved to Edmonton. We moved into the new house that Dad and Jack and their father had built on Jack's farm, the former Charlie Broughton place. Mom and Dad now had two farms to run.


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