Chapter 12: Early Families of Tofield “D-F”

Diserlais p.242
Dunham p.243
Ferguson p.245
Francis p. 248

Chapter Eleven: Here and There
Chapter Twelve: Early Families “G-I”
Table of Contents


The committee responsible for the compilation of this book felt that for practical reasons the accounts of pioneer families should be limited to those families who were in this area by 1910. After this date, a large influx of immigrants entered the Tofield district; the pioneer era was over.

Members of the pioneer families were asked to submit their family histories. If direct contact was impossible friends of the family were consulted.

Since the excellent history of the Bardo district, “Pioneers of Bardo, Alberta” by Ragna Steen and Magda Hendriksen contains biographies of the families in that district, no attempt has been made to duplicate this material. We are well aware, however, of the invaluable contribution made to Tofield area by the Bardo pioneers.
Those submitting biographies were encouraged to record family legends and experiences as well as the relevant statistics and dates. While this anecdotal approach has enlarged the book, thereby increasing its cost, we feel that the spirit of the pioneer era has been accurately presented for future generations.

Back to Top

The Diserlais Family

Miss Madeline Dumont was born in Calgary in 1887. Later that same year, the family moved to Pincher Creek where Mr. Dumont was employed on a horse ranch and where, a few years later he was killed while breaking horses.
Mrs. Dumont with her family of three small girls and one boy came to Tofield in 1895 where Madeline (one of the small girls) has lived ever since.

Mr. Jack Diserlais was born in Manitoba and in the early 1900’s, came west where he homesteaded N.E. 1/4 of Sec. 12-52-19-W4th. In 1905 Jack Diserlais and Madeline Dumont were married. The wedding took place at St. Albert; the honeymoon was a trip to Jack’s homestead in a buckboard. Jack lived on his homestead until his death in 1948.

While living on his farm, he broke the required number of acres to get his patent but spent much of his time trapping muskrats, weasels, mink and lynx. He also had a sideline which enhanced the family finances cutting willow pickets and stove-wood. Before the gas line came to Tofield, stove wood was much in demand; Jack delivered hundreds of loads of nicely split wood all ready for use. He was a welcome visitor when the woodbox supply was running low.

Madeline Diserlais remained on the farm for some time after her husband’s death, but in 1960,moved into Tofield where she still lives.

Madeline and Jack Diserlais had eight children, four boys and four girls, Katherine (Katie) who died in 1967, Sarah of Ryley, Julia of Ardrossan, Myrtle of Edmonton, Pat and Sosi of Tofield, Clifford and John of Stewart Crossing, Yukon.

Pg. 243

Back to Top

The Dunham Family

Around the turn of the century, times were rough in Ontario for tenant farmers. Rents were high, prices low, and the future held no promise. For this reason Mr. and Mrs. John Dunham and six of the nine members of the family left Woodstock, Ontario in the spring of 1905 and came west to Alberta. They travelled by C. P. R. colonist car to Wetaskiwin via Calgary. They then moved by team and wagon to the Tofield district and lived a time with friends until they could get established.

They filed for homestead on all of section 18, in Township 50, Range 19, W4 and as soon as shelter could be erected they took up residence on their homesteads. They never talked much about the hardships they endured but rather of the good times, the social life, and the house dances when friends came many miles by wagon and sleigh and took two or three days for the trip.

In 1906 their daughter Harriet (Mrs. Henry Lee) and her husband and family also came west to settle in the district. In 1908 their eldest daughter (Mrs. Robert Gee) and her husband and family also came in and settled in the Kingman district.

The oldest member of the family (Mr. John Dunham) had left Ontario several years previously, travelling to Seattle and thence to the Yukon to take part in the Gold Rush.

What Stan Dunham remembers best of the early years was the roads or rather lack of them. The road allowances were seldom passable and trails followed the line of least resistance. But even the least resistance was quite formidable in the way of mud holes, sloughs and creeks. The one main east and west trail come through the yard and passed close to the house. As the land became settled the roads were fenced off, and the road allowances opened up, but it was not until the large machines became available for road building that the trails became only a memory.

Pg. 244

The problem of getting to school in the early years was formidable. A few rode horseback or drove but most walked. In the winter, if one team had been through, the road was considered open, and blocked roads could not be claimed as a reason for being absent.

Stan Dunham owns and farms his grandparents’ homestead and this land has been in the family name for more than sixty years. He also uses the cattle brand that his grandfather used and had registered in his name in 1912.

Pg. 245

Back to Top

Mark Ferguson

In this, its Diamond Jubilee, the town of Tofield is indeed fortunate in having a living reminder of its early history in the person of Mark Ferguson, one of the original councillors of the town of Tofield.

Mark was born in Granby, Quebec in 1870. When he was twenty-one, he came west to Manitoba. After a return trip to Granby he came to Alberta in 1904 and homesteaded north of the present town of Ryley.

In 1906, he moved to what was to be Tofield. The roadbed for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway had just been surveyed. It passed near the Post Office of Tofield, one mile east of the present townsite, and here, in the pioneer village were: W.C. Swift’s lumber yard, Mr. Mahaffey’s restaurant, R.O. Bird’s hardware, C.E. Jamieson’s Drug Store, Merchants’ Bank, Dr. McKinnon’s Drug Store, Logan Hotel, Fred McHeffey’s Blacksmith Shop, Cress and Harper’s General Store, and A.J.H. McCauley’s real estate office.

The first town of Tofield soon moved to a site north of the present school due to the fact that Messrs. Lee, Craft and Gallinger had surveyed the new townsite there and had offered a free business location to anyone who would use it. Thirty business places, among them Mark Ferguson’s harness shop were soon established there. Incorporation as a village followed in 1907 with G.B. Harper, W.C. Swift and Joshua Noland as the first councillors and A.J.H. McCauley as secretary.

In 1908, the present townsite was surveyed and the town moved once more — this time to its present location. Mark again moved his harness shop and there it stayed until 1918.

On June 20, 1909 the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway reached Tofield, much to the joy of its inhabitants. The population grew rapidly and in October, 1909, Tofield was incorporated as a town.

Pg. 246

Mark Ferguson was then a member of the town council; the other members of which were: J.0. Letourneau (Mayor), R.D. Emery, A. F. Fugl, J.B. Harper, and A. Maxwell with A.J.H. McCauley, as secretary.

Mark well remembers the day the new town was officially named. In his own words. “The council was gathered in Alex McCauley’s office. The name of the town had to be decided. At the suggestion of Mr. Cookson, since the post office east of town had been called Tofield in honour of Dr. J.H. Tofield, pioneer doctor of this area, it was the unanimous choice of the council for the name of the new town.” It isn’t everyone who can say he was there when the town was named!

Mark remembers vividly the arrival of the 1909. This was an event of truly great importance to the pioneer settlement. The steel reached Tofield on June 30, giving the inhabitants a special reason for celebrating on July lst, already the traditional sports day.

Mr. Charlie Cress was appointed the first station agent here.

Mark served two terms on the town council. He remembers the building of the original covered skating rink in 1910 by Mr. Ben Barkwell and the addition to it which housed first one., and then two, sheets of curling ice. Mark himself was persuaded to take up curling by Frank McCauley, nephew of A.J.H. McCauley. He had been an ardent curler ever since though the past few years he has curled “behind the glass.” Only a few years ago, he was on the rink skipped by Thomas Jacobs who won a “first.” The resulting trophy sits proudly in his living room. He has been made a life member of the Tofield Curling Club and in 1959 attended, as an honoured guest, the Golden Jubilee Banquet of the Curling Club.
Mark was highly interested in the Tofield’s famous “Silver Seven” hockey team and often practised with them.

Pg. 247

While not a charter member of Palestine Lodge No. 46, A. F. & A. M., which was instituted in 1909, Mark joined it in 1916 and has been made a life member.

His reminiscences of life in early Tofield are fascinating. He has seen horses replaced by tractors. He gave up his harness shop in favour of a tractor with which he did breaking and threshing, thus keeping up with the times.

He remembers Tofield’s “industrial site” north of the present east railway crossing. Mark also remembers another of Tofield’s early industries — the brickyard founded by J.W. Robinson on Jack Cookson’s land.

Tofield’s “gas boom” of 1912 is also among Mark’s recollections. The first gas well was right behind the town hall (south of L.W. Ferguson’s present house); the second was drilled in Tofield’s “industrial site”, the third and most productive, was west of the present Baptist Church. On the strength of the future promised by this gas well, Tofield surveyed town lots for a considerable distance out of town, laid water pipes and prepared for a big future. Mark says two-inch pipe was laid from the gas-producing well to the C.N. station, with 3/4 inch pipes upright at intervals of eight or ten feet. At night, the gas at the ends of the pipes made a Flare Path lighting up main street. Sad to relate, these lights grew dimmer and dimmer and finally flickered out; at last, only mud came up from the gas well. The boom was over. It was to be a long time before water pipes were to be used in Tofield. Probably, Mark thinks, the well might have been kept in production by use of modern techniques.

In 1928, the homesteading urge sent Mark to Athabasca, where he filed on a homestead north of town. Here he stayed until 1935., enjoying the hunting and fishing in this pioneer area.

In 1935 he returned to Tofield to manage the farm of Mrs. T.E. Seale of the Lakeshore district.

Pg. 248

In 1951 he moved into Tofield, retiring to a quiet life. He is deeply interested in all that pertains to Tofield. No doubt he often compares our modern town with the one of 1909 of which he was councillor.

In 1968, Mark was the recipient of his 50-year pin from Palestine Lodge.

Back to Top

The Francis Family

Jim Francis, pioneer of the Tofield district, and an active member of the community for many years was born in Tofield of a pioneer family.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Francis, Jim’s parents, were born in Mitchell, Ont., where they grew up and obtained their early education. Later, Mr. Francis attended the University of Toronto from which he obtained his B.A. and M.A. degrees. He taught for several years in Ontario before coming to Estevan, Sask. in 1891. Here he homesteaded for three years but found farming conditions somewhat less than ideal. Jim recalls his father’s comment on Estevan as being, “If the grain wasn’t blown out it was dried out.” In 1894, the Francis family left for Edmonton.

In Edmonton, Mr. Francis taught for a year, but July 1895 found the Francis family again on the move. This time they came to the Tofield district and settled on S.E. 1/4 of Sec. 34, Tp. 51, R. 19, just across the road (south) from the present residence of Mr. and Mrs. John Wood. On this farm, Jim Francis was born. From here Mr. Francis drove five days a week to teach in the MacKenzie School No. 234, one of the earliest schools in the province.

In July of 1897 the Francis family again moved; this time the move was to the site of their permanent home, at the south end of Beaver Hill Lake on S.E. 1/4 of Sec. 4, Tp. 52, R. 18. Here Mr. and Mrs. Francis spent the remainder of their lives and took an active part in the community affairs. Mrs. Francis was particularly

Pg. 249

active where in church work the choir, and Ladies’ Aid were her special fields of endeavour. Mr. Francis taught in Tofield School for several years. He was also interested in public affairs, and held office in several community organizations. Mr. and Mrs. Francis raised a family of ten children, three of whom are still living: Mrs. Louise Lovell lives at White Rock, B.C., while Arthur and Jim still reside in Tofield.

Gertrude, the eldest of the Francis family, married and moved to England where she spent the rest of her life.
John married Olive Shrigley, who still lives in Edmonton.
Mary married Earl Moore; they had two children, John and Hazel. John is well known in Tofield for his many years of leadership in the Calf Club and his interest on pure-bred cattle. He and his wife Evelyn (McRoberts) have three daughters, Marjorie, Teresa (Terri), and Judith (Judy). Hazel (Mrs. Ivan May) lives in Belleville., Ontario. She has two children: Garry and Marilyn.

George Francis married Laura Skinner. Two of their sons died while in their youth, but three of their children are still living. Glen and his wife, Iris (Bjornson), and their children, David, Carol Ann, and Ilene live in the Bardo district as do Pauline and her husband, Charles Rude, and their children, Linda, Lois, Brian, Darlene, Shirley and Barry. Sharon, Mrs. Neil Wease, lives in Ontario. Alana, daughter of Alan (deceased) lives with her grandmother.

Louise Francis married W.H. Lovell. Their children were Alfred, Robert, and Jean. The Lovells have lived at White Rock, British Columbia for several years.

Arthur Francis married Irma Shupe. They live just north of the Tofield creamery..

Pg. 250

Jim recalls that his first school days beginning in September, 1902, were spent in the log school house which was later used as the Methodist Church. Eventually a new school was built on the S.E. corner of the N.E. 1/4 of 36-50-19 which the Francis family attended The next move of classrooms was to the store above the R.O. Bird hardware in Tofield and finally in the fall of 1909, the students moved into the first brick school in Tofield. Here Mr. Jas. A. Younie was principal, whom Jim remembers as a fine person and an excellent teacher. At the age of 13, Jim left school to assist in the work of the farm which included herding sheep. His pioneer blood called Jim in Nov. 1915 to seek a homestead about six miles north-west of the present Dawson Creek, B.C. At that time, the railway reached only as far as Smoky River so to reach his homestead, Jim became involved in a 210 mile walk, via Grande Prairie. This jaunt took six days; with a 40 pound pack and a rifle to carry, Jim welcomed the end of the trail.

Once having reached his homestead, Jim says, “I bet the government $10 against a quarter section of land that I could live on it for six months out of each of three years, break thirty acres of ground, and build a suitable dwelling, and I won my bet.”

World War I was raging during these years and in 1918, Jim was posted to England until September, 1919. On his way home he received his discharge in Ottawa and went to see his Ontario relatives in Mitchell,Ontario. While there he met not only his relatives, but his future wife who at that time was Miss Marie Skinner.

On returning to the west, Jim spent a short time on his homestead and “proved it up” as required by government regulations. In June, 1920, he returned to Tofield where in the fall of 1920, he became a member of the Tofield Agricultural Fair Board.

In 1927 he was elected an elder in the Tofield United Church, an office he has held ever since. In 1933 he helped to form the Tofield Mutual Telephone Co.,for which he was president and “trouble shooter” for several years.

Pg. 251

Mr. and Mrs. Francis were married in 1923 and raised a family of six – five boys and a girl. The entire family was active in church and community activities.

Children of James Francis family were : Earl, Reed, Keith, Jack, Josephine and Gary. Earl died in his early manhood. Keith married Lorna Hennessey who died shortly after their daughter, Margaret was born. Later, Keith married Ada Burkholder. With their daughters, Cheryl and Heather, they are still residents of Tofield. Jack and his wife, the former Joyce Hill, live in Edmonton. Their children are Dale and Arla. Josephine, now Mrs. Ward Trotter, lives in Ontario. She has one small daughter, Pearl. Reed, his wife Evelyn(Attwell) and children live in the Fort Saskatchewan area. Gary married Adrienne Kirby. They have one son, James.

In 1957, the Francis family left their farm at the South end of Beaverhill Lake and came to live in Tofield where Jim has been engaged in carpentry. He was chairman of the building committee of the Tofield United Church when the congregation decided to build a new church, and it was under his direction that the present Tofield United Church was built. He has taught Sunday School for twenty years and has been its superintendent. He was a charter member of the Tofield Historical Society and has been active in preparing exhibits for its museum. He is also a member of the Co – op and the Tofield Community League and the Tofield Curling Club.

On three occasions, he has been a delegate to the General Council of the United Church – in Sackville, N.B., in London, Ontario and Windsor, Ontario.

Recently Mr. and Mrs. Francis have journeyed to Eastern Canada, to Dawson City and to England. On these trips Jim has been able to indulge his hobby of photography, the excellent results of which he is always willing to share with friends. The illustrations in this book are chiefly from his camera.

Pg. 252

He was a member of the Jubilee Committee of 1959 which directed the activities of Tofield’s Golden Jubilee year; also a member of Tofield’s Centennial Committee (1967).

All his life, Jim Francis has been an integral part of the life of the Tofield area. He has always been generous in sharing his talents and energy. Two expressions heard frequently in the Tofield are, “Ask Jim Francis; he’ll know” and “Ask Jim Francis, he’ll help!”

Back to Top
Chapter Eleven: Here and There
Chapter Twelve: Early Families “G-I”
Table of Contents