Chapter 12: Early Families of Tofield: “C”
Note Re: BIOGRAPHIES OF PIONEER FAMILIES
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.
Mr. Campion was born in 1884 in the Duhamel district. His mother, widowed when Dolphus was a year old, carried on the freighting business begun by her husband. With horse-drawn cart two trips were made each summer to Calgary hauling supplied for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Sixteen carts with two riders in charge composed the train of carts which Dolphus remembers. He recalls the loss of one canvas-wrapped load off the ferry over the Red Deer river at the site of the present city of Red Deer. The load, he remembers, was recovered and reloaded before the train resumed its journey.
Dolphus has another amusing memory concerning a ferry, this time on the North Saskatchewan River at Edmonton. The ferryman, thinking his load of horse drawn vehicles complete, pulled away from the shore leaving one horse and buggy to wait the next trip. The horse felt differently about being left; as the ferry began to move he made a plunge, landing with all four feet on the ferry. The lady driver had but little choice; she had to hang on, sit well in the center of the seat to balance the floating buggy and hope for a safe landing on the other shore.
In 1907, Dolphus Campion married Esther Dumong of New Norway and settled in the Hay Lakes district. Here he took up freighting trips which frequently took eight days and were not without their difficulties. Once, when a horse balked half-way up a hill refusing to go further, another teamster came to Dolphus’ assistance by the strange device of putting sand in the balky horse’s mouth, he succeeded in distracting its attention and, forgetting its balkiness, the horse proceeded up the hill.
Moving to Tofield district in 1910, the Campions homesteaded the north-east quarter of section 4, township 51, range 19, W 4th. Seven children were born to the marriage, four sons and three daughters. All four boys served in World War II, one being killed in action.
Mrs. Campion died in 1924, Mr. Campion remained in the Hasting Lake district taking an active part in community life, serving on the school board and in other organizations. In addition to farming, Mr. Campion kept a small herd of cattle; he also trapped and fished.
Retiring from farming, he bought a half-acre of land in the southwest corner of W. Fantaine’s land on which he built a small house in a poplar grove. Travellers on Highway 14 would often see Mr. Campion enjoying either the sunshine or shade according to the weather. Here he remained for 12 years before moving to a small house near Lindbrook Store in 1964. Until recently Mr. Campion regarded a walk from Lindbrook to Tofield as just a bit of exercise! In his life span of 83 years, Mr. Campion had seen, and been a part of, the development of the West.
The Cookson Family
George Cookson was born in Lancashire, England, August 17, 1837. He married Louisa Lloyd and to this union were born seven children; five sons, John, George, Thomas, Herbert, Edmund, two daughters, Annie and Ida. Herbert died in infancy.
It was in 1890 that John who was the eldest in the family decided to come to Canada. His first stop was in Manitoba, where he spent a year before coming to Alberta. The first railway tracks were being constructed between Calgary and Edmonton and he obtained employment with the C.P.R. A year later his brother George also decided to come to Canada and he arrived in Calgary on his 23rd birthday. For awhile the brothers worked in Calgary for the James B. Little brickyard. Shortly thereafter, this company moved to Edmonton and the Cooksons worked for them here also. Early in 1893, Thomas Cookson informed his parents that he wished to join his brothers in Alberta. It was then that the family all decided to emigrate to Canada. Jessie Porter who was engaged to John Cookson came with. Prior to the family’s arrival, John and George had filed on their homesteads and erected a log house in readiness. The family arrived in Edmonton in December, 1893; on December 12, 1893, John and Jessie were married in the old McDougall Church which is still standing. It was bitterly cold at this time of the year and John was unable to obtain a marriage license in Edmonton. He walked to Fort Saskatchewan to get one, a distance of some 17 miles. The Cookson family made the trip to Tofield shortly after their arrival in Edmonton. The weather was intensely cold: the first night they found shelter in an old abandoned trapper’s cabin. The mud had fallen from the chinks between the logs so the travellers hung blankets around. There was an old stove in the shack, and they cut enough firewood to keep themselves warm – the temperature that night was 62 below.
John stayed in Tofield to assist his family to establish themselves and to prove up their homesteads.
George Jr. remained at his job in Edmonton. His wages were needed to assist the whole family. He stayed on in Edmonton working until 1898 and it was during these years he worked for the Edmonton Cartage Co. which was owned by Matthew McCauley. It was in 1900 that Annie Cookson was married to Matthew McCauley, who was the first Mayor of the town of Edmonton.
After his marriage to Annie Cookson, Matthew McCauley lived a few years on the shore of Beaverhill Lake on what is now part of Dan Dodds’ farm which later sold to Henry Wood. He became warden at Fort Saskatchewan jail. After his retirement there, he moved to Sexsmith. Two sons, George and John, were born to this second marriage. Annie McCauley, widow of Matthew passed away in 1947, following a brief illness. For the last fifteen years of her life, she lived in a world of silence, for she had become stone deaf.
In the early years, the home of George Cookson, Sr. became the centre of religious activities in the Tofield area. The Cooksons had obtained an organ from the first Anglican Mission in Edmonton and this was a welcome addition to the church services. Mr. Cookson was an accomplished organist and many happy hours were spent gathered around the old organ for a get-together and a sing-song.
George Cookson Sr., was the first postmaster and the post office was located in his home, one mile east of the town’s present location. When it came to naming the town he was approached and was asked if he would allow them to name the town Cookson. However, being a modest man, he felt that he didn’t deserve this and suggested that the town be named after Dr. Tofield. This was a good choice, for here was a very dedicated gentleman, loved and respected by all who knew him.
On May 17, 1909, the Cookson family were sorrowed with the death of their beloved mother, Louisa Cookson. Following the death of his wife, George Sr. went to
live with his son and daughter-in-law, John and Jessie. He passed away in 1924 at the age of 87 years.
George Cookson, Jr. was married on June 27, 1905, to Winnifred Whillans who had come west with her family from Ottawa. Her father, Rev. Robert Whillans performed the ceremony at Tofield. George and Winnifred had four children, John, Arthur, Edna and Helen. Edna who was the eldest in the family tragically passed away from spinal meningitis at the age of 8 years. Helen married Art Lampitt and is now living in Sherwood Park John joined the Edmonton city Police force and today has attained the rank of Detective-Sergeant. Arthur joined the R.C.M.P. and is now the Chief Police for the city of Regina.
George Cookson passed away November 13, 1952, and his wife Winnifred on December 5, 1960.
Ada Cookson went to Victoria where she received her training in the school of nursing. She served overseas during the first World War; then went to San Francisco where she remained until her death in 1944.
Edmund Cookson married Olive Ingram on March 4, 1917. Their homestead was the Lindbrook district. Edmund passed away on February 14, 1925 from acute appendicitis. He was only 42 years of age at his death, and he left three small children, Lloyd, Margaret and Nola.
Thomas Cookson also had a homestead in the Lindbrook area directly across the road from his brother Edmund. Tom served overseas with the Canadian Army during the first world war. It was while he was in England that he met and married Mabel Taylor on February 2, 1919. He brought his bride here until 1934, but due to illness and war injuries, they sold the farm and moved to Victoria where Tom passed away in 1945. His widow Mabel, now lives in Sudbury, Ontario where her son Cecil Cookson and daughter Mrs. Eileen Spiers reside.
The Cookson family were always active in activities of the United Church; both John and George served on the church board and were elders for some time. They were both members of the choir. Mrs. Jessie Cookson taught a Sunday School class for over forty years and was also president of the Ladies’ Aid for many years During the early days, their home was open for the student ministers of all denominations. John and Jessie lived on their farm south-east of Tofield until 1953, when they took up residence in Tofield.
In 1943 John and Jessie celebrated their golden anniversary. A program and reception were held in their honor in the United Church. John Cookson passed away February 9, 1956 at the age of 89 years. His widow Jessie passed away, August 16, of the same year at the age of 93 years.
The Coombes Family
Editor’s note: The material for this article was obtained in an interview with Mr. and Mrs. Coombes in 1964.
Mr. and Mrs. Chester Coombes pioneered in the Ketchamoot district. Mr. Coombes came to Tofield as a two-year old in 1894. He had come with his family by covered wagon from Colusa County, California, where he was born, so his earliest memories are of that long trek.
His parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Coombes, left their California home in 1893 for land in the state of Washington. They spent the winter in the town of Fairfield, near Spokane. During this interval they heard of the wonderful homestead county in the Beaverhill Lake area. When spring came the family set off by covered wagon for Beaverhill Lake. Over the mountains they went, and Mrs. Coombes had many moments of terror when the high mountain bridges had to be crossed. She refused to ride across, preferring to trust her own feet rather than those of the horses.
One of Chester Coombes’ first memories is of himself, as a two year old boy, “helping” his father drive the team across tricky places while his mother shepherded his sisters, Mabel, Ethel and Amy along on foot.
Soon the mountains gave way to the rolling prairie, and parkland. When the little party reached Lacombe they were taken in tow by a land guide, E. Thompson, who was paid by the Dominion Government for guiding families to homesteads. On the trip to the Beaverhill Lake Country, Mr. Thompson’s services were shared by three other families, the Charlie King, Gene King and Hugh Gallagher families. They arrived at their destination in September, 1894. Already here, Mr. Coombes remembers, were the John Johnson,Lerbekmo, Haugen, Anderson, Erickson, and Flaaten families. Very shortly many other families were added to the community.
Just after the Coombes family had got settled, the Joe Dutton family who had lived here in a dugout for a short time, decided to return to Oregon. They purchased the canvas and the framework which had supported it on the Coombes covered wagon to make their own covered wagon more comfortable for the return journey. On their safe arrival at Corvallis, Oregon, they had a photograph of themselves and equipage taken, and sent a print of it to the Coombes family.
The Coombes had arrived in September and in October, another little sister made her appearance; she was the first white child born in the Ketchamoot and Bardo areas. She was named Eva. In due course, Margaret, Leslie and Myrtle arrived, to complete a family of eight children. Of these, Ethel (Mrs. Violet) and Chester are deceased, but the others survive. Mrs. Brown (Ethel) lives near Bawlf, as does Mrs. Jensen (Amy) while Mrs. Garvia (Eva) and Mrs. Johnson (Margaret) are in Orbelle, California. Leslie lives at Vulcan, Alberta.
The Coombes family were fortunate in finding land with a residence – in fact two residences – already built. Before they moved to the Amisk Creek area,the Hugh Gallagher family occupied one of the log houses on the farm on the S.E. 1/4 of 16-50-19-W4th and Coombes family lived in the other. The good fortune of finding a ready shelter was the result of scmeone else’s ill fortune. The gentleman who had constructed these log houses with sod roofs, also had another occupation. According to legend, he was a horse-rustler in traditional western style. Mr. Harry Neal, being the rustler’s victim, did not accept his loss calmly. The rustler was convicted, and automatically lost his homestead rights. One cannot “prove up” a homestead while incarcerated.
As well as provisions for human habitation, the Coombes farm boasted a good log barn. A well, the source of which was a spring, was a most valuable asset of the farm. There was no school near the Coombes residence. The older girls stayed in town (the first
Tofield) with the family of J.0. Letourneau, and attended school north of town. Later when Anderson school was built, the Coombes children attended there. Mr.Harry Erwin and Mr. Jas. Younie are the two first teachers of the Anderson school, and Mr. Coombes remembers them, as well as the twice-a-day five-mile walk in quest of an education.
Mr. Coombes remembers clearly the early farming days of Tofield. He remembers starting farming with a team of oxen. With these powerful, if slow, beasts,he recalls breaking the prairie sod on his present farm. He borrowed a seed drill to sow his crops, though he remembers seeing as a child the seed being broadcast. At harvest time, the sight of the threshing machine belonging to Mr. Henry Wood from north of Tofield was very welcome.
Some of the pioneers of the Bardo district soon made a threshing machine of their own. Some of the ingenious men concerned were Mr. Haugen, Mr.J.Johnson, Mr. Hugh Mitchell and Mr. Lerbekmo.
This machine called the Beaver Lake Chief was manpowered. Six men were required to turn the crank, three on each side. The feeder was just wide enough to receive the straw-tied bundles. To a small boy, it was a very wonderful sight. (A model of the Beaver Lake Chief is in the museum of the Tofield Historical Society, a vivid reminder of the ingenuity and determination of the pioneers.)
The pioneers raised cattle for cash sales as well as for meat. Shipping and marketing conditions were vastly different. Once a year, usually in the fall, a cattle buyer came from Wetaskiwin. He made the rounds of the district, buying any available cattle. The going price was $25 for a three-year-old steer. When about 200 cattle were bought at this munificent price, they were rounded up and driven to Wetaskiwin by the buyer and his helpers.
Hogs were raised, too, but for use locally.
When flour was required, a long trip to the flour mill at Fort Saskatchewan was in order. Each householder kept his own supply of flour, and the storekeepers kept only a small supply on hand. Mr. Coombes recalls that once when their supply of flour ran low, they went to the store operated by Mr. La Fond to get an emergency supply, and all that could be secured was a 50 lb. sack. This would have been fine, except that a can of coal oil had been spilt on it. Since a choice between hunger and coal oil-flavored flour had to be made, the Coombes fmnily ate bread that had a distinctive flavour as long as the fifty pounds of flour lasted.
Edmonton was the trading center for this area when Mr. Coombes was a boy. The long trip took a full week to complete and was accomplished twice a year. In summer the route lay through Fort Saskatchewan, as there was no road through the Beaver Hills.
One of the most dreaded hazards of pioneer life was the incidence of prairie fires. The native grass grew high and luxuriant and provided excellent fuel for wind-swept flmnes. Mr. Coombes recalls sitting up most of the night to watch the lurid flames of a prairie fire reddening the eastern sky. The neighbours ploughed fire guards – these, except for rain or a change in the wind, was the only defense against the terror of a prairie fire. The worst fire was one that came in from the Beaver Hills. The flames were coming straight for the Coombes house when the Mitchell family came to offer sanctuary in their home which seemed to be out of the path of the holocaust. Fortunately the wind changed and the Coombes’ home was saved.
One of the pleasures of pioneer life was the annual Dominion Day celebration. This has been held so long in the Tofield area that it is doubtful if anyone can recall the first celebration. But Canada’s birthday was always the occasion of highly enjoyable picnics and sports events.
Mr. Coombes remembers particularly the Dominion Day celebration of 1909. This much anticipated event
was held on the site of the present school grounds. Baseball was the order of the day. All the official equipment required was a ball; a bat could be secured from the nearest tree.
Horse races were always a featured event. No special track was required – a section of the road cleared of pedestrians was all that was required. A small money prize was awarded, but the glory of owning the fastest horse was probably a reward in itself. 0n July 1, 1909, the horse belonging to Robert Logan was the winner, recalls Mr. Coombes. The small fry, then as now, enjoyed foot races and jumping contests.
On this particular July lst, one of the featured events was a race between two oxen teams. Mr. Coombes remembers that the team belonging to Jerry Gallagher was the winner. Of course the days events, which had been sponsored by the town of Tofield, ended with a dance at night.
William Coombes died in 1905 and was buried in the Bardo cemetery. Mrs. Coombes, in 1920, married Mr.Arthur McMullen.
Chester Coombes made an interesting discovery when he was engaged in breaking up the land on the quarter adjacent to his own, known as the “Dick Turner quarter.” About six inches underground, the land was found to be white with buffalo bones. This bone-yard extended for about a quarter of an acre.When this discovery was made, Mr. Coombes recalled that “old Jeremie” Gladue, uncle of the Mr. Jeremie Gladue who resided near Hastings Lake till his recent death, had told of big buffalo hunts carried on in their area. Near a spring at which the buffalo were accustomed to drink, an Indian buffalo pound had been constructed. Then the Crees drove the buffalo between the ever-narrowing fences which led to the slaughtering place. The abundance of bones proves the efficiency of this method of securing a supply of meat.
One set of bones which arouses Mr. Coombes’ curio-
sity looked very much like the bones of a man. A skull, obyiously that of a wolf, has also been found there. Many Indian weapons were found among the bones,as would be expected.
Mr. Coombes also remembers Rev. Finlay, a minister who travelled to this area by horseback or horse and buggy from Vegreville. Services were held in the pioneer homes whenever a minister was in the vicinity. After the Hugh Mitchell family arrived and built their larger house, services were usually held there.
As a young man Chester Coombes worked at Daly’s, where Charles J. Kallal now lives. He also worked for Marson and Walker for the munificent wages of $5.00 per month. It took two extra trips, says Mr. Coombes, to collect even that amount.
Working at Oren Daly’s brought an extra dividend, in the person of Mr. Daly’s sister-in-law, Ida Grovum, who had come with her widowed mother from the Lake-of-the Woods, Minnesota, enroute to her new home at Ashmount, Alberta. Mrs. Grovum and her family stopped at Tofield to visit Mrs. Oren Daly, her daughter. The younger daughter Ida, remained in this area to work for Mrs. McBeth in what is now the Ketchamoot district. On February 15, 1915, she became Mrs. Chester Coombes. Mr. and Mrs. Coombes have six children. Harold, the eldest lives at home, Ethel (Mrs. Hugh McColl) at Stony Plain, Esther, (Mrs. Harry Ketchum) at Mulhurst, Gladys ( Mrs, Ewald Gabert) in Edmonton. Ronald farms in the Ketchamoot district and Lyle lives in Edmonton.
Mr. and Mrs. Coombes took an active part in the life of the Ketchamoot district. Their family all lived within easy visiting distance, and the grandchildren were a source of abiding interest to Mr. and Mrs. Coombes.