From the Edmonton Journal, 12 December 1925. Compiled by Agnes Hutchings and Nell Hutchings Green in Long Beach, CA., and submitted by Marilyn Snedden. This was published in the LCGS newsletter, Sept., Oct. and November, 1998.
It has frequently been said that fact is stranger than fiction. This might easily apply to the lives of many of the early pioneers of Alberta, whose lives are more colorful in romance and adventure than those of characters which live on the printed page.
Many of the old-timers have taken the last long trail home but many are left to tell the tale of their trek into the country when the Western world was young, and lured them from the hearthstone of the older civilization. One of those is Mrs. Agnes Hutchings, who is now living in California. Mrs. Hutchings came to Alberta, a bride, in 1880 and lived there until 1923 when she travelled farther west to California. During the forty-three years of her [life] in Alberta, she saw much history made, and had a part in the making. This is commemorated in the archives which the Edmonton Pioneers and Old-Timers’ Association are compiling.
It was on July 7, 1880 that Agnes Cram became the bride of Alfred Hutchings at her father’s home, two miles west of Carleton Place, Ontario. Previous to this time, Mr. Hutchings had been in the west, trading with the Indians, and after visiting with his people on a farm near Newboro, on Rideau Lake, the young couple turned their faces westward to make their home in the then far away country vaguely known as the North West Territories.
The first part of the journey was comparatively luxurious. Travelling by boat to Kingston, they took the train there for Detroit, crossing the St. Clair river on a ferry. From Detroit they went to Chicago. That city did not cover so much ground as it does today, for the honeymooners travelled from one end of it to the other by hack and thoroughly enjoyed the sights. After leaving Chicago, they travelled by train, with neither diner nor sleeper, from Monday evening until Saturday night, when they reached St. Boniface, Manitoba, the end of steel. They crossed the river to Winnipeg where Mr. Hutchings brother, E. F. Hutchings, was in the harness business in partnership with Mr. Stocker.
In Winnipeg, Mr. and Mrs. Hutchings saw a historical sight — the first train, consisting of an engine and a few flat cars, crossing the Red River. But it did not travel far enough to help them on the last leg of their journey. They rested in Winnipeg for a fortnight while getting ready for the trip to the North West Territories. It was necessary that they provide themselves with equipment, so they secured four carts and one ox for each cart, and a pony and rig for Mrs. Hutchings. Then they started on the long journey across the prairies.
At Pleasant Plains they overtook Frank Oliver and his party, James Ross of the Ross Bros. Hardware Company, and James Brewster, with whom they had travelled the last six hundred miles of the journey.
“This is what distance does for us; the harsh and bitter features of this or that experience are slowly obliterated when memory begins to look on the past.” Perhaps this accounts for the fact that old-timers review their early experiences with apparent enjoyment, and we never hear one of them speak regretfully of the hardships which came their way. But there were experiences in their westward trip which Mrs. Hutchings says she shall never forget. One of them occured on their arrival at the Battle River. October had reached there before them, and brought with it the early autumn frosts, but the ice on the river was not of sufficient thickness to carry the party over. They waited a few days and the weather moderated. The ice broke up and floated down stream, but the men decided it was dangerous to force the animals to ford the river as the water was very cold.
The travellers had been journeying with, or in company with, a band of Indians for a few days previous to reaching the Battle River. The Indians had been on the plains hunting buffalo and were on their way back to Lac La Biche for the winter. The man-power of the party totalled seven. After long consultation, they decided to unload all the provisions from the wagons and carts and take all the machinery apart. From the woods they cut out logs, and lashing the wheels to the logs, formed a large raft. On this everything, including Frank Oliver‘s first printing press, provisions, wearing apparel and other equipment, was floated across the river by means of long poles guided by the men.
As there were two heavy lumber wagons, six or eight carts, provisions and clothing, to say nothing of the luggage of the Indians or Mr. and Mrs. Hutchings‘ personal outfit, it took a week to assemble the outfit and get everything loaded and in shape after crossing the river. The great difficulty, however, was to hold the animals as they had become badly chilled while fording the river, and it was necessary to arrange the wagons, carts, rigs, etc., in the shape of a corral. The Indians showed no resentment of the coming of the white man, but were very ready and willing to help them before they left them at this point.
Autumn rains had come by this time and the trails and roads were in bad condition. Consequently, the party did not reach Bittern Lake until October 26. There the Hutchings stopped while the Oliver party continued on to Edmonton. Mr. and Mrs. T. G. Hutchings, who were settled at Bittern Lake, gave the newcomers a glad welcome. They had been living eight miles away from any white settler during that summer. Previous to Mr. Hutchings‘ departure for the East, he and his brother had both built shacks at Bittern Lake. They all lived in the larger shack for the first winter. The other was used for a store room as the men conducted a trading post with the Indians and it was necessary to keep the provisions cold. Mr. Roswell (Rowswell) visited them there and later, when the Hutchings moved to what is known as the Polar Lake District, became their neighbor there.
Only one winter was spent at Bittern Lake. On the first of April, 1881, the Hutchings abandoned their shanties at Bittern Lake and “hit the trail” for civilization, meaning Fort Edmonton. It took them about a week to reach the banks of the Saskatchewan. On arriving at Walters’ Crossing, opposite the Hudson’s Bay fort, they found the ice had commenced to move. This caused another delay of a week or so. The weather turned colder again and the men hauled the carts, wagons and rigs across the river with their own efforts, leaving the animals to be forced over.
One would think the wayfarers had by that time travelled as far as they wanted to go. But not so. They left Edmonton and camped at Dan Hayes’ (Noyes?) farm overnight, then drove on to the Cut Bank farm, owned by Mr. William Cust. There they stayed for two or three weeks, and on the twelfth day of May, 1881, they pitched their tents on their own farm which later Mr. John Fielders and Mrs. Hutchings christened “Poplar Lake.” Through the efforts of Mr. Hutchings a one-roomed shack was built by July and on August 7th their eldest child, Herbert, was born, with neither a nurse nor doctor in attendance.
During November of 1881, Dr. Baird and Dr. Robinson, manager of missions for the North West Territories, arrived in Edmonton and organized the First Presbyterian Congregation. The charter members included Mrs. Hutchings, Mrs. Tom Henderson, James Pertie, Mrs. Heimiak, and Mrs. James Goodrich. Dr. Baird, a fresh college graduate, baptized young Herbert Hutchings, then six months old, at the Belmont School House.
In 1885 the Riel Rebellion broke out in Batoche, and when news reached the settlement there was naturally great excitement. Mrs. George Sanderson, the Misses Kelly, Miss Lizzie Long and her nephew Bert, Miss Simpson, Mrs. Hutchings and two children camped in Bose Bros. carpenter shop in connection with the Catholic Mission at St. Albert, for two weeks, During that time Bishop Grandin kept the party informed as to the rebellion at Batoche and Duck Lake. During the thick of it, James Mowat volunteered to ride to Calgary for news, all wires having been cut. In the excitement of the hour, the Hutchings brothers, S.R. Brenton, Robert Bailey and Herb. Roswell (Rowswell) gathered their respective livestock together and herded them north of the Sturgeon River for protection. But they soon brought them back again.
It was after the rebellion that the first boom struck Edmonton and the Hutchings benefited thereby. Through the sale of one fat ox to the RNWMP barracks at Fort Saskatchewan, they realized $180, a large sum in those days!
After the rebellion the years passed in comparative quiet. The land was cleared and broken, the home was gradually improved, and six [seven] more children were added to the family. The next event of outstanding importance in Mrs. Hutchings’ life was a visit to Winnipeg in the summer of 1897. On this occasion she was accompanied by her two youngest children. This was the first time Mrs. Hutchings had seen a train since leaving St. Boniface in 1880, 17 years before. In 1902, her husband went east to visit his people and, returning brought barrels of apples and other choice Ontario fruit. One can hardly imagine the relish with which the family would consume those apples, possibly the first the children had seen.
On May 17, 1905, the family circle was broken by death. After a short illness in the Edmonton Hospital, Mr. Hutchings passed away. Two years later, in the fall of 1907, Mrs. Hutchings and her five daughters moved to Edmonton. The three sons remained on the farm.
Writing from California where she now resides, Mrs. Hutchings says: “Although I find the climate especially beneficial to my health, I often think of Edmonton and particularly the old farm where so many happy years were spent and where my sons Percy, Herbert and Frank are now carrying on the good work and making the historical old spot (to our family) more beautiful every year. Where we once carried candles and lamps, they now have electricity; the milk pail has been replaced by the milking machine in a modern dairy, as also the wagon by the automobile.”