The Hatches of Alberta
Let us now praise Victor and Susan; Vinall, Deloss, La Vern, Lois, Darnell, Irese, Idell, Norene and Lorenzo; five wagons, 17 horses, 25 cattle, 300 sheep, two pigs and 12 chickens. Edith, Opal and Neldon arrived later
Alberta is a young enough land to have its living pioneers — people who saw it before there were houses or fields or fences; people who held the plough that turned under the buffalo grass, and planted the first crop of wheat.
Victor and Susan Hatch are Alberta pioneers twice over — once around the turn of the century when as children he came from Arizona and she came from Utah with their families to the Mormon communities of southern Alberta, and a generation later when, with their own children, they moved in search of a homestead to the Cold Lake area 600 miles north.
I didn't go straight home from school on that first day of May, 1933. I stopped at the Hatch farm to watch the final preparations for their departure. The Hatches were our closest neighbors, an their children constituted a third of the students in our one-room country schoolhouse. For me, their leaving was a melancholy occasion.
The sun was getting low when at last Vic Hatch snapped his lines, and the lead wagon rolled away. Behind him, the others moved in turn onto the grassy road — his wife, Susan, and their nine children each taking up his share of responsibility for their five wagons, 17 horses, 25 cattle, 300 sheep, two pigs, and 12 chickens. I watched the caravan, more than a quarter of a mile long, turn the corner at the crossroads where the schoolhouse stood, and disappear over the hill.
Last summer, 40 years later, I talked to Victor and Susan Hatch at the home in Cardston where they retired in 1960 — an old house surrounded by broad lawns, banks of flower beds, and a vegetable patch that looks like a market garden. They live now within 25 miles of the farm at Glenwood from which they set out on that historic trip.
Vic is a tall, erect man. His hair is still sandy; he looks at least 20 years younger than 80. He speaks slowly, with frequent pauses.
Victor: “Our cattle were mostly milk cows. We milked ’em all the way, and separated the milk. We’d drink all we could, and feed it to the pigs. Sometimes we had so much milk we’d use it to dig postholes, to soften the ground for the auger. When we stopped for the night we always made a corral for the stock — dug holes and strung wire.
“I drove the lead oufit — seven horses hitched to two wagons full of machinery. My son Deloss was next, his wagon loaded with our things from the house, and a democrat behind with two pigs in it. Susan drove the cook car, with the stove, the bed, the cupboard, the cream separator and the washing machine. We had a dozen hens in a wire cage on the back of the cook car. Behind the wagons, Vinali and the kids brought along the cattle and 300 head of sheep.
“In the morning we’d milk, and start the sheep and cows and kids down the road. Then we’d / continued on page 70
Susan and Victor Hatch of Cherry Grove, Alberta (seated front row centre with two late additions), surrounded by a good sampling of their 145 direct descendants. O pioneers!
THE HATCHES from page 33 harness the horses, roll up the wire, and start out. Sometime during the morning we’d pass the sheep. Then about eleven we’d stop and make camp while the others caught up.
“We never traveled in the heat of noon. About two or three we’d start again. In the evening we’d make camp and do the chores.”
Susan gives the impression of being a large woman, but a closer look shows this to be an illusion. She moves and speaks slowly — almost languidly. Yet there is purposefulness in everything she does, and all around her is order, and the evidence of accomplishment.
Susan: “We had three hot meals every day — dinner cooked while we traveled. After supper the children would play ball. You’d think they’d be tuckered out. Saturday afternoon we’d stop early and do the washing and ironing and baking.”
Victor: “We had family prayer every day. We’d have it in the morning before breakfast, and at night when we assembled for supper, everybody taking turns. We never traveled on Sunday.”
After his marriage, Vic and his family had lived on their farm near Glenwood for almost 16 years. I asked him how he came to leave it.
Victor: “First of all, I didn’t have enough land, then in 1932 it was dry. If I’d got hay in 1932, I might never have
moved. But my farm was rocky, and a lot of side hill. I was out there all night, sleeping on the hill., trying to change the irrigation water to make it cover the ground. But it would just wash out. That year, I sheared my sheep, got 1,800 pounds of wool. I sold it all for $36.
“I sold my weaner pigs for two dollars apiece.
“Water tax alone was over $300.1 was afraid I’d lose my farm. Friends who had visited Cold Lake told us what a fine country it was, so we decided that’s where we’d go. Everything worked out fine. I had a lot of honey equipment, and 1 traded that for horses and harness and things to make the trip."
LaVern is the third child, the oldest daughter. I visited with LaVern and her husband on their farm a half-mile from Cherry Grove, a hamlet in the Cold Lake area. Their children are grown and gone, except for the two youngest.
LaVern: “I think about it — take your family and go, like that. I wonder and wonder. I guess the folks thought it was either that . . . or . . . starve. [She laughs]. But to us kids it was just like going to see your grandmother — really exciting. We took everything — our dog, our cat. The dog had pups, the cat had kittens. There was nothing to be lonesome for — we had everything with us. I walked all the steps from there to here.”
Victor: “We stuck to the back roads. There was plenty of grass in the road allowances. The sheep ate their way to Cold Lake.”
Deloss is the second child. He is a droll fellow. His nieces and nephews remember him fondly, and identify him as “that crazy uncle.” Now he lives at Chilliwack, BC, as do Lois and Ren.
Deloss: “We were moving slow, about 15 miles a day. The country didn’t change much.”
Irese and Idell are not twins, though in some ways they are closer than their ages would suggest. (Irese was eight at the time of the trip, Idell six.) Today Irese and her husband live on a section of land near Cherry Grove. Idell lives in Seattle. Irese and Idell each have four children.
Irese: “I remember a bit about the trip. Sometimes I’d get out of the wagon and run. One or two days I remember picking flowers.”
Idell: “It was a special treat to sleep under the wagon with my big brothers.”
Lois is the fourth child, the second daughter. She, along with Vinall, seems to have a special feeling for the experience of the family; a sense that it is important, and should be remembered. She too lives in Chilliwack.
Lois: “Driving the animals, some places we had a terrible time keeping continued on page 72
THE HATCHES continued them between the fences because the sand had drifted over the wires. There’d be just four inches of post sticking out.”
Vinall is the oldest child. He lives on the same hill where the family spent their first winter in the Cold Lake area. He stands in his farmyard, where he can look northwest across the wooded hills toward Cold Lake, or a couple of miles south to Cherry Grove, and talks with enthusiasm about the trip, and about when he retires from the air base.
Vinall: “Sheep were quite a novelty. People’d come out from town in their cars and drive through the herd two or three times.”
The Hatch family carries a stamp — they look as if they belong to each other. But Norene gets teased about being the one who’s different. Today she lives at Swan Hills, about as far north, but hundreds of feet higher, than Cold Lake. At the time of the trip, she was three years old.
Norene: “I remember one thing — giving my dad a bloody nose. I was swinging a switch at one of the cows, but I missed.”
Vinall: “While we were camped at Drumheller for a few days we had to go through town to water our stock —right down main street. It was like a parade. Kids wanted to ride our horses, and drive the stock. Miners’ kids would come with lard buckets for milk. I heard one kid say, ‘Man! you must be rich!' ”
LaVern: “One of the boys wanted to milk — a big boy. He got a stream of milk, jumped up and hollered, ‘I can milk! I can milk!’ ”
Darnell is the fifth child. He fives on a farm near Cherry Grove. In him seem concentrated all the slow, deliberate qualities that to a degree characterize the rest of the family. At present he is bishop of the Cherry Grove Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of LatterDay Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon Church.
Darnell: “The trip was well organized. It was one of the things Dad did that really worked.”
Lois: “We were late getting away this one morning. Dad said, ‘Will you damn boys hustle!’ It’s the only time I ever heard him swear.”
Vinall: “It seemed like it rained ahead of us to keep the sloughs filled up, but it never rained on us.
“When we hit the North Saskatchewan River we thought we were just about home. A fellow directed us to the crossing at Duvernay. When we got the stock on the bridge they started to run. The bridge began to bounce. I thought it would jump right off its moorings.
“At St. Paul, when we got there, all the stores closed. People came out on the street to watch us pass — the streets were lined with people.
“We hooked up early one morning —
figured to make it to Beaver Crossing that day. We were doing pretty good. The teams were ahead of us, the stock following. Then about nine or ninethirty the sand flies hit us. Those sheep piled up like cordwood.”
LaVern: “Sand flies are about half as big as a black fly. They go for the sheep’s udders and ears. Drove ’em wild. They just lay flat — wouldn’t move.”
Lois: “The sheep went crazy. They’d run for the trees, and bury their heads under each other. A fellow came along in a little black coupe and tried to get through. The sheep lifted his car, trying to get under it in the shade.”
LaVern: “We had handkerchiefs over our faces, with holes cut in them for our eyes. A sand fly’s bite is worse than a mosquito bite. They get in your eyes . . . get in your ears ...”
Vinall: “We didn’t move all day. But when the sun set, the sand flies left and we were ready to go.
“We drove all night. We hit the Beaver River some time after midnight. The whole valley was covered in a fog blanket. I stood up there on the hill and thought to myself, ‘Man, is that ever pretty.’ We pulled into my uncle’s place near Cold Lake at five o’clock in the morning with the sheep and cattle. It was like reaching the promised land.” Susan: “It hadn’t rained *a drop all the way, but we got there and in 10 minutes it started to pour. It rained for a week.”
Victor: “It took us 60 days exactly. We left on May 1, and pulled into the Cold Lake area on July 10. And we stopped at my father’s place in Brant for 10 days to shear the sheep.”
Deloss: “It was kind of awesome — all that bush and rock . . .”
Vinall: “Dad and mother each homesteaded a quarter that summer.
“There was an old log cabin down by the lake, but it was too far from school. We numbered the logs, and took the cabin apart, and then put it together again on top of the hill. It didn’t have floor, and just a pole roof, with the bark still on. It sure was dark. We pulled the cook car alongside it, and 12 of us lived there that winter — my cousin lived with us.”
Lois: “I mixed bread — 10 loaves bread six days a week. Dad would butcher a sheep every week, take it to town and trade it for flour, sugar, beans — whatever we needed.”
Vinall: “That winter all the horses but two died of swamp fever — their intestines plugged with worms. They couldn’t stand the new feed.
“We moved the cattle down on the river to try to keep them alive. They’d eat the green grass, and then all go down to drink and fall in the slough. We lost nearly all of them.
“About March we got a makeshift sawmill ready — powered by an old car engine. First we built a house. We logged out some poplar logs, and sawed enough four by eights and four by sixes to build a house out of squared logs. It was set on rocks and wood blocks. We dovetailed the corners because that didn’t take nails. Dad planed boards by hand for the floor. We put on a tarpaper covering. That was luxury.”
Susan: “Edith was born in the old house, on the fourth of April.”
Edith is the tenth child. She and her family live on a farm at Cold Lake, though her husband still commutes to plumbing jobs in Red Deer and Calgary while they get established.
Edith: “They always teased me about being born in the cubbyhole.”
LaVern: “That fall the men built a school out of the same squared timbers. They had a government grant of $150;
continued on page 74
THE HATCHES continued the money bought windows, spruce flooring, shingles, bricks and nails.” Vinall: “We cut timber on the flat. Lumber sold for $10 a thousand, if you could find a market. But nobody had any money. You traded work for work. You traded something for something.
“We contracted with a man named McNally to take care of his sheep, along with our own. McNally was to provide the feed for winter, but it wasn’t' adequate. They started to die in the early winter, the old ewes first.”
Victor: “I told McNally we needed some grain. He said, T can’t. I’ve spent all I can. If they live, they live. And if they die, they die.’ ”
Vinall: “In April we lambed out on the river. And then in May we got a snowstorm. That night we fed the last of the hay. It stormed for three days.” Victor: “We fed ’em straw from the tops of sheds. We cut jack pine for them to eat. But most of the sheep died.” Vinall: “We had to give the man back 400 ewes for the ones we lost. It wiped out our herd. We started from scratch.” Victor: “Two or three days after the storm, the sun shone, and the hill was bare, but it was too late for the lambs. A hundred bushels of oats would have saved everything.
“But we never did talk of going back.” Vinall: “We never went hungry, and we always had a place to sleep. And we always had clean clothes. You’d wash your clothes on Friday afternoon for the dance that night.”
LaVern: “Nobody thought about what to wear to a dance or party — you wore what you had.”
Vinall: “We had lots of parties, and everybody went to the dance. We’d put the kids to sleep under the benches. There’d be sandwiches and cake at midnight. They made coffee in a boiler. The orchestra played until daylight — otherwise you couldn’t see to go home. Then we’d pass the hat to pay the orchestra.” Lorenzo, or Ren, was a baby at the time of the trek. His memories are all of Cold Lake; he recalls most clearly the cold winters, and the good times in summer. Now he lives in Chilliwack.
Ren: “My dad was fabulous — a real comedian.”
Deloss: “Dad couldn’t even stand up to pray in church without somebody starting to laugh.”
Vinall: “I think this was what I liked best — the social life. But when we’d get home from the dance at daylight, there was no sleeping in. Dad used to say, ‘You’ve got to pay the fiddler.’ ”
Opal is the eleventh child. She was born in Cold Lake. She talks as though she wouldn’t mind being a pioneer again, but she’s a city girl now. She lives in Calgary with her husband and nine children.
Opal: “Every night we had to saw
wood by hand for the following day. The greatest sight I ever saw was coming home from school one evening and someone was there with a buzz saw cutting up all the wood.”
Darnell: “I tell my kids, T don’t feel a bit sorry for you. I hope you have to work as hard to find a job as I did.’ ” Vinall: “Bad soil, rocks and heavy timber have kind of kept this country down.”
Victor: “In that country, it’s either snow flies, or sand flies.”
LaVern: “Relief came in the Thirties. The relief cheques were five dollars or seven dollars a month, and a clothing allowance twice a year. When the air base came in, that made a difference. So many men worked there to keep their farms going.”
Ren: “I never had any desire to get to the city. Edmonton was only 200 miles away, but I never saw it till I was 16.” Opal: “When I was a little girl, Dad was the bishop. Everybody came to our house to get married. This one time a girl came — I had known her all my life, which was about five years. Everybody kept saying, ‘Daddy’s going to marry Pauline.’ I laid on the couch bawling. I didn’t want my dad to marry anyone else.”
LaVern: “The bush is kind of scary, especially after dark. At night, I always used to walk. If I ran, I could hear something behind me. But I got over being scared of the dark — I had to.” Opal: “Every time anybody was sick, or died, or had a baby, they called my mother.”
Edith: “We’d shift around the bedrooms when a corpse came to be taken care of. I said, ‘Doc, I’d never sleep in a house with a dead man.’
“Dad told me. ‘The dead ones can’t hurt you. It’s the live ones you have to look out for.’ ”
I asked the Hatches if they thought the long journey to Cold Lake had been worth while. If they were starting over, would they do it again?
Darnell: “I believe the trip accomplished a great deal. Dad used to say, T don’t know.’ But after the air base came he said, ‘Well, I believe we came to this country to organize the church for the base. There’ve been a lot of airmen reactivated, a lot converted, and many saved from problems because there was a church to come to.’ ”
Susan: “Yes, I’d do it again tomorrow. That’s a wonderful country. My husband and I would still be in Cold Lake if it wasn’t for the temple. We moved back down to Cardston in 1960 so we could work in the temple.”
The temple is not a chapel; in fact, it is closed on Sunday. But the rest of the week it is a centre of activity where the Mormon people work and perform relicontinued on page 76
THE HATCHES continued gious ceremonies they feel to be necessary for the salvation of their ancestors.
Neldon is the youngest child. Fie was about 17 when his parents moved back to Cardston, so he has lived almost half his life away from Cold Lake. He is the only one of his family who went to university. Now he teaches school in Cardston, where he lives with his wife and four children.
Neldon: “My older brothers and sisters had all married and moved away before I was born. They seem more like my aunts and uncles.”
Susan: “A couple of years ago we had our fifty-fifth wedding anniversary. Our 12 children left their families and came home for it. We all slept here in this house. The girls made a bed on the floor in the living room. Darnell slept in the kitchen. Ren and Neldon were the youngest boys, so they slept on the floor in Mom’s and Dad’s room. Vinali and Deloss slept in the other bed.
“My, we had a time.”
Opal: “We put a sign on our station wagon - JUST MARRIED 55 YEARS. Then all 14 of us got in and drove to Glenwood. Dad had never taken us to a café, so we made him take us to Van Dan's and buy something for everybody.” Norene: “When we got back we had homemade ice cream. We broke icicles from the roof to freeze it with.”
Opal: “That Saturday night we had a special Family Home Evening. Three hours seemed like 10 minutes.”
Edith: “They were talking about going to church the next day, and I said something about did we have to go to church. Dad said, ‘You don’t have to go to church. We’ll stay here if you want. But how many people could be married 55 years and have 12 kids and have ’em all home together, and not show ’em off?’ I don’t believe my dad was ever prouder than when he stood up and introduced his 12 kids in Sunday School.
“It’s quite a thing to come from a family that size.”
In July, 1973, the community of Cherry Grove celebrated “40 Years in the Wilderness,” and people returned from all over the west to the place they’d called home, however briefly.
Vic estimates the Hatches had about 100 on hand — children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. They share a common heritage. But locked in the core of that first Cold Lake generation are secrets impossible to share fully, above all the quiet assurance each soul must gain for himself, that when he has reached the limit of his endurance he can still keep going.
Troubled as we may be by the proliferation of mankind on our tiny planet, it does not seem alarming that today Victor and Susan Hatch have 145 direct descendants. We need their kind of people.O’