George William Bend

A little house on the Saskatchewan prairie

Bill Pinfold

Not much was hitherto known about this emigrant Bend brother, but some recent research along with help from the Provincial Archives in Regina, Saskatchewan and new friends found in Florida has brought his story to light.

George William Bend, born on the 24th February 1889 in Bottesford, Leicestershire, was the eldest of four siblings. His parents Reuben Bend and Mary Jarvis had married the year before in St Mary the Virgin’s Church in the village. Their other children were Charles Albert born in 1891, Ethel Ada in 1895 and lastly Cecil James born in 1903. Reuben had started out as an agricultural labourer, but by the time he married he was working as a platelayer on the local railway lines. Reuben and Mary raised their family in Station Road, Easthorpe and took part in various village activities, with Reuben standing for the parish council and also being a keen church bell ringer.

When he left school George became a waggoner and at the time of the 1911 census was living and working on the farm of John Burton in Foston, just five miles across the county line into Lincolnshire. That census had been taken on the 2nd April and by then George already knew that he would soon be leaving the farm on an adventure.

In early May 1911 he returned to the family home in Bottesford and made preparations to emigrate with his brother Charles, who had also been working as a waggoner on a farm, but in Bradley in Derbyshire. They left on the train to Liverpool in mid-May and on the 18th set sail on the RMS Corsican bound for Quebec, where they arrived on the 26th May. The ship’s manifest shows that their steerage fares had been paid for by the Canadian government as part of the drive to recruit young farmers to populate the western provinces. They were marked as heading for Alberta on the Canadian Pacific Railroad and due to start as farm labourers.

Less than a year later, in April 1912, the RMS Corsican suffered dangerous risk after barging into an iceberg in the same ice field that claimed the Titanic. Reducing speed to less than five knots an hour, the Corsican threaded its way past the treacherous bergs and radioed a warning message to the Corinthian, which is believed to have passed it on to the Titanic.  The Titanic hit the ice field a few days later.

RMS Corsican

On the 12th April 1912 the Chicago Daily News quoted RMS Corsican passenger Henry Pratt of Liverpool: “It was on Thursday night that we reached the (ice) field. I believe it was toward morning. The ship was going slowly at the time, for we knew that the danger was near. Immediately the captain gave the order, ‘Full speed astern’ and the ship hurled itself back from the massive formation that lay ahead.

“No one knew when another might show itself, and the captain then gave orders to lay to for the rest of the night. Next morning we proceeded under low steam. All day, in spite of the bitter cold, passengers lined the rails watching the immense icebergs rolling down with the Labrador stream. An examination of the ship proved that no damage had resulted from the collision with the berg, but I shudder to think what would have happened if we had been trying to break the transatlantic record.

Pratt continued: ““It was a terrible experience, nevertheless. I am an old seaman myself, but never have I seen such an awe inspiring sight as that which greeted us the morning after we struck the berg. On all sides were enormous mountains of ice gleaming like jewels in the bright sunlight. Only then did we realise what we had escaped and all on board thanked the captain for his care in bringing us through safely.”

If the brothers made it all the way across Canada to Alberta in 1911 it seems it was not to their taste as April 1912 found them 130 miles back east at a small settlement named Creekfield, near the village of Perdue in the province of Saskatchewan. They must have had steady work for some time as they felt confident enough to start the application process to obtain homesteads of their own to farm. On the 27th May 1912 each paid the $10.00 fee to get entry to a homestead quarter-section at Park Bluff, in the Rural Municipality of Parkdale (RM#498) which lies to the north of Battleford. The plots were in section 8 of township 49 on range 16, west of the third meridian (i.e. 8 49 16 W3), with George taking the north east 160-acre quarter section and Charles the north west.**

The brothers had overstretched themselves. They were required to break a set number of acres of ground, cultivate a number of acres and build a structure on their plot each year to be able to complete their homestead claim after three years. They did not even achieve the first year targets and on the 25th February 1913 they wrote to the land authorities to formally abandon their claims. Park Bluff lies 65 miles further north than Creekfield, where they had experienced their early prairie farm work, and it may be that the harsh Canadian winter deterred them from the task, although the 1912/13 winter was not a particularly severe one. It would most likely have been much bleaker than they had experienced back in England. Perhaps they had also underestimated the funds and material resources that they would need.

(Incidentally two further applicants tried to establish farms on George’s NE quarter homestead plot, in 1918 and 1922, but it was not until 1925 that a man named Bandiska completed the requirements and was granted patent (i.e. ownership of the land). Charles Bend’s NW quarter proved even more difficult and its patent was not granted until the mid-1930s, though that delay was in part due to paperwork issues after the ground was cultivated).

It may also be possible that George and Charles disagreed on how to work their claims, which would have called on close cooperation between them. The next records available suggest that they took different paths. The official acknowledgement in 1913 of Charles’ letter giving up his claim was addressed to him in Edmonton, Alberta. He was still there in August 1914 when the First World War started and he immediately volunteered to join the Canadian army. The equivalent official letter to George found him back in the Creekfield/Perdue area of Saskatchewan. George did not volunteer for the Army and is listed in the 1916 census as a farm worker for a Thornton Turner, who had a homestead in Perdue at land reference section 3 in township 35 range 10 W3.

George would not see his brother Charles Albert again – Charles Bend’s story can be read at this link.

The next record that shows George Bend’s timeline is a homestead land record held by the Saskatchewan Archives at Regina. It shows that in 1920 he was able to acquire three quarter sections of land close to the area where he had been working for Mr Turner – in fact, just a mile or two from Turner’s farm. The Cummins Map Company produced annual charts showing who were the registered owners of each quarter section.

Those for 1920 and 1922 indicate that George went from being a labourer to being able to farm 480 acres of land himself. He acquired land which had already been worked, so was paying for property from other land owners, not starting new homestead claims on his own. How had he managed to raise the means to do that? Had he simply saved his earnings for the years from 1913 to 1919? Or had he had some other good fortune?

A clue, and something of a surprise, is the 1921 Canadian census which shows that George now had a wife, a Frenchwoman named Cëcile according to the census taker’s lists. It transpires that on 1st April 1919 George William Bend had married Anna Cëcile Foos in Saskatchewan.

Cëcile Foos was born on the 29th September 1889 in Diekirch, Luxembourg. She was the youngest of four children of a tradesman, Mathias Foos and his wife Marie Dahlem. Cëcile had a brother Mathias Felix, and two sisters Anne-Marie and Susanna – there may also have been a fifth sibling who died at birth. Cëcile had, in fact, been baptised as Anna Foos, but by the time of the census in November 1890 she was already being called Anna Cëcile.

Her father died in 1898 aged 62 and her mother the following year, aged just 46. Whilst relatives looked after the three sisters, brother Mathias Felix sought his fortune abroad and sailed on the SS Kensington from Antwerp to New York in May 1902. Their uncle Peter Dahlem was already settled in Langdon, North Dakota and it was there that Felix headed. After a few years he moved across the border into Canada where he worked for a while in British Columbia. In 1909 he paid the entry fee for a homestead near Medicine Hat, Alberta and by the 1911 census Felix had his homestead farm at the NW quarter section of 5 30 10 W3. Four years later he married a Russian immigrant, Eva Bauer, and they went on to have two children. In Canada their surname evolved to become Foss.

Cecile, Susanna and Maria Foos, Paris 1907. (Image courtesy of Cindy DiNizo)

Meanwhile the Foos sisters stayed very close and were captured in a photograph during a visit to Paris in 1907, so we can see an image of Cëcile. The eldest sister Anne-Marie, usually called Maria, stayed in Europe and married a Jean-Pierre Lequet in Diekirch. Middle sister Susanna followed her brother to America and married John P Schmit on the 24th February 1910, having known him previously in Diekirch. Their daughter Helene was born the requisite nine months later.

Cëcile returned to Paris, perhaps due to the German invasion of Luxembourg in 1914, and it is known that she was working as a milliner and living at rue des Grevilliers by 1915. In December that year her sister Susanna sent money for her to relocate to America and Cëcile sailed on the SS Lafayette. Her US immigration record shows that she departed from Bordeaux on the 1st January 1916 and arrived in New York on the 11th January. The record notes her complexion as “fair” and both her hair and eyes as “light”.

The Schmits were living in Bellwood, a village on the outskirts of the city of Chicago, Illinois, so it is unclear when, how and why Cëcile made her way the 1,300 miles to the district of Perdue in Saskatchewan where she presumably met and married George Bend. She may have been visiting her brother Felix in Medicine Hat, just across the provincial border in Alberta, though that is still some 250 miles from Perdue.

Cëcile may have been able to add funds to George’s own savings that would enable them to buy their own property. A year after their 1919 wedding, the Bends acquired their 480 acres of land and got their farming life underway. By 1922 they took on a farm labourer to work for them, a Swede named Andrew Jansson. They did not have any children of their own, but Cëcile was very fond of her nieces and nephews, and was remembered by her family to be “fun, vivacious and keen to travel”. She visited her sister in Illinois and her niece Helene visited the farm in Saskatchewan. This is evidenced by a family photograph dated 22 July 1929 which shows Helene standing before the Bends’ small house. Seated in the shade by a table on the left of the image can be seen Cëcile Bend with Helene’s first child, John Robert Coughlin who was then 8 months old, sat on her lap.

When they started their farm in 1920, George and Cëcile took out a $450 loan in the form of agreements to be supplied with fodder for their animals. Specifically that comprised 300 bushels of feed oats and 5 tons of hay, agreed via the Rural Municipality office at Perdue. They repaid $200 in 1921 and another $50 at the end of 1922, but in 1927 the Department of Resources and Development started adding interest to the balance, presumably because repayments were not being maintained. Alberta and western Saskatchewan had suffered severe summer drought each year from 1921 to 1927, driving many homesteaders to abandon their land. Whilst Perdue was just off the eastern edge of the officially arid region (less than 10 inches rainfall per year, including snowfall) and perhaps less affected, that area where the Bends lived would still have been impacted.

Finances became so difficult in 1929 that the Bends had to sell some of their land rights and G O Isaac (who had sold them ¼ originally) bought the two quarters forming the east half of section 35.

Interestingly the Cummins map for 1930 shows their remaining quarter to be held in the name of Mrs G Bend. When he had originally sold the land to the Bends, G O Isaac had been resident in British Columbia, but by 1930 he must have relocated to Saskatchewan as he was resident on a large block of 11 of the quarter sections next to Cecile Bend’s single quarter.

The Cummins map and a 1935 voters list for the area suggest that George and Cëcile also moved off the land, perhaps because their house was on one of the quarter-sections that they sold. They look to have lived in the nearby village of Delisle, retaining the farm just for their animals and crops.

In the following years it seems that George and Cëcile grew apart and separated. By 1939 George had moved out of Delisle and found employment as a truck driver for the Parisian Dye Works of 321 Avenue F South in Saskatoon, with his residence listed at 417 Avenue C South. In 1942 he moved four doors along to 421 Avenue C South. He continued to drive for Parisian until 1944 when he changed to work for Broadway Dry Cleaners & Furriers, based at 208 Avenue C North in Saskatoon. He also moved that year to a new lodging at Apartment 5, 244 Second Avenue South, known as the Gem Block as it also housed the Gem Hotel & Cafe. Each year George sent a letter to his brother Cecil in England to stay in touch.

The voters list for the population of Delisle in 1945 included Cëcile, on her own and described as a housewife, so they had certainly separated by then. She was also included there in the 1949 voters list.

George’s obit notice in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix paper 23 Feb 1954. A slight error about his brother Cecil, who was actually in England.

In 1947 George changed employer for the final time, starting with the Saskatoon Dry Cleaners & Furriers at 920, 20th Street West – again as truck driver. In 1952 his role was described as “helper”, perhaps indicating his strength was not what it had been; and he was working as a clerk for the firm in 1953 and living in Apartment 605 of the Glengarry Apartment Block, 245 Third Avenue South, in downtown Saskatoon. He died there on the 21st February 1954 and was buried at the Woodlawn Cemetery. His employers, the owners of the Saskatoon Dry Cleaners company, were three Belgian brothers named John-Hector, Albert and Alphonse Van Impe. They must have liked him as they paid for his funeral, posted a notice in the local press and wrote to his family back in Bottesford to let them know that George had passed away.

Cëcile lived longer than her siblings, but unfortunately not in the best of health. She had a stroke at Delisle in 1951 and was mostly confined to bed thereafter. On the 24th April her land was bought by Big Wong and Hoy Wong, also residents of Delisle, presumably to raise funds for Cëcile’s ongoing care. In 1955 she was relocated to a care home in Melfort, a town some 130 miles to the north east of Delisle. That was probably arranged by her brother Felix and sister in law Eva Bauer Foos (a.k.a. Eva Foss) who lived in Bluffton, Alberta.

When Cëcile died at the Melfort Geriatric Centre in April 1963, Felix had been dead two years, but Eva travelled to Melfort to attend the funeral along with her daughter Dorothy, another of Cëcile’s beloved nieces.

No image of George Bend has been found to date, but thanks to her great grand-niece Cindy DiNizo we are fortunate to have another image of Cëcile, shown on the right of this photo with her niece Helene.

Postscript:

The interest on the $200 outstanding debt incurred by George and Cëcile, from their original animal feed loan, continued to mount up after 1927, even after they had sold their land. The debt was tied to the land ownership of the homestead and by 1956 there was $406 in interest, making the total owed $606. An agreement between the Federal and Provincial governments reduced the debt by 50% in 1956, but the then owners did not make any repayment and the amount was written off completely in 1957.

** For a guide to explain the land references see The Saskatchewan Homesteads System

Sources

  • Thank you to Cindy DiNizo in Florida for her generous permission to include photographs from her family’s collection.
  • Information on the RMS Corsican in 1912 from http://britishhomechild.com/the-corsican/
  • Ancestry.com and FindMyPast for census and registry data.
  • Saskatchewan Archives, Regina for details of the Bend brothers’ homestead applications
  • Rob Deltgen and the www.luxracines.lu / www.deltgen.com sites for data on the Foos family in Diekirch.
  • The Peel Library at the University of Alberta (http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/bibliography/3177.4.29.html) for Saskatoon business directories.
  • Thank you to David Bend for sharing his family memories.
This page was added on 14/10/2021.

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