“Once you'd resolved to go, there was nothing to it at all.”
–Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle
Our New Home
In the spring of 1952, we moved to Crystal City, Manitoba, a village nine miles north of the Manitoba/North Dakota border. There were around 400 people, pretty close to the number that live there today. However, the village was surrounded by a large farming community.
By car, it was 170 km from Brandon, where Granny Shaw and several members of Dad's family lived, and just over 200 km to Winnipeg, where Granny MacDonald and most of Mom's siblings lived. Much closer than we'd been before.
In a sense, my parents were back "home" in the province they'd originally left.
As far as the town is concerned, people often laughed at the word “City,” since it was really a village, not quite half the size of the town we’d just left, which itself had only about 1,000 people.
History of Crystal City
Back in 1872, the Government of Canada passed the Dominion Lands Act, which was put in place to encourage people from Europe and Eastern Canada to settle the land and start farms in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. The Act, similar to the Homestead Act in the US, offered 160 acres of land free (except for a $10 registration fee) to any man over 18 or any woman who was the head a household. They did not need to be British subjects, but they did have to clear at least 40 acres to farm, build a permanent dwelling within three years, and actually live there and work the land. They could also buy neighbouring lots for an additional $10 registration fee if they desired.
Much of what is now Southwest Manitoba was settled between 1878 and 1882, mostly by immigrants from Ontario and Britain. Some 58,000 immigrants arrived in Manitoba between 1879 and 1881, a three year period.
A man called Thomas Greenway came from Ontario to Manitoba in 1877. He filed for a homestead and then registered extra lots, ending up with 648 hectares of land. He mapped out the beginnings of a city south and east of Crystal Creek and called it Crystal Cihttp://www.manitobaaghalloffame.com/history2.phphttp://www.manitobaaghalloffame.com/history2.phpty.
Crystal City quickly grew to become a population of 230. At that time, Brandon had 100 people and Winnipeg 400, so his idea of a city wasn't unreasonable.
Unfortunately for Greenway, when the railroad arrived in 1885, the tracks were laid, not where Greenway expected, but two kilometres north. Eventually, the entire village packed up and moved closer to the railway lines, but Greenway’s land became worthless, and the city never happened.
Thomas Greenway remained very active in not only Crystal City but in the province, and in 1988 he became premier of Manitoba.
When we first moved there, we lived in a small house Dad rented near the railway tracks. But we soon moved to a larger, two-storey house at the other end of town.
Our house was on a corner, all by itself, the very last one on Broadway, the street which included most of the stores. Dad only had to walk a few blocks to get to his store.
I've searched and searched, and I can't find a single picture of the house! The closest I have are several pictures of me or Dad and me standing at the front door. Mom obviously was the photographer.
The house was on a corner lot south of the village, on Broadway. To the right and behind the house were a wild, grassy area and some trees. In one sense we were just a short walk from the main business area, and on the other hand we were pretty well isolated from other houses, although there were a few on the stgreet behind the garage and some on Broadway before the majority of businesses began.
Directly in front of our house, across Broadway, was the school. I'm not sure if there was only one school or two. The pictures only show one. It's possible that older students when to Pilot Mound, another village not far from us.
(By the way, this concrete slab was on our front yard, and we took a lot of pictures here for some reason.)
On our side of the highway, across a small street from our house, was a busy garage.
There was a narrow road (Luxton) between our house and the garage on the opposite corner. You can see it in the picture below.
Hard to believe, but I can't find a picture of the store. Different times, I guess. In my head, I can see where it was, on the same side of Broadway as our house, and down a tiny bit from Cudmore's Hardware, which was on the opposite side of Broadway and is still there!
Naturally, Dad was very hopeful that business would be good. I believe his store was the only one in town that had clothing and dry goods.
He liked doing the cash register and dealing with customers part. However, he had some new things to learn. The majority of his past retail experience was from working in butcher shops. There wasn’t a lot of variety or new fashions in meats.
Now that he was selling clothes, shoes, and dry goods (bedding, towels, etc.), his biggest challenge was learning what his customers would want so that he’d be able to choose the right items from the salesmen.
As before, Mom's role was to look after the house and me. So she didn't have much to do with the store. She sometimes helped him select items from the travelling salesmen who came to town, or go with him to the wholesales in Winnipeg when we occasionally drove there.
Mom also wrote any letters that Dad needed to write. All his life, he was embarrassed by his lack of education, in particular his spelling, as well as the fact that his writing wasn’t particularly legible. He'd get Mom to write his letters or anything else he had to fill out. She was just the opposite—very proud of her handwriting.
So there we were, ready to create new lives.
. . .
Can You Relate?
Starting over in a place where you don't know anyone seems kind of scary. But the truth is, once you do it, it's done, and you simply begin from the new "normal."
When you walk into a situation where you don't know anyone, do you feel overwhelmed, terrified, or excited?
. . .
LoveChild: Life Lessons from an Ugly Duckling is the story of my struggle to adjust to the life I was given, and my eventual discovery that, not only had I become a swan but, contrary to my perceptions, I had always been one. Though I didn't realize it until many years later, my life was part of a much bigger plan that all made perfect sense.
I'll be blogging my story once a week.
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