Tuesday, October 21, 2008

This ole house was home and comfort

This ole house was home and comfort. (Turn up the sound)

My Grandparents Hingston were married in May 1914. Grandpa joked that three months later the Great War broke out. Shortly after, they bought a farm two miles south of Cavell and moved there from the sod house on Grandpa’s original homestead which was another 6 miles further south. The house was a selling feature; I am sure, as it was big (for the time) and fairly new with white paint and green trim. It never saw another coat of paint and the shiplap siding aged to a dull grey which was the colour I always knew the house.
There wasn’t a tree anywhere in those days as the prairie fires kept them from growing. Grandpa had to haul firewood 30 miles from an Indian Reserve near Red Pheasant. Grandpa planted lots of trees around the yard; Manitoba Maples, Caragana and Lilacs. Trees that could take the drought and the cold. By 1945 when my folks got married and took over the farm, there were trees in the yard and poplar and willow trees grown up in the low spots in the fields too.

My father was born in that house in 1921, youngest of four, on Dec 18 and first came downstairs Christmas Day for dinner. Claimed he never missed a meal since. The four of us kids were born in the hospital in the nearby “big” town, but the old house was home.

The house was big but it wasn’t really. I think the two storey part was about 14 ft x 20 ft (but should check with my little brother for those details). Downstairs had a front veranda on the west side which we never used, that linked into a lean-to kitchen and unheated “backroom” which served as storage on the north side of the house. There was a big L-shaped dining and living room in the main house, with space along one wall taken up by the stairwell. The kitchen was heated by a coal and wood cook stove and the livingroom by a coal and wood space heater. That was eventually replaced by an oil burning heater which meant dad didn’t have to get up at night to keep fuel on the fire in cold weather any more.

Under the stair well was a trapdoor that opened to the cellar; a dirt hole under the house that held our vegetables and preserves. It also was home to a couple of salamanders or geckos. My little brother who was a bout 6 at the time could imitate their clicking sound perfectly and he and the salamanders would hold conversations to the amusement of the rest of us. There was another trapdoor in the “backroom” but I think the cellar had caved in or something, as I don’t ever recall us using it for anything.

The upstairs had two bedrooms. The bigger of the two was where the three of us boys slept. Mom and Dad slept in the “East Room”, a small bedroom in the south east corner, with the stairs and hallway cutting back on their space. The furnace pipe came up through the floor of our room and provided heat but Mom and Dad’s room had no heat. The house had no insulation and on bitter cold winter nights with a SE wind, they would have to sleep on the couch downstairs just to survive. When my sister was born, she slept on a cot in the folk’s room until she was six. Then I moved downstairs to the livingroom couch and she got a curtained off area in the “West Room”.

Dad always planned on building a new house. Dad always planned on a lot of things. Finally, in the early ‘60’s, Mom’s dad gave us an old house in good condition and paid for the moving and much of the renovations so mom could have running water and some warmth and comfort. I can’t remember the exact year they left the old house but it was mid-60’s because I was in University. Dad never did finish the “new” house. The nails on the trim around the windows were never countersunk and the holes filled. Maybe my brother will do that when he retires and moves back to the farm from Toronto.

He did tear down the veranda and lean-to on the old house and always planned on tearing down the rest but I think he didn’t want to as there were too many memories associated with it. So it sits empty, full of musty old junk. The rest of the farm sits empty too, waiting for my brother.


  1. I have many memories of visiting in the old farm house as a child and of course heard many stories about it from my Mom.

    A story my Mom told many times was about when your Dad was born. The children were told nothing in those days and just sent to bed. The three sisters could hear some noises and one asked "What is that?" My Mom who was almost 5 answered "I don't know but I think they are killing chickens."

  2. These are beautiful pictures, Dad, and wonderful stories, too.

  3. I really appreciate your blog, Al, but I want to make sure that you know that these recent stories about your family & childhood are quite special... they make Saskatchewan, its history and its people more real for newcomers like me. thank you for sharing them! :)

  4. DC - I recall the story about killing chickens. People were so wierd about pregnancy and childbirth in those days weren't they. Not telling the children anything!!

    NC - Thanks. I know I am getting old when people say "tell me a story about the old days, Grandpa".

    Kids - I could write lots of stories if I had more pictures. Your Uncle Stan has them and has had six years to scan them. Lean on him!

  5. To refresh my memory I found the story of your Dad's birth in my Mom's writings. Actually when the girls wondered what was going on it was Eva (then about 6) who said "I think they are killing a chicken because I heard something squawk". Just then their father arrived in the door and said they had a new baby brother.

  6. What a great house



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