Saturday, November 24, 2012

Melvin J. Hart, Part Three: Canada

Melvin J. Hart and his family came to Lougheed, Alberta, Canada as part of a great wave of American immigration to Alberta and Saskatchewan after the turn of the twentieth century. The Canadian government had been actively recruiting experienced American farmers to help open up the west. Approximately three quarters of a million Americans homesteaded in Canada at that time, particularly as free land in the United States was becoming scarce. However, so far, I have found no evidence that any other members of his extended family ever came to Canada themselves. Melvin always seemed to live close to other family members, but this seemed to change with his move to Texas and then to Alberta. Melvin’s being amongst the first to homestead in places was part of a family tradition, beginning at least with his great grandfather, Jeremiah Hart, moving from Rhode Island to Stillwater, Saratoga, New York before the American Revolution. He also built a log cabin where he resided thereafter. This is not to mention the first known Hart of this line in America, Nicholas Hart, who came to America as part of the Great Migration in approximately the 1630’s. Many, many, other of Melvin’s ancestors also were part of this wave and earlier, including Richard Warren and Frances and John Cook, who were aboard the Mayflower.

I must refer you to Melvin’s daughter Charlotte’s (Lottie’s) account of the Hart family’s arrival and early days in the Lougheed area of Alberta, which appears in Verdant Valleys In and Around Lougheed. This is available, fortunately, on line at the following link: She also tells the story of herself and her husband, Robert Kells, at the following link: The stories are further told, along with that of Melvin’s daughter Flora Jane, in Cambridge School District Memories, which is not yet available on line. I summarize their story here with additional material.

Melvin Hart arrived in what is now the Lougheed area of Alberta, in March 1905, without his family. He is considered to be one of the earliest settlers of the area. He filed on the section of homestead land, section 16, township 42, and range 11, with a quarter each for himself, his sons Alva and George, and his son-in-law, Roe Jeffers--his daughter Flora Jane’s husband. He then went to Wetaskawin, where he bought four oxen, a plough, and a wagon. He broke up the soil on the land, and built a log cabin. It was 13’ by 22’ and had a sod roof. He wrote a letter to his family in November, asking them not to come until the spring, but by that time they were already preparing to join him. They had loaded a freight car with machinery, household effects, and five cows and five horses. His son George rode with the freight car to Daysland, while his wife Susan, their daughter Lottie, and their daughter Flora Jane with her husband and two young boys, Charles, age four, and Albert, age three, came as far as Camrose by passenger train. Once reunited in Daysland, they had to make their way from the train station to Lougheed by democrat, wagon, and on horseback. Along the way, they stayed at a railroad camp, from where they were guided to the home of Jess Layman, where Melvin was staying. Two weeks later, on Christmas Day 1905, they went to the homestead and started chinking up the log cabin, where the whole family would live through the winter and into the summer of 1906, with just the dirt floor and the sod roof. Flora and Roe then found their own accommodations, and built their own home, while the rest of the family lived in the log shack for a total of two and a half years, enduring the terribly cold and harsh winter of 1906/1907 there. They built a log barn and, in 1908-09, a brick house constructed of homemade bricks made by a local. The log house still got use over the years, and was enjoyed by their neighbours later on as a place to visit, have dinner, and read magazines after school. It had a second floor, with a set of stairs, which may or may not have been a later addition. The Harts got their basic provisions in Daysland, and their meat was prairie chickens and rabbits in the early days. They would also pick wild cranberries, raspberries and saskatoons.

According to the documents in Melvin’s Civil War pension file, all he accomplished in his life after the Second Battle of Bull Run  was done with disabling gastrointestinal disorders. He is reported multiple times as only being able to do a half day’s work every day of his life. In the last years of his life, with his eldest son Alva (“Al”) having died in 1922, and his youngest son Dell in 1918, his son George, my grandfather, saw to his every personal need. Melvin died on March 29, 1928 of a stroke. He is buried in the Lougheed Village Cemetery. George did not marry until 1930, when he married Lena Sarah Marlow Smith. He died the same year on July 10th, exactly four months before the birth of his only son, and the only male heir to carry on the Hart name from Melvin’s line, Harold. Melvin’s wife Susan passed away on December 28, 1932, and is buried with her husband.

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