Alex was born on the 25 March 1878 at Mount Thom, Pictou County, Nova Scotia, the second son of John Murray and Jessie Murray. John Murray was a farmer in his fifties when he married. There were two sons and five daughters born to this couple.
Alex spent his youth in Nova Scotia. He attended Lower Mount School, which was constructed in 1876. As he grew up there were seventeen large families in the area and Mt. Thom had 54 students taught by one teacher. Five doctors, seven teachers and a number of nursing graduates came from this era. (By 1964 there were only five students registered and the school was closed down.)
His memories include cutting logs in the bush, maple syrup time, skiing down the hill to school in the winter when the drifts were over the fences, and making his own skis. He learned some Gaelic along the way.
When Alex was 16 years old his father died. The family stayed on at the farm in Mount Thom for several years after his death. On the 1901 census Alex's mother and all the children were still living at Mount Thom but gradually all of the family members went west.
On the 26th Nov. 1902 Alex married Annie May
1904 Alex and his wife and baby son left on a harvest train which took
them to Brandon, Manitoba or Rivers, Manitoba. Alex worked
for farmers in
that vicinity. Before they left Manitoba, a second son was
Annie May, Jack and Alex Murray
Alex took out a homestead entry in Saskatchewan for SW 36 45 10 W3 but abandoned it.
He rented a farm near Rosthern, Saskatchewan (SE 35 42 4 W3). On the 17th May 1909 he applied for another Entry for a Homestead. This was located near Blaine Lake (NW 1 44 7 W3).
Alex farmed near Rosthern and made time to break land, plant and harvest the homestead land. In 1909 he broke 4 acres and in 1910 another 7 and cropped 4. During this time he built a stable worth $70.00 on the land. On January 1910 a Statutory Declaration contained the following :
"Two years of poor crops run me in debt and I had to rent to keep going and support my family, this kept me from moving onto my homestead last summer. I am going to reside on my homestead about Jan. 15, 1911 as soon as I get the wheat hauled off of rented farm."
While he worked on the homestead, he lived in a
lean-to on the
barn. In July 1911 he had started to
On a Statutory Declaration dated 12 August 1911 he stated the following special circumstances:
"I have done my very best to perform my residence duties on my homestead. I have done all that was required except the residence duties and I have been forced to reside on a rented farm to make my living until I should have enough land broken to make my living from my homestead.
I have performed 3 mos. Residence this year and intend to reside here from now on continuously"
On November 30, 1914, D.J. Rose, Local Agent of Dominion Lands for Prince Albert recommended Alex's application for Patent.
There is no evidence that the family ever lived on the
homestead. It is assumed that once the Patent was granted
that the homestead was sold and the rental property was purchased.
Alex held strong opinions and he was never shy about stating them and standing up for what he believed. He did not want or need approval from anyone and he seemed to believe that whatever he believed was the truth. He was known to be very tough with his children. If they didn't perform he took the strap to them.
Farming was not easy, especially during the depression years, but the Murrays were hardy and managed. They always had home grown vegetables, milk, cream, wheat and other farm produce. Alex's children tell of the times when Alex gave away bags of potatoes or wheat to people in need when his children thought he should keep them for himself.
His daughter Jean says: "Dad was always generous with his time when neighbors needed his help and with garden produce when they needed that. It seems we grew more potatoes than most and every spring before the new crop was ready, neighbors would be by for a bucket or two of last years harvest. Dad made certain we always filled their buckets with the firmest potatoes we could find and would have felt insulted if anyone had offered to pay. Dad's philosophy was, "you give help when and however it is needed and you give it freely."
Alex was not a great businessman and didn't always make wise choices. When he needed money he would sell one of a matched team of horses. He borrowed money at very high interest rates and had trouble paying the mortgages. He was not a farmer.
He was, however a wonderful cabinetmaker and a carpenter. He once told his daughter, Anne, that if, during the 20's he had had the courage to leave the farm, where he knew he could eke out a living for his family, and go into the construction business in Saskatoon, he could have made a very good living. How great is hindsight.
He did do some carpenter work. He and his son, Alex, went into Saskatoon and worked on the grain elevator there and made good money at it.
Unfortunately, Annie May died in childbirth in 1921 leaving Alex to raise the family. Her obituary in the April 28th, 1921 issue of "The Rosthern Enterprise" mentioned that her death resulted from blood poisoning. The following week there appeared a notice in the paper as follows: "A. H. Murray wished us to make a correction as to the cause of the death of his wife. He says there was no sign of blood poisoning, death being due to other causes."
Apparently there was some disagreement between Alex and the Doctor who forced him to put the retraction in the paper under threat of legal action. The cause of death on the Saskatchewan government death registration was "acute congestion of the lungs with heart failure - following confinement".
A widow from England, Margaret Sproul, with two sons came to housekeep for the family. In 1926 Alex and Margaret were married and three daughters were born to them in the years following.
The children from the first family have all said that Margaret changed Alex. How could she tame a big, strong, opinionated man who beat his ideas into weaker people? When asked how she did it, she supposedly said, "I laughed at him".
The children of the first family, who were at home after his second marriage, came to love Margaret as their own mother. She showed them the same love she showed her own children. Alex's son, Angus says that when he returned from the Second World War, she was so happy that he returned and then she said, "If Jack would only get home we would be really happy." She had never even met Jack.
Unfortunately, Alex and his stepson, Donald Sproul, did not see eye to eye. In 1929 Alex drove him from home and told him never to return. Donald was about seventeen and must have worked in the area for some time because he came around the school to see his younger sisters at recess. Of course, this was very hard on Margaret.
At the time that the dirty thirties were in full swing with no money on farms, the boys had all left the farm. Alex had his daughter, Anne, as his right-hand man. She always worked outside rather than in the house.
During the thirties carloads of apples from Eastern Canada were brought by train to prairie towns. People would take gunnysacks to the station and take home free apples. Alex would not take any. He was too proud for that, but not too proud to take the salted cod fish that were also brought in. Most people took the fish to feed the livestock but the Murrays ate them. Margaret would sit for hours picking out the bones and cook them in a cream sauce. Anne Carter hates fish to this day.
In those times before Medicare, Alex acted as both doctor and vet. His daughter, Anne, remembers a time when she fell off a horse and dislocated a bone in her ankle. She limped around for a few days unable to put her heel to the ground. When it didn't seem to be getting any better, Alex sat her down in a chair, sat in front of her examining the ankle, poking it everywhere (telling her it didn't hurt!) and then held the leg and toes and said "Turn your heel that way". The bone slipped back into place and she could walk properly again.
Jean tells of her experience: "While I was in High School, I broke a bone in my upper right arm. Dad carefully set it straight, wrapped it in a soft bandage and put a plaster cast on it. Years later when I chipped a bone in my elbow, a doctor mentioned, when looking at the x-ray, that I obviously had broken my arm at one time but that it had mended well."
One day when Elsie was supposed to be feeding the chickens she was playing with the dog instead and slipped on the grass and dislocated her elbow. Her sister-in-law, Jennie, who was an R.N. insisted Elsie should be taken to the hospital, but A. H. cupped his hand around the elbow, gave it a twist and it went into place. Another time when Bob Murray, Jack's son, was helping out with the harvest, Elsie ran upstairs to get something and when she came down she fell and put her ankle out. Alex looked after that as well.
When the children had baby teeth to be pulled, they knelt on the floor between Alex's knees, opened their mouths on command and he used a pair of needle nose pliers to extract the offending tooth. During these times Margaret went for long walks.
Alex was just as successful in setting broken bones for his animals. One of the ponies had a back leg broken and Alex set her leg and put a cast and splint on. He put a cast and a splint on a calf that had a front leg broken. They put her into a box so that she could push the splint into a corner of the box and so stand up. Both horse and calf made good recoveries.
He not only doctored children and animals, but he did his own medical work. At one time he crushed a finger, probably in a logging chain. He emptied the contents out of a shotgun shell, rammed the cartridge over the crushed finger and let it heal that way. During the forties he slipped off a built up snow path and broke a bone in his lower leg. He waited until the swelling went down, applied a plaster cast and it seemed to heal well. He lived out the pain of the broken bone by sitting on a low chair and painting the kitchen floor of the farm home.
Beneath the tough exterior there was tenderness. He would pull his big chair close to the kitchen stove, and get all three daughters on his knee and he would sing to them. One song that Anne Carter remembers was about a young girl who didn't dress properly and froze to death during a sleigh ride to a party.
"It's a bitter cold night", young Charlie said,
Anne Carter also noticed tears in his eyes as he said goodbye to Eric Gabrielson who was going overseas and tear-filled eyes when he had to put down and old horse that he had had for many years. She also remembers him walking from one window to another in the kitchen, watching a raging snow storm and singing "To the hills around, do I lift up my longing eyes" and telling the family that it was the anniversary of his Father's death.
A.H. Murray served on the School Board for the little country school of Eigenfeld and was also Sec. Treas. for some time. In 1993 Fred Gable, a former resident of the farming community there told Alex's daughter, Jean, how much Alex had done for the school. This quote is not exact but very close, "Mr. Murray was not only a good neighbor, he helped the school. Until he became a board member, the school had no sports equipment at all. Mr. Murray insisted that the board have swings built for the little ones, and saw that softball equipment was bought each year. He also argued for and got higher wages for the teachers" This was when $400 per year was a common wage for teachers.
He served as a director and was lineman for the Rural Telephone Company for many years.
He was a long-time member of the Masonic Lodge in Rosthern and later in Brooks. After the Rosthern meetings he would come home with his coat smelling of tobacco smoke and sometimes he brought home sandwiches left from the lunch. The Murray girls would have them in their school lunches the next day. He was awarded a fifty-year pin from the Rosthern Masonic Lodge in August 1969. He made pillars for the Rosthern Lodge and when it closed down the pillars were given to the Brooks Lodge.
When Alex's son, Angus came home from overseas, Alex was showing his horses to him. Angus said a good number of them were his horses because his mare was the mother. Alex said they he had looked after them and provided the feed so they were his. The two came to an agreement and Angus was to get some of them. Shortly after that Angus was at a movie and the news was shown before the feature. A story about horses being shipped to France came on and Angus jumped up and yelled, "Those are my horses." He phoned his father and sure enough the horses had been sold.
In 1948 Alex sold the farm and retired to Brooks, Alberta. Up to that time he had driven a Model T Ford, but he bought a new ford truck to make the move. It took two trips to move the family. He didn't take back an empty truck going for the second load; he hauled a load of coal from Bow City back to Saskatchewan.
Alex, granddaughter Joan, Margaret
Margaret was in poor health and died August 10, 1949.
Alex was a good carpenter and spent time working on projects for many years. When he first moved to Brooks he was foreman to a crew working on a grain elevator at Hussar. He did some commercial building of picnic shelters and cabins at Lake Newell when he was in his seventies and in his eighties was a consultant-supervisor when Brooks United Church built its new building
In 1953 and again in 1955, Alex was able to return to Nova Scotia and visit his cousins that were still there. On the 1953 visit he attended the Highland games. As well as visiting Pictou County, he toured Cape Breton.
On the 1955 visit he sent back a post card saying: "We have rain mostly. Was to the Island, P.E.I and Cape Breton, Halifax and across the new bridge and to the Annapolis Valley. I never saw so many apples in my life, thousands of barrels and as many on the trees. Here they turn the cows in to eat them."
Alex married a third time in 1958 to his sister-in-law, Hazel Cora Sutton Murray, who was a widow. He outlived his third wife.
Alex was a member of the Presbyterian Church and often traveled thirty miles to Bassano because there was no Presbyterian Church in Brooks.
Alex's daughter, Jean, tells the following: Dad's need to help others did not lessen with age. In the winter of 70 - 71 in his 93rd year he was out chipping ice off the sidewalk. His legs had weakened and he had to sit on a campstool but when asked why he bothered he replied, "There's the clinic just up the street and some of the older folks walk up this way and I don't want them to fall."
He lived in his own house up to the time of his death. Even when his legs began to give out he was active.
A. H. Murray had a strong interest in politics, always supporting the Conservative party (although he admitted to once voting for a Liberal - a very good man). He had an alert mind up to the end of his life and was interested in the world about him.
On December 23rd, 1972 he was taken to the hospital in an ambulance and stayed there until his death Dec. 30. The funeral was held on January 3, 1973 - a bitterly cold day (9 degrees below F. with a 20 mile wind). He was buried beside his second wife in the Brooks cemetery. A storm swept across Alberta and Saskatchewan the day before the funeral making it impossible for any Saskatchewan people to come to the funeral
Memories of a Granddaughter
Mum told me that you were collecting information about Grampa, and I wanted to say that during the year that I lived in Brooks I learned that in spite of his age he lost neither concern, wit nor sense of humor.
Were you aware that when Mum and I moved there it had been only a few years after her two back surgeries, and that she still was in a fair amount of pain? Her Dad was, and when he "inspected" the house that we were to live in, he decided that the staircase to the basement was too narrow and steep for her to handle safely - so, on his own, with the skills he had never formally been taught, he rebuilt them! Stairs are not an easy carpentry item to build. especially for someone in their nineties.
Neither is learning what was then called "New Math", with which I was struggling in school. My teacher was trying to hammer algebra into my head, and it was making no sense at all to me. I was doing my homework at Grampa's while waiting for Mum to get home, and was almost in tears because I could not understand it. Grampa watched me for a while then told me to bring my books to him and show him what I was studying. He had, so far as I know, never dealt with algebraic equations (apparently he never had a chance to finish school), and certainly had no familiarity with the way the schools were teaching math then. He looked through my books for a few minutes, and then without hesitation and with great clarity and patience explained to me what I was missing, and how to do what I needed to solve the problems. He was a marvelous teacher.*
He was as wonderful a cook, as well as a very economical one. (Mum says he used to make all their Christmas cakes.) He would purchase a standing rib roast on Sunday, and eat from it through Wednesday, after which he would take the leftover meat, grind it up, add to it whatever leftover veggies he had and bake it. He called it hash. One Thursday, Mum, Aunt Elsie and I were eating a hash lunch at his place, and he asked us what we thought was in that week's hash. We all guessed the usual: beans, carrots, potatoes, onions; but he kept insisting, with a real twinkle in his eye, that we continue guessing till we gave up. He then said, with a triumphant grin, "Remember that old, stale doughnut...!"
Grampa was kind to me; he made me feel loved and welcomed (he liked my dog, Buttons, too!) and I shall always be glad that I had that year in Brooks to get to know and respect and love him.
*The editor is also a granddaughter of A.H. Murray and can vouch that what Maggie says is true. When I was ten years old and in grade five I once handed in a long division assignment and got every question wrong. The teacher made me stay after school to redo the assignment. As it was brownie night and I was dressed in my brownie uniform, I was quite upset and howled long and loud until Miss Jacobson gave in and let me go. By this time brownies was already started and I was too upset to go, so I went home and Grandpa taught me long division. I was able to redo the assignment (with only two errors) and cannot remember ever having trouble with long division again.
Articles from the Brooks Bulletin
The Editor of the Brooks Bulletin kept track of Alex Murray's birthdays. Nearly every year there was an article or editorial about him.
Here are some of the things mentioned:
Sept. 24, 1964: The nostalgia of the past reached out from a little school in Pictou County, Nova Scotia to flick the memory of A. H. (Alex) Murray back to days before the turn of the century.
Mar. 29, 1966: Greetings are extended this week to an old-time friend, Alexander Hugh Ross Murray of Brooks, who marks his eighty-eigth birthday this Friday, March 25th...
"A. H." is a staunch Conservative in politics - but in
be termed the "old school." This was when conservatism was
as a Canada-first party, when the less government interference in
the better and when a man stood up for his beliefs....
Mar. 28, 1968: A. Murray marks 90th birthday; west in 1904...The Bulletin editor asked him if he had any formula for longevity and Mr. Murray replied simply that he had spent a lifetime at hard work, believed in clean living, and had voted the Conservative ticket at every election.
Jan. 23rd, 1969: Our undercover agent reported last week tht he saw three "youngsters" shoveling snow from their sidewalks in below zero temperatures. They were Fred Johnson and Jack Miller, both in their eighties, plus A.H. (Grandpa) Murray, who'll never see 90 again.
April 1, 1971: Although he was born in 1878,
after Canadian confederation, Alex H. Murray of Brooks, whose
birthday was marked Tuesday, March 25th by a birthday dinner attended
some 40 relatives and friends,...
Jan. 4, 1973: This week we said good-bye for the last time to an old friend, Alex Murray, who died at the good old age of 94.
We have been acquainted with Alex Murray since we came
eighteen years ago, and our infrequent meetings and discussions were a
of mutual delight. As a true Scot he was canny and cautious
in many things, but not in politic for he made it known to all that he
was a true follower and disciple of the Progressive Conservative
party. It was the result of such beliefs of his and the
editor's opposing views that many
verbal battles were carried on over the years. And we knew to
care when those flashing blue eyes sparkled as he made known his
positive views. He always had logical and convincing
A "moonlighter" at 92
Alex H. Murray is not exactly a moonlighter (a person
two jobs at the same time), but the reason we call him one is that at
age of 92 he already has filled practically two lifetimes of
And here he is . . . caught in the act of repairing his own chimney!
A Tribute to A. H. Murray
Tonight it is fitting and proper for us to pay
tribute to Worshipful Brother Murray who joined our lodge 50 years
ago. This represents 50
years of service - to our members, to our lodge, to our community and
our country. In serving all these he was primarily serving
The numerals 50 on the pin remind us of your
years of service. You have given lovingly of that service, in
words and in thoughtful deeds of kindness.
This good old world would be better
After this meeting closes and we have
gone home and had
a little time to reflect and meditate over what has taken place this
may we resolve to live within the teachings of this great organization
and within the boundaries of our grand obligation, for by so doing we
better citizens, better neighbours, better mothers and fathers and,
but not least, better Masons.
Farming in Saskatchewan
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