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Richard Alison Henderson
and Annie Wilson Henderson

Water Works Wonders
A History of the White, Wilson, McMahon,
River Junction School Districts Pages 336 - 339

Richard Alison Henderson was born in Fifeshire, Scotland in 1861. Annie Wilson was born in Ayrshire in 1864 and the two were married there in 1884. The Henderson ancestry has been traced back to Ireland where they were weavers of cloth.

The couple had four sons: Richard Alison (Dick) in 1885, Alexander Wilson (Alex) in 1887, James Beveridge (Jim) in 1893, and John Simm (Jack), in 1895. The family moved to various parts of Scotland. Dick was born in Edinburgh, Alex in Ayr, Jim in Ceres and Jack in Chanscend. They settled on a small farm and fed some cattle and a few horses. A sickle was used to cut their small amount of grain. The stems were tied in small bundles by blades of grass, the grain was flailed out, sacked, and then carried to the barn ready for use.

In 1905 the family moved to Glasgow, where Mr. Henderson bought a combined grocery store and butcher shop. Dick worked for his father, Alex joined the Merchant Marine, and the other two continued their schooling.

Around 1906, Mr. Henderson worked on a boat that travelled from Scotland as far as the Great Lakes with a load of cargo. On the return voyage they were carrying a load of cattle when they suddenly hit a rock near Newfoundland and had to get the cattle safely ashore, repair the boat, and load the cattle again before continuing home to Scotland.

Canada was very anxious at that time to get new settlers, particularly in the west. The Hendersons saw slides of the farming areas, and heard stories of great opportunities here. In 1907 the family boarded the ship, Cassandra, at Glasgow and headed for Quebec, Canada. It was a rough voyage across the Atlantic and took about two and a half weeks.

On their arrival in Quebec City, Mr. Henderson and Dick went to a store to buy food to take on the train but they were not too successful due to a language problem. Immigrants could cook their food in the caboose. When they reached Winnipeg they were met at the station by an immigration officer who was recruiting help for the Knight Sugar Company at Raymond, Alberta. He offered each one of them a job so they continued on to Lethbridge, where they went to the Immigration Hall on 2nd Avenue South. Lodging was provided for a few days while they waited for the small train to Raymond, which only ran three times a week.

A representative of the sugar company met them at the station in Raymond with a team of horses and a wagon, and transported them to the factory boarding house. There first job was hoeing sugar beets. Dick was fond of horses so soon got a job plowing. Jim quickly followed suit. The foreman found them a furnished house two miles from the factory. Mrs. Henderson had to walk two miles to buy groceries at the company store. Mr. Knight, the superintendent, would stop to give her a ride and arrange to deliver the groceries for her. This was quite a contrast to the Scottish landlords she was used to. During a slow time, Dick did some surveying around the Experimental Farm (now the Agriculture Canada Research Station) with Mr. Fairfield.

In time the family bought a small farm three or four miles north of the factory. All the boys' wages went towards the land payments. Mr. Henderson and Jack farmed it with the help of the other boys in the evenings. Dick and Jim were getting good wages, thirty dollars a month for driving eight horses pulling machinery from daylight to dark.

In 1909 the Hendersons took out homesteads twenty five miles east of Milk River. Dick and Jim took lumber in a wagon to built a shack. They started at noon and slept in it that night. Mr. Henderson and Alex (now returned from the Merchant Marine) drove to Coutts to pick up some machinery that was shipped there by mistake. It should have been shipped to Milk River. They drove fifteen miles back before it got dark. Alex drove one horse into the river to test the depth but the horse refused to go far. The Milk River was in flood. They had to wait about two weeks with a homesteader until the river receded. Douglas Weir came on horseback to see them and told them when it was safe to cross. They tied the wagon box down so it wouldn't float down the river and Mr. Weir guided them across. When they came to a deep spot, Weir roped his horse to their horses and pulled them along until they regained their footing. Mr. Weir became a good friend of theirs and a friend to all who came into the area to homestead. The rainstorms followed the river and the lightning was a sight to see. Dick and Alex spent the winter in the shack. The cooking left a lot to be desired, the gophers wouldn't even eat the bread they made. The R.C.M.P. had a small barracks near the river and they spent many an evening with Sergeant Ash. As there were no fences or roads, they left a lamp burning in the window so they could find their way home in the dark. All the water had to be hauled from the river which was quite a chore. In the spring they sowed oats but were dried out completely. They were very discouraged and moved back to Raymond.

Around 1911 the Hendersons bought their first steam engine and started doing custom work, plowing and threshing for people around Wrentham, Stirling, and Wilson Siding. They employed a large threshing crew so cooks were kept busy preparing meals in the cook car. Two of the cooks were later to join the Henderson family; Vilate Romeril married Alex on September 17, 1917 and Gertie Boyden married Jack on November 3, 1918.

The steam engine was also used to pull a grader and the Hendersons built roads locally as well as in the Turin and Lomond areas. They built the first graded road to Fort Macleod and when approached by the Department of Highways to continue building the road as far as Calgary, they decided to concentrate on farming instead.

In 1917 the Hendersons bought land from the A.R.& I. (Alberta Railway and Irrigation) in the White School District, which is the area now known as McNally. A house was built on the northeast corner of section 34-7-21 and Dick and Jim batched for a few years. They had some good house parties there with dancing on the veranda to tunes on the player piano. (Dances were also enjoyed at Wilson and White schools with Helen Boyden, Kate Andrews and Jim Henderson taking turns at the piano, Alex Henderson and Charlie Parry on the violin, and Heber Salmon on the drums.)

Burn's Night was celebrated with regularity, first in homes and later in the schools. Mrs. Henderson had a great gift for reciting poems written by Robbie Burns. She had a remarkable memory and never needed prompting.

Jack and Jim were inventors. They were among the first to install power take-offs on the transmissions of their trucks to hoist up the box, thus saving lots of shovelling by hand.

They also devised an endless belt with buckets on it and powered by a stationary motor to unload the grain from the truck into the bin. They used these for many years before dump boxes and grain augers were available.

Dick and Jim were good community workers, helping to install the telephone lines and donning spurs to climb the poles when there was trouble on the line.

Jim and his brothers brought irrigation water to the home farm from the main canal and this ditch is known today as the Fort Whoop-Up Lateral. One dust storm in 1938 completely filled the canal with blow dirt and Shrimp Salmon was summoned to clean it out with his dragline.

Dick and Jim used to go down to the river and haul blocks of ice back to the farm to be used in the iceboxes (known s fridges today) The blocks of ice were packed in sawdust and stored in the ice house until they were needed.

The Hendersons used to grow sugar beets and haul them to the sugar factory in Raymond for processing. During the war they used to go into Lethbridge to the Prisoner of War Camp and pick up prisoners and guards to work in the sugar beet fields. Johnny Walker worked for the Hendersons at this time and could tell many a story about these days.

The Henderson brand, I X --, was suggested to Mr. Henderson by a cowboy on the Knight Ranch and could be made with only one branding iron. This brand is still being used today.

The Readings lived with Jim for a time, with Mrs. Reading doing the housekeeping and cooking while Mr. Reading helped on the farm. When Mr. and Mrs. Henderson sold the farm at Raymond they moved to the McNally district to live with Jim. Mrs. Henderson passed away in 1935.

When the Second World War broke out, Fefferman and Hide secured the contract for picking up scrap metal for the war effort and went around to the farms to collect whatever they could find. The Hendersons had a Twin City tractor that wasn't being used so it was taken for the cause. In the early forties Hendersons' Reeves steam engine was used at the airport when the containing tanks for the sewage system were being constructed. The heat from the steam engine heated the sand and gravel and allowed the concrete to be poured during the winter. The steam engine was eventually sold to the Fabbi boys in Lethbridge and the boiler was used to heat the Purity Dairy until the dairy closed down. Much excitement was caused the day the Hendersons drove the steam engine to town.

The bridge over the canal near the White School collapsed with the weight of it and several tractors were required to get the steam engine out. The children in the school certainly enjoyed the diversion.

In the early forties Jim was driving his two ton '38 Ford truck to Lethbridge and when passing the airport a plane came in so low that the propeller took the boards off the side of the box and left a dent in the cab. The landing gear was damaged on the plane and it was forced to make an emergency landing. Jim luckily escaped without a scratch. Years later an R.C.M.P. car was hit at the same location and the constable was killed.

Alex and Vilate farmed the southeast quarter of 34-72 1, where Zandy and Jean reside today. In November of 1940 their home burned down and Alex and Vilate moved to Lethbridge with their two sons, Jimmy and Zandy. Alex worked with Ernie McLean at Red Head Highway Service, located just south of the junction of highways #4 and #5. Alex also hauled gas to farmers in the area. Jimmy was killed in a motor accident on September 3, 1949, when he was fifteen years old. Alex and Vilate celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary before Alex passed away on February 9, 1971. Vilate was very active and rode a bike until she was 84, then passed away in Southland Nursing Home on November 30, 1978. Alex is remembered by many in the district as the Santa Claus at school concerts and the Master of Ceremonies at whatever event was taking place. He was never lost for words. Zandy and Jean had six girls; Leona, Valerie, Beverly (Dee Zeeman), Barbara (died in infancy), Teresa (Peter Koci),

Jack and Gertie farmed the west half of 19-7-20, often referred to as the Taylor place, as the land was purchased from the Taylors. Jack also bought an acreage next to Wilson School and built a home there, saving their daughter, Jean, six miles of travelling to school each day.

Jack and Gertie sold their farm to Russell and Richard and retired to Lethbridge in 1964. They celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary before Gertie passed away on March 14, 1985. Jack moved to Grande Prairie to be closer to his daughter and grandchildren before passing away on November 10, 1990. Jack is remembered for his love of new cars and his ability to manufacture just about anything from a piece of steel, including the miniature steam engine he built in his garage and drove up and down the back alley, much to the surprise of his neighbours.

Dick married Lily Morris, the teacher in the one room White School, on August 23, 1927. They moved into a house on he northeast corner of section 35-7-21. A couple of nights later the community gave them a chivari. Planks were set up in the living room for seats as their furniture was still in town. Everyone brought food, and dishes were borrowed from the school as their dishes were still packed. The Murrays and Tiffins were present that evening and remained close friends of the Hendersons for many years to come. Dick and Lily had two daughters. Dick used to take the girls to school in a horse and buggy, but as they grew older they got a saddle horse to ride. White School had a barn to accommodate twenty or more horses. Lunches were wrapped in the wax paper wrapping from McGavin!s bread and carried to school in brown paper bags. Syrup pails followed as the lunch boxes of the day.

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup