The trip from Raymond to Del Bonita through Magrath offers very little challenge today. However, in 1919, it was a long weary trek for Harry and Nellie Lightfoot and their daughter, Joyce. As Magrath faded from sight, and the team and wagon moved slowly across the barren trackless country, it is little wonder that Nellie, newly come from the city of London, asked Harry to turn back to Raymond. A chronicle written by Harry in 1955, recalls the memory in his own words: "We moved out to the homestead from Lethbridge in hayracks, and put up overnight at Wiley's. They were in the farmhouse that belonged to Taylor's down on the river bottom below the E Breen place. One night there and Mum was all for giving up and going back and letting the place go back to the Government."
However, there was no turning back, for a homestead and a newly-built house awaited them at Del Bonita. Harry and his half brother, Joe Little, had resided in a tar paper shack just north of Lens School while they constructed, with the help of "Dad" Woods, the family home, one quarter of a mile to the south. The house, a quarter of a mile south of the school, stood for forty years and was surprisingly well built, considering that Nellie was frequently heard to say "Arry always uses a spike where a shingle nail would do".
Joe, Harry and Nellie farmed their half section until the death of Joe. Heart trouble resulting from injuries prevented Harry from doing the hard work of the farm, and he was forced to rent it until his eldest son, George, was old enough to help. At this time machinery was bought, and he resumed farming. George's death on the battle field in 1944, was the event that made the Lightfoots decide to sell the farm and move to Vancouver Island, where they spent their remaining days. A few anecdotes are affectionately offered, some in Harry's own words. We hope they will convey some insight into the character of these two border settlers.
The Lighfoots' oldest daughter, Joyce, born in England during the war, was a precocious child, who kept her mother busy. One hot day in July, while Nellie was resting, Joyce decided to take the dog for a walk. When Nellie went to check, there was no sign of Joyce. A quick search of the house and farmyard convinced her that Joyce had wandered off into the vast reaches of tall prairie grass, which extended well over the child's head. There were few fences or roadways to serve as markers. Panic quickly set in. Harry and Joe were summoned and a seemingly futile search began. As they stood frantically calling and trying to plan some strategy of search, Joe spotted the black plume of the family dog's tail above the waving sea of grass. Joyce was found. In later years, as the prairie grass gave way to cultivated fields, roadways and fences, the memory of a little girl completely hidden in the tall prairie grass remained vividly clear in Nellie's mind. As Harry has noted "The kids have given us a lot of scares. It's a wonder we are able to look back at some of them. Such as Roy knocking himself out, not knowing any one of us, and rushing him through to Cardston to the doctor. And all he could tell us was that Roy would pull out of it, which he did, the next morning after me sleeping with him to watch him. And all Roy kept saying was "The old mare bucked me off". He kept on repeating it till I felt like giving him another pop on the head.
Then George and George Henry taking that old car the boys had fixed with a box to hold pigs, taking a high dive off the road, a ten foot drop, and scaring the life out of Bill Wooley who was just behind them".
One night Joe and Harry were asleep in the shack when they were building the house, and the whole place started moving. The rocking finally woke them, and when they poked their heads out the door, they saw saddle horses tied all around to the shack. There was a dance on at the Lens School; the horses had to be tied somewhere. Later Harry and Nellie attended these dances. Harry played the piano (by ear) with great tempo and rythm, and Nellie was often asked to sing some of the English music hall songs, like "After the Ball" and "Two Little Girls in Blue".
Lens school was on their half section, so they were very close to all the events held there. Harry did the janitor work for many years, carrying drinking water one quarter of a mile from the farm. During prohibition years, truck loads of booze were often discovered cached in one of the coulees in preparation for a dance. The final drama came the night the Lens School burned down after Bertie Campbell's farewell dance. The school was never rebuilt, although classes were held in a makeshift building for a time.
Weather and road conditions were always of vital concern as this story shows: "I was in Magrath hauling wheat with the truck with Sharpe Henry, when word came that Grandad had died. I went to Lethbridge to help my mother make the funeral arrangements. It was in the winter. I managed to get in touch with Uncle Joe out on the farm, to see if the family could get in for the funeral. There was deep snow out on the Lease, so he had to bring everybody to Magrath in a sleigh. We left the horses and sleigh in Magrath and piled into the truck, and was Mum glad we had the truck there. They had walked most of the way into Magrath - it was so cold. Well everything went on well and Grandad was laid away all in order. Sharpe Henry stayed around for any help he could give, for which I am thankful today. Uncle Joe had to stay in Lethbridge to help Gradma for a while. We took the truck back to Magrath, but from there on trucks could not travel as the roads were plugged with snow. On this particular day that we started home with the sleigh a fine drizzle was falling, getting us all wet. Mum had seen to it that there were blankets put in the sleigh and all the kids were put under them. We had just got to the turn in the road that leads to Mac's Hill, when a blizzard came up. It froze all the clothes on me, Mum and Sharpe, and we were having difficulty getting the horses to face it. Bill Wooley came along and he pulled into Macs and stayed in a granary. We made the hill and from then on you could not see the road for blowing snow. Sharpe and I took turns driving frantic horses. One would get down close to the road, and the driver would drive by the signs, right or left. Finally we reached the Mendenhall ranch house and pulled in. Believe me, we had had it. We kept the kids under the blankets till we pulled in. Someone was living in the house and they had a good fire on. It was all of thirty below zero. One farmer pulled in with his horses and a grain tank. He had a moustache and he had a chunk of ice as big as a baseball covering his mouth. We stayed the night and started out the next morning for home. On our way home we met Mr. Newton and Mr. Weatherley who were out looking for us, having heard that we had left Magrath the day before. The blizzard had stopped, but believe me, it was cold, forty below zero. We made good time home but brother, the house was cold and things were frozen. I hoped I would never experience anything like that again.
There were other tough trips for shopping or visiting, but at home the radio was really enjoyed. Harry enrolled in a correspondence course in radio and built his first one. Amos and Andy, Fibber McGee and Molly, accompanied; by the click of Nellie's knitting needles, were familiar sounds as socks, sweaters, mitts, and during the war, Balaclava helmets for the soldiers were turned out. Harry sold and serviced some of the first radios to arrive in the district.
These were the years of sheep lined coats and Nellie's tailoring skills were exchanged for produce when she sewed the old linings into new material for neighbors.
Happy, a bachelor neighbor, could smell the bread baking from his shack half a mile away, and often dropped in about that time. Nellie enjoyed seeing him devour the fresh bread. Happy more than repaid any kindness in the form of braided leather trappings for the horses.
Harry contributed to progress when he bought his first Ford truck. Many a time when we first went out to the Lease, Mum would have to get out and push the Ford up Mclntyre's hill, and when you look back at that old road, it took a good car to make it to the top. It also took four good horses to pull a wagon with a ton of coal on it over the hill.
When Harry traded the Ford in on a Chev. truck, there was some fun. To shift gears on the Ford you depressed the clutch but on the Chev. this would release the gear. Harry long remembered the day he shifted gears on the Chev "by" depressing the clutch when he was half way up the hill. The result was a fast trip backwards down the hill. He was well known for his erratic driving. Whoop Clifton used to tell of Harry passing so close to his team that the end-gate rod of the truck hooked off the bridle of the inside horse.
On his way home from Magrath, Harry used to blink the truck lights as he came over the Wiley hill to let Nellie know she could put the kettle on for tea. Rumor has it that a certain Jack Farries took much delight in blinking his lights as he came over Wiley's hill in an effort to act as a decoy.
Harry was never able to pass on his questionable driving skills to Nellie although he tried by giving her driving lessons. These quickly ended after Nellie did the impossible. While negotiating a sharp coulee hill as part of her lesson (with all three children in the back seat as observers) she somehow shifted straight from second gear to reverse without blowing the transmission.
Whether it was by horse, truck, or car, Harry managed to be part of most community gatherings, regardless of their purpose and was seldom deterred from expressing his opinion, whether it was at the post office, the store or a neighbor's house. As Nellie frequently said, "Every time Harry opens his mouth he puts his foot in it". When the Social Credit party emerged Harry was a staunch supporter, but his good friend Ernie Dalton was not. They would often meet at the Post office and their debate could be heard for miles. It sometimes seemed as though they would come to blows, but in reality they both enjoyed these arguments and remained the best of friends.
Harry was born in 1887 in Edmonton, England and died in 1976 at Victoria, B.C. He served as a Canadian soldier in France in World War 1. His wife, Nellie was born in London, England in 1883 and died in 1975 at Victoria, B.C. She apprenticed as a seamstress in England.
Harry and Nellie had five children, three daughters and two sons. Joyce Ellen born 1918 in London, England and died 1927 at Lethbridge, Alberta, of Scarlet Fever. George Joseph was born in 1920 in Lethbridge, Alberta. He served as a Canadian soldier in World War 11 and died in Holland in 1944.
The border country demanded much from its settlers in terms of perseverance, courage and indomitable spirit. In return, it gave back a sense of pride, achievement, and a lasting bond of friendship with those who had shared the challenge of conquering this country. If Nellie and Harry Lightfoot had written this account, that would have been the theme of their story - the warm admiration they felt for their friends and neighbors.
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