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George Frank Russell and
Isabella Anne Bell Russell

Water Works Wonders
A History of the White, Wilson, McMahon,
River Junction School Districts Pages 423 - 424

George Frank Russell was born October 19, 1860 in Birmingham, England to George and Elizabeth (Plant) Russell. Two years later his parents, and two older sisters, moved to Ottawa, then called Bytown. Two more sisters were born there. He went to school in Ottawa, then trained as a mechanic, tool and pattern maker in Hamilton, Ontario where he later apprenticed. After finishing his training he worked for a time in a foundry in Hamilton.

Returning to Ottawa, he joined a survey crew going to the North West Territories in 1882. They surveyed the fifth base line from Winnipeg to the 5th Meridian in what is now Waterton Park, walking all the way.

He loved this country, so when the others returned to Ottawa, he stayed here, opening a blacksmith shop in Fort Macleod (then on an island in the Oldman River). He had a helper "Smiler", who was quite a character. (No one heard any other name for him, and in those days you didn't ask.)

At times George Russell drove bull teams for the R.I. Baker Co. from Fort Benton, Montana to Fort Macleod. In a coulee on part of the Russell land, you can still see traces of the old trail made by these wagon wheels as they headed for the St. Mary's river crossing.

He stayed in Fort Macleod until 1885 when he came to Lethbridge (Coal Banks) to open a blacksmith shop with the help of "Smiler".

That winter he went back to Ottawa and on March 3, 1886 married Isabella Anne Bell, the only daughter of a school teacher, George Walter Bell and his wife Jessie Fleming Bell, of Ottawa. They came directly to Lethbridge by train. At the time the railway was not long established and it was "narrow gauge" from Medicine Hat to Lethbridge. It was a strange and exciting trip for a young woman who had always lived in Ottawa.

George had built a small house with lumber he had hauled down from the Porcupine Hills. He also hauled lumber for Captain Bryant to help build the river boat that hauled coal to Medicine Hat. Their house and land was sold to Mr. Oliver. It was located where the Oliver Block now stands between 3rd and 4th Ave. on 5th St. South.

In 1887, the family moved to a homestead taken out in 1886 on the south side of the Pothole Creek where it joins the St. Mary River. Paddy Hasson had the homestead on the north side, which George later bought from his estate. (Son Harold Russell built a house there when he married in 1914.)

Their first son, Harold George, was born in Lethbridge in February, 1887, and in that year the Russell brand 2 over G on the left hip was registered. (Ms brand has been retained by the family and is still used on their cattle today.) Five more sons were born, then a daughter, the youngest child. The children were Harold George. Andrew James, Frank Haliburton, Charles Ernest Hope, Frederick Alexander, Percy Reginald, and Florence Maude.

Andrew and Frank joined the 20th Battery in Lethbridge when the war broke out in August 1914. Andrew died of wounds in Belgium on July 5, 1917 and was buried at Bethune. Frank was killed by Bolshevik snipers near Archangel in Russia Nov. 12, 1918. He had been gassed and was to be invalided home, but volunteered to go with the Canadian Forces to guard supplies. He was buried at Chenkursk, near Archangel.

Fourth son Ernest was invalided out of the army in 1917 shortly after enlisting.

Fred joined the army in August 1915 with the Toronto regiment and served the Queen's Own Rifles and upon arriving in England was transferred to the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles as reinforcements and served as a machine gunner in England and France until 1919.

The youngest son, Percy, was drowned in the St. Mary's River flood of 1902 at the age of two, and his body was never found, although his father rode the river banks for many days, searching.

As there were no schools near the ranch, live-in governesses were hired to teach the children. These were ladies from England and Ontario who wanted to see the west. Mrs. Russell always enjoyed their company and at least one of them married a rancher.

In 1910 the Russells left their two older sons in charge of the ranch and went back to Ontario where they bought a beautiful fruit farm near Niagara-on-the-Lake. Four children attended school in Ontario, Frank went to Agricultural College in Guelph, Fred to St. Andrew's College in Toronto. and Ernest and Florence attended in Fort Erie.

They sold their Ontario holdings and returned to the ranch after the death of their two sons overseas. They lived there until their health made a more moderate climate advisable and then went to Victoria, B.C. where George Russell died in Dec. of 1946. Mrs. Russell returned to Alberta and lived with her daughter, Florence Henderson until her death in Jan. of 1949. George wanted his ashes brought back to the ranch where he had lived happily; and his ashes and those of his wife are buried there on a hill overlooking the ranch.

Harold Russell married Lorenda Scarlet McTavish of Wilson Siding on June 24, 1914. They had two sons born while living on the ranch. The family later moved to the Pincher Creek area.

Ernest never married and carried on the farming of the home place and other holdings until his death in 1967.

Fred Russell married Cynthia Thompson, July 14, 1930, daughter of George and Elizabeth (Kinniburgh) Thompson, whom he had met when she was teaching at Farm Hill School, south of the Russell ranch.

Florence Maude married James B. Henderson Dec. 16, 1936. They had three children.

Frank and his family are the 5di generation to live on the original ranch, as Isabelle Russell's mother Jessie Fleming Bell resided there for a number of years until her death in 1900. Fred and Cynthia moved to Lethbridge in 1957. Fred died in 1992, at the age of 94, and Cynthia passed away in 1995.

George Russell and Isabelle Anne Bell Russell

Water Works Wonders
A History of the White, Wilson, McMahon,
River Junction School Districts Page 13
by Mrs. Fred (Cynthia) Russell

In 1882 George Frank Russell came West, with a survey party from Ottawa. They surveyed west from Regina and also the 5th Meridian through Waterton Park. Later he often helped He had a blacksmith shop in Macleod, and later, in 1885 came to Lethbridge, with his helper, "Smiler", who was a real character.

He returned to Ottawa and married Isabelle Anne Bell on March 3, 1886. They came back to Lethbridge by railroad as the C.P.R. was built by that time to Dunmore, near Medicine Hat, and from there to Lethbridge it was the narrow gauge. In 1887 they moved to the ranch on the St. Mary River, at the mouth of the Pothole Creek. He had his brand registered as 2IG Two Georges, as he now had a son. Harold George was born February 22, 1887. They had five more sons and one daughter: Andrew and Frank who were killed in World War I; another son was drowned in the flooding of the St. Mary in 1903; Ernest, too, was in the army, but was discharged after having measles and pneumonia; Fred also served overseas in World War I. Fred had one son, Frank. Frank's children are the fifth generation on the ranch. Mrs. Bell, their great-great-grandmother, lived with her daughter and son-in-law until her death in 1895.

Mrs. Russell was a courageous women. She had led a sheltered life in Ottawa, as the only daughter of a school teacher. On the ranch she was surrounded by Indians who might be in a dangerous mood as this was just after the Riel Rebellion. She was always kind to the Indian women who came to visit her giving them tea, cake and tobacco. The Indian men had great respect for her. The stories of her encounters with the Indians were humorous. She told of one who wanted to come in, and when she told him to go away, stuck his foot in the door. She jumped on his moccasin and he hastily pulled it out and left. Another time, the Indians persisted in staying after they had been told to go. This frightened her mother so she went out and untied their horses, giving them a slap to make them run. The Indians left in pursuit of their horses. One day when she had put out her rugs while she was cleaning the house, they picked them up and started away with them. She went after them and told them to take the rugs back but they threw them down. She asked them to pick them up and take them back, and they did - a triumph for her as they hated taking orders from a woman.

In 1910 Mr. Mrs. Russell went to Ontario, living near Toronto for some time but fortunes of war, and a longing for the high skies and wide horizons of Alberta, brought them back.

When they were old they lived in Victoria, B. C. as the climate agreed with Mr. Russell's heart condition. He died there, aged 86, on December 27, 1946, and wanted his ashes brought back to the ranch where they and those of his wife, who died here at age 85 on January 25, 1949, now rest.

"Here they lie, where they wished to be."

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup