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The Roll of the Hired Man

Water Works Wonders
A History of the White, Wilson,
McMahon, River Junction
School Districts Page 270-273 by Dena Parry (Marino)

From the beginning of settlement in the community, outside help was needed. Very few were totally self sufficient. The ranchers needed riders and the farmers needed labourers. The hours of work were endless if a farm was to be productive, for tools were hand operated and machinery was crude and horse drawn, all of which made it next to impossible for one man to efficiently operate alone.

The early years were reasonably prosperous, the markets were good, and there was work to be had, but the First World War and the drought of the 1930's made drastic changes.

To remember at all the "Great Depression" is to remember an era of "Help One Another". Farmers were hard pressed to make ends meet, and many never did, but never was a call for help turned down, as the community became a true family. They looked out for one-another and any stranger that came by and was in need. Many of these "strangers" ended up staying on as hired men.

'Hired man' was a term all too familiar in those days. Every farm had at least one, and some had two or more, depending on the nature of the farming operation. Dairy cows were all milked by hand, sugar beets were loaded with large beet forks, and hauled to the beet dump with horse and wagon, after they had been topped by hand. Grain was stooked, and later shoveled by manual labour. Haying was no different, horse and man both sweating out the long hot summer hours. Be it growing potatoes, or corn or market gardens, or poultry, swine, beef or sheep, most of the work was manual. Then, of course, the horses themselves had to be taken care of.

With the depression came young men looking for work. All over Canada they were on the move. The boys from the east, riding freight trains to the west; boys from the west 'riding the rails' to the east, all with one hope in mind -- to find employment. Along the way, they would stop at farms, offering to chop wood, or do chores to earn a meal. Charity was not asked, but they were seldom turned away. Many of these transients were fourteen years and up in age, just trying to survive. A common plea was "I'll work for just my room and board" , but each farm could support only so many. Some had to move on, and some found permanent employment.

Those who stayed on became part of the family and the community. They doubled as babysitter, companion, and friend, to many of the farm children. They joined many community functions, and some eventually married there.

September 1939, World War II broke out. It was not long before most of the young men, farmer's sons, and labourers alike, joined the forces and left to defend their country. Farmers were left without labour. Woman and children tried to fill the gap, but more help was needed. After the bombing of Pearl Harbour -- December 7, 1941 -- more than 23,000 Japanese were moved to internment camps inland, and were distributed to various communities to help in the sugar beet fields at first, but later were employed for general farm work. Many of these came to the White School District, and some remained to operate farms and businesses of their own in later years.

Although some Japanese had settled in Alberta in the period 1900-1920, most of the Japanese had settled in British Columbia, concentrating along the Pacific coast and in the Fraser River Valley.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbour in 1941, there were fears that the Japanese-Canadians living along the coast posed a threat to the country's security. Almost immediately the fishing boats of the Japanese were impounded and sold to other operators, and the government ordered a complete evacuation of the so-called Defence Zone

Beet growers in Southern Alberta were plagued with a shortage of labour and were quick to seize any opportunity to relieve the problem. The Beet Growers Association sent a delegation to Vancouver to discuss the situation. The meeting was a productive one and the members of the delegation came away convinced that the Japanese would come to the sugar beet fields of Southern Alberta.

In preparation for the movement of the Japanese from the coast, Wm.. (Bill) Andrews was appointed as B.C. Security Commission Representative in Southern Alberta. An office was set up in the Metcalfe Building. Farmers made out applications for Japanese families, and within a week the first contingent of Japanese evacuees arrived from Mission, B.C.

The families experienced severe adjustment problems. Living quarters were of a temporary sort, passable for summer, poor for winter. There was a lack of a good water supply for people known for their cleanliness. Medical facilities were inadequate; the families felt isolated - out of the city on farms where the nearest neighbor was miles away. Their work was seasonal, and pay was minimal - not enough to support a family, but the rule was they were not allowed to leave the farm to find other employment. The B.C. Government provided relief funds for many of the Japanese families during the first winter. Another problem was the added school facilities necessitated by the influx of Japanese evacuees. The B. C. Security Commission paid an outright grant to the Province of Alberta which in turn was distributed to school districts for the education of Japanese children. (White School experienced the overcrowding after 1942 and was successful in assimilating the Japanese children - additional rooms were found and additional teachers hired.)

For those who had owned farms, boats, and businesses, to be reduced to long tedious hours of back-breaking labour in a strange land must have been humiliating. That they were able to adjust at all is a tribute to their fortitude. Many of the evacuees accepted Southern Alberta as their new home.

Today people of Japanese ancestry can be found in nearly every occupation and profession. The Japanese Canadian farmer has played a significant role in South Alberta agriculture.

German prisoners were also a part of farm labour during the war years. The P.O.W.'s, though confined, lived well, receiving the same rations as Canadian troops stationed in Canada. Carloads of sugar, jam, meat and other rationed items were brought into the camp. This caused some resentment among Canadians who were caught up in wartime rationing. From Camp,No. 133 ...

There were 13,634 prisoners at P.O.W. Camp 133 at its peak. At all times, it was the largest of its kind in Canada, and covered one square mile of land, bounded by 5th and 14th Avenue and 28th and 43 Street, North Lethbridge.

At the time it was a boon to the agriculture industry in the south, as most of our young men were in the forces or overseas, and there was a definite labour shortage. Towards the end of the war, some prisoners were billeted on farms, with no guards, and were employed by the month. Other prisoners were employed in lumber camps and some also did general farm labour.

The first prisoners came to the Lethbridge P.O.W. Camp #133 on November 8, 1942, and remained until June, 1946.

Prisoners were deployed to surrounding farms out of nine manpower hostels established in the Lethbridge district. Several hundred more went to farms daily from Camp 133 and returned each night. There were hostels at Barnwell, Coaldale, Turin, Iron Springs, Park Lake, White School, Welling, and Magrath. Most were for prisoners who stayed there for several weeks during the sugar beet harvest. All were volunteer workers. Guards accompanied them, and farmers provided the transportation.

Each hostel accommodated 50 men; meals were supplied by the military. Some had their German uniforms; some were supplied uniforms with a large red bwls-eye on the back. However, officers reported that not a single incident of any kind happened from having the men work away from the camp.

The farmers paid the Department of Labour $2.25 per day, per man, out of which the P.O.W.'s received fifty cents. Twenty cents was put aside for when they returned home. Thirty cents worth of credits was used in the canteen for such things as cigarettes, beer, laundry soap, shaving supplies, shoe polish, toothpaste, etc.

After the war, many farmers sponsored former prisoners to come to Canada. Many came and became Canadian citizens. Some White School residents were among those sponsors.

Affluence after the war led to the purchasing of more efficient machinery, and in a very few years the draft horse and then the Hired Man became a part of history. They both still exist, but in very small numbers. However, don't let us ever forget that they helped build this country; we could not have done it without them!

Prisoner of War Camp

Camp #133 at Lethbridge was built over the summer of 1942. 13,341 P.O.W.'s were moved into camp in November of that year. The camp was divided into six sections each with six dormitories, mess halls, kitchens and entertainment facilities.

Non-combat prisoners were engaged in their professions as doctors and medical orderlies. Outside medical, dental, and eye care services were provided to prisoners at no cost.

Housing and rations were the same standard as for Canadian armed forces. This caused resentment, as local residents were unable to obtain many of the same supplies on their strict ration allowances.

With many young men away, local farmers began to request labour assistance from the camp.

By 1943, P.O.W.'s were sent to work on farms in the Lethbridge district. Most prisoners were transported to and from camp daily, but some were housed at "lodges" near the farms the prisoners worked. There was minimal guarding. Prisoners were paid 50 cents a day for this work.

The Lethbridge camp closed December 1946 and the prisoners were sent back to their homes. Several former prisoners have returned and live in the Lethbridge and area with their families.

Miscellaneous Histories

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup