There is a line in a poem by Robert Frost about a good fence making good neighbours. It is a line that seems rather appropriate in the case of the Buckle and Harris families which live south of Yorkton.
The two families have been neighbours since before Saskatchewan was ... well before it was Saskatchewan.
“Garry (Harris) and I were working together taking out the fence line and we got to talking,” recounts Blaine Buckle.
The work was hard, as the fence line had become the dumping ground for stones over the years.
“But, 132 years ago what would it have been like?” questioned Buckle, which had the two friends thinking about what their families had faced when arriving in the area.
Both families trace their roots to England where they made the decision to emigrate to Canada.
The Harris’ and Buckles arrived in Woodstock, ON. around 1886, and got to know each other while there working to raise funds for a move farther west.
In the case of the Buckle family “They had to work there for two years to raise enough money to come out,” said Blaine.
Buckle said while it is not exactly known, they believe there may have been an agent of the York Farmers’ Colonization Company (Limited) in the Woodstock area, and that was the ‘hook’ that led both families to the local area.
As it turned out the James and Elizabeth Harris homestead was four miles south of the current city.
Thomas and Catherine Buckle family settled on a homestead 4.5 miles south.
James Henry Harris was born June 20, 1869 at Stoneleigh mid-Warwickshire, England.
“Stoneleigh is a historic village situated where the River Sowe joins the Avon River. Generations of the Harris family were farm laborers on the Sir Thomas Leigh Estate. Sir Thomas Leigh was Lord Mayor of London when Queen Elizabeth I was crowned at Westminster Abbey in 1558. The estate was originally Abbey lands of the Cistercian Monks in the middle of the 12th Century until it was suppressed by Henry VIII. The land was put up for sale and had three owners prior to Thomas Leigh who was given the land by Sir Rowland Hill, a rich London merchant and alderman. Famous visitors to the estate were William Shakespeare and Jane Austin,” relates a 125-year history of Maple Grove Farm (the Harris Family)
James arrived in Woodstock at the age of 21, working there until 1888, when “he was enticed by the offer of 160 acres of free land by the Dominion Government for a $10,000 administration fee to settle the North West Territories, Provisional District of Assiniboia. In 1888, he travelled to Saltcoats by train, the end of the line at that time.”
For both Harris and Buckle the homesteads they claimed came with rules that had to be heeded to ensure full title.
“According to the Dominion Lands Act any male farmer who agreed to cultivate at least 40 acres of the land and build a permanent dwelling on it within three years qualified,” noted the Harris history. “ ... The Dominion Lands Act required Sworn Statement by the homesteader as well as Sworn Statements by two farmers who knew the farmer for at least two years before a patent (title) was issued for the land.
“The Sworn Statements were filed August 15, 1892, three years after his residency on the land. Eighteen questions were asked on the statement. Harry answered all by stating: lived on the land since August 1889; he had a wife and two children; broke and cultivated each year and now had 45 acres cultivated, 20 head of cattle, two horses, six pigs, built a log cabin 16 feet x 22 feet, a log stable and a granary. Sworn before Thomas Ferguson, Local Agent of Dominion Lands for Touchwood District, Divisional District of Assiniboia, N.W.T. Tom Buckle and George Evans vouched for Harry by signing sworn statements.”
The book Ox-Trails to Highways takes up the Buckle story.
“Thomas Buckle was a Yorkshire man, and was apprenticed to a farmer to learn that ancient and honorable profession, but decided that he would rather go to Canada. This required money and Thomas being a married man at that time with two children, Martha and Harry, did not have enough. So he went into Lincolnshire to work in the blast furnaces to make money to get to Canada. He worked in Ontario to gain enough money to come further west, and it was in Ontario that Dick Buckle was born and another sister (now deceased),” notes the history.
“Finally in 1887, along with the Harris family, they arrived at Yorkton, and Thomas took a homestead, the S.E. quarter of 12-25-4. Building a log house, Tom settled the family in this two room home and away he went to find work. They had brought with them, two horses and one cow and no provision had been made to stable them. While her husband was away, Mrs. Buckle was trying to manage things, there came a very severe storm, late in the spring, just as the cow was due to freshen.
“The milk for the family was a necessity as Mrs. Buckle saw it. She did not hesitate to bring the cow into the house, and so the fine calf that was delivered, might claim to be the only calf in the Yorkton area, to first see the light of day in a house.”
So it was that “South of York Lake, there came an English Pioneer, who brought with him the firm belief that the possession of a quarter section gave the owner undeniable right to fully protect all wildlife which was on it, as well as to keep even his neighbours from trespassing thereon,” detailed the book. “That such an attitude would be a source of strife to an active family as the Buckles, soon became apparent, when Mr. Goodacre would chase them from his land, contending that the rabbits and the ducks thereon were his. Naturally, that was the place where the Buckle boys liked best to hunt. Once even, Tom, their father, was caught. He had shot some ducks on a Goodacre slough and had taken off his pants to wade after them. Suddenly this stickler for property rights appeared, and demanded that Buckle was trespassing. In order to play for time, Tom asked innocently “What does trespassing mean?” Goodacre fell for the ruse, and began to give him a lecture on property rights, while Tom hurriedly was regaining the safety and sanctity of his trousers, still playing for time, Tom gave him a Yorkshire expression, which left Goodacre confused. And in turn asked what it meant. By this time Tom was dressed, so he quickly picked up the ducks, and informed the property owner that it meant, “He could go to hell.” And away Tom went with the ducks.”
The stories of the families naturally intersect often, and both Blaine and Garry note one story collected in the aforementioned history book.
“It was later that summer that Tom Buckle, got the scare of his life, as he put it. He and Mr. Harris were digging a well, and Tom was the man who was doing the digging down below, when suddenly Harris let out a yell and disappeared,” goes the story.
“When Tom looked up to see what was the matter, he saw three Indians in full war regalia looking down at him. They motioned for him to come out, and they lowered the rope so he could.
“Pale and shaky, Tom clambered out. The he learned that it was not his scalp they wanted, but only to trade furs. About this time Harris appeared with the old muzzle loader, and the white men were so glad that the Indians were on a peaceful mission, that they quickly had Mrs. Buckle make up a meal which they all shared.
“From that time, Kinnistino and Peepeetch and Tom Buckle were friends. Every Christmas from that time till the year he died, Kinnistino would go into Yorkton for Mass, and then stop at the Buckles for breakfast. Before they ate, the Indian and his (mate), and Tom, would sit and solemnly smoke the pipe of peace.”
The history continues to be made, with Garry Harris and Blaine Buckle now in possession of the homestead quarters, both being the fourth in their families with title.
That both families still hold the land is surprising, now more than 130 years since the families arrived. Homesteads do stay in some families through the decades, but two on the same section has to be rare, if not outright unique in the province.
Blaine wondered at how often the families had likely worked together, again reflecting on the fence line and its stones.
“Every one of those stones, somebody touched at one time,” he said.
Whether it was the hands of a Harris or a Buckle of course is lost to the winds of time.