History preserved to scale

A once grand farmhouse sits long-abandoned in a field just east of Theodore.
The history of the forlorn structure is known to only a few today, how it once housed one of the most influential families in the earliest years of the area.
The old building’s fate is all but assured, a continued decline into rot and disrepair until one day it is bulldozed and burned.
And then the story of Richard Seeman and the early history of the district would be without a last visual chapter.

“The (Manitoba and North Western Railway) railway’s desperate need of cash allowed Seeman to buy title to 80,000 acres (125 sections) of railway land for $80,000. The proceeds from this land enabled the railway to continue operations for several years, and Seeman acquired some of the best land along the M&NWR line between Winnipeg and Yorkton. Over the ensuing decade and a half, Seeman was able to recoup his investment by selling his land at prices that were usually several times higher than the original purchase price.
“Under the terms of the sales agreement, (Richard) Seeman was given his choice of land on either side of the line between Gladstone and a point some 25 miles west of Yorkton. One important expectation was that the M&NWR would fulfill a promise it made several years earlier: that it would extend the line 45 miles of Yorkton to Sheho Lake. In 1894, Richard Seeman intimated to the agent who managed his property at Theodore that he had arranged with the railway company for the line to be extended. However, it does not appear that the railway promised to complete the line by any specific date and was, therefore, not in any hurry to keep its promise. As a result of the railway’s inaction, regular and frequent attempts were made by the settlers during the 1890s to influence the company to keep its promise, but to no avail.”

— Neil Gregory, Saskatchewan History magazine

The seed for what would become Theodore were sewn. But, what then of that history if the old house was gone as a reminder?
Well, thanks to Bruce Frederickson the history has been preserved in miniature, in 1/12 scale to be more accurate.
Working from exacting measurements taken on-site of what remains of the house, and then using computer programs and archival photographs to extrapolate the missing details, like a once fine veranda long lost, Frederickson undertook the scale recreation.
“I think it always intrigued me,” he said, adding visually it left him wondering how a home of such scale and detail was “built in that day and age.”
Frederickson said most long-time residents of Theodore and area are aware of the house, if not its history, and as something of a landmark even in its disrepair he recognizes its significance.
“When that house is gone there will be no way to recreate it,” he said.
That means history being lost.

“They were quite influential people in their day,” he said, adding the scale of the Seeman operation meant they supported many in the area. “They employed a lot of people. They had a whole separate house where workers stayed.
“The year 1892, not only marked the beginning of Seeman ranch, headquartered just a few miles from what would, 10 years later, become the site of the Village of Theodore, but it also marked the beginning of a significant change in the existing community. One of the first changes that occurred was a change in the community’s name.
“Prior to Seeman’s arrival, the area had been known as Little Denmark or New Denmark, because of the number of Scandinavian settlers living there at the time. According to Seeman’s granddaughter Beryl, Seeman named the farm “Theodora” after his sister. With the establishment of a post office on Seeman’s farm in 1893, the new name soon became popular among the local population and appeared in the Regina and Winnipeg newspapers.
“One of the most important facilities in the life of any community in the 1890s was the local post office. In February 1893, the Theodore correspondent to the Regina Leader complained that the people had been asking for a post office to serve the 50 or 60 persons living there for six months, about the same time Seeman began establishing his farm there. When the post office was finally opened at Theodore in December 1893, it was located on the Seeman farm and Richard Seeman was named postmaster. One possible reason for locating the post office on Seeman’s property could have been the fact that a general store, mentioned in the post office application, already existed there.”

— Neil Gregory, Saskatchewan History magazine

Frederickson said the Seeman story is very much the story of the earliest days on Theodore, and by recreating the family home in miniature he is hoping to preserve a bit of their story.
The undertaking has proven to be a massive one. Frederickson estimates he has invested 600 hours into the house, starting with hours at a computer creating blueprint quality plans.
Initially, he had considered a smaller scale but realized working on details would be nearly impossible, so he settled on 1/12, where an inch in his model represented a foot on the original house.
Even at the larger scale he likened much of the construction work to being like television’s MacGyver as he was always looking at how to create realistic aspects in miniature.
The shingles are actual cedar ones, but it took three bundles to do the scale home because Frederickson could use only the thinnest edge of a shingle without it distorting the look.
The fine details around the upstairs windows were created using popsicle sticks.
The floored walkway under the veranda, which Frederickson said was destroyed 50 years ago, proved a real brain-racking conundrum.
It’s design was even tricky, working from only a few of old photographs, and using high school geometry Frederickson created the scale for the covered area around the house which would have been a key element to keep the lower level of the house cool in summer. He said for example, he knew the doorways were 2.8 feet from physical measurements and auto CAD programming helped work things from there.
“You can establish almost anything from known points,” he said, adding he wanted it to be as near to original in scale and detail as he could manage. “… I tried to do it as close as possible to the original. If I was going to do this it had to be accurate.”
As for the floor Frederickson finally settled on using paint stir sticks, adding when he went to a local store and asked to purchase 120 he did get a surprised response. The sticks ended up costing him 7.5 cents each.
“But I got the planks for my walkway,” he added.
Overall, Frederickson estimates he has about $1500 invested in the project.

“The house was on a hill overlooking a creek in a valley with the railway track on the far side. There was a C.P.R. siding on the track.
“I understand that our house was originally a store, the original house – a bit north – having burned down.
“The house was big – with large rooms – but its most significant feature was the cellar – made of fieldstone a foot or more thick. It was cold on the hottest day. Close to the house was a well with a windmill and a big trough for the watering animals.”

— Beryle Seeman, in the Theodore history book

The recreation has become something of an unending story for Frederickson who has a couple of hundred hours into a scale windmill that would have generated power to the home which was completely surface wired for electricity.
The windmill only appears in a couple of old photographs so it was back to the computer to establish its actual size.
Frederickson still has plans to add a motor so the windmill will turn and generate the power to light the house.
And, there is a photograph, one old faded photograph, of the Seeman barn. Frederickson said he has no plans to build it to scale, but one wonders if that may change once the windmill is complete.
So what will Frederickson do with the models?
Once complete, along with notes on its construction and history, he says he hopes the Theodore Museum will house it, or perhaps the Western Development Museum in Yorkton.
“No matter how you cut it, it is one of a kind in the world,” noted Frederickson with pride. “It’s unique. It has historical value. It tells a story in itself.”

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