The Memoirs of James Albert Hirtle
Part One

Foreword from Debbie Haughland Chan

I woke up this morning to find many messages requesting that I post my great-grandfather's memoirs. I don't recall ever meeting my great-grandfather--he died before my memories begin--but I grew up knowing him through the stories my mother loved to tell. She adored her grandfather and was sure that he was an angel sent from heaven. My great-aunt, his daughter, whom I've been regularly visiting, has a more down-to-earth remembrance of a stern father who never showed affection and who, to her annoyance, totally ignored her mother and siblings in the telling of his life.

James Albert Hirtle was born in 1866 in Hemford, Lunenburg County, and moved west with his young daughter in the early 1900s after being widowed. This is his story.

James's father was George Frederick Hirtle, the son of John Jacob, son of Johann Michael, son of Philip Christian, son of Hans Michael who immigrated to Nova Scotia in 1751. James' oldest brother was William George (1860-1919), and younger than James was Caspar Isaiah (1865-1945), Stanley John (1871-1892), and Allister Sterling (1873-1953). His sisters were Bertha Louise (1861-1924 married Austin W. Silver), Zella Ann (1863-1897), Louise Catherine (1876-1938), Mary Elizabeth (1878-1896), Esther Jane (1882-1950 married Malcolm Robinson), and Carrie May (1884-1962 married Fred Coonan).

I should mention that anything in square brackets in the text is supplied by me and not my great-grandfather.

Debbie Haughland Chan
debbiechan@mts.net


Sketches of My Life

James Albert Hirtle
315 Queen Street,
St. James, Manitoba
1955

In sketches of my life, some dates that I give may not be quite correct. My ancestors came from Stalsberg, Germany, in April 1751 and settled in Halifax and Lunenburg counties, Nova Scotia.

My Father and Mother

George Frederick William Hirtle was born in Mahone Bay or Feltzens South, N.S. Louisa Ann Meisner was born in Center Range N.S., both in Lunenburg county. The youngest of both families.

After marrying they settled on bush land, some 33 miles from their original homes to eke out a living. Dad's work in his younger days was fishing. Dad showed us a stump of the first tree that he cut down on the place, a little way below the house.

Now I presume Dad and Mother lived with my uncle and aunt for several years, till they got their own house, for my sister Bertha must have been born there, for she got used to the place so much so that when Dad said she was to stay at one place or the other, she went to her Aunt's and stayed there ever after.

My Aunt and Uncle

They were about half a mile from us, they had no family of their own, but they brought us seven children all adoptions.

The Home Settlement

The home settlement was known as Ohio and covered a considerable area, but later in order to get a Post Office the name was changed to Hemford. Then later still, it was divided into two school sections, and the other one was and is still called Nineveh.

Then as far as I know now the other end of the district is still known as Ohio.

The Old House

The old house was a frame building, having an entrance to a living room, and two small bedrooms, and an attic or loft, all one large room. There were two windows in the living room; a shutter in one bedroom, and a shutter in the attic. We went to the attic by a ladder. Now the house was double boarded outside, and one side of the roof was shingle, and the other side was battened. There was a stone fireplace for cooking, and a large box stove for heating, and the inside of the house was just boards, and if at all papered it would be magazines.

The Old Barn

The old barn was a log affair, a stable, a feed passage, and a hay mow. Then outside was a hay rick, this was about 16 or 18 feet square; four poles at the corners, set in the ground, and a roof framed around the poles, so that when empty it could be lowered to the floor, and when full it could be lowered on the hay as a protection from rain and snow. This roof was covered with birch bark.

The New Barn

Probably 1875 or 1876 a new barn was built, and about 2/3 of the roof was shingle.

Now for several years Dad had been away fishing, and if my memory serves me right, this was the first year, and my older brother with Casper and I did the work at home; Dad would be away from home from about June 15 to the end of August.

Now among other things, Brother undertook to finish the shingling of the barn; and with the help of two other young men, (one a cousin), who died a year ago, (98 years old). They went on a scaffold used the year before, without any inspection or nailing, they just got nicely to work when the scaffold gave way, and that was 18 or 20 feet above ground, and a pile of stones at the bottom.

Brother came down with the pole, and the other young man followed the boards down, and landed on his back near the pile of stones. A hatchet came down near his head. But poor cousin, caught hold of the roof and his legs dangling in the air, and, he holding on for dear life with both hands, and I only a kid was on the ladder at the other end of the scaffold.

The ladder was tied or perhaps I would not be here today, well of course no time was lost in getting me off the ladder, and getting the ladder over to cousin so he could get down without being killed; well when it was, with only a few scratches, we stood up and had a good laugh, but I see it all today, and what might have happened, for which I am truly thankful.

The New House

Sometime after I left home in my 18th year they built a new house which made things at the old home more comfortable; The new house was built down toward the bar.

The Barn Burns Down

Sometime later the barn was hit by lightening one night about eight o'clock, and burnt to the ground. Then with the help of the insurance, about $600.00 and the help of the good neighbors, a new barn was built on the old foundation and is doing duty till now.

The Stock

We always had a pair of oxen, two cows, and some young stock, 8 or 10 sheep, a pig, and some hens and geese.

Who Am I

James Albert Hirtle, 315 Queen St. St. James, Man. I was born in Hemford, Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia, November 1st, 1866. (That's me)

Now who am I, well, I am the oldest of the family dead or alive and I am now in my 89th year. Have one sister living, 18 years younger than I. An I am the oldest man alive today, of all the young men of my time in the home settlement, (and I knew them all) by name. In the home family of 11 of us and Dad and Mother, all have passed on, except the youngest of the family, Carrie and myself. Of the entire family I will write later on many things I remember.

Martin Uhlman

Martin Uhlman had a lumber camp a mile or more up in the bush from my home, and the hauling road, passed just back of our house, at the edge of the clearing, how he knew that I would like to have a ride behind his team, I don't know, but he was always on the lookout for me and would stop and pick me up, take me to the landing, and set me down on the way back, so I could toddle back home. How old I was, I don't know, but I can just remember about it.

I had been up to the camp, one or more times. His team was a pair of grey horses, and at the camp they had three big dogs, Jeff, Bounce, and Sam. Somehow I never got back to the old camp site since.

Bear Stories

In the spring of 1870 two head of cattle were killed by a bear, about half a mile from our house. The cattle used to go out in the bush and feed during the day, and return or were brought home in the evening, but this day two were missing. A party of men, went looking for the animals and soon found them, and that a bear had killed them.

These two cattle belonged to my uncle, they were both two years old. A band of men at once started to wreak vengeance on the bear; and a huge steel trap was set. But for six days, no luck, so a plan was laid to set guns and four guns were set, and on the seventh morning as they were nearing the scene of the tragedy a shot was heard, and of course, a rush was made and they found the bear down with a broken shoulder, well, he was killed at once, and hauled out to our house, and skinned, just in front of the house, and then the carcass was disposed of. Now all this was told me by my older brother, how the guns were set and all, but I remember seeing the cattle passing our place that morning, when I was only 3 1/2 years old. Brother was in there years after when the skulls of those two cattle were grown over with moss. What I remember is that the bear was big and he was black. The trap that they had set for him, was a huge steel trap with double springs, one inside of the other, and wicked looking teeth and I imagine would weigh about 60 pounds.

Another Bear Story

Years later another bear came along, and for three years was a complete nuisance, for he killed sixty or more lambs and sheep. It was necessary to keep all sheep up at night during the summer months. He came into our barn one night and killed six lambs, and clawed an old ram pretty bad; and three nights later, went into another barn, about 3 miles away and killed six more. But at the end of three years he disappeared and we had no more trouble. I do not know what happened to him perhaps he died.

The Brook Near the House

A small brook ran through our place just below the house. There we built a small dam. Every summer, for quite a few years, especially when I got old enough to do this. This served several purposes, for our own enjoyment, and Mother did her washing there, and Dad took his sheep there and washed them thoroughly before shearing, and it improved our fishing some; for we had a head of three to four feet of water. When playing in the water we were naked and our only protection, if we needed any, was the bridge, but it was not often that we needed any protection.

Our Fishing Tackle

This consisted of a birch rod, and a homemade line, and sometimes a bent pin; but more often we could get good fishhooks. A little special fishing, I used to take a pole out of the bridge and use a short line, and a midge hook; lay down and fish mullets; These fish as we had are very small, about four to six inches long, (and we knew them as mullets). I would get perhaps 25 to 35 in a half pail of water, then take them and dump them in the old pigs' trough water and all, then watch her fish them out, and she would have some fishing to do.

Clams

For several years, my brother and I used to get Fresh water clams from a small lake about two miles away, and place them in the brook, and four or five years after, I found some clams still left there.

Birds

Just below the bridge, on the brook bank, there was a tall stump of an old tree. It was hollow, and a pair of flickers took up their residence there for a number of years. They came back every year. We also had black birds nesting in the alders on the brook bank also; and Robins; then in the field there were numbers of swallows nesting in hollow stumps, barn swallows, and we had a chimney swift for several years, also linnets, and a small bird we used to know as a blue bird, woodpeckers, hawks, owls, crows, partridges, cranes, humming birds, finches, jays, etc.

Snakes

We had several varieties of snakes, but I am interested in only two; a gray and a green, and I hate them both. The green snake was small, probably two to three feet long, and the gray one was larger; probably up to five or more feet long and larger than a broom handle.

Now Here is Where I Was Scared

Dad had out down a pine tree, and sawed it into blocks shingle length, and split it in shingles, so there was some shaving to do, and this left a pile of shavings, a good place for snakes to live in. Now this was also a good place for bunch berries, and Brother took me out there one day, to get bunch berries, and Brother was some distance away from me picking berries, and all at once I saw a large gray snake as I thought coming toward me, and I began to scream. I see him yet coming toward me, I was probably four to six years old; and you don't wonder why I hate snakes. However today I don't think there was anything wrong. Our snakes were hard on small birds and their nests and young. Brother and I were after the bunch berries, and I guess the snake was just looking onto see what we were doing.

What I Told Caspar

One day Casper and I were below the house, and talking things; and I tried to tell him how nice it would be if we could have something on two wheels that we could ride on. Now at that time I did not know, nor did he, anything about or like bicycles.

Barefoot in the Snow

We do fool things many times, our barn was over four hundred feet from the house, and one winter day, we got saying something about going barefoot to the barn over 400 feet away and back, Who all did the trick I don't remember, but I know that I did, what for I don't remember, only foolishness.

Flies and Skeeters

We had plenty of flies, and mosquitoes, house flies, black flies, sand flies, bull dogs etc. and at that time no protection.

Our Beds

Our beds were usually a homemade affair, boxed and a board or slat bottom, and tick filled with oat straw and a feather bed cover and feather pillows.

Geese

Here is a story that today I see where people did things years ago that were cruel, and perhaps not any more cruel than many things that are done now. My Mother plucked her geese two or three times each summer for feathers she needed for bedding; that to my mind certainly was cruel doing.

Axe Grinding for Winter Work

In the fall, Dad would prepare for his winter work; and as the axes especially had to be put into shape; that is thinned down, and sharpened, and that meant a lot of grinding. The grinding stone was brought into the kitchen, for two or maybe three days, and we kids had to do the turning of the grindstone, at perhaps half hour shifts, and that was no easy job.

Rabbits

We would make a low brush fence around a fairly large yard in some place where the rabbits were in the habit of feeding and also leaving holes in the fence so they could get used to go in and feed, now we cut down some small yellow birches just what the rabbits like to feed on; then when they were used to go in to feed after several nights, we would snare the holes in the fence, and of course here is where we got the rabbits, we sold these for five cents each. Sometimes we got one alive, and I got two in that way, and had them in a little building for a few days then a neighbor came in one day, and when he was told about the rabbits he said they would get stiff and die if they could not move about, so I made a large pen for them, and covered it over, and I thought all was well, but they found a way out, and the next morning they were gone and I have not seen them since.

Casper Who was He

Well I must not leave him out, he was my brother, next to me by three years younger.

The Butcher Knife (and one on me)

Dad was the settlement butcher for some years, and of course he would have a pretty good kit of tools for that job those days, and these tools would be lying by for most of the summer, and we kids, if we needed a knife usually went to Dad's basket and used one of his knives, and that is what I did, and I happened to break one; (now what was I to do) so I made a pattern of the broken knife, and I hunted up an old file of the right size and took it to the old neighbor blacksmith whom I could trust and asked him to make me a knife exactly like the pattern of the broken one; (so far so good). Now I had a lot of grinding to do to get all of the broken one; (but now), soon after a call came, and Mother was asked to get his kit ready. He had a basket to carry his tools in, about 20 inches long, 10 inches wide, and about 8 inches deep (roughly) and the next morning he was going away before daylight, so he looked over his basket to see that all was ok, and at once said this is not my knife, so Mother had to tell him what had happened, now, I was in bed, just over his head, trembling, for I heard all that he said, (well) he said I have a good mind to go up and pull him (me) out of be, and give him (me) a good licking, and I knew that that would be no easy job for me.

However he went away, and I was shaky all day, not knowing what might happen that evening, but when he came home that evening, nothing was said, and I felt somewhat better. Sometime later a neighbor, John Smith, came in to have a chat with Dad, and I heard some of the talk and it was about the knife, so I kept out of the way, but took it all in, and this is what I heard. I presume he told Mr. Smith all about the breaking of the knife, but this is what interested me most; Dad said, Do you know it was the best knife that I ever had; that of course gave me relief. But Dad should have acknowledged that to me.

Lamp Chimneys

The time of the kerosene lamps, we had trouble with lamp chimneys breaking, and the trouble of replacing them, so one day Dad was in a store and he asked the storeman for a lamp chimney that would not break easily, he went to a shelf and reaching up, put his hand behind a chimney, threw it to the floor, he said how will that one do. It cost Dad 25 cents, and we used it, as far as I know over a year, then one day, there was a crash and the chimney went into hundreds of pieces, it was on a cupboard shelf (all by itself).

Homemade Candles

The mold that Mother used made four at a time. Cotton warp was used for wicks probably six or seven strands twisted about like a heavy cotton twine, and for the candles beef or mutton tallow, and when we had good supply of tallow Mother would make a good supply of candle.

Our Lanterns of those Days

These were made of tin about 4 1/2 inches square, and maybe 10 inches high glassed in on all sides, one side hinged for a candle stick [unsure of the last word] to hold a candle for light, and that was our light around the barn and stable at night.

Fitches

I use the word fitch because we knew what I am going to tell you about by that name that is in the 1870s we used a button covered with a piece of cotton tied tight and placed in a saucer in melted tallow and used the fluffy end as a light.

Matches of those Days

Matches in those days were in cards about 2 1/4 inches square, and about 1/16 of an inch thick, cut in from one end by about 1/2 inch, 12 matches to each card, and packed cards to a bunch, packed with the business ends laid alternately to prevent combustion; 36 bunches in a 1/4 gross. They were very inflammable.

Another Oldtime Lighting Devise

This must have been in use before I came on the scene for I found it later, and found out what it was for. Well it was a dome with a pipe going into the stovepipe, and supported by a wire from the ceiling at the dome end. There was a wire across the dome on which hung a torch, like an old-time fireman's torch, filled [with]oil, and a stout cotton wick in a spout on one side of the torch, and this was evidently the light in earlier days.

Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Back to the home page