The Memoirs of James Albert Hirtle
Part Four

Concrete: My First

Now this I believe was my first carpenter job and here is where I saw the first concrete job done. This was to be an electric light station. Now first we put in the forms, and then they were filled with big stones, and then with smaller stones, and wooden pins were put in to leave holes to bolt down the machinery. The forms must have to be made water tight for after all the forms were filled with stone then the cement was mixed to a very thick cream, and poured over the stone till it was all filled up. Now how this foundation stood up I don't know.

My Last Salt Water Bath

Right near where the Halifax explosion took place in 1917, I had my last salt water bath in 1903. A beautiful place, a nice bottom, no large stones under your feet. You could walk out in the water till it came up to your arms.

Horse Shoeing

One time I was down country, and was heading for home, but I had about 34 miles before me when my horse lost a shoe. Now it meant a shoe or a lame horse before I got home. Coming to a blacksmith shop I asked the man to nail on a shoe. He said why not put on a pair of shoes; I said I can't spare the time for it was getting on in the afternoon. He said it won't take long, not over half and hour. Ok, so while I got the horse in the shop he pulled down a bar of iron and cut off two pieces for shoes, and in about twenty minutes my hose had on a pair of new shoes, and I was on my way home.

The Orangemen's Excursion

While working for the I. C. Railway [what's this folks?], one year on July 12 there was an Orangeman's Excursion. Now I was told off to help the baggage master and also to care for a later train by myself. The excursion train broke down about 14 miles out or near Windsor Junction early in the evening. A train was going out and would cross the Excursion train at the Junction; and as word had come of the break down, some of the train workers got on the train, and they asked me to go along too, which I foolishly did. Going through the railway yards I began to think if I was safe in going out there, for I might miss the train coming in, and if I was not on hand to care for the baggage I would probably lose my job, so at Rockingham 4 miles out I got off and started to walk back. It was an inky dark night and slightly wet, so I walked maybe two miles, so from here I could go over a hill away from the railway, or keep on the railway. Now here I came to a colored settlement of perhaps 35 houses, and lots of dogs. However I kept on the railway, and armed myself I had a large pocket knife, and I got an armful of stones, and I was going to do wonders if trouble began. Well trouble did come sooner than I expected. A little further along tow large dogs came up to the rails, one on either side, my weapons were of little avail, for it was too dark to try anything; my cap began going up in the air; However I walked on, and the dogs stayed where they were; so I got to my job before the train came in, and after all was ok and I got my baggage off safely.

Two Special Bicycle Trips

One spring, work being scarce, I tried to do some canvassing for the Canadian Foresters. I went down shore as far as Sherbrooke and spent 15 days rambling around there, and I saw a piece of quartz taken from a new mine about 3 inches thick and maybe as large as a dinner plate; and around the edge peppered with gold so that there was no place to put the end of a finger without touching gold. While in Sherbrook I was in the bank one day, and had in my hands a piece of gold that they said weighed 65 pounds worth at that time about $16,000.00. On my mission to Sherbrook I had poor luck, and returned by boat to Halifax. My next trip was in June to a convention 100 miles the other way from Halifax and again I returned by boat, owing to excessive rain, while on this trip.

My Carpenter Work

Being naturally handy and sort of jack of all trades I started out on carpenter work in my 21st year at $5.00 per week of 10 hour days, and was to have some instruction and help, but about all the help I got was to do the work that I could do and as much as any other man on the job. However I had most always a good foreman, who helped me some. On my first job I only worked for about three months. The next job I got $1.00 a day of 8 hours, making me $1.25 when we got on 10 hours, and from here on I took pot luck on what I could do and also as to wages; for I got the going wage after I worked about two years at the trade; and our wages were at that time 18 and later 22 an hour. In the navy yard on house work I got $9.49 a week, and at boat work I got $10.22, also in the pattern shop. In the navy yard we got the same wages winter and summer short time and long.

I Saw Many Changes

The Telephone, came in, from horse cars to street electric boats, from oil street lamps to electric street lights and later motor cars and trucks etc. from balloons to airplanes, and what not, all the new gadgets and inventions, Electric stoves, washers and refrigerators and other things on the streets etc. and since then I saw electric light, electric cars, electric boats and what not, cars and airplanes.

Jeremy the Indian

While working on the Phinney farm I got to know a young Indian, the name was Jeremy, They were farming a few miles away from Phinney's as far as I know very nice people. I only knew the boy.

Fishing Trips

During my 16 years in Halifax I went fishing quite often and mostly on my bicycle, and alone; If ever anything had to have happened to me nobody would have known where I was, nor where to look for me. Only once I went with two other young men, but that was the only time, so it was always alone.


Practically all my skating was outside, I skated in rinks only three times in all my time. Around the old home there were several open skating places where we would gather when the ice was good and clear of snow.


In my young days, while Dad and Mother were strict in a way, there was no religion, or religious instruction around home, but all work.

Something about Working Conditions back in the 1880's and 90's and then Later

We had a general election in June 1896, and a change from Conservative to Liberal, by a landslide; Conservatives were in power for about 16 years or more. Then when the Liberals came into power, practically all money lenders tied up their money. Now for a year or more I had five men besides myself, going steady, and at the time of the election, I had work enough in sight to keep us going for at least another year, but with money tied, there was no work going, on, so my men had to be laid off, and I did not earn money enough to live for over two years.

Then in late 1902, and early 1903 Edna's Mother [his first wife] was sick with cancer and died April 23, 1903. There was another heavy expense and in June 1903 I sold everything off, and paid up expenses and came out here [Manitoba], now by the advise of a good friend, I like lots of others took on some property, a slump came and I lost out, over $600.00.

Four Years in Fort William

I was persuaded to go to Fort William [from Winnipeg], on a promise of $1000.00 to help finance a building project, When I got there but I never say any of the $1000.00. Now had I had that help things would have worked out real well, but a slump came and I had to get away from Fort William, and I went down over $300.00.

Next the War 1914

Three weeks after the first war came on, I finished the work that I had on my hands, and again I did little or no work for two years, Then I started something for myself and got into an old mill on Inkster Ave. [Winnipeg] and tried to make a living till 1920, then owing to the rent being raised every six months, I was forced to close up the mill, and we sold the East Kildonan house and went to Headingly [just outside of Winnipeg].

The Mill on Inkster Ave.

When the first war came on things went flat. I finished my work in about 15 days, and then like lots of other people, I had nothing to do, so I tried to start something, We were living on Luxton Ave. at that time, so I started to make a few clothes dryers and took some to the T. Eaton Co. one day, and they told me they would sell all I could make. So I worked in the kitchen for awhile, and later in the woodshed and then I rented an old workshop on Inkster Ave. just west of Main St. It had some machinery and to that I added some more, and with that I made a variety of woodwork, and so made some kind of a living; and here I made the first clothes dryer that is in use today. [Could he be referring to what I've know as a clothes' horse--a wooden affair with rungs that spreads out into an A-frame when open, but collapses when not in use? I have one which he made.] Now other things I made were garden hose reels, tub stands, bake boards, bedroom boxes, tool boxes, and a variety of other things, but owing to rent increases every six months I was compelled to close up.


[Headingly is a little village just west of Winnipeg, where James had a market garden for some time.] Headingly was a failure, and after four years we had to quit because of no pasture, and through an error by the former occupant, as to the amount of land he had and passing it on to me.

Headingly, 1920, I Believe

There again was some bungling, for the man who was on the place before me did not know how much land he had, and did not realize the price he was to pay and so I went really on the other man's arrangement, and the man who I had to deal with, R. J. (Bob) McDonald, and he did not know what land was in the deal, till I was there sometime, and then I looked into the matter and did some measuring and found out the exact amount of land that was really in the deal, and also the price, only 10 acres, and about half of that was creek, and the price was $5,750.00. Then after four years we were short of pasture or rather from having our cattle impounded, so we had to close up there, not much to it; Next was Marchand.


[Marchand is a farming community in southeastern Manitoba.] Now these two places were poor deals. Bob McDonald, when he knew about Headingly, said to me you will not lose anything, and I did not, but going to Marchand was quite different. There they said one thing, but did something quite different, and I came away from Marchand after almost four years, worse off than when I went there, and only for the goodness of the then Manager, when we went there. I had paid $250.00 down, and I had another $250.00 to pay, on speaking to the Manager I told him I had the $250.00 and he said if you have $250.00 you keep it, for you will need it, and I certainly did need it. Now, we came into the Depression, and again in five or more years I did not earn enough money to make ends meet. No wonder I have no money laid by, and I am not the only one.

Here we met with disappointment in what we were to get in prepared land, and good stock and prices, so at the end of less than four years we were obliged to move back to Winnipeg, older and wiser. Now here we are in the throes of a depression during the 1930's.

Sawing Wood

Here I sawed wood for about four years for almost nothing to try and live, had some relief, perhaps in all $50.00.

Hobby Shop

In this I put my spare time and picked up some money. I made toy guns, stools, dancing dolls etc, until I began to get blind, and had to quit for fear of losing my fingers.

Moving a House

When we were living on Inkster Ave., years ago, the house was sold, and we had to move out, so I got a piece of ground 150 feet front, and a shack 12 x 30, I got them together and we lived there for over a year; then North Transcona was being sold out, owing to the C.N.R. moving their shops away. A friend of mine had a house there, and he sold it to me for $900.00 22 x 26, with a six foot veranda. It cost $125.00 to move it to East Kildonan [now a suburb of Winnipeg].It was placed behind the shack in March. When spring came, and things got dried up, I began to get it ready to move into place. I made rollers out of Poplar trees, got planks under the house, and also rollers, and began to move the house with a jack. This did fine till I got it up against the house or shack. Then the shack had to be moved. I did that with the help of my old Model T. Ford. Now that being out of the way, I had a double power winch, a fairly long cable, so I tied the winch to a tree, and the cable or wire rope to the house and with my plank and rollers under the house, I began my real work of moving; and I put force on the winch to move the house, and I got it into place. Then again I went to the shack and pulled that up to the end of the big lot; and all this with no help except my faithful Model T. ford, the winch, a jack, and cable plank and rollers. I turned on the winch till I saw stars.

1904 Flood

This was my first winter in Winnipeg, a bitter cold winter. I started work on an elevator (later burned down) January 27, 1904 and from that date to March 1 we had 22 days registering 20 to 44 below zero, there was a lot of snow, and it went away gradually the early part of March, then on March 19, 20, 21 we had the worst snowstorm of the winter and that went away very fast, and the water began to rise, and it came up and up till May 18 I was told it was just two feet under the then C.P.R. bridge. The water was up Water St. seven inches over the transfer track. Just below the C.N.R. bridge, (the bridge that was) a boat and a barge were tied, and they broke loose and went down the river, and under the C.P.R. bridge setting it a fire. I crossed that bridge that evening and counted 62 new ties that had been put in after the fire. The barge was left in the bend of the river at Nairn Ave. and the boat went on down the river. The Louise Bridge was open but the current being too strong the boat could not make the opening but hit the next span and set the bridge afire; and put it out of use for about two weeks, and the boat was beached just below the bridge, near the J. Y. Griffin, later Swift Canadian Packing House and I imagine the old hull is still down there burned to the water edge; a little later [can't tell the words] building for McKenzie and Mann; and I left [can't tell the words] June 14 and going into Portage la Prairie the rails of the C.N.R. were still under water. I believe the highest water we had since then except the 1950 flood.

Changes in Winnipeg in 52 Years

When I landed here June 22, 1903 Winnipeg was bounded by Seven Oaks, Sherbrook St., Osborne St., and River Ave. but look at the City now, today north, south and west. It is city everywhere you look, so much so that I get lost wherever I go.

Things I Saw Ahead

Many years ago I saw the need of an Old Age Pension, and being in a doctor's office one day we were talking, and I made mention of old age pension and our need, he said you are crazy, who is going to pay for it. My reply was Dr. I don't know, but I do know that it is coming, and that it will come (it has come). The next thing I saw many years ago, that we would see the time when we would have a five day week, and a six hour day, and today August 2, 1955 at 12 minutes to 11.00 A.M. as I write, this condition is not far off. If we want to keep our people working wages must be the same as is paid now, and we must cut down severely on our immigration.

Just a [two words I can't read]

In my writings I made mention of things that I remember, things that I did, things that I saw, also about our work, a lot of it was done with the crude tools we had to work with, Our living, our clothing, Schooling, housing, etc. Now, Mother and Dad we were all just morally good. We had no religious training. There were few if any prayers ever offered in the old home. My Mother tried to teach me some, but then she could not read English till we were able to teach her to read her English Bible, so what we got to know, that should have been told us, we had to get the hard way. I never saw a doctor in the old home, and I was there till the youngest member of the family was about a year old. On the whole Dad was a pretty good boss; There was very little over time, and no night work, except after harvest there was some grain threshing that was done in the evening, and when on heavy work, along in the afternoon Dad would take a rest, and of course we also got a rest. Then we got to work again till maybe half past five, he would say, well boys we had better quit. At haying time I was never called out to work before breakfast in the morning, so Dad was a pretty good boss. We boys did not have very much play in summertime, and when we did have time to play, it was always at the brook. Now, as I look back over the years of my life at 89 I am thankful from my heart for all God's blessings, and also he has given me a fair measure of health all these years; and also that I heard my mother say, I am not worrying about you, and my wife told people she knew when I came home I could always find the keyhole in the door [i.e. he never came home drunk], and that has applied all through my life to this very date September 8, 1955. Now at home we had little or no religious training. Now in my 19th year when I began work with the Phinney's I got with religious people, and they warned me against certain places, and I took their advice very kindly and kept to myself. Now Dad had a brother living in Halifax of whom we knew very little except an old address, so Christmas of 1886 when I finished with the Phinneys I went to see if I could find my uncle and his family; and I spent about 16 years in Halifax, not with my relatives. I got in with two cousins, about my age, and three other boys for a time. Now they were city boys, and I was just a country rube; They did many things that I was not brought up to and did not do, and I thought I had better get away from them, so one day going down the street I came to a halt, turned around and went back to the next corner, and from that day on, I went by myself, and let the others go their way, and how thankful I am today that I made that move, and above all things that all these years, I had no temptation to drink or smoke, and one thing I can say that none of my family ever saw me take a drink or smoke. But had I had some good advice in my boyhood days I might have done a lot better than I did. Had I had anything to live on I would not have asked for old age pension, but I lived through very trying times, and therefore could not lay up anything, could not even carry on my insurance payments in the depression, but had to let that lapse, now I am sure that on the system of tithe paying [giving ten percent of one's income to the church and/or charity] I have been much better off than I was before (you may not think so). But I know that god has blessed me abundantly, I do with that you boys would quite smoking, for I read what Doctors say, the death rate for smokers is just about double that of non-smokers, that is for lung cancer, and I trust that you all are strictly tee-totallers. May I see you all in heaven. I haven't done much for you but we are praying for you and will do so while life shall last. God bless and care for you all, that is my earnest prayer, now and alway.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
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