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Western Evangeline

By Senator F.W. Gershaw, December 1947 Canadian Cattlemen

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The Bingville country lies northeast of Medicine Hat and the history of the people who settled there is of more than usual interest. Before the First World War started, the land was opened for homesteads. Men waiting at the land office for days and nights to file on quarter sections. When located, they lived as bachelors doing their homestead duties and often living in poor shacks. The good crops of 1915 and 1916 brought some prosperity and married men had their families come. School districts were organized and schools built. Then there was a long series of dry years. Many of the people were discouraged and moved out. When driving through the district in this period abandoned farms, deserted homes and unused school buildings could be seen in many places. The visitor would be reminded of the stanza:

“The house that has echoed a baby’s laugh
And held up his stumbling feet
Is the saddest sight when left alone
That ever the eye could meet.”

Some of the more persevering remained and established comfortable homes. Greatly to the credit of Marshall Ballard, I.C. Jones, W. Bishop, Alf Pratt, the Dewers, Sanladers and Berrymen, there was a good community spirit always in evidence. Groups of neighbours got together on Sundays and one day of each year was set aside for a picnic at Bingville school. All planned to be present for this event. It was looked forward to all the year around and was a big day for the lonely settlers.

In 1941 the news came that the area was needed for military purposes and the 125 pioneering families had to move. These people had weathered the storms, they had built up homes and loved those homes. The migration resulted in those neighbours of many years standing being scattered as were the Acadians in the story of Evangeline. The annual picnic that year was a sad affair as all realized this it would be the last one. All felt the strain. Women wept and even the children seemed to be less happy. Men gathered in groups and talked of the future with misgivings. All recognized that they had come to the end of a chapter in the record of their lives and in the life of the community. In just one month the pioneers had scattered to Medicine Hat, Suffield, Tilley, Brooks and some to distant points in Saskatchewan.

The school is gone, the homes are gone and the stock is gone. Even the wild antelope have been driven off so that experiments with poison gas, explosives and other war materials can be carried on.

Some of these worthy families were inadequately compensated. Some never found places as good as those they left, but it was the losing of the happy associations and the ending of community life that brought the real sadness. The sacrifice was made in the interest of the war effort and public recognition is due to these pioneers.

For more of the past from the pages of our magazine see our History section.

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