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Some Notes on the


North Antler District, Manitoba




            James W. Breakey of Downsview, Ontario, purchased the west half of 21-2-28 in 1897 from a land development company operated by Sir Clifford Sifton.  The Crown deed was held by the Breakeys and at no time was there a mortgage on their farm.  This would, perhaps in itself, be rather significant.  In 1914 he purchased the east half of 28-2-28 from Mrs. Stewart Elger.


            In 1903 the three Breakey brothers, James, Isaiah, and Norton, purchased a Sawyer-Massey steam thrashing outfit.  This outfit was unique in two ways: first it did not have a self-feeder---two men sat above the 44 inch cylinder and cut the twine on the sheaves as they dropped them into it; secondly, the 20 Horsepower engine was a “return-flue” type with the smoke stack at the rear.  The first season’s run lasted 52 days – they even contracted to thresh for farmers as far away as Westhope, N.D. and incidently (sic) paid for the outfit that year.  Every farm boy dreamed of becoming an engineer and began by becoming a fireman.  This meant having to rise at 3:30 a.m. and carrying a lantern out to the field to the “set” and  “getting up steam.”  Many outfits began threshing at 6 a.m. and continued until 7 p.m.  The five short quick blasts of the whistle called for the grain wagon; 3 long blasts indicated the engine required water immediately.


            James Breakey was the first farmer in the district to grow “Durham” wheat (100 acres, 1921) the yield was 20 bushels per acre, much higher than the Marquis type.  Some neighbors referred to him as the “Durham King.”  He was also rated as a good horseman and with Robert Murray of Lyleton imported a pure bred Clydesdale stallion name “Baron Albert” from Scotland.  Horses were important to him and he took great care of them.   At a North Antler School Board meeting some one remarked that “Jim Breakey’s stable was cleaner than the school.”  For years his stable was cleaned 4 times each day and swept with a house broom at least once!


            Water was a problem in the area.  One day a “water witcher” came along and for $5.00 guaranteed to find a good source of water; with a two-feet forked willow stick held in his hands, with the thumbs up and pointing outwards and downwards he walked around the north bank of a draw about a quarter of a mile from the barn and the willow bent straight down at one spot.  A well 20 feet deep reached, what in the opinion of many was, the best spring water in the district.  Peering into the deep black hole one could see a little stream flowing slowly through a bed of gravel.  For years this method has been treated rather derisively.  However, 4 years ago, a Dutch scientist made a thorough scientific study of the method and concluded that some people are sensitive to extremely faint electrical impulses in their wrists, which can be picked up from water courses by a green willow fork.


            During the first World War a “Beef Ring” was established by the local farmers.  It worked simply by electing one farmer to do the butchering and each week one farmer donated a “beef” to the ring.   A “Beef –Ring House” was built and lined with bins.  Each farmer’s bin was marked with his name and in turn families got different cuts of beef each week.  The wives stitched the family name on two bags – one for that weeks cut of beef and one was left for the next weeks roast or shank.


            Co-operative purchasing of apples and twine began about 1915 – usually under the auspices of the United Grain Growers.


            School played an important part in the lives of all.  It was the centre (sic) of the community.  The outstanding event was the Christmas concert.  Families arrived in sleighs – with grain boxes on top – benches and genuine Buffalo Robes inside.  There were bags of warm oats or warm brick for tender feet.  Recitations – short plays and school songs made up the programs.


            Of the many teachers North Antler had, two stand out in the memory of many – Miss Turner, new Mrs. Hector McNish, who was King (sic), gracious and very inspiring; a lady who taught by example and precept – the other was Mr. Ralph Mayes, son of Herbert Mayes, a local farmer.  Ralph was a stern disciplinarian and absolutely refused to accept nothing less than your best efforts.


            Mrs. Jas. Breakey is still living and at 98 years of age is quite a remarkable woman.  There was no organized law enforcement west of the Great lakes when she was born in 1863.  When she was five years of age 120,000 buffalo were shot on the prairies and the hides sold in St. Louis.  Her family recall sitting on her knee in front of the oven learning some of the alphabet from the stove guard on which was embossed – H a p p y  T h o u g h t  R a n g e – B u c k  S t o v e C o m p a n y  L i m i t e d,  B r a n t f o r d,     O n t a r i o.  Incidently (sic), she recalls Mrs. Robt. Murray (senior) telling of her early days when Mr. Murray transported her to a neighbours place on a chair tied to a cowhide pulled by a horse!


            A word about the North Antler District in general.  It was made up, for the most part by Ontario settlers.  A more god-fearing, honest, group of people could not be found anywhere.  The term “A man’s word was his bond” applied to these farmers in the fullest sense of the statement.  The term “neighbour” meant just that – friends who were sympathetic, understanding, and more important, helpful.


            Farm boys were called “hicks” by the town boys and when in town they probably envied their town cousins who had no chores to do.  For many farm boys this envy disappeared as soon as they reached home.  A sense of propriety – a fitness of things – of ownership and accomplishment would surge over you and naturally made you confident of your ability to do things – feed a calf – break a horse to ride – run a tractor – plow a straight furrow – no town boy could to these things.


            Cash was in short supply – many boys trapped gophers – the municipality paid a bounty of 3¢ per tail one year.  The Millers were reported to be the best trappers with a catch of 800 gophers one year.


            The harvest excursions from the east brought in I.W.W. men occasionally and many union men.  They would jump off at each station and ask – what are you paying?  What are the hours?   Jas. Breakey’s reply would be:  “$4.00 a day and if you can’t do a days work in 18 hours we will give you 24.”


            Security, unions, old age pensions were not discussed, perhaps they were unknown.  The family knew a security that perhaps would be well for our social welfare state to reflect upon.  It was based on the principal that hard work, faith in yourself, your loved ones, in God and country was, and still is, the only worth while security.  No one looked for or for that matter wanted hand outs.  No government agency can replace the security of the farm family which was based on the number of bags of potatoes, barrels of apples, sacks of flour and sides of pork stored in the cellar in December every year.




                                                                                                Bert Isaiah Foster Breakey

                                                                                                Thornhill, Ontario, Canada

                                                                                                November 1965



Transcriber’s note:


            Bert Breakey sent the preceding article to me in the early 1980s with the expressed interest that it might one day be included in the family collection.