Stories as told by Mrs. Hannah (Frank Y.) Perrin (1864-1932)
According to data obtained from her early accounts of pioneering days, Mrs. Perrin, whose maiden name was Hannah Brown, lived with her parents and younger sisters and brothers at Woodbridge, Ontario, where her father, Mr. John Anderson Brown operated an Agricultural and Manufacturing shop. When Mrs. Perrin was 15 years old her father suffered the loss of his building by fire two different times. Discouraged and dismayed, he decided to abandon his line of work and seek land in the prairie provinces.
Fortunately, he had insured his buildings the second time so was amply provided for his new life in the west.
In February 1878 Mr. Brown left Toronto by rail and after about a week’s travelling, arrived in Winnipeg. Obtaining a team of horses and buckboard, he drove west over the Old Battleford Trail. The winter was very mild and he saw plowing going on at different places. He went as far west as Fort Ellis, now St. Lazare, Manitoba, but decided on Rapid City, Manitoba as the best location for a home. At that time a great number of settlers were homesteading on land in that district, some having come as early as 1875.
Mr. Brown returned to Woodbridge, Ont., and in the spring of 1879 started again for the west with Rapid City as his destination. He brought along a carload of furniture and horses, also a complete camping outfit. Some of the trip was by rail, some by flat-bottom boat up the Red River and the Assiniboine River to Grand Valley, Manitoba. The homestead he chose was 2 1/2 miles south of Rapid City, and he begun the task of erecting buildings of sod and concrete, using lime mixed with sand and gravel for the concrete.
September 29, 1879, Mrs. Brown and her five children left Woodbridge by rail for the west. They rode in a colonist car which there were 7 other similar families. They slept on slat berths let down from the ceiling of the car. Their route was via Chicago where the Chicago Centennial was in progress at that time, and as the family had several hours wait there for a train, they enjoyed themselves seeing the sights. After arriving in St. Boniface, they crossed the broad Red River to Winnipeg on a ferry as there was no bridge.
Old Fort Garry was a novel sight to then with its stone walls loopholed for rifle fire, bastions at the corners from which a good view of the country around could be had, and mounted cannon at the entrance to the enclosure. Mud prevailed everywhere. There were no sidewalks except some logs thrown down in front of a few of the principal buildings.
For 3 days Mrs. Brown and the children waited at the American Hotel on Main Street, near the Hudson Bay store, until Mr. Brown arrived from Rapid City with his camping outfit and horses. The re-united family camped on the Commons for 2 weeks, where many others were camping too. Among them was an English colony going to Rapid City, and the Browns joined up with them when leaving Winnipeg.
Mr. Brown bought provisions in Winnipeg for the trip over the prairie, chiefly bread, which cost 12-1/2 cents a loaf, also flour, and a barrel of salt pork, which cost 29 cents a lb.
It was a fine mild morning on October 10th when the settlers, numbering 11 wagons left Winnipeg. The Browns had 2 prairie schooners, a team of horses, a yoke of oxen and 2 cows of their own.
Although they had a compass for guidance, they really needed but to follow the muddy rutted Battleford Trail. The country abounded with wild game, enabling Mr. Brown to shoot all the family required with his single barrel shotgun. The first night they camped at Sturgeon Creek, 9 miles from Winnipeg. They slept on blankets under tents.
The weather continued fine until they reached Portage la Prairie when twins of another family in the party contracted whooping cough, and later died on their arrival at Birtle, which was their destination. Reaching Portage, the party had run out of bread and flower and had been eating dumpling and bannock mostly, so their object in stopping was to obtain provisions. At the mill they saw 50 Red River carts drawn up in front in charge of a couple of Indians. They learned the Indians had journeyed from Touchwood Hills, Sask., with their carts heavy laden with furs and were waiting to restock their carts with flour, for their return trip. Instead of waiting their turn for flour, the Browns were fortunate in learning that Mrs. Brown and the miller had been old school mates back in Ontario, so during the night of the second day’s wait, the kindly miller sneaked 5 bags of flour to them. Having previously purchased all other necessary provisions, including 12 chickens at $1.00 a piece, they departed from town.
For 3 days it rained after leaving Portage. One night 3 teams got stuck in the mud at Hunt’s Slough, so the whole party camped right there. Mrs. Perrin awakened in the morning to find herself lying in 2 inches of water.
The travellers passed the noted missionary Red McDougal, who was en route to Winnipeg with 50 Red River carts full of furs, and was accompanied by some Indians.
Arriving at Mr. Brown’s homestead, the family found they had several neighbours, the nearest being a mile distant. Odd bands of Indians camped about, trapping rats, minx, fox, wolves, etc.
One experience Hannah clearly remembered was of an Indian Chief’s son, a man of magnificent physique, 6 ft. tall and about 18 years old, who called daily at the Brown home seemingly to learn English and teach her the Cree language. After 6 weeks he proposed marriage to Hannah and was refused. For 2 days afterward he appeared in full war paint and feathers, which frightened Mrs. Brown so much that she forced Hannah to hide upstairs.
The Brown’s home became a very popular place for neighbors to call and travelers to stop. At one time, Lord Pellam paid them several visits.
Mrs. Perrin met her husband at a neighbor’s house, whose name was McGregor. After a romantic courtship of three months they were married and went to live on a homestead that Mr. Perrin had already applied for 13 miles away. There they lived for 7 years. In 1887 they came to Spy Hill, driving here with horses and wagons. They homesteaded where the Canadian National Railway station now stands, and when the Railroad Co. purchases their land, they moved to their present farm east of Spy Hill, beside a lake, called Perrin’s Lake.