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THOMAS JAMES STILL (1894-1980)
BESSIE LORENA CONRAD (1903-1994)

 

Jim & Bessie STILL

Jim & Bessie in 1939


Thomas James “Jim, Jimmy” STILL was born Jan 8, 1894, in Balmoral, Manitoba. He was the fifth child of Eliza Ann JEFFERY & James STILL SR (1864-1936). For the details about Jim’s youth and his bachelor years, click on this link: JAMES STILL SR.

 

Bessie Lorena CONRAD was born on Dec 3, 1903 in Chezzetcook, Nova Scotia, daughter of Susan Maud GRAHAM & Nelson Archibald CONRAD (1860-1946). Bessie was 10 years old when she moved from Nova Scotia with her parents and siblings to Dryden Ontario in 1913. In 1923 the family moved on to Selkirk, Manitoba. In the fall of 1924 Bessie went to the Assiniboine Valley in southwestern Manitoba to help her brother, Nelson CONRAD JR (1890-1963), who had rented the WARREN farm near Miniota, MB. During the threshing season she got a job as a cook. She was cooking at the neighboring farm of Nick ROBINSON when she met and fell in love with Jimmy STILL who was also helping out there during the harvest (In the evenings they used to pass notes to each other through a crack in the floor).

 

Bessie CONRAD was a beautiful slim, petite, fun-loving 23 years old with auburn hair and a twinkle in her eyes. Without a doubt she would have attracted the attention of all the young men in the threshing gangs. On the other hand, Jim STILL was definitely an eligible young bachelor too. At the age of 30, he was fairly tall (almost 5’ 8”), muscular and handsome. He was already a veteran of the First World War. He had seen more of the world than anyone in his family. During his military training he had been to Winnipeg, Toronto, Niagara, Quebec City and Halifax. During his overseas war service he had been to England, France, Belgium and Wales. After his discharge in 1919, he spent time back in Teulon, Manitoba; in Kentville, Nova Scotia; Palmer, Saskatchewan, Wekusko (near Snow Lake, MB). He loved to travel.

 

Bessie and Jim’s sister (Ena) soon developed a close bond of friendship that would last the rest of their lives. After the harvest, Jim STILL and Chris ELLERINGTON (Ena’s bride-to-be) went to the Wekusko Mines in northern Manitoba (south of Snow Lake; east of Flin Flon) to find work.  They arrived to find that the mines had closed.  There was only one train a week out so while waiting for it they worked at a nearby logging camp for their board.

 

By the time Bessie returned to her home in Selkirk she and Jim had planned to marry. He soon sent her an engagement ring, and on April 20, 1925, they were married by Canon Lot SWALWELL at the CONRAD home in Selkirk.  Together they returned to the Assiniboine Valley to live with his parents at first. Jim worked for his father until November, and then he then rented an equipped farm from Mr BRADFORD for half crop shares. On Feb 20, 1926, their first child, James Gordon, was born at home in Arrow River.

 

To Bessie, farming was a new experience. It was just the life she had always dreamed of and the countryside was very beautiful with its rolling hills and open fields. Three neighbouring women became what she termed 'great friends', for without them it would have been a lonely life, because there were not many trips to town. These women lived on farms within walking distance. They were Mrs P. ILES, Mrs H. JOHNSON, and Mrs L WIGGINS.

 

Jim worked for Mr. DOWELL on a farm north of Arrow River for two months; then they moved to the stone house on Chris ELLERINGTON's farm for the next six months. By this time Chris ELLERINGTON had married Ena and they had a baby daughter (Lillian).

 

THE GREAT DEPRESSION, THE DIRTY THIRTIES

1929-1939

 

Throughout the years of 1929 to 1939, there was a world wide Depression and Canada was one of the worst affected countries. Financially and economically the country began to collapse regardless of what was done by political power.

 

David Booth Quote: "A few of us farmers ploughed deep furrows around the fields to stop the earth from blowing away. Others thought it was hopeless to keep planting because their ploughs just turned up dry, fine dust that blew away in the wind. A few went to church and prayed for rain. For some, farming was becoming a slow way to starve."

 

Jim was hired by Nicholas ROBINSON from 1931 through to 1932. He worked and lived on the COLLIER farm (which his father had rented) in the Glenlochar district for two and a half years. 

 

By 1932 Bessie had given birth (at home) to three more sons and a daughter at the WARREN place: George Everet (June 30, 1927); Ernest Wilburt (Nov 2, 1928); Charles William (Dec 23, 1929) and Almerna Joyce (Myrna) on Jan 27, 1832. Myrna would be the only girl in the family. A fifth son, Denis Conrad, was born Nov 24, 1933, the first child born in a hospital. Bessie was kept busy with her children, her housework, making her own bread and butter, and sometimes soap, canning fruit and vegetables. Apparently the one thing she never learned, however, was how to milk a cow.

 

From an article that Bessie wrote ’In Praise of the Family Doctor CHALMERS’ – “who was to become one of Miniota's most beloved citizens, arrived at Miniota in 1900 to carry on his profession and operate a drug store. [This was Dr. Robert Kennedy CHALMERS (1872-1949)]  Dr. CHALMERS was a typical country doctor who served Miniota and surrounding districts for 49 years. - - four of my (Bessie's) children were born at homeIn one case, complications set in and the good Doctor was obliged to stay till noon the next day, sleeping on the sofa when he could. We all knew that, when the Doctor was called, he got there, be it during a snow storm when he'd arrive all bundled up in a cutter.  Someone would take his horses to the barn to feed and water them.  In summer, he would make the trip in a buggy.  This was during the 1930's, when few people had cash, so the Doctor ended up being paid with wood, beef, or pork - anything we had that he could use.  No questions were asked”.

 

In 1934, Jim's father sold out his belongings and moved to Miniota, while Jim hired out to Tom LONG on the ROWAN place. Here he kept 11 head of cattle. Mr LONG let him use the buildings and 35 acres of pasture.  Four cows were milking and they sold some cream.

 

Farming during the Dirty Thirties was next to profitless for the young STILL family. For all their stinting and plugging along, they had nothing to show for their toil. In desperation they too were forced to sell out. Good two year old steers brought about $12 a head and cows about $20 a head. The only solution was to find a regular paying job somewhere.

 

The STILL Family Settles in Mapleton, Manitoba
1936

 

In 1936 the family moved to Old England (Mapleton), just south of Selkirk, where Jim bought a four acre piece of land for $300.  Bessie’s father (Nelson CONRAD SR) lived less than a mile to the south, and this is where the family stayed until Jim was able to clear enough brush to build house. There was one other home closer to the highway (probably that of Martin FERLICK), and from there in he cut a trail to the house. It was a four room house. The kitchen and living room were combined and there were two bedrooms downstairs, one for Jim & Bessie, the other for the youngest kids. The whole upstairs was one room (more like a loft), where the older boys slept.

 

Jim got a job on the Shipping Gang at the Manitoba Rolling Mills (MRM; the Mill), a stone’s throw away from their home. There was only one strip of land between us and the Mill, owned by Mike STUPAK. We can all remember at night listening to the clashing and clanging of steel against steel, the moaning and groaning of the machinery as it processed the steel, iron and other metals.

 

The older boys (Gordon, Everet, Ernie and Billy) started school that September at the Mapleton School, about a mile south of our place.

 

To see a map of the Mapleton area, and to learn more about the school and the neighbours, go to MAPLETON SCHOOL.

 

Ambrose PRUDEN dug the well. Apparently it turned out to be a difficult job. He had to drill very deep (90 feet?) and had a lot of problems. His drilling rig broke down and he abandoned it there. It remained a land mark on our property for many years. A log building (once the home of J.J. RATT) was dragged in to accommodate cows and pigs (I recall we also had a goat). A chicken house was added. Some land was cleared and cultivated for a garden. Of course we cannot forget ‘ye old outhouse’ with the traditional Sears catalogues for ass-wipe; add a huge wood-pile and a pile of manure. The other ‘plumbing’ was ‘ye old slop-bucket’ and chamber-pails that were used in the house during winter. Then there was the memorable old wood stove in the kitchen. For bathing we had the traditional metal tub, barely big enough to accommodate one’s ass-end. Home entertainment: the radio (no phones or TV’s in those days).

 

On June 12, 1938, son,John Burton, was born at Selkirk General Hospital.

 

THE WAR YEARS
1939-1945

 

World War II: On Sep 10, 1939, a special session of Parliament approved Prime Minister Mackenzie KING's request that Canada join the war in Europe. The decision, seen by most Canadians as inevitable, came exactly one week after England and France declared war on Nazi Germany. It was the first time that Canadians made their own declaration of war as a sovereign nation.

 

I (Gary Norman) came into this world on Dec 22, 1939. I’m told that I turned blue and almost died soon after I was born!

 

In 1940, while working at the Mill, Jim was injured when a load of hot steel tipped over and one of his legs was caught under the pile. It was a complete break and was splintered as well. There were also deep burns.  He was in hospital for four months and was laid up for a year. During this time, he received compensation and his hospital and doctor bills were paid. Jim went back to work at the Mill after his injury.

 

The STILL Family in 1940

The Still Family in 1940
L-R, Back: Everet, Granny Conrad, Jim, Bessie, Gordon, Ernie
Middle Row: Billy, Myrna, Denis.
Front: John and Gary (Ken yet to be born).
Note that Dad is on crutches, suffering from a broken leg and severe burns.

 

Jim Joins the Veteran Guards of Canada, Kapuskasing, Ontario
1943

 

On May 24, 1940, the Department of National Defence (DND) created a new organization called the Veteran Guards of Canada (VGC). Most of the men recruited were First World War veterans too old for battlefront duty. The maximum age for duty was 50, but many slipped in despite their age. They assumed responsibility for guarding captured soldiers in May of 1941. In the late fall of 1943 trains carrying POW’s began arriving in Kenora. Many prisoners arrived from Medicine Hat or Lethbridge, the two largest detention centers, while others came from internment camps like the one at Monteith, near Timmins, Ontario.

 

On Nov 24, 1943, Jim re-enlisted with the Veteran Guards at Fort Osborne Barracks. He was home just long enough to see the birth of his 9th and last child, Kenneth Graham, on Dec 7, 1943. I was only about four years old when Kenny was born, but I can still remember when he was brought home, one of the very first patches of memory still etched into this old brain.

 

Jim would spend the next 18 months at Kapuskasing, Ontario.  Kapuskasing is located in Northern Ontario, along Hwy 11, northwest of Timmins. It’s about midway between Lake Superior and James Bay. The internment camp at Kapuskasing served two purposes for the government: it confined persons who supposedly posed a security risk, and it used their labour to clear forest for an experimental farm and develop new territory for future settlement (bush camps).The main POW camp was located at Monteith (closer to Timmins). Note: Kapuskasing is not included as a POW camp in any of the lists I have found. It is said that in addition to the main camps there were branch camps and labour camps (bush camps) where prisoners worked as logging crews. Jim must have been at one of these.

 

While Dad was away, eldest son Gordon (17 years old then) assumed the role as the ‘man of the house’. I think it was around 1944 that Gordon enlisted in the R.C.A.F. Trained as a “Tail Gunner”, he got as far as India but the war ended before he could enter the fray.

Lethbridge
1945

 

Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 7, 1945, after a final attack across the Rhine. Jim was transferred to Lethbridge (Camp 133), Alberta. He was assigned to escort prisoners to the sugar beet fields in Barnwell.

 

The guards’ main job was snooping for escape-tunnels and settling disputes. A couple of prisoners escaped and got as far as Pincher Creek and Coaldale. The RCMP captured both of them. The Veterans Guard as well as the RCMP captured a man who got to Coaldale. There were quite a few more attempted escapes including balloons, crates, and a few more exotic things. Had all 12,000 POW’s decided to walk out and escape, they could have. There weren’t enough guards, guns or ammunition to stop them. The only thing that was stopping the POW’s: there was no place to go.

 

Grandson Murray STILL vividly recalled stories his grandpa told of the POW camps. He remembered him saying that Jim broke into a bunk house in time to stop a fight between two drunken prisoners.  One prisoner drew a knife, and before anything further could happen, a third prisoner entered the picture, disarming the trouble-maker. Most prisoners were content though, to work the beet-fields or do manual labour.  In fact, the prisoners saw Mr STILL as a kind of "father image", and would do anything for him.

 

On July 31, 1945, Jim was discharged from the VGC (He was later awarded a Canadian Volunteer Services Medal).  He worked as a Watchman on the Dredge at Selkirk for the rest of the summer.

 

AFTER THE WAR

 

** Under construction. Much more to come **

** Check back later **


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