Part one — Youmans or Yeomans — The first entry in the Land Agents Record Book for a lot in the CPR subdivision which became Dryden was on August 4 1896 to a Mr. George Markland Yeomans (sometimes spelled Youmans). On that day he claimed lots 1, 2, 5 and 6 on the north side of King Street, that is, 4 out of 6 lots on the downtown block, Earl to Whyte. On Feb 17, 1897, David August Yeomans claimed lots 7 and 8 on the north side of King, the long-time home of Gould Furniture. “Carved from the Wilderness”, George Wice’s history book of early Dryden, says Yeomans built the first real store in Dryden, that is, a free-standing purpose-built building. It was built along with a house on lot 1, that is, the NE corner of King and Earl, presently the Bank of Montreal. So the Yeomans family had a whole block of downtown King Street and was the largest landholder and merchant in the town.
On the rural scene, among the first properties claimed was the Yeomans 960 acres in 3 abutting parcels in Wainwright Township. An entire lot (rural survey lot) is 320 acres, and that was the maximum one person could claim as a homestead. The family circumvented this by each member, wife Elizabeth Yeomans, daughter Charlotte Yeomans, and George Markland Yeomans each claiming a whole lot, adding up to the total of 960 acres. This property was along the Wabigoon River, 2 miles northwest of the corner of the Demonstration Farm (now the cemetery corner). So in 1896 the Yeomans family was also the largest landholder outside the town. These original homesteads were not free; there was a considerable charge in order to obtain title to the land, so Yeoman’s were among the biggest early investors in the community.
The very first road in the district was built that summer of 1896, ‘building’ consisting mostly of removing all the trees and cutting the stumps short. John Crerar reports in his memoirs that he worked on that crew as a young man. He said the route started with a crossing of the CPR from at the foot of Earl Ave. It went northwest from there along a line, still visible, which includes the highway between McKinstry’s and the Dairy Queen, to the west boundary of the Demonstration Farm. Then it went north along that west boundary, now Grand Trunk Ave., and continued north-west to and through the Yeoman’s claims. So the first road connected the Yeoman’s town and country properties.
The crew then went back and built a road east along the south boundary of the Demonstration Farm, now Government Road and highway 17 East. That was all the road construction in 1896, so the Yeomans got a lot of priority.
If you Google George Markland Yeomans, you can come up with this story. Asa Yeomans married Charlotte Yost Herkimer in New York State, and moved to the Belleville, Ontario area after the war of 1812, perhaps as a belated United Empire Loyalist. George Markland Yeomans was born in Belleville in 1830, married Elizabeth Fry, and they produced a family of five including a son David and a daughter Charlotte. They homesteaded several places in Ontario, and ended up in Manitoba. The Glenbow museum has a picture of George and Mrs. Yeomans and Charlotte in front of their general store in Dalton, Manitoba, in the 1890’s. This coincidence of names and occupation serves to nail down that this is indeed our family.
This indicates that George was 66 years old at the time he came here, and no doubt his large family helped him get established. Incidentally, Google also tells us that David died in Alexander, Man., and we have no record as to what he did with the King St properties or when he left Dryden. Another son, also George Markland Yeomans, died in 1919 in Winnipeg as a result of war injuries.
“Carved from the Wilderness” indicates that the store built by G M Yeomans in 1896 was in the hands of a J. G Hayes, Hardware merchant, when it burned down, ‘within a few years’. George was actually farming on the Wainwright properties in 1897, but when the properties were patented in 1902 he listed his occupation as ‘Merchant’, perhaps he still had the store as well as the farms. The newly patented farms were sold, also in 1902, to Thomas Goodwin, farmer.
The Wainwright properties then fell into the hands of Winnipeg investors, perhaps Mr. Goodwin was not well enough capitalized to maintain such a large property, and were eventually purchased by Emily Pickering in 1908. And the Yeomans family, who started off so prominently, disappeared from the local scene.
We commonly think of our pioneers as being from Ontario, however, this also makes the Yeoman’s the first family to come here from the west, having moved to Manitoba some years before. They built the first building purpose-built to be a store in Dryden. They were the largest property-owner in Dryden and the largest rural landowner, and had enough influence and clout that our first road was built directly from their town property to their farm property.
The mystery is that someone so prominent is not mentioned very much at all in any of our written history. Perhaps it had to do with their moving away early in our history. Although George wrote a glowing testimonial to the farming potential here in 1897, by 1902 he was gone, so perhaps he was seen by other settlers as more speculator than genuine settler. Still, an important figure in Dryden’s early history.
Part 2 — Saskatchewan Day — The Yeomans family seem to have been our first settlers from western Canada, but after the initial surge from Ontario, resettling from the west was the most common pattern among our early settlers. Many local families are descended from Ontario folks who went west and found the constant wind and big sky uncomfortable, or were wiped out by drought or hail or whatever, and came back here where conditions were more familiar and secure. They say 4 out of 5 businesses fail in their first 5 years, and farming is no exception. Before there was a well-developed infrastructure and such assists as Crop Insurance and Cooperative Marketing, farming on the prairies was definitely a risky business. As I have noted previously, many a Saskatchewan farm was saved from the bailiff by the farmer taking his team of horses to one of our bush camps for the winter, thereby accumulating a nest egg. So they came for the more familiar climate, and they came for the greater security.
My wife’s father’s family left old Ontario and settled near Virden, Manitoba. They came back here to Ontario in the 20’s, mainly because they could not get decent water; there was always a film of oil on the surface in any well they dug. They settled in Eton Rugby. There is a wry twist – it turned out their Virden farm was in the center of the western Manitoba Oil Field, and became worth a fortune when oil was discovered! Of course between those times was the depression, when Eton Rugby people could survive while it was tough times around Virden!
Following this steady flow of homesteaders from the west during the teens and twenties, there was a big surge in the 30’s depression and even into the 40’s, especially from Saskatchewan. The drought was so bad in some parts of that province that even enough food was a problem, while one could at least feed the family here, grow a garden, shoot a deer, catch a fish. We reached our maximum number of homesteader/farmers of about a thousand by the time of World War 2.
Most came by rail, the normal means of transportation in those days, but many local families have memories of coming in a trek resembling the ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ trip to California; old truck piled high. Team of horses or a farm tractor (with a rooster riding on the hood!) pulling a hay-wagon piled high with household and farm goods, perhaps including a flock of chickens or a cow walking behind, all on the primitive trail which preceded our present highway.
I think a ‘Saskatchewan Day’ would be very successful, perhaps in 2019, 80 years after the depression ended. Perhaps a social event (At Birchland campground?) around a big map of Saskatchewan which includes all the now disappeared communities. Local people with Saskatchewan roots would socialize and mark their home community on that map. Another way to deepen our ‘sense of community’ here. Of course I am prejudiced, I was born in Regina!