While browsing through the Crestomere/Sylvan Heights Heritage History book, I came across some of the colorful early tales of the early pioneers of the Lundgren district west of Ponoka. Among these enjoyable stories was the ongoing adventures of J.C. (Jack) and May Lee, who were one of the first hardy pioneer families to establish their homesteads in this rolling farming district.
It was the three Duel brothers, Sim, Ira, and Roy, who first came to the area in 1900, took up farms, and then made it their business to locate more families and encourage them to be a part of this friendly new settlement. J.C. Lee, commonly known as Jack, was born in Indiana on Aug. 13, 1880, then later married Fanny (May) Musson on Feb. 28, 1900 in Hasting, Neb. In March 1901 the couple, accompanied by May’s father, John Musson, embarked on a new adventure, setting out from Aurora, Neb. by wagon train, then shipping their precious belongings from Portal, N.D. by train to their new homestead near Ponoka, NWT The trip was a long and gruelling one, sharing a box car with two other travellers for a fare of $7.20 or one cent a mile, and arriving in early May of 1901 with four horses and a wagon and just $20 in their pockets.
After loading up their belongings at the station, they travelled all day, breaking their own trail for the last few rugged miles before reaching their new homestead in the Lundgren district that had been filed for them earlier by Jack’s cousin, Dwight Osborne. Those early pioneer days were full of hardships, sorrow, and joy, but like so many other families, Jack and May bravely faced the countless challenges and elements, welcomed 17 children along the way, and stayed to farm the homestead for 64 amazing years. Following are some of the amazing highlights of their busy lives, their longstanding dedication to family and community, and their strong ongoing desire to work and share with each other to survive, no matter what.
• The first humble home for Jack and May was a covered wagon but as soon as they were able they built a sturdy log house with a sod roof and lived there until 1912. They lost three of their four horses to the dreaded swamp fever, and while they had very little variety of food, Jack’s keen eye with a shotgun provided many a partridge, prairie chicken or wild game for the table.
• As family began to arrive, Jack had to purchase a two-storey frame house and moved it onto the farmstead. Many of their first children were born at home without the assistance of a doctor, with four lost in childbirth. The survivors were: Alpha, Marion, Jim, Thelma, Dora, Homer, Blanche, Elmer, Chester, Clarence, Carl, Verle and Ray.
• Both Jack and May Lee became great teamsters. Jack rode bucking horses, and was not happy until he had ridden every untamed horse in the county. Mrs. Lee once drove a perky team into Ponoka and then had to unhitch them from the buggy herself because the boys were afraid to handle them. They bought their first car in 1918.
• For many years the main road from Springdale and Homeglen to Ponoka, went through Jack and May’s yard, and between the house and the barn, they always happily played host to many weary travellers, neighbours and friends. As time progressed, better roads were made, the first school was built in the Lundgren district, and then would later consolidate with Crestomere in 1953 and Sylvan Heights in 1956.
• Usually the women folk only went to town once or twice a year by farm wagon and team. But each family would be enriched by ample social activities that included church on Sundays, potluck dinners at neighbours’ homes, as well as many dances, card parties, picnics and Christmas programs. During the winter of 1920-21 the first radio came into the district, a handmade model that drew curious folks from far and wide. Books, magazines, sewing and chores helped to pass away the winter and were always shared with the neighbours. Cutting massive piles of wood or gathering ice was a popular activity, with everyone joining in, and the Ladies’ Aid usually hosting an ice cream or pie social.
• The people of Lundgren were always sports-minded. Jack Lee’s farm was the favourite home base for many ball games and tournaments over the years, with Jack being a great catcher for the Chesterwold baseball team, and those skills were passed down through many Lee generations. Some took up hockey, with Bob McDowell building a district rink in 1945 and the kids also hosting many enjoyable skating parties. Curling later became another recreation activity for men, women, and other family members at the Dakota rink from 1953-68, while Jack later loved to enter many curling bonspiels throughout the area with his friends, coming home with countless trophies and the odd “headache.”
• With the boys doing the work on the farm, Jack spent several years running the big graders for the Fertile Forest and Blindman municipalities, and then later worked for the provincial government on the Edson to Jasper highway. He also found time to serve on the Lundgren School Board, and was on the committee that ran the annual Chesterwold and Ferrybank picnics. Wife May was an avid and faithful member of the Chesterwold Women’s Institute, and later the Halfway Grove W.I.
In the summer of 1949, Mr. and Mrs. Lee built a new home and then proudly celebrated their golden wedding anniversary at an open house on Feb. 26, 1950. Ten years later they would gather with their children, several generations of grandchildren, and countless relatives and friends to mark their diamond wedding anniversary at the Ponoka Legion Hall. This hard working and dedicated farm family couple would live to see their 64th wedding anniversary, with May dying on Nov. 10, 1964, and Jack on Jan. 28, 1966.
Over the years the many surviving generations of the Jack and May Lee family have continued to cherish the memories and carry on the long-standing traditions that came from many busy and exciting decades of growing up on that grand old homestead west of Ponoka.