NOTICE: These electronic pages may NOT be reproduced in any format for profit or presentation by any other organization or persons. Persons or organizations desiring to use this material, must obtain the written consent of the contributor, or the legal representative of the submitter, and contact the listed Alberta Digital archivist with proof of this consent. The submitter has given permission to the Alberta Digital Archives to store the file permanently for free access.|
BIOGRAPHY: RODDICK, Aaron Monroe - Jul 12, 2007 - Westlock
Contributed for use in Alberta Digital Archives by Paul M Roddick
History would be a wonderful thing, if only it were true.
- and the same could be said, of biography.
Coming of Age in Alberta is the tale of a boy becoming a man ? growing up in a province not yet out of its teens,
and a country still flying another country?s flag, Although I did not arrive in Alberta until 1927, my father had
been there before me.
In 1906, Aaron Monroe Roddick, recently graduated from Queen?s University in Kingston, traveled west to secure an
Alberta teaching certificate, and find a homestead. On the face of it, his degree in English literature from Queen?s
University was not the most appropriate qualification for such an undertaking. And there was another problem, perhaps
even more significant. In his early teens, he had lost the lower part of his right arm, in an accident in his father?s
sawmill. You may question how a one-armed man could possibly cope with the challenges confronting a homesteader in the
wilds of northern Alberta? If such a question occurred to my father there is little evidence that he ever gave it a
When he arrived in Edmonton in the spring of 1906, Aaron Roddick joined thousands of migrants, from eastern Canada
and Europe who, in the two decades before World War I, settled the land that lie between the Great Lakes and the
Canadian Rockies. He was just one of hundreds of land-hungry newcomers, charts in hand, searching out the surveyors?
stakes in Alberta?s prairies, parkland and boreal forests ? looking for a homestead.
For readers unfamiliar with Western vernacular, a homestead was a rectangular plot of land, 160 rods on each of its
four sides, ? totaling 160 acres. A man could call it his own only when it had been filed on, proved up, and its
title registered in his name at the provincial land-titles office.
During the period in which this book was written, Aaron Roddick?s youngest daughter, Betty, discovered a notebook
left by her father, recounting his original journey to Edmonton in 1906, and his three-day exploration of the
community, to which he later gave the Gaelic name Pibroch, The writing was not easy to decipher, since he wrote not
only on the lines but, turning the notebook sideways, across the material already set down. He called his
composition Pioneering in Pibroch. The not-easily-read script ? written in 1964 in his 84th year ? was deciphered and
transcribed into print by his granddaughter, Ellis Roddick, who was born and raised in Pibroch. My father?s ?journal?
provides a useful introduction to my own story; but it also reflects his unflagging resilience and abiding good-humor,
in good times and bad, throughout his long and rewarding life.
In a sense, Aaron Roddick?s account of his search for a homestead explains, at least in part, ?how the West was
won? ? how Canada became the country we know today. Speaking to Albertans in 1905, on the occasion of Alberta entering
Confederation, Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier said: ?We do not anticipate, and we do not want, that individuals
should forget the land of their origin or their ancestors. Let them look to the land of their ancestors, but let them
also look to the land of their children. Let them become Canadians.? Although Sir Wilfred did not file on an Alberta
homestead, his observations reflect a perceptive awareness of that the motley collection of land-seekers to which my
father belonged, a generation that, in the twentieth century, defined a province called Alberta, and a country called
My own tale of coming of age in Alberta, mirrors the experience another generation of Albertans, a generation of
young men and women who grew up on farms, and in villages and small towns during the ?30s ? a generation whose
childhood was defined by the depression, by scarcity, and ultimately by war. Many of the young men of this
generation went to war, never to return. Others came back to their home province, and some (like the author of this
book) put down their roots in other parts of Canada. But wherever we are, and however old we may be, when the Oilers
or the Eskimos reach the finals ? for a night or two we are all Albertans.
A century on, (from my father?s homesteading days), Alberta has a different story to tell. As it enters a new
century, it is not defined by homesteads or depression, but by oil and affluence. Once again, - for Canadians and
immigrants too ? the cry is heard across the land ?Go West, young man, go West.?
A final, and necessary, reminder to myself and to my readers. In biography ? as in history and theology ? the line
between fiction and fact is never easy to draw. No doubt a few of my recollections will not always jibe with the
recollections of others who shared that world with me. If so I can only plead that ? perhaps some of what I was told
may have been ?lost in translation?. Their truths and their fairy tales, like mine, resemble a patchwork quilt
assembled from bits and pieces of old cloth. Whether we are fabricating quilts or biography, since the originals
materials are long gone, we are neither able nor obliged to make our creation conform to a predetermined, authentic
design. Or, as Julian Bell expressed it, reviewing books on British Art ? ?the reader is continually and hilariously
brought up against the sure truth that the real truth will never be available.?
I wrote Coming of Age in Alberta more than ten years ago, as a family history. In writing a biography of this kind,
there is a constant cross-over between my own experiences and the recollections of others. To distinguish between
the actual world which I witnessed, and the endless stories of Roddick roots, to which I have been exposed all my
life, I have relegated most of the tangled tale of who the Roddicks were and where they came from to a second part.
However, to assist the reader in navigating this journey through time and family relationships, I include (below) a
very brief outline of Dad?s two families ? the one he grew up in and the one where he was the father and provider.
I have also included a chart showing identifying the members of Mother?s family, the Dougals.
My grandfather, James, came to Canada from Scotland, as a small child, first in 1839. It seems likely that most of
the Roddick clan who came to Canada in the 18th century, trace their origins to Dumfrieshire on the Solway
Firth ? at the western end of the border separating Scotland and England. And, as my story reveals, Grandfather
James, too, filed on a homestead in Alberta ? when he was 73 ? migrating from Lyndhurst to Pibroch after his wife
died, in 1909.
For more than a decade, this skilled wood craftsman and former saw-mill operator from Lyndhurst (near Kingston)
shared the homesteader?s life with his sons John and Aaron, their wives Mercy and Annie May, and his daughter Jean.
James Roddick died at Brockville, Ontario, in 1923.
Roddicks and Dougals: Three Generations
James Alexander Roddick <> Mary (Nettleton) Roddick
(1837- 1923) (1840 ? (1909)
Frances (b 1866); John (1867); James (b 1870; George (B 1872)Jean (b 1874); Louella (b 1876); Mary (B 1879);
Aaron (b 1880); Charles* (b 1883)
Lewis Alfred Dougal <> Martha Dillon
(1864-1951) ( 1867-1941)
Lorena (b 1887); Eliza Jane & Annie May (b 1888); Lewis Herbert (b 1891); Maryett (b 1895); Benjamin (b 1898);
Alfred Eugene (b 1902); Parker (B 1904); Winona (b 1910)
Aaron Monroe Roddick <> Annie May Dougall
Dougall (b 1910); Lura (b 1912); John (B 1916); Jean (b 1917); Lyman (b 1920); Paul (b 1922); Betty (b 1924)
PIONEERING IN PIBROCH
(Taken from a manuscript written in 1964 by Aaron Monroe Roddick, age 84.)
I graduated with a degree of B.A. from Queen's in the spring of 1906. My health was very poor. Though swollen glands
on the right side of my neck should have warned me to consult a doctor, I did not do so. I was very much underweight,
and had a poor appetite. I thought if I could only get out west to a different climate, my condition would soon
improve. And in the second week in May, I bought myself a second class ticket for Edmonton, Alta. I chose Edmonton
because an older brother was working there. He was an employee of the Oscar Brown Fruit and Produce company. The job
I hoped to get had nothing to do with wholesale fruit. I expected to teach. To save on my ticket, I traveled second
class - a sort of immigrant special ? equipped with un-cushioned slat seats, which could be laid down flat for
sleeping. I don't need to say how hard and uncomfortable they were, especially for one as thin and weak as I was.
The trip occupied about four days and nights during which I lived almost altogether on a lunch my mother and sister
had put up for me. At night I lay on those slats with only a single blanket and one small pillow to soften my
The nights seemed unending. Besides, it was my first long journey by train. My longest previous trip was from
Brockville to Kingston, whileattending Queen?s University.
I first came to the Clyde and Westlock area in July 1907. I was on my way to look for a homestead in Township
61-26-W.4M. At that time there was a post office called Clyde, but no town either there or where Westlock now stands.
However, most of the available land had been homesteaded as far north as Township 60. Twp. 61 had just been thrown
open for filing, and by the time my friend Neil Donald Ross and I reached 61, quite a number of quarter sections had
been taken. I filed on S.W.4.61.W.4; my friend on the N.E. of the same section. A year later, however, he abandoned
that quarter for one on the prairie near Cereal. For years, I lost track of Neil, but in old age we have renewed old
acquaintance, after a lapse of more than 40 years. Now, very few of Pibroch's Old Timers remain, and so in the
following pages, I shall attempt to recall what I still remember of the establishment of that little pioneer
settlement with the unique Gaelic name.
Alberta was made a province in the year 1905, and shortly afterwards, Twp. 61.W.4.M. was thrown open for
In Twp. 60 and farther south, only even numbered sections could be filed on, but in 61, both odd and even numbered
sections were available, with the exception of 11 and 29, which had been reserved for school purposes. This made for
a much more compact settlement and was a distinct advantage, later on when roads were made and school districts
Another reason for recalling these early days is to keep their memory fresh in the minds and hearts of the young
people, not only of this, but of future generations. A knowledge of the early struggles of these pioneers, and the
cheerful courage with which they met and overcame apparently insuperable difficulties, gradually taming and
transforming a trackless wilderness into a splendid farming area as up-to-date in almost every respect as almost any
other in the province, should give our children a real understanding and pride in their heritage. It should help them
to become better citizens and better men and women.
Neil and I walked from Clyde, carrying on our backs, blankets, a frying pan, a billy-can, a loaf or two of bread, a
slab of bacon and a packet of tea. The weather was extremely hot and it rained copiously nearly every day. The trail
(there was no graded road) was largely sticky mud or water-filled sloughs - often knee deep. Part of the way it
followed a sand ridge and there the walking was fairly good. The nearer we got to our destination, the worse the road
became. But, as that meant deep black topsoil, we didn't mind. It was just that sort of land we were seeking. At long
last, footsore and weary and soaking wet, we reached the S.E. corner of twp 61.26.W.4.
Luckily for us, this quarter had been filed on by a friend whom we had met the previous winter in Calgary where Neil
and I were attending Normal School. His name was Jack Sheppy and his red-haired wife had been a schoolmate of ours.
Jack was a carpenter and had already built himself a substantial log house. We were more than pleased when he invited
us to make his home our headquarters while we selected a homestead. We had with us a township map obtained from the
land office on which were marked the quarter sections still open for filing. Of course, others might be in possession
of similar maps and engaged in the same sort of search as ourselves. The first man to file obtained the quarter. It
took us but a few days to decide, and after that, the sooner we got to the land office, the better.
In this brush and tree-filled country, there were no trails, except those made by snowshoe hares. We could only follow
the section lines cut several years before by surveyors. Although these were partly grown up again, by observing the
axe marks, we were able to follow the lines. Lines running north and south were a mile apart. Those running east and
west were two miles apart. At the N.E. corner of each section, an iron stake had been driven. It stood in a mound made
from the soil excavated from four square holes dug around it. By reading the numbers and letters engraved on the
stake, a man could find out his exact position.
My quarter was in section 4, so the inscription read N.E. 1/4 of the 4th meridian. Neil filed on this one. I chose the
S.W. of the same section. The lines were quite easy to follow where the trees were thick, but when the line crossed
more open places, we had to watch far ahead for the telltale opening in the trees made by the axes of the surveyors.
The heat in the thick brush was terrible and we made no attempt to keep dry. It would have been useless anyway, for
the grass and bushes dripped with moisture. Soon we were dripping too. Our boots became a soggy mess. Certainly we
were both literally "tenderfeet". I don't remember that we even thought to bring along a change of sox. We just rinsed
our single pair in a convenient waterhole (and I must say, they were altogether too convenient), wrung them out and
put them on again. The same was true of all our clothes for that matter. Our main idea in making up our packs had been
to keep them light.
At night we slept on Jack's floor in our own blankets. They at least were dry. I mustn't leave this tale of woe without
mentioning the swarms of mosquitoes and black flies constantly buzzing around our heads. We tried vainly to protect
ourselves with veils of netting but this soon got wet with rain and sweat and stuck to our faces like our own skin.
Then our insect enemies once again had us at their mercy. The nets only made the heat worse than ever, for they kept
away any faint breeze that might be stirring. In homesteading days, in summer of course, no one could ever feel lonely,
the black flies saw to that during the day, and when they went to rest at sunset, the mosquitoes took over. We had one
variety of sand flies which the Indians called "no-see-ums" They were so tiny, no ordinary screen could keep them out.
One advantage ? they made us keep moving. The faster you swung the axe, the less they bothered you. The only real
relief from these pests could be gained by lighting a "smudge" so that the smoke would drift around you as you worked.
We also protected our cattle and horses in the same way. If you wish to see a picture of perfect contentment, just
watch a herd of cattle standing around a smudge fire with their heads almost hidden in billowing clouds of smoke. The
insects disliked the smoke just as much as we disliked them.
It was Thursday afternoon when we set out on our 45 mile walk to Morinville where we could board a train for Edmonton.
At that time, Morinville was the end of steel. It was a nice sunny day overhead. Underfoot was a different story. The
mud was deeper than ever. In fact after we started south from Sheppy's corner, we actually overtook small jackfish,
two or three inches long, swimming up the rut made by wagon wheels. This water was on its way to a lake from which the
fish had evidently come. The lake was at least a mile away. We were heading for Edmonton to file our claims.
Necessarily under such conditions, progress was very slow. About 8 o'clock that evening, we stopped at an unoccupied
bachelor's shack to rest and have a bite to eat. The fire was out, but we soon kindled one, made tea, and fried some
of our precious bacon. This, with butterless bread, made up our lunch. It was a great comfort to be relieved of our
packs and to take the weight off our aching feet. After a rest of perhaps half an hour, we re-shouldered our packs and
started on again. By this time night had fallen and light rain had begun. Another shack loomed up beside the trail. At
this season in Alberta, twilight lasts a long time. In fact, it's possible on a clear night to read a newspaper out of
doors as late as eleven o'clock.
As I have already said, this was not a clear evening. Still, the one-roomed house could be plainly seen, standing in
its grove of tall poplars. We walked up to the door and knocked. The door was opened by a tow-headed young Englishman.
We politely asked if we could spread our blankets on his floor and stay the night. There was another young man with
him who had been helping him make, or as we used to say "put up" hay. To our surprise, our request was flatly refused,
on the grounds that there was no room. As that was an obvious lie, we took the hint and proceeded on our way.
Sometimes a slough crossed the entire right-of-way. It was useless to avoid it and so we plodded right through the
middle. At times, the water came well above our knees. This went on for five or six miles to what was known as a
stopping place, kept by a little French Canadian named Prue.
It was now 11 pm and everyone was in bed. We knocked again, this time to a smiling host and hostess. In a very short
time we were enjoying a bountiful well cooked meal. It was simple but ample, and to two hungry wayfarers, it was a meal
fit to grace the table of a lord. Perhaps that inhospitable Englishman did us a good turn after all. Here we were given
a huge feather mattress to sleep on - with of course, a few Canadian "bedbugs" to keep us company; otherwise the bed
was clean and so comfortable. Too tired to notice their annoying bites, we slept soundly. At 6 in the morning our
genial host wakened us to an equally substantial breakfast, and once again we plodded down the road. (By this time it
was graded.) We still had 20 miles before reaching Morinville, and the trains left at 4 pm.
I was in a worse plight than my companion. My shoes were light; quite unsuited for a trip such as we had taken. They
were now more like moccasins and the uppers had in places, parted company with the soles. Neil had stronger shoes and
so fared better. Besides, he was in far better condition physically. I had only been out of bed a few days before we
started on this expedition. Neil wanted to take both packs, but of course I was too "Scotch" to agree to that
arrangement. Finally we reached Morinville, just 20 minutes too late to catch the train to Edmonton. I was just too
tired to care, and besides, I had a row of blisters the size of kidney beans along the outer edge of each foot. As both
of us needed a shave rather badly, we went to the hotel barbershop in Morinville to get one. It was a painful
experience. Apparently the barber had been bending his elbow too frequently the night before, and his hand was far from
steady. His razor wasn't much keener than he was either. As a consequence, we lost almost as much skin as whiskers.
After we'd washed off the blood, I must admit we did look a little more civilized, although I still think he should
have paid us instead of we him.
After the day's rest in Morinville, I felt a hundred per cent better than when I left Edmonton. My blisters were still
sore, but I really felt wonderful. A week's sojourn in the wilderness had proved to be just the medicine I needed. The
food in the hotel was not nearly so good, but we managed to eat it. That night we slept again on feathers - we and the
Next morning, we heard that a train might back in from a nearby coal mine. It did, and we stepped aboard, arriving in
Edmonton in time for supper. In the years that followed, like most homesteaders, I had many more similar experiences.
I don't remember anybody feeling very sorry for himself. We were young and full of hope and could take it. There
certainly was no royal road to proving up (that is, acquiring title to) a homestead.
*This first paragraph describes his journey to Alberta in May, 1906. In the remaining months of that year he attended
Normal School in Calgary. Then, with his newly acquired teaching credentials, he was employed as a teacher during the
late winter and spring of 1907, at the MacKay Avenue school in Edmonton. The homestead-hunting trip must have taken
place in early July, at the end of the school year.
Aaron Monroe Roddick died in Edmonton in 1979, in his 99th year.
Annie May (Dougal) Roddick died in Edmonton in 1977, in her 87th year.