Read about House History


Daniel Coleman has written about a small plot of land sheltered by the Niagara Escarpment near where he works at McMaster University.  In his book Yardwork: A Biography of an Urban Place he works to deal with questions about belonging to a place.

“Belonging comes from having been accepted, not from being in charge.  The work of place, the recording of its biography, its life story, then, requires as much listening as it does speaking. Indeed, because of the imbalance of our acquisitive aggressive times, the work of belonging may require more listening than speaking, more contemplation than action, more intuitive immersion than bold assertions.

Coleman, Daniel. Yardwork: a Biography of an Urban Place. JSNB James Street North Books, 2017.

Leith Knight carefully researched and listened, and in her Times-Herald Column called “Historically Speaking” told many stories of the days before Moose Jaw was a town or a city.

Collection of Columns “Historically Speaking”

“As winter approached family groups moved into the sheltered valleys of prairie streams which could supply water, fodder and sufficient timber for log cabins….There were at least two wintering sites on the Moose Jaw Creek: one where the river meets the Qu’Appelle, another about twelve miles upstream at a big bend, called the Turn by all who travelled the prairies in pre-settlement years. …The latter site, situated in what is now Kingsway Park, had been a campground for nomadic plains dwellers for centuries, and for fur traders and buffalo hunters since the beginning of the 1800s. Not only was it an oasis in the middle of the vast dry prairieland, but the only point on Moose Jaw Creek where Red River carts, loaded with pemmican and furs, could cross the valley with minimum difficulty.  The great west trail from Fort Garry utilized this natural ford, bringing to The Turn many colorful figures of the old West to barter for furs and pemmican, peddle whiskey and preach the Gospel.”

Knight, Leith. All the Moose –All the Jaw. Moose Jaw 100, 1982.

The Kingsway Park mentioned by Leith Knight will enter into the stories of more than one of the families who lived at 1037 Clifton Avenue.

In Media Res (Yes, Virginia…)

Many of my frienvirginia and Mirva (2)ds have heard me tell about the lady who showed up on the veranda of our house at 1037 Clifton Avenue, in August of 2002.  She was wondering if she could have her picture taken on our porch because this was her birthday, and she was turning 80 years old.  She had been born here in what was then her grandparents’ home on August 22, 1922.  In a brief tour of the house, she designated our second floor study as the room of her birth. Her maiden name was Virginia Louise Bills.  She was the daughter of Dick and Louise Bills, their youngest child.  She had 3 older brothers: Burdette, Robert, and Don.

In the brief conversation during the house tour, Mrs. Virginia (Bills) Stewart said she had been married for 55 years to Douglas Stewart and had been a widow since 2000. She had had some ties with the Free Methodist Church and knew some students from the  Moose Jaw Bible College in the 1940s:  Jack Walrath, Phyllis Langman, and “Donnie Bastian” to name a few.

Hindsight tells me we should have pinned her in a chair and fired questions at her: about her memories of this house, (her grandparents owned it only until 1935 when she was 13), about the people we knew in common, about the college in those days of its beginnings, and about the Free Methodist Church camp in Kingsway Park south of Moose Jaw and about farming in the early days in the Tuxford/Marquis area, and of course, about where her grandparents put up the Christmas tree.  But she couldn’t stay long and we were busy arranging for our daughter’s wedding in a few days.

The story of Virginia Bills and her family (four generations of them had lived in this house) was put aside for a time.  When retirement time was available, I first searched with the contact information I had from her. Then I googled her name and found her Obituary.  She had died on June 11th of 2010 in her 88th year.  Yes, Virginia, you were the fire in my bones to start a retirement project that I love waking up to!  I knew the walls of this house couldn’t talk, but the library archives could, old newspapers could, and the internet could, Land Titles could, and yes, your descendants and friends could.  I wondered, and researched, and learned about your losing your father when you were only two, about your 12 year old big brother drowning at a church camp when you were 4 years old, about watching your auntie walk down the stairs for her wedding in your grandpa’s house six months later, about what it’s like to have your grandparents lose their house in the depression and move away.

From this in medias res beginning, research moved back to previous house owners and forward to others: Lockwoods, Cooks, Simingtons, Humphreys, Conleys, Keelers, Andersons, Babiches.  And that, dear friends and total strangers, is the subject of this Blog.  It all started with Virginia.

Watch for more about Virginia’s family when I write about the Thomas Years.  Although Virginia spent a lot of time in this house until she was 13 years old, the  house was  rented and then owned by her grandparents, James Smith Thomas and his wife Winnie.

(picture credit: Mirva Travland)