The Thomas Family: the early years

Shared from a family album.

The family that followed the two Lockwood families to 1037 Clifton lived in the house from about 1919 until 1935.  However, this family had moved from Iowa to Canada much earlier in the century and started out, as the Lockwood family before them, by farming in the Tuxford area.

1900 census in Iowa before moving to Canada. Mr Thomas is listed as a mail carrier.  They were living in a house at 109 Riverside with the children at ages 8, 7, and 4 months.

The story of the Thomas Years in the house at 1037 Clifton Avenue in Moose Jaw really begins back in 1908 when the Thomases moved from Decorah, Iowa to farm in Saskatchewan.  Both Mr and Mrs Thomas had ancestors from the eastern part of the US who had originally lived a couple of generations previous in Maryland and then Pennsylvania. The story of the family’s gradual transition to Canada, specifically the Tuxford-Marquis area is well told by Louise Alice Thomas Bills Hannah in the local history book called Heritage of the Wheatlands: Tuxford and Area. The Moose Jaw Public Library Archives have the book as well as the original drafts submitted by its many contributors.

The book covers the period of time from 1857 to 1977 and was published by the Tuxford Heritage Committee in 1979.

In the fall of 1907, James Smith Thomas came with his cousin from Decorah, Iowa to the “wonderful grain-growing prairies” of Moose Jaw. He bought the East half of 15-20-27-W2 for $16 per acre.   There was a barn with an 18 by 28 lean-to where J. S. Thomas planned to live the following spring when they returned from spending the winter back in Iowa.  So in March of 1908, James Thomas who had been a mail-carrier in Decorah, Iowa and his son, Art (15), arrived with 2 freight-cars of possessions for their new farm. They pulled all of this– livestock, machinery, and furniture–on a sledge from the train station in Moose Jaw to their location north of Tuxford.

In April, Mrs Mary Winnifred Thomas (nee Headington) arrived with their three daughters: Louise (16), Mildred (8), and Winnifred (Freddie) (4).  The family was together through the summer, but Louise returned to Iowa in the fall of 1908 to continue her high school studies. Meanwhile, in Saskatchewan, the family was still growing, as another daughter, Helen Gertrude, was born on December 2nd. When Louise returned to Tuxford in June of 1909, she was able to teach with a temporary permit even though she still needed another year of high school herself.  The school year ran from March to December in Tuxford, but Louise went back to Iowa in the fall for her final year of high school.  She was teaching again at the Westlake school when she returned in June 1911.  Until 1910, the family had been living in the lean-to next to the barn, and Louise tells of limiting her social contacts out of embarrassment over their living arrangements. But in 1910, Mr Thomas built an eight-room house.

The Thomas farm now has an 8 room house in 1910 with a veranda added in 1911.

Louise now began keeping company with Dick (George Richard) Bills and continued with teaching and cooking for harvesters. During her yearlong engagement to Dick, he had a 4 room house built on a section of land halfway between his parents’ home and her parents’ home.

This is the house that Dick built halfway between his parents’ house and hers.

The 1911 census in Canada shows the big changes that have come to the Thomas family since the US census of 1900.  James Thomas at 47 is no longer a mail-carrier in Iowa.  He is now a farmer in Saskatchewan.  He has one son and four daughters with his wife Mary Winnifred who is 39.  His oldest daughter (Louise)  is engaged to the boy from the farm down the road, and soon Mr Thomas will be the “father of the bride.” The 8 room house he built in 1910 now has a veranda in 1911. However, as for every family, every decade brings changes, and for this family in this place in the next decade of the 19teens, they will experience three weddings before another move takes them from the house near Tuxford to a larger house in town.

Census showing the neighbouring Bills and Thomas families in 1911

Three weddings…..1912, 1917, 1919

Dick and Louise Bills’ Wedding December 10, 1912

Louise wrote in the Tuxford book: We were married on a freezing cold day in December. My brother, Art, drove 12 miles to Tuxford in the fourteen below zero weather to get the minister and bring him to my parents’ home. We had a quiet ceremony with just the two families present. Dick’s brother, Archie, then drove us to Chamberlain, where we caught the train to Regina for our honeymoon.


1916 Census showing Thomas family on their farm and their daughter’s family on their farm. The Thomas and Bills families are living on sections 15/20/27/2 and 14/20/27/2 .  The first grandchild was a boy named Burdette Thomas Bills.

The second Thomas wedding took place in a home in the Marquis area on July 17th, 1917. Arthur Reginald Thomas took as his bride the lovely Annie  Archibald.  Annie had been born in Pictou, Nova Scotia in  1895. Her parents had both passed away and she had moved west with some of her brothers.  She was the only daughter in her family, and Arthur was the only son in his family.  So it appears that Arthur invited Annie’s brother to be his best man, and Annie invited Arthur’s sister to be her maid of honour.  The wedding took place at the home of Annie’s brother,  Lester Ward Archibald.

Mildred Edith Thomas married John Weiland in 1919.

I don’t know if there was a bouquet for Mildred, the bridesmaid,  to catch on that Tuesday afternoon at her brother’s wedding, but she was married in 1919.  She married a farmer from the Belle Plain-Stoney Beach area named John Weiland.  I have found no record of their wedding yet, whether it was at Tuxford, in Moose Jaw, or at the groom’s farm near Belle Plaine.

So by the end of 1919,  the three oldest Thomas children were married.  Arthur and Annie took over the Thomas farm for several years, and Papa Jim and Grandma Winnie moved to Moose Jaw. The Weilands were farming near Belle Plaine, and  Louise and Dick Bills were at their own home near Tuxford where, in 1919, Dick had proved up his homestead at SW 36-20-27.

Only two of James and Winnie’s children come with them to Clifton Avenue in time for the  1921 census:  James is 56;  Winnie is 49; Freddie is 16, and Helen Gertrude is 12.  They have a young woman Mary Walderberger (21) who is working in their home.  It came to pass,  in 1921, sometime after the census was taken, Winnie’s parents from Iowa joined the Clifton household to spend their remaining years with their daughter. Benjamin Franklin Headington and his wife Louise were a much-appreciated addition to the family home now housing 3 generations.  I say “much appreciated” because, after those three weddings mentioned above, the grandchildren began to arrive.

1914:  Burdette Thomas Bills; 1916 Robert Wilford Bills; 1921 Donald Arthur Bills in March, and then….

Finally, some granddaughters–1921: Winnifred Mary Weiland, Helen Jeanne Thomas; and 1922: Marjorie Weiland, Virginia Louise Bills.

Arthur and Annie Thomas with their first baby.
Arthur with his dad and vehicle.

Arthur shows an early interest in cars and of course in his wife and new baby. Could he make a transition to a career with vehicles in the future?  The plans of mice and men….you know the rest

It was not Louise Bills’ plan to live with her parents after 1912, but she did take advantage of their hospitality in their 12 room house on Clifton for the births of her next 2 children: Donald Arthur (born in 1921) and Virginia Louise (born in 1922). This same Virginia visited our home in 2002 on her 80th birthday.  She climbed the stairs to our second-floor den and stood in the doorway with her hand over her heart saying, “This is the room where I was born.”

Grandma Winnie and Virginia Louise Bills. Maybe this picture is the reason Virginia wanted her 80th birthday picture taken on our veranda.
Mr. and Mrs. Thomas (James and Winnifred)  in front of 1037.  She is standing where my delphiniums are today!

1027 Clifton’s First Great Grandfather Benjamin Franklin Headington on his 80th birthday. January 12, 1925.  I wonder if seeing this picture as a child is what inspired Virginia to come back to the house on her 80th birthday.

A mid-20s picture of the family gathered and posed on the front steps. There are several young granddaughters here and some grandsons too. But not everyone is holding their own children, so it’s a bit of a puzzle. Plus there are at least 4 extra folks who may be in-laws or friends.It seems that the whole family liked to have their pictures taken on our veranda steps.  With the light coming from the west, this pose has become a tradition for several families who have lived in this house.  In fact,  we took a picture here ourselves this past Easter.

Easter on Clifton in 2019

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

― Leo Tolstoy , Anna Karenina

Family happiness ebbs and flows like the tide. Some years and some decades overflow with happy occasions like weddings, births, anniversaries, new places, new challenges.  Some years and some decades instead deliver more unhappy losses, funerals, tragedies, and unforeseen events. Sometimes the happy times are ironically intermingled with the sad times.  If my 68 years hadn’t already taught me this, my research about the families of our Clifton house would have taught me.   The Thomas family is facing into a difficult decade.  I don’t think they see it coming.  Thomases on Clifton : Part 2 next time.