1) Introduction


To better understand the conditions (physical, social and economic) under which each generation had to live, I have included some pertinent general history. Also, since Sarah Ann Gowler’s parents were extensively written about, I have devoted a chapter to their activities and accomplishments.


In the late 1700’s, The Right Honourable Earl of Selkirk, with the permission of the King of England, established a colony of settlers in the Canadian Northwest at the forks of the Red River and Assiniboine River where the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba now stands. Conflict between the two fur-trading companies of the day, the North-West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company, resulted in the massacre at Seven Oaks in 1816 and a disturbance to the settlers. As a result, Lord Selkirk intervened and soon concluded a treaty with the Indians “by which their title to that part of the land occupied by the colonists was extinguished.” In consideration of an annual present to each Indian chief, Selkirk was able to secure acreage on either side of the Red River from its mouth to Pembina, and on the Assiniboine from the forks west as far as the Muskrat River, and extending two miles back from the rivers on either side. The distance of two statute miles was conveyed to the Indians as “so much land back from the river as there would be at the farthest distance there from at which you could distinctly see a horse on the level prairie, or daylight under his belly between his legs.”

Following the death of Lord Selkirk in 1820 and the exorbitant cost to his estate, that scheme of settlement proved disastrous. In 1835 or 1836, the Hudson’s Bay Company purchased from Selkirk’s estate the District of Assiniboia in Rupert’s Land, thus reverting to themselves their old title. (Rupert’s Land included that portion of the Canadian North West that drained into Hudson’s Bay.) Governor George Simpson, on a trip to England in the winter of 1835 – 36, discussed establishing “a farm on a large scale” at the Red River Settlement with the intention of exporting produce to England to gain revenue for the Settlement and to demonstrate to the settlers a good example of farming methods. Consequently, early in 1836, Hudson’s Bay Company agents signed five-year contracts with a number of men in Lincolnshire and Cambridge to accompany Mr. George Marcus Carey (“who understands both the theory and practices of those branches of agriculture”) to the Red River Settlement to become servants in the establishment of an Experimental Farm. In his report in 1839, Governor Simpson outlined the difficulties the farm was experiencing and the inability of Carey to manage the servants. By 1841, the Experimental Farm was abandoned since it failed its aims and only five of the farm servants retired in the Red River Settlement—one of them being Oliver Gowler.

These five farm servants were granted free acreage by the Hudson’s Bay Company and began implementing the skills they had acquired on the Experimental Farm. A severe flood of the Red River in the spring of 1852 caused many settlers to lose everything. Many of them relocated to higher ground to re-establish farming operations, and became well-respected and successful colonists.


Late in 1867, swarms of locusts invaded the whole country, which the following spring devoured every green thing and left the settlers on the brink of starvation. However, generous donations from the Council of Assiniboia, Hudson’s Bay Company, Canada, and the USA allowed their survival. It must be remembered here that the Red River Settlement in Rupert’s Land was under the control of the Hudson’s Bay Company (based in England), and not under the control of the Government of Canada.

In the fall of 1868, a party of Canadian Government employees was dispatched for the purpose of constructing a road between the Red River and the Lake of the Woods, with the idea of implementing a public work and also providing employment for a number of the settlers. Criticism and ridicule of the settlers by some of the government employees formed the foundation for difficulties which were soon to arise. It was felt that Canada had no authority to enter upon the territory, very few settlers were actually employed, and wages were very low. The project was “the cause of the first of the disturbances that broke out among the half-breeds in opposition to the transfer of the country to Canada.”

In mid-1869, Colonel J.S. Dennis was dispatched to conduct a general survey of the country. He had only begun operations when “on the 11th of October, a party of men, headed by Louis Riel, interrupted the survey and threatened violence if it was not stopped.” As a result, the surveys and work on the Lake of the Woods road had to be abandoned. The people of the settlement were so worked up into a state of unrest and the Hudson’s Bay Company so misrepresented, that the settlers were in serious doubt about the intentions of the authorities. The French portion of the settlement, in particular, suspected that the Hudson’s Bay company planned to hand them over to Canada without any regard for their interests. The newlyappointed Lieutenant-Governor of the North-West Territories, Honourable William McDougall, was barred by the French from reaching the settlement when he was sent there to make preliminary arrangements for organization. Colonel Dennis was dispatched to enlist the aid of the Scotch and English settlers but they refused, saying they had been on good terms with the French and, in effect, that the Canadian Government should fight its own fight.

Governor McTavish of the Hudson’s Bay Company convened a meeting of the Council of Assiniboia on October 24, 1869 which Louis Riel attended and promised to tell the Metis of the resolution to allow the Lieutenant-Governor to enter. Riel called a meeting on November 16 – 17 with the result that he announced that he was considering the establishment of a Provisional Government. The threat was carried out and Riel, as secretary of the Metis council, seized Governor McTavish along with money and supplies at Fort Garry. On December 7, the Provisional Government took forty-three prisoners and made a declaration which stated that a “provisional government was necessary as the people had been abandoned by the Great Company.”

Public meetings continued into the new year and on February 5, 1870 a new “List of Rights” was drawn up. Riel spoke in favour of the colony entering Confederation, not as a Territory but as a Province. The Council of Rupert’s Land accepted the Provisional Government and confirmed Louis Riel as president before it adjourned on February 10. Two days later, Riel released many of his prisoners but the settlers at Portage la Prairie were unaware of the proceedings and sent an armed party under Major Boulton to rescue them. The result was that Riel seized forty-seven of the volunteers as they were disbanding and imprisoned them. A list of those forty-seven names—Chas. Millham being one of them—appears in “History of the North- West” by Alexander Begg. Overcome by a desire to strike terror into the hearts of his opponents, Riel had one of those prisoners, Thomas Scott, executed as an example.

Cooler tempers prevailed when Bishop Tache returned to St. Boniface from Rome and addressed the Provisional Government on March 8. He influenced Riel to free the prisoners, and the Council began again to formulate a constitution for Manitoba. Negotiations were so successful that on May 2, Prime Minister John A. MacDonald introduced the Manitoba Act in the House of Commons. After being declared a criminal by the government for the death of Scott, Riel was exiled to the United States. He returned to lead the Metis during the 1885 Rebellion and was later hanged as a traitor.


The Manitoba Act, which provided for the entry of Manitoba into Confederation, became effective July 15, 1870. It was based largely on the proposals drafted by Riel as president of the provisional government. Because of his contributions, Riel is considered by some to be a “Father of Confederation.” The terms and conditions of the act numbered fifteen, some of which stated:

–All grants of land up to the eighth day of March, 1869, conferred by the Company, are to be confirmed by grant from the Crown.

–Any claims of Indians to compensation for lands required for settlement shall be disposed of by the Canadian Government…the Company shall be relieved of all responsibility in respect of them.

–All rights to cutting hay held by the settlers are to be regulated in fair and equitable terms..

However, it seems, the settlers had no title deeds to their property—they knew they had paid a certain sum for their land, or that it had been given to them for services, or that they had squatted upon it, but of title deeds or receipts they knew nothing. Transfers of property were considered good in those days even if the transfers were not recorded. Most settlers were required to undergo a lengthy collection of pertinent documents to prove ownership and obtain title. Charles Millham was no exception.


Two pieces of legislation were passed in 1872 by Parliament to hasten the settlement of the Canadian North-West. The basic provisions of settlement were outlined in the Dominion Lands Act whereby a settler could take up a quarter-section of unoccupied Dominion Land upon the payment of a $10 registration fee. Any male over eighteen was eligible and had to live on his homestead for six months in each of three consecutive years, break ten acres in each year, and build a habitable house. After three years, providing he had fulfilled the required duties, the homesteader could file a claim of ownership and receive his patent.

Regulations enacted in 1882 required that even-numbered sections throughout Dominion Lands be reserved for homestead entry while odd-numbered sections were granted to the Canadian Pacific Railway as subsidies. To raise capital for expansion of railroads, the company sold their land to settlers, usually for about $3/acre. While in many cases, those settlers referred to their property as “homesteads”, in the strict sense of the word, that was not true as they didn’t have government requirements to meet.

In May 1898, legislation was passed which stated: Sons of settlers may be permitted to perform the residence duties in connection with their own homestead by living at the home of the parent, providing the latter occupied farming land in the neighbourhood.


Quoting What’s in a Name: “Hazelcliffe is between Tantallon and Esterhazy. It had a Post Office in 1892 and a school in 1893. Mr. William Delmage, the first postmaster, named it Hazelcliffe, because of the abundance of hazelnuts growing on the banks of the Little Cut Arm Creek which flowed near his farm.”

The first settlers in the area were the Gordons who arrived from Bruce County, Ontario, in 1880, followed by the Bradleys and Delmages in 1889, and the Millhams in 1890. A store was located between the Bradley and Delmage farms and Hazelcliffe School #285 was built on the southwest corner of Willie Gordon’s homestead. Hazelcliffe Cemetery was established in 1899 on a plot donated by the Gordons overlooking the picturesque Qu’Appelle Valley.

The Hamlet of Hazelcliffe began to emerge following the arrival of the CPR in 1903. The Presbyterian Church (later United, and which still stands today) was built in 1904, followed by elevators, a store, post office, boarding house, blacksmith shop and other businesses, and several residences. The store closed its doors in 1957, the last worship service in Hazelcliffe Church was held in June 1969, and the grain elevators and postal service terminated in 1970. Since that time, Hazelcliffe and area residents have depended on Esterhazy for their requirements.

Esterhazy is a town of some 3000 residents, and is widely known for its proximity to the largest potash deposit in the world. International Minerals and Chemical Corporation (IMC) developed two mines in the area; the first known as K1 went into production in 1962 and the second, K2, some years later. The rich agricultural land in the area and the spin-offs from the potash industry have made Esterhazy the thriving modern town that it is today.


Narrative of the Canadian Red River and Exploring Expedition of 1857 and of the Assiniboine and Saskatchewan Exploring Expedition of 1858 by Henry Youle Hind, professor of Chemistry and Geology in the University of Trinity College, Toronto. (M.G. Hurtig Ltd. Booksellers & Publishers, Edmonton)

The Assiniboine Basin by Martin Kavanagh

History of the North-West (Volume 1) by Alexander Begg (Toronto 1894)

The Heart of the Continent by Edgar Stanford Russenholt (MacFarlane Communication Services, Winnipeg 1968)

The Bride Snowshoed from York Factory to Norway House by Ed. S. Russenolt (Winnipeg Free Press, March 5, 1966)

Hudson’s Bay Company’s Land Tenures by Archer Martin (London: William Clowes and Sons, Limited, 1898)

Map of Minnedosa, Shellmouth and Hazelcliffe

Map of England