Dec. 3, 1929: Lethbridge Herald Headline: Alberta Wins Wheat Championship

The History of Our Urban Homestead

Ever since I was a little girl I’ve loved being outside and enjoying what nature had to offer. I come from a family of Park Wardens, hunters, and pioneers; this has stuck with me into adulthood and I was fortunate enough to find Gerad a man who shares my same passion for being outside and exploring. For us the love of being outdoors and a need to keep it alive go hand in hand, so Gerad and I have decided to try to become a more sustainable household by going back to our families’ homesteading roots. It will take some experiments and probably a lot of failures and mistakes, but we are determined to create our own little urban homestead. To honor our heritage, I thought I’d give you a brief rundown of our family history.

Wolf Creek, AB: Joseph Smith’s cabin, a popular “Stopping Place” for those heading deeper into the mountains. Joseph is fourth from the left, standing, and his wife, Mary Jane, is on the far right

My great grandparents, Joseph H.B. and Mary Jane Smith were pioneers homesteading in the Alberta foothills near Jasper around the turn of the 20th century. My grandpa Norm was born in their small cabin (see photo at left). One of Norm’s chores was caring for his father’s garden, which was slightly more intense than Gerad’s and my task with our garden because J.H.B was “a specialist in growing and exhibiting grain”. In fact, he was crowned “Wheat King” in 1929 at the International Stock Exposition at the Chicago World Fair, a prestigious award at the time. According to Norm:

[J.H.B] developed a wheat in the 1940’s that he called ‘Rex’. It looked like a winner. When he sent samples away for analysis, the results came back that it would not meet market needs in that the gluten level was desirable, but it was too high in carotene that would produce a yellowing in the bread.

Of course this would be a desirable trait today. Norm grew up to be among Canada’s first park wardens, and has spent most of his life in the mountains, settling down in Creston, BC for the last while.

On my grandmother’s side are current and retired park wardens, whose passion for our Parks system and the heritage behind them have inspired me in more ways than they know.

Grandpa Morley hunting in picturesque country
Grandpa Morley hunting in picturesque country

My grandpa Morley, who as Gerad put it, “is the guy the ‘Marlboro man’ wanted to be”, is a hunter and outdoorsman. I grew up eating game meat because my grandfather was a provider to his family. Gerad and I have done some hunting, and the experience opened our eyes to the difficulty of harvesting and processing game meat, which helped to give us a profound respect for the work of our ancestors and the meat on our tables today.

I grew up in a house of do-it-yourself’ers, if we needed anything and we could build it, Dad would go get the hammer. Clothes were mostly home-sewn or hand me downs; this value is still instilled in me, I love a good thrift store and going to clothing swaps! Although our family had a fairly busy schedule, Mom always had a home-cooked meal ready for dinner and has taught me the art of creative cooking. Gerad and I love using a recipe as a starting place, but then experimenting with other ingredients that we think would match well. Of course we have had a few mishaps with this, but everything is a learning experience.

Gerad’s grandparents were hardworking “homesteaders” too, with a fairly large garden set up on their acreage. Gerad’s grandmother grew up on the Saskatchewan prairie, many miles from the nearest town, and a sleigh or carriage were often required to get around. She is very crafty; I always love seeing her new creations, one of which is a quilt she made for him several years ago. Gerad’s mother is also extremely resourceful and artistic; we have a few Christmas decorations she made when Gerad was younger that still bring a smile to his face. I think a lot of Gerad’s creativity was engrained in him through “helping” his mom craft and paint as he was growing up. Many of the crafts that I create are inspired by things Gerad’s family have created in the past, and even just a few days ago I had a conversation on Skype with Gerad’s grandma and we showed off each others’ latest creations. Gerad was privileged to have men in his life who taught him the value of a hard day’s work, how to work with his hands, and how to work smart. Gerad and I both have aunts who are avid gardeners who have taught us each a thing or two; we certainly wouldn’t mind having their helpful hands closer to us as we embark on making our garden space a year round produce machine.

Oct 2012: Bed frame of Gerad's design, made entirely from commodity 2x4 and 2x6 lumber
Oct 2012: Bed frame of Gerad’s design, made entirely from commodity 2×4 and 2×6 lumber

A reflection on the great men Gerad grew up with is his all around handiness, which is perfect for our little homestead. I don’t think there is any household project that would be too big for Gerad. Lately he has built a beautiful bedframe, and is currently working on bedside tables to go along with it. Together we have conquered major projects including installing hardwood floors, replacing a┬ádilapidated┬áretaining wall using only man-power, and building a fence. Whenever we can we try to utilize sources that are already available to us for new creations such as leftover wood from previous projects, or scrap fabric leftovers from sewing projects or worn out clothes.

We don’t have children of our own, but hearing family stories makes us want to live a life worth remembering. We want to share our values of a natural world and skills such as handcrafting and gardening, but first we have to live a life that shows we are dedicated to these values. We have a large garden plot here in California; however, before we lived here we built a small 8 x 8 foot raised garden bed that gave us plenty of produce (tomatoes, beans, peas, beets, onions, garlic, chives, rosemary, and thyme to name a few) even with our short Calgary growing season. Our small successes in Calgary gave us motivation to kick our “homestead” life into higher gear constantly trying to find more organic ways of doing things.

The best times in my life have been sitting with these amazing people listening to their stories and learning from their lives; Gerad and I love it when conversations go from today’s regular pleasantries to tales of past hunting trips, snow storms, disasters that lead to cheese rolling down a hill to be lost in the river, trail blazing and many other tales that we haven’t heard yet. Hopefully through this blog and our every day lives we can keep the stories rolling and perhaps our little homestead will have a similar impact on us and the people in our lives as past homesteads have had on our families.


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