The Alberta Century Farm and Ranch Award recognizes farm families who have continuously owned and actively operated the same land for 100 years or more.
With those farms and ranches comes stories of perseverance and prosperity - witnessing firsts, surviving hardships and the ability of keeping family in the forefront.
In first instalment of this series, Elaine Taylor Thomas shares her family’s story.
For every Century Farm and Ranch Award, there’s a story
Our grandparents, Arthur James Fendall and Emily Marsh Fendall, emigrated from England to Canada in 1910, along with a young nephew, Charlie Fendall.
Many years before, Grandpa Fendall had defied his father by refusing to take over the family’s boarding school for boys. He wasn’t interested in becoming an Anglican minister or entering the British army, either. Instead, Grandpa fled to Argentina, spending 13 years working for ranches on the pampas.
Upon his return to England, Grandpa met Granny. He was 46 and she was 28.
Granny had been 13 when her parents died a few months apart of tuberculosis. The youngest children in the family were farmed out with relatives. Granny and her sister, Annie, were placed in service - think of the servant girls in the TV program Downton Abbey. Dr. Bernardo sent Granny’s younger and older brothers to Canada as home children. In Ontario, John got a good home, but Michael was not as fortunate.
Although Granny begrudgingly bought into Grandpa’s dream of farming in Western Canada, she cried herself to sleep for the first two years. Perhaps she sensed that never again would she see a family member or hear their voices.
Granny couldn’t boil water when she arrived on the farm they had rented just south of Okotoks. The first year when she fed the threshers, they nailed her baking powder biscuits to the barn wall. Granny was incensed and set about mastering cooking and baking with zeal.
Our mother, Cecilia Emily Fendall, was born in 1911. Two years later, her baby brother, James, died in Granny’s arms. A prairie fire once swept alarmingly close, charring belongings, including their birth certificates. A young nephew, Bob Martyn, who came out to join them, was appalled by the rigors of Alberta farm life and left before winter set in.
Grandpa’s young nephew, Charlie, returned to England to rejoin his regiment in World War I. He was killed in Flanders in 1915 at the age of 23. A friend borrowed a substantial sum of cash from Grandpa and lit out for the United States. He and the money were never heard from again.
But Grandpa and Granny persevered. They moved to a half-section they purchased in 1918. The NW1/2-23-21-R2-W5 was high up in the foothills, 17 miles west of Okotoks.
Today, realtors would describe the rugged piece of land as highly desirable recreational property. Steep hills matted in thick willow and poplar brush tower over seasonal creeks that have carved jagged walls through the valleys over time.
Our grandparents built a house and barn in the heart of the property and, little by little, began clearing brush on less rugged acres to raise crops. During the first summer, when they lived in a tent, Mom contracted chickenpox. When they couldn’t pay the taxes though, they lost the northeast quarter. It was a staggering blow.
In 1936, our parents, Robert William and Cecilia Taylor, began wrestling a living from the quarter as they raised Shirley, Bobby, Arthur and me. Theirs is another chapter washed by blood, sweat and tears.
Both our grandparents and parents’ names appear on our family’s Alberta Century Farm and Ranch Award, a testament to what they achieved through perseverance, courage, faith and love. We continue to be inspired by their legacy.
If you have a story or observation you would like to share about your family’s century farm or ranch, please connect with the Agri-News editor:
Connect with the Alberta Century Farm and Ranch Award Program:
Hours: 8:15 am to 4:30 pm (open Monday to Friday, closed statutory holidays)
Toll free: 310-0000 before the phone number (in Alberta)
Alberta Century Farm and Ranch Award Program
Alberta Agriculture and Forestry
4809 44 Avenue
Stony Plain, Alberta T7Z 1N4