#OurStories – Homesteading and Health Care – Special Areas Board

#OurStories – Homesteading and Health Care

Adapted from “A Land Reclaimed: The Story of Alberta’s Special Areas” by Jack Gorman. Published for the Special Areas Board, 1988


The homestead women were responsible for the health care of the family and often the animals. Child birth on the farm was a particularly trying time. Doctors were long distances away and the task of midwifery became a routine part of life for many farm women.

The Hanna North history recounts a story written by Freda Viste describing a mercy mission in 1913. The story quotes Mrs. J.W. Taylor’s daughter Marion. “It seems that there was an older bachelor, Shorty Snyder, I believe, who had wooed and won his pioneer bride, a much younger lady.”

Snyder had settled in the Grassy Slope area.

“One morning, he drove his team and buggy to our farm to see if mother, who herself was several months pregnant, would come back to his little home to help deliver their first baby. Mrs. Taylor check her bag of medical instruments and climbed in the buggy with Synder. They bumped across the prairie for about seven miles until the horses were nearly exhausted.”

“I kept telling him the case was not so urgent as he feared and he had better save his horses some,” but he replied, “Oh, no, I can always get another horse but its not so easy to get a wife”

“When we arrived at his abode, a crazy patchwork shack about 10’ x 10’ in which were a bed, dresser, stove, table and chair, I found another neighbour lady with his dear wee wife who was only 17 years of age. After talking things over, I decided we would need to go south west to Hanna for a doctor.”

“Well, he hitched up the poor exhausted team again and off he went alone. People who saw him passing say he was whipping his team all the way. The doctor arrived about sundown and decided an operation was needed. You can imagine the inconvenience, one kerosene lamp, one little table and one basin.”

“When I had the patient and all in readiness, the only place to set the basin of disinfectant was on the floor by the doctor’s feet. I administered the chloroform, the other lay held the lamp, while the husband helped hold his wife in position. I kept thinking whatever shall we do if the lamp glass should break! When horror of horrors! The doctor changed his position a little and stepped back, I heard a splash. He had stepped into the basin of disinfectant. He said not to worry as he could do without it. Soon he was finished. What a relief.”

Everyone survived nicely but it was a monumental challenge for a teenage mother to bring up a baby in the cramped, primitive shack.


To learn more about the history of the Special Areas, you can visit any District Office to view local area history books and collections.

Many local history books are also available online for viewing at the University of Calgary Archives and Special Collections, located at https://asc.ucalgary.ca/