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1879 John Goes West

John Hamilton Gooderham was raised on his grandfather Ezekiel’s farm in Wexford now known as Scarborough. In 1869 his father (George) was asked by brother William to move to Meadowvale to manage the farm. John at the age of 12 went along. During the next ten years John learned farming to the best of his ability.

John Hamilton Gooderham

John was about to see his farming skills pay off in an adventurous job. He was selected by the government, who was looking for farmers to help the Indigenous people who were having a difficult time adjusting to the myriad changes (famine, war, treaties…), in their homeland, (the Northwest Territories). John would look after the immediate needs of providing food to the people but could also teach them how to farm and make a living.

JH Gooderham teaching farming techniques

It was a journey of some consequence. To reach Winnipeg, he first travelled to Owen Sound. In John’s mind, he was already on the edge of civilization! After some encouragement from family, he set off in a steamer across the lake to an American port.

He had to make his way north to Winnipeg by Stage where he secured an interim job while he waited for the promised government position to materialize.

Hired as a ‘Rationeer’, John set out on the last 355 miles to his destination of Fort Qu’Appelle and the Touchwood Hills, a spot on the map just north and east of the town of Regina and surrounded by Indigenous communities – the logical place for him to start work.  There were no roads, and few men knew where the place was or how to get there!  He went by dog team and Red River cart with fellow worker James Scott. They were to perform various duties, but they did not know what those duties were.

Tensions were high between the Metis and Indigenous people. This is the world they faced. They pitched a tent on an old telegraph hill.  They were the first white men, not just to visit but to stay, in the area. The two must fend for themselves.

An immediate need was to make sure the Indigenous people saw the intruders as friends and helpers.  John would visit the camps and find out how best to help. Health was first.  John was received with hostility and suspicion.  If he wished to be trusted he must learn the Cree language and related Saulteux, and Sioux.

John learned quickly and gained their trust. The next priority was concern for their horses. Collection and storing of hay for the horses during the winter was first. The most modern mower and rakes were ordered and shipped in. The Cree were amazed.  John got quite a bit of credit for this incentive.

He was on an adventure that might change or end at any time and he never once guessed he would live out west for the next 24 years, moving from Poor Man’s in the north, the settlement of Kutawa in the middle, and Piapot in the south.

Thank you to cousin Helen Younder for this story about her great Uncle John. For more about our Ezekiel cousins read The House Belongs to the Government by G. Kent Gooderham:

1879 John Goes West

The story of Ezekiel's grandson, John Hamilton Gooderham, heading west at the government's request, to help the indigenous people with farming techniques.

Linked toJohn Hamilton Gooderham

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