of the Swan River Valley
100 Years in the
Swan River Valley
1898 - 1998
Fred and Jane Burt
Eric O. Burt was the youngest of five children and the only one born in Benito, to Fred and Jane Burt. Eric arrived in Benito in May, 1916. “When people ask me about my age, I am inclined to tell them I was born a week before Queen Victoria”.
My parents came from Warwickshire , England. My father settled in the Rathwell District in Southern Manitoba in 1888, returned to England in 1897, spent the winter with his family and on March 21, 1898, married my mother and returned to Canada. My parents lived on the Hancox farm in the Durban area after Dave Hancox was appointed postmaster in Durban. Then they lived in the village of Durban, later buying a five acre block of land, at the Eastern edge of the village of Benito, to provide pasture for the cows Father intended to buy. He had worked on a dairy farm in England prior to coming to Canada, and the dairy business appealed to him.
My father was a Jack-of-all-trades. His main interest was the cows from which we supplied half the village of Benito with milk and cream. My job was delivering quart bottles of pure milk as it came from the cows. In all the years I delivered milk to our customers in Benito, the price never changed. It was ten cents a quart to have it delivered to the door. I still cannot quite get used to paying $2.00 for a two-quart cardboard carton of alleged milk!
Father was agent and correspondent for the two Winnipeg newspapers, The Free Press and the Winnipeg Tribune. Mother was Benito correspondent for the Star and Times. I still buy and read the publication each week. When I showed a flair for writing at the age of 15 years, they turned the two correspondent jobs over to me. There was no pay for the Star and Times job and Dad kept the money from the Winnipeg papers. I got the experience I needed for the writing progression which I followed throughout my working life. Because Benito was only a mile outside Saskatchewan, we also got a few copies of the Regina Leader Post and the Saskatoon Star Phoenix. I spent forty years with the Star Phoenix, writing stories and editing the work of other reporters. I started out working on weeklies and dailies across the four Western provinces, finally settling at the Saskatoon Star Phoenix working there from 1956 to 1986. I thought, since I was then approaching the age of 80 years, perhaps I should consider retiring.
Two of my sisters became school teachers, the other was a nurse. My brother was a watchmaker; he served with the Ordinance Corps in the 1939-45 war, repairing instruments for the army. The army would not take me, because I had a heart murmur I did not know I had. Fifty-seven years later, it gives me no trouble.
The first real memory I have of Benito is that of the 1921 fire which destroyed all the business places in one block of Main Street. Most of the buildings were replaced by brick rather than lumber buildings. The owners were not taking any chances of another fire. I do not get back to Benito very much as there is no family left there. I was there for the 1991 Homecoming. On my way by bus from Saskatoon I was talking to a young woman who was also heading for the celebration. I told her I was born in Benito, “In the old green house across the alley from the Pentecostal Church”. She looked rather puzzled and when I got to Benito and started looking around I could see why. The house was gone, replaced, I think, by a modern bungalow and there was a nice neat stretch of grass where the church should have been.
Another memory includes when Roscue Calnek came to town. He had been running a weekly newspaper in a small town in Southwestern Saskatchewan which he left as a result of the drought of the 1930s. Dr. Daniel Baldwin was a member of the Village Council and a friend of our family. He came to the house one day in 1937 to tell me the man staying at the Robblee Home was a newspaper man who intended to start publishing a weekly newspaper in Benito. He suggested I should apply for the job. I took his advice and when Calnek came to see me, he told me he would need help, but could not afford to pay for it as he was so far in debt back in Saskatchewan. My father said I should go and work for Calnek, all day, every day and that he and Mother could afford to feed and clothe me. It would provide the experience I would need for applying elsewhere. That is how I came to learn to stand by a case of type and set the story which could then be put into a form. The forms were then put into the press and the stories came out on the resulting pages. I worked at this unpaid job for two and a half years. At twenty-four years of age, I went to work for a failing weekly paper in Watrous. A year later I was back in Benito as Calnek had joined the army and the new owner (a school teacher who had moved from Benito to Dauphin to teach) needed someone to run the paper. That I did, then I borrowed $700 and bought the business from him. I did not make any money the next year either!
I spent the next years in Melville, learning the type-setting machine, to Weyburn as a reporter, to Prince-Albert and Calgary, finally, Saskatoon. Prince Albert proved to be my favorite place because of the job and that is where I married Dilys. We had forty-seven good years together.
Memories of Benito also include my mother having a boarding house in the downtown area, then in the “House on the Hill”, into which we moved in 1920. Early in 1921, during the fire, I will never forget seeing commercial travellers pouring out of both hotels and starting to inquire where they might get some breakfast. They were told their best bet was Mrs. Burt in the “House on the Hill” in the Northeast corner of town. Like the other women of the community, Mother was down town helping to feed the firefighters. She came home to find the dining room full of hungry travellers looking for breakfast. Needless to say, she supplied them with a hearty breakfast. Many of these travellers were “Bed and Breakfast” customers at our house for years to come. The price was $2.50. The travellers would give Mother $3.00 and toss me the 50 cents change they got from Mother. I would be waiting at the other end of the kitchen table with my little metal bank ready. I sometimes tell people that that is how my fortune started.
In closing, I should like to add an item from the Star and Times, 50 years ago, 1947...
A family reunion- the first in more than 17 years- marked the 49th anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. F.W. Burt of Benito on Saturday. Present for the occasion were the three daughters and two sons of the family, Doris Bowsman; Myrtle (Mrs. T.M. Young) Birtle, Man; Silvia (Mrs. C.A. Bradbrooke) Kamsack, Sask.; and Alfred and Eric, both of Prince Albert. The day was one of happy memories for the senior Mr. and Mrs. Burt, who were able to look back over nearly half a century of happy married life since their wedding in Barford, Warwickshire, England, March 22, 1898. They have been residents of Benito for nearly 40 years.
Submitted by: Eric O. Burt
Manitoba's Swan River Valley is an area rich in history. These family histories were a part of the 1998 Pioneer Centennial History Book project. If you would like the history of your area available online, have your historic group contact the Key Rock Group for information on electronic publication. We offer publication free of charge and also provide the option for making your history book available on CD.