A road trip to Estevan

In 1907 two brothers from Greenhow Hill, Yorkshire packed up their belongings (together with one spouse and two children), said goodbye to their parents and sailed for the flat-land Canadian prairies.

115 years later, inspired by tales of my Grandpy’s cousins, I finally made it to Canada with one must see destination: Estevan, Saskatchewan.

Yep, you read that right. The stunning scenery of the Rocky Mountains, Niagara Falls and Cape Breton, the metropolitan highlights of Toronto and Vancouver and the long-distance sleeper trains were all much lesser priorities than a road trip to rural south Saskatchewan.

Why? Because David & Major Preston (the two aforementioned brothers) also said goodbye (and “please stay in touch”) to their seven siblings including their youngest sister Mary, my great grandmother and true to that promise they did.

David Wellock with his wife Martha (Clark) and their three children, Hornby (1905 – 1982), Lillie (1908 – 1989) and Leonard (1913 – 1981). Hornby had two sons, Keith & Lloyd. Keith & his daughter Chantelle took me on this road trip to Estevan. Keith Wellock’s collection.

It is here I must express my enormous gratitude to Chantelle & Keith, my third & second-once-removed cousins. Despite never having met they offered to pick me up from Lake Louise, show me around Estevan and drop me off at Saskatoon, a road trip of close on 2,000 km of driving. And along the way offered me an insight into David’s life & family over here in Canada.

All road trips start somewhere and for me this was when Keith brought out the photo albums and started to tell the story of David & Major’s families here in Canada spotting similarities and handing me a few more puzzles to solve. Such a treasure trove and will no doubt feature in many future Wellock blogs.

Imagine my delight when I turned the page to spot Nana & Grandpy during a visit Hornby made to Yorkshire.

Keith also had two large books entitled “A tale that is told.” in part authored by his mother, covering Estevan’s history from 1890 to 1980.  What a wonderful archive.

From here I learnt a little more about how the brothers ended up in Estevan. David’s wife, Martha Clark, had a sister called Sarah who, together with her husband, Joe Philips, had emigrated to Estevan in 1901. The history book notes that: “About 1905 or 1906 he returned to England under the sponsorship of the CPR and recruited 250 – 300 new settlers for the West.” He clearly persuaded his brothers-in-law that here was a land of opportunity. Although there was also a suggestion that Major and/or David may or may not have pushed their father into a horse trough full of water which may or may not have precipitated the move! (There’s more about their earlier life at Toft Gate here).

A page from the Estevan history book “A tale that is told” describing David & Martha’s life. The photo on the bottom right is a copy of one I also have and must have been sent to my great-grandmother. Own photo.

The next day we drove the 900km to Estevan. For much of the time we were following the single train tracks. In 1907, the train was the only option. In 2022 it’s not even possible to travel to Estevan by train. The time spent driving meant many more stories shared and gave an incredible sense of scale.

Finally, we reached Estevan. Less than 20 km north of the border, it’s as much an oil & mining town now as it is a farming one. It doesn’t really look much like the town it was then, but with Keith’s help (and that of “A tale that is told”) we were able to uncover so many of the early places. We visited the graveyards first. The majority of the family are buried in the original Estevan City Cemetery although Hornby (David’s son & Keith’s father) is buried in the newer Souris Valley Memorial Cemetery. I took a stone from David & Martha’s grave which I hope to place on that of my great grandmother to re-connect the family.

Major Preston & Violet Eleanor (Boothman) Wellock together with their son, John Preston & his wife Hazel (Rae).

In town we found a wonderful memorial to the Estevan Collegiate Institute, the main high school in the time from 1921 to 1969. The memorial also listed staff and we spotted Hornby Wellock who had taken a janitorial job there in 1957. Homesteading just did not pay enough to keep a family.

The Estevan Collegiate Institute memorial. Such a wonderful collection of family names. Own photo.
Estevan collegiate institute memorial. Lillian was the daughter of David, Keith & Lloyd the sons of Hornby & Amy the daughter of John. As to who Audrey & Juanita were – well that’s another puzzle for me to solve!

We visited some of the land owned by the Wellock family. Major’s son, Johnny, had sold some of his ranch to allow a power plant to be built – a reflection of the changing industry here.

John Wellock’s land, now the site of a power plant. Own photo.

David (and then Hornby)’s homestead had been absorbed into another larger farm – the only way to make agriculture pay. Standing at the edge of the land gave me a real sense of how different the farms are here to back at home. No walls, no fences, no hills, no green grass. No sheep – Grandpy would not have been content!

Site of David & then Hornby Wellock’s homestead from 190[7] to 1968. with Keith, Hornby’s son, looking on. Keith is standing on what was the lane, the house was just over to the right.

The local farm school of Albany had long since disappeared, closing whilst Keith was a child, but we found a lovely sign marking the spot. It reminded me of my Mum’s primary school where she was also one of seven. It too closed, but unlike the Albany farm school, it was made a stone and the building still stands.

Location of Albany farm school. Own photo.

Basking in the September sun with prairie fields as far as the eye could see, it was hard to imagine the children needing a sled to get to school.  

School friends standing outside the school building with their school winter transport in front. Keith Wellock’s collection.

And finally, one last treat – a whole road named for the Wellocks, possibly the only one in the entire world!

Stood in front of the sign for Wellock Road, Estevan. Own photo.

At the end of the road trip I have such wonderful memories, many more family photos and stories and above all, lost relatives who have become found friends.

With much gratitude to Keith & Chantelle for the road trip to Estevan, to my Great Grandmother Mary for caring so much of her brothers and for the David & Major Preston Wellock, the brothers who emigrated to Canada and were the encouragement and inspiration of this wonderful road trip. Thanks too, to Amy Johnson Crow, the 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge hint this week of road trip was particularly apt.

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