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Throwback: Pioneer revisits Armley homestead

From the Tisdale Recorder files, Aug. 23, 1978
Ernest William Russell
Ernest Russell returned to the site of his Armley homestead in 1978, 60 years after he decided to relocate to England after the First World War.

ARMLEY — After months of preparation and the passing through of complicated procedures, a road in the RM of Connaught, has been dedicated to the memory of one of the early pioneers in the Armley district.

Russell Road, located one mile east and 1/4 mile south of the intersection of Highways #35 and #335, was named after William E. Russell, who homesteaded there in 1913.

Mr. Russell died accidentally in 1924 when he was kicked in the head by a horse. But, even though there are no Russells living on that homestead anymore, the naming of the road is not purely academic.

Ernest William Russell, William E. Russell’s son, has visited Canada recently, seeing friends, relatives, his father’s grave and Russell Road. Mr. Russell is 86 years of age and looks far younger than the age on his passport tells. He is bright, has a keen sense of humour, and is a pleasure to converse with.

He inspires a person to be an attentive listener to what he says, for he is an interesting man whose description of his life reveals the adventurous essence which must have been the core of strength in all pioneers in Canada. Mr. Russell was born in Bedfordshire, England, in 1892, the son of an agricultural surveyor (which is equivalent to an Agricultural Representative in Canada).

He was also trained as a surveyor, but “wanted to change to the outdoor life,” so at 20 years of age, he decided to move to Canada.

Mr. Russell and his brother, Charlie, planted and nurtured the idea of corning to Canada in their father’s mind.

And, finally in 1913, the Russells made the jump to Canada. Mr. Russell’s father homesteaded north of Tisdale, because there were no available homesteads in the immediate Tisdale area.

“My first three years in Canada were spent chiefly baching [living a like a bachelor] on the homestead, living in an old shack. One day I went to a nearby house where I heard there was work being done. I went to see what it was, and there were four horses hitched to a house.”

“I asked one man what he was doing, and he said that he was moving the house to Silver Stream, and then was coming back for the cellar.”

“I concluded that he thought I was as green as the grass under your feet.”

On Jan. 16, 1916, Mr. Russell joined the army in Prince Albert.

“I was sorry to join the army.” he said, because he liked the country so much and thought it had good prospects.”

“So many young men from Tisdale joined the army, that I felt I should.”

He said he would have stayed here if others had not enlisted.

Mr. Russell served in France with the fifth battallion and was wounded while fighting trench warfare in Arrras, France.

He was sent England  and treated for his injury, and ended up marrying his nurse. Mrs. Russell din’t share his interest in Canada, and would not go with him there.

“She liked the old country,” said Mr. Russell, “even though she had relatives in the Maritimes. They visited her, but she never went to visit them.”

So, in 1919 he began work again as a surveyor, and held that same job for 28 years.

He had to attend monthly meetings from which he had to write reports for the Minister of Agriculture. In all those years he never missed one meeting. The Russells had three children, two sons and one daughter.

Eric, who is a veterinarian and works for the British Government, is married and has two sons; Gordon, an agricultural scientist with the University of Newcastle, is a professor of agriculture, biology and zoology, is married and has four sons and one daughter; and Marion, is married and has three children.

Mr. Russell has visited Canada once since 1919, besides his recent stay. He said that was in 1952, when he visited his mother in Vancouver.

It has been a lifelong dream to come to the place where he homesteaded, again, he said. “Because of England's financial stress, it hasn’t been easy to finance a trip, but in the later years it’s been possible,” he said. “In some ways I wish I had stayed here,” but marrying the woman he did, meant he must stay in England.

Mr. Russell arrived in Canada for this latest visit on July 31 [1978], and returned to England on Aug. 20 [1978]. He said he saw more than 60 relatives and friends in the area.

When Mr. Russell first homesteaded here, a close friend of his was a man named Frank Randall; “a very, well-known and respected character.”

“We both served in the First World War, but I lost touch with him.”

While he was here, Mr. Russell was told that Annie, (Mr. Randall's widow), is still living in Tisdale, and he was urged to call on her.

“It was a great pleasure to me to see her,” he said. “The passing years haven't prevented our good friendship,” he said.

Mr. Russell said the two highlights of his trip to Canada were seeing his father’s grave and seeing Russell Road.

“I am very grateful,” he said when asked how he felt about the naming of the road in his father’s honor. The name of Russell Road may mean little to the ordinary passerby, but to those involved, or those who seek the history, it means memories and reminders of past days and lives.

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