Residents recall community’s activity, growth

MACNUTT, Sask. — Walter the dog was a fixture on MacNutt’s main street for years.

Local residents Judith Becker and Jayne Andres said people knew he was going to be there and just drove around him.

“He laid in the middle of the road. He didn’t move,” said Becker.

Andres said he belonged to John and Cynthia Cornelius and likely outlived his male owner, who died in a farm accident.

It’s just one of many memories in the village’s history.

Founded in 1913, MacNutt, Sask., was built on a network of sloughs near the CN railway line and named for Thomas MacNutt, a pioneer in the district and a speaker in the Sask-atchewan Legislature.

Businesses sprang up to service the settlers and included a blacksmith shop, livery stable, hardware store and boarding house.

Early on, the fledgling shops were moved to centralize business from the south side of town to the north on lots surveyed near the railway tracks. They were moved with horses, block and tackle.

“With a lot of horse power and strong will, the people made the move successfully,” reads a passage from the MacNutt 75th anniversary history book.

But its location near sloughs caused problems with drainage and water often ran over the roads, making roadways impassable during early spring or late fall.

Drichel’s Blacksmith sharpened plowshares with a hammer and anvil and First Nations people often camped at the edge of town during harvest. The men got jobs stooking and the women picked and sold seneca root to the local grocer.

Judith’s husband, Frank Becker, said MacNutt outshone nearby Churchbridge and was a booming place in its heyday, with its four general stores, four garages, butcher shop and creamery.

“Everybody congregated where the creamery was,” he said.

Most area farms were mixed and relied on selling cream.

“They depended on the cream cheque,” said local historian Andres, who compiled memories for the village’s century celebrations in 2013.

Frank recalled the tale of a young John Cornelius and Don Furtney delivering cream one winter day, then parking their horses to visit with the single Sarah Drichel inside.

When they returned to pick up the empty cans, the horses had gone. They walked the seven miles home only to discover that the horses had merely moved behind the creamery.

Churches like the MacNutt Lutheran Church, which had one of the larger congregations in the district, played a key role, offering support and comfort to farm women who seldom got off the farm.

“Three churches served the area spiritually, socially,” Judith said.

“Living in those days was tough. You needed spiritual support but also needed each other.”

Frank said Saturday night was when families would pour into town to shop, take in a movie or just hang out.

“We went up and down the street when we were able to drive, to see who was in town,” he said, chuckling as he remembered how short the street was.

“It’s just what young people did.”

Judith’s family ran the general store, which included the family home at the back.

“I remember people coming to town by horse and buggy or sleigh, bringing cream and eggs to get money,” she said.

Judith said people speaking a host of languages would gather and chat, making her feeling quite ordinary and colourless by comparison with these different cultures.

The train station featured wooden benches in its waiting room and a platform where freight was loaded and unloaded.

“There was always a buzz in town when the train arrived,” said Judith, recalling peeping newborn chicks and barrels of apples arriving.

“Apples came in box cars in bulk and you came with buckets. You would go to the box car and get a sack of apples, then go to the store, weigh and pay for them,” said Judith.

Frank said trains would be loaded with coal in winter.

“You would go with your truck and wagon to the coal box then go to the elevator and weigh it and pay the elevator agent,” he said.

Fire was a formidable foe in a town of wooden boardwalks and buildings, with one destroying the east side of the village in 1924 and another in 1948. More would follow in the 1960s and 1970s.

Today, a sprinkling of services like postal boxes, a fertilizer agent, credit union and a three sheet curling rink remain for the village, which today houses 70 people.

Wendell Honey Farm, which was started in the 1940s by John Wendell, remains one of the village’s biggest businesses, employing more than 30 people in the summer.

The surrounding farm community has also witnessed substantial changes.

“Once there were three farm families on every section, now there’s one every three sections,” said Frank.