ABBEY, Sask. – Henry Buck wanted to be a cowboy.
His grandparents raised him in the orchards of Minnesota in the 1870s but he went west looking for adventure and found work and a wife on a Nebraska ranch. A trip into Canada in 1894-95 showed him an area good for raising livestock and kids. Four years later he was back with his family to establish a farm, which is now older than the province.
Last month Buck’s descendants and friends gathered on the farm in southwestern Saskatchewan to celebrate its 100 years.
The farm near the Great Sand Hills was first designated for a Boer War veteran 100 year ago. But the soldier settled in Argentina and never took up his land grant in the district of Assiniboia in Canada’s Northwest Territory. So it went as a homestead to the American.
The family spent their first Saskatchewan winter in a hole carved out of the ground with the covered wagon turned on its side. Henry started with a horse ranch but branched out as his family grew to six sons from three wives.
At its peak, the family had four sections in wheat, 270 cattle and 1,200 sheep. Their home was a popular stopping point for the police bringing mail and for Indians who were following the Red Deer Forks trail.
Henry was 66 when his son Hank was born. Hank now 64, presides over the homestead and grain farm of 2,070 acres.
His son Wyatt, who works as a mining engineer in Saskatoon, helps with the farm and may some day take over. Hank was 17 when his father died. He started farming with his mother and has been growing mainly durum ever since.
His brothers, most of whom farmed, are all dead.
Hank and his wife, Marilyn, invited 350 people for supper June 26 and 27 to celebrate 100 years of Bucks in Saskatchewan.
Marilyn said she didn’t think her husband was crazy to plan a big event; they just dug in and did it. The weekend gathering was three years in the planning, including booking the Baler Strings band for the Saturday night dance.
A major project for Hank was dismantling the 1906 farmhouse in which he was born and using the lumber to build a large machine shed and party place.
People came from throughout the West and a few from the United States. Neighbors hauled water and the local Legion supplied chairs and the ovens to cook 180 kilograms of beef. There were tubs of cookies and 40 dozen cans of soda pop kept cool in a horse trough.
No stone cairn or official centennial designation exists on the farm because when Hank phoned the province, it would only accept a cancelled cheque as proof of when the farm was established. Hank said his dad paid with English pounds and Canadian and American dollars. No receipt could be found.
“People around here who remember my Dad know he wasn’t a religious man but he never swore, smoked or drank. His favorite saying was ‘your rights end where mine begin.’… Dad was 83 when he died. He was one of the best friends I ever had, maybe because there weren’t many people around. We’d go fishing and camping.”
The day after the celebration, cards, flower bouquets and assorted friends and relatives are scattered throughout the house. The Bucks point out a prize gift from a neighbor – a neon orange windsock that billows out of a corner of the front yard. A dozen grain bins sit in the neatly mowed yard with only an empty can or two remaining of party debris.
In the large airy shed are historic photos, antiques, a christening gown and gun.
Hank says his parents were not political but they were community boosters. Hank and Marilyn continue in that role. They are avid curlers and follow the briers, especially since their son played on the province’s rink in 1991 and 1993.
Hank is president of the local curling club, was on a municipal council for 12 years, on the agriculture board for 10 years, the Cabri hospital board for six years and on his local church, cemetery and school boards.
In a small town, “everybody takes a turn at everything.
“Our town is really suffering here. … For one thing we’re too close to Alberta,” said Hank. “The road’s in poor shape. People don’t want to drive a $50-$60,000 vehicle on it.”
And it’s worse for farmers as rail track is ripped up and trucks predominate, he said.
“There’s so many big trucks, it’s hard to keep the crown on the grid roads. Thirty wheels blow a lot of dirt off.
“I think we’ll realize in a couple of years we’ve made a mistake taking out lines. … I’m really disappointed the government didn’t tell the grain companies where to put the terminals.”
Despite his concerns, Hank, like other farmers, trucks his grain 80 kilometres away to a big terminal in Swift Current.
Hank is a Canadian Wheat Board supporter and believes the dust-up with the Americans about Canadian imports is mere politics. He has many American friends from his travels around the continent.
The Bucks’ daughter is in California and they have a foster child in the Philippines. Hank also enjoys snowmobiling, hunting and reading and researching history.