Courtesy of Manitoba Archives
1) Across the Ocean and Faraway
2) Tennis Anyone?
3) Lean Years
4) Fore !
5) Weather Station
6) Well Oak
7) Naturalist & Artist
8) The Palace
10) Home to Rest
Map and Coda
Welcome to the Criddle/Vane Homestead
You have two walking trails on which you can explore the site the short Homestead Interpretive Trail and the longer Tent Patch Trail.
The Homestead Trail is less than a kilometre (.8km) long and loops around the buildings and cemetery. The brochure guide and interpretive signs will introduce you to the Criddle/Vane family and their experience as early pioneers. Watch for number posts along the trail that correspond to the story in this guide.
Tent Patch Trail
The Tent Patch Trail is 1.4km long and loops down to the Tent Patch and back. The family lived at the tent patch from August to Christmas during their first year. On the way, you will pass the location of Stuart’s house and garden as well as one of the old tennis courts. The first half of the trail may be wet in places. Bring bug spray.
When visiting the homestead please be respectful of the plants, wildlife, and buildings. Watch for poison ivy. If you do not wish to keep this guide please return it to the box to be reused. Enjoy your visit.
Percy Criddle with telescope, 1895 Courtesy of Sipiweske Museum
The Criddle/Vane family* was a rather unconventional pioneering family. Their homestead became a focal point for social, sporting and scientific pursuits.
Percy Criddle, born 1844 in London, was not your typical pioneer. He was a merchant who knew nothing of farming. Educated in England and Germany, Percy had studied law, medicine and music. At the age of thirty-eight he decided to uproot his two households, sail across the ocean to Canada, and make his fortune farming the Wheat Fields of the World. His two households included Elise and her five children and Alice and her four children.
Percy kept a diary. It is full of gems about pioneer life and the land and wildlife before extensive settlement. It also provides insight into the life of the Criddle/Vane family.
Percy was thrifty with his pennies. The trip across the ocean was miserable. Half the family travelled steerage to save money. He and the other half travelled intermediate class. He described in his diary a visit to his family in steerage:
Visited the Emigrants’ quarters...horrified smell enough to poison a rat could only stand them a few moments at a time, and then rush on deck for sweet air, or to lie down sick!
The family, three adults and nine children, arrived in Brandon in August. Percy took a couple of days prospecting for a homestead. Then on August 24, 1882, land registered, provisions bought, the family set out for their new home. Percy went on ahead while Alice and Elise and the children were to find their way behind him. Not familiar with driving oxen, the women and children arrived late that evening.
* It may be helpful to look at the family tree
Beatrice playing tennis, 1909 Courtesy of Sipiweske Museum
Percy enjoyed sporting events and over the years encouraged competition among his thirteen children. The first summer, 1883, he decided to build a tennis court. He wrote:
Have been making a temporary tennis lawn on the Prairie the children had to cut all the grass off with knives as the scythe wouldn’t touch it a tedious job. … Played six sets of tennis to pairs of Owens family (I playing with home-made wooden racquet), and won them all...
For twenty-three years the “children” had to cut the various tennis courts with knives and scissors. They did not own a lawnmower until 1906. This was one of three tennis courts on the property.
Lawn tennis parties were popular events at the St. Albans homestead. The girls were even encouraged to play. Maida competed in many tournaments, winning two in Winnipeg in 1910. In her book Criddle-De-Diddle-Ensis Alma Criddle wrote:
...there was an elegant art to managing one’s gown while still returning the ball without loss of dignity or game point.
Stuart and Talbot were also good tennis players, travelling to tourneys in local towns. The first time they competed in Winnipeg the Winnipeg Free Press reported that they Put Treesbank on the Map. At sixty Talbot won the Western Manitoba Men’s Singles.
The children competed in many sports, winter and summer. Harry played hockey for Treesbank. Edwy, Harry and Cecil were well known football players. Cecil was the smallest of the boys but a nimble wrestler. His older brothers liked to taunt the biggest players at football matches to wrestle their little brother. Cecil always won.
Despite the hard work on the homestead they found time to make their own equipment, courts, rinks and fields, and compete amongst themselves and their neighbours.
Years later Edwy (Ed-wee) carried on the family tradition of lawn tennis parties at his farm called St. John’s.
Like many pioneering families, they found the first years were extremely difficult. Arriving late the first year they had no crop, no produce, no garden. Supplies had to be bought and cash was scarce. Hunting supplemented the food supply but powder was dear. Alice and some of the children developed scurvy in the lean years not enough fruit and vegetables.
Hardly had any meat for some weeks past as a result most of the children have lost weight considerably only Evelyn gaining one pound.
Later he wrote:
Nothing but shorts and potatoes with an occasional rabbit to eat all of us half-famished. Really, ‘tis almost too disheartening, and one loses courage.
Shorts were the sweepings from the flour mill floor. It had to be sifted to take out the bits of paper and dirt. Harry recalled that it was not very nice, but we were hungry. A bag of real flour was saved for company.
This was one of many gardens. Fruit and vegetables were nurtured and stored for the winter months. Each of the children had their own garden plot where they were encouraged to grow wild fruit. The children credited their knowledge of plants and insects to their work in the gardens. At an early age they were responsible for weeding and picking harmful insects from the plants.
As adults several of the first generation bred their own plant varieties; Harry bred roses, Evelyn bred vegetables, Stuart bred lilies, Maida bred geraniums, Talbot bred lilacs and he crossed pumpkins with marrow to make marrowkins.
The first golf course on the homestead was created in 1914. Prior to that golf had been played indoors as a parlour game. How that occurred is left to our imagination. Golf became the cat’s pyjamas after World War I, largely because there were not as many men around to play team sports.
This is a sand-green, the last green in the 4-hole course. The golf course went through five configurations. The last course had 9-holes most of which were across the road.
One of the hazards of the golf course was the pigsty, over which the fairway lay. In her book, Alma relates the story of poor Stuart whose ball landed in the occupied sty. Of course the pig thought it might be edible. Rather than lose the ball, Stuart chased the pig...
The player whacked at the pig, trying to make him drop the ball... Piggy raced around the pen, not quite sure of the rules of this new game... So the chase was on round and round the pen, while the other three members cheered...reminding him that every whack at the pig, still holding the ball, could be counted as a stroke.
Years later, Stuart’s son Percy, built Glen Meadows Golf Course on Vancouver Island where some of the family retired.
Maida at the weather
Courtesy of Manitoba Archives
The Tometer Box as it was known, contained a number of weather instruments. Percy brought thermometers from England but they broke the first winter from the cold. A new set was sent from England that could endure a Manitoba winter.
Thus the weather records began in 1884. Percy sent one copy to Ottawa for the meteorological record. The second copy he kept and added notes about wildlife, bird migration, and other observances. It would become a valuable record of weather and natural history.
Later Norman and Maida kept the meticulous records, taking the readings at 9 a.m., no matter the weather. Maida received a plaque from the Canadian Meteorological Service for the third longest weather record kept by any one Canadian family. Today the family records are kept in the Manitoba Archives.
Dido’s Dairy was built in April 1883. Percy did not like animals so the oldest girls, Minnie and Isabel (Dido) were put in charge of Mrs. Nelly, the cow, and her calf, Mr. Calf. The milk, cream and butter were a wonderful addition to the family larder in the lean years. Any extra was sold in Brandon for much welcomed money, as Percy said, pretty good business, but a lot of work for the girls.
The next year Minnie went to work in Brandon as a domestic. She was 16. Her wage brought some income into the struggling farm. The following year Isabel joined her. Their wages provided the family with money in the lean years.
Eventually Beatrice, and later Maida and Julia, took over the dairy. In 1909 a new concrete milk house was built. You see the foundation here. Alma described it as:
...a neat little dairy, with rows of shelves to hold the wide flat pans of milk, from which the cream was deftly skimmed, when cream separators were not a part of the dairy equipment. As the years passed, Virginia creeper grew over the low walls, covering it with a cooling shade...
The Well Oak was as much a part of St. Albans as the barns or the house itself, Alma wrote in Criddle-de-Diddle-Ensis. The well gave good water and the oak tree cast shade over the area, creating a cool oasis on a hot day.
The well also provided fun on a cold day. Norman noted that it took 1750 pails of water to create the skating rink in front of the well.
As the farm grew, the number of sheds and barns up the hill increased. Edwy or The Boy as Percy called him, was the chief builder.
As the oldest son, Edwy shouldered much of the responsibility for the farm, but all the children contributed in some way. Percy wrote in 1884:
...the boys now do all the harrowing Edwy, Harry, Cecil and Norman...All the kids work the entire day, bar Bobby (four years old) who makes herself very useful, carrying potatoes (for planting), helping me. By and bye, the baby, Maida, doesn’t help but takes care of her Ma at home.
Percy was able to barter the children’s labour in exchange for work on the farm or some payment once Edwy and Harry’s work for a neighbour earned two pigs. Harry, the second oldest son, was often sent to work on other farms as a hired hand. In 1887, when he was 15, he earned $5 per month. Thirteen bright, hardworking children are the reason the family survived.
Norman Criddle remembered at the age of five, in England, collecting caterpillars for his mother and rearing them to moths or butterflies before letting them go. Norman’s mother, Alice, was a tremendous influence on him. She was one of the first women to attend Cambridge University where she studied languages, literature and natural history. Once in the New World, Alice became the children’s teacher Percy did not approve of the local schools so teaching was added to Alice’s duties. Alma described Alice as having a gentle dignity mingled with warmth and compassion.
Like all the children, Norman did his share of the farm work. He liked to plough because it was a solitary chore that let him observe the world. Norman preferred walks on the prairie or through the woods, rather than sporting events. A walk with Norman was a favourite pastime with his friends. Alma wrote:
These were trips for fun and learning, as the groups around Norman never tired of hearing him talk about his friends, the inhabitants of Nature’s world. His descriptions of flora and fauna, his tales about their wonders, fascinated his listeners.
His love for nature can be seen in his paintings. They say he never picked the plants he painted, but drew them while in the field or from memory. It was his accurate renderings of prairie flowers and butterflies that drew the attention of the scientific community and launched his career. He worked as an entomologist, studying insects, from 1913 until his death in 1933. Norman was more an ecologist, with a deep understanding and respect for all species and their importance in the web of life. Even the grasshoppers, for which he and Harry made their famous control concoction, served a useful purpose fattening up the grouse.
It was Norman’s work, greatly assisted by his brothers and sisters, which put Aweme on the map as a centre for scientific research on the prairies.
Edwy Vane was the eldest son, but Percy always called him The Boy. Edwy was bright and hardworking and thought to be his father’s favourite. Even so, he received no special treatment. Percy wrote of Edwy’s first attempt at ploughing prairie sod with the oxen when he was 11 years old:
Edwy was my first driver but not performing to my satisfaction he got into disgrace got his ears boxed and then Alice took his place.
Edwy was a quick learner and mastered the plough in no time; he soon became the son in charge of the farm. While the other boys were sent out to work as hired hands, Edwy remained here to work the farm.
When a young teacher, Miss Emily Steer, became a regular visitor to St. Albans, Percy quite approved of her. Then he noticed the attraction between Emily and Edwy, and his opinion changed. It seemed Percy did not want to lose his eldest son to marriage.
Despite protests, Edwy and Emily were married in 1897 and settled in the house whose foundation you see here. They called it the Palace, in jest. As long as they remained living in the Palace, Edwy worked on the homestead. But by 1905 they decided to leave, much to Percy’s displeasure, to start their own legacy.
Edwy was very successful. In 1913 they bought a new farm and had Mr. Harms build their house, complete with tennis courts, which they named St. John’s.
Stuart’s house was called Gardenview. Just down the slope was a large garden, brimming with flowers, vegetables, strawberries, raspberries and fruit trees. Gardenview was built in 1919, with a house-raising bee, for Stuart and his new bride Ruth. The large birdbath was built under a tall oak and easily viewed from the window so the family could watch the birds.
Stuart enjoyed the many varieties of flowers he grew pansies, roses, sunflowers and lilies. He developed a strain of lily that was named after him Lilium Stuart Criddlei.
In 1968, at the age of 91, Stuart was recognized at the first Convocation at Brandon University. He received an Honorary Doctorate of Science, for his lifelong work studying mammals. On his own and with his siblings, Stuart published more than 20 papers on the subject. One of Stuart’s most prized possessions was the badge he was given when appointed to the Manitoba Game Advisory Committee.
Courtesy of Sipiweseke Museum
Stuart and specimens, 1953
Courtesy of Manitoba Archives
The family cemetery was created when Elise passed away in 1903. Percy wrote of her passing:
My memory keeps going backwards and forwards over the 41 years of changes and vicissitudes through which we have travelled together. ...I see a thousand things to tell me of her work and doings and how steadily and quietly she laboured for the general good.
Stuart made Elise the cement headstone, and they buried her under the boughs of the spruce tree.
From the oldest to the youngest Alma was the next to be laid to rest in the cemetery. She was just twenty-three. Little Alma was a girl with a sunny disposition who made pets of the calves and piglets carrying them around as if babies. It was a sad time at St. Albans when Alma slowly succumbed to cancer.
Within a year of Alma’s tragic death, Percy passed away. Alice wrote the last entry in his diary. Then sadly Alice followed a few weeks later. As family members passed they have been brought home to the homestead or to the cemetery at Millford.
The Criddle/Vane homestead the site of grand parties and picnics, lawn tennis and golf tournaments, as well as the study of nature and art was sold in 1960. Maida, Stuart and Evelyn were the last to live here before they retired to the West Coast. Today members of the Criddle and Vane families are still living in the area, as well as across Canada. Many return to visit the homestead often.
November 24, 1840 - November 2, 1903 (born in Germany, moved to London 1867)
Oct. 1, 1868-
Gordon (Bill) Karl
|Isabel (Dido, Dico)
Nov. 29, 1869-
Will T. Knight
|Edwy (The Boy)
July 31, 1871-
Margaret (Madge) Elise
Aug. 25, 1872-
April 19, 1875-
November 24, 1849 - May 6, 1918 (born London, England)
May 4, 1933
Nov. 21, 1876-
Jan. 23, 1972
Dec. 4, 1877-
Oct. 23, 1971
Apr. 28, 1880-
June 22, 1966
Alma & Reggie
Aug. 14, 1887-
July 28, 1952
Aug. 19, 1890-
Sept. 3, 1975
Alma (author Criddle-de-Diddle-Ensis)
Aug. 6, 1893-
Jan. 15, 1917
Born in London November 21, 1844, and died at St. Albans April 17, 1918
Painting by Norman Criddle
If you would like more information on the Criddle/Vane family you can read Alma Criddle’s book Criddle-de-Diddle-Ensis, availiable from the Homestead Heritage Committee. The quotes in this guide come from Alma’s book. You might also want to visit the Wawanesa: A Prairie Heritage web site (http://collections.ic.gc.ca/wawanesa/E/people/criddles/criddles.html) or the Sipiweseke Museum in Wawanesa.
Visit other local museums - Spruce Woods Provincial Park Visitor Centre, Burrough of the Gleann Museum, Seton Centre, Carberry Museum, CFB Shilo Artillery Museum, and B.J. Hales Museum at Brandon University.
Lee Valley Tools Ltd. has reprinted Farm Weeds of Canada, which Norman illustrated and was originally published by Agriculture Canada in 1906.
The Criddle/Vane Homestead Heritage Committee is a volunteer organization responsible for interpretation and maintaining the buildings on site. Through their affiliation with the Friends of Spruce Woods, donations are eligible for a tax receipt. If you would like information about the group or to make a contribution to the upkeep, contact:
Criddle/Vane Homestead Heritage Committee
Or email: email@example.com