Family of 13 journeyed across the prairies

From our January 2013 issue

By Ervin Davis – Rimbey, Alta.

Imagine 13 people, yes, 13 people — my parents, Maude and Percy Davis, 10 siblings and me — in a 1918 Touring Dodge car. It was the end of April 1939, and we left Windygates, Man, for Innisfail, Alta.

What a journey! It took us 10 days to make this trip of approximately 1,000 miles due to poor gravel, muddy roads, and an old, overloaded car towing a trailer. I’m sure it made quite a sight.

I do recall encountering a horrific duststorm in Saskatchewan, with dust and dirt blowing into the car, despite our putting side curtains in place. Oh, and the swarm of grasshoppers were like snowstorms in places.

I recall sleeping in skating rinks as well as in a couple of campground cabins. Other times we slept on tarps or blankets on the ground. It was very uncomfortable and cold with meager meals.

This old car was very large, so I and two of my brothers, ages 10 and 11, sat on a bench facing the rear seat. We were keeping an eye on the trailer we towed behind.

Our trip was made just prior to the Royal Visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. As a result, some of the buildings and gas stations we saw along the way were painted red, white, and blue. We kids were told by someone this was in our honour. How gullible we were to believe that?

We finally arrived at our Aunt Grace and Uncle Fred Davis’ place in the Clarendon District about 10 miles east of Innisfail. These relatives were my mother’s sister and my father’s brother. They also had a huge family so there were lots of cousin to play and fight with.

Six of us Davis children attended the Clarendon School for a year. My Aunt Grace died in July 1940. The following month we travelled back to Manitoba, settling in the little town of LaRiviere. That sturdy old car served my family for another few years.

This trek of my family occurred a year before the movie Grapes of Wrath was made, however, I am sure there were many similarities. I was nine years old, so am unable to recall all of the details of breakdowns, flat tires, and a poorly functioning sediment bulb.

The family car and trailer all packed and ready to go. Left: Viola (standing behind R.P. Swayze); Thelma, and two unidentified neighbour boys.
The family made it to John and Beulah Jacobs’ farm outside of Darlingford, Man. that first day of travel (about 25 miles).