Tales from the Welsh Marches

I’ve been tidying up files and came across this. I may have posted something like it previously, but it is a lovely snapshot of a past long gone.

The Remittance Man

Remittance men were a rare breed. They were so named because, banished from home and families to the frontier colonies, each received a regular income to stay there – a remittance.

By going somewhere to the other side of the earth, it was hoped that remittance men would be far enough away, to no longer to be an embarrassment to their families.  Just why they had been banished was often a mystery, but characteristic among them were an ebullient personality and a wicked sense of ‘derring – do’.  It was not difficult to imagine them being in some kind of trouble in their youth.

Alfred Stanley Grimsdell was such a remittance man who found his way into the folklore of north-eastern Saskatchewan about 1908.

Grim – as he came to be known – was born in London in 1883 to a family of Northampton boot manufacturers.  He had a first-class education and worked in his father’s business as a charmingly named ‘boot clicker’ for some time before coming - or being sent - to Canada. A boot clicker was a worker who cuts out pieces of leather for the uppers of boots and shoes. It was a well-paid job and required strength and a good sense of spatial awareness to get the maximum number of good pieces out of a single sheet of leather.

He arrived in Crooked River where he worked for the Saskatchewan Lumber Company Sawmill.  He was a powerful man who stood 6’3” tall and quickly became one of the best edger men in the province.  The edger men put the rough boards cut from the log, through a pair of saws to cut them to the final 4”, 6” or 8” width. It is probable that his experience in the shoe trade served him well here.

My grandfather, William Hayes was the camp cook and the two men became good friends from the start.  Grandad had taken a homestead near Bjorkdale in 1907 and in September 1913 Grim homesteaded near by.  

Grim gained a certain notoriety by moving a shack to live in, all the way from Crooked River to the homestead – some 15 miles – with the use of 4 oxen.  Powerful beasts they may have been, but slow and it would have taken some time to get the building moved in the best of conditions.  Naturally, this was meant to be done in the winter when the swamp (or muskeg as it was called), they had to cross was frozen, but as usual, Grim was late and by some error of judgement, which may have had something to do with ministrations of copious amounts of warming alcohol, the building slipped off the frozen track into the muskeg and got stuck there.  Eventually, with friends and numerous beasts of one sort or another he got it to his homestead and he lived in it comfortably for many years.

It was a short-lived beginning to his homesteading, because he and William Hayes enlisted in 1915 at the outbreak of WW I and both served in the 28th Battalion, Canadian Infantry.

Like many men, Grim’s war time experiences were difficult and after a particularly fierce charge on some piece of territory that no one really wanted, Grim was hit in the lower back, quickly losing both consciousness and a great deal of blood.

Somehow, he regained some control over his senses to find himself being hoisted up on a soggy stretcher to be handed over to the burial detail.  With a strength probably borne of panic, he managed to make himself heard, frightening the weary bearers into taking him in a different direction.  

Surviving both first aid and emergency battlefield treatment, he was sent to England for further treatment and when sufficiently recovered to once again be of use to the Army, he was sent to the Forestry Service.  One can presume that his early days in the logging camps saved his life. He left the Army as Acting Company Sergeant Major, but with a fist sized hole in his back and considerable pain for the rest of his life. It is probably no wonder then, that he liked a drink.

Back in Saskatchewan he returned to his little homestead where he loved to entertain his friends with a great deal of alcohol, songs and tales of times past.

He also took an active part in many of the community’s committees and boards, until his death on 16 September 1946.  People who knew him well called him a gentleman. Even those of us who were never to know him feel, that we missed knowing someone quite special.

And no one to this day, knows why he was a remittance man in the first place.

Grim and the Hayes Family

Wilma Hayes