A New Beginning
I arrived in Calgary, Alberta, during the winter of 1906-07 after serving several years in the South African Constabulary. I received a warm welcome from the proprietor of the Grand Central Hotel, where I received board and lodging for one dollar a day. At breakfast the next morning, I introduced myself to an old gentleman named Frank Connell. He related that he had been working on the Sparrow Ranch on Pine Creek...When he learned that I was in need of a job, he suggested that R.K. Bennet, owner of the Rushford Ranch south of Red Deer Lake, needed an experienced man to take charge of his registered herd of shorthorn cattle. Frank offered to drive me to the Rushford Ranch and I accepted...After Mr. Bennet had satisfied himself that I was qualified to handle his herd, we discussed the matter of wages. I was not prepared to work for his offer of $20 plus board per month, but worked out an agreement where at the end of one month of employment, he would review my work. At the end of the first month, he paid me $30.
The winter of 1906-07 was very severe. Snow was drifted over the top of fenceposts. Some of the neighboring ranchers had made very little provision for winter feeding of their cattle and when spring came, at least sixty per cent of the herds of range cattle had perished. Some ranchers lost all their range stock. Thousands of cattle had drifted with the storms and had died when checked by fences. It was the only time when I knew range cattle to freeze solid while standing in deep snow. Mr. Bennet had made suitable provisions for winter feed and housing for his stock and had no loss that winter.
I killed coyotes and lynx which came into the corrals, barnyards and open buildings in search of food. Antelope and mule deer were decimated in large numbers. Moose, which yarded up in willow meadows, would have fared better than antelope and mule deer, had it not been for the coyotes and wolves which preyed on them....
During the spring seeding of 1907, Mr. Bennet promoted me to the office of manager with full charge of everything connected with the ranch. My monthly cheque was boosted from $30 to $35 per month. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were very kind to me and I got on well with them.
It was during the spring of 1907 when Mr. Bennet introduced me to a very wonderful old gentleman, The Reverend Albert Lacombe, near his mission at Midnapore. Another notable person at that time was Bob Edwards, editor of the Calgary 'Eyeopener'. Strangely enough the first copy of this paper I read was when I was in The South African Constabulary at Bloemfontein.
That summer I decided to buy a farm and be my own boss. I notified Mr. Bennet that I would be leaving, but that I would continue until he found another man to replace me. Shortly...a gentleman from Ontario was hired and I boarded a CPR (Canadian Pacific Railroad) train for Ponoka...Two days later I bought the SE 1/4 Section 10, Township 42, Range 26 W of 4th meridian which is seven miles south of Ponoka on the Old Calgary and Edmonton Highway. In the early days of freighting by ox-team, the Hudson Bay Company had erected buildings there for a small trading post and stopping place. These old buildings had fallen down and were in such a state of decay that the logs fell apart when moved. There was a log house with shakes on the roof which I was able to fix up for a temporary home...
A few days after purchasing the land, I was talking to Mr. C.C. Reid, the government land agent at Ponoka. When I asked him what homesteads were available in the district, he told me that there was a very desirable homestead at Battle Lake...I thought it best to personally inspect this wonderful homestead before filing on it...I went to the local livery barn to hire a good saddle horse to ride to Battle Lake...The proprietor proceeded to bring forth a poor old cayuse which was the picture of grief and misery...When I heard that I couldn't hire any other horse I decided to make the best of a bad bargain. My steed started away from town at a walk. I tried to shake some life into him, but the best I could get was a shuffle and a series of groans. When I tried to lead him, he threatened to lie down and die.
That evening I arrived at Chesterwold, a small country store and stopping place owned by a man whom I would hesitate to call friendly. I inquired if I could get accommodation for my horse and myself for the night. His reply of "I guess so" seemed to wheeze through his nose, punctuated by a stream of tobacco juice expectorated from the corner of his mouth. I watered my horse and was leading him towards a nearby barn when I heard, "Say." I looked around and said, "Were you calling me?" He replied, "You haven't paid for it." I inquired the charge for feed and stall room and paid for it. Some time later, someone called from the house to say that supper was ready. As I headed for the kitchen door, I heard, "Say." The tobacco chewer wasn't far behind me. "Now what do you want?" I asked. "You have to pay for your supper and bed." As I paid him, I inquired, "You think I might sneak away in the morning without paying?" "I'm not taking any chances," he retorted. The next morning before riding away I remarked that I liked the appearance of the land in the area and wondered if there was any land open for homesteading. "How much is it worth to you if I give you the number of one quarter section vacant in this neighborhood?" "If your neighbors are anything like you are, I don't want to live around here," I exclaimed and left for Battle Lake.
(Editor's note: Henry found a family named Eastman who were homesteading near Battle Lake and asked for directions to find the homestead that the real estate agent had told him about. Mr. Eastman invited Henry to dine and stay the night with his family, and arranged to help Henry find the homestead in the morning. The homestead was covered in fallen timber, and the sight did not gladden Henry's heart. Henry Stelfox left Battle Lake with little desire to take on the work of clearing such an unforgiving piece of land, and returned to Ponoka with a lunch that the Eastmans packed for him. But the kindness the Eastmans kept playing on his mind, and after thinking about it, Henry reconsidered. He would be glad to call people such as the Eastmans his neighbours. He filed on that homestead on October 18, 1907.)