Sandham, James: My Grandpa

My Grandpa

By James Sandham

Grandpa, James Richard Sandham, was born in 1869 on a farm near Courtland, Ontario, in the Tillsonburg area, to a Irish Roman Catholic mother and a Protestant father. He apprenticed as a carpenter, probably with John Wilkinson in Ingersoll, ON.

He was married three times: The first was to Lizzie Wilkinson in July 1889, in Ingersoll, ON. She was from Oxford Cty, ON and died four years later, in 1893, two months after the birth of their first child, a son. Lacking a mother, the son was given to be raised by my Grandfather’s sister Barbara. Despite his subsequent requests to give him back the child, she refused. She may have regarded this as just, since she never had any children of her own and Grandpa eventually had seven more. She eventually moved to Michigan with the child and my Grandfather never saw him again.

At the time, Grandfather worked and lived in the small community of Verschoyle, ON. He re-married in 1896 to Margaret Walker (my Grandmother), again in Ingersoll. Margaret was from Yorkshire, England. They had two daughters while in Verscoyle and then moved to Sault Ste. Marie, ON, where they had an additional son (my father) and a daughter. In the Sault, Grandpa was co-owner of a contracting and building firm, but the business soon failed and by 1903 he was working as a foreman with another firm. Margaret fell ill and died in 1903, leaving him with four children.

About that time, Gertrude Bishop, a young lady from St. Joseph Island, came to live with the family as a housekeeper, and moved with them to Ft. MacLeod in what would soon become southern Alberta, and then to Lethbridge. Grandpa and she were married in 1904 in Ft. MacLeod.

Later in 1904, Grandpa filed on a homestead near Coalhurst, about 6 miles west of Lethbridge. He still worked as a carpenter in Lethbridge and by 1906 was the founding President of the Carpenter’s Union in Lethbridge and the President of the Trades and Labour Council. The Miner’s Union, which was part of the latter organization, at that time was involved in great turmoil, with incidents of beatings and bombing (see clippings, below). In 1906, Grandpa was permanently crippled when the scaffolding supporting him at work collapsed. He never walked again without crutches. Word-of-mouth reports at the time were that the scaffolding had been partially sawn through and that it was done in revenge for his union activities. It was said that he would have lost his homestead, were it not for the work of friends and neighbors.

Grandpa remained active in the community as the chair of the school board and as a long-time campaign manager for his good friend Brig. General John Stewart. Gen. Stewart had been a much-decorated artillery commander in the First World War, and later served politically both in the Alberta legislature and federally in Ottawa. Grandpa was also a tireless promoter of irrigation and of the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District, which came to have tremendous economic importance for southern Alberta.

Although Grandpa was loved and respected in the community as a kind, wise and gentle man, from the viewpoint of his family he had many failings. Since he could not do much paying work, had little business sense and spent so much time taking care of unpaid community business, most of the formal education of the older children had to stop. The responsibilities for supporting the family fell to my father, who had to leave school at Grade 6 to work on the dairy and farm, with help from his two older sisters. Grandpa’s duty was to deliver their milk by wagon to the townsfolk, up and down the streets in Coalhurst. Unfortunately, he charged only for the pitchers that the housewives brought him to fill, but not for all the cups of the myriads of children following the wagon that were filled free of charge, to the annoyance of Grandpa’s children working industriously at home to support the family. Grandpa would also frequently bring home a homeless waif, usually infested with lice, and the family was left to deal with the infestation with coal-oil and combings.

Gertrude gave birth to three additional children after they moved to Alberta, one daughter and two sons. One son died at two years of age in 1908 and the other would, like my father, leave to get his own farm. Eventually the youngest son would return to the home farm where he and his family would take over the nursing of Grandpa until his death in 1953. (additional clippings below, Lethbridge Herald)

Grandpa, approx. 1905

Newspaper: clippings