When the Week’s Work is Done

Members of the Black Family relaxing in 1920. While one man is dressed in overalls, the others are well dressed. The photo may have been taken on a late Saturday afternoon and people are about to travel into town. The photo is interesting as it gives us a close look at “go to town” clothes, work overalls and shoes. Items such as this were worn to the point of being unusable and then torn up for rags. As result, this sort of clothing is rarely found in museum collections.

In the Black family photo collection at the Manitoba Agricultural Museum, there is an image of some Black family members gathered around a Ford Model T car, sitting on the running board or on the grass, relaxing and chatting.

The week’s work is all done as most of the people in the photo are well dressed; however, one man is dressed in overalls which provides us with a clue. Sundays were strictly observed at the time with work of any sort frowned upon so the man dressed in work overalls indicates this photo was not taken on a Sunday. Perhaps the photo was taken on a late Saturday afternoon and some of the people are getting ready to drive into the town of Douglas to take in the Saturday night events there: visiting with other farm families, shopping for supplies at the general store, checking at the CPR station for news. If they were lucky, perhaps an event of some sort was being held at the town hall. 

The Black Family operated farms near Brandon and Douglas and the photos hold no clue as to which farm the photos were taken on. So, they could also be heading into Brandon to sample the delights this prairie metropolis held. And who knows what could happen there! Stroll down Rosser Avenue window shopping, visit with people they knew, sample some of the delicacies the Mutter Brothers Store held, maybe even go to a movie, perhaps the new Charlie Chaplin feature. They could even shoot the budget and purchase ice creams or popcorn. If their budget was zero, they could just loiter around the fire hall on Princess in hopes that a call would result in the firemen springing into action cranking up their new firetruck or go down to the CPR station on Pacific to watch for one of the CPR’s crack passenger trains, the “Flyers”, coming into the station to see who was boarding or getting off. A roundhouse crew came up to the station to service the passenger locomotive which always provided interest as the crew “oiled” round the locomotive, cleaned the boiler ash pan, and crawled over the locomotive tinkering with various bits. The tender was filled with water and, if the train was headed west, a laborer shoveled coal forward in the tender so the fireman had coal close to hand for the run to Elkhorn where there were coaling towers right on the main line. Lots of activity in the few minutes the passenger train was stopped at the station! They could also do the same with the CNR but somehow that lacked the same drama as the CNR passenger trains had to back down the spur off the main line into the station behind the Prince Edward Hotel. The CNR seemed more leisurely as a result. But then they could look through the lobby of the “Eddie”, Brandon’s leading hotel at the time, to see who was there that they knew. Perhaps even tell the younger members of the group of how the Eddie’s original order of furniture went to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean with the Titanic and so a second order was necessary.

But wherever they were headed, the photo tells a story of a late summer afternoon in 1920. The week’s work is all done with some of the family taking a rare opportunity to just do nothing for a few minutes except visit. A time before radio, television, even hydro, a time where most work was manual, a time where there were few conveniences, a time where pleasures were few and simple, a time where frugality was practiced out of necessity, a time where a few minutes spent visiting was a luxury to be savored.

The Black family no longer farms in the Brandon area and, for the people in this photo, their work week is long over as are their lives. Their descendants  have moved on from farming to other occupations. New people came to these farms to work, struggle, and make a life. But once the Black family were here. More than this, the Blacks and other families left Manitoba and Canada a legacy in the form of their hopes of a better future and what they built for this future, not only the farms but the infrastructure and institutions such as the municipal governments, village halls, co-ops, and more.

Places like the Manitoba Agricultural Museum tell a story with photos like this and the artifacts that they contain. This story is the story of Manitoba, the Canadian prairies, and of Canada, how the pioneer era shaped the prairies and Canada and how this influence still resonates today.

Page revised: 8 December 2022