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Historical Vignette


The incredible Criddles and Vanes of Manitoba


By Dorothy Dobbie


In 1882, Englishman Percy Criddle arrived in Manitoba to take up homesteading. His unconventional lifestyle would not prevent many of his 13 children from creating an indelible mark on our history.


I


n 1882, Percy Criddle arrived in Winnipeg from England, en route to his newly acquired homestead at Aweme, near Wawanesa. He


brought with him his nine children and the two women who bore them: his common law wife, Elise Vane, mother of five; and his legal wife, Alice Nicol, mother of four; along with little under- standing of what it took to pioneer on the prairie. As proof of his naiveté was his choice of land that harboured many wild roses, believing


anecdotal intelligence that


claimed this was a sign of fertility. Un- fortunately for the family, wild roses will grow just about anywhere, even in the sandy soil of the area. When he was studying in Germany,


Percy had met and wooed Elise Har- rer, a talented artist and daughter of an upper class German family. He brought her back to England on the promise of marriage, a promise he never got around to fulfilling. After fathering several children with Elise, he met and married Alice, an intellectual who was said to speak seven languages. When Percy’s mother died, Percy de- cided to pull up stakes and emigrate to Canada. He told his first family that they could come along, but that they would have to stop calling him papa. He would now be Mr. Criddle to them and their names would be changed to Vane. Tey were to play the part of ser- vants to Percy and his new wife. To sup- port the story, the newly-named Vanes crossed in steerage while the Criddles travelled second class. Te family arrived too late to put in


30 • Spring 2017


The Criddles of Aweme in 1895.


a crop that first year, indeed, too late to even build a house before winter set in. Tey lived through the first half of the bitter winter in a tent and eventu- ally, a dug-out lean-to where Alice and her baby were moved. Two days after Christmas with the help of the neigh- bours, they were able to move into their first rudimentary, four-room log house. Percy had a highly developed sense of himself and his entitlements. While he played the gentleman, insisting on early refinements to the homestead that in- cluded a tennis court and a skating rink (the grass had to be cut with scissors and the water for ice had to be drawn


by hand from a well), he relied on his children as well as Elise, and even Al- ice in the early days, for their labour. He named his new home St. Albans, but it was many years before the structure could live up to such a pretension. Troughout the years, Percy became


part of the community, serving on the school board and holding musical eve- nings where he and the boys sang to a piano and later a harmonium that he managed to buy in spite of being pe- rennially short of funds. Te home be- came the centre of arts and learning. Te boys were all accomplished sports- men, famed for their expertise at golf


The Hub


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