Criddle-Vane Heritage Homestead event returns

·6 min read

One of western Manitoba’s pioneer families will be remembered and celebrated later this month by their descendants and their community.

For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Criddle-Vane Heritage Homestead event, honouring the Criddle-Vane family, who first came to Manitoba in 1882, is being held at the homestead on Aug. 20.

The property, located 40 kilometres southeast of Brandon, is a 130-hectare area that preserves and protects the heritage value of the former homestead of the Criddle-Vane family. It was designated as Manitoba’s 79th provincial park on Feb. 24, 2004. The park now protects flora and fauna in the Assiniboine Delta natural area, including mixed-grass prairie.

Marg Trollope, a descendant of the family, said the event will feature a wiener roast and smores, music, and tours of the area. Some descendants will be dressed up as their ancestors.

Luanne Gibb, also a descendant of the Criddle-Vane family, will be there with her husband and their team of Percheron horses to give wagon ride tours.

“Everyone can pile on the wagon, and have a ride and enjoy the Criddle-Vane homestead,” Gibb told the Sun. “I’m going to see about dressing up as my grandpa.”

Gibb said the event will be a great chance for people to get back in touch with Manitoba’s pioneer roots.

“The Criddle and Vane [families] were a very central part of the community.”

The families settled in Manitoba in 1882, and the last family members didn’t leave the homestead until 1960, according to Trollope.

The property — including the Criddle home, the remaining structure of the first entomological field station in Western Canada, a cemetery, old fountains and the remains of the original landscape, such as family tennis courts and a golf course — was acquired by the provincial government in the 1970s.

Trollope said it’s important to remember the pioneer families that paved the way for modern Manitobans.

Percy Criddle, Trollope’s great-grandfather, ran into some financial difficulties, and his imagination had been captured by an advertisement in a newspaper back in England that encouraged people to come to Canada. When he arrived, though, he was less than impressed with the country at first, Trollope said.

“In his diaries in Canada, he was quite annoyed with the English government because they painted a picture of a land of milk and honey, and he said it was a sandy, dusty land of mosquitoes and grasshoppers.”

Despite the shock of living in a completely different land, Criddle got to work and settled his family, including his wife and four children and his German mistress, with whom he had another five children, and who lived under the guise of being a widowed family maid, Trollope explained. It was Criddle’s wife, Alice, who insisted that he not leave behind his mistress, Elise, or the children he’d had with her. That didn’t mean, however, that Elise was able to enjoy the same luxuries that Alice did.

“When all was said and done, they did come, and Alice and Percy travelled basically second class,” Trollope explained. “Elise and all of her children came in the bowels of the boat … it wasn’t very nice. In Percy’s diaries, he talks about the poor souls down there and how unhappy they looked, but no mention is made of inviting Elise to come up or bringing her children up.”

It took time for Criddle to adjust to North American culture, Trollope said.

“When they first arrived in New York, he was just beside himself … he was appalled at the fact that nobody knew how to set a proper table — they indeed only set it with one knife, one fork and one spoon.”

Criddle’s initial plan was to stay in Brandon for the first winter, but after seeing the community, which was a far cry from the city it is today, he decided against it, Trollope said. Having no agricultural background or knowledge, Criddle fed his family by shooting pheasants.

“He knew nothing about survival in this kind of weather,” Trollope said. “He had no one with whom he could consult.”

Criddle was advised to settle on land where wild roses grew. He found a piece of land on a hill, which he knew would be good for keeping water away from his future home, and decided to settle there, but not before weighing the matter seriously in his mind.

“He looked at it, and he thought about it, and he went back to Brandon,” Trollope said.

“You can hear the torment in his writing … he really felt on his own to make this decision.”

But make it he did, and soon registered the property as well. After that, Trollope said, his diary entries were full of the details of how Criddle built a log cabin for his unusual family.

“He had wonderful pioneer-spirited neighbours,” Trollope said. “They pitched in, and got more logs and built the house.”

During the building of the house, the family lived in two tents. In his diary, Criddle complained about the doors of the tents being covered in flies. He finished building the house in December, and the family, not used to Manitoba’s cold winters, were more than happy to move in, even if it wasn’t perfect.

“It was cold, and the chinks between the logs kept falling out and they kept trying to put that back in. There were newspapers on the floor under the kids to try and break the cold a little bit. It was a pretty long, hard winter,” Trollope said.

“It was tough. They survived, and come spring, he decided to plough the land.”

Criddle’s oldest son, a 10-year-old boy he had by Elise, helped him work the land with a horse and oxen.

“It was pretty sparse even through that summer,” Trollope said.

“But finally things did grow and they carried on from there. It wasn’t so bad after that.”

Throughout the years, Criddle kept in touch with his friends from England, who would often come to visit him and the family.

Tennis courts and a golf course were eventually added to the homestead, leisure activities being an important part of their life back in England that they missed sorely, Trollope said.

The homestead also featured a large library.

Criddle’s goal may have been to recreate an idyllic English landscape in the Carberry sand hills, but his children and their children went on to make their mark on the province in truly unique ways, Trollope said. His sons, Norman and Stuart Criddle, were acclaimed for their work in entomology, horticulture and other pursuits.

On June 25, 2014, the main residence of the homestead was completely destroyed in a suspected arson.

Instead of dampening the descendants’ spirit, it only served as more motivation to remember the adventurous and independent Criddle-Vanes.

Trollope and Gibb hope that anyone with an interest in Manitoba’s pioneer history will attend the event.

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun