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London, Liverpool, and Lloydminster

By Collections Curator Ruth Bitner
June 2005

Barr Colonists clustered around large ship
Barr Colonists leaving Liverpool aboard the S.S. Lake Manitoba.
F. Hembrow Smith collection, Western Development Museum

In 1903, twenty-three year old Frank Hembrow Smith of London, England was reading a newspaper on his way to work at a local shipbuilding company. A letter in the newspaper caught his eye- it extolled the opportunities that awaited in the Canadian northwest. Like many young men at the time, he was hooked, lured by the promise of adventure.

Smith was fit, active in sports, and a volunteer in a nearby regiment. Thinking he might need some domestic skills, the young man enrolled in cooking and sewing classes. Of the cooking classes he noted, "(they) were not a great success as they consisted of fancy dishes, the ingredients for which hard to obtain in the wilds of Canada."

And so, Frank Hembrow Smith signed up for the adventure of a lifetime. Led by Rev. Isaac Barr, the group which would become known as the Barr Colonists, prepared to depart for Canada. Barr was full of ideas, but not so capable of organizing a venture of this magnitude. Smith decided to take along some of his own supplies, among them a shotgun, a small sewing machine, and a camera presented to him shortly before his departure. He and two friends expected to travel second class, but for some reason, they were assigned to their own cabin. Here, Smith had space to set up his own dark room.

Barr Colonists on ship
On board ship.
F. Hembrow Smith collection, Western Development Museum

Smith and the other Barr Colonists left Liverpool on March 31, 1903, aboard the S.S. Lake Manitoba, bound for Canada. The enterprising Smith put his camera to use, taking photographs during the voyage. His work was so popular that he started selling the prints for 35 cents each. Describing the line-up to buy his photographs, Smith wrote in his diary, "People have been queuing in the gangway outside the cabin all day." Although he had brought photographic supplies with him, brisk sales depleted his stock.

After nearly two weeks on the high seas, the Lake Manitoba docked at St. John, New Brunswick. The colonists boarded the train headed for Saskatoon. When it stopped in Winnipeg, Smith took the opportunity to buy more photographic supplies. Then it was on to Saskatoon. The tired group arrived on the banks of the South Saskatchewan on April 18, 1903. While most of the ill-prepared immigrants bought supplies and set off by wagon for Lloydminster, Smith and others decided to seek their fortunes in and around Saskatoon. Within a week, he and his buddies had landed jobs on nearby farms. Smith never did move on to Lloydminster.

Smith learned about farming from his German-American boss then filed for his own homestead near Saskatoon. He also bought a nearby half-section in the Victor district, six miles south of what is now 8th Street and Clarence Avenue in Saskatoon. For a couple of years, he was the only settler in the area. Smith spent his spare time hunting, trapping and cutting trees for firewood. In 1904, he joined the Floral football team. But Smith did not remain on the farm. He married Marjorie Botting in 1912 and moved into Saskatoon during the teens. In the late 1920s, he operated his own insurance and real estate business.

Smith was civic-minded and active in all sorts of community endeavours. He was involved in the local telephone company and the rural municipality. He was a founding member of St. James Anglican Church and well known for his work with the Saskatoon Little Theatre. Smith also organized a reunion of the Barr Colonists. He died about 1962.

Among Smith's legacies is a collection of glass lantern-slides which document his journey with the Barr Colonists and show what life around Saskatoon was like in the first decade of the 20th century. Not all the photographs in the collection were taken by Smith, but he was responsible for preserving them. His diary is an important record, reflecting on his experiences at that time. Some of his images are well-known, appearing in numerous publications. The Western Development Museum is fortunate to have the Frank Hembrow Smith collection of glass slides and the camera he brought with him from London. A small plaque in the camera case is inscribed, "Presented to Frank H. Smith by the Associates and Members of the Guild of St. Lawrence, as a mark of their regard and esteem." Little did Smith's friends know that their gift would have such lasting value.

(Thanks to WDM volunteer Kirk Wallace for pulling together biographical information on Frank Hembrow Smith.)

Barr Colonists in tent in Saskatoon
Barr Colonists, Saskatoon, 1903.
F. Hembrow Smith collection, Western Development Museum


Find out more about Hembrow-Smith
and see more of his photos
on Saskatchewan History Online:

Photo of man in buffalo coat

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