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Coming Home to Saskatchewan

Part Three of Three

By Collections Curator Ruth Bitner
May 2004

The Western Development Museum is a treasure house of artifacts symbolic of the Saskatchewan spirit. History-minded donors who have long since left the province sometimes take the time and trouble to return to the province artifacts which have their roots in Saskatchewan. Some artifacts are returned from neighbouring provinces, others come from more distant places.

This series features three 'homecoming' stories. Part One told the story of a quilt made by the Canadian Red Cross during World War Two and its journey across the ocean and back. Part Two highlighted the travels of a Depression era saddle and jacket. In Part Three, below, a hand-built model steam engine makes a return trip to Saskatchewan after many years spent in Ontario.

Part Three: Fred Dalby's Model Steam Engine

Man in suit posing with small model steam engine

Fred Dalby Jr. with his father’s model steam engine, 1997.
WDM Photo

A model steam engine in the WDM collection is the work of Saskatchewan pioneer Fred Dalby. The engine “came home” in 1997. Dalby was born in England in 1864. As a 12-year old, he left home for London to apprentice as a blacksmith. When he was 17, Fred decided to join his older sister and her family who were heading for Saskatoon with the Barr colonists. He got odd jobs as a labourer in Saskatoon and worked for a time on the Arelee homestead of his sister and brother-in-law. Life was tough for young Fred. A few years later he returned to England to marry his childhood sweetheart.

Fred and his bride Emma returned to Saskatchewan with the idea of taking up a homestead. They arrived at Kinley, SK in the dead of winter. Emma was accustomed to better circumstances and she was very unhappy in the crude shack on the farm. Fred and Emma decided to move to Saskatoon.

Fred got a job at the water treatment plant which was then under construction. His previous work experience came in handy at his new job. Fred was hired on after the plant was completed and went about getting his stationary engineer’s certificate. He spent the remainder of his working life at the water treatment plant, retiring as superintendent.

Fred Dalby loved to tinker. He was skilled at making things including clothing for his family. Money was scarce and family holidays were out of the question. So Fred spent his spare time building a model steam engine. For two years, from about 1915 to 1917, he worked on his model, salvaging parts from an old adding machine and cutting the gears by hand. A few pieces were ordered from England. Fred had no blueprints. “I just made the engine up out of my head,” he recalled years later.

The finished model was fully operational. A local boiler inspector was so impressed with it that he used the model to illustrate his lectures. The model was treasured by its maker and later by his family.

In 1997, Fred Dalby Jr. of Don Mills, ON contacted the WDM about donating his father’s engine. On a visit to the WDM a year earlier, he had seen another model engine on exhibit and began to think about returning the engine to Saskatchewan. The WDM was delighted with the offer. What made it even more special was an album which accompanied the donation. The album, with photographs and text in the maker’s own words, told the story of building the engine. Fred Jr. had made sure that his father’s story would be preserved for future generations.

Check out Part One and Part Two to read more 'coming home' stories.

You might also like:

- "Comfortractor an idea before its time" by Noelle Grosse, 1999

- About the WDM Collection

- How to donate an artifact