The Homesteaders

Hurst Island 1926 - Kask family v2

About half way down the trail towards Duck Bay from the main house at God’s Pocket is a large cistern of fresh water. The cistern is fed by a steady creek that flows down from Meeson Cone, the highest point on the island. Not far from the cistern are parts of an old fence and planks from a structure, probably a cabin. The picture above, from around 1926, shows what we believe is that cabin, along with the homesteading family, William and Julia Kask and their five children. The older man, a Mr. Louis T, along with his wife who is behind the camera, lived near Harlequin Bay and grew garlic, which they sold to the steamships that plied these waters and islands through the late 30s. (From left to right: Mr. Louis T (garlic farmer); William Kask, Julia Kask, children: Rose, Evelyn, Willie, Annie and James Kask.)

In the late-1800s, the Canadian Government established a homesteading law based on the one in the U.S. The law was intended to invite people to move west and to settle and improve the land. It was intended to create a farming economy in the plains, but it also had an effect on the more western parts of Crown land. Land was free – 160 acres – if a man over 18 or a female head of household settled the land, built a residence, made the land productive, and stayed for a least three years. The homestead provisions, which were abolished in either the 30s or the 50s (the interweb offers both dates), continue to be controversial as the Canadian government never negotiated land ownership or transfer from First Nation tribes.

The intricacies of law and land transfer notwithstanding, it is a romantic notion to make one’s way in an unsettled, wild area, and to build a life in a location that is both beautiful and harsh. We hold our US pioneers and homesteaders in esteem mainly because of the strength of character it must have taken to head west, to survive, and ultimately to thrive.

The Kasks had to carve their life and shelter out the forest that surrounded them. They would have chosen a flat spot, not far from a bay or cove, and near a reliable source of drinking water. I think about them and what they faced when they arrived, and how they fared. I think especially about Julia Kask, who arrived on Hurst Island with five children in tow. In the picture, the eldest is probably around 13 years old, and the youngest looks to be about two. Five children would have been a handful under any circumstances, even with the older children to help out. It was likely difficult for Julia to find romance in the relentless challenges of homesteading.

The romantic aspect of this part of the world, and its proximity to wild, has been part of the draw for us to come here this winter, albeit with all the important comforts. We have, after all, hot and cold running water, a wood stove with a steady supply of firewood, and shelter to keep us warm and dry. We can try to imagine what it must have been like to homestead here, admire and romanticize it, and know that we are safe and warm and well fed under the stormiest of skies.

Our hosts got this picture from Sylvia, William and Julia’s granddaughter, daughter of the eldest son, James (shown far right in the picture). She pulled up to the dock in God’s Pocket with her husband one day around five years ago, on their way north to the inside passage. She had never been here before. Sylvia shared the picture, and said that her grandmother, Julia, whom she had never met, left her husband and the eldest son shortly after the picture was taken.

Julia had negotiated in secret for almost a year, and arranged for a passing steamship to stop for her and four of her children. She made her way to live in Seattle. William and James left the island not too long after, also resettling in the Seattle area. William and Julia never reconciled or saw each other again. In time, the homestead on Hurst Island returned to its origins, reclaimed by the forest.

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4 thoughts on “The Homesteaders

  1. This recounting of history makes me wonder why she left her oldest son behind. Everyone has a story….Looks like he moved on to his own family and told his daughter Sylvia enough to make her pay a visit….

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    1. She had to escape when her husband was out and about, and her oldest son was with him when the steamship came. Who knows if she thought it might go that way and that she might need to leave her son behind, or whether she planned it that way so her husband would be in the woods… Not so long ago really, but a world of experience away.

      On Mon, Feb 15, 2016 at 2:58 PM, Dancing On The Way Home wrote:

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