A Stalwart Pioneer Woman- Martha Rachel (Bolton) Atkey

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This blog was written in celebration of International Women’s Day, a celebration that should encompass more than one day or a month. Although difficult to do at times, I like to build the stories of the women in my ancestral lines. Part of this blog post is taken from my essay, Atkey, Martha Rachel (Bolton), written for inclusion in the book Women Pioneers of Saskatchewan, published by the Saskatchewan Genealogical Society in 2009.

A Stalwart Pioneer Woman- Martha Rachel (Bolton) Atkey
My great grandmother, Martha Rachel Bolton, was born 2 Dec 1847 to parents William and Mary (Brett) Bolton at Bolton, Albion Township, Home District.1 Her father was a joiner and a carpenter and as such at the time of the 1851 Canada West Census the family seemed to be well off having two maids/servants, Elizabeth Carrol and Margaret Brett.2

Martha’s father decided to move to Usborne Township, Huron County, taking out a lease on 100 acres 14 February 1852.3 Tragedy struck the family because Martha’s mother Mary died 17 November 1853 at Usborne Township at the age of 26.4 William was left with four children ages 6 through 10 months. Thomas, the youngest child, was “farmed out” to his grandparents, Thomas and Martha (Hampton) Brett.5 William did not follow through with the leased land in Usborne Township, instead he put a down payment on land in Wallace Township, Perth County in 1856.6

The 1861 Canada West Census did not capture William living with his children. Martha, age 13, was living in Wallace Township with a widow, Elizabeth Churchill, and her children Harriet, Mary, Jane and Elizabeth.7 Martha was not noted as a servant but as one of the family. I am unaware of any Bolton family connections with the Churchill family and wonder if Martha was actually a servant in the household. By the time of the 1871 Canada Census she was working as a servant for Ann Hassan in Albion Township, Peel County.8

Martha married John Atkey 27 July 1874 according to the Brett family Bible. He relocated her to Stisted Township, in the District of Muskoka due to receiving land there through the Free Grants Act.9 Life was difficult there and John left for the Crescent Lake Settlement in the North West Territories [now Saskatchewan]. He had taken the train to Broadview and then walked into the area in May of 1883 to homestead on the NE ¼ of section 6, township 23, range 3 west of the 2nd meridian.10

Martha, in her seventh month of pregnancy, arrived at the Crescent Lake settlement, in August of 1883 with her two young children Mary Louise age 7 and Ellen Trafalgar, my grandmother, age 4.11 Martha’s first thoughts upon sighting the tents and log shack that made up the “city” were probably not positive ones.These first thoughts would have been tempered by her knowledge of the difficulties of homesteading since she was no stranger to hardship and sorrow. She and her husband’s attempts to eke out an existence on the Canadian Shield in Stisted Township, may have made her see life in this rough settlement in the west as a better choice. Stisted Township harboured sad memories as well, because Martha and John left two babies, Thomas and William John, buried there.12

Martha appreciated the help of her fellow homesteaders, Mrs. E. Outhwaite and Mrs. E. Bains, at the time of the birth of her daughter, Eliza Jane on November 10, 1883.13 With no house completed, was it a cold, drafty barn in which Eliza Jane was born or did a roaring fire brighten the interior of a neighbour’s house? Whatever her introduction to the world, Eliza Jane did lay claim to being the first white child born in the settlement.

The first winter was difficult with an unfinished roof on the house. The cold, even with a fire, and the lack of kerosene for lamps made the cabin a gloomy place. Members of the family probably awoke with traces of snow inside the cabin, maybe on their bedclothes due to the gaps in the construction of the house. Food supplies were scarce but could be supplemented with rabbit which “…were very numerous and easy to capture.”14 Store bought supplies were not available in close proximity to the settlement. Trips had to be made to places like Broadview which was some 60 miles away.

Further childbirth was not without tragedy. Martha gave birth to my grandmother Alice Carrie, her sixth child, on 7 April 1886.15 Martha’s seventh child, Rose, was born 17 July 1888.16 Victor, the eighth child, died 11 April 1891 at the age of three days.17 More sorrow followed on 9 April 1896 when Rose died.18

Change occurred as of June 1892 when Martha’s husband John moved the family to a house he had built on the SW ¼ of section 32 township 22 range 3 west of the 2nd meridian. He obtained entry for the land 9 January 1893.19 Martha would probably have had to create a new garden on this new farm. According to family lore, she was an excellent gardener and was able to supplement the fare at the dinner table.

Martha’s “family” grew as her daughters found husbands. Ellen Trafalgar [my grandmother] married John William Edward Campbell circa 1900 and provided two grandchildren, John Donald (1905) [my father] and Alexander Thomas (1912). Eliza Jane married Frederick James Tatton in May of 1910 and provided five grandchildren; Vera, Lester, Leonard, Clarence, and Bentley. Alice Carrie married Percy Sims on 10 February 1909, and provided six grandchildren, Rachel Eleanor (1909), Laurel Maud (1910) [my mother], Ivy Alice (1911), Olive Beatrice (1913), Hazel Belle (1914), and Ivan Dudley (1921).  The growth in the family was not without sadness either. Olive died 7 June 1914 at the age of 1 year, 1 month and 17 days.

Martha died 3 March 1916 at her home on Ayr Street in Saltcoats at the age of 69.20 She had been “retired” from farm life for about two years. Martha was interred in Saltcoats Cemetery, 5 March 1916, the same place as Rose and Olive were buried.21

At the time of Martha’s death, she still held that important role of housewife-no real retirement for her! Somehow the term housewife does not address the courage and perseverance she would have needed to homestead in the west and endure the deaths of four of her children and one of her grandchildren.

Two memorials remain to remind us of her presence on earth; her memorial stone in Saltcoats Cemetery, Saltcoats, Saskatchewan, and the cairn erected in memory of the Crescent Lake pioneers of 1883 which is south of Yorkton on Brewer Road. Mr. and Mrs. John Atkey are the first names on the left hand side of the plaque that is on the cairn.  It is unfortunate that such a hardy pioneer did not get to have her given name on the plaque!

1. Baptismal transcription for Martha Rachel Bolton, United Church Archives Fonds, no 2562, file 77.669L, 1-3. This is a Primitive Methodist church record.
2. Elizabeth Carroll and Margaret Brett entries, 1851 Canada West Census, Peel County, District 5, Albion Township, p. 77, lines 44 and 45, Library and Archives microfilm C 11746 downloaded from www.ancestry.ca 8 August 2012.
3. William Bolton lease information for lot 4, concession 11, Usborne Township, RG CC [Canada Company], Series B3, Vol. 031, p. 389, MS 729, reel 4, Archives of Ontario.
4. Marriages, Baptisms and Burials by Reverend Joseph Oates, Perth County Marriage, Baptism and Burial Register, 1852-1859 (Milton, Ontario: Global Heritage Press).
5. Thomas Bolton entry, 1861 Canada West Census, Peel County, Albion Township, Enumeration District 2, p. 26, line 42, downloaded from www.ancestry.ca 20 June 2018.
6. Land sale record for William Bolton, Wallace Township, Perth County, RG Series 01 AIV Vol. 2, p. 49, microfilm series MS 400, reel 6. Reel accessed at the Archives of Ontario.
7. Marth Bolton entry, 1861 Canada West Census, Perth County, Wallace Township, Enumeration District 1, p. 2, line 38, downloaded from www.ancestry.ca 29 February 2020.
8. Martha Bolton entry, 1871 Canada Census, Ontario, District 40, Cardwell, Sub-District B, Division 4, Albion Township, p. 41, line 14, downloaded from www.ancestry.ca 29 February 2020.
9. John Atkey entry, Register of fiats for land grants, microfilm series MS 693, reel 154, Vol. 150, p. 39, accessed at the Archives of Ontario.
10. John and Martha (Bolton) Atkey family story, Saltcoats Roots and Branches (Regina: Saltcoats and District Historical Society, 1982), p. 420.
11. John and Martha (Bolton) Atkey family story, p. 420.
12. Death registration for Thomas Atkey, Ontario Vital Statistics microfilm series M 935, reel 19, registration no. 8961.
Death registration for William John Atkey, Ontario Vital Statistics microfilm series M 935, reel 31, registration no. 11430.
13. Eliza J. Atkey entry, 1901 Canada Census, North West Territories, District 203, East Assiniboia, Sub-District U, Polling Subdivision 40, Crescent, p. 3, line 5, downloaded from www.ancestry,ca 5 March 2013.
First Birth, Saltcoats Roots and Branches (Regina: Saltcoats and District Historical Society, 1982), p. 90. This telling of the birth of Eliza Jane notes that Mrs. E. Outhwaite and Mrs. F. Baines were present as helpers.
14. Rabbit Dish, Saltcoats Roots and Branches, p. 92.
15. Alice C. Atkey entry, 1901 Canada Census, North West Territories, District 203, East Assiniboia, Sub-District U, Polling Subdivision 40, Crescent, p. 3, line 6, downloaded from www.ancestry.ca 5 March 2013.</
16. Rose Atkey entry, 1891 Canada Census, Assiniboia East, District 198, Sub-District 31, p. 7, line 13, Library and Archives Canada microfilm T-6426, accessed at Lambton County Archives.
17. I have not found an official birth or death record for Victor. The date of death for him was provided by Eleanor (Sims) Preston, daughter of Alice Carrie (Atkey) Sims who was Victor’s sister.
18. Rose Atkey’s death date was also provided by Eleanor (Sims) Preston.
19. Statement made and sworn to by John Atkey in support of his application for a Patent for SW ¼ of Section 32, Township 22, Range 3 of 2 Meridian, Homestead file no. , Saskatchewan Archives.
20. Death registration for Martha Rachel Atkey, died 3 March 1916, Province of Saskatchewan Vital Statistics, record no. 717.
21. Funeral Card for Martha Atkey. Image of same in possession of author.

Alan Campbell
Ambassador, Ontario Ancestors
© 2020
Alan.Campbell@ogs.on.ca

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