THE ROBERT AND BESSIE LANG FAMILY
By Cliff Lang
Updated by Farley Wuth
Robert Lang, best known as Bob, was born in February 1871 in northern Quebec at a small place called Shawville, up the Ottawa River from Montreal. His parents came from Northern Ireland by sailing ship, and then going into a new area that was opening up in the solid bush. It was very rough country and they had to clear the land of rock or timber, logging being about the only thing that provided them with money. It must have been a very hard life, but they raised a large family of strong children. Bob split rails all one winter to buy an eighteen-dollar suit, his first.
Their church was the gathering place for the district, being built by volunteer labour, and it still stands, as it was built of rock. It is still used on occasions, and is in top shape, kept clean and painted inside. I visited it in 1971. There has never been a lock on the door!
Bob logged and drove team in the area in the winters, going on the log drive on the rivers in the spring and then helped to clear land in the summer for several years. He ventured as far west as Rainy River for one winter, hearing of work in Duluth, Minnesota. He went there and found work in the freight sheds. This again was hard work, loading and unloading boats, often working twenty-four hours or longer until the boats were unloaded. Here he met up with other men of the same breed: tough, strong and of real pioneer blood which changed his later life.
He ventured west to Portland, Oregon and worked in a saw mill. He brought out his brother Tom and his wife for health reasons. Tom had T.B. of the bone and there were some sanatoriums there for this disease but it failed to help and bob took him back home where he later died. Bob went back to Duluth to his old job and friends, who played a big part in his life from that time on.
Jack Ledingham seemed to be one of his best friends. Coming from Bruce County, Ontario and of Scotch descent, but of the same breed of men who didn’t know what defeat meant. There were men like Mickey McDonald, another Scot, and the Smith Brothers – Jack, Jim, George and Tom. Tom was their boss in the freight sheds.
Bob must have met some women too, but one soon stood out from the rest and played a very big part in his life. Bessie Morton of Owen Sound, Ontario, born in April 1873, had ventured west to work as a maid in Duluth and later in a millinery store. Their meeting was at a dance with Jack daring Bob to ask the little girl for a dance. The dare was accepted and a romance started that lasted the rest of their lives.
Jack Ledingham had a cousin by the name of John Skene, who had gone west to a little place called Pincher Creek, Alberta, a small frontier town. John wrote back telling of the wonderful country that could be bought cheaply or homesteaded. So Jack headed west and found his cousin living in a very small shack under very primitive conditions. But, liking the country, Jack bought a quarter section of Hudson’s Bay land next to Skene. He wrote back to Bob. Bob joined him in the spring of 1900 and bought another Hudson’s Bay quarter section adjoining Jack’s. They built Skene’s house and nearly froze that winter building Jack’s house. They then built Bob’s house. How long this took I don’t recall.
Bob returned to Duluth to marry his girl and bring her west to his valley in the foothills, this being circa 1902. Mickey McDonald also came about this time and Tom and Jim Smith later, all taking up land close by but Lang and Ledingham did everything together. The names became sort of a company name, this lasting until Jack died of a burst appendix which was always fatal at that time.
Many tales could be told of deeds done by neighbours, such as the time of the great flu epidemic when all of the Ledinghams were stricken as were all of the Lang Family. The long exception was Bob who nursed, washed, cleaned and did all the chores on both places, sleeping only two hours at a time as the fires had to be kept on in both places – many people doing equally as much for others.
The marriage between Bob and Bessie produced three sons. The eldest, Wilbur, was born in December, 1903 and ranched into the 1980s not far from the original place. Wilbur married Mary Bucar. A local historian, he became very active in the Pincher Creek and District Historical Society, donating a wealth of artifacts, including a pair of homemade fly harnesses, and serving as its President from 1973 to 1981. He authored a history book on the Pincher Creek Ranches. He passed away in April 1994, having just celebrated his 90th birthday. Ray, the youngest, was born in February 1911, remained on the home place eight miles west of Pincher Creek. Ray married Dorothy Nicks and they had one son Myron. He became active in the Pincher Creek and District Agricultural Society following its re-organization in 1952. I, Cliff, am the middle son, and was born in August 1906. I tried several things, such as mining in Butte, Montana, and worked at the Christie Coal Mine only a few miles from the Lang homestead. I then went to Turner Valley in the oil boom of 1936 to 1943. I came back then and set up farming, selling out in 1970 and retiring to Pincher Creek. I married Alice Willock, a girl of a pioneer family in this district. We have three sons Leroy, Larry and Dennis.
Bob soon became a leader in the district and was one of the builders and helped maintain the Mountain Mill United Church, which was built on land donated by Mr. William Gladstone. Over a century later, it still stands as a landmark of the faith they had in God and their country.
Bessie organized the Orange Lodge and held a picnic every year on the 12th of July. It was the social event of the year, attended by Catholics and Protestants alike, the local Priest speaking at this event, which was rather unusual at that time.
Bob became a trustee of the Beauvais School District in 1909, this being the eighteenth school in the province, and remained a trustee till 1930 along with such men as Duthie, Lunn and Gareau. He also became a Councilor for our district, first for the old Municipal District of Castle River, and after 1944 for the Municipal District of Pincher Creek, which lasted for a total of thirty-three years. He was on the fair board in its formative years, along with Gus Hochstein, Fred Pelletier, Neuman and others I don’t recall. The fair was then held where the Matthew Halton High School now stands. He never understood how the Town acquired this property without some meeting or signatures of the board that he knew of.
The senior Langs lived on the farm for over forty years. Bessie died in 1946 at the age of 81 years and Bob lost some of his interest in the farm and left the farming to Ray. He then devoted more time to municipal work. He made several trips to his home in Quebec and told us many tales of the hardships of his early life. He summered most of his later years at Beauvais Lake, fishing and enjoying himself. He spent his winters at one of our places or in his own home till the last few winters which were spent in Crestview Lodge. But when spring came he couldn’t stand it; spring fever had hit and he had to get back to the country where he had lived so long. His hearing began to fail and he said he couldn’t see very well, but at our place, a short time before he died just short of ninety-seven years, he tried to hit an ant running across the patio with his cane and when I said that I didn’t think his eyes were too bad, he just laughed, maintaining his great sense of humour to the last.
As to the rest of us Langs that Bob and Bessie left behind, I guess it best be left to the next generation to write a little about our exploits if they are worth relating, but somehow I don’t think we will measure up too well when we think of how little they had outside of courage, guts and humour to conquer great distances, hardships and all the rest that went with a pioneer’s life.