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I Was There:

The StarPhoenix, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
'Green Englishman' Grows. Harvester had what it took to become a real Canadian. By Ted Hainworth

There must come a time in all our lives, when we want to leave something to remind people that, "I was here". In most cases, the resulting autobiography - self published "for the kids" - is fascinating for the family, but way too personal to be enjoyed by the paying public.

In most cases.

In this case, the life story of Frank Proctor is a history firmly rooted in and formed by Saskatchewan. It will resonate well with anyone whose parents lived here in the 1920s and 1930s

Proctor is representative of a unique set of pioneer-adventurers - The Harvesters.

The 1920s were boom years on Saskatchewan farms with bumper crops and a crying need for labourers to bring in the sheaves. The word went out in Europe, with newspaper ads reading "Harvest Help Wanted Now In Canada".

Proctor, a young coal miner from Durham, England, answered the call, and in the fall of 1928 arrived in the Saskatchewan town of Kincaid - a "green Englishman" whose job was to drive a horse drawn rack from the field to the threshing machine. It was the first of many occupations that would cement his relationship with the new land.

At the end of the harvest, the crews had the option of returning, fare paid, to England. Proctor however opted to continue his adventure in Regina, where his first job was digging a church basement; it was there he got his first taste of the multi-cultural nature of the Prairies.

He recalls there was little communication among the work crews because so many were from various parts of Europe, and various languages were spoken. However, one day, one of the "bohunks" (term applied at the time to central Europeans) approached him and asked, "How long in country?"

"I told him I had been in the country for two months. He said, 'You speak good for time you been here.' This shook me for a minute, but suddenly I began to feel more like a Canadian."

That first winter he nailed down steady work as a night porter at the Kitchener Hotel on Rose Street - 12-hour days, seven days a week, without question or complaint: "I was so glad to get in for the winter."

Then followed a succession of jobs, another harvest, then the Depression. He rigged girders on a high rise, was an orderly at Regina General Hospital, worked the bottling line at Adanac Brewery, did a stint in a butcher shop, and worked a season at a short-lived General Motors car assembly plant.

A lot of life is pretty ordinary, and Proctor's life was doubtless fairly typical of the times. He attended St. Peter's Anglican Church, witnessed the labour unrest of unemployable workers, met his wife to be, married and became a father just as the call to arms sounded for the Second World War. As a transplanted Englishman, he felt obliged to "do my bit."

The book's title of course indicates his wartime service, and Proctor, as a member of the Regina Rifles, was "there". He hit the beach at Normandy and fought through Holland into the heart of Germany.

A good half of the autobiography deals with his service. It is fairly typical of a soldier's memoir, except that Proctor takes the story beyond the battle scenes. There are people and anecdotes, recalled in a matter of fact style that reflects the quite ordinary nature of people placed in extraordinary circumstances.

The war over, Proctor returned to Regina, then moved to British Columbia, where he started a business, raised his family, retired, and in March 2000, died. I Was There, edited by his daughter, Pamela Proctor, and William N. Tindall , is available in local bookstores.


I Was There how to order I was there

Frank Proctor

Edited by
William N Tindall & Pamela Proctor

Published by tmi Publications, Gibsons, British Columbia, Canada

email: tmi Publications

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