Museum musings Arlien Miller — lady farmer

Photo courtesy of the Bill Smiley Archives

In my last column I wrote about William Miller, an early Prince Albert settler who, twice married, had seventeen children. His son Thomas, the third child born to his second wife, married Margaret Snell, the daughter of another Prince Albert pioneer, John Snell.
At the time of their marriage, which occurred on Christmas Day, 1912, in Calgary, Thomas was in partnership with William Fowlie in a livery business in Radisson, Saskatchewan. In 1913, he sold his holdings in Radisson, and bought a ranch at Cochrane, Alberta, where he raised horses and purebred Herefords. While residing there, Thomas and Margaret, known as Bertie, became the parents of Arlien, the first of their three daughters.
Ranch life in Alberta did not last long, as in 1918 the Millers moved back to Saskatchewan, having bought fertile land about four miles east of St. Louis, Saskatchewan. With them, they brought a carload of stock, some of which were Hereford cattle but most of which were horses, including some broncos which were later used in the world-renowned Calgary Stampede.
Having bought fertile land, the Millers soon established themselves as grain farmers, enlarging the farm over the years. They were also actively involved in all the local activities, including the formation of the Telephone Company, the United Grain Growers, and the Wheat Pool. Thomas was active in both the school and municipal affairs and, due to his abilities to treat sick animals, was often called upon to treat the neighbours’ animals.
Mrs. Miller was considered to be a great organiser, displaying her skills in the formation of a Home Craft club (later 4-H), as well as being involved in the Red Cross Society and the Cancer Society. Her involvement in the Lady Grain Growers, which helped pay for the Community Hall, may have sparked her daughter Arlien’s interest in helping Thomas run the farm. More and more, as Thomas’s health began to fail, Arlien took on greater responsibility for the operation of the farm. When her parents moved to Prince Albert in 1950, Arlien took over the entire operation of the farm that now consisted of five quarter sections.
Arlien’s success on the farm led to a story in the Western Producer in August, 1952 wherein she was labelled as “the lady farmer”. It is obvious from reading the story that there were few, if any, women successfully operating farms on the Prairies at that point in time. The author of the article, R.H. MacDonald, sub-titled the article ‘Many Men Farmers Would Have Difficulty Keeping Up to This Member of the “Weaker Sex” as She Successfully Farms Five Quarter Sections’.
He reported how Arlien had reasoned that, based on the weather in 1950, the fall of 1951 would very likely be wet and that colder weather was likely to arrive earlier rather than later. Accordingly, she serviced her 1945 model combine and, as soon as the grain ripened, with the assistance of two men, she took off 240 acres of wheat in six days. Prior to that, she had taken off 130 acres of barley. Arlien received No. 3 for her wheat at $1.3625 a bushel, averaging 33 bushels to the acre. Her barley received No.2 feed and two carloads of malting barley.
When Arlien’s father was still alive and working the farm, they often disagreed about its operation. But after his death, when she consulted others about how best to address an issue on the farm, Arlien admitted that she would give thought to the advice proffered but would then think about how her father might address the problem. She was quoted as saying, “Then suddenly the answer comes and I know that’s the way Dad would have done it and that’s the way it is done.”
In 1952, Arlien started seeding wheat on April 28 and had all but 20 acres seeded by May 1 when wet weather forced her to stop. But those 20 acres were seeded as soon as the land was dry enough to begin seeding again. She had 350 acres of Thatcher wheat, 124 acres of Montcalm barley seeded, and had left 230 acres fallow. Twenty acres of barley would be used for seed.
By this point in time, Arlien had given up doing all the tractor work by herself. She still had her father’s old friend, Dan Milligan, helping out, and hired men such as Lorne Harper doing much of that work, while good neighbour Harry Grimes assisted her in the construction of a new concrete-footed 3,000 bushel granary. This addition would result in the farm’s storage capacity being increased to handle about 10,000 bushels.
Arlien Miller stayed on the farm until the early 1960s when she decided to move to Melfort. But she did not leave the farming life behind. In Melfort, she worked for the John Deere implement dealership as a stenographer and bookkeeper. In 1965 she married Ray Reeder, and they moved back to the St. Louis farm where they lived in a beautifully landscaped home and raised feeder stock as well as grain. Eventually, the couple moved off the farm and relocated to Anglin Lake.
Thomas and Bertie had two other daughters, Evelyn and Phyllis. Evelyn moved to Prince Albert where she worked initially for the Prince Albert Co-op, and then later for the Wollaston Lake Fly-in Lodge and as secretary for the Northern Saskatchewan Outfitters Association. Evelyn died on February 5, 1972.
Many long-time Prince Albert residents will remember Phyllis. She became a teacher, teaching in Saskatoon for eight years, as well as at Buckland and Hagen, before teaching in Prince Albert for the Public School Board. In 1957, she married Ian McKay. Not only was she known as a teacher, but also as an athlete. As a softball pitcher, she was a member of Saskatoon’s Western Canada championship team, and as well was a proficient golfer. Phyl was also well-known in music circles for her vocal and outstanding whistling capability, and was a long-time and active member of the Prince Albert Historical Society.