The Abbott clan, originally hailing from England, had come to Canada around 1847 and settled in rural Southern Ontario just east of Toronto. By the late 1880s, many had made their way up to the point where the farmlands of SW Ontario yield to the Canadian Shield and the beginning of what is today known as “cottage country”. In the late 1800s, this area represented the southern boundary of a very vibrant timber industry along the eastern shores of the Georgian Bay part of the province.
James and Agnes Abbott and their children in Ontario
in the late 1800’s.
Front row: l-r, Duncan, Orme
Middle row: l-r, John, James (father), Agnes (mother), William, Susan
Back Row: l-r, Samuel “George”, Andrew, James Jr., Thomas.
Some men were farmers, but many found paying jobs as labourers in the burgeoning timber industry in that region. Places like Fesserton, Lovering and Coldwater show up on birth, marriage & death registrations of the many related Abbott’s in this region of Ontario.
Samuel George Abbott hailed from Tay Township, in this region which was situated due north of Toronto. Like so many other Abbott men from that era, he would be known by his middle name “George”. He married Emma Parnham from nearby Matchedash Township, who went by “Emmie ” and they proceeded to start raising a family there. Five children were born, comprising four sons and a single daughter, their births bracketing the turn of the century between the oldest son Bert, who was born in 1890, and Ronald, the youngest child who was born in 1910.
Young George Abbott worked as a saw filer in the mills of that area. Industrialization had come to the larger sawmill operations, which ran gigantic powered band saws to rip the large timber into dimensional lumber, and these big loops of steel required constant, precise maintenance to sharpen and set the blades so they could be run hard and maximize both the cut quality and production of the output. The mill accountants and suits knew that “there is no money in sawdust ”, so a good saw filer was always in demand and it was a steady profession in the parts of the country with ample timber resources. But it was also transient work in a lot of ways, and this efficiency that these men supported also ensured that woodlots would be depleted soon enough and sawmills would thus come and go in any geographic territory. So a family move was always just over the horizon if the timber trade was your calling.
Saw filers at work.
In the early 1900s, getting from Ontario out to western Canada was not easy for anyone, nor was it by any means direct. Some of the Abbott clan from the Georgian Bay area headed off early regardless when it was still quite the ordeal. George’s cousin’s family were also from this same small area and they struck off for Saskatchewan early on. The 1901 census has George’s cousin James Henry Abbott and his family already settled in northeast of Regina at Balgonie, SK. His 2nd son, Edward Lyman Abbott (“Lyman”) would move into Regina as a young man and became a local sports legend there a decade later.
Lyman Abbott would captain the 1914 Regina Victorias hockey team to winning the national championship for the Allan Cup. He had also piloted the Regina Rugby Club (precursor to today’s CFL football team the Roughriders) to multiple western championships. Then he signed up for WW1, took officer training in Winnipeg, and went overseas in 2016 to fight. He fought in Belgium and France at famous battles such as The Somme and Vimy Ridge and was awarded the Military Cross not once, but twice, for gallantry. He was wounded in battle, came to be promoted to Captain and fought on until he was finally killed in August 1918 at the Battle for Amiens just before the war would end. He is buried in a military cemetery in France and today he remains amongst Saskatchewan’s most decorated war heroes from either war, depending on how one measures such things. He also was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame.
Immediately following WW1, funds were raised in Regina to dedicate a trophy in his memory and in 1919 The Abbott Cup was awarded for the first time to the Western Canada junior hockey champions. That team would then go on to play the eastern Canadian champs (winners of The Richardson Trophy) for The Memorial Cup. This continued until The Memorial Cup went to a round-robin tournament in modern times. The retired trophy is now in The Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
Wikopedia link about Lyman Abbott - Click here: Lyman Abbott
Lyman Abbott’s medals on display in 2013 at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto
next to The Abbott Cup and The Memorial Cup.
The Richardson Trophy is also visible to the right.
1914 Regina Victorias hockey team.
The Regina Rugby Club 1912
Location of Tay Township in Ontario.
George and Emmie and their young family remained in Tay Township and things began to open up for them as to opportunity. In 1908, the CPR first opened a line connecting Toronto with Sudbury. Previously, westbound traffic originating in the southern part of Ontario had to take a circuitous route through eastern Ontario. The CPR also had a line-up of five Great Lakes passenger ships integrated into its transcontinental service. From 1885 until 1912, these majestic vessels linked Owen Sound to Fort William. Following a major fire in December 1911 the CPR operations were relocated to a new, larger port created by the CPR further east at the town of Port McNicoll, which opened in May 1912. Travellers now went by train from Toronto to that Georgian Bay port, then travelled by ship daily to link with another train at the Lakehead to proceed to all points further west. For decades Port McNicoll was known as “Chicago of the North ”.
Port McNicoll within Tay Township and south-eastern Georgian Bay.
When George and Emmie and family left exactly is not certain. The family are all shown in Tay Township, Ontario in the 1911 census and they show up in Big River on the 1916 census. Certainly by the summer of 1912 lots of people were moving through nearby Port McNicoll heading west. The 3 oldest sons; Bert age 19, Menard age 17, and Ira age 16, all join their father as registering their occupations as “saw filer” on that census out in their new home base in the company town of Big River. The youngest sons Leland and Ronald, as well as daughter Allie, were still children.
Leland and Allie portrait in Ontario
Baby Ronald and brother Leland in Ontario.
So somewhere around the outbreak of WW1, George and Emmie Abbott and family proceed to relocate to the west and come to settle into the booming company town of Big River, SK.
Bert, the oldest son who was 19 and in Big River when the 1916 census was taken, decided soon after that to return to Ontario. He hooked up with Margaret Taylor from Toronto, worked as a barber with his future father-in-law for a while there, married her in 1923 and proceeded to start a family. The sawmills of Georgian Bay again offered good employment, however, to an experienced saw filer and he chose to commence that trade again at some point after returning east.
Bert (standing) - photo taken back in Toronto
with a relative from his wife’s family.
The next two sons, Menard and Ira, ending up leaving Big River also. By November 1916 they are both in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and decided to enlist in the CEF. They both joined the 243rd Regiment which had just been raised the summer before as the recruitment drive came west looking for more young men to join the fight overseas midway through the war.
Ira was only 17 and he lied about his age to get in. The brothers trained there for a while and then got moved back east to further assemble. Their mother back in Big River didn’t know the full picture of what was going on, at least with Ira. The family story is that Emmie later found out he had enlisted, at which point she started networking as best she could from Big River to lobby the local regiment to stop Ira from having to go overseas on the basis that he was too young. By the time everyone caught up with his whereabouts and what was going on it was too late…the two brothers were both out east and their ship was about to embark for Europe. In late May/early June of 2017, they sailed out of Quebec City on the sister ship of Titanic, the Olympic, and crossed the Atlantic to Liverpool, just as their cousin Lyman Abbott had done 2 years earlier.
Mernard and Ira in uniform in Toronto in early 1917 before going overseas.
Mernard trained in England but it did not go well for him. He had a severe health compromise while there and he returned to Canada before the end of the war. In September 1919 he is confirmed to be back in Big River, and on the 1921 census, he is shown as still there working as a saw filer.
By November of 1917, the 243rd Regiment had been rolled into the larger 28th Northwest Battalion and Ira was now fighting in France. In early September 1918, a few weeks into the 100 Day Offensive that would end the war, Ira is seriously wounded by shrapnel near Arras, France. He is returned from the front lines through various field hospitals and eventually makes it back to England. The war ends and he is still in the hospital there. Finally, after being laid up for 8 months he is discharged from hospital and shipped back home to Canada in May of 1919. A month later he is discharged from the CEF in Moose Jaw. His wounds are pretty much healed by this time.
Ira doesn’t stay in Saskatchewan at this point, delays getting into the sawmill life, and goes out east for a spell. He is known to have spent time in both Toronto and Detroit. At this point, he is still only around 20 years of age.
Ira Abbott (far right) and friends in Detroit circa 1920.
Ira Abbott (middle left under sign) and friends posing at
Ford headquarters in Detroit - circa 1920.
Meanwhile the youngest children of the family were coming of age back in Big River. The only daughter, Allie, is still at home there at the age of 18 when the 1921 census was taken. In 1924, during the winter carnival in Big River, Allie is crowned the inaugural Dog Derby Queen.
Allie Abbott, the 1924 winter carnival Dog Derby Queen.
Younger brother Leland is already well into the lifestyle out in the northern bush and the larger than life characters to be found there. Leland later tells that as a young teen he was trapping with a local named Charlie Pease and earning some side money. He also later in life claims to have “borrowed” Charlie’s pistol and is said to have shot a moose with it at age 12. He would continue soaking up the trapping and dog team culture that abounded all around him while experiencing sister Allie’s reign as Dog Derby Queen in 1924. At that point, Leland would be 15 himself and was no doubt being groomed as a saw filer by his father. But it seems he had different aspirations, and he would get there soon enough, but that calling would be in new locales and down the road a decade later.
The baby of the family, Ronald, or “Ronnie” as he was called, was still only a child when this was all happening. George was not shown as registered on the census in 1921 for Big River. He may have been missed for some reason, or it is possible that he was already scoping out the next transition for the family as the bloom started to come off the rose insofar as the timber trade in the region was concerned at that time. Emmie continued to anchor the family through the tumult.
The Abbott family move to The Pas.
At some point in the mid-1920s George relocates the family to The Pas, Manitoba. Leland recalls that at least some of them briefly returned to Ontario after a big fire devastated the Big River area and surrounding forests. Most of the family all show up in The Pas on the 1926 census. Menard, now the oldest child still out west, is married to Alice Flynn. They are starting a family, and do not make the move and stay on in Big River.
George continues to work in The Pas as a saw filer during what will be the twilight of his career, as these jobs were still in demand wherever the timber was still being harvested. And the boom times in Big River had by now shifted largely to The Pas in northern Manitoba. The family moved into a rented home there. For all intents and purposes, the transition from Big River was not likely a difficult one for them and life would be comparable.
The siblings all lined up in The Pas:
from left to right - Ronnie, Allie, Leland and Ira.
Ira returned from the east and joined them there too, securing employment in the sawmill there working with his father and doubling-down again now on the family profession. Despite his injuries, his athletic prowess was still intact, and he was a successful competitor at the local sports day there in The Pas and a competitive boxer at the regional level. He also enjoyed being an outdoorsman and was particularly fond of hunting and fishing. He reportedly was a good marksman with a rifle, having honed his skills during his time serving with the CEF.
Ira competing at Sports Day in The Pas - late 1920’s.
Ira posing with moose while collecting them later with a hunting friend and sled.
Allie had met a man named Al White, possibly back in Saskatchewan, and things were becoming serious with them as a couple. They were together shortly after the family relocation to The Pas.
From left to right: George, Ira, Ronnie (with cat peeking over his head),
Leland, and Al White.
From left to right: Al White, Allie, Emmie, Ronnie in front of Leland
Ira and George .
George and Allie - late 1920’s.
Ronnie, Leland, Allie and Emmie in The Pas.
Leland and Allie in The Pas - late 1920’s.
Allie and Ira at the new train station - late 1920’s.
The Abbott Family in the 1930’s.
George and Emmie are now grandparents, and as the 1930s emerge their oldest son Bert remains in Ontario working as a saw filer in the mills of Penetanguishene. He and Margaret already have multiple children now, with more still to come.
Mernard and his wife Alice have one young son named Max, who we believe was born in Big River or nearby environs, and would be the only Abbott from this family branch to be hailing from there at birth. Mernard and Alice had stayed behind when the rest of the family moved to The Pas. We know they still lived there in 1930.
Max Abbott, son of Mernard and Alice - age 5
(photo believed to be taken in Crooked River).
Ira now is also heeding the call to hook up and start a family. He leaves the Pas and strikes out on his own again and ends up in Crooked River, SK working at the large sawmill operation there as a saw filer.
The timber mill in Crooked River, Saskatchewan.
The sawmill in Crooked River, Saskatchewan after expansion.
Ira had met a young woman named Ella Ruether who came from a large family nearby. They became a couple and were married in 1932.
Ella and Ira - early 1930s.
Allie and Al White were now married and looking forward to raising a family. Unfortunately, for Allie, her life would end tragically at age 28 in August of 1930, when she died as a result of complications during childbirth. She was residing with her husband, Al White in Prince Albert, SK. at the time of her passing.
Allie and her husband, Al White.
Leland, the 4th son, would be the first to truly abandon the family trade as a saw filer. Instead, he was drawn to traditional ways and was pulled into the trapper’s lifestyle early on. At one point early on he worked as a cook at a remote camp. He and a buddy named Hector Despins, 6 years younger than him, also ran a trapline in the early-mid 1930s on the outskirts of The Pas and they began keeping sled dogs. They came to have connections to prospectors who were exploring the far northern reaches of Manitoba and the 2 young men also worked a side gig going up further north so that they could rent their dog teams out to groups of mining prospectors coming in from afar. As a very young man Leland would be gone for long blocks of time travelling up into traditional Cree lands being exposed to the local indigenous cultures in these remote places, often sourcing out dogs for his side enterprises with Hector.
Native encampment - unknown location in northern Manitoba
Oxford House, Manitoba - photo taken in October 1934.
It also seems that Leland may have been smitten with a young lady from Wisconsin who he met in the early 1930’s while in Chicago and that somehow he and another man with the last name Despins end up associated with a letter that got put together and delivered to her by unconventional means. The letter goes into an incredible story, which apparently the young woman then took to the press. Some reports told the story in a matter of purported fact fashion, while others poked fun at it. Leland, only in his early 20’s at this point, was already making news.
Article from The Lethbridge Herald newspaper - May 8, 1933.
Article from The Wainwright Star newspaper
May 17, 1933.
Ronnie, the youngest, would not be destined to be a saw filer like his oldest brothers. The family home life was changing rapidly, with Ira and Allie moving out to start their families elsewhere and Leland starting to be gone more and more.
Ronnie posing on a snowy walkway in The Pas - early 1930s.
At some point in his early 20’s Ronnie would meet a young woman from further south in Swan River named Kathleen Vellacott, who went by “Kay”. They partnered up and eventually would marry in 1936 and live in The Pas.
Ronnie and Kay Abbott.
Kay & Ronnie sit in Leland’s dog sled while the team rests.
Leland has likely taken the photo during an outing with them
in and around The Pas - mid 1930s.
Kay and Ronnie sitting in the dog sled, with the team in harness.
The lead dog “Satan” in this photo would go on to become famous
along with Leland a few years later.
Ronnie, Kay and the dogs taking a break next to CF-AUS, an early Stinson airplane
purchased by Tom Lamb, who taught himself to fly it and would go on to found
Lambair, a regional airline in the north country.
Ronnie and Kay Abbott pose beside CF-AUS in The Pas - mid 1930’s.
The Story of "Eskimo Abbott".
With airplanes beginning to open up the far north country, various small business dealings the two young men were involved in would take Leland and his friend Hector Despins up to Churchill and the surrounding area. There, and in further trips even farther north that Leland would go on to take into the Northwest Territories, they were introduced to the local indigenous Inuit people, or Eskimos, as they were called back then. Many wonderful photos have survived from those trips which offer a wonderful depiction of the era in this remote region, believed to be near Repulse Bay, which would be very isolated over the long winter months and then eventually open up in the summer again when the ice on Hudson Bay would thaw and water passage became possible again.
The port of Churchill in the 1930s.
Churchill, Manitoba waterfront - 1930s.
Ships at the port of Churchill - 1930s.
While the two young men were there they were exposed to the adjoining outports and with it the Eskimo culture and their traditions such as making dog sleds, raising and breeding wild wolf pups to be used as sled dogs, and tanning hides and furs to make traditional northern clothing. Leland had diverse experiences up there, including spending time on sailing ships still working the local waters and other smaller watercraft that would take one to smaller outport communities.
A two masted sailing ship working out of Churchill in the 1930s.
Working onboard a sailing ship on Hudson’s Bay.
Offshore at an outpost location - Hudson’s Bay.
Shoreline at remote location along Hudson’s Bay - early 1930s.
Possibly a mix of locals and prospectors from out of town near
Churchill - 1930s.
Working dogs at an outpost location - northern Manitoba or NWT - 1930s.
Beluga whale on shoreline northern Manitoba or NWT - 1930s.
Inuit men with sled - Manitoba or NWT - 1930s.
Inuit family at outpost - Manitoba or NWT - 1930s.
Group of local Inuit - Manitoba or NWT - 1930s.
A young Inuk child - Manitoba or NWT -1930s.
Working dog - Manitoba or NWT - 1930s.
Returning to The Pas after these treks to Churchill and environs, Leland began to introduce these traditional far northern elements into his lifestyle there and adopt those as his own. Even though there were many trappers and mushers based in The Pas, he would stand out and the locals gave him the nickname “Eskimo Abbott ” because of this.
As the 1930’s come to a close and a new decade now beckons, Bert and Margaret are finishing up their time at Penetanguishene, Ontario. He is the saw filer at one of the sawmills there and has a big family well underway. Altogether they would go on to raise five sons and two daughters. By the early 1940’s they would move to Southwestern Ontario just as the last of their children were born.
We are not sure where Mernard and Alice are at this time. They would end up out in B.C. soon if not there yet. Their son Max would enlist into the RCAF and train to become a pilot at the training base in Assiniboia, Saskatchewan when WW2 broke out. Alice would also enlist and join The Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC).
Max Abbott as a young man.
Max during pilot training with RCAF at Assiniboia.
Max next to Tiger Moth number 1122 at Assiniboia. This plane still flies today
and is owned by The Western Canadian Aviation Museum in Winnipeg.
Ira & Ella were still in Crooked River and over the mid-late 1930s proceeded to start their family. Two daughters and a son are born while they reside there.
Ira and Ella.
For the remaining story of how "Eskimo Abbott” rose to international fame in the late 1930s, please go to the separate storyline in this chronology entitled “ To New York World’s Fair by Dogsled “ by clicking on this weblink:
World's Fair by dogsled
Town of The Pas Patch, North of 53.
In January 1941 Leland returned to The Pas. Just over two years had passed since he and Hector departed on their grand escapade. He brought with him a letter from Mayor LaGuardia of New York City to the Mayor of The Pas, completing the exchange. And as he had announced down in the U.S. when he abandoned the tour there, he was returning home to enlist in the war. He would choose the RCAF, and that action still commanded media attention on both sides of the border.
Article from The Pas Northern Mail newspaper - January 11, 1941.
Winnipeg Free Press article - February 5, 1941.
Winnipeg Tribune article - February 5, 1941.
Article from The Miniota, Minnesota Herald newspaper - February 11, 1941.
Leland would join the rest of the new RCAF recruits at the Brandon manning depot right away. By the end of the year he was at the number 7 Bombing and Gunnery School in Paulson, Manitoba.
Ronnie and Kay remained in The Pas, where Ronnie is listed as a "millhand” on the 1940 voter registration there. But we also know Ronnie and Kay were also gathering referrals from local representatives at that time with plans to enlist and join the war effort. While not choosing to become a saw filer, Ronnie was mechanically inclined and when WW2 started he saw better opportunities opening up and he specifically approached the RCAF in 1940 so he could train as an airframe mechanic. His wife Kay also was looking to enlist in the newly formed RCAF Women’s Division.
Their efforts paid off and they both were accepted. Soon both were sent out east together for training in St. Thomas, Ontario. Later, once Ronnie finished his training, they were based together at CFB Trenton over the remaining years of the war.
Kay Abbott sitting on the engine cowl of a pranged Anson Bomber
in rural Manitoba fall of 1940.
Samuel George Abbott passes.
George died in 1942 at age 75 while in the Yellowhead country in B.C. The boys in Western Canada made arrangements to bring him back to The Pas for burial there. As many family members as could make it converged back in The Pas during June 1942 for George’s funeral there.
After 20 years working in two different sawmills in Penetanguishene and raising their family, the oldest son Bert and his wife Margaret had moved the ever-expanding family to Goderich on the shores of Lake Huron. Bert was unable to come; back in Ontario, he had his hands full with the family.
Mernard and Alice came to the funeral. Max was already in RCAF training as a pilot and did not attend.
Ira and Ella came from Crooked River. They had 3 young children and were getting underway with family life at the time.
Both Leland and Ronnie were able to secure time off from their respective duties in the RCAF to attend.
Ira, Emmie, Ella, Alice, Ronnie, Leland and Mernard at George’s funeral
The Pas - June 1942.
Ronnie, Alice and Leland in uniform - 1942.
Following this, Ira and Ella moved their young family back to The Pas to be closer to Emmie. Ira would go on to finish out his years working for The Pas Lumber Company there as a saw filer. His two daughters and one son would also grow up in The Pas and begin their adult lives in the north country.
Emmie in The Pas - 1942.
Ella Abbott and their 3 children - late 1940’s.
Back east in Ontario Bert and Margaret also had their oldest son enlist and he too was serving in the forces during WW2.
This photo of Bert and Margaret’s family was taken in Goderich, Ontario around 1944
when Ronnie came to visit his brother while wearing his uniform.
The oldest son is not in the photo as he was off serving himself.
Bert and Margaret would have one more son within
a few years of this photo being taken.
Leland would be sent overseas as part of a bomber crew, and return home safely from his duties there. He would at some point go back to the U.S. and get Ruth Fonner in Pennsylvania and bring her with him to start a new life together out in British Columbia.
Alice, Ronnie and Kay would finish out the war in their respective units and come to settle back into civilian life afterwards. Mernard and Alice made their way to B.C. also.
Eventually, at some point, Emmie left the north country behind and moved to Vancouver Island to join her boys Mernard and Leland out there. She would stay close to Leland and Ruth as her health began to fail.
Bert and Margaret were living in Goderich. Their last child was born when Bert was 52 years old around the time George passed. He was continuing to work at the mill there as a saw filer.
Bert Abbott - photo from the late 1940s.
Ira and Ella would remain in The Pas and raise their family there. Ira worked as a saw filer at The Pas Lumber Company.
Ella and Ira - mid-1950s.
Leland would move out to Victoria B.C. with Ruth, marry her, and live on Vancouver Island. They would have one child together and also take in many foster children over many years. They settled in Saanich, where he worked as a commercial fish merchant and also ran a rural trading post. Ever the entrepreneur, he even got national press one last time as he looked to develop a pet cemetery in the mid-1950s. He still maintained his age-old nickname “Eskimo Abbott” and it would remain associated with his small commercial enterprises.
Leland with eskimo children.
Vancouver Sun article - one final time reminiscing with Leland.
Few men have lived more adventurously.
By Gwen Cash
This is the story of an obstinate, small boy who made money before he was ten trapping "rats," who shot his first moose when he was twelve, skinned it under a sky that crackled with Northern Lights, and slept wrapped in its stinking folds till an aged trapper friend dug him out of an overnight snowfall next day.
Behind a string of huskies which he bred from a wolf-dog and a golden collie, he mushed from the icy glitter of Repulse Bay to the Neon glare of Broadway, in the longest, zaniest mush in history.
Today, on Vancouver Island, he owns what he calls "the largest outdoor trading post in Canada, maybe the world." It stretches over most of nine acres, and you can find there anything from brass bedsteads to stuffed seagulls.
Forty-two-year old Leland Abbott is known to his neighbours as "Eskimo" Abbott, because of his constant talk about the Eskimos. His eyes are blue as glare ice; his hair black as seal. His ruddy cheeks look as if he'd never had to worry about the price of beef, as indeed he hasn't having lived mostly on his own hunting.
I came across him when I was looking for bantams. With his blonde, angular Dutch-Pennsylvania wife, his old mother, a dozen children of assorted sizes and as many dogs and cats, he lives in a big, old dilapidated farmhouse hard by Keatings Crossroads near Victoria.
None of the children was theirs. He and Ruth, his wife, have a baby girl less than a year old. The other children belong to the Children's Aid Society. He and Ruth took them in because they had a lot of house room and liked youngsters.
Leland himself was the youngest but one of six children. His father, George Abbott, was a saw filer, his mother a big outdoor woman with a lot of Indian friends.
Love of adventure as much as the hope of more money brought George and his brood from the woods of Northern Ontario to the spruce forest of Big River 'way north of Prince Albert. There Leland had his tenth birthday and made his first stake in fur.
"My folks thought I was stealing the money till they discovered I was trapping with old Charlie Pease."
"Charlie chewed snuff and drank any kind of liquor he could get hold of. He'd killed a guy in a poker game south of the border, and his conscience kept him awake at night. He had a gun he called Old Betsy. She was a German Luger with lock-bolt action and a kick like a mule.
"One day when I was twelve, I sneaked Old Betsy and went into the bush and shot a moose. Trapper Charlie heard the shot and figured I was killed, he came along the trail cursing. When he found me alive he took Old Betsy and went back to camp. I skinned the moose and slept in the skin. Snow-covered me during the night. Charlie had a hard time finding me the next day."
A fire that destroyed the spruce forest of Northern Saskatchewan and drove the big game from the country sent the Abbots back to Ontario, but not for long. They returned soon to the Northland, this time to The Pas, five hundred miles closer to the Arctic Circle than Winnipeg.
Eskimo told me about mining and trapping and a hundred incidents of stoical courage among Eskimos and Whites and his lead dog, Satan.
With Satan and a team of ten other dogs, he left Repulse Bay, September 16, 1938. determined to mush to the New York World's Fair. At The Pas, he sold four dogs. picked up a partner and a banner publicizing "Ducks Unlimited."
"Ducks Unlimited" was a United States-Canadian permanent conservationist organization for protecting the fast-vanishing duck population of both countries.
In their outrageously placarded sleigh, they started for New York to arrive in April 1939. It was a long, weird, commercialized mush.
Where the snow had been cleared by ploughs they put their sleigh on rubber and a rubber company got the credit. Their dogs they shod with booties made by a tire company, and they publicized that. They wore their best Eskimo headed parkas and looked as handsome and glamorous as movie stars. They were good copy for reporters and feature writers, but an embarrassment to the police They went through the Chicago Loop like a circus one evening at dusk, snarling up traffic and making the Irish cops yell and blow whistles.
They arrived at the land of Mallarky and the World's Fair where Grover Whalen was king. They joined his show and became a part of it. They were made guest members of the Explorers' Club and helped put on a publicity drive for recruiting for the Finnish Ambassador. Eskimo stood in a window at Gimhall's, Fifth Avenue, and did a Christmas broadcast. He gave talks about the Canadian North all over the countryside, and at Altoona, Pennsylvania, met Ruth, the girl who became his wife.
At Altoona, Satan died of an overstrained heart. Ruth and Eskimo buried him under a flossy headstone and he went back to New York, sold the rest of his dogs to the Explorers' Club, and returned to Winnipeg to join the RCAF.
He went to England as ground crew in the Sixth Bomber Command. Back in Canada after the war he came to Vancouver Island, bought a farm with his gratuity money, sent for Ruth and married her.
At first, they planted loganberries and black currants. But somehow Eskimo Abbott, the man who had trapped and traded in Rupert's Land, wasn't cut out for a small fruit farm. So he set up his trading post. It looks very odd in a polite neighbourhood, tamed by a century of agriculture and dotted by comfortable country estates.
He sells to Indians and occasional white people who like to discover treasure among the huddle of merchandise he accumulates. Recently he bought a fine new second-hand three-ton truck, in which he scours the countryside for stuff to buy and sell. As he sits in the cab clad in a bright shirt or furred parka, I always expect to see him whip it along the Island's winding roads, shouting "Mush on!"
Leland and Ruth and some children posing at their house on Vancouver Island
Following the end of the war, Ronnie secured employment as a maintenance mechanic at Timken Roller Bearings in St. Thomas, Ontario and he and Kay settled in there.
Ronnie early in his post-war career with Timken in St. Thomas.
Ronnie and Kay out on the town.
In the mid-1950s Ronnie and Kay would travel to B.C. to visit with Mernard and Leland, and to see Emmie one last time, who was quite frail and bedridden at this point. The 3 brothers spent time together in Victoria and this offered one last opportunity for some family photos.
Leland Abbott and Mernard Abbott in Victoria - the mid-1950s.
Ronnie posing with totem poles in B.C. - the mid-1950s.
Mernard in Victoria - mid 1950s.
Emma died in B.C. in 1956 at 91 years of age. She was taken in and cared for by Leland towards the end.
Bert, the oldest child of George and Emmie, worked many years at the mill in Goderich up until retirement. Margaret would pass away in 1959, and Bert died a few years later in 1963 at age 68.
Mernard moved out to Vancouver with Alice initially, and later in his life Mernard was on Vancouver Island. He passed away in Nanaimo, B.C. in 1976 at age 78.
His son Max had married and stayed in the military after WW2 and when he eventually retired he too also resided on Vancouver Island.
Leland in Victoria next to his truck - mid 1950s.
Max Abbott and his wife - Vancouver Island.
Max Abbott in 2015.
Ira retired from life at the mill, and he and Ella travelled for a bit and then returned to settle in Bjorkdale, SK. and together they ran a small general store there for a few years.
Ira and Ella - 25th wedding anniversary.
Ella and Ira horsing around for the camera - late 1950’s.
Ira died of a heart attack while duck hunting in 1966 at age 66. After some time living with her son and his family in Manitoba right afterwards, Ella would decide to return to Bjorkdale where she re-married a widowed farmer a few years later.
Ella and Ira in the early 1960s in Bjorkdale.
Leland worked with B.C. Ferries later in his life in what was probably the only “normal” job he ever had. He died in 1986 in Saanich, B.C. His wife Ruth had died 2 years before him in 1984.
Ronnie would work at Timken Roller Bearings until he retired. He and Kay never had children and Ronnie died in 1987 at age 77.
Ronnie celebrates his 25th anniversary with Timken
in St. Thomas prior to retiring.
For the remaining story of how "Eskimo Abbott” rose to international fame in the late 1930s, please go to the separate storyline in this chronology entitled “To New York World’s Fair by Dogsled “ by clicking on this weblink:
World's Fair by dogsled