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Shillington History
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Shillington Family History

By Terry Shillington and

Ned Shillington

Table of Contents







7. THE AGE THEY GREW UP IN        13


9. HOBERT'S ROLE        19







16. FARM LIFE        32

17. THE BOYS GROW UP        34




Hobert and Effie, 1893


The Shillingtons had immigrated from Ireland in 1808. They farmed near Smith Falls, Ontario. Relatives of the Shillingtons, the Brownlees, had moved to Saskatchewan around 1900. The Brownlees wrote glowing tales of a prosperous land. Unlike the part of Ontario where Hobert and Effie lived, there were no rocks or trees to farm around, just rich, flat, prairie soil. It wasn’t an easy decision. Moving meant they had to sell the farm that had been the Shillington home for a century. After agonising for a lengthy period, they summoned their courage and sold everything.

The Shillington home in Smith Falls, Ontario

Thus, Hobert and Effie moved to Saskatchewan in 1908 with their ten year old son, Sterling, and their 12 year daughter, Laura. They rented a farm south-east of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. In Ontario they had farmed 200 acres of which only 40 acres was cultivated. The other 160 acres had too many trees and rocks. It was used as pasture for their dairy cattle. Since they lived 78 kilometres from Ottawa, selling milk was not practical before the days of refrigeration. Cheese was their only cash crop. It could be stored without spoilage for long enough to get it to market. The few acres they cultivated was light-brown soil and relatively easy to work. Weather had been only a minor consideration. The prairies had an arid climate. Rain was pivotal to a good crop. Their first two years in Saskatchewan was a painful introduction to the capricious nature of Saskatchewan weather. The Brownlees had come west when rains were plentiful. Hobert and Effie arrived at the beginning of two dry years with poor crops. By 1910 Hobert had enough. He relinquished the lease and moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba. He took a job on the Winnipeg Street Railway. He enjoyed the work. He might have remained there had it not been for Effie. She did not like the city and did not think it was a healthy environment in which to raise her two children. She wanted to return to a farm.

 Hobert read what he could find on Saskatchewan weather and the different soils. learned that in the semi-arid prairies, heavy-black soil was much more reliable. It held moisture during dry spells. In 1911 they returned to Saskatchewan. This time they chose an area north-west of Moose Jaw. The land was part of an ancient lake bottom. It was blessed with heavy-black soil called gumbo. Hobert’s second attempt was much more successful. The weather was favourable. They were blessed with good crops.


Sterling was 16 when World War I broke out. He could enlist with his parent’s permission. Sterling was anxious to join the army. It seemed like a great adventure. Hobart and Effie had lived through other wars, notably the Boer War in South Africa. They viewed their son’s romantic view of war as dangerously naïve. Due to the need for more recruits, the ability to enlist without parental permission was being lowered. By the fall of 1917 Sterling could join without his parents’ permission. As a compromise, Hobert told him that if he would stay until 1918 and help him put the crop in the next spring, he could join the army with his parent’s blessing. That seemed fair to Sterling.

In May of 1918 Sterling enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force as Canada’s army was called. He was sent to Regina for basic training. A few months after he had enlisted, the period of training was lengthened by several months.The Allies were winning and fewer recruits were needed. Sterling was disappointed. He had just finished basic training the first week in November when the war ended. It struck Sterling as a tragedy. He would have to go back to the farm and he would never see anything of the world. When the veterans began to return from the war, Sterling realised how lucky he had been. Many of those who had enlisted in 1914 had been killed. Of those who returned, many were missing limbs. In the 1920’s that meant decades were chopped off their lives. Moreover, without someone to push an awkward wheelchair, the severely disabled were confined to a hard surfaced floor. A chastened Sterling returned to his relieved parents.


Hobert and Laura With Their Model T, 1921


World War I was a blessing for Saskatchewan farmers. Because of their vital role in producing food, farmers were exempt from service. Britain depended on its colonies for food. The Canadian prairies were blessed with good weather. Government regulation of the market ensured firm prices. In the years afterwards, farmers could be heard to say of both world wars, “The war years, those were the best years”.

 In 1915 when Sterling was in grade 11 Hobert told him it was time to quit. Like many of his generation Hobert didn’t didn’t place a high value on education. It seemed to Hobert that education was little more than a selfish indulgence. On the other hand Sterling wanted to stay in school. He was a good student. Moreover, he had a gregarious personality and made friends easily. However, the struggle to stay in school was an uphill battle. The majority of his colleagues had left. In March 1915 he left school, never to return.

As is the case with many brothers and sisters, Laura and Sterling often quarrelled. It had always been understood that the farm would go to Sterling and that inequity may have played a role in their rancorous relationship. Even as adults they were never close. Laura went to work for the Royal Bank. She married a wealthy businessman, Nelson Grocier, and moved to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. She reappears once more in the story to rankle Sterling on the occasion of the worst financial decision of his life.

That decision concerned their bank, the Home Bank of Canada. It was one of Canada’s smaller banks. Hobert had left the banking to Sterling. Laura had repeatedly warned her brother that the Home Bank was on shaky financial grounds. Sterling ignored her warnings, perhaps because the advice came from Laura. By 1923 the family had accumulated a savings account of $4000, a considerable sum of money in a day when you could buy a model T Ford car for $500. They were stunned when they received a letter informing them that the Home Bank was bankrupt. They lost everything. At that time there was no protection for depositors of a bank. It was a very serious loss. They did not even have enough money to continue farming until the next crop was sold. Instead, they had to sell some of their livestock. The balance of the decade, the Great Depression, and another world war would pass before they fully recovered. The loss was all the more bitter because of Laura’s I told you so attitude.

Favourable weather and good crops continued in the 1920’s. As the decade drew to a close the ShillIngtons could look back with pride They had fully paid for a new line of equipment and 30 draft horses. To pull the machinery in the heavy gumbo required 12 horses at a time. After they came in for their noon meal, they would start the afternoon with 12 fresh horses. . The other six would be in foal or for some reason unable to work.



By the end of the 20’s Sterling was in an expansive mood. He wanted to buy more land and believed they were financially able to do so. They had only just got back on their feet from the debacle of the Home Bank and would have to borrow the money. However, optimism was the prevailing mood in the 20’s. Financing was widely available. On the plus side, they had a new line of machinery and a team of horses that they were proud of. Hobert was more cautious. He felt they ought to be satisfied with their good fortune. The discussion continued into the summer of 1929. A farm immediately adjacent to theirs became available for purchase. It seemed to be a golden opportunity. Hobert relented. They had little difficulty arranging a loan with a trust company. In purchasing the land, they doubled their holdings to one section.

Their timing could not have been worse. The Great Depression, as it came to be known, struck with all its fury in the fall of 1929. It brought a double tragedy to Saskatchewan. It was not only a period of extremely low commodity prices. In addition, the 1930’s ushered in a searing drought that only seemed to deepen with each ensuing year. By the time they made their first modest payment in 1938, they owed more in interest than the original principal. But they were still on the farm. It was a strange paradox of the Depression. The situation was so bad that the trust company had no hope of reselling the land, if they foreclosed. They allowed farmers to keep their farms so long as they continued to live on the land.

With no grass cover, the parched soil was vulnerable to soil erosion. The drifting soil not only resulted in serious degradation of the land, it was an ever present nuisance. It’s drifted everywhere. It penetrated closed doors and windows. Housewives learned to set the table with the dishes upside down, thereby protecting them from the dust.



Dorathy Henry on graduation from Normal School, 1923 



In 1931 a 23 year old teacher, Dorathy Henry, began teaching at a nearby school: She had a lively intelligence that piqued Sterling‘s interest. They began to date. A romance blossomed. In short order they both knew they had met their life’s partner. However, Sterling could hardly support himself, much less a wife. The marriage had to be postponed. It was their expectation that the next year would be better. However, it only seemed to get worse year after year. By the spring of 1934 the couple had waited long enough. On February 2, 1934 they were married in a small ceremony at Zion United Church in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Any thought of a honeymoon was out of the question. The best they could muster was a meal at a local restaurant after which they went to the farm.


 Dorathy and Sterling’s farm home


Dorathy also had less education than she would have liked. Her family had a small ranch in south-eastern Saskatchewan. It was a marginal operation. It was a huge sacrifice to send her to Normal School, as teacher training was called. Anything more was unthinkable. Her dream of higher education never died. In 1956 she felt her children were old enough to assume a degree of self-reliance. She took her grade 12 equivalency by correspondence and then began to take her Bachelors of Education, also by correspondence. Some of the classes couldn’t be taken by correspondence. She attended summer school at the University of British Columbia for those classes. By this laborious process she got her Bachelor of Education in 1966 four and a half decades after finishing Normal School.

She was determined to see that her children would have the opportunities which circumstances had denied her. At a very young age Dorathy drilled into her children an understanding that they were destined for university. She would see her dreams fulfilled in her two youngest children. Ned and Terry both graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with professional degrees.

When Dorathy was a teenager her brothers thought it would be a clever prank to put her on a horse that was only partially broken.She was badly injured when the horse threw her off. It took an extended period for her to recover. As a result she suffered from Rheumatoid arthritis which grew steadily worse with age. At times she navigated the kitchen pushing a chair in front of her. It was not until the 70’s when medical science mastered joint replacement that she experienced a measure of relief.


Horses being driven to Lone Rock, Saskatchewan, 1934

The Shillingtons were proud of their team of horses. However, by 1934 the crop was so small that they could not feed the horses. In the spring of that year after seeding, Sterling and a couple of neighbours drove about 100 draft horses from their farming community 475 km. to a northerly community, Lone Rock, for the summer in order to pasture them. However in 1935 when the drought continued, they began to use gasoline tractors. Thus, another perverse benefit of the Great Depression was that it speeded up the mechanisation of the farms.

1937 was the worst year of the depression. There was virtually nothing to harvest. At one point Dorathy said to Sterling, “Do you think we’ll ever be able to afford a new car?” Sterling did not answer, but walked silently away.

In 1938 they harvested a modest crop. Prices had also improved marginally. They were able to pay their most pressing creditors. There was even a little left over to make a small payment on their loan interest. Slowly the gloom seemed to be lifting. However, by that time, pessimism had become a part of their DNA. A quarter of a century later, whenever their children would waste something, they were met with the admonition, ‘come hard times, you’re going to wish you hadn’t wasted that’. On the plus side, the Great Depression instilled in them an instinctive frugality which stood them in good stead over a lifetime.





 Effie and Tom, 1940


On November 5, 1937 their first son was born. In keeping with a long tradition in the ShillIngton family, the firstborn was named Thomas. There were no other children in their rural community and he was a solitary child. In his imagination he concocted another life. When Dorathy scolded him for something, he would say with an air of defiance, “I’m going to my other mother”. His imaginary mother lived about 50 metres away under the shade of an old poplar tree where Dorathy could keep a watchful eye over him.


1939 brought another decent crop and a further improvement in prices. In a sure sign that things were improving, they bought a spanking new 1939 Chevrolet, finally answering the question posed by Dorathy a couple of years earlier. Dorathy also made a modest purchase, a Kodak camera. What better use for it than a picture of her husband and son in front of the new car.


 Tom and Sterling in front of their new car, 1939

And of course, Dorathy wanted a picture of herself in front of the car.



Dorathy, 1939

In the mid-1940’s two more children joined the family circle. Terry was born on August 17, 1943 and Edward (Ned) on August 28, 1944.



Terry, Ned, Dorathy, 1945


Events in Europe overshadowed everything else. World War II was a repeat of their experience in World War I. What was a tragedy for everyone else was a financial bonanza for Saskatchewan farmers. Even more so than 1914 the British Empire depended on its colonies for food. Prices were good and growing conditions ideal. War time restrictions meant there was very little else on which to spend money. With few exceptions, crops were good and prices firm. The thirties slowly receded into a distant memory?



Back: Terry, Tom, Ned

Front: Hobert


The three brothers grew up in the 40s and 50s, in what seemed a modern age with a fancy Pontiac car to drive, trucks and power augers that moved grain, and black and white television just arriving. Still there was the hint of the pre-automobile era not far away. Sterling kept a pair of Clydesdale horses and a pony, Daisy, year round. They were huge powerful animals with broad backs, impossible to ride on bareback, although the boys tried. Sterling probably kept them far longer than was needful, but they felt important to him, even if he could not precisely explain why.

A few times in the late 40s, Hobert put the Clydesdales to use. Hobert, if truth be told, was more comfortable with the horses, than the fancy new Pontiac Sterling liked to drive. As his hearing faded, Hobert could never quite figure out how this quietly idling motor could be coaxed into a gentle start. He would persistently roar the engine, engage the gears and then take off like a rocket. A few times, when the truck was in use, Hobert took grain to the elevator with the Clydesdales hitched up to an ancient wooden wagon.

The Clydesdales were also useful when a vehicle needed to be pulled out of the ditch in rainy or icy conditions. More than once he had to pull the local clergy out of the ditch on a gravel-surfaced road, 1 mile away. The clergy, usually from city backgrounds, often did not know how to handle the rural roads. After one of these rescue missions, the usually mildly spoken Sterling was heard commenting, “ministers drive like buggers”.

However, it was not just clergy who drove too fast for conditions and needed a rescue. There were a few teenage drivers and assorted others who slipped off the road in icy circumstances. The horses were sure footed and useful for these times, However eventually the farm tractor could handle winter temperatures and the horses were not needed.

The team of horses were useful in winter travel too. In the 1940’s and early 50s roads were often not ploughed out after winter storms. And in cold weather the cars did not always start easily. Still, in this tightly knit and thrifty rural community, recreation meant going to the neighbour’s place on a Saturday evening for games, dancing and conversation. Sterling and Dorathy would bundle the boys up, tuck them into the wooden sleigh, and the Clydesdales would head down the road to an evening of fun. The ride there and back was as enjoyable as the evening itself..

The students of Grayburn school; Back row: Pat Mercer, Terry Shillingon

Second row: Rae Burnett, Don Matheson, Ned Shillington, Milton McBride, Anne Peel

Front row: Dwight Matheson, Elaine Burnett, Murry Acton, Allan Bishoff, Darrel Grey,

 Ronald Bishoff, Louise Matheson

The boys went to Grayburn school, a rural school with all grades in one room. Students were expected to ignore all lessons but their own. An important part of getting to school winter and summer was Daisy, our gentle pony. Ned & Terry would often ride together, bareback on cold winter days. The school was one mile distant by road. With enough snow, Daisy would also pull the sleigh across the field to Grayburn school. The Matheson children, 1/4 mile down the road, had their own horse, Billy, and the two horses and sleighs often travelled together across the field. At times they hitched a toboggan or “flying saucer” behind the sleigh and one or more kids rode behind. Going to school was a lot of fun.

The school yard included a barn. In summer the boys rode their bicycles to school. In winter or inclement weather they took their pony, Daisy. The boys were responsible for harnessing her, putting her in the barn and going through the same process in reverse after school. Some of the parents drove their children during inclement weather. However, Sterling and Dorathy wanted the children to manage on their own.

Terry remembers his first trip to school riding Daisy, as a 6 year old. He headed off, confidently enough. However, half way through the mile-long trip by road, Daisy decided she had had enough and turned around to head home. Terry was sure enough in his horse-man skills to turn her around. However, Daisy simply turned around again to head home again. A stalemate ensued as Terry could not figure out how to keep her heading in the direction of school. For some time they turned round in circles in the middle of the rural road, neither side willing to concede. Evidently Sterling had wondered too, how this maiden ride would work out for he had stood in the farmyard, watching the entire trip. Eventually he arrived at the point where Terry and Daisy were circling. He gently headed them both eastward toward the school. Daisy must have thought deeply about this incident, for she never again attempted to return home in the middle of the journey.

 Ned, Tom, and Terry, 1949

By the time Terry and Ned had reached the teen years, (the latter 1950s) the horses had all vanished from the farm. And an historical page had been turned. The space age and other means of travel were not far off.

 Ned, Tom, and Terry, 1961


As these three boys found their way from infancy into teen years and adulthood, it became clear to all, they were each unique and different personalities.

Tom seemed to be hardwired for farming from his very beginnings. He was not terribly interested in books and academic things. He enjoyed being outdoors, and as the oldest son (six years older than Terry), often enjoyed responsibilities and freedoms for which the younger brothers would have to wait. He was curious about machines and how they worked. He was mechanical by nature and often creative in finding his own solutions.

Sterling liked to tell the story of how they were at their neighbours, the Mathesons, helping Garf Matheson get his swather ready for harvest. Tom was a preschooler who was also free to crawl under the implement and offer his advice and comments. Evidently, he had a lot of questions and Garf’s nerves were often strung tightly amid the stress of harvest. At one point Garf burst out to Tom, “Look, would you stop that damn whying.” For years, Sterling enjoyed telling this story in Garf’s presence whenever there was a visitor who had not heard the tale. As an older boy, it was  job to get chopped grain to the turkeys for their daily meal, Tom got an idea. The family collie, Tippy, was healthy and willing. So he made a harness and hitched Tippy to a little wagon. From then on, Tippy pulled the wagon with the pail of grain, and Tom walked alongside, supervising. It was a fine solution.

Tom soon became skilled and confident around the farm vehicles and equipment. On the farm in those days and especially around harvest time, people did not worry particularly about youth being under 16, the legal age for driving. Tom was an able driver long before that age. In fact he was often far more capable and reliable than the hired men Sterling was forced to hire as farm harvest labour. Sterling would make do with the hired man’s limited gifts, understanding, and common sense during the day. However, on many a harvest late afternoon, Tom would get off the school bus, and climb immediately into the farm truck to drive as the combine delivered grain. The hired man would then be sent to some other job, where there was less risk and he could do less damage. Tom could be counted on.

Terry and Ned, only one year apart, were two quite different personalities. Terry was interested in reading and day dreaming-and seemed quite gifted at both. Ned was curious and exploratory, with fingers often getting into things they were not meant for. That (the fingers getting into things) happened literally, when the family took Ned to the Moose Jaw Zoo.. At the monkey cages, Ned paused long enough to stick a finger into the cage to see what the monkey would do. What the monkey did was sink his teeth into Ned's thumb and hold on. Ned was unable to free his finger. Dorathy came to help. Still the monkey held on firmly. Finally after much shouting and yelling, the monkey let go. Ned, fortunately, was not badly injured, although Dorathy had him soaking his finger in a Epson salts solution for some time that evening. It is believed Ned never again stuck his finger into a monkey cage. If he forgot, he carried the scar with him. Over seven decades have elapsed and Ned can still show you the scar.

Dorathy enjoyed telling a winter story about these two preschoolers which is indicative. She had a standard procedure for getting the two boys dressed and ready to head out. She would get Terry’s boots and parka on him first and sit him on a chair by the door. Then she would round up Ned and get him ready to head out into the cold. She knew Terry would stay there on the chair, unmoving, until it was time to leave. On one occasion she had difficulty with Ned who vigorously fought the overshoes. She was exasperated by the time she finally got him dressed. In her exasperation she forgot Terry and didn’t realise it until they were part way home. They returned to find Terry, still sitting patiently on the chair by the door.

The two boys, like many siblings, played together vigorously and also fought intensely. Dorathy told a couple of stories which illustrate this. While working elsewhere in the house, she heard Terry saying “Yes, you can do it. Just put your shoulder to it. Come on.” When she peered around the corner, she saw the two boys trying to move an upright piano. Apparently Ned did not get his shoulder sufficiently into it, because the piano did not move an inch. To this day it remains a deep dark mystery, why the piano needed to be moved,

Of course there was no day care and no babysitters, so the boys had to invent their own activities, as Tom had to a few years earlier. One area of interest in the farmhouse was the lizards which could be found in the dampness around the family cistern in the basement. The boys played with them and brought them upstairs upon occasion. Dorathy was careful not to betray her abhorrence of these reptiles. However, she was alarmed one day when the boys had the lizards in the kitchen. They were staging races in the kitchen to see which boy’s lizard was the fastest. After taking a break they realised they had lost one of the lizards. A lengthy, and for Dorathy, a somewhat tense search ensued. They finally located the missing lizard inside the cabinet of the family radio. Further lizard races were apparently cancelled.

Terry, favoured by his grandfather, became the one who accompanied Hobert on weekends. It was Hobert’s custom, for many years, to leave for theMoose Jaw on Saturday and return Sunday by 10 A.M. in time for local church services. From an early age, Terry was ‘always’ with Hobert on these trips. Thus he had access to the Moose Jaw city library. He became an omnivorous reader and would take out 5-6 books each week, returning them the next week for a new batch. Moose Jaw had three sections to their library – a children’s section, a generously sized teen library and an adult section. By the time Terry had reached 13, he had already read all the teen section books that interested him.

Terry was also trained to drive the tractor and run the machinery long before 16. However, he was accident prone. Or perhaps better worded, he was inclined to day dream and get lost in his own thoughts. It was not unusual for him to tangle the cultivator or other summer fallowing implements in the fence. One day he ran the swather right into an electrical power pole, hitting the swather right in the middle. He had been busy with his own thoughts.

Terry and Ned both took piano lessons, first from Mary Matheson down the road, and then from her son, Don. Don had become an excellent pianist. Dorathy hoped her sons could acquire some of this culture too. Alas, neither Terry nor Ned had any rhythm or music. As well, they pained at the time it took to practise. Dorathy bought a lamp to put beside the piano, with a clock conveniently located in the middle of the lamp stand. However, before too many months had passed, the boys had damaged the clock. They were prone to continually adjusting the minute hand on the clock so as to reduce the amount of time left to practice. After 4-5 years, Dorathy gave up on this project. Later when in active church ministry, Terry would be thankful for what little music he did understand and absorb.

Meanwhile, Ned was having his own adventures. The fact of his asthma and related eczema problems kept him from doing outside chores since grain dust was the base of his problems. To his frustration he was indoors bound.

Ned was exploratory in nature and not afraid to try new paths. When the family took its one and only summer holiday, this very trait caused quite a family uproar in Banff. On this trip, the family overnighted in a tent. One morning in the Banff campground, Ned vanished. When his absence was discovered, Dorathy and Sterling panicked. Bears were always nearby. They searched the campground, but no Ned. As they described to all who would listen, what this child looked like, one camper ventured the thought that he might have seen a child suiting that description walking down an animal trail nearby. Both parents hurried down the trail and soon located Ned, who explained that he had been following a deer.

Ned would go on to have other similar adventures. When he was 12 he was part of a car accident which imperilled the family finances. That harvest, the combining operation had moved a few miles west to the Hodgsen place. Tom felt they needed to move the car over there, so he proposed to Ned that he drive the car while Tom drove the truck. They could then leave the car there for Sterling. A sound plan and Ned was confident. However, a mile into the journey, Ned got looking around and drove into the ditch, flipping the car end over end. Fortunately Ned was uninjured. However, the car was a write off and the insurance coverage was in question, since it clearly did not cover a 12 year old driving. Sterling was very anxious and headed into the critical meeting with the insurance adjuster with great trepidation. The family’s modest finances were in danger. After a tense session, the insurance representatives agree to cover one-half the costs of the car accident. The decision to cover one-half the costs turned on Sterling’s testimony that he had not given Ned to drive. Tom had given permission, but the adjustor did not ask that question.

As they reached adulthood, all three sons would pursue quite different occupations. The adventures would continue.

Hobert and Tom, 1941


In December, 1966 Hobert died at 90. He had lived a long life, seen much change, and in the end was senile. Ned and Terry (also Mary, soon to be his wife) came home from their studies at the University of Saskatchewan to share in the funeral. As the family car left the cemetery, all the funeral rites complete, Dorathy was heard commenting, “The poor old man”. It was an intriguing comment, both compassionate and also wildly inaccurate or incomplete. His life had many chapters and his role in the Shillington family was not simple to capture. Certainly in the latter years, he struggled to find his purpose and his place. He was a quiet man, an introvert and not given to mixing in the community.

Hobert and Effie had lived in a small house in a yard dominated by the big red brick house where Sterling and Dorathy raised their family. Effie had died in 1942 a year before Terry was born. Hobert had not a shred of domestic skill, and was likely terribly lonely, so he moved into the family brick house and would stay there until he moved to the nursing home two decades later. Sterling’s energy and managerial skills would ensure the farm was well run. Hobert was a hard working man, who needed to be active. His idea of putting in a quiet restful afternoon, was to go out and fix the fences, whether they really needed it or not. Besides his weekend trips to Moose Jaw he had few extravagances and few holidays,

He had a different relationship with each of the family. To Sterling, he increasingly deferred, as Sterling was happy to manage the farm. Tom was busy on the farm and did not need a lot from Hobert. He did not have many child raising skills either, and really didn’t know what to do with Ned’s energy and capacity for causing mayhem as a little boy. Terry was quiet, a book reader, often daydreaming and clearly an easy boy to take places. Terry and Hobert became an inseparable pair. For many years they shared a bedroom. And of course, they shared the weekly trips to Moose Jaw.

In the winter of 1948-9,when Terry was five, they became storm-stayed in Moose Jaw for 2 weeks. In that period even the trains were unable to move. It is not known how Hobert managed as a parent. However, they both returned after their urban ‘exile’, none the worse.

As he aged, Hobert was often housebound. However, he had never really bonded with Dorathy and they both struggled to share that space. One incident sheds some light on that tension. One summer day, a salesman showed up at the farm door. He needed to see Sterling. He had walked into the porch and had a conversation with Dorathy through the screen door, who did not invite him into the kitchen. Besides Dorathy, Terry was in the kitchen, interested in what this visitor had to say. In addition to these three, Hobert was sitting quietly on a chair, behind the open door and quite out of sight to the salesman. Amid the Dorathy’s conversation with the visitor, Hobert felt compelled to release a huge burst of gas complete with quite a loud rumble and roar. Dorathy completed the conversation with poise. However, when the door was closed and the salesman beyond hearing, Dorathy turned to Hobert. She was mortified, convinced the salesman had assumed that roar had originated from her. With her sensitive nose, she was sure the smell had permeated the whole kitchen and out into the porch. Dorathy was a fairly prim and proper woman, etiquette and good behaviour were important. Hobert’s “vulgarity” was way over the line and she proceeded to tell him that with unvarnished fury. Hobert endured the verbal assault with his customary quiet stoicism. Likely with his diminished hearing, he had thought he could, ‘slip this one past Dorathy’. Terry also guarded his silence for different reasons. He also made certain not a trace of amusement crossed over his face in his mother’s presence.

Hobert probably was a lonely older man. But he also enjoyed Sterling’s family and his place there. He was probably at peace, in his own quiet way. He was a deeply religious man. He always attended Knox, the local rural church. He and Terry sat in the smaller side pew, while Sterling and the rest of his family occupied a centre pew.

Hobart remained active on the farm into his 80’s doing a full day’s work. One summer afternoon in 1962 Sterling asked Ned to check on his grandfather. He found him lying in some wet manure. He had been bringing a bale from the loft of the barn and experienced a stroke. Although Hobert seemed to recover physically, he never recovered mentally. Sterling told Hobart that he would have to go to a nursing home. Hobert resented it. Sterling had to force the issue. When they got to the front door of The Provence, a nursing home, Hobert glared at Sterling and said, “So, after 60 years, this is what it comes to”! Hobert got out of the car and slammed the door. Sterling said it was the worst day of his life. However, Hobert soon grew to enjoy the nursing home. At Christmas, Sterling brought him to the farm. Mid-afternoon Hobert said to Sterling, “Well, are we going back?” The Provence had become his home. He remained there until 1966 when he died in his 90th year.


In 1952 Sterling and Dorathy bought a new Pontiac. At that time the provincial sales tax could be avoided by picking up the purchase at the manufacturing plant in Ontario. The money saved on the sales tax went a good distance to paying the travel costs. Thus, in 1952 they travelled by train to Oshawa, Ontario and picked up a new Pontiac. There was no question of leaving the sickly Ned behind. Dorathy wanted to keep an eye on him. Thus, he travelled with his parents while Terry and Tom stayed at home.

The trip from Oshawa was punctuated by car troubles. As they drove out of the Oshawa plant, Sterling and Dorathy must have felt that they had the world by the tail. However, before long it began to rain and they discovered one of their rear side windows was down and it would not wind up. Something was wrong. They stopped at the nearest Pontiac dealership to get it fixed. Fortunately all the needed parts were inside the door itself. The dealership explained that occasionally the assembly line worker got behind. In that case he/she took all the needed parts and simply dumped them inside the door and then went on to his next task on the assembly line. It was an insight into life on the assembly line.

More problematic was a recurring problem with stalling when they arrived at an urban area. They would stop at a red light and the engine would stall. They would get part way through the intersection and the engine would stall again. Sterling learned to gun the engine. That way, they might take off like a rocket, but at least they could get through intersections. They would eventually get this problem resolved and arrived home in fine shape.

Sterling did not appear to see these two issues casting any shadow over his new car. Instead he viewed the incidents as fodder for a couple of new stories to tell his friends and neighbours. Particularly, the stalling engine became a community favourite. He would regale neighbours with all the details of how the engine misfired, how other drivers looked at them, how Dorathy felt about it all, what she said, and how he felt about his new car. In coming months, the story was told over and over. Whenever a crowd gathered and one person had not heard the tale, the call would go out, “Sterling, tell that story of the trip home with your new car”. And Sterling would narrate the whole thing over again. The telling was always fresh. As Sterling commented to the family once, with a twinkle in his eye, “You never spoil a story by telling the whole truth.”

An interesting sidebar to this story is that some neighbours thought this tale so entertaining, they made an audio tape recording and took it to the Pontiac dealership, Patterson Motors, in Moose Jaw to share with them. Sterling never heard back from them, concerning how they felt about his storytelling and whether or not they found it amusing.

After picking up their new Pontiac in 1952, they travelled as far as Montreal. Wherever they travelled, Sterling enjoyed the luxury of going to a barbershop and getting a shave. When Ned and Sterling were at a barbershop in Montreal, Ned saw a television. It would be several months before they got electricity on the farm and a year before they had television. Before the era of television children lived in a small world. It was limited to what they could see, feel, and hear. Television was a remarkable experience. As soon as they were outside, Ned said excitedly to his father, “Hey! We saw television”. Sterling did not seem to care. He was never enthusiastic about television. In later years when the rest of the family was in the living room watching television, he could be found in the kitchen reading a farm newspaper.

Sterling enjoyed showing Ned the province of his birth. After leaving Montreal they visited the farming community where Sterling had been born. Sterling and Ned walked through a wooded area to the modest farmhouse the Shillingtons had left four and a half decades earlier. Sterling was astonished to see that the house was occupied and essentially unchanged. They stopped to see lock after lock on the Welland Canal. Dorathy complained that one lock was the same as the next. It was to no avail. When Ned excitedly announced another lock, both he and Sterling hurried out of the car to watch a freighter being raised and the lock opened to allow the ship to pass.

Where possible they saved the cost of a motel. One night Dorathy had agreed to sleep outside under the stars while Ned and Sterling slept on the front and back seat. The car had become infested with mosquitoes. Ned and Sterling put up with it for a while and then Sterling said, “Let’s kill the little buggers”. In a moment Dorathy knocked on a window and asked what the commotion was about. Ned said excitedly, “We’re killing the little buggers“. Profanity was never heard in the Shillington home and rarely among the men when outside. Hearing her eight year old curse shocked her into silence for a moment, but only for a moment. Sterling received a sharp dressing down about his language in front of an eight year old. His silence during her tirade was an admission of a grave sin. Ned felt terrible. He felt that he had been treated as an adult and had betrayed the trust. They arrived home with no further lessons in profanity.


As was common in those days, Sterling paid for everything. Dorathy had no money. This even extended to grocery shopping. Dorathy would pick out the groceries. Then she waited for him to come and pay for them. Dorathy chafed at this. Eventually, she hatched a scheme for making her own money. She bought turkey chicks in the spring, fed them over the summer, and sold them in the fall. The venture provided a small income for her.

While the turkeys were a reliable source of income, they were also a dreadful nuisance. The turkeys defecated everywhere. By late summer the turkeys could fly short distances. On occasion the turkeys would fly onto the clothesline and defecate on her freshly washed clothes. On one occasion, when they flew up on the clothesline, their weight broke the clothes line. Her freshly washed clothes, defecation, and all landed on the ground. However, there was never any question of abandoning the enterprise. The small income was important to her. It gave her a measure of independence She continued to raise them until she resumed teaching in 1956.

An earthquake rumbled through the Shillington family that summer when Dorathy announced she had accepted a teaching position at Pelican Lake school. Dorathy had not shared the possibility of such a move with her boys. Tom was not greatly affected. Ned and Terry were in shock. It had never occurred to them their mother was employable or that she wanted to teach again. Terry was entering grade nine. Ned had his grade eight to complete. Dorathy suggested Ned come with her to Pelican Lake approximately six miles distant. Ned was horrified at the thought and insisted on completing his grade eight at Grayburn.
Sterling seemed to adapt to his new role with his usual unflappable calm. He would have some new tasks like looking after his own noon meals and sharing the family sedan. However, these seemed to work out smoothly, although he had minimal domestic skills. Dorathy had plans to complete her Bachelor’s of Education. The boys began to see their mother in a new light.

Dorathy was always a forceful personality with strong opinions. Sterling lived with these strong opinions, without needing to clash, enjoying her feisty approach to family discussions. The family learned for example that Dorathy had a strong opinion that the heater on the family Pontiac (which she was driving to school daily) needed to function properly in the winter. To Sterling the matter seemed less urgent. One winter this became a ‘red hot’ issue. Sterling took the car into Moose Jaw twice to have it fixed, and each time it came back NOT repaired. Dorathy then announced she would take the car in herself and speak to Patterson Motors. She further announced to the family what she would say to the repair people. When she was done explaining it, they would understand. The Pontiac came back with a perfectly functioning heater.

As Dorathy concentrated her time on teaching, many other chores needed to be Hedone. Ned and Terry were to acquire some new skills around the house. Even Sterling tried his hand at cooking. The boys enjoyed the money they earned, but found being ‘employed’ by their mother a decidedly mixed blessing. Still a new balance was found. Dorathy thrived on her new challenges as a teacher. Looking back, she had probably been bored and stifled in latter years as simply a housewife. She regaled the family with interesting new stories of events in the classroom.

She shared one of her strategies for energising her pupils, when they got drowsy in the afternoons. She would tell them a story of Ned and Terry, one of their growing up adventures. This would amuse them and they could then refocus on learning. Occasionally on a slow afternoon, one of the pupils would request, “tell us a story about Ned and Terry.” Dorathy felt this confirmed she had stumbled onto a winning strategy.

When Dorathy went to U.B.C. for 6-7 weeks, for her studies, the boys and Sterling were challenged to cook and keep house effectively. One day Sterling decided he would cook a roast for supper. He knew how. Dorathy had left instructions. He put the roast on the top of the stove with enough water and set the heat to boil. He then went out to the yard to continue working on the swather repairs. He did not think about the roast again, until he saw smoke billowing out of the porch door.

Not only was that roast far beyond eating, the pot was never really usable again. As well, Dorathy had a very keen nose and Sterling pondered how to get the smoke smell out of the house. When a normal cleaning failed, two neighbouring women took pity on him. They volunteered to come and clean up the house before Dorathy returned. Sterling mumbled to the boys, he hardly felt that was necessary, but did not voice that to the women. They came and did a thorough cleaning in the late August days before Dorathy returned. However, Dorathy was not in the house 10 seconds before she asked what had caused the smokey smell. It was hard to put any deception over Detective Dorathy Shillington.

In the years that followed, more often than not, Terry became the chief cook and Ned the “bottle washer”. The family had adjusted to a new reality. Sterling was never heard complaining about Dorathy’s absences. The reality was that the family now had far more money than before. Sterling and Dorathy began to make world trips. They enjoyed the scenery, the people on the tour, and the adventures involved. They came home with some surprise gifts for the boys. Often, Dorathy returned with some exotic, interesting jewellery for herself. And of course, Sterling had a whole new collection of stories to tell.

Ned had asthma and eczema He was allergic to grain dust, a serious problem on a grain farm. It was impossible to avoid the allergens. During the height of the season, from mid-July to mid-October, he would sleep partially inclined at a 45° angle. It was one more thing for Dorathy to worry about.

Dorathy carefully monitored what her children read. She felt it was important that reading improve their minds. They were not allowed to have comics. Instead, they read classics such as Robinson Crusoe.

Dorathy and Sterling


The courtship of Dorathy and Sterling was, in many ways, a classic rural romance story. A 26 Yr. old teacher accepts a rural school job. She meets a 36 year old bachelor farmer, presumably on the lookout for a wife. They marry and live happily ever after. They married amid hard times. Other farm folk would fold their tents and disappear amid the blowing dirt and Russian Thistle. But Sterling and Dorathy would not join them. They would live on very little income for several years. They would enjoy simple pleasures together, certain that better days would come.

Curiously, Dorathy never really ‘connected’ with Laura, Sterling’s sister. Laura would be heard complaining that Dorathy had married Sterling “for his money”. Dorathy replied, “What money?”.

In truth Sterling was a successful farmer. Like many of his farm ‘brothers’, he had little money, but land, plus energy, and determination. He had a relaxed, apparently easy going personality who could find humour in any situation, and with almost any conversational partner. He was not a worrier about the farming peaks and valleys. However, his relaxed exterior could be misleading. Underneath he was quite serious, with unbending principles of honesty and justice. He was a committed CCF ear when almost none of his neighbours around him shared those beliefs. He was a deeply rooted Christian, although relaxed about orthodoxy. He observed Mary, our evangelical neighbour, with amusement, but never ridiculed her. He was careful about his humour too, telling his sons one day, “you never tease a person about what may be true”.

Dorathy was a more ‘wired’, intense person. She had strong opinions on many subjects, and didn’t mind informing you about them. She had grown up in a home where the 3 sons received many privileges that the 5 daughters did not and as a result she was a committed feminist before the term became common. She was in many ways a conservative, rural person, strict in matters of courtesy and etiquette. She, like Sterling, was inclined to be more flexible and liberal in matters of belief and theology. She would not have come from Sterling’s left of centre politics, but adopted his views and was a loyal supporter of the democratic-socialist CCF & NDP political parties.

She was a high energy person who often left others in the dust. She enjoyed dancing, and did not let her leg pain (see part 5, page 9 an explanation) prevent her from enjoying a dance. In her middle years, she would come home from a community dance and do the family wash (a 3 hour task), before going to bed. She was known to bake a 100 loaves of in one day, when she got on a roll.

Still, when her legs were painful, ordinary tasks like laundry were stressful. It was then one would encounter her fiery temper and impatience. Sterling liked to tell of the wash day where he overhead Tom having his noon meal. She was busy and tired, and had no patience for picky eating. Neither Dorathy or Sterling had patience for a fussy eater and all three boys learned to eat gratefully whatever was on the table. This wash day Tom, a preschooler, was objecting to his Tapioca pudding. He kept repeating,”Me no like! Me no like! Me no like!” Eventually Dorathy exclaimed, “Look, if you don’t like the damn stuff, don’t eat it. But SHUT UP!” As the boys grew into teenagers and were being schooled in clean and polite speech, Sterling liked to retell this wash day story. To her credit, Dorathy would enjoy this tale, as much as Sterling.

Dorathy had a special fondness for Ned who had surmounted asthma, eczema, and his grandfather’s painfully obvious favouritism of Terry over him. But she could also be quite impatient with her youngest son. When Ned and Terry were both university students, they would come home to visit. Ned, who hated to spend too much time packing, tended to forget something and then ask Dorathy to mail it up to Saskatoon. These items could be small or as large as a winter overcoat. Each time the boys left she would announce, “Now Ned, if you forget something, this time I am not going to mail it to you!” Each time, it seemed, Ned would indeed forget something, and each time, Dorathy would grudgingly mail it up to him. This exchange became a long standing family joke.

Together, Dorathy and Sterling made delightful marriage music. Sterling could take Dorathy’s fiery moods and strong opinions and soften them with humour. It helped that Dorathy also had a keen sense of humour and despite a gruff exterior, she enjoyed Sterling’s humorous pokes.


The boys grew up in a home where there was vigorous discussion of politics and the issues of the day. It was an unquestioned rule that no one spoke during the news. Terry, the most avid sports fan of the family, wished the rule also applied to the daily sport’s report. Amid all this, there was often noisy debate. They also grew up around humour and laughter in abundance. Meals were an unhurried time to be together and discuss the issues of the day. Afterwards Sterling would have a 10 min. nap on the sofa and the day’s work would resume.

If the three boys became emotionally-healthy adults it was because Dorathy and Sterling were healthy, well-balanced people who loved each other deeply, persistently, and respectfully.


Back row: Tom and Terry

Front row: Dorathy, Sterling, Leona, and Hobert



Dorathy was in some ways a study in contradictions. She was a conservative rural person. She was a modern woman who nimbly pivoted from old to modern.

Dorathy was from a rural, protestant community and home. Her values throughout her life often reflected that. She did not like nudity, even in small children and was offended by children running around without clothes.

She did not like foul language and made that clear. She also did not appreciate sexual innuendos, considering that “vulgar”. In fact when comments slipped into such areas when playing cards or other games her frequent admonition was, “Oh don’t be so vulgar!” When playing the definition game, BALDERDASH, Ned and Terry often vied in coming up with a ‘raunchy’ definition, one sufficient to draw Dorathy’s fierce, high-voltage glare. Later in retirement she was on many a church committee and commented more than once to Terry, “those ministers can be so vulgar!” Dorathy never came to regard jeans as dressy or stylish. Blue Jeans were ‘what you wore to clean out the barn”. She frowned on jeans worn when out in public.

However, she was in other ways, very forward looking. She had resumed teaching after an absence of over 20 years. She had a lot of catching up to do. She became an excellent teacher, again. When she had educated herself beyond the one room country school and was about to teach high school in Mortlach, a revealing conversation took place. A neighbour, recognizing her success teaching at Pelican Lake school, commented, “I guess that proves that the old ways (of teaching) were really the best.” She hung up and reported this to her sons. She added to them, “But really I am not teaching the way I did before. I have changed my methods of teaching entirely”. She had accepted and learned from the new educational insights and methods.

She then proceeded to become an effective and much loved high school teacher. Liked by her teen students, many of them would visit her in the years after their high school graduation. She had moved into high school, learning new methods and what these teens were about. She had proved herself flexible and creative in a new setting amid a new generation of students.

She was also a feisty feminist long before that term became fashionable. She had been offended in her home of origin, which had 3 brothers and 5 sisters. She complained that the boys had separate bedrooms, and the girls had to share. Undoubtedly she saw other gender inequities. These experiences moved her to defend women’s rights as she saw them.

She was a creative writer. When the local community had a talent night, she often wrote a skit which Terry and Ned could perform. The plot would be foolish and ridiculous such as might take place between two brothers. When Ned complained that he was always being given the ‘stupid’ role, she reversed this format for the next time. In another life, with other opportunities, she might have been a writer.

She lived with considerable pain, but without much complaining or comment. For many years, when Terry and Ned were young, she pushed a chair around the kitchen using it as a walker or cane. When Mary and Terry were to be married, she apparently dislocated her collar bone, days before. She arrived in Saskatoon wearing a jacket, went through the wedding events and left, without Mary and Terry knowing she had an injured shoulder. To avoid detection she had removed her shoulder sling. She instead wore a jacket and kept one hand inserted in the jacket to support her other arm and shoulder. In their distraction, somehow they missed this curious posture. She did not want this to distract from the wedding celebrations. Eventually she would have 5 hip replacements which made things better. However, the family suspected she never moved without considerable pain.

She was quick to anger and would respond to aggravations with a blunt, plainly spoken comment. She was a master of “the glare”. It seemed, at such moments, her eyes were shooting beams of fire. However, she quickly moved on and did not fester with things of the past. She had a healthy sense of play and enjoyed Sterling’s playfulness and humour. He enjoyed her feisty responses to his verbal jabs. She could enjoy his storytelling, which often featured her foibles.

She worked at being a good mother to growing boys. When raising teens, she was happy to have those friends drop in unexpectedly. With her massive deep freeze in the basement she would always dig up something to eat. Also a voracious reader, she probably read every Perry Mason legal novel in the years before returning to teach with her feet resting on the oven door of the coal and wood stove, probably to reduce the ache in her legs. She was not given to public displays of affection like hugging. Eventually daughters-in-law would break down this reserve, but it was always clear she was a committed wife and mother who loved her family dearly.

Sterling had a different personality. With a robust sense of humour, twinkling eyes, he often appeared to have few worries. Underneath the surface he was deeply principled and had a serious plan for his work and play. He seemed more easy going, in the face of Dorathy’s more rigid values and tastes. He would joke in the face of Dorathy’s irritation or reproach. He never seemed to offer a vigorous defence. As children grew up, Terry and Ned occasionally pointed out wisely that their father was henpecked. However as they grew older they came to realise their father was a good deal more stubborn or set in his ways than first appeared. Dorathy might have a plan to change Sterling, but in the end he would probably do it the way he intended.

Sterling was a shrewd business man who had a long range plan for the farm. He kept a dusty note-book in the grainary listing each sow, when she was bred, and when she was due. Once the litter was born, it would be noted when the black teeth should be removed (at 10-11 days). He had a simple theory about how to make money on hogs. You simply stay with it through good prices and poor prices. He observed many farmers got into hogs when prices were high, and got out when prices were low. Thus they missed the best “pay days' '. Sterling always kept 10 - 20 sows and over the decades did very well on this farming sideline. He was not discouraged that Tom held a fierce dislike of pigs. Dorathy, with her ultra keen sense of smell, profoundly detested the smell of hog manure! Despite this lack of enthusiasm around him, Sterling seemed to thoroughly enjoy his pigs.

Sterling also marched to his own drum politically. He was a committed CCF member, in a community that was predominantly conservative. Hobert was innately conservative. Dorathy had come from a similar background. But Sterling explained to his sons the power of large financial and corporate interests. When election campaigns seemed to favour the free enterprise Saskatchewan Liberals, Sterling would explain that the media were owned by corporate interests and the reporting simply revealed that. While he held his political views deeply, he did not get angry at those who thought differently. The neighbours liked to hear his views and felt safe to ask. During election campaigns he would come home telling Dorathy of conversations he had had, what he had said, and what they said. There was usually humour in the telling.

He was well read. He subscribed to The Western Producer and The Country Guide. He would read these issues from cover to cover. Thus, he and a neighbour, Garf Matheson, once made a trip with their farm trucks to N. Saskatchewan, in order to take advantage of a good deal on slab lumber. They did so because Sterling had spotted in the want ads at the back of the journal, this exceptional lumber deal. Later they would both build a corral attached to their respective barns.

In the process, they provided Dorathy and Mary, their wives, with a good deal of merriment. It was a two day trip. They were travelling in the two trucks and made no arrangements about where and when they would stop for the night. Late in the day the two trucks became separated and each man had no idea where the other was. What to do? In desperation they both phoned their wives and managed to figure out where the other was. Dorathy was heard laughing later, “they head out on a trip of high adventure, but before the day is done, they have to phone their wives to figure out where they are.”

In another life, Sterling might have been an entertainer. He enjoyed telling stories and enjoyed getting others to laugh. He didn’t mind if they laughed at his expense. He was also a sensitive storyteller. For example, he had a keen sense of when an ethnic joke was appropriate and when not. Once when Caronport, the nearby Bible College, was having staff conflict and disunity, the Mathesons dropped in for a visit. Mary was very sympathetic to Caronport and its conservative, literal biblical stance. When they left, with no mention on either side about the Caronport conflicts, Terry asked why he did not kid Mary about the issues. He replied, “you never kid a person about something that might be true.” This sensitivity to other people and their feelings, their wounds, was a mark of Sterling.

Sterling had a shiny bald head, shaped somewhat like a soccer ball. He had gone bald in his early 20s. For a while he wore a wig, but complained that it was too hot. Besides he was comfortable in his own skin the way he was. In fact he enjoyed his bald head and all the attention it got him. When Mathesons got a Budgie bird, the Shillingtons were soon down for a visit. The bird flew around the house and several times tried to land on Sterling’s shiny head. However, it could not get traction. Its brakes would not work on his head. It kept sliding off the front onto his forehead.

The boys were allowed to play with his head. One day, Terry wondered if a toilet plunger would attach to his head. It did and for a while the boys admired this toilet plunger sticking straight up on Sterling’s head, as he continued to read from the Western Producer. When, eventually, they moved to remove the plunger, it had left a startling effect. Sterling now had the largest hickey any of the family had ever seen. Dorathy was alarmed and censured the boys. Sterling shrugged it off and continued with the Western Producer.

With the extra income from teaching Sterling and Dorahy cold afford to travel extensively to different countries in different continents. They had more stories to tell. Night club entertainers loved to call one of the audience forward, and often Sterling was asked. He was more than willing to take part. Sterling felt it was his shiny bald head which caught the entertainer’s attention. Probably his face and his look of enjoyment added to it. Reflecting about these experiences, Sterling felt his bald head was a definite asset.

While Dorathy was more prim and proper, Sterling had a more unstructured and unworried way about him. He had false teeth all of his adult life. One fall day he went to pick up the cattle left for the summer at a pasture some miles away. While yelling at the cattle, his false teeth flew out and landed in the nearby manure. Busy with the round-up, he brushed off his false teeth on his overalls and the nearby snow, and proceeded to re-install them in his mouth. The day continued. 3-4 days later he came down with a furious fever. Dorathy offered him a generous dose of her wisdom on how he might have handled it.

Together Dorathy and Sterling had an interesting, and enduring marriage, It was not a relationship without conflict as Dorathy had many strong opinions and listening was not always one of Sterling’s strengths. At times his instinct was to joke about an issue, not deal with it. However, they shared a lively sense of humour and the three boys learned to laugh at the meal table and to enjoy sharing the humorous events of the day. Meals would always have time for stories as well as listening in silence and attentiveness to the news of the day, on the radio of course.

They each held the other in great respect and each was proud of the other’s accomplishments. While the boys may have worried that their father was henpecked, in fact these were simply two strong personalities who had found each other and loved each other deeply.


Everything changed when electricity came to the farm in 1952. Before this, illumination at night came from lanterns. In common with their neighbours, the Shillingtons found themselves getting less sleep as the magic of television kept them up later at night. An endless array of appliances were available for the kitchen. And not just in the kitchen. On bitterly cold winter days a gasoline engine could be hard or impossible to start. This problem vanished with electrification. Running water was possible. Sterling did the plumbing himself. His work stood the test of time. There were no leaks during subsequent decades that the house was occupied.

Prior to electrification radios operated with vacuum tubes and dry cell batteries, about the size of a milk bottle. The frugal Shillingtons felt they could only afford one set of dry cells a year. They were purchased in the fall. The family would gather around the radio and listen to it. By late winter and spring the batteries were running down and the radio was reserved for crop and livestock reports.

Their closest friends were the Mathesons. The Mathesons got a television set shortly after service was available. Sterling declined to purchase a set. For a period of time, on Sunday nights the Shillingtons travelled to the Mathesons to watch the television. This continued until the Mathesons got sick of hosting them. It was left to Dorathy to purchase a television some months later, taking every penny she had saved raising the turkeys, plus whatever she could scrounge from household expenses.


In 1908 the Saskatchewan government established a crown corporation, the Saskatchewan Government Telephones, to bring telephone service to rural areas. However, installing the telephones and maintaining the system was a local responsibility. This was done through a locally owned and administered telephone company. For many years Sterling was the secretary-treasurer. His duties included collecting delinquent bills. It was a testimony to his diplomatic skills and prestige in the community that he was able to collect from his neighbours without incurring their animosity.

During the mid-fifties you would often see a small Austin Mini parked alongside the family Pontiac. It belonged to one of the most colourful and storied persons to cross through the family history. This was Mrs. McLeod, the somewhat itinerant teacher who taught at Grayburn school for three years, Terry’s grades 5 -7, Ned’s 4 -6. She makes it into this family history, not because she was particularly beloved, at least not for Terry and Ned, but because Dorathy and Sterling’s commitment to education becomes clear in this tale.

Mrs. McLeod had spent two years teaching at Grayburn when a problem arose. She had boarded at two different homes, however, she was not especially popular and none wanted to take her for another year. Dorathy stepped forward and offered her a place to board at the Shillington home. It had already become clear to Dorathy that Ned and Terry disliked her intensely. However, the school needed a teacher. They wanted this school for their boys. She was a decent-to-good teacher. So the Shillingtons offered Edith McLeod a place to board, although Dorathy knew it would be tense and contentious having her live full time with the family. During the following year the boys raised complaints. Dorathy would say nothing in agreement in front of the boys, but respond with, “But she’s a good teacher”. That closed the ‘discussion’.

Mrs. McLeod was a “character”. She talked ad nauseam. She was likely lonely for her Nova Scotia home and talked incessantly about her native province. A homely slim divorcée in her late 50s, she never talked about her marriage or any children. While she was a relatively good teacher with structure and good methods, she had trouble keeping to timelines and angered the children by regularly running over into the recess and noon hour times.

Ned and Terry developed a fierce personality conflict with this woman. Discipline and respect were far more important to her, it seemed, than growing minds. Ned was developing a curious mind and she burst out one time, “You are always contradicting me. Why are you always contradicting me?” Once in dealing with Terry, she grabbed the ruler off his desk and swung it in anger at his hand. She missed his hand, but shattered the ruler, and then was quite embarrassed at her loss of composure. The relationships became exceedingly contentious. Somehow Dorathy navigated all this, never criticising her sons’ teacher, and always assuring them, “She’s a good teacher”.

Sterling and Tom did not have that much exposure to her, but Terry and Ned began to seize every opportunity to aggravate and bait her. When eating a B.C. apple, they would comment that they guessed Nova Scotia did not have ‘very good apples.’ That would provoke a lengthy dissertation on the Nova Scotia apple industry. In wet and muddy conditions, the boys hitched Daisy, their pony, to a two wheel cart to get to school. At times they were asked to transport Mrs. McLeod. They could not say “No”, but they could turn corners so tightly, that Mrs. Mcleod’s cart wheel barely missed falling off the road into the ditch. This would invariably produce a yelp of fear from Mrs. McLeod.

When heading out to school, she was known for starting up her Austin Mini and backing up very quickly, like the launching of a rocket. One of the outdoor cats, unfortunately, took to sunning herself behind the front wheel of the Austin. However, one day, Mrs. McLeod made one of these rocket-like launches. Before it could move, she ran over the cat, killing it.


The funniest of the Mrs. McLeod stories happened one night after supper. Sitting around the table, Sterling was teetering back on his captain’s chair. Dorathy had, a couple of times, hooked her toe on one of the rungs of the chair and startled him by giving him a little backwards nudge, startling him, but not tipping him over. After one of these nudges, Sterling proclaimed, “I saw that coming from a way back!!!”. Grinning in triumph, he suddenly was tipped over backwards, crashing to the floor. He was unharmed, however his beloved captain’s chair was now in several pieces. The chair had been brought from Ontario in 1908 and Sterling had a nostalgic attachment to the chair. As the boys laughed, he lamented, “my poor chair” and shuffled out to the shed with the pieces, hoping to put it back together.

Sterling had thought Dorathy would express some regret, but she uttered not a word of sorrow at his loss. Sometime later, he discovered Dorathy had had nothing to do with his latest “tip over”. Unbeknownst to everyone else around the table, Mrs. McLeod must have managed to get her foot out far enough and tipped him right over. She never ever expressed any contrition for the incident, or even admitted she had done it. It was so unlike her otherwise grim and serious demeanour. The phrase, “ I saw that coming from a way back” made it into the family lexicon and would periodically surface in family jokes for years after, always to a fresh round of laughter. After that one difficult year, Mrs. McLeod disappeared from our family and community. She was gone, but definitely not forgotten.

The Shillington farmstead, 1959


The Shillingtons were strict teetotallers, as were many of their neighbours. As the children grew older, Dorathy began to worry that they might stray. To forestall these temptations, she organised dances in the homes in the community. Neighbours took turns hosting them. Eventually she had to face the fact that their children wanted to go to community dances. Often Sterling said he was interested in coming along. In fact he had no interest in the dance per se, he simply wanted to keep an eye on the children. The boys were constantly reminded of the dire consequences of an unwanted pregnancy. In those days it meant a shotgun marriage and an end to dreams of a higher education.

They rarely bought canned vegetables. Instead they grew their own and canned them in jars. Nor did they buy fresh fruit. They bought fruits in season when they were cheap and canned them. Root crops, particularly potatoes and carrots would last the winter and were stored in a cool, dry room in the basement, appropriately called the cold cellar. By spring the potatoes and vegetables were spoiling. When the children were sent to the cold cellar for vegetables, they learned to be selective and pick the best. They grew a variety of potatoes which matured in late June or early July. By then there were also fresh vegetables and it was necessary to empty the cold cellar. The children complained that they had to haul out almost as much as they had taken down the previous fall.

The Shillingtons practised mixed farming. In addition to the hogs and beef cattle, they also milked two cows by hand. The diversification provided stability, but at a cost. It was laborious, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Every day started and ended by milking the cows and feeding the livestock. Once a week they would take livestock to market in a small wagon hitched to their car. It was a day to do some shopping and visit with whomever they met. They always had to be home in time for a quick supper and then milk the cows.

Tom with Sparky

Dogs were essential for herding the livestock. Sterling always bought Border collies. At times the dogs seem to be half-human. One of the dogs, Sparky, would head out on its own with no supervision and bring the milk cows to the barn as soon as the men started to get up from the evening meal. The dog knew enough to let the cows walk slowly. Cows about to be milked shouldn’t run.

An unwelcome job every fall was plucking the turkeys. Sterling rang their necks by hand and all joined in plucking the feathers. At the end of the day everyone would have feathers clinging to them everywhere.

It was their invariable custom to spend Christmas Day with three other families, the D. C. Campbells, Walter and Orly Wilson and family, and Mr and Mrs. Fred Schaffer. In 1953 they had just finished the evening meal at the Campbells when someone noticed there was a raging blizzard outside. Everyone headed home immediately. The visibility was zero. The Wilsons, the Schaffers, and the Shillingtons piled into their respective cars and set in a convoy. They had only travelled a short distance when it became clear they could not go any further. Sterling walked another mile to their home, harnessed his team of Clydesdales to a sleigh and ferried all of them to the Shillingtons.. The blizzard raged for three days during which they were all hosted by the Shillingtons.


Tom was always interested in farming. In 1954 he had partially completed grade 11 when he decided to leave school. The next spring a half-section of land in an adjoining community came up for sale. Sterling decided to buy it. He felt that the farm needed to be expanded. For her part, Dorathy felt a sense of personal failure when her son left school. Ned came into the kitchen and saw his mother crying. It was the only time he ever remembered seeing her cry.

In June 1967 Ned and Terry both convocated, each with professional degrees. Terry had a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Theology. Ned had a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Law. It was the realisation of a long held dream by Dorathy and Sterling. Dorathy was heard to say to Sterling “Well I guess we didn’t do too bad a job”. It was something she would repeat in later years when her children gave her reason to be proud.

Tom had met a lively, personable schoolteacher, Leona Langley. She taught at Pelican Lake. Tom and Leona were married on July 4, 1958. They hired a mover to move a house from the newly purchased farm to a location across the road from Dorathy and Sterling.

Although Tom and Leona were divorced many years later, Leona remained close to the family. Tom remarried Monica Burton on March 15, 1986. She also became a valued member of the family.

Tom and Leona adopted two children, Trent and Diane. Trent graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with an agricultural degree and returned to farm with his father, Tom. On Tom‘s death in 2022, he assumed full management and ownership of the farm, thus ensuring the Shillington farm will continue for a fourth generation. He married Allison Gayle Petit. They have five children:

  1. Jynel Rae born Nov. 6, 1993
  2. Bret William born Feb. 21, 1996
  3. Alanda Dorathy born Feb. 21, 1996
  4. Reece Lee born Sept. 29, 2001
  5. Nicole Layne born Sept. 29, 2001

Diane became a hairdresser.. She married Bill Greensides. They have 3 children:

  1.  Jessie, born January 27, 1991
  2.  Riley, born October 11, 1992
  3.  Drake, born January 23, 1997

In 1961 Terry left to go to the University of Saskatchewan where he would spend the next six years and graduate as an ordained minister. He came home during the summer months and worked as a farm labour during the summers of 1963 and 1964. After that he was enrolled in theology and served as a student minister during summer months. He was ordained as minister in the United Church of Canada in June 1967. His was a very unique arrangement, since he was not being sent to a parish as all his classmates were. Instead he had been awarded a scholarship from the World Council of Churches. That too was a special arrangement negotiated with the World Council. They would spend a year in N. Germany, learning the language and serving the “Evangelica Kirche von Deutschland”, then claim the scholarship for the year 1968 - 1969. Terry and Mary began frantically studying German at the University of Sask. before departing for Germany by ship in August, 1967.

They had an exciting, challenging, sometimes scary time navigating that first year. Then in 1968 they moved to S. Germany, to Mainz, where his year of studies began. Again in consultation with St. Andrew’s College, Saskatoon, they would return home to Canada, August, 1969 with his S.T.M., his master’s degree in Systematic Theology.

They were “settled” by the United Church in Govan, Sask., 70 Mi. North of Regina, where they would serve four years. In 1973 they moved to downtown Winnipeg where Terry began an ill-fated 14 months in an inner-city ministry in Winnipeg. It met Terry’s wish to serve in a modern, secular creative style ministry, but staff conflict led to almost total staff resignations and Terry’s departure.

In September, 1974, the T. Shillingtons moved to The Pas, Manitoba, where exciting years would be spent discovering the north and raising two toddlers, Scott and Amber. As well, Terry served on a national contemporary worship committee, “The Celebration Committee''. By now Mary had her certification as a physcol. (Mary took university courses through “Inter-Universities North'', earning a Bachelor of Arts degree.) There Amber and Scott would grow up. Terry would grow in leadership and serve a one year term as President of Manitoba and NorthWest Conference (of the United Church of Canada). Perhaps most important of all, the couple would make friends that would last the rest of their lives, in particular the Oldhams and the Grahams.

Terry accepted a call to McKillop U.C. in Lethbridge, Alberta and Mary would attend the University of Lethbridge. This would prove a long and happy pastorate, 17 years. The congregation blossomed, and a second contemporary worship service was begun. Terry would enjoy team leadership with two gifted women, Gloria Miller and Cathy Coates. Meanwhile Mary had done further study, acquiring a Masters in Social Work. Terry retired, at least officially, in June 2008. Mary, who had grown into a gifted counsellor and therapist, retired in 2009. Terry continues to lead worship one Sunday a month in rural Foremost, Alberta.

St Andrew’s 2022 graduating class.

Doctor T. Shillington is at the top of the stairs on the far right.

In a sense a period was placed on this church career/vocation in May, 2022, when Terry was awarded an honorary Doctorate by St. Andrew’s Theological College in Saskatoon. Dorathy and Sterling, who valued education so highly would be pleased to see this chapter close – Dr. Terry, B.A., B.D., S.T.M.

In 1962 Ned also left to attend the University of Saskatchewan. During the summers he worked as a labourer at the South Saskatchewan River Dam. The wage was $1.50 an hour, a princely sum in those days. Ned and Dorathy spent the summer of 1964 at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. They enjoyed their weekends visiting different tourist attractions. It was an experience they both cherished.

In December 1969 their youngest son, Ned, became engaged to Sonia Koroscil. She was of Ukrainian descent. In the spring of 1970, they brought Sonia’s parents to the farm in order to meet Sterling and Dorathy. Dorathy was aware that alcohol was a part of the Koroscil‘s social life. Dorathy had never been in a liquor store and abhorred the thought of entering one. She asked Tom to buy alcohol to serve them. The two families met. The introductions were successful and the parents had an amiable meeting. After the Koroscil‘s left, Dorathy gave the balance of the alcohol to Tom. It was the only time there was ever alcohol in their house.

The wedding took place on August 15, 1970 at Saint Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Yorkton, Saskatchewan. There was a dance in the evening where family and friends of the Shillingtons mingled with the family and friends of the Koroscils. The Ukrainian ceremony and culture was an eye-opener for the ShillIngtons and their friends. When Dorathy and Sterling got home, their community talked about the wedding for weeks afterwards. Those who never attended were simply left out of the conversation. Sonia and Ned have two children, Ryan Sterling born August 21, 1976 and Tara Dawn born June 2, 1978.


Terry, Ned, Sonia, Father Kuchmak

August 15, 1970


Sterling had taken a smaller and smaller part in the operation of the farm. Tom was in his 30s. Sterling realised the time had come to turn over the operation of the farm to him. Sterling looked forward to moving to Moose Jaw. His gregarious nature attracted a wide circle of friends. He enjoyed meeting them on a regular basis for coffee. Dorathy was of the opposite view. She was dismayed by the prospect of moving. It meant leaving her entire life and everything she knew behind. Finally in 1975 Dorathy relented. She was persuaded that if either of them needed medical attention, a real risk at their age, they could access it much quicker in Moose Jaw. It worked out better than she had expected. A number of other families from their community also moved to Moose Jaw at the same time. They formed a small circle of friends. Most mornings Sterling went to a coffee shop and spent as much time visiting as there were people to talk to. Dorathy also found time to read and visit with friends. Life moved at a relaxed pace.

In 1995 Ned was elected to the Legislature of Saskatchewan as the Member for Regina Centre. In a couple of months he became a cabinet minister and inherited the portfolio of Minister in Charge of Rent Controls, a controversial portfolio. He was often in the news. When people would meet Dorathy and make the connection, they would say with a hint of surprise “Your Ned’s mother”. Dorathy always responded, “No, he’s my son”. She wanted the relationship clarified. She was still his senior in every sense.

Sterling and Dorathy’s passion for politics never waned. In 1992 Ned and Sonia were coming out to Buffalo Pound Lake to join Tom and Monica. Ned called Dorathy and suggested she join them. She was delighted. He said he would pick her up at 11:00am. “No” she said firmly. NDP Premier Calvert was speaking at 11:00am. and she didn’t want to miss it. As much as she treasured spending an afternoon with her grandchildren, it didn’t trump the opportunity to hear the premier speak..


In the second half of the 80s Sterling and Dorathy entered a sad decline. Sterling‘s mind was beginning to desert him. There were times when he didn’t know who he was or where he was. It became impossible for Dorathy. After rarely being apart for 55 years the decision was made for him to go to a nursing home. When his children visited him, one of them asked him how he liked the nursing home. He said with a note of resignation, “It must be endured”. He clearly did not like it. He lived for three more years in the nursing home.

In late February, 1988 he went to the hospital. Ned and Dorathy were visiting him in the afternoon. He appeared to be recovering. Dorathy said she would go home and return tomorrow. She kissed him goodbye. Ned told her he would stay for a couple of hours.. It was only a couple of weeks until his 90th birthday and they were planning a gala celebration. Sterling was telling Ned what he wanted when suddenly he jerked and died before Ned‘s eyes. It was a scene Ned would never forget.

Dorathy continued to live in the same apartment in Langdon Towers for a few years and then moved to a cooperative apartment building. In 1994 Dorathy began to lose her mental faculties. Others in the apartment would find her in the hallway unsure of where she was. It became clear that she also had to go to a nursing home. Like the rest of her family, she did not want to go. As her son, Tom, was helping her get the last of her things before the move she said “Is there any alternative to this?” Tom said no. She went to Chez Nous, a building that had been a school. The classrooms were subdivided into bedrooms. She had a tiny bedroom. The only windows were so high that she had to stand up to see out of them. It was a miserable existence that haunted her children. Tom continued to look for an alternative and eventually she was able to move to an Extendicare facility. It was a considerable improvement. She died in 1997.

The funerals for both filled the cavernous Zion United Church in Moose Jaw to the overflowing by a community grateful for lifetimes of community service. The couple left Tom the farm free of any debt and each of their children a generous legacy. Their children were all successfully established in their careers. Dorathy would have commented, “Well Sterling, I guess we didn’t do too bad a job”.