Alongside the Heritage Mile, east of Edmonton in Sherwood Park, Alta., stands a statue of the three Lendrum sisters. Although their homestead lined a mile that contributed to the city’s growth, it was not their home’s location that earned these pioneering women such an honour.
The eldest, Annie, was born in 1873. Mary and Myra, twins affectionately known as Mamie and Mimie, were born in 1880. The sisters travelled West to care for their ailing Uncle Charles. Accompanying them were their cousin, Florence, who used a wheelchair, and their brother, John, who would settle in Edmonton.
When Uncle Charles died of cancer in 1914, the title for the homestead was transferred to Annie. However, because the Dominion Lands Act only provided free land to men over eighteen and women with dependents, Annie, Mamie and Mimie — despite being primary caregivers to their cousin — did not qualify for land because Cousin Florence was not a minor.
They could have had a free homestead in the States where their parents lived, but perhaps the sisters recognized the homesteading process would be more costly than they could afford. Although the homestead was free if proved-up, there was an application fee in addition to supplies, tools and farming implements.
In Canada, to afford a homestead, the equipment, a comfortable house and to continue on in the face of adversity, many homesteaders left their land over the winter to gather capital by logging or mining. It appears the Lendrum’s may have had some independent wealth, since Charles didn’t leave during the slow farming season to earn funds elsewhere. On the statutory declaration proving his claim, when asked “when absent from said homestead where were you?” — he answered curtly, “at home, working on my farm,” and “I only went to get my provisions.”
Even if the men took jobs, the livestock couldn’t be left alone, nor the house abandoned. Homesteaders with families were more successful at this than single men were. However, the Lendrum’s proved a successful farm family, despite not having a ‘wife’ among them.
It is likely the Lendrum sisters were doing Charles’ share of the homestead chores prior to his death. In addition to the 160 acres, of which 11 were broken for crops by 1910, the homestead included five horses and 28 cattle, as well as chickens.
Many of the special tasks, such as plowing and harvesting, would require more than one labourer. The physical demands of farming, in addition to the costs of supplies, hired hands and maintaining the homestead and equipment, would have been daunting. The Lendrum quarter section had additional value in that it was proved-up and workable. Annie, who held the title, could have sold it and moved her sisters into town, closer to family, but the Lendrum sisters stayed on.
Neighbourhood children would shovel their driveway in the winter months, and Mimie and Mamie put their nursing education to use helping their neighbours in times of illness and tragedy. Doctors were still a rarity on the plains, so the sisters’ skills were prized among neighbours.
Still, the women stayed as long as they were able. Cousin Florence passed away on Christmas Eve in 1924, followed by Mimie in August of 1928. Annie transferred the title for the land to Mamie at her death in October of 1943, at the age of 69. Over the years, diminishing returns left Mamie unable to pay property taxes. She sold the land in 1947, moving to a nursing home in Edmonton before passing away in 1952. She is buried with her sisters near her Uncle Robert’s land in the Lendrum community of Edmonton.
If the Lendrum sisters travelled to the Canadian frontier simply to live a life of their own choosing, they succeeded. They faced certain financial hardships while caring for a dying man and providing a home for their invalid cousin. But before they had a vote, before they were “persons,” they were homesteaders.
The statue of the Lendrum sisters stands in representation of women, equal in pioneering spirit to men and capable of making it on their own.