RICHARD MACKLEY SYSON
Born in Cossall 1873
Immigrated to Canada in 1903
Died in Alberta 1958
Richard was born 23rd April 1873 in Cossall, Nottingham, England. He was the eldest son of John Syson (1843-1920) & Eliza (Ball) and had two sisters Sarah Ann & Martha together with three brothers, Jesse, William & Edward. His mother passed away when he was nearly 5 years old. He was very fond of his step mother, Mary Ann Booth and wrote her regularly when he came to Canada.
Richard was always musical and at the early age of seven was a Church of England Cathedral boy soprano and later organist on the pipe organ. He loved the church and often recalled his childhood days in the choir:-
"How we did enjoy being in the choir. And what miles we used to walk to go to a practice, living in the country was not like living in the town and yet we used to attend the practices with a great deal of zest, walking 5 and 6 miles very often in the rain.
We went as singers to Southwell and Lincoln Cathedrals. What a marvellous time we had in those ancient churches, walking down one of the aisles singing a processional and then after the service down another aisle singing a recessional.
Mr. Gray and the writer lives in those days, even tho' some people say it's not good to hark back to the days of long ago. Why only a few nights ago I was spending the evening with some friends in town (Stettler, Alberta) and all we could think of were the good times we all had singing in the choirs at "home" in England.
His brother Jesse and he worked with a Church Lad's Brigade, Southwell Regiment at Kimberley, Notts.
Nottingham Canal, Cossall
When Richard was a young lad he fell in the canal and nearly drowned. Luckily for Richard an explosion, many years before, had hurled bricks into the canal. He managed to balance on his tiptoes on a brick until a servant girl, happened along and pulled him out. Coal mining, saw mill and farm accidents meant that Richard had many narrow escapes from death during his 85 yrs.
Richard had many childhood memories. He wrote an accounts of the early Christmas Days in England and his mining experiences. His father John, became a self-trained geologist and his advice was always sought in connection of the sinking of new mines. 50 years he spent as a miner. At John's funeral they referred to him as "HONEST JOHN".
Richard was a traveller at heart. Spending his life as a coal miner, in a small English village, was not for him and he soon grew restless. He was a fantastic reader and was well versed in any subject. He attended Nottingham School of Art and learned to paint boldly in oils. He then spent some time at a Bible School in Glasgow, Scotland in 1900.
During May 14, 1895, he and a friend, sailed to South Africa where they spent three years near Johannesburg. He has written accounts of his experiences during those days.
After returning to England he married Miss Florence Hall of Gedling, Notts on 11th Jan. 1902. They had one son Thurston Hall Standish Syson born Dec. 11, 1902 at Awsworth, England.
In 1903, the Barr Colonists came to Canada. They were 'Green English men' and knew nothing about farming, well almost nothing. During one weekend they were "trained" to farm in the wild and wooly west and to milk cows. A wonderful picture of free homesteads was painted for them. The idea of owning their own land appealed to them so Richard, wife and 5 month old son Thurston decided to go out to Canada.
It was a tearful parting from their families. (Richard has a written account of the sad parting). He never saw his family again but he wrote to them very faithfully. We don't know the name of the vessel they crossed the Atlantic on but the conditions in 1903 were not the best. Many were sick on the ship.
Not only was Canada a foreign country but they all spoke French which made it rather confusing . By now Richard and Florence wished they could return to their home land in England. Then to add to everything he had a terrible time with the officials over the bicycle he had brought along.
They travelled to Calgary, Alberta by train. The journey was long and tiring and they couldn't give the baby the attention he needed. From Calgary to Ponoka they travelled by train & oxen team. The road was a desolate trail and the oxen were straining and pulling for all they were worth. On reaching their destination they found the land wasn't suitable for homesteading, so Richard worked at a saw mill and Florence taught some children in the neighbourhood. Then Florence died in child birth leaving Richard and two year old Thurston. Friends took care of Thurston until Richard (Dick) remarried.
In 1906, Richard moved to the Stettler district where he lived the rest of his life. On the 10th Dec. 1907 he married Caroline Hartt of Jacksontown, New Brunswick (she came from a line of Baptist ministers). She was a school teacher before Alberta became a province in 1905. While teaching in the area, Richard met her, she was willing to marry him and to raise his little son, Thurston.
Richard was one of the members of the early board of trustees of the Pilot Knob School and was active in the Baptist church work in Stettler and outlying districts during the pioneer days and throughout his long life.
At one time he was on a survey party and helped survey homesteads east of Stettler. "Syson" lake and school were named after Richard. He worked hard on his homestead driving oxen but found it difficult because he was "city bred". During the winters he would work in the coal mines while Caroline fed and watered the cattle, and during the rest of the year she taught in nearby schools.
Tragedy struck, their homestead house burned to the ground one night, they escaped with only a trunk and a few clothes for little Thur. Richard lost his valuable oil paints from England as well as the family photo albums however his English relatives sent out more pictures.
Caroline travelled back to New Brunswick to have her first child. Caroline had an aunt who was the first registered lady doctor in New Brunswick. She had faith that Dr. Secord would be of great help in the delivery, as Caroline was 40 yrs old. Florence Pearl was born 27th Dec. 1913 in the Hartt farm house near Jacksontown, N.B. When Florence was three months old they travelled back by train to the homestead north of Stettler. They had a little son Gerald but sadly he died at 9 months of age in 1915.
Caroline passed away in June, 1945. Following her death, Richard resumed his hobby of painting with oils. Despite being over 72 yrs of age he painted several hundred colourful pictures, which he gave to his many friends. Richard lived with Florence, Don and family until 7 months before he too passed to his Heavenly Home on the 22nd Feb. 1958.