CB Smith dubbed the $4 baby

 In Opinion

These are the words C.B. Smith penned February 15, 1964:

My life has been interesting to me with plenty of ups and downs, however, on the whole, it has been rewarding and I have had many blessings for which I am grateful. I never attained so-called wealth but I have always had enough and my greatest asset is my family I will leave behind. Everyone has been successful and a credit to their parents and the village which was home.

I was born in a humble home, half a mile east of Glen Huron on March 12, 1888. I was my parents’ first child. The circumstances attending my birth measured by today’s standards were both simple and cheap. For instance, even a doctor was not considered a necessity in those days for such a simple affair as a birth. My father’s mother was in full charge assisted by another woman. In the midst of the operations my father got excited and said, “I am going for a doctor.” In his horse and cutter he drove to Duntroon and brought back Dr. Kirkland. While Dad was away I arrived hale and hearty. The doctor pronounced everything in order and charged Dad $4 for his visit. Grandmother was perturbed and told Dad he had more money than sense. It was hence that I was dubbed the four-dollar baby.

Times were really bad in those days. For instance to earn a few dollars to keep the wolf from the door my father had taken a job chopping in the bush nearby. He was paid sixty cents a day and boarded at home.

My parents told me that I was really smart and started to walk at quite a young age. In March 1892, Dad traded his 50-acre farm for the 100-acre one where he lived the rest of his life. My brother Alfred owns this property now. (Note by Helen Blackburn (HB): Now and for many years it has been the home of Michael Giffen, his wife and sons.) I well remember the excitement of the moving. I was then four years old.

Father made use of me at an early age. In August 1892, he was cutting oats with the self binder at the front of the farm on the Sixth Line. I, as usual, was with him in the field so he said to me, “Skip up to Grandpa’s and bring me back a ball of twine.” Away I went. Granddad decided a five-pound ball of twine was quite a load for a four-year-old so he accompanied me back to the scene of operations and he carried the ball. I quite well remember walking along with old Grandfather on that day. He had a long whisker and I thought him a very old man. Two months later he died at age 60.

I started to school spring of 1894 when I was six years of age. I could count and knew my letters when I started. Accordingly I progressed rapidly. In fact maybe too smart and it was to my disadvantage as I look back. I could only say that my school days were not too happy. I was small and learned easily. Invariably I was always at the head of my class. My classmates were often two to four years older than I. Accordingly they didn’t like me to soar above them. I was called teacher’s pet, mamma’s darling, etc. Also because my mother had been a teacher my classmates claimed my mother helped me at home. This wasn’t true. She had lots to do otherwise and besides I didn’t need her help.

My strong subjects were math, literature and composition. I also excelled in spelling. My sister Bessie and I were always the finalists in the old time spelling matches. When I was 11 years old I could have written the High School entrance exam in 1899 had my teacher proposed but she thought I was so young and small and I should wait.

Fortunately a wonderful teacher came to replace her at New Year’s 1900 and I wrote the entrance at Stayner and passed with honours. And there were some nice tributes in local papers as it was unusual for a 12-year-old to pass the entrance.

(A note by HB: The so-called entrance exams were held at the end of Grade 8 and were set provincially. The “Entrance” then had a reputation something like the exams for university today. They were phased out a year or two before I was in Grade 8.)

Then came the crisis. Dad was quite set on me becoming a farmer. He was on the School Board and while he believed in good teachers and a decent education he thought the entrance was quite enough for any farmer. Other local farmers’ sons had quit school to help their dads on the farm. In fact, it was the general trend. Furthermore times had been bad through the nineties and I felt he couldn’t afford to send me to high school and pay my board, etc.

(Note by HB: Young people in the country had to find room and board in a village or town such as Creemore to get a high school education. It was out of the question for a good many.)

Helen Blackburn is a retired teacher, avid gardener and a long-time contributor to The Creemore Echo. She writes about local history.

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