The Sturgis Station House Museum received some special visitors on July 17, when family members of past train station agent Harold Oakes stopped by for a tour. The tour was given by Brooke Shelenko, assistant curator.
Olive Oakes, Harold's daughter, shared some of the fond memories of growing up at the station house with her daughter Nora, grand-daughter Lea, and Shelenko.
Shelenko took the group on a hands-on guided tour with Olive supplying past memories.
“Olive said her father started his career in the railway industry in Gladstone, Manitoba before serving in Sturgis from 1943 to 1954,” said Shelenko. “After the Station closed in 1984 he returned to Gladstone, where he eventually retired. Harold and his wife lived in the Station House for many years. They raised their children there until the Station House was closed in February of 1984. It was later sold and moved to become the Sturgis Station House Museum.”
Shelenko said she enjoyed showing Harold’s family members around the museum.
“Olive seemed very excited to be here and happily took me on a verbal tour of what this building used to be like,” said Shelenko.
Despite all the renovations and rearranging done at the museum in recent years, Olive was able to describe how their home was set up. What is now the entry room was previously the station's waiting room. It once was lined with wooden benches and even hosted baby chickens one night, she said.
Olive laughed as she remembered feeding, cuddling. and caring for a train full of chicks that missed their train and had to wait and catch the next one the following morning.
The now General Store was storage for trains and the railway workers.
The train theme room was Harold's office and at one time held their only telephone. With her hands, Olive mapped out how his desk used to be set up, said Shelenko.
“Under the wooden chair there is a piece of flooring that has been replaced and Olive took note of it,” she said. “It had to be replaced from the amount of wear and tear it must have endured with her father's chair constantly moving around.”
According to Olive, her father’s clothes got really dirty at work so they constantly had to be washed. To prevent it and to hopefully have the clothes last longer his wife made him sleeve covers for his shirts. In the history book there is a picture of Harold at his desk with puffy-looking shirt sleeves.
The room dedicated to the First and Second World Wars was their living room. Shelenko noticed that Olive shuddered at the mention of war.
“Without having to be asked she told me that her father avoided serving in the war due to his flat feet and the importance of his job,” said Shelenko. “Unfortunately his brother Arthur Oakes did have to serve in the war and lost his life.”
Olive mentioned how she and her siblings were waiting and hoping for a bicycle but didn't get one until after the war.
“This was because all of the factories were altered to only produce products capable of helping the war efforts,” said Shelenko. “Instead of bikes, a factory might switch to making guns and bullets.”
Under the staircase in the corner of the war room is a basement access point. Olive mentioned that she spent time in that basement tinkering and repairing things.
The kitchen has always been the kitchen. Olive said that outside the kitchen's side door there was a well.
On the second floor is a small hallway with four doors, and two rooms on each side.
“The first door on the right was where Olive’s parents slept,” said Shelenko. “The second door on the right was where she and her sister Pearl slept.”
Across from them slept the two brothers, Maurice and Arthur. According to Olive, Maurice war really into playing musical instruments but was too young to join a local band.
To be able to play his instrument Olive described how Maurice would sneak out of his two story bedroom window and climb down the room to an awaiting ladder.
“I can't say for sure, but the tone of voice and glint in Olive's eyes told me Maurice wasn't the only one who snuck out from time to time,” said Shelenko. “The last room, actually the first door on the left, was where Olive's sister Loraine slept.”
While describing the sleeping arrangements, Olive recalled a time when she and her siblings were quarantined in their bedrooms due to scarlet fever.
“I did some quick research on scarlet fever and found that it is very much like strep throat, except it causes high fevers, bright red rashes, and usually extremely very dry throats,” said Shelenko.
Due to it being very contagious, Olive and her siblings were ordered to stay in their beds until they got better. Their mother brought them what they needed while their father stayed well away from them.
But, just like any energetic or even slightly bored children would, they didn't fully listen to their mother's orders. Olive said that they would bounce around on their beds, talk, play, laugh, and do all sorts of things until they heard their mother coming up the stairs, when they all “just about flew back into the beds.”
Olive proceeded to share a story about the time she and her family left one of her then teenage sisters home alone in a storm. It was too bad of a storm to go up the hill to a residence street so Olive's sister was stuck inside, home alone.
“The worst part of it all was what tended to occur when storms hit,” said Shelenko. “Olive couldn't quite explain why but she says that during storms her father's equipment would spark. The worse the storm was, the more it would spark and this one was so bad, the equipment sparked so much that it seemed like it was on fire. When the family returned home, they were shocked that a real fire never ignited.”
Of course trains were a big part of the lives of the Oakes family and their dogs.
“Olive told stories of her dog named Skippy running out to meet the Hudson Bay Excursion,” said Shelenko. “Every time it went by or stopped she said Skippy loved the attention from the rail workers as they would feed and pet Skippy.”
According to Olive’s sister Pearl, the trains didn't only affect them while they were awake.
“Apparently during the night, whenever the Hudson Bay Excursion passed, Pearl said Olive would sit up in bed while still asleep and remain like that until it passed,” said Shelenko. “Olive said she has no memory of ever doing that.”
When Olive grew up she moved in with Mr. Allan Palmer and his wife. Allan was a school teacher on a First Nation's Reserve but is better known for his large and rather impressive rock collection which is on display at the Sturgis Station House Museum. Olive lived with the Palmer family for a short time before she left for training in Manitoba to become a nurse.
Olive said her brother Maurice became a baseball player and is in the Saskatchewan and the Manitoba Baseball Halls of Fame. Sadly, he passed in 2012.
“Olive, Nora, and Lea said they enjoyed the tour I gave them,” said Shelenko. “I am glad they enjoyed it and I am also thankful to them for allowing me access into what the Sturgis Station House Museum once was.”