Going to Whitewood
This is the Becton’s home at Cannington Manor “still standing”. The First World War sent these patriots, both English and French, home to defend the Motherland. However, Billy Becton was one who returned to England richer than he left: he discovered a trunk of goldmine stock under his bed left to him when he was 10-years-old. submitted photo
Going to Whitewood is a memorable trip - part two of three
We are enjoying an imaginary tour of the Cannington Manor and its environment. We had been discussing the French Counts at St. Hubert, Sask.. One of the most prominent of these farmer Counts was Count de Rofignac, a versatile and irrepressible enthusiast who had a finger in every pie and always managed to burn it, undismayed. Grandiose plans were drawn up to process agricultural products on the spot, most of which fell through. One count attempted to produce a Gruyer-type cheese, but the process failed because the milk was unsuitable owing to the dry feed the cows lived on during the winter months,unlike the moist lush year-round pastures of Europe.
Count de Rofignac decided to grow chicory, the root that was mixed with coffee to add flavour and extend it. Buoyed up by his unquenchable enthusiasm, he built a large house on a plateau overlooking the Pipestone River; installed as manager Baron Van Brabant and his brother who was sent from France to grow, tend and harvest row after row of chicory plants. Machinery was installed to dry, roast, grind and mix the root with the coffee. But the produce, marketed under such names as Bellevue and Richelieu Brand, failed to sell. “They grew enough that first year to supply all of North America” said a Whitewood old timer. “Fact was there just wasn’t that much coffee drank in the west and no one liked the taste of chicory anyway!”The sugar beet project however, was well thought out. Seed of a certain beet high in sugar was distributed to local farmers by de Rofignac. In the spring. an expert pronounced that the crop was very satisfactory. The count then called a meeting in November 1890, fully reported in the Free Press. He gave an enthusiastic picture of the huge profits to be expected and said he had been assured by capitalists from France they would put in several hundred thousand dollars to build and equip a factory for extracting sugar from beets. The sale of alcohol as a by-product, was however, forbidden by the government and that was the necessity to have a profitable financial picture. At that news the capital was not forthcoming and the deal fell through.
A small brush making factory also failed as did so many others that they became legends in Whitewood!
The language barrier added to the seeming haughtiness of the Frenchmen’s manner causing business dealings to be sticky. The easy going English gentlemen at Cannington Manor were dubbed snobs; a term to denote someone of a wobbly social position. But there was nothing wobbly about the count’s: They were of ancient royal lineage!
The Frenchmen’s Ball was an event still fragrant in the memory of Whitewood old timers. The late Mrs. Park described it, “It was astounding the number of white shirt fronts that were mustered not to mention white kid gloves! Many pretty dresses of the late 1880s were in evidence, probably souvenirs of better days back in Paris. The vivacious French women of gentle birth and breeding with jewelled necks and arms, lent an air of elegance in spite of the incongruity of the setting.
Their lavish homes in and around Whitewood were surrounded by manicured formal grounds. The home of the Count de Soras still stands, but gone is the avenue of poplars, the clock face of flowers, the huge stables, only the tall pines he planted near the house still stand.
One important achievement of these Frenchmen was the gift of the first church. In 1890 the counts paid for a beautiful stone church constructed by French stonemasons at the St. Hubert Mission. It was of granite with eight stained glass windows created in Paris and using the count’s children as the models for saints. Close by the church site are the dozen graves of these early aristocrats who died so far from home.
Next week: the decline of the counts.
by Don Pelachaty