Norman’s home

http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~fieldspg/pdf/Newsletter(41.1)v2.pdf

Read the article here: St. Albans — Obituary for a House by Neil Holliday

Suddenly, on 25 June 2014, at the age of 108, the home of Norman Criddle, Manitoba’s first professional entomologist, was destroyed by fire. “St. Albans” was the second house of this name to be erected at the Criddle/Vane homestead, which is located about 30 km southeast of Brandon. The family, under the direction of Norman’s father Percy, began homesteading at the site in August 1882, and lived in tents until late December of that year. The house into which they first moved was built by the family and their neighbours. It was constructed of logs from local woodlands and, as chinking between the logs tended to fall out, the house was perpetually cold and draughty. The early years of homesteading were far from profitable, and so it was not until 1905 that a replacement was contemplated, when Percy Criddle began to design “The Big House”. The new house was a compromise between Percy’s aspirations for grandeur and his lack of cash, and the final design was estimated to cost $1560. Unlike its predecessor, the house was professionally built and relatively draught-free. Although both houses in their turn were christened “St. Albans” by Percy, it is not known why this name was chosen.

Despite obscure references in Percy’s diary to dissension and confusion during building, the house was more-or-less complete on moving day, which was 28 November 1906. On that day, the house was a simple two-storey square of about 12 m on each side. In addition to the usual rooms of a prairie farmhouse, there was a library, and a music room in which Percy installed his organ. Upstairs there were eight bedrooms, to accommodate Percy and his wife Alice, those of Percy’s children who were still at home, and the occasional visitor. 7

At the time of moving to the new St. Albans, Norman Criddle was just beginning to expand his scientific horizons. He and his half-brother, Harry Vane, had invented Criddle mixture for grasshopper control in 1900. In 1905, Norman spent time in Ottawa visiting people in the federal Department of Agriculture, and in 1907 the Dominion Entomologist, Dr James Fletcher, was among the visitors to St. Albans. Norman Criddle’s first entomological appointment with the Dominion Department of Agriculture was in 1913, and Manitoba’s first Dominion Entomology Laboratory, located a little way down the hill from The Big House, was opened in May 1915. The house continued to be home base for Norman until his death in 1933, although his duties for the Department of Agriculture resulted in many absences. Following the deaths of Norman’s parents in 1918, Norman’s sister, Maida, became the lady of the house, and was frequently called upon to entertain Norman’s visitors and to conduct tours of the laboratory, known locally as “The Bug House.” Maida remained at St. Albans until 1960, when she and two of her brothers moved to Vancouver Island.

The photograph at the head of this article was taken on 17 November 1917. The single story structure on the left hand side of the house is an annex, built in 1916, to accommodate Norman’s scientific visitors. These would have included the ecologist, Ralph Bird, and the beetle specialist, J.B. Wallis. It seems probable that the annex also housed Norman’s research assistants, as the homestead was remote from any localities where other accommodation might be had. In the foreground of the photograph is a screen enclosure for meteorological instruments. Environment Canada’s daily precipitation data for St. Albans begin on 1 January 1885, with temperature records beginning the following April. Originally, Percy collected the data, but this soon devolved to Norman, and eventually to Maida, whose final record was for 24 October 1960. This appears to be the second-longest run of daily weather records for anywhere in Manitoba. Also prominent in the photograph is the flagpole, which Percy had installed for the purposes of signaling, and for which he developed a three-flag coding system, and a St. Albans flag. Finally of note are the twin poles above the roof. These are lightning conductors and were transferred from the previous house, where they had safely diverted a lightning strike in 1891. Lightning struck both conductors of the new St. Albans in 1914, and instead of passing harmlessly to ground along the cables, made diversions through three bedrooms and the kitchen, causing minor damage to walls, windows and ceilings.

The Criddle/Vane homestead was acquired by the Province of Manitoba in 1970, and was designated a Provincial Park in 2004. In 1998, the Provincial Parks department held consultations with interested parties to plan the future of the property. At that time, the vacant buildings were already being vandalized, and it was recognized that their remote location and lack of occupants rendered them vulnerable. It was proposed that, unless some group would take responsibility for their maintenance, the buildings be dismantled, their foundations outlined with markers, and commemorative plaques installed. The Criddle/Vane Homestead Heritage Committee took on the challenge of renovating St. Albans and the entomological laboratories. Sadly, vandalism of St. Albans recurred, and now it is no more.

Additional information

Much of the information in this article is derived from Criddle-de-diddle-ensis by Alma Criddle (1973, privately published). A different perspective from that in Alma Criddle’s book is to be found in For Elise: unveiling the forgotten woman on the Criddle homestead by Oriole Vane Veldhuis (2012, privately published). Norman Criddle’s life and scientific work were the subject of the 2004 Heritage Lecture of the Entomological Society of Canada (Holliday, N.J. 2005. Norman Criddle: pioneer entomologist of the Prairies. Bull. Entomol. Soc. Canada 37: 10–19). The Criddle/Vane story is the subject of exhibits at the Sipiweske Museum at Wawanesa, and much of this material is available through virtualmuseum.ca — go to the website http://www.museevirtuel-virtualmuseum.ca/index-eng.jsp and search for “Criddle”. Manitoba Parks and Natural Areas also has information at http://www.gov.mb.ca/conservation/parks/popular_parks/western/criddle_info.html. Finally, a virtual tour of the house as it was in 2011 can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJz1nCKHXDU , although the commentary for this is far from historically accurate.

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