There’s something compelling about stone houses in rural Saskatchewan (and Manitoba). They’re typically constructed out of stones from the field on which they are built, hence the name “fieldstone”. They are quintessentially organic in nature given that they are made of materials from the land on which they stand. These houses are hand-made. Stone houses are typically built by a stonemason but I’ve no doubt that in most cases the owner added considerable amounts of sweat equity to their home in one way or another. A stone house has a look of permanence (even though the reality is that a well built and cared for wood house can last as long as stone). They are special and I’d venture to say that most people who drive by a fine stone house takes notice of it. Strangely these houses are very rare in Alberta; perhaps Alberta has more trees or at least the trees were closer to the farmlands so that stone wasn’t a choice building material. It certainly isn’t because of the lack of stones in the fields of Alberta. This is Saskatchewan’s unique legacy and to a lesser extent, Manitoba’s as well.
It should come as no surprise that today’s blog will feature a stone house. In fact this post features two stone houses built not far from each other and using the same stone mason. Most of the information came from the excellent book, Legacy of Stone: Saskatchewan’s Stone Buildings (full citation below). Now let’s get to know the two houses and the people who created them.
The 1918 Parker House
This house is so named because it was built by William Edward (Eddie) Parker. A stone house was definitely in the cards for Eddie Parker because his brother was a stonemason and could design and build just such a house. In fact there were six other Parkers, all brothers, who decided to come out west from Ontario to seek their fortune, although one brother continued his travels to the USA (and one brother stayed in Ontario, so there were eight boys in total!). The construction of the house was a real family affair. Charlie Parker, the stonemason, designed the house and built at least two of the four walls. Their brother Herbert hauled the stones with horses and a stoneboat from the Lake of the Rivers, six kilometers away. Their brother Barkley did the carpentry work. Eddie built the two walls that are not visible from the road. It must have been a happy time with four brothers working on the house and watching it rise from the high piece of land selected for it. All that remained was for Eddie’s fiancée to arrive from Ontario. Sadly she never did arrive to see the house because she died in 1919 of the Spanish flu. Four years later Eddie married a local girl, Edith Sunaman. She was much younger than Eddie but together they raised seven daughters. Eddie and Edith left the house in the early seventies for a retirement life in a town or city, and Eddie died shortly thereafter in July 1977. Edith lived until June 1995. Shortly after she died the farm was sold, probably by their daughter, Evelyn.
If you look down at the photographs of the house you might notice something unusual. Take a look at the photos and see if you can pick it out. Hint, the unusual feature pertains to the building material and how it is used on the construction of the house. Hint two, the first four images show a consistent pattern or style. The next image (first image in portrait alignment) looks as if it was from a different house. If you still don’t see it look at the very last image of the Parker House as the “feature” is very clear there.
The Parker stone house sits on a high point. It likely served as a landmark for years. The image below shows the welcoming approach to the house that probably hasn’t changed much since the 30s and 40s when the family arrived home from an outing.
Charlie Parker must have been a supurb stonemason because I didn’t see any cracks in the structure. It looks very strong, although the roof is showing its age.
From the back view it looks like a completely different house. Notice how the stones are raw, uncut, and placed with little regard to size and colour. If you look at the first four images you’ll see the fine work of Charlie Parker as he used cut stones that were sized similarly. Of course that’s just the outside layer. Behind the square blocks would be the same rubble of stone as you see at the back.
Usually the insides of these old abandoned homes are a real mess and full of birds. This is one of the few places I’ve visited where I thought I could almost sit down and relax. It has the right feel to it; it’s as if it was just being finished and will soon be ready to live in. That’s quite the opposite situation from what is really happening but that is how it felt inside to me. It’s a good feeling.
The last step in the staircase, with the wide extra large step and a rounded shape, shows the details that are the mark of a fine well built house. The fireplace has no cracks. It looks like it just needs some wood and some tools and it would be ready to burn a pleasing fire. There was some sort of a crest above the fireplace at one time. The crest is quite a curious thing because it was fastened to the wall rather than just hung by a nail.
The views out the windows show planted trees and rolling hills. Did Eddie Parker like to sit in that very chair next to the window? Perhaps that’s where Edith Parker sat and mended the children’s clothes.
This last image of the Parker House clearly shows the unusual feature of two different styles of stones and how they are placed to form the walls. According to the excellent book on stone houses in Saskatchewan, Legacy of Stone: Saskatchewan’s Stone Buildings (2008) by Margaret Hryniuk, Frank Korvemaker, and Larry Easton, two sides of the house have squared stone which is clearly the work of a stonemason. Those two sides were built by stonemason Charlie Parker. The other two sides show basic uncut stones laid in a random rubble style. This is the work of Eddie Parker. All of the walls appear to be equal in strength but visually are very different. Personally I kind of like Eddie’s work as it shows the stones as they came out of the field or from the nearby Lake of the Rivers. The more formal style by Charlie Parker was used for the two sides visible from the road (and the fireplace). The sides not visible from the road are where Eddie Parker built the walls. I suppose this is a very practical way to build the house and even today you can see houses in towns and cities on the prairies that have different material on the sides facing the road and a cheaper material for the back and sides of houses. Perhaps, without knowing it, the Parker brothers started that trend on the prairies. We could call it the Parker Method. I say that tongue in cheek but it did start somewhere and seems to be a prairie style so who knows?
I couldn’t locate much information about the Parkers beyond what I read in Legacy of Stone (full citation below). In that book, all or most of the family information appears to have come from one of their daughters, Evelyn Maud (Parker) McAdam. Evelyn appeared to have lived a remarkably busy life of service to others and even her country. To read more about Evelyn Maude (Parker) McAdam, see the obituary link near the end of this post. Evelyn Maude (Parker) McAdam served in the Canadian Air Force, completed high school and then normal school, married an Anglican Priest, became a Certified Nursing Assistant, worked seasonally or as required for Canada Post and Elections Canada and served as president and later on the executive committee of the Royal Canadian Legion. This is all in addition to doing farm chores (she was the second oldest child of a family of seven girls) and no doubt helping to raise her sisters.
The 1914 Stevenson House
If you think that the Stevenson House has similarities to the Parker house you have developed a good eye for stone construction. The Stevenson House is just 30 km from the Parker house. Both families were Scottish and Robert Stevenson also hired Charlie Parker to build his one extravagance which is this stone house. His sons gathered stones from their field where he homesteaded. To keep costs down he used hired help to build three sides while Charlie Parker, a skilled stonemason, built the front wall and the fireplace.
The Stevenson House is somewhat hidden as it was built well in from the road. The trees now to hide the house from the the road. If you didn’t know where the house was located you probably wouldn’t find it. A couple of granaries finish the job of hiding the house from the road.
Below you can see that, similar to the Parker House, the Stevenson house had the nice square-cut stones professionally placed by Charlie Parker, stonemason, but only on the front. The sides were a more simple style of uncut field stones collected by his sons and placed by some hired help. They show big stones mixed with small stones as if the workers used whatever stone their hands reached first from the stone pile. Robert Stevenson was a butcher who raised sheep. He likely traded meat for services and had little to do with the actual setting of the stone.
The contrast between the sides and the front is unmistakably similar to the Parker House. The square cut stones on the front are the work of Charlie Parker, stonemason. The other three sides are the work of hired help. While the method is random with uncut stones with little regard for size, the walls seem equally strong. The second image below is the front step to the main entrance to the Stevenson house. On those steps is an unusual design drawn into the concrete.
Below you can see the design drawn into the front steps. I have never seen anything quite like this in other stone or even wood houses. Clearly the Stevensons appreciated the finer touches of elegant details, especially if it didn’t cost too much.
Below is another image of the front steps. They have a very relaxing feel to them. A place where I imagine the Stevensons often enjoyed sitting on a warm summer evening to sip a cup of tea. To the lower right is the front door. Here too you see details that add character such as the design cut into the wood holding the glass window in place. Even the door handle has a little design on it. This was certainly not the cheapest door handle available. Now let’s pass through that door and look inside.
Below you can see a chair that I’ve heard has been sitting at the base of those stairs for many years. It has a somewhat ghostly look to it with the stuffing coming out the way it is. The image below right is the front of an old radio. I wonder if the Stevensons listened to Churchill’s famous WWII speech from this very radio (“we shall never surrender…”).
If the fireplace looks familiar, it should. It was built by Charlie Parker, the same stonemason that built the Parker House. Look at how carefully he placed the various sizes of the stones. Three large stones, cut square, are near the top of the fireplace. There is even a slight design in the cut of the stones that side onto the fireplace opening.
Below is the inside view of the front window. The trees and shrubs are starting to block the view of the rolling Saskatchewan prairie. It would have been a very sunny place to sit. I’m not certain but that wood framed item to the left may be the rest of the old radio mentioned above. It’s about the right size for that radio.
The image below (after the Stevensons’ tombstone information) shows the front of the house in a moment that the sky briefly cleared of smoke to reveal a hint of blue. This beautiful house has stood the test of time. The owners, Robert and Mary Stevenson moved out in 1952 to live in Assiniboia. I don’t know if anyone has lived there since. Perhaps it is the hidden location that has allowed the house to remain in reasonably good condition. If the house has been empty since 1952 it will have been empty for more years than it was lived in. I think that if someone had the time, money and skills, they could restore this old house. As the expression goes, “it has good bones”; very good in fact.
After photographing the two houses I left them as I always do, completedly unchanged. I took nothing but photographs and memories.
Charlie Parker is the connection between these two houses. He was the stonemason who built both houses. Of course he also built his own house, other farm houses and two churches. One of those two churches, St. Paul’s Anglican Church, is also where his grave is located. I don’t have photographs of those other structures that he built but I still hope to find and visit them some day. Charlie Parker and his wife Rebecca both died in 1955. I believe that they had a son who also became a stonemason.
I wasn’t able to find the local history books for these two properties. The result is that nearly all of the factual information in this blog came from this supurb book, Legacy of Stone, citation immediately below. It’s no longer in print but if you are quite fortunant you may find a copy somewhere. It has extensive information about a huge number of old Saskatchewan structures.
- Legacy of Stone: Saskatchewan’s Stone Buildings (2008) by Margaret Hryniuk, Frank Korvemaker, and Larry Easton: http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/people/korvemaker_f.shtml .
- https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/thestarphoenix/obituary.aspx?pid=172518312 Obituary for Eddie and Edith Parker’s second (of seven) daughters, Evelyn Maude (Parker) McAdam, who died in 2014.
Frank Korvenmaker has a number of copies of the book Legacy of Worship for sale. They retail at $40 (plus tax) in bookstores, if available. He is selling them at $25 (no tax), plus shipping, usually in the $15-$20 range. For any person or group wanting to buy books in bulk, he is selling them for $10 per book on orders of 10 copies or more. Pick-up of bulk orders may be arranged between the the buyer and Frank in Regina for those who may be passing through. Email Frank Korvenmaker at firstname.lastname@example.org for details and to discuss shipping. I receive no commission or other remuneration for assisting Frank to sell this book.
If you visit the structures shown in this blog, or any other old potentially abandoned structure, please respect the landowners” rights and obtain their permission to access and photograph their structures. Always exercise caution when visiting abandoned buildings as there are potential dangers such as crumbling structures, deep wells hidden by grass, and even spores of mould in the air.