Albert Charles Durston

Albert Charles Durston was always known as "Bert". He was born at Griswold and remained there for his lifetime. He was educated at a country school named Hillsdale, about a mile from his home. In later years he served on school, church, municipal, and hospital boards at Griswold, Oak Lake, and Souris. He remained at home with his mother after the death of his father, marrying Bertha Charlton Donogh in 1937 and moving to a neighbouring farm. At this farm, Charles Arthur and Clifford Frank were born. In 1943 the family moved to Griswold (23-9-23W) where he farmed for the remainder of his life. In 1964 Bert contracted cancer, and surgery left him with a colostomy which he had until his death in 1973. He is buried at Griswold in the Durston Family plot.

Bert began and ended his formal education at Hillsdale School, a rural school a short distance from the family home. The education offered here was a Three R’s type with grades from one to eight. Despite these humble beginnings, he was a voracious reader and would often read books and newspaper stories long into the evening.  Between his beginning and self education he became well enough equipped to serve on school boards, area councils, as well as being a national representative for groups of farmers, and as a member of the wider area Hospital board, to name a few.  These assignments generally required the reading and understanding of pertinent government acts and laws or organizational constitutions in their discharge.

When Bert was born in 1904, there were already 5 older children in the family; the eldest being about 12 years old.  In the next decade there would be an additional six; making a family of 12 children..Eight were girls, and four boys completed the count. Two died in infancy.

 In growing up, there must have been many events that were deemed momentous. One of these might have been Bert’s Brother Billy leaving to fight in WWI. He would not return and is memorialized on the Vimy monument in France. Happier occasions could have included many weddings; Edith in 1915, Winnie in 1917, Nellie in 1920, Anthony in 1929, Catherine in 1932 and Jessie in 1933, and Frank in 1948. Bert himself was married in 1937.

 His Father Arthur died in 1929 and one sister (Dora) remaining at home died in 1939. Bert’s mother Emilie lived until 1949, long after he had established himself on a farm near Griswold.

 Bert was always a farmer. During his lifetime, the nature of farming would change from one needing a great deal of physical labour, to one where some of that labour could be relieved by mechanical contrivances.  He probably never used oxen as field locomotion, but he was comfortable with horses and owned several teams; one of which he had for many years, extending long after they were needed for field work. In their advancing ages, Tommy and Jiggs were useful for pulling winter sleds, hauling manure from the barn, and other light jobs. Son Clifford has memories of Tommy and Jiggs pulling the stoneboat at a brisk run with Bert standing on the stoneboat and riding it like a surfer, and often with a small boy clinging to either leg, noting that a stoneboat has nothing to hang onto!

Horses served another purpose as, during much of the 1940's, many of the country residents didn't use cars during the winter. There were two reasons for this; one was a scarcity of antifreeze during and following war years, and the other was the lack of ploughed roads to drive on. The family farm was approximately two miles from town, and horses were used to go back and forth. They pulled either a grain box wagon on sleighs, or a sleigh with passenger seats. A livery barn in the village meant that the horses could be stabled for longer stops. In later years, Bert built an enclosed van with seating for four and a small tin stove to make the ride more comfortable.  In winter, there were daily rides to the village  for the children to attend school. Clifford remembers his appendicitis attack which required an operation in a Brandon hospital. First came a ride in the heated but unsprung van to reach the village of Griswold, and then an additional 25 miles in a borrowed car to Brandon. 

As farming progressed, Bert had a tractor. His first was a Gray tractor; a cumbersome beast with one large rear wheel with a width of over five feet, and two front wheels for steering. Apparently unsuitable, this tractor was committed to the junk heap and the large rear wheel was turned on its side and supported a fuel tank for many years. In 1943, after the purchase of their new farm, a new Farmall H was bought. Small by modern standards, this tractor pulled a variety of implements for many years and underwent several overhauls and upgrades.It was eventually augmented by the larger Farmall “M”, and several others as time went on.

 Harvest was a busy time, and in the early days, the grain was cut with a binder, the sheaves produced were grouped and placed upright, or “stooked” (an operation done by hand), and these stooks were later collected and thrown into a threshing machine which discarded the straw into a large pile and collected the grain. The entire operation needed a large crew of men and several teams of horses to function properly. All of this changed for Bert with the purchase of a swather and combine in about 1948. With this equipment, a small number of  people could complete an entire harvest with much less work.

 Bert’s farming activities were not limited to grain farming, as the farm always had a number of cattle, chickens, and occasionally pigs. Milking was done twice daily and the milk served the family after being home pasteurized, but the bulk of it was separated, and the cream sold to local dairies. Skim milk fed weanling calves being prepared for market. Machine milking was purchased in the 50’s to make this job easier as well.

 During the years of WWII, Bert and Bertha were occupied with the raising of 2 children. They had just moved onto a farm property near Griswold, and were beginning to adapt it to their liking. During this time, the Commonwealth Air Training operation was active, and one of the bombing targets was near the house. Training planes often flew directly over the property on their way to drop practice bombs, and some were erroneously dropped early, resulting in several explosions surprising the family and leaving  a variety of shrapnel and some unexploded bombs behind.

 Following WWII, Manitoba undertook a program to provide electricity to numerous farms in an undertaking called Rural Electrification. Bert’s farm was electrified soon after the war and this opened up many possibilities for advancement at both the house and the barn such as lighting, refrigeration, hot and cold running water, automated milking, and many others.


Bert at 12


Bert circa 1915

March 31, 1937 Wedding of Bert and Bertha Donogh
L-R Frank Durston (Brother of Bert), Bert, Bertha, Kathleen (cousin of Bertha)
(Frank and Kathleen would later marry)

Right- Bert and Bertha c.1964

Bert with Parents Arthur and Emilie, and Siblings. Bert is at far right

Family of Bert and Bertha c.1964
Standing, Clifford, Joyce, Bert, Bertha
Seated; Donna (with Jackie ), and Art;

Bert and Bertha Durston (C 1971)  

Photo taken in Brandon on the occasion of the Baptism of Grandchild Liana Durston (C. 1968)
L-R Rod Bertrand, Liana Durston, Bertha Durston, Bert Durston Peg Bertrand


Photo taken in Winnipeg on the occasion of the Baptism of Grandchild Scott Durston (C. 1971)
L-R Peg Bertrand, Liana Durston (Back) Scott Durston (Front, Rod Bertrand, Bertha Durston, Bert Durston


Bert and Jackie (B.1962)

Bert and Liana(B1967)

Bert with Liana,  Scott (B.1970), and Melanie

Bert and Melanie (B1971)



Various pictures of Bert with his 4 Grandchildren 

The board of the then-new Souris Hospital.  Bert is seated at left. This was the inaugural meeting held in January 1973. Bert appreciated the value of a community hospital to rural communities. In 1964, he had had large portions of intestine removed to forestall the eventual spread of cancer,  and had been left with a colostomy to manage body waste.

By September of 1973, he would succumb to his battle with cancer which had by then  spread and consumed much of his body. He died in that same hospital September 17, 1973


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