O Little Town
Remembering Life in a Prairie Village
From Model Ts to the information highways, box socials to virtual reality, our prairie past is in danger of obliteration because the speed of change from one generation to the next. In O Little Town, Harlo Jones combines youthful innocence and wonder with adult awareness and insight to create a work of witness, chronicling small-town life as seen by a child int eh 1920s and ’30s. He recalls the characters universal to this place in time, from the lonely Chinese immigrant to the mysterious “remittance man,” as well as teachers, friends, and even the family dogs. But he also moves beyond characters to describe the social, religious, educational and commercial institutions of a prairie town with affection and accuracy.
Through Harlo Jones’ eyes, we explore the prairie landscape from coulee to slough; watch the construction of the first buildings, with basements dug by fresnos, and walls insulated with wood shavings; and peer inside village landmarks, from that “most excellent of jakes” with the knothole that turned the structure into a giant pinhole camera, to his father’s garage, scene of many semi-official town-hall meetings. We learn how the town’s electrical system worked, during what hours, and why, and discover the dedication of the volunteer fire department, where the men pulled the engines while the horses hauled the water tanks. We explore the town and come to know it with the author as he grows from a boy hunting gophers to a young man newly enlisted as a pilot, leaving the familiar behind as he departs for service overseas.
O Little Town is much more than one man’s story of childhood. Harlo Jones’ perceptive recollections evoke a sharp picture of village life, enabling those who shared that time with him to remember it anew; and allowing others a glimpse of a past come vividly alive with colourful detail, humour and poignancy.
“The author painstakingly recreates the physical layout of the stores, train station, school, church, and virtually every other public building in a town of 200 souls. He instructs the reader on how everything mechanical inside them worked, with careful attention to the provisions for heat, water, and sewage. Electricity and automobiles receive special consideration since the author’s father ran an automotive and farm machinery business, and also operated the town’s often inadequate power plant. Plentiful too, are the obligatory references to gopher hunting, rafting on sloughs, curling, baseball, hockey, threshing, mail-order catalogues, storms, dances, radio, and the movies. While less prominent, character sketches of the town’s eccentrics dutifully appear.”
– Paul Voisey, University of Alberta, Manitoba History
“What a labor of love it must have been to gather all this and shape it with such clarity.”
– Sharon Butala, Great Plains Quarterly
“One great change in 20th century North American life has been the loss or near-death of small towns and villages, particularly on the Canadian prairies. To help his children and grandchildren understand what it was like to grow up in the 1920s and 1930s, Harlo Jones has produced a memoir of his native Dinsmore, Saskatchewan—a village sixty-three miles south southwest of Saskatoon, with a population around 200.”
– Nancy Shehan, University of British Columbia, Historical Studies in Education
About the Author
Harlo L. Jones was born in 1923 in Dinsmore, Saskatchewan, and lived there until 1943. He studied at the University of Saskatchewan before joining the Royal Canadian Air Force. After the Second World War, he graduated from the University of British Columbia and worked both across Canada and abroad. He and his wife, Ethel, now make their home in Winnipeg. They have three children and five grandchildren. It was his children’s questions about life “in the olden days” that provided the original inspiration for O Little Town.
- O Little Town: Remembering Life in a Prairie Village
- Harlo L. Jones (Author)
- Published January 1995, 236 pages
- Paper, ISBN: 9780887556333, 6 × 9, $18.95