Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery
Harry Mason was born in Denver, Colorado in 1892, and when he was 13, he and his family moved to Canada, a short distance from Toronto. At 16, he was hired at the Bank of Toronto, and was subsequently transferred to the Sudbury and then the Winnipeg branch.
On October 28, 1913, when he was 21, Harry wrote a letter to Sadie Arbuckle, a woman he had never met.
Harry was no longer working for the bank. He was living in the new settlement of Compeer, Alberta, working to open the town’s first store. His business partner Jack Wulff was a friend of Sadie’s and spoke of her often. Sadie kept in touch with Jack, and sent a card to Harry as well, as a courtesy. Harry, overwhelmed by the loneliness and hardship of homesteading in the West, took the opportunity to start a correspondence that would change both of their lives.
In his first letter to Sadie, Harry explains that their store would eventually be situated along a planned CPR branch line between Lacombe, Alberta and Kerrobert, Saskatchewan, but in the meantime, “business isn’t very brisk.” He also apologizes for taking the liberty of writing to her, “some one I never met personally.”
Sadie forgave the breach of etiquette and wrote back to Harry, to his immense pleasure and relief. (Unfortunately, Sadie’s first letters do not survive in the collection.) In his earliest correspondence, he tells Sadie about living in the wilds of the Canadian West, and the shocking behaviour of the other settlers. At social nights, for example, he admits that “total strangers will ask others for dances without even knowing each other’s names.” He reassures Sadie, “I for one do not believe it at all proper and I never practice it myself.”
Even without Sadie’s letters from this time, we know that her life was very different from Harry’s. While he was settling new lands, Sadie was living in the heart of one of Canada’s largest cities.
In 1914, Toronto had a population of nearly 500,000. Living at 930 Queen Street East, Sadie was in a densely populated upper-middle class neighbourhood served by a robust streetcar system. Her letters describe a busy urban life. She worked in an office in the city, visited often with family and friends, attended church, and frequently went to the movies. Her social life was a stark contrast to Harry’s occasional community dances.