Most people around here know how Spirit River got its name (if you don’t, click here). But what about Rycroft? Here’s an answer (almost) straight from the horse’s mouth: a July 1957 interview with Mrs. Helen Rycroft (it’s worth reading just for that first line!):
Teepee Creek, Alberta – Mrs. Helen Rycroft, a trim-figured mother of 10 and grandmother of 46, says she has never missed Hawaii, from where she came to Canada to settle on a homestead in the Peace River country of Northwestern Alberta.
Now a spry 72 and a widow since 1944, she recalled in an interview that she chose Canada over Hawaii because of the west’s resemblance to her native Norway.
As Helen Thommesen, a woman of about 20, she had left Norway for Hawaii to follow her sweetheart. In Hawaii, she found the romance had cooled so she went to work nursing. Soon she met and married Hawaiian-born Mr. Rycroft.
“It was simply enchanting down there,” Mrs. Rycroft said. “And who knows, we might still have been down there had it not been for the holiday we took in British Columbia.”
Her husband saw snow for the first time.
The Rycrofts came to Canada and first lived in Edmonton, where they took over two quarter-sections of land.
“My husband went to Edmonton for a while,” said Mrs. Rycroft, “so I started on my own. I don’t mind admitting that at first I hated everything.”
On Mr. Rycroft’s return, things shaped up for the better and for 13 years they raised cattle.
“Mind you,” Mrs. Rycroft said, “a mother with 10 children can’t do much more than bring them up.”
By 1925, when it cost $100 to raise a cow that might bring $5 at market, the Rycrofts decided to move. They lived at Dunvegan, then Smoky Heights, where they stayed until 1943.
“That part of the world”, Mrs. Rycroft said, “was even more like Norway. As far as we were concerned, we were home. If my husband hadn’t died in 1944, we’d be there yet.”
It was after her husband that the village of Rycroft, not far from this tiny community, was named.
Mrs. Rycroft says she has not missed the warmer climate of Hawaii.
R.H. Rycroft was one of the first councillors for the Rural Municipality of Spirit River in 1917. He was secretary-treasurer, and his house was used as the municipality’s office until one was built. Rumour has it, when the people of Spirit River parted ways, the new village’s name was chosen by putting the councilors’ names in a hat and drawing one. If anyone knows the truth of the story, please let us all know by leaving a comment. What might Rycroft have been called had someone else’s name been drawn that day?