Written by Kevin MacLean, Galt Museum & Archives, Collections Technician
Do you know what this object is and what it was used for?
Dragon Boat Paddle
Tether Ball Bat
If you guessed a flail paddle you’re correct!
Harvest Flail, 1915–1995
This wooden tool is called a “flail”. Used to harvest seeds, it was owned by the Konkins, a Russian-speaking family from the town of Shouldice, Alberta, near Calgary. They and many other Russian families composed that town’s Doukhobor colony.
Doukhobours came to Canada in final years of the 19th century to escape religious persecution in Russia. Elsie Morris (née Konkin), the flail’s donor, was born in Shouldice. Her parents, William and Elizabeth, arrived there via colonies in Saskatchewan and British Columbia. Initially, William tried to support his family in Shouldice by growing and peddling vegetables. When the family recognized that gardening would not provide them with the income that they needed, William ventured out to farm a quarter section of irrigated land 120 km (75 miles) away in Vauxhall. In 1941, after three years of farming remotely, he and Elizabeth decided to leave the Alberta colony and relocate to Vauxhall. Little Elsie was 12 years old at the time.
The flail’s first owner was Elsie’s maternal grandmother, whose initials are carved into its handle. At some point, it was passed on to Elsie’s mom and then to Elsie. “Doukhobours are agrarian,” Elsie told Museum staff in 2016. “They like to grow things–that’s their culture of occupation. The ones who liked fruit, moved to B.C. My dad liked farming, so he moved to Vauxhall.” The flail was donated along with many other handmade objects, including a blanket made out of flax linen. The flail and the blanket were used together at harvest time to extract and collect seeds from garden crops. Elise recalled that on windy days, “we would pick dried peas or beans, or whatever, and we would [lay them out on the blanket], beat away [at them] and then hold [the blanket] up, and the breeze would blow the hulls off and the seeds would go straight down.”
The Konkins retired to Lethbridge from Vauxhall in 1968. Elsie, by then a school teacher, relocated to Lethbridge with her own family. The flail continued to be used by Elizabeth “right up to the end,” possibly into the 1990s, and thereafter by Elsie. When asked why she stopped using it herself, Elsie said, “I don’t garden anymore. Furthermore, peas are so inexpensive that you don’t want to go to all that work.”
Collection of the Galt Museum & Archives, P20160031001