It is not very often that a family makes such a significant contribution to a community that one of their accomplishments is included on an official City crest. However, that is a distinction that the Frank and Annie Van Slyke family can claim as one of Frank’s inventions, the Van Slyke plow, is featured on the Red Deer City crest.
Frank was from Anita, Iowa. He was a bright, hard-working and inventive young man who loved to tinker and make things. He took up a career as a blacksmith. People came from all over the state to view his various inventions, which included an early gasoline engine.
In December 1885, Frank married Annie Steinmetz. They were to have six children, Ruth, Ross, Dick, Eva, Elsie and Fay.
In the 1890s, a number of friends moved to Central Alberta In 1904, Frank decided to come up to visit and see what the area looked like.
He was impressed by what he saw. Central Alberta was enjoying an incredible warm wet spell. The land was very lush and green. There had even been reports of green grass growing near Christmastime.
Frank decided this would be the place for himself and his family. Hence, the family moved to Red Deer from Anita in the early spring of 1905. Frank purchased a farm in the Balmoral district, but he also started a blacksmith business in town.
Not long after the Van Slykes had settled in their new home, they must have wondered what they had come to. The weather took a sudden sharp turn for the worse with the winter of 1906-1907. The snow came in early autumn and did not leave again until May. At times, temperatures plunged to -40°C and stayed there for weeks.
However, despite the shock of this terrible winter, the Van Slyke family decided to stay.
Frank was not impressed by many of the commercial plows available at the time. He found they did not do well in breaking the rich loams of Central Alberta with its thick willow brush. Consequently, he invented a breaking plow which was much better suited to this region.
The plow was patented and proved to be very popular. The popularity increased when Frank used it in combination with an early caterpillar tractor. In one demonstration in the summer of 1912, Frank was able to break 15 acres of land per day. The caterpillar tractor only used 10 gallons of gasoline in a day.
The people of Red Deer were very proud of the plow. Hence, in 1915, when the official Red Deer City crest was designed, it included the image of the Van Slyke plow as a three-fold symbol of farming, local inventiveness and a developing manufacturing industry.
Over the succeeding decades, members of the Van Slyke family were very active in the community. They volunteered countless hours to such groups as the Red Deer Agricultural Society (Red Deer Exhibition Association), Women’s Institute, Elks Lodge, Royal Purple, Masonic Lodge and Eastern Star. Frank and Annie’s son Ross (Buzz) served as a municipal councillor for the M.D. of Pine Lake (precursor of Red Deer County). Their daughter, Ruth Van Slyke Johnson, served on the Bellgrove school board for many years, at a time when not many women held such elected positions.
Annie passed away in October 1924. Frank moved back to Iowa, but came back to Red Deer many times. He passed away in Iowa in 1936.
Many of the Frank and Annie’s descendants still live in Central Alberta. On July 22ns, 2017, the Johnson branch of the family celebrated 100 continuous years on the same farm in the Bellgrove district near Pine Lake.
On Aug. 19th, the Frank and Annie Van Slyke family will be presented with the prestigious Golden Furrow Award for outstanding contributions to agriculture and the community. The presentation will take place at the Sunnybrook Farm Museum as part of the annual Pioneer Days.