In 1936, when he was 22, my dad and a friend set off from southern Ontario on a great adventure, heading west. They stopped where there was work, made some travel money and moved on. My mother (getting her teaching certificate in Stratford at the time) kept some of the letters he wrote to her when he reached Alberta. It must have seemed to her like getting letters from the moon. I’m sure she sometimes wondered when he’d ever come back. It’s possible he wondered the same thing himself.
The pages are soft and soiled, faded and worn, written in pencil, signed with love.
Nanton, Alberta, May 24, 1936
One week almost at an end in a strange place among strange people. They’re very nice the most of them at least. We had a splendid trip all through, of course some flat tires and the odd fixing of the engine. Once the car started fire in the Montana Mountains but we got it out before any serious danger. I can’t think very clearly because of being interrupted by someone telling me what “to tell her”!
We had a jail birds job picking stones for a couple of days, then we went to help dig a cellar for Bill Scott who is going to build a new house. I suppose I’ll be there for a week or so yet. This prairie they talk about isn’t what they talk about. It’s just as hilly around here as it is anywhere at home. Where I’ve been working we sleep in a bunk car and eat in a cook car, different from what I’ve been used to. The fellows I’m working with are rather rough talkers but very good to get along with.
We went into Nanton last night and watched the people walking around the streets. It made me feel right at home although I didn’t know very many. Right at the present time I am at Bob Greggs trying to write. Where I’m working they keep twenty-seven horses and a bunch of cows. Everybody has lots of horses here. They drive anywhere from two to sixteen horses at one time. The seeding time is over but we may be able to pick up enough jobs to keep going till harvest when the big pay starts. I wish I could think clearly for I’ve lots of things I’d like to tell you.
I made a bet with Harold last night. He’s been talking of quitting smoking. I bet him one dollar that he couldn’t quit till the first of August and he took me up. I think it will be an easy dollar. If I have to pay it, it will still be worth it. Something else – we didn’t get a camera. What do you think of that. The scenery was certainly beautiful in the mountains in Montana at one place we were twenty-seven hundred feet above the lakes at the foot. The lakes and mountain sides were surrounded by trees and shrubs with the sun shining in. I’ve never been very struck on scenery but that was certainly a feast for the eyes.
In North Dakota we got into a dust storm that stalled the motor. The dust was so thick at times that I couldn’t see the radiator cap. We had all the windows closed but the fine dust settled in from everywhere. We stayed there for about half an hour until a truck came and pushed us out. We looked as though we’d just come from a thrashing and all our clothes were an awful mess. If I never see another storm of that kind it will be soon enough.
This place is a bad town to be hanging around. Nearly everybody in town was tight last night, but believe it or not I wasn’t. As long as a little girl in Stratford thinks anything of me I’m not going to give her any reason to change her mind if I can help it. How is our Blanche? I didn’t get to see much of her on Sunday, and our Ettie too. Tell Marg Reed I’m sorry I missed her.
The worst of being so far away is it will take so long for a letter to travel either way and it does seem so long since I got a letter. I suppose you will be as busy as a bee now getting near the end of the term, etc.
It’s certainly a lovely day today, not too warm or too cold, and the sun is shining. So far I’m not sorry I struck out, although it’s going to grab hard at me during July and August.
Listen kid, I want you to have a good time, whatever you do. Don’t stay at home on account of me if you get a chance to go somewhere. You know what I mean. But I don’t want you to fall in love, or anything like that. That would make things bad for me. Well kid, I was going to write a long letter when I started out but I’m at a loss now. Don’t know what else to write.
I hope I may hear from you soon, for I don’t know how long I’ll be here. Send the letters to Nanton, Alberta, care of R. S. Gregg, and that will get me. Signing off for now.
With loads and loads of love, Hank.