Tag Archives: Alberta

Places I’ve Called Home

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Way back in the day before color when farms were in black and white and sepia.

I almost called this list ‘Places I’ve Slept’ but thankfully saw the problems with that almost immediately.  Titles are hard.  Unless you don’t give a hoot about accuracy.  Anyway, here we go, a list of the various locations I’ve been referring to whenever I’ve said “let’s go home”.

    1. From birth to about age six I lived on a little farm in Ontario down the hill from my maternal grandparents farm, close to Lake Huron, beside a stone and cement bridge which spanned a raging creek.  I was little.  It looked raging to me.
    2. More permanent farm number two, about 8 miles from Port Elgin, the town I decided to call my hometown because I went to high school there.  This is the home I kept coming back to for most of my adult life, the place where my parents lived most of theirs.
    3. The Orchards house in Stratford where I boarded (a shared bedroom with a tiny little balcony) while attending Teachers College.
    4. A two bedroom apartment in St. Catharines shared with 3 other working girls.  I was a substitute teacher, on call to fill in anywhere in the city.  (This is when I met W at a residence party at the university) (it wasn’t all about work)
    5. The Wilkes house in St. Catharines where I boarded in a little smoke-filled bedroom while attending Brock University.  I was the one supplying the smoke,  convinced it helped me concentrate while writing boring English and Philosophy papers.
    6. A tiny little garage sized house in a backyard in Kenora, our first home as a married couple, close to one of W’s aunts who liked to feed us.
    7. Basement apartment in Dryden on Charles Street,  close to one of MY aunts who also liked to feed us.
    8. High rise apartment in Guelph where W went back to University and I worked at the campus bookstore, all in the interests of one day being able to feed ourselves.
    9. Basement apartment in Guelph for married University students.  Our daughters first home.
    10. Government house in Cambridge Bay, N.W.T.  Our sons first home.
    11. Row housing in Inuvik, N.W.T. The old ones close to the hospital, not the new ones on the other side of town.  We had utilidors and board walks.  And dust and mud and the scrawniest Christmas trees in the history of the world.
    12. Government house in Pond Inlet, N.W.T., right beside the Arctic Ocean.  The view from our front window was of the mountains on Bylot Island and random icebergs floating by or trapped in the ocean ice.
    13. Government house in Yellowknife on Bromley Drive, a paved street!  We were on our way back to civilization.
    14. And here we are, (and have been since the late 1980’s) in our very own mortgage free abode in sunny Alberta, the province my kids call home.

I’m glad we stopped our wandering ways.  I always worried that our kids would turn into little nomads with no roots.  Both of us had parents who stayed put even after we moved away and I wanted that stability for our kids too.

After all these years and all these places I still consider Ontario home and have vague dreams about one day going back there to end up somewhere close to the place I started.  I don’t know if it will ever happen, and really it doesn’t matter.  Home is just a thing you take with you wherever you go, leaving little pieces of your heart behind in every place you’ve ever been settled and happy. Nothing is forever, and we got good at packing up our memories and moving on.  I expect that skill will come in handy again one fine day.

 

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Farming for a Living

There’s no such thing as a slow news day in a small town.  Not when you have long-term residents willing to tell you their story and dig up a couple of old photos to go with it.

This “news” article was published in the People section of the Port Elgin Beacon Times on July 28, 1999 when my dad was 85.  There are a few mistakes in it, the funniest one being where they say our youngest sister is “Barbara” which isn’t even close to her real name.  That’s okay, she likes to remain anonymous.

Dad was the 8th of 10 children, not 9, but his youngest brother died in a bicycle accident when he was just a boy.  Maybe dad chose to skip over that part.

Hope you enjoy this little slice of history.
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I lived here until I was 5 or 6 so my memories of it are vague. There was a hand pump in the kitchen for water, and we had baths in a big wash tub on the kitchen floor. The next farm-house we lived in had hot and cold running water and a bath tub upstairs. Now if people have fewer than four bathrooms in a house they are likely to complain. How times change.

A Letter From Rimbey

English: Blindman River, near Rimbey, Alberta
English: Blindman River, near Rimbey, Alberta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rimbey, Alberta, June 12, 1936

Dear Margaret,

I received your letter on Tuesday and was certainly glad to get it.  Its the first one for over a month and it does me good.  We only get mail delivery twice a week here.  If I’d stayed in Nanton I would have got it some time sooner.  It was a dandy too – everything in it was interesting.  Well I’ll try to go on from where I left off last time.

We finished our job on the Thursday at noon the day you got my letter and we just bummed around town for the rest of the day and part of Friday, then we decided to come up here.  We got to Calgary as you’ll know by the card I expect you received.  We fooled around there looking at the city until about eleven o’clock, then pulled out to the top of a hill to sleep.  We didn’t get up till the sun was high up in the sky next morning, and then got going again.  We arrived here Saturday evening about five o’clock.

On the way we saw a good many fields of stooked grain that had never been thrashed.  The hail had shelled it so badly it wasn’t worth thrashing.  That’s the kind of country this is, very undependable.  I’ve been driving six and eight horses at a time – it’s quite nice for a change.  I feel as if I’m doing something.A field of stooked grain

As I said before, we arrived here on a Saturday.  Well I sowed grain on the following Sunday and ploughed with six horses on Monday and several days hence.  Oh!  I mustn’t forget to tell you I was given a government job shortly after I reached Alberta.  I was on the road surveying and cutting brush for a few days.  Isn’t that getting up in the world, working for the government?

I was ploughing about two and a half miles from here today and a thunderstorm came up without much warning.  I turned toward the old barn and just got there in time for the hail and rain started to come and did it come!  The hail was no ordinary size either.  I couldn’t get the horses to go around to the side of the barn where the door was because the storm was blowing so hard.  They just stayed in shelter beside the barn.  Of course I had to stay and watch them, and got sort of damp.

There was supposed to be a dance in Bluffton tonight and I suppose we would have gone only the rain made the roads so muddy.  You see they don’t gravel the roads in the pioneer district and they certainly get greasy with very little rain.  The soil is mostly clay.

I guess by the time this reaches Ontario you’ll be home so I’ll address it to Turners.  How was our Blanche when you last saw her?  I guess I’d better write to her, I do so enjoy her letters and I guess that’s the only way of getting one.  That certainly is interesting about the colt and the calves, that’s what I’d call real news.  It’s much better than a lot of idle gossip.

I hope you’ll forgive me kid, something tragic happened to that letter you sent and I only had a chance to read it once.  The boss’s wife says she noticed an envelope in the sweeping but thought it one of her old letters, so it went into the stove.  I guess that’s what happened.  I remember you saying you didn’t want to go out and not enjoy yourself.  That’s swell of you because I feel the same way myself.  I’ve also met a lot of people, of course some very nice girls too, but they’ll have to go some distance yet to come up near the mark of a little girl I know in the east.

We’ve almost decided to go to the coast in July for the jubilee there.  What do you think of that?  Then when harvest is over we can go back home if we don’t land a job here or something.  I think it will be much nicer travelling in July than late in November.  There ought to be more to see while the jubilee is on.  I’ll try to take a swim in the Pacific Ocean.  Won’t that be something.  Of course I’ll send you some cards from Victoria and Vancouver.

King George-VI
King George-VI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I asked Harold if he could think of any news.  He said King George died and King Eddie is now on the throne.  He says to threaten you that he might write to you sometime.  Well kid, my brain is beginning to go hooey again.  I know you’ll be thinking I’ve neglected to write but I couldn’t get it away any sooner anyway, so I guess you’ll just have to wait.  You can keep sending my mail to Nanton because I’ll likely be going back there before long.  I’ll be looking for a letter before long kid, so I’ll be signing off.  I wish I could think of more to write to the best girl in the world, but seeing it’s impossible –

I’ll be thinking of my darling until I hear from her,

with love,

Your Hank.

A Letter From Nanton

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

Dear Margaret,

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.

English: Dust Storm in Black Rock Desert, Neva...
English: Dust Storm in Black Rock Desert, Nevada (USA). Français : Une tempête de sable dans le Black Rock Desert, au Nevada (États-Unis). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

The City of Edmonton

To answer this prompt (what my home town is known for) I’m going to borrow the city I live closest to (the capital city of Alberta) because it actually IS known for something. From 1981 to 2004, Edmonton boasted the largest mall in the world, West Edmonton Mall.

When people from out of province come to visit I will go there with them, but otherwise I avoid it, unless it’s to visit the Apple store or Build-a-Bear. It’s big (obviously) and crowded, and a good half hour drive from here. Apparently there are people on the west side of the city who use the mall all winter long as a free indoor walking gym. Going from one end of it to the other on two levels would certainly give you a decent work out.

There’s an old saying here – “If you can’t find it at West Ed, you don’t need it.” Well, it’s local humor, what can I say.

I’ve heard this city described as both beautiful and ugly. I don’t really have an opinion either way, although ‘beautiful city’ to me is an oxymoron. I think the best you can hope for is functional and clean, as far as big cities go.

We’ve also got the Oilers and the Eskimos and used to have ‘Welcome to Edmonton, City of Champions” signs, but since there was not enough room to add in “no longer” or “former” right before the word champions, I think they’ve taken those down.

Of course there’s hundreds of other things here that I’m not mentioning, mostly because I don’t care and suspect that you don’t either. There’s a great long page all about the place on Wikipedia if you are totally dying to know more, but I can’t imagine why you would want to unless you’re planning a trip here. And I can hardly fathom why you would do that either. Ha! Good thing I don’t work for the department of Tourism.

Seriously, it’s a lovely city full of lovely people. Clean and functional. Mostly the people are clean and functional as well. If you ever drive through, be sure to look me up. But don’t make me go to the mall with you. I’ll be totally whiny and ruin your day.

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