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.

Grandma’s Brothers/Letters Home

My Grandma Scott lost all of her younger brothers, (Jake, Herb, Carl, Walter, Iden and Jack), from the youngest to the oldest, one by one.  (My dad made a kind of not so funny joke about it once, that they passed on in order of importance, leaving grandma – the most important of them all – to be the last one standing).  Jake died as a young boy from illness or accident and Herb did not return from the war.   I don’t remember much about the other four,  since they seemed to belong to a generation so far removed from my own.  In amongst my latest ‘treasures’ are two letters from two of these brothers who served in the first world war.

The one on the left is from Iden, also on the left in the picture above (with Jack and Walter?)  who returned to Canada and his family and lived a long life.  The one on the right is from Herb, who never came home.

Willey Camp, June 2, 1918. 

Dear Sister – Well it is some time since I wrote to you so I will try and give you a bit of our doings here.  You will have to excuse me writing with a lead pencil but there is no pen or ink in this writing room and of course I would never think of buying them.  Often wished I had a fountain pen but that is out of my reach too.  It takes a regular financier to make ends meet from one day till another here.  I spend it all on eats.  We get very fair grub considering where we are, but of course there is nothing like having a few extra cookies or a piece of what they call pie (a lot of crust with a wee bit of jam or something of the sort on it).  The cookies are a lot like the wheat meal cookies that mother often makes only not half so good.  But we are glad to get something to chew at if for nothing more than to pass the time.  Say, I have been chumming with Willie Dobson quite a bit.  But he went to France last night.  He is a fine fellow.  Took quite an active interest in the church work that goes on here.  He also attended the college that they have here where they take up all kinds of work, all kinds of languages, and even agriculture.  I was sorry to see him go, as he was a fine fellow to chum with.  I had a letter from Jack Clazie a few days ago and also from Art Parr.  I guess you will know more about how the war is going than we do, as the English papers are not so full of it as ours are. 

Well, this is Sunday again and you don’t know how much I wish I were going to church with you today.  If the Saints back there only realized the privileges that they have they would not miss many meetings, I’ll tell you.  I know I did not go as I should have, but I now see my mistake.  If only I could have realized it, how much better it would have been.  As it is, I go by myself and study a lesson from both Quarterlies and by the way I never got any new ones, either, but I do the best I can.  I have just attended the Bible Class that they hold in one of the Y.M.C.A.’s.  They sing quite a few of the hymns that are in our hymnal and oh, how it makes me think of home.  Well, how is everything going back there?  I guess Margaret is getting to be quite a little girl now.  Say, do you know I have not had any good mail from back home for about two weeks except a couple of letters from May.  I often looked for the Times but never got it, but I guess that is the luck of a soldier.  Well, I guess that unless something turns up, I shall soon have to go to France.  Very likely in a week or two.  So I hope that you will pray for me.  Tell Father and Mother not to worry.  I know it is hard and that if Pa and I could have understood each other better it would have been better for me.  But whatever you do, don’t forget church above everything and if it is the Lord’s will He can protect me here as well as there.   – Your Brother Herb.

If there was further correspondence from Herb it has since gone missing.  This letter may well have been the last one my grandma got from him.  By the creases and the folds and the faded pencil I can tell it’s been well read.  I wonder what else Herb might have thought to say if he knew his letter would be saved for a hundred years? 

…on the train somewhere, Sunday, July 28, 1918. 

Mr. & Mrs. W.J. Scott, Port Elgin Ont.  I am trying to write this as the train is going – we are still going East – are just running into a small place named St. Clet.  Am not sure where it is but believe it is in Quebec.  It has been very level country for awhile back and some fine places but early this morning it was some poor country that we passed through.  The talk at present is that we are going to sail from Montreal and that we are to get our letters off as soon as possible but no one seems to know for certain where we are going.  The kids come up to the train whenever it stops and take the cards and letters the boys have to mail.  We are being well looked after and are getting as good if not better meals than we did in London.  Had porridge, oatmeal, potatoes and scrambled eggs and bread and butter for breakfast, and coffee.  We had supper before we left London last evening and had another on the train;  then about bed time they came through with a box of oranges and we each got one.  So they are looking after us pretty good.  I am not particularly struck with the country we are going through.  The farms are narrow and long and a lot of the land is rather low.  Some of the crops are heavy and are going down and some are very light.  Say, did you send those papers?  I did not get them but was up to the orderly room to see if they came just before I left.  You ought to see the girls shake hands with us at some of the places we stopped at, and old women too, and the cheering we got.  They just now came through with a basket of Duchess apples, and they are sour and green, but I guess they are good for us.  If I get time I will send more word home before I sail.  I am feeling fine I guess.  This is all for this time, we are crossing some large river, I believe it is the St. Lawrence, very beautiful.  Good bye.  Iden.  P.S.  Just passing MacDonnell College – very fine sights, like O.A.C. at Guelph.

Iden and Herb Leeder, 1918

This is how I remember my “old” great uncles, Grandma’s brothers in the 1950’s.  Jack and Walter on the left, Iden and Carl on the right. (In the middle is her husband, my Grandpa Scott, and lurking in the background, a son-in-law, my Uncle George.)   I was five or six when this picture was taken so to me they were all quite ancient and thus relatively insignificant in my sheltered little life.  It took growing a tad ancient myself to get to know a little bit about them and to appreciate who they were.