Edna’s Story 26 (FGK 143)

Chapter 4 – The 50s

In 1950 we were a bit short of feed or were afraid we would be, so Percy arranged with Mr. F.E.M. Robinson of the Alberta Ranch in Pincher Creek to pasture our steers there for the summer. That was an interesting place, one of the first ranches in Alberta I think, and the rolling hills had wonderful grass for the cattle. It was a successful venture but perhaps unnecessary as it rained enough to give us grass at home. But we were becoming a bit cramped. In 1951 we heard that Mr. Chas Matthews was wanting to sell his ranch in Grand Valley. Percy and I talked it over carefully. Should we sit still and lead a placid life or work like mad for a few more years. I don’t believe you can sit still, you either go ahead or slip back. We went immediately over to see the place. We bought it the next day.

Trailing cattle back and forth across the Bow River and by Cochrane to Grand Valley was no easy feat. It always seemed to be done when there was snow on the ground and it was a long, cold ride. I used to time it so that I’d catch up to them just before they reached the river and I’d give them hot coffee and fresh hot doughnuts. Then I would race home and pop in the oven and individual chicken pie full of good vegetables for each rider, a dessert, and more hot coffee. I would meet them for the noon lunch just north of the railroad track where there was a good spot to hold the cattle. Sometimes the smell of the hot steel railroad track would panic the spooky cattle and they would have to scatter hay over the rails to get them cross. The bridge across the Bow was another bad place, it didn’t take much to spook them.

By this time the whole country was joined together by well built roads and the cattle rustlers thought they had it made. We were just losing too many as were the other Alberta ranchers. There seemed to be a syndicate of rustlers taking them across the border to the USA. In 1952, the Alberta government decided to place mounted policemen in Cochrane on a few of the ranches, secretly, to work as seemingly regular ranch hands. We were chosen to have one of these men and we nicknamed him “Slim”. Things really began to happen. A lot of comical things, and our share of tragedy.

The day after Slim arrived, Clarence moved his cows and calves to summer pasture. That means he drove them by here – strung out for a mile or more or dust and noise. The hullabaloo upsets the adjacent livestock considerably. That night a black and white milk cow of Kumlin’s went missing. Naturally you would expect it to get tangled up in all the excitement of Clarence’s cows and would be easy to pick out of a herd of Herefords. But Kumlins rode and roe and never found her and Percy kidded them about being so dumb and he went out, and rode and rode and couldn’t find her. Finally Len Kumlin went in and reported it to the police. Poor Slim had to hand in a report every week and did he ever take a ribbing for letting a cow be stolen from right under his nose the day after he arrived here. To end this little yarn, that cow came in with Clarence’s herd in the fall, and she had twins with her, we had many a laugh over that.


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These stories are a big part of why I have my giant velociraptor aka guardian dog. I don’t remember bears or cougars being an issue in the area when I was younger, but as the city has grown and more people are in the mountains we sure have a lot of them around now. The story of Uncle George killing the grizzly is pretty legendary around here.

There were four legged predators destroying cattle too. About 1947 a large grizzly began killing our cattle and once they become killers there’s just no stopping them. This one was very cunning and hard to find. One time Percy found four carcasses in one spot that he had killed. We figured he would kill one and the others smelling fresh blood would come bellering in to chase him. It really scares you to see how powerful they are. With one swat of his paw he would bash in the head of a full-grown cow. With another swat he would rip off the ribs from the backbone. Nobody really wanted to tangle with that fellow but the men did try very hard to find him for the two or more years he was active. They posted a reward of $500 to anyone who could catch him. In the spring of 1947 we had two experienced hunters come from Crossfield and Percy gave them an old horse to take out on the range and shoot it and leave it for bait. But the bear was too smart for them. One day Percy’s brother George rode upon a fresh kill, the carcass of a yearling. George was used to the ways of the wild and he very carefully concealed a huge bear trap in a sort of natural windfall of logs. He succeeded in trapping him and shooting the monster dead first shot. It was a seven foot, 700 pound male grizzly.

Talking about bears, Percy nearly shot Clarence once thinking he was a bear. I had a girl working for me who had lived all her life on the prairies. She hated trees and got the creeps when she had to walk under one. Of course, the boys delighted in spinning tall terrifying yarns to her and this evening she had walked down to visit the girl at Jack Copithorne’s. It was almost dark when she hurried home and Clarence and another boy put fur robes over themselves and hid under some brush about halfway down the hill and jumped out behind her. Percy and I were sitting quietly in the kitchen when she hit the back door. If she had been more fragile she would have come right through the door. We were very concerned when we saw her white face and when she finally was able to speak we had our doubts about it being a bear, but we hadn’t been told about the trick. Percy grabbed his shotgun and went out and shot it off in the air anyway, just to satisfy everyone. I guess those two boys never scrambled up the hill so fast in all their life, expecting maybe another shot.

We have occasionally had a black bear turn killer and molest cattle and once or twice a cow came in off the range with a big patch taken out of her side that looked suspiciously like a cougar’s work.


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Grandpa was finding dynamite like he was hanging out with Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner.

All through the years we felt a close tie between us and our neighbours, the Indians at Morley. We would contract fencing jobs to them all summer. In the fall they would often help us harvest. And in later November would often ride with the men to help round up stray cattle. I loved our Indian friends and felt I could always trust them. We looked forward to the first of July when they held their annual Stampede in the beautiful natural setting where they had built their corrals. What a magnificent picture to view. We would park our car on the hillside looking down into the corrals and beyond them the big circle of teepees and tents with their bevy of children, cats, and dogs. And back of it all were those glistening blue foothills leading up the Rockies. Where on earth could you find more beauty and activity? I always felt well entertained. My chickens were just nice fryers by July 1 and I always fried four or five along with a salad, cake, and sandwiches that would do us for the day. Mr Harry Jacques, the jeweller from Calgary, used to have a contest with a prize for the best-dressed Indian baby. He very often asked me to be a judge and I wanted so badly to give first prize to everyone there, they were so cute and the beadwork on the buckskin was beautiful. Our kids just loved the first of July and the Morley Stampede.

We always tried to get to Banff or Vermillion Crossing for a few days holiday and fishing just before haying. Once we went to Everett, Washington, USA and dug clams just as Percy did when he lived on the coast as a boy.

Shell Oil started drilling for oil all over this country in 1946. They really messed up our country and way of life, but only struck gas. We have several wells drilled on our land and what a scar they left when they were gone. The seismograph outfits seemed to take a delight in putting a scar across a beautiful wooded area. Sure we have fine gravelled roads now because of oil companies. Roads everywhere. You have a choice of either riding your horses down the gravel road and ruining its feet or risk a bad cut from a broken bottle in the ditch. And broken bottles were not the only hazard. One fall when Percy was riding his sharp-shod horse in the ditch, the horse’s hoof hit a round cylinder that looked like a stick of dynamite. He got off and sure enough there were two sticks of dynamite carelessly thrown there. In effect, some seismograph crew hadn’t time to bother to take it back to the warehouse where it belongs. The roads faced another big problem too. We were always plagued with a little cattle rustling, but it increased drastically after the oil companies built good roads into our summer range. One year about 1949 or 50 when we brought our cows and calves home from their distant summer range, there were ten cows without their calves.


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The Copithornes are a large, closely-knit family and our family turkey dinner parties usually had twenty or more sit down to a meal. We usually tried to do our entertaining like this in the winter before calving in April. The children were always included in these parties and often in the dances at the community hall. They learned to dance and mix freely with their elders, there didn’t seem to be such a generation gap as there is now. No one enjoyed a square dance more than Margi when her cousin Lawrence would ask her up. They looked quite small in the circle but they certainly knew their dance.

The evening of our 20th wedding anniversary was a bitterly cold night and Clarence and Irene invited Kumlin’s and us over for dinner. We had completely forgotten it was our anniversary and Percy said we were crazy to think of going out over snowy roads on such a bad night. But Kumlin’s insisted we go with them. When we got there there was quite a crowd gathered waiting for us. The ladies usually head for the kitchen to help serve the meal, but they made Margery Buckley and myself sit in the living room with the men. Then they took us to the bedroom and draped old lace curtains over us like veils and gave us each the cutest nosegay bouquet made from cauliflower, onions, etc. When they led us back into the living room our husbands were standing up each wearing a boutonnière of onions and Irene’s Dad, Don Robertson, was wearing a collar backwards and a silk brocade black house coat and he read of a new comical take off on the wedding ceremony. They shook rice and confetti on us and presented each of us with a very, very lovely tea set. It was a party we’ll never forget!

My sister and I usually got our families together for Christmas dinner and very often the Frank Whittle family joined our circle, in fact we often went to their home too for Christmas and I still use many of Kay’s good recipes. Before Christmas was a very busy time as I raised from 50 to 100 turkeys and we killed and plucked them all ourselves. My fingers would be sore from plucking but it was nice to have all that extra money, especially at Christmas. One Sunday when George and Gertie invited us up for dinner in the summer, I let my half-gown turkeys out early in the morning intending to lock then up then about 11am. When I tried to find them they were gone. We found them sitting in the willows up at the hall and there were 17 of them lying on the ground with just their heads snapped off. The coyotes were a real pest and loved those stupid turkeys. The owls used to kill any that were left roosting outside too.


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I remember Mom telling me how thoroughly annoyed she was (at 5 or 6) with Aunt Irene when she showed up on the scene and took away her beloved Uncle Clarence. But then, Mom said, she got to know her and also fell madly in love with Aunt Irene- a love that lasted the rest of her life. My parents both loved Aunt Irene and Uncle Clarence and I can see why, they were both lovely people. Uncle Clarence died when I was fairly young, but I remember him as a man who loved to make people laugh. We were fortunate enough to borrow “Chubby” for a while when I was about 4 so that I could learn to ride. One time I was in the field with Uncle Clarence and Chubby came over looking for attention. Uncle Clarence held his head and said to me “you see this big bump on his nose? Well that means his nose is out of joint because he’s not getting enough attention. It’s very important that you spend time petting his nose every day” and he laughed and laughed, and damned if I didn’t have to spend the rest of the summer petting his nose just in case he wasn’t teasing me.

Frank pulled out of the CL outfit in 1944. Percy and Clarence missed him because it is always cheaper to run a big outfit than a small one. You used almost the same number of men and the same machinery. But they still worked together for some of the big jobs. When the war was over in 1945, we quit raising hogs because the income tax slapped on us then took all the profit. By now we were able to contract a lot of our haying to farmers who were glad to do it while their crops grew all summer. This took considerable of the stress of cooking off my shoulders as they would look after themselves, usually camping right in the field.

Clarence got married to Irene Robertson in 1946 and the ranch was divided and we were on our own. We missed Clarence a lot, the children did especially, but he wasn’t far away and we could visit often.

Percy got Griffin Bros to come in with their huge machinery and clear brush off some of his land. This was sort of a pioneer project in our part of the country. The cost was drastic and so was the job of picking roots for years afterwards. But he has grown some wonderful crops on that land.

I stopped making butter and took the cream and eggs to “Swifts” in Calgary and often bought bread instead of baking it so often. We still had several steady men working for us and living in the bunkhouse. All through the years we made the most delicious homemade ice cream with the plentiful supply of cream we always had on hand. Sunday mornings the boys would take turns cranking the ice cream freezer. Every Sunday morning we had really good buttermilk pancakes for breakfast too, such mounds of them with Roger’s Syrup. When roads were passable I would go to church in Cochrane taking the children to Sunday School and taught Sunday School for many years.


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I arranged for Sheila and Marshall to ride down the two miles north to the Brushy Ridge road and tie their horses in the brush and be picked up by Mrs. Wark who was driving her children to Brushy Ridge School every day. They attended Brushy Ridge for Marshall’s grade 3 and Sheila’s grade 5 in 1945-46. Margi was old enough to start school in 1946 and they had a steady teacher, Miss Thomas, in Jumping Pound School so the children started there again. We bought a lovely little horse for Marshall from Freda Permal and called him “Pinkie”, and Margi rode Buck. Nicoll’s had a field of grain planted just opposite our house and Buck sure loved to swipe his share of that when riding by. Margi was so tiny she had quite a struggle climbing on. Sometimes Buck would get impatient and swing his head around and boot her on with his nose. I think Clarance has a picture of him doing this. Then Ellen Norris came to board here in 1946-47 and rode to school with the kids, teaching in Jumping Pound School. We felt fortunate to have her and enjoyed that year. But in the fall of 1948 Miss Demisick came to teach but left mid-term and we were very fortunate to persuade Mr. O’Brien to come and teach in Jumping Pound.

Mr. O’Brien did so much for the children and the social life in the district it is difficult to tell just how far reaching his influence really spread. He had been a sergeant major in the army, a scoutmaster of many years experience and had taken a course in drama. All these talents and experiences were put in action immediately and the students experienced the unaffected pleasure of discipline, responsibility, and a scope for their own create originality. The fame of the Jumping Pound Christmas concerts was so wide spread the community hall had crowds far beyond its seating capacity, standing room only. I remember one concert where one part was a quadrille on the stage by the students to the tune of a current favourite at the time “Buttons and Bows”. The crowd just went hilarious, stomped their feet, clapped their hands, and sang their loudest. Another time he used an Alberta artist’s talent of a play taken from the book “Johnnie Chinook” a local story. And it was a big success. He formed a Red Cross Society among the students, made them elect their own president and other officers in the correct parliamentary procedure. All this besides their regular schoolwork. And for the first time the students learned how to enjoy well organized sports at recess. Every so often the students would invite the parents to the school and entertain them by having them take part in spelling matches etc. We became involved in many of the students’ activities, especially helping with the concerts and enjoyed the social life to match. The annual school picnic was an elaborate affair where presentations were made to students graduating etc. All the speeches and work was done by the students themselves.

Mr. O’Brien would just stand in the background. But the results of his guidance were made manifest in so many ways. For a little one room rural school house the ultimate achievements of most of its graduates is quite impressive. Six ended up with a degree in education, one her R.N, one a B.A. LL.B., one a B.Sc. M.A., Ph.D and five were graduates of an agricultural college.


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There are so few photos of mom before polio – I love seeing them. I do have to ask, as a kid who regularly got in to massive amounts of trouble from both Mom and Grandma for climbing things and leaving for day long horse rides without saying where I was going – why did I get in so much trouble since clearly this is a generational issue? One I have passed down to the next girl in our generational line as well (ok, as the parent of that one I can see how sometimes it can be a bit worrisome).

About 1943, Percy built a big new garage and near it a nice new bunkhouse. The garage has an upstairs in it so it is quite high. When he was shingling the roof, Marshall as usual was right beside him trying to help. They heard a little voice and looked around and there was three year old Margi at the top of the long ladder climbing onto the roof too. Marshall was nearest her so Percy told him to grab her and hold her until he got there. As soon as Marshall did, he got an awful scape on his hands. Margi fought to come onto the roof too. Poor old Robert stood at the foot of the ladder wringing his hands and crying “Oh my God” over and over. They got her down safely. Another time I checked to see where she was and could get an answer quite close but couldn’t see her. She was only two and a half years old then but had climbed to the top of one of my very tall trees she had her arm around it, standing there looking down at me. Another time I found her on the roof of Annie’s two story house. As I said before, Margi was an extremely lively child. One night when she was about two years old, we had a very busy day branding. That evening she was watching the boys put iodine etc on all the wounds from wrestling calves etc. Percy and Clarence had to go out to do some more riding after supper and after I got the kids to bed and to sleep (I thought), I also hit the hay and went sound asleep. When Percy came in, there was Margi sitting in the kitchen all by herself dabbing iodine on herself here and there and she also had the little aspirin bottle beside her with the top off. Our medicine cabinet was in a place where I had to climb on a chair and reach over the ridge to get into it. How she ever climbed up to it I’ll never know and I certainly put in a bad night worrying about her, but she was fine, thank goodness.

We decided to turn our lean to eating area into a kitchen as it was three steps down from our tiny kitchen and the steps proved very awkward. Mr. Mervin Wallace, the carpenter, came out and he built that kitchen with loving care. I was so proud of it, it was beautiful and quite convenient but could have been larger. it was all white and blue with accents of red here and there. It had a long low window in the west and I made cottage style curtains out of white and blue polka dot material with a wide border of white eyelet embroidery. By now I had a gas-served refrigerator. Mr. Wallace also built me a sun porch for my houseplants. From 3:30 on in the afternoon, I used to just wear a hole in that window watching for the kids to come riding out from the bush at Nicoll’s field a mile or so west of us. I would always have a dish of dessert or a bowl of soup waiting for them and would listen to them unload all the problems of the day, then all was forgotten and the real enjoyment of the day would begin for them. Each one to his or her liking, such as curling up with a good book to read or outside to play. The school was now called Jumping Pound School and it had the misfortune of having a succession of teachers such as a new one every few weeks for a while. It was all very hard on the children. We live only five miles from Brushy Ridge School where Mrs. Callaway, an exceptionally talented teacher, was teaching.


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You know, I used to complain bitterly about walking the kids to the school bus in the dark and the cold. AND we were living so much further south than here (RI and VA) that we didn’t even have the Alberta cold to deal with. But here’s Grandma and Grandpa walking down the hill to help their kids cross the creek with their horses. Grandma was so gutsy. I kind of knew that when I was younger, but the older I get and especially now reading the letters and her stories- there didn’t seem to be anything that she was afraid of. Or at least nothing that she let stop her. That’s true of all of them – just getting to school took courage.

By 1943 when Marshall was old enough to start school, the Clemons Hill School was moved over to a spot south of Harry Copithorne’s – west of Bateman’s. Marshall rode a very fine old character of a horse named “Buck”. Buck could run very fast, could jump quite well, and was especially skilled in looking after himself, which is a good characteristic in a horse. By now Sheila was riding a beautiful little pinto called “Paint”. I remember one morning when the water was running over the ice in the creek and Paint was just terrified to step into the water knowing there was slippery ice underneath. Percy and I were down trying to get Paint to lead the way. We chose a narrow spot between the bank and the island in the creek but Paint still balked. Buck was getting impatient with it all. Finally I caught a glimpse of Buck out of the corner of my eye and he was all hunched up to jump. I yelled to Marshall to hang on just as Buck jumped from the bank to the island. Poor Marshall, I’ll swear he flew away up in the air as far as the reins would let him but seconds later he landed back in the saddle and led the way for Paint to follow across the creek. He and Buck had many escapades that first year at school.

One day when out robbing crows nests he was galloping across a muskeg and Buck stumbled and threw Marshall off onto a broken sliver of a willow. It cut such a gash over his eye and bled so much, the teacher sent someone up to Harry’s to phone me to come and get him right away. It was too muddy for me to get there by car. The men weren’t home. The only saddle horse available was one Chick Coolen had asked Clarence to break for him. It was in the barn and fortunately Clarence had given it a long ride the day before. I was very worried about being unable to ride it, but it didn’t buck when I saddled it and once I was on it I didn’t give it time to think about anything but go. Percy and Clarence came home shortly after and were very worried when they heard what I was riding. Marshall and I were heading home when we met them in a field, driving the Jeep truck. They sneaked up on my horse, grabbing it and ordered me off in no uncertain terms. Poor Marshall got little attention. We decided to doctor it ourselves, as this was the second time he had a wound like this and near the same spot. The other time he was trying to keep up to his dad walking across a corral that had been full of cattle and muddy the day before. The cattle tracks were frozen that cold morning and Marshall had both hands in his pockets and couldn’t save himself. We took him to a doctor and got several stitches in it. This time we teased him and said the doctor would likely only put a zipper in it. But it did leave a scar.


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I remember Grandma telling the story of bringing the wild horses to the corral. I was always very firmly “team horse” and as I’ve gotten older and more things have changed I’m glad that we now have other ways that we can work with a horse to let us ride them rather than “breaking them”. However, given the time and the situation I’m not really sure what else there was to do. My little demon Shetland pony Tango, while he wasn’t a wild horse, also headed off to the fox farm after he finally attempted to kick Dad in the head – instead landing both evil little hooves on each shoulder. Apparently him trying to murder me on a daily basis while I rode him wasn’t quite enough – but the boot to the head was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

About the time I spoke of when I bought Sheila and Marshall sleds, we had what we call open? winters. In the fall it would rain, then freeze, and then rain again.

Those were the years when our range was infested with wild horses. We would haul blocks of salt up to Sibbald Park and other ideal areas to feed the cattle and the bands of wild horses would come down and drive the cattle away from the salt and also eat the cream of the crop of grass to be found there. Our men all rode bigger and stronger horses than in most districts because they needed a wonderfully strong and intelligent horse under them to be able to race across the muskeg, fallen timber, and badger holes without piling up. And they had to stand an all day ride.

The fall when the ice formed over the pasture was hard on the wild horses. Our men decided to put new shoes on their mounts and go after those slicks and clear the range of them. They were successful in rounding up several hundred and bringing them down to the big corral at the Star, then here. The fact that the saddle horses were shod and the wild ones weren’t was a great advantage. But no one could match the cunning tricks of escape those creatures knew. When they got them to the Star corral they had to rope the leaders of each band of horses. They had to put several ropes on it to hold it and get it down. Then they put a rope through its mouth and under its jaw with a tourniquet in it and twist hard enough to hurt enough to keep the pony’s mind on fighting that and only that. They turned them out and headed for home. What a ride that was! Fences meant nothing to that herd of horses. Only the solid log corrals would hold them. I’ll never know how they got them here but they did. I went out to the corral to see them and have regretted ever since that I didn’t take a picture. They were small and scrubby little horses, their hooves were long and turned up. Their mane dragged in long ratty masses to the ground and so did their tails. When anyone would dare step into the corral they would charge him with their mouthes open to bite and would wheel and kick so fast you could hardly see them. Just a long-haired shaggy bundle of dynamite.

After getting them here, then and only then did the men start to wonder what they would do with them. I can tell you that I was kept busy. for the next few days it was not unusual to have dozens of extra men for meals. The government men were here to see that everything was legal. There were scores of Indians and whites who tried to claim what their thought might be their horses now they were safely available. Nearly all were slicks (no brand) and just had to be turned over to the government to be sold as fox meat (fox farms were popular then). But getting them anywhere was a major problem for any but the most skilled horsemen. When all the dirt settled and they were gone, our men nearly sat down and cried when they saw the miles of broken fences to be repaired. The range was a better place for cattle for the next few years.

Clarence did manipulate another wild horse drive a few years later. His was a sheer case of having to outwit them. He built a trap back there somewhere and managed to bring down a fair number. A few were quite good looking horses and he was at the age when he rode broncs, so he had fun trying to ride some. His friend Chet Baldwin nearly got killed out in our corral trying to ride them too. So the fun cooled off.


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I read these stories and I have to ask – If the generations before us knew what little asshats Shetland ponies were, whey did they make us ride them??? Aren’t we supposed to be making life easier for the generations that follow us??? I suppose it must have been an early method of toughening us up haha. Here’s A link to a write up about that war prison camp Grandma mentions.

One fall a cattle buyer who bought our steers, gave Marshall a Shetland pony when he was about four years old. I have never liked Shetland ponies but Marshall was very happy and wanted to be on it all the time. One fine afternoon when I decided to ride across the creek and get the milk cows in, I let Marshall ride his pony and come with me. My horse stopped half way across the creek to have a drink and I looked back to see how Marshall was doing. Clarence was building a fence nearby. The Shetland had stopped at the edge of a deep pool to have a drink too, and I could see both Marshall and the saddle were slowly sliding over his head. I called to Clarence just about the time Marshall plopped into the cold water. The dumb Shetland sat on the bank like a dog sits down and it had the saddle on its head like a hat. Clarence and I both headed to the rescue but things happened too fast for us. Marshall no sooner hit the water when he bounced out again and was in a howling rage. It all looked so comical. Clarence and I just went into helpless laughter which only made Marshall furious. He walked home in a huff and we were so weak from laughing at that crazy looking pony we could hardly get the saddle off. Later that pony ran away with Sheila one day and threw her onto a big rock and broke her elbow.

My father had sold his farm and rented an apartment in Calgary. While Sheila was in the hospital with her broken arm – it had to be broken a second time to get it right – my Dad visited her every day and read stories to her. He also helped Percy cut crop a few times when help was scarce. He loved the children dearly and always called Margi “Peggie”. The last day he visited us in November 1942, Marshall and Margi clung to his legs and begged him to stay but he had two companions with him and returned to town. That night he died of a heart attack.

As the war advanced, our lack of manpower became a real problem. The French Canadians came to work in the harvest fields but were unused to our ways. One year we had a harvest crew of soldiers and they were very good. The Indians helped us a lot as long as the work wasn’t too steady, and we always liked working with them. During the war there was a war prison camp up at Kananaskis and every now and then one or two would escape and we were about the closest area of civilization. We were nervous but usually the persons were quite thankful to be captured again after a night or two in this rugged country.