Gee I’m mad! I’m boiling! (FGK 82)

Auntie Sheila’s letters are some of my favourite – she is so open and honest in them. I really appreciate how vulnerable and real she is when she writes. Because of that I’ve chosen not to post some of them, they are clearly private conversations happening between sisters but it has given me a lot of insight into who she was and what a really loving and remarkable lady she was.

Based on this letter I’m also understanding how it is that she received that award that Grandma spoke of in her autobiography. You can tell she takes her schooling seriously, it seems all she does is study – well and perhaps buy shoes. I can relate to the shoe purchases much more than the studying although I’ve spent the last couple of years studying more than I ever have before.

Nurse’s Residence

CGH Calgary

21 Aug 1956

Dear Marg

Well I bet you thought I’d forgotten you, hey! I’ve been meaning to get up every night this week but never quite made it.

Gee I’m mad!! I’m boiling!! We have to stay in here and study all day from 8am to 3:30pm! On a beautiful day like this! We’re supposed to be supervised but nobody is supervising us and everybody’s talking like mad. It’s just a waste of time.

Oh by the way I hear you went on a big date last night or rather you were supposed to go. Was the show – good?

Marg and I went to see the “High and Mighty” last night, sure was good. There was a big banquet and dance at Penley’s thurs night that all the kids went to except me. Maurice “had to study” so-o-o Kathy said I could go with a friend of one of her boyfriends but I didn’t like her boyfriend so-o-o. I stayed home and studied. Guess it was pretty good. I phoned home Wednesday. Well they didn’t have any news so I stayed in and studied some more, about a quarter to ten Maurice phoned and we went out until ten thirty. He was up to the library at tech all night.

Went over to the Macmillan’s for supper on Tuesday night. Uncle Frank and Aunt Georgie picked me up half way there- I was walking. Apparently ______ and Ken are staying in town for a few days. Marilyn and I drove all over town looking for _____ for canning. She’s buying them second hand. I guess she’s getting married at the end of October this time. Honestly that girl. She’s got more ______(I really wish I could make out this word lol).

Went to a baseball game between the Holy and us on Monday. We lost 18-11 but later we won two games so now we’ve got the cup.

Well I must start studying. I think I’ll get a pair of shoes before I go home. Am going on the bus.

See ya next week maybe




A Dreary Winter Day (FGK 80)

What better way to get back to the letters than one from Mrs. Barkley, she is always a ray of sunshine for me- even when describing a dreary winter day. This letter was sent to the Junior Red Cross Hospital and then forwarded home to the ranch. I assume it must have been one of the times when mom was in and out of the hospital. At this point it had been about 4.5 years since she contracted the polio virus, and she would have been 15.

Sunday – 15th (Envelope says Jan 16,1956)

Dear Margie:-

You sure can’t complain about not being out in the Sunshine! Isn’t it just the dreariest winter!

How are you progressing? I hope really well and that your time in there is getting short.

I took our tree down on Wednesday and such a mess. It seemed to shed so much this year. I think it may have been because it was so full of frost when it was cut. Of course I haven’t taken the cards down yet. I like to enjoy them for a month or so.

Mr. Barkley and I had hoped to go to Lethbridge this week but the weather took care of that. I guess they had no snow there but suppose they have some now. It is getting quite deep in the fields now. Just about up to the men’s knees.

Did you know they made a tape recording of the Cantanta(?) Friday evening? Also the trip! We hope to have a record of it.

I guess I better retire. Hope you are well. All are well here thank goodness

Best Wishes,

The Barkleys


All the best in 1956 (FGK-62)

Grandma had her new kitchen by now! In all of the old photos I’ve seen of this house, I’ve never seen the lean to kitchen that was there before this big, beautiful kitchen was built. The story I was told was that there was a step down from the main house into the kitchen, and one time mom was walking on her crutches and fell down the stair into the kitchen. That was it, and Grandma insisted there be a proper kitchen built without any steps for mom. And what a kitchen she built! It still is my favourite room in the whole world (and where I sit while I write this).

Here’s an old photo I found in some archives of a house in Manitoba with a lean to kitchen. I’m assuming the old one here was something like this, but again I’m not sure as I’ve never seen photos. And every time I ever asked either Grandma or Mom about the old kitchen my questions were never answered, instead they told me how wonderful the new one is (and it really, really is). Even in this kitchen the amount of cooking Grandma had to do is staggering, I don’t know how she managed in a smaller and more rustic space.

RR3 Innisfail, Alta

February 9, 1956

Dear Margie

I was so glad to get your letter and to know that your operation did some good and that you are able to be up and around. You will be anxious to get home again.

We heard you over the radio at Xmas and were so glad to hear you. We did enjoy the programme.

Had a nice long letter from your Mum a while ago and did enjoy it. Would love to drop in on her sometime. She seems to be enjoying the new kitchen. I’m sure it will be lovely.

We are really enjoying our lovely mild weather. Surely hope it doesn’t turn to cold again. It is nice to be looking forward to spring.

Take care of yourself and all the best in 1956


Aunt Jean


Summer holidays and magpie feet (FGK-60)

I love these letters from the kids at Jumping Pound school. Different ages and different perspectives certainly give quite the snapshot of life for these kids.


Calgary, Alberta

June 23, 1953

Dear Marg

We started a crow and magpie campaign on the first of April. Lawrence has really been collecting magpie feet, he has 146 magpie feet. I have 45 feet. John has 14 feet.

Anne and Shirley came to visit us. We had a game of ball in the afternoon. Rose left yesterday.

I hope you will be walking soon.

Yours truly




June 24, 1953

A man brought some more wood. We had just finished piling when he came, but he only brought half a load, so we got it all piled up except a little bit. Now we got 2 piles of wood.

The teacher lost his ring, but found it again.

John, Jim, and Elaine got new baseball gloves. The gloves have three fingers and one thumb. The colour is tan.

My family branded on Saturday.

I hope you are feeling well.

Do you want to go home?

Do you want to stay in the hospital?

Yours truly, David

RR2 Calgary

June 22 1953

Dear Marg

Lawrence, Rode, Elaine and Jim, John and Dave have planted flowers in the window boxes. we painted the window boxes. They planted sweet peas and California poppies. Both of them are growing very well.


RR2 Calgary Alberta

June 24, 1953

Dear Marg

The teacher got two new flags. One is called Union Jack and the other is called Canadian Ensign. They are very nice. Jim, John, and Law put them up. Then they put the Queen’s picture on it. We have got 56 pictures up all together.

Law has 7 pictures. Elaine has 13 pictures. Rose has 16 pictures etc. I have 3 calves.

Your pal,



Calgary, Alberta

June 23, 1953

Dear Margie

The weather is horrible in Alberta this year. It has rained so much that water is laying all over. It is so wet that when you try to plow you bog down.

The grass is not growing very well this year. It has been so wet that it is drowning out.

We are going to brand on Wednesday. We are going to brand about two hundred and seventy-five calves.

Are you coming home for the holidays? How do you like the hospital?

Yours truly


Cochrane, Alta. Box 58

June 22, 1953

Dear Margie

Well holiday time is just around the corner isn’t it? My family is going up to Windermere on Friday. I suppose you heard that Marshall is coming with us? Oh boy! I can hardly wait! By next Saturday I will be basking in Radium swimming pool.

I guess you will be coming home for your holidays. I bet you will be happy.

We branded last Saturday. The Sibbalds, uncle Frank’s clan, had Jim Bateman etc were up to help. We will drive our cows and calves up to 14 on Thursday.

We had our school picnic last Friday. Instead of having a usual picnic we had a party at Batemans. Rose and Elaine made speeches. Everyone had a great time.

Well I will write you more letters during the holidays.

Your pal,



Cascades of Time Gardens (FGK-59)

I wasn’t familiar with the name “Cascades of Time” so I had to google it, and discovered it is the place in Banff that my parents called the Devonian Gardens.

Soooooo, one time when my cousin (who shall remain nameless, but her name starts with the same letter as mine and is 4 months older than I) and I were about 4, my parents took us to these gardens. Well, we instantly fell in love with the place and decided we wanted to live there forever and ever. So we took off and hid in some bushes figuring we’d wait until mom and dad got tired of looking for us and then we’d live our best lives in those gardens eating berries and things. We hid there, listening to mom and dad frantically screaming our names, giggling like miniature mad men, and looking around at the beautiful place we’d decided to call home, planning out how we’d live in trees and things like that. I don’t know what finally made us decide to turn ourselves in, perhaps we got hungry or had to go to the bathroom. I’m not really sure. But what I do remember is that my parents were SO MAD they swore they’d never take us there again. And they didn’t until the summer of 2014 when they took me and my kids in for a little walk around. Of course being me, as soon as we sat down on the grass I told my kids the story and looked at my parents and said “hahaha and you DID bring me back!!!” Apparently 40 years later was still too soon to be laughing about it because they did NOT find it funny at all.

How about a trip through history to a time when asbestos was something to be excited about?!

Cochrane, Alta

Aug 4.

Dear Margie

Well how are you now Margie? We have the barn almost finished. It looks pretty when it’s got red shingles and grey asbestos siding. On the top of the roof there are lightning rods. 1 on each and 1 in the middle.

In the inside of the barn there are stairs and stalls for the horses. Gee i sure wish you could be at the barn dance with the others and us. How are you? Can you walk fairly well yet?

We have two little kittens. One is grey and the other is yellow. They play in the house a lot.

Well I guess I better say good bye for now.

PS We went to Banff to see the Indians. We had dinner and went through the Cascades of Time and saw the pretty flowers. After that Dad took us up to the chair lift. Mom, Lawrence and Dave went on it. We had a happy time. In the evening we saw the Indians dance in pretty costumes and sang Indian songs.

What are you doing these days? Well goodbye. Write to me soon

With love,



That brother of yours keeps growing (FGK-58)

When we were kids, my sister and I used to measure long distances by height of family members. For example, we estimated that Scott Lake would be 10 Uncle Harveys deep. Or a large tree would be 4 Uncle Marshalls tall. Although I would be considered “regular” height in most places, and actually was “tall” when we lived in Virginia, I am short short short here.

I’d like to take a moment to honour Father’s Day. For some this is a day to celebrate, for others it can be a day of quiet reflection. Today I’d like to honour my cousins who lost their dad yesterday, and my aunt who lost her beloved spouse. Uncle Jim was a wonderful man and a fantastic uncle with the best sense of humour and he will be deeply missed by us all. Some of my happiest memories are of times when I would get to fly out to Ontario and spend time at their farm. I am sending you guys all my love and my deepest condolences.

I was happy to pull out one of Mrs. Barkley’s letters today. It’s been a while since I’ve found one, and her letters always make me feel like I’m having a cup of tea (with a proper cup and saucer) and a cookie – or even better a scone and jam!


Calgary, Alta

Dear Margie

We were so pleased to hear of you being on your feet Margie and I’m sure it gave you a good deal of satisfaction.

Sheila was in fine spirits Friday nite. I told her she really brought good news that night. That brother of yours sure keeps growing.

Had quite a lazy day here today. This hay crew worked until nine thirty last night so everyone was glad of a Sunday. They even had me out last week for a few hours for a few days. we had an odd specimen of boyhood here for a few days so he quit, but seem to have a good one now that Gerald got for us down near the city.

Did you listen to Mr Link from New York this morning? We listened to most of his broadcast last year when he was here. Sometimes felt last hear as tho maybe his wife’s writing influenced him some or maybe she put his ideas down on paper.

Mr. Barkley has retired so I guess I better too-

Good luck and best wishes

The Barkleys


Sunday Drives (FGK-57)

I remember when Grandma’s dementia was getting worse and it became too challenging to take her out to do things, but she still wanted to go out and do things, we began doing longer car rides. Sometimes it was just around the neighbourhood, and sometimes around Moose Mountain, or just through Kananaskis. Just getting out and watching the scenery go by seemed to really help her feel happier. Since Covid kept us home for such a long time, I started doing the same for my girl who rarely left the house. She fought me at first, especially because she remembered us also doing the same for mom on cold days when she’d been trapped in the house, and didn’t want to have to be driven around “like an old person” (I told her to instead think of it like taking the dog for a car ride which didn’t go over much better). But she always felt better when we got out and went for a drive. It seems these “Sunday Drives” were a thing for mom in the 1950s as well. How lovely that Grandma was able to get her out for these. I’ve mentioned this before, but I realize how much I learned about how to care for people from my parents and their siblings. I watched how they looked after Grandma as she got older and the love and respect they gave her right to the end and it taught me how to look after my own parents the same way. I have watched my cousins do the same as well, and to those of you who have had to experience this my heart extends to yours with deep love. Our family is truly a gift and I feel incredibly blessed to have a strong tribe on both sides of my family.

RR No.1 DeWinton, Alta

12th Aug. 1954

My dear Margie

I was so pleased to receive such a long newsy letter from you a short time ago. I was certainly very happy to hear that you are getting about a bit more each day. I think you did wonderfully well to pass your exams with an A1. You surely must have your head screwed on properly. I am sure I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish all you did during the year and pass with an A1 standing too.

I do hope you’ll be able to drop in to see us some Sunday while you are out for a drive. We would all love to see you and have you to ourselves for at least a wee while.

I haven’t much in the way of flowers to see this year as they have had a good hailing twice already this summer. I guess there can’t be any nice dahlias this year. Ed is positively sick when he looks at his lovely crops. They have just about been pounded out of existence. I did manage to get twenty pints of peas in the deep freeze. I don’t think there will be any more by the look of the pea batch. It looks pretty sick right now.

I have had a few visitors this summer. Tuella Kirkland nee Pollock stayed with me a few days. She has two children, a boy eight and a girl ten. Everything hummed around here while there were here. It seemed very quiet after they left.

The girl friend from Ottawa that was up there years ago was back again this year. She stayed from Monday until Friday. She is going on to Kamloops, Vancouver, Victoria, and then back to Trail. She surely has a trip mapped out for herself this year. She has a month’s holidays so she has quite a bit of time to do it in.

Clarence has been just fine this summer and is beginning to talk a bit now. He has a pup that he likes a lot and Auntie Margy brought him a kitten last week. He has a big time with the two of them. However, the pup and the kitten don’t get along together any too well.

We three went around that new road through the Forest Reserve last Sunday. We went with Ed’s sister Esther and her husband (Mr. and Mrs. Herb Jenkins). They have three children so you see we were a real car full. It was the first time I had been over it. We went in through Turner Valley and Long View. It was the first time I had seen the famed “Stampede Ranch”. I was a bit disappointed with it and thought it would be more distinguished looking. It sure didn’t look like much. That is the ranch that the late Guy Weadick built up as a dude ranch.

I was to see the dentist the other day and what do you know, I got them all patched up in one hour. I usually have to go back several times.

Well Margie my dear, it is getting late and I seem to be running out of chatter too. I guess I am getting too sleepy to write properly. So until net time I’ll say “cheerio Margie dear” You’ll be hearing from me again.

Much love

Aunt Annie


Curling and Rings and Things (FGK-56)

Until reading these letters I had no idea curling was such a big thing in Cochrane. I’ve never curled, although my kids were lucky enough to get to experience it through 4H. They had no idea what they were doing, but they had a blast.

At the time of this letter Mom had been sick for over 4 years and was 15 by this point. The letter was addressed to the Junior Red Cross Hospital, so mom was in the hospital still, but I’m not sure how much time she’d been able to spend at home. When I think about how much my kids changed between the years of 11 and 15, and of mom spending those years in bed literally fighting for her life it’s a bit sobering.

For those of you who have seen Mama Mia, the dot dot dot in this letter made me think of that, although this was the 50s and a much more innocent time, so Donna’s (the author of this letter) dots I’m sure were a much more pristine version of Donna’s (the mom in Mamma Mia) dots in the 1970s. I don’t know who Donna is who wrote this letter, but she sounds like a person I’d have loved to hang out with!

Cochrane, Alberta

December 11, 1955

Dear Margie

Hi, I’ll bet you thought I was never going to write. I was beginning to wonder if I’d get time myself. Guess where I am now? I’m in the bus station waiting for the bus to come in so I can get on (Oh brother, Ernie Andison just came up behind me and scared the living daylights out of me). Well, anyway, I stayed in after school to go to the doctor so I have to catch the bus home. I’m not taking singing anymore but I’m going to start again after Christmas.

Do you know what? I’ve only got two dollars left and I’ve only bought four Christmas presents. I guess I’ll sort of give dad a little surprise and hit him up for twenty dollars. If he doesn’t give me any he won’t get a Christmas present from me. You won’t have to worry though, yours is one of the four. I’ve got David’s, Kay’s and Elaine’s too. I’ve got all my Christmas Cards sent so that’s one less worry.

David’s ring sure is nice.

Do you think I’ll get to see you in the hospital on Sunday? I’ll bring it along just in case so I can show it to you. It just wouldn’t be any good without your approval now would it?

We’ve finally starting curling. I’ve only played once and I’ve already got a big bruise on my knee. Guess I’ll learn someday. Heather, Donna Nelson, Myrna, and I have a team in the draws and I’m skip. Big deal eh?

The choir went to Exshaw on Monday night with the cantata. Heather and I went with John and Aileen and we were the first ones there and the first home again. It pays to go with good people, eh. Were the roads ever icy! It rained Sunday night and then froze. I think we could have skated all the way up. We were mad at the Exshaw people because they hardly even clapped for us so we were awfully hurt (Boo-hoo).


We curled tonight and guess what – we won! Miracles do happen, though!

December 16 (Science Class)

You’ll get this letter yet!

We went to choir practice last night and patched all the bad spots in the cantata. MaybeI’ll be perfect when we sing it for you (Ha! Ha!)

I”m going to curl on John Copithrone’s mixed team on Saturday nights. Pretty good eh?

Do yo know what we had to do? We had to write part of a short story for English and it’s going to count for half our mark for the Christmas test. Just imagine me writing a story. Know what I did? I copied a passage out of one of Jane Grey’s books. Aren’t I a bad little girl?

We write our Christmas exams next Mon, Tues, And Wed. So far, I haven’t got any to write on Wed, so maybe I’ll skip. David’s coming to town Wed to see the dentist so …………….!!!!!

Well, I can’t think of anything else just now. Guess I should pay attention for a while anyway.

Hope I’ll get a chance to talk to you Sunday.

Bye for now

Lots of Love

Donna xxoo


Everywhere I went folks seemed glad to see me (FGK-55)

What I remember most about Aunt Gertie is that she always had a smile on her face. When I saw her at a family gathering I always looked forward to visiting with her because I knew I would walk away with a smile. What a great way to have people see you in the world – wherever you go people are happy you’re there!

I love her letters, she describes things so well I feel like I’m there, and it was kind of fun to have a little tour around Alberta.

Cochrane, Alberta

Nov 9, 1954

Dear Margie

Well since I last wrote you I’ve covered some 100 miles and had a really grand trip.

The first day we went to Wetaskiwin, Camrose, Banff and Rosalind. It’s this last place we visited my friend Ruth Ballard and her family and stayed there for the night It was so nice to renew old acquaintances and get caught up in the news.

Next day we drove to Castor and Coronation. We stayed here for 2 days visiting Butterfields. Ray and May got me my first tea schools(?) near Veteran. They both teach school. May teaches Household Economics and Ray is the principal. When we arrived at the school Ray was conducting cadet performances outside in the school yard. They were very interesting to watch. Besides the boy cadets he had organized a girls cadet corps. They have smart uniforms too. They wear short black jackets and green and white plaid shirts. They have dark tame(?) with an insignia on the front. Ray was the first teacher in Alberta to have a girls cadet unit. Since then other troops have organized one too and various interesting competitions have resulted.

May showed me through her economics room. It is lovely with such a wonderful kitchen unit with built in cupboards, a gas stove, and an electric stove, a refrigerator, mix master, washing machine, and ironed. On the sewing side they have large cutting tabled, mirrors for sheering, fittings of dress, etc. And some fine sewing machines.

In the evenings we had good companionship. George and Ray got along famously. They went hunting one evening after school but didn’t have any luck. Around Wetaskiwin we saw huge flocks of ducks and geese.

We went back to Veteran where I used to teach and I met several I used to know and some of the students I had, They are nearly all married with children of their own now. It was 23 years ago I taught there so I thought they did well to remember me. Everywhere I went folks seemed glad to see me and I came home with such a wonderful glow of happiness.

When we came back to Didsbury we stopped and visited Alf Allan and his wife. We had such a wonderful supper there and they showed us all through their ____ school. It accommodates 500 students and is truly modern in every sense of the word. What a difference from the schools I attended!

Coming home we stopped at Brushy Ridge for the card party and raffle. It was lots of fun. Needless to say we didn’t get home until 12:30.

It’s so lucky we went when we did. During our absence our hired couple found a new job – closer to town. They had helped us get all caught up and the house was just shining so we were grateful for their help. However now we are on our own we won’t be able to make anymore wonderful visits like this one.

Annie and Ed were here Sunday. They are looking just fine and Clarence David is such a Bonnie boy.

Sibyl and Jack were here too and Albert Shickey and Ralph Kerr so we had a real nice visit.

Well Margie, I keep looking forward to the day when I can see you. I hope it won’t be long now

Lovingly yours

Aunt Gertie


Going to School in Bed (FGK-54)

Before Covid, I would have thought that it would be a kid’s dream to be able to go to school in bed. And, although I think the girl has come to like the fact that she only has to get out of bed 2 minutes before class starts to go sit in her pjs at the computer, I would have to say that no- I was wrong, these online classes are pretty challenging. Of course, it’s a different situation than the one mom was in, and it’s even a different situation from my own online classes which are set up really well with lots of support. Instead it’s become pretty isolating and really difficult to get help from the teachers. I’m guessing mom hated going to school in bed. The only childhood stories about school I ever heard were the ones where she rode her horse with her brother and sister to the Jumping Pound School. However, pre-covid we used to joke that living life in bed like the grandparents in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory would kind of be like a dream come true. Not anymore!

Pearce, Alberta

Feb 19, 1954

Dear Margaret

It was so nice to receive a letter from you because I thought you would be getting so many letters that you wouldn’t find time to write to everyone, but you did anyway and I hope you will continue to write. I received your letter February 12.

Do you enjoy going to school in bed? Are there many children taking the same grade as you are?

Yesterday we went to Lethbridge to the dentist, all but my oldest brother. I had two teeth x-rayed to see if the roots were ok so that they could be filled later if they were.

The wind was sure blowing today. One of our granaries blew part way off its foundation. It hadn’t done that before even when it was empty. There was a tiny bit of wheat in it.

The subject that I like best at school is Science and Home Economics. We sure got a good science teacher. I dislike Social Studies the most because of the teacher Miss Hyssop, who hardly anyone likes. She likes to see how much homework she can give us. We had a test in Social Studies today.

I have got a pen pal down in Burbank California whose grandparents on her mother’s side live in Calgary.

A few days ago my kitten and my sister’s kitten followed us up to the bus. They raced around, laid on the ground and rolled about kicking their feet in the air trying to get some attention. They started to fight once then raced up a light pole. When the bus came they raced towards the yard, their tails awfully big. They were sure scared of what we sometimes call the “Yellow Bug”.

Are you at all lonesome for the farm after being in the hospital? Did you have any pets at the farm you lived on?

That is all for now, hoping to hear from you soon.

Yours sincerely,

Mary Ann de Koning