Category Archives: Family

Welcome to Canmore

Going for an autumn walk in Canmore Alberta

We arrived in Canmore yesterday afternoon. We are staying at the home of our niece Olivia and her fiancé Miche.

Olivia and Miche share their home with two dogs Archer and Josie

The view from their home is spectacular and they took us for a walk near sunset to explore some of the trails that begin just at the end of their street.

By the Bow River in Canmore Alberta

We hiked along the Bow River which begins in the Rocky Mountains, winds through Alberta, joins the Oldman River, then the South Saskatchewan River, then the Nelson River, and eventually flows into Hudson Bay. Quite a journey!

In the distance behind Dave, you can see The Three Sisters

On our walk, we could see The Three Sisters, a trio of mountains initially dubbed The Three Nuns in 1883 by someone who saw the three mountains capped with snow and thought they resembled nuns in white veils.

George Dawson, a Canadian geologist, and surveyor renamed them The Three Sisters in 1886. They are individually known as Big Sister (2,936 meters), Middle Sister (2,769 meters), and Little Sister (2,694 meters). Dawson also referred to them as Faith, Hope, and Charitya Biblical reference about the three most important things in life found in 1 Corinthians 13.

The people of the Stoney Nakoda call the peaks The Three Sisters in their language but that name comes from a story about an old man who would promise three sisters in marriage whenever he was in trouble.

We walked by this old railway bridge. Coal mining began in Canmore in 1887 and by the time of World War I the mines in the area were producing 5 million tons of coal annually. Gradually the industry waned and the last local coal mine closed in 1979. There are still ongoing efforts to repair the environmental damage the mines caused to the area.

The railroad bridge was built in the 1890s to link the Canmore mining area to the main Canadian Pacific line.

Our walk worked up our appetites for the delicious lasagna supper Olivia had made. Tomorrow night we hear Miche is cooking. Our niece and her fiancé are both professional chefs. How lucky can we be to have them as our hosts in Canmore?

Other posts………

The Rehearsal Dinner- A Culinary Masterpiece

The Amazing Race Driedger Style

My Dad Was A Train Porter in the 1950s

I Love Autumn

A Wedding That Was Too Exciting

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Filed under Canada, Family, Travel

History Hunting in the Cemetery

I visited a cemetery in Drake Saskatchewan that is across the road from the site of the former North Star Mennonite Church. I found the gravestone of my great grandparents Peter and Marie Schmidt. Peter was the father of my grandfather Peter M. Schmidt whose immigration story was the inspiration for my novel Lost on the Prairie. Peter and Marie are characters in the novel as well.

I have a photo of my great grandfather Peter H. Schmidt which I inherited from my mother. I have not been able to find a photo of my great-grandmother Marie or my grandfather as a child.

According to the gravestone my great grandfather Peter was born in 1856 and died in 1923. My great-grandmother Marie was born in 1858 and died about a year and a half after her husband did.

This is consistent with the data found in the Schmidt Family Tree book I have.

Right next to my great grandparents is the grave of their son Alvin. Alvin had epilepsy and was blind. After my great grandparents died he moved in with my grandparents and lived with them. My mother said he helped with work on the farm and in the house and he did leatherwork. Alvin is also a character in my novel.

Besides Alvin, my great-grandparents had nine other children. Five of them William, Herman, Emelia, Anna, and Lottie predeceased them. The five that survived them were Katie, Peter (my grandfather) Martha, Alma, and Alvin.

From a memoir written by my Great Aunt Alma, I know my great grandparents lived in a sod house when they first came to Canada and worked very hard. Eventually, they were able to build a wooden house and some buildings for their farm equipment. One of those buildings burned when it was struck by lightning. My great grandfather loved to sing and after a hard day of work would sit in his rocking chair and sing one hymn after another. He died on the same day in 1923 that three of his sons had gone to the train station in Rosthern, Saskatchewan to help transport some 750 Mennonite refugees who had just come to Canada from Ukraine.

My grandparents are buried in the North Star Church cemetery as well. My grandfather died in an accident in 1961 when he was 71 years old. My grandmother lived for thirteen years more in Saskatoon with her daughter, my Aunt Viola, although Grandma was a frequent visitor to our home in Steinbach, Manitoba. I have Peter and Annie meet for the first time in my novel.

My grandparents Peter and Annie Schmidt on their wedding day
My Grandma Annie came to visit us in Steinbach when my youngest brother Mark was born

My visit to the old church cemetery in Drake helped me learn some new things about family and also raised a bunch of questions about their lives that I am going to try and answer with more research. The photos I took at the graveyard will make a valuable addition to the presentations I will do about my novel.

Other posts………

Sai Wan War Cemetery

The Catacombs- Myth and Reality

Anatomy of a Photograph

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Filed under Family, History, Lost on the Prairie

Life and Death of A House on the Prairie

In 1925 the year my mother was born, her family moved into a brand new house in Drake, Saskatchewan. The house was of a mail-order variety. Large department stores like Sears and Eatons shipped out a kind of kit that contained blueprints and every single board and nut and bolt you would need to put the house together.

According to the house plans which my mother kept, my grandparents Annie and Peter Schmidt received their plans and materials for the house through the Saskatchewan Grain Growers Association and my grandfather hired a carpenter to help him build the house.

My mother described the house in great detail to me.

My Mom’s family on the verandah of their house

There was an ivy-covered verandah and you walked inside to the biggest room in the house, the dining room. A railing high up all around the room displayed fancy plates and other knick-knacks. A couch was near the stairwell to the upstairs and my grandfather like to lie on it and listen to his favorite radio shows. On one wall of the dining room, there was a buffet cupboard for dishes, and on the other a wooden wall phone.

Just off the dining room was the parlor where my Mom’s family had their piano and my grandfather’s writing desk. Couches and chairs in the parlor were for visits with guests.

At the back of the house was the kitchen with its wood stove. My Mom remembers the dumb waiter. It was behind doors and had shelves where you could place items like jars of canned goods and lower them to the basement cellar with a pulley rope system. You could also haul up vegetables kept in cold storage down there or coal for the stove. In winter my grandmother did laundry in the basement but in summer her washing machine was on the back porch.

My grandmother doing laundry on her back porch. Right behind her is an area called the shed on the house plans. It had a sink where the family washed up when they came in from the field.
The second floor of the house

My Mom’s parents had their bedroom on the main floor but the other three bedrooms were upstairs. One of the windows going up the stairs was stained glass and at the top of the stairs was an indoor bathroom something very few houses had in 1925. Mom said it had a washstand and a claw-footed bathtub. Her Mom heated water on Saturday and poured it in the tub and they all took turns bathing in it. They had an indoor toilet as well and her Dad emptied its pail every morning.

The house had a large expanse of lawn and beautiful flower gardens my grandmother planted from seed. In the photo, my mother and her two sisters pose in the flower garden.

Near the house was a large barn and in this photo, my mother farthest to the left plays on the farmyard with her siblings.

Before I was born my grandparents sold the house and their farm to their son. I visited the house many times as a child when my aunt and uncle and cousins lived there.

On my visit to Drake earlier this week one of those cousins took me to see the old house. After my uncle died in a tragic accident in the 1960s my aunt sold the house and property. The house was moved to a different location on the same yard where it was built and it is still standing.

It is so dilapidated that it didn’t seem safe to try to go inside, but we peered through the windows.

Many of them still have beautiful leaded glass pieces in them. I remember delighting in the way the sun shone through those prism-like window features and created rainbows.

Even though it is sad to see the house in such a broken-down state it is good to remember that the house served its purpose marvelously in its time housing several successive generations of a family and creating many memories for them.

My mother is the baby in the chair on the verandah of the house in 1926.
My mother’s family in the 1940s

Other posts………

First Day of School-1931

An 80 Year Old Christmas Card

Remembering My Grandfather

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Filed under Childhood, Family

Catching Up With Cousins

In the loft above my cousin Lester’s woodworking shop

I have two cousins who live on farms near Drake Saskatchewan, my mother’s hometown. Although I had seen both of them briefly at a number of family functions over the years, I had never visited either of their homes. As we planned our trip west I decided it was time to change that. I am so glad I did.

My cousin and his wife and the two dogs who are an important part of their family gave us a warm welcome to their farmyard and home

We arrived first at my cousin Lester and Julie’s home.

They live on a large acreage that used to serve as a u-pick berry farm but changes in drainage systems on other properties near them meant their land flooded. Although the waters receded somewhat this year, thanks to drier weather, they have basically lived on a kind of island since 2010.

In the past, my cousins ran a U-pick berry farm on their property

Julie is a recently retired nurse practitioner and my cousin Lester has a large shop where he does all kinds of custom woodwork for clients.

Dave in the loft above my cousin’s woodworking shop

We toured Lester’s shop as well as the loft above it where Julie and Lester entertained large groups of family and friends before the pandemic. Their three children and grandchildren live nearby and they see each other often.

Julie and Dave in Lester’s woodworking shop
I was intrigued by this photo which shows my cousin Lester up on the rafters of his woodworking shop as he was building it
Julie explains her labyrinth to Dave

Julie’s pandemic project has been building a labyrinth and she explained the meanings of the various stones in it and took us on a walk through it.

We visited some places important to my family and their history. I will write more about that tomorrow.

In the late afternoon, we went on a bit of a history tour of Drake with my cousin Loraine and her husband Wes.

My cousin lives in a beautifully kept nearly century-old farmhouse

We also toured around their farmyard where Wes has even set up a three-hole golf course.

Wes shows Dave the golf course he has on their yard
The date on the garage is when my cousin’s husband’s family founded their homestead

Later Julie and Lester hosted all four of us for a delicious supper of ham, salads, and blueberry pie. We talked for hours over glasses of wine and coffee as we were serenaded by the sound of the thousands of Canada geese spending the night on the water around the house. When we went outside it was pitch dark and the sky was crammed with stars. The loud howling of a coyote pack sounded so close we thought they might be right on the driveway.

We had to move a few leaves on the green before we putted but other than that it was a perfect day to golf

We spent the night at Wes and Loraine’s and had a lovely time catching up on our lives over a leisurely breakfast. Wes and Loraine are avid golfers and invited us to play nine holes on a local course.

It was a very windy day but the temperatures were perfect and we had a great round together, getting in some more visiting and having lunch together before Dave and I set off for Saskatoon.

My cousin Lester and me

I was so glad to have caught up with my cousins. They were incredibly hospitable and I can’t thank them enough for warmly welcoming us to their homes and lives for a couple of days. They got our trip off to a wonderful start.

Other posts……..

Getting To Know My Great Grandfather

Anatomy of a Photograph

The Pandemic Story Behind A One Hundred and Five Year Old Photograph

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Filed under Family

Another Year For Dave

My husband Dave marks another trip around the sun today. He is on a golfing holiday with some buddies so I’ll use this blog post to say Happy Birthday and show you some of the things that kept him busy this past year.

He explored Saskatchewan’s beautiful Qu’Appelle Valley
He organized many hikes and wiener roasts with friends
He learned about the art of Van Gogh
He went to Hecla Island with friends
He did lots of birding and took hundreds of beautiful photos of birds
He welcomed a new granddaughter to the world in Winnipeg
In the fall and winter, he discovered dozens of new hiking trails and parks in Winnipeg
He organized all kinds of biking excursions with friends
He met with the beer club he founded
He visited his grandchildren in Saskatoon
Over the course of the winter, he hiked the entire length of the Seine River
He took his granddaughter on a weekly stroller ride
He discovered some new patios in Winnipeg to enjoy interesting food
He played on a slow pitch baseball team. Dave is third from the left in the back row.
He celebrated the publication of his wife’s first novel
He went camping for the first time in about thirty years
He did the New York Times crossword puzzle every Saturday with a friend either virtually or in person
He enjoyed a wonderful holiday at Oak Lake with his children and grandchildren
He golfed two or three times a week all spring and summer and fall

Happy Birthday, Dave!

Other posts………..

Dave’s Birthday 2016

Happy Birthday Dave 2018

Dave the Professional Driver

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Filed under Family

Mom’s First Day of School in 1931

My mother Dorothy Schmidt is to the left in this photo

Today is the first day of school for many children in Canada and it reminds me of this photo of my mother and her sister Viola on the first day of school in 1931. Mom was six years old. Someone has penciled on the back of the photo Dorothy’s first day of school.

I love looking at all the details in the photo. My Mom has a book under her arm which I think might be her Book 1 Canadian reader. Mom told me that for each grade in school they had a different reading book with poetry and fiction and stories about nature and history.

Check out the rather battered black lunch kit my mother’s sister is carrying. My grandmother always sewed her daughters’ dresses and from the material sticking out of both the girl’s sleeves I’m guessing the dresses were matching.

I just love the girl’s wool hats and woolen stockings. I think their grandmother made them.

My great grandmother Marie Jantz

My mother’s grandmother lived with her family till Mom was sixteen and her grandmother died. There were few nursing homes for the elderly in the 1930s. Mom said her grandmother was constantly knitting things for her family.

This is the one-room school near Drake Saskatchewan that my mother attended in 1931. Check out the kids coming to school by horse and buggy.
When it was very cold in winter my Mom said her Dad might take them to school in a horse-drawn caboose. Here the caboose is outside their farmhouse ready to leave. The kids would have hot bricks their Mom heated on the wood stove under their feet to keep warm.
The Kansas School in Drake Saskatchewan

The Kansas School had grades 1-8 and Mom thought up to 50 kids attended at a time. It was called the Kansas School because most of the children who attended it were from families who had immigrated to Canada from Kansas or other mid-western American states at the turn of the century.

My Mom with her grade one class. Mom is third from the right.

Mom’s teacher in grade one was Miss Agnes Regier and Mom really liked her. At the end of her first school year her class put on a little musical on the porch of Miss Regier’s house and all their parents came to watch. Mom also remembers how they used to chant their spelling words out loud together letter by letter. 

At recess, they liked to skip in pairs and they had skipping rhymes to chant as they did so. Mom said they also played lots of cricket using the tree stumps on the schoolyard as wickets. In winter they made a slide on the schoolyard with boxes and boards. Their stockings would be soaked when they came in and they had to take turns standing by the register to dry them.

The children at the Kansas School in the 1930s with their teacher Hans Dyck. My Mom is in the second row just to the right of Mr. Dyck’s shoulder.

In grades 3-8 Mom had a teacher at the Kansas School named Hans Dyck. He was quite strict but an excellent musician who taught his students to sing in four-part harmony and entered them in music festivals where they always took first place.

Mr. Dyck introduced them to world geography and they learned the names of the countries of the world and their capitals and even made topography maps from paste and plaster. They did science experiments and learned about masterpieces by famous artists. Mom’s favorite time of day was right after lunch when Mr. Dyck read aloud to them.

Today many parents will be snapping photos of their children as they set off to begin a new school year, just like my grandparents did in 1931 when their daughters headed off to class.

Other posts……….

They Wore Masks Too

My Father-in-Law Was Born in a School for the Deaf

Don’t Speak German

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Filed under Canada, Education, Family, History

The Big Picture and Finding Your Own Happiness

Earlier this month Dave and I had dinner with a married couple we have known for over twenty years. Two decades ago when they were preparing for their wedding they asked to interview us so we could give them some marriage advice. At the time Dave and I had been married for a little over twenty-five years ourselves.

Dave and I at the start of our relationship

The first thing they asked us to provide was a key phrase for success based on our marriage experience. 

Dave said, look at the big picture. It is easy to get so caught up with the immediate problems in your marriage, you lose sight of its long-term value. Over time perhaps conflicts can be resolved, hurt feelings eased, and difficulties worked through. Don’t act rashly when you feel overwhelmed. Later, you might wish you had looked ahead at the big picture and considered more carefully how your actions could impact your family’s future.

Dave and I are in one of Merida Mexico’s famous You and Me chairs. You have your own chair which faces its own direction but you are joined together.

I said, don’t expect your partner to make you happy. Happiness is an individual responsibility so pursue interests of your own. If there are times when your marriage is going through a difficult period, perhaps it will be career satisfaction, your children, your friendships, your hobbies, or your volunteer work in the community which will provide a sense of well-being. We place too great a burden on our significant other if we expect them to be responsible for the happiness in our life.

The engaged couple also asked us to comment on some of the things which had caused conflict in our marriage.

Deciding how our money should be spent has often been contentious for us. Giving our partner the freedom to splurge at times, on things we might not think are necessary, has made a difference.

family photo
Our family in the early 1990s

We talked about raising children. Respecting our divergent opinions and recognizing how we’d been influenced by the child-rearing practices in our own childhood homes was helpful.

We talked about a balance of power and the importance of ensuring both spouses feel equal responsibility as well as equal opportunity.

Tubing on Moose Lake together

Finally, the couple asked what things were the most important to us in a marriage partner. Trust and faithfulness were vital for me. Fun and a sense of humour were Dave’s top criteria.

It is nice to know the couple we gave this advice to twenty years ago is still together but each marriage is so different. Any two people who want to have a life-long relationship must find their own unique way to make things work.

Other posts………..

Can Your Marriage Survive Lollygagging

Is Marriage A Good Thing For Women?

Marriage Statistics and Bible Verses

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Filed under Family, Reflections

A Giant Baby and A Tiny Woman

I have been thinking a lot about the cycle of life recently. In the last few weeks, an uncle of mine has passed away and so has an aunt of my husband Dave’s. During the past year, two new babies have been welcomed to the world in my extended family.

In 2015 I took photos of an exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery that depicted the cycle of life in an incredibly graphic way.

It had two main pieces and was created by an Australian-born, London-based artist named Ron Mueck.

The first piece was an enormous sculpture called The Girl

The little girl had just been born and her umbilical cord was still attached. Blood remained on her wrinkled and folded skin. 

You could see the glisten of saliva on the baby’s lips, the wet mucus in her nose, and her tiny eyelashes. 

You needed to walk slowly all around the figure and think about it. Mueck said that while he spends lots of time making the outer surface of his sculptures of human beings it is really the life inside them he is trying to capture. It reminded me how after our older son was born my husband walked around the delivery room carrying him and talking to him. “I wonder what he is thinking,” he said to me. Mueck’s sculpture has that quizzical thinking look about it. 

Mueck has created other life-size sculptures of babies. He made the first after the birth of his child. Mueck reflects on the strangeness and assertiveness of infants and the way a new baby tends to totally dominate our lives. 

Mueck’s Old Woman in Bed was on display just a few steps away from The Girl.  This art piece shows a dying, vulnerable woman in her hospital bed. She was as tiny as Mueck’s baby was big. 

Artist Ron Mueck made the Old Woman in Bed after visiting his wife’s beloved grandmother in the hospital. 

The woman is curled in a fetal position, and her wrinkled skin, so like the wrinkled skin of the baby, links her clearly with the newborn girl nearby.  

The exhibit juxtapositioned the beginning and end of a woman’s life beautifully and in such a moving and compassionate way.

Other posts……………

A Dream Day At Work

The Pandemic Story Behind a 105 Year Old Photo

Books About Death For Children

The Circle of Life

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Filed under Art, Family

Her Last Visit

In August of 2011, my whole family was out at our cottage at Moose Lake. Dave and I had just moved back to Manitoba after living in Hong Kong for six years and my siblings and our families congregated at the lakeside cabin we had been coming to every summer for our whole lives.

Mom enjoying the morning with her only granddaughter

My mother was in a wheelchair but she was determined to join us and it was marvelous to see the pleasure she took in visiting with her children and grandchildren, sharing meals with them, and watching them have fun out on the lake tubing, skiing and sailing.

Mom and Dad and my husband Dave on the deck of the cottage that has belonged to three generations of our family

Over nearly fifty years my parents had invested so much time and money in the cottage and seeing her whole family there having such a good experience must have felt rewarding for Mom. She must also have been happy that my brother Mark and his wife Kathy now owned the cottage and were taking such excellent care of it so she knew it would remain in the family

Mom loved puzzling year-round and was happy a puzzle was on the go at the cottage
Mom visits with our daughter-in-law. What Mom didn’t know just yet, but would soon be overyjoyed to learn, was that in nine months she was going to become a great- grandmother when our son and his wife would have their first child.

Our second day at the cottage Mom decided that she would like to go for a ride in the boat. This was no small feat to manage. Her wheelchair couldn’t really be pushed over the grass and rocks that led down to the dock. So her grandsons and son-in-law decided to carry her there.

It took another cooperative effort and lots of planning and negotiating to get her safely into the boat, but we did, and then she was off for a ride around the lake with her son at the wheel, her husband on one side and her grandson on the other.

I took this photo of Mom’s empty wheelchair on the dock just after the boat pulled away.

We didn’t know at the time that it would be Mom’s last boat ride. We didn’t know that this would be her last visit to the lake.

Mom died two years later. She had requested we sing the hymn Lord You Have Come to the Lakeshore at her funeral. I think that was because of all the happy memories she had made with her family at the lake.

One verse of the song and its chorus particularly apply to my Mom.

You need my hands, full of caring
through my labors to give others rest,
and constant love that keeps on loving.

O Lord, with your eyes you have searched me,
and while smiling have spoken my name;
now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me;
by your side I will seek other seas.

Other posts………..

Burgers and Blokus

What Next? Tubing

Lord You Have Come to the Lakeshore

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Filed under Family, Nature

Astounding

My mother looks on as Dave and I exchange a kiss outside Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach where we were married in 1973. We greeted our guests in a receiving line outside the little white church which would eventually be torn down. Fortunately, our marriage partnership escaped a similar fate and is still standing.
Drinking a toast with my friend Velma in Quebec City. Thanks, Velma for the inspiration for this post.

I woke up this morning to a Facebook message my friend Velma had sent late last night congratulating us on our 48th wedding anniversary which is today. She reminded me that we are nearing the 50-year milestone in our marriage and said “that’s astounding.”

My Mom took this photo when we came home to tell my parents we were engaged

Dave proposed to me in April of 1973 in a college classroom where we were studying for an exam. We had the radio on in the background. When an ad came on about a two-for-one sale on wedding rings at a Winnipeg jewelry story Dave said, “That’s too good a deal to pass up.” After that romantic proposal, we were off to the store to get our simple gold wedding bands which we wore on our right hands till our wedding day, and then transferred over to our left hands.

We couldn’t afford a fancy diamond engagement ring or a professional photographer for engagement pictures. We stopped at one of those tiny photo booths still popular in the early 70s on our way back to our college dorm to take this engagement photo. We were just teenagers totally unaware of all the astounding things life was going to send our way.

This was the engagement announcement that appeared in the local Steinbach paper The Carillon. In 1973 I would have been astounded if someone had told me twelve years later I would become a columnist for that newspaper and would still be writing for them when I celebrated my 48th wedding anniversary.

I probably would also have been astounded to know that in the next decade the women’s movement was going to bring the kind of equal rights and recognition to women that would make the fact my mother is referred to only by her husband’s name in this announcement seem archaic and politically incorrect as would the idea that only future brides were included in engagement photos rather than depicting the couple together.

The day of our wedding was astoundingly hot. 92 degrees Fahrenheit. I probably would have been astounded to know that just two years later Canada would change the way it measured things and I would be telling people it was 33 degrees on our wedding day.

There have been so many astounding things about my last 48 years with Dave.

Becoming parents.

Becoming grandparents.

Long careers as teachers.

Traveling the world.

Making so many friends

The last 48 years have been filled with moments of astounding joy, sadness, learning, difficulty, love, challenge, surprise, contentment, change, humor and hope. I am astoundingly grateful for it all.

Other posts………

Thirty-Eight Years

Bucket List For Marriage

T is For Together

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Filed under Family