So here are five things about our recent visit to Canmore for our niece’s wedding that I’ve been wanting to write about.
My husband Dave comes from a family of five boys. Two of Dave’s older brothers have died of cancer- his brother Bob in 1974 and his brother John in 2018.
Now there are just the three younger Driedger brothers left, Bill, Paul and Dave. Since Dave’s brothers both live in Ontario we don’t see them as often as we would like so it was great they could be together for a few days in Canmore
Since my niece and her new husband are both professional chefs the groom put together this unique blend of spices called MO (for the bride and groom’s initials) as a gift to each of the guests. It’s sure to add spice to any dish.
We went to the Canmore Library to have breakfast with our nephew one morning (yes this library has everything including a restaurant- it’s amazing) and I saw this unique sculpture of a bear made with logs.
The sculpture is called Looking Closely and was created by Meg Nicks in 2013. It is a tribute to the wildlife that survives so tenaciously in the Canmore area.
Another sculpture that caught my eye in Canmore was this one called Altered Ground done by Tony Bloom in 2020. The artist wanted to show how tectonic upheaval, gravity, water and wind had shaped the local landscape into its present form.
Long ago a woman used to write a column called Potpourri for The Carillon the same newspaper where I’ve had a column for the last thirty-eight years. It was never about a particular topic but just bits and pieces of things she’d noticed. This is my little potpourri of things I noticed on our recent trip.
Last week I did a story about my grandmother Margareta Sawatsky Peters on her birthday and included a photo of her with the children she cared for as a nanny when she was a young woman. The children’s parents Anna Gerbrandt and Abraham Friesen had hired my grandmother to work for them shortly aftershe immigrated to Canada.
Gord Friesen who is a member of my church read my blog post and sent me an e-mail saying the man sitting on my grandmother’s lap in the photo was his father Cornelius Friesen and the girls were his aunts Lena and Anne. He had seen the photo before but hadn’t known who the woman holding his father was. Did I know any more about my grandmother’s connection with his family?
My Aunt Mary Fransen has written and shared many stories about my grandparents’ lives so I went and looked through my collection and found this paragraph.
“Margareta Sawatsky arrived in Canada in August of 1923 with her family. They settled in Altona Manitoba. The A.D. Friesen family needed a ‘nanny’ to help care for the younger of their seven children so they employed Margareta for an $8.00 a month salary. Her way with children and sense of humour charmed the Friesens. Soon Margareta became part of the family.”
My Aunt Mary had also interviewed my grandparents at length about their immigration experience and from those interviews I was able to glean even more information about the connection between Gord Friesen’s grandparents and mine.
In the interview, Grandma talks about how good Anna and Abraham Friesen were to her whole family when they first arrived in Canada. Abraham whose Mennonite family had already immigrated to Canada from Ukraine in the 1870s met Grandma and her parents and siblings at the train station in 1923 when they arrived and took them to his and Anna’s home for lunch.
It was Anna’s birthday and my grandmother never forgot how they were served fresh green beans for the meal. After the famine Grandma’s family had just experienced in Ukraine, and their long ocean voyage to Canada during which there were no fresh vegetables to eat, those fresh green beans Anna served the Canadian newcomers were a real treat.
Abrahamfound an old schoolhouse for Grandma’s family to move into and then he and Anna organized a kind of shower in the Altona community so that Grandma’s family was given everything they would need to move into the schoolhouse and stock their kitchen.
But my Grandma Margareta did not move into the schoolhouse which will have been crowded with Grandma’s parents and siblings some of whom were already married with children. Grandma remained behind at Abraham and Anna’s who hired her to do childcare for little Cornelius and Lena and Anna the youngest three of their seven children.
Grandma Margareta did remember going to the schoolhouse on Sundays to visit her family. During the week her father and brothers and brothers-in-law were working at a farm some six miles away from Altona. They walked back to Altona on Sundays to visit. Grandma Margareta remembers how Abraham and Anna Friesen and their friends kept her mother and sisters supplied with food and split firewood while the men in the family were away working during the week.
I e-mailed all this informationto my fellow church member Gord Friesen who had inquired about the photo of my grandmother and his father as a child and said our families were connected in a way neither of us had realized.
I told Gord my family owed his family a huge debt of gratitude for their kindness in the 1920s.
In my post about Life After Death earlier this week I talked about how author Heather Plett gave me the idea that each of our lives are like paintings and all kinds of people leave their mark on our canvas to create the overall image of our life story.
I’ve learned that Gord Friesen’s grandparents Anna and Abraham Friesen put a bright splash of hope and help onto the canvas of my grandmother’s life.
Margareta Sawatsky Peters was born on May 17th 1900 in Gnadenthal, a village in the Mennonite colony of Baratov- Schlactin in Ukraine.
Grandma loved school and was very sad when she had to quit attending after finishing grade six. She was an excellent student who loved to read. She had an amazing memory.
Well into her 90s she could still recite long German poems with flair. Before I went to visit her in her retirement years I would often go to a German bookstore to pick up a new novel for her.
She never lost her love of booksalthough while she was raising her six children and helping run a large farming operation there was seldom time to read.
Grandma was very musical. In her childhood home, they had a guitar, an accordion, a mandolin and a balalaika. My grandmother and her three sisters as well as their mother, could all play all of the instruments competently. Grandma also enjoyed singing in the village choir.
Grandma didn’t talk much to her grandchildren about how she survived during the Russian Revolution but in taped conversations with one of her daughters, she described that tragic time.
So we know about the devastating famine her family experienced, the nights she and her sisters hid in the hayloft when the bandits would descend on their village as Grandma said, ‘like a plague of locusts’ and the way the bandits led by a man named Makhno once put a gun to her father’s head. She and her sisters peeping out from the bedroom door were sure their father would be shot.
Grandma’s family immigrated to Canada in August of 1923 and Grandma got a job as a nanny for the A.D. Friesen family in Altona, Manitoba.
You wouldn’t know it from Grandma’s serious demeanour in her wedding photo but she loved to laugh and had a marvellous sense of humour. She could come up with these witty one-liners in almost any situation.
She made friends easily and one of my aunts noted that her friendships often included people on the ‘fringe’ who others might not have made time for.
Her grandchildren loved spending time at their grandmother’s house. We had so much fun there with all our cousins. Grandma made us feel special and was proud of us.
Two of my aunts lived out of the province and her regular letters to them were full of glowing reports about her grandchildren’s accomplishments.
At her funeral in 1999 four of my cousins and I talked about our grandmother and how she had been the one to draw our family together.
One way she did that was around the table where we enjoyed her wonderful food – her chicken noodle soup, pickles, plumi moos, klops, homemade bread and white cookies.
Another way my grandmother Margareta drew her family together was through her dedicated daily prayers for our well-being, through her music, through the afghans she knit for each of us, through our birthday cards which always arrived in the mail with a one-dollar bill tucked inside, through the Easter baskets filled with treats she prepared for each of us, and through her delight in seeing us together.
Because my grandmother lived to be nearly a hundred years old she also had a warm relationship with many of her great-grandchildren.
Today is my grandmother’s birthday and I’ve been thinking about her a lot in the last while. She provided me with a wonderful role model to look up to as I grandparent.
Interestingly today two of her great-great grandsons, including one of my grandsons, are celebrating their birthdays too.
One great-great-grandson is turning three and the other seven.
They were both born on their great-great-grandmother’s birthday.
Our niece got married on the weekend in Canmore, Alberta. She and her fiance chose to have their ceremony against the backdrop of the breathtaking scenery the area offers.
The bridesmaids’ green dresses blended in beautifully with the green trees as did the groom’s green suit.
The outdoor wedding setting was very appropriate since both the bride and groom spend a great deal of time outdoors. Our niece is a triathlete and her new husband is an avid downhill skier and biker.
The trees that surrounded the wedding venue made the perfect background for photos.
The reception area was decorated with gorgeous watercolour paintings of the mountains. Look at the one in the background here and how the trees outside are reflected in the glass covering the painting.
In keeping with the nature theme the wedding cake was decorated with icing resembling birch barkand rested on a round of wood with the bark still on it.
The top of the cake looked like a cross-cut from a tree too with rings in it.
During the cocktail hour following the ceremony, the mountains and trees offered a lovely backdrop for family storytelling and visiting.
There was greenery decorating a photo of the bride with her dad, my brother-in-law who sadly passed away in the fall of 2018. He was never far from our minds throughout the day.
There was greenery decorating all the tables too. Both our niece and her new husband are professional chefs so the food which was prepared and served by their friends in the industry was amazing!
Some of the family gathered for dinner the night before the wedding. We had a table that afforded us a lovely view of the mountains.
The day after the wedding my nephew organized a family hike.
The wedding weekend was a great time. People came together from different places across Canada to celebrate with the couple.
And the spectacular scenery of Canmore provided the perfect setting for a very happy occasion.
I was in Steinbach recently to see the movie Women Talkingwith our friends, and we had only been standing in line to buy tickets for about five minutes when a woman came up to me and said, “You’re Dr Peters’ daughter aren’t you?”
I used to hate that! When I was growing up in Steinbach, Manitoba I was always first and foremost “Dr Peters’ daughter.”
My father was a local physician and Steinbach wasn’t a big city like it is now. It only had a population of 3,700 people when we first moved to town in 1961. There weren’t that many doctors there either and my Dad was on the school board, a leader in his church and well-known throughout the community.
The first thing teachers and other kids and really anyone who met me always said was, “You’re DrPeters’ daughter aren’t you?” I hated that, especially as a teenager. I wanted to be my own person! I didn’t want to be first and foremost my Dad’s daughter. People seemed to have certain expectations of me because I wasDr Peters’ daughter. That was frustrating!
And really I was my mother’s daughter so much more than my father’s since Dad was incredibly busy with his thriving medical practice and a multitude of church and community commitments. We only really spent extended periods of time with him on family trips.
Even in the summer, my Mom went off to the family cottage with us while Dad stayed home to work. Perhaps I secretly resented all those people and causes that kept my Dad apart from us so much.
Then I moved away from Steinbach to attend university. I got married and changed my last name from Peters to Driedger. I secured a teaching job in Winnipeg and lived there till I was in my mid-twenties.
My husband Dave and I did move back to Steinbach in 1977 but by that time I had a different last name and I began to establish a reputation apart from my Dad’s as an educator, a columnist for the local paper and as Dave Driedger’s wife.
My husband was involved in pretty much every sporting activity the community offered and his achievements as a coach and athlete were well-known. So I was often asked, “Are you Dave Driedger’s wife?”
I still heard “Oh you’re Dr Peters’ daughter aren’t you?” but not nearly as often. And by then I didn’t hate it nearly as much when people referred to me that way because I was beginning to realize my Dad had made such important contributions to the community and that many folks admired and respected him.
Eventually, both my parents and my husband and I left Steinbach. My parents because of my Mom’s ongoing health problems which made the proximity to the Winnipeg hospital where she received care important and Dave and me to live abroad for years and then return to Canada and settle in Winnipeg.
Of course, we still went back to Steinbach frequently because we had so many friends there but the community had gotten so much bigger and there were lots of people who had no idea who my Dad was.
I rarely got asked any moreif I was Dr Peters’ daughter and really by that time, I didn’t care at all if I did, because I was secure in who I was, and had made peace with the resentment I felt about Dad spending so little time with us during our childhood.
It turned out Dad had almost made up for his absence as a father in his role as a grandfather to my children and niece and nephews, by being much more present in their lives.
Now my Dad has advanced dementia and is in a nursing home. The staff all call him DrPeters because he likes that. To them, I am “Dr Peters’ daughter.”
I see Dad several times a week, and my sister and I are often the only people he still recognizes. Dad and I spend lots of time together now, maybe more than we ever have.
In January and February, I went on a trip to Africa and I really wondered whether Dad would still recognize me when I returned after six weeks away.
When I walked into his care unit on my first day home he was just coming down the hallway with his walker. “Hi Dad,” I said waving my hand. He looked up and his face broke into a big smile. “My daughter! My daughter!” he called out excitedly.
At that moment I was happy. Happy to be Doctor Peters’ daughter.
I have to help my husband put on his socks every morning. He is waiting for hip surgery and he has had a sore shoulder of late so he just can’t bend over far enough to get his socks on. He is not happy about this. “I need a little help here MaryLou,” I will hear him call out in an irritated voice as he gets dressed to head off in the morning to one of his volunteer or sports commitments.
Often while I help get his socks on he grumbles and complains about the state of his ageing body and what the future might hold for it. I try and cheer him up by pointing out all the things his body can still do and what a good life he has.
In the midst of my helping him with his socks one day last week, he commented in a rather crotchety voice, “You sure were grumpy last night and now you are all cheerful and lah-de-dah.”
I just smiled. This has always been our pattern. I learned early on in our marriage not to take anything Dave said before 9 o’clock too seriously. It was not his best time.
In the evening, however, he is raring to go and can stay up late laughing at Stephen Colbert on television, completing a volunteer shift at a late-night concert at the West End Cultural Centre, or polishing off a New York Times crossword puzzle.
I on the other hand am my best self in the morning when I’m ready to take on the world and full of energy. I chatter excitedly about a school I’m visiting that day or a tour I’m giving at the art galleryor a lunch date I have with a friend.
In the evening, however, I wind down early and it’s my time to worry, feel overwhelmed by everything on my plate, sigh a lot, and get irritated easily.
I’ve sometimes wondered if Dave and I would be better offhaving the same emotional rhythm but I really think our alternate moods in the morning and evening are probably a good thing.
During the major part of the day, we are usually both in pretty good spirits, but at the time when one of us isn’t at our best, the other is.
It could just be one of the reasons we’ve managed to stay together for almost fifty years.
Do you see a pattern? It’s one you will find worldwide. Families are getting smaller.
And because of that……..there soon won’t be enough people in the world!
For years now we’ve been told that the increasing population of our planet is bad for the environment and that the demands so many people are making on the world’s resources will eventually destroy it.
We’ve been bombarded with the message that having fewer children is the primary way to save the planet. We must curb population growth!
That’s why it seemed strange to read, in a variety of recent articles in the New York Times and The Globe and Mail and The Lancet that the world’s population is about to experience an irreversible declineand while that may be great for the environment it’s not necessarily good for the human family.
In countries where decreasing populations are already a reality like Japan, Italy, China, South Korea, Australia, Sweden, Taiwan and the Philippines governments are actively intervening to increase the birth rate. They are very worried about how a smaller and smaller population of young people will be able to handle the burden of caring for a larger and larger population of old people.
These countries realize they need a growing contingent of young people to…….
use their money to purchase enough consumer goods to maintain their country’s economic health,
do the jobs that are required to keep their country’s infrastructure healthy and functioning,
pay taxes that will support the social programs which make everyone’s lives in their country better,
andcontribute their minds and skills to the pool of creative thinkers and inventors required to solve their country’s problems.
Some countries are offering generous cash payouts to citizens for having children, while others are increasing the length of parental leave and making child care more affordable. Some are offering free fertility clinic services or increased tax deductions for families with children.
In Canada we’ve been relying on immigration to increase our population, setting targets of some half a million immigrants a year. But as the population declines in the countries our immigrants come from, that may not always be a viable option.
In 2023 Canada rolled out programs for free dental care for children and $10 a day childcare for families. Perhaps they are hoping by lowering the costs of having a child more people will be encouraged to add to their families.
It is still true that a declining world population will help the environment which is a positive thing but……… it will create a host of other major problems.
I won’t be around to see what happens but I’m hopeful that my grandchildren with their curious intelligence, creative spark and compassionate personalities will contribute to finding ways to deal with the challenges and opportunities a declining world population will bring with it.
When our family was together over Christmas we all walked to a neighbourhood park near our son and daughter-in-law’s Winnipeg home to play in the snow with the children. My husband Dave and I spied a pair of swings and promptly sat down and started pumping till we were quite high in the air.
“Oh look,” our ten-year-old grandson said pointing to us and calling out to the rest of the family, “Grandma and Grandpa are being children.”
Our grandson’s comment got me thinking about whether it was a good thing that we were ‘being children’ because adults are sometimes chastised for ‘behaving like a child.’
A little online research revealed that sometimes ‘acting like a kid’ is good for you no matter how old you are.
British therapist Adam Eason says being playful and childlike can relievestress, help you feel younger, stimulate your imagination, enrich interpersonal relationships, and give you more energy.
Dr Stuart Brown has written a book called Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. He says playing isn’t just for children. We all need to play like kids at times if we are going to flourish.
DrBrown has interviewed thousands of people about the role of play in their lives. He says playing with the passion and fun-loving spirit of a child helps foster social skills, intelligence, creativity and problem-solving.
According to him adults especially need to play like children during challenging times in their lives because it helps them remain optimistic.
Marelisa Fabrega is a lawyer and entrepreneur with a blog called Daring to Live Fully. She has some good suggestions for adding child-like fun to your life.
One is to have a play drawer where you keep jigsaw puzzles, colouring books, paper and paints, adult playdoh (yes there is such a thing) and Lego. She encourages adults to take time to indulge in an activity from their play drawer regularly.
She suggests play dates with friends where you visit a playground, go mini-golfing, go tobogganing or ride your bikes.
Marelisa also recommends hanging out with kids as a surefire way to start ‘acting like a kid’ yourself.
I LOVE the fact that our grandson thought his grandpa and I were being children on those swings. We probably need to do that more often.
The New York Times ran an op-ed recently called In Praise of Unfinished Basements. The author Brady Brickner-Wood talks about how he loved the unfinished basement of his childhood home. It was a place to play and imagine and pretend.
There was something about its unfinished status that gave it a certain allure. He says the unfinished basement was a place where life was more than what it seemed.
That got me thinking about the role unfinished basements have played in my life. Houses were smaller when I was a child and until I was twelve I always lived in a home with an unfinished basement. My grandparents had homes with unfinished basements too.
Because in the past rooms in houses were much smaller than they are now, and usually closed off from one another with doors, it was in unfinished basements that families often gathered for special celebrations because it provided a large, open space for everyone to be together.
I remember Christmas celebrations in the basement of my maternal grandparents’ little house.
Basements weren’t just for holiday celebrations. In the photo below my mother has decorated the unfinished basement of our house for my birthday party the year I turned nine.
My parents’ wedding reception was held in the unfinished basement of a church.
Unfinished basements were often places to work as well. That’s where you did laundry, woodworking and home repairs and as illustrated in the photo below taken in my parents-in-law’s basement it was a place to do canning.
Unfinished basements are becoming rarer as people update and renovate them. Do you have memories of an unfinished basement?