I have been doing research for my work in progress, a novel about a girl growing up in the 1960s. I have learned some interesting things in the process.
Did you know there was no diet Coke in the 1960s? Diet Coke only hit store shelves in 1982.
Did you know that at one point in the 1960s there were more than 60,000 Catholic nuns working as teachers, social workers and nurses in Canada?
Did you know that in the 1960s almost every school classroom in Canada had a prominently displayed picture of Queen Elizabeth?
Did you know that it was only during the 1960s that the use of snowmobiles became widespread in Canada? Until that time transportation over snow had been impossible except on skis, snowshoes, or dogsled.
Did you know that the flip was a hairstyle that defined the decade of the 1960s and was made popular with the help of prominent public figures like Jackie Kennedy and Mary Tyler Moore?
Did you know thatKool-Aid the sweetened powder drink became hugely popular in the 1960s because of television advertisements featuring a singing group called The Monkees, one of the most successful bands of the 1960s?
Did you know that Envoy was an automobile brand created by General Motors of Canada? The cars were made in England and sold on the Canadian market from 1959 to 1970. Our family owned a red and white Envoy in the 60s.
Did you know many Canadian communities had sirens installed during World War II to warn residents of potential air raids? In the 1960s some communities still sounded the sirens at noon and six o’clock and nine o’clock to tell children it was time to head home for meals or bed. During the Cold War in the 1960s, the sirens were tested as a means of warning citizens of a possible nuclear attack. I remember the siren going off in my hometown of Steinbach Manitoba and we school kids practising for how we would exit the school and hurry home.
Did you know that in the 1960s it was perfectly acceptable to have cigarette advertisements on Canadian television?
Did you know that in 1965 the cost of four rolls of toilet paper was 45 cents?
I lived through the 1960s but as I was doing my research I realized there were many things I had forgotten about that time period.
I first learned about kindergarten teacher Anna Vogt from my friend Elfrieda Neufeld, who was related to Anna and wrote a story about her for the historical journal Preservings in 1996. As a former kindergarten teacher in both Winnipeg and Steinbach, I was very interested in learning more about Anna a woman who had been a kindergarten pioneer in those same two communities.
Anna Vogt referred to affectionately by her students as Tante Anna (Aunt Anna) was born onSeptember 16, 1883, in Schoenwiese, a village in the Chortitza Mennonite colony in Ukraine. One of the nine offspring of Andreas Vogt and Aganetha Block Vogt, Anna was a sickly baby who her parents didn’t expect to survive. But survive she did and started her education in the Schoenwiese school.
She had to quit school after a few years to help out in the family dry goods store and do housework. In 1902 she was baptized and became a member of the Mennonite church. Her Dad was a minister who valued education and so when Anna was almost thirty years old she convinced him to let her go to Germany to study to become a teacher.
Anna’s education fees were subsidized by a rich mill owner named J. J. Thiessen from the city of Dnipropetrovsk and in 1912 she was off to the prestigious Pestalozzi-Fröbel Haus in Berlin. The school founded by a woman named Henriette Schrader- Breymann in 1882, just the year before Anna was born, was named after prominent Swiss and German educators who believed child’s play was valuable, that each child should be taught as an individual and that children learned by doing.
Pestalozzi-Fröbel Haus was one of the few places in Germany where women could be trained as professionals. By the time Anna went to study there, the school had gained an international reputation with students coming from England, the United States, and many other European countries.
Because Anna’s education had been limited in scope and truncated so many years before, she had to work hard to get her certificate, but in the summer of 1914 just a month before World War I broke out she graduated. That fall her father died and Anna spent the next five years in Dnipropetrovsk working as a nanny and tutor for her benefactor J.J. Thiessen who was a widower with four children.
Just after World War I ended, Anna established her own kindergarten in the community of Nieder Chortitza and soon had more than a hundred children attending classes. Nieder Chortitza was especially hard hit by the civil war in Russia. In 1919 just after Anna must have opened her kindergarten twenty-one people from the village were murdered by the army of Nestor Makhno. Anna moved her kindergarten to other villages and for a time taught at a teacher training institution in Nikolaipol.
Anna, her mother and six of her siblings, and their families came to Canada in 1923 and made their home in Steinbach Manitoba. Anna opened a kindergarten in her home shortly thereafter and later moved it to a building on Elmdale Drive in Steinbach.
Anywhere from 25-50 children ages 3-6 attended classes at Anna’s kindergarten from 9:30 till noon. The school was closed in January and February because of the cold weather but remained in session in July and August. Anna charged $1.00 a month for tuition for a family’s first child. Additional children were only charged 50 cents and Anna never turned down children even if their families couldn’t pay.
Anna ran a tight ship. Although at times children were free to chat and visit, when Anna asked for silence she expected it and tested it by dropping a pin to see if she could hear the sound it made. Activities during a typical kindergarten session included crafts, colouring, nature study, memory work, snack time, and storytelling. The Christmas programs put on by Anna’s students were popular community events.
In 1938 she accepted an invitation from the German-speaking Mennonite community in the North Kildonan area of Winnipeg to open a kindergarten there. She continued doing that work until 1966. Anna worked alone except during her last ten years of teaching when she was joined by assistant Annie Dyck who carried on Anna’s work after she retired in 1966 at age 82.
Anna died in 1975 at age 91, outliving all save one of her siblings. She was a resident at the time in the Bethania Personal Care Home which had been founded by her sister Maria Vogt and her brother Abram Vogt.
In her tribute to Anna, my friend Elfrieda Neufeld calls her a forceful visionary with a hearty laugh who left a legacy of love for children.
I am working on a writing project that involves Amelia Earhart the American aviation pioneer and discovered in my research that she was friends with movie star Mary Pickford. Mary was born in Toronto and grew up there before moving to the United States where she had a successful career in the American film industry for five decades.
Mary was a huge star during the silent film era and co-founded the United Artists film studio as well as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She was still a Canadian citizen when she died in 1979.
Amelia who in 1932 became the first woman to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean from Newfoundland to Ireland made a short film with Mary Pickford in which they promote women’s rights and encourage women to take on any career they like.
Mary thanks Amelia for being a role model and encouraging women to break through the limitations that have been placed on them for centuries. This is in a time when many professions were still not open to women and long before the women’s equality movement in the 1960s and 1970s.
The movie clip of Mary and Amelia’s conversation which you can view here is less than a minute long. At the end of it, Amelia Earhart’s husband George Putnam a famous publisher, author and explorer and Mary Pickford’s husband Douglas Fairbanks, a famous actor and movie producer enter the scene and introduce themselves as Mr Earhart and Mr Pickford.
Quite astounding since in that era women almost always went by both their husband’s first and last names. My grandmothers for example were called Mrs Peter Schmidt and Mrs Diedrich Peters.
I think it’s terrific that these two famous women and their partners were using their notoriety to encourage independence and personal achievement for other women.
One of the progressive things Kelvin Goertzen did during his short time as the premier of our province was insure there will be a treaty acknowledgment at the start of Manitoba legislative sittings in the future. It will recognize the fact that the land on which the legislature meets was once the home of Indigenous people.
Right after his appointment Premier Goertzen struck a committee to provide a report on the best way to carry out such an acknowledgment and admitted as House Leader he probably should have made that happen sooner. In a CBC interview, Goertzen said the discovery of the unmarked graves at residential schools was a significant event for him and his family that crystalized the need for a treaty or land acknowledgment.
Of course, many organizations and institutions have been doing these acknowledgments for a long time. My church instituted the practice about five years ago. After we began to have a treaty acknowledgment in our bulletin, on our website, and frequently announce it at the start of our services, we created a colorful brochure to explain our rationale. I was asked to write the text for the brochure, and it was a good exercise for me.
I had to research the history of our province and find a way to articulate our church’s goal to recognize the important contributions Indigenous people have made to the geographical area where we worship. In my text, I expressed our church’s desire to learn from the spirituality and culture of our Indigenous neighbors and to work at building a strong respectful relationship with them that would result in reconciliation.
I am employed as a guide by the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and we have done treaty acknowledgments at the start of each of our tours since 2016. The gallery staff participated in training sessions where we learned all about Treaty One signed in 1874 between Indigenous leaders and the British Crown.
The two groups had very different ideas about what the treaty meant. While the Indigenous leaders thought it would protect their way of life and provide a framework for sharing land, the British thought the land was being ceded to them. I was glad for this training because it helped me provide an explanation when gallery guests asked me why I did a land acknowledgment before my tours.
In my job with the education department at the University of Winnipeg, I visited many schools in the Winnipeg One School Division which began to do treaty acknowledgments each day in all their schools beginning in 2017.
It was good to read recently that the Hanover School Division where I taught for decades has approved a treaty acknowledgment statement as well. Superintendent Shelley Amos says it is a way to show honor and respect for Indigenous people and their land and express the division’s desire to move forward in constructive ways in their relationship with Indigenous people.
While school divisions like Winnipeg One have made treaty acknowledgments a requirement Hanover will leave it up to individual schools to decide on what occasions and in what situations the division’s official acknowledgment statement would have the most impact. A plaque with the acknowledgment will be placed on all properties owned by the school division.
We have been hearing land and treaty acknowledgments at sporting events, cultural events, business events, and religious events for many years now. It is good to know that both the Hanover School Division and the Manitoba Legislature are joining the effort to recognize the contributions of our Indigenous neighbors and to express our willingness to work towards reconciliation in our province.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
I write middle-grade historical fiction and so I do lots of reading in that area. I’ve developed a particular interest in Winnipeg history in the last year since I have been unable to travel to other places. Two books written for middle-grade kids that look at important times in Winnipeg history have been recent reads.
Colleen Nelson has written two engaging, award-winning middle-grade novels about a West Highland Terrier named Harvey. Harvey Holds His Own is the second in the series. Harvey’s owner, a junior high school student named Maggie begins to volunteer in a retirement home. Harvey helps her develop a special relationship with many of the residents in particular with Mrs. Fradette who tells Maggie all about the great Winnipeg flood of 1950.
Through photos and stories,Mrs. Fradette describes the dike that was built around her neighborhood, how her family moved all their furniture and belongings to the second floor of their home, how her brother’s Scout troop helped with flood relief, and howthe threat of the rising waters necessitated evacuation to the small community of Laurier Manitoba. There, in her grandfather’s car repair garage Mrs. Fradette developed the interests that would lead to her becoming the first female car mechanic in Manitoba.
Harriet Zaidman’s City on Strike is about the Winnipeg general strike of 1919. We experience that turbulent time through the eyes of Jack and Nellie who are from a working-class Jewish family living in the north end of the city. 13-year-old Jack has a job as a newsboy in order to bring in money for the household since his Dad is out of work and still recovering after falling victim to the recent flu epidemic. Nellie is a student at Aberdeen School.
Jack and Nellie are caught up in the action on June 21 when the police attack during a peaceful march in support of the strike. Jack offers help to photographer Lou Foote who is recording the striker’s march on film. Foote is a real person well-known for his work chronicling the history of Winnipeg. Nellie witnesses the overturning of the streetcar a classic moment in the strike and is led to safety by her school teacher Miss Ross.
Both Harriet Zaidman and Colleen Nelson have provided great stories about important events in Winnipeg’s past. Although their books were written for young audiences, adults will also find them an interesting and engaging way to learn about our city’s history.
COVID -19 isn’t the first time children in Canada have had to wear masks. The children in the photo above are setting off to school in the 1930s when a series of severe dust storms and long periods of drought caused great hardship. This era has come to be known as the Dust Bowl. Although the pandemic has been a difficult time for Canadian kids the Dust Bowl was much worse in many ways.
If a dust storm was advancing everyone tried to stay inside and if they had to go out they wore masks because people could choke to death if their lungs filled up with dust. If there were any cracks in the walls or floors of a house the dirt and sand would find their way inside and into food and onto furniture. Children sometimes slept in clothes and beds gritty with sand and dirt.
Kids continually had red irritated eyes from the dust and some contracted dust pneumonia when too much dust got into their lungs. Babies had wet clothes placed over their mouths and noses to keep dust from choking them. Children often went hungry because no crops or produce could be grown and stores were forced to close as were schools, sometimes for weeks at a time.
There was no weather forecasting so people just had to watch the skies and many parents didn’t send their kids to classes because they were scared they would be caught in a dust storm going to and from school. If children were at school when a dust storm started their classroom could suddenly grow dark like it was nighttime and teachers had to light lanterns in the middle of the day so children could see to read and write. Their classroom could quickly fill with a kind of dusty fog. If they thought it was safe enough children and teachers would walk home with towels over their faces, but sometimes students were kept at school overnight to make sure they didn’t lose their way walking home or choke on the dust.
If children couldn’t go to school and had to stay inside there were no televisions, video games, or even many books to entertain them. Most children lived on farms and they also witnessed their parents’ distress about their devastated crops and gardens. They watched the family livestock die due to a lack of food and water.
Countless children became homeless as crops failures led to their families losing their houses and property. Sometimes the roof of a home would literally collapse under the weight of the sand and dirt on top of it. On the Canadian prairies, some 250,000 families simply abandoned their homesteads. Some families wandered nomadically looking for a new place in a different province to make a home and have a chance to start over.
The pandemic has been very hard on children there is no question about that, but we may take at least a little solace in the fact that children from another century experienced much greater hardships and survived, going on to build meaningful lives for themselves and their families.
They worked for more than 20 years to earn the right to vote!! When I visited Quebec City I learned about an amazing trio who dedicated themselves to securing the right to vote for Quebec women. Canadian women earned the right to vote federally in 1918 but it wasn’t till 22 years later that women in Quebec attained the right to vote in provincial elections. Equal voting privileges for women became a reality because of the dedication of Thérèse Casgrain, Idola St. Jean and Marie Lacoste Gérin-Lajoie.
Thérèse Casgrain led the League for Women’s Rights and hosted a Radio Canada program for women called Fémina. Idola St. Jean was a McGill professor who led the Canadian Alliance for Women’s Vote in Quebec. She wrote a bilingual column for the Montreal Herald. In 1933 she founded the magazine La Sphère féminine. Marie Lacoste Gérin-Lajoie was on the Provincial Committee for Women’s Suffrage. She organized female workers and fought for the right for women to attend university. She wrote a book about women and the law.
These determined women and their organizations faced all kinds of adversaries. The clergy, politicians, journalists, and even most women in Quebec did not think women should be full-fledged citizens with the same legal rights as men. They believed a woman’s place was in the home raising a future generation of French- Canadians.
A statue on the grounds of the Quebec Legislature honors these determined women. They repeatedly organized marches in Quebec City to gain recognition for their cause. They sent King George V a petition signed by 10,000 Quebec women. Each year they managed to find a politician willing to sponsor a bill in the Quebec legislature granting women the right to vote. It took the introduction of fourteen such bills before one was successfully passedon April 18, 1940.
These three Quebec women fought long and hard for the right to vote. At a time when many states in our neighboring country are passing laws that will make it harder for some people to exercise their right to vote, we need to remember that within some of our own provinces here in Canada it wasn’t that long ago that the right to vote excluded half the population. Thérèse Casgrain, Idola St. Jean, andMarie Lacoste Gérin-Lajoie remind us to appreciate our right to vote and never take it for granted.