Category Archives: Prairie Childhood

Blizzards, Dust Storms, Extreme Cold – All Make a Teacher’s Dilemma

My Daddy is sick and in bed.  “He has a fever,” Mommy says.  I hear them talking.  “Perhaps we should just keep them home today, Will.”  “How cold is it?” Daddy asks.  “Minus 2 on our thermometer, and not much wind,” she answers.  They decide Doris and I can go, and Mommy puts on her outside clothes too.  “I’ll walk with you to the Christensen road and break a trail for you.”  We are so happy.  It is nice to walk with Mommy, and only a quarter of a mile to the school house after she turns back.  It works well having Mommy breaking trail, the snow is deep for our legs.  I’m six and Doris is seven, and we are used to walking to school.  When the snow is deep, Daddy usually drives us in the sled.  Now he is sick, and Mommy can’t get harness on a horse – but she is a good trail breaker.    Continue reading


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My One-Room Prairie School

What Was It Like?

We left this story at the end of the last blog as my sister Doris and I met our teacher, on our first day at school.  What did we see when our parents took us into the building to this meeting?  It certainly didn’t look anything like the place we saw when our family attended some community celebration!  My memory has been working overtime trying to recapture the impressions of a five year old, some 85 years ago.  To be fair, the sketch on this page is a composite of memories from eight and a half years, from the time I started school until I graduated from grade eight.

It is my belief that I am approximately correct with the measurements shown for the school building itself.  As to the furnishings and the general positioning of such, the memories came easily and with confidence.  I hope that before I leave this series on the school, my research (or more likely that of someone else ) will produce actual pictures to use for comparison.  Until then, my sketch will have to do.   Continue reading


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The One-Room Prairie School

Basic Rural Education in the 1920s and 1930s

 This post’s title describes a topic dear to my heart, but I have struggled with how to enable readers to enter that long-ago world.  Just describing the buildings, the facilities, the curriculum and the students will not convey the reality of my childhood times, so foreign now to any but the very old.  This story, therefore, starts a few years before my birth.

1918 ushered in the end of World War One.  That terrible conflict with its tragic loss of lives, barbaric cruelties on all sides, social upheavals, and heroic actions beyond description finally came to an end.  Then followed the demobilization of war-weary soldiers eager to return to their old familiar world, only to find that their home world had changed as much as they had!     Continue reading


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‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

This had been quite a year.  In mid-summer Dad moved Mom, Doris and me from the farm into Calgary.  They were determined that we were going to have a chance to get a good junior- and high-school education.  A suite was rented a half block from Haultain, a junior high, and a few blocks east of Central Collegiate Institution, a high school.  All of this produced major changes in our lives – urban living, rented suite instead of the comfortable farm home, large schools instead of a one-room school with a handful of students.  Nothing, absolutely nothing, was familiar save our parents’ love, encouragement, and the belief they had embedded in us of the importance of “an education”.  It was a very steep learning curve, but we gradually became comfortable in our new life.

However, Christmas was almost here and we could hardly wait.  All our lives we had celebrated Christmas Eve with our neighbours.  We gathered at the home of Dagmar and George Nygaard, as did Emil and Hansene Dam, Chris Dam, and sometimes a few others.  Dagmar, Emil and Chris were siblings, so it was a close group.  The plan to attend was wonderful, but fate stepped in.  To our dismay Dad developed a flu/cold condition complete with a fever.  The doctor ordered him to go to bed and stay there until his temperature returned to normal.  Between worrying about Dad and trying not to show our disappointment, Doris and I were a sad pair.    Continue reading


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Grace – A Beautiful Name for an Ornery Cayuse

One day at our Lodge we were discussing how difficult, indeed impossible, it is to separate people into clear-cut groups – into the “good” or the “bad”!  Life does not seem to work that way.  There are elements of the bad in the best of us, and something of good in the worst of us.  I am about to present a case for believing that the same may well apply in the animal kingdom too.

When my sister Doris and I were seven and six years old, respectively, our Dad decided we were old enough to ride horses to school.  Bareback riding it would be, no saddle to give a false sense of security, no stirrups to add danger to a fall.  We were to learn to move with our horses, hang on with our knees, and guide with the reins.  He purchased a beautiful sorrel coloured pony for Doris.  She promptly named her mount Daisy.  Dad wanted a slightly smaller pony for me, and could not find one in our area.  His search led him to the Indian reservation at Gleichen.  There he purchased from the Indians, a cayuse.  This was their name for any riding pony that was fleet of foot, trained to obey rein signals, and reliable.  Well, this cayuse was pure white, slim of body and legs, and with a nicely shaped head.  She was well trained to obey the neck rein signals and could run like the wind – but reliable?  That could be a matter for discussion!  As it turned out, she also had a will of iron.  I loved her at first sight, and named her Grace.    Continue reading


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The Sheep Who Thought She Was a Person

Doris and I were waiting for Dad to arrive home from a trip to the “big town” of Strathmore.  He needed some parts for the repair of a seeder, and Mom had tacked on a request for groceries.  We two were hoping the groceries included some store-bought goodies.  The old car rattled in and Dad got out.  He was carrying a bag of groceries – and cradling a cardboard box with his other arm.  “What’s that, Mom?” we asked with excitement.  “I have no idea!” was her reply.  He came up the back steps.  Mom held the door for him and took the bag of groceries.  Dad gave her a grin, and tilted the box so she could peek in.  Her gasp of amazement made Doris and me jump up and down in excitement.  “What is it?” we chorused.  Dad carefully set the box down saying, “See for yourselves.”  There was a tiny, white bundle, and a baby bottle.  It was a very small, very young, little white lamb!  It poked its nose towards us and gave a soft bleating cry.  Figuratively, if not literally, the four of us fell on our knees.  We were captives of this wee, needy morsel of animal life.

I never did hear the story of how Peggy (we all agreed this was her name) came to be in that box on her way to enter our lives.  The Thompsons never raised sheep.  We kids had rarely seen sheep, and never up close.  Even the adults in our family knew little about raising sheep.  More pets we kids did not need!  We already had house cats and barn cats, dogs, horses (who qualified) and mice and bats (who did not).  That did not even count the creepy crawlies that at least one of us enjoyed.  But never a pet like this one!      Continue reading


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A Little Town on the Western Prairies

I will soon be posting some stories regarding life in the 1940s on a seismic crew, from a woman’s point of view.  The five years Sheldon and I spent roaming around Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba with the oil crews were years never to be forgotten.  Exciting, enjoyable, challenging, funny and scary – all terms applied at one time or another.  At the age of 23 we entered the field life of western oil exploration, young and inexperienced and “rar’n to go”.  It was, as the saying goes, to be a steep learning curve.  We left the field for the office five years later, a family of four.  In those five years we learned a great deal, both about ourselves and about life skills in general.  Along the way we built deep and enduring friendships.  The years have now taken Sheldon and many of our peers, but some 60 years later I am lucky enough to have some of the old friends from those crew days still with me.

So what has this to do with a Western prairie town?  You will soon see.  The events in some of my following postings will be set in surroundings and times completely unfamiliar to many of you.  Not wanting to write a history on the social, economic and political times of the 1940s (nor capable of doing so!), I decided instead to introduce you to Standard – a real and quite typical prairie town.  Try to hold the picture of this town in your mind.  When we meet Davidson, Saskatchewan, as seen in May of 1945, remember what you have garnered about Standard’s streets, sidewalks, homes, businesses and community.

Standard is located on the rolling prairies some 50 miles beyond the east edge of Calgary.  About 100 years ago conditions were ripe for bringing about its birth.  A new farming area was being opened up by the CPR.  Danish farmers from Denmark and the United States were looking for land.  A railway ran through the area and there was almost daily service to Calgary.  There was a small coal mine just south of town.  The CPR opened a station, using the kind of building found on their lines all over the West.  This consisted of a two-storey building which had the first floor opening out on the platform by the tracks.  This floor consisted of a large freight room, the station agent’s office, the ticket booth, and a passenger waiting room.  Stairs led to the second floor which housed the station agent and his family.   Continue reading


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Chewing Tobacco, Grasshoppers and Sex

It was sunny and warm so I carried my afternoon snack carefully through the house, heading for the shade of the east-facing front porch.  “I know
it is cool out there”, said Mother, “but it is covered with grasshoppers.  Do you want to go out?”  I assured her that I did and that I liked grasshoppers “Mom, they are interesting.” Mother smiled and murmured something about not being surprised.

There were a lot of grasshoppers I noticed, as I crossed the porch and sat down on the first step after brushing several of my hopping friends out of my way.  Doris and I enjoyed these little flying beasts who descended on us in waves from time to time.  We had discovered that if we caught one and squeezed it carefully, the response was predictable.  It would promptly spit out a dark, brown, sticky juice.  We would release the first one and catch another.  Same squeeze, same result – “Spitting tobacco juice” we called this behaviour.

Tobacco juice we knew about.  The Danish enclave which formed our district, was comprised of many who came directly from “The Old Country”  –  Denmark.  Cigar smoking was common among these new Canadians, but so was getting their nicotine another way, from chewing tobacco.  As they worked around the farm, the hired men usually had a lump tucked in one cheek.  They worked, they chewed, and they spat out brown tobacco juice.  The old men sat in rocking chairs by the kitchen stoves watching life swirl around them, and chewed a wad of tobacco.  Beside them were spittoons, jug-like affairs.  Usually they were stationed on a spread of newspapers – to catch the errant streams of juice that missed the jug!  Doris and I knew tobacco juice, and the grasshoppers spit certainly looked just like it.    Continue reading


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A Nap in the Hay

Spring was firmly established.  It was warm in the morning sunshine, cool when the breezes whirled by.  The sky was bright and blue, the clouds puffy and white and the meadowlarks were singing.  The farm teemed with new life – calves, little piglets and baby chicks.  The barn cats had kittens, the pet dog produced puppies, and the resident wildlife followed suit in their own style.

This morning the big news was the birth, during the night, of a little colt.  My Dad made the announcement at breakfast.  Mother and offspring were well and enjoying the day in the fenced paddock behind the barn.

As with most farm kids, even little ones, there were chores to do.  I attacked mine with a vengeance, then announced to my mother that I was going to the barn yard to see if I could catch a glimpse of the new colt.  She nodded her consent but added “Be quiet, Marjie.  The mare will be protective of the new colt, and you must not upset her”.  With her admonition ringing in my ears, I hurried away.  Up to this point my day’s record was  unblemished.  I had…

Done my chores,

Told Mother where I was going,

Said what I wished to do, and

Listened to her “Be careful” list …

BUT …     Continue reading


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Our Feathered Friend

“Man’s inhumanity to man”  Robbie Burns

Spring was here.  The farm hummed with new life including newly hatched chicks.  Dad arrived at the back door cradling a little chick, about 3 days old.  The mother hen had hidden her nest, and the brood was just discovered. “He’s damaged,” said Dad, “he drags one wing.  I’ll have to destroy him but I feel badly, the little guy is so game!”

The chick looked up at us and chirped, and of course, the battle was won.  A pen was built in the house yard, hand feeding and cuddling by all of us — talk about bonding!  Dad still worried, saying “This won’t work.  Chickens do not accept anything that is different” – but we did not want to listen.

Charlie, so he was named, grew quickly as chickens do.  Well fed, well loved, well exercised chasing after Doris and myself – all the while dragging one wing.  When we called he came, answering as he did.  The family chicken flock was “free range” before the term was known.  Sometimes they would be right outside of the house yard fence.  Charlie would press against the wire fencing of his pen and call to them, with no apparent response in return.     Continue reading


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