COVID and a Christmas Shopping Option

Everything has been different this year. For many of us, we feel we can’t even go out to enjoy our Christmas shopping. Of course, we will find ways to manage the gift giving season. Not surprisingly, people are ordering online like never before. In the past, I was not someone to order through the web, but this year, I’m finding it an easy and great option. Now, with the big event on the horizon, like many others, I have felt it is time to determine my orders since delivery services and the post office are increasingly busy.

Books are always a great option. In terms of my own books, some might be of interest to people on your Christmas list. Personally, I love all photos, especially those that tell stories about people and the past. As a result, most of my books have many, many old photos in them. In fact, two are considered photo histories, and what that means is that they are filled with both history and early images.

Alberta: A History in Photographs and Canada’s Rocky Mountains: A History in Photographs have been popular with travellers, Albertans and British Columbians, but they can even be helpful with regional home schooling. I can’t claim that I begin at the beginning, but I do start with the early days of photography in Western Canada. For this region, that means the mid to late 1800s. I tend to end my treatment with the 1950s. The Second World War and ever-improving technology changed so much here and around the world. In terms of photography, the public began to enjoy and have access to coloured photos, rather than only black and white images or hand-coloured ones of earlier days. Also, camera equipment improved and became more widely available.

So, you might be interested in those two books.  If you are looking for presents for seniors for Christmas, the photos and stories will likely bring back memories. In fact, even if poor-eyesight means that reading has become difficult for some individuals on your gift list, often, they find pleasure in seeing the photos or sitting and talking with someone about those earlier times. If you can’t be physically close, and your chats are by phone or Zoom, it might help if you each have a copy so that you “see” the earlier time in the same way. But books also present us with locations for travel, and if you are like me, you research the history of areas before your visit. So, if these are good possibilities for you, all my books are available on my website and can also be ordered in Amazon. Perhaps, that means you will have more ideas for your Christmas gift-giving list.

Remembrance Day

At this time, I think of one particular woman who was both friend and fellow teacher. Although we need to acknowledge the truly tragic stories from the wars, some who enlisted were changed by other military experiences, too. This is an excerpt from my book Sharing the Good Times: A History of Prairie Women’s Joys and Pleasures.

Dunny’s Story

Dunny Hanna nee Robertson. was hurried and pressured into enlisting during the Second World War because the military wanted women like her. Her family had a long history in the west. One of three children, Peggy was the eldest. Dunny [Eunice] was born in 1921, and Bill was the youngest. The children’s early life was comfortable. Both parents loved to read, so there were always books in the house. Dunny loved books and math, and she achieved university entrance requirements, but given circumstances in the 1930s, going to normal school was more practical. To teach young students, she needed geography and art, so returned picked up those requirements, as well as business courses before even starting Normal School.

Academically inclined and loving books, Dunny did not particularly enjoy all program, which emphasized art, hand work, physical education and social studies activities for young students. Then, during her first years as a country teacher, she experienced the warmth and kindness of the family where she boarded. She earned $780 a year, and there were funny moments. A reoccurring one was when the skunk who lived under the school sprayed every time music class disrupted its quiet home.

At the declaration of war, Dunny’s sister, Peggy, became the second woman to enlist in the Canadian Women’s Army Corp Municipal District 13 (mostly in Alberta). Having learned to drive at home, at about 25, she became the driver for a Calgary brigadier general. Eventually, Peggy was appointed head of the army’s driving program at Red Deer, Alberta, and there, she trained women to drive trucks, ambulances and convoys.

Peggy thought her younger sister should join the army, too. She, the next door neighbour and the brigadier general all believed that Dunny was the kind of woman the army needed. As a teacher, she had the background to be a training officer and recruiter, both of which were desperately needed.

At the end of her second year of teaching, Dunny was looking forward to her summer holiday. She intended to relax and consider a new teaching post that she had been offered. When she returned to Calgary, she discovered that the next-door neighbour and friend, who was in the army, had booked an appointment for Dunny, just to see if she would pass the physical. Dutifully, Dunny went to the appointment, and before she knew what had happened, she was in the army, but after the fact, she was able to laugh at the purposefully hurried and somewhat deceptive process.

She received her training at St. Anne de Belleview in Quebec, and then she became an instructor at the Vermillion, Alberta, CWAC training camp. Following those two years, she had other duties elsewhere. One was as messing officer in charge of food for female troops at Toronto. Though many women were well-informed about food and enjoyed cooking, Dunny was not one of them. In addition, she never knew how many would attend meals, and once, she spent entire budget for the month and still had a week of meals yet to provide.

Peggy Robertson (left) & Dunny [Eunice] Robertson Hanna (right) Photo Credit:  The image was a gift to F. Holt from Dunny

Having enlisted did allow her to see something of the world. She was posted to England just when Germany surrendered. Since it the fighting had ended, being overseas meant good times for her. Finally, when being sent home, she spent three to four months in New York.

 In the army, she learned that people were all so different, and each must be accepted and valued for who he or she was. As part of the demilitarization program, the army would pay her tuition to a post-secondary institution. For Dunny, her university years would bring some of the great joys of her life.

She left the army in 1946 and enrolled at university so she could teach older students, she wanted to specialize in math and English. Once again circumstances and other people dictated the combination wasn’t practical. Over the next two years and two summers, at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, she fulfilled the requirements for her Bachelor of Education, and she became qualified to teach grades one to twelve.

After her B.Ed., Dunny taught grade nine, and then she returned to university for post graduate work. In the early 50s, she began a Master of Arts degree, specializing in English, and she completed a thesis comparing the children’s literature of the 1700s and 1800s. “There were six or seven of us taking a Masters in English, but I was the only woman.” Once again, her education was funded as a result of her service in the army. “I received my fees and $50 a month for board, and I bought my own books….and courses were most rewarding” but also, she lectured for freshman English.

With her marriage, Dunny moved back to Calgary. Before her children arrived, she lectured at what was then the Calgary campus of the U. of A. Some years later, she returned to teaching, this time at the high school level, and her love for books never left her. 

Happy Halloween

I hope you are finding safe and fun ways to explore Halloween this year. As a western Canadian writer of public history, I certainly love research. One Alberta archive that has presented a great look at Halloween in the past is the City of Edmonton Archives.

This is a site that both adults and children might enjoy. So, grab a bowl of candy corn, molasses kisses or your favorite Halloween confection and learn about the past. We don’t have to research only the serious issues of the past. We can learn about fun times, too.

On the website, look for Halloween in Edmonton: 1900-1950. The archive offers information and photos of costumes, Halloween icons, parties, pranking, trick and treat, as well as a bibliography. So check it out.

Below are two photos taken a number of years ago when we were travelling in the U.S. at Halloween.

Problems Galore

As we continue our COVID precautions and feel pushed to the limit, some might wonder how much more we can take. Yet, given what others have physically survived –even when simply setting out for a fall hike–we realize what endurance really means. I wrote this historical piece for my book Help: Rescues and Disasters in Western Canada. What this young man survived was truly amazing.

However, what surprised me when looking at the out-of-print book was how easily mistakes made in communication and publishing. So, writers, editors and historians, my recommendation is don your thinking cap, then read and reread. The format for this book was unusual. Above my story, the date September 5, 1955 was indicated. It was a typo carried over from the story on the previous page. In the body of my story, the rescue was correctly indicated as Saturday, October 20, 1956, and in my manuscript, I was reporting what was known by the next day. The Vancouver Sun began reporting on the rescue effort on Oct 18, 1956. On October 22, 1956, The Province (Vancouver) reported the successful rescue, but the exact date of the rescue was not mentioned. So, dates become confusing.

Also, I reported the elevation in feet not metres, as was reported in the newspapers. However, since then, Canada had gone metric. Today, we know Mount Seymour is 4,754 feet. In my draft, I said be about 4,000 feet, and I assumed the number would be indicated in feet. Not so. In the book, it became metric. But with the mistakes, what a giant the mountain became!

So, what did I learn? Be very careful when writing history. When something is reported and when it actually happened can be confusing. Also, as a writer, proof-read every single detail. No leaving it to an editor or publisher! I usually proofread very carefully, but I can’t remember getting a proof copy of this manuscript. Oh well. The fault is mine. However, sowing confusion is never great. Still, here is the story for those who are interested.

Survives Six Days: Owes Life to Friend and Boy Scout Lesson

Vancouver, BC – Alick Patterson has finally been rescued from Mount Seymour. He survived six days and nights without food.

On Saturday, October 20th, the twenty-four-year-old was found on the 4,000 metre [today’s metric measurement 1,449 metres] mountain, which overlooks Vancouver’s harbour. He was flown off the mountain in a Royal Canadian Air Force helicopter. Although hospitalized, he is in good spirits, and doctors expect a full recovery. One companion, twenty-three-year-old Robert Duncan, found his way to safety. Another, Gordon McFarlane, lost his life.

When the three Scottish immigrants were reported missing, a search and rescue mission was initiated. As well as local climbers, RCAF helicopters participated in the search. However, they had no success until Duncan found his way off the mountain. He described the general location of Patterson, and then RCMP and 30 BC mountaineers, mostly from the Alpine Club, combed the western slope.

For the young men, the ordeal began with what they assumed would be a short walk down from Mount Seymour ski lodge. They had no food or gear. Fog settled around them, and the group became lost. They found a cave in which they kept dry and reasonably warm the first night. The next day, while trying to find their way down, they followed a stream. They came across an overhang which again protected them from rain. Duncan and Patterson remained there until morning.

McFarlane, who was twenty-seven, was impatient and decided to continue without them. The next day, Patterson was still exhausted. Although a towering young man, he weighed only 120 pounds [54 kg]. Duncan was the huskier of the two, and Patterson convinced him to set out or neither of them might survive.

Duncan was on the fog-shrouded mountain for three days before he stumbled off the mountain. In the meantime, he had discovered McFarlane=s body. The twenty-seven-year-old had fallen and drown. But Duncan was able to give rescuers enough information to eventually find his friend Alick Patterson.