Manitoba Musings

Gimli in 2012

Gimli in 2012

Pioneer Women of New Iceland: “These women themselves lived under conditions which  might well have discouraged them from trying to help others. Their primitive homes were small and overcrowded, yet they always welcomed visitors. “Whole families were received in houses already over-crowded. Food and other help were offered as far as possible. Not infrequently it came about that the visitors stayed the entire winter and sometimes longer, especially women and children.”

…”In addition to the daily tasks there was much else – converting wool to clothing, sewing clothes and making shoes. In many cases all underwear, stockings, gloves, and mitts were hastily prepared by the housewife in her “spare” moments. She teased, carded, spun, and knitted every available moment. If somone came for a visit, she knitted while she talked. If she left the house, she knitted while she walked.”

From Gimli Saga: The History of Gimli, Manitoba, 1975 published by the Gimli Women’s Institute.

Memories of Dad – “It will be 13 years in September since I lost my dad, and he sleeps with the rest of his old buddies from past wars in the military plot at Brookside. He really was not a giant in anything but I rarely knew a man so versatile. If I have a fondness for art, books, music and sports I can give him all the credit. His formal education ended at the age of 12, when he was apprenticed to learn the shoemaker’s trade……But I think his finest feature was his complete lack of bigotry. He was an Englishman first and always but there also was something of the internationalist in his outlook. I can alway remember him saying: ‘You will find there is an awful lot of good in the worst of us…and an awful lot of bad in the best of us.’ ” – Vince Leah (1913-1993) in Memories of Dad, from Pages from the Past. Leah wrote for the Winnipeg Tribune for roughly 50 years and became a columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press in 1980. He wrote eight books on Manitoba history and was a determined promoter of community sports.

The Boy from Winnipeg – “What follows here, then, is a boy’s-eye view of life in Winnipeg in the teen years when it was incomparable fun to be growing up, even growing up in poverty in an environment being rocked continually by moral, political, and economic crises. This was our Winnipeg, and most of us lived to count ourselves among fortune’s favourites for having come upon the scene when we did.” James Gray, (1906-1998) on his 1970 publication – The Boy from Winnipeg. Born in Whitemouth, Manitoba – Gray grew up in the city of Winnipeg and became a noted Canadian author writing for the Winnipeg Free Press and later wrote historical non-fiction works, many about  Winnipeg.

The Winter Years:  “There were no scientific aptitude tests or even application forms to be filled out. I must have impressed them, however, because they offered me a job as a reporter at $20 a  week. I accepted on the spot; and the Dirty Thirties were well over before my salary reached the level George McCullagh had offered in 1934. But the choice was one I never regretted. I never got over being amazed at the helping hands that were suddenly being reached out to me from all directions. If the Dirty Thirties brought out the worst in our economic system, it also brought out a lot of the best in human beings and created an atmosphere of genuine fellowship that has hardly been surpassed in any other age.” Historian James H. Gray in “The Winter Years – The Depression on the Prairies” wrote for the Winnipeg Free Press for many years.

Adele Wiseman: “One of the things I learned very early in life from my parents is that if you want to make the world a better place then it’s somehow got to start with you. For my father, coming to the New World was a new beginning…” ‘The Worst of Times The Best of Times,’ Gutkin. Adele Wiseman, (1928-1992) Manitoba author. Born in Winnipeg’s North End to Jewish parents who had emigrated from Ukraine, her first novel, ‘The Sacrifice’ (published in 1956) won the Governor General’s award for fiction.

Michael Ewanchuk: “After disposing of his property, the emigrant loaded the effects he wanted to bring to Canada and walked behind the wagon which transported his family to the nearest railway point. On parting those who were emigrating suppressed their tears as any redness of the eyes could be taken for trachoma when the medical inspection was carried out, as the settlers were screened before leaving by boat. Then when the settlers arrived in the Interlake country, they again walked behind the wagon that carried their baggage as they proceeded to their farms. And when they reached their homesteads – which to them was a point of no return – and even if they found the bush country uninviting, there was no time for tears; they rolled up their sleeves and started to build.” – Michael Ewanchuk – “Spruce, Swamp and Stone: A History of the Pioneer Ukrainian Settlements in the Gimli Area” (1908-2004) Michael Ewanchuk was born in Gimli, Manitoba, the son of Ukrainian pioneers Wasyl and Paraskeva Ewanchuk. An educator and author, Ewanchuk was said to be working on his 16th book at the age of 95.

Spruce, Swamp and Stone: A History of the Pioneer Ukrainian Settlements in the Gimli Area

Dorothy Livesay: “If I have come out of it shining calm clear as glass it is because you each one kissed me goodnight without reprisals sent me to sleep on earth’s pillow the solace that green grass        I was allowed to dream.”  From ‘Rites of Passage’ Dorothy Livesay, (1909-1996) one of the leading Canadian poets of the 20th century –  born in Winnipeg, Manitoba where she lived for the first eleven years of her life.

Francis Marion Beynon: “I consider it downright impertinence for a man on a farm to talk about supporting his wife. When she cooks his meals and sews and mends for him and his children from dawn until dusk, What is she doing if not supporting herself?” Francis Marion Beynon, (1884-1951) A Winnipeg writer and women’s editor of the Grain Growers Guide, she used her editorials to encourage women to rally for women’s rights.

Aleta Dey

Vince Leah: “When I was a lad Sunday was very special. We all rose early to get cleaned up for church …. We would attend 11 o’clock services and the big meal of the day was at noon, a leisurely, enjoyable affair with the whole family sitting down to eat. Dad carved the roast or whatever was on the platter and before you took even the tiniest mouthful you awaited the blessing which began with “O God, bless the four of us” to which I added a rather irreverent “Thank God there’s no more of us” and he was not pleased. Dad felt we had a lot to be grateful for in Canada even if your surroundings were humble.” Vince Leah, (1913-1993) Source: Pages from the Past, 1975. Leah was a sportswriter for the Winnipeg Tribune for 50 years and was a constant promoter of community sports. He became a columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press in 1980. An engaging historian, he wrote eight books on Manitoba history.

Nellie McClung: “Never retract, never explain, never apologize – get the thing done and let them howl.” Nellie McClung (1873-1951) Canadian feminist, author and social activist. McClung, who lived in Manitoba from 1880-1914 (34 years) was one of the Famous Five who launched the ‘Persons Case’. She actively campaigned for the right for women to vote.

Final Hour: “So, if this were indeed my Final Hour, these would be my words to you. I would not claim to pass on any secret of life, for there is none, or any wisdom except the passionate plea of caring. In your dedication to your own life’s work, whatever it may be, live as though you had forever, for no amount of careful and devoted doing is too great in carrying out that work to which you have set your hands. Cultivate in your work and your life the art of patience, and come to terms with your inevitable human limitations, while striving also to extend the boundaries of your understanding, your knowledge, and your compassion…….In times of personal adversity, know that you are not alone. Know that although in the eternal scheme of things you are small, you are also unique and irreplaceable, as are all your fellow humans everywhere in the world. Know that your commitment is above all to life itself.” Margaret Laurence (1926-1987) Canadian novelist, born in Neepawa, Manitoba. Excerpt from a speech given to Trent University – 1983.

Margaret Laurence home in Neepawa

Francis Marion Beynon: “Fortunately, there are thousands of four-square men in this country who value their wives and their work at their real worth and who are glad to have them as partners and comrades in the highest sense of the word. We must not forget this fact when our blood boils up at the attitude of the unfair ones.” (Francis Marion Beynon, 1884-1951) Canadian Social Reformer and a suffragist who helped in the struggle to bring about the vote for Manitoban women in 1916.

James Gray: On his book The Winter Years, (Gray’s tragic tale of the dirty thirties, the Depression years on the prairies) …”If this book has any viewpoint it is that the depression brought out more of the best than it did the worst in people; that people, if left alone, tend to work out their own problems for themselves; that expert advice, particularly in economic matters, is most useful when it is completely ignored; that so much was learned from the depression that it will never happen again.” – James H. Gray, (1906-1998) social historian and author, born in Whitemouth, Manitoba. He worked for the Winnipeg Free Press for many years, CBC and Maclean’s and published twelve books many focusing on Winnipeg. He dedicated his book on the Depression years to his wife, Kay, “who was so much a part of the surviving,” and when she died, buried a copy of the book under a tree he planted in her memory.

On the prairie in the autumn….

Nellie McClung:The peak of the year came in harvest time when the ripening grain made golden squares and bands on the prairie, and blue haze shrouded the horizons, and the dewy nights distilled all the fragrances of the field. I loved to listen to the sibilant whispering of the ripening grain billowing and dappling in the wind, and to watch the dark blue flowing shadows cast by drifting clouds. From the time the grain began to turn to gold in early August until the stooks polka-dotted the fields, the whole countryside throbbed with colour and movement and sound.” – Clearing in the West by Nellie McClung.

The Worst of Times, The Best of Times: “Deprivation is relative, however, and the people who grew up here realized only later how cramped these little houses were, remembering them in the rosy glow of nostalgia. Another former North-End resident….. protests that the home she knew was a small house, but not a shanty. The kitchen had a wood stove, and later when they bought a gas stove, she felt it was the height of modernity. True, the toilet stood in an upheated cubicle, and through her university years she bathed in a galvanized tub beside the kitchen stove, but the house had a porch and real stained glass window – and she thought it was a palace.” – Harry Gutkin with Mildred Gutkin in The Worst of Times The Best of Times: Growing up in Winnipeg’s North End.

Nellie McClung:  “Main Street in Winnipeg was a gay and exciting spectacle on Saturday nights in the winter, with the clip-clop of the horses’ feet, the passing streetcars, horse-drawn, their windows all alight, and the radiance of the shop windows lighted by great coal-oil hanging lamps. The drugstore windows with their show bottles, green and gold and red, always drew my astonished gaze. I liked to believe they were costly jewels and not just glass bottles filled with coloured water….

We often went into Richardson’s bookstore to get warm at the big heater, where a good fire glowed behind the sheets of mica, and there was always plenty to feast our eyes on there; the sheet music strung across on a wire, riding horizontally but showing, when we held our heads sideways, lovely ladies at pianos with young men in tailcoats bending gracefully over them and yellow moons rising over snowy mountains, and summer scenes where boats glided under bending willows, and ladies with great flower-laden hats trailing white hands through the blue water. Then the books! Tables full of them, shelves bursting with them: Pansy and Elsie books, and the Leather-Stocking Tales, and sets of Dickens and Scott and Balzac and Ouida.” – Nellie McClung, Clearing in the West.


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