"I Found a Land of Friendship"
Often things were different, and hard to understand, but this bride found some substitutes, and many compensations. A prize winner in the “War-Bride” Series.
I AM a war bride. My home, previous to my marriage four years ago, was in London, England, and during the war I was engaged in nursing in one of the many private houses which were so generously given up by their owners for the purpose of caring for the wounded.
After the Armistice my husband and I came to the Peace River district. The change from the crowded areas of London to the silent solitudes of Northern Alberta is an experience which is indelibly impressed upon my memory. Yet 1 had learned to adjust myself to changed conditions. Anyone who lived through the years of the war, in the city on which the enemy let loose their deadly and indiscriminate warfare, must have learned something of accommodation to changed circumstances. Yet, in a hundred ways, the housekeeper found that the economies of the past provided no data for the routine of the present; that the new wine could not be put in the old bottles; and that adjustment and accommodation to the new order of things were imperative in order to preserve an even poise of mind and body.
On the Gopher Ranches
TT WAS in the summer of 1919 that my husband introduced me to Western Canada. I had learned a little about “gopher ranches” from his earlier instructions, so that I was not wholly unprepared, although, to speak frankly, my idea of Northern Alberta was that of a country where the settlements were somewhat like the villages in the provinces of England, only that they were farther apart. I imagined the winding lanes and the small cottages and the front gardens, such as one would see in the rural districts of Kent, so that the homestead was at once a surprise and a disappointment. This latter feeling was due to the lack of what I thought were the necessary accompaniments of a farm—fields with hedges round them—We always used to regard the hedges as part of a country district. Some poet calls them “sportive woods run wild.” I never imagined before that they had to be planted; they seemed in England to be part of the natural run of the vegetation and their direction a mere accident.
However, I soon learned to forget the hedges and to look upon barbed wire as a division of fields. Moreover, I accommodated myself to wide stretches of country, where no relief came to the eye except where small clumps of bushes intercepted the general sweep of vision. This wide expanse at first filled me with awe, but afterwards I found it a sublimity which I grew to love.
A Land of Silences
COMBINED with the wide spaces of open country are the great silences. I have found that the greater portion of one’s environment is that which affects the eye and the ear. Never shall I forget my first impression of the immense blankness of sound. I had been used to the never ceasing accompaniment of wheeled vehicles, of motor horns, of railway trains, of the human voice in all shades of intonation and expression, of bustle by day and by night. Noise was the fringe to my consciousness, the background of my very being. Even though, as night nurse, I was accustomed to the soft stillness of the midnight hours in the ward, yet there was the footfall on the pavement and the motor car hurrying homeward. For weeks after my arrival on the homestead I could hear the sounds with which I had been familiar; they persLted in my waking hours and ran parallel to my dreams. As by long focussing of one’s eye upon an object one can see it when the eye is removed, so could I hear the sounds of the London streets; the air was full of them; the wind suggested them and the barking of some sheep-dog brought them back to me. My sub-conscious self was still following the present experience, sometimes forcing itself over the threshold so that day-dreams were a common occurrence with me. The absence of these sounds would make -me pause and wonder. The eye would not give a habitation to the ear’s illusion. I would stop in the middle of my work and expect to hear the rattle of a motor-bus, or the voice of a street-hawker. Then I would leave the task I had in hand and go to the door as if to confirm my hearing by sight; and there on the distant upland would be my husband ploughing, and beyond him the wide expanse of prairie.
I cannot say that my first impressions were pleasant
ones, but when taking note of my present attitude towards life I find myself possessed of a breadth of outlook, a sense of unlimited range of possibility, an open mind for the new, and a determination to do, where previously the will to win was shackled by the competiti' n of the many.
This hopeful attitude towards life is a very common characteristic of the prairie dweller. Men develop a philosophy of life broad rather than deep in its applica-
tion. No long succession of strivings has concentrated the efforts of the pioneer. Though poor, he has abundance, and this absence of real poverty, as great cities know poverty, breeds an optimism and a cheerful outlook which is rare in the older countries. My housekeeping formed a great contrast in this respect to that of my neighbors. Perhaps my four years’ war experience had trained me to this unreasonable economy. At first I hoarded firewood regardless of the abundance outside; I spared the lard for cooking; I stinted my husband in sugar till he reminded me that the war was over and that we were in Canada. Economy had become a habit, bordering on miserliness. Even though I have the Canadian outlook as far as an optimistic recognition of possibilities is concerned, yet my habits are still the war time habits of stinting and saving.
A Surprise Party on the Prairie
IV/I Y HOUSEHOLD economy received a great shock at the “surprise party” which occurred about three weeks after our arrival in the district. My husband and I were seated on the front verandah one evening when a long string of vehicles appeared coming up the hill from the east. I immediately took it to be a funeral, but my husband assured me that it could not be. There were buggies and motor cars, men on horseback and even one cyclist. The first in the procession was our nearest neighbor He was on horseback, and as he came to the gate which led into the yard, he leaned over, lifted off the fastening and threw the gate wide open. The whole procession turned into our yard and, amid much merriment, dismounted, unharnessed their horses and after filling the barn with the teams tied the remainder to wagon-wheels and fence posts. Then the company began unloading various parcels from the vehicles and the procession of neighbours, far and near, with their arms full of paper parcels, advanced towards the house. “Good heavens! Are they erming to supper without invitation?” My thoughts then drifted to western hospitality and its requirements. I had only six of a crockery set and my bread was not fit to present to neighbours.
“Goodnight,” said Peter Baldy, the leader. “May we deposit some of this truck in your kitchen?”
I led the way into the kitchen and soon the tables, chairs, floor, and cupboards were full of the so-called truck.
My husband let them into the front room, where they filled every available sitting place and even squeezed
themselves into our bedroom. There was a look of calm indifference on the faces of the men, but the women folk seemed consumed with secret merriment. I was cogitating how* to feed this multitude. Coffee was a favourite drink, and I had none. My tea would not provide half of them with sufficient drink. I went into the kitchen to look around my supplies and there I found four large-bodied women in clean, white aprons unwrapping the parcels and piling up sandwiches, cakes, and apples on plates. One had collected some “sticks” and was lighting a fire; another was filling two large kettles with water. I stood dumb-founded with these proceedings when one of the women gently took me by the arm, and told me to entertain the men in the other room, while they prepared supper. There was no need to entertain. They had already assembled into groups and from the intense interest shown in their conversation I felt no effort of mine was necessary. I caught such phrases as “Summer fallow,” “Spring ploughing,” “breaking,” and from the frequent mention of “silo” by one solemn-looking farmer I gathered that he meant “Shiloh” but, like the Ephramites, could not pronounce the “Sh.” One man, a German, had risen when I entered and had offered me his chair. As I sat down I noticed he had a small keg in his arms which he held very gingerly as though it were a first baby.
“Fine weather wre are having,” I said.
“How?” he said. I was at a loss to answer, so I ventured again, with a little sla^g.
“Top hole weather.”
“How?” he said again. At this my husband approached and acted as interpreter.
“Yah,” he ejaculated, taking out his cigar and revealing two rows of discolored teeth with the gums well lined with chewing tobacco.
There were men of all nationalities, and the conversation reminded me very much of the story of the first Pentecost at Jerusalem.
One surprise I had which was very amusing. An American said to me, “You are not from England' your speech is that of a Boston-American.”
The event of the evening, however, was what seemed to me a game. A number of the visitors produced what they called a Ouija Board. One sat in the corner with the board resting on his knees and several others stood round him as though silent partners in the game.
“Tell us, Ouija, what it will be.”
After the dead silence following this entreaty the sitting visitor shouted out, “A boy!”
A T THIS point in the proceedings the ladies brought in A the refreshments. I have never tasted such delicious coffee. A Scandinavian housekeeper had made it. The cakes were very rich and heavily spiced. A Norwegian lady offered me what she called “Lu de fisk.” L sounded like this to me. I tasted the sandwich and found that it contained fish, but I have never learned what were her actual words. The German had opened his keg and several guests, with forks in their hands, were helping themselves to the contents. I tried some of his “saur kraut” but did not relish it. After the refreshments were over, one of the men, who acted as spokesman, called for silence and after formally welcoming us to the settlement presented me with a set of Pyrex dishes. I was so overcome that I had to ask my husband to thank them, and after that the party broke up.
A Stressed Fellowship
1HAYE tried many times to analyse my feelings on this occasion. There was so much good will, so much genial fellowship, so deep a feeling of comradeship that it would be impossible to miss the spirit of such a gathering. ^ et there was a “something” lacking, which I can hardly define, though I discovered in a later experience the bond which I missed. The strangeness of the situation may account for it, but of that I am not yet quite certain. There were social gatherings at the school-house, literary society entertainments, dances in a neighbour’s loft, church meetings, where an it nerant preacher addressed an assembly of the religiously-minded settlers. In all these assemblies one must be without social acumen not to perceive the cordial spirit of fellowship, the friendly
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communion, and the general desire to profit socially by intercourse, with one another. If I put the matter frankly to myself I would say that the show of cordiality was overdone; but then I know that it would be my English spirit of reserve expressing itself. Furthermore, supposing the process of friendliness to arise from the recognized differences of origin of the various members of the community,’there would be greater credit due to them, because of their efforts not to push forward their own peculiar customs and traditions. On the other hand, could one ascribe the desire to please to the absence of a deeper bond of union such as one finds in the older countries? The only conclusion I can come to is that in Canada and Western Canada especially, there is absent that common union of ancestry, and consequently the social instinct is stressed; this might, in a measure, account for the overflow of friendliness. I have discovered on enquiry that in the older communities the tendency is to separate into groups more or less of a common social heritage, so that nationality asserts itself and the surface relationships disappear.
One incident, brought home to my inner self, more deeply than any other, the separation I had made by leaving my native country. The itinerant preacher, referred to previously, brought me an Illustrated London News. ~ It was the copy which contained pictures of the ceremonies dealing with the interment in Westminster Abbey of the “Unknown Soldier.” I remember well the thrill that passed through me as I scanned its pages, the sense of the great sacrifice, the feeling of the perfect honor, the glory of the citizenship, came as interpretations of the ceremony. I have read little history and my knowledge of English literature is scant, yet those pictures, where the commoner shares the same last resting place as the titled great men, because England recognized her soul in them both, revealed to me what nationality meant, and what a common heritage signified. This feeling had been developing, no doubt, during my war service, but the full power of its influence was not apparent, till in a moment of solitude on one of the outposts of the Empire, I was conscious of the associations I had left.
JUST a year ago, we left the homestead and came to Edmonton. Here in the city one’s impressions are less vivid and less lasting. One does not find such great variations from the Old Country’s habits and customs. There is a greater proportion of people from the British Isles. The laws and institutions of Britain are understood. Social intercourse has passed through its pioneer stage, and the groups, with a common heritage of custom, are fairly well defined. It is difficult to escape attaching yourself permanently to the group, where the sympathetic touch of kinship and people is most apparent, but nevertheless one can, with a little discretion, obtain entrance into any social organization and learn the process of its formation and its peculiar tendencies.
In my association with people of this city, I have met many who have visited England, and have received their impressions of the old land in exchange for mine respecting Canada. I may be stating my own shortcomings, but their criticisms,
both favourable and adverse, seemed to me to be very sweeping and general. The tendency in Canada seems to be towards broad and expansive thinking, and not towards intensive consideration. From public speeches and from private conversation I have heard such expressions as “The English psychology,” “The AngloSaxon mind,” which I am sure convey no definite meaning, but require analysis into detail before any certain idea is secured. This expansion, rather than intensity of thought, is due to the vast field of endeavour of which every thinking Canadian must be aware. A new country provides so many resources for so little effort, that there is no necessity to explore very deeply for the wants of body and mind. The settlers in a new country are as children introduced to a new garden where the variety of things to see does not allow of a careful observation of a particular one.
THE system of education here has this same characteristic of breadth rather than depth. A high school student has thirteen subjects to study, whereas a Grammar School boy in England has about six. A student in Alberta can receive the merest surface knowledge of the curriculum and no grasp of any subject.
I have been specially interested in the serious following of child psychology and the practical accompaniment to this in the testing of intelligence. The Canadian seems to me to be voracious after the new idea. This is so different from the English reserve and suspicion about new methods that a visitor cannot but notice it. In Edmonton everybody graduates; from the student who leaves the business college to the student who leaves the University after receiving his degree. The term has become general. In England only University students graduate. Had I the chance to go through my school days again, I would prefer to spend them in a Canadian centre rather than in England. There are no violent traditions about Canadian schools, no bars against the classes, and the cheapness of University education would entice the poorest of the seekers after knowledge. There is in England so great an importance attached to the term “University Professor” that one imagines this worthy being possessed of all the lore of all ages. I -was impressed -when first I heard a lecture given by a Professor. He spoke in a language which I could understand.
I was surprised to find so much attention given to the study of music; not that I should have been surprised, but that, owing to my ignorance, I had formed a wrong conception of life in the West. Quite half of the children of the city study music in i one form or another and the concerts that | are put on during the season are of a very | high order.
One would gather from this invitation j to write one’s impressions that a War J Bride was a being different from any other seeker of new pastures. Perhaps the excitement of the war-period induced many to take steps which have afterwards been regretted. I cannot say that my experience has been altogether agreeable; yet the fault lies nowhere in particular. Without resource in oneself, pioneer life on the prairie must be unbearable. Here Í
lies the pinch. Adjustment comes easily in towns and cities, but on the homestead accommodation to circumstances must be a matter of will and steady perseverance.
There are many things that I miss; many broken associations that I regret; many elements of life that at one time I
felt I could not do without; but in Western Canada I have found many substitutes for the_ things I miss; many new associations which compensate largely for those broken and a field of endeavour with assurances that I can create the attributes of life which I desire.