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HomeNewsCatherine Junkin Remembers Her Parents, Myrtle (Flett) And Henry Walker

Catherine Junkin Remembers Her Parents, Myrtle (Flett) And Henry Walker

This story is part of our partnership with Maryboro Lodge, The Fenelon Falls Museum and was written by Glenn Walker.

KAWARTHA LAKES-Myrtle and Henry grew up near Bury’s Green, Ontario, located roughly in the middle of the villages of Fenelon Falls, Bobcaygeon and Burnt River. They had known each other since they were small children. They had gone to school together at SS#7, Lamb’s School and their childhood homes were just around the corner from each other. Both of them could say that all four of their grandparents had immigrated to the community, back when it was just starting. 

As they were youngsters growing up, a great many of the farms in the neighbourhood either were occupied by one of their relatives or had been owned by one of their ancestors. Both were born right around the turn of the century, and by then the true hardships of the pioneering period were abating. Through the painstaking work of their ancestors and community, farms had been won from the forests, stumps had been cleared from the fields, they had homes to live in, and they might even occasionally enjoy one of the luxuries that epitomized the Victorian era.

Henry grew up on what had been his paternal grandfather’s farm. Myrtle’s paternal grandfather had lived right across the Sixth Concession Line of Verulam Township, before her uncle, W.J. Flett had sold the property as he went into business—by the end of his career of wheeling and dealing, he owned the garage on Fenelon’s Island (later Lyon’s Motors). When that original Flett farm went to his older brother, Josiah Flett moved around the corner (now Cedar Tree Road), where he farmed with his wife Janet (Howie). 

When Henry was born, his parents lived in the old log house, which was situated near the centre of the farm, just south of the old log barn. Being near the centre of the property reduced the distance that the crops had to be hauled by horse and wagon—it also made them further from the road. But in the days when the log house was built, there was probably little difference between the passability of the fields and the road—for the first generation both were strewn with stumps.

Henry was the youngest son, having two brothers and two sisters. “When Dad was born, his mom (Catherine Anne) said we need a better house for this baby. So the next year, 1902, they built a white brick house, which cost $1,000. The following year they added a wrap around verandah for $100.” Needless to say, for farm families, that was a lot of money. 

Building a brick veneered house, was quite the undertaking—building a solid brick house in this neighbourhood would be rare indeed. It would take weeks for stone masons to assemble a foundation from flat rocks, carefully selected from the fields. The first floor joists were tree trunks flattened on one side. The house was a balloon frame—which was then a revolutionary new architectural style in the neighbourhood. The framing was rough sawn lumber, and the second floor joists were nailed to the studs with large spikes. The house had four chimneys—a considerable luxury, as it gave the family some hope of not being so cold in the winter, since the house long predated insulation. It would horrify modern architects and building inspectors to see that the chimneys were supported by a wooden platform, nailed to the studs with just one nail, with an brace extending down on a 45-degree angle on each side, again supported by a single large nail. Though builders would never be allowed to do that now, it held up through the generations. 

The bricks came from S.J. Fox’s brickyard, located south of Lindsay on the Scugog River. Bury’s Green did not have a railway connection, so the neighbours would hold a bee, and would all take their horses and wagons to Lindsay to pick up a load of bricks. At one 1894 bee, ten teams set off for Lindsay together for brick. Neighbours would not complain about having to help each other out, because it truly was only by working together that any of them could prosper. Building a brick veneered house was a momentous accomplishment—a fulfilment of generations of labour, to finally have a beautiful country home. It was something that the families would be proud of for generations to come. As he grew up, Henry liked to say that the house was built for him—in a family where there were four other siblings. For the rest of his life, Henry’s son, Murray, would occasionally remark that they had such good houses in the neighbourhood—this moment would not soon be forgotten. 

Myrtle just had an older brother, Casey, but there had been another infant that did not survive. Henry had three siblings that did not live to adulthood. In this era, before medicare and vaccines, many children did not live to become adults. Nor could their parents assume that they would live to be hale and hearty octogenarians. As farmers, men lived lives of hard labour, day after day, while women constantly tarried just to be able to provide for their family. To live to be healthy and happy in old age was an accomplishment indeed.

As they attended Lamb’s School, Henry was one year older than Myrtle, “but she was a stronger student, so they may have ended up in the same grade.” Myrtle went on to take a business course in Lindsay, where she learned accounting, shorthand and typing. But her father would not allow her to work off the farm, so she helped out her parents as best she could. They would have seen each other at many neighbourhood gatherings, but they were not particularly close friends as youngsters. They were just two friendly children from Bury’s Green. 

Growing up, neither Henry nor Myrtle would have had much in the way of toys. Much of their play would have required them to use their imaginations, or to learn from their older siblings. Both of them had the misfortune to have their father killed in an accident involving horses. Myrtle’s father, “Josiah was rolling land, when the horses spooked and took off. He was jolted, fell forward and was run over by the roller.” Crushed by its weight, he was carrying his pocket watch. “It stopped at a certain time, so they knew when he was killed.” For the rest of her life Myrtle was a little afraid of horses, especially that they might run away.

“Henry was the opposite, he was not a worrier at all,” though he too lost his father to a horse. When Henry was nine years old, his mother (Catherine) died. Then four years later his dad (Jacob) was shoeing a horse, which kicked him in the head and killed him. Henry was left to be raised by his older siblings, though he had inherited the home farm at age 21—unusually for the youngest son. His oldest sister, Agnes, had married Walter Fiske and later moved to Saskatchewan. Charlie, lived on the farm next door with his wife Lila Ellis. Ruth also married neighbour Thomas Moffat (later spelled Moffatt, after the stove brand). James Bernard had moved to Reaboro and become a teacher, and enlisted to serve in the Great War. So it fell to Ruth and Charlie to look after their little brother. 

Though he enlisted to serve in the Canadian Forestry Corps (who did carpentry work, for instance, making the duck boards that soldiers walked on in the trenches), James Bernard Walker was gassed while serving, and would never be able to breathe normally again. When he returned to Ontario, he found that he could not breathe in the humid summers, so he moved to Saskatchewan in 1920—Aggie and Walter followed to help him with the farm work. But he never was healthy again, and died of tuberculosis in 1921 at Fort Qu’Apelle. Henry, then a young adult, took the train out to collect his brother’s remains. He was interred at the family’s church, St. Peter’s Anglican, which was located on the next concession over from their childhood home.

Henry would only go on one other trip in his lifetime, a harvest excursion with George Palmer, who went on to be a Fenelon Falls Insurance Agent. At the time a lot of young people were talking about moving to the prairies, and there was much interest in the neighbourhood in what was happening out west. Henry and George would be lifelong friends—“Dad always advised me to keep my car insurance with Palmer’s. He thought that in the case of an accident George would do more for me than someone else and I was with Palmer Insurance until they sold the business.” Neighbour Marsh Southam (Joe’s brother) did decide to emigrate to the prairies. 

St John’s Bury’s Green

As young adults, Henry was batching it on the home farm, while Myrtle was living with her mother across the road from the farm where she had grown up, by then worked by her older brother. Though it was just a hamlet, Bury’s Green had two churches—St. John’s Presbyterian and St. Peter’s Anglican—“that’s how important church was.” Henry was raised Anglican, while Myrtle attended the Presbyterian church just around the corner. Shortly before they were married, Church Union occurred, so St. John’s became a United Church.

“Mom and Dad were neighbours, and they were of the marrying age, so they teamed up. I don’t think there was a wonderful romance.” Marriage was often quite practical. In one of the neighbourhood’s many stories, one man stopped his horse and wagon on the way to town, and offered to marry a neighbouring gal. He said that he would give her some time to think about it, so he would stop on his way home to hear her answer. She accepted. In that era, most youngsters married one of their immediate neighbours. Typically, the school teacher was a single young woman, and a student minister might be a single young man, but other than that, their social circle was typically the other families that lived in the neighbourhood.

Myrtle & Henry Wedding Picture

Henry and Myrtle were married in 1929, both being in their late twenties. As a married couple they went to the United Church together, and it was something that they both looked forward to. Their labouring lives were very repetitious, and it was exciting to have the chance to see other people. “They most looked forward to going to church to socialize. The church was just open in the summer months and they would stand around after church and talk to their neighbours, that they otherwise might not get to see. “Often we would go to someone else’s house for supper, or be invited to Moffat’s.” Henry’s sister lived just around the corner from the Church. It was a special occasion indeed to travel to visit relatives who lived further away, like Cannington. 

Myrtle was one of the ladies from the neighbourhood who played the organ for the church—she was often the back-up. Her niece Ruby Flett would also play the organ. While Myrtle was often busy playing the organ, Henry watched from the congregation. Henry, like many of his neighbours, spent practically every day (except Sunday of course!), doing hard physical labour, often from sunrise to sunset. This was especially true in summer, when he had to harvest and process the crops if his family was to get by—also the season when there was church. So like many of his neighbours, when he sat still, with nothing that he particularly had to do, Henry often fell asleep. “As a girl, it was my job to sit with Dad and keep him awake. I remember one week I took a small pin to church and used it. That was not well thought of, so I did not dare do that again.” 

At the church service, “we would sing hymns, there would be prayers and then the sermon would be a story. When my parents were growing up, the minister typically would be a full-fledged minister, but later on they were short of ministers, so we had student ministers. They would preach from Victoria Day until mid-September, then go back to University. The rest of the season, the hope was that we would go into church service in Fenelon Falls. But travel was with horse and sleigh or cutter. In winter, church services in reality were few and far between.”

As Myrtle and Henry were raising their two children, there was no question about whether they would go to church on Sunday. “We were of the mindset, if it is Sunday, you go to church—it was never discussed.” Most of their neighbours faithfully attended, but one of their close neighbours seldom went. “People who did not attend regularly were accepted.”

The church had a Sunday school, which was led by teenager Betty Smith (older sister of Doug, she later married Don Armstrong). “They would read us stories from the Sunday School book, then ask us questions, discuss the story, and made sure that we understood it. There were crafts for us to do at the end of Sunday School, like colouring and cut and paste. Later on, the Sunday school acquired a hectograph—a gelatin pad that was used to print duplicates, a precursor of a photocopier. “Then they would hectograph off 50 math questions, and we were timed, we were given three minutes to see how much you could accomplish.”

It was very common for families of the neighbourhood to have a boarder, whether it was a teacher or the student minister.  “When the student minister lived at our place, unless there was a reason that he could not, Dad would drive him over to Eden for the evening service.” The minister would preach at Fairbairn at 11, Bury’s Green at 2:30, then Eden at 7:00. 

“Uncle Tom and Aunt Ruth boarded a teacher, who was Jean Taylor. As neighbour Doug Jones would bring his younger siblings (Max and Ted) to school, he got to know the teacher. It was quite a thing for one of the local members of the congregation to get to know and take the teacher out. Doug would go up to Moffat’s and take her out—he had a car. It was quite common for the teacher to marry someone in the community. That’s how my cousin Grenville met Ruby Thorndike, who was from Welcome.”

When Myrtle and Henry were married, it was not a particularly ostentatious occasion, it was close to home. “But they did have a very fancy wedding cake, and kept a photograph of it. As far as I know, they did not go on a honeymoon—and they did not go on a vacation later in life either.” Once their children were grown, Catherine had a job teaching in Germany, and invited them to come over to see her. They had arranged that Martin Devitt would come and help their son Murray with all the chores that were entailed in looking after the farm.” But Henry, who liked to say that he was not a worrier, backed out. It was hard to know if he was afraid of leaving the farm that was his life, or of travelling over the ocean, but Myrtle was quite disappointed.

On a typical day, Henry would get up and get the cookstove in the kitchen started—it was the house’s primary source of heat and where Myrtle stood working countless hours as she cared for her family. While Myrtle cooked breakfast, Henry would go out to the woodshed to bring in wood for the day. “We always ate as a family, there was no eating when you felt like it. We sat together at the table and said grace. Breakfast was rolled oat porridge, with milk. If you were lucky there might be brown sugar. On occasion there would be orange juice or an orange—that was a treat. You could have an egg—fried most of the time, or poached. They were from our own chickens, we had rock hens.”

Once breakfast was over, Henry would head out to the barn to feed the animals. He kept two teams of horses, “Dad loved his horses. The cows were tied up in their stanchions in the barn, and the calves were separated from their mothers so we could milk the cows. Then we would separate the cream from the milk. He fed the cattle hay, with a little straw, and some grain that was kept in the granary.” In early spring, Henry would be hard at work fixing the cedar rail fences that divided up the farm, so the cattle would stay in place once the crops were growing. Then came the field work, ploughing and seeding. “He rotated his fields, so there was always one field that was newly ploughed and seeded.” 

Myrtle on Back Porch

There were two annual jobs that were made much easier with large equipment—cutting wood and threshing grain. Irwin White and Herb Jones owned threshing machines, while the Armstrongs had a wood cutting machine. Both pieces of machinery required many hands to keep up with how fast they could process material. At both bees, some of the neighbours would bring in the material—sheaves of grain or logs—while others would feed the machine, and handle the finished product. They would transport the grain to the granary, and move the wood to the woodshed. 

While Henry was out working on the farm, Myrtle cared for the chickens and the home. The chickens were fed grain that Henry brought in from the fields—often he would take it to town to be processed into chop, then he brought it home again. “Mom would clean up after breakfast. She took pride in her housekeeping. Everything was dusted and well maintained. She often made a pudding of some kind for lunch. She frequently baked pies on Wednesday, and always on Saturday. She often baked three at a time, with some cookies or muffins, or maybe a cake.”

“In summer, Mom would cook out in the back kitchen. There was a cookstove out there—otherwise the stove would have heated up the house so much that you couldn’t sleep upstairs. You could leave the doors open in summer, which made it less hot than it otherwise might have been. But still, it was hot!” 

“The bread truck would come around to deliver bread weekly. When we went out to the bread truck, I would often ask for Chelsea buns. Mom was never really pleased, but she would end up buying Chelsea buns to keep me quiet. Mom was someone who had a hard time saying no. She loved to make sugar cookies, which were a kind of rolled oat cookie. Or Lemon biscuits that she often took to church gatherings. She liked to make drop cookies, ginger snaps or rolled oat cookies, which she served like a sandwich with dates in between.” The tradition of making oatmeal cookies (or oat cakes) was passed down through the Flett family, who were from the Orkney Islands—which have a long association with oat cakes. She often had two desserts made for dinner, and her baked goods were the pleasures that made the day wonderful for her family. Her sister-in-law, Laura, baked homemade bread, a special treat. 

Myrtle and Henry had their family during the Dirty Thirties. Throughout their adult lives, they rarely had much more than what they needed to get by. “Nobody had an excess of money—there was one neighbour, who lived with his brother and sister, who had the money to buy bonds. He was looked on as being the wealthy neighbour, but not really generous.” 

Myrtle liked to sew, and it was less expensive to make clothes, rather than buying them. She would often pick out fabric at a store when she was in town, like McFarland’s [Alice (Green) McFarland had grown up just up the concession line]. Once we bought clothes from a neighbour who was 3 or 4 years older than me. There was one coat, that I think lasted 5 years—and I hated it. Looking at an old picture of it today, brings back the feeling. But I couldn’t outgrow it and you would not get something new unless you wore out the old one. At most, we had five outfits, plus your Sunday Best. Mom always did the wash in the middle of the week.” 

It would be no different for Myrtle and Henry—things had to last. “Once Aunt Laura and Uncle Casey were having a special anniversary, so we went to Lindsay specifically to get a new outfit for Mom. She could only find one coat that fit her. It was plaid, and I don’t think she liked it, but she wore it for five to ten years.”

As Myrtle was making clothes for her children, she would save the scrap material to make quilts—later in life she had the luxury of purchasing material specifically to make the quilt. The quilts were sewn together by hand, and her sister-in-law, Laura was particularly skilled. “The goal was to sew 6 to 10 stitches per inch. Aunt Laura could sew at 10 stitches per inch, and mine was 5. They had to be bound around the edge to make a nice even edge.” 

While their husbands would have bees to cut wood or thresh grain, the ladies of the neighbourhood often gathered for a quilting bee. Usually, the bee would take place when the time came to finish the quilt, setting up a frame, where everyone would work together. “When I was about eight years old, I liked to quilt, but my work of course was not up to their standards. I remember Aunt Laura would not wait until my back was turned before she ripped out my stitches and did them again.” By mid-afternoon, the ladies would have a cup of tea and a goodie, then they would make supper together. “It was very social. Sometimes in the evening, they would have a square dance.” 

The quilts were a lasting symbol of Myrtle’s love for her children. They were made from what little she had on hand, as she worked so hard to make something beautiful from leftovers. They were what kept her children warm at night. “Mom loved sewing and she was very particular about her work. I am still using some of the quilts that she made. One was a wedding present in 1970.”

“To iron, back in those days, you had a hand iron, that you would put on the stove to heat up. It was my job to change the iron for Mom. So, once it was hot I would bring it to Mom, then take the other one over to stove. There was a lot of ironing in those days, and she sat down to do it. Mom was fussy about things. Now-a-days, clothes do not need ironing in the same way. Even when I came home for the weekend when I was teaching in Scarborough, Mom would say ‘just put your clothes outside your bedroom door, and I will do them in the morning.’ The only thing I got to iron was tea towels and pillow cases.”

Like their neighbours, Myrtle and Henry got by on the fruits of their own labour. “Supper was roast beef, with something from the garden, like peas, green or yellow beans, carrots and parsnips. We ate radishes with lettuce as salad. Sometimes we even had tomatoes to go in. We could preserve carrots and parsnips by putting them in the cellar, covered in earth so they would not shrivel up over the winter. We used to wrap tomatoes in newspapers to preserve them, but that would only last until the end of October. From then on, it was peas, parsnips, carrots and beans. By winter, it was just carrots and parsnips, which were never as popular as carrots. I had never had squash until I went to stay at Broome’s in Toronto. At first I did not like squash, but I had to take a bit to be polite and I got to like it. Practically every meal was roast beef and potatoes. On weekends, we would have chicken to make things special.” 

Initially, Myrtle and Henry took part in the neighbourhood beef ring. 10 to 12 families would go together and kill an animal once a week, so they would all get enough meat for a week—about as long as anyone would want to keep summertime beef in the cellar without refrigeration. Later on, “we rented a locker in Fenelon Falls. It was probably 30 x 30 x 25 inches. When we killed an animal it would go in the locker. When you were in town, you decided what cuts you wanted from your freezer—we only went to town once a week, plus on Saturday night. The lockers would be closed on Saturday night when you went.” 

A lot of childhood fun served a practical purpose. “We loved to go sucker fishing down by Hugh Britton’s with Norman “Pogie” Pogue. When we went with him, Pogie would giggle as Mom would say, ‘you can go sucker fishing, but don’t get wet.’ It wouldn’t be five minutes until I would be wet, but Murray would manage to come home dry. We would bring the suckers home, take the skin off, gut them and cut the head off. Then Mom would fry them in butter. That was a special treat. We lived on beef.”

Even when they gathered for holidays, they would enjoy their own meat. “On Thanksgiving we would have turkey, one year and goose the next. The Johnstons, who lived across the road had geese, and we had turkeys. So we went over there for goose one year and they came for turkey the next. The adults would play cards—always euchre—while the kids enjoyed crokinole.” It was a lot of work to put the feast together, starting with killing, plucking and gutting the fowl. 

When Christmas came, children probably would not get toys for Christmas—it was something practical like clothing, or a coat. “We might have a treat of an orange,” while Catherine’s older brother often received long underwear—you would not want to be cold in the winter. One year, Myrtle sold the stone out of her engagement ring so the family could have Christmas, substituting a fake diamond. Later in life, when money was not as much of a concern, she had the diamond replaced. 

Though long underwear was not by any means an exciting Christmas present, it would at least keep you warm in the winter.  Though they fed the cookstove all day, and loaded it up for the night, the family often lived in the kitchen, where it was warm. “We kept a pail of drinking water beside the stove, and there was often a layer of ice on it when we got up in the morning in winter. And our house was one of the better houses in the neighbourhood.” There was no insulation, and the wooden windows did not seal well, so every home was drafty. “Some houses in the neighbourhood were a lot draftier than ours.”  

One of the neighbouring families had the misfortune to have the father die—something Myrtle and Henry would have no trouble relating to. In those days, it was not really socially acceptable for married women to work outside the home, and having four children to raise, that would be difficult. “Mom often made a chicken as a parcel for them, with homemade cookies. The family was often not at the neighbourhood social gatherings. But Dad made a point of taking me up there to see that not everyone lived the same way that we did.” To this day, the families’ descendants still help each other out. 

Henry and Myrtle lived in an age before media became pervasive. They did not read books, nor did they particularly encourage their children to read or visit the library, when they made it to town. They lived to be part of their neighbourhood and community. As an adult, when Catherine came to visit her parents, her dad would often ask, “Did you see what Casey (or some other neighbour) was doing when you drove by?”

“We did have a radio, but we had to take the batteries to town to recharge them. The radio was for practical purposes, like listening to the news or weather forecast. You would not just turn it on to listen to music because you would run the battery down. There may have been 1 or 2 programs a week that we would gather around the kitchen table to listen to as a family. Pa Kettle was a favourite. When the movie theatre opened, we would go to see movies about Pa Kettle whenever they came to town. That was a big draw for Dad.”

Most Saturday evenings, the family would journey to Fenelon Falls. “The stores were open until 10 pm, but we had to make a separate trip during the week to sell the cream and eggs, or get meat from the locker. On Saturdays, adults would sit around and chat or visit. It was exciting to get a drink at the (free) water fountain, near where Siders was later built (Stokes on Trent, Abeck Accounting). While the adults were talking, the kids would run up and down the street. When we had the money, we went to Northey’s for ice cream—it was usually vanilla, later on there was chocolate.” 

“My parents looked forward to the 12th of July Parade. It was in a different town every year—Fenelon Falls, Bobcaygeon, maybe Kinmount. Someone dressed up as King Billy and all the Orangemen would come out to parade. Dad was a member of the Orange Lodge on Fairbairn Road—we were not supposed to ask what happened at the meetings. He would also make the trip to Fenelon Falls once a month to go to the Masonic Lodge. He always got dressed up, it was important that he wore a white shirt and tie. I remember once mom did not realize there was a meeting, so she had not done laundry, and there was not a dress shirt. It was a horrible event—Dad didn’t want to go looking like a farmer. I don’t remember if he stayed home or not.” 

UCW Womens c 1930

“Mom enjoyed going to the UCW (United Church Women) meetings at Bury’s Green. Most of the women in the neighbourhood were members of the UCW. There was also WMS (Women’s Missionary Society) at the church and later on the WI (Women’s Institute), that would sponsor 4H.” At these meetings there was often a speaker, perhaps on a self-improvement or religious topic. “For instance, Muriel Flett and I presented at WI on how to make fancy sandwiches. One year, Mom got to go to Toronto for a grand meeting at the Royal Winter Fair.”

Practically everyone in the neighbourhood would look forward to the house parties that each would take a turn hosting. “There would be dancing. Gardie and Gifford Grandsen would play the fiddle, and someone would join them on the piano, with a caller for square dances. There would be about 20 people at the party, most of them from the immediate neighbourhood—the Fletts, Humphries, Pogues and Johnstons. We would square dance in the kitchen or living room.” For all the people in attendance, it would be a busy place—the Walkers’ living room was 10 feet by 16 feet, with a stove, chesterfield and chair in it. “We seldom used the living room except when we had company.”

In the summer, the community might come together for an ice cream party, “if someone was brave enough to host it.” They shared a 5-gallon ice cream maker, and “everyone would contribute cream. The host would supply sugar, eggs and vanilla (if you had it). It had a flavour kind of like custard. It was often served with homemade pie. In summer you needed ice to make ice cream, but we never had an ice box. Some of our other neighbours did, and went to Bobcaygeon to buy ice. You could also make ice cream in winter by putting a pail with milk, cream, eggs, sugar and vanilla in a snowbank, stirring it as it solidified.”

The neighbours’ world was their community. At these social gatherings, “they would talk about what was going on in the community. Everyone knew what everyone else was doing all the time.” Many of the stories would develop the neighbours as characters, each one with a special place in the community. As with their music and dances, they created their own culture. It was customary to create rhymes (they would not call it poetry). Henry would compose and present humorous rhymes about his neighbours. He liked to tease neighbours like Wes Reed and Press Pennock. Many of the neighbours had a favourite phrase that they would often say: “Dear, Dear, Dear, Oh Dear;” “Good Laws” or “By the Dirty Dog.” 

“Mom really liked to talk on the phone. She would check in with Lila Johnston or Martha Humphries, perhaps four days a week. They often visited on the phone on Sunday.” It was a party line, and some of the neighbours enjoyed listening in on each other’s conversations, “Dad was often annoyed about people listening, he likened it to opening other people’s mail.” But many of the neighbours were careful not to say anything on the telephone that they would not say in front of everyone. Often it did not take long for the whole neighbourhood to be talking about what someone said. “At supper time, we often talked about what was going on in the neighbourhood.” While the neighbourhood was served by the Burnt River Telephone Company while Henry and Myrtle were kids, Hydro would have to wait until 1951.

While their parents cherished the moments they could spend together, the children grew up together, and many of them have become lifelong friends. Occasionally they got into mischief. One boy, when he was 10 or 12, managed to throw a chain over the hydro wire, which knocked the power out to a considerable vicinity. “I doubt anything was done to him physically, everyone being annoyed with him was punishment enough.” The hydro wires were lower back then, but it still was quite an (misguided) accomplishment to manage to get a chain over it. 

“The dirtiest Halloween trick I can remember, was when we were out as teenagers, trying to pull a prank on someone. A neighbour had a wheel barrow full of manure, and someone took it and dumped it on his back steps. It was not a very nice thing to do. Imagine having to clean that up at the first of November.”

“When we were kids, we had to cross the fields to go to school. (Older brother) Murray and I used to ride together, tandem, on a quiet horse, Nancy. Murray would sit in front, with me behind. When we got to school, we would take off the halter, giver her a twitch, and she would head home to the stable. At the end of the day, we usually walked home, with Marilyn and Janice Johnston, who lived across the road. When we didn’t ride Nancy, Dad was good natured about hitching up the team to take us to school, which would make a trail for us to come home.” 

As a young adult, Murray had dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. He was one of the best students at school, but he grew up in a generation when going to university was simply not an option financially for most farm kids. Like most of his neighbours, Henry was not going to mortgage the farm so his son could get an education. He went to high school before there were busses, so Murray took a light team of horses and sleigh with Gordon Flett and Vic Coulter. They would leave at 7:30 in the morning, take the team to Dick Bulmer’s blacksmith shop, then walk over to the high school in time for 9:00 classes. As they travelled, neighbours would often ask if they had the time to pick something up while they were in town. The boys were seldom home before 5:30. In winter, the roads were often not plowed well, and the boys would have to take down fences and head across fields if they ran into a large drift. As time passed, Vic and Gordon moved on to their working lives and Murray, though he was an excellent student, was not going to make the trip on his own. Murray returned to work on the family farm—most boys from the neighbourhood did not have many choices of career. Some moved on to factory work at GM or “The Motors,” while some of those left on the farm wondered how their life would have been different if they had moved to follow these neighbours to the city.

Girls would not set off on their own with a team of horses to attend high school. Thankfully, by the time that Catherine graduated to Fenelon Falls High School, school buses were a new thing. Her father encouraged her to complete her studies and she become a teacher. They still did not have the money for higher education, so “Murray went and worked in Hartland Junkin’s sawmill so I would have the money to go to Summer School.” Back then, after high school, teachers just needed a six-week summer course.

With Catherine earning a steady income as a teacher, it allowed her family to have some of the luxuries that they otherwise could not have afforded. By then, hydro had come to the neighbourhood, and “I bought them a refrigerator the first Christmas that I was teaching. It was quite something in those days. I had paid $10 a week board when I was in summer school, so I thought I should do the same for my mother. Up until that point, all she had to buy groceries was the weekly cream and egg cheque. She said she never knew how much money she would have until I boarded. There was a place just north of Myrtle that sold baskets of bananas for $1. How we loved those bananas. Murray often remarked about how generous it was.”

“When I got my first pay cheque, I cashed it—it was $172 for one month. I remember the feeling of having all of this money. So I gave Mom the money for board, I gave Dad some money, and I gave Murray some. I remember saying, ‘Dad, if you ever need money, you just come to me, because I have lots.’ He saw it as funny, but he was thoughtful enough to put his hand over his mouth so I didn’t see him giggle about it.”

Electric appliances made a huge difference, especially for Myrtle. “Mom was thrilled when we got hydro.” It was so much easier, safer, and more comfortable to prepare meals with a refrigerator and electric stove, than mastering the art of baking (in summer heat!) at a cookstove. Then, recipes could specify a temperature and a time, rather than relying on the subjective art of judging the correct heat of a wood fire and whether it looked baked. “By the time that appliances came in, Mom was aging, and it was a welcome event that she did not have to do as much work as she did in the past.”

“Shortly after I started teaching, I gave them a TV for Christmas. The Johnstons (who lived across the road) had a TV a year before us, so if we wanted to see something like the Ed Sullivan Show, we would walk over to visit them.” But once everyone had a TV, it noticeably decreased the frequency of the house parties, gatherings and square dances. Once there was network television, it was no longer commonplace for neighbours to gather to spend time together. But the modern conveniences did mean that Myrtle had more time to enjoy flower gardening or making beautiful quilts with purpose-bought material!

Myrtle and Henry were there for each other from the day they were married, for the rest of their lives. One year when the kids were still growing up, Myrtle was not well, and Catherine took a year off school to help care for her. Later in life, Henry lost his vision to glaucoma just before his first grandson was born. He could not tell whether it was day or night, but Myrtle was there looking after him, every day for ten years. After he passed, things were never quite the same for her. 

Myrtle loved to have her grandchildren visit, always made homemade meals for them, and would play crokinole with them. When the time came for them to go home, she would stand at the kitchen window and wave to them as they left down the driveway—she waved with her whole forearm, it was very noticeable how much she cared.

Though for much of their lives, Myrtle and Henry did not have much beyond their daily needs, they were thankful for what they did have, and truly appreciated the old neighbourhood, where they lived their whole lives. They did not give off a sense that they longed to be anything other than who they were. “They were happy. They did not spend their lives wondering about how things could have been different. Today, many people are much more dissatisfied in having more.”  

Myrtle and Henry did not have an interesting story to tell about how they met—they were just neighbours who grew up together. They did not travel to far-off places, but they did have no shortage of time for the people in their community. For much of their lives, they had precious little beyond their bare necessities, but they were thankful for what they had. As a young couple, there probably was no thought that they were exactly what the other person was looking for, but they made the best of their life together, and truly were there for each other, from that day forward, for better or worse. Their happiness came from their connections to their family and community. 

This story is a memory and nobody’s memory is perfect. Sometimes details get a little mixed up, things get forgotten or overlooked, and the perspective is inevitably subjective. If you notice something that not right, have something you would like to tell us, or a memory to share the museum would be happy to hear from you: [email protected]

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