The Uncle We Never Knew

Herbert William Hanna (a.k.a Bert) died in late 1932, long before I or my cousins were born. We remember little of what Edith (his sister) told us about him, other than she (along with Abe and Addie) were heart-broken when he died. He was 17 years 9 months old.

Wednesday, November 23, 1932: “Bert’s remains were laid away in Meyronne cemetery. Till the day dawns & the shadows flee away. Returned home with sorrowing hearts.” (Abe Hanna’s diary)

What was Uncle Bert like, both as a child and as a young man approaching adulthood? When writing “Our Bull’s Loose In Town!” I had to present him not just as a name but as a person, a character with, well, character. My only clues were photographs, and they suggested a lot about his character.

BertGrade1For example, the photograph of his Grade 1 class. That’s Bert, back row, right. He’s not paying any attention to the camera. His mouth is open – is he laughing? Telling a joke? Teasing the girl in front of him? Is he giggling because he just cut a “stink bomb” (as we used to call farts when I was a kid)?


EdithBertBabyGarnetLook at the grin on his face as he stands beside his new little brother, Garnet (my father). What is he thinking: “Goodie, I’m no longer the baby of the family?” “Oh boy, someone new to tease?” “Phew, he stinks! Why do I have to stand beside him?” Or, is he merely squinting into the sun while Abe? Addie? takes the photograph?


What prank did Bert just play on Jack Henderson, and why is he running away? Whatever the circumstances, Bert looks quite pleased with himself. And, eager to get away. Why would that be, we wonder.



BertJackFenwickGet two boys together and, rest assured, they’ll get into no end of trouble. Jack Fenwick was the son of one of the original Meyronne homesteaders. The Fenwick family moved into Moose Jaw about 1920 but Jack came out for a summer visit from time to time. Several photos exist of this particular visit, but none shows the joy of being ten years old quite as well as this one. The impish grin on both of their faces show they have been, or are planning to be, up to no good.




And yet, his science notebook is a paragon of neatness, hardly what one would expect of an careless impish scallywag.




BertHoeingCornAs he grew into a young man, photographs suggest he “put away childish things,” as Paul wrote to the Corinthians. I doubt he put his mischievous, impish character entirely away; I think it was more a case of learning to temper it. He worked hard on the farm – hoeing a corn field is no easy task. BertAddieGarnetAbeNor is managing a team of horses – on June 28, 1932, Abe wrote in his diary, “Bert cultivating with 8 horses.” And this photograph, taken only a couple of weeks before he died, shows a serious young man.

Unfortunately, the issue of Meyronne Independent that would have carried an obituary for Uncle Bert is missing from the microfilm records of the Saskatchewan Archives Board. However, an obituary from an unknown Dundalk, Ont., paper described Uncle Bert as “a young man of high standing in the community and active in young people’s work in Knox United Church.” That people respected him is evidenced by his being asked to be one of the pallbearers for a classmate, Cecil Smith, only a few months before he himself died.

In the end, I concluded he was probably very much like what we remember of our own respective parents, Edith for my cousins, Garnet for me – alternately funny, a jokester, serious, hard-working, reliable, feisty, occasionally grumpy and angry, sometimes short-tempered, dedicated and devoutly Christian. In other words, just your typical complex personality.

I wish we could have had the privilege of meeting Uncle Bert in person.

#HannaHistory #MeyronneHistory #Personality #MargaretGHanna #OurBullsLooseInTown #Nonfiction #FamilyHistory

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