So starts a beloved Christmas hymn which probably describes exactly what my paternal grandmother, Addie Hanna, thought about her first few winters as a homesteader’s wife in southwestern Saskatchewan.
Just take a look at the photograph. Two uninsulated shacks sit in the middle of the bleak prairie. Not a stick of a tree anywhere. Nearest neighbour a good mile away. Nearest store, a good two miles away. No running water (although the oldtimers all claimed they had hot and cold running water – they got hot running to the well to fetch cold water). No electricity. No central heating, unless you count the cook stove. No roads, only trails.
And none of our modern, high-tech, ultra-warm clothing, either. Nope. Scratchy Stanfield’s longjohns. Heavy wool coats. Knitted wool scarves. And that was what you wore inside the shack (just kidding – maybe).
Yet my grandparents, and all the other people who came west in the early 20th century, stuck it out. What were their options? Go back to Ontario, or the USA, or England, or elsewhere in Europe? That would be to admit defeat, and my grandparents were too stubborn and proud to do that. Besides, life was no better there. Little did they know they would have to endure times much worse than a mere “bleak midwinter.”
So they stayed. They stayed because here they could make a new life for themselves. They stayed because they had hope — hope for a better life for their children and grandchildren, a life with more opportunities than they ever had.
Now, here we are in our own “bleak midwinter,” facing yet another COVID variant and whatever it might bring. The question is: do we have the courage to face whatever is coming? Do we live in hope as did our grandparents?
(P.S. You can read how my grandparents endured “bleak midwinters” and more in “Our Bull’s Loose in Town!” Tales from the Homestead.)
#BleakMidwinter #Homesteaders #HannaHistory #Hope #Courage #HardTimes #COVID #Omicron #OurBullsLooseInTown #MargaretGHanna
7 thoughts on “In The Bleak Midwinter . . .”
That’s a lovely post Margaret, and ….. a great old photo. Every time I read one of your posts like this I am sad that I have nothing of my grand parents, miners, living in mine housing. I have very little in terms of photos of my parents or myself as a child either. A tidal flood wrecked our house in 1967, everything lost.
Anyway, back to the point. I know for a fact that my great grandparents were as tough as nails, part of the great migration of miners from Cornwall, many of whom arrived in Canada and the US. How would they have lived through this 2 year pandemic? With complete stoicism, though it’s an unfair and unreal comparison. On the other hand, if a plague had struck their village, what would they do? I’m sure they would just upsticks and move somewhere else!
Thanks, Dr. B. I am very fortunate in having a treasure-trove of documents, including my grandfather’s diaries, and photographs. I wish everyone were so lucky. As you say, they were stoic and lived through far harder and more desperate times than we ever have. My grandmother was extremely proud of having stayed and survived, but then she was one stubborn lady.
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Your article captures the experiences of my grandparents, the Jansens and the Elkinks, and my great grandparents, the Schotmans. They all came from Holland to the British Block between 1912 and 1917. What bleak winters they survived.
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Yes I have pictures and stories and a diary. It was bleak but they held on with hope and indeed did give their offspring and following generations a better life. But not all stayed – especially in the 20/30’s.
We’re grateful to those who stayed — where might we have been born, otherwise? And we hope those who left found a better life wherever they went.
I love the picture Margaret! I have been going through some pictures myself and wish I had some diaries to go with them, and you are right I am grateful to those who stayed – for me all over rural Ontario, in quiet places – now sprawling subdivisions.
Thanks,Lillie. Those pictures are priceless reminders of how lucky we are these days.