It has been a challenge on social media, the take your first profile picture and today’s or the #10yearchallenge. Well, we at the Countess Chronicle wanted to be in on the fun with our writings of parades, so here is our 100 year challenge.
The stage coach line originated in Gleichen for mail delivery, and then grew into a passenger line in the area. Today our stage coach appears in local parades, and has been known to give folks rides around such great places as Rosemary, Alberta and in Countess.
Felix Warren was the driver of the stage coach back in the day, and in 1919 brought it to the Calgary Stampede Parade. Today our stage coach driver is Ms. Sherry for our parades, and this past summer she brought it into Brooks, AB.
Now the question of our 100 year challenge is, who drives it best?
As promised at the 2013 celebration the playhouse once again hit the road for the parade season in 2014. This time to make wishes come true for kids in support of Children’s Wish. The communities new what to expect as part of our travelling playhouse with the 1923 Hahn Pumper Truck and Stage Coach. Donations were taken in the playhouse piggy bank on wheels, and folks could also enter to win a playhouse end of the summer at the celebration at Countess Country Museum.
Great fun was had (some images here) and other fun:
Oh and did we mention we pulled in over $13,000 to grant wishes?
And we celebrated (childrens wish (1)1) with a truly traditional prairie activity, a playhouse raising to grant a wish for a great kid named Ben.
Some great shots of the celebration:
Finally, walls were prepped at the celebration for great fun to come in Okotoks as all the pieces were brought together:
Thank you Countess and Friends for making wishes come true!
Doing newspaper archive research is fun for it creates a slice of life of the past that the only equivalent to understand today would be mining social media. Discovering day in the life of, sports, religion, history and the such. One of the most reported on stories in the Bassano Recorder during the 1930’s was the Red Cross drives. Why in the 1930’s? For those who do not know, it was the Great Depression. The stock market crashed in 1929, and then the droughts and grasshoppers hit the prairies like an Old Testament Cecil B. Demille movie. It is stories of neighbours helping neighbours.
This is inspirational when we look at the recent history of Countess that saw two back to back summers where we reached out to help our neighbour. The first is an all to familiar place for many families in Southern Alberta, Calgary’s Alberta’s Children’s Hospital.
We spent the summer with playhouse floats raising money, and taking names for a raffle draw at the end wind up. It involved our historic 1923 Hahn Pumper Truck, and our stage coach. In the end we raised $10, 686.89, and celebrated with a fun western themed BBQ extravaganza.
Growing up you could always find a hockey game or a baseball game. These clippings from the Bassano Recorder archives share a lively sports scene on the Royal Line of CP Rail (the Royal Line was Bassano, Duchess, Countess, Gem, Rosemary, Patricia and Empress).
(Stomping Tom Connors The Hockey Song- Listen here)
Countess was no different. At one point Bassano absorbed our female baseball players so that they could have a winning season 1937), oh and we beat Gem (Take me out to the ball game, listen here):
The games of summer, and winter bring community together over a hot dog roast or hot cocoa to celebrate the fun times! If anyone has any other sports news of the day feel free to share (or photos!-art!).
When one is a student of history and knows what comes after, there is always a sad chuckle reading the political and journalistic takes on the armistice of 1918 that it would be the war to end all wars. From a family that had a Great-Grandfather that would serve for Britain in the Sherwood Foresters in both the Great War, and the horror to come, World War II (amongst many other relatives) Armistice Day in the Commonwealth, Remembrance Day in Canada holds a special place. We have always been a family to stand with veterans, and to push for them to be duly compensated in their civilian life. Countess, Alberta was not an anomaly within Alberta or Canada in World War II, where many of our fine men and women served. I would also note, that as we were a heavily settled Mennonite area, we also produced conscientious objectors that did not fight the Nazis and the Axis of Evil and for those that served in my family, it was for this religious freedom as well, that is the beauty of our country Canada in its marvelous mosaic.
Without further ado, here is our virtual wall of honour, if we have missed someone please comment and add:
There is the official history of the world, and the land. There is religious history. There is political history. There is geo-political history. Some would even class colonialism, and other epochs of history (Reformation, Enlightenment, and Romanticism). Each human movement and people cling to an official history of what they distil down to be the most important aspects for their legacy. The meta-narratives of history can be boiled down to the local communities’ yore, and then the tales of the people. This is the jurisdiction of family journals, scrap books, photo albums, and if one family is lucky, publishing of a memoir. This is the journey that Margaretha Wilms …and the Meadowlark Sang –Prairie Memoirs- (2011) takes the reader through. It starts with Mennonite Migration to North America, after laying out who Mennonites are, then comes down to her local family unit on the Prairies (when it was still the Northwest Territories).
A tale familiar to many of a family structure to accomplish shared goals, this being farm life, communal meals, shared religious upbringing, tight community with kith and kin. It also shares some of the struggles, what it was like to be in a world shaped by certain points of view. The fun of Crokinole (and yes it is fun, if you make it to Countess ask for a game). The importance of family, chosen and by blood, for that is what a healthy supportive community becomes, a family chosen. Sharing stories of roles that seem antiquated through today’s lens and child rearing that would not be considered but it was her reality that shaped her life.
The joy of Christmas and the arrival of the Eaton’s and Simpsons catalogue for ordering gifts from, and as we have learned through the exploration of the Countess Bible School, a time when the winter Sabbath from the farm would bring different opportunities.
Through it all, she ties to scripture of her heritage, Hebrew Bible prophets and wisdom. The familiar (to the Birds fans) refrain of the Teacher in Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 of a time for everything, and the prophet Joel, to a reminder of why sharing our stories matter:
Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation. (New International Version).
Willms (p.116) shares of the personal renaissance, as she grew in life and moved from shame to embracing of her heritage and who she was as a person. She writes of being a Saskatchewan farm child in the grasshopper infested-dust bowl of farm life of the Dirty Thirties, how her parents modeled values she still holds dear of the intangibles, or as Willms phrased it eternal over material.
Her journey takes her through Prairie Bible Institute and Caronport, as she discerns whom she is. The narrative shifts into the Russian Mennonites who came later to Canada. For Mennonites had enjoyed very good autonomy, and a strong control of the flourmill industry under Tsarist Russia, but between 1917 (Bolshevik Revolution) and 1925 (when the last would try to flee) the tide would turn as they were seen as enemies of the state (p.234-35). These immigrant’s to Canada became known as Russlanders, as only their country of origin was Russia (p.236).
CP Rail loved the work ethic of Mennonites that were coming in this later wave, and brought them to the prairies to work (Countess, Gem, Rosemary and Duchess) with each family being given ¼ sections of land originally managed by French Settlers (p.236). Willms’ husband, John was part of this wave of immigration. They were a hearty bunch that built a church in Gem fairly readily, with many choosing to gather in the Clemenceau School in Countess because it was closer in the cluster (p. 237). The influx of Russlander Mennonites doubled the size of Mennonites in Canada and brought 176 new congregations, this is important as the church was the hub of communal life (p.237). In 1924, 8,000 Mennonites came to Canada, and CP Rail negotiated to sponsor another 3, 772 in 1925 (p. 239). Some newcomers found Canada to worldly and wanted to go to Mexico or Paraguay to avoid what they viewed as a “sinful” nation; while others wanted to dive in to Canadian life taking further education, rising in leadership and building a new world (p.238-9).
John’s parents were part of the 1925 wave of immigrants from Russia. By 1926 Stalin had stopped the flow out of the Motherland (p.239). John was born to his parents in Ontario, they went on to settle a farm in Manitoba before finally coming to Countess, AB in an irrigation arrangement with a few other Mennonite settlers (p.240).
John Willms met his wife Margaretha, in Alberta, in the Irrigation District of Countess, part of what is known as the Palliser Triangle the driest patch of land in Canada (p. 241-242). John had remained in the area when his parents had returned to Manitoba.
The irrigation district from Calgary to Medicine Hat was the property of CP Rail, and built to facilitate the railway (p.242). It was tax exempt from 1921 and was to be irrigated but this idea was quashed instead to use a Dam system of the Bow River by Bassano (p.242). The French settlements were mostly in tact when the Russlander settlers came and moved in. They had originally been settled by Quebecois and Francophones from Eastern USA between 1917-1919 but after years of almost freezing to death, and few crops they left to head east back to Quebec (p.242). This is why CP Rail sought out the Russlanders to make the hamlets viable for their endeavour.
John attended Clemenceau School for his education, it was originally a Francophone school named after a VIP French General (p. 242-3). It was a one-room school house, with a rectory-style house on the same land for the teacher (who was also expected to function as janitor) (p.243).
As we move into the betrothment, wedding, and settlement back into Saskatchewan with Margaretha and John. Teaching around the province, children, staying connected with the family diaspora, the CCF, oh and a nice wrap up as an appendix with the recipes mentioned throughout the book.
It makes one reflect if they were to pause, and write the story of their family, what would it look like?
For some this weekend is Epiphany, in Orthodox churches (Ukranian, Greek, Russian) it is a Christmas celebration of food and family. We have just come back from a potluck in our own church where many shared their memories of celebrating Christmases when they were young, for one it was farm life in Saskatchewan, another in the Netherlands, and another in Venezuala. Sharing stories, food and song.
It felt like a very Prairie night of learning about one another. This is what we are hoping to have in Countess, and on this Facebook page. What we are already seeing happen.
Neighbours and those who have grown up around the area sharing their stories, snippets of pictures or journals or news clippings. It is what we have found on the web, in archives, and from memoirs. Memoirs are a great resource, it is not just for the powerful or rich and famous, but to share one’s story, their family history, so it is set down.
As we enter into 2019, I encourage everyone to take time to share about the life they have lived, how things were, how things are and the dreams for the future. For is that not the true gift of history and Our stories within history, the foundational building blocks for the next generation?