From city to country

by Glennie McKirdy

Auntie Doris, my Mom’s younger sister.

Mid 1940s.

Two sisters marry two brothers and move from the city to the remote backcountry of British Columbia. Valemount. 

Stars in their eyes, the sisters faced the wilderness. The remoteness.

Doris and her older sister, Margaret, settled into small houses. Shacks, really. Miles from town. Town being remote and basic in its own unique way.

Auntie Doris and Uncle Jim settled their McKirdy farm at the base of what much later became known as McKirdy Mountain. Beside McKirdy Creek, a mile up McKirdy Road. Margaret and Angus claimed the property next door and so began our large extended family life. 

From the vantage point of the first born, the oldest child, come these memories. Different, I know, than those who came after. 

I write this on the celebration of Catherine’s birth date. April 21. The day Auntie Doris and her baby nearly did not make it. The birth was difficult and the midwife, Gramma Kushnir, recommended, “next time, you go to Jasper, or I go to Jasper”. Women in those days went “out” to have their babies. Who on earth looked after the older children for those weeks, I do not remember. My memory of that day is as the babysitter. I was the oldest, and at six years old it was my job to look after Laurel, Walter and Doug at our house. Ages 4, 2 and 2 respectively. Mom, Margaret was assisting with the birth at Auntie Doris’ house half a mile away. I remember the weight of the responsibility and the underlying fear surrounding the event that was supposed to be hidden from the children.

We grew up as one family, in and out of each other’s houses as if each were our own. We were each other’s friends and playmates as we grew. 

Glennie and Laurel. Doug and Walter. Catherine and Carlie. Ken and Annie. Flossie and Hazel and Tan. 

Doris and Margaret, though worlds apart in beliefs, depended on each other for daily, fundamental survival. Miles from town, no modern amenities, subsistent daily living. They honed their knowledge of gardening, planting, raising animals, gathering from the wilds. 

Sewing all the clothes. Melting snow to wash the clothes. Milking the cows. Churning the butter. Gathering the eggs. Butchering the small animals for food. Cooking for the haying crews. Planting and tending the vegetable gardens. They became experts in country survival, these two city girls. Our families depended on them. They thrived in this back country land, planting flower gardens that could startle the unsuspecting visitor who rounded the corner to find such glorious beauty. 

Home made ice cream, that seemed to take forever to freeze. The batch of root beer that Auntie Doris made that got washed away in the creek and we spent the whole summer looking for just one bottle, never finding it.

Auntie Doris was the driver of the car. Margaret did not drive and was dependant on Doris to take her to town for groceries and mail. To take all of us to the berry patch in the summer to pick the berries that provided canned fruit for the winter. And on an eventful summer afternoon, to the swimming hole down by the river.

No electricity. Hand lit lamps at night. Wood stove for cooking and heating. Water hauled in buckets from the creek. Washing machine with a gas motor. Again, hand hauled water, heated on the stove in tubs. Weekly baths, in a tub, in the middle of the kitchen, close to the stove for warmth. 

Take turns, same water, youngest first.

Outhouse. Two holes, adult size, kid size. Toilet paper was a luxury, Eaton’s catalogue was more likely.

No telephones and certainly no television.