Driving past old abandoned farmsteads in rural Alberta is commonplace. Many of us feel a sense of nostalgia when we think about these farms and the good old days. But were they really that good? I often think of my great-grandmother Ella Davis when I’m feel overworked and a little sorry for myself.
Ella Davis (nee Kerstain) immigrated to Canada from Germany in the 1890s. She loved to tell stories of spending the winter alone when she was 10 on her family’s homestead 20 kms east of what is now Westlock. Her parents had driven their cattle into Edmonton that fall and were caught in a winter storm and couldn’t return. She tied a rope between the barn and the house so she wouldn’t get lost during blizzards and relied on the food stores she and her parents had put up. She also milked a cow and gathered eggs from the few hens they kept. She learned young that hard work kept her family fed and she never took anything for granted. The following spring she helped her father Karl move freight between Edmonton and Athabasca Landing. She drove her own team of horses behind his, they camped under the wagons and met many interesting characters along the way. When they arrived at Athabasca Landing, Ella was recorded as the first white woman to stop there (even though she was a girl). My Metis cousins would laugh at that statement, but history is history.
When she married my great-grandfather Simpson Davis they worked tirelessly to make a living from the land. She gave birth to 5 children, but only the last two survived. Her third child was breech and had to be dis-membered to save Ella’s life and the doctor thought she likely wouldn’t survive. To his surprise my grandmother Pearl was born a year later followed by my great uncle Roy. Sadly, in 1919 Simpson was murdered on Jasper Avenue in Edmonton after selling their livestock. As a young widow living far from civilization Ella decided to move in with her mother and father-in-law, my great-great grandparents Simpson and Martha Davis (nee Lusk). She helped them with their stopping house on the Athabasca Landing Trail. She told me stories of milking 26 cows twice a day by hand so they could supply the settlers headed for the Peace River country. They sold butter and many other pioneer supplies. Often the settlers were lodged overnight which meant cooking huge meals over a wood stove and hauling water to wash endless amounts of dishes. I can only imagine how hard she worked to raise two children in the middle of nowhere. Even after she moved into the small town of Clyde, Ella always grew a garden, canned lots of fruits and vegetables and lectured everyone about the importance of having a full-larder. She never remarried, lived to be 95 and her memory never failed her. Ella’s stories were legendary and many gathered to hear them at every opportunity.
So where do our perceptions about the good old days come from? Perhaps we’re nostalgic about a feeling versus reality. Those were certainly simpler times in the sense that people were focused on their immediate needs. They spent their days growing food, tending livestock and preparing for the coming winter. In contrast, we spend our days growing food for our customers, preparing for the coming winter and managing the endless technological challenges that today’s world brings. While that is also far from easy, at least we have electricity, natural gas, modern medicine, grocery stores, heated vehicles and tractors. While I would love nothing more than to simplify my life, there are some things I just won’t give up. If push came to shove I can milk a cow, grow a garden, can food, saddle and ride a horse and cook over a fire. But unlike my great-grandmother Ella, I have the luxury of choosing. Based on this I think the good old days can stay right where they are.
Our hens are finally out on grass! Our soy-free eggs are available at our regular pick-up locations. $8/doz for extra large, $7/doz for large, and $6/doz for medium. They are in short supply; sorry! We have purchased more hens to try and increase production so please be patient and thanks!
Experience the breathtaking beauty of TK Ranch by following my husband Dylan’s photos on Instagram. He updates the site almost daily so you can keep in touch with what is happening here. We hope to develop calendars and sell framed prints in the future — so please stay tuned.