The prairies never looked so good to us as when at breakfast one
morning in a C.P.R. diner we emerged out of the foot hills and gazed upon the boundless expanse of
the plains. We had not spent long enough amongst the mountains to appreciate their splendour.
On arrival at Loreburn we were taken to a home where we enjoyed a refreshing cup of tea. Later in the evening there was a reception at another home. There was a short musical programme which included a duet by two young women. "Life's Dream is O'er". There were welcoming speeches, the warmth of which assured us of happy days ahead. We took up housekeeping with table, chair, wood-stove and dropsied bed salvaged from my bachelor quarters; otherwise all my worldly goods with which I had endowed my bride.
At the summons of spring work on the land my volunteer builders had dropped their tools and gone home to get on with their seeding. The W. A. lady who accompanied us to the new Vicarage unlocked the front door and ushered us into a house whose floors were ankle deep in sawdust and odd pieces of lumber. Our conductress shed a tear and exclaimed "What a place to bring a bride!" But we donned working togs and proceeded to bring some order out of chaos.
It was impossible to find a professional man to plaster the walls and ceilings. We substituted "Comfort felt" a wool base sheeting which came in rolls and was pasted to walls in strips a yard wide.
We boiled pots and pots of paste and mixture of melted glue. First we pasted a strip of felt, then a row of laths, then a second coat of paste or the felt. Then we lifted the strip of felt and pressed it upon the wall. It was a messy job. It taxed our strength to lift the heavy strips of saturated felt while standing upon a shaky table and persuade them to cling to the ceiling.
By the time we had completed two rooms on the ground floor and two bedrooms and a study upstairs we were a thoroughly stuck-up pair. We managed to engage a carpenter for a couple of days to put casings around doors and windows. Then we boiled paste again and papered the walls and ceilings. We oiled and varnished the woodwork which we finished in natural wood colour.
There was a small dug-out under the kitchen which I enlarged by digging underneath the new construction and removing the earth by pailfuls. Inside cellar steps replaced the former trapdoor in the kitchen.
Water was a scarce commodity in Loreburn. A town well yielded a meagre supply that was strongly alkaline. In summer we caught rain water in barrels. This was supplemented by water hauled from the railroad ditches. In winter there was always snow to melt.
Certain ingredients which could not be bought at the lumber yard went into the building of a Vicarage by voluntary labour. These included patience, perseverance and stick-to-itiveness. The house was completed by fall. Of course we just had outdoor plumbing.
During our second summer in Loreburn we had the vicarage painted and other improvements made to the property. We also experienced our first damaging hail storm which came in at night. Terrific lightning and wind
heralded its approach. All the windows on the windward side of the building in town were shattered.
We sheltered behind a solid partition while hailstones and broken glass shredded our curtains and
window blinds, and gallons of water poured into the room.
The church interior presented a sorry sight with broken glass ground into the varnished pews and water seeping through the organ. There was unprecedented demand for window glass and for a long time our church windows remained boarded up with common lumber.
On Sunday in harvest time my sermon was on the text, "My Father works hitherto, and I work." After church a farmer approached me and said, "You were talking about working today Vicar. How would you like to come out to the farm and do some work?" He had three four-horse teams and one binder. Harvest help was almost impossible to find. For three weeks I motored out to the farm daily and operated a binder all day. We took Saturday afternoons off - which gave me breathing spell to prepare for my three Sunday services. Exactly twenty-five years later, in the Second Great War I was to drive a tractor hauling a binder in another harvest.
During the late fall of 1918 we passed through that terrible epidemic of influenza. All churches and schools were closed for six dreary weeks. I was driving most of the daylight hours visiting the sick and conducting funerals. Some nights I took my turn driving the doctor's car while he sought some rest rolled up on the back seat. We carried a stable lantern to substitute for the model T lights which often jiggled out.
Dr. Monkman was one of the vanishing old-time order of family physicians. When the doctor in a neighbouring town fell ill Dr. Monkman took over his patients. His wife, a trained nurse, and Mrs. Weir, who nursed the most critical cases, were his able supporters in the care of the sick. Mrs. Greene also volunteered her help as an aide.
After receiving some instructions from the nurses she was assigned to the case of a farmer near town. The patient's wife declined her assistance, saying that she and the hired man could manage. The volunteer nurse took the patient's temperature, gave him one dose of a new medicine and departed for home. The patient recovered with the help of a new pneumonia serum administered by the local doctor and a fellow practitioner from another town. Before the patient was well on his feet, his wife and the hired man departed together for parts unknown.
Another of Mrs. Greene's patients questioned her ability to give a hypodermic injection in his arm. "Have you ever given an injection before"? he challenged. "No" she replied, "But I am going to now." and she did. One night she brought home another male patient's shirt to wash. When we got it dried by the fire she attempted to iron it, but she collapsed before it was finished. I nursed her through the "flu". Her first duty after recovery was to wash and prepare for burial the body of an infant at whose funeral I officiated as both minister and undertaker.
As a variation from influenza ministration the doctor one day operated on a little boy for appendicitis, using a kitchen and its table as an operating theatre. In appreciation of our help during
the epidemic we were entertained at a turkey dinner in the doctor's house. The host laid aside his
coat, rolled up his sleeves and seized the carving knife. Pieces of turkey began to slip and fly off
the platter. "You must excuse me" he apologized, "but I am more accustomed to carving
the living than the dead."
Our next parish was Brooks and Bassano, Alberta. This parish on the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway between Medicine Hat and Calgary provided interests that were entirely new to former residents of strictly wheat farming communities. Both towns were situated in the Eastern block of the C.P.R. Irrigation District, and Brooks had local natural gas for fuel and lighting. Water for irrigation was drawn from a dam on the Bow River near Bassano which fact led the local Board of Trade to boast that Bassano was "the best town in the West by a dam site." The whole countryside was veined with a vast system of canals and ditches, necessitating innumerable bridges for road crossings.
Headquarters of the Block were at Brooks where a dozen canal superintendents lived alongside a picturesque lagoon. There were Water Master and Ditch Riders in private homes throughout the area. I asked Superintendent Major Fred Cross to explain the difference between the two lesser orders of officials and he replied, "Well a Water Master is allowed to wear a moustache while a Ditch Rider must be clean shaven." The Block operated a demonstration farm on which were grown many kinds of trees, bushes and shrubs.
It simply illustrated how irrigation can transform a semi-arid area into a place of flowery and forested beauty. The chief crops grown on expansive acres were wheat and coarse grains and alfalfa for both feed and fodder.
I held services at Brooks and Bassano each Sunday, commuting back and forth by train. One Sunday my afternoon train from Bassano was delayed several hours. The local agent obtained permission for me to ride a "deadhead" train going east to transport Chinese coolies returning home from the war. The conductor assigned me a seat in the front coach. As the locomotive started a drawbar was pulled from my coach. Fortunately there was a wye in Bassano yards and my coach was switched to the rear end.
The conductor strolling into the coach challenged me. "See here Mr. Preacher man, you have brought us bad luck." As we neared Brooks I asked him what time he would reach Medicine Hat. "About eight o'clock" he hoped, "if we don't have any more bad luck."
In a few minutes I observed the headlights of another train rapidly approaching our rear. There came a terrific crash. I was thrown amongst seats while fragments of shattered gas lamps came showering down around me. I reached an exit door and jumped out. Our train had been taking a siding when yet a third train from the east ploughed through our middle tossing one coach clear off the tracks and telescoping two others. I had missed injury by a matter of coach lengths.
Eventually during the night my conductor and crew proceeded on their way to pick up those Chinese coolies still believing that to carry a preacher on a dead-head train meant bad luck.