My life story began in Maryfield, Saskatchewan in 1917. I was one of five daughters and two younger sons born to Clarence and Bessie Ross. Life on the farm wasn’t easy, with many chores to be shared among family members. As my father was often away from the farm umpiring baseball games, it fell on us girls to work in the fields, as well as in the house. I have vivid memories of stooking grain, of firing the steam engine on my father’s threshing machine, and of hauling water from the dugout to the cattle trough.
When I was about fifteen, I started “working out.” That meant I was hired out as a live-in helper on other farms. For $7.00 per month, I minded the children, helped with household chores, fed the chickens and milked the cows. These were the years of the Great Depression and life was tough.
In my early twenties, I met Jim Duncan who owned a farm, with his brother, across the border in Manitoba, near Virden. After a year’s courtship, we had an old-fashioned wedding ceremony in 1941 in my parents’ home, and began our Married life on Jim’s farm. There our daughter, Maxine, was born in 1942, followed by a second daughter, Bonnie, in 1948.
By this time, Jim had developed serious allergies to grain dust, and we were forced to leave the farm. We first tried a move to Calgary with no improvement in his health. Then, with little Maxine and Bonnie (still in diapers), we loaded up the old car and headed west to the fresh mountain air of Banff. This proved to be a life-saving decision. With the support and concern of caring people, we located a duplex to live in and Jim found work in general maintenance with Parks Canada. Jim regained his health and our daughters were successfully raised and educated in Banff.
We bought a house on Marten Street (now the site of “Siding 29”), later enlarging it. During the summer months, I rented rooms to tourists. This provided opportunities to meet people from around the world but it was a lot of work, too. I must have had a good reputation in the tourist industry as I was often consulted at Banff Council Meetings and, later on, in Canmore as well. In Banff, we were members of the Canadian Legion branch, thanks to Jim’s World War I army service, and participated in social functions. I enjoyed dancing and singing and I remember one party when Louis Trono held the microphone out to me to sing a solo as I was dancing. I also sang with the Rundle United Church choir for several years.
After Jim died in 1980, I moved to my newlybuilt house in Canmore, at the corner of 9th Street and 8th Avenue, and looked around for fresh opportunities. Ralph Connor United became my new church home. I joined the Three Sisters Branch of the Legion, and the Canmore Seniors Association. During Canmore’s Centennial in 1983, I danced with the Canmore Centennial Square Dancers and sang with the Norman Witham Singers at the 1988 Winter Olympics at the Nordic Centre.
In 1997, I celebrated my eightieth birthday with my family and friends. I am a proud grandmother of four and great-grandmother of five, all living in Alberta. Oil painting has been a pleasurable retirement hobby and I still sing with the seniors’ choir. My house and garden provide me with many hours of enjoyable work. In the corner of my backyard stands a Manitoba maple tree, part of my personal story. It has followed me from the prairie farm to Banff, and then to Canmore, a symbol of my long and full life.
In Canmore Seniors at the Summit, ed. Canmore Seniors Association, 2000, p. 61-62.