Sarah and Henry Cormier

Written by Canmore Museum

Sarah Cormier (nee Carney) and Henry Cormier moved to Canmore in the early to middle 1920’s. Henry was a stationary engineer for Canmore mines. They lived first on the Hospital Hill and then in the Horseshoe next to the old rink (Kolenda’s house). They had a big yard with a large vegetable garden and a root cellar where they kept the vegetables and canned berries for use during the winter. Henry had a workshop in the back yard where he worked with wood and spent many happy hours there. 

Sarah, with seven children, was a full time housewife who baked her own bread. One of my memories is the wonderful smell of home-made bread when you walked in the door! She loved to have “afternoon tea” for her friends and for the Sisters of St. Martha who would stop on their way from the Post Office (which was on the Mineside at that time). When they retired, they moved first to Calgary and then to British Columbia. 

Of their seven children, a daughter Jeanne married and lived in Canmore until her death. One child, Lorraine Cormier Riva, returned to live in Canmore for a number of years (see Riva history).

Memories – The smell of home made bread; Grandma’s teas; Grandpa’s woodwork; the large garden; a chicken running around the yard with his head cut off. 

Marie Marra (nee Berutto) and Achilles Marra moved to Canmore from Italy in 1906 for Achilles to work in the mine. Twice during the early years, they moved to the United States but returned to Canmore and finally stayed here until their deaths. Achilles was the first miner to voluntarily retire from the mine. He was a member of the Canmore Community Band and a nature lover who spent time taking his grandchildren for walks and teaching them about nature. Marie was an active member of the Italian community in Canmore. Marie and Achilles had three children – Ricardo (Cardo), Frederico (Fred) and Elda. Elda died at age fifteen but Cardo and Fred remained in Canmore all their lives until their deaths. Elda is buried in the “old” part of the cemetery just outside the fenced area and beside her is Barbara Marra, Jeanne and Cardo’s stillborn second child. 

As well as the three live children, Marie suffered many miscarriages. She baked bread for sale and took in washing from the single miners as a way of bringing in more money to the home. They lived in a mine house (Cavanaugh’s Place) and when Cardo and Jeanne married, Achilles and Marie moved into their home with them and lived with them until their deaths. 

Memories –

– Grandpa and Grandma making us ask for things in Italian trying to get us to learn the language – it didn’t work!;

– Grandpa and Grandma spending hours talking about happenings, starting generally and working down to the finest details;

– polenta cooking on the stove; 

– Grandpa taking us out to look at anthills and other things in nature; Grandma telling us scary stories.

Jeanne Cormier Marra came to Canmore as a young adolescent. She was active in sports and did well in school. At age twelve or thirteen, she stayed out of school for many months and looked after the family when her mother was ill. Jeanne was a member of the C.G.I.T. (Canadian Girls in Training). This group went to camp each summer – the camp was where the Nakoda Lodge is now – and one of the counsellors at the camp was Cardo Marra! Jeanne and Cardo, during their courting days, won many trophies in tennis, both in singles and doubles. The tennis court was beside the Y.M.C.A. Jeanne and Cardo married when Jeanne was eighteen and Cardo twenty-six.

Cardo came to Canada with his parents Achilles and Marie when he was six months old. Other than the two times in the U.S.A., Cardo lived in Canmore all his life. He was very active in sports, playing fastball, tennis, basketball and golf. He was active in the Y.M.C.A. and was a counsellor at their summer camps. Cardo left school at age thirteen and went to work for C.T. Sing and Company – the grocery store which is now Marra’s. He was the delivery boy (groceries were delivered by horse and wagon and sleigh!!) and one of Cardo’s jobs was to look after the horses as well. Groceries were picked up each day from the C.P.R. train. Both the Company store and C.T. Sing went with their wagons to pick up the groceries at the station. Cardo was considered quite the “ladies’ man” in his single years!

Jeanne and Cardo married in 1932 and moved into a small home (Fairholme Drive and 9th Street). It had six small rooms with a large yard and was on the last street in this part of town. Behind the home was the old golf course. Jeanne and Cardo had five children – four live and one stillborn. Ron was born in 1933, Barbara in 1934, Eldene in 1936, Yvonne in 1939 and Sharon in 1942. Jeanne and Cardo and their four children and Grandpa and Grandma Marra lived in this small house until they moved above the store in the late 1940’s (this small six room house was during this time, separated into a two-room suite for the grandparents and four rooms for the parents and four children. While this didn’t seem small to the kids, I’m sure Cardo and Jeanne found this most difficult at times!).

During their early married years, Cardo remained active in all the sports previously mentioned and as well, was involved with the “Big Six” hockey team in town. They were both avid bridge players, but particularly Jeanne. I have faint memories of baseball trips to Field, B.C. and the games being played on the Field flats. Both Cardo and Jeanne loved to dance and they were excellent dancers. As the years passed, Cardo remained an active golfer and remained active with the hockey club for many years. Jeanne took up golf during this period as well and in her 40’s, played on the women’s fastball team! Cardo and Jeanne won many tennis cups, both in singles and in doubles and were avid tennis players. When the kids were in their teens, a Canmore teen club was formed and many a Friday night was spent chaperoning teen dances and other teen activities. 

In 1945, Cardo bought the store from C.T. Sing and Cardo and Jeanne became business partners as well as husband and wife. When they first had the store, there wasn’t a good lock on the back door and Cardo and/ or Jeanne slept on bread boxes on the “kitchen” floor until good locks were obtained!

The business flourished (not the least due to the fact that the Calgary Power Dam was being built in the Spray during these early years with the increased town business) and in the late 1940’s, Cardo and Jeanne had the second floor above the store fixed up as a home. By this time, Grandpa Marra had died and Jeanne, Cardo, Grandma and four children moved above the store. Although looking back, the size of this home was not large but seemed large to us – it had four bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room (it still had an outdoor biffy- this didn’t change until Grandma’s death when one of the small bedrooms was made into a lovely large indoor bathroom!!!).

Even though the home had a kitchen upstairs, 99% of all our meals were eaten in the kitchen downstairs as both Cardo and Jeanne worked in the store and had to serve customers during the lunch period. This kitchen also came to be a meeting place of sorts – many, many of the customers used to stop “in the back” for a coffee and visit when getting their groceries. After  Ron had been married for a few years, Cardo and Jeanne moved into their own private home – Dad keeping a promise to Mom that she would have her own home someday! Ron and his wife Virginia moved above the store at this time.

As there were only a few phones in town, Jeanne used to go on foot, winter and summer, getting grocery orders from their customers. These orders were put up and then delivered to the customers – by this time, they had a delivery van! Free delivery is continued to this day at Marra’s. 

Cardo was content to work in the store, play golf and be involved in the hockey club. He remained active and healthy (walking and bike riding, as well as golf) until his eightieth year. Cardo died at age eighty-six and is buried in the Canmore Cemetery.

Jeanne was a “doer” and had exceptional organizational skills – as we have often said, if she were a young woman today, she would certainly have made an excellent executive! She was always involved in the organization and management of anything she joined, i.e., the Women’s Golf Club, the Women’s Bridge Club, the Catholic Women’s League, etc. She served terms on the Canmore School Board and was also involved in the organization and development of the Bow Valley Music Festival. With all this, she continued to work full-time in the store and until Marie Marra’s death, Jeanne looked after her bedridden mother-in-law as well. Jeanne remained active until ill health forced her to slow down. She died at age sixty-three from cancer and donated her body to science at the University of Calgary. 

Memories –

– Picnics every Sunday;

– Dad’s first new car – we had to clean it inside and out every week – he was so proud of it!;

– the open house policy at our home for all our friends;

– Mom and Dad’s respect and love for each other;

– our first piano; we had such a small front room there really was no room for it but we begged and begged for the piano and Dad finally said if we could fit it in, we could have it. It fit in. Dad said if we ever missed one practice, out the piano would go – we never missed one practice!;

– trips to Calgary for “Big Six” hockey games, no matter what the weather; 

– trip to Ice Capades in a terrible snowstorm

– going into the ditch and Dad driving us out again.

Henry and Sarah Cormier and Achilles and Marie Marra and their children Jeanne and Cardo, contributed much to the early mosaic of the town. The town was much richer for their lives spent here.

Eldene Marra

Eldene was born in 1936 and spent all her years here except for two years away for schooling and two and a half years in Lethbridge as the director of health records at St. Michael’s Hospital. Eldene returned home in 1959 and married Norm Heikkila. They had two children, Ric and Lori. When the children were four and five, Eldene went back to work at the Mineral Springs Hospital in Banff for the next thirty-five years as Director of Health Records Department. She retired November 5, 1999, and remains in Canmore. Eldene and Norm were divorced in 1986.

Eldene loved music and passed her Grade VI piano and Grade IX voice from the Royal Conservatory of Music. She was an active participant in both the Calgary Music Festival and the Bow Valley Music Festival in Choir, Trio, Duet and Solo performances. During her married life, she started playing with brother Ron and cousins Connel and Lionel Marra in a dance band. She played the piano and then the organ. They played together for fifteen years in the Bow Valley and Calgary and this was always a fun, relaxing event for Eldene. When it became work, it was time to quit!

Memories –

– Being in the play “Scrooge” at the school Christmas Concert when in Grade Six;

– being in other plays and concerns at school;

– the Cabogi (Catholic Boys and Girls) Club;

– teen dances and activities;

– being valedictorian for my course at the Edmonton General Hospital for Health Record Administrators;

– the single life in Lethbridge – lasting friendships with both Canmore and Lethbridge friends;

– Sunday ball games – packing up two small children and a big picnic lunch every Sunday during the summer.

Ric Heikkila still lives in Canmore and Lori lives in Calgary.

Sarah and Henry Cormier’s fiftieth wedding anniversary

Marra, Eldene. In Canmore Seniors at the Summit, ed. Canmore Seniors Association, 2000, p. 50-53.

About the author

Canmore Museum

1 Comment

  • I’m just commenting to make you know what a wonderful encounter my cousin’s princess experienced reading yuor web blog. She noticed a wide variety of details, most notably what it is like to have a very effective coaching nature to make the others without difficulty fully understand selected multifaceted things. You really did more than our expected results. Thanks for imparting such good, healthy, edifying and even fun thoughts on that topic to Kate.

Leave a Comment