Land of Hope and Dreams – My Story, by Nona Gale-Aspin

My Story

by Nona Gale-Aspin

My father, Alvin Gale from Mitchell, Ontario, came as a young man, with a friend, to seek his fortune in the golden west in April, 1911. They took up homesteads in the Seven Persons district south of Medicine Hat, Alberta. They soon abandoned them, though, and both went out to work for a living around the country there.

My mother, Ethel, nee Marks, from Amherst-burg, Ontario, came as the school-teacher bride of Henry Botsford to his homestead in the Bowell district west of Medicine Hat in January, 1911. There they farmed until Henry died in a well-digging accident, leaving Mom with the farm and their infant son, Wyman, born August 14, 1912, in Medicine Hat. Mom and Wyman went back to Amherstburg for a time but later returned to the farm.

Through a mutual friend she met Dad and hired him to work for her. Later they were married. I was their first child, born in Vancouver, British Columbia, January 24, 1917, while my family was on holidays there after a bumper crop the fall before. Jean was born on November 19, 1919, and Reg on January 13, 1922, in Medicine Hat. Roy was born in Redcliff, Alberta, on March 19, 1925.

As times were hard on the farm and we were a long way from school, Dad went to work in a livery barn, first in Medicine Hat and then Calgary. I spent my fourth birthday in Calgary.

In 1922, we moved to Redcliff where Dad worked in the brick plant and glass factory there for the next few years. In 1926, he rented a farm two miles west of Redcliff so we moved there. I took all my schooling in Redcliff and got my grade eight diploma in 1931. Mom sold her farm that year also. Things kept getting worse on the prairies during the dry years. No crops or gardens would grow, and there were so many dust storms and such that they decided to move.

After much preparation we all left by train for Grimshaw on August 15, 1931. Dad had already been up and filed on a homestead in the Golden Ridge district earlier that year. Three other families from Redcliff also came with us, namely the Tom McClellan family, the Jack Garnett family, and Dave Miller and sons.

We stopped at the hotel in Grimshaw for a few days while the men unloaded the boxcars of livestock, machinery, and household effects of the four families. There we met Sid Smart, Mrs. Belle Beatty and daughter Frances, Tom Ryan, and Melba Kitchen, a waitress there at the time. Because of all the children and livestock, Tom Ryan told Dad we could stay at his place at Chinook Valley until they could find or build accommodation on their homesteads.

So we set off early one morning for the Ryan place, the men, women, and younger children all riding in hayracks full of belongings, or by horse and buggy, while Wyman and I and the Miller boys rode horseback to herd the horses and cattle along. We must have made quite a procession along the Battle River Trail, as it was called in those days.

I shall never forget my first impression of a log cabin when we got there that evening. Intending to get lamps lit, and a fire and supper started while the mothers tended little ones and dug out supplies and bedding needed for the night, I followed Mr. McClellan with his lantern to the house. When he hung the lantern up on a rafter and I looked around, I asked him to please take it to the house first as I thought this must be the barn! He had to show me the stove, table, and benches, and two bedrooms at the far end, before I believed him and even then I was skeptical! I couldn’t see how people lived in places like that!

However after much scrubbing and cleaning and with a few things moved in, I was surprised how even that cabin could be made to look like a home. The women and small children slept in the house and all the men and older boys in a granary nearby. It was quite an experience for us all, but we learned fast; we had to!

Personally, coming from the wide open spaces of the prairies and being shut in the thick bush like that wasn’t pleasant at all! I felt like I couldn’t breathe even, let alone see anything but trees! They were all around and not even the barn was visible until you made a bend in the path. Although I soon came to love this country and its people, at first I would have given anything to go back to the prairies again: drought, wind, dust and all! Another great disappointment to me was not being able to go on to high school that fall as I had my heart set on being a school teacher. Incidentally, none of the other children got to school that fall, either!

In September, a Mr. Pat Scobie, who lived on the old Finnley place at Warrensville, came looking for a girl to stay with his wife and four small children while he went out harvesting. To help me get over not going to school my folks let me go. I soon found out that Pat was quite a character, but I liked his wife, Edith, and children, Billy, Betty, Kenny, and baby Orville.

The next day Harold Aspin who lived nearby came to Scobies’. When I met him I thought, “Aspin” what a pretty name! I never thought it would someday be my name too!

Soon after, I went with Harold to a party at Floyd Oliver’s. There I met not only Floyd and Loretta, her sister Gladys and their three children, but John “Mac” MacAllister, “Dode” and Jock Stuart, Miss Anne Lerl, the Gould school teacher then, Ralph Grant, and several others I can’t recall now, but I do remember thinking what nice folks they all were!

A short time later Harry Aspin also came to Scobies’ and had supper with them. I thought he was just about the nicest man I had ever met, and wished his name was “Harold,” one of my favorite names instead of “Harry” which I didn’t like at all then. Apparently he liked me too, as later that night he told Abe Shelton, “Tonight, I just met the girl I’m going to marry!” Abe must have told someone, because about two days later, the news got back to me! Although I was quite pleased to hear he liked me, I was also very embarassed next time I met Harry and could hardly talk to him. It didn’t seem to bother him though, as we had only met a few times when he asked me to marry him! Being not quite fifteen yet, I wasn’t much interested in marriage and told him so! Until then he thought I was about nineteen and I thought he was around twenty-one, when actually he was twenty-six! I did agree later to be “his girl” and he said he was willing to wait until I grew up enough to want to get married. In the meantime he met my dad, and hearing that he was interested in renting a place instead of homesteading, because of all his livestock and equipment, he rented his brother Norman’s place to Dad so I’d stay in Warrensville!

My family and the McClellan family moved there, in 1931. The Garnetts and Millers had already gone on to Golden Ridge. The next spring, Dad rented John Podinak’s place for three years and we moved there. Mr. Podinak died three weeks later.

After I left Scobies I worked for Mrs. Allen, Mrs. McMaster, Mrs. Rose, and Mrs. Haight until I was married three years later in September,1934. My wages had ranged from $5.00 to $10.00 a month.

Harry and Nona's wedding 1934
Harry and Nona’s wedding 1934

Harry had borrowed Walter Haight’s truck to take my family and I, his sister Nora and her husband Ronald Diebert, to Peace River for our wedding at 2:00 p.m. in the Baptist Church. However, Walter decided to haul a load of feed that morning and didn’t get back till afternoon. When Harry went for the truck he had to wait for it. As Walter was hungry, Harry unloaded the truck into the chop-house, all dressed in his black wedding suit! We couldn’t imagine what had happened to Harry; he was so late getting back to our place. When he did get there Nora and I had quite a job trying to brush all the dust off him, so we could leave and not get it all over ourselves as well.

We finally made it to the church by 4:30 meet our anxiously awaiting minister, who had to leave on the train that day around five p.m. It was the shortest wedding ceremony I have ever been at! I wondered as I walked back out of the church if I was really married or not; it had all happened so fast! There were thirteen at our wedding. At first we lived on Harry’s homestead with Nora and Ronald until Harry and Ronald finished building our new house on Norman’s place the next spring.

As times were very hard then, Harry made all our own furniture. We couldn’t even afford paint to finish it so I put lye in my scrub water to keep everything, including the floor, nice and white looking! It sure made a mess of my hands though! It was also amazing what all could be made out of flour sacks and such for the home as well as for clothing. It was quite a challenge to see just what you could do with what you had and was a real accomplishment when you were done.

Harry, Wyman and Nona, on a small cow barn they had built, 1935.
Harry, Wyman and Nona, on a small cow barn they had built, 1935.

They were hard times and hard work too, but also very happy years as well. We had good friends and neighbors and visited back and forth a lot. Socially, we also went to sports, ballgames, dances, and church, with the odd trip to town for a change. Joyce was born at home in 1935, Shirley in 1937, and Donna in 1939 in Berwyn Hospital.

Harry didn’t care much for farming and was often off working or dickering and dealing someplace. I didn’t like being left alone with three small girls, so he decided to build a store on the highway so he could be at home and trade all he liked, too! He was always trading something with somebody! Folks used to tell me I’d better be good or he’d trade me off next!

It was quite a job getting enough together to buy three acres from Jock Stuart, put up a building, put in a B.A. gas pump, and stock a store but somehow Harry did it! We opened the store in August, 1940, and had moved into two small rooms behind in July.

My folks moved to Golden Ridge when Mrs. Sturgeon bought the Podinak place in spring of1935. Wyman married Yula Sturgeon and Jean married Ken Brewster. They had a double wedding and dance in the Warrensville school in November, 1936, and the reception supper at our house as it was the biggest then. Jean and Ken went to Wadena, Saskatchewan, and Wyman and Yula lived at Golden Ridge for a while and later at Smith’s Mill for years.

Reg came to help Harry build and stayed with us for a year or so and worked in the store. When Reg went to work at Smith’s Mill, Roy came and helped us a few years. It was a good time to start, as things picked up a lot during the war years and we had a good business then, not only locally. We had customers and made friends all the way to Fort Vermilion. The Canol Project and American soldiers came into Peace River and north in the early forties so we had many of them stop in. I’ll never forget one day, when Harry and Roy were away, a truck-load of black American soldiers pulled in from the north and were nearly frozen. They said it was seventy below zero when they left the far north that morning. As I had seen only a few black men before in my life, and then never alone, I was really afraid at first but tried not to show it and went to make up a warm fire for them. I must say they were the most courteous soldiers who ever stopped there! When I asked how they liked Canada, one soldier replied, “Ah don’t like da country, but ah sure do like da people!” To which others nodded in agreement; most were from the deep south. They seemed to find our four little blonde daughters very interesting and the girls were very curious about them as well.

We soon had to build on two additions at the back of the store for a four-roomed house, and use all the first building for store. Harry also built a garage which he later moved to church property and then to Riverside Bible Camp. Then he and John Egyed built a larger garage, which John ran as Warrensville Motors until it burned down in 1951.

Those were very busy years for me behind the store. What with helping in the store, trying to raise six girls properly, keep house, and having sing-songs and Sunday services in our home, as well as lots of company, there wasn’t much time to be idle. We also had a baby boy born at our house just before Faye was born. The mother was on her way to the Peace River Hospital with her husband and the doctor, when they had to stop on the way at our place. Fortunately both mother and baby did come through all right and later were on their way back to Manning Hospital again.

Carol was born in 1941 and Faye in 1944, in Berwyn. I had Lura and Ethel McClellan, Ruth Coates, and Muriel Sklapsky work for me at various times when my babies were born. In1945, we took three-month old Margaret Guy to care for, as her mother was in hospital. We soon all learned to love her as our own and it was a very deep sorrow to us all when her father took her to live at George Wilcox’s when she was almost five years old. After being at Wilcox’s for several years, Margaret went to the Anglican Girls Boarding School at Athabasca. Later she worked in Edmonton for several years and married Harry Surcon, a city policeman, in 1964.After their divorce several years later she travelled around a lot. She is an artist and became an airplane pilot. She is now married to Joseph Moore, an ex-pilot, says she is very happy, and lives in Clearwater, Florida.

In 1945 Harry bought a large twenty foot by two hundred foot bunk house In Peace River from the Canol Project. This he cut into several pieces and sold to different people, as well as keeping a twenty-eight foot part for our house. Others he sold to were Sadie Reid in Grimshaw and Mickey Nelson for a house and Mission hall, John Egyed for a house beside the garage and the Hungarian Society for a hall north of us.

He moved and fixed up our part, just west of the store, and we moved in there in 1946. Roy and Ruth Coates got married then and moved in to our house behind the store. Things were a bit quieter for me there as far as the public was concerned but I still found plenty to do none-the-less. That was the year Harry kept bursting all the buttons off his clothes, as our first son, Harry Junior, was born in 1946, followed by his brother Harold in 1948, both born in Berwyn Hospital.

In 1943 my folks moved back to Warrensville to the old Haight homestead on the creek across the road from Tom Andressen. When my dad took sick, they sold it and Harry, Reg, and Roy built them a little house on our farm. Dad passed away in December, 1948. In 1947, Reg married Muriel Sklapsky at our house with Rev. Gillespie performing the ceremony.

Harry bought the half section west of us from Harry Napper in 1947 and we moved our house there and later built onto it. As our family got older and business was not great enough to support us all, Harry got other jobs of carpentry with Bill Pederson in Grimshaw and later got out firewood for oil companies up north. We sold the store in 1950 to Howard and Mary Ann Partch, an elderly couple from Fort Vermilion. After his death, it was eventually sold to Bob Langevin and later to Lillyquists. It is all torn down now and Glenns live there in a trailer home.

Tom was born in 1952 in Peace River Hospital and in November, 1954, we moved to Berwyn, where Harry was employed by the town for fourteen years. Clifford was born here in 1955. We also moved my mother’s little house in from Warrensville to a lot beside ours. She lived there until she went into Autumn Lodge fourteen years ago. She moved in with me here in May, 1979, at ninety-four years of age. My sister Jean passed away in 1960 and her husband Ken in 1968. They had five children.

Our five daughters and Harry Junior all attended Bible School, either at Peace River Bible Institute in Sexsmith or Prairie Bible Institute at Three Hills. Donna also went to Miller Memorial Bible Institute at Pambrun, Saskatchewan.

Donna married Leonard Nickel in 1961 and they did Mission work in Lethbridge for a while among the Japanese there. Later they moved to Peace River, where Leonard has his own business of Nickel Steel Ltd. They have one dear little handicapped daughter, April, fourteen years old.

Shirley married Wesley Creighton in 1962 and they spent ten years in Ethiopia as missionaries, having to leave when all the trouble started there. Wes now has a business of his own, called Best Wood Builders in Peace River and Shirley works at Sutherland Nursing Home. They have Douglas, Wendy, Rodney, and Kelvin.

Joyce married George Sklapsky in 1963. They have lived in or near Peace River since and George worked as a mechanic in both garages in Berwyn. He now works for Village Ford and they have Kevin and Carey, twins, and Becky.

Carol (Laynee) married in 1963 but later divorced. She married Colin Traynor in 1968.They both work for Alberta Government Telephones and now live in Red Deer. They have Ricky, Lara, and Sandra.

Faye married Philip Collett in 1963. They lived in Peace River country, then Vancouver, British Columbia, and Blairmore, Alberta, before moving back to Peace River. Phil is employed in the Welfare Department and Faye helps out at kindergarten. They have Troy, Mark, and Lance.

Harry married Loree Grant in 1968 and worked as an Alberta Wheat Pool Agent at Hawk Hills and Wanham before going to Bible School. He is now pastoring the Gospel Mission at Hines Creek. They have Derek, Vanessa, Kristin, and Dana.

Harold married Jean Stone in 1970. He worked here as a mechanic, then in business with Leonard. He now has his own business, Aspin Farm Equipment, in Grimshaw. They have Danita, Deanna, and Daniel. Tom married Denise Cormier in 1974 and worked for McMillan Bloedel as a Chemical Engineer in Nanaimo, British Columbia. They now live in Grande Prairie and Tom works for Proctor and Gamble. They have one daughter, Jennifer.

Cliff is not married, is in business with Harold, and lives in Grimshaw.

Although Harry always took an active part in community affairs around Berwyn, I seemed to always be too busy raising our family, keeping the home, and being involved in church work as much as possible. It was only during the last few years that I was able to get involved with him in the Drop-In Centre uptown, and this history book.

In 1974 our family gave us a trip to England for our fortieth wedding anniversary. Cliff also went with us. We had a wonderful time sightseeing and visiting Harry’s many relatives and old friends there. Most of all we appreciated the fact we had a family who would do such a lovely thing for us!

Harry and I have always enjoyed our family so much, and of course all of our grandchildren are very special too! Harry always said he was a rich man with a million dollar family and I heartily agree with him!

Although it was a great shock and sorrow to lose my beloved Harry on April 27, 1979, I do thank God for him and the life we had together. Also for the quiet peace and deep bubbling joy inside, which only God can give, in spite of any outward circumstances, and the strength to go on now without Harry – but not without my Lord!

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