Thursday, 23 April 2015


Margaret, John and Marion with brother
Bobby who died as a child.
In 1912 my ancestors on my mom's side of the family came from Brantford Ontario to  homestead in the Appleton district near Beaverlodge Alberta.

My great-grandparents Charles and Eliza McNaught travelled by ox cart from Edmonton along the Edson Trail to Grande Prairie along with their daughters Betty and Marion, my grandmother. Daughters Isabel and Margaret stayed behind to finish their schooling, but joined the family the next year along with Charles's sister Janet, called "Aunt Nin" by my mother and aunt. Their son John, a graduate of the University of Toronto, was teaching in Manitoba at the time.

When they arrived at their plot of land, a stake in the ground told them they were home. They were treated to a salad by the farm wife next door, Mrs. Mortwedt. My grandmother told me it was made with red leaf lettuce and a dressing of brown sugar and vinegar and it was delicious.

McNaught Homestead
How different  their new lives must have been from the ones they left behind. They left a farm and a large comfortable house just outside Paris, Ontario. My grandmother walked away from her dream of becoming a nurse- she had just been accepted
into nursing before they left. They were in search of adventure and opportunity and a drier climate for my great grandmother, or so I have been told. And they found it all in the Peace Country. They soon became pillars of their community, building a home, planting an impressive garden (including aspargus beds!), setting up their own tennis court, starting a ladies basketball league and bringing in other aspects of civilization to their new home. Every fall they hosted a "ghost walk" on McNaught Lake.  It is said that their home was the centre of community gatherings and I know their daughters broke many hearts!

John McNaught
My grandmother never became a nurse. She fell in love with a charming British orphan, my grandfather George Martin, who worked nearby at the Bank of Commerce in Lake Saskatoon.

Soon war was declared, and my grandfather and Uncle John were off to the front, soon followed by my grandmother who worked in a munitions factory in England during the war.

Uncle John wrote many letters to my grandmother and to his relatives back home during the war. His letters home from the front were chilling-both for what he included and what he left out. He was gassed at Ypres. Upon return to Canada, he was unable to work indoors due to the injury to his lungs and he joined his parents in running the family farm. An academic and a gifted writer, who might have become if he had not been injured?

John on the Nose Moutain
Expedition, 1937
Margaret was the first teacher at the new Appleton School and continued to teach in the area. Junior High and special ed were her areas of specialization. She had a wicked sense of humour and raised turkeys among other things. Isabel became a teacher and married late in life, continuing to teach grade one after her daughter Liza was born and her husband Judd Perry unexpectedly died. She loved nature and knew the names of every plant which she delighted in explaining to her young visitors. She was an avid photographer with her own darkroom.

During the Depression, John and some other Beaverlodge residents formed a riding club that went on many excursions into the mountains.  I have a 12 page diary of one of those expeditions, to Nose Mountain, along with accompanying photos I plan to turn into a book some day. Humour and adventure and love of the wilderness feature prominently.

Betty's artistic talents were encouraged by her family, who sent her off to study at the Ontario College of Art under Arthur Lismer and A.Y. Jackson of the Group of Seven. She later taught art in Calgary and then returned to the family homestead where she continued to paint and sculpt and teach art to others for the rest of her life. Her work has been displayed in art galleries across Canada and she inspired generations of people to pursue artistic endeavors.

John and Noel's wedding
Upon the death of his father, John took over the homestead. Late in life, he married Noel Cameron from New Zealand. John was a prolific writer whose diaries and letters now form part of the South Peace Archives in Grande Prairie. The McNaught homestead -its buildings and 160 acres of land-was donated to the Prairie Gallery by Noel in 2002 and is now owned and by the McNaught Homestead Preservation Society. It is a designated historic site that is being lovingly restored for future generations.  The society holds its own ghost walk every Hallowe'en.

My grandfather returned to banking after the war. He and my grandmother and their little family of two girls lived in many small southern towns, eventually landing in Edmonton. Upon retirement, they bought the property across the road from the McNaught homestead and lived there until they died. My cousin Peter lives in the old house and my cousin Erin lives next door. They are active in preserving the old homestead, along with several of my relatives who live in the area.

Who are we?

We are our genetics and our environment and all the factors around us. We are the result of opportunities gained and opportunities lost. We are the result of relationships foreordained and unexpected. We are the result of enduring love and broken hearts.

We are where we live, with all its quirks and challenges.

We are not just who were taught to be but also who we learned to be through example and experience and the lack thereof.

Knowing who we are comes in part from knowing where we came from.

My daughter Jordan, her great great aunt
Isabel, Betty McNaught and Jordan's second cousin
Mia Freeman,

Saturday, 18 April 2015



With apologies to Rudyard Kipling

If you are happy with cabinet ministers giving themselves 30% pay increase while freezing teachers’ wages
If you like driving hundreds of KM to see a doctor
If you enjoy highway potholes that can’t be filled due to cuts at Alberta Transportation
If you think democratically elected school boards should not be allowed to use reserves in times of need
If you agree that our natural resources should be sold out from under us so corporations can profit
If you enjoy paying a “healthcare levy” that goes into general revenue
If your corporation benefits from the lowest tax rates in Canada
If you blame yourself for Alberta’s financial woes

If you want smaller government
If you can afford to jump the cue because you can afford privatized health care
If you can pay thousands in tuition for your kids to go to private school
If you think climate change is a myth
If you think your wife belongs in the kitchen baking a pie
If you don’t care what postsecondary education costs
If you think nonprofits should deliver mental health services
If you think industry should monitor itself

If you want corporations to pay their share through increased royalties and corporate taxes
If you want teachers and nurses to be paid what they deserve
If you want decent class sizes and support for kids with special needs
If you think school fees should be eliminated
If you want appropriate monitoring of pollution and environmental protection
If you want quality, free, universally accessible health care
If you believe Alberta belongs to Albertans and not foreign corporations


Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Dear Mr. Risinger

I really don't know what possessed me, Mr Risinger. 

I don't know what was going through my head. 

The last time we spoke I told you I was proceeding with small claims action against United Airlines after my family's fiasco at Christmas. My instincts told me to NEVER FLY UNITED. But then I chickened out. Or maybe I should say cheaped out. Or I just got lazy. And as much as it shames me to admit, I took the $150 voucher you offered and flew to Austin for my spring break.

"Really," I told my husband. "What happened to us on our return from Panama must have just been bad luck. Let's use the vouchers. What are the odds they will screw up again?" He agreed. It just wouldn't happen again. And besides, we left ourselves several hours of wiggle room if there was another delayed flight. Really, what were the odds? Well Mr. Risinger, as it turns out, the odds were good. Pretty damn good. In fact I'd venture the odds were about 100%.

Our flight was scheduled to leave Edmonton at 6:20 a.m. on April 6. On the day before the flight, we took the dogs to the kennel, checked in online, checked the flight status at least five times, and went to bed. 

At 1:14 a.m. I received a text. 

Your flight on Apr. 6 (UA3488) from Denver to Edmonton has been canceled due to flight crew availability. 

Well Mr. Risinger, although I hadn't learned my lesson after the massive Panama City-Costa Rica-Newark-Phoenix-Edmonton cock-up, I did learn something-"Don't go to the airport and expect United to help you." So I booked an alternate flight via San Francisco online. It added three hours to the trip, and as I flew over the Golden Gate Bridge I thought of the new slogan for United that my son had dreamed up. "United:Taking you places you never dreamed you'd go!"

In fact I had a little chuckle to myself as I updated my Facebook status with those very words. And then I breathed a little sigh of relief. Yes, United had messed up once again. What were the odds of it happening again on that very flight? Well Mr. Risinger, as it turns out, the odds were pretty damn good. In fact I'd venture to put the odds at about 100%.

So. We spent an enjoyable few days at our Airbnb in Travis Heights, took in some great live music, ate some good food, saw some sights and enjoyed the sun. The day before our flight was to leave, we checked in online and checked the flight status over and over again. United's website assured us there was no record of delays or cancellations for this flight. But once again, just a few hours before our flight was scheduled to leave, I received another text:

Your flight on Apr.10 (UA3530) from Denver to Edmonton has been canceled due to flight crew availability.

Now this time I wasn't quite so casual with my re-booking. We absolutely HAD to be in Edmonton by 1:30 the next day for our daughter's university graduation. I looked at the United website. There were no flights that would get us to Edmonton that day. Panicked, I phoned and got cut off twice. We headed for the airport with my husband on the phone. He told the agent that we would travel across the country and back but please just get us to Edmonton. 

Meanwhile I started checking Expedia for any possible route, including travelling to Phoenix or Las Vegas or Vancouver or departing out of Houston. Basically any route I could find. All the while cursing myself for not following own advice, freely offered to anyone who would listen, my advice to NEVER FLY UNITED. Finally my husband was told the only route was to overnight in Denver and fly to Seattle and then Edmonton the next morning, arriving at 12:39. Impossible to get to downtown Edmonton from the airport in time for my daughter's ceremony.

My husband was then asked if he wanted a hotel booked. He said yes, and much to our amazement- well, it really shouldn't have been amazing considering United's track record- we were told we would be charged for our hotel stay, despite the fact the delay was 100% the fault of United. We were also told United has a discount for the hotel so we were getting a deal. That, as I soon discovered, was a flat out lie as the hotel's own website quoted the identical rate we paid.

YEG via Seattle
overnight at the Denver Hyatt House Airport hotel, on to Alaska Air (a lovely airline by the way) via Seattle and then to Edmonton where we arrived on schedule, paid the extra day of parking, and were in our car heading for the grad ceremony by 1:14 with my husband driving the 30 kilometers of busy Saturday traffic like a maniac. He parked illegally and we ran flat out into the conference centre, still dressed in our casual clothes. Thank GOD the mechanical engineers had messed up about something or other and the ceremony was delayed by 20 minutes. Sheer luck.

When I got home, I checked United's website for the flight record for our two cancelled flights. More lies. The "See on-time performance for this flight" link for BOTH cancelled flights states that there is no record of recent delays or cancellations. Maybe that means your airline doesn't keep records? Or recent means yesterday? Is there even a YEG-DEN flight? Or do you just cancel them whenever they aren't full and tell your passengers whatever excuse you can dream up?
Flight was cancelled April 6.

Flight was cancelled April 10.

My experience leads me to believe that December's Panama City fiasco was not just some weird aberration on the part of United Airlines. It's standard operating procedure. Departure times are vague estimates, flight routes are suggestions, and delays and cancellations are the rule rather than the exception. The information on your website is just plain wrong as is the information provided by your telephone agents. 

I can't help but wonder how the world would work if everyone managed their affairs like United. What would happen if parents received a text at 1:14 a.m. telling them school was cancelled because teachers hadn't shown up for work? Time after time after time? Or if we repeatedly shut down hospitals and electricity and telephones and ambulance services and banks and the myriad of services people rely on? 

Anyway. We suffered a great deal of stress from your airline's incompetence. We're out of pocket by $250 bucks. I know we won't get it back. Maybe I will put in a claim. Maybe not.

I just wanted you to know that your airline sucks. 

If you haven't figured that out already.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Shades of the Rolla Ferry

Me and my siblings
My dad had some sayings he would toss out every now and again. "Talk's cheap but it takes money to buy whiskey" was one he apparently got from his dad.

"La-da-di-o" was an expression that caused my mom no end of annoyance for some reason. He used it when he thought people were being a little too fancy for his liking. Or when he was trying to be fancy.

And when my mom had cooked a particularly good dinner and we were all sitting around the table, satisfied and relaxed, he would say "I wonder what the poor people are doing tonight." It was his way of saying he felt rich, even when he wasn't. At least, that's what I always took it to mean.

A similar expression was "shades of the Rolla ferry," a comment that was part of my parents' idiolect, their secret language, built up by years of living together, filled with nuances and history that only the two of them knew.

"Shades of the Rolla ferry" reminded them of a perfect spring day when our family took a picnic to the site of a former ferry not far from our home in Dawson Creek. The weather was lovely. I am sure we had our plaid tin picnic basket and the thermoses in the leather case that my parents had received as a wedding gift. The poplar-clad hills were washed in the green-gold of early spring. Bits of foam blew off the river into our faces. Our loyal dog Pabby made sure none of us got too close to the water. Something about that day held a special place in their hearts and every now and then in the years that followed, when our family was together, my dad would look at my mom, and say "Shades of the Rolla ferry," and she would laugh quietly and nod in the way of couples who have been together for a long time.

"Shades of the Rolla ferry" was their private reminder of a moment when their world stood still. A moment when they were surprised by the simple exquisite perfection of their world.  A moment when a husband and wife looked at their family and knew life was more than they had ever dreamed of.