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,

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