By Linda C Butler
Told by Doris Jacobson (Bryenton)

My dad, Ralph Bryenton, operated a boat service on Wekusko Lake, Manitoba, ferrying passengers from the village of Herb Lake to Hale’s Landing, the stopping-off place on the way to the train station at Wekusko. George Cann also operated a passenger service to Hale’s Landing, and on one occasion, when Dad was not able to take us, we traveled with Mr. Cann.

I was with my mother and there was one other passenger making the trip outside. Mr. Cann’s boat was powered by a wood-fired steam engine, so in addition to the usual cargo, he carried firewood for fuel. Mom took a seat in the small enclosed cabin which provided some protection from the elements, and I curled up beside her and went to sleep.

It was a long boat ride as the town of Herb Lake was eleven miles from the landing and the boat didn’t travel fast. It was late afternoon and Mr. Cann had worked all day and was tired. After a bit, with the rocking motion of the waves, he accidentally fell asleep while steering the boat. My mother and the other passenger also slept. When Mr. Cann woke, it was dark, with only the outline of the south shore visible. He was lost and Hale’s Landing was somewhere behind us.

Our situation was critical because Mr. Cann only carried enough firewood to run the steam engine from Herb Lake to Hale’s Landing, and without wood, there was no way to power the engine. Once the other passenger realized the situation, he helped Mr. Cann rip any unnecessary pieces of wood from the boat to burn and I was awaken by the noise of ripping wood as a portion of the cabin was torn away.

Fortunately, this passenger knew how to navigate by the stars and he provided direction to Mr. Cann, who steered the boat towards Hale’s Landing from our southern position.

I said my prayers silently, while the men continued their conversation about the boat’s path. My mother held me tightly and said nothing. We all knew how precarious our position was on the water; clouds could roll in and blanket the sky, leaving us in pitch darkness. If we couldn’t keep the engine running, we would drift and the boat could be lost on the rocky outcrops or reefs.

Somehow we arrived safely at the entrance to the bay leading to Hale’s Landing, and in the distance we saw a moving light. Mr. Hale was on the dock waving a lantern to guide us to harbor. He was concerned because we were so long overdue and had stood on the dock for hours waving the lantern, hoping we would see the light.

The boat was secured to the dock, and Mr. Hale reached down at the same time as my mother held me up. He pulled me out of the boat, gave me a hug and said: “You’re safe now girl.”

My mother was the next person to disembark. We now were both on the dock, grateful to be out of the boat. Mom took my hand and guided me up the pathway to the lodge. Mrs. Hale, having been alerted that we had arrived, offered us hot chocolate. I was glad to warm up and was soon given a cozy bed to sleep, while the adults enjoyed a hot meal and a strong drink.
© Linda C Butler, 2019



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Herb Lake Foragers

Herb Lake Foragers
By Linda Butler

Euell Gbbons (1911-1975) a writer who encouraged his readers to harvest wild edible plants, said that foraging is harvesting where you did not sow. My first experience with foragers was when I was a little girl in the now ghost town of Herb Lake in Northern Manitoba. Jobs were scarce after the mine closure, the community was isolated and many families struggled. Foraging and gardening were the lifestyle.

My parents were storekeepers and we originally lived in the back section of the store, but when Bill Marshall, the blacksmith, moved to Wekusko Falls, we rented his house. He was an avid gardener and grew mostly vegetables but a few poppies popped up to brighten the landscape.

The last summer I was at Herb Lake, when I was four, some girls asked Mom if they could collect the flower seeds from the poppies. She agreed and the girls tied paper bags to the flower heads. When the seeds ripened and had fallen into the bags, the girls returned and broke off the flower heads and took the bags home. I wanted to know what the girls were doing with the seeds and Mom told me that they were saving seeds to plant their own flowers the following year.

Years have passed and I recently read the book, The Deerholme Foraging Book, by Bill Jones, who describes collecting wild seeds for baking: Wild seeds are packed with nutrition and flavor. I particularly like to save onion, dock, and mustard seeds along with abundant poppy seeds from the garden to make thin and delicious crackers. Sesame seeds are also a nice addition to the mix.

After reading this passage I thought of the girls in Bill Marshall’s garden and now realize that they were gathering poppy seeds for baking, not for planting. I am grateful to these girls as they inspired me to be a gardener and forager all my life. I have always loved plants and part of my fascination goes back to those times.

Herb Lake is gone, the mine failed, the people scattered and the buildings collapsed. The land has returned to bush, but poppies seed themselves year after year, and there is still a chance that there are poppies blowing in the weeds where Bill Marshall’s garden once grew.

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Against His Inclination

Dad tried his best when I was young
to fix it in my mind
that “as the tiny twig is bent,
so is the tree inclined”
And when he’d lay me ‘cross his knee
on punishment intent,
I used to cry, “Say, Dad, look out,
or I’ll grow up all bent!”

And when he’d say, “Come on, young man,
and weed the onion bed,”
just when I’d planned a fishing trip
with Johnny Jones instead,
I used to scowl until my face
was black as black could be,
and mutter then, “When I grow up
I’ll be humpbacked–you’ll see!”

But years have come and years have gone,
with many a care and trouble,
with many a load that for a time
has bent me nearly double;
But always I’ve sprung back again
before it was too late–
For though he made me bend a bit,
‘Twas Dad who made me straight.

Author Unknown — But a Wise Man Indeed!

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Generational Wisdom

“I don’t know who my grandfather was. I am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be.”
—Abraham Lincoln

“Parental advice is passed from generation to generation—
each hope the next will heed it.”
—Frank Clark

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Circus Memories

by Edgar Guest

Oh, never comes the circus with its wonders into town
but I recall a little boy who longed to be a clown,
and high above the heads of all an acrobat I see
that little lad of long ago was hopeful he would be.

No care had he for words that rhyme. A more entrancing thing
was jumping on and off a horse within a sawdust ring.
And all the verses ever penned he’d gladly trade back then
to be the spangled hero in the roaring lions’ den.

There was a riding lady in a fluffy skirt of pink
who might have lured this little boy away from printer’s ink,
but destiny or fortune or the fates – or was it Dad? –
contrived to change the life-work of this circus-dreaming lad.

He would not now retrace his steps. Through eyes now growing dim
he sees an acrobat’s career would not have done for him.
But still when bands are playing and the circus barkers shout
a little boy of fifty-one walks wide-eyed round about.

From his book, Along Life’s Highway
©1933 by the Reilly & Lee Company

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Beware the Dark Furry Beast!

Hello Everyone!

It’s been a long time since we cousins have posted anything on this blog, so I’m wondering how many Followers we still have. But for those of you who are, and for readers who have just clicked on, intrigued by the title, I hope you enjoy this personal memoir, circa 1990.

One bright summer day my teenage daughter and I were doing some cleaning in the kitchen of our home in Fullarton, Ontario. My husband, Bob, was outside doing some yard work.

Our house was an old one, built in the 1890s, I believe, and the kitchen was long and narrow with one short row of cupboards. At one end of the kitchen cupboards there was a black iron pipe running from the basement to the roof. This pipe acted as a plumbing vent of sorts and someone had nicely boxed it in to look like part of the cupboard setup.

Small as it was, maybe 16 inches square, the cupboard was floor to ceiling so we used it as a closet for brooms and mops. I was wiping it out that day in the course of washing down the kitchen walls. My daughter was in the kitchen with me; I believe she was washing dishes at that moment.

The pipe running upwards through it was mostly uniform in diameter, but there was one spot about shoulder height where a joint was covered with a ring, giving the pipe about an inch of extra thickness all around. All at once I took note of something dark and fuzzy scrunched behind the pipe. It was sitting just above this joint on top of this ring almost completely hidden by the pipe. Whatever was it and how long had it been there?

I took a closer look and froze. The “thing” was mottled brown, about the size and color of a large dead mouse or small rat. Not being very brave myself, I hesitated to pull it out and verify my suspicions.

I called my daughter to come and see, hoping she’d remove the thing. (She has always been much braver than I when it comes to tackling small beasties.) She took a look at it, then wrinkled her nose. No way was she going to try pulling it out, either.

By now we were fairly sure it was some sort of intruder that had crawled into the cupboard somehow and died back there. And we were sure it had to come out. But we were both certain that neither of us was going to have a go at poking or pulling it out. Even if it didn’t smell, it still might turn into an icky mess in our fingers.

What to do? Ah, men are brave! So I went out to the yard to call Bob and solicit his help in removing this creature. (I didn’t tell him it was a creature; let him find that out for himself.)

He came in to see what had us all so petrified, eyed the dark fuzz for a minute, then reached back and yanked the dark lump out. And smiled.

The “creature” was actually two things: two scouring brushes that attached to one of those old floor polishers. Probably not originally brown, but grubby and rusted with age. Our hero held it up for us to inspect. Quite harmless.

Isn’t it amazing what your imagination can conjure up when you see a bit of brown fuzz lurking n some dark corner?

This account originally posted on my main blog Dec 20, 2015.

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The Legacy of Mary (Sam) Vance, Knitter

The Legacy of Mary (Sam) Vance, Knitter
by Linda C Butler

Traditional skills, such as knitting, connect us to past generations.  I never knew my great grandmother Mary Vance, but she was an expert knitter and I feel that when I knit, I share in her legacy, although we have no direct knitting connection. I recently took knitting lessons, and as I click my needles, I am reminded of her contribution to family and community.

Grandma broke an ankle as a child and she walked with two canes or a crutch.  Many activities were difficult, but knitting became her passion and she knit for six grandchildren and the family adults.

Prairie winters were cold and everyone bundled in woolens to keep warm. Grandma made toques, mittens, scarves, socks, sweaters and even undershirts. She used wooden needles, probably from prairie hardwood.  Sweaters were knit flat and joined with seams but toques and socks were knit in the round with four pointed needles.  Her yarn was probably obtained from a local farmer who raised sheep and after carding and weaving, she dyed it using natural plant dyes.

I recently saw the expression: Knit Fast, Stay Warm and I thought of Grandma sitting for hours with her knitting needles clicking.  In addition to knitting for her family she contributed to church bazaars and to neighbors.

Today there is renewed interest in knitting and I enjoy the variety of yarns in the local wool shop with an endless selection of colors, textures and blends. There are circular needles for round knitting, and nickel-plated brass and bamboo for speed.  A grandchild would have wound balls of yarn from skeins on a chair back for Grandma, but today most yarn is sold in balls and there are ball winders if we need them.

I knit toques, mostly from thrift-store yarn, and I marvel at the combination of patterns and colors that result from partial balls of yarn.  Grandma Vance also made toques and mitts from leftover yarn and I feel the connection to the past as I create my designs.

As knitted garments aged, Grandma darned them to keep them in good repair. Older kids passed their usable garments onto the younger ones.  Finally, when the garments were unusable, they were pieced together for quilt batting.  Quilt tops, made from sewing scraps made a decorative cover for the recycled batting.

Grandma’s creativity with her knitting needles was born of necessity, and today I am glad to carry on her tradition.  In learning to knit, I feel that I am connected to her, and to the prairie women of her generation whose thrift and resourcefulness settled the Canadian Prairies.


Hand knit Toques, by Linda Butler

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The Urban Hobo Jungle

The Urban Hobo Jungle
by Linda C Butler

Hobo jungles were places for the homeless to gather in the 1930s and they sprang up around most major railway cities.  There was little employment and men rode on freight cars without paying fares, going from city to city, looking for work and congregating in camps or jungles where they cooked and shared food.  Some of the food was purchased or donated and some was stolen.

Chilliwack BC, where I live, had a large hobo jungle throughout the Depression years. My Dad, Charlie Vance, recalled being in this jungle on two occasions when he came to Chilliwack to pick cherries, however, the pay was so low picking fruit that he did not stay.

Times change and there are still homeless people in our community, but today we have soup kitchens, food banks and missions where the homeless can stay, however, it is not uncommon to be approached on the streets by panhandlers, people wanting money.

We recently had Chinese food at one of the local restaurants, and after our meal the waitress boxed up the leftovers which I took.  Before we drove away a woman approached and asked if she could have our leftover food.  I was speechless and she told her story that she was homeless and needed something to eat.  I never give money to panhandlers, but I gave her the leftover Chinese food. The woman took the package and walked toward a group of three or four people sitting on the sidewalk in front of a nearby business where she shared the food with them.

We later laughed about this episode with the people we had dined with and someone suggested that we could go out more often for Chinese food if we followed this group’s example. Instead of ordering a flask of wine, we’d have our bottle in a paper bag and pass it around.

I thought of Dad and wondered what he’d think of this incident.  I do not know whether the people really were homeless or hungry, or just innovative, but our leftovers provided an outdoor picnic for them of good dining of Chinese food.

(c) Linda C Butler 2014

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Victory Gardens

The hoe in the backyard is mighty good backing for the flag on the front porch.1.

vic4Victory Gardens, War Gardens, or Food Gardens for Defence were popular in WW1 and WW2 as a way to combat the food shortages of the times and to free food resources for military operations.  It was patriotic to grow vegetables and to preserve food for winter use.  Home gardens and community gardens in public parks were a source of civic pride as gardeners fed their families and helped the war effort by being self-sufficient.  Home gardening, food preservation, and economic cooking was the patriotic duty of the home front.

Today there is a resurgence in gardening and in eating wholesome fresh foods. Community spaces are once again being converted to garden plots. In Chilliwack BC, where I live, a downtown lot was converted to raised-bed gardens with each plot assigned to a needy family who agree to donate half to a local mission for the hungry.

Vancouver BC has its own Victory Gardens today as people utilize public and private space around them for food production. People are encouraged to be food heros and to grow their own.  Community urban gardens increase food sustainability and can be found on balconies and on boulevards. In some areas lawn size is diminished to create space for planters. Restaurants are experimenting with growing salad crops to serve the freshest food to their patrons.

Vegetable seeds have improved over the years to provide resistance to plant diseases, to mature in a shorter growing season, to yield in containers, and to enhance flavors.

Commercial produce travels a great distance to market, which requires high energy and increased costs.  In Canada with most of our winter produce coming from the US, fluctuation in currency can cause produce prices to spiral.

Victory Gardens were successful in wartime years and have much to offer us today.  They are an opportunity to cut expensive food costs, grow healthier foods, and offer more variety in our food choices.

vic2 vic1 vic3

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A Walk on the Dark Side

When Hugh McKervill was in training to become a minister in the United Church of Canada, he was sent in the summer of 1955 as a student minister to the people of the Smoky Burn-Battle Heights-Papikwan area (at the edge of the farming land, north of Carrot River) in northern Saskatchewan.

When he arrived, he learned that his flock had scrounged together enough money to buy their student minister a sturdy old Model A. This car served him well that summer, chugging over roads that were almost impassible after heavy rains. However, there were times when even the Model A surrendered to the clog-up of its innards.

Min. McKervill writes about one evening in particular when he was endeavoring to get from Point B, where he’d been visiting, to Point A where he boarded. This was after a heavy rain and the road to Point B – which dipped down into the Carrot River Valley and then up the other side – had been passable during the day. However, sometime later a tractor had lumbered down this road after him, slithered down the one hill and then up the other, throwing up huge clumps of mud and carving deep grooves as it fought for traction in the gumbo clay.

Returning home, the student minister started down the slope into the river valley and found he couldn’t keep the wheels of his Model A from sliding into those ruts. To make matters worse, the car wheels churned up more mud so the engine compartment filled with the goo. Then its wheels slid into the deep tractor ruts and he was not only clogged up, but hung up as well.

This area was sparsely settled and it was later in the evening; the chances of another vehicle coming along were slim. He saw no choice but get out and walk home. He wore rubber boots in those days and they clump, clumped down the hillside, across the narrow bridge, and up the other side. With dismay he realized that daylight was almost gone. He reassured himself constantly that there was absolutely nothing to fear in this wilderness.

Granted, he could meet a charging moose…or an angry mother bear…or maybe some timber wolves. There was even the odd chance of a prowling cougar, strayed from its usual range in the wooded hills to the southeast. But other than that, he comforted himself, there was nothing in the descending darkness that would harm him.

As young McKervill trudged on, he entered a forested area where trees crept right up to the road. With every step he reassured himself that there was nothing to fear. At one point he decided that it would be prudent to hurry so as not to be too late arriving home. He dashed off like a gazelle chased by a leopard, though not nearly as graceful with his rubber boots going “Splat! Splat! Splat!” and sliding on the wet road.

At last he reached an area where the trees didn’t close in so menacingly. When he could run no more, he slowed down, stopping to catch his breath now and then. During one of these times he heard a twig snap not far from him. Heart pounding, he listened for telltale sounds. The silence shrieked. So he hurried on.

A few minutes later he heard another sound, then a footstep. He stopped and the noise stopped. He started walking and he heard a rustling sound in the brush beside the road. This time he had to admit it: some creature was following him!

He envisioned the newspaper headlines reporting his demise. Something like :“Minister Mauled to Death in Northern Woods” or “Cougar Crushes Cleric.” He stopped again – and the creature stopped. “Getting ready to pounce,” his mind announced.

In a little more open space he froze when he caught a glimpse of a huge black form. He dug out his pocket knife, realizing how useless the tiny blade would be against such a massive enemy. He walked on a little farther and the creature followed. His heart pounded in his chest.

When a gleam of moonlight outlined the beast’s huge head, its eyes glinting in the light, his heart almost stopped. Suddenly from this black shadow came a bone-chilling wail.


His heart rate settled down to something near normal again and he plodded on. The cow or steer walked along beside him most of the way to his lodging, then turned aside to join other animals in a pasture. Half a mile further down the road the northern sky burst into a glory of dancing northern lights. He writes that at that moment he felt like dancing, too.

His heart must have been very strong, for he lived to tell write his book almost forty years later. I’ve retold his story in my own words, so you may wish to read the original:

The Memories of a Student Minister on the Prairies
© 1993 by Hugh W. McKervill

Published by Whitecap Books Vancouver/Toronto
and simultaneously by Wood Lake Books, Inc. of Winfield, BC

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