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This winter is seriously kicking my ass.  

There’s been little snow, lots of extreme cold, and nothing wants to work below -30C (including me!)

A small list of winter problems include:

  • Two frozen tractors (both eventually started but the steering column is frozen on the big one);
  • All four heated water dishes for the animals froze over, so I had to haul fresh water morning and night;
  • Cabin fever with two kids, cooped up in the house because the windchill is so extreme, exposed flesh freezes in a matter of minutes;
  • Chicken frostbite problems.  Pretty sure one of my roos is going to lose his comb.  I moved them out of the coop and into the barn, which I know for sure is dry.  It’s been my experience that chickens can withstand extreme cold as long as they’re dry and out of the wind.  They’re doing much better now.  And the cat is happy to have company in the barn.  
  • Ice on the walls in the basement.  ICE ON THE WALLS.  ARGH!

With as much trouble as I’m having this winter, I was curious as to how my ancestors handled winter on the prairies.  I’m lucky to have well-documented family history on my maternal side.  In fact, my maternal grandma’s family homesteaded in the same area that we ended up buying our acreage.  They attended the one-room school house down the road from me, and by some miraculous, curious circumstance, the barn from the old school house ended up in our yard, so I now own the barn that my ancestors used to keep their horse in while they attended school (her name was Daisy!).  That’s almost magical to me.  UPDATE:  Apparently my intel on the barn was incorrect (or perhaps I made an assumption I shouldn’t have), but the barn came from the quarter section surrounding the school house, not from the school yard.  It’s a bit disappointing to say the least.  

As the baby napped today, I decided to do a bit of reading about their experiences with winter.  I learned that I am a winter WIMP compared to what they lived through.  

I am cozy in my well-insulated house, with central heat and electricity.  My ancestors lived in a shack attached to a granary their first winter.  But they couldn’t afford to heat both, so they all moved into the granary, which was 24′ by 14′.  Nine in their family, and another family of four with them.  Each mother had a baby on the way; one due in February, the other in March.  

“Our poor granary!  There was a furnace in the middle and a cook stove at one end.  But the ceiling at the far end frosted over every night and when the fires were lit for the day, it would rain in that area.  Mother put an umbrella over Laura’s head and spread the oilcloth from the table over the bed. ”

I have a well-stocked larder, with canned goods, bushels of potatoes, beets and carrots.  Plus, if I run out, I hop in my warm car and drive to the city and get groceries.  

“And then there was the whole question of food.  Dad had the means to buy next to nothing.  They butchered a steer and when they needed to, bought a bag of flour.  They also bought a bag of brown sugar to make our only dessert, syrup.  We had no potatoes because they had frozen and weren’t edible.  We had no eggs, no butter, and since the cow didn’t calf until spring, no milk for the entire winter.  But we lived!”

I have a cistern full of clean water in my basement, and an electric pump on my well to water the animals.  The pump is less than ten metres from the barn.  I have a washing machine and a dryer.  

“Getting fresh, soft water was always a problem for us in those years.  Our wells were hard water wells.  We just couldn’t find soap that would form suds in our well water.  We had to haul water from several miles away.  My washing facilities were a tub and a washboard.  Our means of trasportation was a wagon.”

I have modern machinery, and a means of making a living that doesn’t depend on the weather.  

“Then, in the winter, came the task of hauling the grain.  I will never forget the winter of 1927, when I was fifteen years old, Benny, Eddy and I hauled grain to Blucher eleven miles away with a team of horses hitched to a bob sleigh.  We would leave in the morning when it was still dark to load our sleigh with a shovel, and then drive to Blucher.  I will never forget the day when we arrived at the elevator to find it was 52 below zero F.  In order not to freeze, we were forced to walk the full twenty-two miles.”

Incredible.  Extreme hardship.  But even as I read these horrific accounts of survival, the hardships they endured are not the defining factors of their lives, nor do they regret a moment of their past. 

“We found everything here so beautiful!  Every day, sometimes two or three times a day, we, the little girls, would climb to the top of a high hill about a mile from home.  My, it was beautful!  Everything was so fresh.  Every low spot was filled with water.  The skies were filled with ducks, geese and wild turkeys.  Everything was so new and strange for us.  WE LOVED IT!”

“It was a wild country compared to today.  The slough close to our house would fill with wild ducks and geese every night.  When they took off, there were so many in the skies, it would cast a shadow on the ground.  It was a beautiful country to us at the time.”

“I was born June 11, 1915, the eleventh of a family of twelve.  Even though my dear mother must have been very tired at this point, I am certain that I was received with as much love as the first child, because love was the very essence of our home.  Just like a baby warmly wrapped in a blanket, we, too, felt surrounded by a blanket of love, as we grew up in an atmosphere of joy, patience and good humor.  ”

The air hurts my face, the wind feels as though it is ripping my skin off at times, and somedays it’s enough to make you want to sell all your posessions and move to Guatemala (or at least BC).  But there’s also incredible beauty, living skies, wild ducks and geese, open spaces, and always, always, love.  

Besides, it eventually does warm up again.  Spring always arrives.

My grandma, looking all bad-ass in her pants and hat, sitting on the tractor with two of her brothers.