(1919) was my introduction to rural life in Western Canada. During the round
of the year I learned something of the struggle men and women endured to wrest
from the land a clearing, to raise a dwelling and establish a home, eventually
passing a legacy of forthright independence on to the next generation.
small Cottage Hospital, an unusually large new crop of babies kept us busy
as bees. There were minor accidents, varying types of illnesses to cope with,
calls from distances involving long drives, anxious moments searching for the
right decision. One sustaining thought supported us through many difficulties.
The Edmonton physicians, whom we seldom saw, gave us much reassuring advice.
It was Dr. J.D. Harrison who said to me, "Remember, the telephone is at my
bedside. Call me at any time during the day or night."
That same winter, an urgent call came from the village of Lesser Slave Lake
and although it was a long distance outside of my territory, who could refuse
the need of a sick child?
it was train day and I hurriedly packed my bag and shortly left on the eastbound
train. I had no sooner arrived at Lesser Slave Lake when an Indian approached
me, said he had come to take me to his friend's sick baby. Would I come with
him at once?
The temperature had
dropped to zero, a stiff wind was blowing off the lake and "nippy" was
the word for it. We cut across the corner of the frozen lake in the Indian's
open, homemade cutter with his team of Indian ponies.
I had had the good sense to wear moccasins, for with two pairs of woolen socks
and moccasins large enough not to cramp the feet, there is no better way to
keep the feet warm and comfortable in zero weather. . . .
During the drive, Goosekeeper (for that was his name) gave me several words
in Cree from which I listed a good-sized glossary. All of the words would be
useful to me in my dealings with the Indians. The Cree vocabulary is simple
and direct, making their language rather easy to learn.
In due time we reached a one-room log cabin that proved to be very comfortable.
Inside, I found a young Indian woman bent over a cot where her sick son lay,
a baby about sixteen months old. One glance at the small inert figure told
me that the child was beyond human aid. The lamp of life was dim and as we
watched, it flickered and went out.
The poor distraught mother was little more than a girl and I devoted my attention
wholly to her. She was a woman who took pride in her household possessions;
the polished kitchen range, the clean cooking utensils, the neatly curtained
windows. But what surprised and interested me the most was a booklet on child
welfare that lay on the table. Here, indeed, in this house more than the usual
small comforts were to be found, while somewhere in the background there must
surely be a husband who was a good provider. Together, in a mixture of Cree
and English, we talked of many things, of Indian burial customs, of Christian
rites, of the husband who was away on his trap-line, of the bereaved mother
herself waiting for his return. . . .
Beyond the small clearing, in the direction of a hill covered with lodge-pole
pine, I saw a string of dogs weaving their way through the trees, drawing a
heavily laden sleigh. A tall Indian ran beside the sleigh, urging the team
of huskies into greater speed with voice and whip. The team swung around the
building, coming almost to the door of the cabin where, red-eyed, footsore
and utterly weary, the dogs dropped down on the snow. Still harnessed together,
they curled up into furry balls, their noses tucked under their tails, and
settled for a well-earned rest.
The Indian ducked his great height beneath the door and entered the house.
Fearing to intrude on the grief of the bereaved parents, I stayed outside.
At last, I opened the door, but the stricken man and women, bending over their
beloved child in his small cot, took no notice of me. . . .
Indian parents have a deep love for their children. Over the years I
have seen much ignorance that led to sickness and, frequently. I have seen
distress, but during my long association with the Indians I have never
once seen an ill-treated child.