In the 1940s, the festive seasons were bright occasions in otherwise dreary winters on the farm.  | Getty Images

Christmas often required ingenuity in 1940s

Homemade treats, improvised ‘fireplaces’ and creative tree decorating helped make the prairie holidays a festive time

I thumbed through the Eaton’s catalogue until it was dog-eared, my wish list for Christmas circled with far more things than I would ever receive, but it didn’t hurt to hope. In the 1940s, the festive seasons were bright occasions in otherwise dreary winters on the farm. The smell of spicy fruitcake emanating from the […] Read more

Homemade ice cream was going to be the perfect treat for a farmhouse party, if only everybody could co-operate.  | Getty Images

Ice cream outdoors — what could go wrong?

The long and arduous task of making homemade ice cream turned into a perilous venture for these three prairie women

On a winter’s night back in the 1940s, there was a party in full swing at my parents’ farmhouse. Fiddles, guitars and a banjo were reeling off western tunes while square dancers in jeans and plaid shirts worked up a sweat that fogged the windows. It was downright cold outside, as only a December night […] Read more

Rural nickname tradition met its match in the early ’70s

Giving neighbours a second name was commonplace back in the day, but what to do when the ‘flower people’ arrived?

Back home on the farm, there were no such things as flocks and herds and litters. To me they were all individual creatures, and I spent many solemn hours as a precocious kid mulling over names for the chickens the pigs, the pups and the kittens. So maybe to a Rhode Island Red it made […] Read more

Hushed crowds still gather to pay silent tribute at Canadian cenotaphs on Nov. 11.  |  Alma Barkman photo

Heroes’ long-ago sacrifice still remembered

The act of remembrance continues as Canadians pay tribute to the men and women who fought and died around the world

I was too young to realize the full impact of the Second World War, but each day at 9 p.m. a solemn hush descended over the household as my parents sat in front of the cabinet radio to listen to the CBC news. The voice usually said something similar to, “Good evening. Casualties were high […] Read more

The simple act of digging potatoes in a prairie garden was the perfect illustration of the life lesson, “you get out what you put in.”  |  Getty Images

Digging potatoes brings satisfying memories

A heaping bowl of mashed potatoes would look particularly appetizing if they had recently been unearthed from the family’s vegetable garden

The one chore I didn’t mind down on the farm was digging potatoes. Maybe it was because I liked spuds. I liked them mashed and sprinkled with smoky bacon grease. I liked them scalloped with lots of onions and thick cream sauce. I liked them cut in thin slices and fried on top of the […] Read more

It was hard to imagine that small sapling would ever bear apples, and then there they were.  |  Alma Barkman photo

Childhood love affair with apples grows old

Apples come with a certain amount of romance, but then reality sets in and something must be done with all that fruit

I was one of the kids on the station platform the day the Canadian National Railway train chugged into town, and the minute the door of the baggage car rolled open, I knew they had arrived. I could smell apples — boxes and boxes of luscious McIntosh apples from the orchards of British Columbia. With […] Read more

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Cracking the case of Mrs. McCoy’s elusive pie

A young girl decides during a fall supper to get to the bottom of the rumours about a local woman and her famous pastry

The brick schoolhouse that usually sat vacant during the long dark evenings suddenly burst into the limelight the night of the fall supper. Farm trucks backed up to its doorway to unload sacks of potatoes and carrots while middle-aged matrons fussed and fumed as self-appointed overseers of the impending feast. Soon the smell of brewed […] Read more

Canning time prompts the author to think about the various farm women down through the decades whose hands have also prepared these sealers for winter storage of food.  |  Alma Barkman photo

Canning about more than just preserving fruit

A stash of old sealers helps preserve memories of an art that has been passed from grandmother to mother to daughter

It was a weathered old wooden box with a slant lid. To get to it, we had to cut a trail as far as we could go with the lawn mower, then resort to the scythe, and finally the hatchet. Before we could open the lid, the lower limbs of a gnarled maple tree had […] Read more

A good swimming hole would attract children from across the community.  |  Alma Barkman photo

Swimming hole brought hours of enjoyment

It didn’t matter that the water was often cold, muddy and teeming with leeches — these river spots were the place to be

Behind our farmhouse during spring runoff, angry churning water boiled through the little riverbed in a vicious hurry downstream, taking with it everything that dared stand in its way. When the water receded, my older brother scouted along the edge for a deep pool carved out of the riverbank. He usually found one. We caught […] Read more

Wrens once made their nest in one of the author’s father’s work boots he had hung by the laces over the clothesline to dry. This house looks more comfortable.  |  Alma Barkman photo

Child’s fascination with birds fed love of nature

A girl’s feathered friends were the source of much wonder, from recently hatched eggs to divebombing hummingbirds

The sight of a big black crow flying lazily through the morning mists meant other birds would soon be arriving on their annual migration. The sound of a robin’s “cheer up, cheer up” was the surest sign of spring. When I was about three years old, my mother took me for a walk down to […] Read more