Ruth Christie, interviewed July 31, 2013 by Claire McCaffrey. –
My oldest brother was Spencer, and he passed away my mom said from double pneumonia, he was seven. I wasn’t born till after, so there was Spencer, then Douglas, then Carl, and then my parents took in a cousin of mine so I had a foster brother, then I have an older sister Angie, we were all pretty well two years apart. Then after my sister Angie I was born in 1940. It was kind of neat, my mom told me all about when she was pregnant with me and when I was born and what the weather was like, and the northern lights, and I wrote a poem and gave it to her about my birth. She said the day I was born it was really a long fall, beautiful she said. And my sister Angie went out and she came home with a June rose; the roses were starting to bloom again! I remembered her telling me that. And I have two younger sisters, Blanche and Doris. There was a lot of traffic in our home because my Dad was a General Merchant and later on when I was a teenager I guess, close to teenager, and then we had a post office. My grandparents lived in the community and most of my dad’s brothers and sisters they married and settled in the same area, so we were all pretty well first cousins, we were just like one big family. My grandfather and his dad, William and Andrew, they built the first log school and my dad went to that school with his brothers and sisters. Then when the second generation, we started coming along, I guess we would’ve been the third generation, then the school became too small, so then my dad he had a sawmill, and different people came and worked there and his brothers were in partnership with him as well so there was lots of lumber. Our community was pretty well isolated [Loon Straits], there was no road in there, and we didn’t have Hydro or telephone at that time. They built a school and a lot of the homes in the area were log, but later on they started being lumber and the school I think probably was the first house maybe that had a cement foundation, and it was a one-room school, and that was the school I went to. There wasn’t kindergarten then, and at one time I think there was probably 150 people in the community, not everybody lived there but they came there to work and they lived there while their father was working there. And then, so that was my first school.
How many kids do you think were in that school?
There was, I think maybe at the highest there might’ve been 75 kids going to school, so then we needed like a second school, it was added on to that first lumber school. And by the time I got to grade 11, we needed a senior high school then. So we had three classrooms.
With three teachers, one per classroom?
Three teachers, yeah. Initially, I guess the teachers would come only during the summer holidays because World War II was on, and my sister Angie and my brothers Mervin and Carl, they were all in the same grade. Then after the war it seemed like we could get a teacher for 10 months out of the year. It was the responsibility of the community to provide room and board for the teacher and contribute somewhat to the salary. We had to buy all our books and school supplies. Long ago there was a reserve, up from the community up the river, but most of the people that were there at that time there was really bad influenza came through, could’ve been smallpox, but I think it was a flu came and the reserve I think eventually was turned back over to the crown in probably 1950s. We didn’t know anything about it. Things were done that our community wasn’t informed about. So, we had a lot of sports, and when I got to teenage years, then we would go and compete softball against Pine Dock across the lake on Matheson Island. We always seemed to go to their communities, rather than them coming to our communities and of course everything was by boat, and some of the teachers were really involved in our recesses and after school projects. Most of them were single people, later on once high school was opened it seemed more to be married couples that came, both husband and wife would be teachers. We had lots of organized things among ourselves, bonfires, hikes, swimming… We did have a teacher that came and taught Red Cross swimming instruction, but most of us knew how to swim, but we wanted to get that badge.
So growing up on the lake did you start swimming at a very young age?
Oh, yeah! Moms and their babies would come in. We weren’t afraid of the water, there was lots of granite rock on that side, but beautiful sand beaches. The work that we did, you know, probably today if I said we’re going to go picking chokecherries today or whatever, probably my grandchildren would think that’s work and it wouldn’t be a fun thing, but for us the work that we did, chores I guess, it never seemed like work because we enjoyed it and we could be outside most of the time and we benefited from picking berries, we enjoyed that in the wintertime! Everybody had big gardens, cows… so we had butter and cheese…
Was there a lot of farming there?
The land wasn’t that great, you know, but there was enough for family gardens. My grandfather, he had three big potato fields, and I remember our families would all go on a certain Saturday and harvest the potatoes and everybody got so many bags to bring home and put into the cellar. My grandfather probably sold some to some of the people that would come to work in the community. We were really healthy, you know. Not too many bad things happened, my dad would go to town maybe 3-4 times a year to deal with merchants in Winnipeg and Riverton. The men and the boys were good hunters, geese and ducks, and moose and deer. The young boys trapped, and my dad was a fur buyer so they had their spending money. And of course Eaton’s and Simpson’s catalogues came and we could order through that. It was easier once we had our own post office. Before, we had to go to Pine Dock, and before that I think my parents would have to go to Hodson, like near Fisher Branch.
When did you get your own post office?
Oh, that would’ve been probably 19, maybe 1953? I can’t remember the exact year.
Were there any organized town councils, or any projects that went on in Loon Straits?
Well, my dad organized like for the school, and we would have missionaries coming in because we built our own church and we would have ministers coming through, and there was also… Any large community events the school could be used, and people would pay a fee to use the school. My dad donated the land or allowed the school and the cemetery to be built on his property, and he always paid the taxes. The school board didn’t pay. We had a church, and we didn’t have any– like today, there are many Native people that follow a Native spirituality but we were Christian. Then we had different Ministers that would come in.
Was religion very important to you in Loon Straits?
Oh yes. We were brought up according to… My mom always said grace before meals and we were taught to pray at the end of the day. We were very respectful of older people and we were taught manners and the value of things, not only our own things but the value of other people’s property. Our community was really close-knit; we couldn’t get away with things because the mothers and the dads of other families watched, you know. We didn’t have to go home to get disciplined! Our aunts or uncles would catch us somewhere! I can remember that one of my cousins I can’t remember what she had done but she knew it wasn’t right, and so she would take the long way around my Dad’s house to go to school because she thought if my dad caught her he would give her a few words. Yeah. But it was a really good place, very healthy with close-knit families. I think I had a really good childhood there. I think that’s why many of us still want to go home, we call Loon Straits home yet. Because we know the good times we had there when we were growing up and we want our children and our grandchildren to know them. My grandchildren were here yesterday and they were saying, “When can we go to Loon Straits? We should just go today!” cause they enjoy the time out there too. I never ever had TV, I have a phone and hydro there now, but when my kids went out there now they never missed the TV. My grandkids couldn’t care less, they don’t even think about TV because there are so many good things happening. There’s good fishing out there, angling and going on picnics and go to, you know, three four families get together and have a wiener roast on the beach and swim, and we still go picking some berries, we might go maybe for a whole day. It might be 15 miles or less to go to an island where there’s really good cranberries or chokecherries just before school starts. All the good people are clearing the land now and there’s lawn, and they cut the grass so the wild berries aren’t as numerous as they were long ago.
Do you go there often now?
Well I haven’t been there for about a year now, but this next month I hope to go and spend a week or so there. Cause I know there’ll be a lot of people going home too this summer.
So when you were younger, Loon Straits is quite isolated right. How did you get back to Winnipeg?
Well, you’d have to cross Lake Winnipeg by boat in the summertime, to Caulder’s dock, which is about 7.5 miles across the lake, and then they did have a gravel road, it’s still gravel, and you’d come to Riverton. That was where the train ended, and bus service later, and then more and more people started buying trucks or cars and they’d leave them on the west side and then you’d have a vehicle to go in. There was freighting transfers, bringing the mail out and freight. In the wintertime, of course you’d travel by Bombardier or tractor and caboose and sleighs. We used to walk it sometimes, just to go and slide on the big hill in the evenings, or we skated across the lake. And then my Uncle, he took pilot’s training because they lost their 2-year-old daughter, it took a long time for them to get her in for medical treatment when they realized it was serious. So then I think that was what made the decision for my Uncle to get a plane so that if there were any medical emergencies they could be flown out to a hospital. And once that first plane came in there, the boys always wanted to be pilots, and they are! Most of the Monkman boys are pilots today.
Do you recall any disasters or big accidents that happened in Loon Straits when you were young?
I remember there was a sawmill in our community up in what we called the South Bay; I guess there were people from Steinbach or Landmark, round out that area. They were farmers, but in the wintertime they got permits to come out and cut timber and then they trucked it out of the community. It provided work for some of the local people, because fishing would’ve been over then for the season. I remember that we were in school one day and we heard our uncle’s plane starting up and it was my brother, my brother Carl. He was limbing trees and I guess when the tree fell down there was another younger tree and when he was limbing the branch off this fell tree it released this other younger tree and this tree sprang up and hit him in the forehead, knocked him out. But they usually were within distance of talking or calling to each other, and I guess this fellow that was working close to my brother, he had called out to my brother and my brother didn’t answer so he went over there and found my brother knocked out. He might’ve had a concussion, I can’t remember, but I remember we came home for lunch then and we could see them, one of the eagles from the sawmill had come down and it was my brother Carl that had got injured. But he came back… I don’t know, I’ll have to ask him if he has a lump on his forehead today or not. My grandmother she was sort of the medicine woman, you know, she used natural plants, and when we used to go picking berries she would come with us and she would teach us all these different plants, you know, when to pick them, how to prepare them and how to use them, and what they were good for.
Do you still know that now?
Yeah, I still remember. I still use some of those medicines today, and my grandchildren, I teach them too, when we go out. We pick these plants and we dry them.
Could you give me an example of one of them?
Well there’s one, it is called boneset, some people call it yarrow, and it has little white flowers. Some summers the bulldogs would be really bad, like a lot of people had horses and cattle, and they were just sort of released for the summer and a lot of the horses would go up to the hay marsh, and that’s where they were, up there. Some summers the bulldogs would be so bad, and I remember us kids we used to build spruce-bough camps up in the bush, and the horses- the flies would chase them, and they’d come out onto where we played baseball on this big open field, that’s where my dad had his sawmill. And these animals would be on this open field and they would just be resting. They were getting so skinny because they ran all day, and then they’d just rest at night, and I remember us kids, the paths that the horses would run through the bush to try and brush off the flies, it was just soft, brown, powdery earth, and it was nice to run through there with our bare feet because we had these bush camps up there, and the horses would come running through there and we would make sure to be off of the path. That was a bad year for the flies and we would get bitten too, especially if we went swimming, and of course you’d scratch that area, and some of us would have like open sores. And my grandmother then would say, “go and get the flowers from that yarrow.” And then we would have to wash a pounding stone, and we’d pound it onto a board, there was always lumber around from my dad’s mill. And we would have to pound these flowers to a mush, and it was kind of almost to a pulp. Then she would mix it with lard, because there’s no salt with lard, and then she had little metal containers with paper lids and she would mark it on there and those were kept and she would put bandages with that ointment onto our areas that needed it, and it would heal it up really well.
The open sores?
Yeah. Even if you had a rash, you know. Sometimes you’d go swimming into the weeds maybe and you’d get a rash, then you’d just simmer that whole plant in water and it was like a green liquid and you could store it in the ice box, we didn’t have refrigerators, and then you could warm it up and just bathe that area for maybe 3-4 times a day, and the rash and itch would go away. There were many other things we knew, and like there was things too like if somebody got cut, my dad of course he had the store so he always had first aid kit stuff, gauze, and you know. I remember one time my parents weren’t home and my brother was splitting wood and he cut his thumb and I said, “Well, I’ll sew you up!” because I wanted to be a nurse. So he was my first patient. I gave him two stitches in his thumb.
How old were you at that time?
I would’ve been four years younger than he was, so he might’ve been sixteen, seventeen. We boiled the needle and the thread, and his skin was really tough so he had to push it through but then I was able to stitch him up. And then there were never any accidents at my dad’s sawmill, and there was no hunting accident… Well I shouldn’t say hunting accident, two young boys in the community they went hunting and I guess the oar slipped out of the lock in the boat, and I think the gun was loaded and the safety wasn’t on, and he used the stalk of this gun to bring the oar back to the boat, and I guess a reed caught in the trigger and it shot him here, right in the inner part of the elbow. Of course they had to amputate, because it took awhile to get him into the hospital. But it’s amazing what he can do with that arm today; he has a hook on that arm. He repairs motors and operates a sawmill. I remember in my mom’s book, she got my sister in law, she came there as a teacher. One of my cousins, they were cutting wood, every home was heated with wood of course, later on it was oil. And I guess a little girl was taking the split wood and I guess the axe met her finger and the tip of one of her little fingers was cut off, and her brother brought her to the school, because he knew the teacher had a first aid kit. So my sister-in-law bandaged the finger back on as best as she could, the mom came over after, and I guess the brother just carried the child right away and then he was sent home to bring his mom and so she held her daughter while my sister-in-law repaired the finger and the finger grew back fine!
So it reattached right on just with the bandage holding it?
Yeah! Well I guess you know, the bone wasn’t really hard yet, she was really a young child. Like I said, we seemed to be really healthy kids back then, and she had good, I guess, it never got infected or anything! I should ask Diane how her finger is today!
When you were in Grade six you had rheumatic fever.
Yes. My uncle flew my mom and I to Gimli to see a doctor there, but he didn’t diagnose me properly at the time, all I can remember is taking iron pills. Because it was just a two passenger [plane], the pilot and the passenger, I knelt up in the baggage compartment, and when I got home at the end of… you know, we flew in and then we flew back because it was springtime and the ice wasn’t good for travelling on but a plane could land and take off quite fine. I had a lot of swollen joints, and I couldn’t even walk after awhile. So I missed grade six, but my cousin would always sneak the test papers to me, and I had the textbooks hidden under my blankets, I wasn’t supposed to be reading. I guess because my grandmother saw when I walked to her place that I limped so she and one of the midwives, that was present at my birth, they asked my parents to see if something could be done. I think there was another girl; she would’ve been older than I was. She had rheumatic fever too. I don’t remember if she ever went to a doctor, whether her mom just looked after her at home. But yeah, I wasn’t diagnosed until I went into Nurses’ training at St. Boniface and then they gave me buffered penicillin by then, but I mean the damage was done to my heart by that time. I don’t think it prevented me from doing things once I got out on my own. My parents were more protective of me I think when I was a child at home, you know, I had to be at home earlier and get more rest than my brothers and sisters. But I was glad that I did get treatment for it later.
And you had to go into Winnipeg to get this treatment?
Yes. I spent every holiday from school I was going to Winnipeg. And I think the treatments probably cost my dad three dollars a day, well I’m sure at that time my dad didn’t even earn $3 a day! So it was during that time that I decided, when I get well I’m going to be a nurse so I can relieve the pain of other people. And because my dad and mom supported me when I was in nurses’ training, I made sure that I did whatever was required of me because I didn’t want to disappoint them.
So what age were you when you entered into nurses training?
That would’ve been in 1961, in the early 60s. It seemed to take me a long time to actually get accepted, because the mail was slow, and the minimum age was 17 and you had to have at least grade 10. Well I was 15 and I had grade 10! So I had to wait two years to be 17, and then I took grade 11 and 12 at home. And at that time, when I went back for grade 12, the teacher’s contract was only up to grade 11, and there were so many of us in the high school then that we went to school in the church, and gave more room for the junior high. And after I had left home, I guess it was by the time my two younger sisters were in grade 11 and 12 then my two older brothers, they were contractors so they built the high school in the community. But I never went to the new high school, I took grade 12 by correspondence. But I still went to the school, in the church though.
You went there just to have a school environment then?
Yes. You know, just to be with students my age.
Did they all take it by correspondence?
No, later on they did have a high school teacher. One of the missionaries actually came back later as a high school teacher. We had a teacherage then for the teachers, because then they were getting married, and couples came out to teach.
What is a teacherage?
It was a dwelling for the teachers in the schoolyard. Before, like because there was 8,10,12 kids in the family, and maybe the teacher would stay 3 months with one family so it wasn’t too much of a burden for them and for 3 months they would go and live with another family. But then later on we got a building for the teachers, but I guess the teachers who were single didn’t mind living with a family, because I’m sure they missed their own families. I remember one year the teacher, my mom said well the teacher won’t be going home for Christmas, so you invite your teacher to come and have Christmas dinner with us. We didn’t want our teacher, you know, this was family time! And my mom said well, someday you’re going to be on your own too, and not able to come home for Christmas, so she said, I hope the favour will be returned to you. So I thought about that when I was nursing at Shoal Lake, and the single nurses would get new years off because I think the matron figured oh, the young people want to celebrate new years eve, but I would’ve preferred to have Christmas off to go home. But I was single, so I worked Christmas and I had New Years off. And one of the nurses that I worked nights with at that time she said, you come home and have Christmas with us, the next day. She had one daughter. So that was nice, and right then I thought, oh yeah this is what my mother was trying to tell me when I was not wanting to invite my teacher for Christmas dinner!
I was wondering if you could tell me the story of how you got your name.
Oh yes. I was born during Indian summer, it was a nice long fall, and there was a young man, he was 17 when he came to teach in Loon Straits, it was the little log school that my dad went to school in. Other than the teacherage, our family was the closest to the schoolyard. And the teacher was James Alexander Mossen. He was an orphan, I think he was born in Regina, and then there was a family that took in foster boys at Sanford Manitoba, Chester and Grace Jessen. He took his schooling there and helped on the farm and then he came to Look Straits as a teacher, I guess what you’d call a permit teacher, like they didn’t go to the normal school for a year or whatever to get their teaching certificate, they called them permit teachers. And so he came and he was boarding with my grandparents William and Roseanne Monkman and he may have boarded at my grandfather’s half-brother’s place, Hughie and Kate Monkman. But I know he boarded at my grandparents’ place, and he would have to pass my parents’ home to get to my grandparents’. And I guess, kids are always playing around in the schoolyard and I guess they told the teacher that Kay had a baby girl. So on his way home he stopped in to see my mom, and I don’t know where my dad was that day, I never thought to ask my mom, because normally my dad named all the kids as far as I know, and so then when the teacher came to visit my mom and I he asked my mom if she would consent to have me named after his fiancé. Her name was Helene, like Helen. And my mom said that she didn’t particularly care for Helen, and he said well the English is Elaine. So my mom said oh, she liked Elaine, and then he said well suppose she grows up and she doesn’t like Elaine, she should have another name. So he said to my mom, well you pick a name! So my mom said well I always liked the women’s names in the bible and I’d like her to have a short name, because we didn’t have kindergarten, we went straight to grade one (so she could write her name). So he said, well, Mary! And my mom said, oh no, there’s already four Mary’s in the community, that’d be too confusing. So she said, I like the story of Ruth in the Old Testament. When my mom passed away, I knew that James Mossen married his fiancé and I think he had three weeks with his wife, and then he was shipped overseas because he was a pilot and he was training the British boys how to fly England’s largest bomber and there was a training accident and he and another fellow, Sargeant Bell, were both killed in the plane crash. And I never knew where James was buried, but he had written a letter to my parents, and then Chester and Grace Jessen, when James was killed, they wrote a letter to my grandparents because they knew that James had boarded with them when he was a teacher. And my mom had those letters in her old trunk. And so when my mom passed away, in 1985, my sisters and I went out to the lake and we were going through my mom’s things and in the old trunk there were these two letters, and one that James had written to my parents. He was saying that people need not worry because he wouldn’t be flying bombing missions over the English Channel, but he would be training the British boys. “Need not worry”, he had said. And the second letter was one that Grace and Chester Jessen had written to my grandparents saying that James had been killed and that he would be buried in England. And when I was working at Lower Fort Garry, there was a retired military man and we were sitting there visiting and I was telling him about James Mossen and I said I always wondered where he was buried in England. And so he gave me the address of where to write to find out where the Canadian boys were buried, and I have actually met a grandson of this couple here in Selkirk at an event at the Legion and when they introduced this Lloyd Jessen, I went over and I said are you any relation to Chester and Grace Jessen? And he said that’s my grandparents, and I said are they alive? And he said no, my grandfather died first, and my grandma died just two years ago. So I was sorry that I wasn’t able to contact them earlier. But he has many pictures, he had pictures of James, and my grandfather’s sister-in-law, she had a picture of James and his wife, and the radios back then were just like a big piece of furniture and I remember seeing this picture of James and his wife on their radio. So it was nice to have my own picture. Lloyd Jessen gave me several pictures of, he called him Jim, and his wife. And he too, he married a girl from over in England and they would go there and he said, “I often wondered too where James was buried,” so I gave him the address and told him, and I got a reply from Kim, that was the girl that responded to my request and she drew a map, and when my sister and I went over to England, I was a friend of Dr. Laura Pierce, she was a curator of the museum over in Oxford and the conference that I was attending, it was Rupert’s Land Studies Colloquium. I got to know Laura’s husband and he took us to visit the cemetery. It’s beautiful, well kept and they had a guest book there so I was able to sign and sometimes she comes to visit her sister in Toronto and she says they have maple trees there and she takes maple leaves back with her and she puts them on Jim’s grave. Yeah so it was neat. I don’t know if Lloyd and his wife Betty ever went to visit the grave but they know where it is. It is Bockeley cemetery. Yeah so it was nice to go over there. My uncle Garf, the one that became the first pilot, I asked him, I said well what do you remember of Jim? And he said I remember he had really nice eyes. And my dad and brothers used to pick up Jim after school and take him hunting with them, because he was probably maybe a little bit younger than they were, but boys will be boys they say! So I did contact Jim’s wife and spoke with her on the phone, and I’d like to go to Sanford, Manitoba because they have a memorial for the boys that they lost, so I should phone Lloyd and see if we could go together.
Your father and your brother were killed in a plane accident.
That really affected the whole community. My brother Doug, like I said before, he and my brother Carl had a construction company, and some of my younger cousins worked with them too. A lot of the places he built the schools were in the North, rural areas, and he built a little cabin at Loon Straits for his wife and he had two young sons at that time, and rather than having to fly all the way to Winnipeg, his wife would come and stay in the summer at their cabin at the Straits. It was on my dad’s property. I was married by that time. I was married in May, and that August was when the accident happened. I guess my brother had come from working on a school up North and he came and he had the youngest boy on his shoulders, he wasn’t walking yet, the youngest boy. He had his son on his shoulders and my mom said he came in the back door and he just took Brook off his shoulders and he put him down on the floor because Brook wasn’t walking and he said, “He’s all yours now Mum.” He called his wife Mum because of the boys being around. So my dad and he and one of my cousins, Martin, decided that they would go for just a fly, it was a beautiful day. So then they’d have to be back by dark time, the plane had pontoons. I guess Mary-Ann was concerned because it was getting dark and they hadn’t come back yet, and she said she had a premonition that something was wrong. So one of my cousins got in the boat and she said, I don’t know why but we just decided to go up the South Bay, because that’s where they had taken off, was up the South Bay and she assumed that they would land there too. Because then he could just taxi in to where the cabin was. And she said they came around the point and they could see the tail end of the airplane and I guess they went a little bit closer and they didn’t start to motor, they were just rowing the boat. I guess my cousin, he was able to get out of the plane and he swam to the shoreline, but I guess he was confused and he swam a greater distance to the opposite shore rather than to the shore that was closer to where the plane crashed. I think he thought that my brother was swimming with him, but both my dad and my brother were in the cockpit. But Martin just had three broken toes and my sister-in-law had a really big car, a station wagon, because she always had collie dogs with her too.
More money than you worked on the day shift. And I was taking extra shifts because I had a live-in babysitter and so I would take these extra shifts and get extra money and there were times when my husband would come when I was working so we’d leave little notes for each other. Then I realized the babysitter would say, “Elaine cut a tooth today,” or “she took her first step,” or “she sat up all by herself!” and I thought, I’m missing all this with my babies, what they’re doing. So I told my husband, I’m willing to sacrifice some luxuries just to be home with my babies. I said I’m missing so much, and I’ll never be able to have that again. And then when my doctor pulled me into that room and said, “That’s it!” I said well can’t I just work on the Mat ward? Like just lifting newborns! Not a lot of work, you know. And then moms, most of them had their babies and went home in a few days. He said nope, he said because knowing you you’d be taking shifts on other wards! So I said okay. It was hard though, to give up nursing.
So after you went home with your babies you stopped nursing forever?
Well, when my doctor said that, I thought well, yeah. He said it’s more important that you don’t have these extras he said. If your husband can provide for your needs, not your wants, your needs, he said it’s more important that your children have a mother. Because he saw that you know, I might have a heart attack, I don’t know what he thought, I never asked! I didn’t want to go down that road. So I thought yeah, I could learn to live with less but I didn’t want to miss out seeing my girls growing up. So then when I left nursing then, then my husband he wasn’t on the road as much, he worked in the office. Then I thought, “I wonder who cleans these offices?” and then there was another office upstairs. My girls weren’t yet in school, so I was thinking well I’d like to save money, we were just renting, I’d like to save money, enough for a down payment for a house. So that was my goal. So I cleaned offices where my husband worked, and then we moved to St. Andrews. It was a small house, and the rent was a lot cheaper there than in Winnipeg. There was a school there, and bus service. So then when my girls started going to school, then when we moved out of the city then to St. Andrews, our next-door neighbour, her husband worked I think it was delivery, meat deliveries. And she worked for Reimers in the office, and she worked evenings. So then from the time her husband got off his day job and she was leaving for the evening, they needed a sitter for two little boys, so I babysat those hours, so that was extra money too. And then there were some students from northern communities who were coming to the high school here in Selkirk, so I took in boarders. So that was how I got enough money saved up for a down payment, then we started looking for a house. And I said to my husband, either we have another baby, or we buy a house. So the day I went to see the doctor and told me I was pregnant, that’s when the bank approved the mortgage. We bought this lot here, and had a house built. So it’s been 40 years now since I’ve been living here. I raised my three kids here; they all went to the high school here. My oldest girl, she went to university, and the other daughter, out of high school she started working for MPI and is still working there. And my son has his own trucking company, and he lives here in Selkirk. And I’ve got five grandchildren, four granddaughters and one grandson. And now I think it’s a granddaughter that’s going to be coming any day now. I wasn’t a grandmother when I started working at the fort, and that year that I started working there my first granddaughter was born, she is now 20. I still do a lot of different things, I still volunteer at the friendship centre, and I’m an elder for the Lord Selkirk School Division, I’ve been there for 10 years now, I guess.
So what do you do with them?
I meet with the teachers once a month, and they sometimes ask me for advice, they always say, “share some of your wisdom!” And it’s teachers that are involved in the Aboriginal curriculum, and through Lower Fort Garry I started doing this storytelling history to the students, teachers would ask me to come to the school and tell the story about old Joseph and the salt production, or you could come and tell about when he rescued Dr. Schultz from Riel, and then tell the story about Isabella’s side of the family, because there was Peggy Spence, her dad and mum were at Fort Qu’Appelle, he was Scottish, he was the factor of that fort, and the little girl was two when she was stolen by the Sioux. The Sioux had come up to hunt the buffalo too. Then Andrew Setter, he came over from Orkney as an employee of the Hudson Bay Company and his journey would take him always west and he heard the story about the Sioux stealing this little girl, and then he decided he’s going to buy two horses and rescue this girl, so he did! He rescued Peggy Spence and she was 12 then. It wasn’t too long after that she was reunited with her mother, her dad was killed and Andrew Setter married Peggy Spence and their daughter was my great-great-grandmother, Mrs. Monkman. Isabella Setter, her name was. They’re buried at St. Andrews cemetery, and Joseph and Isabella are buried at St. Peters. It was stories like that they wanted to hear, like about children, the part that children played. So I told them that story. I don’t tell them right away that that was my great-great-grandmother. Then I tell them about growing up in Loon Straits, some of the things that happened in my community, and some of the games we played. So then because I did that program on my own, on my days off, teachers would say, “oh well if you have this day could you come to the school?” I went to Winnipeg schools, and some of the rural areas too. I went to Iceland as a storyteller one year, and I went to England and Scotland. And through an Aboriginal Leadership Development Program through Parks Canada I went to the Yukon and Alaska, Northern BC, and I’m also an elder for the University of Winnipeg. It’ll be my fourth year now. It’s good to be with young people, they’re all looking forward to things. I remember one time, I was telling this one group of students, “I have eyes in the back of my head.” And this one little boy wanted to see my eyes! I said, “I don’t really have eyes in the back of my head, it’s just a saying that means that I can look a long way back, I can see. I’ve had a lot of experience, and the time that these eyes can look forward is not as great a distance as the eyes in the back of my head.” And I used to tell that to my children too, I figured they have a choice now, are they going to choose the right one or the wrong one? I’d say, just remember, your mom has eyes in the back of her head!” they couldn’t get away with anything.
I read this book, the history of Aboriginal nurses, and I wanted to ask you if you ever experienced any prejudice being an Aboriginal nurse.
The only time that I felt that was when I was in nurses training. We had a public health nurse who would come with one of the brothers, a Catholic priest from Bloodvein. He would come in the community and they would give immunizations. But I don’t think there was ever any record of the immunizations, at least for our parents. I guess my mom would know, or remember, she always kept a diary. So then when I went to nurses’ training because we would be encountering different diseases that they wanted to make sure we had protection, so I had to have all these immunizations then, when I was in nurses’ training, and then there were about four of us girls, we applied to go and take our isolation training at St. Rose du Lac, which was like a TB sanitarium then. I guess Nyonac was closed by that time. Anyways, we were to take our isolation training there. There was myself, and a girl from Camperville, a girl from Pukatawagan, and we were probably only the three students out of a class of maybe 41 who were Aboriginal or First Nations. I don’t know if these other girls had immunization records but anyways, I remember some of our teachers and a sister talking that because some of us girls, I was going with three other friends, they weren’t Aboriginal. We chose to go to St. Rose for our isolation training. And I would’ve had to move out there, I don’t know how many months it would’ve been. Anyways, they said we’d all be given this BCG test to see if we had immunity against TB. And out of that class of 41, I was the only one that didn’t have a reaction, so I didn’t have any antibodies against TB. So then they weren’t going to give me this test, because they said, “Oh, she’s Aboriginal. Aboriginal people had TB, she would’ve been exposed to it.” Well I can remember probably before I was born that my grandmother Roseanne and her son Garf they both had TB at different times and they recovered. But they would’ve been… I don’t know whether they were at Ninette [Sanitorium], or Winnipeg, where I don’t know. But anyways, they came back to the community and they were fine. I don’t think I was even born at the time, so I wouldn’t have been exposed to them. And so then they said, “oh no, she’s Aboriginal, she probably would’ve been exposed to it,” and they weren’t going to test me. And then one of the instructors insisted no, she’s part of this class and she should have it. So we all got it, and I was the only one that didn’t have any kind of reaction.
So thank goodness you got it.
Yes. So then I had to have six like, not deep cuts but scratches, three on each side of my spine, mid-back, and then he introduced this weakened germ in there. There was a dressing on there and I remember I couldn’t shower for so many days until when they took it off, and then I had immunity. But still, sister Isabel said no. Ms. Monkman can take her isolation training on 4C. That was where it was the communicable diseases. And she said, she’s not going to go to St. Rose. I guess some other girl went maybe. But yeah, the other girls, we chummed around together. “Oh Monkman, you’re not going to be able to be with us.” And so I took my isolation training at St. Boniface. That was the only time that I felt that because of my nationality that they weren’t gonna give me, because they assumed that because I was Indian I had been exposed to it. There was one incident, a head nurse on a ward it was in Mother and Newborn Maternity Ward. I don’t know what it was but the Sister thought it was some sort of a personal problem that the head nurse had outside of work and she chose me to “pick on”. I couldn’t do anything right for her, and the other students would try and stand up for me because I thought well, I’m not going to argue with her. So the other students, they were starting to get put down because they were taking my side. At the end of different parts of our nurses’ training, we would always have an evaluation before we moved to another department, and I remember the report, the evaluation I got from this head nurse, it was all negative, and I just told the Nurse Instructor that was going over the evaluation with me, “I’m not going to sign this, because I disagree with what she’s written there.” And I said, “if you want confirmation, talk to my classmates, or some of the other nurses on the ward.” Then I think that nurse was given a leave of absence, because the Sister shared with me, she said, “just so you’re not feeling that there’s something wrong with you, she said I can share with you, in confidence, what was going on in that nurses life.” So then this other nurse that was working on that same ward in that department, she did an evaluation of me and I said, “ok I’ll sign this one.” But that was the only time that was rough for me, and I felt that I wished I could just talk to somebody. I didn’t go to the Sister and complain. I mean, there were options, you could do things, but I thought that would be a bad reflection on me complaining about a supervisor, but it worked out fine.