Absentee Fathers

Absentee Fathers

In western Canada, how we imagine settlement happened has more in common with the American story: Little House on the Prairie, than with what actually happened. Instead of Ma, Pa and kids, it was more often Pa gone (working away for months at a time or dead) and Ma with kids, surviving through sheer grit.

Women alone with children often had to make hard choices. One example from “They Came”: Melina Latremoullie Tremblay. In the early 1890s, Melina’s husband rode off to discover gold in the Yukon, leaving her alone in Kamloops, BC with 4 little boys and no money. She had to put her boys in an orphanage, so she could go out to work. He returned for them after 10 years away.

Another story in “They Came” tells about Nettie Kischuk Wasylishen, married at 17 and abandoned for months at a time when her husband went off to work for more established farmers. She lived with her small children in a house with a sod roof that leaked for days after every rain. Sometimes they had nothing to eat but boiled wheat.

In Lithuania, 19 year old Petroneli Adamson Barron married a 35 year old man who had just returned from working building a railroad in Canada. As soon as she became pregnant, he returned to Canada without her. He returned five years later and left again as soon as she was pregnant. When her second child was one year old, Petroneli traveled for 3 weeks by boat and train with her 2 children to find her husband in Canada near Calgary, Alberta. She had nearly convinced him to return to the ‘old country’ with her, when World War I broke out. After the war, by the time they were able to travel again, several more children had been born. She never did return home.

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