Resilient Women

Resilient Women

During the early settlement of western Canada, most women had no farming experience. Those who had farmed before had been supported by an extended family, by villages within walking distance and by a culture and language common to everyone they knew.

On their homesteads in western Canada, women were often extremely isolated. In times of trouble they had no one to rely on except themselves.

Anna Sophia Carlson Andersen, in “They Came” moved from Nebraska to Bittern Lake, Alberta with her husband and nine children. Her husband died before they had been there a year. During their first winter on their own they survived by eating barley porridge, bread, rabbit and sometimes prairie chicken. When she ran out of bullets to bring down rabbits and birds, she didn’t have enough money to buy more. She had enough to buy gun powder, which she stuffed into the old bullet casings. She then jammed in carved wooden pellets. Her do-it-yourself bullets stunned their prospective dinners long enough for her children to grab them.

Married at eighteen, Lydia Tracy Mitchell also had to feed her small children by hunting during the long months her husband was away working.

In 1906, thirty-two year old Frances Eliza Heddle McLeod’s husband died on their homestead in southern Alberta while she was still in North Dakota. She and her seven children (aged four to fourteen) arrived to discover no house for them and no well. Neighbours helped them put up a clapboard shack. Frances and her children dug their own well by hand. They survived more than one winter on rabbit and oatmeal, the boys trapping muskrat for fat in which to fry the rabbits.