The Hughenden Fire of 1932 – Updated

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Thanks for dropping by to find out about the fire and suicide that happened in Hughenden in May of 1932 – as if the 1930s in Alberta weren’t difficult enough. I chose not to make any commentary on the five articles presented here giving three perspectives on the fire that began in the Whyte and Orr hardware store on the morning of May 22nd. I’ve presented these as information for the researcher and fodder for the thoughtful. When I finished compiling these articles and images, I have to say that I felt a little sad yet I’m still glad to have put these details of this tragedy together.  ~ Lori Knutson

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History Books $100 for a two-volume set.

The following is excerpted from the Amisk-Hughenden-Rosyth history book, Memories and Milestones, 1905- 2005. This article was submitted by Hughenden author Mary Burpee (1918-2008) and in it, she tells the story of her firsthand experience of the fire’s aftermath. On the day of the fire, Mary was 14 years old. She published four books, all written after she was 80 years old. Mary also edited a 5th book of her father’s memoirs, called Dublin to Dunboy.

Mary’s Recollection of the Fire

Listen to what Mary Burpee wrote about the 1932 fire:

It seemed incredible that living as we did, just four and a half miles from town, no one in our family had seen flames shooting skyward the morning of May 22, 1932. Nor had we noticed even the tiniest smudge of smoke on the horizon.

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Hughenden’s main street years before the fire.

It wasn’t until our buggy was clattering down Hughenden’s main street that my brother Jimmy and I, on our way to a Sunday morning confirmation class at the Anglican Church, realized that something was dreadfully wrong. There was furniture piled haphazardly all along the upper section of the main street as if it had been dropped there from outer space and abandoned. Further on were huge, blackened craters where, yesterday, business establishments had been crowded cheek to jowl along the side of the town’s main business block. Now there was nothing but ashes, smouldering ruins, total devastation.

Hughenden Mainstreet After Fire

Hughenden’s main street Sunday morning following the fire. Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta.

People, faces streaked with soot, sweat and tears, clustered in tiny groups. Stiff with shock and disbelief, most stared silently at little wisps of spent smoke and the occasional flicker of a persistent flame struggling to escape from the mounds of smouldering ashes.

That fire whipped by strong winds, destroyed most of Hughenden’s downtown business section on the north side of the main street. It started at the Whyte and Orr hardware store when the operator, Elmer J. Swensen, went into his store early in the morning of Saturday, May 22nd , and shot himself with a high-powered rifle. From there, the fire raged on to burn Joe Martineau’s Imperial Oil office, John Hovde’s Harness and Shoe Repair Shop, Dave Coutts’ General Store, Gee Sam’s Chinese Restaurant, the Pool Hall and Barbershop, John Jackson’s house, plus a shed used by R. Kropinski to store his Rawleigh products.

Burning 1932

Here’s a photo of the blaze in progress on that Sunday morning. I currently live at the top of that bald hill at the end of main street.

Thanks to heroic efforts by volunteer firefighters from Hughenden and Amisk, plus three chemical fire engines from Czar, the fire was brought under control, but not before it had scorched the west wall of what used to be called the Wellwood Block. (At the time of the fire it was probably known as the McDevitt building.) If the fire had burned that building, it almost certainly would have destroyed Fred Lang’s drugstore, Art Lawley’s hardware store, Jack Cochrane’s real estate and telephone exchange offices, before jumping the street to burn homes in the adjoining block.

Jack Cochrane was so sure the fire would burn the McDevitt building and his real estate office and telephone exchange building, that he had the cables connecting Hughenden’s telephone exchange switchboard to long distance lines cut, so that the switchboard could be carried outside and saved.

Smoking 1932 Fire

Here’s a photo of the smoking ruins.

Bob Rideout, who roomed above the Whyte and Orr hardware store, got out with his life but lost all his possessions in the fire. Daniel Glockzin and his son James, who along with G.C. Hobbs were part of the Czar fire brigade, received burns to their hands but received prompt medical treatment. Miraculously, no one else was hurt.

Men and women, children too, had raced to help carry out whatever they could from the doomed buildings and pile it on the far side of the street. By doing so they were able to save 20 percent of the stock from Dave Coutts’ store and 10 percent from the restaurant. Nothing was saved from the other buildings.

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David Coutts’ ad in the May 26, 1932 issue of The Hughenden Record.

Thanks to having so much of his stock saved, Dave Coutts immediately ran an ad in the Hughenden Record, “Business as usual in the McDevitt building. If we haven’t got what you want we’ll get it for you.” In the same May 26, 1932 paper was this news item, “Joe Martineau is already building his new office to take the place of the burned one.”

But not everyone could bounce back so quickly. It would be years before the empty spaces left by the fire were all filled. Some are still waiting.

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These next articles are from the May 26, 1932 issue of The Hughenden Record. This is not the entire write-up. I excerpted from it to avoid repetition of details. I did include the complete coroner’s jury testimonies. Thanks to my husband, Doug, for doing the audio recording for two of these testimonies.

 Fire Destroys Part of Hughenden Business Section

E.J. Swensen Dead

The greatest catastrophe Hughenden has ever known took place on Sunday morning, May 22nd when fire destroyed a large portion of the business section of the town and E.J. Swensen, manager of the Whyte and Orr hardware store, lost his life.

The fire broke out in the rear of the Whyte and Orr store about 8 a.m. Bob Rideout, who rooms above this store, and Theo Hall, were the first to see the smoke and immediately gave the alarm. It was not many minutes before quite a number of the residents were on the scene, but nothing could be done to quench the flames.

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Every effort was made to save the surrounding buildings and it was only the hard work of everyone, and especially the timely help from Czar where a large number of helpers got together and under the direction of Daniel Glockzin loaded their three chemical fire engines in a truck and rushed to Hughenden, G.C. Hobbs bringing along extra chemicals to recharge the engines, that the fire was stopped, and if they had been a few minutes later, it would have been impossible to save anything on that side of the town.

Unfortunately Mr. Daniel Glockzin and his son James were both badly burned when a bottle of sulfuric acid for the fire extinguisher, broke in their hands. They received immediate aid and are now well on the way to recovery.

The fire was not fully extinguished until Monday as a large stock of flour in D.A. Coutts’ warehouse and something under the debris of the restaurant burned on long after the rest of the fire was out and a watch of four men was set and kept all night.

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Details of the coroner’s inquest into E.J. Swensen’s death from the May 26, 1932 issue of The Hughenden Record.

The worst feature of the catastrophe was the death of E.J. Swensen. As the flames subsided a lookout was kept for any possible remains of Mr. Swensen, who had been seen going in the direction of the store just before the fire was noticed and who had not been seen since.

The body was located near the place where the office in the hardware store had been, and it was seen that a rifle was lying on the body. Constable Cottrell, R.C.M.P, was notified and he called the coroner, Dr. Murray of Sedgewick, who after investigating, took charge of the rifle and turned the remains over to Daniel Glockzin, undertaker of Czar, and ordered an inquest to be held on Monday.

 

On the safe of Whyte and Orr being opened on Wednesday, the books, papers, etc. were found in perfect condition, and the accounts, cash and statements, correct to a cent.

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Inquest on the Remains of Elmer J. Swensen

Before Coroner Dr. Murray

The jury was sworn in as follows: Daniel Glockzin, foreman; E.V. Key, D.A. Coutts, Geo. Hall, R.P Stubbs, and Jas. Lees. Most of the evidence was given in answer to questions by Const. Cottrell and the coroner.

John and Peter Hovde Harness Shop

John and Peter Hovde in the Harness and Shoe Repair Shop that was lost to the fire.

JOHN HOVDE was called and gave evidence as follows: I was working in the store on Saturday, May 21st. I did not see anything different in Mr. Swensen. He seemed about the same as usual only he complained of a headache. We were packing goods all day and worked until about 11 p.m. He said he could not sleep at night.

I have been with him since 1918. He had a new set of teeth about Christmas, 1931. There was a high powered rifle in the store, like exhibit. To my knowledge he has not tried to sell the rifle. He has kept his troubles to himself and did not talk to me about them.

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HARRY FEAKE was the next witness: I was in Hughenden on Sunday, May 22nd. I saw the deceased that morning coming down the sidewalk about 10 minutes after eight. He was going in the direction of the store. I am sure it was him. I went straight home and when I came out of my house again a few moments later, I saw smoke coming out of the rear of the Whyte and Orr store.

I rushed down, found the door unlocked but the smoke was so bad that I could not see nothing in the store and did not think it safe to go in. I did not see anyone leaving the store.

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Listen to Bob Rideout’s testimony:

BOB RIDEOUT: I was living over the Whyte and Orr store since last August. I heard someone unlock the store door and go in on Sunday morning about 8 o’clock, heard him walk to the back of the store. I had a wash and noticed smoke coming up from below about 7 or 8 minutes after. About the same time I heard a crash of glass. I am sure there was only one person came in the store.

I heard Theo. Hall shout, “Fire!” and ran out, looked into the store below, found it full of smoke, and went and rang the fire alarm. I told several there was someone in the store and I thought they had gone out the back. No one came out the front.

The fire progressed very rapidly and by the time I got back, fire was coming through the roof at the back of the store. I went upstairs, threw a few clothes into a suitcase, threw it out of the window and jumped out myself onto the roof of Mr. Martineau’s office. I could not say if the crash I heard was the report of a high powered rifle.

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THEO. HALL: I was up at 7 a.m. on Sunday morning, May 22nd. I went out on to the street about 8 o’clock. I went over to the restaurant and back to the hotel, and then noticed smoke coming out of the back of the Whyte and Orr store. I ran to the store, looked in, saw flames and called, “Fire!” and gave the alarm. I knew Mr. Swensen but did not see him. The fire was out of control in only a few minutes after I looked in the store. I was alone. I last saw Mr.  Swensen on Saturday and he appeared the same as usual.

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DR. JONES was called and said: I knew Mr. Swensen pretty well. A few days ago I went into the store and Swenson complained of a headache. He had almost a full set of false teeth. His general health was good, and I was not expecting anything like this. I saw him Saturday and talked to him a little time.

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JOE MARTINEAU: I saw Swensen on Saturday night about 10:30. I did not have any conversation with him at that time. I was in the store earlier in the day and did some business with him. He seemed a little unusual and would not talk. I thought he was not well, and he seemed to act as though he was worried about something. I did not see him on Sunday morning. I was home and saw the smoke downtown. I ran to the back of Whyte and Orr’s store, and it was smoking badly and then it burst out in flame. There was no fire at the part of the building where the body was found. The back of the store was used as storage.

After the fire had settled down I saw the body lying on its back and a buckle of a belt on the front of the body (he used to wear a belt) and saw a rifle lying across the body. The exhibit looked like the barrel which was lying across the body. I did not see Swensen around. I saw Mrs. Swensen come down with Mrs. Cookson and she looked as if she was in trouble.

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W.G. WHYTE: We had a store in Hughenden. Mr. Swensen managed the store. He had worked for us about 16 years. I last saw him in Hughenden on May 11th. I was down on business matters. We were thinking of closing up the business. He was not troubled over financial matters between himself and the store. He had about $7,000 in stock at New Year’s and some of that had been sold since. Outstanding accounts amounted to about $4,000. He would not be held responsible for outstanding accounts.

The foreman, DANIEL GLOCKZIN, then asked W.G. WHYTE: What kind of check would you have on Swensen?

W.G. WHYTE answered: He took his own stock each year and we would have a complete check when the stock was shipped out. He had offered to accept the outstanding accounts for his share of stock held in the company.

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J.S. ORR: I knew Mr. Swensen for 15 or 16 years. His report went through my office weekly, semi-monthly, monthly, and annually. Business has been better than a year ago during the past few weeks. He should have had about $5,500 to $5,800 worth of stock at this time. (The rest of this witness’s evidence was similar to that of Mr. Whyte’s.)

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Listen to Mrs. Adele Swensen’s statement:

A statement was taken from MRS. SWENSEN, JUNIOR and read at this time: I did not hear my husband leave the house. When I saw the smoke downtown, I thought my husband was in the kitchen shaving. I called and no one answered. I knew then that my husband was not at home. He got home at about 11:30 Saturday night from the store, talked a little while, and went to bed. He told me he would be working all day in the store Sunday. I did not notice anything out of the ordinary when he came home Saturday, although he has not been feeling very good. I am sure it is my husband found in the remains of the fire this morning.

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Shortly after her husband’s death, Mrs. Swensen (Adele) held a private household sale. This ad is from the June 2nd, 1932 issue of The Hughenden Record.

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Listen to Constable Cottrell’s testimony:

CONSTABLE COTTRELL: About 9 a.m. on 22nd May, I received a telephone message from Hughenden to the effect that the town was on fire. I hurried down and after being in Hughenden about 15 minutes, it was reported to me that there was a body seen in the debris of the fire. I made an investigation, saw the body and a rifle barrel lying on the body. I at once notified the coroner, Dr. Murray, and on his arrival, with him, viewed the remains, and on instructions from the coroner took the rifle to the blacksmith shop and with the assistance of the blacksmith, the shell exhibit was taken out of the breech of the rifle, and both have been in my possession since. There was no shell in the magazine when it was picked up. I took possession of the body and handed it over to Mr. D. Glockzin and this exhibit is the same body as was taken out of the fire.

In answer to a question by the jury, the witness (CONSTABLE COTTRELL) said the shell had been fired by the rifle and not by the heat as the firing pin mark showed plainly on the cap.

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CORONER (DR. MURRAY): I found the trunk of a human body lying on the back in the remains of the fire. The arms and legs had been burned off, and only the case of the skull remained. The usual thing which happened when a gun or rifle is placed in the mouth and discharged was that the top of the skull is blown off, and apparently this was shattered in this way. I would not have expected to find the skull shattered in this way if the deceased had just been overcome by fire and no shell fired.

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The jury after being discharged retired and on return, the foreman read the verdict: that Elmer J. Swensen came to his death by shooting himself with a high powered rifle while in a state of temporary despondency.

Pool Room Hughenden

Hughenden’s pool room and barbershop were lost in the fire.

The following articles are about the Hughenden Fire. The first is from the May 23rd, 1932 issue of the Edmonton Journal. When I mentioned on Twitter that I was researching this old story, Alan Zakrison from Calgary sent me both of the following articles. I’m grateful he did.

Rifle Is Found Beside Body in $50,000 Hughenden Fire

 Seven Buildings Razed by Conflagration; Aid Rushed From Czar

(Special to Edmonton Journal)

HUGHENDEN, May 23 – Following a $50,000 fire which destroyed seven buildings here Sunday, body of E.J. Swenson, for 14 years manager of the Whyte and Orr hardware store was found in the smoking ruins of the store. Beside the charred remains was lying a rifle, in the breech of which was an exploded shell.

Edmonton Journal 1932 Fire

Police Investigating

While the fire was at its height, no trace could be found of Swenson. He had left his house shortly before 8 o’clock and was heard to enter the store about that time.

His charred remains were found in the ruins of the store, near where the office was located. The ruins of a rifle containing a discharged shell were beside the body. Dr. Murray, coroner of Sedgewick, who had been called hastily and Constable Cottrell, of Hardisty, are making an investigation. An inquest will be held Monday. Swensen had been known to be worried over business conditions here and the intended closing out of the business by Whyte and Orr’s here this month. His wife and aged mother are in the care of friends.

After

When the fire was over, here’s what was left. This photographer is looking east from the alley behind the destroyed buildings. Upper left, you can see the little Anglican Church where Mary’s family was headed that morning.

Sweeping with great rapidity despite the efforts of volunteer firemen operating five chemical wagons, the blaze destroyed that Whyte & Orr store, the pool room, David A. Coutts’ general store, Phillip Pon’s restaurant, a vacant bakery building, the residence of John Jackson, and the Imperial Oil office building. The Imperial Oil warehouse was not threatened.

Coroner’s Jury Finds Swensen Killed Himself

 Death of Merchant in $50,000 Hughenden Fire Investigated

(Special to Edmonton Journal)

Edmonton Journal Suicide

HUGHENDEN, May 25 – Suicide was the verdict of the coroner’s jury investigating the death of Elmer J. Swensen, Monday. Swensen’s charred body was found in the smouldering ruins of the Whyte & Orr general store, Sunday morning, following a blaze which razed seven buildings and did $50,000 damage.

The verdict was returned to Coroner Dr. Murray, Sedgewick, after the six jurymen had considered the evidence, including the finding of a discharged rifle beside Swensen’s body in the ruins of the store.

Jurymen were: D.A. Coutts, R.P. Stubbs, E.V. Key, George Hall of Hughenden, and D. Glockzin, Czar, and James Lees, Amisk.

Had Been Depressed

Mr. Swensen had been manager of the Whyte & Orr hardware store for 14 years, and there had never been any evidence that the books were not in good shape.

It was known, however, that he had been depressed recently. The store was to have been closed shortly, and he was suffering ill health following an attack of influenza.

The remains were sent to Edmonton for burial. He was married four years ago and is survived by his widow and aged mother and a sister, Mrs. Olsen, Daysland. Mrs. Swensen was formerly Miss Adele Stewart, of Edmonton.

No trace has been found of any message, but it is believed that Swensen may have left a note in the safe, which was still too hot to open when the inquest was held.

Adjusters Busy

Insurance adjusters were busy in Hughenden Monday, inspecting the ruins of the different business places and making adjustments. D.A. Coutts, general merchant, and Phillip Pom, proprietor of the Hughenden Café, were making plans to rebuild. Fire smouldered all Sunday night and all day Monday where flour had been stored, as well as in other parts of the ruins.

Close watch was kept and although high winds Monday made flames break out again, they were quickly quenched.

Fire Insurance

The exploding of canned goods, which had been stored in the restaurant pantry, continued for about eight hours. Owners of the stores and residences which seemed doomed to destruction Sunday, before the fire was stopped at McDevitt’s rooming-house, were busy Monday moving their goods back in and replacing them on the shelves.

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Thanks for reading and listening. I compiled these articles as a member of the Amisk-Hughenden Historical Society. You can visit our webpage and blog here on WordPress. If you’re on Twitter, you can give @AmiskSociety a follow.

 

 

On Monday, January 27 at 1:30 p.m., the Amisk-Hughenden Historical Society is sponsoring a Find a Grave workshop at the Hughenden Public Library.

Grave Workshop Ad JPG

 

The Hughenden Fire of 1932

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Thanks for dropping by to find out about the fire and suicide that happened in Hughenden in May of 1932 – as if the 1930s in Alberta weren’t difficult enough. I chose not to make any commentary on the five articles presented here giving three perspectives on the fire that began in the Whyte and Orr hardware store on the morning of May 22nd. I’ve presented these as information for the researcher and fodder for the thoughtful. When I finished compiling these articles and images, I have to say that I felt a little sad yet I’m still glad to have put these details of this tragedy together.  ~ Lori Knutson

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IMG_6697

History Books $100 for a two-volume set.

The following is excerpted from the Amisk-Hughenden-Rosyth history book, Memories and Milestones, 1905- 2005. This article was submitted by Hughenden author Mary Burpee (1918-2008) and in it, she tells the story of her firsthand experience of the fire’s aftermath. On the day of the fire, Mary was 14 years old. She published four books, all written after she was 80 years old. Mary also edited a 5th book of her father’s memoirs, called Dublin to Dunboy.

Mary’s Recollection of the Fire

Listen to what Mary Burpee wrote about the 1932 fire:

It seemed incredible that living as we did, just four and a half miles from town, no one in our family had seen flames shooting skyward the morning of May 22, 1932. Nor had we noticed even the tiniest smudge of smoke on the horizon.

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Hughenden’s main street years before the fire.

It wasn’t until our buggy was clattering down Hughenden’s main street that my brother Jimmy and I, on our way to a Sunday morning confirmation class at the Anglican Church, realized that something was dreadfully wrong. There was furniture piled haphazardly all along the upper section of the main street as if it had been dropped there from outer space and abandoned. Further on were huge, blackened craters where, yesterday, business establishments had been crowded cheek to jowl along the side of the town’s main business block. Now there was nothing but ashes, smouldering ruins, total devastation.

Hughenden Mainstreet After Fire

Hughenden’s main street Sunday morning following the fire. Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta.

People, faces streaked with soot, sweat and tears, clustered in tiny groups. Stiff with shock and disbelief, most stared silently at little wisps of spent smoke and the occasional flicker of a persistent flame struggling to escape from the mounds of smouldering ashes.

That fire whipped by strong winds, destroyed most of Hughenden’s downtown business section on the north side of the main street. It started at the Whyte and Orr hardware store when the operator, Elmer J. Swensen, went into his store early in the morning of Saturday, May 22nd , and shot himself with a high-powered rifle. From there, the fire raged on to burn Joe Martineau’s Imperial Oil office, John Hovde’s Harness and Shoe Repair Shop, Dave Coutts’ General Store, Gee Sam’s Chinese Restaurant, the Pool Hall and Barbershop, John Jackson’s house, plus a shed used by R. Kropinski to store his Rawleigh products.

Burning 1932

Here’s a photo of the blaze in progress on that SUnday morning.

Thanks to heroic efforts by volunteer firefighters from Hughenden and Amisk, plus three chemical fire engines from Czar, the fire was brought under control, but not before it had scorched the west wall of what used to be called the Wellwood Block. (At the time of the fire it was probably known as the McDevitt building.) If the fire had burned that building, it almost certainly would have destroyed Fred Lang’s drugstore, Art Lawley’s hardware store, Jack Cochrane’s real estate and telephone exchange offices, before jumping the street to burn homes in the adjoining block.

Jack Cochrane was so sure the fire would burn the McDevitt building and his real estate office and telephone exchange building, that he had the cables connecting Hughenden’s telephone exchange switchboard to long distance lines cut, so that the switchboard could be carried outside and saved.

Smoking 1932 Fire

Here’s a photo of the smoking ruins.

Bob Rideout, who roomed above the Whyte and Orr hardware store, got out with his life but lost all his possessions in the fire. Daniel Glockzin and his son James, who along with G.C. Hobbs were part of the Czar fire brigade, received burns to their hands but received prompt medical treatment. Miraculously, no one else was hurt.

Men and women, children too, had raced to help carry out whatever they could from the doomed buildings and pile it on the far side of the street. By doing so they were able to save 20 percent of the stock from Dave Coutts’ store and 10 percent from the restaurant. Nothing was saved from the other buildings.

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David Coutts’ ad in the May 26, 1932 issue of The Hughenden Record.

Thanks to having so much of his stock saved, Dave Coutts immediately ran an ad in the Hughenden Record, “Business as usual in the McDevitt building. If we haven’t got what you want we’ll get it for you.” In the same May 26, 1932 paper was this news item, “Joe Martineau is already building his new office to take the place of the burned one.”

But not everyone could bounce back so quickly. It would be years before the empty spaces left by the fire were all filled. Some are still waiting.

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These next articles are from the May 26, 1932 issue of The Hughenden Record. This is not the entire write-up. I excerpted from it to avoid repetition of details. I did include the complete coroner’s jury testimonies. Thanks to my husband, Doug, for doing the audio recording for two of these testimonies.

 Fire Destroys Part of Hughenden Business Section

E.J. Swensen Dead

The greatest catastrophe Hughenden has ever known took place on Sunday morning, May 22nd when fire destroyed a large portion of the business section of the town and E.J. Swensen, manager of the Whyte and Orr hardware store, lost his life.

The fire broke out in the rear of the Whyte and Orr store about 8 a.m. Bob Rideout, who rooms above this store, and Theo Hall, were the first to see the smoke and immediately gave the alarm. It was not many minutes before quite a number of the residents were on the scene, but nothing could be done to quench the flames.

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Every effort was made to save the surrounding buildings and it was only the hard work of everyone, and especially the timely help from Czar where a large number of helpers got together and under the direction of Daniel Glockzin loaded their three chemical fire engines in a truck and rushed to Hughenden, G.C. Hobbs bringing along extra chemicals to recharge the engines, that the fire was stopped, and if they had been a few minutes later, it would have been impossible to save anything on that side of the town.

Unfortunately Mr. Daniel Glockzin and his son James were both badly burned when a bottle of sulfuric acid for the fire extinguisher, broke in their hands. They received immediate aid and are now well on the way to recovery.

The fire was not fully extinguished until Monday as a large stock of flour in D.A. Coutts’ warehouse and something under the debris of the restaurant burned on long after the rest of the fire was out and a watch of four men was set and kept all night.

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Details of the coroner’s inquest into E.J. Swensen’s death from the May 26, 1932 issue of The Hughenden Record.

The worst feature of the catastrophe was the death of E.J. Swensen. As the flames subsided a lookout was kept for any possible remains of Mr. Swensen, who had been seen going in the direction of the store just before the fire was noticed and who had not been seen since.

The body was located near the place where the office in the hardware store had been, and it was seen that a rifle was lying on the body. Constable Cottrell, R.C.M.P, was notified and he called the coroner, Dr. Murray of Sedgewick, who after investigating, took charge of the rifle and turned the remains over to Daniel Glockzin, undertaker of Czar, and ordered an inquest to be held on Monday.

 

On the safe of Whyte and Orr being opened on Wednesday, the books, papers, etc. were found in perfect condition, and the accounts, cash and statements, correct to a cent.

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Inquest on the Remains of Elmer J. Swensen

Before Coroner Dr. Murray

The jury was sworn in as follows: Daniel Glockzin, foreman; E.V. Key, D.A. Coutts, Geo. Hall, R.P Stubbs, and Jas. Lees. Most of the evidence was given in answer to questions by Const. Cottrell and the coroner.

John and Peter Hovde Harness Shop

John and Peter Hovde in the Harness and Shoe Repair Shop that was lost to the fire.

JOHN HOVDE was called and gave evidence as follows: I was working in the store on Saturday, May 21st. I did not see anything different in Mr. Swensen. He seemed about the same as usual only he complained of a headache. We were packing goods all day and worked until about 11 p.m. He said he could not sleep at night.

I have been with him since 1918. He had a new set of teeth about Christmas, 1931. There was a high powered rifle in the store, like exhibit. To my knowledge he has not tried to sell the rifle. He has kept his troubles to himself and did not talk to me about them.

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HARRY FEAKE was the next witness: I was in Hughenden on Sunday, May 22nd. I saw the deceased that morning coming down the sidewalk about 10 minutes after eight. He was going in the direction of the store. I am sure it was him. I went straight home and when I came out of my house again a few moments later, I saw smoke coming out of the rear of the Whyte and Orr store.

I rushed down, found the door unlocked but the smoke was so bad that I could not see nothing in the store and did not think it safe to go in. I did not see anyone leaving the store.

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Listen to Bob Rideout’s testimony:

BOB RIDEOUT: I was living over the Whyte and Orr store since last August. I heard someone unlock the store door and go in on Sunday morning about 8 o’clock, heard him walk to the back of the store. I had a wash and noticed smoke coming up from below about 7 or 8 minutes after. About the same time I heard a crash of glass. I am sure there was only one person came in the store.

I heard Theo. Hall shout, “Fire!” and ran out, looked into the store below, found it full of smoke, and went and rang the fire alarm. I told several there was someone in the store and I thought they had gone out the back. No one came out the front.

The fire progressed very rapidly and by the time I got back, fire was coming through the roof at the back of the store. I went upstairs, threw a few clothes into a suitcase, threw it out of the window and jumped out myself onto the roof of Mr. Martineau’s office. I could not say if the crash I heard was the report of a high powered rifle.

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THEO. HALL: I was up at 7 a.m. on Sunday morning, May 22nd. I went out on to the street about 8 o’clock. I went over to the restaurant and back to the hotel, and then noticed smoke coming out of the back of the Whyte and Orr store. I ran to the store, looked in, saw flames and called, “Fire!” and gave the alarm. I knew Mr. Swensen but did not see him. The fire was out of control in only a few minutes after I looked in the store. I was alone. I last saw Mr.  Swensen on Saturday and he appeared the same as usual.

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DR. JONES was called and said: I knew Mr. Swensen pretty well. A few days ago I went into the store and Swenson complained of a headache. He had almost a full set of false teeth. His general health was good, and I was not expecting anything like this. I saw him Saturday and talked to him a little time.

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JOE MARTINEAU: I saw Swensen on Saturday night about 10:30. I did not have any conversation with him at that time. I was in the store earlier in the day and did some business with him. He seemed a little unusual and would not talk. I thought he was not well, and he seemed to act as though he was worried about something. I did not see him on Sunday morning. I was home and saw the smoke downtown. I ran to the back of Whyte and Orr’s store, and it was smoking badly and then it burst out in flame. There was no fire at the part of the building where the body was found. The back of the store was used as storage.

After the fire had settled down I saw the body lying on its back and a buckle of a belt on the front of the body (he used to wear a belt) and saw a rifle lying across the body. The exhibit looked like the barrel which was lying across the body. I did not see Swensen around. I saw Mrs. Swensen come down with Mrs. Cookson and she looked as if she was in trouble.

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W.G. WHYTE: We had a store in Hughenden. Mr. Swensen managed the store. He had worked for us about 16 years. I last saw him in Hughenden on May 11th. I was down on business matters. We were thinking of closing up the business. He was not troubled over financial matters between himself and the store. He had about $7,000 in stock at New Year’s and some of that had been sold since. Outstanding accounts amounted to about $4,000. He would not be held responsible for outstanding accounts.

The foreman, DANIEL GLOCKZIN, then asked W.G. WHYTE: What kind of check would you have on Swensen?

W.G. WHYTE answered: He took his own stock each year and we would have a complete check when the stock was shipped out. He had offered to accept the outstanding accounts for his share of stock held in the company.

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J.S. ORR: I knew Mr. Swensen for 15 or 16 years. His report went through my office weekly, semi-monthly, monthly, and annually. Business has been better than a year ago during the past few weeks. He should have had about $5,500 to $5,800 worth of stock at this time. (The rest of this witness’s evidence was similar to that of Mr. Whyte’s.)

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Listen to Mrs. Adele Swensen’s statement:

A statement was taken from MRS. SWENSEN, JUNIOR and read at this time: I did not hear my husband leave the house. When I saw the smoke downtown, I thought my husband was in the kitchen shaving. I called and no one answered. I knew then that my husband was not at home. He got home at about 11:30 Saturday night from the store, talked a little while, and went to bed. He told me he would be working all day in the store Sunday. I did not notice anything out of the ordinary when he came home Saturday, although he has not been feeling very good. I am sure it is my husband found in the remains of the fire this morning.

clearer

Shortly after her husband’s death, Mrs. Swensen (Adele) held a private household sale. This ad is from the June 2nd, 1932 issue of The Hughenden Record.

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Listen to Constable Cottrell’s testimony:

CONSTABLE COTTRELL: About 9 a.m. on 22nd May, I received a telephone message from Hughenden to the effect that the town was on fire. I hurried down and after being in Hughenden about 15 minutes, it was reported to me that there was a body seen in the debris of the fire. I made an investigation, saw the body and a rifle barrel lying on the body. I at once notified the coroner, Dr. Murray, and on his arrival, with him, viewed the remains, and on instructions from the coroner took the rifle to the blacksmith shop and with the assistance of the blacksmith, the shell exhibit was taken out of the breech of the rifle, and both have been in my possession since. There was no shell in the magazine when it was picked up. I took possession of the body and handed it over to Mr. D. Glockzin and this exhibit is the same body as was taken out of the fire.

In answer to a question by the jury, the witness (CONSTABLE COTTRELL) said the shell had been fired by the rifle and not by the heat as the firing pin mark showed plainly on the cap.

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CORONER (DR. MURRAY): I found the trunk of a human body lying on the back in the remains of the fire. The arms and legs had been burned off, and only the case of the skull remained. The usual thing which happened when a gun or rifle is placed in the mouth and discharged was that the top of the skull is blown off, and apparently this was shattered in this way. I would not have expected to find the skull shattered in this way if the deceased had just been overcome by fire and no shell fired.

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The jury after being discharged retired and on return, the foreman read the verdict: that Elmer J. Swensen came to his death by shooting himself with a high powered rifle while in a state of temporary despondency.

Pool Room Hughenden

Hughenden’s pool room and barbershop were lost in the fire.

The following articles are about the Hughenden Fire. The first is from the May 23rd, 1932 issue of the Edmonton Journal. When I mentioned on Twitter that I was researching this old story, Alan Zakrison from Calgary sent me both of the following articles. I’m grateful he did.

Rifle Is Found Beside Body in $50,000 Hughenden Fire

 Seven Buildings Razed by Conflagration; Aid Rushed From Czar

(Special to Edmonton Journal)

HUGHENDEN, May 23 – Following a $50,000 fire which destroyed seven buildings here Sunday, body of E.J. Swenson, for 14 years manager of the Whyte and Orr hardware store was found in the smoking ruins of the store. Beside the charred remains was lying a rifle, in the breech of which was an exploded shell.

Edmonton Journal 1932 Fire

Police Investigating

While the fire was at its height, no trace could be found of Swenson. He had left his house shortly before 8 o’clock and was heard to enter the store about that time.

His charred remains were found in the ruins of the store, near where the office was located. The ruins of a rifle containing a discharged shell were beside the body. Dr. Murray, coroner of Sedgewick, who had been called hastily and Constable Cottrell, of Hardisty, are making an investigation. An inquest will be held Monday. Swensen had been known to be worried over business conditions here and the intended closing out of the business by Whyte and Orr’s here this month. His wife and aged mother are in the care of friends.

After

When the fire was over, here’s what was left. This photographer is looking east from the alley behind the destroyed buildings. Upper left, you can see the little Anglican Church where Mary’s family was headed that morning.

Sweeping with great rapidity despite the efforts of volunteer firemen operating five chemical wagons, the blaze destroyed that Whyte & Orr store, the pool room, David A. Coutts’ general store, Phillip Pon’s restaurant, a vacant bakery building, the residence of John Jackson, and the Imperial Oil office building. The Imperial Oil warehouse was not threatened.

Coroner’s Jury Finds Swensen Killed Himself

 Death of Merchant in $50,000 Hughenden Fire Investigated

(Special to Edmonton Journal)

Edmonton Journal Suicide

HUGHENDEN, May 25 – Suicide was the verdict of the coroner’s jury investigating the death of Elmer J. Swensen, Monday. Swensen’s charred body was found in the smouldering ruins of the Whyte & Orr general store, Sunday morning, following a blaze which razed seven buildings and did $50,000 damage.

The verdict was returned to Coroner Dr. Murray, Sedgewick, after the six jurymen had considered the evidence, including the finding of a discharged rifle beside Swensen’s body in the ruins of the store.

Jurymen were: D.A. Coutts, R.P. Stubbs, E.V. Key, George Hall of Hughenden, and D. Glockzin, Czar, and James Lees, Amisk.

Had Been Depressed

Mr. Swensen had been manager of the Whyte & Orr hardware store for 14 years, and there had never been any evidence that the books were not in good shape.

It was known, however, that he had been depressed recently. The store was to have been closed shortly, and he was suffering ill health following an attack of influenza.

The remains were sent to Edmonton for burial. He was married four years ago and is survived by his widow and aged mother and a sister, Mrs. Olsen, Daysland. Mrs. Swensen was formerly Miss Adele Stewart, of Edmonton.

No trace has been found of any message, but it is believed that Swensen may have left a note in the safe, which was still too hot to open when the inquest was held.

Adjusters Busy

Insurance adjusters were busy in Hughenden Monday, inspecting the ruins of the different business places and making adjustments. D.A. Coutts, general merchant, and Phillip Pom, proprietor of the Hughenden Café, were making plans to rebuild. Fire smouldered all Sunday night and all day Monday where flour had been stored, as well as in other parts of the ruins.

Close watch was kept and although high winds Monday made flames break out again, they were quickly quenched.

Fire Insurance

The exploding of canned goods, which had been stored in the restaurant pantry, continued for about eight hours. Owners of the stores and residences which seemed doomed to destruction Sunday, before the fire was stopped at McDevitt’s rooming-house, were busy Monday moving their goods back in and replacing them on the shelves.

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Thanks for reading and listening. I compiled these articles as a member of the Amisk-Hughenden Historical Society. You can visit our webpage and blog here on WordPress. If you’re on Twitter, you can give @AmiskSociety a follow.

 

 

On Monday, January 27 at 1:30 p.m., the Amisk-Hughenden Historical Society is sponsoring a Find a Grave workshop at the Hughenden Public Library.

Grave Workshop Ad JPG

 

It’s My Own Damn Fault

HealEmotionalPainThe sweet taste of blame

Following a relationship-dissolution in my mid-twenties, I decided to participate in a few counselling sessions to help me deal with my grief and shame. The kind counsellor wanted to start by talking about my childhood. Together, we remembered things I’d forgotten or hadn’t considered to be that momentous. Until those sessions my childhood was just what it was. I never thought that my upbringing was anything but normal. Of course, I understand now that no one has a typical childhood. Everyone’s is different.

Listen to me read this post:

At the time, though, it was very sweet to look back on how my parents had “wronged” me and hurt me. I’m not sure the counsellor intended this, but I left each session thinking, “This situation and pain isn’t my fault! If it weren’t for my parents, I wouldn’t be in this mess right now!” My declaration was partly true in that if it weren’t for my parents, I wouldn’t be anywhere right now.

152115 (2)

My mom, Sylvia, on her wedding day at nineteen.

Back then I really enjoyed being given permission to criticize the upbringing my parents provided. I hadn’t really gone there before and I liked the ride. It was exhilarating until the blame slowly formed into a hot ball of anger that sat burning in my stomach. Then I knew I’d ingested too much delicious blame.

The rule of 35

Occasionally I hear people talk about how they were mistreated as kids by their parents. I have no doubt that their stories are true and their pain is real. I also believe this kind of thinking sprinkles salt into wounds that should be allowed to heal.

Is there a cure for some of these old hurts? The good old hard work of forgiveness is the best remedy, but it’s not quick and needs to be done repeatedly. One injection of forgiveness is often not enough. We have to keep getting booster shots to keep our hearts open.

Mom Dad Me 1969

Mom, Dad, and me in 1969. Don’t I look delightful?

A remedy I developed for myself is the rule of 35. Here’s how it works: If we’re 35 years old or more, we have to stop blaming our parents. We’ve had time to do the necessary repair work and we’ve had time to move on. Any dumb decisions we make at or after 35 are completely and wholly down to us.

Mom and Me

Mom and I at the hospital. Mom was twenty-one.

And if you’re a parent (disclaimer: I’m not) and your kids are over 35, you can’t take responsibility for their failures or their successes. It’s been too long since you raised them and too many other factors have steered their life’s course. Your past actions and influence are pretty watered-down by now. You did your best. You’ve grown and your children have grown, too. We can remember them, but the people in those old family photos don’t exist anymore.

Uncertain and impossibly young

Speaking of old family photos, I recently saw some photos of my parents as newlyweds. That handsome couple looked impossibly young and very uncertain. Indeed, they were young in those black-and-white pictures, nineteen and twenty-one.

The past is an open cage out of which we can walk anytime. ~ Ajahn Brahm

Seeing my parents so young and so obviously trying to please their own parents, I realized they didn’t have all the answers. Heck, they didn’t know anything. I know this because at nineteen, I didn’t know anything. How can I blame these kids for doing what they thought was best or, at worst, doing the only thing they knew how to do?

Richard and dog photo

My dad and his dog.

My parents brought to their marriage and child-rearing their own pasts and their own pain. It’s up to me, though, as an adult to not continue the legacy. The fault-finding ends here.

 It’s my own damn fault

 I love Jimmy Buffett’s 1977 hit ”Margaritaville” in which the narrator finally takes responsibility for all the decisions he’s made that have ended him up where he is now. There’s optimism in this happy-sounding but ultimately sad song.

The lyrics outline a healthy progression from apathy to self-acceptance in three steps.

Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame:

  1. But I know it’s nobody’s fault.
  2. Now I think, hell, it could be my fault.
  3. Now I know it’s my own damn fault.

Sure, the song’s main character is still at the bottom of a well, but it seems the cover is off and he can see the light of day. I think he might just climb out yet with responsibility and acceptance forming the rope ladder.

Lost Shaker

Yes, it feels terrible to admit to ourselves that we’ve made poor decisions and behaved badly. No one enjoys it but if you’re alive, you’ve probably made a choice or two you’d like to go back and change.

I heard a Buddhist teacher on YouTube say something like this: The past is an open cage out of which we can walk anytime. I don’t know about you, but depending on the day, I need to walk out of that cage several times between sunup and sundown.

Our freedom lies in shouldering responsibility, picking it up and saying, “Yes, this is mine. It doesn’t belong to anyone else.” The chains fall off when we accept, not dodge, the fact of our mistakes.

Our personal history only holds as much importance as we imbue it with. If we think our past hurts control our lives, then we’re stuck. If we can instead think, “Yes, that’s a part of me but it’s a small part and it doesn’t matter that much anymore,” the cage door of the past swings open and we’re free to walk out.

 

Resolve If You Want To

 

Bluejay

A bluejay in my backyard.

Hi there! Here’s my post from last New Year’s. I still don’t make resolutions for the same reason I’ve never made resolutions: I can’t stand letting myself down. That being said, I’ve been making small, beneficial changes. These decisions seemed to have been spurred on by my aging. I feel fantastic, healthy, and positive. I also feel every building block in my body shifting and changing. If you’re lucky enough to live this long, that’s life!

I’ve recently made three small changes to my health and hygene routine.

A Tasty Calcium Supplement

Some small changesI used to try  (usually unsuccessfully) to take these calcium tablets, 600 mg horse pills. Taking a whole one bothered my stomach and I don’t even think I could absorb that amount of calcium all at once. So I cut the monsterous tablets in half which created jagged edges that sliced my esophagus as the tablet slowly clawed its way down my throat like an angry cat. To avoid this, I stopped taking a calcium supplement altogether. At my age, not awesome.

Recently, I treated myself to fruit-flavoured calcium gummies. It’s been a small, pleasant change I wish I’d made years ago!

Apple Cider Vinegar

All the health gurus swear by apple cider vinegar so I’ve been adding two tablespoons of it to my diet ginger ale. I like it! And it may just be a placebo effect, but my fat little belly seems to have shrunk a little since I adopted this habit. Another simple change that seems to have had a positive result.

OralB CrossAction Battery Toothbrush

This is another positive habit I’ve been meaning to re-adopt for years. I used to brush with a battery-operated brush, but they are more expensive and require more maintenance. But then two days ago, I resurrected one I still had kicking around from before. I cleaned in up and replaced the battery. Holy crow! My back teeth haven’t felt this clean in a long time. I’m so glad I finally made this small change I’d been thinking of forever.

Flannery O’Connor

A Good Man is Hard to FindFlannery O’Connor’s an author I’ve wanted to read for years and so this morning I ordered a copy of her short story collection A Good Man is Hard to Find (1955). I read a bit about her, too, as I searched for her works. She was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1925. I’ve actually seen her childhood home there. In her late 20s, she became ill with a disease closely related to the one that eventually killed my mom. Flannery O’Connor lived with this form of lupus for twelve years and died in 1964 at 39 years old.

Again, this change isn’t a resolution and it doesn’t require much self-discipline. Nor does it require any suffering. It’s just a gift I want to give myself in 2020. Are there any small changes you’d like to make as a gift to yourself this new year?

I don’t bother with New Year’s resolutions. There are so many wonderful and varied ways to set myself up for failure that I don’t need to add New Year’s resolutions to the pile.

Perhaps some of you have benefited from New Year’s resolutions. Maybe these made-to-self promises have allowed you to set and achieve goals that were otherwise out of reach. I haven’t met many people for whom resolutions have worked. Instead, I’m acquainted with the circle of folks who are kicking themselves because they couldn’t adhere to the resolutions they’d made. These are the people I know and to whom I can best relate.

Listen to me read this post:

The disillusioned and disappointed are familiar to me. Those who vowed to lose ten pounds and gained five, those who use our exercise equipment as a place to hang and dry laundry, those who stopped drinking after midnight on January first and got back on that old alcohol horse around seven p.m. on January third. These are the people I understand.

Not that I’m in any way against you who succeed in making and sticking to New Year’s resolutions. I’m not against you or elves or the Easter Bunny. I’m sure if I met any of you, we’d get along just fine. So far, though, I haven’t had the opportunity to meet any of these.

Willow and Setting Sun

A willow tree at sunset.

To resolve means to decide firmly on a course of action. This is just dandy except that factors all around us and that affect us are in a constant state of flux. Nothing stays the same, and there’s a whole ton of things we can’t control or predict that can alter our direction. We can decide as firmly as we like on a course of action, but we can’t control the wind or the waves. We can’t control the rain or the lightning. We can’t control when illnesses and accidents will knock on our doors.

To resolve also means to fix or to find a solution to a problem. But as human beings, we aren’t problems to be fixed or solved; we are meant to be. That’s the point of our existence, and not some imagined and ethereal state of perfection. We are meant to live, to experience, and to discover. We are meant to change, to learn, and to grow.

Sure, we can head in a direction, plot a course. Sometimes we’ll get to our destination and sometimes we’ll thank our lucky stars that we didn’t end up where we were headed. Sometimes our road will be paved, and other times it’ll be rocky and rough. Sometimes the road will seem impassable and still other times we’ll wonder where the road went. “It was here a minute ago…”

Late Afternoon

Late afternoon sun across a pasture.

Don’t let me stop you. If making a New Year’s resolution motivates you or lifts your spirits or gives you a little something to look forward to, then go ahead.

But before you make a promise to yourself, promise me that you’ll forgive yourself when the winds of change shift your direction and when the road becomes impassable. Promise me that you’ll remember your ever-changing nature, and that you’ll try to accept your humanness. Tell me that you won’t let today’s fresh opportunity pass you by because of some rusty old resolution.

Resolve if you want to, but before you resolve to improve, consider that maybe you are just fine the way you are.

Did you like what you read and heard here? Consider following this blog through your email account or right here on WordPress. Thanks for spending some time with me. Wishing you all good things to come in 2020! ~ Lori

I think I could safely resolve to listen to more Jimmy Buffett this year . . .

 

 

Frost: A Boxing Day Photo Blog

The other day I took my camera out and photographed the old Pearson School (1920-1946) while family was visiting. We were taking them on a tour of some of the landmarks. Our guests seemed a bit underwhelmed by what passes for site seeing around here, but I really enjoyed it!

It wasn’t as frosty today, Boxing Day, but the sky was a vibrant blue and the whole wintry world just shone.

And here are a couple pictures of me in the frost feeling a bit frosty.

Thanks for joining me on this snowy adventure. I hope you’re having a very nice holiday season wherever you may be, mountains or desert, sand or snow. Take care and enjoy!

~ Lori

Online Living

Online Living Image

Hello everyone! I hope you’ve had a nice Thursday so far. Since I wrote this post a few years back (I think I was still teaching then) I left Facebook and have been off for almost year. It’s been very refreshing, but I do miss kind, consistent communication with people because I’m all about the kind, consistent communication.

When I left Facebook, I started sending out a personalish newsletter via email. It basically covers some of the day-to-day goings on in my life, the type of things folks sometimes post to Facebook.

Even though I’m working more online now from home, I’m spending less time on social media and more time in real life. I still really enjoy connecting online but technology can feel intrusive and I like to keep it at arm’s length.

Take care and have a great December evening!

~ Lori

Etch a SketchLast week I took a 24-hour break from social media. Now for me, this is pretty big. I actively post on three sites and a few others less often.

I dream about posting; I dream about having my Facebook page liked or unliked; I dream about gaining Twitter followers. Surely during the nighttime hours of sleep my mind could occupy itself with sweeter images than these. And yet…

Often I get up from watching a good TV show or reading an excellent book in order to compulsively check my email, look at my notifications and to post something new. I fear I may be a social media addict. That’s why I took a day to dry out.

Listen to me read this post:

It was hard. Initially, I felt at loose ends, like I should have something to do, somewhere to go. After a bit, I began to relax into my time off, and my mind became freer and clearer, less cluttered. I thought the virtual world revolved around me but when I checked-in the following morning, I was horrified to discover that I was not missed. Not even a little! The virtual world did not spin off its axis in my absence. I felt happy and sad, relieved and dejected.

Eye PadIn a sense, social media is real. The people behind the posts are certainly real, and there’s a responsibility to be respectful and kind when online. Hurt feelings are hurt feelings, online or off. Being blocked or banned or having the door slammed in your face feel the same. Losing a friend is losing a friend.

But social media is restricted by the fact that it is virtual. If I need an egg or a cup of sugar, I go next door or across the street. If I get stuck in the alley after a heavy snowfall, I’m glad that Bob is not my Facebook friend but instead is my real neighbour and will give me a push. I know my 10, 500 Twitter followers won’t be crammed into the community hall the day of my funeral.

Social media builds bridges. Lots of times I’ll receive kind post comments from neighbours I rarely see or talk to – people who live in a 20 kilometre radius of me. I “like” their comments, but I don’t phone them or invite them over for coffee, for tea, or for something with a bit more of a kick. It’s sad. I crave company, but instead of making an effort and seeking it out, I sit in front of this computer screen.

CalculatorI know, I know. I see the irony, as well. You don’t have to point it out. When I’m done writing this, recording it, and reading it over a couple times, I’ll post it online for you to see. Without this virtual connection, you would never know the things I think about and how I view the world. For this and for the connections I’ve made online, I am grateful to social media.

During the upcoming week I’ll take another day off from social media – probably Tuesday again. Maybe I’ll make a phone call or watch an entire TV show or venture out for coffee. For one day I’ll try not to forsake real life for a life lived online. Wish me luck.

Getting Older

 

 

 

 

It’s My Own Damn Fault

HealEmotionalPainThe sweet taste of blame

Following a relationship-dissolution in my mid-twenties, I decided to participate in a few counselling sessions to help me deal with my grief and shame. The kind counsellor wanted to start by talking about my childhood. Together, we remembered things I’d forgotten or hadn’t considered to be that momentous. Until those sessions my childhood was just what it was. I never thought that my upbringing was anything but normal. Of course, I understand now that no one has a typical childhood. Everyone’s is different.

Listen to me read this post:

At the time, though, it was very sweet to look back on how my parents had “wronged” me and hurt me. I’m not sure the counsellor intended this, but I left each session thinking, “This situation and pain isn’t my fault! If it weren’t for my parents, I wouldn’t be in this mess right now!” My declaration was partly true in that if it weren’t for my parents, I wouldn’t be anywhere right now.

152115 (2)

My mom, Sylvia, on her wedding day at nineteen.

Back then I really enjoyed being given permission to criticize the upbringing my parents provided. I hadn’t really gone there before and I liked the ride. It was exhilarating until the blame slowly formed into a hot ball of anger that sat burning in my stomach. Then I knew I’d ingested too much delicious blame.

The rule of 35

Occasionally I hear people talk about how they were mistreated as kids by their parents. I have no doubt that their stories are true and their pain is real. I also believe this kind of thinking sprinkles salt into wounds that should be allowed to heal.

Is there a cure for some of these old hurts? The good old hard work of forgiveness is the best remedy, but it’s not quick and needs to be done repeatedly. One injection of forgiveness is often not enough. We have to keep getting booster shots to keep our hearts open.

Mom Dad Me 1969

Mom, Dad, and me in 1969. Don’t I look delightful?

A remedy I developed for myself is the rule of 35. Here’s how it works: If we’re 35 years old or more, we have to stop blaming our parents. We’ve had time to do the necessary repair work and we’ve had time to move on. Any dumb decisions we make at or after 35 are completely and wholly down to us.

Mom and Me

Mom and I at the hospital. Mom was twenty-one.

And if you’re a parent (disclaimer: I’m not) and your kids are over 35, you can’t take responsibility for their failures or their successes. It’s been too long since you raised them and too many other factors have steered their life’s course. Your past actions and influence are pretty watered-down by now. You did your best. You’ve grown and your children have grown, too. We can remember them, but the people in those old family photos don’t exist anymore.

Uncertain and impossibly young

Speaking of old family photos, I recently saw some photos of my parents as newlyweds. That handsome couple looked impossibly young and very uncertain. Indeed, they were young in those black-and-white pictures, nineteen and twenty-one.

The past is an open cage out of which we can walk anytime. ~ Ajahn Brahm

Seeing my parents so young and so obviously trying to please their own parents, I realized they didn’t have all the answers. Heck, they didn’t know anything. I know this because at nineteen, I didn’t know anything. How can I blame these kids for doing what they thought was best or, at worst, doing the only thing they knew how to do?

Richard and dog photo

My dad and his dog.

My parents brought to their marriage and child-rearing their own pasts and their own pain. It’s up to me, though, as an adult to not continue the legacy. The fault-finding ends here.

 It’s my own damn fault

 I love Jimmy Buffett’s 1977 hit ”Margaritaville” in which the narrator finally takes responsibility for all the decisions he’s made that have ended him up where he is now. There’s optimism in this happy-sounding but ultimately sad song.

The lyrics outline a healthy progression from apathy to self-acceptance in three steps.

Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame:

  1. But I know it’s nobody’s fault.
  2. Now I think, hell, it could be my fault.
  3. Now I know it’s my own damn fault.

Sure, the song’s main character is still at the bottom of a well, but it seems the cover is off and he can see the light of day. I think he might just climb out yet with responsibility and acceptance forming the rope ladder.

Lost Shaker

Yes, it feels terrible to admit to ourselves that we’ve made poor decisions and behaved badly. No one enjoys it but if you’re alive, you’ve probably made a choice or two you’d like to go back and change.

I heard a Buddhist teacher on YouTube say something like this: The past is an open cage out of which we can walk anytime. I don’t know about you, but depending on the day, I need to walk out of that cage several times between sunup and sundown.

Our freedom lies in shouldering responsibility, picking it up and saying, “Yes, this is mine. It doesn’t belong to anyone else.” The chains fall off when we accept, not dodge, the fact of our mistakes.

Our personal history only holds as much importance as we imbue it with. If we think our past hurts control our lives, then we’re stuck. If we can instead think, “Yes, that’s a part of me but it’s a small part and it doesn’t matter that much anymore,” the cage door of the past swings open and we’re free to walk out.

 

The Gift of Home

As I’m re-reading this post from a couple of years ago, I realize that I’ve lived here now for as long as I lived in the house I grew up in. It’s been 14 years since we moved here and nearly 15 years since I purchased Grandma’s house in Hughenden.

After all these years, I’m still happy to live here in this house. Lots has changed in my life and in this house, but that’s how it goes, isn’t it? Just recently I’ve started thinking that I could let go of this place and be happy anywhere.

Take care and thanks for reading!  ~ Lori

Listen to me read this post:

Decorated

Christmas decorations.

This is my 12th Christmas season spent living in Grandma’s house. In March of 2005 – 9 years after her passing – I had the opportunity to buy this rundown little bungalow and make it new again.

My grandparents, my dad’s folks, built this place the year after I was born. They moved into town after selling their farm. Grandma lived here 28 years before she died and thanks to the loving people that cared for her, she was able to live here until her brief hospital stay prior to her death.

I remember Christmases here surrounded by these same walls and by people I loved. On Christmas Eve, the tradition was for us kids to open one specially-selected gift. This gift was always the homemade pajamas that Grandma had spent the autumn sewing in the same basement where I now watch the flat screen TV from my elliptical trainer.Lori Lake LouiseThis house isn’t large. It’s only about 900 hundred square feet, but in those days, you could cram a lot of overnight and supper guests into it. We weren’t as worried about impressing, but instead the emphasis was on being together all in one place and under one roof, this roof.

This house remains although some of the people are gone now from us. And like the people who remain, the house is older, a little creakier, but just as familiar. Together this house and I hold the memories of days and people past. As long as this house and I are here, so are they.

I’ve learned that over a decade spent in any one place can give a really clear picture of the impermanence of everything and everyone. Since coming to this community, I’ve grown to love its people and I’ve attended some of their funerals. I’ve shared meals and drinks and photos and chores. I’ve given gifts to new parents and then I had the chance to teach those children who didn’t yet exist when I first arrived here.

From Grandma’s house, I’ve watched the years move by more closely, more clearly than they would’ve moved by anywhere else. Here, the years are thick with memories, dripping with history, and sweet with sentiment.  To live on this ever-moving continuum for this part of my life has been a gift. This Christmas season and after 12 years, this house in this place and time still feels like this best present I’ve ever received.

Heavy with frost.

Christmastime branches heavy with frost.

 

Human Beings, Not Human Doings

 

Name Plate

My old teacher name plate from St. Patrick School.

This is a post I wrote about a year ago. SInce then, I’m teaching less, and I’m editing and writing more. I’m also letting go and confirming that doing something doesn’t make you something. Just being is enough.

I used to be a full-time teacher and for a long time, that was my identity. In a small community, I was known as the Grade 3 teacher. The teacher box was the one I fit in. Almost two years ago I gave up this position to train for a new career in writing and editing.

Since completing my editing coursework and graduating from Simon Fraser University, I’ve taken on some writing projects and I’ve also done some substitute teaching. The substitute teaching has been great. I work at the school here in town, so I get to walk to work. I also get to work with older students. I wasn’t sure how that would go! They’re so tall and I’m not. As it turns out, those big kids suit me just fine.

Listen to me read this post:

The trouble with substitute teaching is not substitute teaching. This job lets me feel useful and it helps teachers out. It’s fun to work with the students and refreshing to teach new content. The trouble with substitute teaching is that it reminds me what it’s like to be in that teacher box but denies me actually owning that teacher identity. This is uncomfortable. I don’t quite know who I am or where I fit in anymore. My identity was clear and now it’s blurry.

2008

My school photo taken the one year I taught Grade 3 here in Hughenden.

We are not our work.

This is true, and yet we all identify each other by our occupations. “So, what do you do?” The inquirer is not asking about whether you garden, exercise, or meditate. The inquirer wants to know how you make a living. “What is your key identifier?” That’s usually what we want to know when we ask about what another person does.

Now that I’m transitioning between careers, I feel identity-less. More accurate to say that I don’t have as solid and reliable identity as I once had. “I’m a teacher.” It was certain and no one could dispute it. It was the container I belonged in.

Supporting our identities takes energy.

We spend a lot of time and energy building and maintaining our self-identities. It’s handy to be able to describe ourselves: married, employed, Gemini, middle-aged, menopausal, rock music fan, hockey fan, agnostic, and not a morning person. We wear rings and T-shirts to support our identity. Our posts on social media proclaim our self-image. To own a solid identity is to exist.

But there’s an obvious problem with relying on identity. Identity changes constantly.

Identity is not static, so why do we strive to make it into something more solid and real than it is? Why do we cling to our self-identities as if they were life preservers in the waters of life’s ocean? Self-identity changes as sure as each wave rises and falls and disappears back into the sea. Who we are doesn’t stay the same. Sometimes we change imperceptibly and sometimes we change in the blink of an eye in the biggest way.

2015

One of many of my school photos taken while I taught Grade 3 at Amisk School.

It’s time to let go.

It’s difficult during this life change to let go of my professional image, a ghost that’s long since faded from a colourfully-decorated Grade 3 classroom. If I want to move forward, I need to take this old picture of myself out of its frame and throw it away. It’s not me anymore.

What would happen if I let go of my self-identity and took a break from trying to label myself? Probably nothing would happen because this identity is unreliable. Just like today’s weather, my identity will be different when the sun rises tomorrow. We humans crave constancy, but it’s not to be found in this mortal realm.

Life without an identity is freer.

This identity we work so hard to support and nurture might just be weighing us down. It’s like we’re building boxes of specific dimensions and out of imaginary lumber, and then shaping ourselves so that we’ll fit. We’re limiting who we might become and what we might do, all the while ignoring the fact that we constantly change shape and size. We’ll never quite fit into that box.

Let’s step out of that self-made container, take a nice deep breath of fresh air, and stretch our legs. The view is broader out here and the present moment is bursting with potential. Outside the box, we can discover that we aren’t what we do. We simply are. We are all human beings, not human doings.

If you don’t already, consider following my blog by email or through WordPress. My posts won’t always show up in your social media feed. Thanks for reading and listening. See you next time! ~ Lori

 

 

 

Why Buy Locally?

Hi there! It’s been a while since I recorded audio for a post. Why don’t you click and have a listen?

I was talking to a friend the other day on the phone. He told me, “I’m driving into the city when we’re off the phone to get a steak sandwich.”

“I thought you mentioned that the pub there in town had really good steak sandwiches,” I responded.

He answered, “They do but their sandwiches cost too much.”

Just prior to this part of the conversation, he’d shared with me that his pickup truck is a real gas-guzzler and that he was exhausted from that day’s work. Call me lazy and cheap, but I’d rather have my expensive steak sandwich in town and save my gas money and my time.

Listen to me read this post:

So often it’s habitual to hop in our vehicles and drive to a larger centre a couple hours away to search for what we want to buy. I agree that a shopping adventure is also fun. Unlike in the old days, our roads are smooth and wide, and our vehicles are reliable. Heck, you hardly even see anyone broken down at the roadside or anyone fixing a flat tire. It’s convenient and entertaining to travel far to shop. And it’s one of the many factors killing our small communities.

A small thing but great to finally find for sale locally

Baking PansThis is just a small thing, but I had been looking all over for this item. When I’m invited out to dinner at someone’s home or when I attend an event to which I bring a dessert, it’s always best to bring the food in a container that I don’t need returned to me. Apparently these 8X8 inch aluminum pans can be tough to find. I searched all over cities and box stores for these but with no luck.

Then one day we were shopping locally for something else we needed. I’d pretty much given up on ever finding the pans when, as I was wandering the aisles, I saw them sitting on the shelf, a shining beacon of portable-baking optimism. My heart leapt with joy when I spotted them and then it leapt again when I realized that each square foil pan had its own plastic lid. It was better than I could’ve hoped for.

A larger item and awesome to find it on sale locally

Rain Barrel This year we needed to replace one rain barrel because someone didn’t drain the old one in the fall and it split right open. (That someone was me.)  We had our collective eye on a barrel from a large retailer, but the rain barrel was never in stock whenever we happened by one of the chain’s stores.

Once again, we were shopping for something else locally when we stumbled upon the exact same rain barrel conveniently close to home and a whopping 35% off the original price! It’s now sitting in our garage until the earth thaws and the spring rains fall. And next autumn, someone will drain it properly.

A big-ticket item that I usually wouldn’t buy except that it was on sale locally

IMG_7313This past summer, we got a new covered deck built. It’s a comfortable outside space that made me consider for the first time in my life sinking money into decent patio furniture. I didn’t want anything too big, nothing that I considered too extravagant. Initially I thought that the best place to find good quality furniture would be online. So I scoured the retail sites, clicking on outdoor furniture tabs and hoping that what I had in mind would pop up. All the furniture was too expensive, too cheaply made, or not available for delivery to our relatively remote area.

I was out and about shopping locally this fall and I saw a sale price on a patio-furniture set that I would’ve not usually considered buying because it was so big and so beautiful. It was much more than I thought I’d ever need. Heck, it was nicer than most of the indoor furniture I’ve ever owned. But the price and the proximity to home made it irresistible.

The sales staff came out and loaded that furniture into our van, placing each section and each cushion like interlocking puzzle pieces and, amazingly, the whole thing fit!

Customer Service

Years ago, we were in a box store parking lot in the city removing the table and bench we’d just purchased from its cardboard boxes so that it would fit in our hatchback. No one offered to help us get our purchase to our car let alone to load it.

When I shop here in town, the store owners take the water jugs I buy out to my car for me. If I’ve got several bags of groceries, they take those out, too. They thank me sincerely for shopping at our local store because, to them, my patronage makes a big difference.

Yes, I could drive to the city for a cheaper carton of milk and a steak sandwich, but I’d rather save my money and my time and buy locally while I still can.

Thanks for reading and listening today. It was nice to have you here with me. If you’re not already following me here on WordPress or through email, please consider it. That way, you’ll never miss a post. Take care. ~ Lori

 

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