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Topic: The Women of Aspenland
Article: Martha (Wilson) Grant
Date Posted: December 12/2005
Main District: Lakedell
Decades: 1890's to 1960's
Martha Imrie Wilson was born in Parry Sound, Ontario on April 6, 1889. She was the eldest of eight children. Her mother and father worked hard and accomplished a great deal with the few resources they possessed. Her father built a two-story home with timber cut from their bush. Her mother used every scrap of cloth to make clothes, quilts, mats, etc. for the family.
Martha worked for her room and board while attending high school and then got a permit to teach school when she was eighteen years old. She taught for two years in Ontario and then learned of the much higher wages they received in Alberta. She applied for a teaching position and in 1911 accepted a position with Rosebrier School.
As Martha only had a teaching permit, the next few years were spent upgrading her education in both Edmonton and Camrose. By taking summer classes, a term here and there, she was able to obtain her teaching certificate. She taught school in Lougheed, Sedgewick, Donalda, Millet, Battle River, and Angus Ridge. Being a thrifty person, she was able to save money. With some of her savings, Martha purchased land in Red Deer in 1913 and Edmonton in 1914. It was while she was teaching at Battle River and boarding with the Hudson Grant family that she met her future husband Manfred. They married in 1916 and their son Vernon was born later that year.
After living for a year with Manfred's parents, the young couple bought their own land. As it had not been worked, the land needed to be broken (40 acres the first year) and a home constructed. There was no well for the first few years and in summer, water was hauled from the river half a mile away. The stock had to be driven to the river. In the winter, ice and snow were melted to provide water.
It did not take long before Martha became involved in her community. In 1917, the Angus Ridge Women's Institute was organized and she was a Charter Member. The Institute introduced many different crafts and activities to women everywhere in Canada and Angus Ridge was no exception. Martha Grant learned copper etching, photography and basket weaving for example. She sewed all her children's clothing while they were growing up and her hand-made quilts won awards nationally and internationally. Included in her write up of "The Manfred Grants" in the Lewisville Pioneers she wrote, "With the coming of the Institute a new world was opened up to farm women. They had their monthly meetings with a Provincial Convention every year. The government sent speakers and demonstrations were given in the halls and school houses; the women learned to take office and a great many crafts were taught".
Martha served in many capacities over the next several years. She was President and Secretary of the local Women's Institute. She also spent several years as Constituency Convenor and several more as Constituency Secretary. At the provincial level, Martha served as the Convenor of Canadian Industries and Agriculture.
She was also busy with her family. The Grants had three more children during the next decade. Margaret was born in 1918, Roscoe in 1921 and Robert in 1927.
After her family had grown, Martha became involved in other endeavors. In the early forties she started in the poultry business, initially by raising turkeys for market. Then, she began raising hatching eggs. The government would send out inspectors to certify that the laying stock was of pure breed. Each egg was weighed and if it was of sufficient weight, became one of the 30 to 50 dozen that was sent to Edmonton by rail each week. The eggs were brought in through the Poultry Board. This was the beginning of Martha's several year involvement with the Alberta Poultry Producers. She attended many annual general meetings in the late '40's and early '50's in Calgary and Edmonton.
The Wetaskiwin Co-operative became another of Martha's passions. In 1916 the Wetaskiwin Co-op was established when an interested local group of United Farmers of Alberta formed the Wetaskiwin District Association of the United Farmers of Alberta. The objective was co-operative buying and selling among a membership of district locals. In 1948, Martha Grant was nominated to the board at the Annual Meeting and was elected Director. She was the first woman to serve as Director and continued to do so for the next 8 years. She was highly regarded by her associates who thought of her as practical and farsighted. During her tenure, Martha wished to improve the appearance and operation of the store. Her wish was that the Co-op be the very best store in Wetaskiwin!
In 1954, Martha helped form the Ladies Co-op Guild. It started with a membership of twelve ladies. They raised money through various fundraising activities and served the Co-op through their loyal patronage, by increasing good public relations, conducting cooking schools and other various activities. As a guild they met monthly and read articles and pamphlets on the co-operative movement. She felt women needed to be more involved with the Co-op. "After all", she was known to say, "the women spend 85% of the money, why shouldn't they have something to say about the Co-op Store?"
Martha and Manfred continued their life on the farm and their involvement with their community. On October 12, 1964 Manfred passed away in the Wetaskiwin hospital. The Grants would have celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in 1966. Martha continued living on the farm until about 1970 when she bought a home and moved into Wetaskiwin.
Martha was still very active after moving to Wetaskiwin. She began painting and enjoyed giving her paintings away as gifts to family members. She loved "serious" reading and would enjoy discussing authors and their works. Poetry was something she enjoyed very much. Martha became a member of the United Church. She saved articles and clippings about community history, people in the community and royalty in her scrapbook. Throughout her life she loved playing cards, especially Canasta. Gardening was a great passion and she would get up early to tend to her flowers and garden. She won numerous ribbons for her immaculate garden and flowers. Until the end of her life, Martha sewed her own clothes and continued making quilts.
In summary, Martha Imrie Grant was a woman devoted to her family and her community. As a young wife and mother, she worked along side her husband to develop and improve their land and begin a family. As a young woman, she became involved with her community through the Angus Ridge Institute. As time passed and her children were grown, she became involved with poultry production. Through this endeavor, Martha became involved with the Alberta Producers. Finally, she devoted years to the Wetaskiwin Co-operative by serving as a director on the board for several years and the foundation of the Co-op Ladies Guild.
Martha was very busy and involved almost to the end of her long life. She passed away on July 14, 1987 at 98 years of age.
Further Articles regarding Martha Grant:
Memories of Mother
My mom looked for a place for teaching in the West. It was advertised and I don't know how she got it. She came by train and this is a coincidence. My Aunt Helen, dad's sister, was on the train coming from Sedgewick where she had been teaching. They ended up great friends and six years later mom married Aunt Helen's brother.
When mom first taught at Rosebrier she stayed with a family and their drinking water was very hard. She laughed about how she would walk three miles every day for a drink of water at Lewisville Crossing and it didn't occur to her to take a pail with her.
Mom had to go half a mile to the Battle River daily to get water with a pail and two kids hanging on her skirts. Vernon was little and Margie was the baby. I wasn't born yet. Vernon was a runaway and there was nothing but bush. He would take off into the bush and she'd bring him out with a willow switch and he'd go right from the clearing to the bush on the other side.
They didn't have good fences and when you wanted to milk the cows you had to find them in the bush and with two kids hanging on you, it was a bit of a struggle.
In the days before combines, women did all the work. The horses stayed in the barn and in the morning when they left for the harvest, the women would put the cows in and milk them. They would do all the chores and before the men came home at night, they did the chores again. In the meantime they got the breakfasts, lunches and supper for the crew. They also carried water and wood. I remember many times coming home in from chores and mom had the washboard out and the old wringer and we'd leave for school. She'd have the boiler sitting on the stove and when we came home at night, she was still washing.
When I was growing up, I can remember them having quilting parties. You'd get up in the morning and the room would be filled with a quilting frame. It would be set up as big as a large table and it would take the whole room. The women would all come in for the next two or three days and sew. The Institute sent these quilts to Scotland and England and they took prizes all over.
I remember back when my sister took piano lessons and how my mother would pound on her piano. I remember when Vern took the violin and the same thing. When it came to me, I remember her saying that she gave up. It turns out that I'm the one that sings and plays. My mother used to play piano when company came and I used to have to sing "Riding Down from Banger on an Eastern Train……….." I got so I hated that song.
Mom went to live in the Good Shepherd Home when she was in her 90's. She'd walk all the way from there to where her house had been (behind the Anglican Church) because there were apples on the trees. The people who owned the house were nice enough that they let her come and do what she wanted. She'd climb on top of the picnic table on top of a chair to get these apples. Then she'd take them all the way back to the Good Shepherd Home.
My mother-in-law was a very straight-laced woman. Until the day she died when she walked downtown, she'd wear hat and gloves.
Mom had a stroke and they put her in the Auxiliary hospital. The rooms weren't very big and she was a real plant person. She had plants coming out of that building. She'd hide plants underneath her bed in milk cartons. The staff would look out the window and find her rummaging around in the garbage for milk cartons. She had every plant pot in that place full of plants. They were coming out of that building.
My mother set an example to the people around there but nobody could follow her example because they wouldn't go to the extent she did. She had fruit trees long before we have the trees that will produce now. We had some plum trees but there were so sour they would knock you right over backwards. She'd always be into something. She set such a high mark that other people couldn't be bothered with it.
She was concerned about the welfare of others. If someone needed help, she was there. There was no two ways about it, that was community.
My mom and dad received the 2000 Family Award and we got a beautiful plaque from 1900 to 2005. The people that earned it didn't get to see it. They would have been very proud.
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