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Topic: The Women of Aspenland
Article: Estor (Somers) Laidlaw
Date Posted: October 9/2012
Main District: Wetaskiwin
Decades: 1910's to 1990's

I was born in Edmonton on June 17, 1916 and lived in Tofield with my parents until they moved to Wetaskiwin in April, 1922, after my father bought out the drug stores owned by Mr. Higgs.

There was three lots in all, with the house being on Stanley Street. There was an old barn with two stalls and a hayloft on the lot immediately north of the house. Later, Dr. Janzen built a house on that lot and the third lot west of the barn, with a garage on the northeast corner, kitty corner from the park. All was surrounded by a high board fence except for the southern part of the house lot. The whole thing made for a wonderful playground for children.

I remember that I had a merry-go-round on the barn lot and a playhouse built in the shelter of two big Manitoba Maples on the long street side of the third lot. Many a tea party was served in the shelter of those trees and many a bump occurred when someone fell off the merry-go-round. Not to mention the great adventures we had as kids exploring the dark corners of the barn. These two back lots Dad later let go for taxes when I grew beyond the need of such a playground.

I started grade one in the old parish hall with Mrs. Walker as teacher. Some classmates were Violet Parker, Nellie Bidinger, Ivy Baldry, Bill Odell, Vincent Cole, and Dudley Orr. We used the old brown-covered Alexandra Reader. I still have my copy and it says something for the modern way-I have yet to find the grade one student who can read it. My two kids couldn't begin to cope with it until grades five and three. It was a rather dreary building, with nothing 'bright or beautiful' in sight.

It was a relief to go to the big Alexandra School the following year. Not that it was a very cheerful place, but go to it we did for several years. For grades six and seven all those living west of the railroad tracks had to go to the King Edward School on the east side. Even using all the shortcuts we could devise, it was a long way to go home for lunch, especially in winter, and when your parents refused you crossing the tracks anywhere but at the main crossing on Pearce St. except for the business section of town, all sidewalks were wooden. They were fine for playing hopscotch and other games on, but not so nice to fall on. Many a splinter was plucked from knees, elbows, hands and various other parts of children's anatomies from those sidewalks. You had to be careful when you ran on them, for fear of stubbing your toes and suddenly finding yourself flat on your face.

Wherever anyone could figure out a shortcut across a vacant lot there usually was one. Most were quicker and quite safe unless you encountered a cow or some similar 'wildlife' tethered part way across one. Happen there was such an interception in my path, I usually opted for the long way around. It was great in winter when everyone who could round up a pair of skates made use of the old open rink, whatever the weather. I can still remember how wonderful it was to thaw your toes and fingers around the old stove between skates. What luxury when the town finally built a covered rink.

We did try to get a swimming pool built. The Kiwanis Club sponsored a drive to fund one, circa 1930, and we all took part in a parade, with floats and bands and everything! The Northern Drug sponsored a float made like a huge galley. There were about a dozen pretty, older teenagers as rowers in it and because I was the boss's daughter I got to be a somewhat younger coxswain. Our best efforts were in vain as it was not until around 1950 that Wetaskiwin got its first pool.

The Depression and later the War put a crimp in all such frivolities. A date would maybe consist of going to a show on Friday night followed by lunch at the old Driard coffee shop. The show would cost twenty-five cents each, and you could have toast, a fruit Sunday, and coffee all for another twenty-five cents each. Thus by spending $1, a boy would treat once a week from his total wage of $5 per week clerking in one of the stores. Or we could double date at one of the homes and learn to play bridge or dance to the music of one of the big bands on radio. On Sundays if there was snow then we'd ski out to Peace Hill, make a fire to heat our lunch, and try to ski the rest of the afternoon. Then home for supper, on Sundays.

There were a minimum of extra-curricular school activities. Basketball practised at noon hours, and games always seemed to conflict with my piano lessons. Softball was played on the two vacant lots across from the school. My luck held for the scheduling of it too, so I played little of it. Golf you were on your own, and a few of us would rise early enough to play from four to seven holes before school.

Swimming was mostly done at the lake (Pigeon )if you were lucky enough to belong to a family that owned a cottage, and a Mother willing to spend most of the summer out there. Husbands and visitors were at the mercy of weather and roads.

There were Guides and Boy Scouts too. I belonged to the former. Dorothy Peart was my Patrol Leader, Mary Rasmusson the Company Leader and Eva Walker the Captain. I joined in 1928 and dropped out in grade eleven. Mrs. Palfrey rounded up a few girls that had also dropped out and organized us into the First Cat Rangers (not only in Wetaskiwin but also first in the Province). This group supplied and trained the girls as a Leader for the Guide Company and Brownie Pack for a number of years. I remember that Lorraine Sorenson and myself worked together helping Brownies for a short time and then later helping, eventually taking over as, Leaders from Marjorie Robinson in Guides.

Meantime the Depression kept going and going. Unemployment flourished. Since the course I yearned to take was unavailable in Alberta, my father suggested, with Mother backing him up, that I take Pharmacy first and then take the other if I still wanted it, later, when hopefully conditions would be improved. This made sense and I was duly registered as an apprentice to my Dad. This was in 1933, after I had graduated from high school. This was simply celebrated then by writing your grade twelve exams and not returning to school in the fall. No such thing as a Grad, no ceremony, no dance, no nothing! If you were so minded, you said 'goodbye' to those teachers you liked and hoped you'd never see the others again. I apprenticed for the next three years.

Apprenticeship as always was a period of lots of learning, long hours, low pay. Dad had apprenticed and got his papers under the Northwest Territories, and the U of A didn't exist until 1912. He had started out in 1905 with old Mr. Cowles on Whyte Ave, in Strathcona. He did everything, including making ink and suppositories for five years and then writing the exams. He was one of the rare persons in the province to have such a diploma.

At the time I started out you apprenticed for three years and two years at University for a Diploma or two years apprenticeship and three years at University. Needless to say, in the depressed '30s the former course was the choice of the majority if only for financial reasons. It was a proud day when I went off to the U of A in the fall of 1936 and a prouder one when I graduated on May 13, 1938, at twenty-one years of age.

I continued to work in the Northern Drug, except for a couple of brief periods until I married in November 1943. My husband and I lived in Merritt, B.C. for the next two years and our son was born there. We returned to Wetaskiwin in late 1945, the doctor in Merritt having diagnosed "heart" instead of "gall bladder."

The next spring we went to Winfield where my husband had the Imperial Agency. In late 1948 Stuart went to work in Devon following the discovery of Oil. Dad had opened the drugstore in Devon in November of that year. I went to Devon in September 1949 to relieve in the store as Dad had not had time off in a year.

I stayed to help Mother get moved into their new home. She was moved in a week when she had a fatal stroke. We were looking for a place of our own, but Dad asked us to move in with him. We did so, and I still live in the same house. Dad had a stroke in 1966 and another fatal one in 1970. I ran the store alone while he was ill and operated a year on my own after his death. Then I sold the business in 1972 as arthritis had necessitated a second hip replacement. Following this I did relief work in other stores around the county for a number of years.

I was honored in 1988 at Kananaskis at the Pharmacy Convention as a fifty year member of the Alberta Pharmaceutical Association, on my seventy-second birthday. That also marked my official retirement from Pharmacy. As I have lived and breathed pharmacy all my life, I still maintain an interest in it. To my way of thinking, Mr. Klein's changes have thrown a wet blanket on this profession and I'm glad now to be out of it actually. I'll never forget the satisfaction of compounding a prescription from scratch though, or of dressing windows to display and sell goods, the pleasure of serving and helping customers with their problems, and the whole concept of pharmacy in those days. It was a good profession to be in, although I do think that the men were very slow in believing that a woman could do it!

Copied from typewritten submission by Estor Laidlaw, 1996.


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