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Topic: The Women of Aspenland
Article: Nancy (Ward) Samson
Date Posted: October 15/2012
Main District: Hobbema
Decades: 1910's to 1990's

Nancy Ward Samson was born at Hobbema, Alberta, on December 26, 1914 to James and Mary Ward, the oldest of twelve children. The family lived in log houses, both on the Samson Reserve and at her paternal grandfather's place near Bashaw.

When Nancy was eight years old, she went on the train to the Indian Residential School. She got off in Edmonton, where staff members met her and other children, and drove them to the school in St. Albert. It served the Protestant children and was operated by the United Church of Canada. The parents were welcome to visit at the school and were put up overnight when they came.

Nancy had few problems at the residential school. The students worked half-days and attended classes half-days. She worked in the laundry, cleaned dormitories, helped in the kitchen, and mended clothes. The only time she remembers being severely disciplined was one fall when the children were carrying cases of plums from a truck to the kitchen. She, along with others, were pulling out the plums and eating them as they walked. It was noticed that quite a few plums were missing so the principal lined the children up in his office. "Did you take the plums?" was the question. "Yes," was the answer. "Which hand did you use to take the plums?" They held out that hand and got a strap on it. It was the only strap she ever got.

The students stayed at the school all year except for six weeks' holiday in the summer. It was very hard to leave home again to go back to school, and Nancy cried on the train taking her back. However, when the staff met them and they were on their way to St. Albert, there were no more tears.

Native students were forced to leave school at age eighteen. Nancy had finished grade nine with one year at Alberta College. There was no opportunity in those days for any more schooling.

The fall after leaving school, Nancy's parents and John Samson's parents betgan talking about them getting married. The Samsons wanted Nancy as a daughter-in-law, and the Wards were pleased to have John as a son-in-law. They asked the young couple if they wanted to marry each other. As everyone was happy with the union, they were married December 12, 1933, just before Nancy's nineteenth birthday.

To this couple were born ten children, six of whom are still living. Their firs thome was built of green logs plastered with mud. Mr. Samson, Sr. made a table and benches. The curtains were made from printed flour sacks, as were the sheets and pillowcases. Nancy and John worked together in the farming operation. She cut brush, stoked, chopped wood, hauled water, raised a garden, and cared for her large family. They managed to scrape up $34 for a Singer treadle sewing machine at an auction, and Nancy continued to use it for the rest of her life.

After the children were in school, Nancy began work as casual help at the Hobbema Hospital, and soon moved up to feeding the babies who were patients. Her gentle manner endeared her to all. She took the Community Health Representative training and continued to work in the health field until her retirement in December, 1979. Community health was very important to Nancy and she took the initiative to get road ditches cleaned, old cars hauled out of yards, and stray dogs put down. She worked very hard to make the reserve a better place to live and was dedicated to her people.

In 1967, Nancy, Mrs. Emma Minde, and Theresa Wildcat formed the Four-Band Homemakers Club. They did a lot of sewing and quilting. The quilts were donated to fire victims. They saw a need to give the people of the community the news, such as births, deaths, weddings, and who was in the hospital in Ponoka or Wetaskiwin (The local hospital had been closed in 1963).

The Bear Hills Native Voice newspaper was born. The women collected the news items which were typed and the paper was run off on a Gestetner. There was no charge for the paper at that time. It continued to be published by volunteers for several years, and later became a business. The name was never changed.

Retirement meant changing focus: she now had time to pursue her arts and crafts, sew, and enjoy the grandchildren. The Samsons built their lovely log ranch-style home in 1980. The logs were pre-cut. John said it was like puzzle: every log was numbered and he had to put them together correctly. It is a four-bedroom home with attached garage. The garage, however, has never had a car in it. It became the sewing room, craft room and almost a museum. Both John and Nancy have done many Native crafts.

Nancy Samson has been a lifetime resident of the Samson Reserve. She has shaped her own family, her community, and indirectly the Native people of Alberta. Beneath her quiet demeanour lies great strength. Nancy and John Samson have been leaders in the growth and prosperity of their community.

Information compiled in 1996.


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Blaine Kjorlien
Board Member - Wetaskiwin & District Heritage Museum
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Wetaskiwin, Alberta T9A 0S3


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