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Topic: The Women of Aspenland
Article: Betty Turner
Date Posted: October 15/2012
Main District: Alder Flats
Decades: 1920's to 2000's
Betty was born May 12, 1920 in Walton Hill, England; a village fifteen miles from London. Her dad was a bricklayer and her mother was busy with thirteen children, nine girls and four boys. At age fourteen, those who did not continue on to higher education had to find jobs. Betty worked as a cook at a private school.
When Betty turned twenty-one, she took a job at a munitions factory. Every day, Betty would walk through the common to get to and from work. While walking home on the common one day, Betty noticed three soldiers sitting together watching for "chinter" planes. Among them was a young soldier named Ivor who was manning a gun waiting for invading planes. Betty met Ivor in 1939 and, six months later they began dating.
They married on December 24, 1942 while Ivor was on a two-day leave. She wore a blue dress and had to use twenty clothing coupons for her wedding outfit. It cost seven coupons for the dress and another seven for the shoes. Many of the coupons for her clothing and the food served at the wedding were borrowed from her family's friends.
When Betty found out that she was expecting, she repeatedly asked for time off from the munitions factory. With every request, she received reports that she was to continue working. It wasn't until ten days before her daughter Kathleen was born that Betty's superintendent finally agreed that she was unfit to work. In February of 1944, Betty had another child; a son named John.
Betty came to Canada in November of 1945 with two small children, John and Kathleen. Ivor was still with troops in Italy. Betty and her children crossed on a ship called Andes. On the ship, there were "war drills". Since there had been a U-boat sighting, these drills were often practiced. A siren signaled the adults to wake the children, dress them and report to a designated area of the desk. After an "all clear", they returned to the voyage. Betty's ship was followed the entire ten day journey by a submarine.
Upon reaching Canada, she then traveled by train to Regina. The train ride was four terrible days long. The hours were long and the children were cranky. There was nothing to do. Ivor arrived in May of 1946 unannounced and surprised everyone. Ivor decided a farm in Alder Flats was a good buy so they moved to a quarter section of land in Alder Flats west of Wetaskiwin. They farmed there for the next forty-five years and ended up having nine children, three boys and six girls, and adopting one ten year old boy named John in 1964.
Betty had no idea what a Canadian farm was like. To her, it was terrible. Betty hated farming in the rugged west. Betty had grown up in a suburb of London where bread and milk were delivered daily up until the beginning of the War. The farm that she had moved to with Ivor had no roads, few trucks and everything was done on horseback.
Betty was forced to learn how to drive a team of horses, make bread, shake up cream to butter, pull up water from the well and keep the house warm through the bitter Alberta winters. This last task she did not conquer since the fuel in the wood stove kept dying out. In England, there was gas or electricity to heat their homes. "If I'd known what was ahead of me, I wouldn't have come."
Farming at Alder Flats was not a comfortable living. Betty often worked outside of the home doing house cleaning, baking or anything that would pay a few dollars. Ivor worked in lumber camps but had to walk twenty-two miles to work. As times got tougher, Ivor had to leave to find work in a bigger centre. Betty was often scared being alone with the children on the farm while her husband was away. At night, she would board up the doors; this action caused the neighbours to consider her "too different".
Their farm was surrounded by trees and swamp with few pathways. Ivor had told Betty before leaving that she would have to walk across the brush to get to the neighbour's farm to get milk for baby John since their cow had stopped producing. After walking for what seemed like hours, Betty became lost in the wilderness. It was a terrifying moment for her, her baby son John that she was carrying and her toddler, Kathleen that she had along with her as well. They walked and walked and finally caught a glimpse of a roof off in the distance. Betty headed straight for it and was soon waist deep in swamp carrying the children. She was determined to reach the house before nightfall. She did and the house turned out to be hers. She put the children to bed until the morning when they would head out once more for milk from the neighbours.
One night, Betty heard footsteps on the roof. Being alone, she was terrified and packed up the kids to leave. She stopped at the neighbours to tell them that she wouldn't need any more milk and explained why she was leaving. Her neighbour talked her into going back home assuring her that the noise was only a squirrel and offered her a ride home and some company for the night. A few days later, the footsteps returned and Betty figured the creature was trying to get into the window; she grabbed a flashlight and shined it out the window. She must have scared the creature because it came crashing down along with the creepers growing up the side of her house. After that, Betty arranged for her neighbour and his son to stay overnight as protection. The footsteps returned and Betty's protectors saw that it was a black bear. There was a trap door on the roof and it was evident that a bear was preparing to hibernate in Betty's attic.
One year, prairie fires swept in from the east. Betty and her family saw the fire coming and ran to a nearby creek. They frantically doused their home with water in an attempt to save it. The children were sent to the neighbour's farm without knowing that they would have to cross the fire line on their way to safety. The Turners rebuilt after the fire.
At one point, Betty took all nine children back to England for two years. She found education too expensive for her eldest daughter, Linda, who was destined for higher learning. Linda Michealchuck is now a teacher.
The Turners sold their land in 1975 and bought a lot in Alder Flats to build a home for retirement. Betty will be eighty-three years old in May of 2003. Eight of the Turner children are in Alberta and one is in BC. She now has numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Based on audio-taped interviews with Marjorie Tanne, July 2003.
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