The following article ran in the Provost News on October 14, 2009.

– submitted by Richard Holmes



Margaret Mae Holmes, 87 lived a long, happy and productive life.

She was born on March 6, 1922 in Edmonton to Annie and Wilfrid Ferris of Hayter, Alberta.

Margaret was the youngest of a large family that lived on the farm north of Hayter. She attended the one-room Goodlands School often travelling by horse, developing a life-long love of animals. Sometimes two children rode together on one horse. They walked in the spring and fall and in stormy or very cold winter weather, their father would drive them by sleigh.

The farm was six miles from the post office at Hayter, a busy village with two grocery stores, restaurant, hotel, garage, machine shop, blacksmith shop, bank and a lumberyard. There was a community hall and two schools, an Elementary and a High. There were seven elevators and the CPR trains carried passengers daily. There was no refrigeration at home, so the cellar held any cooked food that needed to be kept cool.

Jellied fruit or vegetables would be put directly on the cement floor. The years that were commonly called the ‘Dirty Thirties’ might be assumed to have been unhappy ones but children didn’t know that they were unusual. Clothes were handed down from one child to the next, sometimes altered, sometimes turned inside out and remade. Margaret recalls “Mother was a good seamstress and kept us looking ‘respectable’ (her word for neat and clean). I had a pet pig for a while. Pigs are not dirty animals. They are cleaner in their habits than cows or horses. Baby pigs are pink and cute, and clean.”

“Our religious upbringing was not exactly consistent. The Ferris and MacDonald forbearers had been Presbyterian but as there was no church of that denomination in Hayter or Macklin we didn’t get firmly rooted in any one church. (There was a Presbyterian church at Chauvin, but we simply never went to Chauvin, it was too far and the roads were too poor.) In the summer months we went to Stainsleigh schoolhouse where Mr. Thompson – commonly known as Preacher Thompson, held services for a very mixed congregation. He was the schoolteacher at Stainsleigh and a man who was respected “almost revered” in the area. He didn’t call the meetings church, they were referred to as Sunday School. In the winter months we didn’t go to church. At that time roads were not kept open in the winter. Cars were put on blocks, (to take the pressure off the tires) and batteries were removed. It was too long a trip to go to Hayter by sleigh. Sunday was still observed. Father read a chapter from the Bible while we were still seated around the table for breakfast. He started with Genesis and read the whole book, including Revelations, which frightened me and probably the other children, too.”

Entertainment for the youth was simple and mostly self-made. As a child with asthma, Margaret was seldom involved in sports. Books were her great pleasure and she read everything she could get her hands on including her dad’s farming magazines, often reading by the window in the fading light and by the dim light of coal oil lamps. “I don’t remember a time I couldn’t read. The older children would tell me what a word “said”, and by this hit and miss method, I was able to read before I went to school.”

She did have a pair of skis that likely her dad made, working by hand (no power tools).

There were card parties at the school and in people’s homes. The boys at home sometimes played poker with match sticks for chips which was considered almost gambling and was frowned upon by mother. No one could play cards on Sunday.

Sunday was a day of rest but for some reason horse-shoe playing was deemed okay. Actual horseshoes of various sizes were used, the young children throwing the smallest and lightest ones.

The family enjoyed music. “We knew all the popular tunes and sang even if our voices weren’t musical. As well as the piano, there was a variety of instruments in our home.” There was also a gramophone with hollow cylindrical records that had a lot of use.

Recently when visiting near Provost, Margaret recalled as a child going cross-country with her father from the farm via oxen and wagon, through the Huck farm a half mile north and atop Ferris’ hill and on to Provost.

Margaret attended high school in Provost and became homesick. The first term she boarded at the Agars, who lived directly across the street from the old brick school. Provost had electricity but no water or sewer system, until the late 1940s or early í50s. The school however, had its own sewage system so there were better facilities there.

Because she had skipped a grade in public school, her parents believed her to be clever. “Actually it was more an accident of having a good memory that allowed me to cope with the classes.” Before the year was over she had made friends and started enjoying the school and the town.

The following year, Francis Manske and her batched in a room upstairs at the home of the Burrs who “were kind people.”

If it was necessary to get home in winter months they took the local (train) to Hayter where they would be met with the sleigh and horses.

During that summer her dad retired from the farm, and brother Lorne took it over. The folks moved to Provost where her dad took over the bulk oil dealership for Imperial Oil. When Margaret finished high school she applied at the bank, and the local stores. Banks hired only men and even the stores felt more inclined to take male help when so many men were looking for work.

After she married George S. Holmes on July 31, 1941 on the family farm north of Hayter – another series of adventures began.

During the war she followed her husband to Calgary during basic training and later via train to the West Coast. With Margaret expecting their first-born, George was lent to the U.S. Army for the invasion of Kiska, still in Japanese hands in the Aleutian Islands in the North Pacific. During George’s absence their daughter appeared. Little Georgia was six months old before she saw her father, returning from the war back at Provost. Margaret recalled.

“My mother arrived in Vancouver the week before Georgia’s birth in mid-July. It was wonderful for me to have her with me. She was probably more worried than I was about the arrival of the baby. I thought it was going to be an interesting event. I was only disappointed that George wasn’t going to be there. (I don’t mean in the delivery room as this wasn’t even imagined at the time.) In the labour room I explained to the nurse that I didn’t want anesthesia. I wanted to be awake. She laughed. Natural childbirth was not in favour at the time, and after some hours of labour, a general anesthetic was administered. It was only after I wakened that I was told I had a baby girl. She weighed 5 pounds 5 ounces, was wrinkled and red, and had dark hair. The nurses were short-staffed, as many had left and joined the Armed Forces. We still were kept in bed for a week and only then allowed to sit up in a chair. The following day we would take a little walk. Most patients stayed 10 days. I was there for 12 as I ran a fever. A very new drug was given me, sulpha, the first of the antibiotic drugs. It involved round the clock administration – being wakened every few hours, but did quickly bring the fever to normal. When Georgia was three weeks old, mother and I left by train for Provost. It seemed the wisest thing to do until I heard from George. I had sent a telegram, via the army post office to him, but it was a couple of weeks before he received it. I told him I’d given the baby both our names, Georgia Margaret. It wasn’t what we’d planned but I had decided he should be remembered in this way, in the event of his not coming back. I didn’t yet know where he was. We had talked of naming a girl Carolyn Anne, for both grandmothers, Carolyn being altered from Karalina, which I didn’t much care for, and Carolyn a popular name at the time.”

They made Provost their home for many years where Margaret kept busy with gardening, working part-time at The Provost News, taking trips to Salt Lake and Dilberry Lake when the couple finally got their own car in 1955, four years after all their children were born.

Margaret developed her artistic skills, taking both pottery and painting classes in town. She had her own kiln and wheel and documented many landmarks from across Alberta and Saskatchewan in her vivid paintings – some of which scenes have since vanished. The paintings were shared over the years with friends and acquaintances beginning in 1967 when the first of a series of Christmas cards appeared. The initial one was a winter scene of the Holmes’s backyard in winter, painted when she was in her mid-40s. Her 42nd annual card prepared for this winter is of St. Margaretís Church, south east of Medicine Hat. Several people have collected her cards throughout the years.

Margaret and George travelled countless miles teaching square dancing at Provost, Macklin, Evesham, Kerrobert and even taking sessions into the United States on holidays.

In her spare time Margaret enjoyed knitting, crocheting and picking wild mushrooms with the rest of the family and often making saskatoon pies and her famous crepes for Sunday morning or Tuesday night suppers.

Margaret was often the navigator on boating trips including a skiing adventure down the South Thompson River where the boat was put in the water at Canoe, B.C. on the Shushwap Lakes and the family found their way to Kamloops with the boys skiing there and back. Another river trip was near the mouth of the Fraser River in B.C. winding up in the Pacific Ocean and into the port of Victoria. The next day, after the boat (with its roof up) went through a dark green wave – instead of over it – the return trip was postponed several hours.

Margaret and George moved to Medicine Hat in 1970, quickly fitting into that growing community.

At Medicine Hat she took enough flying lessons on the right hand side in case she had to land the new family plane, taught pottery classes at Medicine Hat College and hosted – for a decade her various grandchildren who attended college over the years. Margaret was a charter member of the Alberta Pottery Association, an honorary member of the Medicine Hat Potter Club, a member of the Medicine Hat Art Club, Riverside Book Club, Rhyme and Reason Writers Club, earned an Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association award for writing “Going for the Beef” and was also a member both in Provost and Medicine Hat of the Order of the Eastern Star.

Not content to sit still, while in her 70s she and three other women friends took turns driving a car from Alberta across the rest of the country to New Brunswick and back. She also enjoyed trips out of Canada to places like Mexico, the United States and Spain. Other interests were gardening, growing large red poppies, enjoying annual trips with family to Waskesiu (northern Saskatchewan) and later to the Shuswap (near Salmon Arm, B.C.) and watching deer in her backyard.

While in the ‘Hat’ she won awards for her art at the Medicine Hat Exhibition and Stampede and was honoured by being invited to host a one-man art show in the Cultural Centre and was also invited to exhibit her art at the new downtown Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre.

After a brief illness this spring Margaret moved into Meadowlands Retirement Residence and sold her home. She passed away on Thursday, September 24, 2009. She leaves to cherish her memory four children, Georgia (Alfred) Symington of Cobble Hill, B.C., Ronald (Karen) Holmes of Medicine Hat, Roger (Phyllis) Holmes of Wainwright and Richard (Ruth) Holmes of Provost; 13 grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren, brother Fred (Gladys) Ferris of Chilliwack, B.C. and sister-in-law, Vi Ferris of Hayter, as well as numerous nieces and nephews.

She was predeceased by her husband George on March 2, 1987; one son, Rodney (stillborn); two brothers, Lorne Ferris and Jack (Betty) Ferris; two sisters, Jean (Burt) Baldridge and Kay (Rev. Bill) Elkin.†

The funeral service was held in the Pattison Chapel on Friday, October 2, at 1 p.m. with the Rev. Dr. David Carter (former Speaker of the House for the Alberta Legislature) officiating. Interment followed in the Hillside Cemetery, Medicine Hat.

A reception for friends and relatives followed.

She will be remembered by her friends and family for her humility, humour, friendliness and easy-going manner.


Posted by Maurizia