Letters: Finding a New Home in 1945

Written on Wednesday, July 18, 1945

A rather important set of letters, these. Key characters from later in the narrative appear, though briefly.

Will is using his leave from the air force to search out a new home in the Okanagan for the whole family to move to from Pense Saskatchewan. Interesting details:

  • The “Embris” are of course the “Embrees”, old family friends. When I was young, we had an honourary Grandma Embree from that same family, and there are still one or two visits a year between our families, despite my parents’ generation of Embrees moving up north (Vanderhoof).
  • Picking cherries in July.
  • Building materials are in short supply but are being released for houses for “returning men”.
  • The “experimental farm” is, of course, the Summerland Research Station (as it was known when I was young) or the Summerland Research and Development Centre. This is a major fruit growing research centre in western Canada. Most notably, the Spartan apple was developed there and introduced to the world in 1936.

Trout Creek
Filling Station
July 18/45
11:30 am

Dear Kid:

Excuse paper but forgot to bring writing paper. My train was late getting in. 45 minutes. So I missed the 1st bus, but Mr. Freisen was at the station + we went up to the house and he phoned one of the congregation – a car salesman + he drove us out to this place + we met the man he spoke of. He’s an elderly christian and works at the experimental station. He has a ranch where he lives + two acres where he intends building a smaller house where eventually he may live. However he intends to build but has been unable to get material so far but thinks if we lived there that the material could be had as they are releasing it for house for returning men. There’s a two room shack on the experimental station but he doesn’t know if he could get them to rent it, but is going to try. There are no lights or water but the creek runs right by + is clear + OK for washing + there’s drinking water a short distance away. People use to live in it he said. There is also a large house where his wife’s grandmother lives but it belongs to the estate + the will hasn’t been settled yet, but he’s going to enquire about it. or part of it. Mr. Freisen says its one of the best committees + quite a lot of christians – four square + pentecostal + he knows no better for the boys. There’s lots of work. I asked about work at the experimental farm + he said there would likely be work but he would advise waking (?) out as the pay is better. Freisen figures that they will find something in time for you to move out by school time. I think we’ll let Langley Prairie go unless you think you want to go there first. I think these men will keep looking until they find something as they are anxious to have christians there. I called to see another christian – pentecostal family while waiting my bus for Kelowna – people by the name of McNutt + they are sure keen on us coming. They cam there a year last spring from Calgary + say its the best they’ve seen also they wouldn’t go back. They have a small ranch + are doing fine + have a couple of their family attending Bible School. I met a daughter who goes to Saskatoon Bible School + knows the girls. They have a boy about 15 + so have the Embris – the folk who would build the house. Let me know what you think by mail + also I’ll talk it over more fully when I see you at Calgary. Its the place where that soldier got on the bus. Its sure too bad we didn’t look around there that day instead of going to Summerland. I’m at the Kelowna CPR station. I have no stamps here, but managed to make a bus. The weather is lovely not hot like the other time we were here although the sun is shining. It rained slightly last night. Mrs. McNutt picks cherries all morning. Hope you are not too disappointed but I believe something will come of this. If I were out I could start working on that house as soon as they got its material. must close as the train is in. will write again as soon as I get to Calgary.




Sicamous BC
July 18, 8:30pm

Dearest Kid:-

You will likely have had my wire by now + before you get this will have received my hurried letter. I had no stamps + no time to get any so had to mail it without, so hope it arrived OK. Hope you aren’t too dissappointed. Personally I’m really sick at heart tonight to think my two weeks leave has gone + still nothing definite and no chance of more leave to look around. I’m also real homesick for you + sick to think how you will feel about the whole thing. If you should run into anything before coming home + feel like renting, just use your own judgement. I’ve got to where I don’t know what to advise. As I said in my letter Freisen thinks something will turn up. Actually I guess its lack of faith on my part. God knows we want His best and His will is best. We have tried to find a place. I wish we were together so that we could talk it over, but I guess I’m too much of a home guy. I sure wish we were able to have our home somewhere. Try to take some holiday before going home. Hope you are not too tired. I am quite tired tonight + shall be glad to get back to camp to get some sleep. I have to wait here till about 1100 oclock. The trains going West are awfully crowded so no doubt those going East will be also. The mosquitos are awful. Will see you on your way through Calgary, I sure love you kid + wish I could do something about a house. Heaps + heaps of love


Letter: Reunions, Kisses, and the Weirdness of 1920s Consent in 1929

Written on Wednesday, June 26, 1929

This is another letter that leaves me feeling weirdly and awkwardly protective of Gwyneth. But presumably this is what she wanted from the man she loved. Presumably, this is a letter showcasing at least some of the qualities that she found attractive in him. The paragraph about the expected kiss is also a bit weird. There’s no reason to believe that she would resist kissing him (though they haven’t seen each other in months, and anyone might feel slightly shy at first in those circumstances), but it’s made clear that resistance is uncool. Even if she wants to kiss him, which she probably very much does, it’s still somehow framed in this weird slightly coercive way.

Pense, Sask
June 26th

My dearest Gwyneth,

This should reach you about the day before you leave + I thought that even if I wrote on Sunday I had better write one and be sure to catch you before you left so as to cheer you up. Just imagine sweetheart, two weeks from the time you get this, (and) we shall be together again. I hardly dare think too much about it as I get all excited.

Your good letter of the 11th came yesterday and of course made me all the more excited. By the way little girl, what is it that you should tell me, that is worrying you? You say that you don’t know what on earth to do about it, so why not tell me and get it off your chest. I may not be able to help you, and yet I may, and in any case, I believe we should be frank with one another as we expect to be man and wife. In any case don’t worry over whatever it is, + if you don’t care to write it down then tell me after you come out. Remember dear heart I love you learly and want to do everything to make you as happy as possible and after we are married let us both try to remember to give and take. You say too that at times you get a little bit frightened when you think what marriage really means + what a huge responsibility it is, but I hardly think that we should be frightened, sweetheart. Truly it is one of the greatest blessings given us by God if we follow Him. I realize that we should understand the responsibility we have, also the wonderful privilege and holiness of it. God institute it in the beginning, + He knew what was best for man. I realize with you that it is up to both parties to make marriage a success, + I believe if we will both help the other that it should not be so difficult. I also strongly believe that where Christ is given his rightful place in teh home that there should be unity. Cheer up little woman. I believe we should be able to make as good a success of married life as most people, and a good deal better than lots.

I’ve been trying to clean up Andy’s house. Its awfully dirty, + I’m afraid I wont’ be able to make a very good thing of it. One thing, it will be clean when I’m through, even though it doesn’t look very good. One thing its so small that you won’t have so very much house work. Perhaps some day we’ll be able to build us a home + then we’ll have it as we like it.

I heard from Mr. Thornton today + he says that he hates to disappoint us, but he has had to cancel his Canadian trip this year on account of his heart. He has had had another heart attack and has to rest off. The doctor told him that his blood pressure was so low that it was too low to live; but he says he is gradually gaining.

He says too that he doesn’t know if he would be allowed to perform the ceremony here in Canada.

I still think sweetheart that it would be best for us to get married shortly after you arrive, but we’ll see how you feel about it when you get here. If we should, it will be about a month more + we will either be married or be seriously thinking about it. I can hardly imagine it, it seems too good to be true.

Now look after yourself sweetheart + be careful. Don’t forget to send me a telegram and state when you expect to reach Regina. Do you think you’ll recognize me at the station? Anyhow I have your picture + will do my best to make myself known,don’t yell if I try to carry you off. Remember the big kiss you’ve promised me for so long too and don’t try to get out of it. In any case there’ll be lots of chances on teh way home if we come by car, so I’ll try not to be too greedy all at once. I expect Vi will be at the station, so we’ll have to behave to a certain extent, but can make up for it later.

Now I must close, as its an hour after my usual bedtime and I’ll be all in tomorrow, so goodnight sweetheart o’ mine, take good care of yourself + keep looking up. May the Lord richly bless, protect and keep you in safety + satisfy the longings of your heart. With heaps of love + kisses till we meet in Regina,

Ever your own


Letter: The End of Dancing in 1926

Written on Wednesday, August 25, 1926

I’ll be honest, I find this letter hard to read. I guess this is where this blog gets a little personal, because I can’t pretend to be dispassionate about this. These are my grandparents, who admittedly I never really knew.

My grandfather, Will, died when I was less than a year old, and my grandmother, Gwyneth, died when I was just two, although she had been in residential care due to dementia caused by an iatrogenic brain injury related to her bleeding disorder.

I have very slight memories of going walking with her in my orange sweater. In my memory she feels kindly, and I am comfortable with her, but that’s all that I have to connect me in a real sense. Nonetheless, I have always felt a special connection with this woman. My father’s stories about her always made me want to know more about her, to connect with her in some way. That’s always a bit difficult when the person you want to connect with is dead.

This was probably helped by how often, when I was young, people would tell me how much I resembled her, not so much in my physical appearance (though our faces have similarities), but in the way we acted and moved and spoke. I’ll be honest here and say that I do feel a rather inappropriate level of possessiveness and protectiveness for her.

By the same token, I’ve often felt rather disconnected from Will. I have no specific personal memories of him at all, and in the stories my father told about him, he always seemed a rather distant character, not as relatable for me.

And so it’s hard to read this letter from Will to Gwyneth. It’s hard because all his kindly benevolent condescension grates on me. Every time it appears I want to leap up to shield her from it. It starts with the talk of the unknown transgression at the Boat House. As an atheist, and especially as a formerly christian atheist, his advice to give all of her concerns and temptations to God and his assurance that this will bring her more joy than the activities she is tempted to do is particularly difficult to swallow. At the time he was working essentially as a missionary at the Japan Self Help Bible School in Kaibara, and was himself a recent convert with all the zeal appropriate to that, so it’s all quite understandable, but as a person who specifically struggled with the experience of faith and god’s grace (I didn’t feel it despite wanting to desperately, but sometimes pretended I did when it seemed that this would make the adults around me happier/less concerned), it all rings rather hollow.

Eventually a few things are revealed. First, her letters may not exist in the world at all because he destroyed them, to reassure her that should be candid with him (this is unfortunate, from my prying curious perspective), and second that the transgression at the Boat House is related to dancing.

It’s important to know that Gwyneth had been dancing for years. She started young, performed as a dancer on stage (evidence to follow in a postcard), and continued to dance once she arrived in Japan. Her diary mentions lessons weekly or twice weekly. Dancing was a critically important part of her life. But with her conversion to a particularly repressive form of christianity it was suddenly verboten.

My father had told me that growing up he was not permitted to go to movies or attend dances because of their faith, but I guess I hadn’t put together what this would have meant for Gwyneth, dancer.

Aug 25th

Dear Gwyneth:-

Thank you for your letter which arrived this morning. I would have liked to have written then, but did not have the time, so decided to wait until this evening when I would have time.

Many thanks about the pillow slips. I will bring hte measurements on Friday. That is if I do not forget. I’m a terrible person at forgetting things. By the way, before I forget it, I am enclosing a couple of cards with your little brother’s name in Japanese. Tell him to see if he can write it.

Now for more important things. I am sorry Gwyn you are feeling so bad, but listen girl I’m not going to condemn you, for I have no right to seeing I have done things just as bad myself. But Gwyneth tell the Lord Jesus what you write me. Tell him what happened at the Boat House and how you feel, also how you find it hard to give up all these things.

I believe he is speaking to you now. Oh don’t give in but come to Him, for girl you’ll never be happy I know, unless you do.

And Gwyneth when He does give you joy, don’t be ashamed to tell others. You will find that there is joy in that alone. I don’t mean to say you have to ram religion down everybody’s throat, but people will begin to ask you what’s the matter with you, especially if you don’t mix with them like you used to (for you will find that the old things don’t have any pull like they used to) and then tell them. I’m praying for you Gwyn girl, so don’t give in. God wants to bless you.

Don’t worry about those walks. I enjoyed them more tha you I’m sure, and am looking forward to many more.

You don’t need to tell the folk I wrote, unless you wish to. Your letters to me no one shall ever see. Just a minute while I burn it. There it is gone, so you need not worry about that any more. No one will ever know what you wrote.

Dwight came back just as I was going to begin this letter and told me it was a very slow party they had at the B.H. He didn’t say any thing about you at the B.H.

I wish he wouldn’t go there. He knows the people who go there have nothing in common with him. But it isn’t for me to judge.

Well goodnight Gwyneth. Don’t forget what I wrote.

Tell him your whole heart girl and you will never regret it. Speak to Him as though you were speaking to your friend. That’s what prayer is. There’s nothing difficult to it. You didn’t say if you had gone to Him. If you haven’t then Gwyn please do, for girl you cannot give up dancing or any other things in your own strength, but if you will go to God and tell Him you cannot resist the temptation and ask Him to help you, He will help you. Ask Him to take away the desire for these things. Tell Him how unhappy you are and how useless it seems to live, just as you told me and ask Him for Christ’s sake to save and help you, and Gwyn old girl, if He doesn’t undertake and give you a real joy in living and help you out of all your troubles, why, I don’t know Him.

Now listen Gwyneth don’t give up, but do as I’ve just written, for girl it isn’t only a question of now, its a question of your eternal salvation. Doubtless God speaks to all at some time or other, and girl I shall be down on Friday I expect in time for supper. There won’t be time for you to write again before then, but you can tell me, if you care to, when I see you.

I hope you won’t mind me writing like I have. But I just had to, and I was glad you wrote me.

Now must close as its getting late and I want to post this at the station before going to bed so that you will get it tomorrow.

Yours as ever,


Letter: Church, Sweet and Sour Meatballs, Leaving Home in 1954

Written on Monday, July 5, 1954

Don, aged 19, is moving out to Vancouver to work for the summer before starting his studies at UBC in the fall. His brother David (older by five years and likely the David mentioned in the letter) is already there doing his own studies.

I love this letter for what all of the little details:

  • The sweet and sour meatballs, they sure must have made an impression.
  • Sunday school, church, and then evening service too.
  • All of the disorganized wandering around looking for beds to sleep in and places to stay.
  • The line at the end, saying his mother needn’t have worried. Such a universal thing to send to a worrying parent.
  • The Patullo bridge described as a monster (it’s now perhaps the smallest bridge crossing the Fraser, instead of the largest).

2886 W 5th Ave.,
Vancouver 8,
July 5, 1954

Dear Mum + Dad.

I arrived in New Westminster with Marge + Willie at about 6 o’clock. We went to Willies house and had supper. Then they took me into Vancouver to the place where Marge had been staying. She phoned the people in Masterton’s house and the lady gave me an address and a phone number but didn’t say what to do with them. the address was Friezens so Marge and Willie took me there. I went in and Friezens said they could put me up so I stayed there for the night. Next day, Sunday, we went to Sunday School (77 present) and church. Then we all went to Eastons for dinner (a jewish recipe for sweet and sour meatballs). It was really good as was supper which we had there too. Pat and Swen Easton brought David home once remember? She used to be Swen Maryat from Keleden. They have a three month old baby boy named Glen. Sunday night we went to church at Bethany again and David arrived at the end of the service so I got my suitcase and went to their place to sleep. It is small but fixed up nicely. The people up above don’t seem very considerate.

I don’t think much of what I’ve seen of Vancouver so far (not very much) but the Patullo bridge is quite a monster. I wouldn’t want to drive in this traffic but it isn’t as bad as people make out.

You shouldn’t have worried mum I was alright!

Your son,


A first letter home