Grandmother's garden, from a high window
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Jun 26, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

Grandmother's garden, from a high window

St. Marys Journal Argus

J.S. Riddell left his family home in West Nissouri Township as a young man, eventually settling in Frobisher, Saskatchewan. In June 1914, he came back east for a visit — his first in 18 years. He brought with him three of his children and was able to introduce them to their grandmother — his mother, Eliza Riddell. His father, William, had died in 1894 after some years of illness but Eliza still lived on their farm with her son, Walter. She was 75 years of age.

Elizabeth (Eliza) Legge was born in Pond Mills, Westminster Township, Sept. 14, 1838, but moved as a child with her family to West Nissouri. The Riddells and the Legges were well-acquainted. Both families had started out in Pond Mills, both were of Scots descent with roots in Aberdeenshire, both families were staunch Presbyterians. The marriage of William Riddell to Eliza Legge in 1863 would have been a happy occasion. The young couple started out on the Riddell home farm (Concession II, Lot 35) but in 1876 they purchased another 100-acre farm right across the road — the west half of Lot 35 in Concession I. Eliza named her new home Firholm.

As the daughter of pioneer settlers, Eliza acquired many skills such as spinning, weaving and binding sheaves at harvest time. When she died, her obituary described her as “keeping house” for her son but she did much more than that. In 1914, she managed the farm’s poultry operations. She also cared for a sizeable garden, shown in the photograph for this week’s column.

The picture was taken by J.S. Riddell from a high vantage point — probably the hay loft of the barn. In June, the garden was doing very well. From this distance, it is not possible to identify all the vegetables but the rows in the right foreground look like hilled potatoes and trellises in the centre are ready for beans. The two girls in the picture, Eliza’s visiting granddaughters, Muriel and Georgina, may have picked early peas. The lighter coloured patch in the separate section in the distance could be a strawberry bed with currant and raspberry bushes beside it. Of course, the work of planting, cultivating and harvesting was just the start. Farm women then spent hours over hot stoves in the summer and fall canning fruit and vegetables and making pickles, relishes and other preserves to last the family through the winter.

A few days before she died on June 9, 1926, at the age of 87, Eliza was still getting up at 5 a.m. to do chores. Her obituary notes that this remarkable woman was a great reader and a local historian. She “possessed a splendid memory … she could tell the names and ages of all the children that had been born in the vicinity for 60 years or more.”

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