The following story is part of a volume of stories collected from the residents of the R.K. MacDonald Nursing Home in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. For more information on this project, click here.
Colie and his sister, Girlie, were born and raised in Springfield, Antigonish County. Colie was born in 1919, and Girlie in 1927.
Colie has worked many places in his lifetime. During WWII, he worked in the Canadian Air Force and was stationed on Canadian bases such as Debert, Northern Quebec and the Gaspe. After the war, he returned home to teach. He also spent some years teaching up in the Northwest Territories.
Girlie married Oliver Grant, and together they raised four children.
Conversation with Colin and Girlie
I had an interesting conversation with Colin MacDonald and his sister Girlie (Margaret) Grant, who come from a family of eight brothers and one sister, out of which one of them has passed away. Colin is the second eldest in the family and Girlie the 6th. Being the only girl, Margaret has been known as “Girlie” all her life. She says that all her brothers were very good to her. She would go around with her brothers so that her parents would get some quiet time together. Most of the boys stayed in the Antigonish area.
Their family lived about 13 miles outside of Antigonish, in the small community of Springfield. They had friends and relatives around Antigonish who would regularly come to visit them in the country.
Most of the time was either spent in school, which was a mile away, or at home where they carried out small chores and helped their mother. They loved going to school; it was a fun place to be. As there were no school buses in those days, they would pass through the fields and by the hay stacks on their way to and from school. When they were young, there used to be a great deal more snow—snow in 10 foot drifts—and Colin and his brothers would have to shovel.
School was a good place to be. They both had a lot of friends. The teachers were good. The parents were good, too, and they used to teach them at home as well. All the children went to the same school. They could finish up to grade 10 there, but could not afford to go to high school. They were lucky that there was summer school, it was the only way they got to finish.
Their favourite game was baseball, and Colin liked to run. For Girlie, it was always playing with her brothers. She says they would go out and play, come back in, have some tea, and go out again. There was never anyone complaining or groaning about anything.
During Christmas, they always got together with family. They would all go to church on Christmas Eve, and then on Christmas Day there was a dinner. With that, Christmas was pretty much over. As gifts, they would get clothes and sometimes school equipment and shoes; everything was something that you needed. As Girlie was the only girl in the family, she says she was “kinda spoilt” and got all the stuff she wanted. The Christmas dinner itself was turkey, vegetables and pie and whatever else was there. And, of course, Santa Clause came when they were small and innocent; and they believed in him.
We met again the following Tuesday. Both Colin and Girlie were eager to get on with the conversation where we had stopped. They were smartly dressed. We said our hellos, and Colin started to talk to me about his teaching.
Most of his life had gone by teaching. He started teaching around 1939. Girlie also taught. She began teaching in Springfield in 1942, when Colin headed up to Northern Ontario to work in the gold mine at Central Patricia. They both trained at the Teachers College in Truro. At that time, all teachers were trained to teach from Grade 1 to 11 and to teach all subjects. They studied social studies, history, music, math, English, art and health. My ears picked up at the mention of music, as my son is also studying music. Girlie used to take mixed classes, in primary and higher grades. Both of them had their favourite subjects. Colin liked history, and Girlie liked math. Colin told me he used to get paid $250 for a full year of teaching. He would also receive a $120 grant from the government. He taught most of his life, except for during the war and his time in the gold mine in Ontario. There, he earned about 65 cents/hr, and he worked for 8 hours daily.
All this time, Girlie did chip in on the conversation whenever she could. Colin told us about the war and where he served. He was always posted in and around Canada and always on ground. After the war, he went back to teaching.
When I asked Colin if he had ever married, he said no. When I asked him why, he answered that nobody would be interested to get married to someone who travelled a lot.
Unlike him, Girlie did marry and was married for 50 years. Her husband was a very kind man by the name of Oliver Grant. He passed away 20 years ago. Then came the most surprising part. She has 4 children and all of them adopted; two boys and two girls. One of the boys, John, works in a hardware shop and the other one, Oliver, works in Alberta. One of the girls is a cook in Antigonish and the other a hairdresser. Life is so full of surprises.
Both Colin and Girlie are around 92 years of age. They have been living at the R.K. now for nearly 10 years. Their parents names were David and Mary. Their mother was a Chisholm before marriage. At the farm, they had cows, beef cattle, horses and sheep. The farm was eventually sold to a Dutch farmer. When the Dutch came in, they were good. Farming had been going downhill before they arrived. The Dutch were able to receive government grants. This, along with being a very hard working people, enabled the Dutch farmers to improve the local farming community.
Colin was interested to know about me, too. He asked me how did I come to be in Canada and where was my home. I told him I grew up in India and that my husband now works for Coady International. He knew how and where the Coady had started, and about the founding members. We also talked about places I had lived: Zambia (Africa), Atlanta (USA), Bangkok (Asia) and in my own country, India. Colin was interested to know about the schools in India and how the students were taught. I explained to him that we had a rote system; we were not taught logically, but by memorization. We were used to learning it by heart though things are changing now and learning has become more fun. We talked about the issue of floods in India and that Bangkok was at this moment flooded. Flooding is a seasonal occurrence in India. We also have four seasons, but ours are winter, summer, autumn and rainy!
Story collected by Jyotsna Jain, Fall 2011. All photos by Kathryn Collicot.