‘We were real lucky to be eating and to make enough to survive'
Bertha MacRae has called Great Village home for the past 15 years.
But, her life story actually began in Alberta. In remarkable detail, MacRae, 88, reflected back.
"I was born in Alberta in 1923," she said. "My father Allister was originally from Grand Pre, Nova Scotia. He went West on the harvest excursion. My mother Mabel was born in Nebraska."
Along with her parents, who had a small mixed-farm, Bertha, or Chick, as her family called her, and a younger brother Lewis, lived in a log cabin in the woods about 100 miles north of Edmonton.
"The cabin had no bathroom, no running water and it was heated by a wood stove, cook stove and an oil barrel heater," MacRae said. "It was very cold in the mornings. Sometimes our chamber pots would freeze right over. It was so cold, we would often get dressed in bed and then run downstairs to the stove."
The great Depression also affected MacRae and her family deeply.
"Things were so tough in Alberta," MacRae said. "My parents both worked so hard. My father would haul barrels of water on a sleigh for cattle when it was 40 or 50 below zero in the winter. He would spend all day in the fields during the summer. I don't know how we survived. One day I asked, ‘Daddy, why don't you get out of here?' He said, ‘We can't. We can't sell anything, we're stuck here.' We were real lucky to be eating and to make enough to survive."
But then something exciting happened in 1937.
"I came home this day from school and quite a few friends and relatives were there," MacRae recalled. "Daddy asked me how I'd like to move to Nova Scotia. I didn't even know really where Nova Scotia was. I did know we had relatives there though."
MacRae said her father had traded a team of horses and a cow for a 1927 Model A Ford car.
"This knock came on the door this day and a young couple wanted to buy the farm," she said. "The price of $750 was agreed on. Daddy received $150 down. Do you know, it took 10 years to receive the full payment."
MacRae clearly remembers July 1, 1937, the day the family gathered around the new car to begin their adventure to Nova Scotia.
"We stood in front of the model A Ford car which would have been 10 years old," she said. "An old box camera, owned by my mother, was used to take a photo of our family and the car before we left Thorntonville, Alberta for Nova Scotia. It's hard to believe but it was more than 75 years ago. I was 14 and my brother Lewis was 12."
MacRae also remembers a map played an important part in the journey.
"We were of course travelling East," she said. "We seldom met a vehicle. At times we reached a speed of 30 to 35 miles per hour."
In a book titled ‘How The West Was Fun' MacRae's mother Mabel wrote about the trip.
"The old Ford ran perfectly. We had a little tent so we camped out at nights by the side of the road. We took a cabin in Levis, Quebec one night because of heavy rain. All expenses for gas, oil and food was between $50 and $75. Gas was three gallons for a dollar. We had fourteen days on the road (and) arrived in Nova Scotia August 14th."
The MacRae family eventually would spend a few days visiting in Bass River at the home of Bertha's aunt and uncle, Pearl (Mabel's sister) and Alden Knight.
For several years they resided in Summerville, near Walton, and Brooklyn, near Windsor.
Then in 1945 they moved to Glenholme, Colchester County. Allister farmed, was a lumberman and did both carpenter and electrical work. Mabel ran a greenhouse and a canteen.
"I didn't actually live with them," Bertha said. "I had began my career with the Royal Bank."
Retiring in 1983 following a 42-year career with the bank, MacRae lived in Halifax until 1997 when she took up residence in Great Village.
"The way things changed in all of our lives because of the decision to come to Nova Scotia," MacRae said. "Choosing this lifestyle was a good thing. I love Nova Scotia."
Besides being active in the United Church and the choir, MacRae volunteered for 10 years with Wheels to Meals under the umbrella of the Great Village Royal Canadian Legion. She is still a member of the Great Village Garden Club and the Great Village Community Association.
Lyle Carter's column appears every Tuesday in the Truro Daily News. If you have a column idea, contact him at 673-2857.