Lovisa McDougall – June 16, 1880

Letters From History

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To make up for our brief May letter, we hope our readers will enjoy this longer epistle as well as special bonus music samples!

As summer approaches, we find Lovisa especially homesick. She is concerned with her brother’s misfortune on a lumber deal and is longing for some treats from home. But how can we blame her? It doesn’t sound like there’s much excitement in the settlement these days.

(Once again we have left in Lovisa’s ‘unique’ spelling!)

Fort Edmonton

June 16th 1880

My Dearest Brother

Your welcome letter came to hand today. I was so glad to here [all sic] you were all well but so sorry to here you were in trouble over that lumber. I do hope you will get you[urs]. It is to bad. Be sure & tell me everything about it, how you make out. If some of those people would come out here & commence farming their would not be such hard times down their. Here it does not cost much to live, everything mostly people make. Down their they spend in dress & such like, then are not able to pay their debts. O, it makes me so vext when I think of the people that try to cheat honest people, I do not know what to do. Tell me all about your affairs at home please, I feel so anxious.

I am sure it must be very pleasant for you when you have so much to pass the time away with. Here there is no place to go, only to church on Sunday, & that is pretty dry. No choir, & only 2 or 3 people besides the minister. Last Sunday evening their was only Johnnie & me & 3 besides. The people here are to bad to go to church. I never saw such a daring lot in my life. It is not the half breeds, but white people¦

I have no company scarecely, & I am not sorry, it is nice alone in your own house. I find plenty to keep me busy, but I expect if I live to go home I will have a good time. I hope you will have lots of apples & preserves. I would give a good deal for some good preserves now. I hate the canned fruit we have, & that is all you can get here. Shannon is near here at last with those long looked for carts. Some people past him 4 days ago opposite Victoria. The steamboat started of yesterday, it had 6 passengers going down. Donald McLeoud’s grist & sawmill is up. They expect the boiler and engine on the boat when it returns. That is all that is going on up here this summer. ¦

¦O how much I would like to be travelling on the prairie this summer, I love that kind of life. The next time I go it will be on my road back home & perhaps you will come back with me. I don’t wonder at people not liking Manitoba, I never liked it. It is no comparison to thise place, but a person must have some money before he comes here, as there is no work yet but taking up land, & they must have something to work with. I know lots of young fellows that come up here & got dead broak because their was nothing to do. They come expecting to get in a stoar or something. Johnnie had a young fellow here helping him making garden & after he was through he asked Johnnie to let him stay a day or two. So he stayed a week, but Johnnie told him he could not keep him any longer so he left. He had no money & was in a great fix, but their will be more work before long when these mills get running, & they are making bricks at the barraks now.

I was so thankful for that piece of music you sent, johnnie & me eat the Lozenge[s]. I learned all those pieces you marked in that book. I like “My Redeemer” & “Bulah Land” the best. If their was only a Choir or something here, it would be so nice.

I have much mor to write now. Johnnie sold $1000 worth of goods & leather within the last 3 weeks. He expects to make a good deal this summer, there are 50 carts on the road now from Winnipeg for him. I have hardely anything to do now, not like it was last winter. We have no hired man at all. George Gouler went to Winnipeg with carts this spring.

Now be sure & answer this as soon as you get it & tell me all the news. Take Ma out often, I am sure she is lonesome. Give my love to all enquiring friends. I expect I will hardely know the place when I go home, their will be such changes. ¦Now good by

From your loving sister

Lovisa ¦

I suppose the garden looks nice now. I wish I had some of the flowers you have out here.

For all Lovisa has to say about Edmonton’s shortcomings (“only Johnnie & me & 3 besides” in church, “I never saw such a daring lot in my life”) we also get a sense of her pride in surviving in the settlement, even encouraging her brother to move out west with her.

Lovisa’s description of the unfortunate young men who go broke out west in pursuit of their own wealth also gives us tremendous insight into life in western Canada in the 1880s; it was not any man’s game, but required some wealth to establish one’s business, limiting the prospects of many.

Lastly, perhaps we can relate to Lovisa’s sentiments – in spite of her homesickness and desire to see her family, a sense of nostalgia for a life she has left behind, we also see her enjoying new freedoms (I have no company scarecely [sic[, & I am not sorry, it is nice alone in your own house”) establishing a new identity – that of a strong frontierswoman.

Fort Edmonton Park is now open for the season and you can visit Lovisa and Johnnie’s store, as well as those of their ‘daring’ contemporaries on 1885 Street. On Sundays, you can join the choir that Lovisa longed for at our noon Hymn Sing.