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Dear Lila: Life on an Alberta Farm in 1925 As Recorded in Letters Saved by Lila Blackburn.

Dear Lila: Life on an Alberta Farm in 1925 As Recorded in Letters Saved by Lila Blackburn

compiled by Robert H. Blackburn, 95 pp., illus, soft cover, $10.00. Available from the compiler, 5300 Drenkelly Court, Mississauga, ON, L5M 2H4.

These letters provide a personal and realistic glimpse into the lives of an Alberta farm family in the 1920s. The Blackburns had a farm near Tofield and farmer John and others in the family wrote regular letters to his sister, Lila, in California.

In one letter from Lavoy in April 1925, John says, "there is practically no news of interest. About all that happens around here is work." (p.29) He then goes on for several pages with his "no news." He tells of current wheat prices, losing a pig when a strawstack fell on it, and moving their cattle to keep them out of the grain fields. He talks about he and his hired man "one of the Dutchmens" butchering two pigs, and the following day going to the station to pick up fifty-four calves brought down from Edmonton. Next they fixed the corral for dehorning, adding that "I have been advanced from the position of nose-holder to dehorner this season and probably wear ribbons of blood that go with the office." (p.30) Next they trained colts to haul by pairing them with older horses until they "all led fine." On Saturday they started to haul hay but the melting snow was so deep it took them three days to get the work done.

John wrote about his children and how well they were doing. The school had hired an eighteen-year-old teacher but classes were suspended because the roads were flooded. The road to Vegreville was impassable in places.

Speaking of neighbours, he said one man had been "starved out" and had moved to California. Another (his former hired man), "is engaged to another girl and is putting in 190 acres of wheat and 150 oats and 45 barley, alone. Says he started to plow the 3rd of April." (p. 32)

One of the great novelties of this time was the radio. It was a subject that dominated the family's interest. In February 1925 John commented, "We all went down to Paul's on the 5th and took the radio along as it was Thursday and we hated to miss the Igloo Hut. We ran a 25-foot wire around the place the picture moulding would be, if they had any, and picked up Denver and Pittsburgh before supper. After supper we hooked onto their clothesline and got nearly everything we do at home but not quite as clear. Edmonton however was OK." (pp. 22-23)

These letters to Lila deal with a variety of subjects, all part of the daily life of the Blackburn family. There were card parties and dances, concern over wheat prices, constructing new buildings on the farm, threshing, constant work, family, and, as always, the weather. Add a light touch of humour and you have a very readable account of a farm family in the 1920s.

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Publication:Alberta History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2009
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