Memories of Canmore – 1933

Geraldine Violet Minota Light. ©Elinor Florence.

Geraldine Violet Minota Light. ©Elinor Florence.

The following excerpt was taken from a 1979 interview with Geraldine Violet Minota Light, who arrived in Canmore in 1933 with her husband, RCMP officer John Green. The couple lived in the NWMP barracks on Main Street for nearly two years before Green was posted to Fort McMurray.  My thanks to Violet’s great-niece Elinor Florence of Invermere, B.C., for providing it. Elinor writes her own weekly blog about Canada at war. Read Wartime Wednesdays at www.elinorflorence.com/blog.

Geraldine Violet Minota Light was born in England in 1900. She grew up with her eight siblings in Fort Battleford, where her father Frederick was a North West Mounted Police Staff Sergeant.Violet married John Green on June 6, 1929, making her name “Violet Light Green.” She was an old maid of twenty-nine years by then, and he was an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The couple never had children, but they travelled to postings all over Canada. Oyen, Alberta was their first posting and they stayed there for four years. Canmore was their second posting, and they arrived here in 1933 to live in the police barracks. When John joined the armed forces in World War Two, Violet went to England to be near him, braving the threat of air raids rather than endure a long separation. They eventually retired to Victoria, where Violet died in 1989. In this 1979 interview, Violet recalls her happy days in this community.

Geraldine Violet Minota Light: Canmore, 1933
“We spent four years in Oyen and then were transferred to Canmore. What a change from baldheaded prairie right to the mountains. We actually had a bathroom with an honest-to-goodness bath and running water, but still heated and cooked with a wood and coal or briquettes, which were made in Canmore.

North West Mounted Police barracks in the 1920s, Canmore. ©CMAGS

North West Mounted Police barracks in the 1920s, Canmore. ©CMAGS

We proceeded to get some of the joys in life, such as an electric radio, vacuum cleaner, chesterfield suite, etc., and John bought me a lovely McLary range, all cream enamel with stainless steel top – the pride and joy of my life.

Canmore was a good but bust attachment. We were all still in the depression and John had three relief camps to look after besides the town. The men from the relief camps would come to town every Saturday night and always got into fights with the miners – sometimes John would have four fights going on at the same time!

There was one huge miner, I don’t know what his name was, but we called him Fat Emil. He was a Finlander and took an awful shine to John and he would follow him around like a shadow, and if anyone took a poke at John they had to contend with Fat Emil.

A winter scene in Canmore, circa 1920s-30s. ©CMAGS

A winter scene in Canmore, circa 1920s-30s. ©CMAGS

One night he grabbed a fellow who was on the verge of hitting John and threw him over the side of a balcony. Fat Emil always referred to John as “My Canmore.” Once in a while he would get tight himself, and he would go to John and say: “Please, me plenty much drunk. Please take me home.” John would pile him into the car and take him to the YMCA where he had a room and with some help, get him into bed. He never caused any trouble and everyone liked him.

There was a beautiful hike from Canmore; I think it was seven or eight miles. I made it three times, the first time with my next-door neighbors; once with my sister Gladys when she was staying with us; and once with two girls visiting from Oyen.

A log home in Canmore, 1938. ©CMAGS

A log home in Canmore, 1938. ©CMAGS

At the top there were two beautiful lakes called “twin lakes,” so blue and deep. We would pack a lunch and leave quite early in the morning and get home early in the evening. Some enterprising person had gone up years before and cut up some lovely benches every once in a while and tapped springs so you could get a lovely cool drink.

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday during the winter, the ladies had the exclusive use of the skating rink, which was right across the road from our place. I was just learning to skate but the good skaters were patient with beginners and never tired of dragging us around.

One day we all got to the rink but the caretaker hadn’t opened it. We stood around for a while till at last one of the merry group suggested that they should boost me through the snow chute and I could open the door and let the rest in. She said: “They can’t do anything to Mrs. Green, because she’s the policeman’s wife.” She was known as Mrs. Joker and she had her way, and we were all merrily skating around when the caretaker came and wanted to know how we got in so Mrs. Joker proceeded to tell him – she said he couldn’t do anything about it as she was sure the policeman wouldn’t arrest his own wife.

Canmore skating rink. ©CMAGS

Canmore skating rink. ©CMAGS

We had a lot of fun. We used to attend all the hockey games – John on duty and me as a spectator. Fat Emil was always there and about every ten minutes he would come around and want to shake hands with me. It got a bit monotonous after about the twentieth time but you just couldn’t get mad at him.

Every two weeks there was pay day for the miners and John had to doll up in his red serge, strap on his revolver and escort the payroll from the station to the pay office and sit there until all the miners had been paid.

He got wind one day that some guy was planning on holding up the payroll – a letter was intercepted saying that there was only one “bull” to shoot and that “bull” happened to be John. I didn’t know anything about it until it was all over, but some plainclothes men came down from Banff and they attended to that little matter.

In winter the deer used to come right down into our yard. I thought it was wonderful until someone told me they would ruin our lawn. One night I was alone with our German Shepherd dog Dick and when I looked out, there was a big buck deer. I grabbed the broom and went out and tried to frighten him off. The three doe went over the fence as gracefully as could be, but the old buck just stood there. I left the door open so I could beat a hasty retreat should he attack. We glared at each other for a while then I picked up a can of ice and heaved it at him. He gave me one last dirty look and turned and sauntered to the fence and over without any effort at all.

Railyard at Canmore in the 1930s. ©CMAGS

Railyard at Canmore in the 1930s. ©CMAGS

I was afraid to let Dick out as so many does were attacked by dogs and badly maimed. Once when John was in bed with mumps he got a phone message to say a pack of dogs had maimed a doe so badly she needed looking after, so he had to get up and go out and shoot her as she was beyond help.

Our stay at Canmore came to an abrupt end when we got word that we were being transferred to Fort McMurray. That was the first time that I really hated the police. We had only been in Canmore a year and nine months, and by going to McMurray we had to get rid of all our electrical equipment, as there was no power in McMurray. I managed to hold on to my McLary range and chesterfield suite.

A few nights before we were to leave Canmore there was a knock at the door and when I opened it, there were several friends come to give us a going-away party. They brought all the eats with them, even to coffee, cream, sugar and everything. All I had to provide was the water and dishes.

Then a few days before we left, some men came from the relief camps and helped us with our packing. We had a lot of brand new sacks from the cement plant and one guy came equipped with a huge ball of twine and sacking needle and covered all the legs of the furniture and made covers for the chesterfield and all the furniture so everything was well protected. We nicknamed him Omar the Tent Maker. And then we were off to Oyen.

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About Rob Alexander

I am a writer, photographer and historian and the author of The History of Canmore, published by Summerthought Publishing of Banff, AB.
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