Doing Good Deeds

By Grace McCoag in Community, People

In 1947 I was in grade 11 at the Wiarton High School. We (my mother and father and I) lived just south of Mar, a hamlet eight miles north of Wiarton. It was winter ——and what a winter we were experiencing. On March 4th we were hit with a severe blizzard; one of the worst storms ever in the area, blocking roads all the way from Wiarton to Tobermory. It just so happened that an elderly gentleman by the name of Mr. Robert Lancaster had passed away the night before at his home in Limberlost near Lion’s Head. He lived on one of the side-roads deep in the area that wasn’t overly populated. Back in those days the big snowplows of today were not in existence. So in this case the center road (No.6 highway as it is called today) was filled with telephone wire high snow-banks from one side clear over to the other side and our snowplows lacked the power to get through.
Along the main road up near Ferndale there is a plain called ‘The Eastnor Flats’ so named because the fields are featureless and clear of bush for over a mile on both sides and as a result the wind and snow blows across blocking the roads even today.
So, in 1947, the question arose as to how to get Mr. Lancaster’s body down to Wiarton for embalming? As you know, especially if you have come from a small community, everyone pulls together and helps their neighbours and friends. So it was that four men, dressed in their warmest clothing, shod in snowshoes, started out from the Lancaster’s home to go south with the body on a toboggan.
They had to come down through fields, pulling the toboggan to which the body of Mr. Lancaster was secured, climbing and lifting over fences because the snow wasn’t quite as deep as on the road. By late afternoon, and nearly exhausted, they had arrived at Mar so they left the body overnight at the local grocery store. The next morning they learned that during the night another elderly man from nearer to Mar, Mr. Ab Woods, had also passed away.

Three neighbours had sat with his body all night and in the morning they notified the undertaker by phone in Wiarton and all the family members. Mr. Woods lived on a back road, so once again two neighbours took the body by toboggan through fields and met up with a team and sleigh to which the body was transferred. The body of Mr. Lancaster, which had been watched over at the grocery store all night, was also then loaded on to the sleigh and fresh guardians started out, but when they reached my Father’s farm (only about 2 miles south) they decided that two sleighs were needed for the horses were tiring fast because of the heavy drifts.
While Father was hitching up his team and sleigh Mother made a quick lunch of soup and homemade bread fresh from the oven and hot tea. After the hot lunch was eaten and with the two bodies on the two farm sleighs they gathered all the able-bodied men of Mar, armed with shovels, for deep drifts were anticipated and started out for Wiarton. The four men who had brought the first body down to Mar headed back to Limberlost after they had eaten and rested for they hoped to get back home before dark.
The men with the horses and heavy sleighs were unable to use the fields for travelling because of so many wire fences along both sides of the road dividing the farm properties and every fence would have to be cut to get the horses through. So they travelled the main highway but at times the drifts were so deep that the men had to go ahead of the horses and shovel a path for them. Finally in mid afternoon the men, horses and precious cargo arrived at the undertaker’s in Wiarton.
In those days the funerals were usually held in the family home. Therefore, the two bodies were left at the Funeral Home for embalming only and because the mortician had a cold–room. When the weather had calmed down in a week or so and when the roads were open, the undertaker could deliver the bodies back to their respective homes where the funerals could be held. I remember my Grandparents had their funerals in their front parlour (as the living–room was called in those days). I recall the large parlour was crowded with folding chairs that the undertaker had provided, as was the case with the rest of the house. I imagine these funerals were, in the end, no different.
In Wiarton, the men who had delivered the bodies to the Funeral Home director, Mr. Henderson, had completed their obligation. But, after a brutal trip like that, a man can become very tired -and thirsty! So after an hour at the local pub to slake their thirst (and of course to warm up their blood for the cold trip back home) and with their tired bones revived, they started back up the Bruce Peninsula. It wasn’t nearly so difficult going home for the winds had calmed and their trail still remained visible.
Again Mother had some hot chilli, rich with hamburg; two kinds of beans; tomatoes; celery and mushrooms, simmering on the old wood stove and more hot tea (no—-nothing any stronger as Mother was a tee-totaler—–anyway they’d had enough at the pub.) We never had coffee but no meal was complete with-out Mother’s apple pie served warm with some hot caramel sauce—-yum—yum—good! We didn’t worry about eating too much sugar in those days. So after getting warm and fed the men drifted off to their respective homes.
Another good deed done between two close-knit communities!