by Hazel Corman 1993
Ethel Corman was born in London England in 1896. She came to Canada as a young woman and never went back to England. Her cousins were actresses in the theatre. Ethel must have been lonesome for her family and relatives, but she never showed it.
In the early years of her marriage, she joined her husband Albert in the thriving gold mining town of Herb Lake. Albert built a small home for her and it was in that home that she gave birth to four children: Gilbert, Freda, Jim and Ernie. A daughter, Betty, from her first marriage, made the family complete.
Ethel was small with blue eyes and a lovely rosy English complexion; a hard working, resourceful, loving person. Jim, my husband, describes her as four-foot nothing. She welcomed people to her home, and those who met her, never forgot her. I often wondered how she coped through our cold winters as she had never seen snow until she came to Canada.
Ethel was a good cook and was famous for her jelly rolls, pastry and bread. She told this story about Herb Lake pies:
A bachelor lived at Herb Lake who grew the best rhubarb in town, and anytime the ladies would go by, he’d give them enough rhubarb for a pie. The ladies were always happy to take his rhubarb until someone found out that the reason his rhubarb was so good was because he fertilized it from his outdoor toilet. That revelation ended the pie making.
When the mine closed at Herb Lake, and the children were grown and gone, Ethel and Albert continued to live there, with Albert commercial fishing and trapping. Eventually, in 1961, with hardly anyone left, they moved to the South End of Wekusko Lake, now known as Herb Lake Landing. Ethel’s nearest neighbors were Bertha and Wilfred Cote, but they lived a mile away, so they didn’t see each other very often.
Ethel was alone a lot while Albert was on the trapline and she passed the time crocheting, knitting, quilt making and sewing. Even though she had lived in the bush for many years, she never got over her fear of bears and never ventured far from home.
Ethel never smoked or drank alcohol, but always enjoyed parties with her family. Sometimes she would bring out her violin or her small accordion and sing Danny Boy, her favorite and Galway Bay for Albert.
In 1984 Albert passed away and Ethel then made her home with her daughter Freda and son-in-law Don in The Pas. A few years later, Don retired and built a home at Herb Lake Landing and Ethel moved back to her beloved lakeshore.
Ethel had never been in a hospital in her entire life, but one morning, she fell and broke her hip at the age of 95. Soon she was getting around again with a walker, and then finally, with just her cane. Then something else happened – she had gall stone attacks and needed another operation, so it was back to the hospital again. The family wasn’t sure if she would make it but she surprised us and recovered.
Ethel celebrated her 96th birthday last November. I can’t believe I’m that old. she said. She moved to St Paul’s Nursing Home in The Pas and still crocheted doilies. She would ask the nurses: “Do you have one of my doilies?” and if they said “No”, she would say: “Here, this one’s for you.”
What I have learned from her is in these two lines of a song that she used to sing:
Be happy when you are alive
You’re a long time dead I fear.
Ethel passed away March 1993.
Comment from Hazel March 2014: We recently saw a well dressed man on TV wearing a suit and multi-colored socks like Nana used to make. She used colored bits of leftover yarn and she would measure what she needed for each color then roll the strands of yarn into little balls to make socks for all of us. Shannon used to play with those little balls of yarn. It takes a long time to knit a pair of socks and multi-colored socks took so much longer because of changing colors and weaving in the yarn ends.