A YEAR IN WINNIPEG
In June of 1942, after three years in Oungre, Lillian had managed to save seven hundred and forty dollars, enough money to take a year off from teaching and complete her university degree. When she finished her studies the next spring she had forty cents of that money left! She managed to get work in an insurance office between winter and summer classes and that tided her over.
She decided on the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg because there was no congregation of the church in Saskatoon. She had taken summer classes in Saskatoon and had enjoyed going to the tuberculosis sanatorium each Sunday to break bread with Sis. Olson, but when she was going to be gone for a whole year she really felt the need of the fellowship of a congregation.
Early in July she set off by train from Lake Alma. No one was meeting her, so when she arrived she set off on foot to find a place to stay. She got a tiny room in a hotel and when she went to the window to look out, she discovered it was no window at all, simply a facade. This prairie girl, used to the wide open spaces, felt like she was in a prison cell and still remembers the awful closed-in feeling she experienced. She had no idea how to maneuver her way around town and felt very much alone.
The next afternoon she was more than relieved when Margaret Bodnar, her good friend Alice's sister, arrived to help her get settled. Margaret took over and Lillian was happy to let her. First they took the streetcar out to the university, saw the registrar, got her summer course of studies determined, then got a list of possible boarding places. She found an adequate place on Broadway Ave. and plunged right in to her studies. It was a superb and enlightening year for her educationally, spiritually, socially and aesthetically.
OPENING UP HORIZONS
Spiritual and Social
She started attending the Burnell St. congregation of the Church of Christ because she knew the Beamish family. She was warmly greeted and often had Sunday dinner with them. She had a wonderful time with her Christian family that year. Margaret went to church with her pretty regularly, and they are still good friends.
She thoroughly enjoyed the fellowship of that congregation. Nearly every Sunday night the young people gathered for a singsong at Beamish's or somewhere else. It was at least a half hour walk from Beamish's back to where she was living, and there were many late nights when she made that long walk home, usually alone. Although she shakes her head at the prospect of doing such a thing in today's society, she never once considered it a daring thing to do.
In the fall, after summer classes concluded, she transferred to United College in downtown Winnipeg, and moved in with Harold and Pat Pennock. She loved it there and stayed with them as long as she was in Winnipeg. She walked to the university from their house every morning for her eight o'clock class and stayed all day until five, studying in the library when she wasn't in class. She wanted her evenings left uncluttered so that she could be free to socialize.
She was particularly charmed by little five year old Aynsley Pennock who had such a vivid imagination her parents were worried about her. They asked Lillian for help, so she told Aynsley the story of the boy who cried, "wolf". Aynsley loved it, and said, "Tell it again!" which Lillian did, over...and over...and over again..
Educational and Political
She majored in English and history that year. She enjoyed her classes immensely; in fact, she has never taken a class from which she didn't get a great deal of pleasure. She particularly wanted to take a class from Dr. Arthur Lower, a noted historian, but because of a conflict of class schedules she had to get his permission. When she went to him his gruff responses were, "Why do you want to take Government Four?" - "What did you do before you came here?" - "A woman school teacher" - "in Government Four?" - "They never do very well." But he did let her in and perhaps because she felt challenged by his comments, she was at the top of the class at the end of the year. She felt like she had "upheld the honour of all women teachers".
She appreciated most and got the best grades in her mathematics class, possibly because she had been enjoying teaching it for so many years already. One exam was so long she didn't think she could finish it, but she worked so furiously and finally it was done. She walked home as usual, but she was so worn out she was sick to her stomach. A few days later, as he was giving out the grades, the professor said, "Some of you did very well; I never really expected anyone to finish!"
Other courses were more of a struggle for her. French was new to her and while she passed the course, she didn't do particularly well. Objective psychology was also difficult. One night, just before a major exam she opened her book to review her notes and she felt as if her brain froze; the back of her head actually felt icy cold. She could read the words, but none of them penetrated to her brain. She decided that what she needed was sleep, so she went to bed.
The next morning when she awoke the frozen feeling was gone and she felt quite refreshed. But, when she got to the university and the exam papers were handed out she skimmed through the paper and said to herself , "I don't know the answer to even one of these questions!" She decided that she had to write something because "after all, the teachers who are going to grade this have to have something to read!" She remembers smiling and thinking, "I'm just going to write long answers of whatever comes into my head in relation to the question." She found one question that she maybe knew some little thing about and she put her pen to the paper and just started to write.
The first sentence or two were very difficult and didn't have much to do with the topic, but then the strangest thing happened, her thoughts started to flow (as did her imagination!), and just by writing, thoughts began to come to her mind that really were related to the question! Once she had answered one question her brain seemed to wake up. So she tackled another question and by the time the three hours was up, she had written many, many pages and something about every one of the questions. She was grateful to get 65% on that test and a C on the course!
She learned a very valuable lesson that day that she has tried to pass on to her students ever since. The direct lesson is to do as she did - simply start writing. . .something. . .even if it doesn't make much sense at first. Often the juices will start to flow and your recollection of what you've studied will return. The same lesson at a little more subtle level is "If something seems impossible to do, start out anyway, and you may be amazed at what you can accomplish."
She took advantage of occasions outside the classroom to expand her learning also. One of the ways she did this was by going to lectures of all kinds. She listened to a reporter describe his last days in Berlin before the outbreak of World War II. She heard the president of McGill University talk about the Atlantic Charter and she even attended a Conservative Party convention. She had never voted conservative in her life but she was always interested in government and history. This was the convention when they debated adding the word progressive to the name of the party.
Music and Art
Winnipeg was a great music city, and next to church activities, she most enjoyed the opportunity to hear good music performed live. She was impressed by the Winnipeg Music Festival, a two week long competition in all areas of both instrumental and vocal music. It was considered the best and largest in North America for many years. She was attending United College (University of Winnipeg), which was easy walking distance to the Winnipeg Auditorium where the festival was held, so whenever she had a spare period during the festival that spring, she would slip over to hear the music. She also took some friends along with her to the final concert, which was a full evening's presentation of the best of the winners.
She discovered The Winnipeg Symphony that year, whose concerts were plentiful and magnificent, and she revelled in the great music of the masters. She particularly enjoyed performances of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. She saw two of them that year, The Yeomen Of The Guard and The Gondoliers and with those performances began a fondness for Gilbert and Sullivan that has brought her pleasure throughout her life.
She also renewed her exploration into art appreciation. It formally began with an invitation to all the French students to visit the home of their professor, Dr. Victor Leathers. He owned and had on display, a large collection of reproductions of European art. One room in his home was filled, floor to ceiling, with these framed reproductions. His collection was so large that he changed his gallery every few months.
One day she saw an advertisement for some art lectures and persuaded some friends to go with her. They went to twelve first class lectures, the total cost - two dollars! Dr. Leathers managed to persuade the Winnipeg School of Art to give some non-credit lectures at United College, another outstanding event.
It surprised her to discover that people in Winnipeg didn't seem to be as knowledgeable about or as involved in what was going on nationally and internationally as she was used to in rural Saskatchewan. She began to realize that a big city tends to become ingrown and focused on civic matters. Her professor in Government commented, "If you want to know what's going on in the world, go some place where a group of farmers are gathered and listen to them talk!"
Before she knew it the year was over! It had been such an enriching time that she thought she might like to live in Winnipeg some time in the future. Of course, once she'd been away for a few years she reconsidered, "No, It's too big. I'm a country mouse". She knew before the term was over that she would be going back to Wawota as principal and she was very glad to be returning to a place where she had previously been so happy. When summer school classes ended in August, she went home to Lake Alma before returning to Wawota.
She loved being at home with her family for those few days. When she was younger she had always been eager to get away for new experiences but now she appreciated home more and more; she especially appreciated her parents. She was so thankful for their good, honest, clean-living, Christian lifestyle and so proud of them. They were poor, but they lived in decency and they were good citizens.
Published in The Old Paths Archive