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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Reading my Grandmother - the Fairy Glen Library

When you start asking questions about your family history, all kinds of fascinating facts come forward. Such as…

There was a library in the tiny hamlet of Fairy Glen, though not when my grandmother was a girl. She had left home before it was established in my great-grandmother’s living room, around 1928. One of my uncles described it to me as shelves against the end wall, maybe 12 feet long by 8 feet high, crammed with fiction – mostly westerns – and non-fiction. The library even had a name: Aurora Borealis. 

(My library looks pretty much the same... more board feet of shelving... but all the books in it belong to us, and we just call it the 'living room')

The sign-out record at Aurora Borealis was a ledger with columns labeled by hand:  title/date/person taking/date returned. In a community of less than 200 people, that was sufficient. The librarian - even when she was not your own grandmother - knew not only you, but your mother, father, siblings, and extended family. She not only knew your phone number (if you had one) and your class at the only school, but she would likely see you at least once a week in company with your parents, teachers, friends, and other people who would frown alarmingly (if they did nothing worse) to find you had abused the privilege of using the library. 

My uncle made a few phone calls and traced the movements of the library: beginning at his grandmother's house around the time the railroad and grain elevators came to Fairy Glen, it moved to Mrs. Ronning, who also had the post office. After World War 2, Mrs. Ronning's boys came home to a dearth of local jobs and she moved away with them, sending the post office to a neighbour, Red Glover, and the library to the schoolhouse, which had been expanded well beyond its one room by then due to an influx of families forced off their farms during the Great Depression. Sad to say, when the Fairy Glen school was amalgamated into the Melfort school unit, the building and contents were essentially abandoned. After some incidents of vandalism, a former teacher rescued a few boxes of books, the last remnants of a pioneer initiative that encouraged reading and the acquisition of knowledge in that isolated farming community for several decades.

My first concrete link to my Scottish-Canadian grandmother’s reading habits has also turned up: my mother remembers that her mother was awarded a book while she attended that original one-room schoolhouse. She read it many times and kept it in her private trunk all her long, long life. The book was Gene Stratton Porter’s Girl of the Limberlost.

This book has been in print since 1909, and my local library (Alexander Calhoun Branch, Calgary Public Library) sent me over a copy within two days of my requesting it. I LOVE my local library!

My uncle remembers my grandmother had 4-5 girls books inscribed with ‘for First in Class’, and suggested I look for ‘Girls of the True Blue’. This book was one of around 300 written or co-written by L.T. Meade in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s (she died in 1914). 

Sadly, this particular title is not available either at my library or on Project Gutenberg. Doubly sad because, as an Irish-born author, L.T. Meade could well have been on my English grandmother’s childhood reading list as well.Gutenberg has numerous titles available, though, so until I get more specific information, I can taste-test the books and get the flavour of both my grandmothers' girlhood reading options.

This weekend, though, I will open 'A Girl of the Limberlost' and experience for the first time a book that I know was a vital part of my Fairy Glen grandmother’s reading life. One small connection is made.


  1. testing testing
    I don't know if posted anything yet.
    will try again.

  2. I love this talk of old libraries.

    We didn't have many books growing up. Sometimes our mother would drive us to Thamesville (population 1000) and we'd visit the one room library. By the time we drove back to the farm, we'd have read nearly all of our books - children's books. Mom said that defeated the purpose of bringing them home!

  3. I've been looking for old photos of my great-grandmother's house or other buildings at Fairy Glen (such a lovely name, isn't it? Worthy of Lucy Maude Montgomery). But no luck online. Now the kin are being asked to scour their attics for old albums and scan what they have before it's lost forever.

  4. This is a lot of work. I am collecting old photos of family members and scanning them. Also, I'm scanning the backs of the photos for any scribbles of information. People would write "flood Prairie Siding Mar 17" but no year. Today our digital cameras date stamp the pictures. If only people would check their date set up and get the right date in there!