What i learned from Donald Archie Malcolm, over 40 years:

There were lessons about love, in our case between man and woman, and the hurt and joy of giving up ego into a bond. There was the painful depth of understanding over the decades, the fights, the persistence. Never would i have believed, the first time i stormed out, that there was so much more understanding to come.

I learned better but that is not what i want to write about tonight.

The two of us took off after saving about half our gross salary in oh 3 years. He had paid mortgages, car payments etc for his family, but now we were free to try.

I remember talking to my aged father about my surprise at the layers of love and understanding i was discovering. He was looking after my stroke-stricken mother in a private care facility. And he answered, yes darling there is so much more. I did not, to be honest, believe him.

We headed north and built a cabin on beautiful land in the Hazelton area. And then we learned this was different than urban BC. It was an education in action for both of us to realize this land was indigenous land. It was ironic because after many years of hiding, his family was remembering the Cree grandmother.

Later of course i realised this canada land is all indigenous land, as is every land, but we newcomers do not have to be enemies.

Tonight i want to talk about homesteading in the 20th century. He knew how to build a cabin, had worked for skilled house builders.

Knew framing, roofing, mixing concrete, rudimentary skills, but plumbing and wiring were beyond his back country experience. And soon we went off to another dream adenture- as lighthouse keepers – which paid cash.

Nonetheless we started again on an island in the north of the salish sea. And between those two situations, i learned skills i had only heard talked about by my parents, from prairie farm backgrounds, 1920s to 1940s.

I learned how to build a cold box in the spring on the side of the hill. We put milk and cheese in there.

I learned to cook dinner early when the sunlight would disappear at 3 in the winter and you had to save your kerosene or candles.

I learned to cook, wash dishes, wash myself, wash clothes, and use that water for the garden on less than 15 litres a day (sure don’t do it now but yes it is possible!)

I learned to cook and even can food on a woodstove. And how to feed that woodstove. It took me longer to learn to use a woodstove than it took to get my graduate degree. All the different woods and when to use what for what heat at what timing. It is actually quite precise.

I already knew how to sew and knit and mend and darn, but this took it to the next level. All by hand, because we had no electricity. I even proudly made rag rugs, which i had read about in books. They were not well made and didn’t last long, but better then spending a few dollars at the store.

I learned how to ice fish with a line and some corn, i learned to shoo off bears with a tea towel, I learned the northern lights were glorious.

I learned the land is your friend but really it is not great to clear a wetland for a mini-farm.

I learned rural people can be very hard, or very kind, to newcomers.

I learned how to survive, at least partly, already coded into me by my parents’ backgrounds. I learned it takes observation of your surroundings, a whole lot of very very hard work, courage, and a whack of stick-to-it. And relationships to sustain you.

This learning is in my bones. It was in my man’s bones, and my grandparents’ bones.

And undoubtedly all our ancestors. We all come from the land. Our ancestors all learned these skills.



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2 responses to “Learned

  1. Susan Yates

    Thank you Delores,

    I have tears in my eyes, reading this with my coffee this morning. What extraordinary ways of being and loving, and learning, in your life with that beautiful man. All these brave and inquiring skills you conquered with a fellow adventurer – they are worth celebrating and sharing for as long as you live.

    I too learned to chop wood, fish through the ice, ski across dazzling snow between stands of birch trees, and scrape a moose hide in preparation for making moccasins, and I treasure such knowledge even now that I can no longer employ those skills.

    Thank you for reminding me that I too was once a daring ‘pioneer’ in my younger years, living closer to the land with someone I loved, amongst members of the Carrier Nation, not realizing the significance of that at the time.

    Love, Susan



  2. Paul G. Shaw