One of the Oldest Residents of Saskatchewan
Published: The Four Town Journal, July 8, 2020
By: Charlee Mitschke
In the past one hundred years, the world has changed drastically, and very few are left to tell the tale. We sat down with Alma Miller from Langenburg, Saskatchewan to discuss a long life full of change. "I’m one hundred and eight years old,” says Alma, "I had a birthday on the sixteenth of June. I guess I’m the oldest one here. I was born in 1912. I don’t have all my memories. Some are good and some are bad.”
Alma was the first of her family’s generation to be born in Canada. Her mother came over from Austria, and her father was from Germany. "I lived all my life in Langenburg except when I went away to school in grade twelve to Yorkton, and then to Regina for teacher training,” Alma mentions. Though it was one hundred years ago, some things haven’t changed in Langenburg. One of Alma’s fondest memories as a child goes back to the skating rink. "We skated a lot. I speed skated. We used to have carnivals, and I won two races,” Alma remarks. Every day after they were done with their chores, you could find Alma and her siblings on the ice rink across town. "I never learned to ride a bicycle.” recalls the one-hundred-eight-year-old. " I tried one time, and fell into the bush,” Alma says laughing, "I gave up on the bike”.
Alma was the second oldest of eight children. Her parents owned and operated a small solidary dairy farm outside of Langenburg. "I had to work hard.” tells Alma, "I didn’t milk cows because I didn’t get the knack of it. I had to stay in the house. They sold milk to town, and my job was to fill all those bottles. My brothers had to deliver milk before school”. Alma often remembers running to school. "We were so far away. The old school was up on the hill, and many times we had to run so we weren’t late. I don’t think we were ever late. I never did have to stand in the corner,” she chuckles.
At the age of seven Alma moved off the countryside and into a townhouse. Her father had bought a hardware store, and it was easier for the kids to be closer to school. She recalls having to make five beds and waiting for all of her siblings to be upstairs before leaving for school.
Alma and her siblings didn’t just work at home. She says, "When we were older we worked at the sewer too, and of course went to school”. It didn’t end there; Alma’s brother owned a grain farm, and the other worked at a creamery in Langenburg. Because of the dirty thirties, times were tight, but Alma’s family made it work. "It was tough, but we figured it out. Food was rationed. There was a shortage of food. My brother was a farmer, so crops weren’t the best, but we got by.”
"I got married in 1936,” remarks Alma, "it was the best day of my life”. "I met my husband in church. It was a long time ago” expresses the one-hundred-eight-year-old. The couple dated for eight years before tying the knot. Alma’s husband was three years older than her, and he was at work while she still attended school. "I went away to teacher college, and we were still always together,” says Alma, "I guess I knew he was the one when I met him”.
Alma had one daughter when she was around twenty-two. "We named her Lavonne,” Alma comments. Lavonne currently lives in Binscarth, Manitoba, and has one son. "I have one grandson and three great-grandchildren. We’re not a big family,” reveals Alma.
Alma taught elementary school to grades one, three, and four. She retired when she was sixty-four. She comments on how teaching was different back then, "When one of my students didn’t listen I stood them in the corner, or I made them stay after school and write lines,” she giggles, "I had one student that was such a chatterbox that I made him sit at the back all by himself”. Principles like the one's Alma used for discipline on her students have been gradually fazed out in schools across Canada.
"You had your good days and your bad days teaching,” Alma claims. She loved what she did, so even the "naughty ones” couldn’t pull her away from the classroom. For fun, similar to today, the students would go out for recess and do class parties.
When the Second World War came into the forefront, Alma vividly remembers having both her brothers at home. "Like a lot of people around here, my brothers had to stay on the farm. They needed produce. My one brother didn’t qualify, and the other was a farmer, so they had to stay on the farm. They needed food,” voices Alma. "I remember having to ration through the wars. You got a little booklet with tickets in it, and you had to use these to get food,” she comments.
Alma doesn’t remember a lot from the 1960s. Things weren’t as widespread as they are now. She lived in a small town and wasn’t exposed to all the segregation or the sixties scoop. "I can’t ever remember hearing about it,” she says.
The world has changed since Alma was young. Alma explains, "We didn’t have television. We had a radio, but no television. "I had a telephone. It was on the wall,” she chuckles, "It was a party line. When we had time, we’d listen to everybody else”. Alma remembers having to hang laundry in the wintertime when there were no laundry dryers. "Oh yes, Langenburg has changed,” Alma discloses, "There are more buildings, better roads, and parks. I should say… everything’s changed except the people. Langenburg is still very hardworking”.
When we look into our rearview mirrors, we see a lot of history resurfacing in new ways. The 1930s stock market crash has taken a new form in COVID-19. We are still sending army troops away to fight in wars. The civil rights movements are still fighting to be heard. If we don’t listen to the past, we will never move forward. We have the knowledge and wisdom that those before us didn’t, so it is our job to learn from their hardships.
When we look at Alma’s life, she’s seen and accomplished so much. Alma saw the past century first hand; she worked hard, took pride in what she did, found love, and treasured family. When peering into Alma’s history, we see ourselves, our town, and Canada’s past. Using Alma’s story, we can distill Langenburg’s yesterday into a brighter small-town future.