Monday, February 19, 2018

This is Me - The Early Years

So recently I was reading a story that my mother had written about her life, her cousin who has a keen interest in the family genealogy had posted it to FaceBook; it got me thinking that I should record a little about my life. Maybe no one will care to read it but that really isn't the point, I just want to have my story out there.

I am the oldest child of Daniel Hugh Stewart and Theresa Anne Pineau. My father was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba but was raised in New Brunswick. My mother was born in Bloomfield, Prince Edward Island but she was raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  They met and married in Halifax. My dad was in the Royal Canadian Air Force and was posted to Beaverbank, Nova Scotia at the time. My mum was an elementary school teacher.

This picture is taken on their wedding day. With them, is my dad's mother, Helen (Templeton) Stewart and my mother's parents Edmund and Louise (Arsenault) Pineau.

I was born on my grandmother Stewart's birthday so I was named Helen-Marie for her and for my Aunt Helen. My parents and a few relatives always called me Helen-Marie but to most people I am just Helen.  For my first year, we lived in an apartment building in a basement apartment that was close to where my grandparents Pineau lived.  Later on when I lived in Halifax while going to university I used to walk by that apartment building and often had the urge to look in the window; that's one thing about a military life, there's really no one place to call home.

I think this picture of me with my bunny Hoppy was taken in that little apartment.  Living close to family meant there were cousins and aunts and uncles, some of mine were hardly older than me. This my first birthday, on the left are two of my cousins and on the right are my youngest  aunt and uncle.

But being military meant being posted and soon my dad was posted to Gander, Newfoundland.  I don't recall anything about that move. My only memories of Newfoundland aren't mine but my mother's.  She told me that, I was Daddy's little girl and one evening he was heading back to base to run the projector at the movie theatre and I took off after him. My mum didn't notice as she was busy with the baby. Some time later, a couple knocked at the door, they had found me nearly at the highway that led to the base and were going house to house to find if anyone knew who I was.  My mum said she was surprised I knew how to get to the base but maybe it was just luck, as I was only about three or four.

While we were in Newfoundland, my parents added two more children to the family, my brother Douglas and my sister Annette.

It wasn't long after Annette was born that dad was posted again; this time to a radar station in Ontario called Foymount.  I don't recall this move either.  I do know that dad took the ferry and drove the car back from Newfoundland while mum flew with the three of us little ones to Halifax.  She said that the airline attendants weren't all that helpful but luckily an older couple on the plane helped her out with us.

Foymount is really the first place that I have any memories of and those almost seem like figments of my imagination.  Do I really remember that or am I making it up in my head having been told the stories by my parents many a time. We lived in an apartment that had a balcony with wood or concrete pillars. Mum used to go visit to the neigbours taking Annette or the other little ones with her and locking the apartment while Doug and I were playing outside. She did this so we would come to the neighbours' apartment if we needed anything; often she would leave the balcony doors open, probably because there was no air conditioning. But little did she know I could climb the pillars and up over the balcony rail. I also remember there was a open book case at the entry of the apartment both Doug and I could climb that right up to the ceiling, just like little monkeys. And I remember there was a rail fence behind our apartment with a field that had a big rock in it. We liked to go sit on that rock but we had to be careful as we were afraid of the cows that were in the field sometimes.

Foymount is closed now but some of the buildings still remain.  Check out the link above and you'll see some of the apartment buildings are still there. I have no idea which one we lived in.

Another story that I really don't recall but my mother told it a number of times was once we decided to show some of our friends our church.  Radar stations were little communities with a school, a store, recreation facilities and churches for the military families. So off we went, Doug, Annette and I with our two little friends to visit with God. Many communities in those days left the church unlocked and in we went. Well, what do you think happened with five children, the oldest only six years old, we got into mischief.  Nothing really serious, a few Christmas ornaments got broken, some hymn books strewn on the floor and water from the fire extinguisher sprayed on the floor.  But boy did we ever get it, the one and only time dad actually spanked us.  I didn't know it until many years later but dad and the other father actually got charged and fined $15. Doesn't sound like much now but it probably was a lot of money back then.

My mother's parents and her youngest siblings visited us when we were in Foymount.

While in Foymount, two more sisters were added to our now not so little family, Karen and Juanita.  I started kindergarten in Foymount but only for a little more than a month as dad was posted again to Alsask, Saskatchewan.  Juanita was just an infant.  In those days, kids didn't need to be in a car seat, seat belts were probably an option in many cars. Dad made a bed for us all in the back of the station wagon and then took the buggy part of the baby stroller and put it behind the front seat. The plan was to have Juanita in the buggy and all the rest of us in the back. Karen didn't think much of that though and tried to get to Mum. They ended up travelling with Juanita in the front seat between Mum and Dad and Karen harnessed into the buggy. I can't imagine travelling with five kids like that. Mum said we were all good travelers. Again I really have no memories of this trip. I was 5 1/2 going on six and I was moving to another home.

When we got to Alsask, our married quarter wasn't ready but another serviceman who's family wasn't coming until later gave us the one he had been assigned and that was how we got to know Porters who would be family friends for many years.

Alsask was another radar station in what was called the Pine Tree line that stretched right across the country. There weren't many pine trees in Saskatchewan as you can see from this picture of my dad and my two youngest sisters Juanita and Maureen. Maureen, the youngest in the family, was born  while we were posted to Alsask.

I do have memories of Alsask chasing tumble weeds, gathering pine cones, getting stuck in the mud with our bikes and having to go get dad. Many little memories like that.   I remember jumping off the shed for the garbage cans at school with a sucker in my mouth and cutting the inside of my mouth badly on it.   I also remember going on a family picnic; there was a merry-go-round that you could make spin with wheel in the center. My brother and sisters were small enough they could sit on that wheel and turn in the opposite direction. I was a little bit taller and when I tried it my leg got caught in the merry go round, that put an end to the day out at the picnic.  Mum made me take a bath before she would let dad take me to the hospital. Luckily it was only a bad strain, I had to hobble around for awhile but it wasn't long before I was off and running around again. I also remember that dad once again worked as projectionist at the base theatre and often brought movies home or let us sit in the projectionists booth at the theatre. I also remember that my parent's room had two doors, a door in the bedroom hallway and a door to the front entry way. At Christmas, they would block off the door from the kitchen to the living room. So one year we crawled through their bedroom to sneak out early to see our gifts. We thought we had gotten away with it but Mum told us later they lay in bed trying not to laugh out loud.

We went camping for the first time while we were in Alsask. Dad bought a tent, a great heavy canvas thing and got us all sleeping bags. He borrowed a Coleman stove and lantern and off we went.  Maureen stayed with close family friends. It was summer, mum packed summer clothes but we were camped above the frost line so it was pretty nippy. She said she would never go again but we camped nearly every summer after that until we were in our teens when some of us were working part time jobs. That trip we went all the way to British Columbia to the Pacific National Exhibition. Mum had made us girls the same outfit.  A picture of us (the black and white one below) even made it into a local paper.

That ends my early years.  I hope to do my school years next; perhaps divided up just a little. Not sure when I'll get to that next part of my story. I guess I'll do it when the mood strikes me.

Dedicated to my mother and father.


  1. Love the older pictures and all of the memories and stories. You have a beautiful family, Miss Helen!

  2. Thanks Helen for sharing these wonderful family memories. Makes a good flashback of a similar family time for people of a certain age like us.

  3. LOVE learning more about you and seeing these photos! thank you for sharing!!! DakotasDen


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