Jeff Green | Apr 23, 2009
Back to HomeFeature Article - April 23, 2009 Vennachar pioneer turns 100By Jeff Green
Ethel Gregg, who was then Ethel Martin, was 16 when her family, cattle included, boarded a train from Smiley, Saskatchewan, to head back to Vennachar, where her father's family originally came from.
Her brothers travelled in the cattle car, and she had the luxury of riding in the passenger car with her sister and her parents. Although Ethel was born in Whitney, Ontario, she had lived almost all of her life until then on a homestead on the bald, dry prairie.
She recalled later that she doesn't remember ever seeing a tree or rain until she moved east.
That certainly changed in a hurry. The family disembarked at Lavant station, and walked the cows to the family farm at Vennachar in the pouring rain. It rained for a week, Ethel recalled later to her children and grandchildren.
By the time she'd settled in to the family farm, which was really a few acres of fields surrounded by dense bush, she had seen enough rain and trees for a lifetime. That year was 1924.
Ethel Gregg turned 100 last Friday, and celebrated the day surrounded by family and friends with a party at the Pine Meadow Nursing Home in Northbrook, where she has lived for the past six years.
She lived at Vennachar on her own farm until the late 1990s, before moving in with her daughter Iona Rosenblath’s and then later joining her grandson Royce and his wife Carolyn in their home.
The family has maintained the three farms for many years, but with a total of only about “50 acres of pasture on all three farms combined”, in the words of Ethel's grandson Royce, there was always a need to work at jobs off the farm or at logging to get by.
Ethel married Francis Gregg in 1927, and the couple had two daughters, Irene (Thompson) and Iona (Rosenblath). Francis, whose brother Charles was one of two Vennachar boys (along with John Leslie Ball) who died at Vimy Ridge in WW1, worked for the provincial roads department for many years, while Ethel ran the farm.
And running the farm was no simple task. Ethel kept the cattle under control, milking twice a day to supply one of the two cheese factories located nearby, and maintained a large garden and a spotless farmhouse. Haying in those days at that location was a two-month ordeal, without the benefit of a baler.
In addition to raising her daughters, and eventually helping with grandchildren, Ethel Gregg took care of her mother-in-law, caring for her until she died at the age of 103. Although she was never a large woman, she could carry a 50 lb. bag of grain into her 70s, and kept up her garden until she was well into her 80s.
Even later, when she was living with family, she never shied away from work, or taking care of babies and children. She has a special affinity for children, which was perhaps inherited from her mother who was a midwife.
As the age of 100, Ethel's hearing is mostly gone, and she has lung problems. She sleeps a lot, but she participates in activities at the home and greets family when they come to visit. She has lived through an era where hard work and commitment to family were a way of life, and as her family and caregivers all say, if she wants to have a long mid-day nap most days, she really has earned her rest.
At her party Ethel received letters and certificates from all political levels, the most impressive being a certificate that came from Queen Elizabeth.