What a difference in lifestyles!

Bits and Bites of Everyday Life

What a difference in lifestyles

By Alberte Villeneuve-Sinclair
True North Perspective

Alberte Villeneuve-Sinclair is the author of The Neglected Garden and two French novels. Visit her website to learn more www.albertevilleneuve.ca.

“Dance. Smile. Giggle. Marvel. TRUST. HOPE. LOVE. WISH. BELIEVE. Most of all, enjoy every moment of the journey and appreciate where you are at this moment instead of always focusing on how far you have to go.” (Mandy Hale)

Image: Detail of photo of Alberte Villeuneuve-SinclairOn a fine September afternoon, I joined five of my cousins at the Outaouais Golf Club in Rockland. I wanted to find out more about my maternal grandmother, Alexina (Lacasse) Filion. She was also my godmother and by the time I got to know her, she was living in Rockland and her health was poor. She suffered from asthma and angina. But Jacqueline, Réjeanne, Claire Alice, Yolande and Aline are slightly older than me and their memories go back to when my grandparents still lived on the farm in Clarence.

  Image: Photo of Alberte's Cousin Jacqueline, Grandmother Alexina, Grandfather Ubald and cousin Réjeanne. Picture courtesy of Alberte Villeneuve-Sinclair.
  Cousin Jacqueline, Grandmother Alexina, Grandfather Ubald and cousin Réjeanne. Picture courtesy of Alberte Villeneuve-Sinclair.

Grandmother was a very proud woman, mother of ten children, who worked tirelessly. Life on the farm was a never-ending series of chores to be done on a daily basis. They raised cattle, horses, sheep, hogs, chickens, turkeys and some rabbits. There were no utilities in the house or the stable: no running water, bathroom, electricity or central heating. A well supplied the water that was carried back to the house and the stable. Firewood had to be brought in daily to feed the wood stove which was used for cooking and heating. The summer kitchen was used during hot days. Oil lamps and candles were used for lighting. All meals were made from scratch. Grandmother churned her own butter, salted pork, prepared marinades and preserves, baked her own bread and pastries. In the spring, maple trees were tapped so that maple syrup could be made and stored for later. They butchered their own animals. Nothing was wasted. She made head cheese (pig’s head meat suspended in a jellied stock) and blood pudding (black pudding) and much more.

Not only were her culinary skills recognized but she was also known as a marvelous gardener. Her garden was divided into neat squares bordered by flowers. There was always a wide variety of vegetables and small fruit to be enjoyed and to be canned or stored in the root cellar. She made sure to bring her favourite plants inside for the cold season and decorated old tobacco tins in a most inventive way using putty, seeds and pits from fruits such as peaches and whatever she found pretty.

When the sheep were shorn in the spring, the wool had to be washed, carded and spun before it could be knitted into warm socks, tuques and mittens, sweaters and scarves. Sewing was a must. Grandmother made clothes for herself and the family. And if that wasn’t enough already, she embroidered bedspreads and pillow cases, tablecloths and aprons and some of the girls’ clothes. Laundry was a real pain: first you had to heat enough water, fill the wash tub, then scrub the clothes using a washboard... Clothes were hung to dry outside on the clothesline but in very cold weather, they were then hung inside to finish drying so that you had to more or less duck under the longer pieces hanging in the kitchen.

Transportation was also difficult and the family had to rely on the horse and buggy or the sleigh during the winter. My grandmother did not hesitate to drive the horse and buggy to Rockland to sell eggs and produce at the general store in return for staples such as flour, sugar or molasses… or attend the Sunday church service in Clarence Creek.

Despite all this, Alexina loved life! Her faith inspired and grounded her. She loved her family and enjoyed the company of friends and neighbours who often dropped in. She always had donuts, cookies or pie to serve with brewed tea. On special occasions, she would offer dandelion wine to her guests and invite them to stay for dinner. Evening sing-alongs would often erupt, to everyone’s delight.

You may have guessed that my grandmother/godmother was my hero and although I was only five when she died, I still feel her love and admire her courage.

Image: Photo of Alberte's Sister Diane, cousin Réjeanne and herself at Lifestyle Show.  
Sister Diane, cousin Réjeanne and moi at Lifestyle Show. Picture courtesy of Alberte Villeneuve-Sinclair.  

Now fast forward to today! This weekend, I attended the Fifty-Five Plus Lifestyle Show at Ottawa’s EY Centre with cousin Réjeanne and Diane, my sister. We were instantly greeted at the door and given a bright-blue bag in which to collect our free “goodies”. The exhibitors were varied and catered specifically to our age group. There were healthcare professionals offering various services and products, travel companies offering all kinds of travel packages from the exotic, faraway places to closer-to-home Canadian venues. Real estate agents, car dealers, bank and funeral home representatives and many more were there hoping to attract new customers.

Ottawa and the region has seen a marked increase in retirement homes and senior condominium communities. Many of them were there to extoll the advantages of their places and offer a free meal in exchange for a visit of the premises. For those who are still wanting to live in their own home, various companies offered services such as renovations, housecleaning and repairs, organizing your home (decluttering) and picking up your “junk”.

There was something for everyone there! I made sure to stop at my favourite booth “Scents of Spain” where Julie Lanouette and her husband offer a wide variety of essential oils and the best joint and muscle cream and spray that you can buy. I was proud to introduce these products to my cousin and my sister.

What made this event so much fun was the scheduled entertainment all through the day. For instance, there was a Frank Sinatra tribute offered by Gil Albert and country-style music by Gail Gavin. We sang along to “Quand le soleil dit bonjour aux montagnes” which Gail then offered in English. We decided to sit down and enjoy lunch while Nadine Banville presented her Marilyn Monroe show. Later in the afternoon, the Fred Astaire dancers really put on quite a performance with ballroom and Latin dances. I love dancing and it gave me itchy feet. I swayed and moved on the spot to the music. I loved it! The last entertainer of the day was our very own Wayne Rostad who was also the MC for the show. Wayne soon had us singing, clapping hands and laughing at his Ottawa Valley stories. We really had fun!

Now take a moment to compare this to my grandmother’s lifestyle and you realize that we, today’s seniors, have a whole lot of opportunities that are available to us. Whether it be housing, transportation, health services, travel or entertainment, it’s all there, offered on a silver platter… providing you have some cash, of course.

My hero:

A special appreciation

Heroes come in all ages and sexes. True North Perspective is proud to learn that Alberte Villeneuve-Sinclair is not just a favourite among our readers, but a hero to someone very special to her. Click here to learn more!


Next Saturday, I will be attending a gala. For me, the most exciting part of it will be the live music and dancing. As I have said, my feet are itching to dance again. I hope yours do too!

P.S. My granddaughter, Lea, will be making a special presentation in her English class tomorrow. The theme is « My Hero ». She invited me to listen to it yesterday. I was moved to tears when I heard that her subject was me. I was deeply touched and reminded of this famous quote: “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone, but what is woven into the lives of others.” (Pericles)

Enjoy life and all it has to offer! TRUST. HOPE. LOVE. WISH. BELIEVE.