Dorothy Emily (Norman) Sutton
Life and Work
Dorothy Sutton was born Dorothy Emily Norman in Norfolk, England in 1886. She was the second daughter of Robert and Ann Norman. Robert Norman, the son of a bricklayer died of pneumonia shortly after Dorothy's birth, so that Ann Norman was left to raise her daughters alone. She became the school teacher on a large estate, and taught the children of all the employees in addition to also being their church organist. Dorothy remembered, as highlights, the occasional times when she, her sister and her mother attended garden parties put on by the Lord and Lady of the Manor—quite grand affairs.
Fortunately, Dorothy and her sister Catherine had a well-to-do aunt who, when the girls were young ladies, sent Catherine to Paris to study ballet and piano, and Dorothy to Cambridge where she received a her Bachelor of Science degree. Dorothy went on to teach chemistry in various schools, always preferring to teach classes of senior boys who were, she said, much superior to girls! She became engaged but lost her fiancé in the first World War.
In 1920, while teaching in Swindon, Wiltshire, she was introduced to John Sutton who was spending two years with his family after being in Canada for nearly ten years. They fell in love and arranged that John should return to Canada and set up in farming near Olds, with Dorothy to follow in two years' time. So, in 1922 she embarked for Canada.
"Frightfully plucky of her," commented John's sister Mabel, in Swindon. "Think of going all the way to Canada to marry John!"
Dorothy arrived in Calgary June 20, 1922. John met her at the railroad station. She stepped down into the mud in her high buttoned white boots. She and John went directly to the Cathedral and were married before she could change her mind. After a brief honeymoon in Banff, John brought his very English bride to the farm just west of Olds. He neglected to tell her of the local shivaree custom, and when the enthusiastic neighbours arrived with much hoopla, though with the best of intentions, Dorothy got into the clothes closet and it took a lot of persuasion to coax her out.
Dorothy tried hard to be a good farmer's wife, but she said the horses always tried to walk on her no matter how brave she tried to be. She preferred the chickens and turkeys, and tended them faithfully. She claimed an affection for the 'old pigs.'
Dorothy and John raised two daughters. Their mother was anxious they should grow up to be "good useful women." She was an excellent knitter and dressmaker, and the Sutton girls were always well dressed with big warm mufflers and mittens for those cold horse-back rides to school.
She loved music and poetry, and often wrote poems such as The Geese Fly North; but didn't consider them worthy of publication. Strangely enough, considering her mistrust of horses, she was intrigued by the chuck wagon races at the Calgary Stampede, and once wrote an article about this event. She sent it to a British newspaper: but whether or not it was ever published, is not known.
Dorothy truly was a math whiz for the times—a fountain of knowledge to her children and grandchildren—always encouraging, but often a severe critic. She loved picnics and berry picking, and got very enthusiastic about blueberries, saskatoons, and any berries in season. She canned with the best of them, but cooking for the threshing crews was always a bit alarming for her, although she made sure that the meals she provided were as good as anyone's in the district.
After many disappointments, hail, and drought, John and Dorothy Sutton gave up their farm near Olds and moved, with their daughters, to a place four miles (6.4 kilometres) south of Sundre. Dorothy seemed to feel that the countryside, the weather, and the neighbours here were gentler and she tried hard to fit into the community.
John and the other local farmers built a schoolhouse in the district. They went through all the necessary red tape and established a brand new school district, naming it Pinecroft. Dorothy Sutton, Peter Nielsen and Joe Welsh formed the first local school board and Dorothy received over a hundred applications from teachers young and old looking for a teaching position—even for this little home-made schoolhouse in the bush. She and Mr. Nielsen and Mr. Welsh picked out a young man from the numerous applications. She and John picked him up from the train in Olds, brought him home to the farm, satisfied that they had decided on the right person for the job, but he slipped out in the night, and was never heard from again. I guess things in the west really were pretty primitive in those days.
A year or two later, Dorothy went to teach at the Pinecroft School. She stayed there three years and then went to the little log school to the west; called Red Deer Valley. John drove her every day through these six years. When the roads were very muddy, Dorothy stayed in the schoolhouse at night until being scared away by a grizzly bear who put his huge paws on the window ledge and looked in at her. She was very relieved by the news that Reuben Olson had shot the bear.
I believe that all her students from those years of her country school teaching remember her well. It was in the days before school consolidation came in and festivals and fairs were important events in the community. Mrs. Sutton's classes were well known to shine for their training and their enthusiasm.
When Dorothy was well into her sixties, she stopped teaching and took on a two year old granddaughter. She and Brenda developed a wonderful warm relationship, and the child was receptive to all her little stories and songs. Unfortunately, in June of that year, Dorothy suffered a heart attack. When asked if having a grandchild had proved too heavy a burden, she replied, "I loved every minute of having that little girl."
Her family was small, but she enjoyed nothing more than having them all home as often as possible. She had a knack of making such times very special occasions. On a shoestring, Dorothy, like many of the local women, developed a beautiful perennial flower garden, trading clippings with the neighbours. She used her knowledge of botany to plan heights and colours in the well-tended flower beds.
She lived fifteen years after her heart attack—a fact she attributed to her husband's loving care. She was understandably very interested in the Sundre Public Library; and just the night before her death, was planning improvements in the shelving and the arrangement of the books. She was also attempting to prepare that very same granddaughter for an upcoming math exam.
Dorothy died in the Olds Hospital in July 1966 and is buried in the little Anglican cemetery at Harmattan. Her life was filled with courage and purpose. She was indeed a plucky English woman.
The Geese Fly North
The geese fly north!
So strong, so sure, so purposeful their flight
In orderly procession, night and day
Tireless they fly.
Watching them, who can doubt
A Mighty Pencil drew those lines of grey
Across the sky.
The robin's song is sweet, promising Summer's treat
The drumming partridge and the singing frog
With all their might make happy prophecy,
- "Summer will come".
But no sound lifts my heart in buoyant hope
Like that loud clangour pealing from the sky,
A carillon of wild, exultant bells
Played by a Master Hand in belfry high.
The geese fly north!
A Letter to My Grandmother by Brenda Gowler
I remember the day you were buried, and how sad I was. There was an emptiness in my life that I thought would never be filled. The only thing left are my wonderful memories of our times together.
As I get older, I can appreciate how hard it must have been on you to look after a 2 year old. While my Mother went to University in Edmonton, you took me under your wing and kept me out of harms way.
Every morning I would eat porridge in bed with you, and probably drive you crazy with my many questions. I remember they were all answered with patience and love. One day I told you that the world was a big orange and we lived inside it. You calmly explained that we lived on the outside of the "orange", and I was terrified that we would all fall off. Although I can't remember how you assured me this would not happen, my anxiety subsided and I went off to terrorize the farm cows with my songs.
Your arthritis would act up and Grandpa used to melt wax most mornings for you to dip your hands in. It was with great pleasure that I would strip off the hardened wax from your hands and try very hard to place the wax fingers on my own.
Sundays were special as we trekked to the Harmatten Anglican Church, and before entering, you would place your lace handkerchief over my curls. 1 remember our many picnics after church, with my favourite devilled eggs.
I remember frolicking in your flower garden with the delphiniums towering above my head, making it my very special place.
Although my Mother and I moved to Sundre, your place was my refuge during any childhood illness I encountered. Whenever I was sick, all I wanted to do was go to your house, where I would be pampered and spoiled. Several times, even though I was better, you would suggest that I stay at the farm with you just one more day, and of course I agreed to my Mother's chagrin.
You taught me that toothpicks and ketchup were "undesirable Canadian habits" which I now find hilarious, and it always brings a smile when I think of this lesson.
Oh how I miss you, and many times you cross my mind. It would have been so nice if you could have passed on your wisdom and love to my children, but I know you are guiding and protecting us from above.