Muriel (Thompson) Eskrick
Life and Work
One morning in April 1967, 265 women travelled from Sundre to the meeting of the Mountain View County Council in Didsbury. Led by Muriel Eskrick, the women wanted to change the Council's opposition to the building of a hospital in Sundre. Hundreds of people in the district had rallied for the cause in the past decade.
The council refused to see the women. Muriel insisted: "We will sit on the floor and wait." The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were called in, but did not intervene in the gathering.
Eventually, council agreed to hear the delegation. The women made their presentation and countered the arguments against. Later that evening, the council's decision came. Sundre would have its hospital.
Muriel Eskrick also helped establish the weekly newspaper, The Sundre Round-Up, and the district's historical society. She worked to bring full-time ordained ministry to Sundre United Church.
The banner in the lobby of the Sundre Hospital bears memory to those who struggled for health services in the district, led and inspired by Muriel Eskrick.
Memories of Muriel Eskrick
Unlike many of us, Muriel suffered not from indifference and callousness but from caring too much, and melancholy would threaten her ... She built significant and enduring things from precious little and under discouraging conditions... but in the midst of this public work she was hospitable and cared for us. Who else would keep gumdrops, dill pickles and chocolate in supply for the church minister...?
- Reverend Terry Anderson, Sundre United Church minister
Memories of Muriel Eskrick
Born March 31, 1915 third child of eight to Robert Thomas Thompson and Violet May (Hodgson) at Guelph, Ontario
Moved to Westward Ho, Alberta - March 1921
Education: Completed Grade 9 and half of Grade 10
Married: October 31, 1930 to John Melville Eskrick
Children: Marion, George (deceased at 7 months of age), Melva, Murray
The family moved to the west Bergen area in 1935. They lived in the remote Nitchi Valley where dirt roads, sometimes no car, the use of horses for travel and work, no electricity or indoor plumbing were the order of the day. Wildlife were always near including bears, wolves, lynx, cougars and coyotes. Muriel worked along side of her husband in eking out a meager living during the Depression years of the Thirties, for example breaking horses, hauling mine props using a wagon and team, haying, doing farm chores (while her husband logged or worked away from home), sorting and helping haul rabbits to Calgary to sell to fox farms, doing housework for other women, cooking for logging and mill crews, picking and canning wild fruit (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and cranberries), working in the community club, organizing school house parties, surprise parties and dances. Making meals was a challenge. Meat included moose, deer, partridge, beef and pork. Other staples purchased were: flour, sugar, oatmeal, Sunnyboy cereal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, tea, coffee, cocoa, vanilla, dried raisins and apples, Rogers Syrup, cream, milk, eggs, potatoes, carrots, turnips, onions. Rhubarb and wild berries were all available if the garden produced well, and the livestock were available on the farm.
1939 - Muriel traveled with 30 others in the back of a two-ton truck to see King George V and Queen Elizabeth when they visited Calgary. Muriel's diary records her tears of joy when the Royal couple came into view. At 4 a.m. M.S.T. (early the next morning) on September 3, England declared war on Germany. Canada joined them on September 10.
Organizing fund-raising events and club meetings to pack and send regular parcels of clothing and treats to local boys serving overseas in the war kept Muriel and other west Bergen Community women busy.
Muriel also often cared for a neighbour lady who was bedridden much of the time with ulcerated legs. Through these years Muriel instilled in her children the love of classical and operatic music. They listened to the Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York (when the radio batteries were charged).
1945 - Muriel cooked for a crew of 30 men when a forest fire swept the countryside near her home.
1946 - Muriel safely delivered a baby for a local neighbor woman when rains and flooding prevented travelling to the nearest hospital 55 miles (89 kilometres) away. She had to cross a very swollen creek with team and wagon to reach the expectant mother. The water was high up in the wagon box.
1947 to 1952 - The family moved from west of Bergen to just east of Sundre. Muriel and her girls were at last close enough to attend church regularly. She joined the United Church, sang in the choir, taught Sunday school, and was a member of the church board holding many offices. Her youngest child, a boy, joined the family in 1947. Her eldest daughter became critically ill from rheumatic fever. The doctor in Olds gave up her case as hopeless but Muriel pulled her through by sheer willpower and prayer (Marion had to learn to walk again at 17 after having been bedridden for one year). Through that year Muriel nursed her daughter, looking after a toddler, and cooked for a sawmill crew and did farm chores.
1953 to 1956 - The family moved into the town of Sundre. Muriel continued her church work including leading a mid-week group, helping with a church building project and the acquisition of its first ordained minister. She kept books and did the payroll for the two family sawmills and the farm; gathered (via taped interviews) stories of district "old-timers" and helped raise money for a church manse.
1960 to 1962 - The Chamber of Commerce asked Muriel to start and edit a weekly newspaper. On February 3, 1960 the first edition of The Sundre Round-Up was published. Her sister Lorraine worked with her for the first five months. Muriel loved this work and writing. She wrote the many stories of local old-timers and places. She published three historical booklets entitled: The Road to the Ya Ha Tinda, Portrait of a Pioneer, and Norwegian Settlers (Bergen and area). Muriel became allergic to printers ink and reluctantly sold The Sundre Round-Up in 1962. They moved back to a new house on the farm east of Sundre. She stayed very active in church affairs, spearheaded the formation of the Sundre Historical Society, and organized pioneer fairs and garden parties for old-timers. She grew an exceptional flower garden and her yard was like a park. Muriel worked with the Sundre Rodeo Committee and the Sundre Chamber of Commerce. She began working on the need for a hospital and seniors' lodge, and she put on several flower shows.
1963 to 1965 - Muriel's disabled mother came to live with the family. She was confined to a wheelchair and died during these years. Muriel acted as secretary for the Chamber of Commerce and was a member of several other community committees. She continued to interview old-timers and write stories. She cared for two elderly couples living close by who had no children to look out for them.
Muriel was a driving force of the Chamber of Commerce committee that finally obtained approval to build the Sundre Hospital (after a 13-year battle). She was instrumental in organizing 250 district women to lobby the county council one morning, at a regular council meeting. She was appointed to the first Board of the Hospital and initiated the formation of the Hospital Auxiliary group. After testing out her son's snow machine, she bought one of her own and spent many happy hours racing over the snow drifts and hills.
1968 - The Sundre Hospital was officially opened. Muriel remained busy with community activities; looking out for and caring for another elderly couple and several elderly bachelors (prior to the advent of home care). In 1970 she began providing board and room for young single RCMP constables stationed in Sundre. She was like a second mother to five in all, until a barracks was opened in 1972.
1973 to 1976 - With the family all grown and away from home and troubles in her marriage Muriel moved to Calgary. She had never driven a car in the city before and successfully underwent hypnosis to overcome the fear of city driving. She took a creative writing course at the university and worked at the Golden West magazine with historian Ruth Gorman. They became good friends.
In 1974 Muriel, needing additional financial stability, successfully entered into a real estate course and sold rural real estate for the next 10 years. She seemed to be cut out for the work and won many awards and trips from the MLS firms she worked for. She could often be seen whipping through the countryside in her MG. convertible. In 1979 she moved back to Sundre continuing to sell real estate and again becoming involved in community activities. Soon after she became reunited with her husband and in 1980 they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. During the 1980s she concentrated on writing a book on the history of the Sundre United Church called A Journey in Faith; sorting and recording local historical information and photographs for the Historical Society; growing a beautiful flower garden, taking in and caring for needy dogs and cats, caring for her husband who had suffered several strokes, supporting foster care and other benevolent programs, enjoying her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Muriel and Mel celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in 1990 and 63rd in 1993. In failing health she died February 23, 1994.