Georgia "Jo" (Stevens) Leacock
Life and Work
Jo Leacock was born Georgia Alice Stevens, on March 30, 1900 in Concord, New Hampshire, where the Stevens family had deep roots, having arrived there in the 1600s. The house in which Jo was born is now a museum.
When Jo's father, Jesse Stevens contracted tuberculosis, he moved his wife Sarah and their six children to western Canada where the climate was drier. The family arrived in Keoma, Alberta on June 4, 1911, men moved to land east of lrricanna a year later. It was here that a hired man began calling Georgia "Jo". The nickname stuck and "Jo" she was for the rest of her life, but she didn't mind because she liked her nickname much better than Georgia, which most people changed to Georgina anyway.
Although the family was very poor, Jo had a happy childhood. Her parents were fun loving people who welcomed friends to their home for visits, dances, card games, Christmas dinners. New Years parties and birthday celebrations. With seven children in the family, there were a lot of birthdays to celebrate! Ernest was the oldest child, followed by Jo who mothered the younger children; Mary, Sue, the twins Edgar and Edmund, and baby Hattie.
Although the Stevens were a happy family, they knew sadness as well. In 1914, Edgar, Edmund and Hattie set fire to the straw barn while playing with matches. Only Edmund survived the fire. Two years later, Mary died of diabetes. These early deaths made Jo, Ernie, Edmund and Sue even more precious to each other.
Jo was educated in Irricanna. After completing grade eight, she was hired to cook, clean and care for children in farm homes around Irricanna, Keoma and Blackie. She helped raise a young girl, named Sadie Chaffin, who's mother had died. While working as a housekeeper, Jo lost her heart to a tall, handsome cowboy named Leo Leacock.
Jo and Leo were married March 21, 1927. The next year her parents moved to James River because drought had hit the Irricanna area. In 1929, Leo and Jo plus her brothers, Ernie and Edmund followed them north. The Leacocks planned to farm at Westward Ho, but land was too expensive so they moved on to the James River area, where they purchased the SW 1/4 of 9-34-5-W5 .
Jo and Leo set about farming the land that would be their home for the rest of their lives. Leo liked the life of a cowboy much better than that of a farmer. When he was injured while riding a bucking bronco in the Calgary Stampede, more of the farm work fell to Jo. Being a hard worker, she willingly helped with the cattle, sheep and chickens; but not with running machinery. She did not like tractors, cars, or trucks, preferring to ride her saddle horse or drive a horse and buggy. Although she tried, Jo never did master the operation of an automobile.
Jo loved blue roan cows, which she milked for the family's use and for the butter she made and sold in tough times. She grew a large garden to supply the family with vegetables year round. When Sadie, (the girl Jo had helped raise) could not care for her six children, Jo welcomed two of the boys into her home. Shortly afterwards, Elvin Warner and Melvin James (Sandy), came to stay with the Leacocks and Jo and Leo adopted them. Once again, Jo added mothering to her homemaking and farming skills. When she was admonished to take Sunday off to relax or rest, her reply was "The better the day, the better the deed." When she did have time to relax, Jo loved to read. She and Leo had a large collection of books which they readily shared with friends and neighbours.
Jo and Leo welcomed everyone to their home. Although the Leacock home was small, there was always room to host card parties, even if some of the guests had to set up their card tables in the bedrooms. Jo was a good housekeeper but she did not let a tidy house get in the way of making visitors feel welcome. Her house contained family pictures and plants and was adorned on the outside by a beautiful flower garden. It was a comfortable place to live and a pleasure to visit. Jo especially liked to have small children come calling. Her nieces and nephews often spent their summers at the farm. In later years, young visitors in the know headed first for Grandpa Leo's lap and the candy pail beside his chair. Granddaughter Kimberly Leacock loved to spend the night at Grandma's house where she and Jo played rummy. Halloween, when young ghosts and goblins came trick or treating, was one of Jo's favorite celebrations, as were Christmas and New Years, which the Leacocks celebrated with Jo's brothers and sister Sue's family.
Jo's friends describe her as a typical pioneer woman, ordinary, hard working, kind hearted and a good neighbor who had a no fuss, no waste philosophy. She did not waste money, time or words and believed no one else should either. If she disagreed with something, she spoke her mind directly and forcefully, but her peppery outburst was soon over. She was always ready to help someone who needed a hand to care for children and invalids, mend clothing, or get through a sad time. If extra people arrived at mealtime there was no fuss. Jo just added a bit of this and a bit of that until the meal she had prepared for four was enough to feed eight. One friend said of her, "She didn't belong to any particular church but she was the epitome of a good Christian."
Jo's kind heart and no fuss, get the job done, way of doing things extended beyond her family to the community. She served as secretary for the Lobley cemetery and the DEL Women's Institute for many years. The cemetery where her grandmother and parents were buried was very important to her. She was a member of the DEL W I until it folded and was replaced by the James River Willing Workers. Jo had a special place in her heart for the women who belonged to the Willing Workers. She was happiest when she was with them quilting, catering to community events or planning how to help someone in need. Her affection was returned by those who lived and worked beside her for so many years. These women's Joys and sorrows were so closely intertwined that it is hard to tell where family ended and friend began. Each of them cherishes something Jo made for them before her death on March 2, 1991- a firstborn's baby quilt, booties, mitts or socks. To some, Jo was a shoulder to cry on; to others a Grandmother, an older sister, or a friend in a new country. To all she is irreplaceable.
Letter of Appreciation by Helen Mallinson, Vivian Overguard and Joanne Jackson
We were very pleased to be asked to recall a few precious memories of our dear friend Georgia Leacock, always known as "Jo" to her many friends. Jo was a great homemaker and a great lady. Her door was always open as she welcomed her many friends with her great cooking and the cheery atmosphere of her little home. The cookie jar was always full and the wood stove always burning with the kettle always on.
Over the years, when money was scarce Jo was able to provide for her family by milking her cows, churning her own butter, raising her own chickens and growing her own garden.
Jo was a wonderful knitter who made many articles by starting with the raw wool, carding the wool and spinning her own yarn. She knit for the new babies and made many, many pairs of socks and mittens.
In the community Jo was always more than willing to do her share. She was an avid member of the D.E.L. Women's Institute where she held the position of secretary for many years. The community card parties were often held at the Leacocks as their home was close to the road. Jo also put in many hours as the secretary of the Lobley Cemetery. As a good neighbor she was known as the local barber and did lots of mending and sewing whenever asked.
Halloween was a favorite time of year for Jo as she enjoyed the little kids that came to her door. She handed out treats to more than one generation of little ghosts and goblins.
Jo Leacock was our great friend and neighbor. Old friends are not forgotten.
-by Helen Mallinson, Vivian Overguard and Joanne Jackson
- Research and Writing: Edna Bakken from information supplied by Karen Leacock, Amiee Botham and the James River Willing Workers.